On false equivalences

Jason Rosenhouse, criticizing Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s reply to Jerry Coyne’s review of their book in Science, ends with this thought:

You can not consistently argue that one side hurts the cause every time they open their mouths, but then object that you are not telling them to keep quiet. Free speech has absolutely nothing to do with this, as has been explained to M and K many times. No one thinks they want the government to come in and do anything. To be honest, I’m baffled that M and K persist in getting so irate on this point. Of course they want people like Dawkins to keep quiet, or at least to completely change the way he goes about presenting his views, which amounts to the same thing.

That last sentence strikes me as utterly fallacious. This would only be true if “people like Dawkins” were only capable of saying one thing, and only capable of saying it one way. Which is absurd, and insulting to Dawkins and those like him.

Back in 2007, Mooney and co-author Matt Nisbet stirred up the previous iteration of this crapstorm with an essay in Science arguing that scientists should think more carefully about how they communicate to the public. In passing, they noted that:

The evolution issue also highlights another point: Messages must be positive and respect diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs.

This is hardly a cry for scientists not to talk about evolution, nor for them to evade the subject of religion. They do suggest engaging the public in ways that will encourage productive dialogue, not offense.

The effects of that style of discourse are fairly straightforward. Consider the case of Richard Dawkins, touring in support of his latest book, a vigorous defense of evolution as a science. In nearly every interview with him I’ve seen or heard, he’s been asked about the relationship of evolution to religion, much to his own apparent frustration and to the frustration of his supporters. Reacting to one such interview, Jerry Coyne writes: “Of course the reviewer can?t stay away from Dawkins?s atheism.”

Why “of course”? I do lots of media interviews about evolution, and rarely are my religious views a topic of discussion. “Of course” because Dawkins made certain choices in previous books and previous interviews, and perhaps regrets those (a bit) for their impact on his ability to present his current message. From the interview Coyne quotes:

It is true that religious people do react to any kind of criticism as almost a personal insult, it?s almost as if you?re saying their face is ugly or something [Hmmm, could calling people deluded and comparing them to child abusers have that effect? -Josh] ? You?ve heard words like strident and shrill, as well. I?d like to suggest that actually it?s quite a funny book.

Do you regret having that kind of reputation? Do you feel like it?s handicapping you in the future ? that you?ll always be seen as having a certain kind of agenda in mind?

Yes, I think it?s unfortunate. I think it comes from people who haven?t actually read the book, or who haven?t actually met me personally, and so I?m described as a very aggressive, strident person, which I?m not.

Coyne adds “And he isn’t.” Which is true. He’s a nice guy, as are Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists.” But the written word is a harsh mistress, an easier place to be misunderstood than the spoken word. I did read The God Delusion, and didn’t find it funny. De gustibus non est disputandum, but humor is really hard, especially for those of us who aren’t professional humorists. And when your jokes touch on a topic as deeply personal as religion, it’s easy to be misunderstood. As a result of those misunderstandings, Dawkins is having a harder time talking about what he wants: evolution.

Pointing out, as Chris and Matt and Sheril did on various occasions, that the way Dawkins was talking about atheism would make him less effective as a spokesman for science is hardly a call for him not to talk. Chris and Matt wrote an op-ed about their Science paper, which used this example precisely, noting in 2007:

Dawkins, who rose to fame with his lucid expositions of evolution in such books as “The Selfish Gene,” has never gone easy on religion. But recently he has ramped up his atheist message, further mixing his defense of evolution with his attack on belief.

Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins’s arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism. More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality. Dawkins not only reinforces and validates such fears — baseless though they may be — but lends them an exclamation point.

We agree with Dawkins on evolution and admire his books, so we don’t enjoy singling him out. But he stands as a particularly stark example of scientists’ failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public.

This is hardly a cry for Dawkins not to talk, not to talk about religion, or not to criticize religion. It is, however, a call for him to do so strategically, to continue the work that they admire in a way that isn’t self-limiting.

To Jason’s point, then, I don’t see how it’s fair to say that Chris and Sheril or Chris and Matt have tried to silence certain people (bearing in mind that I’ve hardly read every word any of them have written, and I’m basically just talking about the arguments in Unscientific America and Mooney and Nisbet’s two essays here). They do want people to discuss certain topics in different ways, because they think that doing so would make those people more effective at what they are doing. Drawing an equivalence between “don’t say X that way” and “don’t talk about X” (or even “don’t talk”) assumes that there’s no other way that the target can express his or her thoughts about X ? that he or she is incapable of any change at all.

This idea that people’s behaviors and thought processes are set in stone has also been applied to the general public in these debates. In trying to catch up on the context of this debate, I found Chris Mooney reacting to a Pew poll by arguing:

if we could only dislodge the idea that evolution is contradictory to people?s belief in ?Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%),? then they would have no problem with evolution.

Ophelia Benson responded curtly (and I don’t mean to single out Ophelia, I could readily find others in the debate arguing the same way):

Yes, and if we could perform other miracles we could do other great things, but alas…

From there, the discussion branched off into broader discussion of whether epistemic compatibility of science and religion is possible (it isn’t clear that all involved here agree on what epistemic compatibility would mean, let alone that that’s the best criterion to use for compatibility, but set those questions aside for now).

But Ophelia’s dismissal of Chris’s observation wasn’t about epistemic anything. It’s about whether people will continue to believe that evolution and their religious beliefs are in conflict, or whether they might be able to find their own way to be comfortable with both. And a majority of Americans do hold science and religion to be compatible, so it wouldn’t be a miracle to simply find a person who believes as Chris describes.

I take it, then (and Ophelia will correct me if I’m wrong), that this response is premised on the idea that it takes a miracle to change people’s minds, at least about these sorts of issues. It seems clear that Chris does not. He clearly thinks minds can change, as he and Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote a book dedicated to changing people’s minds, and to helping them change yet more people’s minds. Mooney and Nisbet’s articles defended the same proposition: that people’s minds can change on scientific topics.

That this is possible cannot be denied. The figure here is from my talk at the AAAS meetings last February, and is drawn from data gathered by the National Science Board. Over the last few decades, acceptance of evolution has been far lower than the younger theory of plate tectonics, neither of which has changed statistically in that time period (taking the 2001 sample on evolution as an outlier).

i-aea05d988c2d6bcef0b124d0de005c80-sciencelines.pngAcceptance of the dangers of taking antibiotics to kill viruses has risen steadily in that same time frame, showing the value of a consistent public education effort that engages schools, doctors, pharmacists, and a range of other trusted public figures and institutions to convey a consistent message. Today, the US population is less likely to think they can cure a cold with an antibiotic than the European public is.

Can the same happen on science/religion issues? Again, it has. Young earth creationism, which many people think of as the archetype for creationism, is a fairly modern phenomenon. Even within the fundamentalist movement, YEC belief is a later addition. Of the essays in The Fundamentals (1909-1915) addressing evolution, old earth views predominate. William Jennings Bryan, promoting creationist laws and prosecuting John Scopes for violating such a law, accepted scientific estimates of the age of the earth. George McCready Price laid the groundwork for YEC belief in those inter-war years, but it wasn’t until Whitcomb and Morris published The Genesis Flood (1961), that young earth beliefs received widespread attention, and swept through the evangelical community.

Can that sweep be reversed? I would say that it can. In my experience, perceived conflicts between science and religion are a critical block to people’s willingness to even listen to the sort of evidence for evolution that Dawkins and Coyne have presented in their books. I want those books to succeed, and I know that the dynamic that gets created when evolution and religion are so thoroughly entwined in people’s minds can only limit their books’ appeal. There’s a reason that neither of these books mixes arguments for evolution with anti-religion claims: both authors know that doing so would limit their effectiveness.

Saying “more of the same, please” is hardly equivalent to “shut up.”

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    October 28, 2009

    “There’s a reason that neither of these books mixes arguments for evolution with anti-religion claims: both authors know that doing so would limit their effectiveness.
    Saying “more of the same, please” is hardly equivalent to “shut up.”
    Josh, if you are advocating publishing books promoting the acceptance of evolution that keep away from the question of religion what is your opinion on Ken Millers ‘Finding Darwins God’ or Francis Collins ‘The Language of God’?
    Do you think that these authors are wrong to mix religion and evolution – in contrast to those books written by Dawkins and Coyne?
    As far as I can see there is no one spokesperson for the advocacy of evolution. There is plenty of room for Dawkins and Miller, Coyne and Collins, PZ Myers and David Sloan Wilson and a host of others to speak out in favor of more public understanding and acceptance of this science.
    The very idea that there should be a central figure of authority to turn to on this question is anathema to scientists. At the same time this sort of figure seems to be seen as useful to the ‘framers’ – as a means of putting a friendly face of science there for public viewing.
    I think this particular point underlies a lot of the animosity between the two groups. When you talk about wanting new atheist scientists like Dawkins or Coyne to act ‘strategically’ there is an underlying assumption that an agreed strategy to achieve a particular goal exists, when its clear that there is no such consensus.
    Dawkins ultimate goal may be very different from that of Francis Collins and either one of them behaving ‘strategically’ on behalf of the other may be counterproductive towards their own agenda.
    As a quick example, Dawkins is based in the UK, which, unlike the situation in the USA, doesn’t have a constitutional protection against teaching one religion in science classes. Advocating an evangelical friendly form of pro-evolution teaching would be a disaster in such an environment. Dawkins message, on its own, on the other hand may not be ideal for particularly religious parts of the USA. The question is, however, whether the mere presence of Dawkins views can counteract the views of pro-religious scientists like Miller and Collins. From a european setting diversity of viewpoints, religions etc, is a simple fact of life. I certainly don’t want Miller or Collins to shut up or even act ‘strategically’ for my benefit – for the simple reason that it may not be for their own benefit. They should do as they see fit themselves and let others do likewise.
    For the record I don’t see Miller or Collins as being the ones trying to limit the voice of non religious scientists.

  2. #2 Soren
    October 28, 2009

    Its nice to see that you give credit to Coyne and Dawkins for seperating their rants against religion, and their science books.

    I would like to ask the same question as Sigmund. Do you then find a problem when Miller and Collins intertwine religion and science as they have done repeatedly?

    The backlash against Collins nomination is just the same reaction Dawkins experiences, except that no outspoken atheist would ever get a political position like Collins’ but a science evangelist for Jesus is no problem in the current political climate.

    But still it is strange that only the wrongly labeled “new atheists” are singled out by the champions of better public understanding of science.

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    October 28, 2009

    There is plenty of room for Dawkins and Miller, Coyne and Collins, PZ Myers and David Sloan Wilson and a host of others to speak out in favor of more public understanding and acceptance of this science.

    Indeed, but aren’t people allowed to criticize them if their public statements help to undermine evolution? I haven’t

    When you talk about wanting new atheist scientists like Dawkins or Coyne to act ‘strategically’ there is an underlying assumption that an agreed strategy to achieve a particular goal exists, when its clear that there is no such consensus.

    OK, I shouldn’t speak for Josh, but I don’t see that this assumption is necessary. It would be enough for Dawkins and Coyne to sit down and thing through the strategy for themselves.

    The very idea that there should be a central figure of authority to turn to on this question is anathema to scientists. At the same time this sort of figure seems to be seen as useful to the ‘framers’ – as a means of putting a friendly face of science there for public viewing.
    I think this particular point underlies a lot of the animosity between the two groups.

    Have the framers advocated for a central figure of authority? I haven’t seen it, but then I haven’t followed the debates that closely (more heat than light etc. etc.).

    And, to be honest, I think the animosity is because there are a lot of thin skins on both sides. It too easily turns into a slanging match, which is good for popcorn sales but less so for dealing with the issues.

  4. #4 Sigmund
    October 28, 2009

    “Have the framers advocated for a central figure of authority? I haven’t seen it, but then I haven’t followed the debates that closely”

    Matthew Nisbett certainly called for Francis Collins to be appointed as Presidential Science advisor for the simple reason that his outspoken religiosity would be useful in the current US situation. At the time I told him that this was the wrong way to go about things – Collins should be judged for the job purely on his scientific credentials, not on his religious credentials. For the record I made exactly the same argument about judging him on his scientific credentials when criticism was made of his appointment as head of the NIH – on this occasion it was to defend Collins appointment since he was definitely qualified for the NHS post on purely scientific terms.
    The NCSE clearly sees it advantageous to adopt the approach of only talking of religion and evolution in terms of non conflict – completely ignoring the fact that many if not most evolutionary scientists do find a conflict.
    What we are talking about here is not a scientific policy but a political policy and as such they should not be surprised that there are political disagreements with their decision.

    “but aren’t people allowed to criticize them if their public statements help to undermine evolution?”

    Certainly, but there is precious little evidence that this is the case and all calls for the framers to present some empirical data to back these claims have thus far been completely ignored.

  5. #5 Katharine
    October 28, 2009

    I find this pussyfooting around religion to be rather silly, actually; if people can’t find their own moral footing without an imaginary friend, then they’ve got other problems.

