Pharyngula

It’s another one of those long traveling days for me today. I’m on my way to Oregon (I’m at the airport already, so don’t worry about any more accidents!), so I may be a bit quiet for a while. Which means I should put something here to keep everyone in a busy uproar for a while.

My job is done, and Jerry Coyne has done the dirty work for me. He has put up a long post criticizing the accommodationist stance of several pro-evolution organizations, particularly the NCSE.

Among professional organizations that defend the teaching of evolution, perhaps the biggest offender in endorsing the harmony of science and faith is The National Center for Science Education.  Although one of their officers told me that their official position on faith was only that “we will not criticize religions,” a perusal of their website shows that this is untrue.  Not only does the NCSE not criticize religion, but it cuddles up to it, kisses it, and tells it that everything will be all right.

In the rest of this post I’d like to explore the ways that, I think, the NCSE has made accommodationism not only its philosophy, but its official philosophy. This, along with their endorsement and affiliation with supernaturalist scientists, philosophers, and theologians, inevitably corrupts their mission.

Let me first affirm that I enormously admire the work of the NCSE and of its director, Eugenie Scott and its president, Kevin Padian.  They have worked tirelessly to keep evolution in the schools and creationism out, most visibly in the Dover trial.  But they’re also active at school-board hearings and other venues throughout the country, as well as providing extensive resources for the rest of us in the battle for Darwin.   They are the good guys.

I give it ten enthusiastic thumbs up, not just for the deserved criticism but also for the praise given to the NCSE’s efforts. As Coyne explains, they are trying to have it both ways, arguing that science is a secular enterprise, but at the same time leaning over backwards to incorporate theological arguments, an act of political pragmatism that compromises their mission. It’s a failed strategy that is leading us down a dangerous path — I already feel that there is an unfortunate atmosphere that favors scientists with religious leanings over the more sensible majority.

He also includes a marvelous quote from Charles Darwin. As I’ve said many times, Darwin was not an atheist, but an agnostic, and that he refused to engage in conflict with religion…a sentiment that I think is fair and a personal choice, and one that I think the NCSE wants to follow as well (which I would think is also a reasonable strategy). However, by favoring theism as much as they have, they have broken away from the spirit of that plan.

I entirely reject, as in my judgment quite unnecessary, any subsequent addition ‘of new powers and attributes and forces,’ or of any ‘principle of improvement, except in so far as every character which is naturally selected or preserved is in some way an advantage or improvement, otherwise it would not have been selected. If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish. . . I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.

Note that what Darwin is rejecting in that statement is what we now call theistic evolution.

I freely admit to being anti-religious myself, and I would agree that an organization trying to represent all of science and promoting science education does not have to be on the same page with me (and maybe even ought not to be), but the NCSE, NAS, and AAAS have all been erring in the opposite direction, jumping merrily into bed with every evangelical god-botherer who blows them a kiss. If they are going to snub the raging new atheists in the name of religious neutrality, they should be similarly divorcing themselves from Christian apologetics.


Richard Dawkins has weighed in…and asks whether we should take the gloves off in dealing with the accommodationist position. Too late! They’re off!

Larry Moran shares a similar view.

Many people seem to be misinterpreting Coyne’s article — it actually makes much the same point I have in talks over the last year. The science classroom must remain secular — that is, it is not a place to endorse atheism or theism, or for those conflicts to take place. We should be teaching about science and science only, and let the implications of that science on culture be discussed freely outside. Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism. Nobody is asking them to promote atheism. What we’re objecting to is that they have gone too far in mollycoddling theistic views, and have falsely represented science as being congenial to religious interpretations, to the point where godless explanations are being actively excluded.

I know they have a very narrow path they have to walk to be diplomatic and try to gather popular support for science education. The point is that they are wobbling off the tightrope to court the faithful — and the science they are trying to encourage is looking less and less secular.

Comments

  1. #1 SaraJ
    April 22, 2009

    You’re anti-religion? I never would have guessed…

  2. #2 gabriel
    April 22, 2009

    I’m not so sure CD is denying all forms of TE, to be honest. I think you’re reading too much into the quote. Darwin is concerned about the mechanism of selection – not whether there is cosmic fine tuning, etc.

    I also don’t think Eugenie & co take their stance purely for pragmatic reasons. I think that they do so because they truly feel that science is metaphysically neutral. I happen to agree. I had the honor of meeting Eugenie for the first time last year and I have nothing but respect for the NCSE and the tireless work they do.

  3. #3 Glendon Mellow
    April 22, 2009

    Your last sentence says it all PZ. Otherwise, they are closing out the very people who will one day work with them or support them because of science and rationality.

  4. #4 Mark
    April 22, 2009

    So what exactly entails theistic evolution? Is that where God “guides” the force of evolution? Or is it merely the belief in a God, and the acceptance of evolution at the same time?

  5. #5 Umkomasia
    April 22, 2009

    NCSE cannot perform its mission and alienate all religious people. They are trying to defend the teaching of evolution. This cannot entail the kind of doctrinal purity you are asking for. Like it or not, most Americans are religious, at least for now. If you ask them to throw that away so their kids learn evolution, you are going to lose. NCSE is doing what is has to do in the current societal context.

  6. #6 David Lee
    April 22, 2009

    I’m all for a clear split between reality and wishful thinking, even it causes social friction. Otherwise, there’s no pressure on the religious side to confront evidence-based reality at all.

  7. #7 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    At one point in his otherwise excellent essay, Coyne says that the NCSE is backing down from “their mission of spreading Darwinism.” That’s too much quote-mining gold to hand over to Creationists. Maybe Coyne should rewrite that particular sentence.

  8. #8 Mark
    April 22, 2009

    Allow me to play the Devil’s advocate.
    Ok, David Lee (#6), do you realize that the money for research and organizations like the Smithsonian etc. are publicly funded? Everything evolution-oriented basically comes out of the citizen purse. Why should we ask people to abandon the idea of a creator? YES, we want to keep science agnostic – heck, it might as well be atheistic – and that’s good; but the only reason it is so, is because if indeed there are spiritual realities, science cannot test them.

    We want to defend *methodological naturalism. If, for the sake of argument, you became interested in a religion, how would you like it if the proponents of that religion asked you to leave your scientific career in order to join?

  9. #9 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    Here’s an excerpt from Coyne’s essay that shocked me: “The ?recommended books? page of the NCSE?s religion section gives the same one-sided view. The section on ?Theology, Evolution, and Creation? lists 36 books. Every one of them appears to offer an accommodationist viewpoint.”

    Now that really is going to far. They have put their thumb on the scales.

  10. #10 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    (rhetorically)

    PZ, it seems to me that NCSE is not the only one trying to ‘have its cake and eat it, too.’ You have regular commenters here who are theists, such as yours truly. Why, I even have something of a vague affiliation with Pharyngula due to my (probably unmerited) ‘OM’. Doesn’t that lead inevitably to the same sort of ‘corruption’? Aren’t you worried that this will damage the cause of ‘True Atheism’ (TM)?

    (more seriously)
    Well, of course you don’t, and it’s just as ridiculous as the claim that the tone of accomodation that you get from some of NCSE’s materials inevitably corrupts their mission. Let’s not forget that mission of the NCSE is legal and political, rather than scientific. In the political realm, it makes sense to ‘make nice-nice’ with religious believers, because they are (duh) far more numerous than the anti-religious.

    You allude to Darwin’s views on this topic. PZ, I am a theist, but I agree ONE HUNDRED PERCENT with Darwin’s sentiment, because he is describing what should be the clear course of action of any scientist with respect to any theory, not just his own. ‘Miraculous additions’ are not kosher, whether one is talking about atomic theory, cell theory, string theory…or evolutionary theory. It is obviously true that ‘theistic evolution’ is not science, and I don’t endorse it as such, and neither does the NCSE.

    What the NCSE does is present evolution in a manner that doesn’t require believers to embrace skepticism on the question of God’s existence. Does this tend to privilege their views in discourse? I would say only to the extent that belief in God is generally privileged in the popular culture, for the purpose of being effective.

    You and I once toured Genie’s facility together and you can well appreciate that they do very much with very little. Creationists routinely misrepresent them as a front for atheism. Adopting a stance that completely disengages from any and all people of faith feeds this stereotype and makes their job more difficult. I don’t think you’re helping by repeating Coyne’s complaint, which basically amounts to, ‘Hey! NCSE is conceding aspects of the culture in order to be politically effective! They don’t wear a seamless garment! Horrors!”

    (rolls up sleeves, waits for reply)

  11. #11 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    In any movement for major societal change, there’s a role for accomodationists as well as for radicals. I agree with those who are saying that the NCSE is only doing what is pragmatic; and I even allow it’s *possible* that if they abandoned this pragmatic approach, it might have a net negative effect on the struggles both for secularism and for science education.

    *BUT*, I also think that it is wholly appropriate for Coyne, PZ, and others to call them out on their questionable compromises and to push the organization to take a more aggressive stance. For one thing, the radicals on the other side are pushing just as hard (probably harder) for their irrational goals. For another, it makes the atheist argument more available for those who are ready to hear it. And lastly, it gives the fence-sitters a face-saving compromise: “Well, I’ll *never* agree with that mean old Dawkins fellow, but I suppose I can bring myself to accept Ken Miller’s position…”

    To draw the analogy to the gay rights movement, progress on that front has required everything from radical action like the Stonewall riots, to insistent-but-sensible activists like Harvey Milk, all the way to Bill Clinton with his institution of the morally-bankrupt-but-still-an-improvement-over-the-past DADT policy.

    The NSCE is Bill Clinton, and Gould’s NOMA is don’t-ask-don’t-tell. The policy is *dead wrong*, and in the lens of history might even prove to be an embarrassment — but it *is* progress, of a sort. We can recognize and conditionally applaud the progress, while still pointing out that it’s not nearly enough.

  12. #12 Matt Heath
    April 22, 2009

    So what exactly entails theistic evolution? Is that where God “guides” the force of evolution? Or is it merely the belief in a God, and the acceptance of evolution at the same time?

    It seems to varies. Sometimes it’s a fix using instrumentalism to have one’s cake and eat it: “Normal, godless evolutionary biology is the best tool for understanding how life came to be as it is and for making predictions about it, but, on a deeper level, magic man done it.”

  13. #13 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    But evolution, particularly evolution at large, is eminently compatible with religion. It’s science as a whole that is not.

    Let’s say that we obtained video footage from the Atlanteans (spelling?) showing Jesus walking on the sea, raising the dead, healing the sick, and poofing food into existence. Then to top it off, we see Jesus completely dead, then raised to life. We’re able to authenticate the video to a high degree of certainty.

    Sure, the evolution problem would still be there, but how could anyone pretend that Xianity couldn’t deal well enough with it, so long as the more certain miracles were shown to have happened?

    That’s why evolution is compatible with religion, and more so, with non-Abrahamic religions. The problem is that science authenticates none of its claims.

    Frankly, in this line of attack there’s the same kind of confusion of Xianity as a whole and creationism that very naive creationists often make. We’ll be arguing over evolution, and suddenly they’re telling us that Jesus did arise from the dead. We say, even if he did, that is irrelevant to the issue of evolution (not completely, but close enough for that context).

    Well the fact of the matter is that Jesus rising from the dead is virtually meaningless to the truth of evolution. And the mere fact that we have no compelling evidence for Jesus rising from the dead is also meaningless to the issue of evolution and the teaching thereof.

    Science fails to support religious claims. That is true. But evolution is every bit as compatible with religion writ large as physics is, or the converse, it is as incompatible with religion writ large as physics is (indeed, evolution puts biology within the realm of physics). Science as a whole does not sit well with religion as a whole, but the parts of science cannot demonstrate that religion isn’t true.

    This is why the NCSE is more correct than is Coyne, at least from what I know of the NCSE. Evolution is just biology, and it is unable to speak to miraculous claims outside of its specialization. It should be presented as such, not to coddle religion, but because evolution is properly limited in its claims.

    That said, one should not overstate the compatibility of religion with science. Were Coyne to state it in those terms, rather than supposing that evolution can speak to the grand metaphysical view of Xianity at large, I would certainly disagree less with him.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  14. #14 Matt Heath
    April 22, 2009

    me @12
    varies \mapsto vary
    Preview is your friend.

  15. #15 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    Everything evolution-oriented basically comes out of the citizen purse. Why should we ask people to abandon the idea of a creator?

    Everything astronomy-oriented basically comes out of the citizen purse. Why should we ask people to abandon the idea that the alignments of the stars and planets impact their personal destiny?

  16. #16 James F
    April 22, 2009

    From Prof. Coyne’s essay:

    The directors of the NCSE are smart people. They know perfectly well ? as did Darwin himself ? that evolutionary biology is and always has been a serious threat to faith.

    Was this really Darwin’s view? For example:

    “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.”

    -Charles Darwin, 1879

  17. #17 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    …if indeed there are spiritual realities, science cannot test them.

    I think that’s precisely the point. If they are untestable, they become empirically irrelevant. Which means they have no bearing on reality. Which means, they are fantasy.

    Historically, it can be shown that science and reason typically push asunder religion’s magical explanations about reality. The reason is, those claims are not based with empirical support, and are fantasy. IMO, this is why religion fails. It’s child-like and useless. Those espousing a reality-based world view, should treat religion and the religious with kid-gloves, but with constant scolding.

  18. #18 David Lee
    April 22, 2009

    ” Why should we ask people to abandon the idea of a creator? ”

    Because we’re all going to drown in a sea of ignorance caused by not asking them to toss a untenable position. It’s hard to speak for the public but they keep going to museums despite have religion blared at them. So an argument over funding might even have benefits.

    “YES, we want to keep science agnostic – heck, it might as well be atheistic – and that’s good; but the only reason it is so, is because if indeed there are spiritual realities, science cannot test them.”

    Science as method is inherently atheistic and with no evidence of these so-called spiritual realities, it is best point that out and move on to more productive uses of research time.

    “If, for the sake of argument, you became interested in a religion, how would you like it if the proponents of that religion asked you to leave your scientific career in order to join?”

    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning here. Don’t some scientists eventually become non-productive due to their continual move towards religious explanations? I would think your theoretical idea happens on a frequent basis already. Imagine starting to believe the Earth is 6,000 years old after completing your doctorate. Must happen once in awhile.

  19. #19 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    so long as the more certain miracles were shown to have happened?

    Was supposed to be:

    so long as the more central [to Xianity] miracles were shown to have happened?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  20. #20 John Phillips, FCD
    April 22, 2009

    Mark, but, unlike your scenario, we are not asking anybody to give up their religion, only to keep it out of science. Oh, and please define spiritual realities for me, whatever they are. Or did you just try to play the NOMA card, naughty, naughty.

    As to removing or stopping funding, no problem for me and the rest of the world, we will happily swallow up your brightest and best into our research labs :)

    BTW, in your scenario, if we were talking about YEC or IDiocy, while it doesn’t ask you to necessarily give up your scientific career it does ask you to prostitute it in support of that religion and can often result in effectively giving up doing real science.

  21. #21 Marlinspike Siemens
    April 22, 2009

    David Lee @ 18: Yes, that’s what happened to
    Blaise Pascal, IIRC.

  22. #22 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    At one point in his otherwise excellent essay, Coyne says that the NCSE is backing down from “their mission of spreading Darwinism.” That’s too much quote-mining gold to hand over to Creationists. Maybe Coyne should rewrite that particular sentence.

    Maybe Coyne should rethink his idiotic use of the term ‘Darwinism’, which does not mean the same thing in the public square as it does in science. It clearly conveys a belief system in the former, rather than the position that evolution is caused by natural selection.

  23. #23 Anonymous
    April 22, 2009

    #15 (Tulse), I merely meant the idea of a creator – a sort of deistic God who set up the Big Bang – whatever that might entail (and NO we would not use him/her/it as a scientific explanation), as opposed to one who steps in and meddles with things.

    #17 (Alex) Just because something isn’t testable or “empirically relevant” does not mean it *doesn’t have an effect on reality. You can’t prove to me that Santa Clause doe NOT exist!

    #18 (David Lee) That’s why people call it faith. Now I have to admit growing up in a Christian home, and I’d still describe myself as a theist. And my reasoning with that one comment was that, if you’re asking the religious to abandon their faith in order to “do” science, how would you like it if, in turn, some time when you were interested in joining a religious, or heck – even a political group, they suddenly asked you to abandon the scientific enterprise?

    #20, No, actually, despite the fact that I *believe* there’s a strong possibility of a “first cause” creator, I do NOT agree with NOMA. I think religion much too often encroaches on the turf of science, and this is where I pull out the famously Churchillian cigars and Brandy, declaring “We will fight them on the beaches!”

  24. #24 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    Scott Hatfield @22: I agree. The term “Darwinism” isn’t even accurate, and certainly is not useful in Coyne’s essay. Mr. Coyne, please rewrite.

  25. #25 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    @23: I absolutely disagree that one cannot disprove Santa Claus. The existence of Santa Claus, like the existence of a God (in the theist sense) is a falsifiable hypothesis. We just don’t usually think about actually *doing* the relevant experiments, because they seem absurd (and also because the interns keep eating the milk and cookies before the experiment can be completed).

  26. #26 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    For one thing, the radicals on the other side are pushing just as hard (probably harder) for their irrational goals. For another, it makes the atheist argument more available for those who are ready to hear it.

    That is, to the best of my knowledge, FALSE with respect to the NCSE. There is no one with theist views affiliated with NCSE who has ever urged the organization to promote their personal religious views, ever, including me. I want NCSE to (correctly) portray evolution as something that a person of faith can accept as good science. I don’t want NCSE to say things like ‘Darwinism is true’ or ‘theistic evolutionism is true.’ And you know what? They don’t. The idea that there might be religiously-motivated radicals working within the organization to do apologestics deserves to be mocked.

  27. #27 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    @Scott Hatfield #26: You misunderstand me. I didn’t mean within the organization. I meant that Creationists would very much like the NCSE to shut up and stop telling them they can’t teach ID/YEC in schools, and that said Creationists are very vocal about it.

    I didn’t mean to imply there is a secret theological conspiracy within the NCSE, hahah, I’m sorry if it came across like that. My apologies.

  28. #28 bob
    April 22, 2009

    Uh, really? Criticizing the NCSE? I don’t know if any group of people have done more for evolution education in the US. I’m normally not one to get all concern-troll-ish, but what do you *honestly* think would happen if they adopted anything that even remotely looks like the “angry atheist” stereotype? Their effectiveness would drop to nil. Mind, I’m not defending morons’ stance that atheism=evil, but to deny the prevalence of that sentiment is as ridiculous as any YEC’s beliefs.

    The NCSE focuses on protecting the teaching of evolution in schools. Why do they need a stance on religion?

  29. #29 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    No one here (that I can tell) is asking the NCSE to adopt the “angry atheist stereotype.” But they do not meet even Fox News’s standard for “fair and balanced” when they list only Yes-You-Can-Love-Jesus-and-Science books in their recommended reading list.

  30. #30 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    You can’t prove to me that Santa Clause doe NOT exist!

    Your argument is a fallacy. It is up to those making positive claims about reality to show the evidence, not the opposite. It’s not up to science to “disprove” the existence of deities (or unicorns, or Santa Clause). That’s not how reality works. It’s up to those who claim that deities are real to show everyone else why they should think so. If this was not the case, than what you are arguing is that any claim about anything would have to be automatically accepted as true. Again, that’s not how reality works. Skepticism is the rational default position to take about any claims about reality.

    Very poor reasoning on your part.

  31. #31 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    Bob #28 sez: “The NCSE focuses on protecting the teaching of evolution in schools. Why do they need a stance on religion?”

    That’s not what the article is advocating. The article was asserting that “Abrahamic faith and evolution are compatible” is in itself a stance on religion.

  32. #32 Chris Davis
    April 22, 2009

    There was a good line from, I think, the head of Greenpeace: “It is the duty of a pressure group not to see the other guy’s point of view.”

    Inasmuch as atheists are a pressure group, I think that’s one of our duties. The Other Side are pretty good at doing so, Dawk knows.

  33. #33 James F
    April 22, 2009

    I would also like to see more emphasis on the importance of methodological naturalism in science. For example, Eugenie Scott has an excellent discussion of this at the NCSE web site that is unfortunately a bit buried in other material; it ought to be front and center.

    Going along with what others have mentioned, the NCSE’s tendency to emphasize that acceptance of evolution need not be incompatible with religion and to feature religious scientists is a direct reaction to the common claim (also promoted heavily by the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research, and Answers in Genesis) that evolution equals atheism, and that science is being taught and practiced from the standpoint of philosophical rather than methodological naturalism. No one doubts that one can be an atheist and accept evolution. There are indeed other organizations specifically devoted to the compatibility of science and faith (The Clergy Letter Project, The BioLogos Foundation, etc.), but addressing the evolution=atheism creationist talking point seems well within the NCSE’s purview.

  34. #34 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    You misunderstand me. I didn’t mean within the organization. I meant that Creationists would very much like the NCSE to shut up and stop telling them they can’t teach ID/YEC in schools, and that said Creationists are very vocal about it.

    James, I apologize for misunderstanding, but allow me to add this: What creationist would really like the NCSE to shut up about is the compatibility of faith with evolution. Most of them can’t stand the fact that NCSE essentially calls them out on this point. I’ve had many of their troglodytes go after me because I make this point in my classrooms, using materials from NCSE and PBS, and they just can’t stand it. What they want, desperately, is to coopt the entire sphere of faith for THEIR side and paint NCSE and its fellow travelers (like me) as agents of the devil. Coyne’s misguided critique feeds that stereotype!

  35. #35 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    Holy crap! Scott Hatfield is seen as an agent of the devil by the creationists? (@34).
    Really, my amazement at how far off base they can be is renewed. Whenever I think I’ve gotten a handle on the tone and scope of the battle, new perspectives prove to me that I’ve been far too conservative in estimating the amount of Crazy.

  36. #36 XD
    April 22, 2009

    Scott #34,

    I agree. It is a fallacy that faith and science are mutually exclusive, and it saddens me when I see otherwise intelligent Christians buy into it, and thus reject the validity of the theory of evolution (for instance) before they even understand what it is.

    What one should say is that science is incompatible with some types of religious thinking, but not all. Didn’t a noted Christian say something along the lines of “if reality contradicts scripture, adjust the scripture, don’t deny reality”?

    Those atheists who suggest that faith and science are mutually exclusive are inadvertently playing into the hands of those who would like to keep their followers ignorant.

  37. #37 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    @ Lynna

    I have family members that are convinced beyond any doubt that science is “of the devil”. Truly. They really believe that. It’s a trip.

  38. #38 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    Scott Hatfield sez in #34: “Coyne’s misguided critique feeds that stereotype!”

    I don’t actually disagree with that statement. There was also a time when I would have agreed with your conclusion, but I have since changed my mind somewhat.

    I’m going to continue my analogy with the gay rights movement. In many ways, gay pride parades feed the ultra-conservative stereotype of gay people as half-naked leather-wearing perverts who want to convert your children. But clearly, there is an important role for gay pride parades nonetheless — the pride aspect being the obvious one, but also in the sense of exposure, etc.

    Just like gay pride parades might provoke a damaging reactionary response from the O’Reillians, I allow that Coyne’s article might provoke a damaging reactionary response from those with Creationist sympathies. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the *overall* effect of Coyne’s article is negative. If nothing else, it gives a voice to many of us who previously felt like nobody else agreed with us.

    It seems melodramatic, but “atheist pride” is no small matter. Frankly, I am still reticent to admit my beliefs in some contexts. I wish I wasn’t. :/ But I suppose that’s a whole other story…

    Anyway, my main point is that for major societal change to take place, you need both moderates *and* radicals. After all, the world never changed when only moderates were advocating for it… nor has any movement gotten anywhere without traction in the mainstream. NCSE and Coyne are both necessary.

  39. #39 Horatio T. Bridges
    April 22, 2009

    The ‘Darwinism’ question was the subject of footnote #1
    in Why Evolution is True. I believe he wants to
    use some rhetorical judo similar to when the expanding
    universe partisans adopted Fred Hoyle’s sarcastic label
    ‘The Big Bang’ instead of repudiating it.

  40. #40 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    In regards to my conversation with Scott:

    I’d like to add that, FWIW, I do think faith is compatible with evolution — even though I ultimately don’t think it is compatible with science taken to its logical conclusion. (I believe someone already made this point) In addition, given the present political situation, I applaud you for going into classrooms and making this point, even though we may disagree strongly on other matters. What you are doing is appropriate and helpful given this time and place in history.

