A fair point

Never let it be said that I don’t acknowledge error. Ophelia Benson, responding in part to my earlier posts on the World Science Festival’s science and faith panel, points out amistake I made:

Meanwhile – Josh Rosenau’s claim, in his post on why there shouldn’t be any atheist scientists on the panel

Whoa, there. I can see how what I wrote implies that, but it wasn’t what I meant, and thus I need to apologize and correct myself. My point was about Affirmative/New Atheists, not about all atheist scientists. Frankly, Francisco Ayala’s religious views are fairly obscure, and according to some accounts of his current theology, there may well be an atheist on that panel. But, as Ophelia notes, my claim about what the panel seemed to be about how individuals integrate faith and science in their own lives. Given Ayala’s unwillingness to publicly discuss his personal views, a silence he’s fully entitled to maintain, that’s just not a credible claim on my part. I stand corrected.

Ophelia points this out also by citing the WSF’s own description of the panel:

The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith.

She adds:

The question mark after the word ‘found’ seems to indicate that the panel has not been given orders to start from the certainty that there is a common ground to be found, but rather to discuss whether there is or not; that being the case, it is entirely unobvious that an atheist would send the discussion careening off into obsesso-crazy land, as Josh claims.

I’m not sure that the last couple clauses of that sentence are right, but she has a point. It would be possible to envision a panel with an abstract similar or even identical to this one (setting aside the list of panelists) in which panelists are invited to debate whether New Atheists are right or which, if any, brands of theistic evolution (say) might be correct. That’s not the only panel which could be described by that abstract, but I agree that they might have made that choice.

It’s also clear from looking at the list of panelists that that’s not what they intended this panel to be. On further consideration, I’m fairly sure that they also didn’t intend it to be a personal exploration by scientists of their own paths to reconciliation of religion and science (my earlier blog posts notwithstanding). First, because Ayala doesn’t talk about that, second because Paul Davies seems not to have made his own religious affiliations public (based on quick Googling), third because Pagels is a theologian, not a scientist, and fourth because Thupten Jinpa is not a scientist.

What unites the panelists, then, is not that they have personal experience describing how they navigate that fraught boundary, but because they are all people who have experience in academic studies of science and religion. It’s a fairly large community, with proper journals, university departments, think tanks, peer-reviewers, and experts that has existed for some time. The panelists chosen publish in those journals and can comment on the state of that academic field.

Which New Atheist can say the same? Dawkins has published a popular book on the topic, a book which denies that theology is a worthwhile academic discipline at all and which received some of its most stinging critiques in academic circles precisely for failing to engage the large academic literature on science and religion. I know that he has his reasons for doing so, not least that his goal is to engage with religion-as-practiced rather than with academic theology, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for an academic panel on the topic. Jerry Coyne has written book reviews of science/religion books in popular magazines, but to my knowledge has no academic publications on the topic. Neither has Sam Harris or PZ Myers.

In the field of science/religion studies, there’s a consensus statement that’s been widely circulated and agreed to, and it states: “in most instances, biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels… natural theology may be a legitimate enterprise in its own right, but we resist the insistence of intelligent-design advocates that their enterprise be taken as genuine science – just as we oppose efforts of others to elevate science into a comprehensive world view (so-called scientism).” The New Atheists reject this consensus, as they are entitled to do. But they reject it without going through the academic literature of the relevant field, preferring pop-culture books to academic engagement. I could see including a panelist on the WSF discussion who is recognized as an expert by that community but disagrees with the consensus, but including someone who rejects not only the community’s consensus, but the very legitimacy of that academic discipline would be problematic.
What would Sean Carroll or Jerry Coyne or Ophelia Benson say if the World Science Festival created a panel on an academic topic in which a consensus existed within the discipline, and then pulled someone in from outside that discipline who rejects that consensus outright? I imagine that if they put a creationist on a panel about evolution, they’d be in an uproar. If a climate change denier were wedged into a global warming panel, there’d be similar outrage. And no one would let a similar panel off the hook for including someone who thinks Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford on a panel about modern Shakespearian scholarship. But if WSF did the same thing for the discipline of science/religion studies, the same folks would cheer. I find that problematic.

I imagine that the response to this argument will be:

a) To take offense at the analogy. How dare I compare Dawkins to a creationist or a global warming denier?

b) To take offense at the notion of science/religion studies as a legitimate endeavor.

