PZ Myers doesn’t care for Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum. In objecting to it, he quotes Jerry Coyne’s objection:

I could find little in Unscientific America that has not been said, at length, elsewhere.

Setting aside the merits of this claim for a moment (a full review will come shortly, but I’m in the midst of unpacking from one trip and getting ready to embark on another), this is a somewhat odd complaint for either of these men to level.

Coyne, after all, is blogging in support of his recent book Why Evolution Is True. Which is a perfectly good book which covers material not wildly different from that in recent books Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R. Prothero and Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul by Kenneth R. Miller and Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution by Kenneth R. Miller and even The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins, not to mention the bazillion earlier works demonstrating the importance of evolution. And that’s OK. The fact that it reiterates points others have made is evidence that Coyne did not simply make it up. His original contribution is not that he is describing new research in evolutionary biology, or that he is offering a novel defense of evolution, but that his research lends a unique perspective on the topic, and his experience as a teacher positions him well to explain the topic to the general public. Material which would otherwise be inaccessible to nonscientists is explained clearly. This is why Eugenie Scott, reviewing the book in Nature writes, “Coyne’s book will be a good choice to give to the neighbour or teacher who wants to know more about evolutionary biology.” (Coyne considered that review “tepid,” for reasons not fully explained). It’s also why NCSE used the book as a membership premium.

I find it odd that the author of a book intended to bring already published information to a new audience would criticize another author for publishing material already available in the technical literature in a way more accessible to the general public.

I find it doubly odd that PZ would echo this criticism. Not only did PZ rise to fame by rendering the technical literature in developmental biology accessible to those outside his field (adding not argument, but clarity), he is now famous for plowing the fields of atheism with arguments not dissimilar to those already made famous by recent writers Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Vic Stenger, etc. He is (I believe) writing yet another book in that vein. It is a well-worked vein, with works touting evolution as an attack on theism dating back to Darwin’s day, and no discernibly novel arguments in these popular atheist writings since that time. As one student of the field writes: “There’s really only a handful of arguments for atheism in the first place.”

At the risk of committing the supposed error of reiterating points previously made, I note that Darwin himself objected to that style of argumentation. Replying to Edward Aveling, an author who proposed to dedicate his work of popular atheism (The Student’s Darwin) to the great man himself, Darwin demurred graciously (emphasis added):

I am much obliged for your kind letter & the enclosure.? The publication in any form of your remarks on my writings really requires no consent on my part, & it would be ridiculous in me to give consent to what requires none.? I shd. prefer the Part or Volume not to be dedicated to me (though I thank you for the intended honour) as this implies to a certain extent my approval of the general publication, about which I know nothing.? Moreover 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. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.?

I am sorry to refuse you any request, but I am old & have very little strength, & looking over proof-sheets (as I know by present experience) fatigues me much.

This, I note, is largely the point raised by Mooney and Kirshenbaum: that advocates for atheism would do better not to cause insult and pain by attacking religion directly, and instead should focus on increasing public acceptance for science. That it is an argument with some history hardly diminishes its merits. If Coyne and Myers can rework Darwin’s argument (itself an attempt at popularizing evolution), then surely Mooney and Kirshenbaum ought not to be criticized for reworking a different (and less well-known) part of Darwin’s argument. Indeed, I suspect that Coyne does not disagree utterly with Darwin, nor with Mooney and Kirshenbaum, on this point. There is surely a reason why his own book does not parallel Aveling’s path of using evolution to attack religion. Coyne follows Darwin’s path, the path advocated by Mooney and Kirshenbaum, explaining the science and working toward “the general illumination of [people]‘s minds.”

I happen to think that in its presentation and in its argument, Unscientific America does offer much that is new to the general public, and indeed to scientists and science communicators. Even if it did not, a well-written and well-sourced book that weighs in on a subject of public controversy is surely welcome. And Unscientific America is well-written (though I have various quibbles), it is well-sourced, and the flurry of reactions to it shows that it is both timely and central to issues of current concern.

