A few coynes short?

Jerry Coyne, in the throatclearing before an otherwise reasonable dissection of wankery on the Huffington Post, brings the ahistorical and gratuitous FAIL:

I?m coyneing the term ?New Creationism? to describe the body of thought that accepts Darwinian evolution but with the additional caveats that 1) it was all started by God, 2) had God-worshipping humans as its goal, and 3) that the evidence for all this is that life is complex, humans evolved, and the the ?fine tuning? of physical constants of the universe testify to the great improbability of our being here?ergo God.

Two main thoughts occur. First, this is the creationism that preceded the Enlightenment. It’s not, in any sense, new. And there’s already a term for it: Theistic Evolution.

Second, the term “New Creationism” is not new. Creationist Henry Morris used the term “neo-creationism” to describe his strategy in 1997. A chapter in Scott’s sourcebook on the controversy has a chapter titled “Neo-creationism.” Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh used the term “New Creationism” in 1997 to describe a particular front in the Science Wars then waging, in which certain social scientists rejected biological explanations for human behaviors. Creationist Paul Garner titled his work of young earth creationism The New Creationism. It was published last year. Philosopher/a-life researcher Robert Pennock described intelligent design as “the new creationism” in the subtitle to his 2000 book Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Robert Wright used the same term to describe ID in a 2001 article in Slate. A 2005 article by Marshall Berman in APS News described intelligent design as “the New Creationism.”

Which is all by way of saying, “the New Creationism” is not different from ID because it is ID in the common usage of the community of evolution-defenders to which Coyne belongs.

So I propose my own coinage:

coyne: (v) To invent a new pejorative which adds heat, not light, and which tends to collide with established usage.

Or, to borrow a phrase, You’re Not Helping. “New Creationism” is a term already widely used to refer to enemies of honest science education. Applying that term to proponents of honest science education promotes confusion and divides his own ranks, to no obviously helpful end.

I see two plausible defenses for Coyne. He could claim to have been unaware that the term was in wide use already. This would indicate a) he can’t operate the Great Gizoogle and b) he isn’t aware of some of the major works in this field (one in which he considers himself a leading light). Alternatively, he could claim to have known that and been indifferent to the confusion he’d cause. But neither ignorance nor douchebaggery are generally-accepted defenses.

Comments

  1. #1 Amar
    April 26, 2010

    Josh,
    How about playfulness? I understood his ‘coynage’ of the term ‘New Creationist’ as a sort of underhanded swipe at the accomodationist’s and theists’ adoption of the term ‘New Atheists’ to refer to today’s crop of outspoken atheists.

  2. #2 Mike from Ottawa
    April 26, 2010

    It’s not playfulness, it’s the radical’s attempt to polarize debate by forcing people into one of only two camps, in this case either creationism or Coyne’s own scientism.

    If it were isolated, playfulness might fit, but it’s not isolated but a consistent effort.

  3. #3 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 27, 2010

    Coyne assumes that if a believer accepts (1), they also accept (2) and (3).

    He needs to fine-tune his argument; as it is, the impression is left that any believer is automatically a Ken Ham supporter. How is this any different than avid creationists claiming that TEs are working to get atheism taught in public schools?

  4. #4 Jim Lippard
    April 27, 2010

    Coyne’s “new creationism” sounds like Newton’s creationism.

  5. #5 Deepak Shetty
    April 27, 2010

    Are people who believe in 1) , 2) and 3) (or a combination thereof) proponents of honest science education? How so?
    If you believe that God and Science are separate , non interfering domains then God has no place in Science so 1. , 2. or 3. have no part in any honest science education.

    If you believe that Science can have some say about God , then its current statement is there is no evidence yet for God. I doubt any of your honest proponents want this statement to be made.

    If you have some other alternative, lets hear it.

    @Cheryl.
    Do you know of anyone who believes 1. but does not believe 2.? God started it all , but didn’t actually expect humans to be the outcome.? Very few pure deists left today, no?
    And do you know of any theistic evolutionists who don’t point to fine tuning arguments?

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    April 27, 2010

    Deepak: Coyne identifies Ken Miller as one of his “new creationists,” and I defy you to argue that Miller is not a proponent of honest science education. There’s a reason that every major science and science education organization has honored him for his tireless efforts for honest science education.

