Coyne on religion and evolution in Evolution

| 450 Comments

Jerry Coyne has just gotten many of his oft-repeated New Atheist talking points published in the premier journal Evolution. You can read it here (blog here). On a first skim through the article – all I can manage in the near future, I’m afraid – here are a few points which are problematic for Coyne’s position, which I would have liked to see him address:

1. Coyne claims that the Society for the Study of Evolution’s official statement on teaching evolution is completely neutral about religion and “accommodationism”, and recommends that organizations like the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE follow this example. But, in the very quote from the statement that Coyne includes, we find a prominent citation of Dobzhansky’s famous essay in the American Biology Teacher, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” This would be neither here nor there, except that Dobzhansky’s essay is a neon-decorated, flaming example of “accommodationism” if ever there was one. For example:

I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.

- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (1973)

Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. …the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.

- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (1973)

(Here’s an e-text of Dobzhansky’s 1973 essay on PBS’s website, but you can find the PDF with original formatting via Google Scholar.)

2. Coyne makes much of the relative un-religiousness of the members of august bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences. Ironically, though, he later gives no weight to the “accommodationist” statement put out by that same august body, and he thinks they should change the statement; unfortunately, no survey data seems to exist on whether or not NAS members think scientists should be actively hostile to religion or tolerant of it. But, if we’re going to start weighing the authority of various Great Minds on questions such as atheism and “accommodationism”, why don’t we start with the greatest of all? What did good ol’ Charles Darwin think about these topics? Well, (a) he was an agnostic, not an atheist, and (b) on evolution and religion, he said things like:

I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.’

(Origin, 2nd edition, 1860, link)

I shd. prefer the Part or Volume not to be dedicated to me (though I thank you for the intended honour) as this implies to a certain extent my approval of the general publication, about which I know nothing.– Moreover though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.

Letter to Aveling, Oct. 13th 1880

It looks like Dobzhansky and Darwin were just the sort of “accommodationists” that Coyne et al. have been campaigning against. Please let me know when they start getting pasted with the “fatheist” label. I’m not saying that there is no imaginable reply to this point, just that (a) it is difficult to portray the “accommodationist” position as an unserious position by unserious people, which is often done by the gnus, and (b) there are many actual arguments for the position that the connection between science and atheism is less than tight, both as a matter of logic and emotion.

3. Darwin’s point about Leibnitz guts a great many of Coyne’s arguments that science is necessarily opposed to religion, since Coyne’s logical arguments mostly rely on the premise that religious people aren’t allowed to endorse natural explanations as a method of God’s action. But pretty much no religious person ever has ever taken this position.

4. For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists as a term of abuse. It contains the implicit claim that those insufficiently hostile to religion to satisfy the New Atheists are actively accommodating science to religion. The only time I’ve seen the word in a pre-2006 publication, it was being used to refer to religious believers who accommodate their religious beliefs to science, which is an entirely different, presumably good, thing.

There is a lot more that could be said, but I am most interested in peoples’ comments on the following: Is it good for the professional field of evolutionary biology for arguments about this kind of thing to be aired in the field’s top science journals? I recall a historian once writing that the journal Evolution was set up specifically to help make evolutionary biology into a serious professional science, and disabuse the world of the notion that evolution was more a topic of metaphysical and political discussions than pure rigorous science. Although in general, I actually think it is interesting to “mix it up” like this, it is also true that it would be worrisome if the kinds of metaphysical and political positions Coyne is pushing became common in scientific journals. So I could be convinced either way.

450 Comments

Just for my information, does the accomodationist position include getting into bed with the Templeton Foundation, whose president has just been outed as making a very substantial monetary donation to the gay bashing National Organization for Marriage?

http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2012/04[…]n_is_com.php

For the record, I hate the word “accomodationist” …

I hate it when it is spelled with one m.

Personally, I don’t think that discussions of religion have any place in scientific journals. There are plenty of places more appropriate for such discussions.

That having been said, the Dobzhansky essay was an important contribution to the field. It is important to notice that it was published in a journal devoted to teaching biology and issues related to teaching, rather than a more traditional technical journal.

Nick: You make some very important points. I agree with your approach!

DS: I agree that discussions of religion have no place in regular science journals, except perhaps in science education journals where the subject may be relevant to teaching when students try to inject religiion into places it clearly does not belong.

I have no problems with Coyne and others posting their stands on blogs - that is their right.

Matt Young said:

For the record, I hate the word “accomodationist” …

I hate it when it is spelled with one m.

Ah yes. I actually googled it and they didn’t suggest an alternative, so I went with 1 m in the heat of the moment. But Google-Fight says you win, 10,000 to 2,000, so I’ll edit…

http://www.googlefight.com/index.ph[…]mmodationist

Evolution is perceived as being hostile to fundagelical religion because it says humans were not created but evolved; therefore there was no Adam and Eve; therefore there is no such thing as Original Sin; therefore Jesus died for a mythical falsehood. Because of this, fundagelicals are hostile to evolution and all other sciences that disprove Adam and Eve and Noah’s Flood and other parts of their mythos. (Evolution is just the start - they’ll take out the rest of biology and geology and anything else next.)

IMHO accommodationism is suicidally wrong for “evolutionists” and any other science protagonists, because the enemy wants our utter destruction - the silence of the grave. Ask Neville Chamberlain how accomodationism worked out after 1938.

Personally, I don’t think that discussions of religion have any place in scientific journals. There are plenty of places more appropriate for such discussions.

Does the opinion of the editors of the journal in question have any relevance?

Nick: http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/05[…]alencies.php

If the link is a reply SLC, it does not address his question.

But Google-Fight says you win, 10,000 to 2,000, …

Um, you might try a dictionary – I could not find any that spelled it with 1 m, even as a “variant” spelling. Lexicographers say I “win,” 6-0.

Why should the relationship between science and religion not be discussed in a scientific journal? Religion is too important to be left to the clergy.

here are a few points which are problematic for Coyne’s position

Aside from the few points, do you disagree with the main thrust of the article? That is, that the main impediment, indeed, virtually the sole impediment to the acceptance of evolution by Americans is religion. I understand you don’t like his methods, but do you agree with the premise? Or do you think there is another reason that over half the country wants creationism taught in public high school science classes?

A little off target, sorry, but I just read that the Coppedge trial had final arguments and is awaiting the court’s verdict:

http://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress[…]al-its-over/

Speaking of “oft-repeated… talking points”: Accommodationists never tire of pointing out that since a very large majority of the US population is religious, Gnu Atheists’ insistence on criticizing religion cannot help but cause USAns to reject evolution. This argument is not obviously wrong on its face – but it is an argument which is susceptible to being supported or refuted by evidence. In particular: Gnu Atheism is a comparatively recent phenomenon, certainly not dating back more than a couple of decades, if even that long ago. Therefore, if Gnu Atheism’s insistence on criticizing religious really is driving people into the Creationists’ waiting arms, then the percentage of USAns who reject evolution should logically have increased significantly in recent years. More generally, there should be a discernable inverse correlation between (a) the percentage of evolution-rejectors, on the one hand, and (b) indicators of Gnu Atheist activity (i.e., sales of Richard Dawkins’ Gnu Atheist books, and so on). Is this what we actually do observe?

Coyne makes statements like this:

American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the U.S., which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and implications of evolution.

Really, we’re “much” more religious than Ireland, and Spain? Maybe they’re not “as advanced” as the US, but they’re certainly quite within the technological and economic spheres of the “first world,” and more importantly, they accept evolution rather better than does the US.

No, I’m afraid that this “analysis” is altogether simplistic and wrong. Of course America’s opposition to evolution is almost entirely religious in nature (a few cranks latch on for their own purposes–big deal), but religion per se is not obviously the problem.

Why Coyne persists in such shallow nonsense I have no idea. He can rightly identify US religion as the problem for biological sciences in the US, yet he insists on writing as if the US problems were universally the same, and they simply are not.

More honest analysis, less BS, Coyne.

