Edward Wilson is doomed

Wilson wrote a nice book, The Creation(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), in which he argued that Christians should be leaders in good stewardship of the earth. Now some religious leaders have spoken out against such activities.

The Catholic church is babbling about an antichrist.

An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year's Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is "a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist".

After all, as we all know, when Christ returns he will be an isolationist industrialist who will rip through our natural resources to build up an awesome war machine. It says so in the Bible.

It's not just the Catholics—Jerry Falwell is all worked up about Al Gore and global warming.

Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who has worked for decades to involve conservative Christians in politics, said Sunday the debate over global warming is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the gospel.

Good ol' Jerry, at least you can trust him to back up his assertions with evidence. Irrefutable evidence:

Falwell cited two Bible verses that he said apply to the global-warming debate: Psalm 24:1-2, which declares "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," and Genesis 8:22, which says there will be seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter for "as long as the earth remains."

Uh, what?

That's pretty much meaningless. Minnesota has seasons; Israel has seasons; I think, though, that most people would agree that there are substantial differences between the two. Even during the ice ages there were seasons. Global warming will not end seasonal differences in temperature and precipitation.

This is a problem. Trying to argue idiots who believe in magic, all-powerful words in one book into following a path of enlightened self-interest is difficult — it would probably be easier to first destroy the source of the foolishness, that book and the church organization.

More like this

He says global warming is "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" towards environmentalism. He also says the "jury is still out" on the subject. Personally, I think Falwell should have stuck with bashing Teletubbies, blaming gays and feminists for 9/11, and saying that the…
Straight talk express? McCain with Jerry Falwell. Last week, I noted McCain's not-so-subtle attempt in a new Web advertisement to draw comparisons between Obama and the anti-Christ with the ad using imagery taken directly from the immensely popular Left Behind series of books. Now Time magazine…
Jerry Fallwell. Can anyone compare to his particular brand of idiocy? He more than anyone else is the reason I blog. From the AP Falwell says global warming is "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" from evangelism to environmentalism. Falwell told his Baptist congregation in…
Pity the poor rationalist, who won't have Jerry Falwell to kick around any more. Gone is one of the leading opponents of reasoned debate, a man who seemed to devote every waking hour to turning the clock back on the Enlightenment. I have no idea how good a family man he was, but his public persona…

What in the world does it take for these outspoken blowhards to earn the obscurity they so richly deserve? I've basically given up trying to fathom why anyone still takes them seriously. I've just resigned myself to the unfortunate situation.

PZ, I thought is was pretty funny when the article gave the cardinal's former position.

"Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, who retired as Archbishop of Bologna three years ago..."

He must have been promoted to Bologna King.

By Dave Puskala (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

The money quote:

"Falwell speaks with the certitude of a no-nothing buffoon," said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics." His flat-earth theology is wrong. His misuse of the Bible for reactionary politics is wrong. His dichotomy between evangelism and environmentalism is wrong. His demonization of thoughtful pro-environment Christians is wrong."

Internecine warfare. Brother against brother. They use the Bible to justify their beliefs, but no one agrees on what the Bible really says. Is it any wonder that atheists get confused when they tell us that the Bible is the unerring Word?

I do like the "buffoon" part, though.

Liberals are not allowed to get mad at these people and be uncivil, so I'm on my best behavior and I'm not going to explode in anger this morning. Howie Kurtz might be tuning in and I wouldn't want to cause him to faint. Let's let the the other side take them to task for a change....

....

....

Wait... is that the sound of crickets chirping?....

....

Nothing? Hello?

....

....

Polite criticism from the right? Civilized opposition from a few fundies? Any takers?

....

....

....

Anybody?

....

....

[chirpchirpchirpchirpchirpchirp]

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for "absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty". If "relative values" such as "solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature" became absolute, they would encourage "idolatry" and "put obstacles in the way of salvation".

Love of peace? Err, let's quote-mine Mr. J. Christ:

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

(from The Catholic Encyclopaedia)

One of the problems I have with PZ's militancy is that there are Christians who are genuinely good people, and who follow the teachings in The Sermon on the Mount. I'm uneasy about criticising all religion, when it evidently can and does do a lot of good, and I feel we should be careful about loosing that.

But then I read this Catholic pillock.

Bob

Let me fix one of those quotes:

Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who has worked for decades to involve conservative Christians in politics ... is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the gospel.

Or, more succinctly:

Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell ... is a tool.

By Tukla in Iowa (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Bob O'H:

I thought it was, "Blessed are the cheese-makers"!

And as for the seasons thing. . . .

I had heard it suggested one time that the seasons in the temperate
zone should be six rather than four in number: summer, autumn, locking, winter, unlocking, and spring. And I remembered that as I straightened up beside our manhole, and stared and listened and sniffed.

There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight.

It was winter, now and forever.

(Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle)

Love of peace is a "realtive value"? Respect for nature (supposedly God's gift) a "realtive value"?

Ya, Mr. Biffi is "eccentric" alright.

By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Presumably by now E. O. Wilson is used to being reviled for his views. He may consider it a nice change of pace to be reviled by right-wingers for his views rather than being accused of being some kind of Nazi by people with whom he actually largely agreed politically.

According to someone I know who lives in Singapore, they have no seasons there at all. Or maybe that's one season. I am not sure what is the difference between one season and no seasons ...

Bob O'H:

I know where you're coming from; I used to think the same myself. However, there's a larger issue at stake here, and that's one of "knowing." Religious belief depends on faith, not on evidence, which is (in my experience) what most ticks off me and my atheistic friends. How do we argue about evolution or global warming or *any* scientific issue with people that don't accept the scientific method as one that can reach a valid conclusion? That's why I criticize all religion.

