Talking Sense

Chad Orzel, responding to Sean Carroll, is absolutely right. The question is whether a panel at the World Science Festival (funded by Templeton, ZOMG!) should include incompatibilist atheists in a discussion about science and religion. Chad argues that doing so would derail the discussion:

In the end, I’m not convinced you need anyone on the panel to make the case that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. That idea is out there, coming from both sides of the science-religion split (and you’ll notice they don’t have any young-earth creationists on the panel, either). The interesting subject of conversation is not so much the absolute compatibility or not of science and religion– given that neither side is really going to budge on that– but rather how it is that religious scientists reconcile the supposedly incompatible sides of the issue.

Chad will surely take flack from the usual quarters, with complaints about the comparison of Affirmative Atheists to creationists, and the lack of “balance” in presenting a discussion of science and religion without including someone to deny the premise of the panel. The premise of a panel on “the relationship between science and faith” is, after all, that there is a relationship. Putting Richard Dawkins on that panel turns it into a debate, not a discussion.

I know this because I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. Some years back, Wim Kayzer put together a series of interviews for PBS. He interviewed some awesome people: Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen Toulmin, and then he tossed in nutjob Rupert Sheldrake. Which would have been fine, had the individual interviews not generally been vapid, and if he hadn’t concluded with a group discussion featuring all six interviewees. Predictably, the discussion didn’t get far, because the five real scientists each felt obliged to personally debunk Sheldrake’s nonsense. With no common ground to work from, there was no discussion until the five simply ignored Sheldrake and had a brief and thoughtful conversation. Cosma’s review matches my recollection nicely, especially about Sheldrake simply derailing the discussion. And I think it’s true that interviewing a non-Western scientist might’ve produced the illuminating discussion that Kayzer thought he was producing. The problem is that Sheldrake simply means something different when he says he’s doing science than the others do, and there’s no way to get at that issue in a 5 on 1 panel.

Another time I saw this was at a conference where Michael Shermer organized a debate between Vic Stenger and Old Earth Creationist Hugh Ross, after which Ross sat on a panel with several scientists including physicist Sean Carroll, biologist Donald Prothero, and theologian Nancey Murphy. The discussion was totally dominated by everyone beating up on Ross. Why? Because there was no common ground about the central issues. The audience, skeptics all, directed most of their questions at Ross, trying to challenge his creationist beliefs, and the other panelists waited for the occasional question, or a chance to jump in on something Ross said. Boring and uninformative.

Someone like Dawkins would stop the World Science Festival panel cold. The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

I’ll grant in principle that there is a way to have a civil and informative dialogue about science/religion compatibility between people who think it exists and those who don’t. I can’t say I’ve ever seen it work, but surely it can be done. If it’s to happen, it’ll be in a setting where the panel all expect that discussion, where the audience expects that discussion, and where the panelists are chosen to represent a healthy cross-section of views. I hope the PZ Myers/Chris Mooney panel in October produces a productive dialog.

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    June 3, 2010

    I agree that it’s likely to quickly get derailed into a question of whether there is or isn’t any evidence for God but I do think there are some questions that would benefit from a broader range of viewpoints.
    One of the principle practical problems affecting the science religion debate is the one of the interpretation of religious texts as literal or as metaphors. If they are entirely metaphorical then they pose little or no problems to non-believers so the critical point is determining a way to delineate problematic literal/metaphorical points.
    Both believers and non-believers can contribute to this question (just look at how the work of Newton and Darwin) and I don’t see any reason other than political posturing as to why the question isn’t directly tackled.
    It doesn’t even require a new atheist on the panel. I would be perfectly happy to see someone in the panel like Pastor Micheal Dowd (‘thank God for Evolution’) – someone who tries to tackle this issue head-on, rather than avoiding it like most accomodationists.

  2. #2 Sam C
    June 3, 2010

    Ah, Rupert Sheldrake, he just bangs on and on. I remember glancing at his first book in a bookshop in England in the late 1970s; I read a passage that exclaimed breathlessly that evolutionary biologists could not explain how an ostrich chick developed calluses on its knees while still in the egg shell when these calluses had no possible advantage until after it hatched, so, omigosh it must be (wait for it, you know you want it…) morphic resonance!

    So over 30 years ago he didn’t even understand the most basic principles of genetics and natural selection; I chucked the book back on the shelf, tuttted and swore I would make damn sure that that nitwit wouldn’t get a penny of my money.

  3. #3 Phillip IV
    June 3, 2010

    The real problem is the false advertising – it’s perfectly acceptable to have a limited discussion with a very select panel, but don’t give it a general (and grandiose) title like “Science and Faith” if you aren’t even trying to look at more than a very small sliver of the full range of opinion on that issue.

    And this:

    Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having.

    is a declaration of intellectual surrender if I’ve ever read one. “We can’t make a conclusive case for the usefulness of our debate, so let’s not invite anybody who would challenge our basic premise.”? That “meta”conversation is what the issue of “Faith and Science” is really about, and unless it is had and resolved, a discussion on the various strategies individual religious scientists employ to deal with their cognitive dissonance is really quite beside the point.