  41. #41 Josh
    April 22, 2009

    I have family members that are convinced beyond any doubt that science is “of the devil”. Truly. They really believe that. It’s a trip.

    But I presume that they own a car and use plastic and heat their home in the winter and stuff like that, right?

  42. #42 Bostonian
    April 22, 2009

    Mark #8:

    if indeed there are spiritual realities, science cannot test them

    Why not?

    If spiritual “realities” exist then there’s no justification for shoving them outside the realm of science. If we can’t test or detect them, why pay lip service to their existence? Heaven and Hell may indeed be real, but if we can’t test for them or detect them, the point is surely moot because all manner of undetectable things might be real. The Phantom Zone from the Superman universe is equally undetectable, as is the mirror universe of Star Trek, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster of the Pastafarian faith. Do we need to acknowledge that these things might be valid realities and offer respect to people who believe in them?

    The idea that some things are outside the realm of science is a ridiculous fallacy. If X is real, it’s fair game for science. If there’s no evidence for X, we shouldn’t teach it in schools and we bear no obligation to respect it.

  43. #43 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    It is a fallacy that faith and science are mutually exclusive…

    The only way this makes sense to me is if religion ceases to make any unscientific positive claims about the nature of reality. Any claim that’s not falsifiable should be rejected. No resurrection, no magical creation, no soul, no heaven, no hell, no talking snakes, no all-powerful keeper in the sky, no magical foundation for morality. None of those are falsifiable.

    So then. What’s left of the religion other than humanist pride?

  44. #44 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    @Alex’s #43: Out of your list of things that are not falsifiable, I disagree with a couple. “Resurrection” is falsifiable, “talking snakes” are falsifiable, and I would also probably argue that a “magical foundation for morality” is falsifiable IF we can show a non-magical foundation for morality (which I believe we can).

    The rest, I agree with you, they are probably not falsifiable :)

  45. #45 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    But I presume that they own a car and use plastic and heat their home in the winter and stuff like that, right?

    But see, that’s the “good” science. It’s completely different from the “evil” science that tries to disprove the bible.

    Josh, I get your point. For sure. They have deluded themselves into fully accepting unfalsifiable ideas as reality, while evidence contrary to their delusions is in full view.

    It’s quite scary.

  46. #46 David Wiener
    April 22, 2009

    To everyone complaining about the jesus friendly nature of the books over at NCSE: Have you taken no marketing classes?

    First – What is the goal of the NCSE? Seems like it is to promote science education, including the teaching of evolution.

    Second – Who is their target audience? Trained scientists, rationalist atheist, and well educated academicians? BZZZT – wrong.

    Their target audience is god bothered folks with a shaky grasp of science. This is the group they need to convince. That’s why those books are there.

    Seen in that light, they are doing the right thing: Communicating with their target audience in a way they can understand.

    You (we!) are not their target audience.

    Regards,

    David Wiener

  47. #47 hje
    April 22, 2009

    I believe that accommodation is a reasonable approach at a personal level, but not for a pro-science organization like the NCSE. For example: my parents will never believe in evolution, and no amount of reasoned argument will convince them otherwise. Yet I avoid attacking their beliefs–no matter how silly they may be–because it’s not worth the drama. I stick to my guns, and even though I don’t think I have been treated by them with the same level of respect, I try to treat them respectfully. In practical terms it’s usually been best to avoid conflict if at all possible (often with a refusal to engage, or a simple change of topic).

    The real problem is that the religious right is made up of a lot of people like my parents that collectively have promoted everything from very bad ideas to outright evil. On the other hand, it’s hard to go all Ward Churchill on them and make them out to be little Eichmanns (or the anti-science equivalent). Maybe others have dealt with this kind of conflict in different ways.

  48. #48 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    Alex @37. A trip, yes, but a scary one. Sheesh. A female friend of mine said, “I’d like to have a finely-honed intellect.” For her, that was a revelation that went against everything she had been brought up to believe, and against the habits of daily life she was more or less forced into living.

  49. #49 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    Jame’s at #44:

    Resurrection: All we can say about it is that is doesn’t appear to be happening today. There is no way to falsify that it happened back then. It’s a magical claim. It’s not claiming that resurrection is something that sometimes happens. It’s claiming that sky-daddy rose from the dead magically and unexpectedly (to the masses).

    Talking snakes: Similar argument. We know they shouldn’t be able to talk. But it was a magical snake in Genesis (I would argue).

    Morals: Showing a non-magical foundation (which I agree that science can and is showing) for morals does not disprove a magical foundation. Asserting a magical foundation is untestable.

    Magical claims are untestable – and for the wooers out there – I’m not talking about the Penn and Teller kind of magic.

  50. #50 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    Alex #44:

    There are two parts to the argument: That invoking “magic” automatically makes something untestable, and that an event that happened once in the distant past is by definition not falsifiable (unless it would have effects we can measure today).

    I definitely do not buy the first part. The idea that I am currently making my coffee cup fill with coffee via “magic” is a falsifiable hypothesis (and regrettably, also a false one, d’oh…). It only becomes unfalsifiable if I also add “and I magically erased all the evidence that my coffee cup is filled with coffee.”

    I might tentatively buy the second part, about isolated events in the past. I assert that a) “This snake can talk” is falsifiable, and that b) “This snake can talk using MAGIC” is falsifiable. I admit that c) “This snake can talk using MAGIC but there is also no evidence that it can talk because of MAGIC” is probably not falsifiable. So I *suppose* I admit that d) “This one snake thousands of years ago could talk using MAGIC” is not falsifiable, because it’s essentially c except that the evidence is missing due to non-magical means…

    Bah! I think we are now debating how many atheists can dance on the head of a pin. Sorry, I’ll stop…

  51. #51 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    Wait everyone. I’ve got egg on my face. I stand corrected on the whole god issue.

    Whoops.

  52. #52 Lynna
    April 22, 2009

    @46 — So let them present the woo-friendly list of books. But they should also include books on the list that are not woo-friendly. Let the readers read.

  53. #53 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2009

    To everyone complaining about the jesus friendly nature of the books over at NCSE: Have you taken no marketing classes?

    First – What is the goal of the NCSE? Seems like it is to promote science education, including the teaching of evolution.

    Second – Who is their target audience? Trained scientists, rationalist atheist, and well educated academicians? BZZZT – wrong.

    Their target audience is god bothered folks with a shaky grasp of science. This is the group they need to convince. That’s why those books are there.

    Seen in that light, they are doing the right thing: Communicating with their target audience in a way they can understand.

    You (we!) are not their target audience.

    Have you been introduced to Matt Nisbet?

  54. #54 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    My admission that isolated events of the past are not falsifiable has nothing to do with magic. I could also assert, “There was a snake thousands of years ago that could talk because, in an astounding coincidence, it experienced all of the mutations necessary to develop language centers in its brain, vocal cords, and various musculature in its jaw to facilitate sufficient frequency and amplitude modulation to make speech, all of this in a single generation, by sheer coincidence. Then it died without reproducing.” That is not “magic” per se, but it’s also unfalsifiable, I suppose…

  55. #55 Steve LaBonne
    April 22, 2009

    I’m deeply conflicted on this. My gut says Coyne is right on the money, but then my head reminds me that NCSE is essentially a marketing organization and the stuff that neither Coyne nor I like might be an unavoidable part of that mission given current realities in the US (as Scott Hatfield’s experience would attest.) I’m frankly glad I don’t have to make the call; it’s not an easy one. And yes, that’s a copout.

  56. #56 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    It looks to me like some folks here are missing Coyne’s point. As I read him, he isn’t demanding that the NCSE become a bastion of fire-breathing New Atheists, ready to attack the merest whiff of religiosity. He is simply saying that the NCSE should stay out of the issue of religion entirely. The problem isn’t that the NCSE isn’t opposing religion, it is that it is explicitly accommodating it. If it just avoided making pronouncements one way or the other regarding evolution and religion, there would be no problem.

  57. #57 Xion
    April 22, 2009

    Simple Update on pole: (04/22/09)

    You Hear This Information and Think What?

    Who freakin’ cares? He’s lucky we didn’t attach jumper cables to his nads. 4.24 %

    It’s horrible, but we needed to do it to prevent further American deaths. 1.05 %

    Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others should be going to jail over this. 94.71 %

  58. #58 Steve LaBonne
    April 22, 2009

    He is simply saying that the NCSE should stay out of the issue of religion entirely. The problem isn’t that the NCSE isn’t opposing religion, it is that it is explicitly accommodating it.

    I can’t speak for others, but I do understand that. The reason why I might be prepared to cut them some slack at the expense of my personal intellectual consistency was, as I noted, well summed up by Scott Hatfield in #34: some degree of accomodationism may actually be a pretty powerful weapon in the fight to protect science education. I say this despite personally being an uncompromising advocate of the position that religion is simply not compatible with science. I’m willing to at least consider occupying such a weaselly position because I truly remain that worried about creationist attacks on education. The idea being that I can’t afford to be totally consistent about this until it’s in less immediate danger. I’m not saying I feel good about this, it’s the kind of stance I normally scorn.

  59. #59 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    Magical thinking can not only be an honest attempt at finding comfort by explaining things we don’t understand, but it also can be used as a dishonest strategy by the religious (ID, YECs) to defend their world view from critical inspection. By employing “god did it”, they conveniently remove their conclusions from the purview of science.

    IMO, the scientific community should officially and publicly turn a cold shoulder to any organization or group that operates that way. Not only because it’s completely the opposite of how the scientific method works, but it is manipulative and dishonest.

  60. #60 BeamStalk
    April 22, 2009

    If it wasn’t for accommodationists, my parents would still be spouting off creationist nonsense. Instead I got them to read Ken Miller’s books and they now “see the light” so to speak.

  61. #61 Marcus Ranum
    April 22, 2009

    Scott Hatfield writes:
    You have regular commenters here who are theists, such as yours truly.

    I doubt anyone’s bending over backwards to accomodate your views. In fact, the reason you have survived here is probably that you’re more careful to accomodate us than the other way around. If you were thumping a bible you’d last less than a day, no matter that you appear to be a pretty decent chap for an irrationalist.

  62. #62 Marcus Ranum
    April 22, 2009

    Alex writes:
    By employing “god did it”, they conveniently remove their conclusions from the purview of science.

    Minor nit: they hope to conveniently remove their conclusions from the purview of science. They fail.

  63. #63 Marcus Ranum
    April 22, 2009

    In general:
    I suppose you could say that reality is always compatible with fiction, because fiction is infinitely flexible. Since reality is not, it behooves fiction to accomodate rather than the other way around; in fact reality cannot accomodate fiction except for where the fiction overlaps truth.

    I.e.: Yes, there was a Rome, and a palestine, therefore christianity contains some truth; we do not need to say that historians need to accomodate religions, however, it’s always the other way around. This applies whether we’re talking about science and religion, or history, or – basically – any place where reality and fiction conflict.

  64. #64 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    I agree Marcus – your nit has been picked, and improves on my assertion.

    They want so bad to shield their conclusions about reality from being empirically explored. But they are forced to concede the more science explores and learns. And although most times it seems they concede their (ridiculous) position politely, if you look closely you’ll always find a sneer behind their smile.

  65. #65 King Crimson
    April 22, 2009

    I don’t much care if a preacher, scientist or anyone else believes in miracles. I mean, whatever. But when they start claiming that evolution or any other science should include the study of miracles, that’s where we have to man the barricades.

  66. #66 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    I believe he wants to use some rhetorical judo similar to when the expanding universe partisans adopted Fred Hoyle’s sarcastic label ‘The Big Bang’ instead of repudiating it.

    That’s an interesting (and very charitable) interpretation of Dr. Coyne’s usage. But keep in mind that ‘expanding universe partisans’ in the 1950′s who wanted to wear Hoyle’s epithet as a badge of honor were largely practicing their judo on fellow astrophysicists. The primary objection to the ‘Big Bang’ theory came from scientists who held a philosophical preference for a steady-state universe, not from religious people with a whole series of religious teachings to defend. If Coyne thinks that he can reclaim the original usage of ‘Darwinism’ in North America through assertion he’s sadly mistaken: our foes are neither terribly rational or well-informed.

  67. #67 Gregory Kusnick
    April 22, 2009

    David Wiener: We may not be the target audience for NCSE’s marketing materials, but we are (part of) their donor pool. So they’d be smart not to piss us off by leaning too far in the accommodationist direction.

  68. #68 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    If it wasn’t for accommodationists, my parents would still be spouting off creationist nonsense. Instead I got them to read Ken Miller’s books

    No one is saying that Ken Miller can’t say whatever the heck he wants as his personal views — the complaint is that an allegedly “official” organization that implicitly represents all of science is spouting opinions about religion (and those opinions are by no means representative of all scientists, or even a majority of scientists).

  69. #69 Ineffable
    April 22, 2009

    “by consorting with scientists and philosophers …. they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.”
    “If God ?uses rules? to bring about his will, then evolution cannot be undirected.”
    “the great advance of Darwin?s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process ? no deity required. ”
    -Coyne
    Now that we can see what this debate is really about, not who has the better science, but who believes in dogmatic naturalism and who doesn’t, I hope people will attack the real target and the Discovery Institute bitch-smacks his unsupported philosophical position with their righteous wedge of truth.

  70. #70 Steve LaBonne
    April 22, 2009

    Eff you, ineffable moron. What you laughably call “dogmatic naturalism” simply means not being allowed to play with a deck that contains 52 jokers. It’s the only way science can work. Even the Miller-type theist / accomodationists don’t try to lay any jokers on the table when they’re doing their actual professional work.

  71. #71 bob
    April 22, 2009

    What is “official” about the NCSE? And what “opinions” about religion are they “spouting”? They’re either not commenting on it, or saying that it does not necessarily conflict with science. Why exactly is that a bad opinion for an evolution-advocacy group to hold?

    I also like the veiled threats about not funding them because they don’t EXACTLY conform to your opinions. Good luck finding an organization (or even another person) that does precisely agree with you about everything. Good luck also fending off arguments that the new atheists aren’t dogmatic. Sheesh … talk about playing directly into your opponents’ hands! Thank god (heh) that you people aren’t in charge of the NCSE!

  72. #72 Anonymous
    April 22, 2009

    Again, a lot of you folk seem to think NCSE is something other than what it is: an advocacy group in the public square defending the teaching of evolution. It doesn’t speak for science as a whole, and they are not obligated to treat evolution as you might prefer!

  73. #73 JD
    April 22, 2009

    MF’ers get smoked!

  74. #74 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    righteous wedge of truth

    I call Poe.

  75. #75 Cylux
    April 22, 2009

    It seems somewhat odd, that in order to ensure a decent level of education for students, convincing the parents that said education will not imperil their child’s ‘immortal soul’ by making them atheist is such a high priority.

    Actually no its not odd, its a crying shame.

    I wonder if the phrase ‘Oh ye of little faith’ applies to those being appeased…

  76. #76 JD
    April 22, 2009

    It’s a duh, “no shit” position. There ain’t no anthopomorphic space primate detected in natural, developmental processes. When creotards gonna learn?

    Teh, teh, teh. LOLZ.

    Somebody get me the SPF 85, cuz this stupid is starting to burn.

  77. #77 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    David Weiner #46 wrote:

    First – What is the goal of the NCSE? Seems like it is to promote science education, including the teaching of evolution… Their target audience is god bothered folks with a shaky grasp of science. This is the group they need to convince. That’s why those books are there.

    I think that Coyne’s concern is that they are addressing their target audience’s shaky grasp of science by offering them a less shaky grasp of science, and promoting theistic evolution as the correct viewpoint. As he points out, the NCSE is not really staying neutral.

    Religious faith may be compatible with science, but it isn’t consistent with science, in the sense that you will derive a belief in God from a study of the world as science has revealed it. Dawkins, Dennett, et al. argue instead that an understanding of the bottom-up nature of evolution undermines the top-down “like comes from like” stance of theism. This goes beyond arguing against “a literal reading of Genesis,” and attacks religion directly at its foundation.

    The NCSE makes a great deal about “methodological naturalism,” as opposed to “metaphysical naturalism.” But that’s taking an opinion on religion, for there’s nothing in the methods of science that rules out the ability to study the supernatural — if it exists. There is no such thing as “methodological naturalism.” Science fails to include the supernatural because it could have been — but wasn’t — supported.

    I’m sympathetic to pragmatic concerns, but, as Coyne points out, most of the ways which theists find to reconcile evolution with their faith leads to a teleological, magical view of evolution as goal-oriented, benevolent, and progressive. It is one thing for the NCSE to say “those views are out there.” It is another thing for them to appear to endorse them, and encourage their adoption.

    It may have less spam, but it’s still got spam.

  78. #78 JD
    April 22, 2009

    Teratology. Theistic evolution disputed in one word.

  79. #79 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    On the one hand, I have never once seen Coyne bring up cosmology as a threat to religion. Why not? Surely he knows that many of us do indeed see it as not only contradicting the Bible, but also any sort of teleological point of view.

    He seems to think that the NCSE really ought to point to the many scientists who understand evolution (and science at large) as being contrary to religion. He does not express any similar desire for the NCSE to point to cosmology as something most of us see as demonstrating a lack of any real goal or purpose.

    With this I disagree. The NCSE has, and should have, no agenda to delve into the conclusions many scientists make regarding the facts of either biology or of cosmology.

    On the other hand, though, he does bring up some statements that seem overwrought in favor of religion. Like this one:

    Must I choose only one or the other, or can I both believe in God and accept evolution? Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.

    True enough in what it says, deceptive, IMO, in what it leaves out. At least they point to its being a complex issue. Yet I can’t help but think that the unequivocal “yes” by theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions is not especially relevant. What else could they say, once they decided not to deny science? The fact of the matter is that many other theologians, clergy, and members of other religious traditions unequivocally answer “no.” Is that implied? Yes, to anyone who knows how to read these things. Not, however, to many more naive folk.

    More importantly, what do less biased observers answer to the same question? I do not think that most philosophers and experts in the history of thought find Xianity to be very compatible with science as a whole. Of course it can be shifted to become compatible with science. Nevertheless, many of us think that it has lost any claim to be meaningful by refusing to accept falsification. Again, I’d emphasize that this is more a matter of science taken altogether, and not of evolution itself, which could not alone undermine the more central claims regarding the creation of matter, space-time, and of the production of meaning within this universe.

    So yes, I think that Coyne is on to something with respect to some of the more misleading claims made. Unfortunately, though, Coyne mixes up the message of science with the notion that evolution itself is a grave threat to Xianity and to religion at large. This I believe would be doubtful in the extreme, if, for instance, cosmology supported Xianity, or documented miracles were found to be associated with Xianity in the manner described in the Bible. That is to say, if other branches of science supported religion (which they do not), evolution would do little to contradict religion, probably only demanding alternative interpretations of certain religious statements.

    And Coyne goes too far in suggesting that the NCSE ought to bring in the opinions of atheist scientists. For one thing, there is nothing at all that can decide whether or not religion should be compatible with science–mainly because there is nothing to religion’s claims. Scientifically we can only really say that some religious scientists do not find their religion incompatible with science. The fact that many do not does not change the NCSE’s stated fact that some traditions do find religion and science to be compatible, while it truly requires a movement into philosophy and like areas to discuss whether or not we should accept the judgment of some that they are not actually compatible.

    I’d return to cosmology to ask if we really ought to portray science as incompatible with religion. There are 1st Amendment issues involved with this, of course. My main concern, though, is that Coyne is more than happy to use evolution as a weapon against religion, yet does not feel compelled to say the same things about cosmology showing us a non-teleological universe.

    Besides which, whatever Darwin said (and why should I defer to Darwin in Coyne’s quote, when I do not defer to Darwin’s racist comments?), we cannot rule out teleology beyond the regions where science has knowledge. Thus, we cannot rule out teleology in biological evolution, since its limits are dictated by a universe which cannot be fully ruled out as having a teleological component. We might, after all, be some rogue scientist’s experiment, who laughs cynically at the human diseases which were highly likely to evolve in such a universe, much as one imagines Behe laughing at babies dying of malaria (presumably he does not, but why wouldn’t he, when he credits the “god” he worships for designing P. falciparum?).

    The fact is that if the battles were over geocentrism and cosmology, along with their implications, the organizations fighting against the anti-scientists would almost certainly be pointing out that many religions find the science to be compatible with their beliefs. Coyne appears to be perfectly content for the illusion of compatibility of geocentrism and cosmology with religion to get a pass, not demanding that the views of the many scientists that they are not compatible (at least without bowdlerizing Xianity) be presented. So why does he seem to be upset when the NCSE goes along with the same illusion with respect to evolution?

    Again, sometimes the NCSE’s statements do go too far, mainly in what they don’t say. I do think they should balance out some of their statements a bit more. Coyne, though, needs to be cognizant of the fact that in so many fights, wherein evolution is called “atheistic,” or, perversely, the opposite, a religion, the fact that many scientists, including Miller and Collins, do accept both evolution and Xianity are powerful counterarguments. These scientists demonstrate that so many of the anti-scientists are lying, no matter of what we think of Miller’s and Collins’s religious accommodation. For many people, any other argument that evolution is just science would not be nearly so effective.

    Empirically, we can state that many religious people are persuaded that evolution is part of scientific truth, and is not some atheistic conspiracy. Philosophically, we might argue that Miller and Collins are not thinking well. Notwithstanding that, we cannot join Coyne in his desire that philosophical claims that Xianity and science are not compatible be included in NCSE statements, mainly because it is a philosophical claim, not an empirical one.

    I wish Coyne understood the differences between empirical and philosophical statements much better than he does, particularly when he deigns to fault others for making philosophical claims. So while I agree that sometimes the NCSE is implying too much in a philosophical sense, still Coyne’s philosophical notion that Xianity really cannot accommodate science is more objectionable than are the NCSE’s empirical statements (albeit, sometimes with excessive philosophical overtones) that many religious people conclude that their religion is compatible with science.

    It is not the NCSE’s proper role to get into the philosophical debates over whether or not Xianity should be considered to be compatible with science. Nor are scientists particularly expert in coming to such conclusions, contrary to Coyne’s apparent belief. If religious authorities (John Paul II, for instance) declare that their religion is compatible with science, it is very difficult to argue that it cannot be (whether it is might be more arguable, notably with respect to neuroscience), in any empirical sense.

    Once more, I do think the NCSE goes too far, especially when it points to papers suggesting that ID is theologically unproductive (what isn’t theologically unproductive?). But it is trying very hard to indicate that evolution is not intrinsically “atheistic,” at least no more than other branches of science are, and it is only making explicit the illusion of compatibility that is generally portrayed to exist between religion and cosmology and religion and neuroscience. Evolution should not be depicted as being inherently any more threatening to religion than are cosmology and neuroscience, although one might suppose that the latter could very well be used as atheistic weapons much more than they normally are.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  80. #80 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    No no, Ineffable (#69) has a point. We naturalists are clearly guilty of dogmatic anti-dogmatism. Right? Whereas the Creationists have no such prejudice against dogma.

    Who is the true freethinker? The one who harbors an unconditional prejudice against all forms of dogma? Or the mind that is open enough to embrace a narrow and immutable dogma without question?

    But no, what am I saying? The Bible quite specifically doesn’t say that secularism is the truth, the way, and the light… and since I am an anti-Biblical literalist (i.e. I literally believe everything that wasn’t said in the Bible) I must accept this as true! So back to my old secularist propaganda it is:

    People say that atheism is the absence of a religion, rather than a religion itself. P-shaw! I say, Christianity is not a religion, it is the absence of irreligion! Don’t those godlessless a-atheists realize that the only true path to salvation is to put their unwavering faith in the rejection of faith as a path to salvation?

  81. #81 Dentroman
    April 22, 2009

    See you tommorow PZ! I cannot wait for the talk. Have a safe flight!
    Dentroman

  82. #82 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    Oops, should have been:

    The NCSE has, and should have, no agenda to delve into the conclusions [about religion that] many scientists make regarding the facts of either biology or of cosmology.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  83. #83 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    What is “official” about the NCSE?

    That’s a fair point — while they are very high profile, they are just a collection of members. Given that their members include (according to their website) “scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations”, I suppose their positions actually reflect those of their members.

    And what “opinions” about religion are they “spouting”? They’re either not commenting on it, or saying that it does not necessarily conflict with science. Why exactly is that a bad opinion for an evolution-advocacy group to hold?

    Umm…because it’s false?

  84. #84 JD
    April 22, 2009

    This thread will be the next Jesus and Mo cartoon. It has been revealed to me by a higher power.

  85. #85 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    James,

    Nice example of how the a-irreligious manipulate language and over-unsimplify concepts. Hand waving and pirouettes.

