The Reports of the National Center for Science Education has just posted a new review of my book Among the Creationists. The reviewer is Taner Edis, professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. Since Edis's own books on science and religion, The Ghost in the Machine and Science and Nonbelief are among my favorites on this subject, his opinion means a lot to me. So, did he like the book?
Jason Rosenhouse, who teaches mathematics at James Madison University, might at first
seem an unlikely person to be interested in the creationism/evolution wars. Creationism isa constant nuisance for biologists and geologists, and to a lesser degree for other natural scientists. Social scientists can find creationism to be a fascinating part of the American cultural landscape. But the denial of evolution rarely interferes with the life of a mathematician. And yet, as not only a mathematician but a Jewish atheist coming from a very different background than a typical conservative Christian troubled by evolution, Rosenhouse has produced one of the most readable, interesting, and different books about creationism that has appeared in many years.
Rosenhouse’s blend of personal observation and probing investigation of scientific and
philosophical questions is what makes the book such a delight. Precisely because creationism can appear so absurd from an academic standpoint, there is a danger of ignoring the intellectual concerns that animate creationists, or to treat evolution-deniers as fundamentalist caricatures. Rosenhouse never falls into such traps. He is invariably respectful of anti-evolutionary ideas—while being careful to explain exactly why they fail, he makes a genuine effort to understand the intellectual appeal they hold for many creationists.
Score some more!
Go read the rest of the review. Then go buy multiple copies of the book. You don't want to be the last one to read it!
"You don’t want to be the last one to read it!"
Oh, I don't know. That would at least bring a particle of distinction to my otherwise boring life.
What the hell is a "Jewish Atheist"? It doesn't matter if your family comes from the religious background of Judaism. If you're an Atheist than you aren't a Jew. This makes as much sense as beying a "Christian Atheist". You guys on the other side of the pond crack me up with your definitions.
PS: By the way, have you ever read "The Mathematics of Evolution" by Fred Hoyle? I'd really like to see a good review from you on that book. It's highly mathematical and even John Maynard Smith in his review from 2000 admits he couldn't follow the whole thing!
"What the hell is a “Jewish Atheist”? It doesn’t matter if your family comes from the religious background of Judaism. If you’re an Atheist than you aren’t a Jew. This makes as much sense as beying a “Christian Atheist”. You guys on the other side of the pond crack me up with your definitions."
Jews define anyone who has a Jewish mother as being Jewish himself, no matter what his religious beliefs, or lack thereof, may be. Being Jewish is more of than ethnic designation rather than just a religious one. It would be better if the ethic designation of Jewish was "Hebrew"; that would make better sense.
What I really take issue with is the current popular definition of atheism as "lacking belief in a god", which is to take no position at all on the issue of religion. Atheism, until recently, was always defined as the dogma of "the non-existence of any god", indicating active opposition to all religions. Attempts by the New Atheists to change that definition strike me as dishonest, and should be put down. Either return the definition of atheism to the classic historical one, or STOP USING THE TERM COMPLETELY!
"What I really take issue with is the current popular definition of atheism as “lacking belief in a god”, which is to take no position at all on the issue of religion."
There has been a rumour in recent years to the effect that I have become less opposed to religious orthodoxy than I formerly was. This rumour is totally without foundation. I think all the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Republicanism and Communism - both untrue and harmful,
"Jews define anyone who has a Jewish mother as being Jewish himself, no matter what his religious beliefs, or lack thereof, may be"
Then, in my opinion, it's a bad definition. If my mother is Christian and my father Atheist, and I'm also an Atheist, does that make me a "Half-Christian Atheist"? Are there also "Latino Atheists" or "Afrikaner Atheists"? Coupling ethnicity to religious view in a definition like this doesn't make sense in my opinion, although I understand that the religious conotation is attractive. Anyway, it was just a remark, I see your point. It's just that I'd never expect to hear anyone on this side of the pond using such a term.
