On false equivalencies

In Ophelia Benson’s writeup of the Ron Lindsay/Chris Mooney discussion, there’s a passage about the Templeton Foundation that jumps out as deeply problematic:

Then they talked about the Templeton Foundation, and Mooney’s “fellowship,” and the fact that it was controversial. Would you accept a fellowship from the Discovery Institute? Lindsay asked. No. Liberty University? Probably not. But they interfere with science, and Templeton doesn’t. Templeton, he said, “are generating a dialogue about the relationship between science and religion.” He thinks that’s a good thing.

I don’t.

On its own, this point hardly matters. Certainly Benson is entitled to her opinion, but so is Mooney, and “I don’t” is hardly an argument, in any event.

Benson proceeds with the effort at equating Templeton and the Discovery Institute:

I also don’t think he is thinking about it carefully enough. He’s not, for instance, apparently aware that the knowledge he thinks he has is largely Templeton knowledge – it’s knowledge that fits right into Templeton’s agenda and that is produced by Templeton funding. The books he’s read that tell him about Newton’s motivation and so on very often turn out, when one looks at the copyright page and then at google, to have been written by people with Templeton connections. I’m not a bit sure they don’t always turn out to have been written by such people. I don’t think he realizes the extent to which he’s parroting a line.

Lindsay differs. Yay Ron. Lindsay says one can see Templeton as in fact interfering with science just as the Discovery Institute does, but in a more subtle fashion. Yes indeed one can; that’s exactly how I see it. They fund most of the blather about “science and religion” that’s out there, and they do it very subtly. But Mooney was just frankly dismissive of that suggestion.

As well he sound be. There’s no question that the Discovery Institute is ideologically driven, that their fellowships are wingnut welfare, a way to employ creationists and give them the gloss of respectability. Disco. ‘Tute fellows seem to have lifetime appointments, while Mooney’s fellowship from Templeton was a single event - a financial award and a series of lectures and discussion which, once ended, entail no ongoing obligation. That’s not how DI fellowships work.

The DI does not fund external research. They have a Potemkin laboratory, and a house journal dedicated to publishing their own staff’s “research.” All of this is oriented towards creating a pseudoscientific infrastructure, the semblance of an active research program and academic community, so that they can convince schools to teach claptrap and can interfere with the administration of colleges and universities, the content of textbooks, and by such means to advance a narrow version of Christianity. Their fellows are chosen because of their support for this ideological agenda, just as papers in their pseudo-journal are selected for their adherence to the Disco. ‘Tute agenda, and so forth.

By contrast, Templeton doesn’t run its own journals. They do help fund societies which run journals, but no one has given any evidence of Templeton interfering in the editorial independence of those journals. They fund research projects, but no one has shown any evidence that they interfere with the research or the researchers’ interpretation of it. While the Templeton folks did provide some funding for IDC-related work, they did so at a time in the 1990s when quite a few people held out hope that there might be some real research program spawned by the movement. In time, they learned better, making clear:

We do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political movements.

The New York Times asked about their involvement with ID creationism, and they took an evidence-based, scientifically justified stance:

after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

As we’ve discussed before, Templeton seems to be moving towards a more transparent granting process, one driven more by the community of researchers and ever less by the vagaries of Templeton Foundation staff. That’s good, and important. But even under the old system, no one has built a case that Templeton was using its influence to change research results (either by changing how the researchers wrote their papers, or by suppressing some publications, or by greasing the skids for bad papers). I’m open to such evidence being presented, but the case against Templeton so far simply doesn’t sustain this attempt to equate them with the Discovery Institute.

Templeton staff or fellows don’t show up at school board meetings to demand time for creationism. They don’t circulate draft legislation attacking science education. They may have been overly credulous about the early claims of the ID creationists, but that also makes their ultimate rejection of IDC all the more devastating. Where the Disco. ‘Tute is dedicated to promoting a single view, Templeton seems much more to be funding a wide range of research and letting the chips fall where they may. Again, I’m open to counterevidence, but so far the charge against Templeton seems to amount to: some people don’t care for the idea of studying the interaction between science and religion, and therefore don’t like Templeton.

That’s certainly their right, but it’s hardly grounds for the campaign under way for nearly the last year (or longer), or for these spurious comparisons to the Discovery Institute. It’s not grounds for the guilt-by-association charges thrown at any book written by a person associated with Templeton in any way, or to any extent.

Comments

  1. #1 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    Until they come up with something The Templeton Foundation does to inject “it’s agenda”, OK, let’s just say it, religion, into the formal literature of science or into public school science classrooms, the effort of Benson, Coyne, Myers, et al, is to give them the cooties. It’s clothed in middle brow would be adult language but that’s pretty much it.

    If they could come up with something to pin on the Foundation, that would be damning. Until then it’s jr. high level assignment of stigma on the basis of cooties.

    I don’t much like John Templeton jr. but from what I’ve read the Foundation makes decisions independent of him so he can’t be the basis of judging its activities. From the little I’ve been able to tease out about them, organized “skepticism” and various organized atheist groups might want to avoid opening up issues of ideological influence peddling.

  2. #2 Jon
    May 13, 2011

    Why doesn’t Ophelia Benson advocate going after McGill University for giving Charles Taylor tenure? Oh wait, she already *has* suggested doing that in the form of organizing opposition on tenure committees, etc and denying people like him places in the academy. To me, this makes her look a lot like a culture warrior along Ralph Reed’s lines when he talks about “defending the left.”

  3. #3 Jon
    May 13, 2011

    Sorry, should be “defunding the left.”

  4. #4 Ian
    May 13, 2011

    Always look at the source of funding. Always question the motivation of the group doing the funding…but seriously, there’s far worse than Templeton funding science. That’s not a good thing, but it’s the reality of the way the world works.

    Declare your sources of funding. Declare your conflicts of interest. And then go ahead and do the best work you can.

  5. #5 Apuleius Platonicus
    May 13, 2011

    There is more than one way to influence scientific research. That Templeton does so in ways that are less crude than the Young Earth Yahoos at DI only makes Templeton’s influence more insidious.

    When it’s done with rats it’s called “Rewards Based Training”. Once you figure out where the cheese is, that’s where you go.

    If you want to understand Templeton, don’t compare them to the ham-handed propagandists at DI. Templeton is in a whole other league, with the big boys like Gallup and Pew. These are all right-wing Christian groups who are very effective at pushing their agenda, and very good at making themselves look legit. Check out, for example: Push Polling for Jesus: A Form of Ministry.

  6. #6 TB
    May 13, 2011

    PEW is a right-wing Christian group? Seriously?

  7. #7 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    There is more than one way to influence scientific research. That Templeton does so in ways that are less crude than the Young Earth Yahoos at DI only makes Templeton’s influence more insidious. A.P.

    The integrity of scientific research is in the hands of scientists. If scientists can’t protect the published research of science from influence then it has far bigger problems than some alleged subliminal corruption from religion because religion is hardly the most likely candidate for corruption. Political, racial, sexist and class based bias has been rampant in much of science, especially in those allegedly studying behavior and societies. That bias is made invisible because of the alleged ability of science to find real differences among people and come up with excuses to reinforce commonly held biases in the wider population. Only occasionally do members of those targeted groups overcome that pervasive bias to successfully challenge it being taken as reputable science. Then the “scientific” reaction sets in, as it has in large parts of cog-sci and evo-psy.

    But to insert so much as a belief in God into science, it would have to be explicit and it would be immediately detected and expunged and those doing it expelled from the community of scientists. Religion is probably the LEAST likely kind of contamination to be successfully inserted into real science. Which is why those few who want to do it have to set up their own “scientific” establishment, one which will never have the acceptance of scientists outside of it. That acceptance of formal research is all that keeps science scientific. And as seen in real life instead of rumors and gossip, all kinds of other ideology is the real danger to it. New atheists are quite prone to accepting that kind of thing. If you want an example, look at Richard Dawkins’ use of John Hartung’s “research” in The God Delusion.

    http://tinyurl.com/6ha8z56

  8. #8 Ender
    May 13, 2011

    “Political, racial, sexist and class based bias has been rampant in much of science, especially in those allegedly studying behavior and societies.”

    Does it make me a bigot and an idiot if I say that psychology and sociology are not sciences? Surely not. But if I go further and say that Biology is stamp collecting and Chemistry merely applied Physics (the only science) I suspect I would be.

  9. #9 Apuleius Platonicus
    May 13, 2011

    “PEW is a right-wing Christian group? Seriously?”

    The head of PEW’s “Religion Forum” is Luis Lugo. Lugo is a past member of the group “Christians in Political Science”. He was invited to address that group at their national meeting in 1999, at which time he stated, “Christian political scientists are, before anything else, at the service of God’s people, providing intellectual leadership to help them as they seek faithfully to carry out their temporal calling as citizens.” In that speech, Lugo also described his work on the Civitas Program, funded and run by PEW: “The point of the program is to build bridges: bridges between the students’ academic work and the tradition of Christian political reflection … The goal is train, over the next few years, at least 120 of these promising young Christian scholars who will be equipped to provide that kind of leadership to church and society.” (For more of that speech, look here.)

    Prior to coming to Pew, Lugo’s previous position had been as Associate Director at the Center for Public Justice, where he helped oversee CPJ’s efforts to oppose gay marriage and promote taxpayer funding for Christian missionary work. Lugo himself has described his work at CPJ on the issue of so-called “faith-based initiatives” like this: “At CPJ I studied how to legally incorporate religiously-based organizations into the welfare system.” In other words, Lugo is a professional scholar-activist who specializes in deceiving the public and subverting the Constitution. Lugo’s official biography at the PEW website is very revealing … in what it leaves out.

  10. #10 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    Rutherford wasn’t immune from making stupid statements. He had some really stupid things to say about relativity.

    His Nobel is in Chemistry, if I recall.

    Richard Lewontin has noted that there was quite an exodus from physics into biological topics in the last century.

    That said, the behavioral and social “sciences” are a total mess.

  11. #11 Apuleius Platonicus
    May 13, 2011

    “PEW is a right-wing Christian group? Seriously?”

    First of all it should be emphasized that the links between PEW and Templeton are extensive. Of particular relevance to the subject at hand is the fact that the two groups work together to fund “research” on and generally promote the idea of “spiritual capital”, in the guise of such entities as the “Spiritual Capital Research Program”, and the “Spiritual Enterprise Institute.” To learn more, google the names of those groups, and also the name “Theodore Roosevelt Malloch”.

    More specifically on PEW as a right-wing Christian group. Do a google search on the Director of their “Religion Forum”: Luis Lugo (and throw in such phrases as “christian”, “faith-based”, “gay marriage”, “christians in political science”). Before coming to PEW, Lugo was an Associate Director at the Center for Public Justice, where he worked on finding ways to get federal funding for Christian missionary groups, and also on opposing gay-marriage.

  12. #13 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    Why doesn’t Ophelia Benson advocate going after McGill University for giving Charles Taylor tenure? Oh wait, she already *has* suggested doing that in the form of organizing opposition on tenure committees, etc and denying people like him places in the academy. To me, this makes her look a lot like a culture warrior along Ralph Reed’s lines when he talks about “defending the left.”

    That is a falsehood.

  13. #14 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    Josh – did you miss the “in a more subtle fashion”?

    Ron said “in a more subtle fashion.” That means he wasn’t making a false equivalency. Neither was I. I wasn’t saying Templeton is exactly equivalent to the DI.

    And by the way I don’t actually harbor the delusion that “I don’t” is an argument. I didn’t say it was an argument; I didn’t imply it was an argument; so what’s the point of saying “it’s hardly an argument”? Especially since I went on to, at least, explain my thinking, as you know, since you quoted it. What on earth is the point of singling out one brief remark and observing that it’s not an argument? Other than sheer truculence.

  14. #15 Josh Rosenau
    May 13, 2011

    Ophelia: “In a more subtle fashion” or not, there’s still an equivalence being drawn, and I think it doesn’t work. Not on a more subtle level or on any other.

    And when you follow “I don’t,” with “I also don’t think…,” a normal reader is justified in thinking you’re changing topics, not explaining the previous comment. That impression is only enhanced when the reader notes that “I don’t” refers to your views on dialogue between science and religion, while the next paragraph is an explanation of why you think Templeton is like the Discovery Institute, and says nothing about the merits of science/religion dialogue.

