Ron Numbers interview and article

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In case anyone is interested, there is an interview and article with and about Ron Numbers, historian of science and author of The Creationists, available at the U of Wisconsin. He offers a fairly standard perspective on the creationism wars, one that is commonly expressed here…but I have to confess, I disliked it intensely, and think it represents much that is wrong in the usual conciliatory approach too many people favor.

(Yes! That is an invitation to argue!)

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Lenny Flank and PZ Myers, both atheists, are going for each other’s jugular on Panda’s Thumb. Myers thinks Flank is harming the cause because Flank refuses to agree that theists need to be lined up and shot and Flank thinks Myers is an idi... Read More

DaveScot beat me to the punch (see previous post). Just so you don’t have to wade through the 515 (and counting) comments on the Ron Numbers thread (if you must consult it, go here), here are some highlights. It is heavily edited, of course, but ... Read More

Icons of Evolution from Uncommon Descent on June 27, 2006 8:29 PM

Icons of Evolution ... Read More

Scientific American Best Flame Award 2006 ... Read More

I have to join in on the fun that UD and TT are having, except I like to follow the star of our little drama. Posted by PZ Myers on June 24, 2006 04:35 PM (e) Here’s what will blow your mind: I’d rather have open-minded, rational Christians on my s... Read More

Orr Attacks Dawkins from Evolution News & Views on January 2, 2007 7:22 PM

A number of scientists, most notably Richard Dawkins, are presently engaging on what is being called a "crusade against religion, not just intelligent design." Richard Gallagher, editor of The Scientist calls it "thought-provoking and worthwhile." But ... Read More

763 Comments

You know, PZ, I have a great deal of respect for your work defending evolution (and cephalopods in particular), but I don’t think you understand what religion is. “Faith” does not mean the intellectual acceptance of some set of postulates about the universe. Faith is much more like a perspective, or a wager, than it is like intellectual knowledge.

And, yes, when you make sweeping pronouncements about faiths that you don’t really understand, you come across as arrogant. Is that any surprise? Look, I realized years ago that, without studying someone else’s faith– someone else’s perspective– very carefully and closely, I almost certainly wasn’t going to understand it well enough to critique it.

You’re at a university– go take some basic classes at the religion department. Spend some time listening to people with different views. If you don’t take the time to educate yourself about the nature of religion (and how it’s very different than science!), why should I take you seriously when you make pronouncements on the subject, any more than I should take creationists seriously when they make pronouncements about a science that they don’t bother to understand?

I’d like to remind you that very, VERY few people agree with you– even many self-described atheists concur that there is room for more than their own point of view in this world. Are all those people stupid, or do you need to broaden your views a little?

I’m not particularly interested in a religion-vs.-atheism flame war, so I’ll let that be my final word on the subject. ‘Sides, Lenny’s going to show up any minute to shrug at everybody.

Lenny is part of the problem.

I think you should read more carefully what I wrote. In particular, that bit where I mention that accusing scientists of arrogance is absurd, when we’ve got plenty of theists spreading arrogance far and wide. I should have mentioned condescension, too – do you think I know nothing about religion? I was brought up in one, I live in a highly religious culture, I get religion chucked at me every single day. I’ve read religious books with far more critical thought than I see from most of the people who demand automatic respect for religion. I see religion day after day, I see people practicing their religion regularly, I get to share my mornings at the coffee shop with the men’s bible study group that meets there…and everyone tells me that none of that is religion.

It gets annoying. Religion, apparently, is some ineffable ideal that floats in a space of perfect perfection, unsmeared by grubby human hands, and no, no one gets to criticize it. It’s too pure. And if you do criticize it, you don’t know anything about it, because if you did, you wouldn’t complain.

And, yes, when you make sweeping pronouncements about faiths that you don’t really understand, you come across as arrogant. Is that any surprise? Look, I realized years ago that, without studying someone else’s faith— someone else’s perspective— very carefully and closely, I almost certainly wasn’t going to understand it well enough to critique it.