"What I really take issue with is the current popular definition of atheism as “lacking belief in a god”, which is to take no position at all on the issue of religion. Atheism, until recently, was always defined as the dogma of “the non-existence of any god”, indicating active opposition to all religions. Attempts by the New Atheists to change that definition strike me as dishonest, and should be put down. Either return the definition of atheism to the classic historical one, or STOP USING THE TERM COMPLETELY!"
I see your point, but what do you propose then? "Agnostic" doesn't fit the bill either, I think. If in my world view, based on rationalism, there is no room for supernatural creatures, either god(s) or leprechauns, what would you define me as, then? And what do you mean by "opposition" to all religions? Active opposition? I'm certainly not, but I don't harbour doubts about the non-existence of gods, either. Would "Agnostic Atheist" fit the bill for you, as some people propose? I don't know much about the usage of the terms except for the usual Wikipedia blurb, so I welcome the insight you could potentially provide.
Congratulations on the good review. On the "Jewish atheist" point, in a similar discussion on MCCs "good math bad math" blog it was pointed out that you can be a fully observant Jew without a believe in god, by living according to Jewish law and customs. So Jewish atheist isn't as odd as it might seem.
For me, being Jewish is a lot like being an American. It was something that I was born into, and it has cultural significance for me, but it does not tell you much about what I actually believe. Basically, I was raised in a Jewish home, went to Hebrew school, had a Bar Mitzvah, often participate in Passover seders or Hanukkah candle lightings, and things like that. So, it means something to me to be Jewish, even though I reject all of the underlying theology.
I have a chapter in the book called, “Why I Love Being Jewish,” in which I specifically discuss the idea of religion as cultural identity, as opposed to religion as adherence to a set of beliefs.
"Jewish" is part of the language family that makes up Semitic language/culture. Semites include a bunch of other (now gone) cultures like Akkadians and Sumerians, not just Jews. So if someone can be an Akkadian and an atheist, then they can be Jewish and be an atheist. This is why "anti-Semite" is a racist term, not a religious one.
Congrats on the review. I find Edis hard to read. His arguments may be good, I just don't think his writing style is a smooth or easy as some other authors. That, however, is just an aesthetic opinion.
Peter: coupling religious and ethnic identity into a single term is confusing, but languages and terms are not always rationally constructed. Its probably better to learn how to distinguish which of two meanings is being used than rail against the imperfections of language, because polysemes and homonyms aren't going away any time soon.
And, besides [<-polyseme]: if you don't bitch [<-polyseme]about alternate [<-polyseme] polysemes, why bitch [<-polyseme] about this one. Right [<-polyseme]?
There are quirks. "Jewish" may be analogous in a lot of ways to "Chrisitian" but that doesn't ena
Ack, ignore my last line and a bit. That's a leftover from an earlier draft.
Eric & others:
I was just remarking on how strange the expression would sound to most Europeans, at least in my experience. I obviously understand the underlying meaning and have no real problems with it. But thank you all for the comments. I have to say that you guys in the US use many expressions that I find peculiar, like your use of "latino", for example.
I havent read your book yet, but it's on my "to get ASAP" list and I've read many reviews about it. I was, however, familiar with your views on beying a Jew and an Atheist because I've read some of your stuff on this blog and some articles.
Pardon for asking again, but did you read "Mathematics of Evolution" by Fred Hoyle?
What I really take issue with is the current popular definition of atheism as “lacking belief in a god”, which is to take no position at all on the issue of religion. Atheism, until recently, was always defined as the dogma of “the non-existence of any god”, indicating active opposition to all religions.
I disagree. Since all religions except some forms of Buddhism take the position "there is certainly a God", the position "there is not currently any compelling reason to believe in any gods" is definitely taking a position on religion -- it's equivalent to saying that any religion that says "there is certainly a God" (i.e. all of them) is wrong.
Besides that, as a skeptic I don't believe anything is 100% certain. Yet I still have a position on the existence of God -- I think it's incredibly unlikely. How would you have me characterize my opinion? I'm not an agnostic since I don't think it's completely up in the air whether or not God exists. I think there are very good reasons to think there aren't any gods. But it's not a matter of dogma, it's a matter of assessing the likelihood of various beliefs being true.