    And indeed, if science and an individual’s beliefs are in conflict, why don’t they just, oh, change their beliefs?

  6. #6 apuleius platonicus
    October 28, 2009

    The Francis Collins affair took all of this to a whole new level. Richard Dawkins publicly and unambiguously took the position that one of the world’s most prominent scientists (and a man arguably of far greater scientific accomplishments than Dawkins) should be barred from a public office because of his religious beliefs:

    “Isn’t he [Collins] disqualified, not by whether or not he leaves his beliefs outside the laboratory and the committee room, but by the very fact that he is capable of holding such beliefs at all?”
    Richard Dawkins, July 10, 2009
    (http://richarddawkins.net/article,4046,Francis-Collins-selcected-to-head-NIH,LATimescom#395050)

    It is no longer an issue of whether or not Dawkins is really, when you get to know him, a nice guy. Who freaking cares? I know they never really warmed to the idea of freedom of religion over there, but I think that in the 21st century we cannot afford to ignore when someone obliterates the line that separates (a) the advocacy of religious bigotry from (b) voicing criticism of religious beliefs that one disagrees with.

    In the end Dawkins provides aid and comfort to the Christians, because they love to insist that ANY criticism of their (deeply and inherently intolerant) religion itself amounts to intolerance. In Dawkins case this turns out to be sadly true. That’s why he is their favorite atheist.

  7. #7 Anthony McCarthy
    October 28, 2009

    The “you’re telling us to shut up” line, in the absence of any such demand, is a transparent dodge. The reason for the dodge is usually because the person using it doesn’t want to deal with the issue of their behavior or the topic under discussion. It isn’t only used by the new atheists but it is one of their favorite tactics in dealing with those who point out the problem with their announced intention of being obnoxious on the topic of religion.

    I don’t have any problem with legitimate criticism of religion, religious people do it all the time to each other, and there is certainly enough legitimate material to work with. What I object to are the double standard, the vicarious blame, the stereotyping and the plain, outright lies that the new atheists engage in. Often it’s a matter of the new atheist not knowing what they’re talking about and not caring enough to even realize that.

    Sound familiar? It should because if you change a few words around it’s the fundamentalists who are whining about how they’re silenced because they can’t use the public schools to proselytize etc.

    The “you can’t believe in evolution and God” line cuts both ways. The new atheists use it to try to wipe out God, the fundamentalists use it to try to wipe out evolution. Rational people who accept evolution as fact, nonbelievers and believers can see the problem of the irrational absolutist stand. It’s clearly not true as most people who accept evolution also believe in a God or other supernatural entity. The fundamentalists know there’s a problem, but being fixated on their one side of it, they don’t even come to an accurate definition of it.

  8. #8 Chris Mooney
    October 28, 2009

    Thanks, Josh, for a very thoughtful post. I have repeatedly tried to explain that my position is not “shut up,” but the mischaracterization never stops coming.

  9. #9 Tulse
    October 28, 2009

    Telling Dawkins that he shouldn’t talk about the conflict between religion and science is telling him to shut up about the conflict between religion and science. I don’t see how this is controversial.

  10. #10 Benjamin Nelson
    October 28, 2009

    It’s true that the “shut up” interpretation isn’t any good.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that Chris regards activist atheism as damaging to education of evolution, and more importantly, that the very notion of being an activist atheist demonstrates an entirely different set of goals and priorities.

    But if the difference is of priorities, as Chris indicates, then there is a genuine divide between accommodationists and activists. And if not (i.e., if it’s a difference in empirical theories about cultural education and what is needed in order to make people understand/accept evolution at all), then they need to actually have a serious empirical argument. But here again we might have a covert difference of priorities: i.e., on my reading, Mooney would be satisfied if people were to merely accept evolution, while Harris wants people to understand it. If that’s a fair characterization, then Harris aims to be an actual science educator, while Mooney aims to make mass culture more sciencey.

  11. #11 Anthony McCarthy
    October 28, 2009

    — Mooney would be satisfied if people were to merely accept evolution, while Harris wants people to understand it. BN

    Where did Chris Mooney say that? Actual quotes and links, please.

    Atheism is not necessary to understand evolution. It’s never been necessary, most of the people who have accepted evolution and some of the major figures in evolutionary science have been very religious. Did they not “understand evolution”?

    I won’t go into what “understanding evolution” could possibly mean since we’ve hardly reached The End of Evolution”.

    Tulse, if I was an evolutionary biologist, I’d settle for having Dawkins not plastering his face on my discipline. He isn’t doing it any good.

    There is no such thing as a “conflict between religion and science”. There is a conflict between fundamentalism and those topics in biology that demonstrate that their creation mythology isn’t literally true. That’s hardly “science” and it’s hardly “religion”. The only time a religion comes into conflict with science is when some religious sect or body denies the truth of what science discovers about the material universe. There are always other religious bodies or sects that accept what the science has demonstrated.

    How about when “science conflicts with science”? Like in the famous fight between the Sociobiologists and their critics. Dawkins is apparently in conflict with “science” when he’s doing that part of his thing. Isn’t it fun when you conflate and generalize, what you can come up with.

  12. #12 Ray Ingles
    October 28, 2009

    Anthony McCarthy – I haven’t actually seen the “new” atheists use the line “you can’t believe in evolution and God”. I have seen them state that evolution is incompatible with certain conceptions of God(s)… and those conceptions happen to be extremely common. But so far as I can see it’s others that oversimplify it to such a sound-bite.

    But the accusations of stridency really bug me. Just because people take offense doesn’t mean something was actually offensive. Recall the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers bus ads – “Don’t Believe In God? You’re Not Alone.” They basically said “atheists exist” and a whole lot of people considered that offensive.

  13. #13 Ray Ingles
    October 28, 2009

    The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism…

    This is hardly a cry for Dawkins not to talk, not to talk about religion, or not to criticize religion. It is, however, a call for him to do so strategically, to continue the work that they admire in a way that isn’t self-limiting.

    Um… it does seem to place him in a bind, though. Does he have to pick between advocating atheism or advocating evolution, since “[t]he public cannot be expected to differentiate” between them? As I noted above, there’s practically nothing you can say about atheism that won’t offend somebody – and as the Iowa case demonstrates, a fairy substantial number of somebodies.

  14. #14 Physicalist
    October 28, 2009

    I think it’s worth pointing out that even theists like Miller read Unscientific America as telling the Uppity Atheists to shut up. To his credit, Miller rejects this position:

    Similarly, the blunt tactics of such folks are no reason to reject the “new atheists” as advocates for science, as Unscientific America seems to do. . . . Scientific rationality is too important a cause to limit participation in its defense. (source)

  15. #15 Tulse
    October 28, 2009

    Tulse, if I was an evolutionary biologist, I’d settle for having Dawkins not plastering his face on my discipline. He isn’t doing it any good.

    And your evidence for that is? What sort of legal successes have creationists had in the US since he’s been publishing? Has acceptance of evolution fallen significantly since The Blind Watchmaker? Has the US become more religious over that time?

    If you were an evolutionary biologist, you’d actually cite data for your claims.

    There is no such thing as a “conflict between religion and science”. There is a conflict between fundamentalism and those topics in biology that demonstrate that their creation mythology isn’t literally true. That’s hardly “science” and it’s hardly “religion”.

    That shows vast historical ignorance, unless you want to say that the Catholic Church was “fundamentalist” when it persecuted Galileo, or when it was accepted that conditions like epilepsy were actually demon possession. The problem with playing the God of the Gaps card is that the gaps get smaller and smaller, and thus so does the god.

    And your dismissal of fundamentalist Christianity as “hardly ‘religion’” would be strenuously objected to by a significant portion of the US population.

    The only time a religion comes into conflict with science is when some religious sect or body denies the truth of what science discovers about the material universe.

    Which is any time it argues that a god intervenes in the physical world. As all religions (with the exception of Deism) do.

  16. #16 Benjamin Nelson
    October 28, 2009

    Anthony, sure. From here.

    Mooney:

    The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture.

    What I’ve called “acceptance of evolution” is what I think Chris was thinking of when he talked about a “moderate stopping off point”.

    Harris, by contrast, argues:

    The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge…

    [Movement atheists] merely assume that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion—just as they respond to these discursive pressures on all other subjects.

  17. #17 Anthony McCarthy
    October 28, 2009

    Benjamin Nelson, I have read that before and believe you are not correct in what it means, but I don’t know how you could have missed this passage:

    I agree with Harris about the importance of not only knowing the truth about evolution, but knowing something about critical thinking and the scientific method (which is after all how we know that evolution is good science in the first place).

  18. #18 Anthony McCarhty
    October 28, 2009

    Tulse, my problems would begin with the fact that Dawkins’ ideology within biology is hardly representative of the whole of even evolutionary biology, which has hardly focused on adaptationism. Here’s what another prominent biologist had to say:

    Dawkins’s vulgarizations of Darwinism speak of nothing in evolution but an inexorable ascendancy of genes that are selectively superior, while the entire body of technical advance in experimental and theoretical evolutionary genetics of the last fifty years has moved in the direction of emphasizing non-selective forces in evolution.

    … Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution. Richard Lewontin

    And that was before he decided to load the baggage of his anti-religious ideology onto the back of evolution as a political issue. There is a good reason that some of the major figures in ID “science” have said they thank God for Richard Dawkins, he makes their jobs so much easier.

    As to Dover, don’t get too cocky about the reliance on the courts for the protection of public high school biology classrooms. If John McCain had won the election and was naming Supreme Court justices (or, God forbid, Sarah Palin) the picture would look a lot less secure than it does for the time being.

    —- And your dismissal of fundamentalist Christianity as “hardly ‘religion’” would be strenuously objected to by a significant portion of the US population Tulse

    And a considerable part of the population of the United States would strenuously object to your replacing their quite liberal religion with fundamentalism. Do you know the difference?

    Galileo died a Catholic, he maintained a daughter in a convent. There isn’t all that much evidence I’ve seen but I’d imagine as a sophisticated member of his society he understood that his prosecution was more political than scientific. The bulk of his science didn’t get him into trouble, no more than Nicholas Steno’s did him, he died a bishop and has been beatified. And, let me remind you, that Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian monk and priest and died the abbot of his monastery.

    You might want to read up on the less myth filled history of Galileo’s problems with the pope.

    I’m not aware that the Catholic Church ever officially said that epilepsy was demon possession. I’m quite certain they had no idea what it was but neither did contemporary science. You going to fault them for living in the time they did? You want me to go into the various bizarre and now loony sounding ideas about various diseases that science of the past held? If you want me to go into some really bizarre stuff about behavioral disorders, it doesn’t take going back all that far. Within my lifetime it was held to be “scientific” to cure gay men by injecting us with hormones that destroyed our minds, of subjecting us to electric shocks on our genitals, I wouldn’t be surprised to find even more barbaric “scientific” treatments for being gay well after the time that Catholic hospitals were treating epileptics quite humanely and Catholic universities teaching modern astronomy.

    God in the gaps, you people will never cease to look past your predigested, prepackaged diet of new atheist bromides. I’ve never looked for God in any gaps. I am not a fundamentalist, I’m not a Christian or Muslim or any religion you’ve ever heard of or could identify by genus, never mind species.

  19. #19 Josh Rosenau
    October 28, 2009

    Responding somewhat at random:

    Sigmund: I think it would be a bad idea for Miller or Collins to try to argue that evolution proves their religious views to be true, or to otherwise encourage people to join their religion on the basis of evolution. I don’t think either has done that, but Dawkins argues throughout TGD (and less overtly in his earlier books) that evolution proves God is impossible/improbable. I don’t see Miller and Collins doing the same sort of thing.

    Soren: “no outspoken atheist would ever get a political position like Collins”

    I’m not sure that’s true, but it may be. I don’t know the religious views of Steven Chu or Jane Lubchenco or John Holdren, and I doubt that atheism per se would have been a barrier to their taking very senior positions in this administration.

    For both of these, though, we have to consider what we mean by atheism. Atheism can be the belief that gods don’t exist, it can be the lack of belief that gods exist, or it can be anti-religion (religion is pernicious and should be stamped out). The last is most politically difficult to express without offending, but all of these are risky because they are defined not in terms of what one does think, but what one rejects. And that means that arguments for atheism in any of these forms can wind up being arguments against other religions in practice. By contrast, one can advance arguments for Christianity without explicitly attacking, say, Judaism or Islam (though many arguments for Christianity are attacks on other religion, don’t get me wrong).

    This requires a different structure for TGD than for FDG. Dawkins has to say that evolution makes god implausible, while Miller doesn’t have to (and I don’t think he does) say that evolution makes atheism implausible. He just explains how he sees religion and science connecting in his own life. When Dawkins does the same, he writes a solid book about evolution, without mentioning religion, and it’s both a good, accurate book about evolution and an explanation of how the natural world can be explained without recourse to the supernatural. This is a defense of the first two senses of atheism, but only TGD is a defense of the third.

    Katharine: “And indeed, if science and an individual’s beliefs are in conflict, why don’t they just, oh, change their beliefs?”