Glen Davidson

Once a group of students from a rather good alternative private school here came to visit my lab, and I gave them a talk about what I do. They were not into creationism at all. But one of them asked me whether there was any conflict of my work with religion. I knew that in some sense I was supposed to say that there is no conflict between science and religion. When people make statements like that, they really mean no conflict between science and those religions that they respect.

What I said instead was that if your religion insists that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, then yes, you’ve got a big conflict there.

But I also remember that when I was a kid in the 1950s in Philadelphia, I would occasionally get into arguments with other kids about God. Most of these kids were Catholics. They would get very insistent that God made the world. But evolution never came up. It simply wasn’t on their radar screen as something to object to.

I have also not had any arguments about evolution with Quakers, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Reform or Conservative Jews, or Buddhists. It does very much depend on what variety of religion one is talking about.

Here in the UK, large majorities of self described christians accept the evidence for evolution or appear neutral on the subject.

Coyne’s suggested approach of kicking them in the shins and strongly implying that to accept the science they must give up their faith is in fact the very recruitment technique used by the creationists themselves over here.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Coyne makes statements like this:

American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the U.S., which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and implications of evolution.

Really, we’re “much” more religious than Ireland, and Spain? Maybe they’re not “as advanced” as the US, but they’re certainly quite within the technological and economic spheres of the “first world,” and more importantly, they accept evolution rather better than does the US.

No, I’m afraid that this “analysis” is altogether simplistic and wrong. Of course America’s opposition to evolution is almost entirely religious in nature (a few cranks latch on for their own purposes–big deal), but religion per se is not obviously the problem.

Why Coyne persists in such shallow nonsense I have no idea. He can rightly identify US religion as the problem for biological sciences in the US, yet he insists on writing as if the US problems were universally the same, and they simply are not.

More honest analysis, less BS, Coyne.

Glen Davidson

As to the comparison of Spain and Ireland to the USA, I think there’s a problem. In the first place, the figures - I think the one from Wikipedia are accurate enough - show that although Ireland (Republic) has a fairly high proportion of religious believers at about 75%, Spain’s is only 59%; and neither of them compare really, to the USA’s 90-95% religious believers. (Some uncertainty is caused by a perceived reluctance among US atheists, agnostics and the irreligious to self-identify, because of the social pressures and stigma attached, which hardly exist in Europe now.)

In the second place, the real religiously-motivated opponents of evolution and science largely don’t come from the Roman Catholic or Episcopalian traditions. No, they are almost always from the scriptura solus Protestant churches - usually independents with a very strong dash of Calvinism, millenarianism, ecstatic worship and anti-intellectualism. This tradition faded in Europe after the eighteenth century, losing most of its piss and ginger. It’s still around, in holes and corners, but it really hasn’t got power, numbers or influence in Europe now, as it has in the USA. Accordingly, it’s the US that has trouble with religiously-motivated opposition to evolution and science in general.

Aside from the few points, do you disagree with the main thrust of the article? That is, that the main impediment, indeed, virtually the sole impediment to the acceptance of evolution by Americans is religion. I understand you don’t like his methods, but do you agree with the premise?

No, of course not. The cause of creationism isn’t religion-in-general, it’s fundamentalism. And many religious people are allies in the fight against fundamentalism and creationism. But Coyne et al. want to “kick them in the shins”, as someone just said, and furthermore they unfairly scapegoat pro-science religious people with the sins of the fundamentalists, make incredibly strained arguments which amount to saying that any belief in God equals creationism, and which fail to make any number of distinctions which are highly significant in society and history and politics between pro-evolution and anti-evolution religious belief. The hatred of religion and the overwhelming agenda to bash it at all costs leads to these scholarly mistakes. And once you’ve lost rigorous scholarship, you’ve lost the very credibility on which you were telling everyone else what to believe in the first place.

Re: 1 vs. 2 m’s – the OED notes the variability, although 1 m is “now nonstandard”:

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/1134?[…]modation#eid

Forms: 15– accommodation, 16 accomadation, 16 accommadatione (Sc.), 16 acomadosion, 16 acomidasyon, 16– accomodation (now nonstandard), 17 accomidation. (Show Less) Etymology: Partly < Middle French, French accommodation, †accomodation…

I really think this whole argument is perhaps a high-strung, late-stage capitalism deal – to get this worked up you need a culture where untrammelled self-expression and relentless positive striving towards that goal are massively valued over emotional continence and mature, quiescent stoicism. Which is why it’s so big in the US, where that disparity appears to be particularly large.

I’m as committed to the triumph of reason as anyone, but that’s going to come when religion is finally regarded as a sort of hobby or fetish – odd, but like most things in life not really worth getting worked up about. I do think that the shoutiness of some atheist communities is unhelpful in this regard, and don’t think that saying this out loud should be regarded as ‘accommodationism’. A weary, withering sigh and a refusal to engage in discussion on the grounds of having a near-infinite list of better things to do may work better than an oppositional rant in terms of letting someone know what an idiot they’re being and suggesting that they stop.

In the UK we’re getting there. Certainly open declarations of churchgoing in the admittedly white, relatively affluent urban middle class social world I inhabit here are greeted with a slight ‘that’s nice’ awkwardness, as if you’d mentioned that you’d been to a brilliant wrestling match. It occurred to me as I was walking through London the other day that I’m getting far more, and far more irksome, public pressure to pretend to give a rat’s arse about the Olympics (which, no) than I’ve ever had or, I suspect, will have, to care about Christianity of any sort.

Tactically, any scientist or philosopher of science that insists on atheism is shooting himself in the foot, as he is excluding a group of people that could easily be his allies. When it comes to people’s choices about belief in creationism and religious conviction, there are four possibilities:

1. Someone can claim to be an atheist, and also believe in creationism over evolution. While a possibility, this group is so tiny that we can ignore it from now on.

2. Someone can claim religious faith, and as part of it, also believes in creationism of one form or another. These religious people are almost always fundamentalists, and will be very difficult to argue with over creation vs. evolution. For them, their opinions about science are the consequence of their faith, not the reason for their faith. Any arguments about creationism and evolution never gets to the core of their belief system.

3. Someone can claim a religious faith, and also accept the theory of evolution, the ancient age of the earth and the rest of the geological and biological evidence for these theories. These people tend to belong to mainline religious groups, which have made their accomodations with good science. it might be that they have allegorical or moral interpretations of their religion, or that they accept some form of Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria.

4. Finally, there are those who accept modern science, and are atheists, either because they believe that science disproves any kind of religious faith, or because they have independently rejected religion for other reasons.

Most of the arguments about the role of science in society and its role in primary and secondary education are between groups 2 and 4 above. Both groups are, in my opinion, making a tactical mistake by rejecting those who can accomodate both a religious faith and an acceptance of science.

I myself fall into that middle group. When I’m in church, I try to explain that I have to be a methodological atheist within my work as a scientist - I can’t attribute natural phenomena to miracles, or invoke God as an active agent in the ordinary workings of the natural world. At the same time, I don’t find that sciece by itself provides meaning or moral guidance in life. By both believing in a faith tradition and accepting science, I am limited in what is reasonable to believe in - I can’t be a fundamentalist, since I can’t accept creationism, or intelligent design for that matter.

There are a lot of us out there too. We’re just quieter. We currently don’t side with the fundamentalists because their beliefs about science are so nonsensical, and their religious beliefs aren’t much better. However, we don’t appreciate hearing from the more vocal and obnoxious scientists who insist that we have to be atheists to be good scientists. When they make that kind of an argument, they appear to us to be just as dogmatic and unreasoning as the fundies, and just as deserving of being ignored.

So if your goal is to increase the acceptance of modern science, and good, factual science being taught in schools, please make room for all of us religious scientists too. You are free to reject religion for yourself, but don’t mock the beliefs of those who are your allies.

Larry Moran here.

Nick said,

For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists as a term of abuse.

The original term was “Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school” of evolutionists” after the section in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. Some bloggers even put a sticker on their blogs announcing that they were proud to be a Neville Chamberlain atheist.

By May 2007 it became apparent that the term “Neville Chamberlain Atheist” was an insult to Neville Chamberlain so we started to look around for a term that would be more acceptable, especially to people like you. We decided on accommodationist. So far, none of you have offered up a better description of your metaphysical and political views.

