Crack and polling

Last Friday I made some remarks about polling and evolution and atheism that got some knickers in twists. To summarize: Kevin Padian was asked to comment on a stupid stunt by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, who are passing out copies of the Origin of Species along with a foreword that alleges Darwin caused the Holocaust. Padian was appropriately dismissive, and noted that “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.” Jerry Coyne called this “an anti-atheist crack.”

I responded that I didn’t see the crack, and I didn’t really see a factual problem.

Jason Rosenhouse objects that:

Padian’s statement likened those of us who think there is a conflict between science and relgion to our hated enemies the religious fundamentalists. Among the smart set, fundamentalists are just about the lowest form of life there is. It is also generally considered a bad thing to be described as extreme. Given that, I’d say ?crack? was a polite way of describing Padian’s statement.

This (like Larry Moran’s roughly equivalent line of argument and Coyne’s original complaint) strikes me as tendentious, but I’m not going to dictate what other people do or don’t find offensive. Whether something is or isn’t “a crack” is subjective and probably not productive to debate. But is it “an anti-atheist crack”? No. If it’s a crack at all, it’s a crack against a certain group of atheists, a group which, on the axis of belief Padian is clearly describing, is at an extreme. And it isn’t like Padian was inventing criteria by which to compare this group of atheists with a group of fundamentalists, it’s a natural comparison once the conversation turns to the compatibility of science and religion. If people are uncomfortable with the parallel, the solution isn’t to mau-mau anyone who points it out, but to make the parallel less inescapable. As for Ophelia Benson’s complaint that this is all part of “the relentless othering of atheism,” it would help for the comment to have been about atheism, rather than about the views of a fraction of atheists.

Jason spends most of his time on a less subjective topic, the question of whether “a majority” finds evolution and religion incompatible. I had noted that the claim of a majority (a claim which People added to the quote) is problematic, but that the gist is not unreasonable:

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.

Jason Rosenhouse objects:

Even before turning to the facts of the issue, we should note that Josh pretty blatantly moved the goalposts. Since atheists and religious fundamentalists together represent a small percentage of the population (even without the nebulous adjective ?extreme? in front of them), Padian’s statement amounts to saying that there is an extreme fringe who thinks science and religion are incompatible, while ?everyone else? disagrees. In context that ?everyone else? is clearly meant to imply ?just about everyone.? He does, at least, try to soften things with his final sentence (though as I will show the public opinion polls do not provide clear support even for that), but the fact remains it does not follow from what came before.

The first problem here is that Jason is ignoring the possibility that lots of people might have no opinion (or no firm opinion) on the matter of evolution/religion compatibility. This is a problem that plagues his entire treatment of the polls, but it’s a reading of Padian’s statement that strikes me as utterly unfair, interpreting Padian in a maximally ungenerous light.

As for “moving the goalposts,” I plead guilty. I’m not trying to defend the quote, I’m first problematizing it and then advancing a different claim that’s surely correct. I’m happy to argue about whether most Americans adhere to their church’s doctrines, but that’s a debate that cuts both ways. A central claim of the anti-religion atheists is that religious dogma is dangerous people people blindly follow it. If people do not in fact follow their denomination’s dogma, what does that do to these arguments against religion? Maybe nothing, but it’s a fact often ignored as people try to parse this or that Papal statement and attribute the Pope’s beliefs to all Catholics.

So I have no problem with this statement of Jason’s:

Padian said nothing about the governing bodies of American religions. Such bodies can say whatever they want, but it is simply absurd to think they are necessarily speaking on behalf even of a majority of their members. ? Padian also did not say that ?a bunch? of people in the middle don’t see a problem. As noted, he was saying far more than that.

Or actually, I have one objection. We don’t really know that he said “a majority,” or whether he said “a bunch,” or something else entirely. The reporter introduced the idea of “a majority” into the quotation, perhaps erroneously. My confidence in People‘s ability to accurately describe complex social issues is decidedly limited.

Rosenhouse inaccurately reframes Padian’s claim, asking “Is it true that everyone, save for a fringe of atheists and fundamentalists, think that religion and evolution get along swimmingly?” Again, this ignores the possibility that some people are undecided, and if they are, how we should count them.

He cites Gallup polls to show that belief/acceptance of evolution is quite low. Which is true and unfortunate, but doesn’t speak to why people reject evolution. They may have been misled by creationist propaganda into thinking that evidence for evolution is weak, for instance. Or they may be unsure whether they can be pro-evolution and religious, and err on the side of caution. Maybe they’d change their mind if they spent more time talking about the issue.

To provide further evidence, Rosenhouse cites a Pew poll from February, rather than looking at the more recent one conducted this summer. In the earlier poll, Pew asked whether people thought evolution was “the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth.” Polls consistently show that questions about human evolution score lower than the same question in terms of the evolution of all life (which logically includes humans). Clearly people are not responding with carefully thought-through analysis, but with off-the-cuff gut reactions. The more recent Pew poll found that 61% of the public agrees that “humans and other living things have evolved over time.” Roughly a third attribute that evolution solely to natural processes, while 22% attribute it to some sort of divine guidance (a position which might cover ID, but also the broad category of theistic evolution). Slightly less than a third said humans always existed in their present form.

In that survey, people who attend church once or more a week were more likely to reject any form of evolution (49%, with 14% backing natural evolution and 21% favoring divine guidance), while people who attend monthly or yearly had a plurality (36%) favoring evolution by natural causes, a quarter backing theistic evolution, and another quarter rejecting evolution. A majority of those who rarely or never attend church back evolution by natural causes alone (51%), with 19% favoring theistic evolution and 17% rejecting evolution.

This is not the portrait of a society in which people firmly oppose evolution on religious grounds. By my math, about 38% of people who attend services with some regularity reject evolution. Why they do so isn’t clear. Whether they think it’s incompatible with religion per se, or think that it’s incompatible with certain specific beliefs that they hold (but not with belief in god more generally), or if they don’t know what evolution is, or think the evidence for it is weak, we simply don’t know.

To get a baseline, we can look at a poll from 2004. The Michigan Survey of Consumer Attitudes asked half the sample whether “human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” a standard question from the National Science Board’s measures of scientific literacy. The other half were asked whether “according to the scientific theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The first statement got 44% support, while 74% supported the second. This suggests two interesting things. First, about 30% of the public knows what evolution is and rejects it. Second up to 25% of the public does not know what evolution is.

This explains how Gallup could consistently show roughly a third of the public backing evolution while Pew gets nearly twice the support. Opinions are ill-formed and people are making up their minds on the spot based on cues embedded in the question. Gallup’s questions explicitly pit “belief” in evolution against belief in God: this treats evolution and god as competitors, and invites respondents to answer what they believe rather than what they know.

Pew asked people “which comes closer to your view,” and doesn’t ask about God, only about how the human race originated. This still conflates personal belief with evidence, but doesn’t bring religious belief into the matter.

As George Bishop notes in an essay on his website (currently defunct) and reprinted in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education 27:5-6:

All of this goes to show how easily what Americans appear to believe about human origins can be readily manipulated by how the question is asked. As we have seen, depending on the wording of the question the percentage of apparent biblical creationists can vary from as little as 42 percent to as high as 64 percent; the percentage of theistic evolutionists or believers in ?intelligent design? from as much as 41 percent to as little as 10-18 percent; and the percentage of Darwinist or naturalistic evolutionists, from as low as 10-13 percent to as high as 33-46 percent.

i-d592e3172924c6a004a15ab5c734535a-Pew_conflict.png

What are we to conclude from these messy results about something as supposedly fundamental as Americans? religious beliefs about the role of God in creating human life? Are Americans poles apart on this perennial ?culture war? question, as some would have us believe, or merely polls apart? American public opinion on this matter would seem to be a lot more malleable than we have heretofore suspected.

From all of this, I don’t believe any clear statement about what a majority of Americans think of a complex issue like the relationship of science and religion can be clearly adduced. Indeed, even if one asks explicitly, it’s hard to know what those results mean.

But that would at least be better than nothing. The recent Pew poll asked three relevant questions:

More than half of the public (55%) says that science and religion are ?often in conflict.? Close to four-in-ten (38%) take the opposite view that science and religion are ?mostly compatible.? Yet the balance is reversed when people are asked about science?s compatibility with their own religious beliefs. Only 36% say science sometimes conflicts with their own religious beliefs and six-in-ten (61%) say it does not.

When those who say science conflicts with their own beliefs are asked to describe the ways in which these conflicts arise, 41% refer specifically to evolution, creationism, Darwinism and debates about the origin of life. Another 15% cite differences over the beginning of life, primarily concerns about abortion (12%) but also cloning and birth control.

So evolution is the topic most likely to make people feel a conflict between science and religion, but a majority of respondents who think there is a conflict between science and religion did not list evolution among the three topics which might cause of that conflict. And in any event, most people see no conflict for themselves (though they seem to think it conflicts for others).

Even among those who identify as creationists, equal numbers say that they find science to conflict with their religious view or not to conflict. A quarter of those who think natural processes alone can explain evolution find science to conflict with their religious views, though not necessarily about evolution.

So, to the extent we have clear data on the question, a majority of Americans do not see a conflict between science (including evolution) and their own religion (but thinks that conflicts exist in general), and the public is generally divided into three parts: a third who support evolution, a third to a quarter who reject it absolutely, and a group in the middle who are not sure. These people are inclined to favor evolution if it is presented as a scientific idea, and not presented as conflicting with religious belief. They haven’t thought much about the issue, and if reached in the right venue through the right means, they can be brought into the pro-evolution fold.

Larry Moran, responding to my earlier post, objects that these polling questions are irrelevant. Critiquing me and Padian, he says:

He uses the argument of popularity to support his position. Imagine that he lived in a country where a majority of citizens were atheists and believed that religion was incompatible with science. Would that change his opinion? Why should non-Americans, like Richard Dawkins for example, form an opinion based on whether or not it agrees with a majority of Americans? It’s a silly argument. Either religion and science are compatible or they aren’t. Since when did the opinion of the average American become relevant in debates like that?

This would be a fair point if we were just looking at polls of whether people accept evolution. Whether 1% or 99% support evolution, it’s still the best available scientific theory, and it would be foolish to practice science any differently because of polls.

But religion isn’t science. It’s a social activity. By changing people’s minds, we change how religion operates in society, and how people define these boundaries. If 1% of Americans think science and religion are incompatible, then they are incompatible. If 99% think they are compatible, then they are compatible. America falls right in the middle, with a slight majority favoring personal compatibility while recognizing that conflict exists in society. And that belief is malleable in various ways and for various reasons.

Religion is not some monolithic and unchanging entity. It’s different now than it was a century ago, and it’ll be different in another century. Cognitive research strongly suggests that we will never eliminate religion (or other, related, faith-based notions). Religion as a social institution will shift as society shifts. Europeans (and Canadians) have shifted away from organized religion, but have taken on New Age beliefs, toxic nationalisms, and other faiths. Those beliefs are generally friendly toward evolution, but set themselves against scientific advances in genetically modified crops, to choose one example. A similar shift in America is possible, and the question is whether it is desirable and, if so, how to do it.

Comments

  1. #1 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 28, 2009

    From all of this, I don’t believe any clear statement about what a majority of Americans think of a complex issue like the relationship of science and religion can be clearly adduced.

    Kevin Padian was the one who made a clear statement about what a majority of people think of this complex issue. In fact, he said a lot more. Let me remind you that he said this:

    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.

    It is nice that you now concede that Padian had no basis for making his statement.

    Furthermore, when “extreme atheists” and “extreme religious fundamentalists” (a description clearly intended to be snide and dismissive) are placed together in one corner, cleanly quarantined from “everyone else,” I do not think I am out of line in seeing a deliberate insult directed towards those of us who demur from his views on science and religion. What is frustrating is that it is so unnecessary. Padian could simply have said something like, “Many people see no conflict between science and religion.” That would have been uncontroversial and adequate for making his point. His bizarre overstatement, by contrast, needlessly antagonizes part of his natural constituency, and frankly makes him a look a bit foolish.

    Now let me remind you that the point of my post was that Padian’s statement was false. I think your numbers are perfectly adequate for making that case. Your big conclusion was:

    So, to the extent we have clear data on the question, a majority of Americans do not see a conflict between science (including evolution) and their own religion (but thinks that conflicts exist in general), and the public is generally divided into three parts: a third who support evolution, a third to a quarter who reject it absolutely, and a group in the middle who are not sure.

    Even if I accept this at face value, it would still refute Padian’s statement, unless you think a third to a quarter of the American population is made up of extreme atheists and extreme fundamentalists. (Or unless you think there are a lot of people who reject evolution absolutely, but not for religious reasons.) And that’s assuming, mind you, that those who are not sure are actually as open-minded as you seem to think. That is a very dubious proposition.

    As for the rest of your numbers, all you have really shown is that if you bend over backwards to present evolution in its most benign and nonthreatening form, you can get numbers that are slightly less awful than the ones I cited. That is not very comforting, and it certainly does not make Padian’s statement look reasonable.

  2. #2 Physicalist
    September 28, 2009

    If 1% of Americans think science and religion are incompatible, then they are incompatible. If 99% think they are compatible, then they are compatible.

    1. Either there’s a typo here, or I’m really missing your point. Make the first in“compatible”?

    2. Even fixed, this sounds like untenable relativism/social constructivism. I can accept the point if you’re restricting yourself to talking about social/political dynamics without regard to whether the beliefs of society are actually true. Otherwise, it sounds like you’ve gone off the deep end.

    I know that the point has been made repeatedly in this debate that there’s an important difference between (a) demonstrating a genuine epistemic compatibility between scientific reasoning/results and religious faith/beliefs and (b) merely pointing out the some subset of society as a matter of fact does accept both.

    Have you ever responded to this point?

    But religion isn’t science. It’s a social activity.

    Surely science is a social activity as well. How is this relevant to the question of compatibility?

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    September 28, 2009

    Jason, why shouldn’t we present evolution as benign and non-threatening? I mean, it is benign, and it is non-threatening (at least in my experience with it).