    Because people resist changing all sorts of beliefs for all sorts of stupid reasons. This is why politics can be such an obnoxious business. Cognitive dissonance, wanting not to have enemies say “I told you so,” and other stupid crap gets in the way of rational decision-making. Absent a drastic change in human psychology, it makes more sense to take account of such phenomena, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

    Tulse: “Telling Dawkins that he shouldn’t talk about the conflict between religion and science is telling him to shut up about the conflict between religion and science. I don’t see how this is controversial.”

    I suppose, but it isn’t telling him to shut up. And I don’t think that UA or the framing articles argued that Dawkins shouldn’t speak about his perception of a conflict between science and religion. They did suggest he talk about that perception in different ways, which again, isn’t telling him to shut up about the subject.

    Benjamin Nelson: “Mooney would be satisfied if people were to merely accept evolution, while Harris wants people to understand it.”

    I think this is a distinction without a difference. I talk about “acceptance of evolution” as a contrast to people who ask if I “believe” in evolution. I say no, that I accept the evidence for it, which seems largely synonymous with understanding it.

    The “moderate stopping off point” in your second quote seems more like theistic evolution than any distinction between acceptance and understanding of evolution.

  20. #20 Benjamin Nelson
    October 28, 2009

    Anthony, that sentence was immediately followed by the following qualification:

    “Yet it isn’t a lie that, as we write in the book, “A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth.” This statement is factually true. Harris may think these people are wrong, but he can’t claim they don’t exist.”

    Harris probably doesn’t believe they exist. Coyne certainly doesn’t. That’s because while intelligent religious people may have ideas that are “brute force compatible”, it doesn’t mean that these ideas are epistemically compatible, or even that there is no lingering cognitive dissonance somewhere below the radar. So Harris will continue to insist that faith is the very problem, while Mooney will insist on his short stopping-off points, and continue to be accused of giving band-aid solutions.

    Josh,

    If you accept the data as evidence, then you know how it fits into the theory, and hence understand it. If on the other hand you just adopt a laconic pro-attitude towards the word “evolution”, learn not to speak against it, and so on, then the problem has only been driven underground — it has been made merely brute-force compatible. But the unreasonable doubts will still be there, and they’ll have no venue to be expressed, and so nobody will learn anything. Then you’ll have the same problem coming up in some other area.

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    October 28, 2009

    Tulse, I’m not going to apologize for disregarding Harris on epistemology of any kind, and certainly not in an area on which his mind is unalterably closed.

    I think that you don’t quite get the eventual destination right, which is understanding science, not atheism.

    And the continuation of Chris Mooney’s statement has nothing to do with your allegation that he merely wants people to accept evolution whereas Harris wants them to understand it, whereas the passage I quoted answered your assertion.

  22. #22 Benjamin Nelson
    October 28, 2009

    Anthony, I’ll assume that you meant to respond to me, there, and not Tulse.

    For Harris, atheism and science are inextricably linked, presumably through the above argument over faith. For Harris and Coyne and perhaps others, the final destination is a culture of scientific competence, which is necessarily not a culture of faith. You clearly don’t agree with the substance of that, but that’s how their argument works.

    If the quote you provided is to be seen as relevant, then in fairness it needs to be seen in context; in context, it talks about their presumptions prior to strategy (i.e., either faith is itself a necessary obstacle or it must be accommodated). The very priorities in one’s strategy are arranged by whether or not one accepts or rejects Harris’s faith argument. So the whole paragraph is relevant to support my claim (which was about practical priorities). But you might insist, as you are now, that it is not relevant; if so, then neither is the unqualified quote you began with, because strictly speaking that quote only talks about ideal things that would be nice to achieve as opposed to crucial practical priorities, and it has no explicit connection with practical affairs. That is why I believe my interpretation is fair and makes best sense of the text.

    To recap: for Harris, faith is the very thing that inhibits science education, and hence it must be dealt with head-on. For Chris, the faith argument is wrong in at least some cases, and while maybe we could deal with it in an ideal world (hence the accusation of Harris being an “idealist”), we live in the real world, and so we ought to aim lower (his “common sense” approach).

    Chris, however, is conspicuously hesitant to repudiate the core of Harris’s faith argument (the argument for epistemic incompatibility). This makes me wonder whether or not he is convinced that he has a way to seriously grapple with the faith argument. After all, IIRC Chris has elsewhere agreed that science is the only way of knowing the real, which restricts the kinds of argument he can make.

  23. #23 Sigmund
    October 29, 2009

    Benjamin Nelson said:
    “Harris probably doesn’t believe they exist. Coyne certainly doesn’t.”
    I don’t think that is true. Coyne has said on numerous occasions that he knows such people exist. I find it hard to believe that any serious working scientist doesn’t know plenty of scientists who are religious and yet do good science. It’s not even as the explanation behind this is difficult to fathom – we know that they have “no sense of internal contradiction”, as these religious scientists tell us, because that’s how compartmentalization/cognitive dissonance works.

  24. #24 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 29, 2009

    Richard Dawkins believes that science and religion are incompatible and that evolution in particular poses grave threats to Christian belief. He also believes that religious belief is a bad thing, and is something society would be better off without. Mooney and Kirshenbaum, and to judge from this post you as well, believe it is harmful to the cause of science literacy to express such views. Therefore, you do not want him to say what he thinks on this issue. Which part of that is wrong?

    You went back to 2007, but the more recent cause for this little fracas was a post by Chris Mooney in reply to Jerry Coyne’s TNR review of the books by Miller and Giberson. The issue was neither the tone nor the substance of what Coyne wrote:

    Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

    It would seem that merely criticizing Miller and Giberson is enough to get you accused of poor strategy. Good strategy, apparently, is where you don’t criticize reconcilers even when you think they are making bad arguments (which, to answer Chris’ question, is why Coyne criticized them). Again, how is this not equivalent to wanting them to keep quiet on this issue?

    You write eloquently about the possibility of changing people’s minds. I agree completely. Why then do you think it is impossible to move the US to a situation where religion is far more marginalized in public discourse than it is today? Why are you trying so hard to fit the square peg of evolution into the round hole of religion? I agree with Ophelia. The reason we find it so hard to convince people that evolution is compatible with religion is that for a great many people they are flatly incompatible, and I don’t just mean the YEC’s.

  25. #25 Anthony McCarthy
    October 29, 2009

    — For Harris, atheism and science are inextricably linked, presumably through the above argument over faith. BN

    Which is so historically and biographically uniformed that it’s an indictment of contemporary scientific culture that it could have gained any currency among otherwise serious people.

    — For Harris and Coyne and perhaps others, the final destination is a culture of scientific competence, which is necessarily not a culture of faith. You clearly don’t agree with the substance of that, but that’s how their argument works. BN

    Since reentering this argument in the summer I’ve come to the conclusion that there are motives apart from the desire to spread knowledge about science driving the new atheist fad.

    Science achieved a prominence and reputation that rivaled most other areas of life during the 19th and 20th centuries, only the accumulation of wealth still exceeds the repute of science, science gains a good part of its present day repute through its being a profit producing enterprise. Still, science deserved a good part of its reputation, though it was hardly an unmitigated good. In one of the eternal repititions of the NA snark line about “myths of goat herders” the other day, I was wondering why the narrative of weaponeers, industrial polluters and other such mercenary men of science shouldn’t be as skeptically viewed. Those things have definitely not brought good things to life. But that’s an aside. I’ve said before that the ID industry is actually among the greatest compliments that science has had, since it seems to think that the supernatural stands or falls on your ability to apply science to it. Which is entirely wrong. It is just as wrong as when the more callow atheists try to do the same thing.

    Individual scientists have shared in the glory of the actual good that science has done and the wonders of the physical universe that it has revealed. Scientists enjoy the repute their profession brings them, indeed, if they suspect you are questioning some aspect of it they tend to flip out just like an aggrieved aristocrat from Edwardian England does in comedies of the period. It’s considered outrageous that a mere lay person could question some aspect of their lofty repute. Not all scientists but enough to make this a common experience for we, the impious. I’ll leave their incomes out of it for now.

    A controlling aspect of the profession of science is the focus on the material universe, which is the only thing science was invented to study. For the physical sciences and much of the biological sciences, that works out pretty well. Modern physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, are all among the most reliable things we know about the material universe.

    But, as seen in the behavioral sciences, when they try to shoe horn non-material phenomena into the framework of science, the results can be unstable and prone to become unimpressive over time. Try pointing out a lapse in their work to a behavioral scientist if you want to see real whining and outrage, though it seems that in every instance, what’s taken as knowledge in those fields quickly is discarded.

    But those occasions when the methodological materialism of science work very well leads to a faith that they are always applicable and that anything which either doesn’t fit or can’t be crammed into that framework is illegitimate. I’ve run across a lot of scientists who think that the study of history is unimportant, though its phenomena are quite a bit more reliably extant than much of what these same guys believe in with all their hearts — the current fad of inventing Paleolithic behaviors being the quintessential example of that faith act.

    While there are some very broadminded scientists who aren’t deluded into a superstitious believe about the universal applicability of their methods to all of life, there are some who are constitutionally unable to admit to the inherent limits of science. The new atheism is a current fad among those people just like any number of other materialistic fashions and fads have been in the past. Those have come and gone, though due to the gross ignorance of cultural history and, at times, the history of philosophy and even science, the old lines of those discarded ideas get recycled by later fads of materialism. Though you’ll often hear professional philosophers talk about logical positivism being dead, you can hear its ghost in a lot of the current blog atheism. And you can read those lines going back to…. well, ancient India where they arouse amidst herders and farmers as primitive as those in the ancient and classical Middle East in the form of Carvarka.

    One of my favorite observations ever made about philosophy was when I.F. Stone pointed out that, whereas the aristocratic Socrates and Plato and the entire subsequent history of Western Philosophy had failed in their quest to produce even a single Universal, the sandal maker who is ridiculed in the Dialogues could at least make two shoes, the product of his profession. You look at how philosophy has been going round in circles in the quest for an absolutely solid, foundational product of logic and wonder if the quest isn’t the product of being unable to face the fact that logic doesn’t find those things. They might not even exist. I think that similarly science, an application of logic, among other things, won’t produce any end and certainly won’t contain all of human experience within science.

    I haven’t pointed it out here but have other places, A. S. Eddington in his undervalued book The Philosophy of Physical Science pointed out that science was entirely unable to deal with “ought” statements. In his essay Science and the Unseen World, he even went so far as to point out that there is no scientific method for deciding even if you “ought” to value the correct over the incorrect answer to a simple math problem. Science and math provide the correct answer, they can’t tell you why that’s better than the wrong one. You decide that on the basis of other things. There is no scientific explanation for why the human species should continue for another week. Biodiversity would probably have been impressively better off if we’d died out before the industrial age and certainly before today. Science can’t even tell us whether or not it’s a good thing. If we use science and technology in ways that drive us into extinction, by the definitions of biology which came up with the concept, the capacity to practice science will have turned out to be maladaptive in our species.

    I hold some slight hope that science might be part of what saves us from ourselves as we currently are. But it won’t do it without some very unmaterialistic and entirely unscientific attitudes being adopted over the adaptationist doctrines that turn into reasons to be selfish and destructive in their popular form.

    I know these ideas are controversial but don’t believe that’s because they’re illogical or unscientific, it’s because they violate the cultural and personal preferences in this age when science holds such great repute. I’m sure the questions won’t be popular with a lot of scientists, though it will be the blog wannabees that really flip out when you ask these kinds of things and draw conclusions about them.

    So, I think Harris and Coyne are all wet about the final destination of human culture. Which can happen when people go outside of their specialty unprepared to use different tools of investigation and evaluation and apply their prejudices instead of looking around and seeing what’s there. While I’m sure their dogmatic pronouncements will be popular on the scienceblogs, I don’t think they are right.

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    October 29, 2009

    Anthony McCarthy @ # 18: … [Dawkins] decided to load the baggage of his anti-religious ideology onto the back of evolution as a political issue.

    If you actually want people to believe that it was Prof. Dawkins who politicized the evo-creo debate, please do not be surprised if those same people view you as either grossly misinformed or Republicanly mendacious.

    Myself, I’d say you’re just writing a bit too hastily, without sufficient thought – but many of those who argue as you do here are thinking that way.

    Josh Rosenau @ # 10: Dawkins has to say that evolution makes god implausible…

    He doesn’t have to say that, though he does. What he – and anyone else who addresses the question with knowledge and honesty – does have to say is that evolution makes gods unnecessary (as an explanation for life as we see it).

    They did suggest he talk about that perception in different ways, which again, isn’t telling him to shut up about the subject.

    But it is, for all practical purposes, telling him to change the subject. “Let’s not talk about that, please…” is a polite framing of “shut up!”.

    [Comment repeatedly delayed due to “An error occurred: Permission denied.” gremlin.]

  27. #27 Tulse
    October 29, 2009

    I don’t think that UA or the framing articles argued that Dawkins shouldn’t speak about his perception of a conflict between science and religion. They did suggest he talk about that perception in different ways, which again, isn’t telling him to shut up about the subject.