Mike Clinch said: When I’m in church, I try to explain that I have to be a methodological atheist within my work as a scientist - I can’t attribute natural phenomena to miracles, or invoke God as an active agent in the ordinary workings of the natural world.

You do realise that you have just admitted the incompatibility between science and religion. If science was compatible with religion then supernatural agency would be an acceptable answer to natural phenomena. So science is incompatible with religion but humans are capable of holding conflicting ideals in their heads.

Dobzhansky’s ‘Nothing in Biology Makes Sense …’ also documents that it was once common among biologists to distinguish theory from fact, until the creationists exploited that false dilemma to their own advantage: http://historiesofecology.blogspot.[…]s-sense.html

Larry Moran here.

Nick Matzke said: And once you’ve lost rigorous scholarship, you’ve lost the very credibility on which you were telling everyone else what to believe in the first place.

Nick, you’ve been corrected on these misconceptions dozens and dozens of times. You are the one who has lost rigorous scholarship in your desire to gain political points with the moderate theists.

Nobody is disputing that there are various forms of creationism (i.e. belief in a creator God). We all know about Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism. We know that many advocates of Intelligent Design Creationism are not religious fundamentalists, but they’re still creationists. There are also many Old Earth Creationists who aren’t exactly fundamentalists, but they are still creationists.

Where we part company with you is that we think Ken Miller and Francis Collins also believe in a creator God so, like Theodosius Dobzhansky, they are creationists. How does that position represent a loss of “rigorous scholarship” and what kind of “rigorous scholarship” do you defend in your effort to distinguish between the various forms of creationism? I’m anxious to hear about the “rigorous scholarship” showing that Dobzansky was wrong to call himself a creationist.

You’ve also, as usual, missed the important point that we view the main war as one between superstition and rationalism. The evolution/creation dispute is just a local battle in that larger context. As atheists, we are trying to convince people to abandon incorrect, superstitious, beliefs in favor of an evidenced-based, rational, approach to solving problems. It’s true that the Theistic Evolution form of creationism is closer to the facts than Young Earth Creationism but it’s still “theistic” (i.e. superstitious). The proponents of that position (e.g. Francis Collins) still hold to some beliefs that we think are quite silly.

Why should we excuse the belief in “moral law,” or the belief that evolution has been directed by God to create humans, just because Collins accepts that natural selection happens? Why shouldn’t we challenge the fine tuning arguments for the existence of God just as rigorously as we challenge “evidence” of the bacterial flagellum? Do you think we’ve lost “rigorous scholarship” because of that? Do you think you’ve gained it because you are willing to accept some kinds of a role for God in evolution but not others?

There is rigorous scholarship defending the idea that science and religion are in conflict. There’s also rigorous scholarship defending accommodationism. You and I have different opinions over which authorities are correct in this debate. For example, I think Michael Ruse is way off base and you think he’s a hero. But I don’t go around accusing all accommodationists of being less than rigorous scholars just because I disagree with their position.

I do, however, accuse some individuals of a lack of rigorous scholarship based on their sloppy reasoning and inability to listen to their opponents.

Is it good for the professional field of evolutionary biology for arguments about this kind of thing to be aired in the field’s top science journals?

How on earth is it unreasonable for scientists to address the reasons for public resistance to science in science journals? The idea that this subject might be off limits is symptomatic of the core problem with the accomodationist position. This is willful make-believe, an activity that theologically inclined people are practiced at. There is no place for it in science.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rosenau’s post came before the information about Mr. Templeton’s association with gay bashers became known and is thus irrelevant. He who gets down into the pen with the pigs may expect to emerge with a coating of mud.

Larry Moran here.

Mike Clinch said: However, we don’t appreciate hearing from the more vocal and obnoxious scientists who insist that we have to be atheists to be good scientists. When they make that kind of an argument, they appear to us to be just as dogmatic and unreasoning as the fundies, and just as deserving of being ignored.

It’s quite natural for you to feel that way. If it makes you feel any better, I think that you are being dogmatic and unreasoning as well. You’re also a bit obnoxious. :-)

At least I don’t ignore you. I’m perfectly willing to engage in debating the issue. So in that sense I’m less dogmatic than you.

Nick Matzke said: ‘For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”’

For consolation, Jean Piaget used assimilation as a concept for cognitive integration and accommodation for cognitive differentiation. Accommodation is clearly the more challenging and difficult cognitive deed in Piaget’s theory.

Roger said:

Nick: http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/05[…]alencies.php

If the link is a reply SLC, it does not address his question.

Mr. Matzke and Josh Rosenau are on record here and on the latter’s blog of defending scientists who take Templeton money. Abbie Smith’s blog post documents the unsavory associations of the chairman of the Templeton foundation with bigots. I do not consider Mr. Matzke’s apparent response to be responsive because the blog post he linked to was written almost a year before the information about Mr. Templeton came out. It would seem to me that the outing of Mr. Templeton changes the situation.

“3. Darwin’s point about Leibnitz guts a great many of Coyne’s arguments that science is necessarily opposed to religion, since Coyne’s logical arguments mostly rely on the premise that religious people aren’t allowed to endorse natural explanations as a method of God’s action. But pretty much no religious person ever has ever taken this position.” Am I reading this right that Nick is of the opinion that most religous people assign only “natural explanations” to their god? If so, this seems ridiculous since we have millions of people in the US who are quite sure that “natural explanations” e.g. evolutionary theory, geology, astronomy, etc are totally wrong and do not explain what their god supposedly did at all. They are sure of a magical, literal interpretation of their story book.

tomh said:

But, at least in America, “these people” don’t just claim benefits for their subjective experience of life - that’s the least of what they do and probably something no one objects to. Unlike art, philosophy, or other endeavors, they insist that religious beliefs are special, that they must be privileged by law, with exceptions from secular laws ranging from child abuse laws to civil rights laws, and everything in between.

Not all of them - merely a vocal minority, most of whom do, in fact, make bogus reality claims to support otherwise unsupportable cases (e.g. The supposed ‘health risks’ of homosexuality). They are justly opposed. Mostly, they fail. As for tax support - it’s just an occupational hazard of living in big mixed economies that large amounts of public money will be spent on things we don’t like or understand. In any case, I’m not sure how subjecting Francis Collins and his ilk to public ridicule and demanding others do the same or be accused of some sort of ideological impurity helps roll back this noisy but largely ineffective tide.

Frank J said: …ID and creationism as critics define it are pseudoscience.

So if any entity describes intelligent design creationism as a pseudoscience, they’re a critic? How about when an objective third party describes intelligent design creationism as a pseudoscience?

The National Science Teachers Association NSTA is a professional association of 55,000 science teachers and administrators. “We stand with the nation’s leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president’s top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom.” - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o[…]igent_design

“Intelligent design is pseudoscience” - headline of UCLA Today Faculty and Staff News at http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut[…]science.aspx

Matt Bright said:

Not all of them - merely a vocal minority, most of whom do, in fact, make bogus reality claims to support otherwise unsupportable cases (e.g. The supposed ‘health risks’ of homosexuality). They are justly opposed. Mostly, they fail.

They are no vocal minority, they are every single organized religion, and really, they fail? The result of this failure is that there are thousands of exemptions for religious beliefs written into US laws and regulations, and the list is growing. Things like denying health care to children, land use laws, copyright laws, health and safety laws, employment, civil rights, and many more, all have exemptions written in based solely on religious beliefs. These beliefs that are privileged beyond all others. Philosophers can’t avoid the law if they don’t want to follow zoning regulations, though their beliefs might be just as sincere as religionists. Only those who can claim the privileged mantle of religion are qualified.

Every religion bears responsibility for the privileges they have accrued since every religion takes advantage of some of the privileges, and, when any single privilege is threatened, they all circle the wagons to protect all privilege. Even something like children dying because parents substituted prayer for medicine, and who are then protected from the law because of their religious beliefs, is a responsibility of all religion. Eliminate religious privilege altogether and the problem won’t arise. Why should religious beliefs deserve such privilege?