  15. #16 Jon
    May 13, 2011

    It was in one of Jerry Coyne’s threads, Ophelia. I think you referenceced Machiavelli, and you said that people should work to make the views of people with religious beliefs less represented in the academy. I was surprised that you said it, but you did.

  16. #17 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    That’s just an assertion, Jon. I don’t care what you “think” I referenced – what you said in 2 is a falsehood.

  17. #18 Paul
    May 13, 2011

    I think you referenceced Machiavelli, and you said that people should work to make the views of people with religious beliefs less represented in the academy. I was surprised that you said it, but you did.

    “I’m not sure what you said, but you said it, so I’m free to represent this mythical statement however I choose.” Is this really the caliber of commenter you want?

  18. #19 Jon
    May 13, 2011

    Fair enough.I’ll try to Google it later when I have time.

  19. #20 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    Yes you do that. Meanwhile I look forward to your apology.

  20. #21 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    Josh – don’t be silly. “I don’t” was no more intended to be an argument than the “Hmm” a couple of paras up, or the other “Hmm” a couple of paras up from that. Obviously it was just a “nuh uh.” It was marked as just a “nuh uh” – alone on the line like that. You can’t possibly think I thought it was an argument. Your pointing out that it’s not an argument is not an argument, it’s just a dopy sneer. Sneers are fine things, but they should be quality sneers.

  21. #22 SocraticGadfly
    May 13, 2011

    Hey, kids, here’s fun, and fireworks: Draw a Gnu Atheist Day — http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/05/draw-gnu-atheist-day.html

    A good way to prove you’re not an “accomodationist”!

    (I’m not one, anyway; I’m a “connectionist” of some sort — I reject the label of “accomodationist.”)

  22. #23 SocraticGadfly
    May 13, 2011

    I think it’s arguable that the segment of Gnus that says Templeton = DI is engaged in conspiracy thinking. Unlike DI, Templeton’s “angle” is out in the open, so there’s no conspiracy on its part, and it is therefore legit to wonder about some Gnus having conspiracy thinking.

    OTOH, Templeton DOES have an angle; and, after the old man dies, will the son “up the heat” on that angle? So pretty big pox on the Gnus, but Templeton defenders have to be cognizant of the image thy are defending. (And, prepared for that image to change when old man Templeton dies and the son, in all likelihood, throws his muscle around more.)

  23. #24 Sven DIMilo
    May 13, 2011

    From the little I’ve been able to tease out about them, organized “skepticism” and various organized atheist groups might want to avoid opening up issues of ideological influence peddling.

    ah, the unsupported (and, one may infer, unsupportable) tu quoque innuendo.

    You’re a piece of work, McCarthy.

  24. #25 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    Socratic Gad fly, if you mean John Templeton sr. He died in 2008.

  25. #26 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    Sven, you must have been sleeping through the past ten years if you don’t think one of the foremost fantasies of the new atheists is that they are going to mock and ridicule and stigmatize religion into extinction. In fact, you’d have to have slept through the past forty years to have missed the sales job that Paul Kurtz and his alphabet soup of groups – many, perhaps most new atheists on the blog have direct ties to one or more of PK’s groups – have been trying to conduct through the media to make materialism the ideology of influential people. To little effect in the general public, to greater effect in the nervous, would be intelligentsia.

    I didn’t say they were good at it, by the way.

  26. #27 Paul
    May 13, 2011

    I think it’s arguable that the segment of Gnus that says Templeton = DI is engaged in conspiracy thinking. Unlike DI, Templeton’s “angle” is out in the open, so there’s no conspiracy on its part, and it is therefore legit to wonder about some Gnus having conspiracy thinking.

    Have you read the link provided in comment 11? You really should before spouting tripe like this. Templeton is definitely not “out in the open”. That, or Mooney likes snuggling up to people that fund climate denialism. I think the “conspiracy thinking” is more charitable to the Templeton defenders. But by all means, if the Templeton defenders want to come out and say they’re all for climate denialism, we’re all ears.

  27. #28 Rob M
    May 13, 2011

    I don’t see what the problem is, Templeton is open minded toward two, maybe even three ways of thinking. How could anyone get the idea that they have a religious agenda when their giant prize is for religious scientists who claim their research points toward religion?

  28. #29 Ophelia Benson
    May 13, 2011

    No apology from Jon for that falsehood about me yet.

  29. #30 RickK
    May 13, 2011

    Templeton is just another desperate attempt by believers to retain intellectual legitimacy in the face of 400 years of scientific discovery and rational thought that have eroded the foundations of their faith.

    While nobody can deny that religious feelings are real, god(s) have faded steadily from the realm of reality. This disturbs a lot of people, and some of them have money. Hence the need for Templeton Foundations and Discovery Institutes. They’re just different points of the spectrum of the same disorder.

  30. #31 Jon
    May 13, 2011

    OK, I did try to Google that comment. I remember it was short, like 3-4 lines, and it had to do with academic careers, and over time getting certain views out of the academy, and working to get profs to take sides, which would affect hiring and tenure decisions. I pretty clearly remember the comment being made, but couldn’t find it.

    The context was a discussion about philosophy. The immediate context didn’t have anything to do with Charles Taylor–that’s me making an assumption that his is the type of view she’d want phased out.

    Remembering it now, I don’t think her comment mentioned Machiavelli. I may be confusing her comment with another one made in the same discussion.

    I am aware that if I can’t find it, I’m just relying on my memory, which is unreliable, of course.

  31. #32 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    RickK, science has done nothing to my religious faith because I know the difference between the subject of science and the subject of religion. Clearly, you don’t.

    Someone should break it to you guys that science is not the property of atheists.

    The new atheism means never having to know what you’re talking about as long as it’s against religion.

  32. #33 Josh Rosenau
    May 13, 2011

    Ophelia, if you couldn’t be arsed to make a quality argument, why should I bother to concoct a quality sneer? I was laying down a marker, as you were. Have you any substantive reply to anything I wrote, or are you just tone trolling?

  33. #34 Riman Butterbur
    May 13, 2011

    The new atheism means never having to know what you’re talking about as long as it’s against religion.

    That’s the best definition of it I’ve seen yet.

  34. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    Isn’t one of the absurd goals of the new atheists to make all religious people pariahs in academia and the alleged intellectual class? They certainly seem to have that goal on the blogs.

    Jon, I remembered reading this from O.B.’s blog.

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/blatant-discrimination-against-a-christian/

    And you might want to read the hair raising story that prompted it in that hotbed of creationism, The Guardian.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/feb/16/astronomer-evolution-sceptics-creationist

    The issue is whether or not someone believing in “theistic evolution” disqualifies them for an academic position in astronomy, entirely unrelated to evolutionary biology. Looking around at what I can find online, I didn’t see any indication that he crossed the line, inserting his personal belief into his work as a scientist. I haven’t seen anywhere he was formally charged with doing that. Though I’m sure that a lot of new atheists wouldn’t have liked what he wrote about religion and science I’d imagine a lot of creationists wouldn’t have especially liked it either.

    The last paragraph is especially interesting:

    Gaskell, on the other hand, is not keen to become a creationist poster boy. Interviewed after the case was settled, he said he wanted to counter the perceived incompatibility between religion and science, describing it as an “illusion”. It is unfortunate that in neo-atheist circles even such moves towards accommodation are far from welcome.

    I don’t know whether or not he should have gotten the job but the question of whether or not unrelated personal beliefs that can’t be shown to have had an effect on their professional work is one that seems to mostly be a problem when it’s religion. Look at how long James Watson worked while holding racist and sexist beliefs that were directly related to his field.

    If anyone believing in “theistic evolution” could be disqualified from holding an academic job in science it would, actually, blacklist many, perhaps most, religious people from holding those positions.

    Here’s how O.B. put it

    That’s right! In a pluralistic society observatories should be run by tenth-level ayurvedic detoxxers or thetan-flavored scambolic sorcerers or professional qualified certificated layers on of hands. Anybody! It’s more interesting that way! And the way to figure it all out is to fight in public, not figure out which people to hire in private between people who know something about the job that has to be filled. A crackpot in every job! That’s the liberal dream.

    I don’t know if that’s exactly what you remember. It’s something I recalled reading.

  35. #36 RickK
    May 14, 2011

    Anthony said: “RickK, science has done nothing to my religious faith because I know the difference between the subject of science and the subject of religion. Clearly, you don’t.”

    Actually, I do. But instead of leaving what I learn about the natural world on the end table when I put down the journal, I actually apply what I learn to my life and my world view.

    Anthony, which faith do you follow, and does your particular deity influence the natural world in any way?

  36. #37 Ophelia Benson
    May 14, 2011

    Jon (# 31)

    The context was a discussion about philosophy.

    No it wasn’t – not if you’re thinking of the one McCarthy linked. It was a discussion about science. The issue was whether Gaskell’s religion would interfere with his doing a science education job (as director of an observatory). It wasn’t a slam-dunk either way, but that doesn’t make it a non-issue.

    In philosophy there wouldn’t be an issue, at least not unless the candidate did or said something really batty, like saying never mind arguments, just read your Bible.

    For the record, I think this is a genuinely and thoroughly difficult issue. I think there is no good solution. On civil rights grounds I think it’s appalling to sort people by religion. On epistemic grounds I think there is potential for tensions. I don’t think there’s any simple way to work this out. (Nor do lawyers. It’s a vexed area of jurisprudence.)

  37. #38 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    The issue was whether Gaskell’s religion would interfere with his doing a science education job (as director of an observatory). O.B.

    An observatory of the kind he’d worked in at the U of Nebraska, including educational outreach, to wide acclaim and, so far as I’ve seen, no objection whatsoever on the basis of his religious beliefs, which explicitly aren’t creationist.

    http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1477

    He made it clear in the notes to the talk he gave, based on memories of what he said ten years later, that he wasn’t a biblical fundamentalist and not a creationist. That he wasn’t that impressed with some of the assertions of people within evolutionary biology made isn’t shocking, evolutionary biologists disagree with each other rather frequently. In far more stringent terms than his notes give. And it’s really not surprising that an astro-physicist might not be bowled over by the standards of a life science.

    Although I am rather in sympathy with this criticism of theology, I am not ready to press it to an extreme. In this lecture I have for the most part identified science with the physical science. This is not solely because it is the only side for which I can properly speak. But because it is generally agreed that physical science comes nearest to that complete system of exact knowledge which all sciences have before them as an ideal. Some fall far short of it. The physicist who inveighs against the lack of coherence and the indefiniteness of theological theories, will probably speak not much less harshly of the theories of biology and psychology. They also fail to come up to his standard of methodology. On the other side of him stands an even superior being – the pure mathematician – who has no high opinion of the methods of deduction used in physics, and does not hid his disapproval of the laxity of what is accepted as proof in physical science. A. S. Eddington: Science and the Unseen World.

    Ophelia, you must be familiar with scientists who aren’t bowled over by philosophy and its standards of research, even that published by real philosophers with impressive publication in reviewed journals. What was it Feynman said, that a scientist had about as much need for philosophy as a bird did for ornithology? Only, I don’t think he was talking about the use of what philosophers said in ideological warfare.

  38. #39 TB
    May 14, 2011

    I can’t believe I’m giving Ophelia Bensen any support, but I looked into the Gaskell case myself, even emailing him personally with questions. I found his handout materials contained recommendations of Intelligent Design books, one by Phillip Johnson, even after the 2005 Dover trial I recall.
    The handout now available, after his court action, has been changed but there are links to the court documents from the NCSE site, I believe.. There’s also personal testimony from a professor at the university who attended one of Gaskell’s talks.

    I don’t doubt HR needed to step in and handle the case better – which is what I think was the reason for the settlement. But if they had, I think the facts would have come out and questions raised in the proper context – not because of his religion, but because even after Dover he was recommending people look at ID as somehow legitimate.

    Neither of the articles linked addressed all this, of course. But the facts are there if you just do the digging.

  39. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    And this is one occasion when Jerry Coyne didn’t go several bubbles out of level but was actually pretty measured in consideration of it.

