Mooney and Kirshenbaum self-destruct at last

August 11, 2009 • 11:25 am

After this post, I’m not going to be writing about these two any more; I’ve had my say about their book, and I’ve watched in disgust as they engaged in frenzied and nearly duplicitous self-promotion while ignoring or distorting reasonable criticisms of their book.  I’ve also seen them move from wanting my take on Unscientific America, saying that they thought it would be “balanced and fair,” to then dismissing my critical opinion on the grounds that I’m a biased “new atheist.”  I’m sorry, but my opinion was indeed balanced and fair: Unscientific America is simply a bad book, shallow, unreflective, and not worth buying or reading.

And now Mooney and Kirshenbaum have published an equally shallow and unreflective editorial in the L. A. Times. It’s a rambling, confused piece, accusing the new atheists of hurting science literacy, implying that Richard Dawkins has, in the main, impeded the acceptance of evolution, and even invoking the ghost of Charles Darwin against us. (Why are we supposed to worship everything that Darwin ever said? He was a man, not a god.)

I’m not going to dissect their piece in detail: as usual, P.Z. at Pharyngula has beaten me to the punch, and I have little to add to his lucubrations.  And the crowd here should be well familiar with M&K’s arguments.  I just want to say two things:

1.  The “new atheists” have been on the scene for exactly five years, beginning with Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, published in 2004.  But American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years.  This means two things:

a.  American illiteracy about evolutionary biology cannot have been due to criticism of religion by the “new atheists.”

b.  The dominant strategy of scientific organizations engaged in fighting creationism over the past twenty-five years has been accommodationism: coddling or refusing to criticize religious people for fear of alienating those of the faithful who support evolution. This has been combined with incessant claims that science and religion are perfectly compatible.   This strategy has not worked.

2.    M&K have repeatedly noted that religious people have a problem with evolution because of religion, and yet they bray incessantly that religion is not the problem: it’s those pesky new atheists.  Here is what they say about my criticisms of the National Center for Science Education’s (NCSE) “Faith Project”:

In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in “The God Delusion” denounces the NCSE as part of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,” those equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem — namely, religious belief.

And of course they claim that such criticisms are mistaken and counterproductive.

So I will say this to Mooney and Kirshenbaum one last time, without hope that they’ll absorb it or even respond to it:  the strategy you suggest has not worked. We’ve been making nice with religion for decades, and America remains as “unscientific” as ever. We don’t just perceive religion as the root of the problem, it IS the root of the problem.  Even you, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, must admit that. And many of us feel that Americans won’t begin to accept evolution — or indeed, become more rational about many scientific issues, including stem-cell research and global warming — until they abandon the anti-rational habits of religion.  The “new atheists” are against religion because it is inimical to rational thought.

UPDATE:   Greg Fish and Jason Rosenhouse have just posted good critiques of M&K’s editorial.

174 thoughts on “Mooney and Kirshenbaum self-destruct at last

  1. With their quoting out of context, seemingly deliberate misunderstanding, shaky grasp of argumentative rigour, and refusal to discuss the main issues, preferring instead to dart incoherently around trivialities, they seem to resemble creationists more and more every day.

    1. I question the use of “it” in the second sentence. “it” ambiguously refers to “religion,” or “that which is against rational thought,” or “rational thought.”

      At the sentence-level, all options are possible.

      1. Yes, yes. I committed a sin I can’t abide in my students: the unclear antecedent. Thanks for pointing this out; I’ve fixed it.

      2. Actually, since the “it” is not strictly monoguous (no, that’s not Dyslexic for “monogamous” ;>) the first option for a referent should be the subject of the preceding sentence, methinks. Other options, which I think are certainly not equally possible, would definitely require a strictly monoguous reference. Don’t you think? 🙂

      3. I question the use of “it”…

        I swear, you’re fussier than I am.

        “It” in the second sentence refers to the subject of the first sentence, which is “religion”. This is obvious to anyone with a passing acquaintance with English grammar.

    2. “I committed a sin I can’t abide in my students: the unclear antecedent. Thanks for pointing this out”

      You ended a sentence with a preposition!

      Haw haw haw! English major humor. Actually “out” in your sentence is more likely an adverb.

  2. the strategy you suggest has not worked. We’ve been making nice with religion for decades, and America remains as “unscientific” as ever. We don’t just perceive religion as the root of the problem, it IS the root of the problem. Even you, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, must admit that.

    Yeah, but accommodationism plus PR training will work.

    That snark out of the way, I think it fair to point out that the “New Atheist” tactics haven’t worked either. Not enough time? Granted, but the mere fact that something hasn’t worked and something else is perceived to be needed does not mean that just because attacking religion is “something else” that it is the tactic which will work. Maybe it will, but I haven’t seen much of a real case for it.

    My tendency is to say, just throw everything at the problem. I don’t even know if we have any alternative, since no one can stop either “New Atheists” or “accommodationists.” But at least that way anyone can pick and choose what seems to work, and maybe we’ll find out what works best with which audiences. And one hopes that it will allow different styles to be tailored to fit different ears, and especially, allow for all weaknesses in the IDiots/creationists claims to be attacked without so much repetition.

    Identifying religion as the problem does not warrant that attacking religion will cause it to become less of a problem, as religion is good at fostering reaction. At the least, one must consider how best to attack religion. And it is important that many religious people continue to support science to the degree that they do, for so long as religion remains strongly influential in American society.

    Glen Davidson

    1. I have to disagree here Glen.

      New Atheists brought stridency and ridicule into the panoply of tactics employed but don’t limit themselves to these admittedly distinguishing tactics.

      Isn’t it more accurate to say ridicule and mockery haven’t worked either? But with the caveat that accomodationism is what has been practiced in the classroom (and the larger marketplace of ideas) for the past 25 years, while mockery and ridicule are not really adaptable to the classroom, and thus limited and not really equivalent?

      1. Isn’t it more accurate to say ridicule and mockery haven’t worked either?

        No, it is not more accurate. Wait 25 years and then see. It has not had enough time to be effective yet. This is like saying the Obama administration hasn’t yet fixed the economy after 7 months.

    2. I’m also in the camp that says “use your whole arsenal”, but I just wanted to sound you out about whether the “New Atheism” isn’t working. Over the past few years of vocal atheism, I thought that self-reported atheism is growing dramatically, one of the only “religious” groups to be making gains.

      This gain could be just existing atheists feeling free to admit to their atheism (which is actually a positive first step) or it may be genuine growth. It may not be directly caused by the New Atheists, but I do think that there is a growing awareness of the existence of atheists and some limited acceptance. How much of this is due to the New Atheists?

      Time will tell but I think we’re seeing positive signs.

      1. Whether atheism is genuinely gaining or not I certainly do not know. However, that wasn’t to what I was responding, which was:

        We’ve been making nice with religion for decades, and America remains as “unscientific” as ever.

        I was taking Coyne’s word for it that America remains as “unscientific” as ever–presumably within the margins of error we have for measuring such a “quality.”

        And my point is that although his statement may be true enough, we have little enough reason to believe that targeting religion will work. As in, we can’t just assume that such a tack will work simply because accommodation hasn’t improved matters in at least 25 years.

        Too often we’re getting false dilemma “argument” on tactics, and it’s no more legitimate than the creationists’ false dilemma that if evolution falls, “design” automatically wins.

        Using everything at least seems appropriate based on the analogy (not too much, but at least it’s something) with theories about the free market.

        Glen Davidson

    3. Glen,

      I strongly agree with your “attack on all fronts” strategy. What bothers me most about M & K and their blog is the feeling that they see only one approach as being possible. Somehow “accomodationism” will convert the religious into being the “right kind” of religious, and “new atheism” will only hinder that process. Nevermind that there are plenty of accounts of creationists changing as a result of Richard Dawkins’ books. They simply can’t conceive that some people will be reached by each approach.

      Sadly, I fear that not many will be converted by either approach.