In addition, I'd like to make a distinction similar to Dawkins' distinction about "Christian babies." I don't consider there to be "good Christian people;" I think of them as "good people who are also Christians." I think it's an important distinction to make. Individuals deserve credit (and should take responsibility) for their actions.

Most Christians, most places haven't obsessed about the Antichrist. The notion becomes salient at particular times such as the End of the Roman Empire, the Reformation, and the present day, when traditions are under strong attack. All this talk about the Antichrist says more about the current cultural situation than about Christianity as a whole. The antichrist theme is an ugly and incoherent narrative that doesn't make very much sense even on its own terms and isn't even entirely sucessful as a delusion, which is why, I guess, it has inspired so many awful movies.

Well, as it is written: "Beati nincompoopes quoniam ipse tripaverunt" -- Blessed are the nincompoops for they shall trip themselves up.

The notion becomes salient at particular times such as the End of the Roman Empire, the Reformation, and the present day

In the USA.

Outside of that... maybe among Jehovah's Witnesses, but those seem to be more afraid of Jesus himself.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Half the U.S. population thinks baby jesus will come back and fix everything, the other half thinks ufo's and aliens will do it, very depressing.

"According to someone I know who lives in Singapore, they have no seasons there at all. Or maybe that's one season."

I haven't been there, but I would guess it is probably similar to Thailand- not a large range of *temperature* difference, but there are definitely distinct seasons if measured by other factors. Thailand has "winter", "summer", and "rainy season", or as I call them, "hot", "really damn hot", and "hot and really wet".

By MJ Memphis (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

And from the "kooky Colorado Christianist" files, as seen in today's Denver Post:

Dobson rails against warning on warming
Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and other conservative Christian leaders are calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to silence or fire an official who has urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously.... Dobson... said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE's vice president for government relations, has waged "a relentless campaign" that is "dividing and demoralizing" evangelicals.

Cizik has been a leader in efforts to broaden evangelicals' political agenda beyond abortion and same-sex marriage. He argues that Christians have a biblical imperative to protect the environment.

James Dobson is a hateful, petty-minded bigot who can't see past the end of his [male genitalia]. If I had a magic wish-granting genie, I'd wish for him to get popped trolling for underage male prostitutes on Colfax Avenue. 'Cause that would be so precisely perfect.

How do we argue about evolution or global warming or *any* scientific issue with people that don't accept the scientific method as one that can reach a valid conclusion? That's why I criticize all religion.

I'm sorry, isn't that a bit arrogant to condemn the many scientists who are also religious? You're suggesting that people like Ken Miller don't understand the scientific method? How can you know this - have you given him an examination on scientific methodology? Have you reviewed the scientific work of professed Christians and shown that they don't understand what they're doing? Or are you just being intolerant of people because of the views they hold outside of science?

Bob

Then there's this bandwagon-humper, who claims that Wilson's argument is "nonsensical on its face" because no real atheist would have reason to urge people to act responsibly toward the environment. The same columnist also brought us other great ideas like "obesity isn't unhealthy" and "evolution orthodoxy is unfair" (see link), so it makes sense he's now spraying his especially noxious and scalding brand of assmud all over the religion fun and games too.

I've never had any beef with lawyers, but man, an awful lot of them make genuinely worthless journalists.

"One of the problems I have with PZ's militancy is that there are Christians who are genuinely good people, and who follow the teachings in The Sermon on the Mount."

Yeah, and since we so frequently see them rise up and shout down assholes like Dobson, Kennedy, Robertson, Falwell, and too many other cross-eyed, cross-waving shitstains inside and outside of politics to count, it's a wonder PZ doesn't give them their due. Part of being a good Christian obviously involves keeping dead quiet when the rowdies and liars in your own ranks are running roughshod over everything reasonable and making even more of a mockery of what's left of this shambling institution.

Dobson rails against warning on warming

And nobody called him SpongeDob?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Bob O'H:

I'm sorry, isn't that a bit arrogant to condemn the many scientists who are also religious? You're suggesting that people like Ken Miller don't understand the scientific method? How can you know this - have you given him an examination on scientific methodology? Have you reviewed the scientific work of professed Christians and shown that they don't understand what they're doing? Or are you just being intolerant of people because of the views they hold outside of science?

Isn't it a bit arrogant to assume that your questions are even slightly original or thought-provoking, or that we've never dealt with them before?

This illustrates yet another reason religious people piss me off: we have to explain the same damn things to each and every one of them, individually and in full, else they all assume that we're lying or hiding something or "arrogant" or just stupid.

It's not a "gotcha" question if you're the one who's behind the curve.

Let us not forget, good people, the words of Ezekiel 23:20:

"There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses."

Suddenly, it all becomes clear...

After all, as we all know, when Christ returns he will be an isolationist industrialist who will rip through our natural resources to build up an awesome war machine. It says so in the Bible.

I think you may have something there.

If not, you should.

Jesus Haploid Christ on a vilely-dirty petrol-and-polonium-fuelled giant robot! An idea whose time has come!

(I wonder if we could get some of these fundies interested in anime...)

Bob O'H: "One of the problems I have with PZ's militancy..."

Please describe this militancy. I have never read that PZ advocated any direct violent action against any religious person or group. And please don't offer up the "brass knuckles/boots" thing from the other day; that is, unless you intend on bringing it up within the context of verbal dialog, in which it was suggested (distinctly different from actual physical violence).

Be real: PZ is talking about people who continue to espouse an anti-evolution/anti-science doctrine while shrugging away the truths they claim to seek. This is not about going into a church and taking it over while tearing down religious icons. This is about protecting good and important scientific work and study, and might I add, a future for this country and its citizens where getting high-paying, economically viable jobs and technologies is a good thing for you, me, and our future children.