    And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

    Yes, the whole matter is highly controversial, so let’s limit the discussion to a small subset of opinions – that way, we’ll at least have some sort of “result”. Next up: Our panel on financial regulations made up of millionaire stockbrokers, and our expert panel on the Mideast conflict, consisting of three Palestinians, a neo-Nazi and a Catholic priest – you’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll reach a consensus about who’s responsible for everything that’s wrong with the Mideast.

  4. #4 benjdm
    June 3, 2010

    Presented as an argument solely about the dynamics of the discussion, this argument is the only one that’s persuasive.

  5. #5 Margaret
    June 3, 2010

    Hmmm, I disagree with you on this one, Josh.

    The question is not whether this panel of religious scientists would be derailed by including someone with a different perspective. The question is whether the World Science Festival is being derailed by the Templeton Foundation’s religious agenda. Why is there a panel on religious scientists when there is no panel on human evolution at the festival? I know lots of church-going people in New York City where the festival is taking place. None of them are anti-science, and they are embarrassed by fundamentalists who attack science and scientists. What is the point of talking about the relationship between science and religion if we pretend these controversies and animosities don’t exist?

  6. #6 J. J. Ramsey
    June 3, 2010

    Margaret: “Why is there a panel on religious scientists when there is no panel on human evolution at the festival?”

    Chad Orzel already answered that: “Because it’s a single five-day event organized by a physicist and some artsy types, and there isn’t time for everything. They’re also pretty short on geology and chemistry, and even low-energy physics.”

  7. #7 Dan L.
    June 3, 2010

    The premise of a panel on “the relationship between science and faith” is, after all, that there is a relationship. Putting Richard Dawkins on that panel turns it into a debate, not a discussion.

    But that’s the point. If it’s not clear to everybody that there IS a relationship between religion and science, or if many people believe that such a relationship is necessarily adversarial, those are criticisms that need to be addressed by advocates of the idea.

    Compare to the Iraq war, where those in the Bush administration who weren’t sure about the justification for such an action were forced out of the discussion. Presumably because they were idealogue peaceniks interrupting what would otherwise be a perfectly rational discussion of how to execute the Iraq war. Don’t you wish maybe those people hadn’t been excluded?

    If an argument is vulnerable to criticism, its advocates need to answer to that criticism. Otherwise, it turns into a circle jerk, not a discussion.

  8. #8 Deepak Shetty
    June 3, 2010

    >Putting Richard Dawkins on that panel turns it into a debate, not a discussion.
    Is your point that certain personalities will turn a discussion into a debate ? or is that any dissent in a discussion turns it into a debate? Does it also not depend on the way the topic is framed? Your points may be valid if the topic was How religion can be reconciled with science. The topic is however called Faith and Science. Since the topics description has “the evolving relationship between science and faith” , well clearly Ayala and co cant be expected to critically look at some of the problems.
    It looks like this is the equivalent of the Emperors new clothes without the child crying out at the end.

  9. #9 Peter Beattie
    June 3, 2010

    Putting Richard Dawkins on that panel turns it into a debate, not a discussion. … and then he tossed in nutjob Rupert Sheldrake.

    And I thought Chad Orzel’s was kind of a dick move, and there you are going one better on him. Respect, Josh. At least you point out that of the WSF panel you wouldn’t expect “a healthy cross-section of views”. Of course not, that would be nutty. Is there actually anybody in charge in this asylum?

  10. #10 harrync
    June 3, 2010

    Next time one of my fellow Flat Earth Society members suggests we include a “Roundie” on our panel, I’ll refer him to this post. I mean, we can have this nice civil discussion on how obvious it is that the earth is flat [just go to the the ocean and look out: the horizon is a straight line; what more proof do you need?] But put an aggressive roundie on the panel, and our nice civil discussion becomes a raucous debate. He will ask stupid questions like “Why do the approaching ship sails become visible before the hull?” This will confuse the audience and cause them to doubt. Only by restricting the panel to Flat Earthers can we assure a civil discussion!

  11. #11 Zach Voch
    June 4, 2010

    Chad will surely take flack from the usual quarters, with complaints about the comparison of Affirmative Atheists to creationists, and the lack of “balance” in presenting a discussion of science and religion without including someone to deny the premise of the panel. The premise of a panel on “the relationship between science and faith” is, after all, that there is a relationship. Putting Richard Dawkins on that panel turns it into a debate, not a discussion.

    Yes, because the new atheists are just like Hugh Ross and Sheldrake, once you ignore the acceptance of consensus science and other minor issues.

    This is related to the frequent topic about the problems with direct debates and discussions with creationists and homeopaths. However, in those cases, it’s mostly a concern about rhetoric trumping research and misrepresenting the issue by pretending that there are `two valid sides’ present. It draws an equivalence where there is none and gives a false impression of the issue. In other words, it is intellectually dishonest to have debates with the impression of scientific authority where one side is devoid of scientific credibility. This is also a frequent criticism of media format when discussing highly politicized issues like climate change. In short, it is sometimes quite fair and reasonable to make the speakers `one-sided’ with regards to a certain view. Certainly, this would support all of the panel members being evolutionists.

    But what about issues which are not decided (and frequently argued as undecidable) by direct empirical methods? What about issues where there is no recognized epistemic authority with a strong consensus view? When then might we exclude other points of view?