And, in fact, I think most people of all times who would have identified as "atheist" would have had a similar position. I think you're completely wrong with the "dogmatically think God doesn't exist" thing. Feel free to marshal some evidence if you disagree with me.
Sheesh. Dawkins calls himself a "cultural Christian""
This is historically a Christian country. I'm a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.
What's wrong with that? One get excessively anal about language, to no useful effect.
I find being culturally religious worse than actually adhering to the beliefs themselves because it perpetuates the notion that there is something valuable left over after you winnow away the chaf from religious traditions...or in other terms, when you demythologize the text, there is some 'spiritual' kernel left over that is valuable. For me, its like a onion, when you peel off a layer, all you find is another layer all the way down...ie, its crap all the way down.
Of course your traditions are part of your identity which is why some feel a sense of alienation and anomie when they reject a belief system. You have the luxury of coming from a religion that includes in its numbers atheist rabbis who have even started atheist synagogues( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_atheism )
But why maintain the charade? Doesn't it perpetuate an ugly form of racism? Regardless of the rhetoric, being Jewish is a genetic thing, a racist thing. One can un-American oneself, but to paraphrase the Eagles' song, Hotel California, its like you've checked out, but haven't left. There are Jewish families that have given up genital mutilation ( circumcision ), but why not go one step further and give up identifying with a hypenated identity? Jewish-American, African-American. I am of Welsh ancestry...three hundred years back, and Jewish two hundred years back. Now I am just an American, not Welsh-American.
Why not give it up completely and let the Jewish race fade away into history? If you recoil from this notion, you are still trapped in the mythology of the Jewish race being a 'chosen' people, a special people that must maintain an historical presence.
In some future history class, we can recoil in horror when we read about the Mosaic genocides and be glad there is no one left who perpetuates such a tradition.
I am quite a European as well and I understood immediately what was meant with "jewish atheist". After all I am ánd a Dutch atheist (where I grew up) ánd a Surinamese atheist (where I have been living since 2000).
I also recognize the influences christianity had upon me, even though I wouldn't like to be called a cultural christian. For one thing there have been non-christian influences as well. For another thing I have been busy for 35 years or so questioning these christian influences. And I have rejected quite a few.
"I am quite a European as well and I understood immediately what was meant with “jewish atheist”."
MNb, everyone understood what was meant, including me; that was not the point of my original comment.
Regarding "cultural christianism", I think it MAY be useful as a crude characterization in some contexts, but little more than that.
I totally agree with you, thats the point I was making regarding the definition of Atheism. I still think it is the best descriptor available for my position (and I assume Rosenhouse's), and Agnostic or Agnostic Atheism really dont cut it.
I'm OK with "agnostic atheist" except that given the "nothing's 100% knowable" principle it's redundant: in some sense I'm agnostic about literally everything.
Sextus Empiricus and the Pyrrhonian skeptics talked about the "world of appearances" to rebut accusations that skepticism would prevent people from even living life. The idea is that one can intellectually assert that "knowledge is impossible" without discarding the heuristics one applies in order to house and feed oneself. The skeptic's assertion that "I am hungry" is not vulnerable to the skeptic's own arguments because the skeptic makes this statement about the world as it appears to the skeptic. Append "It seems to me that" before every factual statement and you get the sense in which Pyrrhonian skeptics can make assertions about matters of fact.
So that's basically my position. It seems to me that there is no God. I don't know for a fact there is no God and I don't think there's a way to determine factually whether there is one or not. The only attestations of fact I can honestly make are attestations about how the world seems to me. This is pretty much the opposite of dogma but it justifies me in calling myself an "atheist" because I'm about as certain of God's non-existence as I am of almost anything else (not 100% but pretty close).
I feel basically the same. Agnostic or Agnostic Atheist end up beying useless unless you really take the position that "I can't know for sure so I'll just sit on the fence", which is not my position at all. Rationalism doesn't need 100% proofs, just like science in general is not based on 100% certainties. Therefore I don't believe in a god or gods anymore than I believe in fairies. Atheism is by far the best descriptor for such a position.