    Why would you not think that various theists would agree that there is no scientific evidence for God? Many regard the attempt to find scientific evidence for (or against) God as irrelevant and misguided as a matter of both science and theology. God’s existence is, broadly speaking, untestable precisely because no conceivable observation is incompatible with the existence of God or any other entity unbound by natural laws.

    Theists including Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris argue that humans are not an inevitable product of evolution, and that God need not have meant for evolution to produce humans. Rather, they argue that the universe is arranged such that it will produce intelligent beings, and that those beings will be capable of worshiping their creator. They (generally?) acknowledge this concept to be extrascientific. Those beings needn’t have been humans, they could’ve been highly intelligent dinosaurs or rats or whales.

  7. #7 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 28, 2010

    Deepak, I don’t know of any survey data that breaks down believers into those who believe in various combinations of 1, 2 and/or 3. Likewise, I have no data regarding the number of TEs who use fine-tuning arguments. If you have some data on either of these issues, let’s dig into it.

    More importantly, the TEs I know and know of are staunch supporters of science education. Coyne’s points 1-3 describe the faith position of some folks, not what should/should not be taught in public school science classrooms.

  8. #8 Matti K.
    April 28, 2010

    “Why would you not think that various theists would agree that there is no scientific evidence for God? Many regard the attempt to find scientific evidence for (or against) God as irrelevant and misguided as a matter of both science and theology.”

    Why then do some compatibilist scientists go to great lengths trying to tie scientific facts and religious beliefs together? For example, why speculate with quantum mechanics as a way for God to execute his/her will? After all, doesn’t God work in mysterious ways? :-)

  9. #9 tdd
    April 28, 2010

    “I defy you to argue that Miller is not a proponent of honest science education.”

    Ken Miller is a proponent of honest biology education. If you happen to study quantum mechanics, he is more than happy to contaminate your work.

    From an article defending Miller: “But the cell biologist also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow God to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.”

  10. #10 Larry Fafarman
    April 28, 2010

    Why can’t there be different kinds of “New Creationists”? Francis Collins is definitely not the traditional kind of creationist, so Coyne calls him a “New Creationist.” I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  11. #11 Deepak Shetty
    April 28, 2010

    @Josh
    The person I have in mind is Francis Collins. Miller does a much more admirable job of keeping his science separate from his religion. But if the above expressed 3 points are something Miller wants introduced in science(I don’t know if this is the case) , then no he isn’t an honest proponent.

    Why would you not think that various theists would agree that there is no scientific evidence for God?

    Because it isn’t commonly observed. But even if it were , no one would want this statement as part of science education. My point is whether you believe science has no say about God or whether it does , the mention of God either has no place in science or would be a negative statement. The 3 points all refer to God , and as such have no place in science or science education. Someone like Miller may believe this is the case, personally but if he doesn’t push it using his credentials as a scientist (something Collins does all the time) as part of *science*, then its fine, otherwise it isnt.

    They (generally?) acknowledge this concept to be extrascientific.

    or non scientific(what the heck is extra scientific? even more science than science?). And that is precisely the point. Some people make this claim as science and it is these who are being referred to.

  12. #12 Deepak Shetty
    April 28, 2010

    @Cheryl
    Are you denying that so far as you know , these views are commonly held together?

  13. #13 Deepak Shetty
    April 28, 2010

    @Josh
    if the quote is true, I believe your defy has been answered by tdd.

  14. #14 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2010

    tdd,

    Ken Miller is a proponent of honest biology education. If you happen to study quantum mechanics, he is more than happy to contaminate your work.

    No, he’s not. When has Ken Miller ever said that physics education–or physics research, for that matter–should cover his beliefs on God acting through quantum indeterminacy?

    From an article defending Miller: “But the cell biologist also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow God to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.”

    Later in that same article:

    Miller insists there is a difference: he is not saying that indeterminacy is proof of God’s existence, but rather that it allows for God’s existence.

    Not that I think that article is a very reliable source of anyone’s opinion; both PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne have observed that it misrepresents their position.

  15. #15 Miranda Celeste Hale
    April 28, 2010

    “But neither ignorance nor douchebaggery are generally-accepted defenses.”

    Hmm… I would have thought that someone so bothered by the ever-so-mean and nasty tone of those darn strident and shrill “new atheists” wouldn’t resort to juvenile insults. Apparently I was wrong. Go figure.