  86. #86 George
    April 22, 2009

    I have a different view of the NCSE. A primary purpose of this organization must be to address the conflict between some religious groups and proper teaching of science. To that end, they must address that conflict. Part of that is to show some religious groups accept science whatever that leads to while reconciling with their faith.

    This is essential.

  87. #87 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” – Abraham Lincoln

  88. #88 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    some religious groups accept science whatever that leads

    Apart from Deists, what groups would that be?

  89. #89 James Sweet
    April 22, 2009

    Pantheists, of course! And, since I hear we are officially a religion now, atheists.

    So that’s at least three religions that accept science wherever it leads. What’s the problem? ;p

  90. #90 Tulse
    April 22, 2009

    some religious groups accept science whatever that leads

    Apart from Deists, what groups would that be?

  91. #91 ice9
    April 22, 2009

    Where does the close quote go in the second hypothetical quote in the Darwin quotation?

    ice

  92. #92 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    To paraphrase thunderf00t, calling atheism a religion is like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby.

  93. #93 llewelly
    April 22, 2009

    David Wiener April 22, 2009 1:34 PM :

    Their target audience is god bothered folks with a shaky grasp of science. This is the group they need to convince. That’s why those books are there.

    Seen in that light, they are doing the right thing: Communicating with their target audience in a way they can understand.

    What will they do when their target audience starts to think about the fact that Earth existed for 4.5 billion years before modern humans evolved? What happens when their target audience realizes humans are only one of millions of species of creatures on Earth, most quite unlike humans? What happens when those people look at what is usually the 3rd brightest natural object in the night sky, and realize it is Jupiter, a planet 11 times the diameter of Earth, and 1300 times the volume of Earth, and yet, wholly inhospitable to human life?

    Nearly all religious people – especially those who are Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, believe humans are the central focus of all creation. The evidence is strongly against such a notion. The evidence also reject the resurrection of Jesus, the bodily ascension of Mohammad, and all other miracles – many of which are central to someone’s faith.

    It is not an accident that many of Kenneth Miller’s remarks about the relationship between religion and science stray dangerously close to advocating intelligent design, even though he has been a staunch opponent of teaching ID in schools. His religion requires it – as do the religions of most North and South Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Indians. Theologians and philosophers are fond of formulating religions which do not conflict with science, and many people are fond of promoting such formulations in the interest of avoid conflict. But such formulations are wholly alien to billions of religious people.

    What will the marketers of evolution do when their target audience travels far enough down the road to see the conflicts between science and their religion, conflicts the marketers told them did not exist? Will they be happy that they were seduced into travelling down the road to science? Or will they feel betrayed?

  94. #94 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    Glen Davidson #79 (82)wrote:

    The NCSE has, and should have, no agenda to delve into the conclusions [about religion that] many scientists make regarding the facts of either biology or of cosmology… And Coyne goes too far in suggesting that the NCSE ought to bring in the opinions of atheist scientists.

    And yet Coyne writes:

    Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don?t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution… Leave theology to the theologians.

    Aren’t you in agreement here?

  95. #95 Evolving Squid
    April 22, 2009

    to the extent that belief in God is generally privileged in the popular culture

    That phrase captures exactly my problem with religion. Although I would like religion to disappear completely, I’d be happy if it is put in its proper place.

    Right now, religious belief is permitted to operate far above its station. It is my hope that while I am alive, religious belief will be relegated to the same status as any other unfounded belief system.

    That is to say, if people want to believe in god(s), that’s fine, but they deserve to be treated as we’d treat anyone who believes in Santa Claus or selkies.

  96. #96 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    Glen Davidson #79 (82)wrote:

    The NCSE has, and should have, no agenda to delve into the conclusions [about religion that] many scientists make regarding the facts of either biology or of cosmology… And Coyne goes too far in suggesting that the NCSE ought to bring in the opinions of atheist scientists.

    And yet Coyne writes:

    Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don?t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution… Leave theology to the theologians.

    Aren’t you in agreement here?

    What about here?

    There are no statements by anyone who sees faith and science as in conflict. This is not because those people don?t exist: after all, there are plenty of scientists and philosophers, including myself, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, P. Z. Myers, Dan Dennett, A. C. Grayling, and Peter Atkins, who feel strongly that science and religion are incompatible ways of viewing the world. Several of these people have written books to that effect. Apparently the NAS prefers to ignore this dissent.

    When a professional organization makes such strong statements about the compatibility of science and faith, and ignores or gives but a polite nod to the opposing view, that organization is endorsing a philosophy. This goes beyond saying that evolution is true.

    So why am I using this space to criticize the organization? I suppose it?s because I feel that in its battle against creationism, the NCSE should represent all evolutionary biologists. But they are not representing a lot of us when they nuzzle up to theologians and vigorously push the harmony of science and religion. In effect, they?re pretending that the many people who disagree with their philosophical message don?t exist. Yet they can afford to ignore us because, in the end, where else can we atheists go for support against creationists?

    I didn’t write that he is consistent.

    And he’s a bit too utopian to think that somehow the NCSE can simply ignore religion in fighting for evolution education. I realize that if they totally left off discussion of religion, Coyne’s statements could be seen as reasonably consistent (he wouldn’t push for inclusion of his views if those of the theists were left off, presumably). But they can’t, they have to discuss the fact that religionists and atheists accept the science of evolution, while all but a few weirdo atheists deny both ID and the attacks of the anti-evolutionists. The whole attempt to stop or weaken evolution education is driven by religion, and the presumption that evolution is somehow part of the atheist agenda is what provokes the whine about “fairness”.

    The NCSE is specifically countering some of the most crucial falsehoods of the creationists when they present Collins, Ayala, and Miller. They do not intend to deal with the philosophies of either the theists or the atheists, even though I agree that sometimes they tilt too far toward the theistic philosophy. They generally mean to hit the lies of the creationists, not to be “accommodationist,” although I think sometimes they are the latter.

    Plus, I have no idea why Coyne thinks that the NCSE ought to represent all evolutionary biologists. The NCSE is arguing for science teaching, it is not concerned about the soundness of disagreements between Miller and Coyne. The point of the NCSE in bringing up theists who are evolutionists is that empirically we can say that the set of evolutionists includes theists, and not to decide whether or not the theists are thinking rightly.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  97. #97 bobxxxx
    April 22, 2009

    Making Idiot America scientifically literate is a worthy goal, but just as important is the complete eradication of religious beliefs from this country. That’s why I always tell Christians, when they complain about the religious implications of evolution, that they should stop acting like retarded five year olds and throw out their ridiculous death cult. If they’re insulted that’s good. Being nice to brainwashed morons has never accomplished anything.

  98. #98 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    Being nice to brainwashed morons has never accomplished anything.

    Unless you need their votes to win an election for public office.

  99. #99 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    David Klinghoffer is yammering on about the evils of “Darwinism,” at Darwin’s Tree of Death: My Reply to Readers, a follow-up to his attempt to blame Darwin for the Columbine shootings. He’s generally allowed my comments, but the last one hasn’t gone through yet, so I’m putting it here for the record–and because some might be interested in what he’s written:

    David Klinghoffer:

    The ideas that comprise Darwin’s worldview, set forth in his books, have justified social movements for evil — racism, colonialism, eugenics, etc. — but none, that I’m aware of, for good. If anyone can think of counterexamples, please let me know.

    Here’s a good start:

    Conversely, the theory of Reform Darwinism, also based on Darwin?s theory of evolution, focuses on the need for activism to change the environment, thus accelerating human adaptation, and ensuring survival.

    Reform Darwinists have offered an alternative school of thought in regard to the hardships felt by those who had been unable to break through poverty, joblessness, discrimination, and the invisible, yet obvious American social caste. Reformers set out to improve conditions within the community, act as stewards of goodwill and support those who had been long forgotten. Without the works of these compassionate humanitarians it is hard to imagine what life in the United States would be like today. Reform Darwinists helped to create many of the regulations we appreciate today, such as overtime pay, the abolishment of child labor, safer environmental policies, and rent control. These reforms act as a bridge to the progression of positive change within American society.

    The Evolution of Human Potential: The Bridges and Barriers of Social Reform

    I suppose it could be argued that Reform Darwinists had utopian, teleological ideas of evolution, and did not actually reflect Darwinian notions of evolution. Well, so what if that’s true? Neither did Social Darwinism or Naziism reflect the science of evolution, while Klinghoffer feels free to hang that bastard idea around the neck of science.

    And does David really doubt that passages like these, from Darwin’s autobiography, led to good?

    in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered “No.” I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything. p. 74

    He has been all-powerful in impressing some grand moral truths on the minds of men. On the other hand, his views about slavery were revolting. In his eyes might was right. His mind seemed to me a very narrow one; even if all branches of science, which he despised, are excluded. It is astonishing to me that Kingsley should have spoken of him as a man well fitted to advance science. He laughed to scorn the idea that a mathematician, such as Whewell, could judge, as I maintained he could, of Goethe’s views on light. He thought it a most ridiculous thing that any one should care whether a glacier moved a little quicker or a little. p. 113

    Of course, I’d like to return to the gist of my earlier comments, which are that regardless of Darwin’s views and the use to which they were put, he’s praised for his science, which is interested in “objective truth,” not in “social results.” And that although we might find any number of Darwin’s views distasteful, his writings were not commands to treat people ill, unlike many passages in the Bible.

    Glen Davidson

  100. #100 James F
    April 22, 2009

    Sastra #77 wrote:

    The NCSE makes a great deal about “methodological naturalism,” as opposed to “metaphysical naturalism.” But that’s taking an opinion on religion, for there’s nothing in the methods of science that rules out the ability to study the supernatural — if it exists. There is no such thing as “methodological naturalism.” Science fails to include the supernatural because it could have been — but wasn’t — supported.

    I have to disagree. It is essentially the neutral philosophy under which science is taught and practiced; it doesn’t bring religion or the supernatural in for analysis by the scientific method. To quote Eugenie Scott, “[M]odern science operates under a rule of methodological naturalism that limits it to attempting to explain natural phenomena using natural causes. ” It’s only when you get into metaphysical naturalism or theistic evolution that a religious opinion enters into it.

  101. #101 Glen Davidson
    April 22, 2009

    I should just say that my comment was allowed through at Klinghoffer’s site.

    Whatever his faults, apparently UD-style censorship is not one of them.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  102. #102 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    To be untestable, or beyond science, is to have no effect whatsoever. To have no effect is indistinguishable from not existing; to talk of “spiritual realities” or “the metaphysical” is to play word games. To talk of science being “metaphysically neutral” is itself metaphysically loaded, as it implies that there could be some sort of “metaphysical reality” separate from reality itself; as if not only can one imagine hordes of totally undetectable, consequenceless angels dancing on the head of every pin, but that they could actually exist. But that robs the word “exist” of any discernable meaning.

    All religion is based on lies, even the most sophisticated forms. Here we have the lie that people have “faith” in something that is untestable, beyond science,
    “metaphysical”, etc. But the fact is that all such people believe in things that would have empirical consequences, and they believe in them on an empirical basis — the claims of the bible, how widespread religious belief is, order that they perceive in nature, etc. If their beliefs were not grounded in empiricism, they would never have come to them and would have no reason to maintain them. The lie that these beliefs are about something “metaphysical”, “beyond science”, etc. allows them to evade the intellectual responsibility of abandoning beliefs that have no factual support. It’s their attempt to exempt themselves from the fundamental basis of rational discourse, which is the giving of reasons.

  103. #103 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism. Nobody is asking them to promote atheism. What we’re objecting to is that they have gone too far in mollycoddling theistic views, and have falsely represented science as being congenial to religious interpretations, to the point where godless explanations are being actively excluded.

    I’m sorry to disagree with you, PZ, but this is wrong on a number of points.

    1# NCSE, NAS and AAAS are not organizations whose purpose is to defend secularism.

    They are to promote science, which can be done by pretty much anyone who is willing to set aside their personal beliefs and follow evidence where it will lead. This practice is consonant with, but not reducible to, a pluralistic society under a secular government.

    2# Pretty much anything is congenial to a religious explanation.

    There is no evidence-based claim that can not be twisted to support a religious, even a heavily sectarian explanation. I should know: I just listened to a Hugh Ross talk. You should hear the epicycles! You simply can’t win on this question of mollycoddling, because it doesn’t turn on specifics, which are noticeably absent in this post. It’s all perception, and what has seemingly escaped your Bullshit Detector is that pseudoscience is always able to portray itself as congenial to real science. There’s no real harm in telling the faithful they can play with the toys. The trick is not to discourage the pseudoscintists from participating, but to get them to agree to play by the rules of science and let the chips fall where they may.

    Bottom line: it’s not the job of the NCSE or other scientific organizations to make it easier for non-believers to invoke science as justification for non-belief. It’s their job to get as wide an audience as possible to consider the merits of evolution purely as science.

    3# Godless explanations are not being excluded as a rule in science classrooms, and NCSE is not engaged in attempting to exclude them

    Godless explanations are not excluded from science classrooms by definition, because ALL scientific explanations are by definition godless.

    Universal Gravitation? Godless!

    Plate tectonics? Godless!

    Standard Model of Physics? Godless!

    Etc. etc. etc.

    NCSE is most emphatically not encouraging anyone to substitute ‘goddidit’ for natural explanations. What they are saying is that religious belief does not rule out acceptance of evolution, and that many believers are in fact enthusiastic champions of evolution. That is part of the strategy deemed prudent to accomplish their mission.

  104. #104 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    The NCSE makes a great deal about “methodological naturalism,” as opposed to “metaphysical naturalism.” But that’s taking an opinion on religion, for there’s nothing in the methods of science that rules out the ability to study the supernatural — if it exists. There is no such thing as “methodological naturalism.” Science fails to include the supernatural because it could have been — but wasn’t — supported.

    I have no idea what you think “the supernatural” is such that it might be studied, or might have been supported but wasn’t. How could lack of support result in a permanent banishment from science? Surely new evidence for “the supernatural” would be support for it?

    The fact is that this notion of “the supernatural” is a complete conceptual muddle. It is impossible for there to be anything that is “supernatural”, because “natural” encompasses all that there is, whether we have encountered it yet or not. If we had encountered, or do encounter, evidence of souls or ghosts or creators of universes, that would be natural evidence of natural phenomena, by semantic necessity.

  105. #105 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    1# NCSE, NAS and AAAS are not organizations whose purpose is to defend secularism.

    They are to promote science, which can be done by pretty much anyone who is willing to set aside their personal beliefs and follow evidence where it will lead.

    Do you even bother to read what you quote mine, Scott? Here it is again:

    The science classroom must remain secular ? that is, it is not a place to endorse atheism or theism, or for those conflicts to take place. We should be teaching about science and science only, and let the implications of that science on culture be discussed freely outside. Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism.

    Are you sure you disagree?

  106. #106 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    @ 104

    Thank you sacred. Really. I try so hard sometimes to illustrate that argument, and only get blank stares. IMO, well done.

    I wonder how it is that most I’ve come across simply make the assumption that “supernatural” exists. Surely anything that “exists”, exists in Nature. For if it did not, there would be no way to know of it. It’s an effectively meaningless concept.

  107. #107 Allen Green
    April 22, 2009

    Okay, so the gloves are off then.

    Well here are some deep strikes from the accomodation side:

    Do you guys really think that attacking religion will do anything other than move people away from your side?
    If so, you’re living in a fantasy world. When forced to choose between God and evolution, most people do not choose evolution. AIG says that they’re not compatible, and if you do the same, you’re forcing people over to their side.

  108. #108 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    Godless explanations are not excluded from science classrooms by definition, because ALL scientific explanations are by definition godless.

    Is it your religion that makes you stupid, Scott? When PZ writes that godless explanations are being excluded from the classroom, he is not saying that all godless explanations are being excluded. Amazingly enough, despite your attempted proof by definition, some godless explanations are being excluded from some classrooms. That’s a major reason why organizations like NCSE are necessary.

    Frankly, people who are so clueless and incapable of logical reasoning should find something better suited to their skills than intellectual debate.

  109. #109 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    Well here are some deep strikes from the accomodation side

    “deep strikes”? That’s what you call your trite attacks on strawmen? LOL. You might want to try actually reading and comprehending what PZ and Coyne wrote.

  110. #110 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    The point of the NCSE in bringing up theists who are evolutionists is that empirically we can say that the set of evolutionists includes theists, and not to decide whether or not the theists are thinking rightly.

    Precisely so.

    And, frankly, as a theist who has stood shoulder-to-shouler with skeptics on this point, I’m disappointed in some of you. I’m in the trenches defending evolution every day, and not once have I ever suggested that any privately-held view should ever be privileged where evolution is concerned. I’ve never once heard of any NCSE member doing anything like that.

    (scratches head)

  111. #111 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    James F #100 wrote:

    I have to disagree. It (methodological naturalism) is essentially the neutral philosophy under which science is taught and practiced; it doesn’t bring religion or the supernatural in for analysis by the scientific method. To quote Eugenie Scott, “[M]odern science operates under a rule of methodological naturalism that limits it to attempting to explain natural phenomena using natural causes. “

    I disagree with you (and Scott) here, and think our disagreement rests in part on the definition of “supernatural.” If it is defined as “that which can’t be studied by science,” then of course methodological naturalism is equivalent to the practice of science. But if you look at how the term is used, and the types of phenomenon it’s applied to by the believers, we’re usually dealing with various versions of what Daniel Dennett called skyhooks, “a ?mind-first? force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity.”

    Irreducible, non-material, mind-like beings or forces would include things like ghosts, souls, ESP, psychokenesis, magical correspondences, vitalism, karma, prana, God, cosmic consciousness, reincarnation, “intentional energy,” a universal tendency towards the harmonic balance of Good and Evil, progressive evolution towards Higher States, and mind/body substance dualism.

    Can science say nothing — one way or the other — about the existence of any of these things? Could you imagine a fictional scenario where at least some of the above are clear and obvious, demonstrated with a high probability — and are tentatively accepted as the best explanation, over alternatives? I can.

    None of these supernatural phenomenon have been ruled out in advance by the methods of science. At one time or another, people have either expected them to be verified, or thought they were — or still think they have been.

    I think that the only reason religious claims (which pretty much fall into these categories in one way or another) are not brought in for analysis by the scientific method — and are not supposed to be in harmony with the discoveries of modern science — is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ not to do so, to protect them from either disproof, or the Razor. It’s not because the methods couldn’t handle them — if the evidence was there.

    Coyne, Dawkins, PZ, et al, are not buying into being ‘gentlemen.’ Take it seriously, state it clearly, take it apart, and follow the rules.

  112. #112 John Morales
    April 22, 2009

    Allen Green,

    [1] Do you guys really think that attacking religion will do anything other than move people away from your side? I would should say confronting, not attacking.
    [2] If so, you’re living in a fantasy world. [3] When forced to choose between God and evolution, most people do not choose evolution. [4] AIG says that they’re not compatible, and if you do the same, [5] you’re forcing people over to their side.

    1. Meh. Ridiculing is attacking only in a particular sense; it is not violent.
    2. It’s fantasy because it’s not congruent to yours?
    3. There is no such forced choice, as the existence of theistic evolutionists demonstrates.
    4. So does Pharyngula, but only in an epistemological sense, not a functional one.
    5. Your concern is noted. I would note that I think the ratio of forcing >1 in the direction away from theism.

  113. #113 John Morales
    April 22, 2009

    Oops. Edit failure @112.
    “I would should say confronting, not attacking.” is mine, should’ve been appended to my response at 1.

    </redface>

  114. #114 MadScientist
    April 22, 2009

    Yay Jerry! I’ll go out and buy a copy of your latest book now.

    I get savaged by people who claim to be non-believers whenever I say that fairys really haven’t got a leg to stand on and that the position “I’ll believe if I see evidence”, although technically correct, is actually extremely absurd. Would you believe in the Snuffalupagus if you saw evidence of it? Would any sane and sensible person believe they will ever see evidence of the Snuffalupagus? (Well, a real-life Snuffy anyway, not the muppet.) In a similar fashion we find apologetics such as the “non-overlapping magisteria” of Gould and people who think they need to be polite to the ignorant and find a way for evolution and creationism to coexist. It’s great to see people like Jerry say “no, what you believe is just plain bullshit”.

  115. #115 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #104 wrote:

    If we had encountered, or do encounter, evidence of souls or ghosts or creators of universes, that would be natural evidence of natural phenomena, by semantic necessity.

    If that were the case, I would instead say that the naturalists were wrong, and the supernatural exists after all.

    Otherwise, naturalism has become unfalsifiable by definition — and such a semantic victory is more or less empty.

  116. #116 Alex
    April 22, 2009

    you’re forcing people over to their side.

    Perhaps so. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a fact, but I’ll just set that aside.

    I was raised a xtian and “knew” for a fact that all of the bible stories were true and the whole big bang thing and evolution were wrong. Until I actually sat in college classrooms where talented professors not only taught, but demonstrated factual knowledge. Knowledge in the areas of physics, geology, anthropology, biology, chemistry, and astronomy. All this in my first 2 years. I knew then that the religious stuff was just stories. It felt great to get a hold of real knowledge.

    The point I’m trying to make is, every effort should be made to keep the religious lies out of all of the science rooms. Furthermore, science organizations should take firm stances on why religious ideas be excluded. IMO, there can be no “safe” language for that. I use the term “lies” here in my post. Perhaps settling for “inaccuracies” and “fabrications” would be more PC.

    For over 500 Sunday-school lessons they had my undivided attention. In less than 2 years of prerequisite course work, those lessons were completely ineffective in keeping me a believer. The last thing we need is for those lessons – even in watered down form – to disrupt the teaching of factual knowledge.

  117. #117 Chiroptera
    April 22, 2009

    Allen Green, #107: When forced to choose between God and evolution, most people do not choose evolution.

    Let me put it this way: I don’t think we do anyone any favors by coating what may be unpleasant truths with falsehoods to make them more palatable. For one thing, it is disrespectful to people to assume that they will reject basic truths even when evidence is provided just because they are unpleasant. Some people do this, but I think in the long term people in general can accept facts without being combined with non-facts.

    For another thing, I think that it is just plain immoral to combine truth with non-truth just to get the truths accepted. The truth should stand or fall on its own merits, that is, on the evidence that can be provided. If you start off by combining truth with falsehood, then you have already lost the game.

    That’s just my opinion. And a general one; I am purposely not taking a stand at this moment on the particular question of whether science and religion are compatible.

  118. #118 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    @Alex’s #43: Out of your list of things that are not falsifiable, I disagree with a couple. “Resurrection” is falsifiable, “talking snakes” are falsifiable

    You don’t understand falsifiability. It is hypotheses and theories that are falsifiable, by entailing predictions that can be contradicted by observation. Individual claims about past events cannot be falsified; they can only be rejected based on Ockham’s Razor, but they remain logically possible.

    and I would also probably argue that a “magical foundation for morality” is falsifiable IF we can show a non-magical foundation for morality (which I believe we can).

    That’s an even worse misunderstanding. Theories are not falsified by finding other theories that explain the same phenomenon; that again is a matter of Ockham’s Razor.

    In addition, a non-magical explanation of why people have the moral attitudes that they do is not inconsistent with the notion that there is a guy in the sky who has issued decrees as to what is right and wrong. In fact, that many people believe there is, is one non-magical fact of many that helps explain existing moral attitudes.

  119. #119 JJ
    April 22, 2009

    Every time I read one of these ‘science and religion are/are not compatible’, threads I always think of one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands (they are pretty bad, but that’s why i love ‘em)

    Science of Myth
    Screeching Weasel
    My Brain Hurts (1991)

    If you’ve ever question beliefs that you hold you’re not alone
    But you oughtta realize that every myth is a metaphor
    in the case of Christianity
    and Judaism there exist the belief
    that spiritual matters are enslaved to history
    The Buddhists believe that the functional aspects override the myth
    while other religions use the literal core to build foundations with
    See half the world sees the myth as fact
    while it’s seen as a lie by the other half and
    the simple truth is that it’s none of that and
    somehow no matter what the world keeps turning
    Somehow we get by without ever learning
    Science and religion
    are not mutually exclusive
    In fact for better understanding
    we take the facts of science and apply them
    And if both factors keep evolving
    then we continue getting information
    but closing off possibilities
    makes it hard to see the bigger picture
    Consider the case of the women
    whose faith helped her make it through
    when she was raped and cut up left for dead
    in a trunk her beliefs held true
    It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not cause
    some things are better left without a doubt and
    if it works then it gets the job done
    Somehow no matter what the world keeps turning

  120. #120 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    If that were the case, I would instead say that the naturalists were wrong, and the supernatural exists after all.