    4. I don’t know, in any recent survey of American religious belief, “none” is the fastest-growing category. We must be doing something right. Or at least not terribly wrong.

      1. Yes, I agree that the “new athiests” have been fairly effective in promoting atheism in the USA, but I’m not sure that translates into greater overall understanding of science. On the other hand, the needed social changes may take a very long time, so why not start now?

    5. It is clear that nothing is going to effect the beliefs of fundamentalists. Those with less severe beliefs are the true targets of the effort to challenge religion itself. For too long those who have vague and ambiguous religious beliefs have allowed the radicals to continue and increase their agenda under the guise of assumed “benefits” of relgion. Casual believers are going to have to be forced to examine their true beliefs and take a side if change is to occur in this country.

      In the past, religion has been accepted as something that cannot be attacked. That prospective has enabled radical believers wield more power and influence with politicians and the general population. Making clear that religion is not rational and is fundamentally anti-scientific must be made clear to those who thoughtlessly defend religion if there is any hope for change. Change has already occurred in that many atheists have come out of the closet (the percentage in polls is increasing).

    6. Glen,

      I would counter that it HAS worked. First, curious people develop a newer, more accurate way of describing reality. Then the information gets disseminated. The older, less accurate way puts up a fight. Folks are burned at the stake, books are banned… but after a while, the better description wins out. Information – specially accurate information – can not be contained for long. Thus astronomy superseded astrology; chemistry beat alchemy; germ theory killed ‘imbalanced humors’; etc.

      To me, this is all “new atheism” is trying to accomplish. Shine the flashlight of scientific inquiry into the area of religion itself. Cause folks – we have enough data now to safely say “oh, guess what. that stuff is not real. who knew? oh well, best not to dwell, let’s move on.”

      So in that sense, confronting a subject matter squarely and uncompromisingly with a new description of reality based on empirical data and multiple lines of corroborating evidence HAS worked before to change the paradigm.

  3. They quoted the following statement from a letter by Darwin to an atheist or freethinking author who asked for (but failed to receive) approval in allowing his book to be dedicated to Darwin.
    “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.”
    Yet they cut off the relevant following sentence:

    “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.”

    1. “…have been unduly biassed by the pain…”

      Having earlier cast my vote for the British spelling in re. judgement, here they clearly demonstrate that theirs is not always the more reasonable alternative.

      1. You need to remember that it’s over a hundred years ago, my impression is that it’s more usually spelt with one ‘s’ today.

    2. That follow-up is typical of Darwin’s punctilious honesty. I don’t believe that Darwin would ever have admitted to not believing in God out of love for his wife and the pain that it would have caused her.

  4. And the crowd here should be well familiar with M&K’s arguments.

    And what arguments would those be? We’re certainly familiar with their claims, but I doubt anyone has ever seen an argument in defense of those claims.

  5. When Mooney and Kirshenbaum say, “it will lead them, and their children, straight into a world of moral depravity and meaninglessness,” surely they mean religion, not science.

  6. Please, please, do not stop talking about the the Self Promotion Twins. It is too much to assume that these relentless narcissists will self-destruct on their own. Their anti-atheist message seems plausible to many who don’t notice the utter lack of any evidence to support the thesis. Your science based posts offer an antidote to theirs, and are entertaining and informative.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. While Mooney whines in op-eds about atheists who write books and who allow bad language on their blogs, these same atheists are also in the trenches, taking advantage of various media to get their messages out there.

  7. As I have stated previously, when ones’ most ardent supporters are a clown like the Kwok and an ignoramus like Anthony McCarthy, one should realize that one may have a problem. However, it appears that the Bobbsey twins couldn’t care less as their only measure of effectiveness is the number of copies of their book that is sold.

    I think that Abbie Smith put it well in her interview with the infidel guy and a comment on the PZ Myers thread. When is Mr. Mooney going to put his money where his mouth is and pay a visit to Oklahoma, home of global warming denialist Senator James Inhofe, and give a talk on the subject? I’m sure that a forum at UO could be arranged.

    1. To be fair, Mooney did recently speak at the University of Oklahoma (OU, not UO) on precisely that topic. It was uneventful, from what I heard.

      1. Re Wes

        I guess Ms. Smith must have meant a venue less friendly then OU. Since she is a graduate student there, I can’t imagine sh meant anything else.

      2. You all are quite right– Zimmer gave me the heads up for Mooneys visit when he came to Tulsa a couple months ago, but I promptly forgot.

        I never knew Mooney was on campus *shrug* And I actually dont know anyone who went… which is odd… Let me ask around.

  8. On a lighter note: I just bought Why Evolution is True. Yes!

    As a layman who has read and thoroughly enjoyed Climbing Mount Improbable, What Evolution Is, The Ape in The Tree, The Beak of the Finch, and various other sciency-evolutionary tomes… when I finish yours do I get a certificate of any kind? ;^}

  9. » Mooney and Kirshenbaum:
    But it’s also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins’ new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?

    It’s even fairer to point out that at least lots and lots of Americans will actually read Dawkins’s new book, The Greatest Show on Earth. It won’t be published for over a month, and it’s already outselling Mooneybaum’s Unscientific America on Amazon. That’s got to hurt.

    1. That really just seems to be Mooney’s problem: Dawkins’ books outsell his, and PZ’s blog gets more traffic than his.

    2. Yeah, isn’t that a moronic statement? LOTS of people will have epiphanies from Dawkin’s book, this I can guarantee!

      In my path towards atheism, reading ‘The Demon Haunted World’ was a definite milestone. To have someone articulate your doubts so cogently, really helps the brain make that final realization those feelings of ‘otherness’ are nothing more than hallucinations. A friend of mine had her epiphany after reading Dennett.

  10. Glen Davidson wrote:
    “we have little enough reason to believe that targeting religion will work. As in, we can’t just assume that such a tack will work simply because accommodation hasn’t improved matters in at least 25 years.”

    I doubt that anyone believes that this will work, if by “work” we mean that large numbers of people will change their minds about religion. It’s still worthwhile, even necessary, to push back against the assault that religion makes on American society. But it’s likely that nothing will work in that sense, at least with adults. The next generation is usually the key to changing attitudes about almost anything.

  11. To pursue Jerry’s final point.

    According to the recent Pew survey, in the USA animal research (AR), anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and embryonic stem cell research (ESC) are equally controversial issues. The most controversial subject is evolution.

    “Controversial” here defined as public opinion differing significantly from the opinion of the scientific community on scientific issues.

    32% of the public and 87% of scientists “think that humans have evolved due to natural processes”. (Ratio of 0.37)

    Other public/scientist ratios:

    52/93 support use of animals in scientific research. (R = 0.56)

    49/84 think that earth is getting warmer because of human activity. (R = 0.58)

    58/93 suppport federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. (R = 0.62)

    51/70 support nuclear power. (R = 0.73)

    69/82 support universal vaccination. (R = 0.84)

    The disparity between public and scientific opinion is not particularly surprising. Scientists in general are obliged to live with what the evidence and their reason suggest is most likely to be true – like it or not.

    What is interesting is the disparity within public opinion according to the nature of these issues.

    A huge swathe of America refuses to accept evolution by natural processes alone because this conflicts with the belief that God has created all forms of life. For various reasons vast chunks of America also reject AGW, AR, ESC and nuclear power.

    Rejection of AGW I put down to the refusal to face having to make big lifestyle changes. It’s denial stupid.

    ESC research has pro-life religious opposition to contend with.

    AR has a yuk-factor to contend with as well as a potent animal rights movement.

    World War 2 bequeathed nuclear power a gigantic public fear factor.

    About half of US citizens accept AGW, AR, and nuclear energy; somewhat less than the 58% who support ESC research, and considerably less than the 69% who support universal vaccination.

    These are somewhat contradictory figures. The strong pro-life contingent could explain the 11 point difference between the acceptance of vaccination and ESC.