Poster Dan is absolutely correct in that this is not a true debate about science; it's about people asking questions they believe are ground-breaking and incisive, when in fact many of (indeed a vast majority of) those questions were answered years, decades, even a century or more ago. Don't come into a discussion on quantum mechanics - for example - claiming you don't believe it works, and then shrug and walk away when someone tries to explain it and its relevance to you (doubly so if they start scribbling on a chalkboard).

By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Quick Pharyngula poll:

Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, Joan Roughgarden, Scott Atran, Mel Konner:

On balance, are they on our side or the other side (ID)? Do they help or hurt the cause?

Collins, Roughgarden and Altran hurt. That's my take.

Ken Miller: net +, although he has a lot to answer for with the second half of his book. He's Catholic, so maybe he's been fighting creationism so hard to do penance for that abomination.

Francis Collins: -. His book is inane. His thinking is addle-pated. His lack of logic sent my respect for the guy plummeting.

Simon Conway Morris +. First rate paleontologist, but weirdly convoluted apologist for religion.

Joan Roughgarden: -. I'm not impressed with her science, and her book was more half-baked apologetics.

Scott Atran: I've only heard about his work second-hand, so I'll withhold judgment until I've read some.

Mel Konner: don't know his work at all.

if you were daft enough to believe that it would take an all powerful god several days to knock the world into shape and noted his vengeful ways towards bad folk wouldn't that be a pretty stong incentive to, you know, not trash the joint?

Their ambivalence to the environment is just one of the many things I don't understand about fundamentalist theists.

I'm not familiar enough with the works of Conway Morris, Roughgarden, Atran or Konner to judge them, but I generally agree with PZ's assessments of Miller and Collins.

"Ed Wilson is doomed"

LOL. yeah, they said the same thing after he wrote "Sociobiology".

damned, maybe (as in damned if you do...), doomed? nawww.

People refer to Scott Atran in these parts as if he were a Conway Morris type. Atran's book, In Gods We Trust, is hardly an apology for traditional religion. It's an attempt to use cognitive psychology to explain the persistant appeal of religion. Like other exercises in evolutionary psychology it can surely be contested on scientific grounds, but it beats me how anybody can mistake Atran for a defender of the faith. He doesn't argue for atheism, but he does seem to presume its truth as a matter of fact. What am I missing?

One of the problems I have with PZ's militancy is that there are Christians who are genuinely good people

Oh yeah, because he's said there aren't. NOT.

and who follow the teachings in The Sermon on the Mount. I'm uneasy about criticising all religion, when it evidently can and does do a lot of good, and I feel we should be careful about loosing that.

And why, exactly, is it necessary to believe in invisible fairies in order to practice good ethics?

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

A brief addendum to my last comment:

Today's New York Times magazine has a long article about attempts to come up with an explanation of religious belief in terms of evolutionary psychology. The first couple of paragraphs discuss Atran combination of disbelief in God and interest in the origins of religion.

On balance, are they on our side or the other side (ID)?

False dichotomy and conceptual incoherence. Are up and down, on balance, to the left or to the right?

Do they help or hurt the cause?

Which cause? Those who attack ID and defend religion are with us and against us.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Here's an interesting interview with Atran:

http://discovermagazine.com/2003/oct/featdialogue/

I'd say he's "on balance" on our side, although overly fatalistic (and elitist) about the inevitability of religion, and seems to have ignored the secularization of Europe. I'd also say that he is much much much smarter than Sam Harris in regard to Islam and terrorism.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

What little I've read of Atran led me to believe that he's a lazy thinker and a closet apologist for religion (not surprising, regardless of his personal beliefs or lack thereof, given that religion is his field of study). He seems to be at least adequate as an anthropologist, but I was distinctly unimpressed with him as an intellectual.

I haven't the inclination to argue that conclusion more pointedly at the moment.

I'm sorry, isn't that a bit arrogant to condemn the many scientists who are also religious?

No more arrogant than tossing an ad hominem at your correspondent and misrepresenting his position, Bob.

But perhaps you would like to climb up onto the high road, and explain why believing things for no reason at all is a good thing and why we shouldn't be critical of that practice.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

it beats me how anybody can mistake Atran for a defender of the faith

Because, in response to "Do you think science will ever replace religion?" he answers

Never. Because it doesn't solve any of the problems that religion solves, like death or deception. There is no society that survives more than a generation or two that isn't religiously based--even the Soviet Union, where half the people were religious. Thomas Jefferson's unitarian God fell by the wayside. The French Revolution's neutral deity also fell by the wayside. People want a personal God, for obvious reasons, to solve personal problems.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Yeah, and since we so frequently see them rise up and shout down assholes like Dobson, Kennedy, Robertson, Falwell, and too many other cross-eyed...
Well gosh, all I had to do was surf over to sojourners.com, and the top article is this one: http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2007/03/jim-wallis-dobson-a…

Wallis (whatever his other faults may be) has been saying stuff like this about the RR for decades. So enough with the "moderate Christians just sit on their asses" trope already.

By Eamon Knight (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Perhaps somebody should toe up all the "signs of the Antichrist" that Shrub and the neocons have satisfied? He's got at least two of the horsemen for sure....

By David Harmon (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Here's my plus and minus list:

Belief/non-belief. Push.

Nice people who happen to be believers. Plus.

Nice people who happen to be non-believers. Plus.

Bad people who happen to be non-believers. Minus.

Bad people who happen to be believers. Minus.

Nice people who say they believe, but don't. Minus.

Bad people who say they believe, but don't. Double-minus.

Believers who believe they are justified in hating non-believers (or vice-versa). Triple-minus.