    It’s uninteresting what someone so conceptually confused would say.

    Otherwise, naturalism has become unfalsifiable by definition — and such a semantic victory is more or less empty.

    Yeah, sure, all analytical truths are “more or less empty”. That batchelors are unmarried is “more or less empty” because it isn’t falsifiable.

    Sorry, but it is your notion of “more or less empty” that is … well, too full, making it, again, conceptually muddled.

  121. #121 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Nothing’s Sacred:

    Quote-mining? Them’s fightin’ words, podhuh!

    You ask, with respect to my counter-claim that that purpose of NCSE, etc. is not to promote secularism:

    Are you sure you disagree?

    Yes, of course I disagree.

    NCSE’s purpose (it’s on their web site, you might want to visit it) is to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

    That’s NOT the same thing as secularism. It is true that one of the major arguments that NCSE makes (and which I make) to defend evolution education relies heavily on the Establishment Clause, and that much of the resistance to evolution education is religious in origin.

    But….it is ALSO true that much of the arguments NCSE makes are purely scientific, rather than legal, and that many of the problems in preventing the acceptance of evolution in the public square are conceptual, rather than religious in origin. But don’t take my word for it, just because I’ve been an NCSE supporter and evolution educator for years. Get on the UCMP ‘Understanding Evolution’ site and see for yourself what’s involved in teaching evolution well.

    Also, in case you haven’t thought this through carefully, NCSE’s resources are routinely used in private schools, by home schoolers and other settings which are definitely not secular settings. In fact, part of NCSE’s mission is “increasing public understanding” of evolution and the nature of science. The goal of ‘public understanding’ extends beyond the institutions of our secular government. Surely, even so pithy a wit as yourself, who takes my profession of belief as a sign to take the kid gloves off , should be able to see that this is true.

    Also, on the point that some schools are not providing ‘godless explanations’, that is doubtless true and another reason why I support NCSE. But that’s not the issue I was responding to, O Person Who Accuses Me of Quote Mining. Rather, I was responding to PZ’s claim, which seems to be that NCSE is making ‘nice-nice’ with evolution, while excluding a ‘godless explanation’ for evolution.

    Well, that simply isn’t true where NCSE is concerned. NCSE supports the scientific study of evolution, and natural explanations for natural phenomena, including evolution. All such explanations are ‘godless’ by definition….and I’m ‘OK’ with that. I invite you to re-read my original posts in that light.

  122. #122 Monado
    April 22, 2009

    I’m reading “Why Evolution is True” right now.

  123. #123 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    But if you look at how the term is used, and the types of phenomenon it’s applied to by the believers, we’re usually dealing with various versions of what Daniel Dennett called skyhooks, “a ?mind-first? force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity.”

    Dennett doesn’t object to skyhooks simply because he doesn’t like them or because we haven’t encountered any, but because they are incoherent as a form of explanation. When he says “principle”, he really means it. Skyhooks beg the question, they do not and cannot fulfill the requirements of explanation, because they require even more explanation than what they purport to explain. If we find evidence of skyhook, we cannot possibly be done … we need to look for the cranes that built the skyhook. Oh, but logic is so “empty”, more or less.

  124. #124 Steve
    April 22, 2009

    Celebrate Earth Day by heading over to this site to find people critical of BOTH environmentalism AND evolution. It’s a daily double. You can comment freely.

    http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2009/04/earth-day-for-evolutionists.html

  125. #125 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    It’s uninteresting what someone so conceptually confused would say.

    (!)

    Curious, then, that you would bother to reply, or that you would imagine anyone would want to read the rest of what you wrote, when you begin by insulting your correspondent.

    You know, there is a difference between being disarmingly frank and being ill-mannered. Sastra and I differ on a number of points, not the least being my habit of god-bothering, but I have always found Sastra’s posts to be worthy of contemplation. There is a reason why my fellow Pharynguloids hold Sastra in high regard, and why you are likely to be met by indifference.

    (with a Mona Lisa smile)

    I will talk to Big Sky Daddy about you.

  126. #126 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2009

    Will Big Sky Daddy dispatch a Marine to knock us out?

  127. #127 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    Yes, of course I disagree.

    Silly you then. But I don’t think you even understand what it is you think you disagree with, because you never actually lodge a disagreement with it — notably, you again remove the context being discussed. You write “You ask, with respect to my counter-claim that that purpose of NCSE, etc. is not to promote secularism:” — no, that is not what I asked with respect to, I asked with respect to PZ’s statement that I quoted. Of course I’m not asking you whether you disagree with yourself.

    NCSE’s purpose (it’s on their web site, you might want to visit it) is to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools.
    That’s NOT the same thing as secularism.

    These silly strawmen are tiresome. It is PZ whom you claim to disagree with. It is PZ who stated what he meant by “secularism” — a statement that you repeatedly omit.

    Also, on the point that some schools are not providing ‘godless explanations’, that is doubtless true

    Then why did you lie and say it wasn’t — by definition, yet.

    But that’s not the issue I was responding to

    Yes, actually, it was; I quoted the context.

    O Person Who Accuses Me of Quote Mining

    Quote mining is just a symptom of your dementia; even after I provided the context you continued to ignore it.

    I’m about to go off to do something fun. You’ll just have to wallow in your intellectual dishonesty without me.

  128. #128 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #120 wrote:

    Yeah, sure, all analytical truths are “more or less empty”. That batchelors are unmarried is “more or less empty” because it isn’t falsifiable.

    “Does the supernatural exist?” is a legitimate question, which might be true or false, and which is disputed. “Are bachelors married?” is a vocabulary question.

  129. #129 SC, OM
    April 22, 2009

    There is a reason why my fellow Pharynguloids hold Sastra in high regard, and why you are likely to be met by indifference.

    Teehee. Might want to check a few months after that, Scott.

  130. #130 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    Yes, of course I disagree.

    Just for yuks, let me reiterate what SH claims he “of course” disagrees with:

    Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism.

    And what is that secularism?

    The science classroom must remain secular ? that is, it is not a place to endorse atheism or theism, or for those conflicts to take place. We should be teaching about science and science only, and let the implications of that science on culture be discussed freely outside.

    So does Scott really think that NCSE et. al. are NOT supposed to be defenders of teaching science and science only in science classrooms, without endorsing atheism or theism? Or is he just hopelessly confused and attacking strawmen?

  131. #131 CW
    April 22, 2009

    Just because something isn’t testable or “empirically relevant” does not mean it *doesn’t have an effect on reality. You can’t prove to me that Santa Clause doe NOT exist!

    I can certainly prove that Santa Claus does not exist as you describe him. If you are making positive claims (delivers presents to all the nice girls and boys for example) then refuting those claims is within reach which thereby refutes your version of Santa.

    If your Santa (or your God) has a supposed effect on reality then that effect is detectable even if your fat jolly sky elf is not directly detectable himself. If the effects are not detectable then they may as well not exist, irrelevant.

  132. #132 nothing's sacred
    April 22, 2009

    “Does the supernatural exist?” is a legitimate question, which might be true or false, and which is disputed. “Are bachelors married?” is a vocabulary question.

    Blithely missing the point that, in order to decide whether the supernatural exists, one must have a firm grasp of what the words “supernatural” and “exist” mean and whether it’s logically possible for “the supernatural” to have any extant referent. I can assure you that naturalists will not by perturbed by your claim that, if semantic analysis indicates that naturalism is analytically true, that makes it “more or less empty”.

  133. #133 James F
    April 22, 2009

    #124

    Celebrate Earth Day by heading over to this site to find people critical of BOTH environmentalism AND evolution. It’s a daily double. You can comment freely.

    I’m holding out for people who are also critical of germ theory and gravity.

  134. #134 mothwentbad
    April 22, 2009

    Yeah, this is exactly that “vegetables taste like candy” bullshit that’s annoying as fuck and no one actually believes, but we have to keep chanting it anyway because… well, we have have to keep chanting it anyway.

  135. #135 bobxxxx
    April 22, 2009

    Allen Green wrote “When forced to choose between God and evolution, most people do not choose evolution. AIG says that they’re not compatible, and if you do the same, you’re forcing people over to their side.”

    And if I lie to a Christian shithead and tell him he can accept both evolution and Jeebus, do you think he’s going to throw out his childish belief in magical creation?

    Allen Green, you’re part of the problem. You’re not any better than the Christian Taliban.

  136. #136 not actually commenting
    April 22, 2009

    And The Machine hooks an unwary if genial theist with the ol’ change-of-nym trick.

  137. #137 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #132 wrote:

    Blithely missing the point that, in order to decide whether the supernatural exists, one must have a firm grasp of what the words “supernatural” and “exist” mean and whether it’s logically possible for “the supernatural” to have any extant referent.

    Definitions are conventions. If you define the word “supernatural” in such a way that it’s logically impossible that anything supernatural exists — but it is logically possible for souls, ghosts, and God to exist — then what does it matter whether the “supernatural” exists or not?

    People who are said to believe in the supernatural believe in things like souls, ghosts, and God. So we group these sorts of things together by another word, and proceed to move the debate over to whether phenomenon-which-now-fit-into-that- other word category exists? Seems like a pointless sort of shuffling.

    I can assure you that naturalists will not by perturbed by your claim that, if semantic analysis indicates that naturalism is analytically true, that makes it “more or less empty”.

    Some won’t, some will. Naturalists are divided on this question — and many argue that Naturalism and Supernaturalism are not metaphysical commitments which science can’t touch, and about which it has nothing to say, one way or the other. For them, Naturalism is, instead, a tentative conclusion, an inference to the best explanation, and a working theory, capable of falsification.

    I think that’s a much more reasonable stance — and more consistent with a scientific approach to analyzing theism — than trying to rule out the supernatural by what amounts to semantics.

  138. #138 SC, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Posted by: not actually commenting | April 22, 2009 9:21 PM

    The NCSE will be more than happy to tell you that writing and posting comments is perfectly consistent and compatible with not actually commenting.

  139. #139 Kel
    April 22, 2009

    A few thoughts on the matter:

    Coyne sounds completely on the mark that by pushing a view that faith and science can be complementary is taking a philosophical position on the matter. Why is it that time and time again accommodationalists are pushing this compatibility when we see quite clearly at every turn of faith getting in the way of science? That either through a direct contradiction of dogma, or through implicit moral / ethical concerns, there is a restraint placed on the scientific process – not that ethics shouldn’t come into the practice of science, just that this ethical pressure is based on outdated notions (for example the hybridisation bill being passed in Louisiana)

    Secondly, I’m getting really sick of this “blame the atheist” mentality that keeps coming out of this science and religion debate. The preachers and their families have fulltime access to the minds of the young, yet one comment by the likes of Dawkins saying that science kills God and suddenly it’s the atheists’ fault that there is an incompatibility? I’m not buying it at all, the worst such a statement can do is play on a mindset that is already there, does anyone honestly think that if Dawkins wouldn’t say bad things about God that evolution would be widely accepted?

    There is a need for scientists to talk on the issue of faith because faith is a blocker for many in the acceptance of science. Though this discussion is going on ad nauseum, it’s not up to the scientists to tell theists how to reconcile theology. It’s getting frustrating to see any discussion on evolution in the media inevitably asking the question “what about God?” The answer in 2009 is not going to be that different to the answer in 2008 or 2007 or 1995 or 1920. We are propagating the discussion instead of talking about the scienec of it. And on that I felt that Dawkins in his series last year on evolution could have done a better job selling evolution as opposed to showing the conflict between science and religion. Show the science, the question of God is simply irrelevant to the truth of evolution.

  140. #140 Kel
    April 22, 2009

    On that last point, that was the one flaw I found in the PBS series Evolution. You have 8 hours to cover a huge field of different ideas and you spend one of those 8 hours covering the question “what about God?” Could it be that by having our education bodies focusing on this question that the question becomes important?

  141. #141 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    PZ, I flag this hoping to get a comment from you (see below).

    So does Scott really think that NCSE et. al. are NOT supposed to be defenders of teaching science and science only in science classrooms, without endorsing atheism or theism? Or is he just hopelessly confused and attacking strawmen?

    Hmm. I hate to admit it, but the scurrilous blighter may have a point. It would’ve been easier for someone for like me, an unabashed NCSE partisan, to understand ‘Nothing Sacred’s’ point if he/she hadn’t laced it with invective. But let’s be dispassionate. It’s possible that PZ’s brief ‘that secularism’ does NOT refer to secularism in general, but to a particular application of secularism which is described in the ‘money quote’…

    So does Scott really think that NCSE et al NOT supposed to be defenders of teaching science and science only in science classrooms, without endorsing atheism or theism?

    Well, if you put it that way, no, I don’t. And I think that if you will take the time to re-read my previous posts, you’ll see evidence for that:

    #26: I don’t want NCSE to say things like ‘Darwinism is true’ or ‘theistic evolutionism is true.’

    #103: NCSE is most emphatically not encouraging anyone to substitute ‘goddidit’ for natural explanations.

    #110: I’m in the trenches defending evolution every day, and not once have I ever suggested that any privately-held view should ever be privileged where evolution is concerned. I’ve never once heard of any NCSE member doing anything like that.

    #121: It is true that one of the major arguments that NCSE makes (and which I make) to defend evolution education relies heavily on the Establishment Clause…

    Et cetera. So, again, if PZ’s original statement only applies to ‘that secularism’ in particular, rather than the general promotion of secularism, then I am forced to agree with ‘Nothing’s Sacred’. I have a further reservation, but if our host could chime in now and indicate whether he intended the former or the latter, it will help me in deciding what flavor of humble pie to serve, and whom to serve it to.

    How about it, PZ?

    (Oh, and if you see any Marines, please tell them I appreciate their service to our country.)

  142. #142 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 22, 2009

    And The Machine hooks an unwary if genial theist with the ol’ change-of-nym trick.

    I suppose. It’s eerily reminiscent of an earlier poster who was, according to our host, “a bitter noise-maker who poisons discussions.” I mean, I expect to be abused, it goes with the territory…but Sastra?

    (shrugs shoulders)

  143. #143 D. Milo
    April 22, 2009

    I too remember Cal, the “old Scot,” as you called him. No, I think truth machine/nothing’s sacred’s MO is different than Cal’s was, although I definitely agree about a certain stylistic similarity.

  144. #144 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    @Sastra

    People who are said to believe in the supernatural believe in things like souls, ghosts, and God.

    What is it that ties these things together? I started by saying that I have no idea what you think “the supernatural” is such that it might be studied, or might have been supported but wasn’t, and I still don’t, because rather than addressing such questions you simply attack the notion that everything that exists is necessarily natural — which is the definition of ontological (metaphysical) naturalism — as being “more or less empty” by being unfalsifiable by definition — which is, as I’ve indicated, an empty objection. Ontological naturalism is a conceptual framework, not an empirical one. It’s a framework for understanding what it means for something to exist or be real.

    For them, Naturalism is, instead, a tentative conclusion, an inference to the best explanation, and a working theory, capable of falsification.

    I await the experiments that test it. Will we see them before or after the experiments that test ID?

    @Hatfield
    It would’ve been easier for someone for like me, an unabashed NCSE partisan, to understand ‘Nothing Sacred’s’ point if he/she hadn’t laced it with invective.

    Yeah, sure, #105 was laced with invective. Instead of leaning on such excuses, you would be a better person and not be so inclined to make the sort of mistake you did if you were a bit more introspective and took responsibility for it.

    Well, if you put it that way, no, I don’t. And I think that if you will take the time to re-read my previous posts, you’ll see evidence for that

    Why would I need to re-read your posts when my point was that you don’t disagree with PZ? It’s not your view of the NCSE that I took issue with, it was your misrepresentation of PZ’s view. Sheesh.

  145. #145 David Wiener
    April 23, 2009

    First – I’m a staunch atheist. Religion is silly. If not for its power over our lives it would not even be worth mentioning.

    However, we live in interesting times. There is a large body of believers out there who are not so strong in their faith. So called ‘cultural’ xians.

    As some of you have pointed out, there are clear inconsistencies between religious belief and what science has revealed about our world, and the two cannot honestly be resolved. I agree whole hardheartedly. So expose the godbots to science. Wrap it up with a nice does of “it’s ok, you won’t go to hell…” and let them be exposed.

    I believe that science, and rationalism, have a very strong foundation because they can point to real evidence for their claims. You will never convince the fundies; they are a lost cause. However, you can expose the moderates to as much science as possible. Those who have an open mind and learn have a chance to break free.

    But if you would prefer to cut off your nose to spite your face, be my guest.

    Cheers,

    David Wiener

  146. #146 Ranger_Rick
    April 23, 2009

    Glen Davidson,
    Very thoughtful comments…IMHO, you’re better than a burning bush!

  147. #147 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    P.S.

    “It’s possible that PZ’s brief ‘that secularism’ does NOT refer to secularism in general”

    Aside from the fact that only a very foolish person or one not familiar with the English language or one trying desparately to avoid responsibility for an obvious error would suppose that PZ’s “that secularism” doesn’t refer to the immediately preceding characterization of “… secular — that is …” and thinks they need to flag their post in bold to clarify what PZ was referring to, it would help to understand what “secular” means “in general”. From m-w.com:

    1 a: of or relating to the worldly or temporal b: not overtly or specifically religious c: not ecclesiastical or clerical

    That has nothing to do with atheism; anyone, regardless of their metaphysics, can and does engage in secular activities. The definition is quite consistent with PZ’s characterization of secularism as applied to a science classroom:

    that is, it is not a place to endorse atheism or theism, or for those conflicts to take place. We should be teaching about science and science only, and let the implications of that science on culture be discussed freely outside.

  148. #148 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    I expect to be abused, it goes with the territory…but Sastra?

    Oh, poor Sastra, so abused by my saying she’s conceptually muddled. I have enough respect for her to think that she can take it even without you doing your Sir Walter Raleigh act.

    There is a reason why my fellow Pharynguloids hold Sastra in high regard, and why you are likely to be met by indifference.

    How cute: a portmanteau fallacy — argument from authority by consensus gentium. It’s particularly droll in this application.

  149. #149 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    I mean, I expect to be abused, it goes with the territory…but Sastra?

    but Dawkins?

    but PZ?

    but…

    If any of us become sacred cows by the virtue of previous posts (or books, journal articles, etc.), none of us have learned anything here.

    I rather think that’s a large part of why TM changed his moniker to the new one.

    I can’t think of a single person here who hasn’t spouted some inane stuff from time to time.

    No time to jump into any specific arguments, but I did want to comment on that one issue.

    Nothing’s sacred seems to be a general theme of the place, after all.

  150. #150 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    But if you would prefer to cut off your nose to spite your face, be my guest.

    now he tells me. I guess I picked the wrong week to cut off my ear.

  151. #151 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Let’s try this again, ‘Nothing’s Sacred’.

    In a previous post, I allowed for the possibility that I am wrong and actually requested PZ to clarify. That was an honest request. I make mistakes, and if I misunderstood the way PZ used the word ‘secularism’ in the sentence “Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism” then I want to retract my previous statement. I’m willing to do that, and I would appreciate some guidance from our host on this point.

    But I wasn’t responding to your ‘Merriam-Webster’ definition of ‘secular’. I was thinking about other usages for the word ‘secularism’, such as….

    “1. exclusion of religion from public affairs: the belief that religion and religious bodies should have no part in political or civic affairs or in running public institutions, especially schools”

    (Encarta)

    or…

    “Secularism is the assertion that governmental practices or institutions should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs.”

    (wikipedia)

    Now, those are certainly propositions that I’m sympathetic to, but my point was that NCSE is not constituted to broadly defend secularism en toto, and this was certainly the sense in which my comments to PZ were addressed. NCSE’s mission is more narrowly targeted. If it turns out that I misrepresented PZ’s views, all he has to do is say so and I will retract. As you say, sheesh!

    As for the point of my asking you to reread my views with respect to what NCSE should or should not do, I was attempting to show my good faith, that I was not attempting to either misrepresent PZ’s views or to argue against the narrower sense in which you suggested the phrase ‘this secularism’ was employed. I would be grieved if any of my fellow NCSE members thought I was attempting to privilege religion.

    I am, however, not in the least grieved to point out that you seem more than willing to believe the worst of me. For example, you imply that my remark with respect to Sastra proceeds from some sort of condescending, misplaced chivalry bordering on sexism:

    I have enough respect for her to think that she can take it even without you doing your Sir Walter Raleigh act.

    Ha! Your misreading of my off-hand comment could not be more off-base. Please ask for a refund from the fella that sold you the tea leaves. I expect abuse from time to time here because I’m a theist, pure and simple. I was surprised to see someone here speak rudely to Sastra, who is a well-spoken non-believer whose comments here are well-regarded, as the link attests. Sastra’s gender was not pertinent, nor was Sastra’s ability to handle criticism in question. This was just my way of pointing out that YOU seemed to have plenty of spleen to go around.

    And, just for the record, it’s not a fallacy to hold an opinion about your pugnacious prose, and to predict based on past experience that others here will tire of the same. Opinions do not amount to a formal claim about what is necessarily true, and so no fallacy can be safely attributed to such statements. But you knew that, right?

  152. #152 SC, OM
    April 23, 2009

    This was just my way of pointing out that YOU seemed to have plenty of spleen to go around.

    Alert the presses. :)

  153. #153 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    if I misunderstood the way PZ used the word ‘secularism’ in the sentence “Organizations like the NCSE and the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be defenders of that secularism” then I want to retract my previous statement. I’m willing to do that, and I would appreciate some guidance from our host on this point.

    Again, only an incredible fool or someone wallowing in intellectual dishonesty would need any guidance on the point.

  154. #154 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    And, just for the record, it’s not a fallacy to hold an opinion about your pugnacious prose … But you knew that, right?

    Your addressing yet another transparently fabricated strawman will not make me think you’re any less of an intellectually dishonest godbothered git.

  155. #155 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    With respect to marketing, I can understand an Overton window basis for taking an aggressive anti-religion stance, and can understand a position that ducks the question entirely, but expect that some sort of accommodation will work best in terms of advancing science and evolution generally. Yet it?s the substantive question that most concerns me and where I see Coyne as hypocritically talking out of both sides of his mouth. His view is clear that religious faith and science necessarily and inherently conflict. He (and Dawkins, PZ, et als.) keep repeating it, L-O-U-D-L-Y, even while also saying that the NCSE shouldn?t take a position on the subject (he just wants his books alongside their books — I guess he wants to teach the controversy). That’s gutless whining, particularly because it’s necessarily either one or the other. Science precludes religion or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, accommodation isn’t just wise, it’s right. If it does, a organization dedicated to teaching science must proclaim it and not hide it under a bushel.

    If Coyne and his ilk can demonstrate their position, they should have at it. If they?re any good at all, that demonstration should readily satisfy the leadership of the NCSE, particularly since the scientific community as a whole isn?t particularly friendly toward religion (“92% of NAS scientists reject the idea a personal god” after all, as Coyne is careful to point out). The NCSE could then move on from there, truth held high, marketing be damned. On the other hand, if the anti-religionists can?t convince the NCSE, they might consider the likely reality that their point of view is really pretty stupid after all and, at a minimum, that their argument sucks.

  156. #156 Rorschach
    April 23, 2009

    How cute: a portmanteau fallacy

    Cool name,I hadnt heard of that one before.

    Ichty @ 149:

    If any of us become sacred cows by the virtue of previous posts (or books, journal articles, etc.), none of us have learned anything here.

    Good point.

  157. #157 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    I was surprised to see someone here speak rudely to Sastra

    Why? You speak rudely to me. All sorts of people here speak rudely to all sorts of people, regardless of whether they are non-believers, and regardless of whether they are highly regarded. You are such a silly twit; I happen to have high regard for Sastra, but I also happen to think she’s conceptually muddled, and I think that she’s better off having her specific comment that I dismissed be dismissed lest she be generally held in less regard:

    If that were the case [that evidence of souls or ghosts or creators of universes would be natural evidence of natural phenomena as a semantic necessity], I would instead say that the naturalists were wrong, and the supernatural exists after all.

    Really, it’s hard to be more conceptually confused than to think that, if ghosts were determined, by examining the evidence, to actually exist — that is, to be phenomena of this world — that would mean that “the supernatural exists” and naturalists are wrong. That certainly isn’t the conclusion that was reached when any other phenomenon was determined to be real, no matter how “spooky” it was. To point out that Sastra is conceptually muddled about this is no more “rude” than to point out conceptual muddle among theists or libertarians or astrologists or Republicans or homeopaths or anyone else; being a non-believer does not make one immune to such confusions or protected from having them pointed out.

