The whole “who is dividing the pro-science camp” debate has jumped the shark. Dr. Myers made the following comment at Pat Hayes’ blog:

The only ones who are advocating openly sticking the knife in any subset of the evolution side are these resentful middle-of-the-roaders who want to get rid of the people who openly disbelieve in religion.

This in response to Hayes writing:

Those, like Moran, who want to divide the movement to defend science education?and in the process hand ultra-right fundamentalists an undeserved victory?”simply are not on the same team and are not working [toward, RSR] the same goal,” says Brayton.

Larry Moran, of course, kicked off this microtiff by referring to Ed Brayton as a member of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists.” That phrase, in turn, was borrowed from RIchard Dawkins latest book, in which he also refers to agnosticism as “pap” (yes, he invents an acronym to justify it, and also makes it clear that the meaning of the acronym is intentional).


Moran has also claimed that his camp is the defender of science and rationality, unlike that Chamberlainish school. Neener neener, he started it.
Without actual, you know, evidence, Moran claims that:

Many of the so-called Theistic Evolutionists also promote a version of evolution that Darwin wouldn’t recognize. They are more “theist” than “evolutionist.”

For some reason the Neville Chamberlain team is willing to attack the bad science of a Michael Denton or a Michael Behe but not the equally?and mostly indistinguishable?bad science of leading Theistic Evolutionists. Isn’t that strange?

Note that we are left to imagine what bad science theistic evolutionists are advancing in holding that evolutionary biology is an accurate description of biological history, and that God may have used natural processes as a tool in the process of creation. Nor is it clear which, if indeed any, TEs are “more theist than evolutionist.”

To top it off, it is not at all clear what, if any, theology Charles Darwin subscribed to at any point in time. He declared himself agnostic at times, studied to join the clergy, and avowed decidedly theistic evolutionish beliefs elsewhere. Not that it matters.

What Darwin wrote was about science. It was a series of testable claims about the universe, and extensive tests of those claims. God’s existence or non-existence is not testable, and he tended to simply avoid discussing it. Indeed, he famously declined an offer that a book promoting atheism be dedicated to him, writing:

though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science.

If there be camps, I see Dawkins and Moran drawing the line between them, and I also see pretty clearly which side of the line Charles Darwin himself fell on.

Let’s all get over this silliness. I started my blog as an attempt to draw on the sort of writing PZ Myers and Ed Brayton were doing, with heavy influences also from Chris Mooney and Dave Neiwert (plus the usual assortment of political blogs). I’ve worked closely with Pat Hayes here in Kansas, and despite what Dr. Myers seems to believe, we won using the strategy Pat and I (oh yeah, and Darwin) advocate. It also happens to be the strategy that Kansas Citizens for Science has used to win two critical battles, uniting theistic evolutionists, agnostics, atheists, and others who support good science. I admire and respect all of them, and most of the other people who have weighed in. Life’s too short to argue about untestable metaphysics.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    November 25, 2006

    After getting a good nights sleep I think I am capable of thinking more clearly about this issue, and I do ultimately agree. This whole debate has jumped the shark and is threatening to take the rest of SB along with it.

    I think both sides of this have legitimate grievances. Myers, Moran, myself and others think that the wider pro-science movement is tossing them under the bus to accomodate theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller, and you, Lynch, Brayton, etc., probably think that the wider rationalist/anti-theist movement is attempting to conscript you into a fight you don’t want to have and don’t deem necessary. Both of those are very fair concerns, albeit exacerbated by the mutual distrust and hostility that appears to come to a boiling point recently.

    So what I propose is this: Ed is partially right in that the rationalist and pro-science movements are not identical. There is, however, enough overlap the keep the alliance going over things like science education. Let’s keep it that way.

  2. #2 chet snicker
    November 25, 2006

    i call takfir upon you!

  3. #3 MarkP
    November 25, 2006

    Hear hear. Being very much of the Dawkins/Myers stripe ideologically, I look forward to the day when Ken Miller is my biggest intellectual enemy. Until then, let us cease this gargantuan waste of talent and time, and focus on the common anti-science enemies out there.