John said:

John said:

co said:

John said:

Your last comment merely confirms how much of a jackass you are co. Quit while you’re still ahead. You whine and moan about what I said to Benson in response to her hope that someone I know would drop dead? (He was dying of cancer.)

Go back to your online New Atheist Romper Room. (BTW in case you missed my earlier comment, I told one of the skeptics I spoke to last night to tell cephalopod-lover-in-chief that I send my love and kisses.)

Sorry, John. I have to apologize. I usually don’t find your particular quirks that annoying. However, rank hypocrisy is one of my pet-peeves, and your pushing that particular button of mine got me to build in some buttons with big bulls-eyes painted on them, designed for YOU to push.

If you’d like to ignore my question about where else you’ve seen me post about Matzke, go ahead. Also, you’re welcome to ignore this question: Where have I “whined and moaned” about Benson, other than my one previous comment in this forum?

You “whined and moaned” when you said I had “implied” to Benson that she was a “b**th suffering from PMS”. I wouldn’t have said that if she hadn’t wished my favorite teacher from high school to drop dead.

And yes, from now on in this thread, I’ll ignore you.

I will only add that one of those I spoke to last night told me that Benson is quite shy and very, very reserved in person (I didn’t tell him that she had wished that my old mentor would drop dead as he was dying from cancer.) We were too busy discussing PZ’s attacks on that person and another notable skeptic; all three were attending this weekend’s skeptics convention here in New York City. But, as I had mentioned earlier, it was a surprising realization to both of us that both PZ and Benson have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality; two completely personas in person and online (And I am not saying this just to attack PZ; I do believe the sincerity of others who have met him in person who have said how kind and courteous he can be. I just wished he would start displaying some of that refined, dignified behavior online too (Though I suppose if he did, his fans would think he’d gone “soft”.)

If I had a chance to meet PZ, I would have told him just to cool it between us. I even had my Leica M7 rangefinder camera in hand, thinking I might photograph him smiling. (But he didn’t show up.)

If Mr. Kwok had ever downloaded presentations given by Prof. Myers, he would have seen that the gentleman is soft spoken and courteous, and his public personality in no way represents his online personality.

SLC said:

John said:

John said:

co said:

John said:

Your last comment merely confirms how much of a jackass you are co. Quit while you’re still ahead. You whine and moan about what I said to Benson in response to her hope that someone I know would drop dead? (He was dying of cancer.)

Go back to your online New Atheist Romper Room. (BTW in case you missed my earlier comment, I told one of the skeptics I spoke to last night to tell cephalopod-lover-in-chief that I send my love and kisses.)

Sorry, John. I have to apologize. I usually don’t find your particular quirks that annoying. However, rank hypocrisy is one of my pet-peeves, and your pushing that particular button of mine got me to build in some buttons with big bulls-eyes painted on them, designed for YOU to push.

If you’d like to ignore my question about where else you’ve seen me post about Matzke, go ahead. Also, you’re welcome to ignore this question: Where have I “whined and moaned” about Benson, other than my one previous comment in this forum?

You “whined and moaned” when you said I had “implied” to Benson that she was a “b**th suffering from PMS”. I wouldn’t have said that if she hadn’t wished my favorite teacher from high school to drop dead.

And yes, from now on in this thread, I’ll ignore you.

I will only add that one of those I spoke to last night told me that Benson is quite shy and very, very reserved in person (I didn’t tell him that she had wished that my old mentor would drop dead as he was dying from cancer.) We were too busy discussing PZ’s attacks on that person and another notable skeptic; all three were attending this weekend’s skeptics convention here in New York City. But, as I had mentioned earlier, it was a surprising realization to both of us that both PZ and Benson have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality; two completely personas in person and online (And I am not saying this just to attack PZ; I do believe the sincerity of others who have met him in person who have said how kind and courteous he can be. I just wished he would start displaying some of that refined, dignified behavior online too (Though I suppose if he did, his fans would think he’d gone “soft”.)

If I had a chance to meet PZ, I would have told him just to cool it between us. I even had my Leica M7 rangefinder camera in hand, thinking I might photograph him smiling. (But he didn’t show up.)

If Mr. Kwok had ever downloaded presentations given by Prof. Myers, he would have seen that the gentleman is soft spoken and courteous, and his public personality in no way represents his online personality.

I’ve seen them and was in fact referring to them when I discussed him and Benson with someone who has been a target of PZ’s ire relatively recently.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

Hm. I’m about as hard-core an atheist you will meet. I don’t believe religion is a method of knowing much of anything, and I believe that science is the best–nay, the only–method of acquiring reliable knowledge that we have.

But I just came home from a meeting of a political action committee formed to support local school board candidates who support honest science education centered around mainstream science. The meeting was in a church (the pastor is a friend of mine) because it has a good (and free) meeting room in its educational wing. Some of the members of the PAC are atheists, some are theists, and somehow we manage to work together on a specific problem in our community.

What does that make me? A hard-core atheist who’s a closet accommodationist? A soft-hearted gnu atheist who’s being hypocritical? Or does it make those labels at best misleading in the real world? I vote the latter. I’ve argued the incompatibility of science and (Christian) religion online and in person with theist friends and acquaintances in the appropriate context, and have worked with them in opposition to fundamentalists’ efforts to subvert the teaching of science in another appropriate context. I’d get a little pissed off if I were called an accommodationist with respect to the compatibility of science and religion, and equally pissed off if I were accused of hypocrisy for working with theists on a common goal. It’s a fruitless argument over a false dichotomy, in my view, one that is rapidly becoming hard to take seriously because the participants in the argument persist in talking past each other to an amazing degree.

And the straw men are reproducing like rabbits.

As I have mostly been lurking except for a tongue in cheek remark.…

I agree with your observations. Many, if not most of us got involved with the evolution wars in an effort to stem the erosion in quality science Ed. That’s my goal, at least, improve Science Ed.

I don’t see how starting a culture war within our own ranks hastens the goal of improving Science Ed.

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

harold said:

The war is between rationalism and superstition and part of that encompasses the differences between science as a way of knowing and religion. Many gnus think that science is the only way of knowing that has a proven track record. We don’t think that science and religion are compatible.

I find your message mixed. You claim to be fighting a “war” against superstition. Yet you use the most ineffective possible persuasion techniques, and attempt to drive people away from science.

That’s an objective claim. What evidence do you have to support it?

(I’ve been following this discussion since it started and the comments by Dr. Moran and yourself are among the few that seem to address the core issues of what is meant by accommodationism, whether or not it is beneficial, and if so, in the context of what goals. I look forward to reading your response.)

First of all, I’m glad I actually came back to this thread.

You are right, I do present that claim in what may be an excessively strong way.

I have two responses.

First, let me broadly defend the claim. There is abundant literature on persuasion http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?[…]m=persuasion

Social psychology as exact a science as some, but if we’re going to ask how to persuade, it is one good discipline to turn to. Whatever one may think of the ways that Robert Cialdini markets his summaries of persuasion research, I find his well-known overall summary of well-supported aspects of successful persuasion to be quite useful. In blockquotes below is a cut and paste from the Wikipedia article on Robert Cialdini -

6 key principles of persuasion by Robert Cialdini Reciprocity - People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle. Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. See cognitive dissonance. Social Proof - People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments. Authority - People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre. Liking - People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype. Scarcity - Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.

By no means is Robert Cialdini or anyone else arguing that people “should” be persuaded by these techniques. In fact, I would argue that one good reason to be aware of them is to NOT be overly exploitable by those who use them. However, if you want to persuade people of something for good ethical reasons, most of these principles can be applied ethically.

Almost all of these techniques have some sort of emotional component. Human beings are emotional. Gnu atheists are as emotional as anyone else.

It is undeniable that gnu atheists are committed and consistent. Also, although Cialdini uses the term “authority”, what he describes would better be termed “appearance of expertise”, and certainly PZ Myers and Larry Moran unequivocally possess strong, recognized expertise in their respective fields. So obviously, I suppose, I should retract my use of the word “most”, they don’t use the “most” ineffective techniques, they merely use what I perceive to be ineffective techniques in some ways.

