Joshua Rosenau Deserves a Medal

I’ve grown thoroughly disgusted with most of the science-vs-religion stuff in blogdom, mostly because my views on the matter are kind of moderate, and don’t fit well with the rather extreme positions taken by most of the bloggers and commenters who focus on this issue. This dooms me to either being ignored, or called names as some sort of collaborator, and I have better ways to spend my time, so I’ve pretty much given up on being an active part of those… discussions.

I do occasionally feel guilty, though, as if I’m letting down my side (well, my part of the squishy middle) by not speaking up more in favor of a relatively moderate position on religious issues. There are a number of people out there still fighting the good fight, and I feel like I ought to be giving them moral support, even if I can’t wade in.

So, in that vein, I’d like to offer kudos to Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas, who has been carrying on a discussion about science and religion for the last couple of weeks (latest entry here) in which he’s staked out a moderate position, and defended it calmly and reasonably for far longer than I would’ve been able to. I would’ve snapped completely a couple of rounds ago, so Josh should be commended for keeping his temper.

So, thank you, Josh, for fighting the good fight, and doing a good job of it.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    September 29, 2009

    Hear hear!

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    September 29, 2009

    It’s no surprise that the extreme atheists like Rosenhouse object to being portrayed as extreme, and like to think that they are representative of atheists in general. Look at any extreme, and they will reject the notion that they are extreme. The fundamentalists as representatives of Religion; they don’t think they’re extreme, they think that the moderate religious types who accept evolution “aren’t really saved” or some such. The Birthers think they’re mainstream conservatism. Etc. No matter how much they rant on, it behooves us to recognize that they are in fact at the extreme– do not taint all of the religious with the beliefs of fundamentalists, and do not taint all atheists with the behavior of the extreme antitheists.

  3. #3 Anna K.
    September 29, 2009

    Hear hear, here, too.

  4. #4 Michael Nielsen
    October 6, 2009

    Not much to say other than: I’m very glad you post on this topic occasionally. Fanatical atheist blogging is one of the things on the net that has really surprised (and, as an atheist, disappointed) me.

  5. #5 Matt Penfold
    October 7, 2009

    So you think misrepresenting what Dawkins has say, and claiming he has changed his mind is worthy of a medal ? This despite the fact Dawkins has made it clear that Rosenau misrepresented him ?

    Rosenau has not even had the courage to admit he was wrong, and apologise.

    And you respect him for this ?

    Wow. Guess you have very low standards.

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 8, 2009

    Rob -

    Whether or not I am extreme will depend on what metric you set up. The trouble is that in the context of these debates throwing around terms like “extreme” is strictly an attempt to marginalize a view by attaching a nasty label to it. I could plausibly call you an extremist for your very liberal views on Christian theology. Would that be helpful?

    The way this came up most recently was Kevin Padian’s statement that, “Only extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists” see a conflict between science and religion, while “everyone else” is on the other side. Somehow I don’t think this was meant as an invitation to a civil debate. It is also empirically false.

    I would be genuinely interested to know what you or Chad would point to specifically that I have written that you think crosses some line of civility. I believe what I believe and you are welcome to disagree, but I have not called anyone a traitor, or a collaborator, or a faitheist, or any other name. People like myself, Ophelia Benson and Russell Blackford have some disagreements with the substance of what Josh has been saying and we have expressed those disagreements, in very civil fashion I believe, in the comments to his blog and at our own blogs. I do not get the impression that Josh has objected to the tone of anything we have written. Why do you?

    Incivility is a two-way street. Jerry Coyne has written some things that I wish he would have toned down, but Chris Mooney has been pretty obnoxious coming the other way. Perhaps the solution is to take a break from admiring your own moderation, or to stop complaining that you might be called a name if you join the discussion, and jump in and make an argument. Speaking for myself, it is not dogmatic closed-mindedness that leads me to keep posting on this subject, or that leads me to read what people like Josh have to say.

  7. #7 Zach Voch
    October 8, 2009

    Rob Knop:

    It’s no surprise that the extreme atheists like Rosenhouse object to being portrayed as extreme, and like to think that they are representative of atheists in general. Look at any extreme, and they will reject the notion that they are extreme. The fundamentalists as representatives of Religion; they don’t think they’re extreme, they think that the moderate religious types who accept evolution “aren’t really saved” or some such. The Birthers think they’re mainstream conservatism. Etc. No matter how much they rant on, it behooves us to recognize that they are in fact at the extreme– do not taint all of the religious with the beliefs of fundamentalists, and do not taint all atheists with the behavior of the extreme antitheists.