    Certainly, I see reasons to exclude particular persons due to a reasonable expectation that they would be disruptive as an individual. But here, this has been extended to calling a viewpoint disruptive and unproductive. Are all `affirmative atheists’ incapable of calm dialogue? Is there no `affirmative atheist’ recognized in this area that is capable of decently conducting herself? I have seen examples to the contrary, actually, even with Dawkins.

    But, maybe… There is another problem at work here.

    The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had.

    That’s just not true, certainly not when we include the `whole’ in that sentence. Rather, it is that not all of the dialogue will consist of agreement, and that there are real difficulties here (hence the motivation for such a panel), and that many people do see a conflict and will be unwilling to embrace forms of religion consistent with science. There is a difference between `dialogue’ and `agreement,’ and the former can be constructive even without the latter.

    Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

    I’m sorry, but when talking about something like `the relationship between science and faith,’ those who point out negative aspects of the relationship are not engaging in `metaconversation’; they are very much being a part of the conversation. It becomes `metaconversation’ when the conversation moves away from items of agreement. When the foundation is shaky, some builders might object to adding a second floor. But `metaconversation’ is still the conversation and still very much a part of the discussion when the topic is `Faith and Science.’

    I remember a schoolyard joke from my younger years. A friend would ask `do your parents know that you’re gay?’ Answering yes or no would be implicitly saying `I am gay.’ In responding to a loaded question like this, the only appropriate method of dealing with it is to demand that the question be rephrased to exclude false presuppositions. Or, if the presupposition is an open question, to at least first discuss that. Forgive the rather crude example, but your objection to `metaconversation’ is an objection to having an actual conversation.

    If that’s what you want, at least change the name of the panel to represent what will actually be discussed. “Faith and Science are BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!!!”

    I can think of many other titles that might more appropriately capture the underlying attitude here, but that might well be taken as rude.

    To be blunt, I have very little reason to think that the accommodationist camp has any interest in listening to affirmative atheists regardless of whether or not they are right. Many of the reasons are political and come from a desire to give science a pro-religion paint job for PR reasons. I think that many new atheists feel something very uncomfortable and even offensive: the feeling of not being taken seriously. So yes, when you compare new atheists to fundamentalists and creationists and dismiss them without substantively addressing their points, many often do get angry and intemperate in tone. When they are repeatedly straw-manned as claiming `no scientist can be religious,’ they might get a bit peeved.

    When they are continually refused a platform in this “Faith and Science” dialogue here and generally, they might get the impression that issues are being willfully glossed over in the interests of funding and PR. When the new atheists themselves are very likely to be discussed by this panel, and probably in a negative light, is it so unfair to ask that a new atheist be present to answer?

    Yes, if a builder feels that the foundation is unstable, he should ask for examination before the workers add a second floor. In modern euphemisms, he is being `unproductive.’

    And he should be.

  12. #12 foolfodder
    June 5, 2010

    Josh, how would you feel if a science fair like this had a panel on “the relationship between science and faith” populated only by New Atheists? Do you think that the important topics would be discussed fairly, that the audience would get a good appreciation for the debate? Do you think that having one of those pesky accommodationists on the panel would derail the discussion needlessly?

  13. #13 J. J. Ramsey
    June 5, 2010

    Zach Voch:

    I think that many new atheists feel something very uncomfortable and even offensive: the feeling of not being taken seriously. So yes, when you compare new atheists to fundamentalists and creationists and dismiss them without substantively addressing their points, many often do get angry and intemperate in tone.

    Voch, the whole debate over accommodationism started with Dawkins pulling a Godwin that implicitly compared Ken Miller to a Nazi. Heck, “accommodationist” is a term that came about after Orac mocked the previous label, “appeaser,” to death. There’s a reason the New Atheists aren’t being taken seriously and are compared to fundies. Starting things off with an argumentum ad Naziium will do that. It doesn’t help that the arguments put forth on incompatibility tend to treat science as something that it isn’t. Science gets treated as if it were a philosophy, or defined so broadly that informal critical thinking or even dating prospective mates get counted as science. The New Atheists aren’t being treated seriously because there is little seriousness to be had.

  14. #14 Zach Voch
    June 5, 2010

    Voch, the whole debate over accommodationism started with Dawkins pulling a Godwin that implicitly compared Ken Miller to a Nazi. Heck, “accommodationist” is a term that came about after Orac mocked the previous label, “appeaser,” to death. There’s a reason the New Atheists aren’t being taken seriously and are compared to fundies. Starting things off with an argumentum ad Naziium will do that. It doesn’t help that the arguments put forth on incompatibility tend to treat science as something that it isn’t. Science gets treated as if it were a philosophy, or defined so broadly that informal critical thinking or even dating prospective mates get counted as science. The New Atheists aren’t being treated seriously because there is little seriousness to be had.

    Haha. This will be fun.

    I like the word `implicit’ quite a bit. It’s a very broad word. I’ve heard people called `Benedict Arnolds,’ for example, but I didn’t suppose that anybody was being called, say, English. I’ve heard of people called `Quislings’ in a similar way, but again, the accusation of Naziism hid from me.

    These two words have entered the vernacular as synonyms for `traitor’ and `collaborator.’ Similarly, `Neville Chamberlain’ has entered the vernacular as a synonym for `appeaser.’