    “the goblins were the foes of all, and at their coming all other quarrels were forgotten.”

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    We aren’t throwing the uber-atheists under the bus at all; we’re telling them to stop throwing our most valuable allies under the bus in pursuit of their agenda. Because that agenda makes ours much more difficult.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    November 25, 2006

    We aren’t throwing the uber-atheists under the bus at all; we’re telling them to stop throwing our most valuable allies under the bus in pursuit of their agenda. Because that agenda makes ours much more difficult.

    Which is why I’m proposing an intellectual split and neutrality agreement between the two parties, at least where interests do not overlap. Both of our “camps” have broad agreement on keeping ID and other pseudoscience out of schools and supporting good science education in general. We can work together there.

    However, we rationalists (or “uber-atheists”, to use your terminology) are not going to intellectually compromise our agenda to accomodate theism, so naturally we are not going to bend over backwards and spout conciliatory platitudes to give the idea that we’re not really opposed to faith and irrationality.

    I don’t see any flaw in this Monroe-doctrine style strategy.

  6. #6 RBH
    November 25, 2006

    Tyler wrote

    I think both sides of this have legitimate grievances. Myers, Moran, myself and others think that the wider pro-science movement is tossing them under the bus to accomodate theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller, and you, Lynch, Brayton, etc., probably think that the wider rationalist/anti-theist movement is attempting to conscript you into a fight you don’t want to have and don’t deem necessary. Both of those are very fair concerns, albeit exacerbated by the mutual distrust and hostility that appears to come to a boiling point recently.

    What the Myers’ and Morans and their “side” seem not to realize is that while the educational battle is but a battle in the larger war, it is the battle that must be won. Lose it and the war is lost. Win it and we are educating students, which is the first and most important task. And we cannot win it without theist allies.

    Some time back Bill Dembski said it:

    (3) Why should ID supporters allow the Darwinian establishment to indoctrinate students at the high school level, only to divert some of the brightest to becoming supporters of a mechanistic account of evolution, when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program? If ID is going to succeed as a research program, it will need workers, and these are best recruited at a young age.

    Or remember the Jesuit saying about ‘give me the child’. We must win the education front.

  7. #7 Tyler DiPietro
    November 25, 2006

    Hey, RBH, how are you doing? I’m LambdaCalc on IIDB, just so you know.

    Anyway, I agree with the gist of what you are saying. Theists can certainly be allies in the battle for science education, and I would agree (and have never disputed) that Ken Miller and other theistic evolution supporters are rhetorically effective allies on that front. However, on the wider struggle against the societal privilege bestowed upon religious irrationality, Miller is no ally of mine nor Myers or any other rationalist.

    Miller hasn’t been shy about such himself. He had no qualms, after all, about telling an audience of theists in Kansas that they were “shooting at the wrong target” when it came to evolution.

  8. #8 coturnix
    November 25, 2006

    RBH needs to read my post on this – I think he got it exactly upside down.

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    November 25, 2006

    No one is talking about ditching our “theist allies”. I really wish you guys would get that straight.

    The ones being told that they harm the cause are your “atheist allies”. Apparently, you figure you don’t need them.

    I quite agree that we need to “win the child.” I don’t see how you plan to do that. Getting the courts to outlaw creationism in the classroom doesn’t get good science into it. It doesn’t change the fact that parents yell at the teachers and make it too much trouble to teach science. They still trundle off to church and sunday school every week and get told by some ignorant preacher that they’re going to go to hell if they listen to that evolution stuff. We aren’t going to use the classroom to tell them that their preacher is full of shit, but the other side isn’t going to hesitate to attack us.

    If you’re going to freak out every time some atheist wretch dares to speak out against religion, all you’re ever going to accomplish is the reinforcement of the default cultural assumption that religion is sacred and untouchable and true.