    What accounts for the comparatively low level of support for AR, given the level of support for ESC research and high level of support for vaccination and given that ESC research and vaccine research and testing rely heavily on the use of animals?

    Might it be that many people are not aware of this fact; or is it that they cannot stomach this fact? Is it a case of ignorance, or another stupid denial?

    It is interesting that on these controversial questions, scientists are most united on the subjects of AR and ESC research – possibly because they are aware that the two go hand-in-hand. This is a good example of scientific pragmatism in the face of difficult facts.

    I would summarise these findings to be saying that the issues of nuclear energy, AR and AGW are highly controversial issues amongst the public. ESC research is a less controversial public issue. The closest thing to a scientific controversy is the question of the increased use of nuclear energy, though even here a substantial majority of scientists are in agreeement.

    Evolution is a special case. The figures indicate not a public/scientist controversy, they indicate a dichotomy. Organised religion is a paradigm of organised anti-rationalism.

    1. thanks, interesting stuff. I wonder how these US “controversy indices” compare with those of other countries. I guess that the scientists’ part of the figures wouldn’t vary nearly as much as the public’s.

    1. The Kwok is a troll who used to post comments here occasionally but seems to have disappeared. The Kwoks’ shtick is to inform us about all the notable people who have graduated from his high school, Stuyvesant, in NY City, which doesn’t include him (e.g. Attorney General Eric Holder and presidential adviser David Axelrod). He also like to name drop about all the famous people he knows and has socialized with, including most notably Brown Un. biologist Ken Miller. Currently, he haunts the Mooney/Kirshenbaum blog and Jason Rosenhouses’ blog, having been given the heave ho by Abbie Smith and PZ Myers. Actually, unlike Anthony McCarthy who is a nincompoop, the Kwok appears to have some intelligence which he apparently feels compelled to hide from us for some unknown reason. The Kwok also seems to labor under the delusion that any man who has the temerity to make a complementary statement about a womans’ personal appearance is a male chauvinist pig, a sex addict and a probable rapist. All in all, someone who doesn’t operate with both oars in the water. Oh, I forgot to mention that he was also a birther, having made a fool of himself last December in a thread over at Pandas’ Thumb claiming that President Obamas’ birth certificate was not kosher.

      1. Yes, he’s a self-appointed expert on everything… he’ll tell you so himself.

        I didn’t realize he was a birther too. See, that’s the thing… you can’t really communicate with crazy folk no matter how much you “accommodate”, so it’s best just to dismiss them and/or talk about them.

        Or if you are skilled, they make excellent fodder for satire. For example– my stellar applause to Dr. Adequate and his birthers song inspired by the kwokesque …which I’ll quote in part and link)

        The Birther Song

        Here is a puzzle concerning the President:
        where is the land where he’s legally resident?
        Sure, we can guess
        that it’s not the US;
        but beyond that I’m baffled, I have to confess.
        Is he Spanish or Turkish or Swedish or what?
        Could the Belgians have spawned this insidious plot?
        Does he come from Iran
        or Peru, or Japan?
        I don’t know what he is, but I know what he’s not….

        click link to finish the brilliance:

      2. Yeah, Kwok still hangs out at [i]Panda’s Thumb[/i]. There’s something seriously wrong with him, beyond being just a normal troll I mean. The way he obsessively, compulsively name drops–even though he’s been ridiculed mercilessly for it. It’s like he can’t help himself. That’s why I think he must have some sort of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or something. And did you hear about the time he tried to blackmail PZ Myers for a new camera? Hilarious…but seriously wtf? I know he seems reasonably intelligent at first. He writes in complete sentences, forms full thoughts, etc. But something’s definitely wrong upstairs. He’s not all there.

      3. Yes, I witnessed his camera bribe at Pharyngula and assorted rants on Mooney’s blog…

        I would say Kwok is a classic example of:

        Pugilistic Discussion Syndrome

        In this curious form of aphasia, the subject is unable to distinguish between a discussion and a contest. The subject approaches any online forum as a sort of playing field, and attempts to “win” the discussion by any means necessary. The rules of the imaginary contest are apparently clear to the individual as he or she will often point out when others break them, but when asked to outline these rules the individual is reluctant, perhaps not wishing to confer an “advantage” on any “opponents.” The conditions for winning are similarly difficult to pin down, although in some cases the individual will declare himself the winner of a discussion that, to all others, appears to be ongoing.

        Forewarned is forearmed. You can learn more talking about such people than attempting to talk to them. Having Kwok on your side is like having Behe on your side. It’s… embarrassing.

        If Kwok thinks you are a Borg drone, consider yourself in excellent company.

  12. I don’t know why you guys have a problem with Chris Mooney. I’m completely in agreement with Mooney’s comments that:

    the fundamentalists seem to be exactly right about the religious implications of the study of evolution. Sure, Kenneth Miller can separate his scientific research and his religious beliefs. But few top scientists actually do so. In 1998 in the journal Nature, the historian Edward Larson and Washington Times religion writer Larry Witham reported the results of their survey of the religious views of National Academy of Sciences members. Nine out of 10 were atheists or agnostics, and among NAS biologists, just 5.6 percent believed in God, the lowest percentage for any scientific field. Larson and Witham quoted the Oxford scientist Peter Atkins: “You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don’t think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.”

    If anything, I think Mooney went too far in saying that any “attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though well intentioned, is finally naive.”

    Of course, those quotes are from the 2001 version of Chris Mooney.

    Perhaps we should start calling Mooney “the original New Atheist.”

    1. Perhaps we should start calling Mooney “the original New Atheist.”

      Better words:

      1. And given his 2001 position, he’s a flip-flopper.

        Thanks, Screechy, many of us had a sneaking feeling that Chris had changed… he seems to be getting dotty in his middle age.

        Can accommodationism harm a brain in the same manner faith does?

      1. 2017?
        At the current rate of change he’ll have gone full faith-head by then. I suspect that by that stage he’ll be living it up on the proceeds of his Templeton prize, far away from the harsh words of those nasty atheists, most probably in a monastery or the caves of Tora Bora.

      2. Could the answer be so simple as Mooney wants himself some of that sweet, sweet Templeton cash? He certainly does seem to be going down that road.

      3. It seems that in order to get the Templeton prize (£ 1,000,000) one must be a religion-savy distinguished scientitst or a scientific-savy distinguished theologican. Mr. Mooney is neither and I don’t think he has the time to become either.

        I think Mr. Mooney’s approach gives a hint that his ambitions are more in politics or politically orientated jobs. It is difficult to picture him as a senator, but maybe he is looking forward to be a new Carville?

    2. Forgive the hyperbole, but this seems to me a very significant development. That article shows Mooney violating numerous arrogant pronouncements he (and his coauthor) made in Unscientific America.

      Do any of our prominent Uppity Atheist bloggers care to point out Mooney’s tremendous hypocrisy, as exemplified by that article?

      (As Screechy Monkey implicitly pointed out, the Mooney Slate piece predates Harris’ The End of Faith (typically described as the earliest “New Atheist” book) by a few years. Now he decides that it was a horrible mistake to take the conflicts between science and religion seriously and point them out prominently?)

      1. Do any of our prominent Uppity Atheist bloggers care to point out Mooney’s tremendous hypocrisy, as exemplified by that article?

        They don’t need to do that, you just did.

    3. And there you can see why Mooney thinks his earlier work “unsatisfying”. He used to actually produce relevant evidence in support of his statements. That’s not something he’d want to be caught doing these days.

    4. As a college student, Mooney was on the executive council of the Council for Secular Humanism’s student organization, the Campus Freethought Alliance. He was not well liked, and left after a year.

  13. We don’t just perceive religion as the root of the problem, it IS the root of the problem.

    Even Ken Miller made such a case in Only A Theory. Has the pendulum swung so far from new atheism that the faitheists have their heads firmly lodged in their own behinds?

    At least Dawkins has the balls to say what he thinks instead of focusing on a pragmatic approach to pandering. It may not be popular, but at least it is intellectually honest.