But let’s take a look at “reciprocity”, “liking”, and so-called “social proof”. These can’t always be used. Some science deniers express a constellation of views that have to be met with confrontation and condemnation. But we’re not talking about hard core right wing religious bigots, the issue is how to present the case for strong scientific education unemcumbered by illegal government favoritism of narrow religious sects, strong public understanding of science, good funding for science, and so on, and there isn’t much reason to ignore these principles.

When you do the opposite of what these principles suggest, and insult, for example, you generate an emotional defensive reaction. (A common fallacy is that, since some instructors in places like medical school, military training, or graduate school may use insults to teach, insults are effective elsewhere. But that isn’t the case. Those are situations in which the trainees are committed to joining an elite group that the instructors are already part of. The insults reflect a rite of passage; it is understood that if the insulted make good use of the feedback, they will achieve the position of the insulting one themselves, some day. It is a very different thing to insult someone who has not committed to achieving your status through your intervention as a mentor. Both types of insults may actually be worse than no insults, but in the absence of the special temporary relationship, insults generate extreme negative reactions.)

“Religion” is hard to define, but as I noted above, it usually refers to either a set of organized rituals, or a set of supernatural belief claims, or both, shared by a group of people. Some supernatural belief claims are contradicted directly by science. Others aren’t. I don’t have any use for supernatural/magical/miraculous/spiritual whatever experiences myself, but some such claims contradict science, and others are merely untestable or unnecessary (in my view).

Unbiased people are easily convinced by science, when they can be persuaded to pay attention to it. There is a reason for this. It is roughly the same reason that “western” science has been totally adopted by many Asian societies. The assumptions and methods of science are intuitively credible.

However, you do run into issues where emotional desire to believe something is at odds with the scientific evidence on the same subject.

People can be quite defensive about their cultural traditions, especially if they feel that they have been subjected to unfair cultural bias in the past.

However, there is no point in fighting a war on multiple fronts, nor in choosing less effective tactics.

In closing, I want to very strongly emphasize that I am not at all advocating, and despise and reject, “concern troll” demands that obsequious language be used when dealing with dishonest claims or people who can’t be persuaded. I’m not at all arguing against “ever” using insults. I approve of well-delivered insults in the appropriate context. I’m just arguing that always being insulting may not be the way to go.

Paul Burnett said:

Frank J said: …ID and creationism as critics define it are pseudoscience.

So if any entity describes intelligent design creationism as a pseudoscience, they’re a critic? How about when an objective third party describes intelligent design creationism as a pseudoscience?

The National Science Teachers Association NSTA is a professional association of 55,000 science teachers and administrators. “We stand with the nation’s leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president’s top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom.” - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o[…]igent_design

“Intelligent design is pseudoscience” - headline of UCLA Today Faculty and Staff News at http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut[…]science.aspx

The problem with Intelligent Design is that a truthful assessment of it is identical to a criticism of it.

Having said that, a critic of Intelligent Design need not even be an enemy of it: remember what Philip E. Johnson, its own father, said of it?

I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to proveNo product is ready for competition in the educational world.

The problem with Intelligent Design is that a truthful assessment of it is identical to a criticism of it.

Very much so.

I think what Frank J. meant was “creationism as critics define it (as opposed to definitions of creationism that include major mainstream biologists because they happen to be religious)”.

Intelligent Design with a capital “I” and a capital “D” refers to a group of works by authors associated with the Discovery Institute. These works avoid direct mention of religion, but argue that biological evolution cannot explain the diversity of life on earth. Despite the verbosity and subsequent high volume of material, a few core arguments are repeated, and those core arguments are either factually false, logically incoherent, or both.

It is fair to summarize and paraphrase the key arguments of ID as follows - 1) Paleyism - false analogy to known human design, i.e. because watches, Mount Rushmore, sand castles, items investigated by archaeologists or forensic scientists, etc, exhibit human design, therefore living cells must also be “intelligently designed”. As has been pointed out many times, even if accepted, this absurd argument would suggest that humans created life. 2) Vitalism - the claim that life contains some kind of mysterious vital essence, “complex specified information”, which, however, can never be adequately defined. 3) Incorrect statements about probability. 4) False dichotomy - the “explanatory filter” of Dembski, for example - anything not immediately explained in detail by science must be the result of “design”. 5) Repetition of straw man characterizations of evolution, thermodynamics, etc, that have their origin in openly YEC material.

That’s about it.

tomh said:

They are no vocal minority, they are every single organized religion,

This is nonsensical. In what way can it be said that, for example, the head of the National Organisation for Marriage ‘is Christianity’, let alone that they ‘are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam etc. etc.’? ‘They’ are people. The religion is the organisation to which they happen to belong. This distinction is very, very important.

The result of this failure is that there are thousands of exemptions for religious beliefs written into US laws and regulations, and the list is growing.

This seems unremarkable. I imagine that there are thousands of US laws and regulations per se, that the list of them is growing, and that religious (and other) exemptions will be written into a large proportion of them, if only to align them with the religious exemptions that already exist. The question is whether there are negative moral consequences to such exemptions. Sometimes there are, sometimes there aren’t, but there seems no reason not to take things on a case by case basis.

In terms of the specific people who demand fundamental changes to your constitution, educational system etc. on purely religious grounds – I can’t think of any particularly major substantive success in that regard. Swivel-eyed Midwestern politicians seem to vomit up the occasional weirdo bill about prayer days and Christin Nations and the like, and as far as I know it goes as far as where the serious people are, is briefly mocked on the usual websites and goes away.

In any case, I’m not at all sure that religious exemptions are the most egregious legal or social loopholes in Western society. What corporate entities can and do get away with makes a bit of light tax-dodging and the odd short-circuited planning application look like rather small beans.

Every religion bears responsibility for the privileges they have accrued since every religion takes advantage of some of the privileges,

And therefore every human being who ascribes to that religion should be held responsible for all of the unfair privileges it has assumed? Do you really want to go there? What privileges have you unfairly gained by being in whatever social groupings you’re in?

and, when any single privilege is threatened, they all circle the wagons to protect all privilege.

And if that privilege was threatened simply because of vocal opposition from people who can demonstrate no moral consequence to its existence beyond ‘I don’t like the people it favours’, I would be joining them on the wagon train. I’d rather live in a somewhat unfair society that tries to account for individual and group subjective experience and belief in its functioning than one that ignored them in the name of some abstract ideal of legal uniformity. If I’m in favour of, considering, for example, specific laws on racially motivated behaviour(which I am - again, on a case by case basis) I can’t with any consistency insist that considering specific laws on religiously motivated behaviour is beyond the pale.

Even something like children dying because parents substituted prayer for medicine, and who are then protected from the law because of their religious beliefs, is a responsibility of all religion.

In all of the cases I’m aware of, parents who have done this have been successfully prosecuted – it’s perfectly possible to have exemptions that operate up to the point where they bump up against what society considers to be more important rights and responsibilities. And again, you appear to be eliding ‘all religion’ and ‘every person who ascribed to a religious belief’. Is the death by neglect of the child of some devout, undereducated parents really partially the fault of Archbishop Desmond Tutu?

Eliminate religious privilege altogether and the problem won’t arise.

But we’re not talking here about the need to eliminate religious privilege. That’s a different debate. We’re talking – or at least the OP appears to be talking – about the claim that religion must, in some way, ‘give way’ to science and that anyone who claims to ascribe to both – or has no problem with people ascribing to both – is worthy of ridicule and in some way ‘unscientific’. This has nothing to do with the legal standing of particular religions and everything to do with whether or not we choose to respect and honour individuals as people with real and valuable inner lives even when we don’t understand what they’re about.

harold said: … the issue is how to present the case for strong scientific education unemcumbered by illegal government favoritism of narrow religious sects, strong public understanding of science, good funding for science, and so on, and there isn’t much reason to ignore these principles.

Thank-you for telling us, once again, what your issue is.

It’s not my issue, at least in part because I’m not an American.

