Brown + Ruse vs. Myers: Are atheists responsible for creationism?

June 18, 2009 • 6:47 am

I swear, sometimes I think that pro-evolution accommodationists see evolutionists as a bigger enemy than are creationists.  This became clear to me earlier this week, when I received a nasty, chest-thumping email from philosopher Michael Ruse, accusing me of two things:

1.  Since I was not a philosopher, I had no credentials to pronounce on issues of philosophy, religion and theology.  You know what I think of this claim.

2.  My “anti-religion” activities are inimical to the cause of promoting evolutionary biology.  You know what I think about this as well: religion is really the root cause of creationism, which won’t dissipate until we loosen the grip of faith on America.

I’ll quote just two sentences from Ruse’s email: “But as it is, we are in a battle in America for the scientific soul of its children.  I don’t know who does more damage, you and your kind or Phillip Johnson and his kind.  I really don’t.”

This made me laugh.  Ruse is the Discovery Institute’s favorite philosopher, a guy who can always be counted on to stroke IDers and say, “Yes, yes, you’ve really been misunderstood. I understand.  It’s those nasty atheists who are really the ones cooking up trouble.”  Ruse edited a book with ID prima donna William Dembski, and has posted on the Discovery Institute website.  Fortunately, most philosophers and evolutionists don’t take Ruse too seriously. He is constantly coddling the faithful to grotesque extents, even going so far, in his book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?, to float the idea of an intergalactic Jesus who could carry the message of salvation between every planet on which life evolved. (See my review of this execrable tome here.)

Ruse still likes to make trouble, though.  His latest shenanigan is a collaborative posting with Andrew Brown (on Brown’s column) at the Guardian website (I swear, the Guardian has published three pro-religion, anti-atheist pieces in the past three days. What’s with them?). The post is absolutely unbelievable in its hauteur — and stupidity.

Ruse reports that he visited Kentucky’s Creation Museum, where he had an epiphany.  He suddenly realized how misunderstood creationists really are.  We nasty, militant atheists don’t take the trouble to step into the creationists’ shoes and understand where they’re coming from.  From Ruse’s circular email, coopted by Brown:

Just for one moment about half way through the exhibit …I got that Kuhnian flash that it could all be true – it was only a flash (rather like thinking that Freudianism is true or that the Republicans are right on anything whatsoever) but it was interesting nevertheless to get a sense of how much sense this whole display and paradigm can make to people.

His conclusion?

It is silly just to dismiss this stuff as false – that eating turds is good for you is [also] false but generally people don’t want to [whereas] a lot of people believe Creationism so we on the other side need to get a feeling not just for the ideas but for the psychology too.

Really?  Didn’t Ruse himself, along with Kenneth Miller and other theistic or theist-friendly scientists, work together to show that creationism is false in the Dover trial and earlier creationist cases? Isn’t that the way we win in court?  Well, maybe, but Ruse’s beef is that we need to be armchair psychologists as well as scientists, something that the deeply empathetic Ruse has apparently mastered.   Brown concurs:

This is, I think one of the key differences between the new, or militant, atheists and Darwinians like Ruse, just as atheist as they but a lot less anti-religious. The new atheists recoil instinctively from the idea that they should get a feeling for the ideas and psychology of creationists. To them the essential point about believers is that they are stupid and crazy and wrong. So why waste your one life trying to inhabit a mind smaller and more twisted than your own?

(Just for fun, click on Brown’s links above.  They don’t lead you to statements by the “new atheists”!)

Well, I won’t waste time rebutting Brown’s (and Ruse’s) view, for P. Z. Myers has done a splendid job of it over on Pharyngula.  This is one of P.Z.’s all-time classic posts.  Check out the eloquent peroration after he has worked himself up to the heights of indignation:

I sympathize [with creationists] because they are all missing the awesomeness of reality for the awfulness of some narrow Bronze Age theocratic bullshit.

But there are also some for whom I have no sympathy at all.

I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.

Those people can just fuck off.

Well, a mite strong there at the end, but I share P.Z.’s frustration and anger.   Do look at the readers’ responses (my favorites from last night are #25 and #47)  and especially the readers’ responses to the Brown/Ruse post.  Suffice it to say that Brown’s piece did not go down well.

Let me point out Brown’s twisted logic at the end of his piece:

But this constant identification of religion with irrationality, stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance [by the new atheists] is doubly self-defeating. It doesn’t of course work to persuade anyone out of religious belief. But it also promotes some quite grotesque self-deception. For if all the bad traits in human nature are religious, and I am not religious, then I am surely free from all the believers’ faults. Sometimes I think this explains the attractions of that style of atheism.