  14. From the referenced blog article: “Indeed, we’re glad it [Unscientific America] has touched such a nerve in some quarters—to us, this underscores that its critique was much needed.”

    I think I just lost my title of King of Non-sequiturs. Even the “ontological argument” may appear to make sense when placed next to that quoted statement.

    I have to disagree with the assertion that scientists have been accommodating religion for a few decades; the problem of accommodation goes back over 2000 years and we see evidence of it in Plato’s stories about Socrates. Of course in those good old days religion had the upper hand and free thinkers were brutally despatched. People had to do their best to portray any scientific work as being inspired by the great sky fairy or else the risk of execution was high. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that the stranglehold of religion was relaxed within Europe and the USA and science could truly flourish (the last Italian Inquisition finally ended). I find it terrifying that the Abrahamic religions long for the good old days while also longing for the end of the world; they are obsessed with death, tyranny, and destruction while claiming to be peaceful and wanting to save the world.

    1. Or to paraphrase Sam Harris, if the reasoned disagreement of experts confirms your ideas, what could possibly discomfirm them?

  15. I am under the impression that the goal of the “New Atheists” (apart from the LULZ) was not to convert the irredeemable faith heads but to reduce their influence on society.

    If they are made to look ridiculous then (hopefully) those moderates that accede to their demands will have second thoughts about their public image before they: modify a state’s curriculum, erect a 10C monument, insist on abstinence-only sexed, &c.


  16. “And now Mooney and Kirshenbaum have published an equally shallow and unreflective editorial in the L. A. Times.”

    You forgot to mention finger-pointing, whiny, vituperative, and spiteful. They said you “assaulted” the NCSE’s “Faith Project” – assaulted!

    I left a sarcastic comment on their blog asking how many people were injured, but of course I’m banned, so only they will see it.

    1. *you* were banned but the Kwok and McCarthy get to dominate the posts? Aaaaahahahahahahahaha! I guess that’s accomodation in action.

      I don’t think I’m banned yet but I’m not particularly inspired to check out their blog these days.

  17. I agree with Jerry that religion is a root of the problem with scientific illiteracy, however technically the lack of critical thinking is the really at the roots of all. There would be probably no religion (or it would be marginal phenomenon) in the first place if the critical thinking and rationalism was prevalent in a population.

    1. Yes, but there’s this problem with religions training kids to be stupid while they’re still very young. Some kids get over it, some never do.

  18. To be something Mooney never is–fair–let’s not forget that the Moonster himself has been very up front about his flip-flopping:

    “…indeed, I find my work from 2001 on this topic pretty unsatisfying. I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position.”

    That’s what he gets for reading the Classic Comics version of Philosophy and History for Dummies. (Thanks to Larry Moran at Sandwalk for making the quote easy to find.)

  19. At this point, I doubt either of M&K care about the topic one whit beyond keeping it as a nice fat fauxtroversy so their blog hitcounts and book sales go up. If they found out both would skyrocket if they held signs outside of UMinn-Morris, they’d both be out there.

    They’re just like every other New Media Douchebag: All they care about is hitcounts and their name in ‘lights’.

    1. Then how do you explain this attitude:

      “For too long, people in the science blogosphere have tiptoed around Myers. After all, he can send a lot of angry commenters your way. And he, and they, are unrelenting in their criticisms, their attacks, and so on.”


      They seem to consider disagreement in comments to be a bad thing, rather than evidence of traffic and interest.

  20. The dominant strategy of scientific organizations engaged in fighting creationism over the past twenty-five years has been accommodationism: coddling or refusing to criticize religious people for fear of alienating those of the faithful who support evolution. This has been combined with incessant claims that science and religion are perfectly compatible. This strategy has not worked.

    Creationists try to get “creation science” into the schools. They were shot down in court. Creationists water down their beliefs into “intelligent design” and try to get that into schools. Again, they get shot down in court, in the Dover case. And if you look at who helped make those court cases happen, it is the so-called accommodationists. One can argue that if it weren’t for the accomodationists, especially their legal efforts, the situation would be even worse than it is now.

    1. “And if you look at who helped make those court cases happen, it is the so-called accommodationists. One can argue that if it weren’t for the accomodationists, especially their legal efforts, the situation would be even worse than it is now.”

      That may well be true, and it’s a fair point. Indeed, Dawkins has explicitly said that his testimony probably would hurt more than help in an American courtroom. But:

      1) I don’t think any of the so-called New Atheists are calling for the accomodationists to step aside or sit out the debate. I don’t see Coyne or Myers or Dawkins saying that Ken Miller shouldn’t write books, or testify in court cases, etc. They are saying that (a) nobody should be told to shut up; and (b) everyone’s claims are subject to scrutiny and debate.

      2) The court battles are only one aspect of a bigger picture. Even on that particular front, evolution supporters have only been holding ground, not gaining it, over the last twenty-some years. Sure, Dover was a nice victory. But as long as the public continues to deny evolution in such substantial numbers, we’ll be fighting a series of battles like Dover, and like the Texas board of education, just to hold on to the status quo. And some of those battles we will lose. You have to move the underlying public opinion. And that’s just on evolution, which in turn is just a small part of the overall battle against religious dogma and anti-science. What the “New Atheists” are trying to do is address what they see as the root cause of these problems, so that fifty years from now we won’t be putting out the exact same brush fires we are today.

      1. “That’s not quite true, as Wesley Elsberry pointed out a while back.”

        I don’t see how that links supports you. It’s a discussion of some comments by Russell Blackford (and I’ll assume for argument’s sake that he’s a “New Atheist,” since that seems to be such a flexible and ill-defined term anyway) about what the proper position of the NCSE should be as an organization. Blackford — as his contributions in the comments to the post you linked makes clear — is simply advocating neutrality on the part of the NCSE as an organization. Science organizations “should not comment on what specific theological positions are or are not compatible with science.”

        If that position is “telling the accomodationists to shut up,” then it’s also telling the New Atheists to shut up. But in fact it’s neither. It’s simply an opinion on what the proper role of the NCSE as an organization is. The individual scientists who belong to or support the NCSE can do as they please.

  21. @Stan Pak #20 said:

    “technically the lack of critical thinking is really at the roots of all.”

    I agree with you, and I think it’s an important point.

    “Religion” is actually a very difficult word to define. Arguably, there are forms of religion that are atheistic and non-supernatural (some elite forms of Buddhism, and the naturalistic pantheism of Spinoza and Einstein come to mind.)

    Fundamentalist diarreah has infected America to such an extent that I think many of us forget that religion can take other forms.

    I’m not arguing that we back off from criticizing religion, but I think it’s a good idea (and intellectually more honest,) to define the enemy, as it were, with more precision.

    1. …but I think it’s a good idea (and intellectually more honest,) to define the enemy, as it were, with more precision

      But then they would never recognize themselves due to their lack of critical thinking whether the enemy is the literal bible creationists or the accommodationist faitheists or even the butatheists (I am an atheist, but…).

      (that has the rudiments of a rap song, I think).

      Yes, any form of obsessive compulsive behavior can become a religious dogma Go Red Sox, beat Yankees), but it is very clear who is targeted around here.

      1. But then they would never recognize themselves due to their lack of critical thinking

        Who’s “they”? If you mean the religious, then describing them as simply lacking critical thinking is a gross overstatement. If you mean something else, then you are being horribly unclear.

      2. @J. J. Ramsey:

        If you mean the religious, then describing them as simply lacking critical thinking is a gross overstatement.

        There can be religious people who try to be critically thinking but when you analyze their arguments you may find that they make some logical fallacies at certain point, i.e. most common are from authority (pope or bible) or a priori (god exists and all other follows), or they do not know relevant subjects of science (like ignorance in physics of Craig). There are many more [types of fallacies] and they appear blinded on them. The symptomatic case is Miller who appears skeptical and accepts arguments for evolution but makes the god-of-the-gaps arguments, vague language and evasions. (BTW I would really like to hear/read him claiming that the cracker is a god or that Jesus turned water into wine.)