    It’s one thing to have a university biologist espousing creationism, another to have a university astronomer espousing theistic evolution. It’s yet a third to have a man denied a job not because his scientific views are unsound, but because those scientific views arise from his faith. And, unfortunately, the internal documents at the U of K (I haven’t read them all) are not clear on this distinction. If Gaskell were hired, is it proper to worry about what he would say about biology on his own time? Doesn’t that violate freedom of speech? Would it be okay if he simply kept his views on evolution as non-official, personal opinions?

    After all, Gaskell would have been hired as an astronomer, not a biologist. Would these issues have arisen if he was considered for a position in economics, sociology, or archaeology? After all, worries about scientific acumen would apply to all fields that rely on empirical research, not just science.

    I tend to think that Gaskell’s scientific views should be considered when he’s being hired as a scientist, but I am not as vehement about this as, say, P.Z. And, knowing the religious climate of Kentucky, I’d be surprised if Gaskell wasn’t hired simply because he was religious—instead of not being hired because he accepts bad science. Still, the documents and depositions, which are what the court has to go on before trial, don’t seem clear on the point.

    It’s not every day that I see this much merit in something J. C. writes. Probably why I remembered it.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-gaskell-affair/

  40. #41 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    TB, I’d wondered what he found in the Phillip Johnson book that he included it in the references. Though I’ve never read it, I’ve heard and reads stuff by Johnson and it wouldn’t seem to be in agreement with GasKell’s stated belief. Not having read his book, I don’t know if Johnson doesn’t go into some of the real controversies within evolutionary science or not. Did Gaskell tell you why he included it?

    I don’t think Johnson would have been happy with what Gaskell said his position was as quoted in the document I linked to @38 above.

    On the specific issue of evolution, Gaskell says, “The evidence is very good (and gets stronger every year) that all life on earth descended (i.e., evolved from) from a common origin.” (Gaskell Dep., Ex. 4, at 8.) And while he opines “there are significant problems in evolutionary theory,” particularly regarding the origin of life itself, he states unequivocally “I personally have no theological problem with the idea of God doing things in the ways described in modern theories of evolution (i.e., ‘theistic evolution’).” (Gaskell Dep., Ex. 4, at 9.) He later reiterates, “I believe that evidence for common descent of species is very strong and I have no personal
    trouble with the theory of evolution.”
    p.14

    Well, lots of quite atheistic, materialistic biologists fight over “significant problems in evolutionary theory.” I’ve greatly enjoyed reading them fighting over one issue or another from the period immediately following the publication of The Origin of Species, continuing down to today.

    I still don’t think that’s relevant to whether or not he could have done the job he applied for, which had nothing to do with evolution. He apparently didn’t have any problem doing it for a number of years, as compared to the one they finally ended up hiring. I suspect that the people doing the hiring were afraid of the usual suspects kicking up the same kind of row they kicked up when Francis Collins was in line for a position in the Obama administration.

  41. #42 TB
    May 14, 2011

    Anthony: I haven’t read the documents for a while, but I believe there’s a discrepancy between what Gaskell was saying before the job opportunity versus what he says now. It may very well be that there was a window of opportunity for them all to have a reasoned discussion that could have resulted in Gaskill dropping whatever support he may (or may not) have had for ID, but I really can’t say.
    But if he was interested enough in the topic to include references to Johnson, it’s hard to believe he somehow missed the Dover trial.

  42. #43 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    TB, as I said, I haven’t read the Johnson book he referred people to in the 1997 notes I read. I don’t know what issues with evolution he might have found Johnson’s book addressed. I have found that creationists are quite aware of the problems within real evolutionary science and they often discuss them. It’s a big mistake to assume that they wouldn’t be able to find discrepancies in them. That they are creationists don’t keep them from being able to discuss them, Johnson would probably be quite able to do that, considering he’s a prominent and accomplished lawyer. I didn’t go to the extent you did and ask Gaskell questions, that would have been the first one I would have.

    In the 1997 notes he clearly disassociates himself from those who reject evolution:

    “The Answers are not in yet”. [One of the several groups he puts various people with various positions in.] This is part of my own view point. I believe that God has not yet revealed everything to us in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 29:29 and I Corinthians 13:9-10,12) and I know that we don’t know all the answers in science yet.

    He did reference Johnson specifically in addressing the ” the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations, which are what “creationists” should really be attacking”:

    The main controversy today is between people at the two extremes (young earth creationists and humanistic evolutionists). “Creationists” attack the science of “evolutionists”. I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically. The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. It is true that there are major scientific problems in evolutionary theory (see the reading list at the end of this handout), and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations, which are what “creationists” should really be attacking (there are quite a few books which do a good job of attacking the unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations – see especially the books by Phillip Johnson).

    Which would be quite a different matter from him supporting Johnson’s brand of creationism, which he explicitly rejects.

    In the context of his spectrum of positions, the one he associates himself with is neither creationist nor “humanistic”, which I interpret to be materialistic and atheistic.

    I do think that if his, admittedly, awkwardly explained position would be enough to keep someone from having a job in science it would amount to a blacklist just about all religious believers from working in science. Something which isn’t far removed from many of the proclamations made on new atheist blogs.

    If O.B. would like to clarify her position on that I’d be interested in reading it.

  43. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    Damn html tags, I should stick with the mechanics I learned from Warriner’s. I hope you get the idea from the context.

  44. #45 Jon
    May 14, 2011

    Ophelia Benson:For the record, I think this is a genuinely and thoroughly difficult issue… On epistemic grounds I think there is potential for tensions…

    I wasn’t talking about a science issue, but I’ll take you at your word that you don’t have that stance on philosophy. If that’s not your stance then I misunderstood you.

    But here’s the problem: if there *are* difficult issues, why the tone from NA’s like there aren’t? When I think of NA’s (or gnus or whatever) I think of a tone like Bill O’Reilly’s, that there can’t *possibly* be intelligent views different than his, that there can’t *possibly* be difficult questions that require careful dialog with both sides tuned in. This is the problem I have with NA’s dismissing people who complain about their style, because their style implies that certain things can be contemptuously dismissed–when they can’t.

    Frankly, I think of New Atheism as kind of like Analytic Philosophy Gone Wild. I think its assumptions about human nature are peculiarly flat, and beyond that, I think there’s a certain assumption that humiliating people and their identities brings about societal enlightenment, which a big assumption and a dubious one. (As Alan Wolfe has argued, pretty convincingly, it’s one with illiberal tendencies.)

    But back to Josh’s point about Templeton. As long as people are doing work on difficult questions, and work with integrity, why would that be such a threat? Why would that be so unfair? If Charles Taylor is doing intellectually honest work (incredibly thoughtful work, by the way), if Chris Mooney is doing honest work, why all the rants about Templeton? Why not take things on a case by case basis? You begin to sound like the Right and George Soros. If you don’t like the arguments made, do the intellectual work and make quality arguments in response. Why do you need to go ad hominem and make them into a full-on boogeyman?

  45. #46 Anthony McCarthy
    May 14, 2011

    New Atheism as kind of like Analytic Philosophy Gone Wild. Jon

    Yes.

    The idea that a lot of what’s taken to be modernism seems to be a long excuse to assert materialism in order to claim the prestige of science for ideas that can’t properly be founded in science. I don’t know if it starts out that way but the end point always is in doctrinaire atheism by assertion, much of it rude, much of it dishonest. Perhaps it’s so no one will notice how far science has been stretched in the attempt. Perhaps it’s founded in the class derision that so many people in and of the working class believe it to be. Richard Lewontin, a rather assertive atheist, himself, has criticized the anti-creationist effort for not understanding that aspect of the problem. It’s not a surprise since most of the science based opposition to creationism consistently mistake the problem as one of educating the ignorant rubes with science arguments when it is almost purely a political brawl. The usual resort of his opponents, many of them far less accomplished scientists, themselves, dismissing his as a scientific position polluted by his politics, refusing to address his criticisms of their reductionist stands, is quite ironic but effective with the gullible members of the press. Not to mention casual readers who aren’t willing to stay with his more nuanced views to understand them.

    it’s one with illiberal tendencies

    Any consistent application of extreme reductionism to humans will eventually end in illiberal stands. Much of “modernism” is essentially illiberal, in effect if not intent. I don’t see how anyone who believes that people are complex chemical reactions can avoid either living with a discrepancy between their materialism and their better nature or giving into the a materialistic view of people which denies their essential rights based on their status as not merely physical systems.
    I, of course, am happy for the discrepancy when it’s the road taken.

  46. #47 Marion Delgado
    May 15, 2011

    Being skeptical about the Templeton Foundation is all to the good. I am, as well, because of its history.

    I would encourage it, as well as encouraging people to be skeptical about the degree to which the skeptical movement is run by market fundies. They see no problems with corporate grants, even to people who pontificate on corporate issues.

  47. #48 Riman Butterbur
    May 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy #46:

    I don’t see how anyone who believes that people are complex chemical reactions can avoid either living with a discrepancy between their materialism and their better nature

    L’m not even going to try to guess what “discrepancy” you think you see there.

    But after seeing the praise you heaped on blithering nonsense like this:

    The selectionist paradigm requires the reduction of society and culture to inheritance systems that consist of randomly varying, individual units, some of which are selected, and some not; and with society and culture thus reduced to inheritance systems, history can be reduced to “evolution.” But these reductions, which are required by the selectionist paradigm, exclude much that is essential to a satisfactory historical explanation–particularly the systemic properties of society and culture and the combination of systemic logic and contingency.

    I;m not surprized you’re so confused.

  48. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    May 15, 2011

    Riman, I have yet to hear a materialistic-scientific explanation of human rights that achieves even a semblance of coherence. Are you able to show me one?

    As to the abstract you find so objectionable, I provided it here primarily to show that Dawkinsism is certainly not beyond doubt. Which that passage certainly does. The paper and many others raise many of those controversies within evolutionary biology which are there to be seen. The extreme adaptationist side of that always seems more like theology to me than it does science, nothing must be allowed to get in the way of an explanation that can be traced back to natural selection and Charles Darwin. When a population geneticist points out problems with the facile narratives of the adaptationists they will temporarily back off, I guess because some of them really aren’t equipped to argue the issues of population genetics. But as soon as they can they go back to spinning adaptationist yarns, generally based in nothing but their Darwinian fundamentalism. Other Darwinists are more open to looking at evidence and other explanations, even if they weren’t among those things Darwin was able to imagine. But, then, he didn’t know about things like genetic drift and didn’t have a knowledge of nonadaptive change. Which should show us that even someone as great as Charles Darwin was is overtaken by events and subsequent discoveries.

    Did you happen to look at the paper I suggested that scott read before he went all weak in the knees over Richard Dawkins?

  49. #50 EBlack
    May 15, 2011

    It’s a Wally Smith classic to rant about an out-of-context or nonexistent Ophelia Benson quote on blogs like this one (for example http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/12/jerry_coyne_agrees_while_being.php#comment-3052082).

    That and a bundle of other indicators make me strongly suspect that Jon is Wally Smith. Just sayin’.

  50. #51 Anthony McCarthy
    May 15, 2011

    Well, how about if I theorize that EBlack is gillt? Or Sorbet, aka “Skeptic”, the new atheist sock puppet who inadvertently outed itself at The Intersection through neglecting to change identities. To no feigned outrage by Ophelia Benson and “gillt” and New England Bob, etc.

    I’m inclined to think that if said about “Wally Smith” etc. is accurate, that he wouldn’t have the same philosophical orientation that Jon has. But you’d have to have read some philosophy to be inclined to notice the difference.

    It’s entirely possible to think O.B. is prone to fanatical stands, she is prone to them. Her stands on religion, like those of Coyne and PZ are generally way over the top, which gains them attention. And then there’s her annoyingly thin skinned demands for apologies and her chewing the scenery when those aren’t immediately rendered. Though when it was me, she accused me of slandering her at The Intersection. The only reason I’m not going to search their archive for the incident is because it was silly and I don’t want to provide her with yet another excuse to strike yet another pose of self-righteous umbrage.

  51. #52 Riman Butterbur
    May 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy #49:

    I have no idea what you would call “a semblance of coherence”.

    The basic idea of morality shouldn’t be hard to grasp, tho. We’re social animals, so we evolved with innate behaviors that enable us to (sort of) get along with each other.

