Kudos to the National Center for Science Education for putting up these videos [of Texas science standards hearings], and for their tenacious defense of evolution in Texas.
Thank you, Jerry. Since I shot those videos, and was present in Texas as part of that defense, I thought I was off Coyne’s shitlist, and it certainly seemed like NCSE was off it as well.
But three days later he objects to a line I wrote about “atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion”:
Quote of the week, from the personal website of the Public Information Project Director of the National Center for Science Education (speaking unofficially, of course)…
Comment: I weep for the NCSE if this kind of idea is running the railroad. We atheists don’t give a tinker’s dam about what the true form of religion might be, because we don’t think there is one! Nor do we have one.
Dare I note only that Coyne seems to have no particular conception of what “speaking unofficially” means? I mean, why even bring NCSE into it? Why mention NCSE twice, refer to me by my official title at NCSE, but never refer to me by name? It’s just odd. And if he is going to do that, could he bear in mind what he said about NCSE a mere three days earlier?
it seems … that you open yourself to the charge [of taking a position on what religion truly is] by concurrently insisting that science and especially evolution are irreconcilable with religion – which is really only true when religion makes hard claims that are known scientifically to be false. That is only the case with fundamentalist/literalistic readings of scripture. That isn’t actually true of the more general cases that you criticize for not using the scientific approach to establish their beliefs.
One of the things I learned as a student at the University of Chicago is that it may be easier to respond to critiques with snark than actually confronting the challenge, but that isn’t terribly productive. One hopes that Coyne’s current tack does indicate a new direction for my alma mater.
For what it’s worth, note that I’m not claiming all atheists do this (they don’t). Consider the lengths Sam Harris goes to to marginalize moderate religious faith, and to turn it into a rump of the real issue: fundamentalism. Consider Jason Rosenhouse’s repeated claims that fundamentalists are more consistent than moderates (e.g. 1, 2). Maybe I’m misreading Coyne, Rosenhouse, Harris, et al. But in arguing against religion per se, they are clearly choosing particular versions of religion to focus on. This is, to a degree, inevitable, given the tremendous variety of religious experience. And in making that selection, they are suggesting that those forms of religion are somehow more valid than others, closer to the true essence of religion.
Obviously, they reject those forms of religion, and saying that they consider those to be “true religion” is not meant to suggest that they believe in it. I don’t see where this is a terribly controversial claim, truth be told.
Which is why I’m even more surprised to see Coyne describing this line as “an anti-atheist crack“:
“The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn’t really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution.”
That is from Kevin Padian’s response to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s silly effort to blame Hitler on Darwin. First, note that Kevin Padian is a fairly open atheist, so if this line were “anti-atheist” it would have to be a sort of self-hating atheism. Second, how is it factually wrong? Some atheists (but not all) think science and religion are incompatible. Some religious fundamentalists also think this. There are also a bunch of people in the middle of the spectrum of belief who do not think that. Whether these represent a majority of Americans depends how you ask the question and what you do with undecided responses, but it is absolutely the case that most Americans belong to religious groups whose governing bodies have asserted the compatibility of science (including evolution) and their brand of religion.
What, then, makes Padian’s factually correct statement about the beliefs of some atheists a “crack”? Is there any method at all to Coyne’s outrage?