Pharyngula

Weekend update

Allow me to recap. Jerry Coyne set a few people on fire with a post arguing that national science organizations have gone to far in blithely conceding the compatibility of science and religion. He strongly suggests that they stick to complete neutrality on the topic, something they all promise to do, but then ignore what they say to tout a philosophical accommodation that doesn’t really exist. He does not argue that they should go the other way and advance an atheistic position (even though we know that that is the only correct stance), but wants them to back off on the misleading happy religion stuff.

Richard Hoppe fired back with a claim that nuh-uh, they aren’t pushing a particular religious view, and besides, we need concessions to religion in order to get along politically…and then he threw in a lot of tactless and politically self-destructive accusations about how ivory tower atheists don’t know a thing about politics or tact.

Of course I responded to that, pointing out in the NCSE’s defense that they are an indispensable element in protecting our classrooms, but that the US is currently deadlocked in the evolution/creationism struggle, and has been for a long time…and that central to the stalemate is our constant abasement to religion. It’s time to stop, and the atheists are the ones who are working to break that logjam. At the same time, I agree that the NCSE, to be politically useful, needs to be neutral on the issue of religion. The problem is that they are not.

Then there was lots of piling on. Check out Russell Blackford’s take, or Wilkins’ mild disagreement. Taner Edis takes a strange position: the incompatiblists are completely right, but we can’t say so. You can guess that Larry Moran didn’t waffle. Unfortunately, Chris Mooney gets it all completely wrong, accusing Coyne of claiming that the national organizations are “too moderate on the extremely divisive subject of religion”, when what he and I are actually saying is the exact opposite — that they aren’t moderate enough, and have drifted too far towards appeasing religious views. I shall repeat myself: no one is demanding that the NCSE and NAS go all rabidly atheist, and we can even agree that a neutral position is more productive towards achieving their goals. The problems arise when they get so entangled with the people they should be arguing with that they start adopting some of their views, and suddenly the science is being compromised to achieve a political end.

Now to make it even more interesting, Richard Hoppe has put up a partial retraction. He concedes that in some cases the NCSE has drifted too far into promoting a particular religious view.

In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think — in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others — that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

It’s good to see some progress in the argument (and Jerry Coyne sends his regards, too). The ultimate point, I think, is that we all think the NCSE is a marvelous organization — you should join if you haven’t already — but that does not mean it is above criticism, and some of us are seeing signs of the incipient Templetonization of the group, something we’d rather not see happen. If it is to be useful to both the religious and the infidels, it can’t wander too far to one side or the other.

Comments

  1. #1 Glen Davidson
    April 28, 2009

    There you go. After all, Coyne did include some examples of where the NCSE went too far, so I don’t know how anyone could miss that fact.

    You know there’s considerable pressure on the NCSE from religious groups. Why shouldn’t there be (friendly, mostly)pressure from non-religious and atheist groups? Squeaky wheel, and all that.

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

  2. #2 Brian
    April 28, 2009

    How come we are discussing the compatability of science with one fictional work (the bible) and not another (like, say, Jack and The Beanstalk or Star Wars or Bill and Ted’s excelent Adventure)?

    Why are these people allowed to get away with not only beliving obvious fairy tales, but basing public and political policy off of them?

    As rational and educated people, we should be doing EVERYTHING in our power to put an end to these harmful and absurd beliefs.

  3. #3 charley
    April 28, 2009

    It’s encouraging to see substantial differences of opinion on a complex emotional topic being hashed out in good faith. I like what Hoppe said in his quote.

  4. #4 Blake Stacey
    April 28, 2009

    I shall repeat myself: no one is demanding that the NCSE and NAS go all rabidly atheist, and we can even agree that a neutral position is more productive towards achieving their goals. The problems arise when they get so entangled with the people they should be arguing with that they start adopting some of their views, and suddenly the science is being compromised to achieve a political end.

    One is tempted to suggest that a neutral position is the only legal one the National Academy of Science can take. But perhaps that is carrying the disestablishmentarian spirit too far.

  5. #5 Pi Guy
    April 28, 2009

    Why can’t it just be as simple as saying, “In the science classroom, we will teach science.”?

    (Of course I know why we can’t; it was supposed to be rhetorical…)

  6. #6 Jerry Coyne
    April 28, 2009

    As I said on my website; here is all that I think any of these organizations need to say about the compatibility of science and religion:

    “If you want to know how to reconcile the fact of evolution with your religious faith (or the faith of others), please consult your minister, rabbi, or spiritual counselor.”