Comments

  1. #1 John S. Wilkins
    July 16, 2009

    Amen. Some of the criticisms of this book, which I have not yet seen, seem to boil down to…

    1. It isn’t what I believe

    2. It’s been said before

    3. It’s false, and

    4. I already said it.

    At least I know what to write in my review.

  2. #2 HP
    July 16, 2009

    Hah! This is the first defense of Unscientific America that has appealed to me emotionally. I am not opposed to emotional appeals; in fact, I welcome them. Perhaps in the future M&K will engage your services as a consultant. You seem to understand the audience in a way they do not.

  3. #3 Matt Penfold
    July 17, 2009

    Josh,

    You are making the same mistake that Mooney and Kirshenbaum make. They have this strange idea that everything a scientist writes on their blog is intended to improve American public understanding, and acceptance of, science.

    Myers, Coyne and others (including Mooney, Kirshenb1aum and yourself) identify religion as part of the problem with public engagement with science in the US. However some of us view religion as a problem in areas of the world, and in other aspects of society. Compared to some of these other problems (such as women’s rights, gay rights etc) then problems in the US with public acceptance of science are nothing like at important. M & K criticise Myers in their book for the cracker incident, claiming it did nothing to advance science in the US. They are correct in saying that, but since it was not done to advance science the criticism is both moot and indicates they did not understand Myer’s motivations.

    Just because someone is a scientist it does mean they have no interest in other things. There is no reason why they should always put the interest of science education ahead of their of other interests. If being critical of Catholics making death threats hinders science education in the US, so what ? Some people consider making death threats over a trivial incident to be more of a problem than science education in the US.

  4. #4 Sigmund
    July 17, 2009

    “the flurry of reactions to it shows that it is both timely and central to issues of current concern”
    Pardon?
    Almost all the reaction to this book has been over one chapter on the subject of whether it is better for atheist scientists to be accomodating towards the religious rather than openly critical of religious beliefs. Do you (indeed does anyone, even Chris and Sherril) believe that this particular point underlies the basis for their thesis (that the US public is by and large scientifically illiterate)?
    If this is a scientific hypothesis how would we test it?
    Outspoken atheist like Myers and Dawkins have not been in the face of the US public a few years back. Has the level of acceptance of science dropped since PZ started blogging.
    It should be trivially easy to figure out the truth of their theory. In fact I suspect we already know the answer- outspoken atheistic bloggers have had virtually zero effect on the acceptance of science amongst the religions (partly since the religious does not read Pharyngula or Dawkins books).
    The sad thing is that there do seem to be some important points elsewhere within the book (regarding the career structure in academic science) that have been entirely overshadowed by the inclusion of the chapter on the framers guide to public atheism (shushh!).

  5. #5 Craig Pennington
    July 17, 2009

    This, I note, is largely the point raised by Mooney and Kirshenbaum: that advocates for atheism would do better not to cause insult and pain by attacking religion directly, and instead should focus on increasing public acceptance for science. That it is an argument with some history hardly diminishes its merits.

    What merits? I have seen the “argument” asserted, but never backed up with anything but the asserter’s opinion that it must be so.

    http://xkcd.com/357/ seems appropriate.

  6. #6 Jay K.
    July 17, 2009

    You didn’t have a clue that this fire was hot, so you wanted to touch it yourself? Wow. Not enough hits on your blog page?

  7. #7 Shenda
    July 17, 2009

    To elaborate on what Matt said:

    Many people are conflating two separate issues as being the same issue. The two issues are:

    I. Advancing scientific literacy in the U.S.

    II. Showing the damage that religion can do to society in general.

    While there is considerable overlap between these issues, they can also cover very different items. For example, the host desecration done by PZ, was related to issue II and had nothing to do with issue I. Mooney and Kirshenbaum criticized PZ’s actions completely out of context.

    On the other hand, much of PZ’s criticism of the book is centered on it not sufficiently addressing issue II, while Mooney and Kirshenbaum are focusing on issue I and consider issue II to be an unnecessary distraction. While I do agree with PZ’s criticism on this point, I can also see the validity of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s point that criticizing people’s religion is not likely to be largely productive in advancing scientific literacy.