As far as I’m concerned, the first objection is only logically valid from someone who rejects the second objection. This is because the comparison between potential panelists is only as strong as the isomorphism between the disciplines. If a topic is illegitimate, then no panel about it should exclude legitimate experts on relevant topics who can rebut the craziness of the pseudoscientists/pseudoacademics.

This might generate another objection: c) whether or not this is a legitimate academic discipline, it isn’t a scientific discipline and therefore doesn’t belong in a World Science Festival.

This objection is only valid if one is also prepared to object to the half-dozen panels on the intersection of science and art or science and science fiction at the same festival. If the premiere of choreography inspired by Brian Greene’s writings belongs at this festival, I’m not sure why a discussion of academic theology’s approach to science wouldn’t be appropriate. The festival is engaging both the practice of science and science’s broader cultural context.

Eventually, someone who actually attended the damnable thing will actually describe the events, and we can stop speculating about what the panel was meant to be, and discuss what was actually said there. Until then, I thank Ophelia (and Jason) for catching some faults in my earlier arguments, but I think my original conclusions are still valid.

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    June 7, 2010

    Josh, the idea that the inclusion of an affirmative atheist would ruin the discussion is an interesting hypothesis for one simple reason. That is that the current discussion is practically a rerun of the same discussion from two years ago.
    In 2008, the World Science Festival also had a ‘Faith and Science’ panel discussing the same topic but on that occasion they DID include an affirmative atheist – the psychologist Paul Bloom. The discussion, far from being an obvious disaster as you’ve pictured, was a very cordial and good-natured event where multiple perspectives in this wide ranging debate were presented.
    On that occasion they had four participants, one theologian (who had a scientific degree), two religious scientists and one atheist scientist.
    The current panel for 2010 had two theologians (with no science degrees) and two templeton prize winning scientists who have both made controversial and disputed statements about the non-compatiblist position – comparing it to fundamentalism.
    One of the major objection to the current panel was not that the accomodationist position of Ayala and Davies is not a valid point of view, but that they have a history of attacking a strawman version of the non accomodationist position and it is reasonable to ask for someone to correct them on this point if this line of debate occurred during the discussion.
    Of course this is all academic now since the discussion is finished. If the talk completely avoided discussion of the non-accomodationist position and didn’t involve portraying the affirmative atheists as extremists then I guess many of our worries over the makeup of this years panel may have been misplaced.
    Was anyone there who can report back on what was actually discussed this year?

  2. #2 Meme Mine
    June 7, 2010

    REAL environmentalists were happy about climate gate and 24 years of wrong warnings of crisis. For the rest of you, history is cursing as we speak and if you think this promise of death by CO2 is sustainable for another 24 years, YOU are the new deniers.

  3. #3 Zach Voch
    June 7, 2010

    Whoa, there. I can see how what I wrote implies that, but it wasn’t what I meant, and thus I need to apologize and correct myself.

    Never let it be said that I don’t acknowledge error.

    If it’s said, I’ll send them this post. Just wanted to mention my appreciation on the matter. I want to apologize for including `obscurantist’ in one of my earlier comments (I think on Jason’s blog). I think that I can safely retract that label now. As I began to suspect after your responses to my and Jason’s comments, it seems to mostly have been a matter of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misinterpretation (and certainly not entirely your doing).

    Which New Atheist can say the same? Dawkins has published a popular book on the topic, a book which denies that theology is a worthwhile academic discipline at all and which received some of its most stinging critiques in academic circles precisely for failing to engage the large academic literature on science and religion. I know that he has his reasons for doing so, not least that his goal is to engage with religion-as-practiced rather than with academic theology, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for an academic panel on the topic. Jerry Coyne has written book reviews of science/religion books in popular magazines, but to my knowledge has no academic publications on the topic. Neither has Sam Harris or PZ Myers.

    I wouldn’t recommend Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, or PZ for this task. Those with experience in philosophy of religion would be acceptable. New Atheist or not, I am mostly concerned with somebody present who has engaged seriously with New Atheist arguments and understands them. I heard a recommendation for a minister at some point by Sigmund, I think, though I would have to check.

    I imagine that the response to this argument will be:

    a) To take offense at the analogy. How dare I compare Dawkins to a creationist or a global warming denier?

    b) To take offense at the notion of science/religion studies as a legitimate endeavor.

    As far as I’m concerned, the first objection is only logically valid from someone who rejects the second objection. This is because the comparison between potential panelists is only as strong as the isomorphism between the disciplines. If a topic is illegitimate, then no panel about it should exclude legitimate experts on relevant topics who can rebut the craziness of the pseudoscientists/pseudoacademics.