    Sam Harris makes a manful effort to explain it to a religious nut beginning here, if you care to watch.

  52. #53 Jon
    May 15, 2011

    I’m Jon.

    And I accept Ms. Benson’s claim that she’s not against philosophical diversity in the academy. That leaves other interesting questions, as I stated above, but I accept what she’s saying …

  53. #54 Anthony McCarthy
    May 15, 2011

    The basic idea of morality shouldn’t be hard to grasp, tho. We’re social animals, so we evolved with innate behaviors that enable us to (sort of) get along with each other. Riman

    Well, if it’s that simple it should be plainly manifest in human history that moral standards are uniform and practiced at least a majority of the time in all societies and that those standard, uniform behaviors result in a clearly higher rate of successful reproduction. Do you have the documentary and statistical evidence that’s true? If I’m wrong in that that being reasonable evidence to present to support your and Sam Harris’ hypothesis (I’m using the term rather generously) tell me how you could either account for the idea that “we evolved with innate behaviors that enable us to (sort of) get along with each other”.

    You do realize that in order for a behavior to constitute a reproductive advantage, it actually has to be acted out by real people in real life and that action has to result in more viable offspring who have inherited the tendency to reproduce the action and that it has to result in more offspring for many generations. Though that seems to be little considered in the Just-so tradition.

    I don’t think your idea stands up to historical evidence.

    In any case, with things he’s written and said, I wouldn’t take Sam Harris as someone with a reliable view of morality. I certainly don’t find much that is moral in his advocacy of torture or preemptive nuclear strikes killing tens of millions of innocent people. Not to mention that he’s a through bigot.

  54. #55 Riman Butterbur
    May 16, 2011

    Anthony, my general impression of Harris is pretty much the same. But in the videos I linked to, he’s surprizingly rational.

    Since you read so much and think so little, perhaps you have missed the egregious fact that people often say one thing and do another.

    Well, if it’s that simple it should be plainly manifest in human history that moral standards are uniform…. tell me how you could either account for the idea that “we evolved with innate behaviors that enable us to (sort of) get along with each other”.

    If you’re going to keep prating about evolutionary theory, you really should try to learn something about it.

    You’re asking me for a Just So story? I thought you didn’t like them.

  55. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    May 16, 2011

    No, Riman, I wasn’t asking you for a Just-so story, I was asking you for something at least conceivably possible, a demonstration that what is accepted as morality was uniform in historic times, to the extent that, say, the morality of Egypt in the written record of the beginning of the Common Era was the same as that found in The United States of the 1870s or Britain of the 2000s is the same phenomenon. And that that phenomenon was the dominant behavior in those societies, and that those behaving morally consistently left more offspring than those not exhibiting that behavior (you’d have problems with Darwin just there, by the way). You do realize that for a real genetic trait to remain alive it has to be passed on from one generation to another and that if it died out in one generation it would cease to exist, to put it in terms of the vastly simplified genetics of behavioral Just-so. And that in order to become predominant that it would have to result in a reproductive advantage, being passed on to larger numbers of succeeding generations. I’m asking you for the equivalent of contemporary proof that you can even define a real and consistent phenomenon in living human beings, which I don’t think you can because morality isn’t like eye color or the shape of a tooth. It’s nothing like those and I doubt its even the product of genetic inheritance. I’d like to know another genetic trait that has such extremely varied, complex and changeable expression as what has been called morality within historic times.

    Of course, what might have been considered moral behavior in the far far longer stretches of the prehistoric is entirely unknown because we don’t have any possible record showing what that was, though I doubt that it remained any more uniform than morality was considered in the very short period of recorded human thought. And, speculating, I doubt that even a stated, believed in code of morality would have been any more consistent in action than the woefully under practiced morality professed today.

    If you could do that impossible thing I’d then want physical evidence that the means of transmission was, in fact, genetic and not some other, yet to be found, force of evolution than the one you propose. You see, genes are physical objects and in order for them to be expressed in the world they would have to eventually result in the production of proteins and structures that would then have a real, physical effect. You might even have to find the “moral locus” in the body. I’m not going to just be content to allow you to make your worlds flesh without producing the flesh. Especially since the muddle that the behavioral and social “sciences” are makes me extremely skeptical about the materialist-reductionist faith that consciousness and its results are anything like the physical objects of genuine, solidly founded sciences.

    That questions surrounding the effect that behaviors are a huge problem for natural selection, possibly calling aspects of it into question, challenging its predominance as the explanation of the fact of evolutionary change, might mean a lot of things. The creation of a simulation of “evidence” from the theory isn’t, however legitimate. You can use natural selection as an explanation of evidence, you might use it to give you a hint of where to find evidence, but you can’t create evidence with it. That is exactly what the Sociobiological-evo-psy MO is. It makes up stuff to fill in, looking for materialism in the gaps of knowledge is one of the predominant weakness in the alleged study of behavior and consciousness. Filling in those gaps with materialist lore is no more legitimate, scientifically, than filling it in with any other kind of lore. A lot of the materialist lore of evo-psy consists of those other kinds of ideological contamination I mentioned to you elsewhere, ranging from sexist assumptions up to and including racism and antisemitism. You see, it’s dangerous as well as merely illegitimate because folks like David Brooks and Charles Murray are fans of the “science” and they have an effect on politics and culture, damaging real lives in real time.

    You don’t seem to realize that evolution is about things that really happened and physical objects as well as theory.

  56. #57 Riman Butterbur
    May 16, 2011

    No, Riman, I wasn’t asking you for a Just-so story, I was asking you for something at least conceivably possible, a demonstration that what is accepted as morality was uniform in historic times

    OK, you were not asking me for a Just so story; you were asking me for an oxymoron. That morality has been uniform in historic times is not only not conceivably possible, it’s demonstrably false.

    And I do not have any problems with Darwin, but you seem to. It appears to me that you’re using his name as a metaphor for all of evolutionary science. That’s incongruous, considering how far the modern science has evolved away from his original ideas. In any event, I don’t think Darwin ever proposed “that those behaving morally consistently left more offspring than those not exhibiting that behavior”.

    I’m asking you for the equivalent of contemporary proof that you can even define a real and consistent phenomenon in living human beings…. I’d like to know another genetic trait that has such extremely varied, complex and changeable expression as what has been called morality within historic times.

    The most fun I’ve ever had with one of your comments, was counting all the answers I could come up with for that question. Language. Music. Art. Marriage & kinship systems. Story-telling (myth-making, just so stories). Division of labor. Social solidarity. Empathy (kindness, the Golden Rule). There are probably thousands of such traits common to virtually every human society ever heard of, and not found in any other living species. Some of them in chimpanzees, maybe — which is only further evidence that they have a genetic basis.

    Of course, what might have been considered moral behavior in the far far longer stretches of the prehistoric is entirely unknown because we don’t have any possible record showing what that was

    Hmmm… so I guess if you came home one night and found doors or windows broken, drawers pulled out and dumped on the floor, all your valuables missing, what might be considered a burglary is entirely unknown because we don’t have any possible record showing what that was?

    makes me extremely skeptical about the materialist-reductionist faith that consciousness and its results are anything like the physical objects of genuine, solidly founded sciences.

    It doesn’t take any faith to believe in consciousness. All that takes is… consciousness. If you disagree with that, I can’t imagine what state your mind is in.

    You don’t seem to realize that evolution is about things that really happened and physical objects as well as theory.

    You’re the one who doesn’t seem to realize that.

    I want to make sure you understand what a scientific theory is. It’s a verified explanation for known facts. If evolution was not about things that really happened, it wouldn’t be a theory.

    The creation of a simulation of “evidence” from the theory isn’t, however legitimate. You can use natural selection as an explanation of evidence, you might use it to give you a hint of where to find evidence, but you can’t create evidence with it.

    You’ve finally come up with some good advice. You should follow it.

  57. #58 Anthony McCarthy
    May 16, 2011

    That morality has been uniform in historic times is not only not conceivably possible, it’s demonstrably false. Riman

    Well, that’s my point. Since “morality” has not been a constant behavior through even that part of human life for which there is documentary evidence, the idea that something called “morality” consists of different, at times contradictory positions, sometimes resulting in different, perhaps opposite actions, couldn’t be “a behavior” conferring a reproductive advantage or disadvantage. The idea that different actions could comprise the same favorable adaptation, consistently resulting in more offspring, is illogical.

    I guess if you came home one night and found doors or windows broken, drawers pulled out and dumped on the floor, all your valuables missing, what might be considered a burglary is entirely unknown because we don’t have any possible record showing what that was?

    Well, you ignore that there is considerable physical evidence in a known setting familiar to me and other people which provides considerably more information than is available than in found in any site found from the pre-history of people.

    However, even that wouldn’t be conclusive. If I called the police they could suspect that I might have staged a burglary to collect insurance or to cover a theft or some other activity. It is possible that it was a staged robbery that actually covered snooping by someone opposed to my political activities. They could suspect that it was an act of vandalism or any number of other things.

    I don’t see how you hope to make the case for the effectiveness of pseudo-scientific divination from the very remote past by bringing up the difficulties of determining what actually happened in an unwitnessed occurrence today. If it’s hard to interpret a fresh scene, aging it for 35,000 years or far more isn’t going to make figuring out what actually happened easier.

    And I do not have any problems with Darwin, but you seem to. It appears to me that you’re using his name as a metaphor for all of evolutionary science. Riman

    If you believed that the standards of high moral conduct in Charles Darwin’s milieu resulted in a reproductive advantage there are at least several places where he contradicted that idea in The Descent of Man, which is what that parenthetical statement was referring to. The practice of using an extreme cartoon of Darwin to represent all of evolution is a practice of those who Gould called “Darwinian Fundamentalists”, including Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker et al. I’m again interested to find another large gap in your Gould scholarship.

    I want to make sure you understand what a scientific theory is. It’s a verified explanation for known facts.

    That’s pretty odd since you clearly have problems with what “known facts” are. You’re the one who has been insisting on the reality of conveniently invented stories and scenarios of the entirely theoretical past. I’m the one who’s been objecting to mistaking those for reality.

    Come to think of it, you’re arguing exactly as both Gould and Orr said Dennett does, constantly slipping and sliding around to try to avoid the consequences of what you’ve said and positions you’ve taken, claiming that you’re the one who held a position after I’ve pointed out that your original position had problems. In other words, you are dishonest.

  58. #59 Riman Butterbur
    May 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy #58:

    you hope to make the case for the effectiveness of pseudo-scientific divination… If you believed that the standards of high moral conduct in Charles Darwin’s milieu resulted in a reproductive advantage…. a practice of those who Gould called “Darwinian Fundamentalists”…. I’m again interested to find another large gap in your Gould scholarship…. you clearly have problems with what “known facts” are. You’re the one who has been insisting on the reality of conveniently invented stories and scenarios of the entirely theoretical past. I’m the one who’s been objecting to mistaking those for reality…. constantly slipping and sliding around to try to avoid the consequences of what you’ve said and positions you’ve taken, claiming that you’re the one who held a position after I’ve pointed out that your original position had problems…. you are dishonest.

    Once again, you are projecting your own mental problems onto me. My positions are the same as they were when you started ignoring them and making up fictitious positions to ascribe to me.

    I’m tired of being a sounding board for your fantasies. You can rant and rave to yourself from now on.

  59. #60 Ender
    May 17, 2011

    “Well, that’s my point. Since “morality” has not been a constant behavior through even that part of human life for which there is documentary evidence, the idea that something called “morality” consists of different, at times contradictory positions, sometimes resulting in different, perhaps opposite actions, couldn’t be “a behavior” conferring a reproductive advantage or disadvantage. The idea that different actions could comprise the same favorable adaptation, consistently resulting in more offspring, is illogical.”

    Yeah. Each individual moral code has certainly not evolved into us, what has evolved is a limited, variable, and abritrary moral sense, and the ability to hold collective moral standards and consider them “absolute” (until they change).
    This has been a relatalively constant behaviour (excl. psychopaths) throughout human history.
    It provides a consistent selective advantage on the level of the group. Non group-adaptionists can find an explanation if they try real hard, but it’ll have to be pretty clever.