  8. #8 Josh Rosenau
    July 17, 2009

    John: Thanks.

    Matt and Shenda: I agree that PZ’s goal is not always to advance science, but for a casual reader, it can be hard to distinguish when PZ is advocating for science education and when he’s trying to destroy religion. Many of his commenters (whose writings make up a key part of his blog for other readers) fail to make any distinction between the two goals, and PZ himself can be incautious about the distinction as well. Whether he intended Crackergate to be seen in relation to his work on evolution education, it inevitably will be. Look at media coverage of Crackergate, and see how PZ is described. Would someone who doesn’t know PZ and doesn’t read his blog instantly recognize that Crackergate has nothing to do with science education? Or might references to Scienceblogs and PZ as a professor of biology tend to muddy those waters? Sciencebloggers can and should wade into other territory, but with great fame comes great responsibility, and I don’t know if PZ has fully adjusted to the power he has gained of late.

    Sigmund: Reaction has largely focused on chapter 8, but not exclusively. And in doing so, Mooney and Kirshenbaum have managed to take a conversation previously confined to college campuses and put it before a broader audience. I’ll be interested in finding out how that plays out. One fallacious claim by M&K’s critics is that they are blaming PZ and Dawkins for the state of science literacy. They explicitly are not doing that. They do worry that PZ and Richard have great power to shift public opinions of science, and that they are not putting that power to the best use, and that their influence as it stands is, if anything, negative.

    Craig: I’m working up a post about this issue, but everyone I know who has worked in the trenches on the creation/evolution fight seems to agree that attacking religion is unhelpful. And while the plural of anecdote is not data, it does (to quote XKCD) “waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there.’” Polling data on evolution tends to support this view also, showing that people are more willing to accept evolution in a poll when the question does not set up an opposition to religion.

  9. #9 Peter Beattie
    July 17, 2009

    Oh dear. Say what you want about Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book, but it sure seems to expose some pretty bad thinking where you wouldn’t have expected it. Which might actually be a good thing. Worse, though, they seem to inspire by example a certain economy with the truth that would be entirely reprehensible in any context, much less a discussion about scientific literacy.

    What on earth were you thinking, Josh, when you not only left out the specific context of solutions that Coyne couldn’t find—and that M&K repeatedly said their book was “brimming with”—but also failed to provide the following sentence that reads, “And what is new … is asserted without proof.”

    So you precluded your readers from noticing that M&K had specifically claimed to provide new solutions and that Coyne actually did find something new in their book—and a pretty important point, too, that M&K apparently failed entirely to support with evidence. One would have thought that that’s a relevant point if one were to evaluate Coyne’s review. Leaving out these directly adjacent parts of the quote looks for all the world like plain dishonesty.

    Your second point, that Darwin himself took a position against any confrontational argument with religious folk, is a little better by comparison: it’s not a gross misrepresentation but only a complete joke. For one thing, you give no indication why the passage should be relevant at all, except that is was written by “the great man himself”, i.e. authority. That “Coyne and Myers … rework Darwin’s argument”, or even use it at all, is not apparent from anything you say. For another thing, you say that Darwin’s argument is equivalent to the point “raised by [M&K]“, when the glaringly obvious fact, which Coyne pointed out in the sentence you omitted, is that it is not an argument.

    Darwin says, “it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public”. That is a statement, not an argument; and, as Coyne also notes, it (in the form of M&K’s equivalent point) is “asserted without proof”. Just to be clear, an argument is “a set of reasons or evidence to support a conclusion” (Weston: A Rulebook for Arguments). That’s pretty basic stuff, and anyone who writes a book about ‘scientific (il)literacy’ should definitely be thoroughly familiar with it. M&K obviously aren’t, as the debate of the last couple of weeks has shown. For you to dissemble about, and even repeat, their non-argument is, frankly, embarrassing.