Oh dear.  Who ever said that all the bad traits in human nature are religious?  Or that atheists are free from faults?  This is just smoke and mirrors, and what it mirrors is Brown and Ruse’s refusal to face the complete lack of evidence for both God and  the epistemic assertions of the faithful. And I’m dead sick of the Brown/Ruse failure to engage the substantive arguments of atheists.  Instead, they repeatedly criticize our tone.  This is a tactic born of desperation. It’s what students of animal behavior call displacement activity: for example, when a pissed off sea gull attacks a leaf.

People like Ruse are afflicted with what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief” — the idea that even if the tenets of religion are wrong, it should still be promoted because it’s good for people and for society.  I find this notion incredibly condescending.  We know from the situation in Europe, where there are a ton of atheists, that people do not need religion to live happy, fulfilled, and moral lives.


UPDATE: Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse describes Ruse’s own sordid history of cozying up to creationists. I had forgotten that Ruse gave a series of public talks with ID bigwig William Dembski, and didn’t know that Ruse described Dembski’s book The Design Inference as “a valuable contribution to science.”  To science??

58 thoughts on “Brown + Ruse vs. Myers: Are atheists responsible for creationism?

  1. Since I was not a philosopher, I had no credentials to pronounce on issues of philosophy, religion and theology.

    Let me guess… was this right before he started to pontificate on the scientific theory of evolution?

  2. Ruse is the Discovery Institute’s favorite philosopher…

    Discovery Institute’s philosopher is an oxymoron.

    1. Jeremy

      Pardon me, but it is late and I am tired, so please elaborate on your statement: Do you think that P.Z.’s final sentence was not strong enough?


      #25’s story is so familiar and
      anecdotal (personal experience)evidence does not contribute anything useful to the debate. However, #25 does have the
      the same fondness for the f word as P.Z. has, a fondness that is becoming tedious.

      A gilt says, “they are not stupid, only ignorant,” and overuse of the word fuck is ignorant (as defined by the OED: “3-informal, rude; discourteous.”) and is ultimately counter-productive.

      1. It is only counter fucking productive if you allow it to be. And clearly you are fucking allowing it. Your comment is entirely about the word Fuck. PZ finished off a very long and thoughtful post with the word Fuck and that is all you focussed on. You have missed the fucking point.

      2. Yes, sorry Veronica, that comment was a bit opaque. I meant to say that the only bit of Jerry’s article which with I disagreed was his comment that P.Z.’s article was “a mite strong there at the end”.

        In other words: PZ’s expletive was entirely justified (and a masterly piece of prose, when read in context). Fuck yeah.

  3. Particular beliefs may be therapeutic or comforting for those who subscribe, but such effects speak nothing of a belief’s validity. This realization undermines with great irony the very comfort that is allegedly offered, because if a belief *could* turn out not to be true (with so many religions they can’t all be correct), what comfort is there to be gained in the meantime? In other words, the reaction to a belief in no way validates the belief, and therefore any comfort that manifests is nothing but self-delusion and illusory.

  4. I think it’s telling that it took until now for Ruse to realize the obvious, that creationism makes a good deal of sense to people. Where has he been?

    Meanwhile, there have been many discussions on our side about the creationist psyche, many not all that good, but some which were quite insightful. Creationism makes sense to these people, and yet they seem to have nagging doubts, hence the creationist “museum” caters to their confirmation bias. “Prepare to believe,” is their motto, which more or less encapsulates their promotion of unthinking acceptance (“faith”) over skeptical discovery.

    Reams of material have been written about how we’re prone to believe creationistic explanations, from our bias toward causation by agents, to our projection of our intentions onto the natural world. I would explain it simply, which is that we understand how we cause movement and functionality first of all, and make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion that anything functional has the same sort of basis and cause. And Ruse just realized how much sense it all makes to people?

    Above all, does Ruse understand that maintenance of such beliefs entails ongoing stupidity and ignorance? He seems to, when he brings up the battle for children’s minds (“scientific soul” though? What a bastard phrase that is). But then he says it’s silly to just dismiss such fables as false, when it’s the falsity that is the primary issue.

    He had to state that bit falsely, however, since we don’t “just … dismiss this stuff as false.” We demonstrate that it is false–Coyne wrote a book to do just that. Maybe he wasn’t talking to us? Then to whom was he talking? To no one? To those who only know that ID/creationism is false and nothing more?

    It’s hard to know, actually, but it seems that he needed to write a good rant, so he decided to attack whoever and whatever he imagined was at fault. And since he finally realized that magical invocations of agency make sense to people (why are the Grimm fairy tales, and fantasies like Lord of the Rings, popular, Michael?), he decided that the opposition doesn’t know that.

    It makes him look pretty pathetic, though.