  60. #61 Marion Delgado
    May 17, 2011

    SocraticGadfly: The New Atheists’ equivalent of Draw Muhammad Day would not be drawing them. It would be Draw Mickey Mouse Day.

  61. #62 Ender
    May 17, 2011

    No… the equivalent would be Draw Explicit Child Pornography day, potentially involving characters that have visual similarities to the children of known Draw Mohammed fans.

    That is an exact match for Draw Mohammed day: No one is harmed. Some drawing happens that some people consider morally abhorrent.

    The artist feels smug because they’ve drawn something satisfyingly offensive in aid of his “message” (you shouldn’t be offended by mere pictures, you can’t stop us practising our free speech) and the offended recipients merely see the offense and see it as an attack on them using the excuse of free speech to express their ‘real’ message (we hate you.)*

    Hell, if I didn’t find all this drawing to sicken others ti be trite, point-missing and smug, I’d encourage anti-Draw-Mohammed-day people to do exactly that.

    As it is, they should take the high road.

    *This applies both to Draw Mohammed Day and Draw PZ’s Daughter Day

  62. #63 Anthony McCarthy
    May 17, 2011

    Ender, if that’s what they want to talk about they should find some other words than “morality” or “religion” or, worst abused of all, “altruism” to describe it. All of those words had real, though extremely complex meaning before there became a perceived need to square them with what has been called “natural selection” for the past hundred fifty years. It has always been a problem because the behavior held up as moral in Western Europe, if practiced, would not appear to be in accord with natural selection. The way that’s been done has been two fold, one was to change a distortion of altruism into what were, actually, selfish acts benefiting the propagation of genes, the other was to make up the supporting scenarios out of nothing to support that idea. Well, there are the nihilists who deny that morality is real, some of them stake a claim in this turf as well. But they really haven’t explained anything about unselfish behavior, they’ve just dreamed up an explanatory myth to cover the discrepancy. I am finding E. O. Wilson’s recent statements on the problem interesting since they are quite a departure from his original, very, very influential promotion of Hamilton’s ideas. And his change of mind is based in his analysis of actual evidence, not in made up stories of the lost past.

    Since so much guessing and imagination has been allowed into what gets called biology, let me put in my guess work into a discussion outside of science. My suspicion is that natural selection is an artificial construct made of what was known about things in the middle of the 19th century but which will, eventually, be basically altered or superseded by an explanation that includes more knowledge as that is gained. I don’t think that the classical definitions of it will last. It is a way of explaining many phenomena and marks an advance in understanding but I doubt it’s the end point of it. I also suspect that getting it entirely right that early in understanding something as enormous as evolution is highly unlikely. I am confident that a lot of evolution will never be known to us, that it is too detailed and much of it will be far too subtle and, possibly, too alien to our thinking to ever be known to us. No human explanations of evolution will ever be complete and comprehensive. I think that if they like it or not, thinking about a lot of evolution, especially in conflict with our own life experience, will be confused, arbitrary, mysterious and unexplainable. People who want to spend their time thinking about those things should get used to that and stop deriding people who notice those discrepancies as ignorant science-haters. Whether or not people like me point it out, it will be pointed out, it will produce real and inescapable discrepancies and people will not always be willing to deny their own experience in favor of theoretical constructs.

  63. #64 Ender
    May 17, 2011

    Yes, as you say, ‘morality’ has not evolved into us, except in limited exceptions such as the Westermark effect and other kin-related biological moralities. What has evolved is what should be called “Moral capacity”, i.e. the ability to hold moral opinions, to care about them, and to pick them up from/negotiate them with wider society.

    “The way that’s been done has been two fold, one was to change a distortion of altruism into what were, actually, selfish acts benefiting the propagation of genes, the other was to make up the supporting scenarios out of nothing to support that idea.”

    Though it’s possible that group-selection, or multi-level selection will die another ignominious death in years to come, I think this was largely the fault of non-group selection theories, and Richard Dawkins’ poor choice of a metaphor.

    (1) The idea that many if not all ‘altruistic’ actions are in reality selfish, because they benefit you, is not a new one. I think it’s a bit puerile, especially when people go as far as saying things like “and being altruistic made you happy, that’s why you did it”, but it exists nonetheless.
    (2) The idea that altruistic actions that are deleterious to the continuation of your line, or your kin, will eventually select out those who perform them is undeniable, as we have defined those actions with a circular referent to “deleterious”

    But the trouble is (1) and (2) have no relation to each other! They are different uses of the word. I blame Dawkins for this, but it could have been someone else:
    There is nothing logically wrong with selecting a word, any word, regardless of its previous meaning, and defining it to suit your purposes before using it. Pragmatically however you have to understand that there will be confusion if you choose the wrong word. If the original meaning is very similar but vitally different in an important way – then you have chosen really really badly.

    That’s what Dawkins did when he chose ‘Selfish’ gene – by his definition of ‘Selfish’ I am ‘altruistic’ if I find a dead rabbit, but don’t eat it, and three days later my friend finds it and eats it, and I am ‘selfish’ if I eat it leaving his future self hungry, even though I didn’t know he was anywhere near. That is not the case when using the original definitions of ‘selfish’ and ‘altruism’. It doesn’t make his arguments wrong, it just makes his word choice stupid for someone hoping to educate.

    Sorry, I’ve become entirely bored by this reply. I can’t imagine how bored you must be.

    “My suspicion is that natural selection is an artificial construct made of what was known about things in the middle of the 19th century but which will, eventually, be basically altered or superseded by an explanation that includes more knowledge as that is gained.”

    Interesting. Any ideas where they’ll alter it, or is this a general feeling? I would oppose “natural” in “natural selection”, I think it’s useful when demarcating between evolution without human influence (nature) and evolution with human influence (husbandry) but all that’s required for evolution is “selection” not “natural selection”.

  64. #65 Anthony McCarthy
    May 17, 2011

    Ender, I said that my suspicion shouldn’t be mistaken as a scientific assertion but was a guess.

    A few years back I asked several working biologists, all holding PhD’s in physical aspects of biology from reputable universities, to define “natural selection” and got quite different answers from each of them. One which I didn’t understand said that they thought genetic drift was an aspect of natural selection, which I wish I’d carried through on but didn’t. I’m not sure that when people, qualified to do so, talk about natural selection now that they all mean the same thing. I think a lot of the citation of it is rote and pro forma. It is something that was the best explanation to explain the evolution of species, though since other mechanisms of change have been found it’s ceased to be the only explanation.

    Gould said that Darwin recognized that it likely wasn’t the only mechanism of evolution, though it certainly has become a monomania for a lot of people claiming his mantle, they seem to have had the floor for most of the time, at least in the public view of science. The quasi theological fixation on natural selection and the person of Charles Darwin troubles me a lot. I don’t think it’s sustainable. I can only guess at the future but I suspect that non-adaptationist ideas will become more important than they are now and I suspect there will be other mechanisms found in the future and other explanations incorporating those will come up against the Darwinian fundamentalists. Evolution is such an enormous and complex phenomenon I doubt its mechanisms have been exhausted in the past century and a half. I might suspect that based on the history of physics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I don’t know how much that influences my guess.

    I do, though, think that unselfish acts, maybe all our actions, at a subtle level will always escape our analysis. We customarily talk as if there was only one kind of act we classify as being in any category and that those acts all have the same motivation and origin and result when that is only done so out of convenience and not out of any kind of real evidence. I doubt that all acts classified by social scientists as “altruistic” are truly the same kinds of things, the product of a specific physical motivation fitting into a species of scenario that has any objective reality. We turn them into “things” for purposes of making general statements about them but I don’t believe that’s more than an illusion.

    I’m interested in acts of compassion to people quite unrelated to the people who perform them, not to mention to members of other species which represent no kind of economic benefit, often the opposite of a benefit, to those who actually carry out those acts. I can see no plausible selective benefit to those on a personal or a group level. I’m sure the ever fecund imaginations of the evo-psy crowd could come up with an extremely attenuated Just-so story explaining those but I doubt they’re more than special pleading of the kind that biblical fundamentalists demand for their preferred beliefs.

    I do think that natural selection is an artificial construct that is liable to change and to fall as more is learned. It is useful for some things, I think it’s very bad at explaining other things and, as in the case of unselfish behavior, attempting to explain that with an idea that is at odds with those can only do that by denying the difference in effect of unselfishness or by inventing an artificial that isn’t there, not any different from wishing it away.

    All of that is inconvenient for would be social scientists but that, in itself, isn’t a refutation or an answer to my reservations about the whole thing.

  65. #66 Sven DiMilo
    May 17, 2011

    A few years back I asked several working biologists, all holding PhD’s in physical aspects of biology from reputable universities, to define “natural selection” and got quite different answers from each of them.

    Yeah? How many of them were named Johnson?

    I do think that natural selection is an artificial construct that is liable to change and to fall as more is learned.

    Great googly-moogly you’re stupid.

  66. #67 Anthony McCarthy
    May 17, 2011

    Sven, your opinion is unimportant to me.

    Where do you believe natural selection resides in the natural universe?

  67. #68 scott
    May 17, 2011

    Anthony ask:

    “Where do you believe natural selection resides in the natural universe?”

    That’s a bizarre question. Natural selection is the name of the process which describes the diversity of life on earth. Its not some mysterious force that resides somewhere, how silly. Its been demonstrated as fact and is understandable by anyone whose is willing to investigate it. When pressed, the people who don’t accept evolution will usually hold some type of belief in a deity of some flavor or another.

    I think a more reasonable question would be:

    Where do you, Anthony, believe god resides in the natural universe?

  68. #69 Anthony McCarthy
    May 17, 2011

    scott, Sven DiMilo got worked up when I said that natural selection is an artificial construct. Well, it is. That doesn’t mean that it’s not useful, sometimes. Statistical averages are artificial constructs, you can average the height of a group of people and come up with an average that doesn’t describe a single person in the group. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful and that it shouldn’t be done.
    Though there are times when using an average might not, actually be useful. Natural selection is fine when it works. In the case of the tortured, generally absurd effort to chop the ends off of “altruism” so you can keep it within the confines of natural selection it doesn’t work to describe any really unselfish action. It also can’t be used to invent evidence, which has been a common misuse of it throughout its history.

    Natural selection is needed as long as it’s the best explanation for something real. When it isn’t it’s not useful. And scientific ideas, like so many others, change over time and, as seen in physics, are often overtaken by more information that older theories can’t account for. I doubt natural selection, so much more complex and proposed to cover such an enormously huge mass of unknown information will escape either fundamental alteration or eventual obsolescence. I don’t think it should be considered a sacrosanct dogma, it’s just another idea made for use.

  69. #70 scott
    May 17, 2011

    Not all scientific ideas change over time, some times they remain unchanged, possibly forever. Other Ideas, the ones that have held up to extensive attempts to falsify them, sometimes expand when new information comes along to build upon them. That’s doesn’t mean they become obsolete, it will do just the opposite and validate the hypothesis, sometimes strengthening it and promoting it to theory. Which is the case for evolution.

    Used to be that the world was considered flat. Then it was hypothesized that it was round. All attempts to falsify that claim have been unsuccessful. The world is round and that scientific fact will never change. The world might disintegrate someday, but that doesn’t change the but fact that the earth is round today. I know its a very simple example, but it works as an argument against the claim that the things science knows today will evidently be found incorrect in the future. That claim, which I’ve run into in the past many times, is a slippery slope that’s inappropriately applied to all of science. Usually, people making that claim hold some type of irrational belief, and making the claim helps them to validate their beliefs, stating that some day science will prove that they were right all along.

    As far as altruism , I don’t see a problem between it and natural selection. Altruism is a trait that evolved because it worked for the propagation and survivability of the genes that carried the information to build the organism in the first place. Producing a brain that reacts to its environment fairly uniformly throughout a species. Which makes sense, since a species contains a similar set of genes throughout the population. Altruism is just a byproduct of natural selection that worked, therefore we have it. Humans of course have expanded on this innate trait, which is also what I would expect.

  70. #71 Anthony McCarthy
    May 17, 2011

    As far as altruism , I don’t see a problem between it and natural selection. scott

    You couldn’t have read much about it then, the tortured attempts by many rather bright people to fit unselfish behavior that doesn’t benefit the one doing it into natural selection are hardly avoidable if you’ve read much about it. If you think that’s an issue that’s been settled you are wrong.