    In the framing articles on Expelled, your one-time-collaborator Nisbet said explicitly:

    Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals. If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support: Lay low and let others do the talking. [emphasis in original]

    That sure looks like “sit down and shut up” to me. I realize this is a particular issue, but I think it is representative of the general approach that many “accommodationists” have taken, which is that, for the good of science, people like Dawkins and Myers shouldn’t say anything.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    October 29, 2009

    — do not be surprised if those same people view you as either grossly misinformed or Republicanly mendacious. PRB

    I’m no longer ever surprised when new atheists are so clueless as to misidentify someone who is from the far left of the Democratic Party, a socialist leveler and absolutist supporter of civil rights and the wall of separation as a Republican.

    You might want to go give your answer to Chris Mooney’s question today about why Dawkins gets asked about his atheism. You can see my answer about that there.

  29. #29 Tulse
    October 29, 2009
    — do not be surprised if those same people view you as either grossly misinformed or Republicanly mendacious. PRB

    I’m no longer ever surprised when new atheists are so clueless as to misidentify someone who is from the far left of the Democratic Party, a socialist leveler and absolutist supporter of civil rights and the wall of separation as a Republican.

    And I’m no longer surprised your reading skills are such that you can’t distinguish between describing a particular behaviour and labeling an individual. Here’s a hint: Even the most leftist individual can be mendacious in the manner of the Republicans.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    October 29, 2009

    Tulse, don’t be surprised when someone takes a grammatically ambiguous construction and looks below that to see the charge it obviously contains and clearly intends.

    List the lies I told, in my exact words with where to find them. I might not get back till tonight because I have a student at 1:00 and one each hour after that.

  31. #31 Pierce R. Butler
    October 29, 2009

    Anthony McCarthy @ # 28: I’m no longer ever surprised when new atheists are so clueless as to misidentify someone who is from the far left … as a Republican.

    Aw c’mon: someone as philosophically sophisticated as yourself ought to be able to dodge a point with more finesse than that. Tulse at # 29 has kindly saved me the effort of the obligatory first step in a rebuttal, so I can proceed directly to the second: please note that this question was politicized before Richard Dawkins ever learned to type, and review your criticism accordingly. (Hint: point finger elsewhere.)

    You might want to go give your answer to Chris Mooney’s question today about why Dawkins gets asked about his atheism. You can see my answer about that there.

    Pls define yr terms: “there” = Mooney’s blog? Dawkins’s? Rosenau’s? Kos’s?

    You @ # 25: … so historically and biographically uni[n]formed that it’s an indictment of contemporary scientific culture that it could have gained any currency among otherwise serious people.

    I kinda like the idea of a historic and biographical uniform – where do I enlist?

    More (harrumph!) seriously, the problems with faith are not resolved by listing religious scientists. One of my main arguments against it is that the “faith” mindset = habitual credulity, a systemic mental weakness routinely exploited by (among others) “weaponeers, industrial polluters and other such” mercenary misleaders, including particularly the current and previous presidents.

    … as seen in the behavioral sciences, when they try to shoe horn non-material phenomena into the framework of science, the results can be unstable …

    Uh, behavior is not a material phenomenon?

    The core problem here is that we lack a strong theory or set of theories in psychology and related practices. If you insist on somehow considering mental/emotional activity as non-material, then you’ll probably need to define “theory” as non-material too – which does such harm to any attempt at defining science as “purely materialistic” that I don’t even want to look.

  32. #32 Benjamin Nelson
    October 29, 2009

    Sigmund, thanks, I stand corrected. Replace “doesn’t believe they exist” with “doesn’t think this matters because compartmentalization moots dissonance”.

    Anthony, since your reply is long I’ll have to reply to your considerations later today.

  33. #33 TTT
    October 29, 2009

    Back in 2007, Mooney and co-author Matt Nisbet stirred up the previous iteration of this crapstorm with an essay in Science arguing that scientists should think more carefully about how they communicate to the public

    Because they were making a pompous condescending point in a pompous condescending manner. Most scientists at the university level either currently are also science TEACHERS or have at least worked in teaching in the past. Their job requires them to communicate concepts to potentially unreceptive audiences–so framing is second nature.

    M&N themselves have never had to work with unreceptive audiences, and as each of their blogging careers shows they are both terrible at it and can’t handle it at all. They are thin-skinned, unaccustomed to criticism, and either unwilling or unable to treat critics’ arguments in a serious manner. They don’t really know how to communicate at all–they are only comfortable doing it to audiences that have already paid $25 for their books or more for seats in a lecture hall. Their attempts to tell professional teachers how to teach are about as wise and welcome as every armchair general’s surefire strategy for victory in Afghanistan.

  34. #34 Tulse
    October 29, 2009

    The core problem here is that we lack a strong theory or set of theories in psychology and related practices.

    Perhaps, but I can guarantee one thing — the overwhelming consensus is that the mind is caused by the brain, a thoroughly material entity. I mean, why bother with neuroimaging studies, drug studies, lesion studies, etc. if the brain is irrelevant to behaviour?

  35. #35 Pierce R. Butler
    October 29, 2009

    Tulse @ # 34 – Is it really an “overwhelming consensus” if Anthony McCarthy still stands in brave defiance of such attempts “to shoe horn non-material phenomena into the framework of science”?

    They just don’t make whelms like they useta.

    Do you have any idea where the dauntless paradigm-shattering Mooney question of # 28 might be found?

  36. #36 gillt
    October 29, 2009

    One quibble

    Rosenau: “And when your jokes touch on a topic as deeply personal as religion, it’s easy to be misunderstood. As a result of those misunderstandings, Dawkins is having a harder time talking about what he wants: evolution.”

    You go from quoting Dawkin’s statement about being misunderstood (pertaining to people who do haven’t read his book) to making up an entirely different reason of your own (not getting or being insulted by the jokes).

  37. #37 Anthony McCarthy
    October 29, 2009

    That’s it Pierce? The great and florid charge you made of my being “grossly misinformed or Republicanly mendacious” is backed up by two items with a lot of superfluous fill?

    But, you see the problem isn’t with what I said, it’s with what you said I said. Here’s what I said after giving the quotation from Richard Lewontin about some of the reasons that Dawkins shouldn’t become the poster boy for evolutionary biology.

    “And that was before he decided to load the baggage of his anti-religious ideology onto the back of evolution as a political issue.”

    I seem to recall the Lewontin quote was from 1995, before Dawkins put in his bid to also be the face of atheism. Now, let’s look at how you characterized what I said:

    “If you actually want people to believe that it was Prof. Dawkins who politicized the evo-creo debate,”.

    You did what I’ve come to also expect of new atheists, you took something that you didn’t like, couldn’t refute it as it stood so you altered it. I didn’t say that it was “Dwakins who politicized the evo-creo debate” I said he had loaded the already overloaded cart with his atheism. If you look above you’ll see that Jason Rosenhouse, a relatively prominent new atheist, owner of Evolution Blog, says that

    “Richard Dawkins believes that science and religion are incompatible and that evolution in particular poses grave threats to Christian belief”

    Well, it’s a different way of saying the same thing. Dawkins holds that evolution is a threat to Christian belief and that religion and science are incompatible. Neither of which are true, most of those who accept evolution are, in fact, religious, I’d guess in the United States and Europe most would be Christians. There have been prominent figures in modern evolutionary history since the beginning, Asa Grey was the foremost Darwinian figure in the United States, a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin and others.

    The ideology of Richard Dawkins as given by Jason Rosenhouse is clearly false and a burden to the already overloaded mass of extraneous baggage that burdens the cause of evolution in the United States.

    So, being unable to deal with that, you turned my observation into a charge that I “want people to believe that it was Prof. Dawkins who politicized the evo-creo debate”. Something which anyone who had any knowledge of the history of evolution would have known started in the 19th centuries and has continued down to today. I generally give people the chance to prove they’re ignorant before I believe they are.

    A form of mendacity I’m all to well acquainted with from encounters with new atheists on the blogs.

    Behavior isn’t material in the same sense that physical objects are. In the case of the behavioral sciences, it’s frequently not even clear that they exist outside of the mind of the person purporting to study and report on them.

    The problem with psychology is that it’s largely garbage with a small amount of rigorous science swamped by junk and ideological theory. It changes predominant models and schools at an amazing rate and its standards of research are appallingly bad. Its frequent use of tiny subject populations of volunteers which aren’t random samples of the intended represented population and the acceptance of the results are among the worst of those. The many problems that arise from studying behavior are sometimes given as an excuse for why they do those kinds of things but that doesn’t fix the problem or excuse accepting the results. If it’s hard to study behavior, that might be a big problem but that’s just too bad. It doesn’t make the results any more reliable than they are.

    The “brain only” theory is not proved, even Susan Blackmore has said that. While it might be popular with materialists, there isn’t any way to know if it is and if this thread was about that I’d be only too happy to go bare knuckles with you over it.

  38. #38 Matti K
    October 29, 2009

    JR: “As a result of those misunderstandings, Dawkins is having a harder time talking about what he wants: evolution.”

    From the books Dawkins has written it seems that he wants to promote both the understanding of evolution and atheism. Judging from the sales of his books, readers are very enthusiastic to learn about his views in both fields. That must really piss off many accommodationists.

    Mr, Roseanau, why do you think Dawkins wants to promote only evolution? Would an accommodationist Dawkins be as popular as the real Dawkins?

  39. #39 Josh Rosenau
    October 29, 2009

    Tulse, Andrew McCarthy, etc.: Let’s keep this civil. No bare knuckles, no invective. Disagree without being assholesdisagreeable.

    TTT: You do know that Nisbet is a university professor, and therefore “communicate[s] concepts to potentially unreceptive audiences,” as does Mooney in his work as a journalist. To suggest that they “have never had to work with unreceptive audiences” suggests that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Then again, suggesting that college science teachers are expert communicators who are skilled at addressing unsympathetic audiences is a bit hard to square. I’ve spent a lot of time around college science professors, and find the excellent communicators in that profession to be exceptions.

    Jason Rosenhouse: “Richard Dawkins believes that science and religion are incompatible and that evolution in particular poses grave threats to Christian belief.”

    Sort of. When asked directly about evolution and religion, he continuously points to religious scientists and has stated clearly that they are compatible. “Compatible” here serves in a fuzzy way, admittedly, with it being used as a philosophical claim sometimes and a practical claim other times, but in promoting his current book on evolution, he is not publicly voicing the strong stance you attribute to him. I think that tells us something about his own perception of the best way to promote evolution understanding, no? He’s not shutting up, but he is voluntarily limiting his advocacy against religion in this context and this moment.

    It’s undoubtedly true that we can shift society toward a less religious mindset. Whether that will be a more rational society is debatable at best. Europe’s example in this regard is mixed, with scientifically unjustified anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activism rampant, along with a hard nubbin of uncritical nationalism from both the right and left in many countries. All this from populations where religion is largely vestigial. I continue to hold that religion is not the problem, and we’d all do better to focus on the real problems.

    Tulse: It’s surely different to suggest that PZ and Dawkins would be poor spokespeople in a narrow context than to say that they shouldn’t talk at all. Responding to a movie is a political act, and politicians often choose to sideline certain spokespeople when their context would make them ineffective on a particular issue. Given that PZ and Dawkins were directly involved in the film, they would not be seen as impartial observers, so their direct involvement would let the press frame discussion of the movie as a conflict between the producers and subjects, rather than a clear statement that the science community objects to the movie’s misrepresentations. Stripping Nisbet’s comments of that context is unfair.

    Gillt: I bridged from the notion of people objecting to his book without having read it to my own explanation because I read the book and shared many of those objections, suggesting that Dawkins was misidentifying the problem. People read the book and didn’t get that he was just trying to be lighthearted and funny. I’d suggest that this is because he wasn’t that funny, and that religion isn’t a topic which lends itself to lightheartedness.

    Matti K: Clearly Dawkins has interests in promoting both atheism and evolution. I think an accommodationist Dawkins wouldn’t have written his current book any differently, nor do I think the Selfish Gene or other early works would be much different. He’s doing well at selling those books, with TGSOE #55 on Amazon.com’s sales ranking for all books, and the 30th anniversary edition of Selfish Gene is #1208 for all books, and the #1 book in Amazon’s genetics section. So I think he’d be alright.

  40. #40 Ophelia Benson
    October 29, 2009

    “I take it, then (and Ophelia will correct me if I’m wrong)”

    How am I supposed to do that if I’m not aware of the post and its citation and intepretation of something I said? If you want me to correct an interpretation of something I said, it would help to tell me about the post and citation and interpretation.

    I may have responded ‘curtly’ or I may simply have seemed to because I write more concisely than you do.

    At any rate, your interpretation is indeed wrong.

    “I take it, then (and Ophelia will correct me if I’m wrong), that this response is premised on the idea that it takes a miracle to change people’s minds”

    No, it is premised on the idea that it is at least very difficult to dislodge an idea that is true. That’s a silly claim, actually – so I was too curt. My point was just that Chris was implying that the idea to be dislodged is obviously false and mine was that it isn’t.