I think the basic argument is that: a) Faith, however defined, is a demonstrably bad way of figuring out how the world works. Science, which bothers to use double-blind tests, is far more effective. b) Faith is completely unnecessary as far as morality, integrity and Mom’s apple pie are concerned. c) So what’s the damn point?

For this argument to be valid doesn’t require exhaustive research of every sect of every denomination of every religion on the planet. By their fruits shall ye know them.

Whether you accept the argument is of course a matter of personal choice. I personally can’t see any flaws in it.

Look, I realized years ago that, without studying someone else’s faith— someone else’s perspective— very carefully and closely, I almost certainly wasn’t going to understand it well enough to critique it.

I was brought up in the world’s largest religion. I received intensive instruction in it for 15 years, and received consistent outstanding grades in religion class (it wasn’t ‘Catholicism class’: there was one religion, and a huge number of errors). I attended weekly reinforcement sessions, plus ‘Holy Days of Obligation’, biweekly confession, benedictions, etc.. I was, indeed, an altar boy. Do I get to say the entire enterprise is bogus, that the emperor has no clothes, that it’s not just a useless but a noxious world view, and that it wasted a great deal of my time and my emotional energy in my youth, or must I be dismissed as not understanding it, too?

What are the postulates of ‘religion’? What is its nature? B. Spitzer clearly implies there is some commonality to all ‘faith’. Let’s have a clear, unequivocal statement of that commonality. If there is an immaterial, let’s hear how that immaterial interacts with the material world as we know it.

Time for yet another pointless religious war again, huh.

How, again, does that help us . … . ?

Lenny is part of the problem.

I guess that’s why the ID fundies love me so much, eh?

(sigh)

Well, PZ, maybe you can hunt me down and drag me before the Inquisition, or whatever the evangelical atheist version of the Inquisition is.

(shrug)

Once again, I will point out the crushingly obvious:

About half of the US population accepts evolution.

About half doesn’t.

The US population is, at the very most, 15% atheist.

That means that a little over two-thirds of the people who accept evolution and reject ID/creationism, are theists.

And since *nobody* is going to win a political fight with just 15% of the population, then — now pay close attention here —- then you will not win anything WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF THOSE TWO-THIRDS OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ON YOUR SIDE THAT ARE THEISTS.

If you want to beat the ID/fundies, you need the help of those non-ID theists.

Like it or not.

So, shooting people that (1) are on your side and (2) whose support you need, is … well … kind of stupid.

In fact, it’s REALLY REALLY stupid.

Which part of that do you find difficult to understand?

So the point is, atheists don’t get to argue about the irrationality of theism because, if we do, theists will get mad and, in retaliation, vote to eviscerate the teaching of science?

Things are worse than I thought.

The part where you dismiss a substantial part of the community that are already on your side in favor of people who have made up their mind to oppose you, and where you routinely dismiss the scientific evidence as irrelevant to our cause.

I know, don’t even try comprehend it. You can’t.

Like it or not, you need them. Your 15% of the US won’t do dick.

Get used to it.

Rev Dr Lenny Flank:

“So, shooting people that (1) are on your side and (2) whose support you need, is … well … kind of stupid.

In fact, it’s REALLY REALLY stupid.

Which part of that do you find difficult to understand?”

My childhood experience nearly echoes that of Mr. Harbison. However, there was a very specific moment when I had to choose between accepting the implications of Big Bang Cosmology and Evolution or maintaining some type of cognitive dissonance that would allow me to hang on to my faith.

When Galileo was placed under house arrest for his “heresy,” what was the percentage of the population that believed the earth was the center of the universe? No disrespect intended, Mr. Flank, as I have read your blog and appreciate your insights, but the truth is that the truth doesn’t “need” anything other than being true. How many people believe something is ultimately immaterial, as the truth, no matter how ugly or ill-equipped we are for it, will ultimately come to light.