  10. #10 MarkP
    November 25, 2006

    Here’s the problem. Miller, et al, seem to think the way to win the war against science is to essentially say “Accept science, and fear not for your religious views, for they can be reconciled”. And I think we all need to admit that does gain us allies in the battles over those particular issues. But that ignores the underlying problem. The message we should be pushing, and what I think is clearly the position Dawkins, et al hold, is “Accept science, whether it can be reconciled with your religious views or not”.

    It boils down to which one thinks should take precedence, between religion and science, when they conflict. There is a bit of the fallacy of composition in reverse going on here: science may not disprove relgion (or God) per se, but it certainly disproves certain religious claims (eg YEC). Unless you are going to bury your head in the sand of what really passes for religion and invoke NOMA, this is a real problem, and there is no middle ground. You either think a kid who denies evolution in biology because of his religious views has a valid excuse for not getting an F, or he doesn’t. I don’t. Demonstrably stupid religious views should get treated just like any other demonstrably stupid views, and succesful scientific theories should be accepted as such. If they conflict with your personal religious views, well guess what? You have a personal problem, and you have no business expecting anyone else to accomodate you.

    And if you are going to label those that have this view, at least do it honestly. Mislabeling one’s opposition with scare words is the weaponry of those without the rational argument. Ask El Presidente. So I suggest a quick cessation of the use of the oxymoronic “evangelical atheist” in this discussion, else it give testimont to the the notion that those using it have no “there” there. Besides, it’s unnecessarily divisive, gives fodder to the enemy, and might just prompt labelling the other side of the discussion “Millerites”. And won’t that be special?

  11. #11 MarkP
    November 25, 2006

    Lest I give a false impression, alter the first sentence in my previous post so that:

    “…seem to think the way to win the war against science is to essentially say…”

    becomes

    “…seem to think the way to win the war against those who wage war on science is to essentially say…”

    I did not mean to imply that Miller et al were at war with science. I’m pretty certain they are not.

  12. #12 Dave Carlson
    November 25, 2006

    PZ said:

    No one is talking about ditching our “theist allies”. I really wish you guys would get that straight.

    PZ, I don’t think you’re talking about ditching any “theist allies,” but I really think that, at least to some extent, this is exactly what Larry Moran is trying to do. How else should I interpret him when he says things like this:

    Public understanding of science will not be advanced by people like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller. They are subverting science in order to make it conform to their personal religious beliefs. (Which, by the way, conflict.) They are doing more harm to science than those who oppose it directly from the outside because the Theistic Evolutionists are subverting from within. It is sad that they are being supported by people who should know the difference between rationalism and superstition.

    Now, I didn’t find Miller’s reconciliation of evolution and religion in Finding Darwin’s God any more believable than you did, but I know for a fact that I learned quite a lot about evolution and cell biology from that book. You yourself have said (I’m paraphrasing here, please let me know if this isn’t what you meant) that Miller is a net gain for the cause of science. I’m not particularly familiar with Morris, but Collins, even with his ridiculous Argument from Morality, has done much to further scientific understanding, yet Larry seems totally unwilling to see this. He seems determined to completely discount the scientific worth of anybody who doesn’t conform to his particular philosophical positions. This is what I object to, and if this objection qualifies me for the “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists,” so be it.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    November 26, 2006

    I don’t see a denial of their scientific contributions at all in that. What it is is a statement that their religious biases are used to corrupt the scientific process. Miller’s struggle to wedge Catholicism into evolution (or vice versa) was just plain ugly, while Collins’ “scientific evidence for belief” was no such thing. Those ideas are bad…and if Dembski or Wells had said those same things, trying to smuggle God in through quantum indeterminacy or subjective revelation, we’d all be jumping on them with both feet. Miller or Collins says ‘em, though, and not only do we give them a pass, people will happily jump on their fellow evolutionists for correcting them, instead. That’s the “doing more harm” part: they’ve got lots of people suspending their critical faculties to their benefit. What Larry was doing wasn’t ditching them, it was criticizing them.