  10. #10 Josh Rosenau
    July 17, 2009

    Peter: As I said, I plan a more thorough review of Unscientific America, and was responding to certain specific points in Coyne’s response to it. I will address the question of what is novel in the book in that review. I will also address the topic of atheism, etc. there and in subsequent posts. It is not dishonest to narrow the scope of one’s inquiry. I was responding to a particular style of argument, and state explicitly that I am setting aside the merits of Coyne’s claim about Unscientific America, thus rendering Coyne’s second sentence irrelevant to my point. I precluded nothing, as I linked all relevant posts so that people could read as much as they chose of all the authors I discussed.

    It might be “plain dishonesty” if I had indeed set out to review Coyne’s review, or to weigh in on the totality of the fighting over Unscientific America. As I specifically stated that wasn’t my intent, indeed specifically set such questions aside your accusation strikes me as unfounded and needlessly bellicose. Perhaps you should see what Weston thinks of criticizing someone for not selecting the topic of discussion you wish they took up.

    To the second point, I think anyone familiar with Darwin would know that he wrote a number of books which advocated for evolution as science and which did not attack religion. A reader without that background could gather it from the quote by Darwin, where he states that as his goal in his previous and future writings. What more justification must I offer for the “rework Darwin’s argument” line? This strikes me as a rather tendentious quibble, as I assume my readers know roughly what Darwin wrote, and can gather the content of “Why Evolution Is True” from context, and can see that the title is basically a summary of Darwin’s plan for On the Origin of Species.

    The passage is relevant for two reasons. First, because both sides in this debate are clearly treading well-worn paths, so it is hypocritical to claim repetition as a weakness. Second, because the context of this fight over Unscientific America is that the authors claim overt advocacy for atheism is an unproductive strategy, and others disagree. I point out Darwin’s argument because he is a figure most people involved in the debate can agree had some insight into how to popularize evolution, as he did a bangup job of it in his own day. Thus, the citation of Darwin is not an appeal to authority, but an appeal to expertise.

    Speaking, finally, of “frankly embarrassing” things, I find your claim that the Darwin quote was “asserted without proof” simply unjustifiable. Just as one must distinguish appeals to authority from appeals to expertise, one must separate an expert’s summary of his experience from a data-free opinion. Darwin spent decades testing arguments for evolution before and after publication, tweaking and rewriting as he found stumbling blocks in his writing or new evidence which illuminated a point, and he even cites one line of evidence in his own letter. To whit: “the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.” I don’t know how you missed that, but perhaps you would have done better to spend less time on Weston and more time actually reading what I wrote.

    Finally, I reiterate previously stated objections to baseless and unjustifiable charges of “dissembling” now sweeping the scienceblogosphere. I consider my honor and my honesty of no small import, and charges of lying or dissembling must be backed by evidence, or withdrawn with an apology. Mere disagreement is not “dissembling,” however much some parties might wish it were.

  11. #11 Peter Beattie
    July 17, 2009

    Josh, I really must apologize. You are, of course, right that “some members” of Darwin’s family are in fact representative of “the public” and that this “line of evidence” is quite beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Since I don’t seem to know half as much about intelligent sampling as you do, can I perhaps ask you to elaborate just a bit on why the one sentence you singled out in Coyne’s review is at all representative of his “style of argument”, lest anyone accuse you of tendentious quibbling?

  12. #12 Joshua Rosenau
    July 17, 2009

    Your apology is, of course, accepted. Please accept my thanks and join me in my hopes for a renewed spirit of friendship and fellowship.

    To answer your question, I addressed the passage I did because PZ found it significant enough to highlight out of all the rest of Coyne’s response. You’ll have to ask him why his post wasn’t tendentious, I suppose.

  13. #13 Shirakawasuna
    July 18, 2009

    I would point out that Chris and Sheril claim to have new ideas in their book, it is not claimed to be a recap or summary of an in-depth topic that’s well-evidenced already and extremely complicated in that evidence. *Some* of it is a recap, but that is not the intended goal, as we can tell from their own promotions of it, but the goal is to define a problem and set out to solve it. The ‘set out to solve it’ sounds vague from all the criticisms I hear and the ‘define a problem’ is sometimes controversial.