    I took your objection to be to the notion of “a majority,” as it’s hard to know what fraction of the population would be meant by “Everyone else” otherwise, rendering the numerical discussion irrelevant. And since we don’t know that Padian actually used the word “majority,” the whole discussion is a bit muddled. Whether Padian had a basis for his statement I don’t know. I certainly would not have put it that way, but he may have had a particular source of data in mind as a basis for his statement, and may even have cited it to the reporter. I don’t care to speculate.

    I don’t read the bit about extremes to be snide or dismissive, but again, this is a fairly subjective judgment, and I hesitate to claim that other people are being too sensitive. Yes, he could have just said “Many people see no conflict,” but he decided to specify the populations which reject that, including a group of fundamentalists and a group of atheists. It isn’t his fault that those two groups share this particular similarity. He’s not picking an arbitrary metric by which to bring certain atheists and certain fundamentalists into the same sentence, it’s a relevant point to what he was saying, and strikes me as indisputably true. The characterization of those groups as “extreme” makes sense as a simple descriptive in context, though I don’t know what was in his heart or his tone of voice when he said it, so I can’t say your reading is wrong. It is certainly not the “anti-atheist crack” Coyne claimed, as it doesn’t target all atheists. At the least, he’s talking about atheists other than himself. And trying to reform a group you are a member of, to shift it your way, is hardly dismissive or snide. It’s generally considered commendable to work from within rather than throw brickbats from without.

    The question of how many atheists share Coyne’s view and how many share Padian’s is tricky. PZ had a post last week urging that agnostics and deists be treated as one with atheists. This is based on a poll which puts atheists as 7% of the growing population of Nones. I know people who choose not it identify as “atheist” because they perceive that term as anti-religion, but who would meet the Nones survey definition, saying that “there is no such thing” as god. Coyne, et al. are surely extreme relative to those people, but atheists are a hard group to categorize, leaving all of this disappointingly fuzzy. Based on the data, though, it’s clear that perceived incompatibility rises the more religious you are, or the more anti-religious (or whatever adjective is appropriate here) you are. So again, the statement about extremes strikes me as factually correct, and need not be read as snide or dismissive. There’s an axis, and we’re talking about the ends of it.

    I do think that a sizeable chunk of people reject evolution for reasons that are not overtly religious. “I ain’t related to no monkey” is not a religious claim per se, though it can become religious if coupled with “I was created in God’s image.” Again, fuzzy lines abound, but as you note, a lot of people react viscerally against evolution, often for reasons having little to do with religious specifics, and a lot to do with (mis)perceptions about what evolution is. I’d wager good money that most of the 25% who cannot correctly pick evolution out of a lineup also reject it. It hardly matters what reasons they offer for rejecting it, as they don’t know what they’re rejecting. They’ve been fed lies about how evolution is anti-God propaganda meant to make everyone behave like beasts (hence respond better to polls that don’t use words like “evolution,” “Darwin,” or “humans”). If they knew what biologists actually did with their workdays, they might be fine with evolution. The 30% who know what evolution is but reject it are worrisome, but based on the Pew data, we know that 36% of people find science and religion incompatible, and 41% of those (15% of the general population) root that incompatibility in science. Which leaves the other 15% open to the possibility that evolution and religion could be compatible, even if they are sketchy about it. And that’s an opportunity, one I’d rather not waste by antagonizing them off the bat.

  4. #4 Michael Fugate
    September 28, 2009

    Josh,
    Evoluton may seem benign to you, but read the paper I mentioned in Science 22 Feb 2008 entitled “Crossing the Divide”.

  5. #5 J.J.E.
    September 28, 2009

    Josh:

    Scientists and secular people (especially secular scientists) have a strong interest in protecting the integrity of rational thinking in general and the scientific method in particular.

    The problem with your repeated assertions concerning alliance with liberal religions that just happen to align with you on your pet interests (i.e. removing creationism from the classrooms and protecting evolution) is that in endorsing those perspectives almost always requires you (both personally and professionally) to endorse theologically based thinking that is inimical to rational and scientific thinking.

    I have reviewed NCSE’s site extensively, all the way back to the ’90s, and in publication after publication, program after program, partnership after partnership, NCSE and the people that work for NCSE (including you and Eugenie Scott and Peter Hess among others) consistently advance theological positions, full stop. This type of advocacy is a classic example of short term gains at the expense of consistency and long term sustainability.

    Faith based thinking and tacit approval of such is corrosive to rational thinking. The NCSE and its employees can now be pointed to as providing succor to particular liberal theological perspectives with all their theological arbitrariness that doesn’t differ logically or materially to the arbitrariness of less “acceptable” religious perspectives.

    Once you start allowing for a squishy definition of “truth” and to allow for a supernatural arbiter of that truth, you’ve already conceded that anything is possible. The fact that you pick and choose among all those possibilities for the most “acceptable” incarnations is beside the point. You legitimize the the entire theological enterprise by endorsing one subset of it.

    Your arguments are missing the point of Harris and Coyne. They most equivocally do not center their arguments on what “forms of religion are somehow more valid than others” (your words). They are merely pointing out that all religions suffer the same underlying corrosive properties. They also point out that literal-minded religions often fully admit and encourage their contradiction to science and/or reason and that liberal sects often deny it. But in no case are they arguing for or against any of the nearly infinite alternative perspectives that religion has.

    In sum, religious thinking encourages appeal to authority and the dogma that encourages. Science and skeptical rationalism discourage such arguments, and as such are naturally incompatible. Which is why they are so opposed to the NCSE’s perspective which promotes theological perspectives. Is this all that difficult of an argument to understand?

  6. #6 Michael Fugate
    September 28, 2009

    Josh,
    Evolution may seem benign to you, but read the paper I mentioned in Science 22 Feb 2008 entitled “Crossing the Divide”.

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    September 28, 2009

    Physicalist: Yeah, I need to drop one of those “in-”s. Certainly as a political/social matter, I think it’d be good to have a religious left to engage the religious right more effectively here in the US.

    To the broader question, I’ve described myself as an apathistic agnostic, that is, I don’t think the existence of god(s) is knowable and I don’t much care. So I’m firmly committed to not weighing in on the truth value of claims about god(s), since I believe such discussions lack any basis for evaluating claims. Absent any knowledge (or way of getting knowledge, AFAICT) about the truth of religious claims, all I really can do is observe that many religious people do find science compatible with their faith, and say that I much prefer those people to people who rule out evolution for religious reasons.

    There’s a limited sense in which the social construction/social process claim does apply both to science and religion, but the charge of relativism doesn’t apply to science, and may not apply to religion. Science is a social process, surely, and its social context does influence which questions people find interesting, which are deemed worthy of funding and tenure, standards for peer review, and so forth. But it is rooted in the principle of testing claims against our shared, intersubjective reality using agreed-upon methods. The social variables can push a bit, but that commitment to testing doesn’t let it drift, and causes scientific knowledge to tend always to get better, closer to that intersubjective reality.

    Religion is certainly social. I doubt any religion is identical to what it was 2000 years ago, or even to what it was a couple centuries ago. Whether that change is coordinated among religions, whether they are all moving toward some greater similarity to objective reality, is debatable. Much of religion is clearly subjective, whether it’s the feeling one gets from a religious text or sermon, or the revelatory feeling from meditation and prayer or a Quaker’s feel of being moved by the spirit. Maybe that accords to some supernatural level of reality, or maybe it’s the brain playing tricks on people.

    In either event, I think that our politics would be better if the US had a religious left that could balance out the religious right. I don’t know if either of them better matches some universal truth, but if so, I’d really prefer it to be the liberals. That’s not a religious preference so much as a political one, though.

    As to the epistemic question, I can only say “I don’t know, I can’t know, and I’m not sure it matters.” That’s my philosophical position and I’m sticking to it.

  8. #8 Josh Rosenau
    September 28, 2009

    Michael: I’ve seen that article and I agree that some people find it hard to break out of their background and accept evolution. Since the hard part often is the perception of a science/religion conflict, the key to being able to learn accurate science is often for a person to find a way to reconcile their religion with the science. Check out Glenn Morton’s description of how he went from an active creation scientist to one of the great defenders of evolution.

  9. #9 J.J.E.
    September 28, 2009

    Josh:

    Scientists and secular people (especially secular scientists) have a strong interest in protecting the integrity of rational thinking in general and the scientific method in particular.

    The problem with your repeated assertions concerning alliance with liberal religions that just happen to align with you on your pet interests (i.e. removing creationism from the classrooms and protecting evolution) is that in endorsing those perspectives almost always requires you (both personally and professionally) to endorse theologically based thinking that is inimical to rational and scientific thinking.

    I have reviewed NCSE’s site extensively, all the way back to the ’90s, and in publication after publication, program after program, partnership after partnership, NCSE and the people that work for NCSE (including you and Eugenie Scott and Peter Hess among others) consistently advance theological positions, full stop. This type of advocacy is a classic example of short term gains at the expense of consistency and long term sustainability.

    Faith based thinking and tacit approval of such is corrosive to rational thinking. The NCSE and its employees can now be pointed to as providing succor to particular liberal theological perspectives with all their theological arbitrariness that doesn’t differ logically or materially to the arbitrariness of less “acceptable” religious perspectives.

    Once you start allowing for a squishy definition of “truth” and to allow for a supernatural arbiter of that truth, you’ve already conceded that anything is possible. The fact that you pick and choose among all those possibilities for the most “acceptable” incarnations is beside the point. You legitimize the the entire theological enterprise by endorsing one subset of it.

    Your arguments are missing the point of Harris and Coyne. They most equivocally do not center their arguments on what “forms of religion are somehow more valid than others” (your words). They are merely pointing out that all religions suffer the same underlying corrosive properties. They also point out that literal-minded religions often fully admit and encourage their contradiction to science and/or reason and that liberal sects often deny it. But in no case are they arguing for or against any of the nearly infinite alternative perspectives that religion has.

    In sum, religious thinking encourages appeal to authority and the dogma that encourages. Science and skeptical rationalism discourage such arguments, and as such are naturally incompatible. Which is why they are so opposed to the NCSE’s perspective which promotes theological perspective. Is this all that difficult of an argument to understand?

    PS

    My comments, when they contain URLs, are consistently held forever in moderation. So I haven’t sourced anything I’ve said. If you want sourcing, my comments can’t be held in moderation indefinitely.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 28, 2009

    Josh -

    Just to be clear, the part of Padian’s statement to which I object is the part about only extreme atheists and extreme fundamentalists seeing a problem here. The part about what a majority of people think, assuming he actually said it, is at least defensible, though I am not convinced it is true. But when you assign one view to an extreme, and assign the other view to everyone else, I think it’s fair to think that you are saying a good deal more than fifty-one percent.

    Furthermore, it is just flat-out false to say that only extreme fundamentalists (as opposed to moderate fundamentalists?) and extreme atheists see a problem here. I think the polls make that clear (there are not enough of the extremes to account for the rates of evolution denial in the polls) and it is also clear from my own experiences (as I discussed in my post). There are plenty of people who have no use for Biblical literalism who still see a problem in reconciling human specialness and a loving God with what evolution tells us about natural history. Padian should know better that to try to sweep that under the rug.

    The problem with being benign and nonthreatening is that there is something dishonest about it. Among scientists evolution is a purely natural process that produced human beings just as surely as every other living creature. If God had any role in the process it was in setting up the initial conditions (or perhaps in intervening briefly to insert a soul in some ancient hominid) , and definitely did not occur in any way that is empirically detectable. If the only way we can get non-awful numbers is by downplaying the role of humans in the process, or by downplaying the fact that it is viewed as a purely natural process, then that is itself highly significant. In the recent Pew poll that you referred to we find that 22% of the people accept that evolution has occurred, but that God guided the process with the intent of producing human beings. Given the options in the poll, this was an explicit rejection of the idea that evolution was a purely natural process.

    I’m sorry, but those 22% don’t count as evolution supporters in my book. It would be like someone saying they believe that gravity is a real force but that it is the result of gremlins. That person has not fully understood what the theory of gravitation is all about.

    On other issues, I will cop to one error in my post. You are right that I did not give adequate attention to the issue of undecided/refused to answer in my post. That was careless of me. However, I have now checked those numbers in the Pew study, and they are so small (in nearly all cases in single digits) that they do not alter the conclusions I drew from the data.

    Your hair-splitting about whether Padian’s statement was an anti-atheist crack or an anti-certain-atheist crack is really pretty silly. That said, I will agree that Jerry Coyne needs to calm down a bit. Incivility has its place, and I think a good polemic can sometimes achieve things a more staid performance can not, but these little blog brou ha ha’s among people who agree on about ninety-five percent of everything in life are not one of those places. So I wish Coyne hadn’t called you a flea and a faitheist, especially since I generally agreed with the points he was making in those posts, and likewise for similar comments about Genie Scott.

    But you also should acknowledge the validity of the comment Russell Blackford left at my blog in response to one of your comments. Recall that this all got started when Jerry Coyne got hammered for writing a critical but very civil review of the books by Miller and Giberson. It was for this that Mooney and Kirshenbaum and apparently Genie as well went after him. It was hurting the cause, it would seem, just to express those views even when there was no issue of rudeness or polemicizing. I see nothing civil in that. Civility is a wonderful thing, but it has to be a two way street. Recently I have not seen very much of it coming our way.

    Okay, I’m done. For me it is time to move on to other things, so while I will check back here for any reply you care to leave, it is unlikely I will be commenting further. I see Andrew Sullivan has some more theodicy points up…

  11. #11 Michael Fugate
    September 28, 2009

    Perhaps, one of the reasons they see no conflict between science and their religion is they do not consider evolution to be science.

  12. #12 J.J.E.
    September 28, 2009

    The problem with Josh’s defense of Padian’s remarks is that in the end, the comparison is meaningless. While it may be true that science and religion are incompatible, if you get to that conclusion by rejecting science because you feel your dogma tells you to, you are wrong. Thus, the creationists are wrong.

    If you arrive at a conclusion of incompatibility by considering what exactly it is that science does and then note that religion explicitly violates this by accepting arguments from authority and dogmatic principles that are by their very nature taken to be incontrovertibly true, then you got there byj accepting science. So, Padian’s sophistic wisecrack was facile and poorly considered.