There’s no reason why American atheists can’t form alliances with theistic evolutionists (or other mild forms of creationist) in order to keep religion out of the schools. I don’t have a problem with that.

The problem arises when those atheists construct arguments to justify such alliances at a deeper level. Those arguments include definitions of science that restrict it to certain domains and promoting the idea that religion uniquely has access to other important questions that science can’t address.

In other words, they proclaim that science and religion are compatible. (What they mean, of course, is that science and SOME religions are compatible. Especially the religions of their allies in the fight to keep the worst forms of creationism out of the schools.)

My issue is opposing superstitious thinking at all levels. I think that belief in supernatural beings is irrational and I believe that it conflicts with the highly successful scientific way of knowing. I’m quite capable of forming alliances with believers on all sorts of issues but in doing so I don’t feel the need to drop my stance on incompatibility.

As long as the accommodationists maintain that science and religion are compatible, they will be in conflict with those of us who think science and religion are incompatible.

American scientific organizations and NCSE do not need to take a stance on the compatibility issue. They easily could welcome theistic evolutionists into their tent without declaring one way or the other on the issue of compatibility. However, once they do make a declaration of compatibility, they automatically exclude a significant number of atheist scientists who could have been their allies.

It’s their choice.

What they can’t do, in my opinion, is to subsequently criticize those atheists they deliberately excluded because they won’t go along with their definitions of science and religion in order to appease the theistic evolutionists. Some of us have principles that we don’t abandon for political convenience.

The accommodationists want to have their cake and eat it too. They quite deliberately take a stance in favor of compatibility knowing that many atheists disagree. Then they attack the gnus for not playing nicely.

Harold, it’s about time you recognized that YOUR main issue is not mine and there’s no good reason why I have to abandon MY main issue just to help you with yours. This has been explained to you and your allies over and over and over during the past twenty years. Why can’t you understand this very simple point? We gnus feel like we’ve been talking to a wall all those years.

If you want to have the gnus on your side then stop promoting compatibility as one of the preconditions for joining you in the fight.

Matt Bright said:

In all of the cases I’m aware of, parents who have done this have been successfully prosecuted

I can see you’re unfamiliar with the US situation in this regard, laws, and Constitution. My apologies.

harold said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

harold said:

The war is between rationalism and superstition and part of that encompasses the differences between science as a way of knowing and religion. Many gnus think that science is the only way of knowing that has a proven track record. We don’t think that science and religion are compatible.

I find your message mixed. You claim to be fighting a “war” against superstition. Yet you use the most ineffective possible persuasion techniques, and attempt to drive people away from science.

That’s an objective claim. What evidence do you have to support it?

(I’ve been following this discussion since it started and the comments by Dr. Moran and yourself are among the few that seem to address the core issues of what is meant by accommodationism, whether or not it is beneficial, and if so, in the context of what goals. I look forward to reading your response.)

First of all, I’m glad I actually came back to this thread.

You are right, I do present that claim in what may be an excessively strong way.

I have two responses.

First, let me broadly defend the claim. There is abundant literature on persuasion http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?[…]m=persuasion

Social psychology as exact a science as some, but if we’re going to ask how to persuade, it is one good discipline to turn to. Whatever one may think of the ways that Robert Cialdini markets his summaries of persuasion research, I find his well-known overall summary of well-supported aspects of successful persuasion to be quite useful.

Thanks for the detailed reply. I think I understand your position better now, and I don’t disagree with the general idea of being willing to team up with theists to address specific issue. I don’t believe the “gnu atheists” disagree with that either, though.

I suppose I was hoping for you to point to specific examples of the “gnus” driving people away from support of science education. While some people are persuaded by the techniques you describe, there is also something to be said for directly confronting the irrationality of religion. The more “out” atheists there are, the more socially acceptable it becomes. When people realize that there are others who think as they do, the stigma and fear are reduced. Further, some ideas are silly enough that they deserved to be criticized and even laughed at publicly – never underestimate the power of mocking.

Of course the in-your-face approach isn’t always the most productive, but it’s not to be sneered at either. Keeping quiet about ridiculous, anti-scientific ideas isn’t going to help.

There is room in the marketplace of ideas for a wide variety of techniques. It seems like some accommodationists would rather the “gnus” shut up and stop scaring the theists. That’s not a reasonable request.

I also don’t think it’s reasonable to claim that science and religion are compatible. Some religious people may be supportive of good science education, and we should have no issues working with them, but the concepts of faith, revelation, and authoritarianism on which all mainstream religions are based are antithetical to the scientific method. We don’t need to rub that in the faces of our religious compatriots, but we shouldn’t dissemble about it either.

tomh said:

I can see you’re unfamiliar with the US situation in this regard, laws, and Constitution. My apologies.

And you appear to be unfamiliar with – or possibly wilfully ignoring – the point of the OP and the argument I’m trying to make on its behalf I have made several times. The details of individual cases and points of law in particular countries is a side issue.

The question is whether the effect on poor and ill-educated (and hence justifiably stressed and fearful) people of being subjected to hysterical moralising based on abstract philosophical principles they’re not equipped to understand, generally by people with a higher socioeconomic status, might have some perverse consequences that rather outweigh the benefits of bringing the gospel of falsifiability to the natives.

If I had no understanding whatsoever of science or medicine, and the only thing I had in life – for better or worse – that gave me any kind of transcendent joy was my church, and I come across someone who looks and talks like the doctor I can barely afford to see telling the world that people like me are pathetic, delusional idiots who are already guilty of ‘child abuse’ simply for taking my daughter to that church on a Sunday I’m not sure how I’d react when they started telling me what was good for her either.

harold said:

The problem with Intelligent Design is that a truthful assessment of it is identical to a criticism of it.

Very much so.

I think what Frank J. meant was “creationism as critics define it (as opposed to definitions of creationism that include major mainstream biologists because they happen to be religious)”.

Intelligent Design with a capital “I” and a capital “D” refers to a group of works by authors associated with the Discovery Institute. These works avoid direct mention of religion, but argue that biological evolution cannot explain the diversity of life on earth. Despite the verbosity and subsequent high volume of material, a few core arguments are repeated, and those core arguments are either factually false, logically incoherent, or both.

It is fair to summarize and paraphrase the key arguments of ID as follows - 1) Paleyism - false analogy to known human design, i.e. because watches, Mount Rushmore, sand castles, items investigated by archaeologists or forensic scientists, etc, exhibit human design, therefore living cells must also be “intelligently designed”. As has been pointed out many times, even if accepted, this absurd argument would suggest that humans created life. 2) Vitalism - the claim that life contains some kind of mysterious vital essence, “complex specified information”, which, however, can never be adequately defined. 3) Incorrect statements about probability. 4) False dichotomy - the “explanatory filter” of Dembski, for example - anything not immediately explained in detail by science must be the result of “design”. 5) Repetition of straw man characterizations of evolution, thermodynamics, etc, that have their origin in openly YEC material.

That’s about it.

Since I used the word “critic,” I owe it to all that I did mean it in the sense that any truthful (& honest) assessment is a criticism. So NSTA sides 100% with science - as do most major religions. It’s tempting to add “ironically,” but those religions do preach “thou shalt not bear false witness,” so it not at all ironic.

As for ID tactic #5, more importantly than being “from openly YEC material,” it’s specifically those arguments that do not contradict OEC, but deal only with bogus “weaknesses” of evolution. Think about it, the former YEC peddlers who jumped on the ID bandwagon abandoned exactly that line of argument - the “positive” evidence of young earth and young life - that would have been 100% legal, while retaining the “design” language, false dichotomies, etc., that they knew was still legally risky. Why would they do that? Maybe some are just insane in the “self mutilation” sense, but I strongly suspect that most of them simply realized that the evidence just wasn’t there.

Dave Luckett said:

Oh, there’s a second panel. The top inscription is a direct quote, Revelations 20:12 “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne; and the books were opened.”

This lot above are apparently the just, and are entering Paradise.

The torments below are for the prideful, left, and traitors to God (I think - I can’t actually make out the letters) in a version of the frozen lake of Cocytus.