  41. #41 Benjamin Nelson
    October 29, 2009

    Anthony,

    While it is entirely sensible to question the social structures that underlie contemporary big science, this is actually not at all the controversial point that it may have been in the past. Yes, Hiroshima was bad, yes Oppenheimer was an accomplice to state terrorism, yes scientists qua intellectuals have wider responsibilities to their world. Ho-hum.

    Granted, I’m sure that a kind of techno-scientific optimism can be found in some modern day public intellectuals. E.O. Wilson, for example, seems to flirt with it when extolling the wonders of the green revolution without critically examining Ethics 101 issues like terminating seeds, etc. But I think it’s not out of scientism (as you seem to be alleging), but just out of sheer obliviousness. Still, if that is scientism, it is only scientism in the dicey pejorative sense. If you want programmatic scientism, don’t just go on a witch-hunt looking for logical positivists – find evidence that that’s what they are.

    On the other hand, if you don’t want scientism, then the thing to do would be to find yourself a critical theorist. Along these lines, I suggest that the movement atheists sometimes come across as if they were the newest incarnation of the Frankfurt School. Some of the similarities are striking. Dawkins is interested in “consciousness-raising”, in implicitly reconstructing sociology with “memetics”. Dennett and Harris are interested in the cognitive dimensions that entrance people into religion. They’re obviously programmatic activists, and hence “two-dimensional” men, since they recognize that the possible is not exhausted by the actual (in the lofty Marcusian sense of all that).

    Of course the differences with Frankfurt are numerous. One crucial difference is that they do not subscribe to Marxism. It is as if they had replaced Marx with Darwin, Freud with cognitive science, and Walter Benjamin with Douglas Adams. But they are critical theorists, in the Marcusian “two-dimensional” sense. Scientism? I don’t think so. Maybe bloggers are still logical positivists, I don’t know — but don’t blame the band for their fans.

    You talk about ID as a credit to science because it “seems to think that the supernatural stands or falls on your ability to apply science to it.” Yes, indeed, and by giving scientists that compliment, they show that they are ready to be a part of the conversation. Nobody denies that much. However, their argument just isn’t very good, so it fails. Similarly, when movement atheists insist upon being vocal in their atheism, there is no denial that they are part of the national conversation. What a great compliment to receive, to be talked about over the dinner table, instead of having one’s discoveries buried in the back pages of some journal! Will it fail? Maybe, but they gave it a go. When Chomsky advocates anarcho-syndicalism, did he fail? Maybe, but at least two generations of the left have listened and been inspired.

    When you say “as seen in the behavioral sciences, when they try to shoe horn non-material phenomena into the framework of science, the results can be unstable and prone to become unimpressive over time. Try pointing out a lapse in their work to a behavioral scientist if you want to see real whining and outrage…” we are largely of one mind. The “third culture” of the social sciences is quite distant and alien from both the natural sciences and, I would argue, the humanities. That is because it is a difficult project (for reasons Hobbes knew and articulated pretty well in Leviathan), and it is relatively new. Some behavioral scientists behave badly, and have a poor ability to articulate the scope and limits of the internal and external validity of their studies (among other flaws). This is probably caused to some extent by the fact that they are in constant risk of coming across as entirely uninteresting (a death-knell in these highly competitive fields). If they were more comfortable with the notion of varying degrees of evidential quality as a function of explanatory power, then maybe they would be less defensive. In my experience with sociology, if sociologists only had a less pathological conception of the underlying philosophy of social science and methodology, then much idiocy could be avoided. But no doubt the timbre of each discipline is crooked in its own way.

    If we’re talking about “methodological” materialism and so on, as if it applied to the movement atheists, then what are we to make of Dennett’s stances? He does acknowledge the intentional stance, you know (he invented the term). Is he supposed to be one of the ignoramuses of philosophy and history? For that matter, is Hitchens supposed to be an ahistorical flop? Really? I really am not sure what you’re up to with this criticism, it doesn’t get off the ground.

    (As an aside, philosophers have largely given up on epistemic foundationalism, and have found successes elsewhere, logical and otherwise, in variants of epistemic holism. So again I don’t know how to respond to what you’ve said in a productive way. But I’m also not sure what larger point you’re making. Foundationalism has failed, therefore philosophy has failed, therefore… boo to science? Why not just blame the philosophers if that were the case?)

    Your is/ought point seems to be a variation upon Gould’s theme. One can think of them as the two relevant “magesteria” that Gould had in mind. That would be fine, in the abstract, except that some of us just aren’t satisfied with such an impoverished lifeworld. Moreover, we don’t see how it can be honestly justified except if we decide to be proud of our Stockholm Syndrome, or if we are content in playing the modern version of Thrasymachus. So there are theories that build upon those intuitions. i.e., the consequentialist says “build a bridge from science to ethics”; the critical theorist says, “build a bridge that goes both ways”. The former is not without its limited attractions. And there are also perfectly sensible reasons for doing the latter, especially if our subject matter happens to be the investigation of delusions (in philosophy of mind) or bullshit (in philosophy of language). (If you’re interested in seeing how the delusions bit figures into the issue, see Raymond Geuss’s excellent little book, “The Idea of a Critical Theory”).

  42. #42 Pierce R. Butler
    October 29, 2009

    Anthony McCarthy @ # 37: The great and florid charge you made of my being “grossly misinformed or Republicanly mendacious” is backed up by two items with a lot of superfluous fill?

    One consistent feature of Repub mendacity is that of accusing others of what they’re doing. Of course, since I also said,

    you’re just writing a bit too hastily

    what reason could there be for you to find any connection between the 1st & 2nd ‘grafs above?

    You did what I’ve come to also expect of new atheists, you took something that you didn’t like, couldn’t refute it as it stood so you altered it.

    Apparently you expect this so much from a group whose stereotype you fervently embrace that you see it regardless of what’s in front of you. It couldn’t possibly be that your own hyperbole (re-read # 18: for 50 years, natural selection has been a no-show among evolutionary factors?) and disregard for Dawkins’s own chronology (his Intro to G Delusion notes he wanted to write on atheism a decade earlier but was dissuaded by his publisher) have contributed to any confusion here.

    And to quote a scientist whose “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” has raised howls from the pews over that same decade perforates your own foot argument so thoroughly, what’s left for a Gnu Atheist to do?

    Behavior isn’t material in the same sense that physical objects are.

    I have to scratch my spiritual head with my metaphysical fingers to contemplate that one. Maybe the falling of apples from trees, being a transient phenomenon, has nothing to do with materiality either.

    The problem with psychology is … that it doesn’t have a strong theory or set of theories. (Who said that?)

    The “brain only” theory is not proved …

    We all eagerly await your evidence of extracephalic influences. There was some promising research on the pineal gland that may have been abandoned prematurely – or maybe you can show us some of the breakthroughs underway (outside the materialistic academy) from the burgeoning population of para-credentialed quantum electrodynamicists. Perhaps I could just introduce you to a few observers of my own behavior who’ve reported actions motivated by a so-called “little head” furnished with only afferent nerves.

    Note, apropos my reference above to the descent of apples, that the gravity-only theory remains unproven as well.

  43. #43 Anthony McCarthy
    October 29, 2009

    —- and disregard for Dawkins’s own chronology (his Intro to G Delusion notes he wanted to write on atheism a decade earlier but was dissuaded by his publisher) Pierce SB

    It wouldn’t have mattered if he had wanted to write about it fifty years before but hadn’t till he wrote his great work of scholarship, such as it is. It also wouldn’t have mattered if he had written it the year before. The matter of Lewontin’s timing in making his opinion about Dawkins’ vulgarization of Darwin was only noted by me so people such as yourself would realize that it was quite separate from what I was saying about his trying to recruit evolution into his second career as a vocational atheist leader. If I hadn’t realized there were new atheists in the discussion I might not have felt that was necessary. You boys do get rather emotional and confused on things like that.

    Speaking of which, if you’re going to write with such purposeful obfuscation, I’m not going to play along. It’s one thing to try to be complete, it’s another to be completely silly.

  44. #44 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 29, 2009

    Josh -

    Dawkins made his view on compatibility very clear: He thinks evolution and Christianity are compatible only in the trivial sense that there are smart people who simultaneously believe both. He has been so unambiguous elsewhere about thinking that science and religion are at odds that it is amazing to me that you are jumping on his recent interviews as evidence of some change in position. He absolutely holds the views I attributed to him.

    You write:

    I think that tells us something about his own perception of the best way to promote evolution understanding, no? He’s not shutting up, but he is voluntarily limiting his advocacy against religion in this context and this moment.

    Is someone arguing that the best way to promote understanding of evolution is to bash religion? Or that in all contexts and all moments bashing religion is the wisest thing to do? Dawkins has, on several occasions, made common cause with various religious figures to fight battles of mutual concern. Do you think that fact contradicts anything people like Jerry, PZ or myself have been saying? If you do then we really haven’t been communicating.

    Now, please answer the question I asked you. Mooney and Kirshenbaum wrote:

    Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

    Do you agree with this? If you do, if even so much as criticizing people like Miller and Giberson in a highbrow book review is poor strategy, then explain to me why you deny that you want people like Dawkins and Coyne to shut up about this issue. Is there an acceptable, non-cause-hurting way of expressing the idea that science and religion are at odds, or that a peaceful concordat between science and religion is not something towards which we should be striving?

    Your comments about the level of rationality in a post-religious society don’t actually have anything to do with anything I said. But since you brought it up, I think your opinion is absurd. Are you seriously arguing that the Scandinavian countries, where rates of atheism are the highest (at least in Europe) , are no more rational in their politics, approaches to science, and in their educational systems than the United States? You write:

    Europe’s example in this regard is mixed, with scientifically unjustified anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activism rampant, along with a hard nubbin of uncritical nationalism from both the right and left in many countries. All this from populations where religion is largely vestigial. I continue to hold that religion is not the problem, and we’d all do better to focus on the real problems.

    But we ahave rampant anti-vaccine activism and uncritical nationalism in this country. Anti-GMO activism isn’t much of an issue here, but do you really think that is because our rampant religious faith provides some sort of bulwark?

    There are many sorts of irrationality that have nothing to do with religion, but religion does not provide intellectual protection against any of them. Instead religion contributes forms of irrationality that are, indeed, almost completely unique to it. Heavily atheistic countries do not generally have problems with bigotry towards homosexuals, restrictions on stem-cell research, repressive attitudes towards women, assaults on public education from narrow religious interests, a political system in which you must publicly confess your faith to have any sort of future, or a culture in which wars can be justified and accepted by appeal to religious language, just to pick a few examples.

    Not to mention the most obvious point of all: Atheistic countries have far greater rates of acceptance of evolution than do heavily religious ones.

  45. #45 Tulse
    October 29, 2009

    It’s surely different to suggest that PZ and Dawkins would be poor spokespeople in a narrow context than to say that they shouldn’t talk at all. Responding to a movie is a political act, and politicians often choose to sideline certain spokespeople when their context would make them ineffective on a particular issue.

    But isn’t everything involving the broader issue essentially political, at least in the US? You seem to want to separate this narrow instance from the more general, and I think that’s disingenuous.

    Given that PZ and Dawkins were directly involved in the film, they would not be seen as impartial observers, so their direct involvement would let the press frame discussion of the movie as a conflict between the producers and subjects, rather than a clear statement that the science community objects to the movie’s misrepresentations. Stripping Nisbet’s comments of that context is unfair.

    First off, I can’t imagine that anyone in this debate who knows about Expelled would not know that they both participated.

    Second, you are completely misrepresenting Nisbet’s position, as anyone can see who reads the original piece. For example, statements like:

    The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.

    make it crystal clear that Nisbet’s objection isn’t some nuanced notion that the public will focus on some conflict between filmmaker and subject — it is that he doesn’t like what Dawkins and Myers are saying. Period. It is ludicrous to suggest that Nisbet’s objection was regarding an appearance of conflict — do you honestly think that if Francis Collins or Ken Miller had been misrepresented that Matt would not have urged them to speak out publicly? Nisbet’s issue was not with the mere fact that Dawkins and Myers appeared in the film, and thus would be perceived in a certain way. His problem was with the content of their claims. And yes, what he said amounts to telling someone to shut up.

  46. #46 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    — Heavily atheistic countries do not generally have problems with bigotry towards homosexuals, restrictions on stem-cell research, repressive attitudes towards women, assaults on public education from narrow religious interests, a political system in which you must publicly confess your faith to have any sort of future, or a culture in which wars can be justified and accepted by appeal to religious language, just to pick a few examples. Jason Rosenhouse

    You do know, Jason that if you took out the word “religious” and changed “stem-cell research” you just pretty much described just about every officially atheist government that has ever existed. Though if you substituted other aspects of science and considered the insistence on distorting history to deny any positive aspect of religion as an “attack” you would come up with pretty much the same thing.