And off to bed I go.
I have a wee bit of Scottish ancestry, therefore I consider myself a Scottish Atheist and can eat Haggis (oog) and enjoy uisge. That is cultural declaration coupled with a religious stance.
I forgot to add that I have read the book and it is fascinating. It also puts a very humane face on the creationists. I suspect that the horrid image of creationists we get is from the blatant attacks from trolls that are often vile, ignorant and illogical.
My Jewish friends say that Judaism isn't a religion its a people. To which I reply,
being Caucasian isn't a religion, its a people,
being an American isn't a religion, its a people,
being Chinese isn't a religion, its a people, etc...
I'm an Caucasian atheist, or possibly a Welsh-German-Moorish-Italian-Jewish atheist...with a touch of existential nihilism and absurdism thrown in for good measure.
"I see your point, but what do you propose then? “Agnostic” doesn’t fit the bill either, I think. If in my world view, based on rationalism, there is no room for supernatural creatures, either god(s) or leprechauns, what would you define me as, then?"
I would call you a materialist. That's a more coherent term than "atheist" since you are not merely rejecting gods, but anything beyond the known physical universe.
I consider myself an agnostic, like Carl Sagan was before me and Thomas Huxley was before him. They were not dogmatic about whether or not a god of some kind existed, preferring to simply say, "I do not know,." but they were certainly non-theists. If you are certain enough to assert, "There is no God,." you are a classically defined atheist.
The proper term for people who lack belief in God, and therefore including all atheists and most agnostics, is NON-theist.
"They were not dogmatic about whether or not a god of some kind existed, preferring to simply say, “I do not know,.” but they were certainly non-theists. If you are certain enough to assert, “There is no God,.” you are a classically defined atheist."
Hum, materialist, or maybe rationanist certainly fits the bill. But I do say "There is no Gods", which you say is Atheism. The problem here, as I see it, is that you don't need proof of non-existence of gods to be certain that there are no gods. Again, I don't have any proof that fairies don't exist, but rationalism will take to as much certainty as possible. I do think there are no gods. I don't consider the possibility of a creator, specially one identified by any religion, but be more plausible than fairies or unicorns. Therefore I still think Atheism is a much better qualifier. Materialism and rationalism will simply state why I think the way I do.
Not sure I made myself clear, though.
No Peter, not "everyone understood". I referred to Pedro.
Problem with rationalism is that it neglects or rejects (historically) the empirical approach. It would highly surprise me if anyone here did.
It's often used in a negative way, but I like scientism. After all I think the scientific method the only way to gain knowledge. Materialism and naturalism are OK with me too. Personally I am not that much interested in precise definitions of labels.
I am not 100% sure either as I don't claim I can prove with absolute certainty that there is no god. But I'm not 100% sure either that I will fall downward iso upward next time I jump from a bridge. So I just call myself an atheist, though technically speaking I am a bit of an agnost. All those subtile subdivisions don't make things much clearer.
Actually Dale, for most of history, "Atheist" meant "really evil person", so no, sweety-pie, I will not take tradition into account on this matter.
"No Peter, not “everyone understood”. I referred to Pedro."
I'm Pedro. It's just that people sometimes call me Peter and I used Pedro by mistake instead of keeping the use of the same name. Sorry about the confusion.
I did understand what was meant by "Jewish Atheist". That was not the point I was trying to make.
Regarding rationalism, I don't think the term has that connotation in modern times at all, even if it did have a different meaning historically. A rationalistic view of the world does not exclude empiricism at all. I could be wrong, though, so I welcome more discussion on this.
The proper term for people who lack belief in God, and therefore including all atheists and most agnostics, is NON-theist.
Tiresome semantic argument is tiresome.
I made a pretty good case why "atheist" is appropriate. If you're going to insist on using dictionaries to pigeon-hole my beliefs then maybe it's just not worth talking to you.
Peter said -
What the hell is a “Jewish Atheist”? It doesn’t matter if your family comes from the religious background of Judaism. If you’re an Atheist than you aren’t a Jew. This makes as much sense as beying a “Christian Atheist”.