  158. #158 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    Here is Sastra’s original comment that I responded to:

    The NCSE makes a great deal about “methodological naturalism,” as opposed to “metaphysical naturalism.” But that’s taking an opinion on religion, for there’s nothing in the methods of science that rules out the ability to study the supernatural — if it exists. There is no such thing as “methodological naturalism.” Science fails to include the supernatural because it could have been — but wasn’t — supported.

    One could write books about how confused this is, starting with singling out the NCSE for their distinction between methodological and metaphysical naturalism, as that weren’t a standard practice among scientists. And even if she disagrees that one should adopt methodological naturalism — her opinion on that coincides with that of the Discovery Institute and all those fundies trying to change the definition of science in school curricula — the notion that methodological naturalism doesn’t exist is absurd.

  159. #159 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    He (and Dawkins, PZ, et als.) keep repeating it, L-O-U-D-L-Y

    I’m not so sure you understand what actually IS being repeated.

    here it is again, repeated:

    PZ sed:

    The science classroom must remain secular ? that is, it is not a place to endorse atheism or theism, or for those conflicts to take place. We should be teaching about science and science only, and let the implications of that science on culture be discussed freely outside.

    Personally, I think the NCSE, as a nonprofit organization not affiliated with a governmental body or scientific journal itself, has the room to be “outside” on this issue.

    I do heavily critique the NAS for adopting similar language, however.

    That said, I think the point of Coyne is to elucidate WHY the language is bad to begin with, and why we should move away from it.

    As an analogy, the current Disney schlock nature “documentary Earth is a good example of going backwards and projecting anthropomorphism onto various animals. I had thought much of that had been relegated to cartoons over the last 40 years, but it ain’t the case (first, March of the Penguins, then this).

    clearly, we can debate the problems with anthropomorphizing animal behavior, without denying Disney from making “cute animal movies”. Likewise, nobody here wants to shut down the NCSE.

    However, why shouldn’t we feel free to discuss and debate the problems inherent with incorporating religious ideology in relation to the practice and education of science?

    Frankly, this is why I spend more time here than on NCSE’s site, or Panda’s Thumb. Here, I feel free to debate all aspects of a particular topic without feeling like people are screaming at me that I’m ruining some sort of political strategy.

  160. #160 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Why? You speak rudely to me.

    Awwwwwwww. Was it when I called your prose ‘pugnacious’? You tender soul, how life has wronged you.

    Anyway, you’ve had quite a few good riffs at my expense, NS (or should I say TM)? This is what I get for living in the real world too much. I come back here, and a leopard has changed its’ spots. Well, bully for you. I have to admit a certain grudging admiration. All I wanted to do was to defend the tactics of an organization that helps me, a teacher, do the hard work of actually teaching evolution. Little did I know that I would fall down a rabbit hole of self-justification as you trained your sights on my person! I can’t really complain, it’s what I get for not paying attention. It’s not like people didn’t try to warn me.

    (waves hand in submission)

  161. #161 Russell Blackford
    April 23, 2009

    Actually, Sastra is not conceptually muddled at all. If we define “the supernatural” as whatever cannot be studied by science, then of course, by definition, the supernatural cannot be studied by science. This is just a semantic point which tells us nothing at all about whether or not science should try to investigate, for example, the alleged existence of disembodied intellects or “spirits” or gods or ghosts. If this is the definition of methodological naturalism, then methodological naturalism is trivially true.

    If we define “the supernatural” as a series of alleged phenomena such as disembodied spirits and things produced by their will, and certain other phenomena that bear a family resemblance to these, then there’s a genuine issue as to whether claims about these things can be investigated by science. I see no reason in principle why they can’t be, provided that we are told enough about, say, the propensities and powers of the Great Ultramontane Juju. If the definition of methodological naturalism is the claim that science can never investigate the supernatural in this sense, then methodological naturalism is false.

    I conclude that methodological naturalism is either trivially true (and so cannot guide science) or false … else it is no more than a rule of thumb. It might be said that hypotheses involving the supernatural (in the second sense) have a very poor track record, and are therefore, as a rule of thumb, best avoided. If methodological naturalism is defined as no more than the proposition that this rule of thumb is a good one to follow, fine. I have no objection to science students being taught that, but it’s just a rule of thumb, however useful, and not a deep epistemological principle.

    Metaphysical (or philosophical) naturalism, by contrast, is probably true. It is the assertion that supernatural (in the second sense) phenomena don’t exist. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical conclusion from the history of science to date, and it’s not a conclusion drawn by any one specialised science. However, it’s falsifiable precisely because at least some claims about the supernatural (in the second sense) are open to empirical investigation. At this stage in human history, metaphysical naturalism has a good enough track record that I take it to be true, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I think it’s true because that’s what the evidence suggests. If the weight of the evidence changes, then I’ll abandon metaphysical naturalism.

    Sastra explained all this clearly, and I have no idea what is supposed to be wrong with her explanation. At the very least, she has put a well-known, consistent, and respectable view. Still, I thought it was worth another try to get the position clear.

  162. #162 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    “Metaphysical (or philosophical) naturalism, by contrast, is probably true. It is the assertion that supernatural (in the second sense) phenomena don’t exist. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical conclusion from the history of science to date, and it’s not a conclusion drawn by any one specialised science.”

    I understand this view, and you seem to have qualified it properly. Yet if what we think of as supernatural intervention is as rare and miraculous as it is typically regarded (at least in my experience, I’m sure there are people who think miracles happen all the time), why should we be surprised that the evidence in support of them is at best disputed and at worst non-existent? Imagine that you’re a turkey. You’ve eaten well and lived in comfort and safety every day of your long and fulfilled life. Everything in your history and experience tells you that tomorrow will be no different and that the good life will continue unabated forever. Then one November day….

    Moral: beware the fat tale.

  163. #163 Tulse
    April 23, 2009

    If we define “the supernatural” as a series of alleged phenomena such as disembodied spirits and things produced by their will, and certain other phenomena that bear a family resemblance to these, then there’s a genuine issue as to whether claims about these things can be investigated by science.

    I’m not clear as to what principle is being used to define “supernatural”. In the past, such things as “action at a distance” were considered outside the realm of scientific explanation, but we are now quite comfortable with such a notion. Does this mean that what we’ve labeled as supernatural has changed? There certainly have been studies in the past looking at things like “remote seeing” and ESP, but I don’t know if we would typically call those parapsychological categories “supernatural”.

    It seems to me that the term “supernatural” is simply incoherent. If something produces replicable effects in the physical world, then it is natural. It may operate using principles we don’t currently understand (just as quantum effects would have seemed weird and mysterious and “supernatural” to Newton), but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t operate in the physical world according to discoverable rules.

    I’d be interested in seeing a definition of “supernatural” that isn’t just “something not natural” and/or rely on examples from folk culture. Without such a definition, I don’t see how this question can be addressed.

  164. #164 Lynna
    April 23, 2009

    Ineffable @107 is already quote mining Coyne in the thread that shows the Don Patton video. And what is he quoting? Why the “mission” to spread “Darwinism” of course. See my comment @7 above. I know we can’t prevent quote mining, but maybe we can avoid actively promoting it. I still think Coyne’s use of “Darwinism” could be rewritten so that it’s less amenable to quote mining by the likes of ineffable.

  165. #165 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    “I’m not clear as to what principle is being used to define ‘supernatural’. In the past, such things as ‘action at a distance’ were considered outside the realm of scientific explanation, but we are now quite comfortable with such a notion.”

    Fair point.

  166. #166 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 23, 2009

    I still think Coyne’s use of “Darwinism” could be rewritten so that it’s less amenable to quote mining by the likes of ineffable.

    Well, yes, but comment 107 is clearly a parody. No cdesign proponentsist would refer to the Wedge Document as the “righteous wedge of truth” in public.

  167. #167 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Russell Blackford:

    As one of the god-botherers, it might be thought that I would agree with you and Sastra on this point simply because it preserves the possibility of some redoubt for the supernatural. But I’m going to surprise some of you skeptics: I do agree with some folk here that the supernatural, as a category or class of experiences, is incoherent. It’s too flabby to do science on directly.

    But I also agree that you can use science to examine the predicted consequences of specific supernatural claims, and draw inferences about the likelihood of said claims. That’s why the strict version of NOMA makes no sense to me, because clearly some predictions are falsifiable. The magisteria overlap, it seems, and the growth of scientific knowledge tends to reduce the magisteria of religion.

    Now, scientific knowledge can only be said to grow in the sense that we can have confidence in how we interpret natural phenomena. I think that confidence depends on cultivating humility about what we can actually measure, define or perceive within the scientific enterprise–and then suspending judgement when we are free to do so. Where I think Sastra and Sacred Truth part company is whether or not Sastra is truly free to suspend judgement on the question of whether the supernatural exists.

    But, given my track record of trying to interpret the remarks (not to mention the identities!) of people on this thread, perhaps I should just choose the better part of valor at this point.

  168. #168 Sastra
    April 23, 2009

    Nothing’s sacred #144 wrote:

    People who are said to believe in the supernatural believe in things like souls, ghosts, and God.

    What is it that ties these things together? I started by saying that I have no idea what you think “the supernatural” is such that it might be studied, or might have been supported but wasn’t, and I still don’t, because rather than addressing such questions you simply attack the notion that everything that exists is necessarily natural — which is the definition of ontological (metaphysical) naturalism — as being “more or less empty” by being unfalsifiable by definition — which is, as I’ve indicated, an empty objection.

    I did try to describe the aspects which tie supernatural phenomenon together in my post at #111, listing a large number of things which share a similar identifying trait. To paraphrase, the category of the ‘supernatural’ consists of non-material, irreducible mind-like beings, forces, or powers which exist apart from, and “above,” the physical. The term ?supernatural? indicates a top-down view of reality where pure mind or mental properties (such as values) somehow precede or ground nature, and are creative forces not reducible to matter.

    ?Natural,? on the other hand, indicates a bottom-up view of reality where complex systems, including minds, have arisen from lifeless material processes. Naturalism is the belief that only the natural exists — not that only the natural “necessarily” exists. A science-based metaphysical naturalism would be tentative, and falsifiable.

    How do we “test” naturalism? By doing studies which search for evidence for “ghosts, souls, ESP, psychokenesis, magical correspondences, vitalism, karma, prana, God, cosmic consciousness, reincarnation, ‘intentional energy,’ a universal tendency towards the harmonic balance of Good and Evil, progressive evolution towards Higher States, and mind/body substance dualism.”

    Parapsychologists do it all the time. They just fail to find good evidence which falsifies naturalism.

  169. #169 Sastra
    April 23, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #148 wrote:

    Oh, poor Sastra, so abused by my saying she’s conceptually muddled. I have enough respect for her to think that she can take it even without you doing your Sir Walter Raleigh act.

    Quite right. I don’t care about anyone’s tone or ‘attitude.’ I try to focus on the points they’re making. I’m wrong about a lot of things.

    Though not this time ;)
    I think.

    (I also agree with Russell Blackford’s analysis at #161.)

  170. #170 SC, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Just popping in to mention belatedly how much I like this post’s title.

  171. #171 Butter
    April 23, 2009

    @Sastra re. 169:

    How would we determine, once we had experimental evidence for ESP or psychokinesis, that these were properly placed in the top-down category, and not the bottom-up category? (Apart from a priori labeling, that is.) ESP could, after all, be a bottom-up phenomenon, simply being attributable to an unknown natural mechanism (some weakly interacting particle, or some subtle inductive effect, for example). Wouldn’t Ockham’s Razor in fact suggest that that’s how we should proceed, instead of postulating irreducible mind-forces that are conjured up to explain just this one phenomenon?

    What’s special about any of the things on your list that makes you think that upon their discovery we should jump to and be satisfied with skyhook explanations (to switch to Dennet’s terminology)? Without some clearer distinctions your classification scheme does in fact look a tad muddled.

  172. #172 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Butter, once evidence is available, science will sort things out. That is what science does. Science can’t sort out things that don’t exist. So don’t get ahead of the argument.

  173. #173 Sastra
    April 23, 2009

    Butter #171 wrote:

    How would we determine, once we had experimental evidence for ESP or psychokinesis, that these were properly placed in the top-down category, and not the bottom-up category?

    As Nerd of Redhead says, with more experiment. I once read that Einstein lost interest in possible psychic phenomenon when he heard that the putative “signal” did not fall off with distance. If it seems to follow its own “laws of nature,” we may find ourselves to formulating new laws of “super”-nature.

    According to people who believe in the supernatural or paranormal, mind or thought itself is supposed to be a kind of power or “energy.” Ditto for a “life force” — or even “love.” The disembodied attributes of personhood presumably exist at a plane higher than — or outside of — material nature.

    I agree that it might be theoretically possible that these, too, could ultimately be reduced to being the products of physical, mindless mechanisms, but if they violate enough of the normal laws, this seems like a good clue that their proponents look to be right. And, then, that they are correct about these phenomenon being supernatural would probably be the new working theory.

    If we lived in a world where the Force was with us — where magic abounded, the movements of the planets were secret signals on our affairs, precognition was common, ESP and PK routine, and people who talked to the dead actually knew real information which could only come from the dear departed — would materialistic naturalism be the default assumption in science? No. It would be clear that mind, meaning, and human concerns were central to how reality works, part of its basic structure.

  174. #174 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    Awwwwwwww. Was it when I called your prose ‘pugnacious? You tender soul, how life has wronged you.

    I didn’t say that life had wronged me or even that I was wronged by you, you hypocritical strawman attacker. And no, it was (obviously) not about you calling my prose pugnacious, but rather you calling me a “scurrilous blighter”, for the most obvious case, you intellectually dishonest god-addled fool. And again, I’m not complaining about it; I simply noted that you singled out Sastra for no apparent reason (other than the one I implied, which I believe is correct). But once again, as the intellectually dishonest myth-befuddled git that you are, you ripped a comment out of context and then ignored that context.

    As for the issue of naturalism; it’s hardly surprising that Blackford says that Sastra isn’t muddled and she agrees with him, given his own terrible muddled category errors: “If this is the definition of methodological naturalism, then methodological naturalism is trivially true.” MN is a methodology; it isn’t the sort of thing that can be true or false. I think Tulse nails it in #163. Sastra attempts to give a definition of “supernatural” in #168, but there are many problems with it, especially her inclusion of the paranormal, which the proponents of same most certainly would not call “supernatural”; and if telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc. were demonstrated, no sensible naturalist would consider naturalism to have been falsified, any more than the spooky action-at-a-distance of Bell/Aspect entanglement or the superposition of states in QM endangers the naturalistic view. As for the top-down stuff, I noted the problem in #123; explanation is inherently bottom up; talk of free-floating minds is like goddidit — it’s question begging. As for falsifiable metaphysical naturalism, it’s an oxymoron; what is falsifiable is physical; evidence is physical, observation is physical, measurement is physical; there’s no way for anything that isn’t physical to enter into a consideration of falsification. And naturalists do, contra Sastra, hold that everything is necessarily natural; here’s the definition from http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/n.htm#natm

    Belief that all objects, events, and and values can be wholly explained in terms of factual and/or causal claims about the world, without reference to supernatural powers or authority.

    and from Wikipedia:

    Metaphysical naturalism, or ontological naturalism, characterizes any worldview in which reality is such that there is nothing but the natural things, forces, and causes of the kind that the natural sciences study, i.e. the things, forces and causes which are required in order to understand our physical environment and which have mechanical properties amenable to mathematical modeling. Metaphysical naturalism entails that all concepts related to consciousness or to the mind refer to entities which are reducible to or supervene on such natural things, forces and causes. More specifically metaphysical naturalism rejects the objective existence of any supernatural thing, force or cause, such as are described in humanity?s various religions and mythological accounts. In this view, all “supernatural” things are ultimately explainable purely in terms of natural things. It is not merely a view about what science studies now, but it can also emphasize what science will encompass in the future. Metaphysical naturalism is a monistic and not a dualistic view of reality.

    This is an a prioriposition, a claim about all phenomena, past or future, whether already encountered or not. It is not a contingent claim that everything so far encountered happens to have been natural. As I previously noted, lack of support for the existence of “the supernatural” (or anything else) could not result in a permanent banishment from science; if naturalism were what Sastra construes it to be, it wouldn’t be a philosophically respectable position. One could always ask a naturalist why they are committed to that view, why they don’t keep an open mind, what possible benefit there could be to being a naturalist. No, naturalists offer analytical arguments for why everything is, and must be, natural; they offer analytical justifications for the claim that “all ‘supernatural’ things are ultimately explainable purely in terms of natural things”.

    Finally, #169 is one of the reasons that I and so many others hold Sastra in high regard.

  175. #175 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    I’m reading “Why Evolution is True” right now.

    same here.

    so is Kel (or he just finished it).

  176. #176 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    I finished it a couple of weeks ago actually. Very good read, very complete. Though his explanation of sexual dimorphism in humans was lacking, that was somewhat disappointing. Why are we so different from almost every other species when it comes to ornamental displays?

  177. #177 nothing's sacred
    April 23, 2009

    I agree that it might be theoretically possible that these, too, could ultimately be reduced to being the products of physical, mindless mechanisms, but if they violate enough of the normal laws, this seems like a good clue that their proponents look to be right.

    From Wikipedia: “A physical law or scientific law is a scientific generalization based on empirical observations of physical behavior (i.e. the law of nature [1]).” As such, any “violation” simply means that we got it wrong; we overgeneralized or improperly generalized our observations. No amount of “violation” of human-crafted generalizations from observation can possibly undermine naturalism. The proponents of parapsychology (which most certainly is not “supernatural”) or other notions that contradict physical law as currently construed would only look to be right about those phenomena existing and about currently construed physical law being incomplete or erroneous; they (or rather, you) would not be right that naturalism is erroneous.

    It would be clear that mind, meaning, and human concerns were central to how reality works, part of its basic structure.

    But that (to the degree that it’s even coherent, and I think it’s a small degree) would not contradict naturalism! The notions of causation, relation, and explanation would still hold, regardless of which phenomena are present. Throwing words like “magic” and “secret” is no better than goddidit; even in a world of ESP and PK and talking to the dead and correlations between planetary movements and our affairs, there would still be observations and evidence and regularities; if there weren’t, then there would be no basis for claiming that talking to the dead yields “real information” or that the planetary movements really do carry signals about our affairs, etc.

  178. #178 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    Why are we so different from almost every other species when it comes to ornamental displays?

    that’s a rather broad statement, though.

    are you sure?

    I can think of a lot of species that have no sexual dimorphism, and I can think of a lot of ways humans “display”, thought it might not seem so obvious.

    In fact, I just spent some time last week at the “Tatoo Museum” (Yes, for real) here in Wellington, and learned a bit more about polynesian self-artwork as a single example of ornamental display:

    http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en&tab=nw#hl=en&q=maori+moko&aq=0&oq=maori+mok&fp=5b8gIqx2vfc

  179. #179 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    …btw, I got your email, I’ve just been busy looking for work over the last week.

    I’ll get back to it this weekend.

    cheers

  180. #180 SDM
    April 23, 2009

    Why are we so different from almost every other species when it comes to ornamental displays?

    *scratches beard in puzzlement*

  181. #181 Emmet, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Why are we so different from almost every other species when it comes to ornamental displays?

    Ah, you’ve just never seen me naked.

  182. #182 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    I can think of a lot of species that have no sexual dimorphism, and I can think of a lot of ways humans “display”, thought it might not seem so obvious.

    We aren’t different in that respect, I agree that we are sexually dimorphic and there still are some displays by males in order to win females. Coyne made the point in the book that for species in the wild, it’s almost always the male that has the elaborate displays as the female needs to be choosy because of the investment it puts into child-rearing. But with us, there seems to be a lot in female displays. He mentioned it briefly in chapter 9, but never really gave a full explanation as to why it’s so.

    …btw, I got your email, I’ve just been busy looking for work over the last week.

    I’ll get back to it this weekend.

    No problem at all, looking forward to getting a response.

  183. #183 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    … I’m sure you really meant we don’t have bright plumage or giant antlers or swollen butts or whatnot, but my point is that perhaps we DO have displays, they just aren’t obvious to us because, well, we’re used to it.

    also, if you’re looking towards conceptualization within the realm of behavioral ecology/evolution, you might try comparing the sexual strategies within a given species with the level of sexual dimorphism.

    example:

    butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) are monogamous, and typically show no sexual dimorphism whatsoever.

  184. #184 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    … I’m sure you really meant we don’t have bright plumage or giant antlers or swollen butts or whatnot, but my point is that perhaps we DO have displays, they just aren’t obvious to us because, well, we’re used to it.

    I agree we do have displays, and there is competition among males for females – just like other animals. I think Coyne’s point (or at least my recollection of it) was that in the animal kingdom it’s almost exclusively males who are ornamental, and that it doesn’t really matter which females a male mates with (but it does matter which males a female mates with.) But for humans we do see ornamental females.

    I should probably re-read chapter 6 when I get home and see whether or not I’m butchering what he said. I probably am.

  185. #185 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    Coyne made the point in the book that for species in the wild, it’s almost always the male that has the elaborate displays as the female needs to be choosy because of the investment it puts into child-rearing.

    yeah, Coyne’s book has a specific target, and that’s not really someone who already knows the basics.

    It’s time you looked to textbooks and primary lit if you want to really find your answers.

    I would recommend:

    http://www.amazon.com/Behavioural-Ecology-Evolutionary-Approach-Krebs/dp/0865427313

    and:

    http://www.nhbs.com/animal_behaviour_tefno_1263.html

    as having excellent treatises on the theory of sexual selection as relates to ornamentation.

    also, a person who I consider to have been a pioneer in the subject:

    John Endler

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/sex/guppy/low_bandwidth.html

    for an example of how his work has been incorporated into teaching the subject at hand.

    of course, I’m rather biased towards fishy examples, but if you gander at those texts (should be easy finds at a good public or uni library), you will find the other vert and invert groups exemplified as well.

    it’s just that fish are, well, bloody diverse verts. Why bother looking at anything else?
    ;)

  186. #186 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    arrgh, textbooks. Here I was thinking I could stay in the realms of pop sci books forever ;)

    I’ll try to track down those books sometime in the not-too-distant future. Thanks for the help with it.

  187. #187 Josh
    April 23, 2009

    it’s just that fish are, well, bloody diverse verts.

    They put teeth on everything. That’s just awesome.

  188. #188 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    was that in the animal kingdom it’s almost exclusively males who are ornamental

    the key is almost.

    there are notable exceptions, and what do those exceptions say about the issue to you?

    like…

    hyenas

    and

    jacanas

    what makes them distinctive?

    once you know the answer to that, I think the issue will become at least a bit clearer.

    Coyne is being deliberately overly-simplistic in his book, at least AFAICT (not inaccurate, mind you, just not taking it to the next level). I still haven’t finished yet myself, but that seems to be the trend.

    He needs to stress the investment theory stuff, because everything else followed from that.

    oh, and more reading recommendations would be to check out WD Hamilton’s “Narrow Roads of Gene Land” (especially vol 1) and also read some of Robert Trivers’ work on parental investment theory (which is covered nicely in both of the textbooks I referenced earlier).

    or if not, here’s the original paper to read:

    Trivers, R. L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell, ed. Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871-1971, Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, pp. 136-179.

  189. #189 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    or if not, here’s the original paper to read:

    Trivers, R. L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell, ed. Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871-1971, Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, pp. 136-179.

    Man I love the internet. A quick google search has given me that paper and another to read. Awesome.

  190. #190 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    Yeah, the internet has replaced that part of my brain that always forgets the details.

    like for example, I’m thinking about an old quote from Einstein to the effect that a smart man isn’t one in command of all the facts, but rather knows where to go look for them when needed.

    I’m sure I could look up the exact quote using google.

    …but I can’t be bothered.
    :)

    OTOH, there is this one too:

    “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

    so true.

  191. #191 SC, OM
    April 23, 2009

    a smart man

    *rolls eyes*

  192. #192 SC, OM
    April 23, 2009

    everything he learned

    *rolls eyes again*

  193. #193 Sastra
    April 23, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #174 wrote:

    MN is a methodology; it isn’t the sort of thing that can be true or false.

    Right. I’m saying that ‘seeking only natural causes’ is not one of the methodological criteria of science. Scientists look for the best explanation using methods designed to weed out human errors and biases: they do not stipulate up front what those explanations must be, or invoke any natural/supernatural distinctions.

    Sastra attempts to give a definition of “supernatural” in #168, but there are many problems with it, especially her inclusion of the paranormal, which the proponents of same most certainly would not call “supernatural”; and if telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc. were demonstrated, no sensible naturalist would consider naturalism to have been falsified, any more than the spooky action-at-a-distance of Bell/Aspect entanglement or the superposition of states in QM endangers the naturalistic view.

