Just in case anyone is concerned that I'll soften my hardline rejection of all religion just because I've assumed fancy new corporate digs, allow me to quote Dan Savage approvingly.

And finally, to Rob in Albany who felt my aside was proof of my intolerance and hypocrisy: Joking about Christianity isn't evidence that I'm intolerant—hell, I'm perfectly willing to tolerate Christians. I have never, for instance, attempted to prevent Christians from marrying each other, or tried to stop them from adopting children, or worked to make it illegal for them to hold certain jobs. I don't threaten to boycott companies that market their products to Christians, and I don't organize letter-writing campaigns to complain about Christian characters on television.

It would indeed be hypocritical for me to complain about fundamentalist Christians who've done all of the above to gay people if I turned around and did the same thing to Christians—but, again, I've done no such thing. Intolerant? Hell, I'm a model of tolerance! Oh sure, I joked about the Virgin Birth because I think it's silly and sexphobic. And I'm free to say as much, however unpleasant it is for some Christians to hear. Fundamentalist Christians, for their part, are free to think homosexuality is sinful and unnatural, and they're free to say so, however unpleasant it is for me to hear. But fundamentalists aren't willing to just speak their piece, Rob. Nope, they seek to persecute people for being gay, and that's where their low opinion of homosexuality—which, again, they have an absolute right to hold—transubstantiates into intolerance.

Excellent. As has always been the case, you can continue to expect me to tolerate Christians…but don't expect me to ever respect Christianity.

(via Stupid Evil Bastard)

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Ocellated, what more do you want?

P.Z., congratulations on the new site. (And I like the new font size!) I've updated my blogroll already.

I like Savage too.

And has always been the case, you can continue to expect me to tolerate atheists, but don't expect me to ever respect atheism.

I think "transubstantiate" may be wrongly used here, although it's a very cute touch. In the Catholic notion of transubstantiation, the very real substance of the wine and bread becomes the very real substance of Christ's body and blood. Not a metaphor, the real physical thing.

On the contrary, a thought such as a "low opinion" really doesn't have the same kind of substantive reality of bread, wine, bodies and blood (assuming that a "low opinion" is not identical to the state of the neurons that create it, which I think is pretty defensible). Therefore "transubstantiate", is a bit too reifying, even if it is witty.

More precise: "...they seek to persecute people who are gay, and that's when their low opinion of homosexuality manifests itself in unacceptable acts of intolerance." Again, there's no transubstantiation as there is no changing substance. But you do get the sense of moving from an internal space - which is free - to a political space where actions create consequences that can be irrationally cruel. And you preserve at least a taste of theological jargon in making the point.

My larger point being that accuracy of expression is just as important when discussing subjects which are not science as it is within it.

For a few minutes I thought I was in Bizzaro World - then I realized it was DAN Savage, not Michael Savage. Carry on!

You cannot understand a man until you have walked on the water in his shoes.


Thought: Science has shown us, at our most sub-atomic levels, to be comprised mostly of space. Is it any wonder that charlatans and fabulists fill that space with nonsense? We are the Universe, call it god or what you will--it was Science that brought me to that POV. Mix Science with Poetry and keep the dogma in the ditch and you may have something beyond what you thought you had.

(before those fingers get to typing: Science is already poetic, but can you dance to it?)


PZ: Cool digs! May this site be a very good home for your words and works!


Of course I happily followed you and Ed over here. And I've been poking around, looks like I'll be adding a few bookmarks. This particular piece is WONDERFUL. I'll be er, borrowing it with regularity. It litterally has no effective response...


So tolerance is the best we can hope for... Better than Nero I suppose.

Ocellated just wants to be loved. Is that so WRAWNG?

Seriously, tolerance is what everyone should expect for their particular idiosyncratic beliefs. What a lot of Christians (even the politically active lefty kind, in my experience)* seem to want is deference. Those are very different things.

*See also many White Southerners, who also seem to want deference. I don't know if there's a connection -- maybe it's the mythologies of martyrdom?

Paperwight, you are dead on on tolerance v. deference, as is Dan Savage when it comes to the ridiculous double standard for religious v. non-religious beliefs and opinions. Chris Mooney's blog had an interesting discussion on whether people like Dawkins (and PZ) are "bad" for the political cause of scientific thinking, atheism etc, presumably because their "harsh" rhetoric alienates the middle. Weird argument, that, considering the hate-filled vitriol that comes from the religious right on all manner of topics.