    Do I think that anybody here was playing the Nazi card? No, that’s a bit of a leap. That being said, do I agree with the usage of `Neville Chamberlain’ or even `accommodationist?’ Also no. It’s framing and I hate framing. I hate `pro-life’ and `pro-choice.’ I use `accommodationist’ because that’s the term that I can expect readers to understand.

    *quibble – Reread Orac’s post. Moran coined the term accommodationism before the post was made.*

    I won’t give an unqualified defense of Dawkins’s statement. I also think it was misleading and does implicitly accuse accommodationists of insincerity, and I think that most accommodationists are sincere. But were there acts designed with the intention of placating and nothing else? Yes, so formally, there was (and is) `appeasement,’ but again, I don’t think it deserves all of the negative connotations here. However, do you really think that that was the beginning of the accommodationism debate?

    That, you can correct for yourself. That’s a matter of simple facts. I want to move on to the outright hilarious claim.

    There’s a reason the New Atheists aren’t being taken seriously and are compared to fundies. Starting things off with an argumentum ad Naziium will do that. It doesn’t help that the arguments put forth on incompatibility tend to treat science as something that it isn’t.

    Have you read any of the recent dialogue? Do you think that all of the criticism of the New Atheists follows from `Well Dawkins seemed to haphazardly imply that Miller was pro-Nazi!’? Seriously?

    And further, even if that was the case, would that in any way affect the validity of New Atheists arguments? You have surely seen them. You could have read the rough outline in my comment on Rosenhouse’s response to this post. Actually, you replied to that comment, just not any of the substantial arguments.

    I wasn’t aware that you failed to do so on the basis of a perceived Nazi card. Oh well, I learn things everyday!

    Even then, this accusation is towards Dawkins. How many times does it need to be said that there is more than one `New Atheist’? Do the actions of Dawkins, even if he were to defecate on top of St. Peter’s Basilica, in any way have anything to do whatsoever with judging the character of other atheists and assuming that they aren’t worth taking seriously, nor their arguments (which should, by the way, stand or fall on their own merits)?

    Please.

    And as for `little seriousness to be had,’ do you ever actually read new atheist writing? Do you know what their concerns are? If you read my comment that you partially replied to on Rosenhouse’s post, you would have little but a rough outline of the criticisms made. There are arguments, most of which are ignored in the favor of the very same straw man every new atheist has to explicitly reject a million times.

    You’re right about one thing, J.J., there is little seriousness to be had, but you’re wrong about where to put the blame.

    One last thing — the only part of your comment worth paying attention to without ridicule: “It doesn’t help that the arguments put forth on incompatibility tend to treat science as something that it isn’t. Science gets treated as if it were a philosophy, or defined so broadly that informal critical thinking or even dating prospective mates get counted as science.”

    There are lots of empirical questions about dating susceptible to scientific examination. I’m not sure what your objection is to that.

    I’ll ask for specifics for the first part as well. Tell me what `science isn’t’ that new atheists so frequently assign to it? I have heard things which I disagree with a new atheist about as being empirical, e.g., Sam Harris as against the Humean is/ought distinction. Since every other atheist I’ve read accepts that, for example, I don’t hear `science is the entirety of/the root of all knowledge.’ Just preempting a straw man.

    Science as methodology is recognized as bounded by philosophy. Take methodological naturalism and essential assumptions prior to any experiment (demons aren’t adjusting the pH). For the converse, science of course deeply affects philosophy. Either directly through empirical fact or indirectly through consequences for ethics.

    For example, goal-driven behavior in the form of `should… in order to …’ must be informed by science. For another example (one I gave in my comment), scientific findings affect arguments for the existence of God. The classic case is the destruction of the Paley argument (and the modern counterpart, irreducible complexity) through finding naturalistic mechanisms. It has effects on the argument from evil. It has effects on the cosmological argument. It has lead to substantial rethinking in theology for obvious reasons. That rethinking itself also has consequences for the nature of `revealed wisdom’ and `divine inspiration.’

    No, science isn’t everything, but it certainly is a part of philosophy.

  15. #15 J. J. Ramsey
    June 6, 2010

    Voch: “I’ve heard people called `Benedict Arnolds,’ for example, but I didn’t suppose that anybody was being called, say, English. I’ve heard of people called `Quislings’ in a similar way, but again, the accusation of Naziism hid from me.”

    Nice try. The problem is that we don’t use “Chamberlain” the way we use “Benedict Arnold” or “Quisling,” which have simply become synonyms for “traitor.” The Chamberlain gambit gets used in the context of someone trying to appease some entity being portrayed as a great evil, such as the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein’s regime. Dawkins himself, when he used the Chamberlain gambit, was responding to Ruse, who was likening working with theistic evolutionists against creationists to working with Stalin against the Nazis (an analogy that’s pretty sick in its own way). So the idea that Dawkins was using the “Chamberlain gambit” was used without any implication that someone was playing the role of the Nazis doesn’t wash.

    Voch: “*quibble – Reread Orac’s post. Moran coined the term accommodationism before the post was made.*”

    Fair quibble. However, “accommodationist” was (1) still a replacement for the earlier terms “appeaser” and “Chamberlain atheist” that were more obvious references to the Chamberlain gambit, and (2) the term took off after Orac blasted the gambit.