I’ve been offline for a few days, but thanks Dave. I only noticed the lower inscriptions were probably medieval french after I posted, but it seems there is no end to your talents anyway.

Incidentally, the term “panel” suggests to me something the size of a door. They are painted on the cylindrical buttresses at the foot of the cathedral tower, the figures are sort of life size. The voluptuaries and misers may only be being boiled in a field of terrible smokes and stinks, but the demons additionally seemed to be having a good chew of all groups sent below, and my recollection is that whilst there was no unambiguous detail in this area, the positions of some of the demons strongly suggested eternal sodomising was on the menu too.

harold said:

The problem with Intelligent Design is that a truthful assessment of it is identical to a criticism of it.

Very much so.

I think what Frank J. meant was “creationism as critics define it (as opposed to definitions of creationism that include major mainstream biologists because they happen to be religious)”.

Intelligent Design with a capital “I” and a capital “D” refers to a group of works by authors associated with the Discovery Institute. These works avoid direct mention of religion, but argue that biological evolution cannot explain the diversity of life on earth. Despite the verbosity and subsequent high volume of material, a few core arguments are repeated, and those core arguments are either factually false, logically incoherent, or both.

It is fair to summarize and paraphrase the key arguments of ID as follows - 1) Paleyism - false analogy to known human design, i.e. because watches, Mount Rushmore, sand castles, items investigated by archaeologists or forensic scientists, etc, exhibit human design, therefore living cells must also be “intelligently designed”. As has been pointed out many times, even if accepted, this absurd argument would suggest that humans created life. 2) Vitalism - the claim that life contains some kind of mysterious vital essence, “complex specified information”, which, however, can never be adequately defined. 3) Incorrect statements about probability. 4) False dichotomy - the “explanatory filter” of Dembski, for example - anything not immediately explained in detail by science must be the result of “design”. 5) Repetition of straw man characterizations of evolution, thermodynamics, etc, that have their origin in openly YEC material.

That’s about it.

Or, to further compact this summary, Young Earth Creationism/Intelligent Design is a glorified “Appeal to Ignorance Because I Said Jesus Said So”

“Coyne claims that the Society for the Study of Evolution’s official statement on teaching evolution is completely neutral about religion and “accommodationism”, and recommends that organizations like the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE follow this example.”

Is really Coyne think that only evolution teaching in the public school is completely neutral thing? As Sir Fred Hoyle comments on evolution, “well, as common sense would suggest, the Darwinian theory is correct in the small, but not in the large. Rabbits come from other slightly different rabbits, not from either primeval soup or potatoes. where they come from in the first place is a problem yet to be solved, like much else of a cosmic scale.”

“For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists as a term of abuse.”

The abuse is deserved. Since 9/11/2001 the time for sucking up to religious insanity is over with.

Type “darwin killed god” in the google search box then click the I’m Feeling Lucky button.

Why must we bow our minds at the throne of naturalism? I understand applying scientific method to what presently is, examining things to try to understand how they work now, but I do not understand how guessing about the unrepeatable past with the close-minded blindness of “everything must have unintelligent natural causes” is any more scientific than “everything must have divine origins.” If you demand a conclusion before examining the evidence, you are no longer practicing pure science.

The funny part about rc’s grotesque perversion of what actually happens in science is that “applying scientific method to what presently is” is exactly where the original geologists and Darwin himself started. They began with the assumptions that the Earth was relatively young and that the species were created, and ended convinced that the Earth was ancient and the species had evolved from common ancestors.

What caused that? Everything they had been brought up to believe, the whole society of their time, all knowledge received from the past, were against that conclusion. Only one thing was for it: their observation of evidence.

What’s missing from rc’s post is even the slightest nod to that evidence. Apparently rc doesn’t think it exists, or perhaps that it doesn’t matter.

Is rc really saying that the evidence that exists today cannot illuminate the events of the past? Does s/he really think that logical inference from evidence, followed by further investigation to find further evidence, is the same thing as “guessing”?

Plainly, rc has no notion of what science is, what it does, or how it does it, doesn’t want to know, and thinks it can’t be trusted. I wonder from what poisoned source s/he acquired such an embittered prejudice? Could it be fundamentalist religion?

rc19 said:

Why must we bow our minds at the throne of naturalism? I understand applying scientific method to what presently is, examining things to try to understand how they work now, but I do not understand how guessing about the unrepeatable past with the close-minded blindness of “everything must have unintelligent natural causes” is any more scientific than “everything must have divine origins.” If you demand a conclusion before examining the evidence, you are no longer practicing pure science.

No one is suggesting that you do. Indeed, how could anyone possibly force you to.

We use methodological naturalism because it works. We don’t use supernaturalism because there is absolutely no evidence for it and it has never worked, not once.

What is the, the end of the semester or something. Is it time for extra credit again?

Jay said:

“Coyne claims that the Society for the Study of Evolution’s official statement on teaching evolution is completely neutral about religion and “accommodationism”, and recommends that organizations like the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE follow this example.”

Is really Coyne think that only evolution teaching in the public school is completely neutral thing? As Sir Fred Hoyle comments on evolution, “well, as common sense would suggest, the Darwinian theory is correct in the small, but not in the large. Rabbits come from other slightly different rabbits, not from either primeval soup or potatoes. where they come from in the first place is a problem yet to be solved, like much else of a cosmic scale.”

Yes it is an absolutely neutral thing. Teaching real science in the science classroom and ignoring religion is the best approach. If you don’t think so, someone will be happy to inject their religious beliefs into science classes, only thing is, they won’t be yours. Do you think that would be more neutral? Is that what you would prefer?

No extra credit for you.

Dave Luckett said:

The funny part about rc’s grotesque perversion of what actually happens in science is that “applying scientific method to what presently is” is exactly where the original geologists and Darwin himself started. They began with the assumptions that the Earth was relatively young and that the species were created, and ended convinced that the Earth was ancient and the species had evolved from common ancestors.

What caused that? Everything they had been brought up to believe, the whole society of their time, all knowledge received from the past, were against that conclusion. Only one thing was for it: their observation of evidence.

What’s missing from rc’s post is even the slightest nod to that evidence. Apparently rc doesn’t think it exists, or perhaps that it doesn’t matter.

Is rc really saying that the evidence that exists today cannot illuminate the events of the past? Does s/he really think that logical inference from evidence, followed by further investigation to find further evidence, is the same thing as “guessing”?

Plainly, rc has no notion of what science is, what it does, or how it does it, doesn’t want to know, and thinks it can’t be trusted. I wonder from what poisoned source s/he acquired such an embittered prejudice? Could it be fundamentalist religion?

Dave, I do not bemoan Darwin for trying to understand his observations. But, his conclusions were not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt; therefore, anyone demanding that they be taught exclusively in schools or favored exclusively in government funding is intentionally teaching close-mindedness. If they know what they are doing, they are no longer ethical scientists. If they do not know what they are doing, they are ignorant. There is nothing grotesque about this accusation. Ethical science looks at evidence and hypothesizes possible explanations, testing them for proof when possible. Ethical science does not demand outcomes or pretend unproven theories are law.

You want a nod to Darwin’s evidence? Finches modified their beaks to suit their environment. That’s outstanding! We see other animals do the same. Fantastic! But, finches are still finches. Humans are still humans. Dogs are still dogs. There is zero proof that dogs have ever been anything but dogs. There are plenty of theories but no proof. Therefore, anyone demanding Darwin’s theory is exclusively taught in schools makes themselves unethical.

What made me skeptical of modern scientists? My science text books in public schools lied to me. I was told that stalactites formed over hundreds of thousands of years, but when I used to spelunk as a teenager I saw stalactites in natural caves grow at least an inch in one year. I was told that petrified trees take an exceptionally long time to petrify, and sedimentary layers occurred over millions of years, but Mount St. Helens volcanic explosion proved they don’t, at least not always. Reference, for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgEPf-D0h0Y. The “poisoned source” that jaded me against close-minded Darwinists was the reality of nature as observed through four of my five senses. (I can’t say I ever tasted stalactites or petrified wood.) I gladly choose the reality of nature over Darwin’s well-intentioned mistakes. Anyone claiming science should.