  16. #16 Deepak Shetty
    April 28, 2010

    @Anton
    Assuming that the quote is accurate

    but rather that it allows for God’s existence.

    the key question is whether Miller believes such a position is *scientific*.

  17. #17 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2010

    the key question is whether Miller believes such a position is *scientific*.

    And, so far as I can tell from Finding Darwin’s God (which I read through about a year ago) and from his other writings, he doesn’t. He seems to be quite clear that there is no scientific justification for his beliefs about God; he simply thinks that there is no greater scientific justification for believing that there is no God. See here, for instance.

    More relevantly to the question of his support for science education, he has certainly never suggested that his position should be taught to anyone in science classes. (Or any other kind of classes, AFAIK.)

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  19. #19 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 29, 2010

    Deepak:@Cheryl
    Are you denying that so far as you know , these views are commonly held together?

    I’m asking you to provide some evidence showing the degrees to which people hold different combinations of beliefs 1, 2 and 3. Why don’t we try discussing data, you know, actual factual numbers?

    Likewise, do you have evidence that Miller or Coyne support teaching any/all of 1, 2 or 3 as science in public school science classrooms?

  20. #20 Deepak Shetty
    April 29, 2010

    @Anton
    OK, thanks for the information.

    he has certainly never suggested that his position should be taught to anyone in science classes.

    He doesn’t have to right?. if he believes that God acting through quantum indeterminacy (for e.g.) is scientific, then why wouldn’t you teach it? Its only if he believes that this is non-scientific that you wouldn’t teach it as science.

  21. #21 Deepak Shetty
    April 29, 2010

    @Cheryl
    I take it the answer to the question I asked you is No since you went out of your way to avoid it.
    As you very well know there probably isn’t any survey or numbers showing how many people believe only 1) or 2 or 3 or combination’s thereof. So no I don’t have hard numbers.

    However these are observed to be common views that are usually held together. Just as Tea Party’ers are mostly white and People who believe in God also believe that in some way he created the universe (though there are obvious exceptions to any generalizations like some people believe that God maintains the universe , he didn’t create it) – There are no surveys or hard data as you seem to want for every statement in a blog post/comment so I suppose you don’t believe these statements either right?

  22. #22 Deepak Shetty
    April 29, 2010

    @Cheryl

    Likewise, do you have evidence that Miller or Coyne support teaching any/all of 1, 2 or 3 as science in public school science classrooms?

    I guess you mean Collins not Coyne
    I didnt say that Miller did. I believe the context of this argument is if you believe fine tuning arguments or pts 1,2,3 are scientific are you pro honest science education.
    There are some videos I remember watching where Collins makes the fine tuning argument as a scientific one (and you can find numerous conservatives like Dinesh DSouza who make exactly the same claim) as well as his Biologos site. Go do your homework.
    if the claim is indeed scientific , why wouldn’t you teach it(in related classes) ?
    And if some scientific claims need not be taught, then don’t teach evolution either, no?
    So the question isnt whether they advocated teaching it , the question is whether such views are scientific. Miller seems to acquit himself well here, Collins not so (my subjective opinion, no hard numbers here either).

  23. #23 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2010

    Deepak,

    if he believes that God acting through quantum indeterminacy (for e.g.) is scientific, then why wouldn’t you teach it? Its only if he believes that this is non-scientific that you wouldn’t teach it as science.

    Well, no science class or collection of science classes can possibly teach all of science. Science educators generally understand that what you teach has to be a) important and fundamental to the scientific discipline in question, b) exceptionally well agreed upon by the scientific community, and c) appropriate for the student’s level of learning. Almost every scientist or educator has some pet hypothesis which they believe has scientific support, but which they also understand is too tentative/controversial/abstruse/complicated to teach in secondary school.

    For instance, Dawkins, Conway Morris and the late Gould have/had some very sharp disagreements about the patterns and mechanisms of large-scale evolutionary change, and each thinks/thought the science is on their side. But AFAIK none of them have advocated that high school students be taught that he’s right and the other two guys are wrong. Similarly, Collins does seem to think there’s scientific support for fine-tuning and his “morality has no evolutionary explanation” argument, but he also seems to be aware that most of the scientific community doesn’t buy these claims, so he’s not pushing (again, AFAIK) for them to be taught in science class.