    Voch: “However, do you really think that that was the beginning of the accommodationism debate?”

    Thinking back, I’d amend my earlier statement and say that it revived an earlier, largely dormant debate, and polarized it in the process because of the very implications of the Chamberlain gambit. He got the crap rolling again, which is why he’s the focus here.

    Voch: “Have you read any of the recent dialogue?”

    You mean like this stuff?: http://dododreams.blogspot.com/search/label/Accommodationism%20Incompatiblism

    Yes, and it’s why I said that incompatibilists are treating science as something it isn’t.

    Voch: “There are lots of empirical questions about dating susceptible to scientific examination.”

    Of course there are, but that doesn’t make dating itself science. PZ Myers was razzed about that already, as you can see by clicking on the above link (especially if you search for the word “cuddling”).

    Voch: “science isn’t everything, but it certainly is a part of philosophy.”

    Not anymore. Science and philosophy became two separate disciplines a long time ago. And to answer the question as to what science isn’t:

    * Science isn’t a philosophical worldview.
    * Science isn’t an attitude.
    * Science isn’t informal investigation without formal controls for cognitive biases (e.g. the double-blinding in drug studies)

    In attempting to defend incompatibilism, anti-accommodationists have treated science as those very things that I said science isn’t.

  16. #16 Zach Voch
    June 6, 2010

    J.J. – “Nice try. The problem is that we don’t use “Chamberlain” the way we use “Benedict Arnold” or “Quisling,” which have simply become synonyms for “traitor.” The Chamberlain gambit gets used in the context of someone trying to appease some entity being portrayed as a great evil, such as the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein’s regime. Dawkins himself, when he used the Chamberlain gambit, was responding to Ruse, who was likening working with theistic evolutionists against creationists to working with Stalin against the Nazis (an analogy that’s pretty sick in its own way). So the idea that Dawkins was using the “Chamberlain gambit” was used without any implication that someone was playing the role of the Nazis doesn’t wash.”

    Ok, let’s quote Dawkins:

    One of NCSE’s main political objectives is to court and mobilize `sensible’ religious opinion: mainstream churchmen and women who have no problem with evolution and may regard it as irrelevant to (or even in some strange way supportive of) their faith. It is to this mainstream of clergy, theologians and non-fundamentalist believers, embarrassed as they are by creationism because it brings religion into disrepute, that the evolution defense lobby tries to appeal. And one way to do this is o bend over backwards in their direction by espousing NOMA – agree that science is completely non-threatening, because it is disconnected from religion’s claims.
    [new paragraph]
    Anothe prominent luminary of what we might call the Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists is the philosopher Michael Ruse. Ruse has been an effective fighter against creationism [citation omitted], both on paper and in cout. He claims to be an atheist, but his article in Playboy takes the view that “we who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend. Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies. This is especially true of secular evolutionists. Atheists spend more time running down sympathetic Christians than they do countering creationists. When John Paul II wrote a letter endorsing Darwinism, Richard Dawkin’s response was simply that the pope was a hypocrite, that he could not be genuine about science and that Dawkins himself simply preferred an honest fundamentalist”
    [new paragraph]
    From a purely tactical viewpoint, I can see the superficial appeal of Ruse’s comparison with the fight against Hitler: “Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt did not like Stalin and communisim. But in fighting Hitler they realized that they had to work with the Soviet Union. Evolutionists of all kinds must likewise work together to fight creationism.” But I finally come down on the side of my colleague the Chicago geneticist Jerry Coyne, who wrote that Ruse [Coyne quote about Ruse failing to grasp the nature of the conflict. (The God Delusion, p.91-2)

    Ok, let’s look at what happened here. Dawkins took Ruse’s comparison of theistic evolutionists to Stalinist Russia and creationists to Nazi Germany (as you said), saw it had some appeal as a statement of tactics, but dismissed it as misrepresenting the nature of the conflict.

    And from this, you say “So the idea that Dawkins was using the “Chamberlain gambit” was used without any implication that someone was playing the role of the Nazis doesn’t wash.”

    At no point did Dawkins play any sort of Hitler Gambit, as you stated in your original comment on the matter. He played on somebody else’s quasi-Hitler card in criticizing `appeasement’ of the religious in pursuit of popularizing science when he saw religion as the source of the problem. If you charge Dawkins with playing the Hitler Gambit (a rather serious charge in my view), I think it should be better supported than this. Note also that though Dawkins criticizes the NCSE on these grounds, he still gives resounding applause and credit for the battle it (and even Ruse) fight on behalf of science. Saying that Dawkins considers/considered accommodationists to be in any way like Hitler or Stalin to capitalize on the negative association is misrepresenting Dawkins.

    But again, going back to the heart of the matter, none of this ever had anything to do with the warrant to dismiss new atheists. To claim that this passage justifies never taking a New Atheist seriously is, I’m sorry, nonsense. But then, I see that you ignore that part of my post.

    J.J. – “Thinking back, I’d amend my earlier statement and say that it revived an earlier, largely dormant debate, and polarized it in the process because of the very implications of the Chamberlain gambit. He got the crap rolling again, which is why he’s the focus here.”

    The first part is a fair enough statement, but I think it was due to criticizing the approach, not the use of Chamberlain’s name, that blew the issue up big time.