    This might generate another objection: c) whether or not this is a legitimate academic discipline, it isn’t a scientific discipline and therefore doesn’t belong in a World Science Festival.

    If you’re stating that (a) only follows from (b), I would have to disagree. To illustrate, I believe that (b) is false and (a) is true. Yes, the intersection of religion and science is a vast and interesting area of study, questions of compatibility aside. Further, the arguments for incompatibility and/or compatibility are matters of study. And certainly, the opinions of both scientists and theologians are relevant to these arguments. Hence, why I also do not accept (c).

    But (a) is something a bit different. I discussed this in my responses to your “Talking Sense” post. The analogy falls woefully short in many ways. If my memory serves, you disavowed some of the connotations.

    On a somewhat side-note, I want to discuss the consensus statement you posted:

    in most instances, biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels… natural theology may be a legitimate enterprise in its own right, but we resist the insistence of intelligent-design advocates that their enterprise be taken as genuine science – just as we oppose efforts of others to elevate science into a comprehensive world view (so-called scientism).

    I’m a new atheist and incompatibilist, and I agree with this statement. And as I discussed with Ramsey on the Rosenhouse post and your original post, no major New Atheist I have ever read pretends that science can be taken as a comprehensive worldview. I’ll cite the same example — the acceptance of the is/ought distinction made by Hume (Harris was a partial exception, but I think he changed his mind after critique from New Atheist quarters.). Nobody claims that science forms a comprehensive political stance, for example. But, somebody could very well claim that science renders certain political stances untenable. In every case that I have seen complaints about `scientism,’ usually directed towards Dawkins (geez, he gets all of the flak), the term can hardly be called descriptive of `science as a comprehensive worldview.’

    And yes, if we preface statements like `in most cases,’ biology (and science generally) are certainly independent of most religious claims. In many forms of Christianity, evolution can be (and is) incorporated within the metaphorical interpretation of Genesis quite easily. For Christianity, the perceived problems with evolution come from philosophical and theological implications of its truth. What they are, and how they are resolved, are very much matters for discussion. The argument from evil is not scientific, but evolution is relevant to that argument, whether or not you feel that the argument is valid.

    Is there a consensus statement of a form similar to “How frequently do the implications of scientific results, such as neuroresearch, cosmology, and biology, adversely impact religion, excepting fundamentalists, creationists, and other similar science denialists?”

    Give it options like “yes, all the time,” “frequently,” “sometimes,” “rarely,” and “never.”

    Though I imagine that the consensus would be between sometimes and rarely, it would serve as a much better measure of scientists’ attitudes on compatibilism than the statement you cited.

    Lastly:

    The New Atheists reject this consensus, as they are entitled to do. But they reject it without going through the academic literature of the relevant field, preferring pop-culture books to academic engagement.

    I will give partial agreement here. I think that more New Atheists need to involve themselves actively in academia, make more formal arguments, and allow their review in more rigorous setting. However, not all of us got our view through pop-culture books. I got my view through personal experience, but recognizing that my personal experience is the Bible Belt (hence a bit unfair), I, like many others, have actively engaged academics who make statements on these matters.

    But in order to do that, we need the discussion. Though you might not do so yourself, most of the discussion of New Atheists has been in the way of implying “shut up.” I can’t speak for all New Atheists, but I would like to engage and discuss matters with experts, particularly ones that disagree with me.

    Which is part of why I get involved in the blogosphere so much… Direct discussion with relevant professionals? Gold.

  4. #4 Zach Voch
    June 7, 2010

    ***Correction: You claimed (a) only follows from NOT (b), not (a) only follows from (b).

    (a) and (b) could be both held, though I disagree, only if we greatly restrict the term “science/religion studies”

  5. #5 RickK
    June 7, 2010

    In the investigation of the origins and workings of our universe:

    1) every appeal to supernatural causation in history has either failed or is not yet determined;

    2) every appeal to natural causation in history has succeeded or is not yet determined;

    therefore

    3) The “supernatural” (divine or otherwise) doesn’t exist. It is a myth, a lie, an artifact of human nature no more real than the witchcraft so seemingly prevalent in the 1500s.

    The above is a perfectly reasonable viewpoint based on evidence and shared by millions. Therefore, it should be well-represented on any panel examining the intersection of science and faith.