“Humans are still humans”

Yes, humans are humans. And from this, you deduce…?

Was Australopithecus afarensis human? What about Homo habilis? Homo ergaster? Homo erectus? Homo neanderthalis? Where was the line crossed? When did a bipedal tailless ape become a large-brained bipedal tailless ape?

Same for dogs. The evidence for their descent is more scant, it’s true. But it is not true to say that there is none. There are many candidate species as transitionals. DNA studies have demonstrated their lineage and estimated their divergence from the ancestral wolf.

There are not “plenty of theories” that account for the emergence and the origin of the species. There is only one: the theory of evolution.

You cite two pieces of evidence, then: stalactites and petrified trees in sediments. Neither are evidence against evolution. Both are creationist staples, so forgive me for my skepticism that you thought of them yourself. Whatever, neither are evidence for a young Earth, either, as you appear to believe.

Some stalactites grow quite quickly. Some don’t grow quickly. Some have stopped growing, and are eroding. Caves themselves have long been recognised to be transient features, in geological terms - this from actual observation of their erosion and collapse. If some stalactites grow fast, what does this demonstrate about the age of the Earth? The answer is “nothing”. It is only evidence that some stalactites are young, or at least relatively so.

Sedimentary layers do take very long periods under water to form. What happened at Mt St Helens was not sedimentation, but a volcanic explosion and a pyroclastic flow that put down ash very rapidly. Upright trees buried in ash can mineralise very quickly, but trees buried in sediment typically do not. And some of these upright trees are clearly seen to be buried in paleosols - ancient soils - under Carboniferous coal seams and further sedimentary strata. These must be very ancient.

But all this to one side. The theory of evolution is now over a hundred and fifty years old, and for all that time the evidence has been steadily flowing in. Hundreds of thousands of scientists have added to it, clarified it, filled in gaps, elaborated detail, spent careers chasing evidence down. It has stood every test. All the evidence fits.

Darwin didn’t know the patterns of how traits were passed on; he knew nothing of Mendel. He didn’t understand the detail of how evolutionary mechanisms operate; Ronald Fisher and J B S Haldane provided them. He had no clue about the biochemistry - the subject barely existed then. Crick and Watson and thousands of others showed, little by little, what was involved. And there was and is more, far more. A century and a half of patient fact-finding, research, corroboration, attestation by evidence.

So when you deny the theory of evolution, you are not denying “Darwin’s well-intentioned mistakes”. Rather, you malign and traduce the effort and scholarship of generations of scientists who have taken us to the very point of understanding the processes that constitute life itself. You do this on the basis of what you remember from a high school textbook, looking at a stalactite, and, I have no doubt, reading creationist pamphlets or websites.

Well, you’re wrong.

rc19 said:

Dave, I do not bemoan Darwin for trying to understand his observations. But, his conclusions were not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt; therefore, anyone demanding that they be taught exclusively in schools or favored exclusively in government funding is intentionally teaching close-mindedness. If they know what they are doing, they are no longer ethical scientists. If they do not know what they are doing, they are ignorant. There is nothing grotesque about this accusation. Ethical science looks at evidence and hypothesizes possible explanations, testing them for proof when possible. Ethical science does not demand outcomes or pretend unproven theories are law.

You want a nod to Darwin’s evidence? Finches modified their beaks to suit their environment. That’s outstanding! We see other animals do the same. Fantastic! But, finches are still finches. Humans are still humans. Dogs are still dogs. There is zero proof that dogs have ever been anything but dogs. There are plenty of theories but no proof. Therefore, anyone demanding Darwin’s theory is exclusively taught in schools makes themselves unethical.

What made me skeptical of modern scientists? My science text books in public schools lied to me. I was told that stalactites formed over hundreds of thousands of years, but when I used to spelunk as a teenager I saw stalactites in natural caves grow at least an inch in one year. I was told that petrified trees take an exceptionally long time to petrify, and sedimentary layers occurred over millions of years, but Mount St. Helens volcanic explosion proved they don’t, at least not always. Reference, for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgEPf-D0h0Y. The “poisoned source” that jaded me against close-minded Darwinists was the reality of nature as observed through four of my five senses. (I can’t say I ever tasted stalactites or petrified wood.) I gladly choose the reality of nature over Darwin’s well-intentioned mistakes. Anyone claiming science should.

Wrong. Darwin’s conclusions have been proven far beyond a shadow of a doubt. Of course we don’t know everything, but we know enough to conclude that Darwin was right. Regardless of how much there still is to learn, nothing justifies the substitution of religious dogma for science in public funded science classes.

Your textbooks didn’t get everything right. Boo hoo. Get over it cry baby. Learn some science and learn to tell fact from fiction. Evolution is as much a fact as there is. Deal with it.

As for finches still being finches, so bleeping what? That does not mean that speciation does not occur. That does not mean that there is no evidence for macroevolution. The only people who spout such nonsense are lying creationists. Don’t fall for their crap.

You don’t trust scientists? Fine. Don’t use the products of science, such as computers and the internet, modern medicine, etc. Learn some science and find out for yourself what the facts really are. Just because scientists aren’t always right, doesn’t mean that’s it’s all one big conspiracy against little old you. Get over yourself.

rc19 said:

What made me skeptical of modern scientists? My science text books in public schools lied to me.

Or could it be that you were raised in a Fundy tradition and believe the claims that your science textbooks lied.

I was told that stalactites formed over hundreds of thousands of years, but when I used to spelunk as a teenager I saw stalactites in natural caves grow at least an inch in one year.

Really? Why don’t you provide us with a quote from any geology text book that says that “All rather than most stalactites formed over hundreds of thousands of years.” While you are at it why don’t you show us your original reasearch that the stalactites you observed “grew at least an inch in one year.” Did you take pictures, get out a measuring device, anything? Or is this all just a bunch of BS that you made up.

I was told that petrified trees take an exceptionally long time to petrify, and sedimentary layers occurred over millions of years, but Mount St. Helens volcanic explosion proved they don’t, at least not always. Reference, for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgEPf-D0h0Y.

And tell me, what do you suspect radiometric dating methods would tell us about the petrified trees found around Mt. St. Helen’s vs the ones known to be ancient. Of course I have seen a few creationist “studies” done on my question but before you quote them please note whether or not they used an appropriate dating methods before you try to use them. If the appropriate radiometric dating is used on each sample we would expect to see that the petrified trees you refer to are exceptionally young where as the ones found in sediment are ancient. Why is that do you suppose?

The “poisoned source” that jaded me against close-minded Darwinists was the reality of nature as observed through four of my five senses. (I can’t say I ever tasted stalactites or petrified wood.) I gladly choose the reality of nature over Darwin’s well-intentioned mistakes. Anyone claiming science should.

But all you have shown us is no evidence and so much hot air. Your investigations are superficial cherrypicking at best and outright fabrications at worst. What you claim you have done as scientific investigation is nothing of the sort and it it is obvious that your mind was made up for you a long time ago. I can’t and don’t want to try to change your mind about this, but don’t be so foolish as to think you can come here with nothing but rhetoric and change ours.

rc19 said:

I was told that petrified trees take an exceptionally long time to petrify, and sedimentary layers occurred over millions of years, but Mount St. Helens volcanic explosion proved they don’t, at least not always. Reference, for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgEPf-D0h0Y.

AHAHAHAHAHA. Fucking moron.

Nick Matzke wrote: “Coyne claims that the Society for the Study of Evolution’s official statement on teaching evolution is completely neutral about religion and ‘accommodationism’, and recommends that organizations like the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE follow this example.”

Then, much later, Nick wrote: “It looks like Dobzhansky and Darwin were just the sort of “accommodationists” that Coyne et al. have been campaigning against.”

How can Coyne recommend X then campaign against X?

It appears that Nick Matzke has contradicted himself.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 18, 2012 4:37 PM.

Robert R. Sokal (1926-2012) was the previous entry in this blog.

Freshwater: Misrepresenting the case is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.38

Site Meter