  14. #14 Shirakawasuna
    July 18, 2009

    From the original post: “This, I note, is largely the point raised by Mooney and Kirshenbaum: that advocates for atheism would do better not to cause insult and pain by attacking religion directly, and instead should focus on increasing public acceptance for science.”

    I’m not sure if that’s really their point. I think they’re focused entirely on science literacy and the public acceptance of science. If I’m wrong and their point has a lot to do with promoting atheism tangentially, I’d appreciate a link so I can correct my thinking!

    I don’t think Jerry Coyne nor PZ Myers are unfamiliar or not cognizant of the idea of raising consciousness in order to support all forms of rationalism. In fact, they often reference that idea in their criticisms. It isn’t a point that they miss.

    I would argue that when Coyne or Myers say the book isn’t novel or is useless, they are talking about it in terms of what actual scientists should do. Most of ideas *aren’t* new and there are many other books covering the exact same subject matter with the same general goal and the same intended audience. This would actually be OK, it’s not a killer for a book (your point about Darwin, etc.), if they didn’t differentiate themselves by 1) outright avoiding rigor in their recommendations and 2) attacking vocal atheist scientists. That’s where their particular expertises *should* be shining and it’s where they *should* be supplying all kinds of studies into the public’s understanding of science across generations and internationally to tweak out statistical causes. But they don’t do that, they don’t even cite studies to avoid getting wonkish. They just assert, and that’s where the uselessness becomes particularly obvious.

    Note: I haven’t read the book. I’m going off of the reviews I’ve read and Chris & Sheril’s blog. I may be wrong, they might cite proper studies for their novel recommendations. I assume that if they had them, they’d cite them on their blog…

  15. #15 Aquaria
    July 18, 2009

    Many of his commenters (whose writings make up a key part of his blog for other readers) fail to make any distinction between the two goals, and PZ himself can be incautious about the distinction as well

    1) Are you that unfamiliar with the blog? PZ uses tags to give a giant honking clue for anyone to realize what he’s talking about. Tags like “Humor” and “Politics” and “Kooks.” What more does he need to do, take every reader by the hand and say, “Good day, boys and girls, I’m going to talk about Politics right now, not SCIENCE!!!1111!!!! okay?”

    Jaysus on a skateboard, is there no level of stupid everyone doesn’t need to descend to, just to accommodate people who can’t be bothered to notice the obvious? Is there no place people can go where they’re not talked down to, dumbed down to, coddled and infantilized to death? I’m sick of it!

    Which brings me to my second point:

    2) I’m not even a scientist, and I’m smart enough to know where lines are between advocating for science, for a political position, or whatever. How insulting to presume that other people, even high school dropouts can’t make that distinction! You know what else Internet users are capable of doing? They can hang around a site for a while, get a feel for it, before posting! Some people really know how to do that!

    Stop thinking so little of humanity.

    Sheesh–I can’t believe a cynical misanthrope like me is actually saying that!

  16. #16 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    July 18, 2009

    Amen

    The American retard’s mantra.

  17. #17 Peter Beattie
    July 18, 2009

    » Josh Rosenau:
    One fallacious claim by M&K’s critics is that they are blaming PZ and Dawkins for the state of science literacy.

    Apparently, you have no idea what you’re talking about. M&K say that PZ in particular has “set the cause backward” and that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who they think are “just as extreme” as creationists and other wackaloons, are “zealots [who] generate unending polarization, squeeze out the middle, and leave all too many Americans convinced that science poses a threat to their values”.

    They aren’t blaming RD and PZ? If that doesn’t call for Medawar’s Teilhard defence, I don’t know what does: “its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.”

    their influence as it stands is, if anything, negative.

    And there is M&K’s most favourite fatuous talking-point. These guys actually have the nerve to write a book about scientific illiteracy and yet they don’t even grasp the point that, without giving evidence, anyone can make up any bullshit they like.