    You’re going to have to find something where Larry refuses to be associated with Miller or Collins, calls them appalling and vile, and promises to fight hard against them forevermore before you can really make a good comparison with what Brayton said.

  14. #14 Scott
    November 26, 2006

    Regardless of philosophical position, can we at least agree on the constitutional limits of what can be taught in a publicly funded school? 1. You can’t teach a particular theological position as science. And its corolary: 1a. You can’t teach that any particular religion, or religion in general, is hogwash.

    Regardless of philosophical position, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion (AFAIK). Until there is scientific proof of the Flood, or Creation, it can’t be taught as fact in school. Until there is scienfitic proof that Zeus doesn’t exist, then it too can’t be taught as fact in school that Zeus doesn’t exist.

  15. #15 Dave Carlson
    November 26, 2006

    PZ,

    I didn’t mean to imply that people like Miller and Collins should be immune. I think that some of what Miller wrote in his book is fairly silly, and I’m sure I would think the same about Collins’ book if I’d read it. I just take issue with Moran when he says, “Public understanding of science will not be advanced by people like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller.” I think that statement is egregiously false and completely unncessary. Over blown–and in my opinion unwarranted–statements like these have been what’s frustrating me so much about this whole debate.

  16. #16 Paul Decelles
    November 26, 2006

    I agree with PZ that Miller’s attempt to reconcile his Catholism and evolution was ‘ugly’ and at times he sounds uncomfortably close to Behe in viewpoint. The difference between the two is that when Behe sees evidence of design, he jumps immediately to supernatural explanations while Miller sticks to the tried and true scientific approach of constructing natural explanations. Who better to have on the side of science eduation than someone who might espouses non scientific ideas, but does not let that get in the way of doing the science.

    Moran et al are too quick to draw battle lines.

  17. #17 Dave Carlson
    November 26, 2006

    I didn’t mean to imply that people like Miller and Collins should be immune.
    Ugh. What I was trying to say was that I didn’t mean to imply that they should be immune to criticism.

  18. #18 Caledonian
    November 26, 2006

    The difference between the two is that when Behe sees evidence of design, he jumps immediately to supernatural explanations while Miller sticks to the tried and true scientific approach of constructing natural explanations.

    No, the difference is that Behe tries to explain evidence by resorting to supernatural explanations while Miller merely asserts that there must be a supernatural explanation in there somewhere.

    Neither position is compatible with the scientific method, which is why Miller is so damaging: he’s peddling lies that many, many people want to believe, and in the process is corrupting their understanding of science.

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    November 26, 2006

    Let me remind you who strongly drew battle lines: Brayton. Read the last paragraph of his diatribe against Moran, and what you find is a declaration of a refusal to so much as associate with such vile and appalling people.

    I really am getting a little tired of the people who so quickly volunteered to be members of “Ed’s Team” so disingenuously pretending it’s the other bad guys who started the internecine warfare.

  20. #20 Josh
    November 26, 2006

    Dr. Myers, I think it’s pretty clear that Larry Moran is “talking about ditching our ‘theist allies.’” After all, these are “scientists who are willing to compromise science.” Heck, “[t]hey are doing more harm to science than those who oppose it directly from the outside because the Theistic Evolutionists are subverting from within.” If he isn’t advocating ditching those allies, what the hell is he advocating? (If the answers is “nothing,” what is his point?) As noted by Dave Carlson, among the allies named are people who write popular and effective biology textbooks and decoded the human genome � I don’t see how those activities harm science or subvert it from within.

    I would, however, challenge anyone to find an instance where someone advocates “tossing them [atheists] under the bus to accommodate theistic evolutionists.” We are advocating keeping atheism separate from the fight, and the political support that TEs provide is part of the reason. There are other excellent � indeed better � reasons, though.

    I don’t give a shit what people believe about God. If they behave well, they are good people deserving of my respect. If they behave badly, I want to beat them in court and in the polls.