    Glen Davidson

    1. Nice post Glen.

      The raw idea of evolution is profoundly counter-intuitive; even crazy sounding. I mean to say – a fish turning into a lizard turning into a dinosaur turning into a bird! You what?

      One has to fully grasp the principles of how it could theoretically happen and the vast time scale involved – which itself is something to boggle a mind which is evolved to be around for a scale of 50 years or so.

      This needs a little practice! It also needs lots and lots of evidence piled on top of lots and lots of other evidence in order to become convincing.

      So it really isn’t surprising that a high percentage of people who haven’t done this stuff should have trouble in accepting it just because scientists say it.

      The problem is these people have never properly looked at what scientists have to say – they have never seriously looked at the science.

      However, this doesn’t cause a problem to science education by itself. It’s just common ignorance after all. It’s when that ignorance is attached to inculcated religious belief that the shit hits the fan.

      Ruse begins to sound like Fuller.

      1. “The raw idea of evolution is profoundly counter-intuitive; even crazy sounding. I mean to say – a fish turning into a lizard …”

        Seems the opposite to me. I never had any trouble with the concept from as long back as I can remember, altho truth in advertising, I don’t think I ran into a real Bible-thumper till I was in my teens.

        Anyway, confining ourselves to vertebrates, as you did above, why do small children seem to universally have an intuitive affinity for small animals (before one bites them, anyway). They all have two eyes like us, a nose* under that and a mouth below that. *Or in the case of fish, something resembling nares in most cases- here’s my felid if Jerry won’t post it: Excepting fish (short of an explanation) we all pretty clearly have four appendages, too.

        Contrast that with Jesus getting nailed to a cross to atone for our sins 2K yrs after the fact, which is the more intuitively plausible? The only reason the latter survives is for the same reason students are reluctant to ask questions in class. They don’t want to appear stupid to the rest. If everyone else nods to this inculcated nonsense, who are you at a young age to question it? Then over time you come to suppose that it actually makes sense.

        Some of the tenets of faiths that demand daily demonstration of obeisance might by that fact be supposed to be even more outlandish.

      2. I think you are wrong about why people reject evolution. Always look to Europe for counter-examples when it comes to religion.

        Europeans generally accept the theory of evolution to a much higher degree than the rest of the world. It is not my experience that they understand the theory any better. They just don’t have any reason to reject it. I think this is true even among most religious Europeans.

        Evolution isn’t as counter-intuitive as you make it seem unless you have a “rejection bias”. Take a child to the zoo and have them watch chimpanzees. They have no problem realizing how similar they are to us – unless you tell them not to think like that. Explain to them that our ancestors once walked on all four. They will find it entirely plausible even if they don’t understand the process of how we became upright.

        It is only when people are indoctrinated with falsities and threatened with dire consequences if they reject them, that scientific theories like evolution or The Big Bang seem hard to accept. Religion really does poison everything!

  5. “Since I was not a philosopher, I had no credentials to pronounce on issues of philosophy, religion and theology.”

    I think Michael Ruse just told Jerry Coyne to shut up! (as he takes a page from Chris Mooney’s play book).

  6. Ruse used to have some interesting things to say – I wish I knew what happened to him.

    On the other hand, there is a tendency in philosophy to be *too* intellectually generous sometimes, even to the anti-intellectual. I can understand trying to be fair, but when it is blatantly clear that one “side” isn’t even playing the game, why keep up the pretense? As if Dembski et al are suddenly going to be honest.

  7. I think I finally figured this one out. Accomodationists think that accomodationism should be advocated because it is useful for getting religious people to accept evolution. Antagonists think that accomodationism should not be advocated because it is false. Then when antagonists claim that it should not be advocated, accomodationists think this is a refutation of the idea that accomodationism is useful, hence why they say, justly, that antagonism is exactly what the creationists want. If you yank the “evolution is false because it is incompatible with [my version of] Christianity” argument rug from under the feet of someone like Eric Hovind, he literally has nothing left to say.

    Wonder if it is possible to hold that accomodationism is both very useful for getting highly religious people to accept evolution, but still entirely philosophically untenable. I’m not sure if it is contradictory, or just insulting to religious people.

    1. Antagonists think that accommodationism should not be advocated because it is false.

      It’s more than simply thinking accommodationism is promoting a view that is false and that might make it insulting/untenable.

      There is a secondary point to the argument from the critics that has yet to make it into the lime light. Namely, that accommodationism has been the dominant paradigm in the argument for decades and it has consistently failed to move the football, so to speak (i.e. Americans are as scientifically ignorant today as they have likely been at any point in the past hundred years). Even if we concede the most recent point-counterpoint to the proponents — that accommodationism adds a warm and fuzzy exterior that attracts religious moderates to our side — the cold empirical fact remains that accommodationism simply does not work! It has been tried for decades and its golden age has come and gone. There comes a time when you need to shit or get off the pot. The unspoken foundation of the Critics POV is that accommodationism is clearly a constipated tactic and its proponents need to pull up their pants and let those of us who know how to get shit done take our turn for a change.