    And of course, it is precisely this type of lazy thinking that everyone is so annoyed by in NCSE. NCSE promotes theological reasoning and claims that statements of faith (i.e. dogmatic justifications of belief) are compatible with science. They are not by the axioms* of science.

    *This is an oversimplified way of putting it. But suffice it to say that science actively tries to maximize the exposure of its premises to critical evaluation. Religion actively shields many of its premises from critical evaluation.

  13. #13 Josh Rosenau
    September 28, 2009

    JJE: Sorry about the comment moderation, I’ll try to get your posts unclogged.

    “You legitimize the the entire theological enterprise by endorsing one subset of it.”

    This claim has never made sense to me. I’ve seen people argue it endlessly, but how does the page on our site which critiques “literal” readings of the bible in preference to a more literary approach legitimize Biblical literalism. It makes no sense to me.

    We also differ over the claim that “Faith based thinking and tacit approval of such is corrosive to rational thinking.” I think lots of atheists have their own sorts of faith, whether faith in science or faith in a favored baseball team or faith in political liberalism or faith in the goodness and perfectability of humanity (I plead guilty to versions of all of these!).

    I don’t think that’s inimical to evidence-based reasoning in scientific contexts.

    I think that the preference for fundamentalist forms of religion (as opponents, naturally) on the parts of Harris, et al., is evidenced by their claim that even moderate forms of religion, forms which oppose fundamentalism, actually justify it. Why don’t they say that fundamentalists (a smaller population by any measure) justify moderate belief? Why not think that strengthening the hand of moderates will weaken fundamentalism? In Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is exactly the approach being used successfully to weaken the Taliban.

    Jason: I take your points about the reference to “extreme.” I read Padian’s statement differently, and I think we’ll have to leave this as a matter of de gustibus non est disputandum. If you write to Padian, he may be able to clarify his meaning.

    “Given the options in the poll, this [the 21% who chose evolution guided by god] was an explicit rejection of the idea that evolution was a purely natural process.”

    Yeah, but first respondents had to answer whether they thought humans and other living things evolved over time. Only people who said “yes” were asked whether by only natural processes or if it was guided. And I’d note that guys like Simon Conway Morris, Francis Collins, and Ken Miller would probably choose that option. None are special creationists, none think science and religion are incompatible. Bill Dembski and other creationists would also choose that option, so 61% is probably inflated, but not enough to throw out the whole 22%.

    I appreciate your and Russell’s concern about the tone of the discussion. I responded to him privately given that my comment was getting lengthy and off-topic, but my goal in picking the fight with Jerry was to try to elevate the discussion. I don’t think anything I or Kevin did was as bad as what he’s done, but that’s hardly a defense. I’ll take this up with you in private email also.

  14. #14 J.J.E.
    September 28, 2009

    “This claim has never made sense to me. I’ve seen people argue it endlessly, but how does the page on our site which critiques “literal” readings of the bible in preference to a more literary approach legitimize Biblical literalism. It makes no sense to me.”

    I have made public 3 posts I wrote in July about this topic and my blogspot blog (I don’t really blog, but I registered that blog name). The comment moderation ate my references of those posts. But below is the URL that justifies my position in some detail. And I am not unequivocal about my disagreement. Like most evolutionary biologists, I have positive total sum respect for the NCSE. But I prefer to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater. Here is where I see the bathwater to be:

    hillcountrydilettante [dot] blogspot [dot] com

  15. #15 Sigmund
    September 29, 2009

    Josh, the reason that moderate religious views tacitly support fundamentalist views is through their acceptance of miracles.
    Jesus walked on water. He cured the sick and brought the dead to life. He turned water to wine and when he was dead and decomposing for several days he spontaneously regenerated and came back to life. A few weeks later he flew up to the sky.
    Not only is there no evidence for this but it goes against all the evidence we have accumulated over the centuries in the filed of chemistry, fluid dynamics, cell biology, apoptosis, necrosis, and aerospace dynamics.
    The moderate christian position is that this is all true because God can intervene at will and change any physical law at will to suit his purposes – hence ‘miracles’.
    If you are prepared to accept the last sentence (and people like Miller and Collins certainly do) then what is your logical argument against a 7 day creation or flood geology?
    Do you not see this problem?

  16. #16 Ricky
    September 29, 2009

    You can see from Coyne’s resentment and some of the comments that the “new atheist” fanatics are absolutely convinced that science fully supports all of their assumptions about nature, and that is dramatically not correct. This is the real problem that you face Josh, because a majority of scientists might agree with this, but you can be certain that this is a bogus denial of the ideological prejudices that accurately equates them to religious fundamentalists.

    The unsubstantiated religion of new atheists fanatics is “Copernicanism”.

    And let the denial begin… ;)

  17. #17 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    @Ricky

    Let’s try out your rhetorical technique which involves preemptively calling any rebuttal of the current critique as evidence of the current critique’s validity, shall we?

    “You can see from Ricky’s insipid and sophistic comment that he is both stupid and a liar. This is the real problem you face, new atheists, because a majority of trolls might disagree with this, but you can be certain that it is merely a bogus denial of the mental inadequacies that accurately equates them to imbecilic fabricators. Such behavior is obviously evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. And let the silence begin… ;)”

    Well, that was all warm and fuzzy, wasn’t it? Perhaps not productive, but hey, let’s not let that get in the way of declaring victory in an argument not engaged.

    You see Ricky, like the religious apologists, you have made un-supported claims that not only don’t stand up to scrutiny, they don’t merit serious response. Perhaps you would like to adduce a substantiated observation or two to your “argument” before you push the “Post” button next time?

  18. #18 TB
    September 29, 2009

    JJE
    This isn’t about advancing atheism, and science advocacy isn’t science. It’s politics. To not engage potentially pro-science education allies would be a dereliction of their duty. The NCSE explicitely states on their site they make no endorsement of religion. But you don’t have to endorse something to facillitate a conversation, especially if that conversation results in new supporters for your goal. That’s smart politics and it’s paid off with talented, religious people contributing to the defence of science education.
    And no, I’m not going to read your blog.

  19. #19 Sigmund
    September 29, 2009

    I don’t think I’ve seen any of the new atheists suggest that the NCSE should advocate atheism. All the comments I’ve seen from this on the accomodationist question have been along the line that the NCSE should remain neutral on this matter.
    Surely if its possible to get across the same message (evolution is factually true and is the unifying principle underlying biology) without suggesting one particular religion is better than another then isn’t this the best solution?
    Let me illustrate it in this way;
    Ken Miller was a wonderful asset at the Dover trial.
    I think both accomodationists and non-accomodationists agree on this one.
    However it was his scientific testimony that was valuable rather than his theological views.
    I love listening to Miller talk about evolution. I love listen to Collins talk about genomics. So long as they stick to these then I don’t have a single WTF moment.
    Is it really impossible to advocate evolution in the US without the backing of moderate catholic or protestant theology?
    If that IS the case then I will concede the point that there is political cause for the NCSE to act in this way.
    So, is it?

  20. #20 Russell
    September 29, 2009

    We also differ over the claim that “Faith based thinking and tacit approval of such is corrosive to rational thinking.” I think lots of atheists have their own sorts of faith, whether faith in science or faith in a favored baseball team or faith in political liberalism or faith in the goodness and perfectability of humanity (I plead guilty to versions of all of these!).

    I don’t think that’s inimical to evidence-based reasoning in scientific contexts.

    What counts as a scientific context? My suspicion is that that gets defined in a convenient manner, when people no longer care for the results (or their absence) that comes from the kind of reasoned thought that are expected in those contexts, and from which they are then relieved by saying they are operating outside that.

    The fact that some atheists practice a kind of non-religious faith is no more rebuttal of JJE’s statement than the fact that some scientists take homeopathic remedies is evidence that there is something to homeopathy. The argument isn’t that atheists or scientists are universally rational. The argument is that the core conflict is between reasoned thought and faith. And please, don’t confuse faith with political preference or devotion to a sports team. It takes no faith to root for a team. That allegiance turns to faith when one mistakes it for some kind of epistemological tool. And then, yes, it is a mistake, of the sort that bookies will take advantage, and of the sort that scientists should explain.

  21. #21 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    @TB

    I don’t run a blog for you to read and I have no interest in advertising it for any reason other than targeted communication. I registered a Blogger account in 2005, and I occasionally open it for extended responses or sharing larger items. In fact, the only 3 posts currently there are intended specifically for this discussion and when this discussion is stale, they will be hidden again.

    Personally, I don’t care if you don’t read it since you aren’t willing to participate in the discussion in good faith. If you ARE willing to discuss in good faith, on that site I document where NCSE explicitly endorses one particular flavor of liberal religion, completely making irrelevant your assertions to the contrary. If you don’t want to engage in debate on the issue, just say so and move on.

  22. #22 Ricky
    September 29, 2009

    Oh lookie… I’ve hit the very nerve to which I was referring, and the self lying troll is calling the kettle black. Dear JJE, please click on my name, briefly get an unbiased reality check for a change, and then come back here and lie some more, you ideologically righteous loser fanatic.

    Warm and fuzzy back@you punk… ;)

  23. #23 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    Heh. So non-arguments and ad hominens? I concede your rhetorical genius…

  24. #24 Ricky
    September 29, 2009

    Okay, I don’t want to disrupt Josh’s post anymore, but no, you moron, the factual information that proves what a poser troll you are was clearly indicated and is at your fingertips, you blatantly open ignorant little fanatic.

  25. #25 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    September 29, 2009

    > Europeans (and Canadians) have shifted away from organized
    > religion, but have taken on New Age beliefs, toxic
    > nationalisms, and other faiths.

    Any evidence for such astounding (for me, an European) asertions?

    Because what I see from here is quite different.

    New Age beliefs. I don’t see that they are more popular in Europe than in the US. Actually it seems the contrary to me. Most Europeans receive these weird beliefs with the typical: “If I don’t believe in my own religion, which is much older than yours, how am I going to believe yours?”

    Toxic nationalisms. Well, I think it’s evident that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachmann, Sara Palin, etc. are much more numerous and popular in the States. Oh, yes we have small groups in small regions that want to go the other way than everybody. In Spain we have some Catalan and Basques this way. But mainly most people follow the same direction: make a big entity from lots of smaller ones. Rather than divide more what’s already united like nationalists want.

    Other faiths. Well, yes there are more Muslims but that’s due to emigration. And most young Muslims don’t follow strictly their father’s religion. On the contrary with time they adopt European culture.

    Europeans in general leave faith but stay in the cultural religious thingy. For instance here in Spain most people baptize, marry and are buried with Church ceremonies. But, when the Catholic hierarchy call his troops to order, nobody, except a very tiny minority of extremists, listen.

    Europeans accept evolution more than USAmericans because we have less fundies here. And the little fundies we have are much less powerful. And for the same reason we don’t have so much so-called “atheist extremists”. Because there is no need. Because the only reason why so much US atheists ar “extremists” is because they are being bullied by the fundies.

    This is what acomodationists don’t understand. Even if it was true that the “extremists” atheists were the cause of the war against science in the US, the cause of the existence of “extremists” atheists are the fundies and their intolerance. So the primal cause is still religion.

  26. #26 IST
    September 29, 2009

    Rickey>
    That’s interesting, you’ve managed to combine a whole bunch of fallacies, even more attempts at insult, and some intellectual bullying into one large non-argument. Extra douche points for the O’Reilly-esque dismissal of other points of view without anything of substance to back that. Enough snark, would you care to actually discuss this?
    I did click on your name, and read your extension of the Anthropic principle into the surmise that because aspects of nature appear to be designed, we’re being close-minded in denying that possiblity. So if we have two available explanations, one natural and one supernatural, we’re to give each equal credit? See, what the rest of us call “factual information” has some basis in reality rather than simply wishful thinking.
    A point of information: The assertion that New Atheists subscribe to blind faith in assuming that there is no god of any kind is a complete strawman, but you’d have had to actually read Harris et. al. in order to recognise that. I’ll break the argument down for you, as you’ve either not seen it or grossly misinterpreted it: There is an infinitesimally small chance that there is some sort of designer who started the universe and stepped back. Seeing as there is no evidence to support this, including evidence that should be there if that were true, we can effectively treat religion as false. Religion being operationally false, it has no bearing on reality and needs not be addressed apart from in attempts to increase rational thought and discourage superstitious thinking.

  27. #27 TB
    September 29, 2009

    Sigmund: First, good post.

    “I don’t think I’ve seen any of the new atheists suggest that the NCSE should advocate atheism. All the comments I’ve seen from this on the accomodationist question have been along the line that the NCSE should remain neutral on this matter. ”

    I think that’s probably correct. Rightly or wrongly though, I’ve come to look at it from a political and, perhaps, cynical eye. On the surface an appeal to neutrality may seem reasonable. But I had to wonder why there seemed to be only two choices: Endorsing religion vs. not engaging with religion at all.

    It seems to me that what the NCSE is doing is facilitating without endorsing any religion. Yet, that’s being rejected and characterized as still endorsing one religion over another – in spite of the fact the NCSE and their members explicitly say otherwise.

    There may be other valid reasons for doing this, but I feel I have enough information to believe that it’s being done for a political purpose. I think NAs are working to claim the province of science for themselves exclusively – it would only confuse their message if religious people could be in compliance as well.
    
”Surely if its possible to get across the same message (evolution is factually true and is the unifying principle underlying biology) without suggesting one particular religion is better than another then isn’t this the best solution?”

    Sure, but I don’t believe that (“suggesting one particular religion is better than another”) is what is happening. “Better” is a pretty vague value judgement. More precisely, they’re pointing to examples of how religions could not be in conflict with science. That we feel this is better is a secondary but welcome condition.
    
”Let me illustrate it in this way;
Ken Miller was a wonderful asset at the Dover trial.
I think both accomodationists and non-accomodationists agree on this one.
However it was his scientific testimony that was valuable rather than his theological views.”

    Miller was cited in the Judge’s decision for his testimony on the philosophy of science, not just scientific testimony:

    “In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20
    (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).”

    There’s more, and I love reading all those transcripts, but I don’t want this reply to get any larger than it is.
    