    Yes, BioLogos and Collins are still marketing those ideas to the public in other venues, and yes, I wish they didn’t. I don’t think that’s sufficient to mark Collins as an enemy of science education, though, any more than any other scientist (Watson, Pauling, Dyson, Hoyle, Margulis, etc.) who tries to sell a wacky pet theory to the public. You can be a crank in some areas and still be an honest proponent of science ed overall, provided you don’t focus your efforts on getting your crankery into the schools.

  24. #24 Deepak Shetty
    April 29, 2010

    @Anton

    Well, no science class or collection of science classes can possibly teach all of science

    Correct. However there seems to be a view here that you can hold some views as scientific , while at the same time saying that you don’t want these views taught as science education, even if relevant to the topic. I believe that is dishonest.

    But AFAIK none of them have advocated that high school students be taught that he’s right and the other two guys are wrong

    But they wouldn’t be against discussing each theory and the pros and cons of each, correct? This is not what is being proposed for the fine tuning arguments. Collins holds that fine tuning views are scientific , but doesn’t push them to be taught. What is the reason? Science doesn’t mind controversy or disagreement , surely?

    I don’t think that’s sufficient to mark Collins as an enemy of science education,

    Yes this is a strong term and probably doesnt apply. But I would not term Collins as a honest pro science educator either.
    I think you use science education in the narrow sense i.e. that which gets taught in school, and I use it in the broader sense of educating the general public.
    My personal opinion is that Collins uses his repute as an able scientist to push his religious views too much, beyond what I consider acceptable.

    I can take Bill Maher as an example. evolution views – good. vaccine views – Bad. I cant call him an enemy of science , but I cant call him a good friend either.

  25. #25 Anton Mates
    April 30, 2010

    Deepak,

    However there seems to be a view here that you can hold some views as scientific , while at the same time saying that you don’t want these views taught as science education, even if relevant to the topic. I believe that is dishonest.

    I don’t think it is. Again, relevance is only one of the important criteria here–there’s also complexity, and most importantly, consensus approval. Science education is supposed to cover the theories for which there’s strong support from the scientific community. Even if you’re presenting a theory as an interesting possibility rather than as correct, there should still be a community consensus that it is a) interesting and b) reasonably likely to be right. Throwing every researcher’s pet theory into the mix would waste limited class time and distort the student’s understanding of current science.

    So if you think there’s scientific evidence for your pet theory, but you’re also aware that 95% of your colleagues think you’re wrong, then you shouldn’t want that theory taught in science classes. That’s not dishonesty, but honest acknowledgment that the scientific community isn’t yet on your side.

    But they wouldn’t be against discussing each theory and the pros and cons of each, correct?

    I can’t speak for them, of course, but I think it would depend on the level of instruction. Adaptationism vs. neutral selectionism and convergence vs. contingency are excellent topics for discussion in a upper-division college class, but I haven’t seen any of them say you need to get into that in 9th grade biology. (You could probably cover them briefly in an AP class, though.)

    Science doesn’t mind controversy or disagreement , surely?

    Nope. But science education isn’t science, and students aren’t equipped to dive into controversies until they’re well versed in the non-controversial background information. For instance, if you think cosmological fine-tuning has scientific merit, there’s still no point introducing it to students until they’ve taken an upper-division cosmology class and a bit of probability theory. Otherwise they won’t even know what parameters are supposed to be fine-tuned, let alone how to figure out whether fine-tuning has testable consequences.

    I think you use science education in the narrow sense i.e. that which gets taught in school, and I use it in the broader sense of educating the general public. My personal opinion is that Collins uses his repute as an able scientist to push his religious views too much, beyond what I consider acceptable.

    I agree to some extent. I consider Collins a proponent of a very liberal form of intelligent design, and I think he needs to be called on it when he misrepresents science (in particular, claiming evolution can’t explain morality) to support his views. And if he does use his scientific repute to push his religious views, that’s also a problem–though I’m not sure that he does. (Does Collins actually say something like “Trust me on this fine-tuning stuff, I’m a great scientist?” It’d be rather ludicrous if he did, since the guy has no particular training in cosmology.)

    That said, I also think people have a lot less responsibility to muzzle themselves when talking to the general public, compared to talking in the classroom. Gould, Dawkins, Sagan and many other scientists have written books intertwining scientific claims with their views on politics and religion. I don’t think it’s inherently more problematic for Collins to do the same, even if I disagree much more with his views.

    I can take Bill Maher as an example. evolution views – good. vaccine views – Bad. I cant call him an enemy of science , but I cant call him a good friend either.