      3. I was very clear in responding to Stacy Kennedy. I gave her quote. “They” is the enemy and I defined three classes of them.

    2. As Sam Harris justly said – the problem of religion is not that it is religion itself but the “dogma” – set of unchallengable beliefs. Dogmas/taboos can be embedded in many ideologies: religions, political/economical systems, new age stuff etc. This issue should be addressed first.
      Here is a proposition:
      If we (society) can address this issue at the earliest level (i.e. as a part of early education system) we can manage this problem as we manage the spread of diseases (it is useful analogy). We should teach logic and recognizing fallacies and think critically at the elementary school. If the children know that they can think for themselves and question, the prevalence of religions and related/similar stuff can be greatly reduced.

      1. Completely agree. But religion is special among dogmatic ideologies because the general public grants it so much respect, for free. Marxism or quantum healing, say, do not enjoy such traditional privileges. Therefore it becomes important to break the tradition and start seriously ridiculing religion (on a par with all other unworthy ideas).

        By the way, postmodern relativism, as I see it, aims at extending this uncritical deference to everything else, and this is why it is so pernicious. Don’t ridicule my UFO channeling, you’re hurting my feeling! How DARE you?

  22. “In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in “The God Delusion” denounces the NCSE as part of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,” those equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem — namely, religious belief.”

    I’m sorry if I missed this Jerry, but *WHEN* did you criticize NCSE for refusing to engage (presumably negatively) religion?

    IIRC, you and PZ and a number of others criticized the NCSE *FOR* engaging religion and publishing a preference of one flavor of religious belief over another, namely Millerian Theistic Evolution, or Collinsian Evolutionary Creationism?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point you were making that the NCSE shouldn’t weigh in on theological discussions but should stick with the facts of science education?

    If that’s indeed the case, aren’t M&K horribly misrepresenting your views by claiming you supported them attacking religion, when you supported neutrality?

    My guess is that yes, they are. And if their past behavior is any indication, if this is pointed out to them they become impervious to self-reflection.

    I find them to be horribly rude jerks. If I ever misrepresented anything anyone else said, I’d be falling over myself to correct it. Not so, M&K. I’d rather have the entirety of new atheists calling me foul names than misrepresenting my views (willfully?).

    Anyway, you’re right. Their ideas have utterly failed. If they can’t even communicate with us, their whole status as “communications experts” is a non-starter.

    1. Yes, Siamang, you’re right–that is absolutely a distortion. Of course the NCSE and other organizations engage with religion; I just don’t like the way that they do it. And yes, I’ve suggested neutrality: no mention of compatibility or incompatibility between faith and science.

      I didn’t go after this point because it’s just one of many p.r.-like distortions they engage in, and I’m tired of them.

      1. I just wanted to bring that up. Every supporter of the NCSE’s accomodationist position, including Miller, M&K, that I’ve read has either misunderstood or chosen to misunderstand the difference between neutrality and advocating for the NCSE to take up the torch of atheism.

        So much so that every rebuttal I’ve read begins with you, or PZ or others saying “no, I didn’t say I wanted them to push atheism, I said I think they should leave theology and philosophy out of their mission and stick to the science.”

        Now to my question: have Miller or anyone, upon reading the restated position said “Ooooh… I get it now. You’re arguing for *neutrality*, not *advocacy*. Sorry about that misunderstanding.”?

        I think pushing M&K on this point would be fruitless. But I think that it might be worth it to try and get Miller to at least concede this point? No?

        Anyway, has ANY accomodationist evinced the notion that they at least understand the difference of positions between advocating neutrality and advocating that the NCSE promote atheism? They might disagree with neutrality as a tactic, and that’s fine. But do they even *recognize* that there’s a difference?

        Such would go a long way toward showing intellectual honesty among those on the other side of this discussion. Listening is a sign of respect. If they can’t take the time to even listen long enough to understand our positions…

    2. Please correct me if I’m wrong….

      No correction necessary, you are correct. M & K misrepresented.

      1. How very rude and uncivil of them, then. They owe at least some measure of civility when representing the views of Coyne and Dawkins and Myers. Anyway, it reflects poorly on them and bankrupts their entire thesis of being superior communicators.

    3. I haven’t seen anyone on the faitheist side accurately characterize my/our “neutralist” position, but, you know, it would probably not be productive to hammer them until they admit the truth.

      1. I think to admit that point would be fatal to the theistic evolution position. It’s current PR value relies on theistic evolution being portrayed as the ‘moderate’ (and thus most ‘reasonable’, or ‘fairest’) voice in the debate. They use a process of selective deafness when anyone mentions the fact that neutrality rather than their brand of theistic evolution is actually the fairest position.

  23. Cross-posted from Pharyngula:

    What’s particularly annoying about the M&K editorial is its title:

    Must science declare a holy war on religion?

    That’s straight out of the IDiot/cretinist handbook, that science is religion out to get the Xians.

    They’re getting to be some of the worst slanderers of science that we have.

    Glen D

    1. Next title: ‘Must science declare a war on Christmas?’ Next title after that: ‘Why does science hate America so much?’ Next title after that: ‘Look out, science is going to kill all the Christians!’

      1. Jason Rosenhouse on Evolutionblog pointed out a curious point about their writing style in this current article which was that they used what Jason took to be sarcasm to write about Dawkins’ scientific writing.

        “Dawkins’ new book, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” will inform and regale us with the stunning “evidence for evolution,” as the subtitle says.”

        I felt the same way. Why the need to say “stunning “evidence for evolution”?” It’s like something Casey Luskin would write on the Discovery Institute site.

      2. Yes, “regale” means “to entertain or amuse.” It hardly conveys a seriousness of purpose.

  24. Off topic, but I’m on the Discovery Institute’s mailing list, so every once in a while (quarterly?) I get a letter asking for contributions. The letter starts off with the whole “Thomas Jefferson believed in intelligent design!” argument. They enclosed a copy of the whole damn thing. There is no limit to their deception.

    1. Since they’ve proven incapable of reconstructing science, they’re trying to reconstruct history, going right for the heart of the author of church/state separation.

      Especially if they included a postpaid envelope, fire one back at them asking why he purposely omitted a chapel from the design of UVA.

      1. I love using postpaid solicitations. I rip the letter up into many pieces (removing my name/address first) and then mail them back in their envelope.

      2. Alas, the envelope in the mailings I get requires a stamp… I suppose there is a possiblity that it would arrive “Postage Due,” but they’d probably refuse…

      3. By the way, I meant to mention that I received the TJ was an IDer letter yesterday, which was the whole point of the comment…

    2. I received one of those also.

      …The freedom to question Darwin’s theory remained under fierce attack:

      Stein’s withdrawal from the commencement at the University of Vermont, McLeroy’s ouster from being chair of the Texas Board of Education, and attempts to prevent nonsense teaching in Louisiana are the “evidence” given for that statement.

      They’re “funding path-breaking books that present the evidence [sic] for intelligent design, such as Stephen Meyer’s just released Signature in the Cell…”. And they’re “assisint in the production of high-quality [sic] films and video’s like last year’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed…. I thought so, in fact.

      We want to use the anniversary to challenge the Darwinists to debate the evidence, but we need your help to do so.

      “Debate” is the operative word there, because it’s clear that they don’t want to discuss these matters reasonably–in writing and with all of the issues in play. These fascists never enter into web discussions in good faith, almost never even addressing important questions like why Archaeopteryx is “poorly designed” only because it is merely a dinosaur not fully adapted to flight.

      This sounds good:

      Like most non-profits, we’ve felt the pain of the economic downturn…


      Never a twinge over constant lies, however.

      Information about their dissemination of lies:

      $2000 will fund a student in our summer program; $150 will help us produce an episode of our internet radio show; $50 will underwrite sending free materials to a teacher or school board member; and $25 will enable us to send Steve Meyer’s Signature in the Cell to a journalist, talk show host, or scientist.