    2. This accomodationist thinks that non-accomodationism is false. Or, rather, what is false is the construction that “science” is an overarching world view that must subsume all branches of human thinking to which it could conceivably apply, and therefore cannot coexist with any non-scientific viewpoint no matter what the evidence from the real world says about it. Science is a method for understanding nature.

      There are valid philosophical debates about whether all reality is nature and is properly understood through science if at all. I take the positive of that view. But, since the consensus seems to be that a nasty tone is helpful, the notion that this philosophical view is “science” or the only “scientific” one is fucking moronic.

  8. It makes sense to acknowledge that creationists have reasons for believing what they believe, and that those reasons make good sense to them. But it’s not necessary to go the extra step to say that their reasons are, therefore, good ones.

    Their (mis)understanding of morality leads some of them to believe that if a single word of the Bible is contradicted, then “we might as well climb trees and throw feces.”

    That makes their attitude understandable, but certainly not noble or right.

  9. Well, there’s also the fact that defending evolution isn’t the only game in town. Even if someone could prove to me that it’s politically expedient to talk like an accommodationist – and I actually think this is a very dubious claim, for reasons of my own in addition to Jerry’s – I’d still be saying that the truth of all the popular religious doctrines needs to be examined stringently and publicly. After all, religious organisations and leaders typically claim to have the secret of salvation, to be able to offer us moral guidance, and (often) to be able to offer guidance to legislatures as to what sorts of conduct should be permitted or banned. As long as they make claims like that, it’s worth asking what the claims are based on. E.g., are these leaders and organisations in a position to speak on behalf of a god or not?

    The accommodationists just don’t seem to get this. The job of defending evolutionary theory is important, and I’m glad to see someone as competent as Jerry doing it. But what Mooney and the rest don’t (or refuse to) understand is that there’s an even bigger job to be done in examining and challenging the credentials of religion.

    As Jerry mentions in passing in WEIT, the battle over evolution is part of a larger war against superstition.

  10. As for the political expediency issue, Jerry keeps making the point that accommodationism has not been successful over time in reducing the number of people who reject evolution and think that the Earth was created 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

    There may be a number of reasons for that, but one is surely as follows. You can’t expect people who have a fundamentalist YEC worldview to settle for something else. The idea that it’s going to be easy to coax such people into a position of “theistic evolution” is naive.

    Yes, some people might be able to be coaxed into such a position some of the time, just as some might abandon Christianity altogether if they think about it very searchingly. Generally, though, we need to recognise that people with fundamentalist YEC type beliefs don’t treat such things as the age of the Earth and the specific creation of each kind of living thing (especially, but not only, of human beings) as merely add-ons to a core of more essential spiritual doctrines. For such people, this part of the core.

    The literal genesis account of creation is part of a comprehensive and and closely-integrated theological system that also involves a literal Fall from grace at a more-or-less identifiable time; the historical introduction of sin and corruption into the world; Christ’s sacrificial atonement for sin; and an ultimate victory of God over Satan. This cosmic victory will culminate in a fiery cleansing of all creation – in effect, a new beginning. Such a belief system does not accept a scientific concept of deep time: there is nothing before a few thousand years BC, and the eschatological events that the theology imagines, such as the Rapture, will take place in a future not far distant. Earth’s time is on a human scale.

    Believers in such a system cannot lightly accept modifications to its claims about the world, in space and time. As long as this kind of Christian theology retains large numbers of adherents, there will be many people who are strongly motivated to reject evolutionary theory rather than abandon their integrated religious worldview. For such people, even the shift to some kind of theistic evolution is likely to be enormously painful.

    There are, of course, other anxieties about evolution that concern people who are not necessarily biblical fundamentalists, but the idea that the biblical fundamentalists will be shifted in large numbers to theistic evolution is a mirage.

    It is also most unlikely that more moderate or liberal Christians who currently accept evolution will reject it because some philosophers and scientists think that it is difficult to (for example) square the evolutionary picture with any kind of religion involving a loving and providential God. Most will find their own ways of making the reconciliation (plausible to others or not), while some will move either to atheism or to more liberal positions such as deism, process theology, or some sort of non-literal conception of God.

    We should go on scrutinising religion, including pointing out how difficult it is to reconcile with the scientific picture. The idea that this will somehow undermine efforts to wean people who resist evolution over to accepting it is undemonstrated. Given all that we know about the positions on offer and the psychologies involved, it is also rather implausible. Meanwhile, we can keep religion controversial, which is a good thing.