Believers and non-believers who are committed to advancing science and education. Plus.

Believers and non-believers who work together to make the world a better place. Double-plus.

One can make the latter a triple-plus by adding regular beer drinking or some other social bond. But that's (hic) just me....

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

atran:

Never. Because it doesn't solve any of the problems that religion solves, like death or deception

I can understand he could make an argument for placating the fear of death, but deception?
could someone explain the argument behind that one to me?

Biffi and Falwell aren't the only Christians who are suicidally confident that Jesus will come back and pick them up before the world becomes irretrievably harmed. Here's John MacArthur:

The earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet -- it is going to have a very short life. It's been around six thousand years or so -- that's all -- and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.

I've told environmentalists that if they think humanity is wrecking the planet, wait until they see what Jesus does to it.

Interestingly, as quotes like Falwell's and MacArthur's show, young-earth creationists in particular seem to regard the planet as unimportant. Maybe they'd have more respect for it if they would acknowledge how long and intricate a history it really has.

I think we can we declare the E.O. Wilson "Be Nice To Fundies and Maybe They Will Help to Spread Love for the Environment" Experiment a complete failure.

Next?

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Oooh, I do seem to have stirred people up!

I think kemibe's point (@19) is a good one. I simply don't follow the religious news enough to know to what extent this is done: my guess is that some people are standing to complain, but they're not newsworthy enough.

Dan @23 decides not to answer my point, but to attack religion again. The sort of thing I'd expect from a politician.

BlueIndependent (@26) needs to check the definition of "militancy". From the OED:
militancy The condition of being militant.
so, what is "militant"? The OED again:
militant 1. Engaged in warfare, warring. 2. Combative.
I think PZ would have a hard time denying that he's combative.

truth machine (@34): I can barely parse your first sentence. You seem to be saying that PZ says that there are no good Christians. If PZ genuinely is saying that (and that would be for him to confirm), then I would simply have to disagree. And your second point totally misses my point, which is that as long as people are good, I'm not sure we should get upset if they believe in faeries, goblins or even tax inspectors.

Bob

I know the definition of "militancy"; I do not need to have it refreshed by someone who cannot parse language from physical action. PZ combative? I know not, because I've actually met him. Have you? Have you brought up your issues face to face with him?

The rhetorical context has been described for you, Bob O'H, several times. If PZ is "being combative" with facts and context that tear down the false idols religion has concocted for specific spheres of scientific research, the only thing I can offer you in reply is "too bad".

Facts don't stop being facts because religious people don't like them. Likewise, it is the duty of the protectors of those facts (the scientists) to act in the positive ways available to them to make sure the story is told correctly, not by a bunch of preachers instructing masses of people on what they perceive as something evil. If you don't like scientists defending their work, do us all a favor and start denoncing the anti-science rhetoric that has confused issues and misinformed the populace. In other words: stop being the vehicle for bearing false witness, or at the very least making apologies for it.

By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

The key question for Americans should then be: Did Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush really believe, and act on the belief, that the Second Coming was soon to commence, the Earth is a young and disposable planet, and so, what the heck, why bother protecting the ecosphere? Or do they just pretend to believe that, to get a few more votes through funamentalist right-wing Christians getting out the vote for them? Loons are one thing, loons occupying the White House are another thing.

truth machine: "Which cause?"

Exactly. If the cause is promoting evolutionary science they are all on our side (despite the specific inadequacies of some). If the cause is promoting atheism, that's a different story. Blending those two causes is a strategic mistake.

I hold Miller in high esteem; sure, I would argue with his views on the significance of anthropic fine tuning and some other things, but the guy is a Catholic after all. I guess I'm more forgiving - if not accepting - of teleology and mysticism than some.

Conway Morris' Life's Purpose is a nice resource for case studies of convergence. From the reviews I've read of Collins' and Roughgarden's books, there are some pretty sketchy ideas mixed in them. (Alfred Russel Wallace, like Collins, incorrectly believed that aspects of the human mind required a non-materialist explanation.)

Overall, all of these books might make evolution seem less threatening to religious people who are fence-sitting or unclear on evolution. I think some 'evolutionary' IDists can be nudged towards theistic evolution.

The religious may accept evolution within a theistic worldview, but few will give up theism altogether. Atran and Konner understand that. It's no coincidence that they are both anthropologists.

Atran vs. Harris and Dennett on Edge.org
http://www.edge.org/discourse/bb.html#atran2

Mel Konner's books 'The Tangled Wing' and 'Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews' are quite good.

Bob O'H:

Dan @23 decides not to answer my point, but to attack religion again. The sort of thing I'd expect from a politician.

What makes you think you're so goddamn special that you deserve to be treated differently from all the other clueless religious idiots who have come before you, asking the exact same stupid questions, copping the exact same holier-than-thou attitude, and being exactly as faux-offended that we don't all kowtow to your clearly blithering ignorance?

Please be specific.

sez PZ: "How do we argue about evolution or global warming or *any* scientific issue with people that don't accept the scientific method as one that can reach a valid conclusion?"

replies bob o'h: "I'm sorry, isn't that a bit arrogant to condemn the many scientists who are also religious? You're suggesting that people like Ken Miller don't understand the scientific method?"
Try reading for comprehension, Bobby. Perhaps if you study the phrase "people that don't accept the scientific method as one that can reach a valid conclusion", you may comprehend that Mieyerzsh was, in fact, [i]not[/i] making a sweeping, blanket pronouncement about "the many scientists who are also religious". Or then again, perhaps not...

Never. Because it doesn't solve any of the problems that religion solves, like death or deception.

Here's the thing I don't get: Why can't people understand the difference between an answer and a solution ?