The ideas of Jesus/Allah/Jehovah/Brahma/The Great Pumpkin are simply incompatible with the reality that nature is unmerciful in the way that species both come to exist and continue to survive, and the sooner we accept that the better. God cannot be omnibenevolent and evolution also be true. Those scientist who believe such have achieved the cognitive dissonance I describe - a willingness to ignore the implications of 3.5 B years of evolution for the sake of a religion they are unwilling or unable to abandon. With or without their help, the truth will ultimately come about, and watering down the message so as not to offend a population that, by a majority, believes in John Edwards, UFOs, faith-fealing and divine direction of our evolutionary history is nothing short of selling out.

I think Lenny is underestimating theistic evolutionists. Few of them are unaware that there are bad ol’ atheists out there who not only don’t share their deepest beliefs, but actually think less of them for holding those beliefs – just as atheists are aware that theists largely pity us, and the nicer ones say prayers for us. You don’t get to 50% of the population without joining hands with a lot of people you wouldn’t want to spend more than 5 minutes of your time with. Theistic evolutionists are evolutionists because they understand the scientific evidence, not because atheists have refrained from being rude to them.

One should have more confidence in the science.

Uml, let me remind the apparently-not-very-bright, before they get their anti-theist panties all in a knot, that I do not assert or accept the existence of any gods, goddesses, or supernatural entities of any sort whatsoever, in any form. They are all, without exception, human-made. I hope I won’t need to repeat that, yet again.

I do understand, however, that for the evangelical atheists, this simply isn’t good enough —- I should also be declaring “religion is stupid and nobody should think otherwise !!!!!!!’ at the top of my lungs to all and sundry.

Alas, I guess I’ll just have to live with my heresy.

Sorry.

I guess I just don’t make a very good fundie.

I’ve said all I want to say. If all the evangelical atheists now want to wave their dick in my direction, I’ll be looking elsewhere, sorry.

So Norm, PZ, Popper – go ahead and knock yourselves out. Give us your best sermons.

(yawn)

Yes, Lenny, I know. That 15% includes the majority of scientists in the country. Your idea of how to win a science argument is to strangle all the godless scientists to curry favor with their critics, and then strip out any of that discouraging discussion of the evidence from any remaining debate. Pointing out that the earth is actually 4.5 billion years old is needlessly abrasive, and might alienate some fence-sitting Christian who would readily jump to our side if only we’d downplay those damnable facts.

You need us, Lenny. There’d be no evolution-creation debate at all if dogma hadn’t been perturbed by freethinking radicals…like, you know, Darwin.

how to win a science argument

PZ, the “science argument” ended over a century ago.

This is a POLITICAL argument.

The constant compromise of priniciple in favor of political expediency is part of what’s responsible for the slow collapse of our society.

Ignoring the truth so that they can say whatever will garner them the most power is a characteristic strategy of the people we’re opposing. What good will it do to become them in order to defeat them?

That 15% includes the majority of scientists in the country

That’s nice. Have them vote for anti-ID candidates, all by themselves, and see where it gets you, PZ.

Lenny Wrote:

I should also be declaring “religion is stupid and nobody should think otherwise !!!!!!!’ at the top of my lungs to all and sundry.

This is stock straw man stuffing. That is not the argument here. That isn’t even close to the point of the article I linked to: it’s that Numbers, like you, tends to treat people who don’t accept religious dogma as cultural pariahs. Get used to this: the godless are here, they’re growing in numbers, and they’re the people on your side, your most reliable allies. And face it, the truth is that if science overcomes the obstacles put in place by our religious society, the consequences will involve an erosion of faith and decline in religiosity. The creationists and the religious know this; they aren’t stupid, as I said in the article.

People who pretend we can promote more skeptical thinking and greater knowledge of science without making this country far more secular than it currently is are the stupid people I’m berating. Some of them, obviously, are atheists.

Gerard Harbison Wrote:

One should have more confidence in the science.

But that’s the problem. Lenny has no confidence at all in the science. His stereotypical “(yawn)” is his standard response to any discussion of the science…although sometimes he’ll be more explicit and tell us it is irrelevant.