    Altruism is just a byproduct of natural selection scott

    That is a faith statement, not a statement based in evidence. As I said, the ususal MO is to chop up a narrative of unselfish behavior, sometimes a scenario made up for the purpose, and to turn unselfishness into covert selfishness. In other words, to not deal with a really unselfish action. That doesn’t constitute an explanation, it’s a distortion to make it go away.

    It’s a lot more likely that unselfishness can’t be fit into natural selection because natural selection isn’t a perfect and universal theory, not because unselfish acts are really selfish.

    Here, one atheist you probably don’t know who gave an excellent summary of the problems, here approved on the website of another atheist, one of PZ’s buddies, so you can accept it and feel all good and atheisty about it:

    The real difficulty with the process of explanation that allows direct advantage, or kin selection, or reciprocal altruism when one or the other is useful in the explanation, is that a story can be invented that will explain the natural selective advantage of any trait imaginable. When we combine individual selective advantage with the possibility of kin selection and reciprocal altruism, it is hard to imagine any human trait for which a plausible scenario for its selective advantage could not be invented. The real problem is to find out whether any of these stories is true. One must distinguish between plausible stories, things that might be true, and true stories, things that actually have happened. How do we know that human altruism arose because of kin selection or reciprocal altruistic selection? At the very minimum, we might ask whether there is any evidence that such selective processes are going on at the present, but in fact no one has ever measured in any human population the actual reproductive advantage or disadvantage of any human behavior. All of the sociobiological explanations of the evolution of human behavior are like Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories of how the camel got his hump and how the elephant got its trunk. They are just stories. Science has turned into a game.

    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2008/07/good-science-writersrichard-lewontin.html

    Stories are artificial constructs, too.

  71. #72 scott
    May 17, 2011

    Just because something is hard for you or others to grasp doesn’t make it false. Its not that difficult for me grasp and your explanations for why its false appear to be coming from an argument from ignorance. Sorry, but that’s the way it looks to me.

    By the way, what is your explanation for altruism? What is it that you think causes organisms to behave in an altruistic way?

  72. #73 scott
    May 17, 2011

    Also if you look at the comments in the link you provided of Richard Lewontin over at sandwalk you’ll notice that Lewontin kinda of gets poked at for misrepresenting Dawkins’, either from ignorance or possibly a preconceived bias, in his critique of The Selfish Gene. Which left a bad taste in the mouth of the people that did understand what Dawkins was trying to communicate. Which in turn led to Lewontin not being included in the The Book of Modern Writing.

  73. #74 scott
    May 17, 2011

    Sorry, I meant The Book Of Modern Science Writing

  74. #75 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Because it’s hard of Richard Lewontin to grasp? Scott, boy, you should go learn a bit before you start lecturing people about things you’ve read one pop-sci version side of. Your hero isn’t a third the scientist that Lewontin is. And that’s being generous, as you’d know if you’d read and understood that paper by Wilson that I linked to for what I hoped would be your benefit, not to mention its context and what it represents. Clearly that was a futile gesture.

  75. #76 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Here, scott, maybe this can break through your wall of illusion.

    At the very minimum, we might ask whether there is any evidence that such selective processes are going on at the present, but in fact no one has ever measured in any human population the actual reproductive advantage or disadvantage of any human behavior.

  76. #77 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    McCarthy:

    You couldn’t have read much about it then, the tortured attempts by many rather bright people to fit unselfish behavior that doesn’t benefit the one doing it into natural selection are hardly avoidable if you’ve read much about it. If you think that’s an issue that’s been settled you are wrong.

    Consider a predator that sneaks up to a flock of birds. One bird notices and emits a shriek to alert the flock. In doing so, the shrieking bird draws attention to itself. Altruism? Well, it’s in the shrieker’s best interest for its companions flee at the same time. Fleeing alone would pose a great danger.

    Would you agree that at least this is a case where the apparent altruism is entirely explainable? We can imagine someone pointing to the altruism of the shrieking bird without having thought of the everyone-flee-at-once explanation.

  77. #78 Riman Butterbur
    May 18, 2011

    David Sloan Wilson, right here on Science Blogs, has quite a number of posts on altruism.

    One point he has made is that natural selection favors selfish behavior. (You have to understand that evolutionists have the quaint, but illogical, habit of using “natural selection” as their name for selection of individuals.) Altruism is favored, more weakly, by group selection.

  78. #79 Riman Butterbur
    May 18, 2011

    The problem with studies of nonhuman animals is that they don’t shed much scientifically verifiable light on human evolution because of the very different modes of behavior.

    Other species are controled mostly by instinct, and their behavior can be studied in the light of genetic evolution. And what learned behavior there is, is mainly of the thoughtless, learn-by-rote, trial-and error variety, which is also easily studied as a branch of behavioral evolution (or “memetic” evolution, or whatever you want to call it).

    Humans depend much more heavily on learned behavior, and tho most of that is intuitive, it’s under the supervision of intelligence. What instincts we have, I suspect, are very generalized and very malleable. You can’t hope to have a science of human behavior without taking behavioral evolution into account.

  79. #80 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Riman, if you were addressing my comment then you missed my point. The shrieking bird is an example of an unselfish behavior which fits perfectly into the framework of natural selection, contra McCarthy’s statement. We should be able to agree on that.

    When we can imagine how simple cases can be explained, the next step is to assess the more complex cases. To take the position that they are unexplainable is the argument from ignorance, a la intelligent design. “I don’t know how it works, ergo…”

    McCarthy needs to make a specific claim about a specific behavior which could not arise out of the usual evolutionary mechanisms, and then back it up with evidence. Short of that, we can only conclude that he’s only offering us an ideology.

  80. #81 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane Owens, you’ve presented a far more complex scenario than I think you realize. Here are some problems that come to mind, almost at random.

    Consider a predator that sneaks up to a flock of birds. One bird notices and emits a shriek to alert the flock. In doing so, the shrieking bird draws attention to itself. Altruism? Well, it’s in the shrieker’s best interest for its companions flee at the same time. Fleeing alone would pose a great danger.

    Most important of all, to start with, your story is a story. It’s not an observation of anything, it’s entirely made up in your head. I can’t even know if the scene my mind conjures up from your story is the same as the one in your mind. If we were both looking at an actual flock of birds we would at least be looking at something real comprised of the same birds. Your story being made up, it can’t possibly tell anyone anything about nature as it really exists in any one period of time.

    Even if you were presenting an actual scene for us to witness together there are huge hurdles to get over before you could possibly begin to analyze it to try to divine what was going on in the mind of the bird who called first. You would have to know which bird shrieked. Birds aren’t generalized typical specimens, they are individual organisms, representing a unique variation of their species with their own experience and abilities. You would have to have a means of knowing why it called, what might have motivated it’s call. You would probably have to know if that same bird had done that before or if it ever did it afterwards…. You would have to know if that bird even noticed whatever you believe provided its motivation to call out. And even if you had an excellent view of that, it would only tell you about that one bird in that case, it wouldn’t necessarily tell you about that bird in any other case or any other bird in its flock.

    And if you could control for all of those, whatever equipment or personal intervention in the scene would also have a likely influence on the scene.

    The attempt requires so much guess work that I don’t see how the results could be called science.

    I don’t think people are equipped to do more than make up a story about that kind of thing. That is very inconvenient for ethologists but that difficulty doesn’t erase the problems.

    The alleged study of human behavior leads me to doubt the scientific status of it and people can at least report something to you about what was going on in their minds, though self-reporting is an insurmountable hurdle in itself. You don’t have any possible way to determine if that report is either accurate or honest. But with animals it’s entirely impossible to know what was going on in their heads.

    Artificial laboratory conditions, of course, adds the possibility that whatever you might learn there isn’t present in a natural scenario.

    I suggest you read Marilynne Robinson’s essay, The Strange History of Altruism in her book Absence of Mind. She goes over many of the problems of the science of “altruism” a lot better than I can in a blog comment. As I said, turning “altruism” into an act of covert selfishness only denies the possibility that it might have been unselfish, without any possible personal group benefit. I doubt the idea, itself, should ever be extended past people. I don’t think we’re equipped to understand the motives of other species, not calling the results science, at least. I would have no problem with calling those assertions “lore”, presented in a context closer to the humanities than to chemistry or physics.

  81. #82 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, you might want to read Lewontin’s excellent essay “Sex, Lies and Social Science,” in which he goes over some of the hurdles in human sociology as an example of some of the hurdles to the study of behavior in humans.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1995/apr/20/sex-lies-and-social-science/

    Before someone can pooh-pooh Lewontin’s credentials to comment on the subject, he documents his decades long qualifications in both statistical analysis and experimental criticism. Not to mention that what he says is entirely logical and informed.

  82. #83 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    McCarthy needs to make a specific claim about a specific behavior which could not arise out of the usual evolutionary mechanisms, and then back it up with evidence. Short of that, we can only conclude that he’s only offering us an ideology. Diane Owens

    I’m not the one making claims about an ability to divine the basic motivations of behavior and its implications, creating explanatory myths from the lost past, casting those assumptions across the entire taxonomy and making my words flesh in the form of (undiscovered) genes and other physical structures.

    All I’m doing is saying why I don’t think that can be done. I’m not presenting anything that is ideological in that, I’m expressing skepticism about the enterprise. That is skepticism of the kind that so many of the materialists here claim as their personal property even as they demonstrate just another species of ideological credulity claiming the prestigious name “science” for it.

    I have repeatedly given reasons that I don’t think that evo-psys can do that, I don’t think anyone can in such a way that the results are science. I certainly haven’t given myself an exemption from that inability. I’m entirely confident that the latest fads in that area will go the way of those in the past, onto the scrap heap of discontinued “science”.

  83. #84 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Continuing with problems in your scenario. You assume that the first bird that calls out would be placing itself at greater danger than the other birds. What is that based on? Do you have actual data to prove that the first bird that calls out in a flock of that species suffers greater mortality than those which don’t? Does its proximity to the predator change the rates of death from predators or the probability that it will be the first to call out? Does the species of predator have an effect on that? Is it possible that your assumption isn’t founded in whatever an analysis of that could show, assuming you could come up with a valid statistical analysis of such a complex range of scenarios.

    If you’re going to make the assumption that calling out first would represent an increased risk, you would have to justify that assumption in order for your theory to have any validity.

  84. #85 scott
    May 18, 2011

    Anthony@81: “Most important of all, to start with, your story is a story. It’s not an observation of anything, it’s entirely made up in your head.”

    That’s what I say about your belief in god.

    The difference is we can actually observes organisms doing things that anyone can see would appear altruistic. The fact that Diane creates a story to make her point doesn’t keep it from resembling real life scenarios that actually happen all the time. And there are many field studies that have been done by zoologist all over the world demonstrating this behavior. Are field studies just stories, made up in the heads of the observer?

  85. #86 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    scott, you know nothing about “my belief in God”, I haven’t told you anything about that and I would never assert that “my belief in God” or anyone’s belief was science.

    You do realize that when you call it science you should meet the requirements to do that, don’t you?

    The difference is we can actually observes organisms doing things that anyone can see would appear altruistic. scott

    Or, apparently, not.

    I guess you’ll have to take my word for it, that there is a difference. I prefer to observe that difference. I take it rather seriously.

  86. #87 Riman Butterbur
    May 18, 2011

    Diane Owens #80:

    I didn’t miss your point. I was expanding on it. But if you were addressing me when you said “To take the position that they are unexplainable is the argument from ignorance, a la intelligent design.” then I think you may have missed mine.

    “we can only conclude that [McCarthy]’s only offering us an ideology.”

    If you had any doubts about that, I trust his comments #81-84 and here have dispelled them.

  87. #88 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Riman, what is the ideological content in my points about the problems with Diane’s story?

    How do you think her hypothesis that the bird calling out first was an act of “altruism” without first establishing that the bird was at increased risk, in the position in the flock, in relation to the position of the predator at the time it called out?

    What if it had its back to the predator when it called out?

    In order for her “altruism” scenario to be more than imaginary you would have to establish that there was increased danger for a bird that called out first and, as I showed you, that would be extremely difficult to do. How do you know that the first bird to call out is, actually, less likely to be caught?