Religion does not solve -- that is, provide a solution -- for anything. It just offers answers, which turn out to be insupportable, and probably wrong.

If religion solves death, why is there still death? Sure, there's the usual nonsense about life after death, but that's just a bald assertion. Anyway, what is there about death that needs to be solved?

Flipping the religion switch has the same effect on otherwise sensible people that flipping the "Need to write ten pages on Thoreau by Monday" switch has on college freshmen. It magnifies a thousand-fold their propensity to spout nonsense cloaked in fallacious rhetoric.

You know, the University of Miami football program is known for its unusually high thug factor. Throughout the years, the team has given rise to a startling number of on- and off-the-field incidents characterized by conduct ranging from unbecoming to criminal.

When sportscasters and others point this out, there's never this outcry of "But look at all of the nice people who have been on, or helped coach, that team." This is because football is not granted some special provenance wherein the supposed default condition is so overwhelmingly steeped in sweetness and light that everyone is just supposed to ignore the ugly aspects, however common they may be.

With religion it's different: It doesn't even matter to Christians that their own Bible compels power-mongering, prejudice and general disregard for motives that aren't self-serving; we're told that the Falwells and the other "extremists" aren't the people we should be focusing on, that there are plenty of good Christians, and so on.

How blind or unthinking do people have to be to make such observations? Even if it's true that Falwell and Dobsonthe rest of the fuckhead brigade are not representative of your average Christian's bearing, it doesn't excuse what they do or why they do it. When people act like assholes, we don't weigh the flagrancy of their assholism against the perceived assholism of their peer group, and more important, we don't start yammering about the supposed charatceristics of the group at large -- especially when the ones being assholes are some of the group's most visible representatives.

In short, the "It's not fair to ignore all of the good so-and-so's" tack is the height of inanity. PZ and every other religion critic ignores nice, fair-minded Christians precisely because they're not assholes -- people don't maintain blogs to point out the mundane, about religion or science or anything else. When P.Z. and others hammered an idiot fundagelical schoolteacher in Kearney, N.J., I didn't hear everyone complain that he wasn't giving good teachers their due; this is either because it's assumed that people value good teaching (why else malign the bad ones?) or because it isn't the point.

BlueIndependent - You're being over-literal: one can be combative without being physical.

OK, having checked the complete OED, here's the definitions for militant as an adjective:

1. a. Engaged in warfare, warring. Also: disposed towards war; warlike. Freq. metaphorically of the Church (see Church militant s.v. CHURCH n. 4b).
b. Sociol. In Herbert Spencer's terminology: designating a system of social organization in which efficiency in war is the primary aim.
2. Of a banner, standard, etc.: military. Obs.
3. a. Combative; aggressively persistent; strongly espousing a cause; entrenched, adamant.
b. Aggressively active in pursuing a political or social cause, and often favouring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.

I think the third definition covers PZ pretty well.

My concern about PZ's approach is because I think it's more important how people behave towards each other. As long as they're decent, rational people, I am happy to let them believe in whatever god or tax inspector they want to. What do I care? I don't believe in any gods.

What I don't like is being unkind and insulting to genuinely good people, partly for moral reasons, but also because these are the people we need on our side, and annoying them is not a good way of doing it. I can understand why PZ reacts the way he does (and it is jolly entertaining!), but to me it looks like bad politics.

Dan - the usual method in debating is that one person raises a point, and someone else argues against it. I made the point that you were condemning a large number of scientists, and I thought that was a bit much (OK, in slightly stronger language). I was hoping you would either concede my point, or defend what you had written.

Cubist - read the thread again. I wasn't replying to PZ.

kemibe - my problem is not with attacking arseholes, but that the attack is often on all religion (e.g. by advocating destroying the Bible). Wait until Bush attacks Iran, and then come over to Europe (I'm assuming you're American) and see what it's like: you'll be very unpopular just because you share your nationality with an aggressive (dare I say combative?) fool. It's not right in that case, and I don' think it's right in the case of religion either.

It doesn't even matter to Christians that their own Bible compels power-mongering, prejudice and general disregard for motives that aren't self-serving;...

I think this is where a lot of the problem is, and comes back to my original point. If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you'll see laid out a code of conduct that I think any decent people would have difficulty condemning. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians seem to ignore this bit of the Bible (including the retired cardinal). A shame, really. Wouldn't it be great if we could all just get along?

Bob
P.S. I formally declare this comment to be of Loser Length

What I don't like is being unkind and insulting to genuinely good people, partly for moral reasons, but also because these are the people we need on our side, and annoying them is not a good way of doing it. I can understand why PZ reacts the way he does (and it is jolly entertaining!), but to me it looks like bad politics.

You know, if you weren't flogging the same straw-PZ that every religious apologist, self-appointed civility expert, and pompous concern-troll ever to blow by here has, it'd be much easier to take you seriously.

I don't think you understand that most of those "genuinely good people" are never going to be on "our side," no matter how nice we are to them, and that given the choice and the opportunity (and the go-ahead from their chosen authority figure), they'd rather just get rid of us entirely than deal with the scientific issues at all.

Dan - the usual method in debating is that one person raises a point, and someone else argues against it. I made the point that you were condemning a large number of scientists, and I thought that was a bit much (OK, in slightly stronger language). I was hoping you would either concede my point, or defend what you had written.

Get off your fucking high-horse. Asking dumb questions that have been answered many times before in the very forum in which you are asking them -- to the point that they are no longer considered insightful or worthwhile by many members of that forum -- does not constitute "debate." It constitutes "overweening laziness." As such, my point is that you have no point to speak of, and that your self-congratulatory attitude is unworthy of anything but ridicule.