      Think of the last two in particular. Meyer’s book will look plausible to many journalists and talk show hosts (unbiased scientists should be more intelligent about it), and their “free materials” could convince many a scientifically-ignorant teacher. They’re really trying to get their dishonesty out there.

      Glen Davidson

  25. I feel so cool– I get to hang out on blogs where the banned Ophelia Benson hangs out– who knows what “dangerous” thing she might type next!?

  26. Here’s Jerry Coyne’s syllogism in a nutshell:

    1. The scientific theory of evolution is true, but most Americans don’t believe it’s true.
    2. Religion qua religion has made most Americans the way they are—stupid.
    3. Chop down the tree of religion by relentless mockery, rhetoric, and philosophical argumentation, and most Americans, on encountering these attacks, will loosen up their science-blinding religious beliefs and come to accept the scientific theory of evolution.

    Ah, where does one begin in deconstructing such a wobbly piece of intellectual architecture?

    First, it would seem to me that to prove to someone that the scientific theory of evolution is true you would double down on scientific argumentation and the collection of additional evidence to make your case even more compelling, and not attempt the difficult ricochet pool shot of getting someone to believe one thing by getting them to not believe something else.

    Second, if you were to take your eye off the scientific ball and feel the need to attack religion, you would choose your targets very precisely, and not flail at religion qua religion. In other words, people who are religious and believe in evolution would seem to make natural allies, not enemies. With them, afterall, you’ve already “won.”

    Third, you might consider alternative hypotheses to the “religion qua religion is the problem” hypothesis. You might consider, for example, the possibility that we live in a post-literate society in which the vast majority of people derive their beliefs, not from books and reading, but from viewing images on television and the Internet, and hearing things on the radio.

    In short, if a scientist wanted to use something other than detailed scientific argumentation to persuade others that evolution is true, he or she might take up a crusade against television and illiteracy, or make all his or her arguments via short YouTube videos, or put all his or her books and blog posts into audio format so people could listen to them on their iPods. The “television makes people stupid” hypothesis is certainly no less rigorous, precise, or valid than the sledgehammer hypothesis “religion makes people stupid.” If you must, as a scientist, attempt such a broad and ill-defined intellectual bank shot, why not rail daily against television and the fact that the average American reads not more than a book or two a year, and the books they actually tend to pick up are crap? They don’t even read the Bible! There’s plenty to get yourself all worked up about here, yes?

    Fourth, Coyne might think about this hypothesis: “Modernism breeds anti-evolutionary beliefs.” In other words, it might not be “religion qua religion” that makes people reject evolution, but the perception among many Americans that modernism, technology, globalism, science, and capitalism are changing the world too fast, and breaking down traditional certainties, and this leads to fundamentalist cacooning. Put differently: attacking fundamentalism is to attack the effect of a much larger causal agent. Modernism might well breed fundamentalism as a psychological compensation against change. It may be that one of the ways that people feel human is to be “underground men” (ala Dostoevsky) and thus be skeptical of whatever the well-adjusted and “comfy with globalism” urban establishment accepts (global warming, evolution, ecology, vegetarianism, small cars, Obama etc.). Jerry Coyne’s tough rhetorical style may thus simply add fuel to the alienation fire.

    And can you imagine scientists from other fields adopting Coyne’s strategy? What if a medical doctor trying to get people to eat low fat and vegetarian meals said: “Fuck it. People aren’t rational! They’re not rational because they’re religious. I’m going to start a blog attacking religion, and intersperse it with some vegetarian recipes!” Or how about this: “I’m a climate expert. Fuck the religious masses. Religon is stupid. People can’t think because of religion. I’m going to write a book, not about global warming, but about religion, and how bad it is, and save the earth from global warming!”

    Wouldn’t we recognize immediately the absurdity of such moves—and how the wrong target was being picked? Why is it any different when an evolutionary biologist rhetorically flails in this manner?

    Evolution is just one component in a larger cultural rejection by people who have gone “underground” to retain (what they perceive as) their humanity, their dignity, their sanity, and their sense of control over a scary world. Without addressing the larger cultural resistance to modernism, creationism is no more likely to be uprooted from America than other underground beliefs (conspiracy theories about the Illuminati, the Birther movement etc.). These are cultural markers. They are things that people believe as forms of identification against modernism. Human beings are always going to declare allegiences and resist authorities, even the authority of Jerry Coyne and his fellow evolutionary biologists. The very thing that makes anti-evolutionary belief so frustrating is linked (ironically) to human freedom, resistance, conrarity, and skepticism—the Dostoevskian underground man—which are the very positive traits Coyne imagines himself the bearer of.

    As Coyne continues to box with religion qua religion, he should keep his life in perspective with this statistic: less than 10% of Americans even have passports.


    1. No reason to read the spew from Santi beyond the first paragraph because he gets his premise wrong every single time.

      Nothing to see here except mental masturbation from Santi, the deeply religious theist.

      Excuse me while I go shower off.

    2. 1. Most doctors are not “scientists” in any meaningful sense of the term.

      2. The “climate expert” analogy is a non-sequitur and misrepresents Coyne’s argument.

      3. Anti-evolutionism, alas, is hardly an “underground” phenomenon.

      4. M&K, by tolerating know-nothingism, end up promoting it. They consistently imply that theists (I am one– mea culpa, lol) can *never* understand or accept rational points of view. If P.Z. Myers or Jerry Coyne were to say that (and I don’t think they ever really do), I could accept it. Coming from M&K (especially with their lame tendency towards unsupported assertion and save-the-worldism), it’s just annoying and patronizing.

      Here in one of the most abyssal regions of the Bible Belt, I’ve taught books/articles by Hemant Mehta, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins to many fundie types in university English classes. Of course they don’t like this stuff, at first, but when they actually engage with the ideas some amazing things happen–prejudices dissolve and minds open.

      5. The Illuminati are not just a conspiracy theory! bwahahahahahahaahaaaaaaaaaa

  27. Razib points out that among the younger generation, evolution denial is down:

    “…I thought I would repeat a data finding which might cheer us up: the youngest adult age cohorts are the least Creationist.The GSS has 4 evolution related questions, EVOLVED, SCITEST4, SCITESTY and CREATION, and all seem to point in this direction. Below the fold I present the data, along with a few crosstabs by demographic variables & commentary…”

    The unashamed atheists may or may not have something to do with this – I don’t think you could say too much either way with these data points – but they don’t seem to have hurt evolution acceptance.

  28. Ophelia:

    Ah, did you even read what Jerry Coyne wrote? Here’s his exact words above:

    “[M]any of us feel that Americans won’t begin to accept evolution — or indeed, become more rational about many scientific issues, including stem-cell research and global warming — until they abandon the anti-rational habits of religion. The ‘new atheists’ are against religion because it is inimical to rational thought.”

    Coyne is saying religion qua religion is enimical to rational thought, and so religion must be combated directly to bring people to evolutionary belief. That’s exactly what I offered as his syllogism (though not as concisely).


    1. Santi’s new theistic dogma:

      religion qua religion

      You will see him type it ad nauseum:

      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion
      religion qua religion

      Here, troll, I spewed it all over for you. Now all you need to do is add your senseless, meaningless word salad.

  29. @ #33
    “Coyne is saying religion qua religion is enimical to rational thought”

    So what? It happens to be true.

    1. Tomh:

      So what?! It happens to be a gross oversimplification, without qualification or nuance, and it may well be (if you read my longer comment above) the wrong object for an evolutionary biologist’s chief outrage. I offered two other larger cultural possibilities, of which fundamentalist religion is a symptom:

      (1) the post literate society; and (2) the cultural reaction to Modernism in general.

      A snarky evolutionary biologist who does not decouple science qua science from the Modernist project as a whole is suddenly smack dab in the middle of the culture war, and reinforces to Red State “heartland” Americans that science is inimical to their cultural practices. I think this is a strange strategy for generating a broader comfort with evolution as a scientific theory. Francis Collins and Ken Miller are bridges to the religious community that Coyne appears to want to burn down. They are trying to decouple science from the larger culture war, and Coyne appears to want it coupled and front and center (exactly as the far right does).