  6. #6 Zach Voch
    June 7, 2010

    @RickK

    1) every appeal to supernatural causation in history has either failed or is not yet determined;

    2) every appeal to natural causation in history has succeeded or is not yet determined;

    Trivialities with a broad meaning for `not yet determined.’ These statements are identical to `natural or not,’ which in light of excluded middle, are trivialities.

    3) The “supernatural” (divine or otherwise) doesn’t exist. It is a myth, a lie, an artifact of human nature no more real than the witchcraft so seemingly prevalent in the 1500s.

    Somewhat agree, but with a due sense of unease and dread at what must surely follow statements like these.

    The above is a perfectly reasonable viewpoint based on evidence and shared by millions. Therefore, it should be well-represented on any panel examining the intersection of science and faith.

    The implication is false. In particular, nothing that you said was a question of “are science and religious faith compatible?”, “do science and faith share common ground?”, or whatever else. And `reasonableness’ does not imply `entitlement’, by the way.

    This was the most worthless statement on the topic so far. It disappoints me that an apparent atheist had to say it.

  7. #7 John Kwok
    June 7, 2010

    @ Sigmund,

    Well they did have a New Atheist appearing on last year’s Faith Science Reason panel, physicist Lawrence Krauss. He represented atheism, along with philosopher Colin McGinn, while theisitic science was represented by Ken Miller and Vatican Astronomer (and Jesuit brother) Guy Consolmagno:

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2009/science-faith-religion

    It was an especially lively, free-wheeling debate, which never became acrimonious in tone, in part because Ken Miller and Lawrence Krauss stated their dissidenting views in surprisingly polite, often friendly, language. Krauss did object to the very existence of that panel, noting that he was Jerry Coyne’s “replacement” as panelist, and agreeing with Coyne’s objections.

    In stark contrast, this year’s event was substantially subdued in tone and content, and thus, probably a lot less interesting.

  8. #8 Matt Penfold
    June 7, 2010

    Dawkins has published a popular book on the topic, a book which denies that theology is a worthwhile academic discipline at all and which received some of its most stinging critiques in academic circles precisely for failing to engage the large academic literature on science and religion

    What Dawkins does is point that theology presupposes that god(s) exist, that there is even a something there to study. Unless theology begins by providing evidence to support its initial premise then there is no point it going any further. Sadly accomodationists like yourself allow theologists to avoid that question.

    Show that theology actually has something to study and you have a valid point. Since you cannot and will not, your point is invalid.

  9. #9 Ophelia Benson
    June 7, 2010

    Thanks for point-acknowledging, Josh.

    What unites the panelists, then, is not that they have personal experience describing how they navigate that fraught boundary, but because they are all people who have experience in academic studies of science and religion.

    Really? Does Pagels fit that description? I wouldn’t have thought so. I also would have thought she’s a Bible scholar rather than a theologian – though maybe that’s not a valid distinction.

    …academic studies of science and religion. It’s a fairly large community, with proper journals, university departments, think tanks, peer-reviewers, and experts that has existed for some time. The panelists chosen publish in those journals and can comment on the state of that academic field.

    It may be a “community,” but is it really a legitimate field? (I know, depends who’s asking. Nevertheless.) That new article on Templeton in the Nation says it’s a field pretty much invented and created by Templeton. It’s a product of financing rather than scholarship, which isn’t to say that it can’t do any real scholarship, but it is to raise questions about the as it were “naturalness” of the putative field. Is it really a field, or is it something that some people thought would be good to make into a field?

    It is after all part of Templeton’s cunning plan (that’s a joke, don’t anybody take it too literally) to link the two as if they were a natural and obvious pair, and by doing this often and reliably, to create and entrench the impression that they are indeed a natural and obvious pair. But that is the very question at issue – so one could see the putative field as an exercise in question-begging.

  10. #10 John Kwok
    June 7, 2010

    Well I am delighted that none other than Ophelia Benson admits that the Templeton Foundation hasn’t produced its own “Wedge Document”. Judging from the hysterical comments I have read from certain Militant Atheists blogging away in the blogosphere, I was starting to wonder.