”I love listening to Miller talk about evolution. I love listen to Collins talk about genomics. So long as they stick to these then I don’t have a single WTF moment.”
    In a way, it’s not really unexpected that Coyne would do a WTF review of Miller’s book. I’m sure the editors who assigned the review expected and hoped for that controversy. That doesn’t let anyone off the hook, of course, since Coyne did the review and Miller replied. It probably would have been better if no one took that original bait but hindsight is 20/20.
    
”Is it really impossible to advocate evolution in the US without the backing of moderate catholic or protestant theology?
If that IS the case then I will concede the point that there is political cause for the NCSE to act in this way.”

    Well, why would the standard have to be “impossible” if all we’re talking about is the idea of advocating in the political/social sphere? Atheists and agnostics advocate now for evolution, so I don’t accept that standard.

    Let me turn that question around: If their personal beliefs about the supernatural do not conflict in any meaningful way with science, then what good reason do we have to not encourage and enlist religious people to advocate for good science education?

    Consider it this way: It’s not a violation of the establishment clause to allow religious institutions the opportunity to hook up to the public water infrastructure. Nor is it a violation when they provide information in the form of zoning and building codes on how to hook up successfully.

    And while this is controversial in some quarters, another example would be providing people fluent in different languages to help others use government services. There’s no specific endorsement that a language other than english should be the official language of this country, nor are they changing the basic test, other than through translation, so that it has different standards and road rules than the regular test. Rather it’s done simply to facilitate the normal operations of government.

    In that last case, not having a translator actually creates an impediment to equal access. So, as I said, one reason not to encourage and enlist religious people (and I freely admit this is just my personal analysis) is that the omission would actually serve to advance the political interests of some atheists: Evolution is true, only atheism is most consistent with this truth and one reason for that is because we don’t need any assistance to be consistent. And since we don’t need that assistance, no group we are a part of should provide assistance to those who might need it.

  28. #28 Tulse
    September 29, 2009

    It seems to me that what the NCSE is doing is facilitating without endorsing any religion. Yet, that’s being rejected and characterized as still endorsing one religion over another – in spite of the fact the NCSE and their members explicitly say otherwise.

    But this is clearly not factual. “One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views.”. In other words, the NCSE is promoting “moderate religious views” against those of the creationists. That, it seems to me, meets any reasonable criteria for “endorsing one religion over another”.

  29. #29 scripto
    September 29, 2009

    Sigmund @ 18
    “Is it really impossible to advocate evolution in the US without the backing of moderate catholic or protestant theology?”

    Pretty much. That would be most of the voters. The creationists have framed the argument that you can’t be a Christian and subscribe to evolutionary theory and they have successfully tied science to atheism. To leave this unanswered is a bad idea and who best to do it than the NCSE? Saying that some scientists are religious and some religions don’t have a problem with evolution is simply stating a fact. There’s a good reason the producers of Expelled didn’t interview Miller or Collins. If it’s taking sides in an evidence-free theological dispute. So what?

    I don’t see how you can effectively lobby for science education without engaging in the messy business of politics. I live a couple of ridges west of the Dover District and if Matzke (my hero) and the rest of the NCSE hadn’t had their shit together there would be Dovers springing up all over the place. Let me put it another way:

    “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”

  30. #30 Sigmund
    September 29, 2009

    “Let me turn that question around: If their personal beliefs about the supernatural do not conflict in any meaningful way with science, then what good reason do we have to not encourage and enlist religious people to advocate for good science education?”
    I’ve already pointed out that I greatly enjoy hearing Miller and Collins talk about science. There may be some tiny percentage of atheists that think its impossible to be a scientist and religious but the vast majority of atheist scientists know it is certainly possible. I don’t think people like Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers would have the slightest problem with a scientist who happened to be religious – so long as they didn’t seek to claim science supported their supernatural beliefs – or that their supernatural beliefs were necessary to explain parts of the natural world (for instance, the specific intervention of a deity being necessary for the development of human consciousness or altruism).

  31. #31 J. J. Ramsey
    September 29, 2009

    Tulse: “In other words, the NCSE is promoting ‘moderate religious views’ against those of the creationists. That, it seems to me, meets any reasonable criteria for ‘endorsing one religion over another’.”

    There are plenty of people who would rather that teens not have sex, yet still advocate that if they do have sex, they should practice safe sex. As an atheist, I’d rather that people not be religious, but if they are going to be religious, I’d rather that they’d be encouraged to practice safer religions, e.g., ones that don’t encourage the miseducation of children.

  32. #32 Tulse
    September 29, 2009

    As an atheist, I’d rather that people not be religious, but if they are going to be religious, I’d rather that they’d be encouraged to practice safer religions

    Fine, but my comment was in response to the claim that the NCSE doesn’t do that, which is clearly false.

  33. #33 Sigmund
    September 29, 2009

    scripto said: “Saying that some scientists are religious and some religions don’t have a problem with evolution is simply stating a fact.”
    Exactly. And thats why this sort of statement would be fine for the NCSE to use.
    Nobody objects to them stating facts like these.
    The objection comes when they make claims such as ‘religion and science are compatible’ when many scientists feel that religion is clearly not epistemically compatible with science.

  34. #34 TB
    September 29, 2009

    Tulse, they are not “endorsing one religion over another.” There are Roman Catholics who have no problem with evolution and there are Roman Catholics who do. So to endorse the Roman Catholic religion would also endorse the anti-evolution stance as well.

    Here’s what they do. From the NCSE FAQ: “WHAT IS NCSE’S RELIGIOUS POSITION?
    None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    They endorse the “conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    And besides, the criticism wasn’t that they were favoring one religion over another, it was that by even discussing the possibility of religious compatibility that they are inadvertently endorsing religion in general. My analogy of the government translator addresses that.

  35. #35 Josh Rosenau
    September 29, 2009

    Sigmund: You write: The objection comes when they make claims such as ‘religion and science are compatible’ when many scientists feel that religion is clearly not epistemically compatible with science.”

    And yet: “Your search – “religion and science are compatible” site:ncseweb.org – did not match any documents.”

    A search for “science and religion are compatible” only turns up a court deposition, in which Ken Miller is asked “Well how then do you see science and religion being compatible,” and he gives a long answer concluding: “So that’s the short answer, which is I adhere to a church that has a long tradition of teaching that science and religion are compatible.”

  36. #36 TB
    September 29, 2009

    Sigmund

    Would you point out where they say “religion and science are compatible” for me?

    I’m not necessarily doubting you, but I can only find areas where they say that it “can” be, such as: “Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.” http://ncseweb.org/religion/god-evolution

    Also (Sigmund) “I don’t think people like Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers would have the slightest problem with a scientist who happened to be religious – so long as they didn’t seek to claim science supported their supernatural beliefs – or that their supernatural beliefs were necessary to explain parts of the natural world (for instance, the specific intervention of a deity being necessary for the development of human consciousness or altruism).”

    Actually, PZ endorsied Harris’ view that the moderate religious – scientists or no – enable fundamentalism. This is pretty emotional and he may have moderated his stance since. I don’t know, since this is the moment I stopped reading pharyngula: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/05/modern_day_isaacs.php

    “I have to say something that is heartfelt, and is also meant to offend. I do not absolve you mealy-mouthed moderates, I do not regard your beliefs as harmless. If Colleen Hauser or Leilani Neumann were in your church, you’d tell them to get medical care, but you’d also validate their belief in prayers. You would provide the soothing background muzak that says prayer is good, prayer is virtuous, prayer will connect you to the great lord who can do anything, prayer will give you solace in your time of worry. You would not raise your voice to say that prayer is useless, prayer is self-defeating, that while prayer might make you feel better while your child is suffering, that is no virtue. You pray yourselves. You think it is a noble and generous act for your representatives to prowl the corridors of hospitals, preying on the desperation of the sick. You abase yourselves before false hopes, and sacrifice human dignity on an altar built from the bones of the dead. You would spread the poison, piously excusing yourselves because you only want to administer sub-lethal doses.
    You are Abraham’s enablers. I hope you all feel a small tremor of guilt when you sit your own children down at bedtime to beg a nonexistent being for aid, when you plant the seed of futile supplication and surrender to delusions in their trusting minds. Damn you all.”

  37. #37 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    @TB & Josh

    Neither of you have responded to me regarding the endorsement of theology that NCSE provides. TB, because he/she presumably wants to make some sort of statement by “defiantly” reufusing reading what I have to say on the topic and Josh presumably because he’s too busy replying to other people on the thread. But my assertions are well-documented and would support Sigmund if only either of you had taken the time to read them.

    Josh, here’s the first thing I could find, immediately on NCSE’s site:

    However, we find no incompatibility between the God of creation and a theory of evolution which uses universally verifiable data to explain the probable process by which life developed into its present form.

    That comes from an NCSE publication called “Voices for Evolution”. People have the option of paying for a hard copy of it, some of which NCSE presumably gets as royalties.

    And this:

    That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other’s assumptions and world views.

    Or this:

    Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can I accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and yet also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Certainly.

    But that’s only the beginning. Not only does NCSE actively push the compatibility in their literature, they actively and ubiquitously endorse many theological positions that are intercalated with positive things to say about compatibility.

    One last example from a book review:

    Articulated within a thoroughly orthodox Christian theology, [the author's] views are critical for demonstrating that, far from undermining traditional doctrines, an evolutionary perspective can give them renewed relevance.

    The examples are legion, and I have only published a handful of the examples here and only a few more elsewhere. It really is quite clear that NCSE is not only advocating compatibility (that is obvious) but it is also flirting with theology.

  38. #38 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    @TB & Josh

    Neither of you have responded to me regarding the endorsement of theology that NCSE provides. TB, because he/she presumably wants to make some sort of statement by “defiantly” reufusing reading what I have to say on the topic and Josh presumably because he’s too busy replying to other people on the thread. But my assertions are well-documented and would support Sigmund if only either of you had taken the time to read them.

    Josh, here’s the ( http://ncseweb.org/media/voices/lexington-alliance-religious-leaders )first thing I could find, immediately on NCSE’s site:

    However, we find no incompatibility between the God of creation and a theory of evolution which uses universally verifiable data to explain the probable process by which life developed into its present form.

    That comes from an NCSE publication called “Voices for Evolution”. People have the option of paying for a hard copy of it, some of which NCSE presumably gets as royalties.

    And ( http://ncseweb.org/rncse/22/1-2/why-ncse-should-be-involved-science-religion-dialog )this:

    That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other’s assumptions and world views.

    Or ( http://ncseweb.org/religion/god-evolution )this:

    Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can I accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and yet also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Certainly.

    But that’s only the beginning. Not only does NCSE actively push the compatibility in their literature, they actively and ubiquitously endorse many theological positions that are intercalated with positive things to say about compatibility.

    One last example from a book review:

    Articulated within a thoroughly orthodox Christian theology, [the author's] views are critical for demonstrating that, far from undermining traditional doctrines, an evolutionary perspective can give them renewed relevance.

    The examples are legion, and I have only published a handful of the examples here and only a few more elsewhere. It really is quite clear that NCSE is not only advocating compatibility (that is obvious) but it is also flirting with theology.

  39. #39 Dave W.
    September 29, 2009

    TB wrote:

    Would you point out where they say “religion and science are compatible” for me?

    Actually, the page you linked to clearly states, “Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism,” which makes a clearly religious statement and two statements of fact, respectively. Not “can be,” but “is.” Peter Hess painted with the broadest brush possible, and wound up advocating a religious position on behalf of the NCSE.

    Joshua Rosenau wrote:

    Why not think that strengthening the hand of moderates will weaken fundamentalism? In Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is exactly the approach being used successfully to weaken the Taliban.

    Analogy fail. Faith is generally seen as a virtue. Violence is not. Creationists aren’t faulted by scientists for being violent, they are blamed for giving a higher priority to faith than to science, just like a lot of moderate theists do (Ken Miller once suggested that if the choice were forced on him, he would choose his faith over science, too).

    So, when faith is praised as reasonable, the fundamentalists benefit, since faith is all they’ve got. And they work hard to try to give that impression to everyone, by claiming (without qualification) that Einstein believed in God (for just one example).

  40. #40 J.J.E.
    September 29, 2009

    @TB & Josh

    (Note, I have no idea why I can’t insert links. Furthermore, Josh seems not to update his moderation queue or respond to personal e-mail. Both understandable given how busy everyone is, but frustrating all the same. Anyway, links that I used to have are enclosed in square brackets.)

    Neither of you have responded to me regarding the endorsement of theology that NCSE provides. TB, because he/she presumably wants to make some sort of statement by “defiantly” refusing to read what I have to say on the topic and Josh presumably because he’s too busy replying to other people on the thread. But my assertions are well-documented and would support Sigmund if only either of you had taken the time to read them.

    Josh, here’s the [first thing] I could find, immediately on NCSE’s site:

    However, we find no incompatibility between the God of creation and a theory of evolution which uses universally verifiable data to explain the probable process by which life developed into its present form.

    That comes from an NCSE publication called “Voices for Evolution”. People have the option of paying for a hard copy of it, some of which NCSE presumably gets as royalties.

    And [this]:

    That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other’s assumptions and world views.

    Or [this]:

    Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can I accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and yet also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Certainly.

    But that’s only the beginning. Not only does NCSE actively push the compatibility in their literature, they actively and ubiquitously endorse many theological positions that are intercalated with positive things to say about compatibility.

    One last example from a book review:

    Articulated within a thoroughly orthodox Christian theology, [the author's] views are critical for demonstrating that, far from undermining traditional doctrines, an evolutionary perspective can give them renewed relevance.

    The examples are legion, and I have only published a handful of the examples here and only a few more elsewhere. It really is quite clear that NCSE is not only advocating compatibility (that is obvious) but it is also flirting with theology.

  41. #41 Josh Rosenau
    September 29, 2009

    J.J.E.: I replied in private email, but I’ll post a summary here. For what it’s worth, I do sometimes step away from the computer, and I wouldn’t assume that someone won’t reply to an email just because they haven’t replied in three hours. That strikes me as an unfair standard.