    And whaddayaknow, the only people standing between me and theocracy are good people who happen to believe in some sort of God. They aren’t Neville Chamberlain, they are FDR and Lend-Lease (or Destroyers for Bases), or maybe even the Abraham Lincoln Brigades fighting fascism in Spain, hoping to keep it from spreading.

    Advocate for atheism. Great, I will fight to the death to defend your right to do so, as I fight for religious people’s right to advocate their viewpoint. But don’t act as if agnostics and moderate religious people are actively causing harm (which Dawkins and Harris certainly both do in explicit terms). We/they aren’t. And don’t insist on some sort of asinine ideological purity regarding attitudes toward the supernatural. I don’t, and the only people in the pro-science camp I have ever seen advocate for theological purity have been people like Moran (and Dawkins).

    Note that I am not attributing that to you, Dr. Myers. Attributing Moran’s beliefs to you would mean committing the ecological fallacy, just as attaching Ed’s words to anyone else’s lips is the ecological fallacy. We’ll set aside for the moment that Ed has retracted some of his more aggressive comments, and Moran hasn’t.

    Caledonian:

    While I haven’t read Miller or Collins’s books on religion, by sense is that it’s false to say that “Behe tries to explain evidence by resorting to supernatural explanations while Miller merely asserts that there must be a supernatural explanation in there somewhere.”

    Behe asserts that his religious beliefs are scientifically justified. He and Dembski might claim that their system does not pose supernaturalism a priori (and I would disagree with them), but they assert that their supernatural beliefs are testable and scientific. To my knowledge, Miller does not make such assertions. He has beliefs, acknowledges that those do not emerge from science, and shows how he unifies scientific and non-scientific sources of knowledge to his personal satisfaction.

    As Scott so ably notes, that is what the law would have us do, and the law reached it’s position on the basis of testimony by philosophers of science and by theologians, both of whom thought that the line should be drawn there.

    If Myers, Dawkins or Moran disagree, the solution will not be to label anyone as an appeaser or to call them names. The solution is to show that the philosophical positions of most (probably all) modern philosophers of science is wrong.

    And Dr. Myers, if you don’t think Dawkins drew those lines pretty clearly in TGD, I suppose we must agree to disagree.

  21. #21 Paul A
    November 27, 2006

    Life’s too short to argue about untestable metaphysics.

    Probably the most sensible thing anyone’s yet said in this whole brouhaha. If I get everyone’s POV right the ultimate goal in the whole stop-ID campaign is to keep non-science out of science classes. Does anyone disagree with that?

    Now does it really matter who we associate with and what methods we employ to accomplish this goal? No, it doesn’t. Everyone involved wants science in science classes and religion in religious classes, and never the twain shall meet. Any ‘theistic evolutionists’ I’ve heard weighing in on the debate seems to agree that the theistic side of things does not belong in science classes. So where’s the problem?

    While I try to shy away from party politics and things like idealogical ‘camps’ (exactly because of situations like this) I have to lay my cards on the table and say I’d normally find my tent closest to PZ, Dawkins, et al. I’ve never had anything I could call respect for faith-based thinking or followers of gods/fairies/unicorns/pasta and believe on reflection that there’s a good chance we’d be a lot better off without it all. However, this recent kerfuffle is leading me to up sticks and head for higher ground in between both camps where I can look down and laugh at their folly. Anyone coming to join me? The weather’s lovely :-)

  22. #22 PZ Myers
    November 27, 2006

    I think Dawkins very sharply criticized people like Collins and Miller for pushing bad ideas under the guise of science. I think he also rightly pointed out that there is a double-standard in operation: the only ‘good’ defense of evolution involves open pandering to superstition, and like him, I find it aggravating. Miller writes a book that is loaded with Catholic gobbledygook; I see it as a useful tool and hand it out to students, while strongly criticizing the last half. Dawkins writes a book that is a phenomenon, that’s on best-seller lists everywhere, and what do I see? Everywhere, people like Miller and Scott and half the scienceblogs mob snipe at it, and every talk has to have some disclaimer against Dawkins. It’s a tool, people. Use it. Criticize it, too, but you ought to see its popularity as a hopeful sign.