    J.J. – “You mean like this stuff?: http://dododreams.blogspot.com/search/label/Accommodationism%20Incompatiblism

    Yes, and it’s why I said that incompatibilists are treating science as something it isn’t.”

    Right. You found a `compatibilist’ (I avoid the term to avoid confusion over free will, usually, but it really is a better term) who says stuff you agree with. But really, try reading New Atheist blogs like Coyne’s, finding stuff they say is science which actually isn’t, and pointing it out to me. There are cases of that, in which case, I happily join in correcting. Let’s clear part of this up in response to your next lines:

    “Not anymore. Science and philosophy became two separate disciplines a long time ago. And to answer the question as to what science isn’t:

    * Science isn’t a philosophical worldview.
    * Science isn’t an attitude.
    * Science isn’t informal investigation without formal controls for cognitive biases (e.g. the double-blinding in drug studies)

    In attempting to defend incompatibilism, anti-accommodationists have treated science as those very things that I said science isn’t.”

    Are they separate disciplines? Yes of course. I said “a part of,” not “equal to”. Right, science is none of those things, but the results of science inform all of those things. (And right, informal investigation doesn’t hold the weight of a controlled study.)

    For example, when incompatibilists claim `philosophically incompatible,’ they are making a statement about the consequences of science in philosophy clashing with the consequences of religion belief in philosophy. It’s also done to make the distinction between what New Atheists say and the straw man “no scientist can be religious.” I’ve never heard it say that this incompatibility is determined by peer-reviewed results in physics, for example.

    Let me illustrate with a view that we both seem to be consider as `incompatible with science’: Young Earth Creationism (YEC). Now, YECs claim that the Bible is revealed wisdom and that the genealogies of the Bible force the Earth to be less than 10-12,000 years old (and it’s usually put around 6,400 years old). Now, suppose I hand a YEC a comprehensive list of studies and explanations that show the Earth to be around 4.5 billion years old. Now, YEC (perhaps after denying the evidence) might easily say that these results are `interpretation’ and `worldview.’

    Implied relativism aside, the YEC is making a point. In order to defend certain interpretations of data and give `theory’ the strong meaning it deserves, we have to philosophically justify parts of the scientific method, backing it up with empirical data. In other words, we have to use reason and argument that, yes, trails into philosophy outside of data blips in papers.

    The YEC might well claim that “science and YEC are compatible” if we restrict the meaning of `science’ to the produced facts of peer-review. It’s clear that in dealing with creationists, everybody gives “science” this broad meaning with philosophical implications. The difference is that New Atheists take those same types of implications and apply them to, say, theistic evolution.

    When we do so, we are told that we are “hurting the cause” by alienating allies by the likes of Ruse.

    … and here we are. If scientific results, and yes, part of scientific reasoning, are excluded from philosophic considerations, we simply cannot call YEC incompatible with science.

    Right now, you’ll notice what I am doing. I’m trying to demonstrate this incompatibility with an appeal to consistent standards. That’s a philosophic defense of my position, not a claim that science is my sole position.

  17. #17 John Kwok
    June 7, 2010

    @ Margaret -

    I think it is a bit silly to ask whether the Templeton Foundation is setting the tone and direction of the World Science Festival, especially when its sponsorship included these panel sessions “Back to the Big Bang: Inside the Large Hadron Collider”, “Limits of Understanding”, “Minds and Machines: The Future of Thinking”, “Food 2.0: Feeding a Hungry World”, and “Science and Faith”, simply because these sessions address what the Templeton Foundation refers to as its “Big Ideas” in the appropriately named “Big Idea Series” at the World Science Festival as noted here:

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com

    While I agree with Chad Orzel’s explanation as to why much science was underrepresented at this year’s festival, you do raise a valid point (It’s one I hope I am able to raise with Brian Greene in the near future. In the interest of full disclosure, I just concluded my second year working WSF as a volunteer usher at several sessions, including, I might note, the Templeton Foundation-sponsored “Limits to Understanding” and “Science and Faith”.). I am surprised that, for whatever reason, World Science Festival has ignored the possibility of substantial participation by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History, especially when these very institutions are among the major reasons why New York City remains an important global center for scientific research. Were someone to ask the World Science Festival why it has ignored these institutions, that IMHO would be a substantially more important (and substantially more valid) criticism than objecting to its financial ties with the Templeton Foundation.

  18. #18 J. J. Ramsey
    June 7, 2010

    Voch: “At no point did Dawkins play any sort of Hitler Gambit, as you stated in your original comment on the matter. He played on somebody else’s quasi-Hitler card …”

    He started by playing on someone else’s Hitler gambit, and by doing so, he ended up playing a Hitler gambit of his own. Furthermore, since he’s already seen Ruse’s gambit, where Hitler was explicitly invoked, he can’t really say that he didn’t have in mind who was playing the Hitler role when he pulled his Chamberlain gambit. He probably didn’t think carefully about his Chamberlain gambit, but its unfortunate implications were right under his nose.

    Voch: “You found a `compatibilist’ (I avoid the term to avoid confusion over free will, usually, but it really is a better term) who says stuff you agree with. But really, try reading New Atheist blogs like Coyne’s, finding stuff they say is science which actually isn’t, and pointing it out to me.”