    As to the quotes:

    Voices for Evolution is a publication which lists statements by groups supporting the teaching of evolution. For NCSE to reject a statement from a religious group only because it endorsed science/religion compatibility would, of course, constitute our taking a position against that view, which I understood you not to be proposing. In addition to various theistic groups, Voices contains statements from the American Humanist Association, Freedom from Religion Foundation, African Americans for Humanism, Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, Humanist Association of Canada, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU, so I see no basis for a charge that that book constitutes a religious endorsement by NCSE. Citing one statement from it as evidence of NCSE’s position on anything is simply bogus, and it seems to me it reflects a lack of knowledge about what Voices is and what NCSE does. If your favorite group isn’t represented, get them to issue a statement and it’ll be included in the next edition (and on the website sooner).

    I see nothing in the quote that endorses particular religious views, or religion per se. It explains what a former NCSE staffer did, which is outreach to the theological and religious communities, communities where evolution-supporters can sometimes benefit from a bit of help. You quote no grand theological, religious, or philosophical agenda, and I don’t know that staffer so I cannot comment on her personal views. The quotation you used acknowledges that science/religion incompatibilities can exist, which seems to undermine the claim that she’s endorsing compatibility. The whole piece is worth reading and thinking about, but quoting it out of context and mis-stating its content isn’t a helpful start.

    Alas, I do not see the third quotation on the page cited. The quote you offer strikes me as uncontroversial, in that lots of people do accept the evidence for evolution and believe in God, but it doesn’t occur on that page, so it hardly matters. What does occur on the page is a statement that “religious claims that are empirically testable can come into conflict with scientific theories,” which again strikes against the claim that the essay (let alone NCSE) endorses compatibility wholeheartedly.

    Finally, a book review is the personal opinion of the author, not an official position statement by NCSE. The guidelines for submitting an article to RNCSE (http://ncseweb.org/media/authors-information) make no reference to religious views or editing to revise an author’s stated views. This is barely worth dignifying.

    As I see it, your “legion” of examples says nothing about official NCSE policy. Contextless quotations, erroneous quotations, and quotations from personal opinion pieces not even authored by NCSE staff do not constitute official policy. What does constitute official policy is: http://ncseweb.org/about/faq

    “What is NCSE’s religious position? None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    Updated 3:07 AM to remove my own gratuitous snark.

  42. #42 Josh Rosenau
    September 30, 2009

    Dave W.: What analogy? The question on the table was whether moderates legitimize fundamentalists, or whether they compete with them and can crowd them out. The Taliban are fundamentalists and creationists are fundamentalists. Both are relevant examples for a discussion of fundamentalism. Reading comprehension fail?

    As for the quotation you offer, I think you need to put that quote in context. I see it offered up all the time, and I think it’s acquiring the status of a quotemine. In context, as quotes ought to be considered for honesty’s sake, it’s clear that Peter is saying that the theory of evolution does not take a position on the existence or nature of god(s). This is true. Not true as theology, but true as a scientific matter. I’ve studied evolution, I’ve read evolutionary biology journals, I’ve talked with evolutionary biologists, and never is evolution defined in terms of a test of God’s existence. It’s a theory about the reasons behind the diversity of life on earth, and it’s particular pattern of relatedness. Peter’s not making grand metaphysical claims, not evaluating the content of any particular theistic belief or of theistic belief in general. He’s not saying that religion and science are epistemically compatible, certainly. To say it’s “a religious statement” is false and misleading on its face, and to say he’s “painting with the broadest brush possible” is, well, another reading comprehension fail.

  43. #43 J.J.E.
    September 30, 2009

    I’ll leave it to Josh if he wants to elaborate more fully on my position. It is his blog after all. The message I sent to him was rather long, and he’d be well within his rights to say it is simply to long to expound on. However, in defense of my self, I’ll post the following which was part of that message:

    Josh sez:

    For what it’s worth, I do sometimes step away from the computer, and I wouldn’t assume that someone won’t reply to an email just because they haven’t replied in three hours. That strikes me as an unfair standard.

    That’s alright. I have been known to engage in such activities as well. Which was why when I finally did post another version to your blog, I preemptively indicated I didn’t fault you. You’re the dude running the blog and doing the work, so I don’t fault you at all. There is no need to try to shame me with being too focused on this when I already preempted that before you wrote it.

    As I see it, your “legion” of examples says nothing about official NCSE policy. Contextless quotations, erroneous quotations, and quotations from personal opinion pieces not even authored by NCSE staff do not constitute official policy. What does constitute official policy is.

    This is completely unfair and pointing me to the FAQ patronizing. I spent the better part of a month combing the entire NCSE web archive back in June, including every issue of the RNCSE that is online. Don’t link me to the freaking FAQ.

    I tried many times to include context by linking both to my blog and to the NCSE. (Your reader TB even categorically refused to read anything on my blog.) My attempts at hyperlinking failed due to no fault of mine. And my messages and posts were already bordering on ungainly. Would you have me quote MORE and completely take over the comments? And did you even read my blog posts? You must concede this point. My discussion on this issue is full of context and is argued cogently and in detail. You are free to disagree with the conclusions, but you can’t accuse me of AVOIDING context. Your blog filtered out the context, true, but the personal e-mail I sent filled it right back in.

    Furthermore, you have failed to document any error of quotation whatsoever. To assert otherwise is offensive, especially when you do not state WHAT was in error. I suspect you are just getting into a rhetorical groove at the end of your response and could help but slip in a few verbal uppercuts, but seriously drop it. I provided URLs for everything and made a 3 post extended discussion on my blog. My time is just as valuable as yours is. Please don’t waste it with such distractions.

  44. #44 J.J.E.
    September 30, 2009

    @J.J.E.

    Blockquote fail…

    That double blockquote at the end shouldn’t be blockquoted at all.

  45. #45 Anton Mates
    September 30, 2009

    To throw my two cents in on Tulse’s example, since I think it goes to the heart of things:

    “One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views.”. In other words, the NCSE is promoting “moderate religious views” against those of the creationists. That, it seems to me, meets any reasonable criteria for “endorsing one religion over another”.

    But it seems to me that it fails the most reasonable criterion for endorsement: namely, “Does this passage say that one religion is better, or more likely to be true, than another?”

    Simply promoting awareness of a religion doesn’t do that; it’s compatible with any possible judgment of that religion’s worth and accuracy. In fact, individuals and organizations regularly promote awareness of religions they’re attacking; look at moderate believers and nonbelievers who blog on the behavior of fundamentalists, for instance.

    In my (non-official, non-binding, yadda yadda) view, the NCSE isn’t saying, “Religious positions X, Y and Z are compatible with evolution, so they’re awesome! Go convert to them!” It’s saying, “Religious positions X, Y and Z are compatible with evolution, so if you already hold one of those positions, you ought to reconsider your opposition to evolution.” The former would be an endorsement of a religion; the latter is not.

    By analogy, let’s say you’re trying to convince someone about global warming, and they say, “Sorry, I’m a Republican, I don’t believe anything Al Gore says.” You reply, “Actually, lots of Republicans have already accepted AGW. Here are some names; why not look at what they say on the issue?” Have you endorsed the Republican party by doing this? I don’t think you have.

  46. #46 Sigmund
    September 30, 2009

    Josh, I didn’t use quotemarks because I was paraphrasing publicly made remarks of senior members of the NCSE rather than stating the official policy of your organization.
    I know that the ‘official’ position is one of neutrality but I think a more accurate description of the actions of your organization is philosophical neutrality but methodological support of theistic evolution.
    Your blog doesn’t seem to do easy links within posts but your sparring partner Jerry Coyne did a fairly good job at pointing out the implicit endorsement of religion in his April 22nd post this year – linked to my signature.

  47. #47 TB
    September 30, 2009

    JJE:
    “@TB & Josh
    Neither of you have responded to me regarding the endorsement of theology that NCSE provides. TB, because he/she presumably wants to make some sort of statement by “defiantly” reufusing reading what I have to say on the topic”

    Well, no, I’m ignoring you because you’ve presented yourself as a pompous know-it-all with blinders on. Just my opinion of course …

  48. #48 Dave W.
    September 30, 2009

    Joshua Rosenau wrote:

    Dave W.: What analogy? The question on the table was whether moderates legitimize fundamentalists, or whether they compete with them and can crowd them out. The Taliban are fundamentalists and creationists are fundamentalists. Both are relevant examples for a discussion of fundamentalism.

    You’re kidding, right? Your argument was that the situation in Afganistan was analogous to the situation in America, in that the same tactics should work here as are working over there. After lecturing your readers on analogies, you don’t see that as an analogy?

    Reading comprehension fail?

    Thank you, again, for keeping the discussion at the highest levels of decorum, Mr. Rosenau. With that, I’ll take my leave of this blog.

  49. #49 TB
    September 30, 2009

    I endorse Anton Mates’ reply to Tulse and Josh’s reply to Dave W., but that endorsement should not be understood as an endorsement of Anton or Josh.

  50. #50 TB
    September 30, 2009

    Sigmund

    Oh, you “paraphrased.” Uh huh.

    I read Coyne’s article when it first came out but I looked at it again.

    As before, I found that Coyne failed to quote anything on the NCSE site that says the NCSE thinks religion “is” compatible with science. Those passages quoted either say it “can” be based on other sources or they point to other sources who say it is or can be. No endorsement.

    But why would he do this? I think Coyne twists the NCSE’s stance because he agrees with other stated New Atheists’ goals that science must destroy religion and any remaining religious beliefs be cowed on the fringes of polite society.

    That’s not the goal of the NCSE, but the NCSE’s goal of promoting science education including the religious gets in the way of New Atheists. It’s why this whole neutrality and endorsement argument is nothing but political theater.

    There’s not a problem with how the NCSE is defending science education, but it is indirectly in conflict with the NAs’ goal of isolating religion from science so science can be used as a cudgel against religion. The more religion is in harmony with science, the less effective that cudgel is. So, the New Atheists attack the NCSE in an attempt to neutralize or purge dissident elements in the pro-science party.

    It’s implicit in their actions and words! (And Sigmund, thanks for your addition of the condition “implicit” in whether NCSE endorses religion! You just moved the goal posts because you couldn’t find actual quotations. But now I can make accusations without any evidence too!)

  51. #51 TB
    September 30, 2009

    “including the religious” should read “including to the religious.” editing fail!

  52. #52 Tulse
    September 30, 2009

    But it seems to me that it fails the most reasonable criterion for endorsement: namely, “Does this passage say that one religion is better, or more likely to be true, than another?”

    Simply promoting awareness of a religion doesn’t do that; it’s compatible with any possible judgment of that religion’s worth and accuracy. In fact, individuals and organizations regularly promote awareness of religions they’re attacking; look at moderate believers and nonbelievers who blog on the behavior of fundamentalists, for instance.

    C’mon, Anton — I think you’re being rather disingenuous here. If a public school website said “One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views”, that would almost certainly be successfully challenged on establishment grounds, as it clearly suggests that the organization prefers the “more moderate religious views” to those of the “creationists and antireligious atheists”. To suggest that it doesn’t favour that position seems to me to be playing games with words.

    Indeed, I think using constitutional criteria, and the legal precedents established in examining that notion, is a pretty good heuristic for judging whether the NCSE is indeed “endorsing” a particular religious approach. And I think it is almost certain that, using those criteria, if the NCSE were actually a government agency, it would be in serious trouble on this score.

    All that atheists are asking is the that the NCSE not take a position. We’re not asking that it say that science is inherently atheistic — we just don’t want it to push a preferred theological position.

  53. #53 TB
    September 30, 2009

    Tulse: “…I think using constitutional criteria, and the legal precedents established in examining that notion, is a pretty good heuristic for judging whether the NCSE is indeed “endorsing” a particular religious approach. And I think it is almost certain that, using those criteria, if the NCSE were actually a government agency, it would be in serious trouble on this score.”

    Your example leaves out purpose and motivation, and the fact that the NCSE is not a government agency. It is an advocacy organization, biased in favor of good science education. No other advocacy group is saddled with such a standard, why should the NCSE be?

    And the last time good science education had to be embroiled with government under the constitution, the NCSE worked with people holding a wide range of beliefs but with common cause: to defend the teaching of evolution against people trying to impose their religious beliefs in the public schools.
    They worked with Jews and Catholics to win that case in Dover.

    Tulse: “All that atheists are asking is the that the NCSE not take a position. We’re not asking that it say that science is inherently atheistic — we just don’t want it to push a preferred theological position.”

    Crap. It’s the same old argument that’s been answered time and again. The only purpose your so-called neutral stance would serve is to advance the political interests of some atheists. It does nothing to advance the goals of the NCSE, or science education.

    The NCSE is an advocacy organization. Science advocacy isn’t science and neither is it government. It’s politics. To not engage potentially pro-science education allies would be a dereliction of their duty. The NCSE explicitly states on their site they make no endorsement of religion. But you don’t have to endorse something to facilitate a conversation, especially if that conversation results in new supporters for your goal.

  54. #54 Tulse
    September 30, 2009

    Your example leaves out purpose and motivation, and the fact that the NCSE is not a government agency. It is an advocacy organization, biased in favor of good science education. No other advocacy group is saddled with such a standard, why should the NCSE be?

    You’ve missed my point — Anton said that the NCSE doesn’t endorse any particular religious stance, and I was just pointing out that, by a reasonably well-established standard, it does. You can argue that such bias toward a particular theological position is useful, or appropriate, or prudent politics, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that the NCSE doesn’t endorse a particular theological position.

    The NCSE explicitly states on their site they make no endorsement of religion.

    Yes they say that, but they also make it extremely clear that they do have a preferred theology. As you admit, their position is not neutral.

    Look, I think people of good intentions can certainly disagree about whether the NCSE should take the theological position it does, and what the ramifications might be for either approach. I think a “conversation” about such can be useful and enlightening. But I think it is seriously disingenuous (as I suggested to Anton) to say that the NCSE doesn’t take a theological position. That was my only point in the post you reference.

  55. #55 TB
    September 30, 2009

    Tulse

    I didn’t miss your point and the standard you’re trying to impose is not reasonable for an advocacy group.

    And now you’re moving the goal posts. Endorsing a particular theological position is not the same thing as endorsing a particular religion or even endorsing religion.
    We can endorse a particular theological position (though shalt not steal for instance) and not endorse religion. We can also come to the conclusion that one should not steal from a completely humanistic point of view, absent of religion, and yet still appreciate that we wind up with the same result (not stealing) as someone who came to that view through religious means. Recognizing that common result is not the same thing as being converted to religion.