  7. #7 Guy G
    April 28, 2009

    How come we are discussing the compatability of science with one fictional work (the bible) and not another (like, say, Jack and The Beanstalk or Star Wars or Bill and Ted’s excelent Adventure)?

    This might be a rhetorical question, but it’s still a bloody stupid one.

    Why are these people allowed to get away with not only beliving obvious fairy tales, but basing public and political policy off of them?

    Why are they allowed to get away with believing them? What would you suggest? I can only think of one guaranteed way to get someone to genuinely stop believing things, and they don’t believe *anything* afterwards.

    Public policy etc, of course shouldn’t be based on religion.

    As rational and educated people, we should be doing EVERYTHING in our power to put an end to these harmful and absurd beliefs.

    Honestly, unless this is a troll post, I really don’t think you come across as rational *or* educated.

  8. #8 wonderer
    April 28, 2009

    “If you want to know how to reconcile the fact of evolution with your religious faith (or the faith of others), please consult your minister, rabbi, or spiritual counselor.”

    Knowing all too well the psychological effect of religious authority on people, I’d suggest that the results of people taking such advice may very well be the opposite of what you would wish for.

  9. #9 James F
    April 28, 2009

    Jerry Coyne wrote:

    “If you want to know how to reconcile the fact of evolution with your religious faith (or the faith of others), please consult your minister, rabbi, or spiritual counselor.”

    I’d go farther and continue to list statements from religious organizations; as Richard said, “Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate.” The NCSE is an invaluable online resource, and it’s useful to have an easily accessible collection of these statements for the religious and non-religious alike to have a broader perspective on the situation.

  10. #10 Richard Harris
    April 28, 2009

    “If you want to know how to reconcile the fact of evolution with your religious faith (or the faith of others), please consult your minister, rabbi, or spiritual counselor.”

    That’s a nice idea, but it’ll be a random lottery. The priests may know about their particular mythology or superstition, but how many will know about evolution by natural selection?

    It’s too bad that they can’t be made to study the relevant sciences.

  11. #11 LeeLeeOne
    April 28, 2009

    If I wish my “voice” to be heard, then I really need to put my money where the mouth is? Joining yet another organization that touts defending education of evolution versus (what I consider) indoctrination of creationism is seeming to become expensive. Damn! I should have bought that lottery ticket, eh?

  12. #12 daveau
    April 28, 2009

    I’m pretty sure JC means “don’t ask science to do it.” What difference does it make how you reconcile your superstitions?

  13. #13 Mumon
    April 28, 2009

    There’s religions and there’s religions. Religions that require excessively byzantine metaphysics and make empirically testable claims are incompatible with science, unless they subsume science. (I am not going to claim that any religion people commonly practice subsumes science, but clearly there’s nothing logically prohibiting the existence of such a religion).

    Those religions that don’t have such claims aren’t incompatible with science.

  14. #14 Ordinary Man
    April 28, 2009

    If people have a predisposition towards being religious, as some data suggest, then it may be a hopeless task of getting them to always behave in a rational manner.

    Perhaps the best solution, in terms of viability, is just to replace the bad religions with a good (non-intrusive) one.

  15. #15 wonderer
    April 28, 2009

    Standing up for Taner Edis’ “strange position”

    “But if my political hopes for science are to be realized, the only feasible way I can see is for more liberal forms of religiosity to provide a buffer zone. I want superficial, bullshit varieties of compatibilism to become the conventional wisdom.”

    I think that a lot more understanding of what we are and the implications of that is warranted in thinking about this subject. We are not reason machines. We are social primates, with many instinctual systems tuned for an environment vastly different than the one we consciously wish to live within. Evolution of human culture to a less superstitious perspective is going to take time and ongoing efforts at communication from those who understand the science, to our superstitious fellow apes who’s superstitious perspectives impede them even attempting to understand the science.

    Interpersonal communication is something that occurs at a wide variety of levels aside from rational discussion. For knowledgeable and intelligent atheists to win the friendship of knowledgeable and intelligent theists can go a long way in shifting viewpoints across society and over the long run.

    I honestly think that atheists could learn more about effectively communicating their viewpoint by reading…

    “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists”

    http://www.amazon.com/Game-Penetrating-Secret-Society-Artists/dp/0060554738/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240933924&sr=8-1

    …than by sitting around whining about how we want things to be changed, and we want it now.