    I disagree. While it’s true that naturalists are divided on this definition issue (and thus you can find support for both viewpoints), when woo-meisters such as Deepak Chopra wax eloquent over how QM entails a cosmic Quantum Consciousness, there is a real debate coming back from the physicists on whether the “spooky action at a distance” really does give consciousness a central place in the fabric of reality — and therefore supports spiritual, mystical, supernatural views — or not, and materialistic naturalism is left in place.

    Mind/body substance dualism would significantly change our view of reality in a way that radio waves did not.

    What is the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural? I once asked Michael Shermer this question — and have asked it of others who write on science — and his answer, and the general consensus, was that there really isn’t any. The boundaries are mostly cultural, and fluid. They rest on the same basic premises and beliefs regarding the irreducible importance of mind and its products.

    Consider something like string theory — beyond our normal understanding of the universe, and quite possibly beyond science. Is it ever called “supernatural?” No. Now have someone come forward insisting that the branes vibrate in a harmony that is Love Manifest. Supernatural woo-woo bells.

    “More specifically metaphysical naturalism rejects the objective existence of any supernatural thing, force or cause, such as are described in humanity?s various religions and mythological accounts. In this view, all “supernatural” things are ultimately explainable purely in terms of natural things. It is not merely a view about what science studies now, but it can also emphasize what science will encompass in the future.”

    This is an a prioriposition, a claim about all phenomena, past or future, whether already encountered or not. It is not a contingent claim that everything so far encountered happens to have been natural.

    No, it is a contingent claim, because it rejects the supernatural, and could not be taken by anyone who believes that the supernatural exists. Naturalists explain supernatural things like ghosts as human errors, mistakes for natural things. If ghosts really do exist as described — disembodied spirits — and can be demonstrated to exist through rigorous methods — then they are not re-labeled “natural.” The naturalist is now a supernaturalist.

    even in a world of ESP and PK and talking to the dead and correlations between planetary movements and our affairs, there would still be observations and evidence and regularities;

    Yes. That is my point. Science could, in theory, study the supernatural, and catalogue it, and look for regularities, and formulate theories and laws. The reason we don’t currently include it as part of our background assumptions — the reason we use “methodological naturalism” and infer only natural and material causes — is because we don’t happen to live in a world of ESP and PK and so forth. It’s not that science would be a useless tool.

    One could always ask a naturalist why they are committed to that view, why they don’t keep an open mind, what possible benefit there could be to being a naturalist.

    Yes. And the naturalist would say the same thing the atheist says on keeping an open mind about God: “sure, I’ll change my mind, IF you show me convincing evidence.” Would you rather naturalism be a dogma?

    I think that claiming that naturalism is analytically true is just as self-defeating as claiming that atheism is analytically true. If it turns out that Christians were right about pretty much everything, then we’ll agree they’re right — but we won’t call the omnipotent, omniscient Creator who imagines everything into existence “God.”

    We’ll re-label it “Nature Ned.”

  194. #194 Sastra
    April 23, 2009

    No, it is a contingent claim, because it rejects the supernatural, and could not be taken by anyone who believes that the supernatural exists.

    Re-reading this, I think maybe I should rephrase it, or clarify something. Naturalism is a stance which, by definition, rejects the supernatural. Naturalists, by definition, reject the supernatural. That’s analytically true.

    However, naturalists are not personally committed to rejecting the supernatural: they can hold this view contingently. If the evidence warrants, they can reject it. Naturalism is, for most science-based naturalists, a working theory.

  195. #195 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2009

    *rolls eyes again*

    sensitive, are we?
    :P

    hey, blame that sexist Einstein.

  196. #196 El Sockpuppeto
    April 23, 2009

    the branes vibrate in a harmony that is Love Manifest. Supernatural woo-woo bells.

    Quoted for sheer awesomeness.

  197. #197 Tulse
    April 23, 2009

    Sastra, do you consider naturalism to be co-extensive with materialism? I ask because you seem to be using the terms interchangeably, which I would argue may cause unintentional confusion.

    You write:

    the ‘supernatural’ consists of non-material, irreducible mind-like beings, forces, or powers which exist apart from, and “above,” the physical.

    Presumably the key notion here is that the things described are “mind-like”, since naturalism accepts non-material forces and powers. It seems to me that the essential characteristic you are identifying is non-material intentionality or teleology. But honestly, I still don’t see how even this is a threat to naturalism — materialism as we currently understand it perhaps, but not naturalism.

    Take, for example, Chalmers’ speculation that the problem of consciousness may be only solvable by postulating that some aspect of consciousness may be a fundamental and irreducible aspect of the universe (essentially a form of panpsychism). My concern is not whether this view is true, but whether, if it were true, it would undermine naturalism. I think it is arguable that it would no more do so than the discovery of quantum phenomena did, or finding out that light did not need the physical medium of the ether to propagate. These effects were profoundly revolutionary in their day in terms of reconceptualizing what constituted “nature”, and yet no one today things that, for example, magnets require abandoning the notion of naturalism.

    I presume that, even if “non-material, irreducible mind-like beings, forces, or powers” exist, they are bound by certain predictable, lawful interactions with the world. Certainly the folk understanding of such things suggests that — ghosts hang out where they died, gods generally have a rather human psychology and in many pantheons are responsible for very specific phenomena, spirits and demons can be summoned and dismissed, etc. etc. etc. If we can establish regularities for such entities, how are they somehow outside of nature?

    I’m also not clear why you would say such entities are “above” the physical — and frankly, I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean. You seem to be granting them some sort of priority over the material world, but surely that is only true at best for a creator god. Much of the “supernatural” (ghosts, spirits, even some gods) is claimed to exist only because of the material world (e.g., as the souls of dead people).

  198. #198 Gregory Kusnick
    April 24, 2009

    My problem with Sastra’s argument is the “irreducible” part. An incontrovertible demonstration that ghosts or gods or whatever actually exist would still not warrant the assumption that they are in any sense fundamental (Deepak Chopra notwithstanding). I’m not even sure what it would mean to claim that a mind-like entity is irreducible, i.e. without internal structure of any kind, given that mind-like behavior necessarily entails the exchange, manipulation, and storage of structured information.

    My guess is that if we lived in a world where magic abounded, ESP and PK were routine, and so on, we would have worked out their laws and regularities long before those of (say) radioactivity or electricity, and found the cranes standing behind the apparent skyhooks. We wouldn’t need Jedi adepts exercising their mystical talents by gut feel; rather, the Force would be the province of University-trained scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who specialize in building reliable Force-wielding machinery out of nonsentient matter. Reversing Clarke’s Law, a sufficiently advanced “magic” would be indistinguishable from technology.

  199. #199 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Oh, good Lord. Jerry is offended because NCSE doesn’t make enough space for his religious views. PZ, you too. Don’t tell me about stamp-collecting, either. You have views on religion, and your pick is none. You want to put your point of view into the public discourse, and indeed, why not? It’s eminently reasonable. If is congruent with science. More power to you.

    BUT. NCSE’s purpose is to promote the teaching of evolution. They have no brief to promote atheism, or theism either for that matter.

    What they do have is a mandate to fight the war we’re in. And that war, folks, is against fundamentalists. NOT against theists in general; large numbers of theists have no problem whatsoever with science and its methology. And certainly NOT against atheists.

    I say again: IN THIS PARTICULAR FIGHT, IT’S YOU (the rational atheist) AND ME (the science-supporting, 1st Amendment-preaching theist) AGAINST THEM (the literalist Bible-believing, magical thinkers).

    Sensible prosecution of that war means winning the hearts and minds of the folks in the middle. Those folks are likely to be followers of some kind of woo. Deplorable, I know, but there it is. And, in this country, the woo they like is going to have the name of some Christian denomination attached to it.

    The enemy is loudly preaching that the choice is simple: God and the Bible VS science and atheism.

    The folks in the middle, many of whom are not actually crazy, hear that message, some of them in church. Against that message stand the Christians who tell them the choice is false; you can have both faith and science. Their minds are not made up, and they can be reached with rational arguments. So science+faith may win them over.

    I know you think that message is wrong. Hell’s jingle bells, we talk about that here all the time. But Scott and I DON’T think that message is a lie. We honestly, truly have both faith and science. We’re passionate about both.

    The question you need to ask yourself is this: Who are those people in the middle going to listen to?

    If you REALLY want to win the war, you’d be wise to let them listen to Scott and me. And you wouldn’t do dumbo things like New Scientist and now Jerry have done . . . put weapons into the hands of the enemy.

    Furthermore, if you’re strategic thinkers, you might look forward into the future a little.

    Which is the best scenario for your point of view?

    1) Saving science now, and trusting to the undeniable fact that people with some scientific education are better citizens, and far more likely to come around to your point of view in the long run

    OR

    2) Assisting the enemy to spread their false dichotomy, indeed validate it, and alienate substantial numbers of the folks in the middle (AKA voters) so that they start to think that ID sounds like a better and more “fair” bet after all.

    It is just dumb, dumb, DUMB to draw your weapons, take careful aim, and mow down soldiers who are fighting on your side, while at the same time handing WMD quotations to the enemy.

    I am not advocating that ANYBODY shut up. I admire the passion and reason of the New Atheists, who are out and proud; I think they’re doing an important service for our culture.

    All I’m asking is that you use some friggin’ SENSE. A whole lot of us theists are in the trenches with you, fighting for the right side in this culture war. I don’t mind you sniping at us and slapping us around while we’re in camp. But by God, when we go out together and face the enemy, DON’T SHOOT US IN THE BACK and then walk over and hand the enemy a tactical nuke.

    Not if you really want to win this war.

  200. #200 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    And one more point. Listen; this one is important.

    In my experience, which is pretty extensive, atheists are the most idealistic people in the world. That is a good thing, a real and truly GOOD thing about you.

    So I know an appeal to Realpolitik is not the first thing that will resonate with you.

    But please, really think hard about my previous post. Think about the damage our society will incur if the fundamentalists win. And think about your own best interests.

    Let’s do our best, together, to put the tools of rational thought, as codified in the scientific method, back into our science classes. Let’s make sure that our citizenry is educated about science, understands what it is and is not, and has some basis for making rational decisions in the body politic.

    WHEN THAT IS TRUE, we’ll have a level playing field. Right now, you’re grossly handicapped in presenting your point of view. You’re demonized by the Religious Right, marginalized in public discourse, and rejected out of hand by large swaths of the citizenry.

    I think this is deplorable. I’m incensed that an atheist finds it difficult to get elected to public office.

    Again, look at how the LGBT movement is winning. Not at the ballot box; not everywhere, and not yet. But they’re winning the hearts and minds of the majority, the straight people who are slowly and surely realigning with LGBT people as a matter of what is right and fair.

    You NEED people like Scott and me to help you fight this war. More than that, you need that uncommitted pew-sitter to come to our side.

    This is a war we have to win, folks, or our society goes the way of Afghanistan and Turkey. I WANT a level playing field. I WANT to be able to duke it out with you in the marketplace of ideas, fair and square.

    So while I understand, and maybe even sympathize, with PZ and Jerry’s “purist” ideology . . . I want to win the war a whole lot more, right now.

    Okay, I’m done. The shooting may commence . . .

  201. #201 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    You have views on religion, and your pick is none. You want to put your point of view into the public discourse, and indeed, why not?

    bullshit. that you want to project atheism AS a religion is obvious, but I think even you realize it is indeed a point of view instead.

    If you want people to listen to you here, you should lay off the strawmen.

    we have torches.

  202. #202 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    what’s more, you obviously are aware you’ve just set bait, since you end your rant with:

    The shooting may commence . . .

    no. Those of us who wish to argue how science actually works and should be taught DON’T need you.

    That you conflate your view of successful ground tactics in specific battleground areas, with how we actually SHOULD be teaching science just tells me you are one of the confused that think PZ is “harming the cause” or some such nonsense.

    here, if it makes you feel better, think of PZ and Dawkins as moving the Overton Window our way.

  203. #203 Brownian, OM
    April 24, 2009

    I find it rather disingenuous that the LGBT and atheist communities (the former of which did not win the hearts and minds of the intolerant majority, but demanded acceptance of their existence with the slogan “We’re here, we’re queer; get used to it!”) should be expected to earn their rights by bending over backward so as to not offend the sensibilities of a bunch of people who purport to worship a man supposedly known for being decent to unlikeable people like tax collectors and prostitutes.

  204. #204 CJO
    April 24, 2009

    My guess is that if we lived in a world where magic abounded, ESP and PK were routine, and so on, we would have worked out their laws and regularities long before those of (say) radioactivity or electricity, and found the cranes standing behind the apparent skyhooks. We wouldn’t need Jedi adepts exercising their mystical talents by gut feel; rather, the Force would be the province of University-trained scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who specialize in building reliable Force-wielding machinery out of nonsentient matter. Reversing Clarke’s Law, a sufficiently advanced “magic” would be indistinguishable from technology.
    [OT]
    Some great works of fantasy have been written along these lines, of course (my favorite mode of fantastic literature is the Fantasy-SciFi hybrid). Certainly Pratchett comes to mind. A really cool take on the idea that I don’t think got much attention can be found in The Light Ages and The House of Storms, by Ian R. McCleod. Very briefly, it’s a radically divergent alternate history where before radioactivity was discovered in our history, people found hidden deep in the earth this substance called Aether, which is basically fairy dust, with consequences (roughly) analagous to reactor meltdowns and radiation poisoning. So this weird hybrid techno-magic pervades everything. In a similar vein but almost inverted are Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick, where magic is real, and “supernatural” seeming in operation, but its products are technological, where dragons are like unholy fighter jets, with cockpits and pilots. And then there’s Gene Wolfe, who’s made an illustrious career skirting the borderline between “hard” SF and “soft” fantasy.
    [/OT]

  205. #205 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Okay, Ichthyic, explain to me this:

    Why did the majority of us, including PZ, decide that what New Scientist did was harmful to the cause?

    Jerry’s already been quote-mined. Cognitive dissonance, much, buddy?

    That you conflate your view of successful ground tactics in specific battleground areas, with how we actually SHOULD be teaching science just tells me you are one of the confused that think PZ is “harming the cause” or some such nonsense.

    What the hell are you trying to say, here? I said nothing about how I think science should be taught. (For the record, WITHOUT MENTION OF ANYBODY’S RELIGIOUS VIEWS, except for maybe what Boy Twin’s biology teacher said: “We won’t be discussing creationism or Intelligent Design. They are not science.”) In fact, I feel very sure that that what you think about science education, and what I think, are the same.

    I spoke exclusively about battlefield tactics. Do you disagree with the tactics I outline? If so, how?

    And I specifically said how I think Jerry harmed the cause: by agreeing with and affirming the false dichotomy, and by providing quote-mineable material to the fundamentalists.

    The second of which, I believe, is what we condemned when New Scientist did it.

    And yes, I do indeed think that Jerry’s problem with NCSE is what I said it is: he doesn’t think they pay enough attention to his religious views.

    I explicitly DIDN’T say that atheism is a religion. It is, rather, a view about religion. Religious views, in other words. Not that I understand this obsession you guys have about drawing a distinction. To most of your fellow citizens, atheism IS a religion; and the value of so defining it is that it can clearly be protected by the 1st Amendment. Sorry, I don’t really see how that’s a BAD thing.

    And, in fact, that relatively trivial point is NOT the reason I told you to cock your gun.

    I expected shit of the kind that’s been ladled over Scott upthread.

    So tell me: exactly how, in this secular democracy, do you expect to sway enough people to your side to put a stop to fundamentalist influence on politics?

    How “pure” do your allies have to be? Must they be hard atheists? Soft? Agnostics okay, or are they too “fuzzy” for your tastes?

    When you get done whittling your allies down on the basis of their ideological purity, and handing the enemy ammunition, just how many votes do you expect to get?

  206. #206 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    I spoke exclusively about battlefield tactics

    and you fucking well then entirely missed my point, and haven’t a clue what PZ, Dawkins, or Coyne are really concerned about.

    If you think there is no room for debate wrt to science and religion because “we must win the war”, then the war is already lost.

    I feel sorry for you, frankly.

  207. #207 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    I explicitly DIDN’T say that atheism is a religion.

    explicitly, no, but very clearly implicitly, in the second sentence of your first post:

    Jerry is offended because NCSE doesn’t make enough space for his religious views. PZ, you too. Don’t tell me about stamp-collecting

    don’t fucking dance around what you meant.

    your concern is noted, and has been noted before, and it’s as wrong then as stated by others (Nisbet comes to mind) as it is now stated by yourself.

    I’m sure PZ would be happy to explain to you exactly why you are wrong, but frankly he’s done that exact thing so many times over the last 3 years, I doubt he will even bother any more.

  208. #208 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Brownian:

    the former of which did not win the hearts and minds of the intolerant majority, but demanded acceptance of their existence with the slogan “We’re here, we’re queer; get used to it!”

    Wrong. In-your-face activism was not the totality of their strategy, but only one component.

    They did it by coming out.

    Publicly, violently, or outrageously in Gay Pride parades, in the Castro, and at Stonewall.

    But also quietly . . . to their families and friends, their coworkers, their churches.

    And through the media, using their creativity and influence in the artistic community to ensure that sympathetic portrayals of gay people could be found in movies, television shows, and books. For every Jack, there was also a Will. The flamboyant and the “normal”, both celebrated, and both very public.

    The “Loud and Proud” group didn’t directly influence the straights in the heartland. Indeed, they alienated a lot of them; a new way of thinking coming from “weird characters” is deeply frightening to most folks. What they did was to embolden and validate the GLBT everyman and everywoman, PARTICULARLY THE YOUNG ONES WHO NEEDED ROLE MODELS, so that they could take courage and come out themselves.

    It was those people, living their lives in relative obscurity, who turned to their friends and families and said, “Okay, this is who I am. Will you stand with me?”

    And that began the sea change. Because a lot of people then started to question themselves, and then they decided that maybe those “truths” they’d swallowed without any real thought were not true after all.

    So, no, Brownian, those who “demanded” were important, critical even, but they’re not the ones who changed the minds of the majority. Their influence was indirect; their courage was contagious.

    It was those quiet gays, still living in the bosoms of their families and churches, who worked the real revolution. They risked everything to come out; and some of them lost what they had valued, and had to make a new place for themselves in the world.

    But some of them won. And their families and friends now work together with the LGTB community to win justice.

  209. #209 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Ichthyic:

    and you fucking well then entirely missed my point, and haven’t a clue what PZ, Dawkins, or Coyne are really concerned about.

    If you think there is no room for debate wrt to science and religion because “we must win the war”, then the war is already lost.

    Okay then, I guess I do miss it. Please spell it out for me.

    Why do you say I “think there is no room for debate wrt to science and religion”? Just because I don’t think it’s a good idea to to try to shoot down NCSE, Scott, and me? Just because I don’t think handing the DI and ICR quotable quotes is a wise thing to do?

    You’re wrong about the debate issue. Why do you think I come here, if not for that very thing?

  210. #210 windy
    April 24, 2009

    Wow, Tulse has posted exactly the same counterexamples to Sastra that I was thinking of (action at a distance, Chalmers’ panpsychism, ghosts being dependent on the material world). Are paranormal comment-scooping abilities evidence against naturalism?

    Leigh:

    But by God, when we go out together and face the enemy, DON’T SHOOT US IN THE BACK and then walk over and hand the enemy a tactical nuke.

    This is uncharacteristically stupid of you. Who is shooting you in the back? Maybe you should reread the posts: nobody is proposing to exclude theistic evolutionists from the NCSE or from the fight against creationism.

    Why did the majority of us, including PZ, decide that what New Scientist did was harmful to the cause?

    Because they were lying by omission in that headline, not simply because they were quotemined. Anyone can be quotemined! How is Coyne saying what he really thinks analogous to using a sensationalist misleading headline?

    And yes, I do indeed think that Jerry’s problem with NCSE is what I said it is: he doesn’t think they pay enough attention to his religious views.

    OK, if he just wants attention, how does that make him a purist? Wouldn’t a purist insist that his view should be the official position of the NCSE? You are not even being consistent in your objections.

  211. #211 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Since Ichthyic and Brownian didn’t seem to hear this, and I think it’s important.

    I said:

    I am not advocating that ANYBODY shut up. I admire the passion and reason of the New Atheists, who are out and proud; I think they’re doing an important service for our culture.

    All I’m asking is that you use some friggin’ SENSE.

    And let’s look at PZ’s initial post. Jerry turns friendly fire onto NCSE, and in the process creates quotemine gold for the ICR and the DI.

    Was that sensible?

  212. #212 CJO
    April 24, 2009

    Why did the majority of us, including PZ, decide that what New Scientist did was harmful to the cause?

    Jerry’s already been quote-mined. Cognitive dissonance, much, buddy?

    There’s a difference between “quote-mineable material” and material that actually gives succor to the enemy. First of all, these scumbags are so into quote-mining they’re like kayakers or rock-climbers who disdain the lesser rapids and the easiet ascent; they like quotemining, the more ellipses the better. So that Coyne is being quotemined is a given. He would already have been if he were taking a line closer to your position, unless that is that he should be silent about his views, in which case Ichthyic is right: you are in Nisbet territory.

    What New Scientist did, however, wasn’t damaging for the quote-mine factor, though. Appealing to what amounts to a publicity stunt, not even considering how utterly facile, proverbially so, it is to draw conclusions from the cover, of any printed work, isn’t scoring any rhetorical points, and anyway, it’s much too tame for the daredevil activist set. The NS stunt actually gave currency to these clowns’ crypto-mythology, and doesn’t have to be ‘mined’ for that effect to be perpetuated. There are people who aren’t used to examining things much beyond the cover, who are ignorant of evolution but not necessarily inclined to creationist activism, who have heard about the stupid cover, and they will actually draw conclusions from its message, no manipulative scumbag with pick and shovel required. Sad but true.

  213. #213 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Okay, Windy, I agree with your point about New Scientist (dishonest) and Jerry (honest). Good catch, and I missed it.

    I still have to point out, however, that NCSE et al are NOT TRYING TO PERSUADE YOU GUYS. They’re attacking a much harder problem: the average American pew-sitter. Those people CANNOT be won over with a tactic that tells them they have to lose their faith to support science.

    So I’m sorry that PZ and Jerry wish that the NCSE could be more forthcoming with support for atheism. Hell, I wish that in MY life I could be more forthcoming about it.

    But the cold hard fact is that, if I want to influence that whole bunch of folks I’m related to, and the ones I go to church with, and the citizens of Texas, I CAN’T be in-your-face and hand them Dawkins’ books, which I own, or Jerry’s book, which I just bought.

    They already KNOW I’m different. “Aunt Leigh’s pretty liberal.” Hell, they say it like I’ve got a fucking DISEASE. Do you think that science education is all I’m working on here?

    What I have to do, to make anything change, is to nudge them. Nibble around the edges of their worldview. Try to educate them, since their churches are lying to them and they don’t know anything about science. Sometimes just be there, the “different one”, showing them that their closed little world is not the only place decent people exist.

    And what I can also do is to show my own kids a bigger world. I just bought Jerry’s book for my son and daughter, for God’s sake! My own son is out as a atheist. THAT’S making some interesting conversations at family gatherings, I can tell you!

    The New Atheists are doing great work, which I fully support. But they can’t win over that big bulge in the middle of our demographic which is made up of pew-sitters.

    The message that science+faith=FAIL does nothing but put a huge roadblock up on the road to good science education.

    And that, my friends, is a real FAIL.

  214. #214 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    What Jerry did was this: He took the False Dichotomy, and told the fundamentalists that it’s TRUE.

    Look, I know that most of you agree with him. I understand WHY you agree with him, what’s more.

    But I deal with fundamentalists, and I KNOW that the False Dichotomy is the A-bomb in the arsenal of creationist rhetoric.

    The NCSE and the NAS have spent considerable time and resources trying to disarm that nuke. Because like it or not, THAT WEAPON WORKS. It works against us, in a huge and powerful way. It’s the showstopper, the end of the battle.

    I deal with a whole lot of people who hear it preached from the pulpit. They don’t have the resources of intellect and education that you do. They don’t hear many voices from the larger world. They get their news from Faux Noise, their theology from the Southern Baptist Convention, and their politics from the Republican Party.

    But, goddamn it, they vote. Worse yet, they’re PASSIONATE about defending their understanding of the world, such as it it, and they GET THEIR BUTTS TO THE POLLS when their pastors say to. And in the absence of any voices from the middle, you’re NOT going to like the way they vote.