    I wish Brian Greene had made as compelling a case for the Templeton Foundation’s right to fund scientific research and education as I have seen from Chris Mooney:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/06/07/science-and-religion-on-the-cam-part-i/

    (Though in fairness to Brian, maybe he has and I haven’t seen it. However, both he and journalist Tracy Day (his wife) emphasized their gratitude for the Templeton Foundation’s support at two World Science Festival sessions I attended which were part of the Templeton Foundation-sponsored “Big Idea Series”. One of those was this year’s Science Faith panel session which has been the subject of ample verbiage both here and elswewhere on the blogosphere (Incidentally this was the first time the Templeton Foundation sponsered a WSF session devoted to science and faith.).)

    I think it is legitimate to ask whether there should be a science and faith panel session held at a festival devoted to science. But for those who aren’t aware, the World Science Festival is a celebration of science and its impact on contemporary civilization and culture. Whether we like it or not, then it is reasonable and appropriate for the World Science Festival to have an event devoted to science and faith.

    For analogous reasons, one could also argue that the Templeton Foundation is well within its right to support scientific research and education. While I share the misgivings of those who reject Templeton funding for research on spirtuality, for example, I am not prepared to reject its right to fund its cosmological research. Almost consistently it has dedicated itself to support current mainstream science. As such, it has done a far better job than the Discovery Institute (which should really be called the “Dishonesty Institute”) in rendering such support, especially when it has never released a document as odious as the notorious “Wedge Document”.

    There are legitimate reasons to criticize Brian Greene, Tracy Day and the World Science Festival. The underrepresentation of eminent scientists and their research at the World Science Festival from such world-class scientific research institutions as the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History is one glaringly notable example. Another is the odd omission of evolutionary biology, except tangentially (e. g. session on animal communication and a family-oriented youth program on dinosaurs), at both this year and last’s World Science Festival. IMHO these are far more compelling, far more substantial reasons for criticism than yet another series of emotionally-driven rants and raves from militant atheists against the World Science Festival’s acceptance of substantial financial support from the John R. Templeton Foundation (In the interest of full disclosure, I have served as a WSF volunteer at both last year’s and the recently concluded 2010 edition.).

  11. #11 RickK
    June 7, 2010

    It is interesting that you reduce my points to “trivialities”. Mankind has for thousands of years, possibly millions of years, worked under the assumption that natural phenomena have divine/supernatural causes, and that the divine/supernatural actually exists. That was the starting, fundamental assumption. It has only been through the constant, unrelenting flow of datapoints that a significant percentage of people now think that natural phenomena have natural causes. It has not come naturally. The concept that gods don’t affect our lives, and therefore may not exist at all, is a painful conclusion arrived at by (usually reluctant) acceptance of the evidence.

    Does “reasonableness” imply entitlement? It does when (1) the “reasonableness” is based on the weight of evidence, and (2) the panel has “Science” in the title.

    Josh Rosenau equates a “Dawkins on the WSF panel” with “a creationist on an evolution panel” or a “climate deniar on a global warming panel”. There is, however, a difference. A thousand years of evidence indicates that natural phenomena have natural causes and that any manifestation of the “supernatural” outside of human beliefs simply doesn’t exist. The data is completely one-sided.

    Assuming the merit of any point of view on the panel is weighed in terms of evidence, then the creationist on the evolution panel is quickly marginalized. The climate denier on the AGW panel takes a bit longer and may force more scrutiny into the data, but will also fade into marginalization.

    By contrast, when a person on the science/faith panel says “gods are human inventions, and therefore theology has no foundation other than in human psychology”, that person is on very firm ground given evidence and history. And if gods don’t have a presence outside of human imagination, then the theological pursuit to understand the nature of gods is indeed pointless beyond its anthropological and cultural significance. That’s a relevant discussion point for a panel on the relationship of science and faith, don’t you think?

    Challenging fundamental assumptions is perfectly valid in any discussion that deals with science, as long as the challenge is based on evidence.

  12. #12 Zach Voch
    June 7, 2010

    It is interesting that you reduce my points to “trivialities”.

    Yes, because your `points’ were trivialities. We’re all aware that atheists don’t believe in theism. That’s a definitional triviality. We’re all aware that naturalistic methods are enormously successful, and that where they aren’t yet successful, we tend to regard the outcome as `undetermined.’ This methodological naturalism does in fact make the uselessness of supernaturalism a triviality, even if supernaturalism did produce results. We’re also all aware that the majority of mankind is and has for all recorded history been theistic.

    Does “reasonableness” imply entitlement? It does when (1) the “reasonableness” is based on the weight of evidence, and (2) the panel has “Science” in the title.