  16. #16 Patricia, OM
    April 28, 2009

    I liked Coynes answer in #6, which is how he ended the piece on his blog. Make the religious nut cases explain their case. If they sound ridiculous trying to puzzle out evolution so much the better for us.

  17. #17 Tulse
    April 28, 2009

    Those religions that don’t have such claims aren’t incompatible with science.

    And practically no one believes in those religions, since practically no one is a Deist.

  18. #18 Robotczar
    April 28, 2009

    It is just me or does anyone find it odd that he claims neutrality and then proceeds to say he must accommodate the religious?

    One can claim that some atheists are naive about politics, but it is a bit harder to claim that politics in neutral in its treatment of ideas. In fact, he has confirmed that they are not neutral on this issue. He needs to face reality and admit that the organization is not neutral in it position that religion and science are compatible.

  19. #19 Ordinary Man
    April 28, 2009

    And practically no one believes in those religions, since practically no one is a Deist.

    I’m uncertain about this claim, but I suspect that many more people tend towards deism than polls suggest. Many christians I know pick and choose what they want out of their religion, and effectively behave as deists would. They celebrate Christmas, follow the golden rule, and that’s about it.

    Many people feel a need toward religion, but really don’t want to ever deal with it. They call themselves christian, because everyone else around them does, but don’t tow the establishment line.

  20. #20 Tulse
    April 28, 2009

    I suspect that many more people tend towards deism than polls suggest. Many christians I know pick and choose what they want out of their religion, and effectively behave as deists would.

    If they were really Deists, they wouldn’t bother having any religion, since Deism is really more of a philosophical position. Why have rituals and worship and community around a being that doesn’t actually interact with the world anymore?

  21. #21 Sigmund
    April 28, 2009

    What on earth has happened to Chris Mooney?
    I thought he’d recovered from his ‘framing’ period but no he’s now gone over the edge by actually arguing against methodological naturalism as a means of understanding evolution!
    His response to the following quote of Coyne about accomodationalist organizations would not sound out of place coming from Jonathan Wells.
    ?Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.? Is Coyne not himself making an explicitly philosophical move here, by saying that evolution must be understood in an exclusively naturalistic/materialistic way?”

    Chris.
    Understanding any aspect of the natural world in an exclusively naturalistic/materialistic way is a process we like to call SCIENCE.
    Understanding it in a supernatural way is done by RELIGION.

  22. #22 MrFire
    April 28, 2009

    Confessions of a former Christian: once I was introduced to the scientific method (in Catholic school!), it was only a matter of time before my religious architecture crumbled. I’d argue that it’s the same for most people – a solid scientific education is all that’s necessary, and the tendency towards non-belief will take care of itself. For those who still want to hold on – or are made to hold on – I don’t know if the NCSE has either the scope or the mission to deal with that. I do wish they would make it clear that they are in the business of promoting science, not metaphysics. I wish they would say something like, “this (evolution, geology, origin of the universe, etc.) is what we KNOW happened. That’s where we stop. If you want to overlay additional beliefs onto that, you are free to do so.”

    That to me sounds fair, IMHO…

  23. #23 Becca Stareyes
    April 28, 2009

    Why have rituals and worship and community around a being that doesn’t actually interact with the world anymore?

    I guess for the same reason we have secular rituals (like singing the national anthem before sporting events, or throwing birthday parties) and communities (like neighborhood associations, I guess). There’s meaning behind it, but most people do it because they enjoy it and/or it’s what Our Group does.

    Though they might not put it in words like that — for some reason saying that you celebrate Christmas because it’s the birth of a religious figure (shifted around to be at a nice time for a party) is more acceptable than ‘family tradition and it’s a nice time for a party with green things and lights and good food and music’.

  24. #24 Ordinary Man
    April 28, 2009

    Tulse wrote

    Why have rituals and worship and community around a being that doesn’t actually interact with the world anymore?

    Note that I did not say that people are deists, just that they tend toward deism. They acknowledge that they cannot understand most of existence, chalk that up to god, and go about their daily lives.

    Rituals and community make for good society, which tend to propagate and evolve. Adaptive religions, I suspect, do well because they enable society to function well. Belief in god is really just a minor facet of religion.