(Trying to diffuse the rancor amongst people who are all ultimately on the same side), why is it that creationism/ID is prevalent only in countries of Anglo heritage. My wife, who is French, looks at these people as if they’re f’in crazy. In fact, it is only Australia, America and England that creationism/ID even exists. Does that mean the rest of the world moves on in their research with Yanks, Wankers and criminals dragging up the rear?

it’s that Numbers, like you, tends to treat people who don’t accept religious dogma as cultural pariahs.

(sigh)

One more time, just for you, PZ:

I do not (NOT, as in N-O-T) assert or accept the existence of any god, goddesses or gods of any sort, or any supernatural entities whatsoever in any way shape or form. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not a one. At all.

In other words (now pay close attention here, PZ, and I’ll try to say this VVVVEEERRRYYY SSSLLLOOOWWWLLLLYYYY so you can keep up) I do not accept any religious dogma about gods, goddesses or supernatural entities of any sort whateoever. They are all, absolutely all, without exception, human-made.

Is that sinking in, PZ?

Will I need to repeat that YET AGAIN for you, PZ?

Sometimes I think that when you’re busy waving your dick, it cuts off all the flow of blood to your brain. (sigh)

lenny Wrote:

PZ, the “science argument” ended over a century ago.

It’s a miracle! Because the issue was resolved among scientists a century ago, we don’t have to worry about science education anymore, and everyone is born with “evolution is a fact!” encoded in their brains.

Guess what, Lenny? The battle to encourage scientific thinking in our society begins anew with every generation. It doesn’t matter what a bunch of Victorians thought, if we let the science slide now, in the 21st century.

lenny Wrote:

This is a POLITICAL argument.

Fine. Now how are you going to resolve this POLITICAL argument while ignoring the evidence and pretending it is unimportant? Does saying it’s a POLITICAL argument mean it is fact-free and we’ll just decide it by who yells the loudest? Do you have such a low opinion of the POLITICAL that you think it means competing teams of grunting Gumbies?

(Trying to diffuse the rancor amongst people who are all ultimately on the same side)

Some of which refuse to recognize that …

why is it that creationism/ID is prevalent only in countries of Anglo heritage.

Because creationism/ID is the product of Protestant Christian fundamentalism, and, for various political, economic and historical reasons, fundamentalist Protestant Christianity is almost exclusively an American phenomenon.

As Dembski has been recently crowing, the fundies here have indeed made some (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to export their fundie program to other countries (Canada, Australia, the UK) and some of the Muslim nutters aree now aping the Christian nutters (Harun Yahya). But even in those cases, the funding and inspiration all comes from Americans.

Amazing, Lenny. Now you’ve adopted quote mining! Did you notice that the very next sentence after that bit you quoted was “Some of them, obviously, are atheists”?

I know you are an atheist. I don’t have any illusions that the title “atheist” necessarily confers great intelligence on the bearer. I know a few atheist idiots.

Do you have such a low opinion of the POLITICAL that you think it means competing teams of grunting Gumbies?

Um, have you by any chance been paying any attention to American politics for the last ten years . … . … ?

I know you are an atheist.

I didn’t say that.

You were saying something about “reading for accuracy”, PZ . … ?

I don’t have any illusions that the title “atheist” necessarily confers great intelligence on the bearer. I know a few atheist idiots.

Well, PZ, I’m sorry that you don’t like me. (shrug)

Please feel entirely free to call me anything you want to. May I suggest “stupid-ass idiotic turd-eater”? Or how about “heretical atheist who’s not really a True Atheist™(c)”?

Perhaps you’ll just adopt Dembski’s book entirely, and remove all my comments to never-never-land … ?

(sigh) Apparently, not all fundies are theists.

No, you just did your condescending moron act, intentionally misreading what I wrote to pretend that I’d missed your frequent testimonials to your credentials as a genuine atheist. You don’t seem to understand that I don’t care: I neither think being an atheist privileges you as being smart and likable and on my side, nor do I think being a Christian means you are stupid and hateful and my enemy.

The incomprehension is entirely on your part.