    “Yes they say that, but they also make it extremely clear that they do have a preferred theology. As you admit, their position is not neutral.”

    They have a preferred stance in terms of science and education and they welcome those that share that stance as allies. If you ask the question in the right way you’ll find that even Dawkins has theological preferences. You’re trying to redefine what’s being debated but you’ve gotten to the point where your terms are too vague.

    “But I think it is seriously disingenuous (as I suggested to Anton) to say that the NCSE doesn’t take a theological position. That was my only point in the post you reference.”

    Now instead of endorsing religion it’s “take a theological position.” What does that even mean? Atheists endorse a theological position (there is no god). Agnostics endorse a theological position (we can’t know if there is a god or not). The NCSE opposes the theological position that says creation science must be taught as fact alongside evolution in public schools.

    The criticism against the NCSE is that they’re endorsing religion (they’re not) not that they’re taking a theological position. You’ve practically rephrased yourself out of the debate!

  56. #56 Anton Mates
    September 30, 2009

    Tulse,

    If a public school website said “One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views”, that would almost certainly be successfully challenged on establishment grounds, as it clearly suggests that the organization prefers the “more moderate religious views” to those of the “creationists and antireligious atheists”.

    I think that analogy’s a little strained, because a public school website generally isn’t intended as an educational resource for the general public at all; “legitimate secular purpose” would be harder to demonstrate.

    Instead, why not consider a public school’s having a class which discusses “moderate religious views”, or some other particular subset of religious views? That, I think, would be entirely acceptable constitutionally speaking. The courts and the Dept. of Education have always been clear that you can teach about religion as long as you’re not teaching religion, and moreover that you can teach about certain religions and not others in a particular class, provided there’s a legitimate secular educational purpose in doing so.

    Public schools, at least in liberal areas, have such classes all the time; at my high school there was a class on Buddhism, and a class on the Bible as literature, among other things. Both of these classes discussed particular religious positions, with the explicit rationale that students probably didn’t know much about them and would have a better grasp of certain cultures and aspects of society if they knew more. I don’t remember any concerns at all that they represented religious favoritism.

    Likewise, there are a number of government initiatives in place to educate the public about religious diversity. A bit of Googling turned up, for instance, a State Department program where foreign students were “observing Muslims praying alongside Christians in the Capitol Meditation Room in Indianapolis” and “witnessed the genuine nature of religious tolerance and respect in America.” Does that endorse ecumenical forms of Islam and Christianity over non-ecumenical ones?

    In fact, US government websites contain passages rather similar to the NCSE one. The State Department website’s “Introduction to the US System” includes this article by Diana Eck, which says:

    “We are surprised to find there are more Muslim Americans than Episcopalians, more Muslims than members of the Presbyterian Church USA, and as many Muslims as there are Jews — that is, about 6 million. We are astonished to learn that Los Angeles is the most complex Buddhist city in the world, with a Buddhist population spanning the whole range of the Asian Buddhist world from Sri Lanka to Korea, along with a multitude of native-born American Buddhists. Nationwide, this whole spectrum of Buddhists may number about 4 million….We are well aware of Latino immigration from Mexico and Central America and of the large Spanish-speaking population of our cities, and yet we may not recognize what a profound impact this is having on American Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, from hymnody to festivals.”

    Does that endorse Islam and Buddhism and Latino Christian churches over Episcopalianism and Judaism? I don’t think so.

    And, again, I simply don’t agree that informing the public of “more moderate religious views” on evolution implies a preference for them. I gave the analogy of informing people about Republican support for an issue, in order to demonstrate that it’s bipartisan rather than Democrat-only; do you disagree with my take on that?

    Indeed, I think using constitutional criteria, and the legal precedents established in examining that notion, is a pretty good heuristic for judging whether the NCSE is indeed “endorsing” a particular religious approach. And I think it is almost certain that, using those criteria, if the NCSE were actually a government agency, it would be in serious trouble on this score.

    Given the above evidence that government agencies are actually doing comparable things, I suspect you’re wrong on this. Beyond that, I really don’t think the NCSE (or any private organization) and the federal government should be judged on identical criteria for religious neutrality. Among other things, the government is much bigger and much more powerful than any one private organization, and runs off the tax dollars of every citizen–it’s much much easier for it to end up significantly favoring a particular religion, even inadvertently.

    So the government really needs to be judged on stricter criteria for religious neutrality than everyone else, IMO. (But again, I think that the NCSE is upholding religious neutrality, and I know that the board and staff of the NCSE believe that it is. Call us crazy, stupid, or blinded by wishful thinking, but we’re not trying to pull one over on you here!)

    All that atheists are asking is the that the NCSE not take a position.

    This is a side issue, but respectfully, I’d revise that to “All that we” are asking. The NCSE’s board and staff include quite a few atheists, including Eugenie, Padian and (formerly) myself. Our membership includes a whole lot more, and to my knowledge, the NCSE hasn’t received many complaints from its members about the way it’s approaching this issue. So some atheists are clearly satisfied that the NCSE isn’t taking a position.

  57. #57 Sigmund
    October 1, 2009

    TB,
    Reasonable points.
    Assertions are all very well but we must never be afraid of being asked for evidence. Indeed I hadn’t found direct quotes from senior members of the NCSE saying that science and religion are compatible at the time and you are quite correct in asking to see them.
    “Would you point out where they say “religion and science are compatible” for me?”

    On their own Youtube channel the NCSE has a video of Eugene Scott directly answering the question of whether science and religion are compatible.
    Her answer is “its obvious that it is”.
    (The full sentence – so I wont get accused of quote-mining – is:
    “Well, I don’t have to address that as a philosophical question, I can address that as an empirical question- its obvious that it is, because there are many people who are scientists who are also people of faith.”
    You can watch the video to see her reasoning.
    The Executive Director of the NCSE directly states that it is obvious that science and religion are compatible.

  58. #58 Tulse
    October 1, 2009

    now you’re moving the goal posts. Endorsing a particular theological position is not the same thing as endorsing a particular religion or even endorsing religion. [...] The criticism against the NCSE is that they’re endorsing religion (they’re not) not that they’re taking a theological position. You’ve practically rephrased yourself out of the debate!

    Not at all — no one has said that the NCSE endorses the Southern Baptists or the Unitarians, that has never been the claim. The claim has always been that the NCSE is endorsing a particular theological stance, namely that science and religion are compatible.

    We can endorse a particular theological position (though shalt not steal for instance) and not endorse religion.

    TB, this really looks like disingenuous wordplay to me. Morality is not inherently a theological issue, as you note, whereas the relationship between science and religion is — there is no way to take a position on this matter without either endorsing a particular religious approach on compatibility or asserting that there is no compatibility possible.

    Atheists endorse a theological position (there is no god). Agnostics endorse a theological position (we can’t know if there is a god or not).

    That’s right, and no one has said otherwise. What many have said is that it is inappropriate for the NCSE to take sides in a theological issue over which there is contention within the scientific community, and which many argue undermines science as a whole (however useful that position may be for the immediate issue of evolution). No one is asking the NCSE to endorse atheism — all that is asked is that it not endorse a particular religious position.

  59. #59 TB
    October 1, 2009

    Sigmund:”Well, I don’t have to address that as a philosophical question, I can address that as an empirical question- its obvious that it is, because there are many people who are scientists who are also people of faith.”

    I’m glad you included the entire statement, because it does put it in context. She clearly qualifies her observation 1) as an empirical answer only, and 2) only as it addresses a specific subset of people: those “who are scientists who are also people of faith.”

    In other words, she’s pretty much said what you did, that people of faith can be good scientists without their faith being in conflict with their science: “Ken Miller was a wonderful asset at the Dover trial. I think both accomodationists and non-accomodationists agree on this one. However it was his scientific testimony that was valuable rather than his theological views. I love listening to Miller talk about evolution. I love listen to Collins talk about genomics.”

    Like you, she differentiated their adherence to science from the theological arguments.

    Now, in the context of OUR exchange, we’ve been referring to religion as a whole – liberal, moderate, conservative and fundamentalist. Are you really trying to claim that – with her qualifying statements – she’s saying all religion is compatible with science? I think that would grasping at straws.

    Her statement is consistent with the position that religion can be compatible.

  60. #60 Sigmund
    October 1, 2009

    TB, my interpretation of her remarks is that they were politically rather than scientifically motivated.
    I think Eugenie Scott probably believes very similar things about science and religion to that believed by Jerry Coyne or the other ‘new atheists’- namely that science and religion are not epistemically compatible but that it is certainly possible to be a religious person and still do good science.
    I think she is switching between these two very different points in her answer, not for reasons of clarity but for the opposite reason – namely that it is politically beneficial to appear to suggest that science and religion ARE compatible.
    In terms of epistemical compatibility I think there may be some religious views, such as deism, that may qualify.
    The anti-accomodationists frequently make this clear when they talk about science and religion compatibility, the NCSE no doubt finds it easier to say science and religion may be compatible without admitting that the religions that ARE compatible are not the ones they are trying to engage in their pro-evolution campaign. Indeed I suspect they take the view that publicly admitting this fact is politically dangerous and will antagonize potential allies.
    Is there a party line in the NCSE in which science and religion are never to be discussed in terms of epistemical compatibility?
    How about our blog host, Josh?
    What do you say?
    Is science and theistic religion epistemically compatible?

  61. #61 Tulse
    October 1, 2009

    I simply don’t agree that informing the public of “more moderate religious views” on evolution implies a preference for them.

    Let’s say a pro-choice organization said that “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular feminists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support abortion”. Would you reasonably conclude that the group did not have a preference for such a moderate religious stance? If a pro-same-sex-marriage group said “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular gay rights advocates leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support same-sex marriage”, that wouldn’t be expressing a preference? Anton, I really think that this is seriously straying into the domain of intellectual dishonesty.

    This is a side issue, but respectfully, I’d revise that to “All that we” are asking [...] some atheists are clearly satisfied that the NCSE isn’t taking a position.

    You are absolutely right on this point, and I was very sloppy in my language — while I only meant that “we” to include those who oppose the NCSE’s position on this issue, that is certainly not how it read. My apologies for the confusion and imprecision of phrase.

  62. #62 tB
    October 1, 2009

    Sigmund,

    Yes, I’ve been saying all along that science advocacy is a political activity and not science.

    So, how is what she said different from your statement in an earlier comment: “I’ve already pointed out that I greatly enjoy hearing Miller and Collins talk about science. There may be some tiny percentage of atheists that think its impossible to be a scientist and religious but the vast majority of atheist scientists know it is certainly possible.”

    and this one:

    “I think Eugenie Scott probably believes very similar things about science and religion to that believed by Jerry Coyne or the other ‘new atheists’- namely that science and religion are not epistemically compatible but that it is certainly possible to be a religious person and still do good science.”

    How is what she said really different from what you say?

    Sigmund: “I think she is switching between these two very different points in her answer, not for reasons of clarity but for the opposite reason – namely that it is politically beneficial to appear to suggest that science and religion ARE compatible.”

    She’s not switching between two views anymore than you are when you say this: “In terms of epistemical compatibility I think there may be some religious views, such as deism, that may qualify. ”

    So you get to have a nuanced point of view but she doesn’t? She’s being consistent with the idea that religion CAN be compatible with science. And apparently you agree.

    Sigmund: “The anti-accomodationists frequently make this clear when they talk about science and religion compatibility, the NCSE no doubt finds it easier to say science and religion may be compatible without admitting that the religions that ARE compatible are not the ones they are trying to engage in their pro-evolution campaign. Indeed I suspect they take the view that publicly admitting this fact is politically dangerous and will antagonize potential allies. ”

    I’m not following this line of reasoning and I don’t want to assume something you don’t intend to convey. Could you restate this for me?

    Sigmund: “Is there a party line in the NCSE in which science and religion are never to be discussed in terms of epistemical compatibility? … Is science and theistic religion epistemically compatible?”

    NCSE: “We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    So your answer to the party line is a qualified yes. The goal of the NCSE is to promote science and defend it in the public school classroom. And one way they can do that is to facilitate discussions among the religious about compatibility in the same way a government-employed translator helps a non-english speaking person obtain a legal drivers license. Your challenge is meaningless because science advocacy is not science. As you’ve already conceded, it’s political.

    Let me ask you this. I know there’s an ID advocate (I can’t remember which – the one who’s a scientologist?) who has had at least one paper published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The journal published the paper because there was nothing wrong with the science in them and contained nothing about religion or ID. But by applying your standard, those scientific journals should do nothing with the papers – not acknowledge they received them, not read them and publish them – because in doing any of those things they may be implicitly endorsing ID and/or scientology.

    In that instance, wouldn’t acting to avoid your charge of implicit endorsement of religion result in, not neutrality, but discrimination against the religious? Isn’t not taking any action the same as, say, not having wheelchair access to a public building? Wouldn’t non-action on the part of the NCSE actually create an impediment to the religious who seek to be a partner of the NCSE?

  63. #63 TB
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse…

    TB: now you’re moving the goal posts. Endorsing a particular theological position is not the same thing as endorsing a particular religion or even endorsing religion. [...] The criticism against the NCSE is that they’re endorsing religion (they’re not) not that they’re taking a theological position. You’ve practically rephrased yourself out of the debate!

    Tulse: “Not at all…”
    TB: Yes, I think you are.

    Tulse: “…no one has said that the NCSE endorses the Southern Baptists or the Unitarians, that has never been the claim. The claim has always been that the NCSE is endorsing a particular theological stance, namely that science and religion are compatible.”

    TB: As Sigmund has pointed out, the NCSE is endorsing the political position that science and religion can be compatible. Not theological.

    TB “We can endorse a particular theological position (though shalt not steal for instance) and not endorse religion.”

    Tulse: TB, this really looks like disingenuous wordplay to me.

    TB: One of us MAY be guilty of disingenuous wordplay, but it isn’t me. BTW, you should not have separated that sentence from the one directly following it:

    TB: “Atheists endorse a theological position (there is no god). Agnostics endorse a theological position (we can’t know if there is a god or not).”