    I assume you would brush those considerations aside as ideological, since those are the kinds of reservations I’ve cited.

  88. #89 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    I was serious about that, Riman, how would you fit the story line into your proposed scientific demonstration of “altruism” without establishing that the first bird to call out was more likely to be caught?

    Of course, the position of the first bird to call out in relation to the predator in any particular instance would be quite germane to the problem. Maybe it calls out first only because it sees it first and the “altruism” angle is a distortion of what’s really happening. In which case the chance of predation could have more to do with it being closer to the predator than it does anything else.

    Gets complicated, when you have to take possible real life conditions into consideration, huh? And how do you think you could do that about behaviors in the Paleolithic period without any possibility of observing real life?

  89. #90 Riman Butterbur
    May 18, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy #88:

    If any reasonable person needs my help in answering those questions, I’ll be happy to provide it. But I’ve responded to your phony displays of “skepticism” for the last time.

  90. #91 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    But Riman, you can’t possibly know if a bird calling out first is a function of proximity to the predator or your avian altruism unless you solve that problem.

    You might publish something that’s a mass of faith-based deception in an evo-psy journal only to have some young turk do the research that blows it out of the water embarrassing you for the rest of your career.

    And I haven’t even brought up the possibility that hearing acuity is a dominant or contributing complication in which bird calls out first. Maybe the quite unevo-psy based difference in hearing is it.

    Are you saying that those aren’t possible explanations for the phenomenon, that they aren’t things that should be considered before just putting your scientific faith in yet another of the myriad of evidence free assertions about “altruism”?

  91. #92 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    McCarthy, I asked for “a specific claim about a specific behavior which could not arise out of the usual evolutionary mechanisms.” What about it? Do you have something concrete?

  92. #93 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, I told you I didn’t think anyone could figure those things out. You’re the one claiming you can. Given the complications I listed it’s a rather extraordinary claim unless you justify it.

    How about you justify your assumption that the first bird that gets called out is at increased risk of being the one caught?

  93. #94 scott
    May 18, 2011

    Anthony@86: “scott, you know nothing about “my belief in God”, I haven’t told you anything about that and I would never assert that “my belief in God” or anyone’s belief was science.”

    Just knowing that you believe in god is all I needed to make my statement. Its also just about all I need to understand that you are not a clear rational thinker, well that and just about everything you’ve ever wrote. Myself and many others have at some point or another asked you what it is you exactly believe in and you’ve declined to enlighten us. Almost everyone else that claims to believe in some god or another will usually give more information and then try to back those claims up. I claim to accept evolutionary biology and any other science that’s backed up by empirical evidence. I don’t just make the claim and then clam up about it, and instead try to make your claims seem invalid without making a case for myself. All we know is that at the base of your beliefs there is a god, and all I want to know is what that means to you.

  94. #95 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Just knowing that you believe in god is all I needed to make my statement. scott

    Here, please consider this.

    http://tinyurl.com/6484pl2

  95. #96 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, I told you I didn’t think anyone could figure those things out.
    What can’t be figured out? Be specific. Give a concrete example of something that could never be figured out.

  96. #97 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Well, Diane, you seem to be dodging my repeated question as to how you know that the first bird to call out has a greater chance of being the one caught. How about we start with that one. Without that your “altruism” hypothesis is dead on arrival.

  97. #98 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    I will be taking a brake to watch Rachel Maddow in a few minutes, just so you’ll know if you want to answer the ground floor question.

  98. #99 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    McCarthy, I re-asked the question which you dodged. My question came before your question.

    By ignoring your question I was declining your offer to side-track the discussion. Your question entirely misses the point, but it does allow you to avoid my question for the time being. The shrieking bird was just an example of a scenario which looks superficially altruistic but, upon further examination, a slew of explanations for the observed behavior can be found, all of which fall within the regular, mundane theories.

    Thus my only claim is that observed behaviors are understandable in principle, even if we don’t have a full 100% explanation on the 19th of May 2011.

    You seem to be going the intelligent design route of “If I don’t get it now, it must be ungettable.” But I can’t quite tell what you mean, which is why I keep asking you to come out with it.

    What can’t be figured out? Be specific. Give a concrete example of something that could never be figured out.

  99. #100 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, nothing is “explainable in principle” until it has been explained in reality.

    Let’s leave aside the possibility that the bird that calls out first gets caught less often than another one in the flock. Let’s assume that you have done the analysis and you have demonstrated that the bird that calls out first is 3% more likely to be the first caught.

    Now you would have to take into account that calling out first might be the result of something known and visible. One bird has to be the first to see the predator and that could be why it called out instead of your entirely theoretical, invisible “altruism gene complex”. Say the one you believe sees it first is the one to call out first, though I don’t know how you would do that. You would have to try to hedge your bets somehow and you’d need to account for the following anyway.

    You would have to analyze where those birds were in relationship to 1. the predator, 2. the rest of the flock of birds it was in. You’d also have to account for differences in size of flock and the positions of the other birds in the flock in relation to a. the predator and b. the birds that call out first and gets caught and c. birds that call out first and don’t get caught. I’ll leave aside the fact that in some of those scenarios the birds will be in different orientations in a three dimensional, real topography instead of a make believe two dimensional one.

    Then you would have to account for the orientation of the birds in the flock at the time that the bird called out, should a bird with its back to the predator be considered in the same way as one which had a greater possibility of seeing it? You can see differences in position and differences in proximity to the predator, after all.

    And, as I pointed out, you would have to take into account differences in hearing acuity, hearing a noise spooks birds. Though I really don’t know how you could figure that out. I don’t think you could do that without capturing the entire flock and giving them some kind of hearing test. If you tried to ignore that I’d point out that hearing acuity and its variations are a known and established phenomenon whereas your “avian altruism” is entirely speculative. And difference in hearing could easily account for a 3% difference in which bird called out first instead of whether or not its smart, selfish genes told it, oh, yeah, you might be the one and only bird in your flock that gets caught and eaten but the others, some of which carry my wonderful gene, will escape so….. but wait, how many of those birds in the flock carry my twins as opposed to how many don’t? Birds in a flock aren’t uniformly close in relation to each other. Hey, my lumbering robot bird might be the only one in this flock that carries me….

    And all that in the time that the bird would have to decide whether or not to call out as all those other birds who see the predator are also doing this calculation of whether or not to raise the alarm.

    And I haven’t gotten into the possibility that there are different stimuli that would cause the first bird to call out in different situations. You would have to take that into account to find the part of that 3% difference that you might get to claim for your “altruism genes”.

    I haven’t said much about the orientation and species and size and color of the predator, but that would be relevant to a real analysis.

    It was your scenario and your assumption. And now you’re trying to back track from it. Hey, actions are complicated even at an easy level. And I doubt knowing all of the above would still tell you anything about the motives and mental states of the birds. That would be “states” in the plural. Just assuming that all those birds minds and brains and bodies were doing the same thing is just an assumption.

    So, how’s that for a mighty tall order to fill before you could even show it’s possible “in principle” to find your altruism genes in the 3% of birds you’ve got to work with.

  100. #101 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Is the shrieking bird a concrete example of something that could never be figured out? I can’t tell if you’re answering my question or not.

  101. #102 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, it’s your scenario. You came up with it. You’re the one who proposed to do science with it to demonstrate the entirely theoretical, very possibly illusory “altruism genes”, passed down by virtue of their illogically asserted reproductive advantage, leading what is, perhaps, one of the few birds in a flock that carries it to get eaten.

    Have you considered that the birds other genes, some of which it will share with few or even none of the other birds, would have to be pretty stupid to sacrifice themselves for another gene? Just which genes get to be the smart ones and which get to be the stupid ones?

    How about flocks of blackbirds in which different species go together? How are you going to figure that into your stories? I won’t even begin to ask you to figure out what other birds get from letting cowbirds flock with them. Are their genes stupider than cowbirds? Most of the time I’ve seen them, cowbirds aren’t as common as other black birds in the flock. How come their super smart, tricky genes don’t lead to them dominating those flocks? Though, no, forget I asked. I’m sure that given the methodology of evo-psy some Just-so story can be made up. That’s the difference between story telling and looking at real situations it’s easy to make stuff up.

  102. #103 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Is the shrieking bird a concrete example of something that could never be figured out? I still can’t tell if you’re answering my question or not.

  103. #104 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    You do know that that 3% figure is probably an absurdly high one, by the way. I was giving you a lot more to work with than you’re likely to get if you do the impossible and get past that first hurdle.

  104. #105 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, if I say it’s impossible, will you tell me how you’re going to figure it out? You can just assert that it’s “explainable in principle” but unless you can say how you’re going to do it that’s just blowing hot air. Given a theoretical and unspecified possibility at some time in the future you can pretend that anything is “explainable in principle”.

  105. #106 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Is the shrieking bird a concrete example of something that could never be figured out? Is that your answer to my question?

    “What can’t be figured out? Be specific. Give a concrete example of something that could never be figured out.”

  106. #107 Anthony McCarthy
    May 18, 2011

    Diane, you can’t deal with the fact that your scenario carries enormous, almost certainly, insurmountable impossibilities of data collection and analysis as well as impossible to discern possibilities of motivation for being the real reason the first bird to call out, called out. You could never tell if the apparent reasons for that are the real ones. That the first bird to see the predator, due to chance, or the first one to hear it due to superior hearing would be the first to call out because of one or the other of those. Or that the ones closest to the predator would be the first to be killed, very likely one less likely to call out because it didn’t see or hear it.

    Your scenario couldn’t provide you with evidence for your “altruism genes” because of all of those reasons and probably more that another critic of your research proposal could come up with. I doubt you could even do the math, considering the enormous number of factors that would figure into it. Your imaginary flock of birds could have six hundred members in real life. There is no way you could analyze it in any real way.

    Now, tell me how you’re going to do it. I’ll point out the problems with it tomorrow.

  107. #108 Diane Owens
    May 18, 2011

    Is the shrieking bird a concrete example of something that could never be figured out? Is that your answer to my question? Yes or no? The question was,

    “What can’t be figured out? Be specific. Give a concrete example of something that could never be figured out.”

  108. #109 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Good Lord, Diane, I gave you reason after specific reason you could never figure it out, especially in a real, natural setting. If I believed in the superstition of Freudianism I’d say you were in denial.

    If you think your make believe avian altruism genes make more sense than that the bird called out first because it sensed danger first you are a real true believer. But it’s belief based in your emotional attachment to an idea, not knowledge based in evidence. Which is all it is. And it keeps you from believing that those complications above are real.

    You can’t even come up with the simplest part of your scenario, that the first bird to call out is more likely to get caught so you don’t even know if your first assumption is true. And you would have to correlate the first one to call out and the first to get caught in relation to proximity to the predator and in relationship with the position of the birds in the rest of the flock. I don’t know how big a budget your make believe research grant is going to get but I’ll bet you would never be able to get enough examples within the same species to make that into anything. Well, maybe the journal that published Hauser’s research would print what you came up with in lieu of something significant.

    Maybe the first bird to call out is less likely to be caught because of the confusion of a virtually immediate take off of the entire flock. But maybe it did it because it was panicked and didn’t have anything to do with the genes that the bird knows nothing about.

    Do you guys ever listen to yourselves?

  109. #110 Diane Owens
    May 19, 2011

    OK, you are saying the shrieking bird can’t be explained.

    Let’s assume ethologists have been on a forlorn endeavor; per your brilliant writings above, this phenomenon is truly unexplainable. Now what? What’s the secret ingredient that ethologists have been missing? What should scientists be doing that they’re not already doing?

    Are you an intelligent design supporter? This is essentially the intelligent design argument applied to animal behavior. There are other aspects of the resemblance in the way you present your case.

  110. #111 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Now what? What’s the secret ingredient that ethologists have been missing? What should scientists be doing that they’re not already doing?

    Well, scientists should start out by figuring out if what they want to do is possible and is supported by real, physical, observable, quantifiable evidence up to a standard sufficient to call the results science instead of making up stories that begin with an assumption that can’t be supported, such as your assertion that the first bird in a flock that calls out an alarm would be at an increased danger of being killed because their “altruism genes” want to be propagated. That a lot of them have been getting away with proceeding without that isn’t any excuse for it to continue.