    So any panel on science fiction requires the presence of an atheist? When the question is the relationship between science and faith, which is an intended goal of the panel, the incompatibilist side should be represented, I think. But both the compatibilists and incompatibilists accept the findings of science as given by overwhelming consensus. The question is how those findings impact religion, particularly theistic religion.

    In other words, the tenability of atheism is independent of the discussion. It is only loosely relevant at best. If you kept up with the posts preceding this one, you would have noticed that the tenability of atheism was never brought up as an issue. Of course, when you confuse this matter, you tend to put up more blog filler like this:

    Josh Rosenau equates a “Dawkins on the WSF panel” with “a creationist on an evolution panel” or a “climate deniar on a global warming panel”. There is, however, a difference. A thousand years of evidence indicates that natural phenomena have natural causes and that any manifestation of the “supernatural” outside of human beliefs simply doesn’t exist. The data is completely one-sided.

    Assuming the merit of any point of view on the panel is weighed in terms of evidence, then the creationist on the evolution panel is quickly marginalized. The climate denier on the AGW panel takes a bit longer and may force more scrutiny into the data, but will also fade into marginalization.

    He did make a comparison and I think it was unfair because of those connotations. But his support of the comparison is rooted in the (I think falsely perceived) effect of an incompatibilist on the overall conversation. I do not think he was implying that the atheist position is the epistemic equivalent of creationism. Again, you’re shooting at the wrong target, so you might want to wait before you start marking down points.

    I could quote the rest, but I think my objections there are all the same.

  13. #13 Sigmund
    June 8, 2010

    “Eventually, someone who actually attended the damnable thing will actually describe the events, and we can stop speculating about what the panel was meant to be, and discuss what was actually said there.”
    There is a description of the actual discussion from someone who was there posted on the blog “Tom Paines ghost”.
    It doesn’t make very pleasant reading for the accomodationists.

  14. #14 TB
    June 8, 2010

    Maybe there could be a description of the panel by someone less obviously biased against the panel. Tom Paines Ghost lets on about his feelings in an earlier post. Maybe his final writeup will be fair, I don’t know. Based on his comments, though, it appears he at least expected the certainty of young-earth creationists. Real scholars of this sort are not so silly.
    But I do agree with him about Neil Tyson.

  15. #15 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    Sigmund –

    Since Tom Paines Ghost was there too as a fellow World Science Festival volunteer (and apparently also blogging for the World Science Festival), then I’ll speak up. Compared to the 2009 version which featured Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller, Arizona State University physicist Lawrence Krauss and Vatican Astronomer (and Jesuit brother) Guy Consolmagno, this year’s edition was utterly dull and lifeless (MEMO TO Brian Greene: If you’re reading this Brian, I’ll have to endorse, with utmost reluctance, each and every criticism voiced by Lawrence Krauss if you opt to do this again next year.). At least in last year’s discussion there were compelling arguments made by Ken Miller and Guy Consolmango explaining how, as religiously devout scientists, they believe that science can, should and must trump religion each and every time (except in their private lives when they are not working as scientists). Lawrence Krauss gave a pithy, but well articulated, statement announcing his opposition to this panel, stating that having one was an utter waste of time (Incidentally he was Jerry Coyne’s “replacement” when Coyne publicly rejected Brian and Tracy Day’s (Mrs. Brian Greene) invitation to participate.).

    Afterwards I heard some Templeton Foundation guests (I must keep mum as to how many guests were present, since I was working that session as a volunteer usher.) express regret that there weren’t any “fireworks” (Except maybe at the very beginning when Brian introduced the session by giving a very impassioned plea explaining how his family’s religious experiences has influenced his understanding of science and religion. I wasn’t too impressed with that argument, even though I should note that I, myself, have relatives who are Christians, Jews and Muslims (As for myself, I am a Deist, but one who concurs with Neil de Grase Tyson’s observation – damn I am sorry I missed that – made last Friday night at the World Science Festival event in Battery Park. I should also note that, in the interest of full disclosure, I overlapped with Brian and his classmate physicist Lisa Randall in high school.).

    In closing, however, I disagree with your assertion regarding “accomodationism” since I still view myself as one. For whatever reason, the structure of this year’s session was far more “structured” than last year, and though moderator Bill Blakemore from ABC News did a fine job again (He has hosted the two prior sessions BTW.), he was greatly constrained by the format.

  16. #16 TB
    June 8, 2010

    So if Coyne declined to participate in the panel last year, and Krause spent his time on the panel criticizing the panel’s existence, why are the festival organizers getting criticism for not having any atheist scientists on the panel?