  11. By far the most absurd statement made by Ruse is this silly and false analogy: “It is silly just to dismiss this stuff as false – that eating turds is good for you is (also) false . . . “. Tell me, great professor of philosophy, did you ever have a pet bunny rabbit? Are you familiar with the term coprophagus? I thought so – a big “No” to both. God must have loved eaters of turds, he made so many species of them (and, it’s good for them). Someone needs to educate this philosopher: in science!

  12. I don’t know if I’d label myself as a accomodationist per se, but I tend to think that the logic that that the whole discourse linking strongly science with atheism and religion or th/deism with irrationality isn’t likely to be productive.

    I think it’s somewhat weird that science-leaning people (or actual scientists) will do this in completely disregard to what we know about the psychology of belief.

    To be truly honest, I’m not very keen to this subject either, but as far as I’ve read about it, it seems to me that a shock approach in many circumstances will just tend to provoke emotional response and further rationalization. Even worse, I’d think that it could lead some people that wouldn’t otherwise be so opposed to evolution to favor creationism, as the discourse strengthens the association between atheism and evolution, one of the oldest tools in the creationist’s box full of cheats.

    You don’t convince people to accept some scientific fact by scaring them showing it as their ultimate anathema.

    And religious people do not go on acting like caricatures, they actually most of the time live in a psychologically interesting state of almost doublethinking. I think that the whole approach for promotion of science would do better if it didn’t put religion as it’s worst enemy, it’s just somewhat like trying to bully the stronger guy that has been hanging around for much more time.

    You say “religion is the enemy”, and thousands of priests off all kinds will have sermons brainwashing the people who attend to their churches, who in turn will promote more anti-science and so on. We do not need that. They may well keep with the doublethinking and we just let them believe in ghost stories, only confronting it when they start to take it too far into the real world, like praying instead of taking “god given” medicines or thinking that their holy book is a accurate scientific description of the world rather than something intended just to give some allegoric explanation in accordance with the level of comprehension of the humankind at that time. Or that humankind may have just made that up, with some vague gap allows to xianity to be true or worthy anyway.

    I’m a hardcore 7th dan black belt strong atheist, BTW.

    1. But you are still overlooking the one fact clear in all of this:

      Accommodation alone has not worked.

      Also, it is not true that forcing people to face their irrationality does not pull more of them out of their muddled thinking.

      Check out the de-conversion stories of actual believers. Repeatedly, you will see that they leave the faith based on 1) actually reading the Bible and realizing how horrible it is, logically and morally; 2) having their beliefs challenged, and usually the more sternly the better. Sometimes, it’s as simple as refuting a theist positing nonsense with the timeless and pithy, “Bullshit.” That sets the train in motion.

      Standing up and saying “Bullshit!” is working beyond anything we’ve seen in decades. Atheists are more visible now than they’ve been since the 70s. Their ideas are being communicated, even if only through braindead criticisms. Ten years ago, you couldn’t get disbelief into the cultural conversation if you tried. Now, it’s everywhere.

      Again, it is because accommodation alone did not work. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett opened up a conversation by loudly proclaiming “Bullshit!” Not by being namby-pamby nice and saying, “There, there, it’s okay that you believe. I’ll shut up now, so that you can go on believing.”

      And what did it get non-believers in return to be nice in that way? Nada. The theists became more arrogant and more vicious, not less. But we’re supposed to be nice to people who think atheists are immoral scum–who think they can say it with impunity, in any cultural medium? That has been the case for years now.

      I’m sick of it. I’m glad Dawkins, et al. finally stood up and said “Bullshit!” We’re finally getting a chance to have our say, too, after the theists hogged the stage for themselves for so long. BTW, that’s what theists will always do, if you let them.

      Accommodation has its place, but it is impotent without more radical voices to pull the battle away from the mushy middle where the accommodationists can be the nice face of science/atheism; however, accommodationists can’t be the front line. It’s like putting newborn kittens there; they’re cute, but they’re not scary at all. They get mowed down in a heartbeat, because the other side has their elite warriors on the front line.

      We, too, need our elite fighters: strong, resilient people willing to engage in battle, and smart enough to fight successfully. People like Coyne, Myers, Dawkins and etc.

      We’ve lost too much ground not to fight hard at this point. That GW Bush got elected (and why) was a wakeup call to stop being nice, stop being complacent. A huge portion of American society wants to turn back the clock to the Middle Ages (and that might be too progressive for them). They will not stop until they succeed. God’s work is never done, you know. Think about that. Really think about it.