As I said before, it's not a "gotcha" question if you're the one who's uninformed. And no, being a pretentious git is not a substitute for doing your homework before you come to class.

Colugo,

The religious may accept evolution within a theistic worldview, but few will give up theism altogether. Atran and Konner understand that. It's no coincidence that they are both anthropologists.

I love these article-of-faith declarations from apologists for religion about what the religious will or will not do. How do you know that few of the religious will give up theism altogether? What evidence supports this claim?

Wait until Bush attacks Iran, and then come over to Europe (I'm assuming you're American) and see what it's like: you'll be very unpopular just because you share your nationality with an aggressive (dare I say combative?) fool.

Anyone who would be disturbed by that is weak-willed and lacking in self-identity.

That might be the most crucial point, actually. Because this isn't a debate about science or religion. It's a debate about tribalism and identity. The specific details of the arguments -- evolution, atheism, stem cells, abortion, Iraq -- are almost irrelevant when compared to those meta-topics.

"How do you know that few of the religious will give up theism altogether?"

In past arguments you have had with me and others about the future of religion, we were talking about long term, multi-generational trends - at least decades. Are you now making the claim that many (Most? How many?) people who are currently religious are prepared to discard theism under the right circumstances?

Colugo,

Are you now making the claim ...

No, I didn't make a claim. I asked you a question. Two, actually. Here they are again: How do you know that few of the religious will give up theism altogether? What evidence supports this claim?

Because this isn't a debate about science or religion. It's a debate about tribalism and identity.

No, I would disagree. Certainly PZ never strikes me as arguing over tribalism and identity: he does stick to the issues. Some on the other side are perhaps being tribal, but their tribe is defined by religion. Therefore, if you can show that the tenets of their religion don't make sense, or are wrong in some other way, you have a way of persuading them to leave their "tribe".

I suspect that racial/national identity is more difficult, because a race/nationality isn't defined by a single system of thought: I can happily still be British whilst despising much of what our government did in the 80s and 90s, for example. It's difficult for me to see what ideas of Britishness you could attack to make me want to give up my passport.

Bob

If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you'll see laid out a code of conduct that I think any decent people would have difficulty condemning.

I find plenty of stuff in the Sermon on the Mount to be objectionable. How about the place where Jesus condems divorce and remarriage as adultery? Or where he says that if someone sues you, you should give them not only what they're trying to take from you, but even more? And Jesus says much more objectionable stuff elsewhere in the gospels, too.

I often wonder if any of the people who twitter on endlessly about how wonderful and admirable Jesus' teachings are have ever sat down with a copy of the Bible and actually read them, all of them, instead of just mindlessly regurgitating what their pastor or someone else told them.

"which says there will be seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter for "as long as the earth remains."
That's incorrect. Unless it's talking about local geography."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_India
"Parts of India that lie in the Himalayan region see five seasons: spring, summer, monsoons, autumn and winter"

The Eastern Caribbean has but two seasons, the wet and the dry. They result from different weather patterns but from a human point of view there is not a lot of difference between them, except that we get the hurricanes during the wet season, and strong Christams winds during the dry.

Icythic,

Identifying deception as part of religion: that's an old argument in anthropology. Basically, it comes down to Austin's operational (? I think that's the term) linguistics. Ritual creates meaning that is, by definition, incapable of lie. When you accept Jesus in the proper ritual, it's by definition true because the words and the action are indistinguishable. When you say "I thee wed", it isn't a lie, because the very words actualize the event. However, I don't see the necessary connection between ritual and religion. Ritual is logically (and probably evolutionarily) anterior to religion; religion is just a rationalization of the ritual.

This makes my brain hurt.

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2000/07/20/speedlight000720.html

Scientists have finally exceeded the speed of light, causing a light pulse to travel hundreds of times faster than normal. It raced so fast the pulse exited a specially-prepared chamber before it even finished entering it.

The experiment is the first-ever evidence of faster-than-light motion.

Re: Scott Atran,

He may have done some good anthropological work on religion but, like truth machine, when I read his comment to the effect that a successful and enduring society that is not based on religion (which Atran bizarrely seems to equate with belief in a personal God) is impossible, my opinion of him plummeted. What possible justification does he have for such an extravagant claim?

I gathered from his comments that he believes that people are irrational...
and that will never change. So according to him they will always have irrational beliefs.
And that they are somehow necessary because of that.

Interestingly, as quotes like Falwell's and MacArthur's show, young-earth creationists in particular seem to regard the planet as unimportant. Maybe they'd have more respect for it if they would acknowledge how long and intricate a history it really has.

Or maybe they would be if they regarded different Bible verses as, um, fundamental. What about: "The Day of the Lord will come like a thief at night"? "Not even the Son knows, but just the Father"? (Incidentally, that makes the Rapture Index blasphemy by their own criteria.)

Scientists have finally exceeded the speed of light, causing a light pulse to travel hundreds of times faster than normal. It raced so fast the pulse exited a specially-prepared chamber before it even finished entering it.

The experiment is the first-ever evidence of faster-than-light motion.

Nope, this kind of experiment was first done in Germany years ago.

It's not really faster-than-light motion. The trick is that the photons never are between the entrance and the exit. They just disappear in one place and appear simultaneously in the other. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relation will do that for you: you can't violate Einstein's speed limit, but you can skip it.

Google "tunnel effect".

Incidentally, it has been shown that you can't transmit information faster than light this way, but I've forgotten how.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 05 Mar 2007 #permalink

I thought the extra-luminal light waves were usually due to group wave effects: when you add up waves, you can get a wave traveling faster than any of the component waves. But, they don't transmit information faster than the component waves, avoiding problems with superliminal information travel. Getting their components at the end takes just enough time to offset the extra speed.