    Are you an intelligent design supporter? This is essentially the intelligent design argument applied to animal behavior.

    If I’m skeptical about your ability to observe and analyze what can be seen in such a complex phenomenon of the physical universe in order to introduce it into science, it makes no sense to believe that I’d believe an idea that isn’t part of the observable physical universe could ever enter into science.

    Your recourse to “This is essentially the intelligent design argument applied to animal behavior,” is self-serving, dishonest and gratuitously insulting horse shit in order to change the subject and associate my arguments with a disreputable pseudo-scientific effort. That’s something I’ve noticed is a habit of the evo-psy folks, whether it’s calling Lewontin and Gould a bunch of commies or Dennett’s recourse to accusations of even declared materialist atheists of looking for “sky hooks”. That alone is enough to show what a flimsy, dishonest effort evo-psy is.

    As to why I use “evo-psy”, I don’t want to sully a real science with a false, opportunistically invented verbal association with junk science.

  111. #112 Riman Butterbur
    May 19, 2011

    Welcome to the club, Diane. McCarthy at #109 has now done to you:

    If you think your make believe avian altruism genes make more sense than that the bird called out first because it sensed danger first you are a real true believer.

    what he did to me here.

    He was never interested in a rational discussion. He was just playing a sick trolling game, bringing up all that gibberish about “avian altruism genes” — “which bird calls first” — “hearing acuity” — and all the rest, just so he could pretend that it was you proposing all that idiocy.

    I don’t know if he’s an ID nut, or some other kind of nut, and who cares? He’s just a waste of everybody’s time.

  112. #113 Diane Owens
    May 19, 2011

    The shrieking bird is a classic explanatory example from the opening of The Selfish Gene. Since you aren’t an ethologist (and obviously haven’t read the book either), you are probably unfamiliar with the example. Incidentally, Richard Dawkins is an ethologist.

    The disparity between your knowledge and your confidence is another point of similarity with ID. If you spent twenty years studying bird behavior, you might have something new or interesting to say on the matter. But like an IDer, you possess the quixotic notion that you have something important–even crucial–to contribute, despite your total lack of knowledge in the subject. “If only scientists would listen to me, they would see the light!” That is exactly how ID sees itself.

    You just stated that the shrieking bird could never be figured out. There is nothing more pseudo-scientific than claiming that something can never be explained. That is precisely the starting point of intelligent design. Therefore, perhaps you would feel more at home with the ID crowd. At least give it a try. HTH. http://bit.ly/iQBFU6

  113. #114 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Diane, without the data to support the assumption that the bird that calls out first is, actually, at greater risk of being preyed upon than the rest of the flock, the entire idea falls apart. As it does if you can’t account for various, far less exotic, possibilities such as the first to call out was the first one that happened to notice the predator. In which case a far simpler and known explanation would suffice. That the scenario has so many possible problems for your avian altruism genes is the fault of those proposing it, not for someone who notices what an alleged scientist should have thought of before they were so silly as to publish it.

    That you would make recourse to proof from scripture is ironic in view of your last question to me. Especially since it’s The First Book of Dawkins you think is above being subjected to logical analysis or question. As it happens, I read the book shortly after it was first published, thought it was absurd and moved on. I’ve read lots of evo-psy mythology since then and knew the particular one you pulled off the shelf, though I hadn’t remembered its exact provenance.

    Do you think I didn’t know what you were talking about from the beginning? Do you think I hadn’t thought about it before?

    It is also funny to see you asserting that, in effect, the clergy of ethology is not to be questioned. If I was an ethologist I’d probably have bought into the nonsensical belief in animal mind reading, though I’d expect there are some who would like their field to turn into something like science, someday, and so would be in favor of reform. For the record, though, that last one is speculation on my part.

    Poor Riman, I drew the logical conclusion of what you said. How very mean of me. Did you like this part of it?

    I don’t see how you hope to make the case for the effectiveness of pseudo-scientific divination from the very remote past by bringing up the difficulties of determining what actually happened in an unwitnessed occurrence today. If it’s hard to interpret a fresh scene, aging it for 35,000 years or far more isn’t going to make figuring out what actually happened easier.

    Similar things could be said of pretending to be doing science with imaginary scenes as opposed to observing real ones guaranteed to present problems and unpredicted events, making them so, so much more difficult to deal with than schematic Just-so story scenarios. Of course one problem that the real scene wouldn’t present is the high likelihood of self-serving invention entering into it during the process of its invention, setting it up for your preferred conclusion instead of what real life would force you to conclude. But, sorry to tell you, reality is real and real life is supposed to be what science is about. It’s kind of useless if that’s not the case.

    Evo-psy is a pseudo-science.

  114. #115 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    I did want to say more about the idea of something being “explainable in principle”. The temptation would be to claim that as a dodge to take a proposition out of the realm of things that require an actual explanation based on evidence and rational analysis by claiming some asserted but unspecified conditions under which it will be proved in some unspecified future.

    The problem with that is you can use it to remove anything from critical judgement. If you don’t have to explain how you’re going to eventually explain it, you are just claiming a special status for your idea. If you are going to claim it for your ideas then you can’t have any objection to other people claiming it for the ideas they favor. Not unless you figure you’re entitled to a different standard that favors you that you don’t allow them to have. Which is one of the things I’ve noticed about the new atheist-“skeptic” side of things.

    I’d rather call ideas that can’t be subjected to proof “belief”, all round.

  115. #116 Diane Owens
    May 19, 2011

    The purpose of the shrieking bird example (usually termed “alarm calls”, e.g. by Paul W. Sherman) is to show that it’s possible for a behavior to only be apparently or superficially altruistic.

    Since McCarthy has affirmed that we are talking about the same example (“Do you think I didn’t know what you were talking about from the beginning?”)–that is, the Selfish Gene example–he has affirmed that he doesn’t understand it.

    He imagines that I’m looking for “avian altruism genes”, an absurd phrase which he falsely attributes to me. He imagines that the example somehow rests upon the shrieking bird being in greater danger. Again, the shrieking bird example is not an example of altruism–it’s a behavior which is only superficially altruistic, where more complex and interesting explanations are available in place of the vague label of altruism.

    Therefore the motivation of the shrieking bird example is to dispel the notion of altruism, in this case. It directly contradicts whatever ridiculous notions of “avian altruism genes” McCarthy has. Never have I seen such a deep and thorough misunderstanding being touted so vigorously except among the intelligent design folks. Yet another point of similarity with them. Only ideology can do that to a person.

    Here is Anthony McCarthy wantonly committing libel:

    whereas your “avian altruism” is entirely speculative

    If you think your make believe avian altruism genes

    That the scenario has so many possible problems for your avian altruism genes

    Does he do this often? How does he get away with it?

  116. #117 scott
    May 19, 2011

    “Does he do this often? How does he get away with it?”

    When someone holds beliefs that have been repeatedly critiqued as being irrational they have a tendency to defend that belief. Sometimes because they don’t have convincing evidence for their beliefs, they attempt to make a perfectly rational idea seem like its also irrational. This gives them, at least in their mind, a feeling that both sides could be seen as irrational, which makes them feel better about their position.
    Its easier for someone to construct logical fallacies against and opposing idea, its kinda of like a pseudo-defense of an ideology.

  117. #118 julian
    May 19, 2011

    “That’s the best definition of it I’ve seen yet.” – Riman

    So what do you have to say to gnus that do have an extensive background in what they are commenting on? Gnus like Eric MacDonald?

  118. #119 Riman Butterbur
    May 19, 2011

    julian #118:

    Who’s Eric MacDonald? I don’t remember seeing that name on any of the blogs I’ve visited.

  119. #120 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Diane, I was dealing with what you proposed, quoting your scenario, verbatim, as I began, pointing out that since it was a totally made up story and not an actual field observation it wasn’t anything but a story. Now, late in the discussion you say that you wanted to discuss Dawkins’ scenario. If you had wanted to discuss what Dawkins said, you should have specifically cited it, which you didn’t. Though I’ve long since abandoned the expectation of honesty and even the normal standards of intellectual engagement with evo-psys. I think the common thing for me to do now would be to say “moving goalposts”.

    Apparently, reviewing “the Selfish Gene example” in Google books, Dawkins didn’t present a real situation either but just another made up, generalized scenario. Here is what he said about the claim that the first bird to call out was an example of his odd kind of “altruism”:

    Laying down one’s life for one’s friends is obviously altruistic, but so also is taking a slight risk for them. Many small birds, when they see a flying predator such as a hawk, give a characteristic “alarm call”, upon which the whole flock takes appropriate evasive action. There is indirect evidnece that the bird who gives the alarm call puts itself in special danger, because it attracts the predator’s attention particularly to itself. This is only a slight additonal risk, but it nevertheless seems, at least at first sight, to qualify as an altruistic act by our definition.

    What that “indirect evidence” is, I don’t know because there isn’t a citation in what I’m looking at online (I read the thing out of the library about 35 years ago, as I recall and don’t own a copy). Can you tell me where his “indirect evidence” comes from other than his imagination?

    And I don’t see the phrase “superficially altruistic” in his example which corresponds to your story. Where, since you want to deal with Dawkins now, do you find that phrase in his account?

    By the way, call me old fashioned but I’d think something more than “indirect evidence” would be required since there are far more obvious candidates for why a bird would be the first to call out in warning than that it was due to gene selfishness — what Dawkins calls it on the same page so don’t pretend I’m making that up. He also presents it exactly in terms of “altruism” in line with the usual evo-psy manner. Because you and he are asserting something you present as “altruism” in an unspecified species of birds I’m entirely justified in using the adjective “avian” to specify it. I already told you about my reservation about attributing human mental states outside of the species since all of that is necessarily speculative and, I believe sheer fantasy.

    But, libel, Diane? You think that my use of “avian altruism” is an instance of libel? I think you should consult a dictionary. And you trying to pin the “Intelligent Design” label on me since #110.

    How do I get away with what? Questioning your demigods? Pointing out their lapses? I wish I could say that I’ve never encountered someone as basically ignorant of the requirements of logic, scholarly integrity and scientific evidence but I’m afraid these days, and largely motivated by evo-psy and its allies, that’s quite disturbingly common.

    I hadn’t remembered Dawkins running away from his story telling at the end of that page. Reading it now, it’s pretty funny in a rather pathetic way. I’ll have to see if I can get a used copy of it to see exactly why else I thought it was absurd when I first read it.

  120. #121 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Scott, do yourself a favor and get that copy of “The Discourse of Reason” I recommended to you. It will do you more good than whatever seat-of-the-pants, pop-psych stuff you got your last comment from.

    I’m not going to bother arguing with you anymore because you are silly.

  121. #122 Anthony McCarthy
    May 19, 2011

    Oh, and Diane. If you’re going to quote me when I said, “Do you think I didn’t know what you were talking about from the beginning?” Why not do the honest thing and also quote what I said immediately before that sentence Here it is as I said it at #114, above:

    As it happens, I read the book shortly after it was first published, thought it was absurd and moved on. I’ve read lots of evo-psy mythology since then and knew the particular one you pulled off the shelf, though I hadn’t remembered its exact provenance.

    Do you think I didn’t know what you were talking about from the beginning? Do you think I hadn’t thought about it before?

    “though I hadn’t remembered its exact provenance,” you do understand what that clause means, don’t you? I hadn’t remembered that the Just-so story you were cribbing had come from Dawkins.

    You deliberately distorted what I said, very specifically and very clearly.

  122. #123 rhealyn
    May 22, 2011

    Templeton Foundation is to promote the idea that science is nothing but another religion and therefore that everyone should accept both science and religion as different but equal methods of understanding our world.

  123. #124 Anthony McCarthy
    May 23, 2011

    Science can’t tell you anything at all about morality. Religion can tell you a lot more about that then science can. Religion, on the other hand can’t tell you anything about the structure of matter. Or at least not the same kind of stuff that physics can. Though it can tell you it’s stupid to build a house on sand as compared to building on rock. Which is practical physics and did a lot more good in the period before there was scientific research into the question.

    I think for many, many people something they believe is science functions as a religion for them. Just as for many people Genesis acts as a replacement for history and science. Might as well admit the sad truth of the matter.

    You have any evidence that’s really Templeton’s purpose or are you just expressing faith?

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