    After all, they got the hint from what was said last year. This is the kind of thing that undermines the credibility of new atheist activists for me. And I do want credible atheist voices to be heard.

  17. #17 Sigmund
    June 8, 2010

    “This is the kind of thing that undermines the credibility of new atheist activists for me.”
    So the behavior of someone who is not a new atheist, and has never claimed to be, undermines the credibility of the new atheists?
    You seem to be making the assumption that Kwok is claiming Kraus spent the whole session last year whining about the futility of the discussion!
    Is that really the case?
    The previous year’s discussion is available online with Paul Bloom in the role as atheist scientist. Does he also undermine the credibility of the new atheists?
    Anyway, are there any more reviews of the discussion available from an ‘unbiased’ source?

  18. #18 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    @ Sigmund –

    Of course Krauss didn’t spend the whole session “whining about the futility of it”. He simply noted that he was there as Jerry Coyne’s “replacement” and explained why Coyne objected to it and that he endorsed Coyne’s objection (BTW though Krauss participated in several WSF events this year, he did not participate in – nor did he attend – this year’s Science Faith session. If you want to know why, you should ask him yourself, though I know and understand and endorse completely his reasons.). He spent most of the session having a friendly exchange with both Ken Miller and Guy Consolmagno, even noting that he is a friend of Ken’s, while disagreeing with some of Ken’s points. IMHO last year’s session was far more interesting and insightful than what I heard Saturday afternoon.

  19. #19 Sigmund
    June 8, 2010

    “(BTW though Krauss participated in several WSF events this year, he did not participate in – nor did he attend – this year’s Science Faith session.”
    Well he probably wasn’t asked – after all he did appear last year and they seem to have entirely new panels each year.
    As for why he didn’t attend to watch it, I suspect you only have to look at the lineup to realize it was unlikely to be a lively debate – more a meeting of like minds, which, if you are not in agreement with them, might have not seemed that appealing.

  20. #20 TB
    June 8, 2010

    Pfft! Josh has been addressing concerns by two people who could be associated with the new atheist movement. Kwok only jarred my memory over what happened last year – he’s not my sole source. And I didn’t say Krause spent ALL his time critcizing the panel.
    But he did spend his time endorsing Coyne’s objections and Coyne declined to participate. Doesn’t sound like they wanted to participate, but here we are this year with a manufactured, mini blowup around NAs not being on the panel.
    I’m not taking the howls of protest seriously.

  21. #21 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    @ Sigmund –

    I think that was the least of Lawrence Krauss’s considerations. Both he and Neil de Grasse Tyson have no admiration for the Templeton Foundation (On the other hand, for example, Tyson’s AMNH colleague, physical anthropologist Ian Tattersall has a more ecumenical view of them.). Again, I won’t disclose what I heard from Krauss, except to say that I understand and endorse his sentiments (at least endorse most of them any way).

  22. #22 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    @ Sigmund –

    I will also note that I have found far more compelling journalist Chris Mooney’s rationale for accepting a Templeton Fellowship than any I heard at the World Science Festival last weekend (You can read into it what you wish but I am not interested in attacking Brian Greene or his wife Tracy Day, not merely because Brian was a schoolmate of mine in high school.):

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/06/07/science-and-religion-on-the-cam-part-i/

  23. #23 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    @ TB –

    Definitely Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, as well as Richard Dawkins could be viewed as “New Atheists”. Apparently, so too is Sean Carroll.

  24. #24 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    @ TB –

    Definitely Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, as well as Richard Dawkins could be viewed as “New Atheists”. Apparently, so too is Sean Carroll.

  25. #25 Dan L.
    June 8, 2010

    . I can see how what I wrote implies that, but it wasn’t what I meant, and thus I need to apologize and correct myself. My point was about Affirmative/New Atheists, not about all atheist scientists.

    You realize that to many atheists, the distinction is completely synthetic, right? I don’t think there’s anything you can say about “New Atheists” that you can’t say about an awful lot of “regular old atheists” and vice versa.

    In the field of science/religion studies, there’s a consensus statement that’s been widely circulated and agreed to, and it states: “in most instances, biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels… natural theology may be a legitimate enterprise in its own right, but we resist the insistence of intelligent-design advocates that their enterprise be taken as genuine science – just as we oppose efforts of others to elevate science into a comprehensive world view (so-called scientism).” The New Atheists reject this consensus, as they are entitled to do. But they reject it without going through the academic literature of the relevant field, preferring pop-culture books to academic engagement.