  25. #25 Owlmirror
    April 28, 2009

    Why have rituals and worship and community around a being that doesn’t actually interact with the world anymore?

    ?Tra-di-tion—Tradition!?

    Addressing the original point: I wonder if it might be possible to include multiple arguments about the compatibility of science and religion, just to give people a sense that they do have some freedom to choose an answer that makes sense to them.

    Thus, rather than saying “ask your religious leader”, have links saying “Here are what some rabbis, priests, ministers, theologians have said about evolution being compatible with religion.”

    But don’t ignore the other responses than can be made. Include the “incompatiblist” arguments… but be sure to emphasize that the creationist incompatabilists are completely incoherent and making fallacious arguments.

    And also include the atheist incompatibilist arguments, which will point out that the real problem is reconciling traditional beliefs about a personal God with the analytical and rational methods of science.

  26. #26 Adam
    April 28, 2009

    PZ says join, I join.

  27. #27 charley
    April 28, 2009

    An argument in favor of letting the NCSE dabble in reconciling religion and science is that its representatives will be occasionally invited to speak directly to “the enemy” at churches. Many Christians struggle with faith vs. science and would be interested in a speaker who could potentially help them. Some in the audience are bound to be impressed by the evidence for evolution while recognizing that the religious accommodations are a weak afterthought.

    If the NCSE ignores religion completely they are not likely to get in the door at all.

  28. #28 Tulse
    April 28, 2009

    he’s now gone over the edge by actually arguing against methodological naturalism as a means of understanding evolution!

    Yes, that was profoundly disappointing, especially coming from someone who made his career writing about the “war on science”. I had no idea he had gone so far around the bend.

  29. #29 Grammar Nazi
    April 28, 2009

    “Allow me to recap. Jerry Coyne set a few people on fire with a post arguing that national science organizations have gone to far in blithely conceding the compatibility of science and religion.”

    arguing that national science organizations have gone to far

    should be:

    arguing that national science organizations have gone TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO far

    =)

  30. #30 Sigmund
    April 28, 2009

    charley, I’m not sure that the NCSE or the AAAS are the correct organizations to be speaking at church events. Is it so out of the ordinary to imagine a pro-evolution religious organization to be a much better source of religion friendly church speakers?
    There are plenty of religious scientists like Ken Miller or Francis Collins or pro-evolution preachers like Michael Dowd – http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1161 – who would be far better placed to do this sort of outreach that you suggest is required.

  31. #31 Jerry Coyne
    April 28, 2009

    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone. This is a tacit assumption for which, as far as I know, there is not a smidgen of evidence.

  32. #32 Frank Anderson
    April 28, 2009

    And Massimo Pigliucci has weighed in on the debate…

  33. #33 foxfire
    April 28, 2009

    I’ve been reading the pro/con arguments and have finally decided that I side with the PZ/Jerry contingent. I understand that the IDiots/Creobots try to frame science as equivalent to atheism and that is not a reason to bend over backwards trying to prove the opposite. I think it is entirely appropriate for the NCSE to state that science and religion need not be incompatible (and list religious scientists like Miller and Collins as examples) because that is simply a statement of fact.

    Sigmund (#21) states it like it is:

    Understanding any aspect of the natural world in an exclusively naturalistic/materialistic way is a process we like to call SCIENCE.

    I also agree with Sigmund (#23) that religious scientists/pro-evolution theists are a more appropriate group to deal with reconciling religion and science. I think it would be reasonable for the NCSE to speak to a religious organization about evolution, the nature of science and science education. I think speaking engagements that are focused on establishing a warm-snuggy science/religion relationship should be conducted by other organizations.

    That being said, I applaud the work and successes of the NCSE and the tireless efforts of the NCSE staff to keep the science in science education. I support their objectives and will continue to fund that effort.

  34. #34 James F
    April 28, 2009

    #31

    Books on the subject certainly help people come around to accepting evolution. See, for example, Mike Beidler’s blog “The Creation of an Evolutionist,” where he discusses the influence of reading Howard Van Till, Stephen Jay Gould, Francis Collins, and others.

  35. #35 Josh
    April 28, 2009

    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone. This is a tacit assumption for which, as far as I know, there is not a smidgen of evidence.

    I think these two simple sentences go a long way toward saying it all.

  36. #36 charley
    April 28, 2009

    Sigmund, I agree the sources you listed are a better fit for churches, but in an earlier PZ post, Hoppe talked about how he had spoken to an overflow crowd at a Protestant church for 3 weeks in a row. I’m not sure that he should stop doing that kind of thing just to avoid mentioning religion.