Returning to the scene of the original 'crime':

Actually, I don't see much difference between Atran's observation and Ed Wilson's remark that humanity as a whole requires something like a 'sacred narrative.' If you think that the whole purpose of life is to discover that which is objectively true, you're going to feel disappointed by such declarations, I guess.

I'm not disappointed myself, but I do have questions. Even societies which endure for many generations evolve, and there is no society which is eternal. Given that the vast majority of cultures have religious beliefs, is there any content to the declaration that no religionless society could ever endure? The absence of clear counter-examples available at the present time might be suggestive, but it's not proof.

I personally suspect that a society without a personal God at the center of its culture *could* thrive indefinitely under the right conditions, especially if (as Wilson has suggested) it is supplanted by a poetic version of scientific materialism, the 'evolutionary epic.' Whether this would be a logical outgrowth of the Enlightenment, or a betrayal, would probably be a matter of taste....SH

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 05 Mar 2007 #permalink

However, I don't see the necessary connection between ritual and religion.

I don't either, which is one of the things that was making his contention so confusing.

Scott Hatfield,

Given that the vast majority of cultures have religious beliefs, is there any content to the declaration that no religionless society could ever endure? The absence of clear counter-examples available at the present time might be suggestive, but it's not proof.

There is no credible basis for the claim that religion is necessary for a successful or enduring society. Religion has been declining in the west for decades, during which time most western nations have become more rich, more free, more democratic and more peaceful. A number of highly successful European nations already have very low levels of religiosity, and the decline is continuing. There's no reason to believe the U.S., where religion is also in decline, cannot join them.

I personally suspect that a society without a personal God at the center of its culture *could* thrive indefinitely under the right conditions,

There are many historical examples of societies "without a personal God at the center of their cultures." There is no personal God in Buddhism, or the many other varieties of ancient non-theistic religion in Asia.

Scott,

Define personal god. If you mean a YWHW/Allah type god, there are plenty without. China has been pretty much godless for two millenia. They've replaced it with a bunch of good luck and divination rituals. In Japan, they've got so many gods, that they've been pretty much godless on the opposite end of the spectrum.

I guess a more general question is, can ritual be supported without a belief in oracular knowledge?

I find plenty of stuff in the Sermon on the Mount to be objectionable. How about the place where Jesus condems divorce and remarriage as adultery? Or where he says that if someone sues you, you should give them not only what they're trying to take from you, but even more? And Jesus says much more objectionable stuff elsewhere in the gospels, too.

Just so everyone's on the same page, here's the text of The Sermon on the Mount.
I would agree that the statements about adultery are a bit excessive: I think his underlying point about fidelity is worth following, but I wouldn't go as far as he did.

I'm curious how you can defend your objection to giving someone who sues you more than they ask for, other than from selfishness. For me, the point of that passage is about being generous towards one's fellow man, surely a Good Thing. Again, Jesus might have gone further than many of us would do, but isn't the underlying principal (principle? Bugger) one we should aspire to follow?

I really do think that The Sermon on the Mount is worth reading, and no this didn't come from my vicar: it's an opinion I've formed since becoming an atheist. The stuff about how you relate to God you can take or leave, but the stuff about how you relate to your fellow man is worth reading and thinking about: even if you disagree, finding out why is useful (spiritual development and all that).

Also, in your less charitable moments, you can compare Jesus' strictures with the behaviour of your least favourite evangelicals.

Bob

Jason, frog: As I'm sure you're aware, ancestor worship, totemism and sacrifice to local deities have quietly flourished for millenia in Japan and China. This is what the majority of people in these lands actually did and continue to do. If you pray to it, and you expect it to listen to you as something like a person, it's a personal god.

"Can ritual be supported without oracular knowlege?"

Yes.

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 06 Mar 2007 #permalink

I would agree that the statements about adultery are a bit excessive

A "bit" excessive? There are tens of millions of divorced and remarried people in the U.S. alone. According to Jesus, these people are all committing adultery.

I'm curious how you can defend your objection to giving someone who sues you more than they ask for, other than from selfishness.

Huh? If the lawsuit is without merit, why should you give them anything at all? People are constantly trying to exploit other people, and sham lawsuits are an especially popular way of trying to extract money from other people, especially in America.

For me, the point of that passage is about being generous towards one's fellow man, surely a Good Thing.

But the passage doesn't say "Be generous to your fellow man." Instead of reading what Jesus actually says, you're projecting on to him what you think he should have said.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says far worse things. I agree with Bertrand Russell's assessment of him in Why I Am Not A Christian:

I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. ... You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell." That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about Hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this World nor in the world to come." That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.

Then Christ says, "The Son of Man shall send forth his His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth"; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going to say to the goats, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." He continues, "And these shall go away into everlasting fire." Then He says again, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.

Jason - we all have to interpret what we read: we can't do anything else. I don't know how you interpret the "and take away thy coat" bit: I would imagine that would be unlikely in a case without merit, but what would I know?

The passage doesn't literally say "be generous to your fellow man", but I think that is the only sensible interpretation. It's a call to be nice to other people: be generous, kind and helpful. Read all of Matthew 5: 38-48, I think that's clearly the thrust of the argument.

Bob

Bob O,

You're projecting on to the text what you want it to say, instead of looking at what it actually says. All Christians do this, but liberal Christians seem to be the worst offenders. The idea that the Christian Bible, or even just the four gospels, can be "interpreted" to support the ethical norms of modern western secular progressive society is absurd and dishonest. Not surprisingly, the versions of Christianity that try hardest to circle this square are also the ones that are declining the fastest.

There's a difference between projection and interpretation; the former involves what we want to see or hear, whereas the latter involves real scholarship.