    And I wouldn’t put all that much faith in the propaganda about rampant atheism in places like Sweden where a lot of the religious observance might be minimal but it’s still there. I’ve noticed a lot of new atheist propaganda tends to try to claim a lot of people who haven’t declared themselves atheists, just not members of organized religion in the worse cases. I’ve read that a lot of the fall off in Sweden is likely motivated by changes in laws absolving nonmembers of the state church paying taxes to support it but that 40% of teenagers still choose to be confirmed as members. It wouldn’t be an especially admirable thing if that large a percentage of atheists were lying about what they believed, would it? And from what I’m told, there’s an awful lot of new age kind of stuff among the unorganized religious in the Scandinavian countries.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    Benjamin Nelson, I don’t think you understood my point.

    “You talk about ID as a credit to science because it “seems to think that the supernatural stands or falls on your ability to apply science to it.” Yes, indeed, and by giving scientists that compliment, they show that they are ready to be a part of the conversation. Nobody denies that much.”

    ID calling itself science isn’t a credit to science or religion, it’s totally wrong. You can’t do science around a supernatural designer, period. You can speculate about it in religion, you can fully believe that there is a designer and accept that evolution as it actually happened is a result of intentional design, as long as you keep that part of it out of science. When you try to put anything but consideration of the aspects of the material universe that have been treated by the methods and tools of science into science, the results are way to shaky to be relied upon.

    Look at what’s happening in “cognitive science” with all the garbage coming out about alleged gender differences. That’s the result of people turning their preconceived and very sexist ideas and attitudes into what’s mistaken as science. I’d go into the emerging problems with how imaging is done and used and the bizarre misunderstand of statistics but it would set off a firestorm of angry recrimination and I’m not in the mood.

    The concentration on attempts to impose religion on science is way out of proportion to the danger of it happening. Religious infiltration would have to be intentionally obvious in order to achieve its goals, you’d have to know it was happening.

    The infiltration of other extra-scientific impurities like sexism, or financial interest or phonying up the data for professional advancement, etc. wouldn’t need to be noticed to achieve their intended effect. In the case of sexism, as used to be more the case with racial or ethnic bigotry, the pervasive attitude makes those invisible even when they are quite obvious when you consider them.

    The compliment of the ID industry is, actually, a form of envy, they want the reliability of science for something that can never have it. I’d go into how I believe that’s a distortion of religion but that’s totally off topic.

    I’ve got to be away most of today or I’d answer more of your comment.

  48. #48 Sigmund
    October 30, 2009

    Anthony, as I happen to live in Sweden I can perhaps throw a little light on your ideas about life here.
    I haven’t seen the figures for teenagers being confirmed but the figure of 40% wouldn’t surprise me apart from seeming to be fairly low, given the financial advantage to going through this ceremony. The son of an atheist friend of mine was confirmed last year and though the whole thing was enjoyable for the simple reason that its an excuse for a family party – a bit like celebrating the arrival of Santa on Christmas eve.
    For the children being confirmed (usually about 14 years of age) the advantage is in the fact that the tradition here is to receive a gift of money on this occasion. Seeing as its not legal to work at this age this is usually the first time children get their hands on a substantial bit of cash – my friends son went and bought himself a moped with the cash! – something he’d never have persuaded his mother to buy him.
    Religious people are free to worship as they please here. They even have TV programs of their church services on the national TV channels. What they are not free to do is to impose religious laws that conflict with secular opinion, onto the rest of the population.
    By the way, your ideas of “officially atheist countries” are ludicrous. Nobody in the new atheist camp advocates an “officially atheist” government – that is just the old strawman argument of linking atheism with communism. What modern rationalists want is a secular government without religious entanglement (something that even Sweden doesn’t have at present).

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    Sigmund, first, the idea of “officially atheist countries” isn’t ludicrous, it’s a fact. While there were differences among the various Communist governments in the suppression and discouragement of religion, atheism was explicitly part of their official intention. In those left, the suppression of religion still goes on, possibly with the exception of Cuba, which seems to have been generally been more tolerant of religion.

    You did notice the part of my comment to Jason about the lack of integrity of atheists who would be confirmed into Lutheranism, didn’t you? I’m sure there are people who will say anything for money, I suspect that a lot of the TV evangelists here say lots of stuff they don’t believe for money. You think that’s a good thing? I wasn’t the one who speculated about the changes in the tax laws being responsible for the drop off in people being officially members of the state church, if I thought I’d need the citation I’d have kept it.

    Some people in the United States want to claim it for “Christianity”, just as some atheists seem to want to claim Sweden for atheism. I doubt the Christianity of the Christianists in the United States, I doubt the numbers of those who claim Sweden or England for atheism. While I’m certain that organized religion is in decline, most of those who would show up as “nonreligious” in the polls aren’t atheists. In fact, there are probably more agnostics than atheists and more people who believe in some form of religion than even both combined but who aren’t members of a church or claim any particular religious tradition.

  50. #50 Sigmund
    October 30, 2009

    Anthony said:
    “You did notice the part of my comment to Jason about the lack of integrity of atheists who would be confirmed into Lutheranism, didn’t you?”
    I saw it. I just happen to think that judging the actions of children (which is what we are talking about here) is silly.
    If it were adults who were switching to a religion for monetary gain then that’s a different matter. We’re not. What we are talking about is akin to children going along with the story of Santa in order to guarantee presents.
    Even so, the fact that only 40% of children go along with it shows that most children, even at such a young age, have begun to break away from superstition, despite the bribery involved.
    A more apt point would be about the responsible adult figures involved in this situation. Why is the church here confirming people who it must realize are not serious about its beliefs?

  51. #51 Matti K.
    October 30, 2009

    For Jason:

    I think the term “secular society” is better than “atheistic country”. Although most of the nordic countries and England have an official state religion

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_religion#Lutheran

    religion does not play a great part in these societies.Sweden became officially secular in 2000, but I guess no one noticed that in practice (right, Sigmund?). The same applies more or less to England. The people in these countries do not run around chanting “there is no God”, they just do not care if there is one or not and do not make big fuss about it.

    In Europe you will certainly not be able to sell a book where one of the main points is that scientists should keep quiet if they think religion and science are incompatible.

    USA, on the other hand, is constitutionally secular, but how about the American society in general?

  52. #52 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    — Why is the church here confirming people who it must realize are not serious about its beliefs? Sigmund

    How do you know what percentage of them are serious about its beliefs? How do you know that 100% of the ones who decide to be confirmed aren’t at the time?

    You assume a lot of things, among others that Swedish Lutheranism is superstition, which I guess you are authorized to decide, a delusion that many atheists share just as many religious fundamentalists believe they get to determine what the truth is.

    Be more specific, which doctrines of the State Church of Sweden constitute this superstition. I’ll bet I could match every one of them with things that some big name new atheist has said but which have no foundation and consist largely of contradictions, memes prominent among those. Any declaration about behavior in the Paleolithic another, the stated belief of at least two of the brightest lights of the “Brights” that it’s virtually a certainty that life will always follow their version of Darwinism throughout the universe. The propensity to believe in unsupported ideas is hardly the exclusive habit of religion.

    You said that your friend who had their kid confirmed was an atheist. Was the child? While I’m not conversant with the ceremonial aspects of Lutheran confirmation, I’d guess they would have to recite some form of the Creed, wouldn’t they? Or make some affirmation of belief? Wouldn’t their affirming that be a lie? And wouldn’t that tend to impeach the integrity or reliability of any atheist who would do that?

    I used to wonder about John Shelby Spong’s day, how many times he either had to say things he didn’t believe or to ignore his duties as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church and why his retaining a post in a Church he clearly didn’t believe in shouldn’t impeach his honesty. But I didn’t wonder about it very much unless someone brought him up in an argument about another person’s personal belief.

    I wonder how many of those who aren’t members of organized religions in Sweden, or anywhere else, nevertheless hold a belief in God or some other supernatural entities but who are still claimed in the number of atheists despite that.

  53. #53 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    —- In Europe you will certainly not be able to sell a book where one of the main points is that scientists should keep quiet if they think religion and science are incompatible. Matti K

    Where has such a book been suppressed in Europe? And can you name a book with that theme that has sold well in the United States? What titles are you talking about?

    I’m not aware of anyone suggesting the suppression of such a book anywhere. Citations?

  54. #54 Matti K.
    October 30, 2009

    To AMC: Selling a book may fail also for market reasons. No totalitarian mechanism is needed.

    Note: Mr, Mooney sells only in US, Dawkins (and other “new atheists”) seem to sell everywhere.

    Luckily, the Brits can enjoy the output of other Mooneys, even one called Chris. The namesake seems to get much better reviews than accommodationist-Chris:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mooney&x=0&y=0

  55. #55 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    Matti K, you didn’t answer my question. You asserted that you couldn’t sell a book that tells scientists to keep quiet if they thought religion and science are incompatible in Europe. Leaving aside the question of your fudging the inability to sell a book, what book do you have in mind that says that.

    Of course, the next question is to quote the books you name as having said that to prove they do.

    You are making stuff up.

    As to Amazon reviews, please. They’re a prime focus of ideological flacks trying to drive up or down sales for books and other things. There is at least one infamous case from a few years back of a writer who was caught writing Amazon reviews of his own book under assumed names.

    Or is that your idea of “evidence”?

  56. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    October 30, 2009

    Oh, and if you want to references, try googling John Lott Mary Rosh.

  57. #57 Ophelia Benson
    October 30, 2009

    Josh wrote

    He’s a nice guy, as are Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists.”

    Some ‘New Atheists’ aren’t any kind of guy at all.

  58. #58 Ophelia Benson
    October 30, 2009

    Josh – you said –

    To Jason’s point, then, I don’t see how it’s fair to say that Chris and Sheril or Chris and Matt have tried to silence certain people (bearing in mind that I’ve hardly read every word any of them have written, and I’m basically just talking about the arguments in Unscientific America and Mooney and Nisbet’s two essays here).

    In this particular context, that’s a real problem, because part of why it is fair to say that is because of what Chris has said in other places, starting with the post about civility and Jerry Coyne’s review in The New Republic, back in May – the post Jason mentions above (#44) – and with our questions about what exactly he wanted Jerry Coyne and the rest of us to do differently, and Chris’s refusal to answer any of those questions, and Chris’s and Chris-and-Sheril’s later articles that recycled similar claims, still without any specification of what exactly it was acceptable for us to say and write when a review in The New Republic was considered uncivil.

    If you don’t know about any of that, maybe you really shouldn’t weigh in on one side.

  59. #59 Matti K.
    October 30, 2009

    AMC, I’m sorry, but english is not my first language. I try to make it as clear as possible:

    When I said that “In Europe you will certainly not be able to sell a book…”, I meant that there is no market for such a book. N-o m-a-r-k-e-t! For example, UA will not be translated to any other language and few people outside USA will purchase the english version.

    The “four horsemen” play in a totally different league as authors as our petty accommodationist journalist. You are free to check the Amazons in different countries:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/gateway-eu

  60. #60 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 30, 2009

    Matti K -

    I think the term “secular society” is better than “atheistic country”.

    Point taken. That would have been a better phrasing.

  61. #61 Pierce R. Butler
    October 30, 2009

    Anthony McCarthy @ # 43: … if you’re going to write with such purposeful obfuscation, I’m not going to play along.

    Now that’s a dodge more worthy of a Sophisticated Philosopher™!

  62. #62 Josh Rosenau
    October 30, 2009

    Pierce and Anthony: I’m happy to have spirited discussion here, but try not to devolve into name-calling or whatever.

    Ophelia Benson: I’m not sure how citing you, linking to you, and acknowledging the possibility of error deserves quite the outrage you’re displaying. My apologies.

    No apologies for being verbose. I’ve seen how writing briefly has led to vituperation and misunderstanding in this debate, and I prefer to write at length to avoid misunderstanding. People who can’t be bothered to read an argument at length should reconsider whether they are best qualified to solve a conflict that many of history’s great minds have been baffled by.

    Nor do I apologize for referring to “guys.” I regard it as a gender-neutral term at this point. And given that the public faces of New Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett) are men, I don’t know how uncomfortable I’d be using gendered language here.

    In any event, I find your explanation for the quoted passage implausible. Chris discussed what would happen “if we could only dislodge the idea that evolution is contradictory to people’s belief[s]” in various religious phenomena. You claim that your description of such phenomena as “miracles” is simply a way of saying it’s “very difficult to dislodge an idea that is true.” But miracles aren’t “very difficult,” they’re impossible. And in the context of Chris’s comment, this wasn’t a discussion of epistemic whatever, but of brute compatibility, which you acknowledge is possible, and which polls show to be quite common. I can’t read your mind now, let alone in March, but your explanation doesn’t track with what you wrote. Perhaps this is simply a case of excess concision.

    Finally, Jason’s comment (which I’ve read) is about a response (which I read) to a review (which I read) of a book (which I read). I feel like I’m competent to comment on the relevant context, then. And since there is other context to the broader “shut up” argument, I think it was appropriate for me to draw the distinctions I did. Furthermore, I think that rhetoric on blogs has a different context than carefully edited writing in a book, a Science article, or an op-ed. Blogs have a tendency not to be carefully nuanced, and to imperfectly convey complex thoughts in ways that one hopes more thoroughly-edited writings would not.