    Well, quite a few scientists seem to think that the consensus you cite for “science/religion studies” (is that really a legitimate academic discipline?) is factually incorrect, and it would be hard to deny that scientists should have at least some sense of what goes into “science/religion studies” (hint: the science part). If this consensus about scientific and religious compatibility is not obvious to all religious folk or all scientist, then that in itself seems all the more reason to include people from outside the “science/religion studies” community, since evidently such people are simply dismissing the notion that they MIGHT BE WRONG.

    Anyway, I don’t think atheists (remember, “New Atheists” is an entirely synthetic and rhetorical category) are committed to the position by presupposition, they just don’t think it’s settled and want to discuss it openly. Or at least, that’s what Dawkins, Coyne, Benson, Russell, and Carroll seem to be saying. What you and Orzel say they’re saying is somewhat different.

    a) To take offense at the analogy. How dare I compare Dawkins to a creationist or a global warming denier?

    b) To take offense at the notion of science/religion studies as a legitimate endeavor.

    Why must you always strawman? Why not just WAIT for the response? Why do you assume people will take OFFENSE at the notion of science/religion studies being a legitimate endeavor? Would it be possible for us to simply challenge, question, or criticize the legitimacy of science/religion studies without being offended by them?

    It seems like you’ve decided that the position that there is a fundamental philosophical conflict between science and religion is wrong and that you’re unwilling to engage anyone who doesn’t think the question is settled. To me, this is an extreme and dogmatic position, but of course, you can’t admit that so you accuse the “New Atheists” of being extreme and dogmatic. And of course, this is the whole point of the rhetorical strategy behind the arbitrary, synthetic distinction of “New Atheists” in the first place.

    Of course, you can prove me wrong by actually trying to understand our position. But so far you haven’t demonstrated any desire or even willingness to do so.

  26. #26 Kris
    June 8, 2010

    I was there. I recorded it and asked the last question. I’m working on the write up now but I’m back in the lab and instantly feel the pressure to GET BACK TO WORK!! from the upper-ups.
    I should have it out tomorrow if not really late tonight.
    John Templeton was there in the flesh and so was Brian Greene and his entire family. Quick recap- they each had to pick an image and a musical piece they felt portrayed the intersection of science and faith. Ayala and Davies outright said they would not reveal if they believe in God or not. Pagels made very little sense and kept repeating something like there is a “reality” that can be understood through faith and practicing religion that can’t be understood by science. The furthest apart were Pagels and Davies while Ayala said plainly he was concerned about “protecting his public image” he did say his feeling toward religion was “important to his family” all and all I thought it was good. Very few questions were asked in any kind of concrete way and the discussion at the end seemed pretty light. Some good questions from the audience. I hope they post video soon. if you have any specific questions post them to this blog post. http://www.tompainesghost.com/2010/06/faith-and-science-world-science.html

  27. #27 John Kwok
    June 8, 2010

    I concur with Kris’s summary, but Kris didn’t note that Brian gave a long introduction to the program, pointing out how religious experiences within his own family has influenced his views on the relationship between religion and science (While I remain sympathetic as someone who has Christian, Jewish and Muslim relatives, I do realize that his passionate plea would be ignored or treated with ample scorn and derision by the likes of Ophelia Benson, Sean Carroll, Jerry Coyne and others. While I have no problem with him receiving Templeton Foundation support, he had an opportunity to explain himself to his critics, but didn’t.).

    Regrettably, I don’t think this year’s session was as interesting or as insightful as last year’s. That’s due to this year’s format (last year’s was a freewheeling discussion) and the personalities of the panelists.

  28. #28 red pepper
    June 11, 2010

    It seems like you’ve decided that the position that there is a fundamental philosophical conflict between science and religion is wrong and that you’re unwilling to engage anyone who doesn’t think the question is settled.

  29. #29 abb3w
    June 12, 2010

    red pepper: It seems like you’ve decided that the position that there is a fundamental philosophical conflict between science and religion is wrong and that you’re unwilling to engage anyone who doesn’t think the question is settled.

    It seems like you don’t see the significance of the difference between philosophy and anthropology.

    There clearly are compatibilities within religion and science as anthropological practices.

    However, as philosophical disciplines, there are also clear insurmountable conflicts — depending, of course, on which of the various primary premises you use to define the discipline of science, and the particular religious philosophy.

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