      1. I’d really like to see data on how conversion to atheism mostly occurs.

        I personally have the impression that people are usually theists, more or less gradually become deists, then that sort of “undecided” agnostics, and then agnostic but de facto atheists, and/or plain atheists who do not emphasize or even “reject” agnosticism on those never-ending debates about all nuances of atheism on the internet.

        It was more or less like this with me, but faster than it may sound (atheist already by 12).

        I think that a “Saganian” approach to skepticism, almost neglecting, taking relatively easy on the god part, can be more appealing to rationality-leaning theists, which is good in and of itself, but also may “subliminally” work in a way that will eventually make they leave beliefs on the supernatural and superstition in general. They will not feel that the tools-of-thought we offer are a menace to the things that matter most to them, but will sooner or later start to use them more broadly, questioning their own beliefs in less traumatizing way.

        Whereas the “some of the things that matter to you the most are plain bullshit” approach would tend to make people more defensive, prone to reject the logic. Atheism may be rational, but belief is highly emotional, that has to be taken into account.

        People will not just accept the century-old reasons we have for their god not being intrinsically different than any other as they hear it, as if you were explaining why some sort of motor is better than the other, or why shattered glass is often more sharp than shattered plastic.

        If a plain “strong- onfrontationalist” (or whatever is the right term) approach were the best, it would be expected to be just like that. Some person just explains a few reasons why gods and supernatural aren’t likely to be real at all, that these things are no more likely than fantasies anyone could just make up on the spot, and they’d just readily accept it, and become instant-atheists. Just-add-water. But of course they wont.

        After all, we’re talking about people who we don’t think as examples of rational thought to begin with. That’s obvious.

        I think it’s somewhat like that tale (true or not, I don’t know) of the frog that will boil if it stays in the water that is warmed gradually, but would jump if he’d fall in the water that is already about to boil.

        A few things I can’t say that a “god is BS” approach is, is that it’s somewhat more “honest”. What I’ve just defended above has the looks some sort of “hidden agenda”, a stealth-like strategy. I actually see it as more “paternalistic”, which is somewhat pejorative but not that much.

        I think it is however, more realistic. Whereas the god-is-BS approach is more like “preaching to the choir”, and prone to be from null to counter-productive, regarding popular acceptance of science (and atheism).

        Atheists will come out of the closet more often, the more vocal the Dawkins types are, I’m almost sure. But that shouldn’t be confounded with “more atheists”. There may be some more, but I think it also has the opposite effect. It may act in a way that creates a sharper division between the “extremes”, where we would normally have a gradation of beliefs.

        I’m not totally against Dawkin’s et al approach (which, to be honest, I don’t really know much. I’m a “what? me worry?”-atheist too, and I’ve read mostly science writings from Dawkins (and Coyne)), I think it has its place too. But I think it ideally would be comparatively minimal. I miss Carl Sagan…

  13. > I swear, the Guardian has published three pro-religion, anti-atheist pieces in the past three days. What’s with them?

    It brings in the clicks. Take a look at the comment count against most of Brown’s articles – more clicks = more revenue.

    And given how intellectually weak Brown is, it’s easy to attack his articles from multiple angles. A recent ‘favourite’ of mine was that he appeared to be suggesting that it would require people of faith to solve the climate crisis. He makes them up as he goes along….

    Apart from Madeleine Bunting, Brown is by far the most tedious and lazy writer at the Guardian. He has a toy box full of atheist strawmen and pulls them out with monotonous regularity – no doubt because he can think of no rebuttal to the core arguments of Dawkins, Myers, et al.

    1. The Guardian publishes pro-religion pieces on its belief site for reasons which the name might hint at. But if have difficulty with reading comprehension, I would point out that the piece on faith and the environment explicitly disavowed the idea that this faith needed to be religious.

      1. Oh, honestly. Stop using the word “faith” to describe non-religious attitudes. You know full well (yes, you do) that in the current conversational climate, faith will be read as having religious connotations. That’s not helpful if you’re trying to build bridges with people who share your concerns about the world around us, but who resent being co-opted by religious terminology.

        This is all so baffling – people of sincerity, whether they’re religious or not, care about preserving the world around them. They care about feeding the hungry. They care about free speech. They share these concerns of yours, Mr. Brown. That’s enough. It doesn’t have to about “faith” or religion.

        Don’t try to subsume our concerns under your overweening religious hobby horse. It’s arrogant and we resent it. Stop prostituting dire, real-world problems in the service of propping up your emotional commitment to the religious outlook. Don’t pretend you don’t know you’re doing it, either.

        The problems in the world you’re concerned about are more important than your religious or epistemological commitments. Most of us agree, and we want to work with you, and with people like you. For the love of Pete, just stop the endless religious patter. We have real work to do.