    Thing is, I cited that compatibilist in particular because he does the sort of thing that you asked me to do. There’s plenty of material for you to look at, and I see no reason to reinvent the wheel and write “tl;dr” posts when pointing to previously stated arguments is sufficient.

    If what’s on the page from the link in comment #16 looks a bit much to you,, I suggest scrolling down to the post entitled “Of Methods and Madness.” Most of the meat is within that post’s vicinity.

    Voch: “The YEC might well claim that “science and YEC are compatible” if we restrict the meaning of `science’ to the produced facts of peer-review. It’s clear that in dealing with creationists, everybody gives “science” this broad meaning with philosophical implications. The difference is that New Atheists take those same types of implications and apply them to, say, theistic evolution.”

    No, that’s not what’s happening. YECs can claim that “science and YEC are compatible,” but even if you do restrict science to the “produced facts of peer-review,” what they offer simply contradicts the empirical evidence that we have. That’s just not true of theistic evolution, which–by design–conforms to the facts as we have them.

  19. #19 Zach Voch
    June 7, 2010

    J.J., I’m not interested in further discussion about the Chamberlain Gambit. For one, I’ve quoted the entire text right here. You have to be extremely uncharitable as a reader to accuse Dawkins here. I could repeat myself, but the text speaks for itself.

    * SHINY EMPHASIS STARS FOR THIS PARAGRAPH *
    BY THE WAY, my original rebuttal still holds. This is not grounds to dismiss all new atheists and their arguments whether or not your interpretation is correct. You still ignore this part of the argument. I won’t be interested in continuing this discussion at all until it’s acknowledged. I want your take.
    * *

    Thing is, I cited that compatibilist in particular because he does the sort of thing that you asked me to do. There’s plenty of material for you to look at, and I see no reason to reinvent the wheel and write “tl;dr” posts when pointing to previously stated arguments is sufficient.

    I asked you to read the dialogue because you showed no understanding of the new atheist position. If you want the new atheist position, read new atheists. From your writing, I can tell that you are not a regular reader of any new atheist blogs.

    That’s fine. You have no obligation to do that, except of course to not then pretend you know what you’re talking about.

    No, that’s not what’s happening. YECs can claim that “science and YEC are compatible,” but even if you do restrict science to the “produced facts of peer-review,” what they offer simply contradicts the empirical evidence that we have. That’s just not true of theistic evolution, which–by design–conforms to the facts as we have them.

    Actually, no, unless they’re advancing pseudoscience aside from the “earth is young” statement.

    You know why we think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, right? You know why we think life evolved, right? These aren’t singular facts, but powerful theories constructed from convergent lines of evidence accumulated through several fields, interpretations across thousands of studies.

    What counts as evidence, by the way? Is that a naturalistic question?

    What criteria should a theory satisfy? How do I observe `falsifiability’ in it’s natural habitat?

    Don’t be intentionally thick. I even explained my approach to you.

  20. #20 J. J. Ramsey
    June 8, 2010

    Voch, if you don’t think that what YECs offer “simply contradicts the empirical evidence that we have,” then you haven’t been paying attention. What YECs attempt to do is shoehorn the evidence that we have into a very restrictive Biblical framework, and even that doesn’t work. They still have to lie about, for example, radioactive dating. They still try to argue that evolution can only work within a genus. You can look at Talk.Origins Index to Creationist Claims and see just how poorly even the raw evidence fits YECs’ (pseudo)scientific claims. The idea that a YEC “might easily say that these results are `interpretation’ and `worldview’” and be correct about it just doesn’t work.

  21. #21 John Kwok
    June 12, 2010

    Posted originally at the “That’s a Wrap (Or is it?)…” post at the World Science Festival’s Science Blogs site:

    Thank you, Greg. Was a pleasure working with you and the rest of the staff – permanent and volunteer – which made the World Science Festival the success it was, though, it might be said that in some respects, it didn’t quite cover the ground that was covered in last year’s event (I am thinking especially of programs emphasizing conservation biology in honor of Festival honoree E. O. Wilson, the utility of nuclear power and contending with global climate change. But noticeably absent was any substantial discussion on evolutionary biology and its importance to society, including the arts and humanities, when it was the Darwin bicentennial. A similar dearth was quite apparent this year as well.).

    Hope the World Science Festival succeeds in getting more input and participation from several research institutes which are among the major reasons why New York City remains a global center for research in science; the Wildlife Conservation Society (which owns the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium and operates the Queens and Central Park Zoos for the City of New York), the New York Botanical Garden, and last, but not least, the American Museum of Natural History. Would also think it desirable to work too with organizations like the Linnean Society of New York, New York City Audubon Society, The River Project, Wings World Quest, The Explorers Club, and other related metropolitan New York organizations interested in science and in public outreach.

    Left unsaid in your summary is recognizing that, unfortunately, several prominent New Atheist scientists criticized the World Science Festival again this year for having both a session devoted to science and faith and to have it and several others supported by the John R. Templeton Foundation (I am an agnostic with regards to whether this foundation should be involved in funding scientific research and public activities, such as festivals, which publicize science.). Unfortunately, one of these critics, Cal Tech cosmologist Sean Carroll (a 2009 WSF panelist), had his comments distributed widely through the blogosphere, including, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website. This raises the distinct possibility that Richard Dawkins may be among the festival’s harsh New Atheist critics next year, and should this happen, such adverse publicity may dilute the impact and importance of WSF and what it is trying to accomplish on behalf of a public interested in science, both those who attend and the countless others fortunate to view its events online.