    The ‘extreme’ label is little more than crude marginalization, and as Rosenhouse has said, it betrays the evidence. You might also understand why the Birther parallel might be inappropriate, since the compatibility of theistic belief and science is a genuine debate, not lunatic rantings.

    You are correct to say that to the extremist, the position always appears mainstream. Really, consider what exactly it is that the `extreme antitheists’ are arguing (and I’m taking Rosenhouse as your example)… It’s a rather odd way to earn the “extreme” label, isn’t it?

    Check out this extremist rhetoric:

    “I don’t think that science and most forms of religion are compatible for reasons X, Y, Z.”

    How irrational! He’s just like a birther! Oh wait, here he goes again!

    “We all agree that science and religion are compatible in the trivial sense that a good scientist can be religious, and that isn’t what we’re arguing. Rather, we would question whether or not one can consistently adhere to the findings and methodologies of science and accept fundamental claims of theistic religions, not only virgin births, but the acceptance of weighty factual claims in the complete absence of evidence.”

    What a nutjob! Gee, I hope he doesn’t ruin the reputation of us reasonable atheists! Oh no, there he goes again…

    “Even in the moderate cases, religious beliefs can inhibit scientific inquiry. Take Francis Collins, for example, an excellent administrator and scientist. He is an evangelical christian who accepts evolution, but he has also stated that neuroscience will never explain morality.”

    How shrill! He hates Collins because he’s a christian!

  8. #8 Zach Voch
    October 8, 2009

    As a clarification, the exchange I invented wasn’t meant to dishonestly represent your position, but to demonstrate the kind of reactions our arguments frequently get.

    Continuing. I think the `extreme’ label has become a sort of cliché that frequently passes without examination, rather like being labeled a “fundamentalist atheist” for arguing against religion. Like most clichés, I doubt it would stand up to such examination.

    I’m ready and willing to hear the case for my (or Rosenhouses) position being “extreme”, as it remains yet to be made. I recognize that self-judgments are rarely trustworthy, so if my extremeness has blinded me to my own extremeness, perhaps an external observer would be so kind as to demonstrate why I am, in fact, extreme.

  9. #9 Wes
    October 8, 2009

    It’s no surprise that the extreme atheists like Rosenhouse object to being portrayed as extreme, and like to think that they are representative of atheists in general. Look at any extreme, and they will reject the notion that they are extreme. The fundamentalists as representatives of Religion; they don’t think they’re extreme, they think that the moderate religious types who accept evolution “aren’t really saved” or some such. The Birthers think they’re mainstream conservatism. Etc. No matter how much they rant on, it behooves us to recognize that they are in fact at the extreme– do not taint all of the religious with the beliefs of fundamentalists, and do not taint all atheists with the behavior of the extreme antitheists.

    Posted by: Rob Knop | September 29, 2009 5:34 PM

    How do you know you’re right and the fundamentalists are wrong? Why are their beliefs a “taint” but yours are just hunky-dory? Even if they’re extreme, why would that be a taint? Can the extreme never be right? What if you’re tainting their belief system (which is exactly what they believe)?

  10. #10 H.H.
    October 9, 2009

    Rob Knop, you don’t have any actual argument that I can see, but thank you for that wonderful demonstration of the argument to moderation fallacy. Unfortunately for you, sometimes one position really just is the correct one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation

  11. #11 valhar2000
    October 9, 2009

    Wes, Rob Knop is enamored with his view of himself as a beacon of reason among extremist savages; his ridiculous fantasy about Dawkins and Rosenhouse being extremists is clear evidence of that.

    If he were a little more objective and a little less orgasmic in his fantasies, he might realize what an atheist extremist actually is, in relation to other ideological extremists: atheism as an essential moral prerequisite, preoccupation with purity, single villain ideology, acceptance of any methods to create an advantage over the opposition, including libel, defamation and violence, etc.

    As you can see, Dawkins, Rosenhouse, Myers and their ilk are not, in fact, extremists at all. Mr. Knop and his ilk like to call them that because it fits well with their own self-congratulatory fantasies.

    Atheists extremists exist, certainly, and I’ve even had some experience with them myself, but they are, fortunately, few and far between right now, and their influence is nil (unlike the extremists on the other end).

    I think we should all be very happy that this is so.