      But when you treat science as more than science, and put this other thing on it—religion bashing and atheism—you are now no longer in the realm of science, and people know that. Drudge, for example, delights in posting the headlines of climate scientists who are overtly political or who indulge in unqualified generalizations or exaggerations. It undercuts science for conservatives and reinforces their prejudices about scientists and their motivations in certain areas of science.

      Perhaps Coyne hopes someday to generate a banner headline at the DrudgeReport. But if the DrudgeReport wants to stand you up front and center before a conservative audience and talk, what’s that tell you? You must be shooting yourself in the foot, right? Drudge wouldn’t be trying to make you look good, would he?

      Coyne is not acknowledging his existential situation. He is an evolutionary biologist with a metaphysical commitment that exceeds the empirical (atheism). He is free to express that commitment, and I hope that he continues to do so. I, personally, find it highly informative. But it doesn’t follow that, in loudly proclaiming his contempt for religion, Coyne should harbor the illusion that he is actually advancing the public’s esteem for science or scientists. People know when you’ve said something beyond your area of expertise. And they know when you’ve shifted from reason to passion.

      Coyne imagines that a unified front of combative atheist scientists would, over time, reduce creationist beliefs in America. But to the contrary: I think it would simply reinforce broad prejudices about the necessary consequences of evolution to culture, and give the DrudgeReport bemused and alarmist weekly headlines to drive traffic to its site.


      1. Coyne imagines that a unified front of combative atheist scientists would, over time, reduce creationist beliefs in America.

        *tee-hee* Santi is psychic (as well as psycho)… he knows what Coyne IMAGINES!

        Way to miss the completely miss the point again, faitheist, but it was a fun visual image (the “unified front” of “combative atheists” I mean).

        It would be nice if we could treat all religion the way we’d treat flat earthism and other pseudoscience–roll our eyes and disregard it. But of course you can’t hear this message, you are too busy listening to straw men whisper their imaginary “hidden message” behind the words.

      2. “It happens to be a gross oversimplification”

        It’s a very simple statement, it can’t be oversimplified, religion is inimical to rational thought. The evidence has been repeated ad nauseum, here and elsewhere; religion requires certitude about things unknown, absolute belief in ancient fables that have no relation to reality, denial of proven evidence of known phenomena, the list goes on and on and on. Do all 50,000 religions require acceptance of all the irrational beliefs that religions have invented? Of course not, but at their core they all require acceptance as true of an irrational belief in the unseen, unevidenced, product of man’s imagination. All of this is inimical to rational thought. What is the problem with that statement?

        As for the rest of your sophisticated argument about culture wars and the Drudge Report, or your opinions on strategies to win the hearts and minds of the American people – all irrelevant to the simple statement I quoted from you. You think it is “the wrong object for an evolutionary biologist’s chief outrage.” How would you know? Maybe an evolutionary biologist’s chief outrage is no different than anyone else’s. One doesn’t need a doctorate to recognize the pervasive influence religion has in America. Or the fact that without religion there would be no denial of evolution as we see it today. I’m an uneducated farmer and I can see that much. Why can’t you?

      3. Yes, articulett, this comment by Santi is so incredibly stupid, it is hardly worth talking about.

        The lunacy and malevolent spew in every sentence shows that Santi does not live in the real world.

        Bad premises, attributing words and *thoughts* to those who did not say or think them and Santi masturbating himself against straw men shows that he is completely clueless.

        Bringing up the right wing-nut Drudge report is just another example of Santi trying to derail the topic into his own delusions.

  30. Egads… here come Santi to the rescue of M&K slaying straw men generated by the voices in his head left and right!

  31. Jerry,

    I do not believe that you are entirely correct in your statement “the strategy you suggest has not worked”. Certainly this is true based upon public opinion polls.

    However, it is manifestly untrue in very important court decisions, which have all blocked attempts at introducing creationism to public schools.

    Whether we approve or not, it appears that the belief by some that evolution and religion do not necessarily contradict each other is a key aspect of these favorable decisions.

    Specifically, consider Judge Jones conclusion in Kitzmiller v. Dover:

    Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

    Neutrality to religion is without doubt of primary importance in many circumstances. I am not convinced that the NCSE’s arena is one of them.

    Whether the accommodationists are coldly tactical or “useful idiots”, their approach has succeeded in one arena where it really matters: the court room. The fact that many faithful are able to reconcile their faith with an acceptance of scientific facts is a tactically useful fact that should be used. What end does it serve to criticize people, especially allies, who use it? Whether the reconciliation is logically consistent or whether they really believe it themselves is irrelevant in a rhetorical battle.

    You write about the NCSE “kissing and coddling religion” that will “inevitably corrupt their mission”. As long as they’re winning court cases against creationists of all stripes, they deserve a lot of leeway with their choice of tactics.

    Philosophical purity is neither a tactic nor a strategy.

    1. se-rat-o-SAWR-us, you missed the point.

      Science no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator, BUT religion (as practiced by the thousands of Abrahamic sects) IS in conflict with science.

      The problem is religion, not science. The religious dogma is what conflicts with reality, rights, dignity, reason and logic.

    2. se-rat-o-SAWR-us wrote:
      “Whether we approve or not, it appears that the belief by some that evolution and religion do not necessarily contradict each other is a key aspect of these favorable decisions.

      No, in fact that had nothing to do with the decision in Kitzmiller. It’s true that Jones mentioned that point, as an aside as it were, but it had no impact on the decision, which was rendered solely on the application of the endorsemnent test and the purpose prong of the Lemon test, (there was no secular purpose), which, taken together, violate the Establishment Clause. If the issue of compatibility had never been raised, the decision would have been exactly the same.

      1. No, in fact that had nothing to do with the decision in Kitzmiller.

        That denial is rather difficult to accept, being as the passage I quoted introduces the body of the Judge’s final conclusion. Go back and read it and tell us if you really believe that this had no impact, or could have no impact in future cases.

      2. se-rat-o-SAWR-us wrote:

        “the passage I quoted introduces the body of the Judge’s final conclusion.”

        It did not introduce the conclusion, it followed the conclusion which was,

        The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause.

        That was the reasoning behind the decision and it was based solely on the law. After this, he went on with how ID wasn’t science, with the compatibility issue you quote, with “Darwins’s theory is imperfect”, with how poorly served the district had been, and with how he really wasn’t an activist judge as some would claim. While these are all of interest, if one or all of them had been absent there still would have been a clear violation of the Establishment Clause and the decision would have been the same. This was a legal decision, based on legal precedent, which is what made it such a strong decision.

  32. The problem is religion, not science. The religious dogma is what conflicts with reality, rights, dignity, reason and logic.

    I strongly agree with this, and am prepared to use the necessary tools to solve the problem. The appropriate tools depend upon the circumstances.

    Some of the tools involve empowering and cooperating with the weaker faction of the opposing camp. Divide and conquer. As I say, this has proven to be very effective for specific purposes.

    Jerry’s posts on this subject suggest that he doesn’t want anyone to use these tools because it’s “offensive and unnecessary — a form of misguided pragmatism”.

    Nonsense. If it works, it works. Taking offense at effective tactics is unworthy of a skilled rhetorician like Jerry.

  33. Tomh:

    You wrote: “. . . religion requires certitude about things unknown, absolute belief in ancient fables that have no relation to reality, denial of proven evidence of known phenomena, the list goes on and on and on.”

    Ah, by your own definition here you could also be talking about atheism. You do realize that, yes?

    The fables aren’t ancient, but the fabulous nature of many “just so” stories that atheists recite to account for the world in materialist terms are no more empirically grounded than other forms of storytelling. And known phenomena—like free will and the self—are typically deconstructed by atheists as “illusions” or “epiphenomena” of mere physical and chemical processes—again without empirical evidence.