    Jerry, I, for one, am not assuming that. I think changing from religious creationist to evolutionist is often a gradual process taking years. Tossing in some God talk with the science can get you initial access to those ready to start the process. As they progress, they will tend to dump the religious part. It’s kind of disingenuous, I know, but you don’t have to promote religious accommodation, just acknowledge that “some people” find it useful.

    A lot of people we want to reach will never listen to the evidence if they don’t hear it in church.

  37. #37 Baka Karasu
    April 28, 2009

    “…we can even agree that a neutral position is more productive towards achieving their goals.” Huh?
    Assuming “their goals” have anything to do with science and ‘the scientific method’ and such notions as ‘best available evidence’, there IS no neutral position between science and fairy tales.

  38. #38 foxfire
    April 28, 2009

    Caveat to #33: I agree with PZ/Jerry on NCSE going overboard on religion. I do not agree with PZ/Jerry/RD on bringing out the claws to attack religion. I also think if the NCSE lists books reconciling religion and science they should also recognize that this opinion is not universal and list works by Dawkins, Coyle and others (Thanks Frank Anderson for #32!)

  39. #39 Ordinary Man
    April 28, 2009

    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone.

    I think you are assuming that the compatibility would be demonstrated with words.

    My view, albeit from my limited knowledge, is that the compatibility of faith with anything the faithful do not like is typically demonstrated through force (i.e. disaster, famine, plague, war).

    Call it the “punctuated equilibria of religion”. Religions tend to stagnate until something comes along and kicks their belief system into disarray.

  40. #40 Gingerbaker
    April 28, 2009

    Instead of measured neutrality, how about forthright honesty?

    What evidence has several hundred years of scientific inquiry uncovered that supports the existence of gods, spirits, Holy Ghosts, demons, or religious miracles?

    What evidence has archeology and carbon dating revealed that supports the existence of important religious figures such as Jesus Christ, Moses, or Muhammad?

    The answers to those two questions (and others, no doubt) are what science should have to say about religion – not that the two magesteria might somehow be not intellectually mutually incompatible in some people.

  41. #41 Mike Caton
    April 28, 2009

    I’m no doubt echoing a viewpoint that has been expressed at this and similar posts before, but I’m *just fine* with the NCSE publicly saying that science and religion are compatible NOMA blah blah blah, and simultaneously continuing the assault from PZ, Coyne, Harris, etc. Both approaches are making progress. You don’t win political games by converting people to a new philosophy. If the Reverend Barry Lynn is an effective head of AU, then I don’t care whether he’s an atheist. That’s why political organizations that don’t have directly to do with religion – like the NCSE – are, quite appropriately, not directly making religion an issue. To do so would make them much less effective than they have been. Let’s not be like the GOP and become exclusionary by insisting on ideological purity, and let’s not fall prey to the notorious atheist tendency to be splitters, and harder to keep together than herded cats. If someone is getting results, that’s what matters.

  42. #42 tomh
    April 28, 2009

    @#31
    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone. This is a tacit assumption for which, as far as I know, there is not a smidgen of evidence.

    That’s because there is none. That doesn’t stop the compatibility doctrine from being preached by the faithful as if it were gospel, so to speak, without a shred of evidence. One only needs to peruse the stream of invective that has gushed forth over at Panda’s Thumb, in response to your article, to see this. Lots of dogmatic opinion, no evidence.

  43. #43 SocraticGadfly
    April 28, 2009

    Having commented multiple times on PZ’s post at the Thumb, I am glad to see that the “offensive” works, even when it has to start by being internally directed.

  44. #44 JBlilie
    April 28, 2009

    Glen D and PZ: Spot on.

  45. #45 JBlilie
    April 28, 2009

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through Gould’s NOMA essay (in the collection Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms.) I’m not a big Gould fan: I find his prose a bit too hifalutin and his literary allusions a bit too thick on the ground. (Mr. Gould, why are you trying so very hard? We know you are an intellectual…)

    Anyhow, I found myself, as others have done, wanting to yell at Gould: No, that’s wrong, you’re missing the point. Religion makes factual claims about the world that have always been shown to be false in the face of scientific advances. I think this is from A.C. Grayling: “The simple fact is that every time religion and science have been in direct conflict, science has always been right.” And that is true.