    They WILL NOT listen to you. But they might listen to me, or Scott, or the NCSE.

    And that, folks, is why Jerry’s post, and PZ’s concurrence, are a dumb idea.

  215. #215 Kel
    April 24, 2009

    Trivers, R. L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell, ed. Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871-1971, Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, pp. 136-179.

    read that paper as well as one other today, about a quarter of the way through, not only did sexual selection click but evolution as a whole suddenly made sense. Excellent paper, well worth the read.

  216. #216 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    CJO, that last post was in response to you and Windy.

    I am going to bed now, because tomorrow I’m going to East Texas. I will be without internet access for the weekend; I might be able to snatch a little time tomorrow afternoon, but that’s not guaranteed.

    I can’t say I look forward to returning, BUT I WILL RETURN. And at that time I’ll try to address your responses to my posts.

    But I’ve got to ask you . . . do you think I LIKE stirring up the hornet’s nest this way? Do you think I didn’t sit here for most of the day, wondering if I’m brave enough to hear what I’m going to hear from you? And to criticize PZ and Jerry, two people for whom I have the utmost respect?

    Shit, no. I didn’t want to do this. But I felt I had to; the shitstorm is worth weathering if I can just get you to hear the least part of what I’m saying.

    I don’t post here just for the science and lulz, folks. I like, enjoy, want to be in community with you people. But as much as I care about you, I care more for ensuring that those children in East Texas, whom I also love, will have some chance of hearing the truth in their science classes. God knows they don’t get much of it anywhere else . . . and that is both a very sad and very dangerous thing.

  217. #217 Walton
    April 24, 2009

    I would say:

    *Are modern science and Christian faith incompatible? Strictly speaking, no. Provided that the first twelve chapters of Genesis are read non-literally, there is no direct factual conflict between modern science and the Christian faith. (Miracles don’t count, since they are, by definition, one-off events which contravene the laws of nature. Indeed, to believe in miracles, one must believe that there are scientific laws of nature in the first place; otherwise a miracle is not a miracle, since there would be no material laws for it to violate.)

    *But – is there a conflict, in terms of epistemological method, between science and faith? Yes. If the claims of the Christian faith are scrutinised using the same rigorous standards which one would apply to a scientific (or a historical) claim, one is forced to the conclusion that there is simply not enough evidence to merit a belief in them. If one applies dispassionate scientific thinking to all areas of life, one cannot be a fervent Christian believer.

  218. #218 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    quotemine gold for the ICR and the DI.

    you’re not gettin it, pal.

    It shouldn’t matter to you what the shysters decide to quotemine.

    they’ll do it anyway.

    there is no compelling reason to dilute the message of good science.

    period.

    It was wrong of the NAS to do it, it’s wrong for people like Nisbet to suggest it, and it’s wrong for you to buy into that crap too.

  219. #219 Kel
    April 24, 2009

    *Are modern science and Christian faith incompatible? Strictly speaking, no. Provided that the first twelve chapters of Genesis are read non-literally, there is no direct factual conflict between modern science and the Christian faith.

    I think that’s a bit naive. What about exodus? What about Joshua? What about Acts? The miraculous that contradicts science starts in genesis and finishes in revelations with no respite in between. Just because we can show that the universe is old and that we are retarded monkeys, it doesn’t mean that the faith is compatible… it just means that rejecting a literal Genesis means that one part of the bible is compatible with science. When you have a man being alive inside a giant fish for 3 days, or the cloth of an apostle having magic healing properties, saying that if you reject Genesis then faith is compatible with science doesn’t make it any more true.

    Though if only Christians these days would do the scientific experiment that Elijah did in 1 Kings 18, then the God question could be resolved once and for all…

  220. #220 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    Provided that the first twelve chapters of Genesis are read non-literally

    provided we think about this just so, and rearrange this like that, and rethink what these words actually mean, and…

    http://worstwriter.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/gibberish_1b.jpg

  221. #221 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    … hell why not just tell the fencesitters to go become scientologists ffs.

  222. #222 windy
    April 24, 2009

    Shit, no. I didn’t want to do this. But I felt I had to; the shitstorm is worth weathering if I can just get you to hear the least part of what I’m saying.

    I’m sorry if we seem to be inconsiderate. I didn’t think this conversation was a shitstorm, just a bit heated. But at this point it kind of feels like we are being told not to flash our boobs because it will make the Taliban have less respect for women. That may be true, but I don’t know if that is a good reason.

  223. #223 SC, OM
    April 24, 2009

    In my experience, which is pretty extensive, atheists are the most idealistic people in the world. That is a good thing, a real and truly GOOD thing about you.

    So I know an appeal to Realpolitik is not the first thing that will resonate with you.

    Fuck off with your condescension, Leigh. Really. And all the CAPS aren’t making your CASE (such as it is) any STRONGER.

    All you’ve done is make a number of claims about social movements that you’ve not supported with any social-scientific evidence whatsoever.

    By the way, you may be interested in:

    http://cruller.cc.trincoll.edu/NR/rdonlyres/985BF1A8-56F0-4010-8C1E-8A63786E79E6/0/Chapter3.pdf

    So tell me: exactly how, in this secular democracy, do you expect to sway enough people to your side to put a stop to fundamentalist influence on politics?

    How “pure” do your allies have to be? Must they be hard atheists? Soft? Agnostics okay, or are they too “fuzzy” for your tastes?

    When you get done whittling your allies down on the basis of their ideological purity, and handing the enemy ammunition, just how many votes do you expect to get?

    What the hell? If they’re still allies, they’re still allies. Working in a coalition with people with whom you share some goals while openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack isn’t insisting on ideological purity. You’re very confused.

  224. #224 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    But at this point it kind of feels like we are being told not to flash our boobs because it will make the Taliban have less respect for women.

    well said.

    Working in a coalition with people with whom you share some goals while openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack isn’t insisting on ideological purity.

    judging by the reactions i get speaking about Coyne’s criticisms on Pandas Thumb, I’d say he isn’t the only one confused about this.

    I’d say it’s worth trying to clear up the confusion, but I really can’t see how anyone involved could possibly have been more clear.

    PZ has been clear.

    Dawkins has been clear.

    Moran has been clear.

    and Coyne has as well.

    To be fair, a few years ago I myself felt a lot like Leigh the first few times I saw the critiques of accommodation like this coming from PZ. I have to hat-tip TM (now NS) for bonking me over the head a few years back and clarifying the difference between critiquing poor ideas and fighting for science itself (hint to Leigh: we can and should do both). It didn’t take long for me to work it out, so what’s holding back the rest?

    what’s left to say?

    It’s not worth winning a conditional war, IMO. I’ll take my science and go elsewhere.

    Oh wait…
    :)

  225. #225 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    “Fuck off with your condescension, Leigh. Really.”

    That wasn’t condescension. It was honest admiration. I really do think atheists hold their positions because they’ve looked at the evidence and reasoned from it as carefully as they can. In the process, they’ve weeded away a lot of dreck; but they’ve also ruthlessly clipped off some feel-good stuff, and not everybody clipped it without a pang. That takes intellectual and moral courage and a firm resolve to pursue the truth, wherever it may lead. What is even more admirable, to me at least, is that atheists have, I think in the teeth of some evidence, managed to hold onto a view of humankind that still sees us moving forward, learning more, getting better. growing more moral. I am a humanist, so I share that view; but surely there is at least some idealism working there. We have lots of evidence to the contrary, you know.

    “And all the CAPS aren’t making your CASE (such as it is) any STRONGER.”

    Sigh. I know; I was going to make a joke about it earlier; at least I didn’t break out into colors and close with “God bless you” or “I’ll be praying for you”.

    Thank you for Dacey’s paper. I read it (with my two currently functioning brain cells); more important, I saved it so I can really glean some understanding from it. It does indeed look to bear down on exactly the problem I’ve been suggesting with PZ and Jerry’s strategy. But it raises more questions than it answers.

    I also want to go dig more into the latest Pew Trust data. Perhaps some actual evidence might be lurking there so that I can bolster my argument. I do realize that my personal anecdotes aren’t data, you know — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t align with data gathered elsewhere.

    All right then, I’ve constructed an hypothesis from my personal experiences. It remains to go find some data to support that hypothesis. Dacey raises some more potential hypotheses; I’ll see if I can find any evidence for or against them, too.

    And you can bet your ass I will try, very hard. If I can’t do it, well, that is a result and must be reported also.

    What the hell? If they’re still allies, they’re still allies. Working in a coalition with people with whom you share some goals while openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack isn’t insisting on ideological purity. You’re very confused.

    When “openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack” involves helping rearm the atomic bomb used by the enemy, which we theistic evolutionists are diligently trying to defuse, I’d say you’re the one who’s confused.

    The problem is not that you’re going to lose us as allies. We might not enjoy the beating we sometimes take from you, but our eye is on the prize.

    The problem is that those potential theistic evolutionists sitting in the pews aren’t going to be your allies — and those are the people we need, because YOU + US isn’t a big enough team to push back the fundamentalists.

    But who knows? Perhaps the data will show you to be correct, and I’m the one who’s flapping about something that’s not such a big deal.

    If so, I’ll be surprised, but you (and PZ and Jerry) will have my apology.

  226. #226 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    When “openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack” involves helping rearm the atomic bomb used by the enemy, which we theistic evolutionists are diligently trying to defuse, I’d say you’re the one who’s confused.

    …we don’t compromise with terrorists.

    *flashes man-boobs*

  227. #227 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    Windy:

    But at this point it kind of feels like we are being told not to flash our boobs because it will make the Taliban have less respect for women. That may be true, but I don’t know if that is a good reason.

    No, I’m telling you not to flash your boobies because it’s gonna get us all shot.

    That seems like a good reason to me, if by “shot” you take it to mean “removed from influence with extreme prejudice by the people you just scared into a fugue state.”

    There is nothing wrong with your boobies; in fact, they are lovely, internally consistent, and rational boobies.

    But those folks you just flashed them at don’t have a lot of experience with lovely, internally consistent, and rational boobies, and they’re so traumatized they’re not sure they could ever bear to see another such rack.

    So they’ve gone running back to their pastors to be told that your boobies are unGodly, and they should never get close enough to you to see the tiniest flash of them ever again.

    Which kind of makes it hard to teach them anything about science, you know, given all the boobie-paranoia.

  228. #228 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    That seems like a good reason to me, if by “shot” you take it to mean “removed from influence with extreme prejudice by the people you just scared into a fugue state.”

    if the US taliban could have done that, they would have already.

    stop playing terrorist and grow up already, eh?

  229. #229 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    And now, Ichthyic, those poor people are catatonic after glimpsing your mighty man-boobs of reason.

    I guess that’s okay, as long as we can keep them that way so they can’t vote.

    So, how’s your schedule for the next ten or fifteen years, man-boob-flashing-wise?

    Good night, friends and boobies! If I don’t get at least a short nap, I may end up tomorrow in Louisiana instead of East Texas. That might not seem so much worse to you, but in East Texas I am friendly with the natives and will not be shot on sight.

  230. #230 Kel
    April 24, 2009

    I really do think atheists hold their positions because they’ve looked at the evidence and reasoned from it as carefully as they can.

    That sounds like the opposite of ideology tbh

  231. #231 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    the shitstorm is worth weathering if I can just get you to hear the least part of what I’m saying.

    If that’s your goal, you’re not going about it right. Every word and intonation, starting with your initial “Oh, good Lord.” is belligerent and/or condescending.

    Not that I think it matters how you go about it, because what you’re saying is either already known, invalid, or you won’t be able to communicate it to people who aren’t driven by fear the way you are.

  232. #232 Leigh Williams
    April 24, 2009

    “if the US taliban could have done that, they would have already.”

    Oh, hell yeah, they’ve done it. Evidence follows, remember?

    “stop playing terrorist and grow up already, eh?”

    Hey, I didn’t start it. I just rolled with it. And it’s not you+me who are the terrorists, anyway — it’s the American Taliban.

  233. #233 SC, OM
    April 24, 2009

    That wasn’t condescension. It was honest admiration.

    …but surely there is at least some idealism working there. We have lots of evidence to the contrary, you know.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about in this paragraph, or how it relates to your views on “realpolitik” to which I was responding. This doesn’t even make sense. You admire atheists for our purported “idealism” (which you don’t really define, but do contrast with your own alleged pragmatism), and then say “but surely there is at least some idealism working there.”

    Thank you for Dacey’s paper. I read it (with my two currently functioning brain cells); more important, I saved it so I can really glean some understanding from it. It does indeed look to bear down on exactly the problem I’ve been suggesting with PZ and Jerry’s strategy. But it raises more questions than it answers.

    I think that’s what he’s trying to do. But he does say that there’s no evidentiary support for your position, so there’s simply no basis for you to keep presenting the situation as one of you the realists vs. us the idealists. I actually have done extensive research relevant to these questions, and it largely supports my position (which isn’t, incidentally, precisely the one I held when I started the research). Unfortunately, I can’t point to it without disclosing my identity (and, as I’m sure Ichthyic will tell you, it’s not exactly light reading :)).

    I do realize that my personal anecdotes aren’t data, you know — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t align with data gathered elsewhere.

    Nor that they do.

    When “openly criticizing their positions and taking a different tack” involves helping rearm the atomic bomb used by the enemy, which we theistic evolutionists are diligently trying to defuse, I’d say you’re the one who’s confused.

    Leaving aside for the moment that this is simply an unsubstantiated assertion, you’re now confusing two separate arguments. My point was that openly criticizing people you’re working alongside on some issues is not the same thing as refusing to work with them. It had nothing to do with the question of the effects of said policy.

    All right then, I’ve constructed an hypothesis from my personal experiences. It remains to go find some data to support that hypothesis. Dacey raises some more potential hypotheses; I’ll see if I can find any evidence for or against them, too.

    And you can bet your ass I will try, very hard. If I can’t do it, well, that is a result and must be reported also.

    Well, I think you should approach it as a question, rather than going out in search of data to support your preformed OPINION (sorry – couldn’t resist the Kenny reference). But cool. I look forward to hearing what you find.

  234. #234 Lilly de Lure
    April 24, 2009

    Leigh said:

    So they’ve gone running back to their pastors to be told that your boobies are unGodly, and they should never get close enough to you to see the tiniest flash of them ever again.

    Which kind of makes it hard to teach them anything about science, you know, given all the boobie-paranoia.

    Surely the best way of defeating this paranoia is not to hide said boobies away but to display them prominantly so that people can see there is actually nothing to be scared of and that the baby eating boobies of fundamentalist folklore is a myth. Sure they might be shocked at first, but they’ll get used to it, however they’ll never get the chance to if we repeatedly hide them away.

    *flashes boobies decorated with A-sign nipple tassles*

  235. #235 SC, OM
    April 24, 2009

    Well, I think you should approach it as a question, rather than going out in search of data to support your preformed OPINION (sorry – couldn’t resist the Kenny reference). But cool. I look forward to hearing what you find.

    And I should add that in the meantime, perhaps you could be a bit more humble in presenting these arguments for which you don’t have strong empirical support.

  236. #236 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    atheists have, I think in the teeth of some evidence, managed to hold onto a view of humankind that still sees us moving forward, learning more, getting better. growing more moral. I am a humanist, so I share that view; but surely there is at least some idealism working there. We have lots of evidence to the contrary, you know.

    Why would any rational person hold a view that they think is contrary to the evidence? Oh, that’s right, you’re a theist; never mind. In fact, you’re quite wrong, I know that the evidence shows the opposite of what you claim. See for instance http://richarddawkins.net/article,822,A-History-of-Violence,Steven-Pinker-Edge

  237. #237 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 24, 2009

    Just to let it be known.

    I am 100% pro-boobie.

  238. #238 Lilly de Lure
    April 24, 2009

    Rev, BigDumbChimp said:

    I am 100% pro-boobie.

    That reminds me – has anyone seen Woot around recently?

  239. #239 SC, OM
    April 24, 2009

    atheists have, I think in the teeth of some evidence, managed to hold onto a view of humankind that still sees us moving forward, learning more, getting better. growing more moral. I am a humanist, so I share that view; but surely there is at least some idealism working there. We have lots of evidence to the contrary, you know.

    Oh – I didn’t read this closely enough the first time. I see what you were saying. It’s wrong, but not completely nonsensical.

  240. #240 SC, OM
    April 24, 2009

    Uh oh. Just got a scolding text from MAJeff instructing me to get off Pharyngula and onto the train*. Off to the symphony I go!

    *(which I’m posting about just to drive him crazy :P)

  241. #241 MAJeff, OM
    April 24, 2009

    Off to the symphony I go!

    Time to get our drink on!

  242. #242 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 24, 2009

    Time to get our drink on!

    Just remember, you can not drink all day if you don’t start early.

  243. #243 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 24, 2009

    Icthyic:

    If you think there is no room for debate wrt to science and religion because “we must win the war”, then the war is already lost.

    I agree, in the sense that silencing discussion means the noisiest (and typically the least informed) will prevail. But the thing I would say is that it is not the mission of NCSE to carry the water for those partisans on either side who wish to debate the merits of science and religion. As I have previously noted, and which no one here has bothered to substantively argue against, it has a more tightly-focused mission.

    Truth Nothing:

    Other than the first paragraph, I admire your post #174 and agree with many of your points. It is a category error to regard MN as either true or false. To the extent that Russell or Sastra’s position relies upon that category error, they are muddled.

    As for the charge that I insulted you, and am thus a hypocrite, let me just ask this: did I say anything that is incorrect?

    Was it the ‘scurrilous’ part? From your favorite, Merriam-Webster:

    1 a: using or given to coarse language

    I mean, obviously, this is true. Am I supposed to be sorry that you are miffed by your own reflection? I thought you were supposed to be interested in the Truth, Machine Sacred.
    As for the ‘blighter’ part….I mean, come on man, the fact that I’m using a colloquialism that best fits in antique British humor should be a clue that I’m not really trying to drag you down. Am I supposed to beat my breasts over being called a ‘git’ or a ‘twit’?

    Fine. You win, can haz cheezburgahs. Kthanx bai

  244. #244 Robocop
    April 24, 2009

    174: “This is an a priori position, a claim about all phenomena, past or future, whether already encountered or not. It is not a contingent claim that everything so far encountered happens to have been natural.”

    This type of a priori position makes the holders of such views particularly susceptible to fat tails.

    243: “But the thing I would say is that it is not the mission of NCSE to carry the water for those partisans on either side who wish to debate the merits of science and religion.”

    That depends in large measure upon whether the mission of the NCSE is seen as primarily relating to evolution or primarily relating to science. Remember, agonists like Coyne are committed to the idea that science, rigorously persued, precludes religious belief. Thus this discussion about tactics seems to me to be misplaced, particularly if one sees the mission of the NCSE in broader terms. What strikes me as curious is why agonists seem so willing to promote and accept silence or neutrality on the bigger (broader) issue (most seem to want the NCSE either to stop promoting accomodationist literature or to promote their literature alongside accomodationist literature). If the agonist argument is a good one, why not make it and seek its adoption by the NCSE and other science advocacy groups? Moreover, it appears to me (though I may be missing something) that agonists spend a lot of time making claims but not much time making arguments. Why?

  245. #245 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 24, 2009

    I am 100% pro-boobie.

    But what if their feet aren’t blue? I know we’re supposed to be more enlightened than that, but let’s be practical: how are you going to raise the children?

  246. #246 Sastra
    April 24, 2009

    Tulse #197 wrote:

    Sastra, do you consider naturalism to be co-extensive with materialism?

    No: there are versions of naturalism which aren’t materialistic. But they don’t involve things like disembodied agencies.

    Presumably the key notion here is that the things described are “mind-like”, since naturalism accepts non-material forces and powers. It seems to me that the essential characteristic you are identifying is non-material intentionality or teleology. But honestly, I still don’t see how even this is a threat to naturalism — materialism as we currently understand it perhaps, but not naturalism.

    We’re getting into problems with definitions again, because I think such discoveries would refute naturalism, not simply change how it’s understood. It’s a bit, perhaps, like arguing that maybe God is not a person, or conscious, or able to make choices or ‘know’ anything, and maybe it has nothing to do with Good and Evil, and it didn’t so much “create” the universe as evolve along with it — and so forth, and so on, until you start to wonder if calling it “God” is anything other than sentiment.

    I have read arguments that do claim that Chalmer’s view of consciousness is indeed a version of supernaturalism. I would agree. It’s a borderline situation — but read spiritual and New Age lit, and they are in love with Chalmers.

    There will always be borderline situations and demarkation problems, no matter what the definition. One of the difficulties in defining the “supernatural” as “outside of nature” is that the definition of “nature” is flexible, and therefore the definition of supernatural is equally flexible. You can take any example of supernatural phenomenon you want, up to and including God, and I guarantee you that some believer will insist that it’s “part of nature” or “immanent in nature” or maybe just “natural.” Show them that it’s not. For people who equate being “natural” with being “good for you,” that’s just what they do. Same with those naturalists who equate being in nature with ‘being in reality.’

    Can science study the supernatural, which would have its own regularities and rules? I think that, under my definition, it could. This is one reason why I think it’s a bad idea to define the “supernatural” as “outside of scientific consideration.” As your hypotheticals show, it’s not necessarily something that couldn’t be described or predicted. Even the believers don’t really believe that.

    Whether something like non-material intentionality is then “outside of” nature or “above” nature or “within nature, but at a higher level” or even “totally natural, dude” makes no difference — which is a damn good thing, because how do we distinguish these states? What does it mean for something to exist on a “higher spiritual plane?” I don’t know, and if you ask a mystic they generally just go into analogies. It’s just not a good idea to try to pin down a mystic.

    We need a definition of “supernatural” then which isn’t vacuous, isn’t circular, isn’t infinitely flexible, doesn’t define it out of existence, and yet which captures or includes the sorts of things most people think of as “supernatural” — ghosts, gods, souls, and magic — and doesn’t include things like magnetism and string theory, which we don’t consider ‘supernatural.’ I think keeping the focus on beings and forces which are purely mental is the most reasonable approach for definition. And doing this includes the paranormal into the supernatural.

    Yes, it’s flawed. I agree. But I think it’s not as flawed as most of the other ways of defining it.

  247. #247 Tulse
    April 24, 2009

    Whether something like non-material intentionality is then “outside of” nature or “above” nature or “within nature, but at a higher level” or even “totally natural, dude” makes no difference — which is a damn good thing, because how do we distinguish these states?

    Now I’m confused — aren’t you the one who was making these distinctions? I thought the whole question was whether “the category of the ‘supernatural’ consists of non-material, irreducible mind-like beings, forces, or powers which exist apart from, and “above,” the physical”.

    We need a definition of “supernatural” then which isn’t vacuous, isn’t circular, isn’t infinitely flexible, doesn’t define it out of existence, and yet which captures or includes the sorts of things most people think of as “supernatural” — ghosts, gods, souls, and magic — and doesn’t include things like magnetism and string theory, which we don’t consider ‘supernatural.’

    To claim that we “need” a definition with the qualities you describe in largely begging the question, as I thought we were discussing whether there was indeed such a need. In any case, I’m not clear that the category is even coherent, much less that we “need” it. Perhaps “supernatural” merely captures some ill-defined family resemblances among various socio-cultural terms, and can’t be assembled into a principled definition that does what you want it to do. What I am suspicious of is a somewhat ad hoc categorization intended solely to capture folk understanding of phenomena.

  248. #248 Sastra
    April 24, 2009

    Tulse #247 wrote:

    I thought the whole question was whether “the category of the ‘supernatural’ consists of non-material, irreducible mind-like beings, forces, or powers which exist apart from, and “above,” the physical”.

    Yes, but note that I am usually sly enough to put the word “above” in scare quotes (at least, I should be.) I think it has to be left somewhat vague, because people who believe in the supernatural are not clear about what such hierarchies mean, in the same sense that scientists must be clear about such things. What it really seems to entail is a moral or value ranking, because in supernaturalism social and psychological concepts are deliberately getting muddled up with physical ones (like ‘above’ and ‘below.’) That’s their point.

    Bill Demski (a supernaturalist) stated the divide this way: ?Is reality fundamentally mindful and purposive, or mindless and material?? And if morals and meaning are structured directly into the universe, this always ‘outranks’ the physical world in supernaturalism. The soul is “above” the body it is only temporarily attached do, and the physical world is never more important or significant than the spiritual realms, which are, almost invariably, “higher.” And more real.

    To claim that we “need” a definition with the qualities you describe in largely begging the question, as I thought we were discussing whether there was indeed such a need.