    Jason Rosenhouse: “Is someone arguing that the best way to promote understanding of evolution is to bash religion? Or that in all contexts and all moments bashing religion is the wisest thing to do? Dawkins has, on several occasions, made common cause with various religious figures to fight battles of mutual concern. Do you think that fact contradicts anything people like Jerry, PZ or myself have been saying? If you do then we really haven’t been communicating.”

    I see much of the criticism of NCSE’s outreach to religious groups as arguing exactly that. Yes, there’s also an element of that criticism which says NCSE was too willing to endorse certain religious views. But there’s been criticism of NCSE simply for having a staffer responsible for outreach to religious groups.

    I think I acknowledged Dawkins’ belief about science and religion, but I’d like it noted that his views are not so simple as to say they are incompatible full stop. He also accepts that Collins and others believe them to be compatible, and that this does not instantly invalidate Collins as a scientist, a theist, or an intellectual force to be respected (as, for instance, Sam Harris sometimes seems to do). The New Atheists are certainly not a unified bloc (nor should they be).

    Frankly, I think your point about how Dawkins and others have to tailor their message to certain contexts supports, rather than invalidates, the argument of the framers and of Unscientific America. Their argument is that certain form of discourse are unproductive, and they have some suggestions about how to be more effective, suggestions that Dawkins et al. have implemented (perhaps imperfectly). As for the particulars of what Chris said about what Barbara Forrest said about what Jerry Coyne said, I really don’t know. I haven’t read Coyne’s piece, I didn’t hear what Barbara did or didn’t say about it, and as a result, I have no opinion on Chris’s interpretations of Coyne or Barbara’s views. It strikes me that the dispute centers on whether Coyne’s review was as civil and polite as some claim, or if it is as uncivil as Chris says. Not having read it, I can’t adjudicate (it is on my reading list, but not at the top of that list). I will say that the three criteria Chris cites as coming from Barbara seem reasonable. Is there a reason I shouldn’t endorse a call for etiquette, diversity, and humility? Are those really the same as “shut up”?

    “do you really think that is because our rampant religious faith provides some sort of bulwark?”

    My point about various non-religious forms of irrationality isn’t to say that religion is a bulwark against them, but that irrationality is not dependent on religion. There may be a correlation between them (as with anti-evolution and religiosity), but I think that correlation reflects a common underlying cause, not a causal link between the two. Europe’s diminishing religiosity was not, I’d argue, caused by rising science literacy, but by a host of social shifts that also result in science literacy, but which haven’t undermined the human tendency towards nonsense. There are forms of religion which encourage rational approaches to the empirical world and which encourage rational discourse about metaphysics, and there are religions which oppose such rationality. There are non-theistic, non-religious ideologies (certain libertarianisms, New Age BS, anti-GMO activism, anti-vax, non-Western medicine, etc.) which oppose rationality, and other ideologies which encourage rationality. I’d suggest that the religious and non-religious approaches which favor rationality tend to share certain approaches to the world, including humility, pluralism, and civility (exactly the traits Chris reports Barbara advocating).

    Tulse: The broader issue touches on politics, science, philosophy, and a host of other things. It’s fair to encourage people to be cautious about how they blur those realms. As to Nisbet’s point about PZ and Dawkins as spokesmen for science, it is precisely because they were presented in Expelled as if they spoke for science (through the producers’ dishonesty, and no fault of their own, mind you), that they had to be cautious about their media outreach in that context. The movie erroneously portrays their advocacy for atheism as an official view of the science community when it is not, and while they unquestionably had a right and a duty to defend themselves against the movie’s dishonesty, Nisbet’s suggestion that they defer broader questions about the movie’s treatment of science to groups with a more credible claim of speaking for science seems pretty uncontroversial to me.

  63. #63 Physicalist
    October 30, 2009

    Josh says: “It strikes me that the dispute centers on whether Coyne’s review was as civil and polite as some claim, or if it is as uncivil as Chris says.”

    If I recall correctly, Chris denies claiming that Coyne’s review was uncivil. (But I’m not going to go looking for the quotation.)

    This has left people baffled about what Chris could possibly be complaining about then. And reasonable observers have reached the conclusion reported by Jason.

    So it seems to me that you (Josh) are missing what’s under dispute here.

    If indeed Coyne’s review was civil, and even Chris Mooney admits this, then what can we conclude about Chris’s complaints? Jason hits the nail on the head: the mere fact that someone is criticizes accommodationists is itself viewed as a horrible sin that “hurts the cause” of scientific literacy.

    It’s despicable, but there you have it.

  64. #64 Physicalist
    October 30, 2009

    Josh says: “Their argument is that certain form of discourse are unproductive, and they have some suggestions about how to be more effective.”

    Unproductive for what? Isn’t it painfully clear by this point that different people have different goals, and that even the same person can be engaged in different projects at different times?

    The complaint against the Framers has from the first been that they’re either saying something that every communicator already knows (viz. consider your audience when forming your message) or else something that’s subversive to the values of intellectual discourse generally and science specifically (viz. that you should be willing to sacrifice truth for political expediency).

    Look, even PZ doesn’t push atheism when he’s teaching biology. Everyone knows that you can discuss the science without addressing questions of religion and faith, and that in many contexts, that is precisely what one should do.

    The only question is whether it is legitimate for a defender of science to attack religion/faith/irrationality in other contexts (e.g., in books, blogs, and book reviews). The Uppity Atheists obviously think that such a project is very legitimate. Mooney seems to think that it is not.

    Where do you stand?

  65. #65 Tulse
    October 30, 2009

    Nisbet’s suggestion that they defer broader questions about the movie’s treatment of science to groups with a more credible claim of speaking for science seems pretty uncontroversial to me.

    Joshua, the whole fracking issue is precisely the extremely controversial suggestion that there are only some people who get to “speak for science” — this particular context is not unique in that regard. There simply is no pope for science, no one person or organization who pronounces its official position. To suggest that some particular bodies or individuals “speak for science” is ludicrous. It shows a deep misunderstanding of how science works, and treats it precisely like politics (“they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the cause”). It is, however, an approach that is understandable for those who see science primarily as politics and narrative. (I would also suggest that, prima facie, those who have the most credibility to speak for science might actually be, you know, scientists, and not journalists.)

    I’ll also add that the complaint that some people have against the NCSE’s position on religion is that the NCSE doesn’t “speak for science” in the broader sense of defending its core principles, but rather it speaks for a politically expedient position that is non-scientific.

  66. #66 Ophelia Benson
    October 30, 2009

    God, Josh, what a pompous and unresponsive reply. Long, too.

    I’m not sure how citing you, linking to you, and acknowledging the possibility of error deserves quite the outrage you’re displaying.

    I didn’t display ‘quite the outrage.’ I asked how I was supposed to correct your version of what I said when I wasn’t aware it existed. (Someone pointed it out to me long afterwards.) It’s just a silly thing to say – it’s as if you assume everybody in the world automatically reads what you write.

    No apologies for being verbose. I’ve seen how writing briefly has led to vituperation and misunderstanding in this debate, and I prefer to write at length to avoid misunderstanding.

    Ah, but writing at length doesn’t automatically avoid misunderstanding, and your posts don’t gain in clarity by being longer – they seem disorganized and lacking in structure. They seem to go on and on so long because you can’t figure out how to get to the point or to make them more concise.

    People who can’t be bothered to read an argument at length should reconsider whether they are best qualified to solve a conflict that many of history’s great minds have been baffled by.

    Cute; but it’s not that I can’t be bothered to read an argument at length, it’s that I can’t be bothered to read your rambling meandering unstructured posts whose stabs at an argument are obscured by excess verbiage.

    I wouldn’t have said that if you hadn’t been so snippy, but you were, so I did.

    But miracles aren’t “very difficult,” they’re impossible.

    What?!? Surely not! Surely belief that miracles are possible is compatible with science! And evolution! And apple pie. Surely any broom that would sweep away belief that miracles are possible would also sweep away novels and tennis and art and knitting and chocolate cake and sunsets and puppies and ice skating and rainbows on kittens!

    Anyway find my explanation of what I meant as implausible as you like, but it is what I meant.

  67. #67 Ophelia Benson
    October 30, 2009

    Is there a reason I shouldn’t endorse a call for etiquette, diversity, and humility? Are those really the same as “shut up”?

    When they are in reference to a perfectly ordinary respectable book review in a well-known long-established somewhat intellectual periodical, yes. It is just not routine business to claim that a book review of that kind somehow violates canons of ‘etiquette, diversity, and humility’ (whatever that means). If you had read the article, perhaps you would realize that.

  68. #68 Physicalist
    October 30, 2009

    Just to reinforce Tulse’s point about offensiveness of Nesbit’s advocating politics over intellectual honesty, allow me to quote a comment of mine from back then. (Yes, I know that’s beyond tacky, but it’s a comment I’m rather proud of, so whatcha gonna do?)

    [It's poor form to] compare scientists who have devoted their life to discovering and communicating the truth about the world with politicians whose words are to be judged only by popularity. Indeed, [Nisbet's] comparison is made all the more insulting by the suggestion that these politicians are morally superior to the truth-speaking scientist.

    Ah, the framing debates.
    *sniff*
    I think I need to go take a shower.

  69. #69 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 30, 2009

    Josh –

    Here’s how Chris described Coyne’s TNR review of Miller and Giberson:

    So-I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article.

    I don’t seem to be able to access Chris’ archives right now, but I have the relevant links in this post.

    Clearly, then, the issue was neither the tone of Coyne’s review nor the substance of his arguments. Chris did not think the review was uncivil. It was bad strategy simply because it was strongly critical of two people who are trying to reconcile science and religion. So I ask you again, do you agree with this view? Is there an acceptable, non-cause threatening way of expressing the view that science and religion are not compatible? Is it bad strategy even to criticize people like Miller and Giberson?

    Regarding framing, that you should tailor your message to fit your audience has never been the point at issue. Indeed, I would consider that so obvious and common-sensical that you hardly need a professor of communications to point it out to you. People got so angry at Nisbet because it quickly became clear that on the subject of evolution and religion, “framing” was a euphemism for “telling vocal atheists to shut up.” As I recall, Nisbet even said explicitly at one point that people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers need to recede into the background and let people friendlier to religion take the reins.

    You wrote:

    Their argument is that certain form of discourse are unproductive, and they have some suggestions about how to be more effective, suggestions that Dawkins et al. have implemented (perhaps imperfectly).

    Unproductive for what purpose? If you are trying to sell a book presenting the evidence for evolution it is unproductive to unleash broadsides against religion during the marketing campaign. No one needed Unscientific America to point that out to them. But broadsides against religion are, indeed, productive if your goal is to diminish the strength of religion in modern society, or to increase the profile of atheism.

    People like Chris aren’t encouraging Dawkins and Coyne to present their views on science and religion more skillfully, he is encouraging them not to express them at all. The message that science and religion are incompatible and that it is undesirable even to seek compatibility is a message that many people, including Chris, think is so inherently harmful that it should not be expressed.

    Concerning the NCSE, I have said many times that I think it’s great for the NCSE to reach out to religious folks. That’s exactly what you should be doing. My only objection comes when reaching out to religious folks becomes code for bashing people who don’t think science and religion are separate ways of knowing or all the rest. Kevin Padian’s recent statement is a good example. I had thought that was Jerry Coyne’s view as well, but he does tend to be a bit more vigorous than me on this issue, so if you have a juicy quote to spring by all means spring it. I’m planning to do a long post responding to our most recent post, so I won’t belabor this further here.

    You wrote:

    There are forms of religion which encourage rational approaches to the empirical world and which encourage rational discourse about metaphysics, and there are religions which oppose such rationality.

    You have to go pretty far into the realm of liberal theology before you find such forms of religion. To pick just one specific example, would you regard the Roman Catholic Church as a friend to rationality? They (barely) manage to come down on the right side on the evolution issue, but they also claim their leader is closer to God than the rest of us and can speak infallibly at least some of the time. Is that the sort of attitude you are praising as encouraging rational approaches to metaphysics?

    My point about various non-religious forms of irrationality isn’t to say that religion is a bulwark against them, but that irrationality is not dependent on religion.

    And dying isn’t dependent on getting cancer, but if we manage to cure cancer a whole lot of terrible deaths will be avoided. That many forms of irrationality do not depend on religion is not in dispute, as I said in my last comment. The point is simply that religion is a major cause of irrational, anti-science beliefs. That other forms of irrationality remain even after it has been marginalized is neither here nor there.

  70. #70 Ophelia Benson
    October 30, 2009

    Oh and one more thing, which I forgot.

    Nor do I apologize for referring to “guys.” I regard it as a gender-neutral term at this point. And given that the public faces of New Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett) are men, I don’t know how uncomfortable I’d be using gendered language here.