    If religion remained the realm of comforting ritual, social interaction, waving vaguely at a deistic sort of God, I wouldn’t be worried about it. And you could go, yeah, NOMA makes sense. But that’s a fantasy.

    Gould explicitly asserts that creationism is only a bunch of fringe nutjobs (not his phrase), and that all real religious people know evolution is true. This book was published in 1999 in the US. It’s not like he didn’t know … Seems like the arch-accomodationist to me.

    I’ll get through the book because I want NOMA from its ur-source and most of the other essays (when he’s dealing with biology or geology) are fun to read.

  46. #46 JBlilie
    April 28, 2009

    I’m watching the old film Inherit the Wind right now (while exercising; not right now) and it’s pretty good actually. You need to overlook some scenery-chewing — it came with the times.

    Sure wouldn’t mind having Spencer Tracy defending me! The H L Mencken character is good too.

    Everyone has changed names (Henry Drummond = Clarence Darrow, etc.) but you don’t need a program to follow them.

  47. #47 Steven Carr
    April 28, 2009

    Science is compatible with religion.

    Just produce a list of religious scientists.

    In exactly the same way, slave-owning is compatible with religion.

    All you need is a list of 19th century religious people who were slave owners.

    Of course, just because a scientist is religious does not show that religion is compatible with science.

    That is just bad logic by accommodationists, unless they really do want to argue that slave-owning is compatible with religion.

  48. #48 Schmeer
    April 28, 2009

    But Steven Carr, haven’t you read the Bible? It is compatible with slavery. God/Jesus tells you how to treat your slaves or master in a good Christian way.

  49. #49 TheBlackCat
    April 28, 2009

    Slightly off-topic, but has anyone seen the latest partiallyclips. It is somewhat appropriate:

    http://www.partiallyclips.com/index.php?id=1604

  50. #50 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 28, 2009

    Understanding any aspect of the natural world in an exclusively naturalistic/materialistic way is a process we like to call SCIENCE.
    Understanding it in a supernatural way is done by RELIGION.

    Ummm. Not quite. Science is a game in which we attempt to explain phenomena by proposing testable explanations based on natural causes. There is no guarantee of ‘understanding’ or that we will eventually reach ‘Truth’ with a capital ‘T’. There is no guarantee that a given explanation under those terms will be correct, but experiences shows that over time we get more traction by limiting ourselves to testable explanations. It is a simple matter to conflate this procedure with a philosophical position, and arguments exist both in favor of and against such conflation.

    However, if we assume that the former arguments toward conflation are valid and compelling, then that itself is a philosophical position, and certainly our neutrality is very much in doubt.

    This is no brief for religion, however. Faith-based protocols are even less certain to lead to objective understanding, and choosing same over arguments based on evidence carries its own set of headaches.

  51. #51 Ichthyic
    April 28, 2009

    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone. This is a tacit assumption for which, as far as I know, there is not a smidgen of evidence.

    simple, concise, correct.

    Which also is why Coyne’s books are popular.

  52. #52 Ichthyic
    April 28, 2009

    Science is a game

    really Scott?
    Is that your current position?

    *shakes head sadly*

    Faith-based protocols are even less certain to lead to objective understanding

    based on the fact that they NEVER have, you mean.

    I rather think you’re playing a game of false equivalency here.

  53. #53 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 28, 2009

    I’m still looking for any evidence that showing the compatibility of faith with evolution will make an evolutionist out of someone who would not be convinced by the evidence alone. This is a tacit assumption for which, as far as I know, there is not a smidgen of evidence.

    Well, Jerry, I disagree with you just a tad.

    First of all, the goal of NCSE is to increase the public acceptance of evolution, not ‘make an evolutionist out of someone.’ I’m afraid that you just gave away the farm with that phrase, because to most North Americans ‘evolutionist’ carries the connotation of a belief system. Are you saying that you want to convert someone to your belief system, and that NCSE should be helping you do it, or at least not make it more difficult to gain converts?

    Secondly: I’m just a high school science teacher, but it hasn’t escaped my notice that the amount of support evolution education receives in polls is directly affected by how the polls are worded. The percentage of folk who reject evolution outright in such polls goes up if the wording implies they have to choose between the science and what they are taught in the pew, and it goes down when they are given options that are more faith-friendly. I’m sure that if you contact the NCSE they can provide you some comparisons going back a few decades, and I think that this is more than just a ‘smidgen’ of evidence.