Just out of curiousity, if the task was interpretation, what criteria should we use to parse the seeming contradiction between accounts of hellfire on the one hand and a loving Father on the other, both of which are attributed to Jesus? It seems to me that some sort of interpretation is required, rather than the bleak recommendation that we rely upon the literal sense of the text. I expect *that* sort of thing from creationists, but here...? Color me disappointed.

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 06 Mar 2007 #permalink

Scott Hatfield,

There's a difference between projection and interpretation;

Yes, there is. The problem here is that liberal Christians project on the the text of the Bible what they want it to say (or simply ignore or dismiss it), and call that "interpretation." It's a scam.

Just out of curiousity, if the task was interpretation, what criteria should we use to parse the seeming contradiction between accounts of hellfire on the one hand and a loving Father on the other, both of which are attributed to Jesus?

I don't think the contradiction can be resolved. The doctrine of hell, as described in the Bible, including by Jesus himself in the gospels, is fundamentally incompatible with a loving God. That's why many liberal Christians reject the doctrine of hell, or play absurd logical or semantic games to try and reconcile it with a God of love.

It seems to me that some sort of interpretation is required, rather than the bleak recommendation that we rely upon the literal sense of the text.

Liberal also Christians take the text literally when it suits them to do so. It's only passages for which a literal interpretation presents problems for their beliefs that they "interpret" in some non-literal way. Of course, other options are available, but none of them are very attractive to Christians: Jesus was confused or demented, some or all of the statements attributed to Jesus are false, Jesus never existed and the whole thing is a work of fiction, etc.

Jason, I agree that believers typically take a literal reading of the text when it suits them, and don't when it doesn't (liberal or otherwise). However, this says nothing about whether textual analysis supports a literal reading, or no. There's nothing dishonest about such an anaylsis if it is not done with the idea of validating one's prior commitments.

Here's a good example of this, applied to Genesis 1:

http://homepage.mac.com/lawsonstone1/Sites/blog/Creation02.html

If you'll read it, you'll see that the 'interpretation' is not presented dogmatically, and that it uses generous helpings of linguistic analysis and cross-cultural comparisons in building its' case. Doesn't make it correct, of course, but the imputation of dishonesty seems a bit much, the sort of thing that American fundamentalists, usually the untutored sort, have been saying about mainstream theologians since the late 19th-century. And speaking of which, strict biblical literalism (inerrancy) is a recent phenomena, and largely an American one. It is not, historically, the way most Christians have viewed the text.

SH

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 06 Mar 2007 #permalink

Scott,

Doesn't make it correct, of course, but the imputation of dishonesty seems a bit much,

You just agreed that "believers typically take a literal reading of the text when it suits them, and don't when it doesn't (liberal or otherwise)." That's what's dishonest. And it's not just a matter of literal vs. non-literal interpretation, but of ignoring basic and frequently-repeated themes and ideas in the Bible. God as described in the Old Testament, for example, is a cruel, vindictive monster. That conclusion cannot be dismissed by claiming that the descriptions of historical events in the Old Testament are metaphorical or figurative rather than literal. Not surprisingly, Christians rarely bring up these Old Testament stories themselves. They'd rather just pretend they're not there. And when other people confront Christians with the monstrous nature of the Old Testament God, it is hilarious to watch the twists and turns and logical contortions and semantic games they play to try and explain away this God or in some way reconcile him with the God of love and justice they desperately want to believe in. The whole exercise is so fundamentally dishonest, so drenched in wishful thinking and cherry-picking and spin, that it's just contemptible.

For many in the pews, there's no awareness of the dishonesty of which you speak; laziness and a lack of education are at least as much involved as wishful thinking, and many of them would be startled by your rhetoric. Even fundamentalists, who give lots of lip service to inerrancy, simply ignore or downplay a lot of scripture as a matter of course and most of the people who attend churches with that orientation haven't, in my judgement, really internalized that doctrine, anyway.

Hence the cognitive dissonance when confronted by someone such as yourself, I guess. I don't doubt that you find holding their understanding of the Bible up to the mirror of fact 'hilarious'. I'd be willing to bet the outcome's pretty one-sided, too----which seems to be the way you like it. Ah, well, different strokes and all that...SH

By Scott Hatfield (not verified) on 07 Mar 2007 #permalink

The notion becomes salient at particular times such as the End of the Roman Empire, the Reformation, and the present day

In the USA.

Outside of that... maybe among Jehovah's Witnesses, but those seem to be more afraid of Jesus himself.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Dobson rails against warning on warming

And nobody called him SpongeDob?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Interestingly, as quotes like Falwell's and MacArthur's show, young-earth creationists in particular seem to regard the planet as unimportant. Maybe they'd have more respect for it if they would acknowledge how long and intricate a history it really has.

Or maybe they would be if they regarded different Bible verses as, um, fundamental. What about: "The Day of the Lord will come like a thief at night"? "Not even the Son knows, but just the Father"? (Incidentally, that makes the Rapture Index blasphemy by their own criteria.)

Scientists have finally exceeded the speed of light, causing a light pulse to travel hundreds of times faster than normal. It raced so fast the pulse exited a specially-prepared chamber before it even finished entering it.

The experiment is the first-ever evidence of faster-than-light motion.

Nope, this kind of experiment was first done in Germany years ago.

It's not really faster-than-light motion. The trick is that the photons never are between the entrance and the exit. They just disappear in one place and appear simultaneously in the other. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relation will do that for you: you can't violate Einstein's speed limit, but you can skip it.

Google "tunnel effect".

Incidentally, it has been shown that you can't transmit information faster than light this way, but I've forgotten how.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 05 Mar 2007 #permalink