    Dawkins’s influence is negative? He has sold millions of books, he regularly draws crowds of thousands of people in lecture tours across the US, and has received numerous awards, the latest for his TV documentary on Charles Darwin. Given that he has encouraged millions of people to come out in support of science and rationality, the only way really for you to argue that despite all that he has been a negative influence would be to say that whatever he says must be negative if it entails promoting atheism. If you want to seriously argue that, fine; just go find the evidence and convince us. Failing that, however, you’re not even arguing; you’re working to actively subvert scientific literacy.

  18. #18 Peter Beattie
    July 18, 2009

    » Josh Rosenau:
    One fallacious claim by M&K’s critics is that they are blaming PZ and Dawkins for the state of science literacy.

    Apparently, you have no idea what you’re talking about. M&K say that PZ in particular has “set the cause backward” and that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who they think are “just as extreme” as creationists and other wackaloons, are “zealots [who] generate unending polarization, squeeze out the middle, and leave all too many Americans convinced that science poses a threat to their values”.

    They aren’t blaming RD and PZ? If that doesn’t call for Medawar’s Teilhard defence, I don’t know what does: “its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.”

    their influence as it stands is, if anything, negative.

    And there is M&K’s most favourite fatuous talking-point. These guys actually have the nerve to write a book about scientific illiteracy and yet they don’t even grasp the point that, without giving evidence, anyone can make up any BS they like.

    Dawkins’s influence is negative? He has sold millions of books, he regularly draws crowds of thousands of people in lecture tours across the US, and has received numerous awards, the latest for his TV documentary on Charles Darwin. Given that he has encouraged millions of people to come out in support of science and rationality, the only way really for you to argue that despite all that he has been a negative influence would be to say that whatever he says must be negative if it entails promoting atheism. If you want to seriously argue that, fine; just go find the evidence and convince us. Failing that, however, you’re not even arguing; you’re working to actively subvert scientific literacy.

  19. #19 Shenda
    July 18, 2009

    Hi Josh,

    Thank you for your reply. Some comments:

    You said “…but with great fame comes great responsibility, and I don’t know if PZ has fully adjusted to the power he has gained of late.”

    While I do understand where you are coming from on this (and the other things you mentioned prior to this quote), does this mean that PZ should change in order to conform to what other people want him to be? In other words, now that PZ has gained fame and power by doing what he does, he should change what he does because some people disagree with what he does?

    Yes, PZ is very controversial, but that is what has made him such a prominent figure in this debate. I doubt that you expect (or even intend) that he shut up and tow a line he disagrees with.

    Aquaria,

    I agree. [Except for all the exclamation points! :)]

  20. #20 Peter
    July 18, 2009

    “This, I note, is largely the point raised by Mooney and Kirshenbaum: that advocates for atheism would do better not to cause insult and pain by attacking religion directly, and instead should focus on increasing public acceptance for science.”

    Mooney and Kirshenbaum don’t argue this at all. They think that religion is compatible with science, ergo, advocating for science should not work to undermine religion. Except probably certain specific religious fact claims about, say, the age of the earth, etc.

    So if you agree with M&K on that point, and yet you think that religion deserves criticism for other influences it has in society, then you’d have to attack religion directly.

    What M&K’s actual point is, is that when scientists attack religion directly, it hurts the cause of science advocacy, and therefore scientists should not criticize religion directly. If there are good reasons for criticizing religion, presumably it’s ok with them if, I guess, ethicists or professional atheist evangelists or something do it. It’s just not ok for people who do work in a lab to criticize religion.

  21. #21 windy
    July 18, 2009

    Hey, can we play some more “What Would Darwin Do?” Not only did he refuse the dedication in the atheist book, he declined to defend birth control activists Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh in their trial. From what I hear, these issues are still very divisive in some places. Should scientists follow Darwin’s example and not advocate for birth control or women’s reproductive rights?

  22. #22 FastLane
    July 21, 2009

    This does seem like an fishing expedition for more hits, but what the hell, I’ll bite.

    It seems to me that, while both Coyne and PZ noted the lack of new content, neither of them based their primary criticism on that point. It seems a bit disingenious for you to do so or make the claim that they do. Secondly, M&K’s characterization of ‘crackergate’ was so biased and misleading as to the actual incident that it is hard to believe that it was not intentional. That alone would earn them a strong STFU from PZ (and rightly so, IMO). The fact that they have been repeatedly challeneged on several factual points and their only claim is that “it’s in the book” says a lot too.