    In lieu of a Science Faith session next year, may I suggest instead one devoted to Science Denialism (why the public refuses to accept as valid science, anthropogenic global warming and biological evolution)? An ideal panel could consist of ABC News Correspondent Bill Blakemore (as moderator), American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist – and Director, Hayden Planetarium – Neil de Grasse Tyson, Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller, National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott, and last, but not least, Columbia University philosopher Philip Kitcher in a freewheeling format that would discuss these issues, with the possibility of some discussion on faith as it pertains to science denialism.

    As for future financial support by the John R. Templeton Foundation, I suggest that WSF should note who the sponsors of the forthcoming USA Science and Engineering Festival (to be held in Washington, DC over a two-week period in October) are. None have any interest in or any affiliation whatsoever with religious issues.

  22. #22 John Kwok
    June 16, 2010

    Posted this yesterday at Rod Dreher’s blog (http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/06/science-religion-incompatiblists-shut-out.html) and I think it bears repeating here (Incidentally he works for the John M. Templeton Foundation.):

    Rod -

    I have heard a well-founded rumor (I can’t disclose the source) that the Templeton Foundation does have some input in determining who the participants will be on those World Science Festival panels which are part of the Templeton’s Big Idea Series. If that rumor is true, then I think there are certainly legitimate reasons for criticizing the Templeton Foundation’s support of World Science Festival, not simply because it has been one of its major benefactors since its inception.

    While I had the pleasure and privilege of attending both this year’s festival (as well as last year’s) as a volunteer and an audience member of several panel discussions, this year’s Science Faith session was by far the worst. I thought the format – which opened with the moderator asking each panelist in turn to describe how a favorite work of art and piece of music reflected their thoughts on science and religion – was quite odd and not suitable for having a fruitful dialogue. Moreover, it was obvious from the beginning that one of the panelists, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels, was clearly out of her depth, unable to offer any meaningful discussion to the commentary offered by the other panelists.

    In stark contrast to this year, last year’s Science Faith Religion panel was a sharp divide between atheists and theists, with well considered, but still friendly, exchanges betwee the atheists, philosopher Colin McGinn and physicist Lawrence Krauss, and the theists, Vatican Astronomer Guy Consolmagno and cell biologist Ken Miller. Much to their credit, both Consolmagno and Miller stressed that, as scientists, their scientific principles and duties outweigh their religious ones, except in the privacy of their personal lives when they are able to devote themselves to their faith as devout Roman Catholic Christians.

    Reluctantly I have to agree with Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne’s observation that a discussion on science and faith does not belong at a World Science Festival (though I am willing to concede that it might, but only in the context of discussing science denialism, that is why some people strongly object to well established science such as evolutionary biology, and even, though to a substantially lesser extent (that it is established), climate change science. Should World Science Festival opt to present another next year, especially with Templeton Foundation support, I believe it is a distinct possibility that none other than Richard Dawkins himself will be leading the chorus of New Atheists and others willing to condemn both the World Science Festival and the Templeton Foundation (especially since his foundation’s website posted both Carroll and Coyne’s condemnations).

    On a more positive note, I often considered your columns in The New York Post to be insightful and well stated. I look forward to reading more of the same when that new magazine is launched.

  23. #23 John Kwok
    June 18, 2010

    Courtesy of Tom Paine’s Ghost:

    http://www.tompainesghost.com/2010/06/faith-and-science-at-world-science.html

    Excellent summary and hope that World Science Festival links to it if it doesn’t use all of it. Unfortunately, that session led me to an entirely different conclusion as to the necessity of having such a discussion. Reluctantly I have to agree with both Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne’s condemnation of having this panel discussion, especially when last year’s session – also moderated by Blakemore (Incidentally, he has moderated all three, including the first one in 2008.) – was far more informative in trying to determine how religiously devout scientists should comport themselves when working as scientists and then, in private, as devoutly religious adherents of their faith.

    With the notable exception of Francisco Ayala – whom I might add is a prominent contributor to our organization, the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncse.com) – none of the commentary was as insightful or as noteworthy as the comments stated by last year’s panelists; philosopher Colin McGinn, physicist Lawrence Krauss, planetary scientist – and Vatican Astronomer (and Jesuit brother) – Guy Consolmagno and cell biologist Ken Miller. By far Elaine Pagels was the worst, and her comments clearly demonstrated that she could not add much intellectual depth or respond effectively to the comments uttered by her fellow panelists.

    In lieu of this panel discussion, the World Science Festival should instead, host a freewheeling panel discussion – which could be moderated by Blakemore – on how to deal with science denialism, with an ideal panel consisting of NCSE Executive Director – and physical anthropologist – Eugenie Scott, cell biologist Ken Miller, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and philosopher of science Philip Kitcher. Such a group could also delve into questions of faith as it pertains to science denialism. I also believe that their commentary would be far more interesting and insightful than what transpired for reasonable discourse at this year’s World Science Festival Science Faith session.