I haven’t weighed in on the Larry Moran/Ed Brayton/etc. squabble over the different motives people have in the creationism wars. My feelings are well known, I’m in Ed’s camp, and I frankly don’t see why the Moran camp cares so much about what people believe. And I’m glad that I haven’t written anything, because Stranger Fruit said what I would have said:

to set the record straight, I am not a Theistic Evolutionist and never have been. I am an agnostic … due to intellectual humility as much as anything else. I was an atheist for a good period, and earned my stripes baiting the believers, but eventually realized that the pose being adopted by many (but definitely not all) atheists was, frankly, intellectually childish.

My agnosticism comes from thinking about the issues over the years, not from being a “wimp,” as you [Larry Moran] seem to imagine all that disagree with you are. My agnosticism allows me to work with whomever is willing (believers and atheists) to ensure that only science is taught in science class. Your form of atheism alienates people who share the same goals regarding science education. All for what? A sense of intellectual superiority? A persecution complex? That rebel streak? Sheer bloody-minded indifference to the fact that people don’t all think the same way as you?

?Doctrinaire certitude in ones own correctness is comforting: it is also a form of intellectual fundamentalism, a mindset that exactly mirrors that of Gish, Ham and fellow travelers. Some definition of “rationality”.

I would point out that John’s focus on science education, like mine, is driven by a deep belief in the importance of good education. Moran (and Dawkins, etc.) regard us as “appeasers” because we don’t see religion or religious belief as a bad thing a priori. Pat Hayes takes a different angle, and surveys the pragmatic damage done by the Moranites.

The only addition I’d make to the discussion thus far is to ask what we as a society gain if we were to eliminate religious belief, or just make religious belief less socially accepted. Wars would still be fought, groups of people would still cook up stupid reasons to try to oppress other people and to impose their untestable views of the world on other people. The desire to define opposing camps and to wage intellectual or physical war on the “other” is deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

Ed, Pat, John Lynch and I agree with Larry, Richard, Sam Harris and PZ Myers on every scientific, moral and political issue I’ve seen any of us discuss. Our only difference is whether we care about what people are thinking, or only how they behave. Why is it worth fighting over that? Not only do I fail to understand the “other side”s interest in beliefs, I fail to see their interest in drawing stark distinctions between themselves and another group of people who disagree with them about that topic.

Like John, I have to question the rationality of that approach to the world. Rational choice theory assumes that there is some benefit to be gained from a person’s actions. What is the perceived benefit here?


  1. #1 MonkeyHawk
    November 24, 2006

    I’m a lapsed agnostic; I’m not sure what it is I don’t believe in.

    It seems to me that religion exists to explain the inexplicable. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the good die young? Why is there injustice? Why do some things sometimes somehow work out?

    Thing is, a long time ago, there were a lot more things that humans hadn’t figured out a way to explain. And we humans are cursed with wanting answers. If we don’t have answers we tend to make up answers. There’s truth in myths and lessons in fables; truth in made-up answers.

    Science came along and decided to look for answers that weren’t made up. Scientists took the earth out of the center of the universe and shattered a lot of other myths over the years but didn’t necessarily take the underlying truth away from myths and fables. We all appreciate the lesson of The Tortoise and the Hare, even if there wasn’t an actual race; we understand the tragic implications of indecision even if there never was a real-life Hamlet; whether there really was a Job and God and Satan sat back and yanked his chain, we understand (or, at least contemplate) the point of the story.

    I can understand people who need to think that a wise and good man might have been unjustly executed 2,000 years ago and that his spirit and love (in the form of his teachings and examples and parables…metaphors) live beyond the tomb. I can appreciate how Siddhartha Gautama might have discovered and taught and lived enough universal truth to become the Buddha. God or fate or happenstance or something might have pulled the Hebrews’ fat out of the fire often enough for some people to pay attention. The bottom-line Truth therein remains inexplicable, and that’s why there’s religion.

    If there is a God, I kinda figure He’d work his miracles on a larger scope than, say, Tinkerbelle. If a moment is like a thousand years to the omniscient, omnipotent, everlasting universal “god,” digging the Grand Canyon is something He could do over his lunch hour, not with a wave of His magic wand.

    And maybe, just perhaps, science is a systematic method to understand how His magic wand really works.

    There’s a recent report that the human genome project has discovered that humans and chimpanzees do *not* share 99% of their genetic codes; maybe only 96%. I’m bracing myself for the wave of faithful who’ll cite this discovery as an “admission” that science doesn’t know all it thinks it does.

    That’s the difference between religion and science: religion has the answers, science has the questions.

    Religions cling to “answers,” while science continues to ask questions. Scientists are humanity’s Three-Year-Old, constantly asking, “Why?” We all know how annoying three-year-olds can be. Religionists are the good-but-frustrated parents who stop and say, “Because I said so.”

    I suspect Neanderthals thought they’d achieved the height of human understanding, what with their mastery of fire and ability to look at the sun and figure the mastedons were migrating this way. I suspect that every generation of humans tends to think *they* have achieved all there is to know. The only people who won’t will be scientists, the damn little three-year-olds who persist on asking “Why?”

  2. #2 Anne Gilbert
    November 24, 2006

    I don’t understand this battle at all. I was brought up to respect all beliefs or nonbeliefs. And, until recently, the only problem I had with this was from some fundamentalist “Christians” who kept insisting that I must accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior or go to hell. I should note that when I asked them why they didn’t respect my right to *not* believe this, since I respected their right to believe whatever they wanted, they never had any answer except repetition.

    Now what does this have to do with a more recent phenomenon I’ve come across in the last couple of years? Well, now there are these atheists who *insist* that one must reject religious beliefs utterly, or one is somehow “irrational”. Religion, in this view, is inherently bad, childish, irrational, etc. Well, maybe so. Except that I know a fair number of perfectly good, decent people of faith, who have no interest in having atheist or fundamentalilst belief systems pushed down *their* throats. This means that the people of faith tend to reject religious fundamentalists’ demands that creationism or “intelligent design” be taught in high school science classes on an “equal” basis. Because this has nothing to do with *their* faith, whatever it may be. Similarly, I know some perfectly good, decent people who have simply rejected formal religious beliefs of any kind for what they deem to be good and sufficient reasons, but would never dream of stuffing it down my, or anyone else’s throat. And all these people are concerned about efforts to dilute education with “political” agendas of various kinds(including creationist ones). And quite rightly. It is this we should be concerned about, not whether or not some of us follow a particular philosophical belief or nonbelief. Maybe “nonbelief” is more scientific and rational; I don’t know. Each of us will have to decide this issue for him or herself. Personally, I just don’t have time for this kind of ranting. I have better and more important things to do.
    Anne Gilbert

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    November 25, 2006

    Pat Hayes … surveys the pragmatic damage done by the Moranites.

    Not in the posting on the other end of that link, he doesn’t. He praises the wonders of cooperation and other nicey-nice things, but, judging by his testimony, the Mighty Moran Cult hasn’t hurt a fly.

    Fwiw, one of the best pro-Moran/Myers statements (and a set of 25 links to different bloggers’ opinions) is provided by Coturnix at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2006/11/i_like_mms.php .

  4. #4 Greg
    November 26, 2006

    The dangerous ones, the ones to whom you don’t show your back, are not the believers and the disbelievers, but those whose belief or disbelief is so impotent that they requires your agreement to stand.

  5. #5 Jonah
    November 27, 2006

    Great post. I agree 100%. We should spend less time obsessing over what people believe, and more time worrying about how people behave.

  6. #6 tert
    November 28, 2006

    No “Grady,” out with you. Lying trolls get banned.

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