      2. To be honest, Mr Brown, I rarely know exactly what it is you are trying to communicate – and I don’t believe that’s a reflection on my reading comprehension. Not that I read your articles any more – that dreadful piece about faith / global warming was simply *desperate*. I should have stopped after the one where you quote-mined Professor Dawkins.

        It no more requires ‘faith’ to mitigate global warming than it does for me to pump up my bike tyres. What we need is action based on the best science available to us – that’s it. Real world action, not airy-fairy navel gazing and pontificating on how we might shoe-horn Bronze Age bollocks in to it.

        And note that I never mentioned religion – you injected that interpretation. I note that is one of your favourite tools – misrepresenting your opponent and giving the strawman a good bashing.

        Yes, I’d worked out what the Cif Belief section was about – that doesn’t mean it has to be stuffed with such dreadfully weak writing.

    1. Don,

      I doubt very seriously you really think that’s what this is all about. How ’bout trying a little harder to have a conversation.

    2. MK’s right, Don. I think you put up a straw man. I don’t think anyone’s claiming what you state that they’re claiming. Please do go back and read some of the comments again; I think you’ll find they’re actually reasonable. Caricaturing an argument because you have a split-second gut-level reaction to it is a kind of insult in itself (even if you didn’t mean it to be).

      1. Joshua Slocum

        MK is not right.

        I am borrowing your reply to Don, posted June 20, 2009 at 9:03 am: “I doubt very seriously you really think that’s what [my comment] is all about. How ’bout trying a little harder to have a conversation.

        I know that my comments on this blog will not be missed, but I must tell you that your replies to me and others is the reason I will be avoiding the Why Evolution Is True blog. I have learned a lot from this blog; however, I intend to spend my time reading: Janet Brownes’ biography of Darwin (again), Jerry Coynes _Why Evolution Is True_(again) and Michel Onfray’s _In Defense of Atheism_ (again).

        As the commentors at Pharyngula have been know to say, “read a book”; reading will improve your vocabulary.

  14. I think folks like Ruse further prejudice against atheists while imagining themselves as some sort of peacekeeper between science and religion. Reality doesn’t need a “peacemaker”.

    Ruse is also guilty of propping up this nutty notion that faith is ennobling or respect-worthy while, at the same time, perpetuating a false stereotype about skeptics (strident, shrill, militant, etc.) He is no friend to truth, my heroes, science, or me. He is asking that we treat some superstitions (Christianity) different than we’d treat similar superstitions (Scientology, Astrology, Rain Dancing) and THEN claiming that we are “strident” when we balk on this request for special coddling. This is an example of PZ’s Courtier’s Reply–semantic smoke and mirrors so that we don’t shine too harsh a light on one particular brand of magical thinking.

    But the fact is, religion is just another brand of superstition, and honest people ought have no part in encouraging it. Ruse is an example of Dennett’s meme infected “faith in faith” promoting apologist/accommodationist. Where is the evidence that this is a better means of promoting understanding of evolution than the more honest approach of those he criticizes? I suspect his expertise is as imagined as the humility of those he speaks for.

  15. Ruse’s email about putting ourselves in creationist shoes is just so inane. Many of us have been creationist. People like Ruse enabled our magical thinking. People like Dawkins jolted us towards reason.

    Besides, isn’t it easier for Ruse and others to put themselves in our shoes. How exactly would they feel if the Scientologists were asking for special coddling from science in support of their teachings? What about the Satanists? What if the astrologists wanted such special favors? I don’t think Christians are willing to extend the understanding they demand for themselves to these groups, and yet they don’t have any more of a case for asking that we “understand” them.

    I think Ruse and his doublespeak furthers prejudice against scientists while encouraging this nutty notion that faith is something to be respected. He is covering for liars while demonizing those who speak the truth– the emperor has no clothes. Go ahead and admit it, Ruse, -then you won’t have to spend your sophistry pretending that this argument is about how the “tone” of others hurts the “cause”.

    Of course, none of this would be a problem if Christians weren’t such hypocrites demanding special coddling that they’d never want extended to other religions and faith based nuttery. It’s the Christians who have overstepped their “magisteria” by making claims about reality that are not supported by science and then vilifying scientists who refuse to let this pass. Christians stop overstepping the boundary you don’t want the Muslims to cross. All faiths are in the same “magisteria” you know!

    If you don’t want others to judge your beliefs or opinions, don’t put them on display for public consumption. Otherwise expect to have your opinions respected to the same extent you respect those who disagree with you.

    (Christians and their apologists–I’m speaking to you in that last sentence–certainly you must realize that the whole “debate” would go away if you kept your magical thinking to yourself.)