    You regard it as gender-neutral in the passage I quoted? “He’s a nice guy, as are Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists.” You’re kidding, right? You’d say “she’s a nice guy, as are Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists”? Really?

    See, Josh? This is why long posts do not automatically equate to better or more thoughtful posts. Length is no substitute for thought.

    The second part doesn’t work either. “Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists”" obviously refers to ‘New Atheists’ in general, all of them, whoever they may be – it obviously does not refer just to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett. You screwed up by implying that all ‘New Atheists’ are men; you could just say so.

  71. #71 Josh Rosenau
    October 30, 2009

    Ophelia: “You’d say “she’s a nice guy, as are Coyne, and PZ, and many of the other “New Atheists”? Really?”

    Yeah. Thanks for asking.

  72. #72 Josh Rosenau
    October 30, 2009

    Physicalist: I don’t think I’m “missing what’s under dispute here.” The accusations of “shut up” were also thrown around the framing articles, so the claim that this was all an effort to shut atheists up didn’t originate with Coyne’s review of Giberson and Miller. I didn’t address myself to that review here, nor were Jason’s quoted comments in reference to that earlier review, but to UA. As I haven’t read the review yet, nor (consequently) followed the dispute over it, nothing above was intended as a response to that discussion (and I made a point of disclaiming that broader context).

  73. #73 Josh Rosenau
    October 30, 2009

    Physicalist: It’s well and good to say that framing is obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or widely applied. That it’s obviously important but poorly applied is surely not a strike against the framers’ argument. The issue the framers raise is that the context is not classrooms vs. books & blogs, but that the context of the book itself matters. A book like TGD that mixes atheism with evolution so thoroughly, the argument goes, confuses the science context and the religion/irreligion context, to the detriment of both. My opinion is that there’s not much gained by “attack[ing] religion” (it tends to turn people off and stop useful interaction) nor with equating religion and irrationality (there are lots of non-rational non-religions, and many religions which encourage rational approaches to empirical reality). People are free to do as they wish, and our disagreement about tactics and strategy is not “shut up.”

  74. #74 Pierce R. Butler
    October 30, 2009

    Josh Rosenau @ # 62: … [Mooney & Kirshenbaum] have some suggestions about how to be more effective, suggestions that Dawkins et al. have implemented (perhaps imperfectly).

    This implies that M&K proposed a strategy or tactic which the Dawkins Gang were not using previously, but have now taken up.

    Which is what?

  75. #75 Josh Rosenau
    October 30, 2009

    Ophelia: It’s not been my experience that it’s standard blog etiquette to personally alert every person whose blog you linked that they’ve been linked. That’s what trackbacks, technorati, and referrer logs are for. Plus, you’re a regular enough commenter here that I figured you’d be by.

    As to Coyne’s “perfectly ordinary respectable book review in a well-known long-established somewhat intellectual periodical,” I don’t know if you mean his TNR review or his review of UA in Science. At the risk of boring you by repeating myself, I haven’t read the TNR piece and have not been commenting on its substance. I don’t know the nature of Chris’s beef with the TNR piece and am not especially interested in adjudicating that. As for the Science piece, Chris and Sheril are hardly the only ones who thought Coyne’s review was bogus. I criticized it here, and Donald Marcus’s letter to Science echoed the same themes as both my reply and Chris and Sheril’s.

    As for whether “belief that miracles are compatible with science,” I fail to see any relevance to my points above. Miracles are events caused by supernatural agents and not by natural processes. Convincing people to change their views on how religion and science are related would be a natural process, and I think a fair reading of your post would hold that you were claiming people’s minds could only be changed through supernatural processes. Otherwise, it would seem like the issue is not the impossibility/unlikelihood of changing minds, the question would be how to make it easier to effect that change, or to argue that it is a bad idea to make that change regardless of the benefits noted by Chris.

  76. #76 Anthony McDarthy
    October 30, 2009

    This has gotten to the “no matter what you say, you’re wrong” phase.

    All this talk about changing peoples’ minds about miracles and other supernatural beliefs seems to talk about people as if they were some kind of material you could work a process on and it’s only a matter of finding the most efficacious process. But that’s not what people are like.

    In so far as science is possible, there are two kinds of miracles, those you have some evidence to process with science and those which for various reasons you can’t. You might convince some people to not believe in the first kind if you find evidence that their belief is demonstrably wrong, the other is safe from real science, though the various opinion based dismissals of the sciency side of it are often asserted to be “science”.

    Let me predict that you’re not going to wipe out a widespread belief in miracles, that you’re never going to do it and the effort is wrong headed. As the prevalence of creationism shows, you can’t even do it with the massive evidence supporting evolution. How do you propose to do it with less well supported refutations and with no real refutation at all? Bullying doesn’t seem to have that effect, nor does mockery or disdain.

    And it could have the unfortunate effect of convincing people who believe they’ve experienced the miraculous that science is unnecessary, using their experience as evidence that the science that is incompatible with it is wrong.

    I think you’re going to have to settle with getting some people to give up the miracles that can be shown to be wrong and give up on the others. That, I predict, will be as far as it can go.

    The belief in the miraculous has lived side by side with science for centuries now, widespread belief in miracles, even by some scientists, has not quashed science. To think it will now is unsupported.

  77. #77 Physicalist
    October 30, 2009

    @ Josh:

    As Jason has pointed out (and as had I), Mooney is not claiming that Coyne’s review was uncivil in its tone or content, so although you should read it, it’s rather beside the point for the discussion here.

    Here’s the post where he tries to walk back his earlier attack, and in which he promises to actually address the arguments for and against the incompatibility of science and religion.

    Unfortunately, after a few faltering steps (neatly torn apart by Jason, for one), Mooney simply abandoned rational argument on the topic, but he continued his assault on those who argue for incompatibility. His attacks were attempts to demonize his opponents, but consistently avoided the substance of their ideas (as Blackford so forcefully put it.

    Josh says,

    My opinion is that there’s not much gained by “attack[ing] religion” (it tends to turn people off and stop useful interaction)

    We understand. You’ve made it clear that you’re not interested in the theism vs. atheism debate. That’s fine.

    But many people are interested in this debate, and your apathy (your word, I believe) about this issue gives them absolutely no reason to refrain from arguing forcefully for atheism. Obviously different people can and do have different goals.

    You don’t care whether we have a bunch of theists running around, as long as they accept evolution. Coyne, Harris, and (I presume) Rosenfeld think that accepting claims about the world on religious faith is itself an epistemic vice best eliminated.

    As I see it, you can either start to care about the philosophical issue and engage the arguments presented by the incompatibilists, or you can simply recognize that some people have goals that only partly overlap with your own, and you can leave them be when they argue for atheism (and for the incompatibility of science and religion).

    The problem arises when people like Mooney hope to avoid offering a philosophical critique of the incompatibilist thesis and nonetheless want to criticize people argue that the thesis is sound. Such attacks are attacks on the person, not the argument. This is known as an ad hominem fallacy. And it makes people grumpy.

  78. #78 Physicalist
    October 30, 2009

    Jason says,

    As I recall, Nisbet even said explicitly at one point that people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers need to recede into the background and let people friendlier to religion take the reins.

    Here are some quotes from Nisbet (in the context of Expelled):

    Dawkins and PZ need to . . . [let] others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals.

    If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support: Lay low and let others do the talking.

    So Richard and PZ, when it comes to Expelled, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for science.

    Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science

    Makes you wonder how anyone could ever interpret this as “shut up,” doesn’t it?

  79. #79 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 30, 2009

    Physicalist -

    Thanks for supplying the quotes. And since our earlier comments crossed in the ether, sorry for repeating some of our arguments without noting that you had said them first. :)

  80. #80 Anthony McCarthy
    October 31, 2009

    There’s a difference between “shut up” and “you can either persuade people or make them angry, you can’t do both, you don’t seem to be able to persuade people because you like to make them angry,”.

    I’d think most people who realize that you can’t convince people by telling them they’re ignorant and stupid would be so unreflective as to think they could shut up Myers and Dawkins by telling them to “shut up”?

    This “shut up” ploy has passed the point of being answered long ago and its continued repetition by the same people who have been answered over and over and over again is entirely tactical, drawing time and attention from their critics. It’s exactly the same tactic that the creationists use by bringing up ancient junk that science surpassed long ago. Maybe that’s where the new atheists learned it.

  81. #81 Benjamin Nelson
    October 31, 2009

    At the risk of getting the conversation stuck at the level where we’re merely meditating on injunctions, I have to say my piece. Nisbet was pretty clearly telling people to shut up in those quotes. But I think Mooney-Kirshenbaum are usually a bit more careful.

    And there is a (very minor) difference between appropriate and reasonable critical responses to the two of them. i.e., it is best to tell Mooney-Kirshenbaum that their interesting opinions have unfortunately not been terribly persuasive, while it is best to tell Nisbet that it is time for him to grow up.

  82. #82 Ophelia Benson
    October 31, 2009

    What’s interesting about their opinions, Ben?

  83. #83 Anthony McCarthy
    October 31, 2009

    it is best to tell Mooney-Kirshenbaum that their interesting opinions have unfortunately not been terribly persuasive

    I don’t think the new atheists are their audience, if it was it won’t remain so.

    I don’t think we should bother to tell the new atheists to shut up, I think we should push them aside.

  84. #84 Anthony McCarthy
    October 31, 2009

    Oh, dear. Hit the “post” key in mid edit. Just make all of those things agree in translation.

  85. #85 Benjamin Nelson
    October 31, 2009

    Ophelia, nothing, it’s the polite academic way of saying “I acknowledge that you have a perspective”. It’s one way of damning through faint kindness.

    Anthony, thank you for your interesting opinion.

  86. #86 Anthony McCarthy
    October 31, 2009

    Benjamin Nelson, et al, thank you for confirming my opinion.

  87. #87 Matti K.
    November 1, 2009

    Josh, say that you will not give an opinion on Coyne’s TNR-article, because you have not read it. Here it is:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/books/seeing-and-believing

    It is not long. I think it is easy to make up one’s mind what parts of it are uncivil or is otherwise harmful. Mr. Mooney says that publishing it was bad strategy. What is your opinion?

  88. #88 Peter Beattie
    November 1, 2009

    » Jason Rosenhouse:
    Is someone arguing that the best way to promote understanding of evolution is to bash religion? …

    » Josh Rosenau:
    I see much of the criticism of NCSE’s outreach to religious groups as arguing exactly that.

    What you see or do not see is completely immaterial. The point would be to be able to cite, in support of your position, pertinent passages from what a party in this debate actually said. Which you would be hard put to do since everybody on the opposing side has always and consistently argued for neutrality. No endorsement of religion, please, but no endorsement of non-religion either.

    Yes, there’s also an element of that criticism which says NCSE was too willing to endorse certain religious views.

    Seriously, which part of ‘neutrality’ don’t you understand? NCSE certainly showed preferential treatment to certain religious positions with regard to their compatibility with evolutionary ideas. NCSE staff have stressed over and over again that it’s possible to accept evolution and still believe in some sort of religion—while at the same making no mention of the fact that the majority of evolution-accepters in the scientific community think that any religious belief would at least be severely compromised by an acceptance of evolution. Do you think some kind of actual balance would be a political liability to NCSE?

    But there’s been criticism of NCSE simply for having a staffer responsible for outreach to religious groups.

    So, an unnamed guy on the Internet has been critical of NCSE for that? That’s outrageous. And also completely irrelevant to Jason’s point.

    But since you mentioned it: why is it that you have an outreach co-ordinator and a “Faith Project Director”, who specifically tells religious people that their belief has nothing whatsoever to fear from the science of evolution—and yet fail to lend comparable representation to the majority of scientists who happen to be convinced that of course evolution will make inroads on any belief that isn’t pretty far up the scale towards the deism position anyway?

  89. #89 Sigmund
    November 1, 2009

    I really don’t see a major difference between the approaches of Collins and Miller and those of Dawkins and Myers in relationship to traditional evangelical Christian teachings.
    Both groups have the same essential message, which is that they urge evangelicals to change their religion, or at least a fundamental part of their faith. In the case of Collins and Miller they advocate changing to a liberal version of Christianity at odds with the belief of the majority of their respective religions. The idea that its simply a different interpretation of the same text neglects to remember that this is precisely the reason we had the reformation and the split of christianity into protestantism and catholicism.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    November 2, 2009

    — the fact that the majority of evolution-accepters in the scientific community think that any religious belief would at least be severely compromised by an acceptance of evolution. Peter Beattie

    First, where is the clear evidence that this is true.

    Second, an idea like that could well be the result of the contemporary culture of science and not have an awful lot to do with reality.

    Third, that belief cannot account for the many informed people who both accept evolution and religion, even those religions which are the constant target of those who deny that’s possible. Those people exist, they have worked in the uppermost levels of biological science on topics that are impossible to understand without accepting evolution, they have done all of that while appearing to be quite sane and practical.

    I think the superstition that denies that reality is based firmly in ignorance of the issues involved and personal bias of the kind that the new atheism is constructed of.