I second miko -- Paperwight, you're right that most Christians seem to want deference, not tolerance. Didn't an Ohio legislator recently say that it needs to be made "culturally unacceptable" to mock Christianity? And to people like that, "mocking" Christianity includes eveyrthing from outright jokes to serious critical inquiry.

But I don't know if that's what Ocellated meant. He describes himself as a scientist and distances himself from most Christians, so...maybe what he wants is respect for the religion. Alas, Christianity has made such a muck of things, and so many Christians are such virulent creeps, that respect is not readily forthcoming.

Violet -

I might buy that's what Ocellated meant, if he hadn't been comparing tolerance and persecution. That's a classic false dichotomy redolent of Republican Fundamentalist thinking which takes as a predicate that mere tolerance is only one step up from persecution.

IMO, tolerance implies respect, at least respect enough to leave someone alone and let them believe what they like and live as they like. Some practices are worthy of respect. Some aren't.

The deference that many self-labeled Christians seek, however, is something more than tolerance. It's an attitude that it's *wrong* to question or even merely disagrees with their faith -- that disagreeing is persecution, or that tolerance without tacit or explicit endorsement is persecution. And for many, an implied assumption (largely built into the religion as practices by many, if not most, of its sects) is that if you don't share their faith, you're doomed to eternal punishment.

I respect works, not faith. I don't care what unverifiable entity someone believes in -- that's why they call it *faith* -- but I do care what they do in the physical world. Most of the people I know and respect happen to be faithful (mostly Christian of one sort or another), but I respect them for their works.

[quote]As has always been the case, you can continue to expect me to tolerate Christiansbut don't expect me to ever respect Christianity.[/quote]

One interpretation of this statement is that if one is incapable of respeting someone's faith then there will also likely be a lack of respect for a Christian, or Christians as a group. PZ's failure to distinguish between the the different denominations within Christianity or to make clear that he is not incapable of respecting one because of their Christianity is, I would like to believe, just sloppy writing.

Such sloppiness only provides fodder for those who are only too eager to point to it and say: "They don't respect us." That makes it only that much easier to whip up opposition to such seemingly sensible things as teaching children science. Instead of focusing on the science, the debate is shifted to a debate about whether one is just a dumb ol' hick for going to church on Sunday. It doesn't take this country boy long to figure out how his neighbors will feel about that.

Those in a position to teach the science that have failed to reach out to Christians, the largest voting bloc in every school district where the ID cases have arisen, stand up and take a well deserved bow. You have contributed to the problem rather than the solution. Congratulations.

By Consigliere (not verified) on 12 Jan 2006 #permalink

There's a whole body of literature in ethics/political philosophy about toleration, of which I have only a passing knowledge, but here goes ... A very tight definition of toleration is that you tolerate something if a. you disapprove of it and b. you could stop it if you wanted to but choose not to. 'b' doesn't really apply to this discussion because we can't really stop people being and acting as Christians, no matter how fundamentalist - but nonetheless, we do refrain on the whole (on a day to day personal basis) from making their life difficult or trying to stop them going to church etc. Then there is a whole other argument about whether this 'thin' toleration is enough - shouldn't we, some people ask, go beyond toleration, towards respect - which is a different, much stronger thing. Toleration is not the same as respect, and nor does it entail respect. Toleration means just leaving people alone, not interfering, when they are doing something we disapprove of. It's probably the only way people of different opinions (and faiths) can live together in society. You can choose to tolerate, because toleration is about how we act towards people of whom we disapprove; we can't choose to respect, because respect is how we feel about people. I'm with PZ - I can and do tolerate religious people (I don't try to stop them being religious, or even shout at them in the street; in this sense a lot of fundamentalists are glaringly intolerant) but I can never, never respect their religion (though I might respect them as people for other things they do). But in a different sense of the word 'respect' I respect their right to hold and express those views. We shouldn't mix up those two senses of the word. By the way, am I the only person who hates the new site? As a fundamentally non-webby person what I loved about Pharyngula was its clean clear interface - it didn't look like a blog! And now it does. Much harder to read. And what will happen to the Gumbies? I appreciate the reasons, but it's a sad loss.

By English Rose (not verified) on 12 Jan 2006 #permalink

"Those in a position to teach the science that have failed to reach out to Christians, the largest voting bloc in every school district where the ID cases have arisen, stand up and take a well deserved bow. You have contributed to the problem rather than the solution. Congratulations."

oh, i guess they don't appreciate antibiotics anymore? how about the personal computer? how much outreach and how much deference is required, exactly?