Here’s what will blow your mind: I’d rather have open-minded, rational Christians on my side than dismissive anti-science types like yourself, who defend evolution as a political game rather than because of any appreciation of the evidence.

OK, I’m ignoring your dick-waving. (shrug)

Pick a fight with whomever you want. But I’m not playing.

You’ve made 12 comments here so far…now you declare that you “aren’t playing”? Sure.

You do seem to have a fascination with penis waving. Is your name actually Jeff Goldstein? If you’re going to continue here, could you please keep it in your pants?

And I am still ignoring PZ’s dick-waving. …

And you’re doing a very good job of ignoring it. You’ve ignored it 13 times now.

Posted by Popper’s Ghost on June 29, 2006 11:27 AM (e)

In the second comment on this thread, PZ’s opening sentence is “Lenny is part of the problem”.

I find it interesting that so many people focus on that second comment, ignoring the first comment that is right there at the top of this page. I’ve gone back and read it several times; I wonder if I’m unique in that regard.

Look. I had not ignored the first comment. In answering you the first comment had very little relation. PZ attacked Lenny in the opening address, then again in his (PZ’s) 1st comment.

No you are not unique. I have also read the opening salvos several times.

@Stephen Elliot

Dawkins’s latest work “The Ancestor’s Tale” is a good investment. I thoroughly recommend it as an antidote to the nonsense on this thread.

@ PZ

I hope you have learned from this. I admire your posts on evo-devo immensely.

Most Americans just love being the ones that are right fighting those that are wrong. Once they have chosen sides, they only get more stupid from then onwards.

Guess who else is criticizing R. Numbers: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/0[…]ers_a_2.html

Lyin’ Luskin (this guy gets more loathesome with every passing month):

And the ID explanation can also yield fruitful insights into biology. Pro-ID biologist Jonathan Wells has suggested in a peer-reviewed ID journal that intelligent design can help us to understand function of Junk-DNA

A peer-reviewed ID journal? That’s hilarious.

The article by Numbers and his co-authors nicely encapsulates the Darwinist metanarrative about ID. A close analysis exposes that this metanarrative–though widely promulgated–is factually bankrupt.

The Darwinist metanarrative? Oy, my stomach feels yucky.

It’s too bad Luskin has squandered the microdrop of credibility he had when he graduated from Jesus Moron High School on “intelligent design” promotion. Karl Rove could use Luskin, I’m sure. For something or the other.

But then, doing good, in any sense, isn’t the end-all and be-all of life.

For us atheists, yes. We don’t think we’re here to serve some higher purpose. But for some religious people — No! And that is one aspect of religion — sometimes the higher purpose is serving others.

I know and have known plenty of religiously motivated good-doers, and doing good was not the end-all and be-all of their lives either; their attitude is better captured by (secularist, but that’s not important here) Emma Goldman’s comment, “if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. I don’t see much difference in practice between the religiously motivated good-doers and secular good-doers who often seem compelled by equally strong psychological forces.

I find that, generally, those who are the most earnest about end-alls and be-alls are not activists but judgmental screechers and stone throwers. Or, like Mother Theresa, they are more intent on being seen as doing good than actually doing it (see Christopher Hitchens’ book “The Missionary Position”).

Karl Rove could use Luskin, I’m sure.

I wonder if Casey Luskin is related to Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin.

Registered User wrote:

Lyin’ Luskin (this guy gets more loathsome with every passing month)

Be that as it may, (I think Luskin was born loathsome and is not actually getting worse).

It certainly puts R. Numbers in a better light, doesn’t it? It restores some perspective on him. Avoiding the issue of most scientists being more or less godless is pretty minor compared to the realities Luskin is avoiding and Numbers isn’t entirely wrong in his statement that “creationists do not self-perceive themselves as being anti-science,” he just didn’t emphasize enough that it was an erroneous self-perception based on the creationist’s ignorance of science. The IDiots and creationists just don’t understand how anti-science they actually are.

Popper’s Ghost wrote:

… Emma Goldman’s comment, “if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. I don’t see much difference in practice between the religiously motivated good-doers and secular good-doers who often seem compelled by equally strong psychological forces.