    Tulse: That’s right, and no one has said otherwise.

    TB: Right.

    Tulse: What many have said is that it is inappropriate for the NCSE to take sides in a theological issue…

    TB: They’re not. Just like evolution can be a theory and a fact, a position can be secular and religious. Same word, two different meanings.

    Tulse: “… over which there is contention within the scientific community, …”

    TB: That a contention exists is not in-and-of itself reason to change. Religious fundamentalists create contention with creation science claims.

    Tulse “…and which many argue undermines science as a whole (however useful that position may be for the immediate issue of evolution). …”

    TB: That’s argued by the source of the contention, a percentage of atheists. The existence of the argument is not an argument for the argument. In addition, it’s a theological argument that the NCSE is not involved in. Again, the existence of a religious aspect to a position does not mean a concurrent secular aspect is invalid.

    Tulse: “No one is asking the NCSE to endorse atheism — all that is asked is that it not endorse a particular religious position.”

    TB: Now we gone from a theological position to a religious position. That’s just not precise language. The same position held by religious people can be held by secular people – they just arrive at the same point by different paths. Talk about disingenuous wordplay…

    More Tulse: “Let’s say a pro-choice organization said that “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular feminists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support abortion”. Would you reasonably conclude that the group did not have a preference for such a moderate religious stance? If a pro-same-sex-marriage group said “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular gay rights advocates leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support same-sex marriage”, that wouldn’t be expressing a preference?”

    TB: First, I think your analogies are flawed. Gay rights advocates aren’t arguing that everyone should become gay and heterosexuality is a pox upon the world. Secular feminists aren’t insisting that fundamentalists must have abortions. Put in the proper context, these analogies aren’t useful or applicable.

    Second, a far more useful analogy would be providing people fluent in different languages to help others use government services. There’s no specific endorsement that a language other than english should be the official language of this country, nor are they changing the basic test, other than through translation, so that it has different standards and road rules than the regular test. Rather it’s done simply to facilitate the normal operations of government. Not having a translator actually creates an impediment to equal access.

    Third, you fail to account for the fact that a position can be arrived at through secular, political means and – quite separately – through religious means as well. That does not make the position inherently religious. As a matter of fact, this is the same argument used against the notion that our laws are inherently based on religious values.

  64. #64 Anton Mates
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse,

    Let’s say a pro-choice organization said that “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular feminists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support abortion”. Would you reasonably conclude that the group did not have a preference for such a moderate religious stance?

    You mean like Planned Parenthood does? Here’s the NYC chapter of Planned Parenthood on why Reproductive Justices is a Religious Issue:

    “One of the most common misperceptions that we hear at Planned Parenthood is that there is one religious view on birth control and abortion and that the view is negative. In fact, there are a range of religious views on birth control and abortion, and religious texts to support each interpretation. While the religious right may get the most coverage, that doesn’t make them the most correct. There are many clergy of all religions that take a pro-choice position on birth control, family planning, and abortion.”

    And here’s an issue of “Clergy Voices,” the newsletter of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advisory Board.

    And yet, yes, I’m very confident that PP is not recommending we all convert to the faiths of these clergy.

    If a pro-same-sex-marriage group said “one goal is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by fundamentalists and secular gay rights advocates leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views that support same-sex marriage”, that wouldn’t be expressing a preference?

    Marriage Equality USA does pretty much that on its Faith Communities page. It lists pro-same-sex-marriage clergy and churches, gives rationales for why people of faith should support universal marriage rights, and even argues that the Bible does not condemn same-gender marriage.

    IMO that last bit goes significantly farther than the NCSE ever would; the NCSE provides info on various styles Biblical interpretations but doesn’t assert that any one of them is valid. But again, I don’t think Marriage Equality USA is endorsing moderate religion here, any more than [insert atheist writer here] is endorsing a particular religious stance when they take a position on what the writers/figures of the Bible “really meant.”

    Anton, I really think that this is seriously straying into the domain of intellectual dishonesty.

    If that claim is to be intellectually honest itself, it needs to be backed by an argument, and to deal with the arguments that I’ve made. I’ve given the criteria I consider reasonable for a religious endorsement, and explained why the NCSE passage doesn’t meet them. I’ve explained a secular purpose for that passage which has nothing to do with recruiting anyone to a new religious stance. I’ve given examples of what I consider to be comparable statements made by other religiously neutral organizations and even by federal agencies. And I’ve pointed out–and you seem to accept this–that some open atheists clearly don’t think the NCSE is endorsing a particular religion, which I would think is a point against claims of dishonesty.

    Do you have refutations of these arguments? And do you have a positive argument, yourself, for why this language does constitute an endorsement? Apologies if I’ve missed that upthread or elsewhere, but so far it seems like you’ve just said, in effect, “Well, look at it,” and reiterated your belief that it would constitute an endorsement if used by other groups.

  65. #65 Sigmund
    October 1, 2009

    “But by applying your standard, those scientific journals should do nothing with the papers – not acknowledge they received them, not read them and publish them – because in doing any of those things they may be implicitly endorsing ID and/or scientology.”

    WTF?

    How on earth can you come to that conclusion?
    You’ve already quoted me saying I enjoy listening to Miller and Collins so long as they stick to science. Shouldn’t that give you some clue that I don’t reject science from those scientists who happen to have with religious beliefs?
    For your information my opinion of what a journal should do with any paper they recieve is to look at the evidence and results contained within it and, if deemed suitable for that journal, send it out to be peer reviewed. If the reviewers think it merits publication then the journal should publish it.
    The religious views of the author should come into the equation.
    It is the process of science that is important to me, not the metaphysical views of those doing the research.
    That is the reason I get annoyed when the NCSE resort to deliberately obscuring that very process.
    Let me explain it as follows:
    There are two ways to define ‘science’
    One, is as ‘a collection of facts about the world’.
    To many in the public ‘doing science’ means learning facts about the natural world.
    If you use this definition of ‘science’ then religion, including theistic religion, and science ARE compatible.
    The other way to define science – and the one that most scientists rather than the public use is as a methodology, a process.
    I tend to define science along the lines of:
    “the method we use to determine whether a particular idea about the natural world is incorrect”
    - which is probably similar to how most working scientists would define the scientific method.
    This definition is certainly incompatible with theistic religion – since these religions depend on revelation about things in the natural world that cannot be subject to testing as to whether they are incorrect.
    However not all religious views are incompatible with the scientific method. A deistic view that some God started the universe and was not subsequently involved is compatible (at least with our current level of technology). It doesn’t postulate things like miracles or other such interventions that directly confound all we know about the laws of nature. That said it is the religion of only a tiny proportion of the population. As an analogy think of the number of self described Fundamentalist Christians that believe in abortion and gay marriage. There are some but only a small proportion of the total number.
    To me, saying that religion and science are epistemically compatible because deism happens to be compatible is like saying that Fundamentalist Christianity is compatible with abortion and gay marriage because of that tiny proportion of Fundamentalist Christians that do agree with it.
    It is bending the truth of the situation unless you also point out that for the vast majority of Fundamentalist Christians abortion and gay marriage are incompatible with their religion.
    The intellectually honest way for the NCSE to approach the matter is to define the specific type of religion that is epistemically compatible with science (imagine if we took the same approach to alternative medicine where a few aspects of back pain related chiropractic treatment seem to be compatible with science – does that mean alternative medicine as a whole is compatible with science?).
    Alternatively they should admit that they are defining ‘science’ as a collection of facts rather than a method.

  66. #66 Tulse
    October 1, 2009

    TB, pardon me for not fisking your reply to the same degree you did mine. I will instead simply highlight what I see as the major issues of disagreement between us.

    the NCSE is endorsing the political position that science and religion can be compatible. Not theological.

    I really think that is a misrepresentation of their position, as it doesn’t just assert some sort of pragmatics (as in “we can work with these folks toward a common goal”), but instead quotes the theological assertions of compatibility by various religious figures (as in “these people’s philosophical commitments are not in conflict with science”). (And certainly the discussion about “ways of knowing” makes no sense if one is only talking about politics.)

    No one is arguing that there aren’t religious people who both believe in God and accept the truth of evolution. This sort of descriptive use of “compatibility” isn’t under discussion. What is at issue is whether religious views are philosophically compatible with science. In terms of religion, this makes it a matter of theology.

    Just like evolution can be a theory and a fact, a position can be secular and religious. Same word, two different meanings.

    Again, this seems to me to be a semantic game, and confuses the motivation for the position with the nature of the position. Lysenko, for example, made his claims largely because of political commitments, but the claims were scientific in nature. Likewise, even though the NCSE may argue for compatibility for political reasons, that claim of compatibility is a theological claim (one only endorsed by a limited number of religions).

    This conflation of motivation and the nature of the claim is, I think, at the heart of our disagreement.

    I think your analogies are flawed. Gay rights advocates aren’t arguing that everyone should become gay and heterosexuality is a pox upon the world.

    And I’m not arguing that the NCSE should advocate for atheism.

  67. #67 TB
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse: “B, pardon me for not fisking your reply to the same degree you did mine.”

    That’s crap. If you don’t want to or can’t address all the issues I’ve brought up regarding your position, then we could just agree that we disagree and move on.

    If all you want to do is assert the same things over and over again, all I have to do is point to my previous comments and say address those. You haven’t. You keep bringing up the same old, same old using different terms. Fine, one last time.

    “Likewise, even though the NCSE may argue for compatibility for political reasons, that claim of compatibility is a theological claim (one only endorsed by a limited number of religions).”

    Do you believe that murder should be legal? Do you believe it’s OK to steal? Not just in certain, limited circumstances but in its widest sense? If the answer is no, then under your conditions you are making a theological claim. It’s in the bible, so you must be endorsing christianity.

    That’s not my logic, Tulse, that’s yours.

  68. #68 TB
    October 1, 2009

    Sigmund

    I assume you meant “should not” here: “The religious views of the author should come into the equation.” I don’t point that out in a snarky way.

    ” “But by applying your standard, those scientific journals should do nothing with the papers – not acknowledge they received them, not read them and publish them – because in doing any of those things they may be implicitly endorsing ID and/or scientology.”
    WTF? How on earth can you come to that conclusion?”

    It’s a provocative statement to be sure, and certainly is a stretch I’ll admit. But here’s the thing: if scientific journals can work with and publish a scientific paper by a religious person without endorsing that person’s religion, why can’t a science advocacy group work with and advocate for science along with a religious person without also endorsing that person’s religion?

    Why do scientific journals get to work with potential contributors who are also religious to bring their papers up to publication standards (through the peer review process) without being accused of taking a stance on religion, but a scientific advocacy group can’t work with potential allies who are also religious to make their views square with science advocacy without being accused of taking a stance on religion?

    Isn’t it OK for the government to employ translators to facilitate non-english speakers access to services without saying that language should be the country’s official language? Why can’t a science advocacy group employ religious people to facilitate the religious to have a better understanding of science and become good science advocates?

    “You’ve already quoted me saying I enjoy listening to Miller and Collins so long as they stick to science. Shouldn’t that give you some clue that I don’t reject science from those scientists who happen to have with religious beliefs?”

    You do, and I didn’t mean to imply that you don’t.

    Sigmund: “The other way to define science – and the one that most scientists rather than the public use is as a methodology, a process.”

    Yes, methodological naturalism.

    Sigmund: “I tend to define science along the lines of:
    “the method we use to determine whether a particular idea about the natural world is incorrect” ”

    Well, falsifiability is an important aspect of science. In terms of methodology, it’s that we look for answers in the natural world and not for supernatural explanations.

    “This definition is certainly incompatible with theistic religion – since these religions depend on revelation about things in the natural world that cannot be subject to testing as to whether they are incorrect.”

    They can be incompatible. They can also be made to be compatible, according to many religious sources. There’s a lot out there on the subject. http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/ is a good place to start, if you’re interested.

    Sigmund: “To me, saying that religion and science are epistemically compatible because deism happens to be compatible is like saying that Fundamentalist Christianity is compatible with abortion and gay marriage because of that tiny proportion of Fundamentalist Christians that do agree with it.”

    The NCSE doesn’t say any of that. Eugene Scott didn’t say that in her quote.

    Sigmund: “The intellectually honest way for the NCSE to approach the matter is to define the specific type of religion that is epistemically compatible with science. …”

    Why should they? This is what they do: “The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.”

    http://ncseweb.org/about

    They’re not the thought police. They’re a science advocacy group united under a common goal. They defined the goal, that’s all they need to do.

  69. #69 Tulse
    October 1, 2009

    If you don’t want to or can’t address all the issues I’ve brought up regarding your position, then we could just agree that we disagree and move on.

    I have addressed what I think is the core disagreement in our positions, and I really don’t think a blow-by-blow response would be very beneficial to either of us — such exchanges in my experience become more like pissing matches than actual discourse. If you would prefer to take it some other way, you are of course welcome to.

    Let me try one last time to clarify our different views by responding:

    Do you believe that murder should be legal? Do you believe it’s OK to steal? Not just in certain, limited circumstances but in its widest sense? If the answer is no, then under your conditions you are making a theological claim. It’s in the bible, so you must be endorsing christianity.

    That’s not my logic, Tulse, that’s yours.

    I’m sorry, TB, but a) that is not my logic because b) your analogy, well, isn’t. Yes, religion and secular ethics can make parallel claims about some domains, but so what — they support those claims using different and independent sources of justification.

    Let me propose an analogy: A psychologist and astrologer could make similar predictions about the personality of an individual, but of course that coincidence would not involve the psychologist endorsing astrology or making an astrological claim. However, if the psychologist said that psychology and astrology were compatible, that would entail the psychologist understanding not only the claims of psychology, but of astrology as well.

    Likewise, in the case of the relationship between religion and science, it is impossible to support a claimed compatibility without resorting to religious justification, since the very question is about the nature of a specific religious belief.

    So sure, both the NCSE and some religions say that evolution is fine. Those are parallel claims and justified by independent means. But when the NCSE says that religion doesn’t conflict with evolution, that is a claim about both domains, and inherently relies on an understanding of the theologies of the religions in question as well as the philosophy of science.