The argument that one cannot tolerate Christians while not respecting Christianity made by consigiliore appears to assume that Chrisitanity is the beginning and end of that Christiam person. We might admire the parenting skills or business acumen, or sculpting abilities of someone who is a Christian, while still find Christianity to be a fraud and blot upon society.

People are complex, even if they are Christians.

By Sage Donkey (not verified) on 13 Jan 2006 #permalink

Welcome to your new home. I changed my bookmark, but I'm less than ecstatic over the tiny typeface.

Re your re-introductory comment and the one about the newspaper-reading Board of Ed member, I'd agree that the guy's comments were stupid and evidence of unfitness for his job. Which led me to wonder about a scientist who doesn't wonder why we have a system in which atoms combine to form molecules which can form cells that can create structures that seem to live and evolve and even sometimes think. Do you have a belief in some causal factor for all this? What's holding up our universe? Deism may be a pretty good hypothesis, although I am still considering the super-cosmic juvenile being's sym-universe creation.


By Jim Gordon (not verified) on 14 Jan 2006 #permalink

Hmm... So apparently I respect tolerance and tolerate respect. :-)

"Which led me to wonder about a scientist who doesn't wonder why we have a system in which atoms combine to form molecules which can form cells that can create structures that seem to live and evolve and even sometimes think."

He doesn't have to as a scientist since science doesn't really adress 'why' questions - assuming they are meaningful, which there is no evidence for. He can of course do that outside his profession.

"Do you have a belief in some causal factor for all this?"

There are cosmology theories that doesn't have a 'first cause', for example different 'no-boundary' proposals. So you don't have to believe in that.

Prelife and life chemistries seems to obey evolution, so the step from prelife to life could be gradual, with no apparent boundary. There is a large element of causality of sorts ('natural selection') in evolution, but the result have also a large element of randomness.

I believe the inevitability of the evolution of consciousness is debated within biology. Personally I think evolution will stumble on all possibilities sooner or later, there is no coincidence why eyes occured independently a huge number of times.

"What's holding up our universe?"

It does alright on its own. Physical laws are assumed, for strong reasons, to cover the workings of all of it.

One can see them as fully independent processes that unfolds naturally. Evolution were inevitable, while cosmology can't really be described in that fashion - but you can't deny that the universe exists. :-)

By Torbjorn Larsson (not verified) on 14 Jan 2006 #permalink

We're hijacking PZM's blog for use as a BB to carry on a good conversation. Apologies to our host, but ...

Torbjorn wrote:
> ... science doesn't really adress 'why' questions -
> assuming they are meaningful, which there is no
> evidence for. He can of course do that outside his
> profession.

Hold on here. If we're talking about theology, then I'll agree. OTOH, I was asking about science, and science is incomplete without an explanation of why, for a good example, pre-life and life chemistries might obey evolution, or why they follow any system at all. I think we all stipulate the universe's obvious existence, but the no-first-cause and no-boundary cosmological models have the same lack of provability as religion.

My question was, "Science obviously follows some rules. Where do the rules come from?" Today, I lean toward a supercosmic monkey with a typewriter-equivalent, and I wonder what the other monkeys' universes are like. If ID hadn't been appropriated by idiots who wanted to apply it to both process and product AND to include un-testable assumptions, it might have been a useful hypothesis.


By Jim Gordon (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

"science is incomplete without an explanation of why"

Why? :-) Seriously, the method of science doesn't adress these questions at all. You can't ask "why is there life" and get a direct answer by experiment and theory. Sometimes it indirectly answers a question: "evolution also applies to pre-life chemistries", with more or less certainty and only by happenstance.

You can't test in general that concepts that answer "why" exists since you can't test them; they may be mere figment of your imagination.

"the no-first-cause and no-boundary cosmological models have the same lack of provability as religion"

Not if the theory is correct according to observations (and was falsifiable verified when accepted). Some elements of theories are generally outside our ability to verify directly. Virtual particles are one old example. One can see the consequences of their existence but never observe them directly.

"Where do the rules come from?"

The natural view if for example the non-boundary (no-first-cause) cosmology is correct would perhaps be to say "the rules and the cosmology are really one combined theory; if one rule disappears, the cosmology doesn't work" in which case the rules also has no more cause than the cosmology.

This is one of the questions I don't think one can test, so it's probably not meaningful. One can ask the question but there is no answer. So why ask? ;-)

By Anonymous (not verified) on 18 Jan 2006 #permalink