    Personally I’d say Maher is significantly worse than Collins. Collins is claiming scientific support for ideas that are outside science; Maher is claiming scientific support for ideas that are directly opposed to the conclusions of science. There’s a difference between marketing the untestable and irrelevant, and marketing the provably wrong.

    Also, Maher attacks the scientific community in ways Collins (AFAIK) does not. Collins may not really understand why his religious ideas aren’t widely accepted by other scientists, but at least he doesn’t claim that those scientists are evil for disagreeing. Maher, on the other hand, claims that scientific/medical support for vaccines is largely motivated by greed and dishonesty. So he’s not just screwing up the public’s understanding of disease and immunization, he’s screwing up their understanding of scientific/medical expertise and reliability.

  26. #26 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 30, 2010

    Deepak@Cheryl
    I take it the answer to the question I asked you is No since you went out of your way to avoid it.

    My answer is “I don’t know.” Apparently you don’t know the answer either.

    Deepak:As you very well know there probably isn’t any survey or numbers showing how many people believe only 1) or 2 or 3 or combination’s thereof. So no I don’t have hard numbers.

    Sigh . . . your mind-reading capabilities need a tune-up. I have no idea whether such survey exists. Don’t you think a discussion based on evidence is more productive than one based on anecdotes?

    But thanks for admitting you have no hard numbers. Thanks also for catching my Coyne/Collins flub.

    Anton stated it well in #24:So if you think there’s scientific evidence for your pet theory, but you’re also aware that 95% of your colleagues think you’re wrong, then you shouldn’t want that theory taught in science classes. That’s not dishonesty, but honest acknowledgment that the scientific community isn’t yet on your side.

    Deepak:I think you use science education in the narrow sense i.e. that which gets taught in school, and I use it in the broader sense of educating the general public.

    Public school science education is my primary concern. The general public has been getting its informal science education from spurious sources for lots of years.

  27. #27 Deepak Shetty
    April 30, 2010

    @Anton
    I think you make a point I haven’t considered about scientific consensus with respect to what is taught.

    Im biased but I believe that Dawkins in his books and Sagan as well were very clear on what was science and what were their views on politics and religion.

    We can agree Maher is a bigger problem than Collins , though Maher isn’t a scientist and Collins is, which means the bar is higher for Collins. Note that Collins doesn’t have to say that he is a good scientist and therefore to trust him, it is implied. But I guess this is also a subjective opinion, and Im biased here too.

    Thank you for the discussion!

  28. #28 Anton Mates
    April 30, 2010

    Deepak,

    Im biased but I believe that Dawkins in his books and Sagan as well were very clear on what was science and what were their views on politics and religion.

    For Sagan I’m thinking mostly of his takes on nuclear disarmament and SETI; in both cases I agree with his positions, but think he claimed somewhat more scientific support for them than was warranted. (I also think he often conveyed a “trust-me-I’m-a-scientist” attitude when discussing areas of science where he really didn’t have any expertise, like neurology and evolutionary biology. I loved The Dragons of Eden when I read it as a kid, and was later disappointed to see just how little scientific support there was for a lot of its claims.)

    For Dawkins, well:

    “You then realize that the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more momentous hypothesis in all of science. A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference. God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science.”

    “Accepting, then, that the God Hypothesis is a proper scientific hypothesis whose truth or falsehood is hidden from us only by lack of evidence, what should be our best estimate of the probability that God exists, given the evidence now available? Pretty low I think, and here’s why.”

    So Dawkins thinks that the God hypothesis is scientific and that we have scientific grounds for rejecting it. Collins thinks that the God hypothesis is scientific and that we have scientific grounds for accepting it. Is one of them particularly blurring science and religion more than the other?

    We can agree Maher is a bigger problem than Collins , though Maher isn’t a scientist and Collins is, which means the bar is higher for Collins.

    I think that’s a good way to put it. Maher’s a greater threat, but Collins is a bigger disappointment.

    Note that Collins doesn’t have to say that he is a good scientist and therefore to trust him, it is implied.

    It may well have that effect. But it’s equally implied by any other book a well-known scientist writes about political/religious/social issues. If a mention of scientific credentials (relevant/legitimate or not) makes the public overly trusting, that seems to me like a problem of public perception that needs to be fixed–but it doesn’t mean people are obligated to keep quiet about their credentials.

    Thank you for the discussion!

    No problem!