    We “need” it to aid in communication, since, if nothing else, the definition of Naturalism states “… metaphysical naturalism rejects the objective existence of any supernatural thing, force or cause, such as are described in humanity?s various religions and mythological accounts.” It makes sense to at least try to figure out what makes these things ‘supernatural’ as opposed to ‘natural.’ If not, people will equivocate.

    Perhaps “supernatural” merely captures some ill-defined family resemblances among various socio-cultural terms, and can’t be assembled into a principled definition that does what you want it to do.

    Perhaps, though there ought to be enough family resemblance to come up with a better-defined definition. After all, we have the same trouble with fuzzy concepts like “God” and “religion,” and yet we look for the characteristics which distinguish atheism from theism, and religion from philosophies of life. When is a proposed medical therapy simply unproven, and when is it unproven woo? A practical question.

    “In short, pure or uncaused mental entities, and the effects of these entities, are supernatural, as are all events involving pure mind over matter.” (Richard Carrier)

    This may be as good as we can do in capturing both what philosophers mean, and how it tracks with the actual usage of the word.

  249. #249 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    I’m not going to take the time to respond to all of what Sastra has written, which does nothing to sway me as it simply reiterates and compounds the confusion. For instance, first she wrote that enough violations of “normal law” would be a clue that proponents of the supernatural are right, then she writes that the supernatural can have its own regularities and rules — wouldn’t that then be “normal law”? But if “supernatural” means anything, it means “not explainable by science” — just ask people! This is why parapsychologists don’t consider themselves supernaturalists — they think that the phenomena they are studying are the results of forces or mechanisms that simply aren’t yet known; they do not think these things are beyond explanation. (Of course there are many believers in these phenomena who are supernaturalists, magical thinkers who don’t seek or care for explanation and even revel in the belief that they are unexplainable.)

    If we lived in a world where scientists study and create explanations for ghosts, souls, ESP, etc., using the scientific method, then we would call those things natural. Sastra referred to “a central place in the fabric of reality” — which is just another way to say the nature of the world we live in. It’s no coincidence that the word “nature” is related to “natural” and refers to the way something is. It also refers to the way everything is; from dictionary.com:

    5. the universe, with all its phenomena.
    6. the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.

    Implicit is “… whatever they are”. As Tulse noted, from this definition, only a “creator god” (I would add “deistic” to that) could be supernatural.

    In #77, Sastra claimed that there is no such thing as methodological naturalism. But methodological naturalism is simply the stance that only causally explicable phenomena are within the scope of inquiry and that only causal explanations are allowed. If gods, ghosts, souls, or ESP can be brought within that sphere, then they can be studied under science; methodological naturalism does not a priori exclude any specific phenomenon; it isn’t a discrimination based on labeling, the way Sastra tries to make it by creating “natural” and “supernatural” buckets and putting some phenomena in one and some phenomena in the other. Methodological naturalism not only “exists” but is practiced every day by scientists, regardless of their metaphysical stances. People who believe that there are phenomena “beyond scientific explanation” are able to practice science nonetheless. But to abandon methodological naturalism, as the Discovery Institute wishes to do, is to include non-causal “explanations” within science — goddidit, “the bible says so” or “because minds are part of the basic fabric of the universe” are non-causal, non-scientific, non-explanations.

    Finally, I said that “naturalists do, contra Sastra, hold that everything is necessarily natural”. But I’ve now learned that isn’t true, and isn’t fair to Sastra. She’s in some quite good company with people like Richard Carrier and Graham Oppy and many other philosophers. But I think they are all mistaken, and are employing an unnecessarily cramped definition of “natural” that lacks linguistic support. In a world that contained ghosts and souls that were amenable to scientific explanation, scientists would not talk about studying the supernatural world — as compared to what?

  250. #250 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    As for the charge that I insulted you, and am thus a hypocrite

    No, you thickheaded lying fool, I did not do that. Once again, what I did was point out you being rude to me as just one example of rudeness on this blog, in questioning your being surprised at rudeness toward Sastra. Here it is again — or apparently for the first time, for you: “Why? You speak rudely to me. All sorts of people here speak rudely to all sorts of people, regardless of whether they are non-believers, and regardless of whether they are highly regarded.” See? no mention of hypocrisy there. That charge came later, when you hypocritically and stupidly blathered about me feeling wronged by being insulted, when I never expressed any such feeling at all — but you did.

    And I will again note that whatever rudeness I demonstrated toward Sastra by saying that it’s uninteresting that someone so conceptually confused would say that naturalists are wrong and supernaturalists are right was a very mild form — as I have quite intentionally tried to illustrate by employing a much stronger form toward you — but such illustration is apparently a waste of time on someone so dimwitted.

  251. #251 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    “In short, pure or uncaused mental entities, and the effects of these entities, are supernatural, as are all events involving pure mind over matter.” (Richard Carrier)

    This may be as good as we can do in capturing both what philosophers mean, and how it tracks with the actual usage of the word.

    I disagree that it’s a good definition, but proponents of the possibility of the supernatural who adopt it may be shooting themselves in the foot:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/09/excluding-the-s.html :

    By far the best definition I’ve ever heard of the supernatural is Richard Carrier’s …. But if we accept Richard Carrier’s definition of the supernatural, then a dilemma arises: we want to give religious claims a fair shake, but it seems that we have very good grounds for excluding supernatural explanations a priori….It is only the Mind Projection Fallacy that makes some people talk as if the higher levels could have a separate existence – different levels of organization can have separate representations in human maps, but the territory itself is a single unified low-level mathematical object….My thesis is that non-reductionism is a confusion ….

  252. #252 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    I think it has to be left somewhat vague, because people who believe in the supernatural are not clear about what such hierarchies mean, in the same sense that scientists must be clear about such things.

    But it’s not people who believe in the supernatural who we are debating with, it is people who believe that the world could contain the supernatural — people like you. And indeed, you are not being clear about what it means the way scientists, or any other sort of careful thinker, must.

    It makes sense to at least try to figure out what makes these things ‘supernatural’ as opposed to ‘natural.’

    There are things that “cannot be explained by science”. That is, they are beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, are not subject to causal explanation, cannot be derived via the scientific method, etc. i.e., they are that which is excluded by methodological naturalism.

  253. #253 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    Argh … “There are things that …” -> “They are things that …”

  254. #254 nothing's sacred
    April 24, 2009

    I have read arguments that do claim that Chalmer’s view of consciousness is indeed a version of supernaturalism. I would agree. It’s a borderline situation — but read spiritual and New Age lit, and they are in love with Chalmers.

    Uh, so what? He’s not in love with them, nor is any respectable philosopher. Really, this is an atrocious guilt by association, like pointing out that racists love Darwin because they think he justifies their views, as if this says anything about Darwin or his views.

    I would argue that Chalmers’ view is supernatural not because of what New Agers think, but because it’s not evidentiary, not falsifiable. Chalmers asserts that physically indistinguishable entities can have different properties. But since they are physically indistinguishable, one could not possibly demonstrate this. Chalmers describes the difference by saying that one of the entities is “all dark inside”. Of course darkness is a physical phenomenon, so that can’t possibly be what he means. Ah, but it’s a metaphor … for what? Chalmers cannot say, he has only his metaphorical language but no referent for it. Gilbert Ryle called this “The Ghost in the Machine” for good reason.

  255. #255 Walton
    April 24, 2009

    I just finished watching an episode of Babylon 5 on DVD. Then I logged on here and saw, in the quotes section, a quote from Babylon 5. I can’t remember now what it was.

    Weird coincidence. Completely and utterly irrelevant to anything on this thread (whatever it was, I can’t remember), but I just thought I’d throw it out there to lighten the mood. :-)

  256. #256 Sastra
    April 24, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #249 wrote:

    But if “supernatural” means anything, it means “not explainable by science” — just ask people!

    I think that if you continue to ask supernaturalists what “not explainable by science” means, you will find that they don’t mean that science could never discover, confirm, measure, predict or gain some understanding of it. They mean science can’t explain it the way it usually does — by reducing it to mindless material mechanisms. They are beyond that sort of explanation, because they are fundamentally pure. They are not caused by anything else — they are causes.

    This is why parapsychologists don’t consider themselves supernaturalists — they think that the phenomena they are studying are the results of forces or mechanisms that simply aren’t yet known; they do not think these things are beyond explanation.

    Parapsychologists are divided (and vague and self-contradictory) on the relation of the paranormal to the supernatural — though some of them have been very forthright that they are on a “search for the soul.” Add in spiritualism, and it’s even more obvious. Some of those “unknown forces yet to be discovered by science” may end up being mechanical — and some may end up being supernatural.

    The Cambridge Dictionary defines the paranormal as “impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science” (to muddy things further.) And, on the other side, the movie Ghostbusters provides an example of scientists dealing with the supernatural.

    I think that if you consider what God is, and how it’s supposed to work, there’s a direct connection between paranormal actions like ESP and PK and God’s supernatural “powers” — which include the ability to project and receive thoughts from its Mind, to human minds (prayer.)

    In a world that contained ghosts and souls that were amenable to scientific explanation, scientists would not talk about studying the supernatural world — as compared to what?

    As compared to the natural one (heh.) We’re talking dualism, two different “kinds” of things in reality, acting on different “levels,” each with their own laws.

    I think it’s a useful way to use the language, because otherwise we’d have to come up with a new word for the objects that were in the category ‘supernatural,’ but are now in the category ‘natural’ — but it’s a different area of the natural, which doesn’t reduce down to matter and energy.

  257. #257 Sastra
    April 24, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #251 wrote:

    I disagree that it’s a good definition, but proponents of the possibility of the supernatural who adopt it may be shooting themselves in the foot:

    Interesting essay, thanks for posting it. I still disagree with the writer’s conclusion, however. He asks:

    Suppose that the Mind Projection Fallacy was not a fallacy, but simply true… What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe?

    If you can’t come up with a good answer to that, it’s not observation that’s ruling out “non-reductionist” beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence. If you can’t say what predictions the “non-reductionist” model makes, how can you say that experimental evidence rules it out?

    If the ‘Mind Projection Fallacy’ were true, I would predict that human brains looked like potatoes when you opened them up, and you could cut them out and people’s behavior would be the same. Or, better yet, no brains at all.

    I would predict a world where magical corresponences were real, and things were connected by their meaning — a root that looked like a leg would effect the legs when you ate it. I would predict ESP and PK were common, and physical limits made no difference. I would predict angels and ghosts and miracles and channeling and “healing energy” and water knowing what you removed from it because you shook a stick at it to imbue it with your intentions.

    And I would predict that the best that scientists could come up with was to call everything a kind of “energy” — not an “unknown energy,” but a known one, a spiritual kind.

    Of course, it’s unlikely at this point that we’re going to find out that it turns out that the brain is really a potato. And, as the writer points out, “if the staid conventional normal boring understanding of physics and the brain is correct,” then a world where the Mind Projection Fallacy is true becomes extremely unlikely — but not, I think, conceptually incoherent. We could still pull from our “folk physics” and “folk neurology”(?) and create one in our imagination.

    He writes:

    Ultimately, reductionism is just disbelief in fundamentally complicated things. If “fundamentally complicated” sounds like an oxymoron… well, that’s why I think that the doctrine of non-reductionism is a confusion, rather than a way that things could be, but aren’t.

    The problem is that the supernatural and paranormal forces aren’t supposed to be “fundamentally complicated.” Why? They’re “fundamentally simple.” How do we know that’s wrong — that mind is not a “fundamentally simple” thing, and that this makes no sense? Well, in part because of science.

    Yes, supernaturalism is confused. It reifies abstractions and falls for the Mind Projection Fallacy (that’s my new phrase!) But I still think it’s wrong.

    As opposed to ‘not even wrong.’ I guess.

  258. #258 windy
    April 24, 2009

    We’re talking dualism, two different “kinds” of things in reality, acting on different “levels,” each with their own laws.

    So what differentiates this from regular substance dualism? Or do you consider any sort of dualism a form of supernaturalism?

    I think you are jumping back and forth between different definitions here – if reality consisted of two fundamentally different kinds of things, each obeying its own laws but occasionally interacting, why should that mean that reality is fundamentally mindlike and purposive? A form of dualism where mental properties are fundamental and can always “overrule” the physical seems to simply reduce to theism. (which is another difficult concept, as you note)

    Also, I’m not sure how to reconcile “fundamentally simple” and “two different kinds of reality obeying their own laws”. If “the supernatural” is not differentiated or subdivided in any way, how can there be ghosts or souls or any other kind of separate, interacting supernatural entities?

  259. #259 God
    April 24, 2009

    If “the supernatural” is not differentiated or subdivided in any way, how can there be ghosts or souls or any other kind of separate, interacting supernatural entities?

    That’s for Me to know and you to find out…

  260. #260 Satan
    April 24, 2009

    That’s for Me to know and you to find out…

    Some might point out that this sort of response is often given when the speaker does not in fact know but does not wish to admit it.

    Not that I’m making any accusations or anything.

  261. #261 God
    April 24, 2009

    Some might point out that this sort of response is often given when the speaker does not in fact know but does not wish to admit it.

    And some might equally point out that it is also is the sort of response given when the Speaker does in fact know and wishes to smugly revel in His knowledge, and mock the ignorance of the ignorant.

  262. #262 John Morales
    April 24, 2009

    Don Camillo and Peppone.

  263. #263 windy
    April 24, 2009

    Some might point out that this sort of response is often given when the speaker does not in fact know but does not wish to admit it.

    Is that what they mean by “fundamentally simple”?

  264. #264 Sastra
    April 24, 2009

    windy #258 wrote:

    So what differentiates this from regular substance dualism? Or do you consider any sort of dualism a form of supernaturalism?

    Substance dualism would be a form of supernaturalism, but property dualism probably wouldn’t.

    I think you are jumping back and forth between different definitions here – if reality consisted of two fundamentally different kinds of things, each obeying its own laws but occasionally interacting, why should that mean that reality is fundamentally mindlike and purposive?

    In supernaturalism, the reality which is mind-like is always seen as superior to the dull, boring material world — not just better, but in control. Theism is probably the most common version, or at least the one we’re used to, but cosmic consciousness and magic also act ‘down’ upon the physical.

    Also, I’m not sure how to reconcile “fundamentally simple” and “two different kinds of reality obeying their own laws”.

    The supernatural ‘world’ or ‘realm’ is not necessarily simple and undifferentiated, but the supernatural powers, forces, and entities are not supposed to be made of anything else — at least not of anything that is material or physical.

    If “the supernatural” is not differentiated or subdivided in any way, how can there be ghosts or souls or any other kind of separate, interacting supernatural entities?

    God knows (but He’s evidently not telling.)

  265. #265 John Morales
    April 24, 2009

    FWIW, my simplistic definitions: Paranormal for that which is natural but unexplainable, supernatural for that which defies natural laws.

  266. #266 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 24, 2009

    Truth Sacred Machine Nothing:

    You definitely have me at a disadvantage. As a Christian, as I understand it, I really shouldn’t get into any debate that ends as an exchange of insults. It’s considered bad manners by a lot of folk on my side of the aisle, unseemly, etc.

    As a non-believer, you don’t have that handicap. You probably see your bracing, shoot-from-the-hip style as a tonic for cutting through the bullshit, and you probably don’t have much use for anyone, especially a theist, who is unwilling to play the same sort of rhetorical hardball.

    In such an environment, I pretty much fall into a semantic rabbit hole no matter how I respond, and I trust that with the skills you like to put on display here you have at least some idea what I’m talking about. Like I said, I give, you win. It’s pointless for me to attempt to defend my integrity with someone who does not appear willing to consider the possibility that I might be simply guilty of human error, rather than a hypocrite.

    Please note that, by making the previous statement, I’m not playing a ‘pity card’ or trying to insult you or otherwise trying to criticize you. I probably don’t have the right to try to tell a committed and aroused non-believer how they should feel about theists, especially in this forum, which I firmly believe is first and foremost a haven for non-belief.

    I regret if some of my tongue-in-cheek comments have provoked you on this point or any other, and I hope in the future to exchange views with you about things which are more substantive than my recent posts. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get the taste of crow out of my mouth.

    Sincerely…SH

  267. #267 windy
    April 24, 2009

    In supernaturalism, the reality which is mind-like is always seen as superior to the dull, boring material world — not just better, but in control.

    Maybe the supernatural is usually seen as more interesting than the material world, but it’s obvious that the supernatural is not always thought to be in complete control of the natural. Vampires can be controlled by garlic and crosses. Ghosts can be bound to old houses. Gods can be defeated by iron chariots.

    The supernatural ‘world’ or ‘realm’ is not necessarily simple and undifferentiated, but the supernatural powers, forces, and entities are not supposed to be made of anything else — at least not of anything that is material or physical.

    The natural world is not made of “anything else” either. And it’s “fundamentally simple” in that all the complexity arises from a limited amount of basic principles. But just as in the natural world, there has to be some sort of subdivision and diversity within the supernatural in order for there to be supernatural “ghosts” or “souls” or “ideas” or “forms”. So how is it any more “fundamentally simple” than the natural world? It seems like a completely meaningless mantra.

  268. #268 Ichthyic
    April 24, 2009

    I really shouldn’t get into any debate that ends as an exchange of insults. It’s considered bad manners by a lot of folk on my side of the aisle, unseemly, etc.

    LOL

    that must be why you come here Scott. To free your mind of unseemly cultural constraints.

    let loose, you know you want to.

    free your mind.

  269. #269 Owlmirror
    April 25, 2009

    God knows (but He’s evidently not telling.)

      God does not play dice with the universe: He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

      — (Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens)
  270. #270 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    I think that if you continue to ask supernaturalists what “not explainable by science” means, you will find that they don’t mean that science could never discover, confirm, measure, predict or gain some understanding of it.

    It’s convenient for your position that you think that, but you’re wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with and even sleeping with supernaturalists and that is what they mean.

    They mean science can’t explain it the way it usually does — by reducing it to mindless material mechanisms. They are beyond that sort of explanation, because they are fundamentally pure. They are not caused by anything else — they are causes.

    I can’t make any sense of this, other than that it directly contradicts what you just said. Really. I hope that windy or someone addressed the rest of what you wrote, because I’ve lost the patience for such incomprehensible and uncomprehending nonsense that is the sort of thing I would expect to find at UD.

  271. #271 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    Scott, you’re a pathetic whining cowardly godbot wielding the most incredibly stupid ad hominems — oh, it’s so unfair, you have to play by the rules and I don’t! No, Scott, it is you who aren’t playing by the rules when you post such drivel instead of either rebutting my claims in #250 or admitting to them.

  272. #272 Owlmirror
    April 25, 2009

    It’s convenient for your position that you think that, but you’re wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with and even sleeping with supernaturalists and that is what they mean.

    No, I don’t think it is — because supernaturalists don’t have a clear idea of what science means.

    More than a few of the theists who have come here have claimed to have a personal relationship with God; they said they talk to God and receive answers. I have offered, in a semi-serious way, a scientific test of this claim: I have a randomly generated number, and I ask them to ask God what the digits of the number are.

    They either say that “it doesn’t work like that”, or they ignore the offer entirely. Presumably because the communication from God isn’t in concrete words and concepts, but in abstract feelings, or something like that. They move the goalposts. They say that that precise, numerical data that I am asking for isn’t the right sort of test. They even remember the bible verses about not testing God.

    Next time you talk to a supernaturalist, try it out. Think of a test for supernatural claim they make, and offer it to them. Do they even accept the test as valid?

    I can’t make any sense of this, other than that it directly contradicts what you just said.

    I don’t think Sastra has ever claimed that supernaturalists were intellectually consistent and coherent.

  273. #273 Ichthyic
    April 25, 2009

    I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with and even sleeping with supernaturalists

    is the sex different?

    If not, that’s one more piece of evidence against supernaturalism.

  274. #274 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    In a world that contained ghosts and souls that were amenable to scientific explanation, scientists would not talk about studying the supernatural world — as compared to what?

    As compared to the natural one (heh.)

    And what the hell is “the natural one” in the world I just described? There’s only one world known to those scientists, and that’s the one they are living in. Do you really suppose that scientists living in a world in which their application of scientific method yields explanations of the ghosts and souls they observe would refer to that world, their one and only one, as “the supernatural world”, and would speak of a world without those ghosts and souls, and call it “natural”? What could possibly motivate them to do so?

    If the ‘Mind Projection Fallacy’ were true, I would predict that human brains looked like potatoes when you opened them up, and you could cut them out and people’s behavior would be the same. Or, better yet, no brains at all.

    What you are positing is a world that has macro-level regularities that occur for no reason. It’s an assertion that it could have turned out that people, with all their complex behavior, had no brains or other control mechanisms. In fact, it’s possible that we might still find such people. Or any other sort of magic. Why not, if it’s not conceptually incoherent? But I think that it clearly is not conceptually coherent to say that orderly, repetitive, predictable patterns can occur for no reason. Why do they happen? They just do. It isn’t even that god works in mysterious ways, but that “works” and “ways” are inherently mysterious themselves. To me, to say this is conceptually coherent is like saying that modus ponens might fail to be valid some day. No further exchange can be fruitful with someone with that view.

    How do we know that’s wrong — that mind is not a “fundamentally simple” thing, and that this makes no sense? Well, in part because of science.

    No, we know that it’s wrong, that it makes no sense, because it’s an oxymoron, a self-contradiction; minds are seen to be complex by examining their descriptions and their consequences. To call a mind simple is to tell an obvious untruth, like calling rocket science simple, or the Windows operating system simple. Information theory, which is analytical and thus independent of science or any specific universe, tells us that these things are complex, that their descriptions have high information content.

    Yes, supernaturalism is confused. It reifies abstractions and falls for the Mind Projection Fallacy (that’s my new phrase!) But I still think it’s wrong. As opposed to ‘not even wrong.’ I guess.

    If it’s confused and fallacious, then it cannot also be falsifiable — possible if only the evidence were different. Once again you are quite confused — although you are sharp enough to get a lot of things right, like your first two sentences. Yes, it’s wrong, but its wrongness is analytical, not empirical.

    Substance dualism would be a form of supernaturalism, but property dualism probably wouldn’t.

    This “would be” and “probably wouldn’t” strongly suggests that you’re just making it up as you go. As windy said, it’s “completely meaningless mantra”. Earlier you said that you would agree that Chalmers’ view of consciousness is indeed a version of supernaturalism, but here you say that it probably wouldn’t be — by implication; surely you know that Chalmers is not a substance dualist? Really, Sastra, you are now just flailing around, which is in itself a pretty good sign that my original claim about conceptual muddle was correct.

  275. #275 Patricia, OM
    April 25, 2009

    Ichthyic – If I may be a witness (?) sex as a fundementalist is done the same way as it’s done as an atheist. I haven’t read through this thread, but 34 years of practice (yipee!) tells me it’s true.

    Err..maybe a 34 year example doesn’t count because the last few were godless. :D

  276. #276 Patricia, OM
    April 25, 2009

    Sastra doesn’t flail.

    Fool.

  277. #277 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    I don’t think Sastra has ever claimed that supernaturalists were intellectually consistent and coherent.

    You’re seriously missing the point and thread of the discussion, which is that Sastra has argued that naturalism is falsifiable, that “the supernatural” could exist or could have existed if only the facts were different, whereas I have argued that “the supernatural” is an incoherent notion. To argue her position, Sastra has tried to define “the supernatural” in a way that I consider ad hoc and does not account for how it is actually used. To counter that, she now claims that, when supernaturalists say that “science can’t explain it”, “they don’t mean that science could never discover, confirm, measure, predict or gain some understanding of it”. As I said, ascribing such an — to use your words — intellectually consistent and coherent view to supernaturalists is convenient for her view. Rather, as I said earlier, they revel in the fact that these things are unexplainable.

  278. #278 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    I have argued that “the supernatural” is an incoherent notion.

    Let me amend that. Rather, my position is that notion that the world could contain supernatural things if only the facts were different — things that remain supernatural in that alternate world — is incoherent. “the supernatural” can coherently be described as those phenomena that have no impact on the world and thus there is no evidence of them. The intersection of the sets “the supernatural” and “extant phenomena” is empty.

  279. #279 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    Sastra doesn’t flail.

    Fool.

    Is that a law of nature? She herself said “I’m wrong about a lot of things” and I’m sure she would agree that she is capable of flailing and sometimes does, even if she denies that she is doing so here. She gains nothing from the sort of “defense” you are capable of offering.

  280. #280 Don Vensmili
    April 25, 2009

    Who put a quarter in the damn Machine?

  281. #281 nothing's sacred
    April 25, 2009

    is the sex different?

    It’s out of this world.

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