Hey, I’m with Emma Goldman, if I can’t dance (and read novels and watch movies) forget it. And if there are others who want to serve others – good for them, gives me more time to dance. I don’t know what you’ve seen, but the psychological forces in my life don’t have me running off to Africa or do much else besides dancing.

I find that, generally, those who are the most earnest about end-alls and be-alls are not activists but judgmental screechers and stone throwers.

But wasn’t Jesus one of the screechers in the end? He may not have thrown any stones but that whole dyin-fer-yer-sins bit kind of splashed a huge, stinking pile of unnecessary guilt all over the world.

Lurker,

It’s a shame you don’t want to continue what could become an interesting discussion.

Feel free to contact me by email to continue it if you wish.

Let me know if you’re interested.

Louis

I don’t know what you’ve seen, but the psychological forces in my life don’t have me running off to Africa or do much else besides dancing.

I’ve seen Peace Corps members, and revolutionaries (the latter mostly went to places like South and Central America and, before that, Spain to get shot at). I was talking about secular compulsive good-doers, counterparts to folks like the Catholic Workers and Maryknolls. That apparently doesn’t include you (it certainly doesn’t include me).

But wasn’t Jesus one of the screechers in the end?

As I’m not convinced that any such person ever existed, I can’t answer that. But certainly the mythical legend of Jesus is the fodder upon which the screechers feed. Remember, I questioned whether religion, as opposed to religious people, has ever done any good.

He may not have thrown any stones but that whole dyin-fer-yer-sins bit kind of splashed a huge, stinking pile of unnecessary guilt all over the world.

Quite so. It predated the Jesus legend, being present in the mythology of Mythra and Horus, but the Xtian version is a particularly nasty brew.

particularly nasty = tickle your @$$ when the projection is turned upside down as those of the opposite (or apostate) view see things.

I think you should read more carefully what I wrote. In particular, that bit where I mention that accusing scientists of arrogance is absurd, when we’ve got plenty of theists spreading arrogance far and wide. I should have mentioned condescension, too — do you think I know nothing about religion? I was brought up in one, I live in a highly religious culture, I get religion chucked at me every single day. I’ve read religious books with far more critical thought than I see from most of the people who demand automatic respect for religion. I see religion day after day, I see people practicing their religion regularly, I get to share my mornings at the coffee shop with the men’s bible study group that meets there…and everyone tells me that none of that is religion.

It gets annoying. Religion, apparently, is some ineffable ideal that floats in a space of perfect perfection, unsmeared by grubby human hands, and no, no one gets to criticize it. It’s too pure. And if you do criticize it, you don’t know anything about it, because if you did, you wouldn’t complain.

Undoubtably, it gets annoying. But PZ, honestly, you really need to go out into the wilderness and spend a day on a hallucinogenic substance- LSD, Psylocobin or mescalline. Ask yourself where the heck you got off. Hold up a mirror and laugh. For quite a while. We are all wierd and we are all muddling through with relatively pitiful information at our disposal. Even you.

I’m sure you’ve forgotten more than I’ll ever learn (there is a point to that) but honestly, what does it get you?

I get the feeling you have a hard time taking criticism. Quality of being is a hard thing to judge and maybe there is less call for putting so much stock in fact that you miss the bull on allegory. Or whimsy. Or lightheartedness.

It is not absurd, accusing scientist of arrogance. I was once a scientist and many I’ve known are actually arrogant and foolish and ignorant of many other things simultaniously. Is it a shock that humans of more than one point of view might share the trait of arrogance?

I would guess that you know more than nothing about religion, but I would also guess that there isn’t much merit to intellectually understanding an emotional issue. And it all boils down to emotions. We don’t do Jack for a “rational”reason. We do it to make money, to feel good, to get laid, to be safe, to eat good food or to increase our own perception of our own social standing maybe.

Making fun is certainly fun but you will find yourself accused of arrogance if you cant laugh at yourself for your viccissitudes and inconsistencies.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on June 24, 2006 1:36 PM.

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