    Their main goal seems to be self promotion. Every marketing goon knows one of the best ways to do that is to generate a controversy. It doesn’t matter if it’s contrived or not.

  23. #23 Josh Rosenau
    July 21, 2009

    As I said (and repeated), my point was not to respond to the totality of the arguments over Unscientific America, but to point out one egregiously silly argument. It’s not trolling for hits, and I never claimed this was the main or sole argument by PZ or Jerry. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I did.

    I did not find the description of Crackergate egregious. I lived through Crackergate, and I read the book carefully. I haven’t followed all the blog commentary as I’ve been on the road a lot lately and away from the ‘tubes. But I haven’t seen anyone actually specify what about the Crackergate account is wrong. They think PZ did something stupid, PZ obviously doesn’t, and they are all entitled to argue with one another. But disagreement isn’t inherently dishonest.

    Again, not having looked at all of the commentary, it seems like the major factual gripe is a misattribution to Dawkins of a level of certainty regarding divine nonexistence or the incompatibility of science and religion that Dawkins does not public espouse. That hardly justifies the shitstorm that is going on, as my reading of the totality of Dawkins’ work is that what errors were made were errors of interpretation and matters of degree, not wholesale errors.

    Beyond that, and again, I haven’t read every criticism or waded through all of the commentary so I may be missing things, the major beefs people have are matters of opinion and interpretation. Some think astronomers did enough to educate the public about Pluto’s demotion, others don’t. A recent poll found that 60% of Americans know that Pluto is not considered a planet, with the remainder either unaware or unwilling to accept the change. I think that supports a contention that not enough education has been done. (Note that a similarly worded question about evolution would show about ~80% support, as it is a question of what scientists think, not of personal opinion.) And so forth. It’s fine to argue about this, but the level of vitriol seems unjustified.

  24. #24 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    August 4, 2009

    As the atelic/teleonomic argument notes, the weight of evidence presents no cosmic teleology but natural causes at work, and such teleology contradicts those causes. Natural selection, the non-planning, anti-chance agent of Nature has no pre-conceived plans: it did not have us in mind when it worked on what was at hand due to the randomness of mutatins. It is simply obscurantist to aver then divine input, which conflicts with selection. Creation evolution thus is an oxymoron that Coyne rightly attacks in ‘Seeing and Believing.”
    We new atheists, anti-theists have the duty as any teacher has to enlighten. That pain that worries others is no more than the pain that political parties give one another or anyone trying to deny what another affirms. The Ppe gives me pain with his anti-science position on contraception, and it is anti-science in that it denies the use of science to solve the problem of birth control.
    So stop the nonsense of telling us not to upset the religious. And we aren’t atheist fundamentalists as we proceed from the provisional truth rather than from the dogmatic claims for an anthology of fables and we advvocate reason rather than mumbo-jumbo. Our critics err in trying to dismiss us as having no input for rationalsm: where’s the beef? None.
    From the side of religion , yea, science and it can be compatible as it can recast itself to fit science to itself; but from the side of science, religion just obfuscates with a useless redundancy, Alister McGrath notwithstanding.
    We new atheists are arguing in the wider realm of reason versus faith, the we just say so of credulity rather than just creationism versus science.
    Yea, we have some success with our writings and posts.One ought not presume that we commit the rationalist fallacy that with more education there would be less superstition-less supernatural and paranormal- ” The Transcendent Temptation” -Paul Kurtz] influence, since that very education enables people to further superstition. We indeed do know that it will take time for superstition to retreat.
    To aver that we harm the cause of science is hooey as those who find evolution objectionable, find it still so no matter what accommodationists aver. And why presume that those uncommitted cannot accept evolution when we attack superstition? They can believe the acccmmodationists or- they can align with us, but more probably with the former.
    So we are doing nothing more than voicing our opinions as creation evolutionists like Dr. Collins do! And we are educating the public about rationalism and naturalism.