    The magisteria of the woo is the supernatural (whatever that is). Leave reality to those who do it best–the scientists.

    1. I think the problem with atheists is there isn’t any real tactics to use against theists except truth. It’s all this dogma that the religious want to believe is the truth that makes it their truth. If you try the soft approach, then you let them fester in their pool of ignorance, but if you try the hard approach then they feel offended and refuse to listen to any amount of reason. It’s like trying to convince an alcoholic to stop drinking. No matter what you do, they themselves must have that wanting to change, before they themselves can actually change. They must face the truth, accept the truth, and respect it for what it is, before they can actually change and be able to move on with their lives. They must base their beliefs on truth as opposed to basing their truths on beliefs.

      Theist like to use tactics like stereotyping people such as atheist as being evil and deceptive without the benefit of even knowing or giving consideration to what they are opposed to. Be objective to that which you are naive to, rather than being ignorant to that which you are doubtful of. And weigh that which you give consideration to with truth.

      If mankind is to truely move on we must shead the dogma of religions and enlighten ourselves with truth. Humility is the key to our future for it is the greatest truth that we can have about ourselves and others.
      Humility gives one the wisdom to see both the ugliness and beauty that reside in truth.

      Knowledge and wisdom are the subjects to the nobility of truth, so if thy caution thyself not to be the fool, yet thy have a boastful tongue then let it be that which rest upon thy head the Crown of Truth. For the integrity of the wise is to be found in truth, so where shall it be found in that of the fool? And this above all things to thy own self be true.
      Integrity means being as honest with yourself as you are to others.

      Just a piece of philosophy for Ruse to think about.

  16. I don’t think you can get anyone to change their beliefs so long as they think those beliefs are the “key” to their salvation.

  17. I think it’s important to understand why Creationism and not, say, witch-killing or giving all your money to the poor — both of which are clearly endorsed in the Bible — has become the ‘badge belief’ of fundamental Christians. The answer as I see it is that it is a belief without consequences. To be a Creationist you don’t have to DO anything that might get you in trouble with the law, lose you your job, send you broke or alienate your neighbours: you just have to assert a belief which commits you to nothing (except looking slightly stupid). The fact that this dead-end belief is becoming the only universal indicator of Christian sincerity indicates to me that the whole religion has already fallen apart. Creationism is a last desperate attempt to pretend that everyone is marching together when they’re all off doing their own thing. Creationism is a phone-in belief.

    1. I also understand that “suffering” for a cause makes one feel more committed to that cause. I don’t think Christians mind suffering a little embarrassment– it makes them feel like “martyrs” for “the cause”. Heck, they’ll manufacture persecution if there’s none there. All of the more virulent religions do.

  18. I think people who complain about how some atheist messages may offend the people we are trying to persuade are totally missing the point. They object to the “tone” of the message as being counter-productive.

    Many atheists would agree that older religious believers are generally a lost cause, because their minds are already made up. It is the younger generation we have to influence in order to generate a complete paradigm shift in how religion is perceived. And for reaching youth, tone is important – and the more derisory and contemptuous of religion the better!

    The reason is this – on the subject of paradigm shifts, Kuhn said, using a quote from Max Planck: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.

    Younger people are more influenced by how others see them. In this case, public ridicule and deliberate contempt of an idea, combined with clearly explained derision toward those who hold the idea to be true will certainly cause young people to think twice about subscribing to the same concept. It’s about making religion look un-cool and for brain-dead losers.

    We need to shift the balance away from the default setting of pandering to religion. Hopefully this might open up the middle ground for polite, well-informed, quietly-spoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers to be more widely viewed as the clear-thinking moderates that they are, instead of continuously and falsely being painted as “radical” and “strident” by our opponents.

    In a paradigm shift, it is all about the popularity of the idea among the new generation that determines its eventual dominance. This leads to the understanding that we need to get more atheist billboards and bus campaigns out there, etc, and to be very “loud and proud”.

    No accommodation, no prisoners.

  19. .. to float the idea of an intergalactic Jesus who could carry the message of salvation between every planet on which life evolved.

    Not a new idea. C S Lewis mentioned it, and he was reporting that idea as having come from some poem or other … went something like “doubtless we shall compare/in what guise He trod The Lion and The Bear …”

  20. Creationists are people in your society. Nobody needs to understand why they think how they think.

    You’re scientists. Why not argue for evolution using the arguments in topics (science, biology, evolution) you understand?

    If you tie together fight against religion and fight pro evolution you’re doing exactly the same like the guys your fighting, just the other way round.

    And then it’s very important, to know why people (including yourself) argue the way they do.

    I think Ruse knows this better than his critics.

    Just my 0.02 EUR from Germany

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