First of all, I am personally a Christian atheist. (Note - so there will be no confusion; I despise homophobia and misogyny; I realize that those have become associated with any use of the word "Christian".)
It's really quite silly for you to take it on yourself to tell other people whether they are Jewish or not.
You guys on the other side of the pond crack me up with your definitions.
I'm going to share a difficult truth with you.
It will be upsetting to you, temporarily, but if you accept it, your life will be improved.
Here it is:
You do not get to tell other people who they are or what they believe.
There is no preview function here, so I risk screwed up html formatting, but here goes...
Criticism accepted. But you're taking it too seriously. My remarks were meant as a friendly "puling your leg" kind of thing, not as any serious criticism. And it certainly has no bearing whatsoever in what people think or believe, or even less an attempt at telling anyone what they are or should believe.
With that said, lets chill out and make the world a better place.
Jesus fucking Christ, has anyone commenting weird about"Jewish atheists' ever met a Jew?
@Peter/Pedro: "I don’t think the term has that connotation in modern times at all"
Then you're probably wrong about modern times in The Netherlands. But from now on I will read rationalism + empiricism whenever you write rationalism. I am quite flexible when it comes to labels, as long as we understand each other. For instance:
For me an atheist is someone who doesn't believe and calls him/herself so.
For me an agnost is someone who is undecisive on this subject and calls him/herself so.
The scale of Dawkins is completely superfluous afaIc. I have no idea what my score is; neither am I interested.
That is one of the most insightful, and rarest, things that one can say in an Internet thread.
"For me an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe and calls him/herself so.
For me an agnost is someone who is undecisive on this subject and calls him/herself so.
The scale of Dawkins is completely superfluous afaIc. I have no idea what my score is; neither am I interested."
As far as I can see, that's what I've been saying all along, so I'm fine with that. According to that, I label myself as an Atheist, and I think that your descriptions are pretty much what most people think of the two terms.
And I totally agree with you when it comes to Dawkins' scale. Just keep things simple and let people explain their views intead of cominng up with ever growing terms and definitions that will ultimately always fail to capture the full view of anyone's opinions.
You do not get to tell other people who they are or what they believe.
While not arguing the specifics of your disagreement - the above statement is false - we do it all the time.
When your Christian brethren(since you insist on using the label Christian) say they love gays while discriminating against them its perfectly fair to tell them they are bigots, and they dont understand the meaning of the word "love" - You can't pervert well accepted words just because you believe it means something else.
A stamp collector is not a numismatist no matter how strongly he believes he is - and we can call him out on that.
By the way, I got some time on my hands and checked the whole Rationalism vs Empiricism thing. I was totaly wrong in my use of the word Rationalism, divorcing it from its phylosophical and historical meaning, of course. Anyway, you got the drift of what I meant to say. Next time I'll be more careful with its use.
Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you're using? I'm planning to start my own blog in the near future but I'm having a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!
Greetings, Jason and company!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading AMONG THE CREATIONISTS, but would pose you the following queries:
--Did you conclude that the "process of evolution by natural selection" is "wasteful, violent, and even cruel" (p 21) from science itself, as you state, or from some other source of value?
--What, at a minimum, would constitute "evidence for the supernatural" (p 21) to your mind's eye? How about one or two concrete examples?
--Did "the past, present, and future exist simultaneously" (p 23) for Einstein? Also, what do you make of quantum entanglement, i.e,, the EPR paradox?
--On what do you ground your own sense of "moral goodness" (p 25)? How did yours originate?
--Do you agree with Darwin that "the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection" is "insuperable by our imagination" (p 33)?
--Can you give us one or two examples of how "unpleasant people have twisted Darwin's ideas to justify their rottenness" (p 37)? Please describe the twist.
--Don't many scientists think of evolution both "as a useful theory" AND "as an all-encompassing world-view" (p 37)? Do you?
--Can you admit a likely, if not "necessary connection between evolution and any other political, religious, or ethical view" (p 37)?
Jason et al, here's more:
--Isn't GENESIS 1 "unabashedly" henotheistic rather than "monotheistic", as you state (p 43)?