    And I would be much less bothered by this position if the NCSE and its spokespersons and defenders were more upfront about this. I can certainly understand have a disagreement about tactics, and the NCSE saying “well, you militant atheists may think we are not philosophically pure enough for you, but we’ve made a pragmatic choice that helps us to do what we see as the most important goal, protecting evolution in schools.” I might not agree with that choice, but I could at least respect the thinking behind it. But this “well, we don’t endorse religions, but here are some we’ve highlighted on our website, and we’re not saying anything about the nature of religion and science, except there are various ways of knowing”, well, that seems bordering on intellectually dishonest to me.

  70. #70 TB
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse: “Let me propose an analogy:…” ANOTHER flawed analogy? Are you seriously introducing the idea of coincidence to the situation? And again you assert that the “NCSE says that religion doesn’t conflict with evolution” when that is clearly not their position?

    No.

    Address this: What about providing people fluent in different languages to help others use government services? There’s no specific endorsement that a language other than english should be the official language of this country, nor are they changing the basic test, other than through translation, so that it has different standards and road rules than the regular test. Rather it’s done simply to facilitate the normal operations of government. Not having a translator actually creates an impediment to equal access.

    Why would that be OK, and why would what the NCSE is doing not be OK?

    Show me that you can do more than just reassert your views time and again, then maybe I’ll continue. Show me you’re not just a clever ‘bot on the internet. Show me some critical thinking skills.

  71. #71 Anton Mates
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse, my most recent response to you just made it through moderation at #62.

    Erratum: in “Here’s the NYC chapter of Planned Parenthood on why Reproductive Justices is a Religious Issue”, that should be “Reproductive Justice.” PP wasn’t talking about the need for the Supreme Court to get lucky.

  72. #72 Anna K.
    October 1, 2009

    :-D

    @ Anton Mates

    Maybe that was a fortuitous typo. The religious left is all in favor of reproductive justices; the more justice, the better. “Let justice roll down like waters . . . “

  73. #73 Anton Mates
    October 1, 2009

    No one is arguing that there aren’t religious people who both believe in God and accept the truth of evolution. This sort of descriptive use of “compatibility” isn’t under discussion. What is at issue is whether religious views are philosophically compatible with science. In terms of religion, this makes it a matter of theology.

    But this is isn’t the issue that, for instance, Eugenie was addressing in the quote transcribed by Sigmund. She was explicitly talking about empirical compatibility, not philosophical. If you want to talk about the philosophical sort, that’s fine, but that’s a different argument, and it’s one that the NCSE is unlikely to engage in with respect to any particular religion.

    See, people absolutely are arguing that “there aren’t religious people who both believe in God and accept the truth of evolution.” Creationists regularly argue that all theistic evolutionists are in fact atheists, who are either lying or deluded about their theism. And see again that British Council poll, where about a quarter of Americans said it’s impossible–not philosophically shaky, not unreasonable, impossible to accept evolution and believe in God.

    And it’s not just creationists or fundamentalists who think this. I’ve had more than one conversation with people who said something to the effect of, “I don’t believe Genesis is literally true and I have no problem with the Earth being old and with us being descended from monkeys and all that…but I still believe in God and I think that was God’s will, so I guess I’m a creationist. Because you can’t do that and believe in evolution, right?”

    Believe me, I understand that no one in the accommodationist/antiaccommodationist debate is making this argument; on threads like this, “everyone knows” that theistic evolutionists exist in significant numbers. But not all of the general public has caught up to that level of understanding yet, and that’s exactly why the NCSE is discussing compatibility in a descriptive sense.

  74. #74 Anton Mates
    October 1, 2009

    So sure, both the NCSE and some religions say that evolution is fine. Those are parallel claims and justified by independent means. But when the NCSE says that religion doesn’t conflict with evolution, that is a claim about both domains, and inherently relies on an understanding of the theologies of the religions in question as well as the philosophy of science.

    But it doesn’t rely on an endorsement of any particular theological position. Secular scholars in the social sciences make claims about religious practice and belief all the time; that doesn’t mean they’re proselytizing. They’re simply making empirical observations and hypotheses about real-world believers.

    If a particular believer says that he accepts evolution, and he appears to actually understand the theory, and he doesn’t seem to be lying, then I’ve established empirical compatibility between evolution and his religion. If I ask him about his belief system and verify that, as far as I can see, there’s no logical inconsistency between those beliefs and the principles of evolutionary theory, then I’ve established philosophical compatibility. At no time do I have to agree or disagree with any of his beliefs to do this.

  75. #75 Josh
    October 1, 2009

    Tulse, TB: Take some deep breaths, re-read what each of you has written thus far, and think hard about how justified the antagonism here might be. There will surely be more opportunities for you to argue these points, but don’t let what seem to be modest disagreements (in the grand scheme of things) turn you into mutual enemies. A basic principle of this blog is that no one is obliged to comment at length or to reply at all, and someone’s decision not to comment on something is not evidence that what they would have said is wrong. Sentence-by-sentence discussion can do just as much to obscure an argument as to clarify it.

    Skipping to the end of the thread, we have…

    Tulse: “when the NCSE says that religion doesn’t conflict with evolution”

    When does NCSE say that? And if NCSE doesn’t say that, how is this counterfactual useful?

    NCSE might say that some religions do not conflict/are compatible with evolution, but that’s a different thing, a claim not about how religion and science relate, but about what certain religions say about themselves. The first is a philosophical/theological claim, the second is anthropological.

    Tulse: “I can certainly understand have a disagreement about tactics, and the NCSE saying “well, you militant atheists may think we are not philosophically pure enough for you, but we’ve made a pragmatic choice that helps us to do what we see as the most important goal, protecting evolution in schools.” I might not agree with that choice, but I could at least respect the thinking behind it. But this “well, we don’t endorse religions, but here are some we’ve highlighted on our website, and we’re not saying anything about the nature of religion and science, except there are various ways of knowing”, well, that seems bordering on intellectually dishonest to me.”

    I don’t get this. How is it dishonest in any way to say that lots of people and lots of groups, including religious groups, favor teaching evolution? It would be dishonest to misrepresent those groups, or to omit certain statements because of unstated philosophical biases or disagreements. No one is alleging that, to my knowledge. How is it dishonest to observe that there are numerous epistemologies active in the world around us, come orthogonal to science and others which uphold the importance of science and of evolution as a science? Again, this is a matter of sociology and anthropology, not of philosophy. To decide that certain epistemologies or religions which claim a compatibility with evolution do not actually do that would require NCSE to adopt strong philosophical positions, but that isn’t what NCSE does, so far as I can tell.

  76. #76 TB
    October 1, 2009

    No worries. Worst that would happen is if Tulse didn’t want to address my question I’d was going to stop addressing his.

  77. #77 Tulse
    October 1, 2009

    TB, I think we are talking past each other. I think I will take Josh’s sound advice and step back from our exchange — I am sure there will be other opportunities, perhaps when the issue has been clarified more for us both.

    Anton: In response to what I take to be your general point, it seems pretty clear to me that the NCSE is very selective in what religions it chooses to highlight, and thus isn’t just being “descriptive”, but instead strongly implies that it prefers the theological approaches of those religions. As I see it, that’s the issue here.

    For example, the main landing page for “Religion” on the NCSE website says that “This section of our website offers resources for exploring a wide array of religious perspectives on scientific questions, and scientific perspectives on topics of interest to various religious groups”. But a look at the linked resources at the bottom of the page makes clear that there are in fact not a “wide array of perspectives” offered — Peter Hess’s article on God and Evolution states definitively that “Like color and shape, ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’ do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.” As Hess is a project director at the NCSE, I don’t think it is inappropriate to read such a definitive statement as the official theological position of the NCSE.

    Likewise, all the other resources on the website do not provide a wide array of perspectives, but instead promote the liberal non-literalist Christian view (see, for example, Hess’ piece on Reading the Bible). As I see it, what this section of the website is offering is not a neutral description of how some view the relationship between science and religion, but is instead promoting a very specific theological approach.

    With all that said, I think we’ve all pretty much had our say on this matter, and I’m not sure if further back-and-forth will be all that productive. As I suggested to TB, I’m sure there will be further opportunities for additional discussion. If folks this there is still some useful exchanges to be had, I’m happy to continue, but for myself I think I’ve covered what I wanted to.

  78. #78 Sigmund
    October 1, 2009

    TB, I guess the main disagreement here is one of priorities.
    My priority is the integrity of the scientific method. I accept evolution because it flows from the results of that method. To me, you teach how to do science and how to think scientifically and that allows one to accept whatever theory fits the evidence. In the case of biological science it is clearly evolution.
    If the NCSE has as its priority teaching evolution, rather than teaching the scientific method I can understand why there is conflict with some scientists.
    If it was titled the ‘National Centre for Evolution Education’ and only talked about evolution rather than science (saying, for instance that evolution is compatible with the teachings of the most populous religions in the US) then I doubt there would be any serious problems with the anti-accomodationists.
    By the way I know the exploring our matrix website. James has used several of my images promoting evolution in the past (just google “teach both sides of the controversy”).
    I have nothing against working alongside pro-evolution religious people. I simply think that if you do so you need to be careful in the language you use – particularly in regard to the scientific method. Evolution is compatible with many religions. The scientific method is not (although I agree, you can make any religion compatible with it – by stripping the religion of supernatural elements – but the original religion – the one actually accepted by the majority of its adherents will still remain incompatible).

  79. #79 Anton Mates
    October 2, 2009

    Tulse,

    In response to what I take to be your general point, it seems pretty clear to me that the NCSE is very selective in what religions it chooses to highlight, and thus isn’t just being “descriptive”, but instead strongly implies that it prefers the theological approaches of those religions.

    Even if this were the case, I already explained why selectivity need not imply preference, and gave examples from public school, governmental websites and other secular organizations. Descriptions are selective by necessity.

    But a look at the linked resources at the bottom of the page makes clear that there are in fact not a “wide array of perspectives” offered — Peter Hess’s article on God and Evolution states definitively that “Like color and shape, ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’ do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.” As Hess is a project director at the NCSE, I don’t think it is inappropriate to read such a definitive statement as the official theological position of the NCSE.

    In the sentence immediately after that, Peter makes it clear that he’s talking about creation as a philosophical term; by contrast, a later paragraph gives an example of a religious creation story which does contain many empirical claims, and which does directly conflict with science. And nowhere does he state that the belief in creation is true, or that there’s any reason why it should be accepted by the reader.

    Likewise, all the other resources on the website do not provide a wide array of perspectives, but instead promote the liberal non-literalist Christian view (see, for example, Hess’ piece on Reading the Bible).

    That piece currently covers everything from ancient Hebrew cosmology through Medieval Jewish and Christian opinions to the views of modern literalist fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Is there something you think it’s missing? I’ll drop a Peter a note if you feel there’s a perspective being given short shrift there; everything on the site’s a work in progress.

    And again, if there’s a bit in that piece that says that any one of those interpretation styles is correct, please do point it out. We’ve revised content before to fix language that we agreed would give that impression, and I’m sure the NCSE will continue to do in the future.

    But I would note that literalist interpretations of the Bible rather dominate the website as a whole, since it’s largely about, well, creationism. It’s not possible to read through the site and not realize that there are a whole bunch of Christians (and Muslims and so forth) who believe that various bits of modern science directly contradict their religion.

    If folks this there is still some useful exchanges to be had, I’m happy to continue, but for myself I think I’ve covered what I wanted to.

    Fair enough. I appreciate the lucidity of your criticism, by the way.

  80. #80 TB
    October 2, 2009

    Tulse
    I would have a different analysis of our exchange, but either that’s fine.

    Sigmund

    “I have nothing against working alongside pro-evolution religious people. I simply think that if you do so you need to be careful in the language you use – particularly in regard to the scientific method. Evolution is compatible with many religions. The scientific method is not (although I agree, you can make any religion compatible with it – by stripping the religion of supernatural elements – but the original religion – the one actually accepted by the majority of its adherents will still remain incompatible).”

    Nothing I disagree with here.

  81. #81 Josh Rosenau
    October 3, 2009

    Sigmund: “My priority is the integrity of the scientific method. I accept evolution because it flows from the results of that method. To me, you teach how to do science and how to think scientifically and that allows one to accept whatever theory fits the evidence. In the case of biological science it is clearly evolution.
    If the NCSE has as its priority teaching evolution, rather than teaching the scientific method I can understand why there is conflict with some scientists.”

    NCSE’s mission, as stated in the FAQ, is “improving and supporting education in evolution and the nature of science, and increasing public understanding of these subjects.” So clearly the scientific method is a part of NCSE’s mission and I don’t think you could effectively defend evolution in public schools without a broader look at the nature of science.

    The scientific method has limits, limits well-accepted by scientists and philosophers of science. The scientific method cannot evaluate claims like “Jesus died for my sins,” as they don’t generate testable predictions. Thus, whether someone believes that statement to be true or false does not limit their ability to practice science or to appreciate the value of the scientific method or knowledge gained by applying that method.

    In that narrow sense, science and religion might be said to be compatible, or at least capable of being made compatible.

  82. #82 Peter Beattie
    October 5, 2009

    » Jason Rosenhouse:
    Just to be clear, the part of Padian’s statement to which I object is the part about only extreme atheists and extreme fundamentalists seeing a problem here.

    You have made that abundantly clear from the very first word you said about this. Josh now has made it abundantly clear that he will continue to ignore your point.

    In comment #6, he said he isn’t interested in anything but the trivial kind of ‘compatibility’ and will remain apathetic towards the discussion of any other kind. How anyone can even want to be apathetic towards such claims—and presumably towards the ‘compatibility’ of a belief in ghost, fairies, or homeopathy, respectively, and science—who is affiliated with an organisation that wants to further science education is beyond me. That’s even worse than philosophical illiteracy, that’s deliberate philosophical ignorance. Somebody who doesn’t even want to know about the kind of thinking that makes science work should have no business in science education of any kind.

    Furthermore, in comment #3, Josh keeps misrepresenting Padian’s statements to make them look better and to be able to keep evading Jason’s crystal-clear point about the “crack”. To completely leave out the word “extreme” and then to pretend that Padian’s comparison was completely objective and “indisputably true” is, excuse my French, idiotic. Even more so to expect others not to notice.