    Now go back to Brayton’s post. Did you notice what he was doing? Jumping all over a post by Moran where he suggests that actively creationist students are taking the place of better qualified students, and that we ought to take stronger measures to correct that. If you want to argue against the practicality of such measures, fine, if you want to endorse more remedial instruction at the university level, that’s fine, too — but instead, Brayton made a hysterical tirade damning Moran, Dawkins, and me for applying some kind of religious litmus test, when Moran hadn’t even mentioned religion and when neither Dawkins nor I had in any way been mentioned in that discussion, or had said anything on the subject. “Ecological fallacy”, indeed.

    Then what do I find? Pat Hayes, John Lynch, you, all joining in and declaring yourself for “Ed’s Team” against the team of Moran, Myers, and Dawkins. WTF? Ecological fallacy freaking squared. That was the whole point of my post: not that we need to get in some scrum and beat up you ‘appeasers’, but that this whole division is idiotic, and that you guys are struggling hard to fuel it.

    Apparently, you all want to damn the noisy atheists, and that’s all this is really about. I guess it’s clear there are two camps here, and it’s “Ed’s Team” that wants to run us other guys out of town–and you’ll all ignore the raging fallacy in his argument to attach that fallacy to us.

  23. #23 Paul Decelles
    November 27, 2006

    Good grief PZ,

    Since I hate sports I guess I am really on no one’s team…so there. More seriously this whole thing is a big distraction and probably very perplexing to the general public which in this country is theistically oriented…or at least claims to be.

    Given that one of the big claims by the creationists in Kansas was precisely that methodological materialism leads to atheism, I imagine the creationists are vastly entertained.

    I understand the intellectual points that PZ and Larry et al are making…but do we have to (and this applies to everyone) couch our arguments in Bill O’Reilly testosterone laiden style rhetoric?

    We deplore the tyranny of the dichotomous mindset and yet right now it seems we have fallen prey to it.

  24. #24 Shalini
    November 27, 2006

    [I really am getting a little tired of the people who so quickly volunteered to be members of "Ed's Team" so disingenuously pretending it's the other bad guys who started the internecine warfare.]

    Hear, hear!

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    November 27, 2006

    Paul, you’re missing the big, glaring problem that is annoying me so much right now: you’re telling me the problem is my “Bill O’Reilly testosterone laiden style rhetoric”, and glossing over the fact I had no dog in this fight until Brayton started huffing over those vile and appalling atheists, including me. I’m afraid the Bill O’Reilly appellation is more appropriately applied to those who want to silence criticism of religious dogma.

    Also, given the point point that the practitioners of methodological materialism do tend to veer towards agnosticism and atheistm, what are you proposing? That we shut up about that inconvenient truth?

  26. #26 Paul Decelles
    November 27, 2006

    PZ,

    No I am not…simply that we cut the rhetorical fluff-anf I think there is PLENTY of blame about this. The whole thing is beginning to remind me of certain faculty meetings where collegiality is lost. Of course this doesn’t happen in my department. **eg**

  27. #27 Josh
    November 27, 2006

    “the only ‘good’ defense of evolution involves open pandering to superstition, and like him, I find it aggravating.”

    I don’t see anyone saying that. I personally think that the best defense of evolution is a defense of the science.

    Alas, people attack evolution by claiming that it promotes atheism. Setting aside the issue of whether you regard that as a good thing or a bad thing, the only accurate answer to that is to say that evolution, like any scientific theory, does not address the supernatural.

    If people were running around insisting that evolution was good or bad because it supports some particular theology, that would deserve a similar response.

    In each case, the best person to deliver than news is a co-religionist (taking religion broadly enough for the moment to include atheism).

    And for what it’s worth, PZ, I’ve made an effort to avoid accusing you of the sort of exclusionary tactics which Larry Moran and Richard Dawkins unquestionably have advocated.