--Doesn't "the scientific method" deem nature "an infallible source of information about nature" (p 51)?
--How do you distinguish "simple" from "complex" (p 54)? Is the vector always one-way?
Still more later,
--Has genetic information ever decreased as well as "increased through the course of natural history" (p 61)? Is it only one-way?
--Was the film industry itself ever "worried about the trend toward cinematic debauchery" (p 69), or merely responsive to the moral/religious ethos of the times?
--In HIGH NOON did the "three bad guys escape from prison" (p 70) as Cashill reports?
--Can you envision no possible connection "between accepting evolution and finding it agreeable to commit murder based upon personal feelings of superiority" (p 70)? None at all?
--Do you agree with Swinburne's "principle of credulity, that we ought to believe that things are as they seem to be...unless and until we have evidence that we are mistaken" (p 105)?
--Are our "physical perceptions" "subject to numerous checks and verifications" other than other physical perceptions (p 106)? Similarly, how can the "serious doubt" be resolved when "I believe I am seeing something that other competent observers fail to see" (p 107)?
--Is testability truly "the hallmark of a scientific theory" (p 113) or merely one desirable feature among others?
--Do you agree with Braeckman (quoted on p 122) that "Supernatural claims do not fall beyond the reach of science" ?
--Do you rule out the possibility that humans or aliens may be able to naturally "alter fundamental constants" (p 122)?
--Do you agree with Dawkins "that natural selection is the only mechanism capable in principle of producing complex adaptations" (p144)?
--Typo on p 160: "Old testament" should read "Old Testament".
--Is it likely a future perspective may find us "wrong about everything" (p 162)?
--You write that nowhere does Jesus say anything like, "I am God, cower before Me."(p 168) Check out: JOHN (8:24); JONH (8:58); JOHN (10:30-33); JOHN (9:35-38); JOHN (14:6-9) among others.
--You state (p 181) that "Jews not only do not proselytize, but we positively discourage conversion." Was this always the case, and why is it so today?
--As you encourage people to move from a theological to a cultural understanding of religion, are you seeking "the death of religion entirely" (p 183)?
--You state (p 191) that natural selection acts on genetic variations which are themselves "random with respect to the needs of the organism." Has this been proven?
--Is it truly "nonsense to suggest that multiple universes were hypothesized into existence to deal with 'fine tuning'" (p 193)?
Thanks for your patience,
"–Can you give us one or two examples of how “unpleasant people have twisted Darwin’s ideas to justify their rottenness” (p 37)? Please describe the twist."
You give one example yourself. Here it is:
"–Do you agree with Darwin that “the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection” is “insuperable by our imagination” (p 33)?"
If you read the whole section from which this quote is lifted you'll learn that Darwin explains how that perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection indeed. Creationists typically omit that. They want the quote to mean something else than Darwin intended.
"–Don’t many scientists think of evolution both “as a useful theory” AND “as an all-encompassing world-view” (p 37)?"
No. Name me one scientist who thinks the concept of evolution useful for describing how the nuclear bomb works or how the Fifth of Beethoven has been structured.
"–Is testability truly “the hallmark of a scientific theory” (p 113)?"
It is. You can omit "truly". It doesn't have any relevant meaning here.
"Has this been proven?"
What do you mean with proven? 100% certainty? No. Confirmed by innumerable observations and experiments, while falsified by none? Yes.
Thank you MNb. Please permit me to wait for Dr Rosehouse's response (should he choose to offer one) before replying to you both.
In the interim I've bracketed below the author's curious Endnote 3 to Chap 5 (p 221):
[3. "The Tea Party" is a reference to an American political movement that has come to prominence since the election, in 2008, of President Barack Obama. They are extremely right-wing, and in the opinion of most knowledgable commentators badly misinformed about American history and terribly misguided in their policy recommendations.]
I'm unclear to me how the author defines the "Tea Party movement", and which of their views and policies make them "extremely right wing", "badly misinformed", and "terribly misguided." Perhaps he could enlighten us.