    By the way, for what it’s worth, I think your article has obviously sparked a long-overdue, serious conversation about strategy amongst NCSE members and I am troubled by some of the specifics you raise. I don’t want to see any version of theistic evolution privileged in NCSE materials, for a lot of reasons. Thanks for weighing in….Scott

  54. #54 Ichthyic
    April 28, 2009

    make an evolutionist out of someone

    it’s an expression, Scott. Coyne of course means getting someone to accept evolutionary theory, not convert them into some sort of religion.

    I think you need to take a break so you can come at this by reading for comprehension.

    btw…

    because to most North Americans ‘evolutionist’ carries the connotation of a belief system

    and why IS that exactly, Scott?

  55. #55 Nusubito
    April 28, 2009

    choosing same over arguments based on evidence carries its own set of headaches.

    The way you phrased this is very strange. ‘carries its own set of headaches’? If by this, you mean it will never get you anywhere, and never has, then you are correct. Experimental science has, and we have reason to think it will continue to do so.

    There is no guarantee of ‘understanding’ or that we will eventually reach ‘Truth’ with a capital ‘T’.

    No, you are correct. But there is a guarantee that we will always get closer to it. Imagining a hypothetical ‘truth’ as the graph of a function that is invisible to us, and experiments as probes at individual points that either lie on the graph or not, we can make our model of the function consistently better by probing as many points as possible. Will we ever reach a picture that perfectly describes the function? Impossible to know, since our only knowledge of where it lies is dependent on what experiments we have done. But we do know we are getting better, constantly, and always with experimental science, without appeal to magical forces or faith.

    To make any argument for the other side, you should at least have an example of where faith told us something science could not. Otherwise there is no reason to choose it over naturalism, in any situation.

  56. #56 Russell Blackford
    April 28, 2009

    And now even Richard Hoppe is copping flak – some of it very nasty and unfair – for his willingness to rethink and concede that we at least had a point. Some of these people just can’t abide the slightest criticism of their organisations/ideas/strategies, no matter how constructive, no matter how tentative and non-dogmatic, etc.

    Amazing.

  57. #57 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 28, 2009

    Icthyic:

    ….and why IS that exactly, Scott?

    We all know why. It’s due to creationists peddling the ‘evolution = atheism’ canard. I did a search a while back on Amazon for the word ‘Darwinism’ in book titles. The majority of books that used that word (and the overwhelming number of books sold, sigh) were creationist mis-infomercials.

    And, yeah, I realize Coyne may know better, and may mean something different. He’s an outstanding biologist whose shoes I’m not worthy to unlatch, et cetera. I feel cheeky pointing this out, I really do. But some of Dr. Coyne’s recent prose is quote-mine gold. If his life’s ambition is to replace the late S.J. Gould as the ‘go-to’ guy amongst the ‘quote miners’, well, he’s on his way.

    And, please, don’t tell me that I’m catering to the creationists in raising this point. They are a bunch of liars, as we all know, and they’ll find something else to lie about no matter what we say. But you know what? Most of them aren’t that bright, either. Why make their job any easier for them, or (for that matter) make NCSE’s job unnecessarily difficult?

    Look, Coyne’s a great scientist, and I am truly concerned about the examples he’s raised about how NCSE has been handling this issue. I think a little soul-searching along the lines of Richard Hoppe over at PT is in order. But that doesn’t make Coyne’s brief ‘make an evolutionist out of someone’ any less problematic.

    Nusubito:

    The way you phrased this is very strange. ‘carries its own set of headaches’? If by this, you mean it will never get you anywhere, and never has, then you are correct

    Well, it will never get you anywhere in science, where we prize objective measurement and falsification. If the goal is ‘understanding’, then some (including me) might point to our subjective experience as giving us some sort of understanding, even knowledge of a sort. But even if that controversial point was true, it would have no standing in science.

    No, you are correct. But there is a guarantee that we will always get closer to it.

    In what sense? Is this like the limit in calculus, getting infinitely close to our target? Or is it like the fate of really large numbers, to always be infinitely short of true infinity? Our answer depends on the boundary conditions of inquiry. If we assume our universe is truly finite, then the former could be said to obtain and I might find the prospect of ‘getting closer’ an acceptable approximation for the ‘Truth.’ If we remain agnostic about the size of an imagined universe, then I think a little more conceptual humility is in order.

    To make any argument for the other side, you should at least have an example of where faith told us something science could not. Otherwise there is no reason to choose it over naturalism, in any situation.

    (cheerfully) Nonsense. One can make the claim that faith tells you something subjective that science can not verify. In that situation, you might choose it over naturalism. What you cannot do, however, is insist that science acknowledge the subjective and non-falsifiable. Science is correct to demand testable claims, or testable consequences of claims. This is the big headache I allude to. Even if you have an experience that you find compelling, it is of no use unless it leads to testable consequences. It could be true, like the moment a Necker cube flips in your mind’s eye, and yet simply outside scientific investigation. And that’s that!

  58. #58 Pierce R. Butler
    April 28, 2009

    That NCSE needs a religious outreach effort seems indisputable – but the case gets stronger with almost every comment that their present “Faith Project” serves that need poorly.

    What they have now looks like the Peter M. J. Hess Show, as if a professional cleric has usurped the Center’s resources for his own agenda. OMG, parasitism via religion – who could have expected that?

    To repeat a suggestion I made at Coyne’s blog (not yet passed through moderation): NCSE should consider Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advisory Board with its media statements, speakers’ bureau, annual awards, interfaith prayer breakfast, and nationwide network of activists and supporters, as a more useful model.

    Btw – has anybody seen any reaction to any of this from anyone at NCSE?

  59. #59 Nusubito
    April 29, 2009

    To my:

    The way you phrased this is very strange. ‘carries its own set of headaches’? If by this, you mean it will never get you anywhere, and never has, then you are correct

    You reply:

    Well, it will never get you anywhere in science

    Again, I am confused. I was under the impression that that was exactly what we were talking about. Whether religion and fuzzy, subjective thinking will get you somewhere in *science*. That was all my original point was referring to. Am I to understand that you agree with me, then?

    If we remain agnostic about the size of an imagined universe, then I think a little more conceptual humility is in order.

    The idea that we are making our models of the world better every time we do an experiment is, I think, pretty uncontroversial. We know that it is better, because our previous one had a flaw, revealed by some experiment, and we discarded it. Is the current model of our universe’s laws The TruthTM? I will make no comment, because, as I have said, we could still potentially see an experiment tomorrow that falsifies it. But we do know that it is more correct than the model that came before it, simply because it accounts for more data points.

    But I make no claims about the size or complexity of the universe. I simply wish to point out that even if you cant see exactly what the destination is, you can notice progress. That is all science attempts to do, as far as I can tell. Make progress, and account for more data. Without any preconceived notions of where the end should be. Which is precisely what religion will give people, and has given people. When evolution becomes, in some person’s head, God’s great plan to make humans come into existence, I can’t help but think will they have a very flawed understanding of evolution.

    Science is correct to demand testable claims, or testable consequences of claims.

    Fair enough, but then I’m not sure why you disagree with the idea that Science is Naturalistic/Materialistic, as you say in #50. Unless you think testability extends to non-naturalistic/spiritual concepts. But I think I am interpreting you correctly when I say that you don’t think this. Right?

  60. #60 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    Fair enough, but then I’m not sure why you disagree with the idea that Science is Naturalistic/Materialistic, as you say in #50.

    What I am saying is that I don’t think that the GAME of science (‘assuming natural causes for natural phenomena’) is necessarily a PHILOSOPHICAL stance (‘only natural things exist’). The two are routinely conflated, and (as indicated) arguments exist ‘pro’ and ‘con’ as to the merits of conflation. I am a science teacher. Unlike ID advocates, I don’t accept changing the rules of the game of science to privilege them! But that doesn’t mean that I have to buy the idea that the practice of science reduces to a philosophical stance.

    Unless you think testability extends to non-naturalistic/spiritual concepts. But I think I am interpreting you correctly when I say that you don’t think this. Right?

    I don’t think non-natural concepts are directly testable, no. But I agree with Dawkins that we can test the predicted consequences of claims based on such concepts. For example, Dawkins has suggested (not facetiously) that the Assumption of Mary is in this sense ‘a scientific theory.’ We can dismiss non-natural concepts with some confidence when these predictions are falsified, and less so when they are not. What we can not do is rule out ‘the multiple outs’ of the supernaturalist. They can also add some sort of non-falsifiable ‘epicycle’ to resurrect the seemingly-falsified claim.

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