    I would offer this video as a response to confidence atheism as a faith:

    Atheism needs to account for things too, and often does so poorly and in ways that invite question begging and a simple question: Where is your evidence?

    The problem of the existence of the universe, life, the mind, and free will are not going away anytime soon.


    1. Once again, we have to tutor Santi in what atheism is and is not.

      It is not a dogma, you ignorant troll.

      Atheism is the lack in belief in any gods.

      Santi needs to account for his ignorance and his malevolence and his creationism.

    2. Atheism needs to account for things too, and often does so poorly and in ways that invite question begging and a simple question: Where is your evidence?

      What, are you high? Why does an atheist need to account for anything beyond lacking belief in gods?

      Here’s a tip for you: ‘I don’t know the answer to that’ isn’t a problem for an atheist. Not knowing how the universe was created, or how life began, or how the mind works or whether or not there is such a thing as free will is not even the slightest hurdle for an atheist; we can just say ‘meh, I don’t know the answer to that’ without it affecting the validity of the atheist position in the slightest.

      All you’re doing is supporting the woo-of-the-gaps argument; i.e., if someone can’t explain something then the default answer must be woo.

      Care to justify why woo gets to win by default?

  34. santitafarella wrote:
    “Ah, by your own definition here you could also be talking about atheism. You do realize that, yes?”

    You do realize that the question had nothing to do with atheism, yes? The subject under discussion was, “religion is inimical to rational thought”. Why would you want to change the subject? Since you don’t dispute the statement I can only assume you accept it.

    1. Santi changed the subject because he has no sane comment about the real subject, so he makes up a straw man argument and flails against it. It is his immature and pathetic way.

  35. Wowbagger:

    “Woo” doesn’t win by default. I’m saying keep questions open. Maybe mind, free will, the laws of physics, and the information in the first cell have the same ontological status as matter, and can’t be reduced to blind and determinate matter acting over time.

    Why do you, Wowbagger, have such confidence that all these ontological existents reduce to matter? Isn’t that a very large faith leap beyond the empirically known? Why be a confidence atheist and not an agnostic who keeps the notion of mind, information, and the laws of physics preceding matter an open question? And why insist, a priori, that mind and free will must reduce to matter when so much evidence at this point goes to the contrary?

    For example, quantum physics experiments are clearly disrupted by minds, and so it would seem that mind, given our current knowledge, is not a mere epiphenomon of matter, but affects matter. And your own free will disrupts matter everyday. Why express any certainty at all that atheist/materialist reduction of these properties to matter is a foregone conclusion? Maybe atheism has made a category mistake. Just as you wouldn’t explain matter’s properties and behavior in the terms of mind or free will, so maybe there is no explaining mind and free will in terms of matter. Maybe, like matter, they have the same irreducible ontological status as matter. Maybe there are three real things in the universe (mind, free will, and matter) and not just one real thing (matter).


    1. Santi: “Why be a confidence atheist and not an agnostic who keeps the notion of mind, information, and the laws of physics preceding matter an open question?”

      So far such an approach has not been useful. Scientists have certainly saved time by speculating only with natural causes when studying hitherto unexplained phenomena.

      A theist might feel more sympathy for an agnostic than an atheist, but for science itself agnosticism does not bring any added value compared to atheism.

    2. Santi,

      What exactly does any of your lengthy meandering have to do with what I wrote?

      In your previous post you wrote that atheism needs to ‘account for things’; I was just pointing out that, since it is nothing more than the absence of belief in gods, it doesn’t have to account for anything at all.

      An analogy: religious belief is like holding a red ball in your hands. Atheism is like not holding any kind of ball in your hands – not like holding a green (or grey, or blue) ball in your hands.

      I’m saying keep questions open.

      Which, in and of itself, is fine – except that you’re demanding that, until the questions are closed, you’re justified in citing woo as the answer by default.

      1. It was a deceitful way for Santi to again hijack the conversation to espouse his “mind over matter” crap.

        Once again, Santi is pointless, malevolent, deceitful and wasting everyone’s time.

  36. Matti K:

    I agree with you that science is a tool for the study of matter, and it must study matter in a public way (that is, you must demonstrate things about matter in ways that you can show others, and where they can replicate your results or argue about your conclusions).

    But here’s the thing: a tool for the study of matter (and matter consists of parts readily taken apart and studied directly) is presumed to be the right tool for the study of things that may exist apart from matter and not consist of “parts” (mind, consciousness, free will, the physical laws undergirding matter, the information in the first cell). I’m all for scientists making the attempt at material reduction. We need to know exactly what is and is not reducible to matter. Push science as a tool as far as it will go.

    But what I’m saying is that every single day you can ask yourself this question: Is it reasonable to infer from what we know about mind, free will, matter, and the nature of information in the universe, that something more than just matter might be at work here—something apart from matter and that cannot be reduced to matter, or accounted for by the fluctuations of matter?

    I’m saying that on a day like today a reasonable person can infer that more might be at work in the universe than matter. This is not a negation of science. It’s an inference that a reasonable person can make today, and that they could have made yesterday, and that they could have made 150 years ago. It may well be that tommorrow, or three hundred years from now, the materialist and atheist intuition of today (that science can and will reduce all phenomena of mind, free will, and information in the universe to matter) will be proven correct to all reasonable people. But we ain’t nowhere close to that place yet. Materialist reduction, however confidently expressed by atheists, may be a mirage.

    In short, we can only infer from the time and place that we are at right now, this moment, today. This is why I think the singer’s intuition in the link below is so spot on, and why I think the average person is not an atheist. There’s an intuition on the part of most people that total reductionism is wrong, a narrowing of experience and a blindness, and that something more is going on in existence than determinate material processes. There’s a visceral response to atheism that says: Contend with free will, the self, with consciousness. They’re not going away, and I’m not going away. Like the poem by Langston Hughes (“I too sing America”) there’s a certain announcement, a declaration of presence that says “I’m here too.” You can’t just account for me by sending me, unnoticed, into the materialist and reductionist kitchen. I’m not your robot, nor am I, at bottom, just a determinate matter machine. I too sing the universe.


    1. Here is that loony-tune Santi:

      …right tool for the study of things that may exist apart from matter and not consist of “parts” (mind, consciousness, free will, the physical laws undergirding matter, the information in the first cell)…

      Here is Santi’s idiotic theistic mind over matter nonsensical sputum. This is STILL wrong, oh spirit believer Santi.

      and more lunacy:

      that something more than just matter might be at work here

      But this stupidity:

      I’m saying that on a day like today a reasonable person can infer that more might be at work in the universe than matter.

      But Santi, you are NOT a reasonable person. You have never used reason here, or logic or critical thinking.

      Here is Santi hijacking the thread again with completely non-relevant nonsense. What the hell does this have to do with Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s article???

      In short, we can only infer from the time and place that we are at right now, this moment, today.

      A sentence is supposed to make sense. This one is far from that. Just like most of Santi’s word salad.

      There’s an intuition on the part of most people that total reductionism is wrong…

      No, Santi, only a very minuscule minority think that, just people who are theistic and woo believers like you, and the mentally deranged and criminally inclined. Scientists are well tuned into it.

      So, troll Santi, It is time for you to go away. It is time for you to realize that dozens of people here think you are deluded, malevolent and waste all of our time.

    2. Santi seems to suggest that everyone should spend daily some time contemplatining if “more than just matter might be at work here”. A large army of theologicans and other thinkers have done this for eons. The results so far: nil.

      Santi and his friends will continue to look for god or gods in the gaps also in the future. That’s fine and I wish them luck.
      However, I do wonder why Santi begs everyone else to join him. If scientists would waste time double-checking for magical explanations every time they get unexpected or anomalous results, a lot of time would be wasted and scientific progress would slow down considerably.

      I say again: in science, an agnostic attitude provides no added value when compared to an atheist attitude.

  37. M&K say:

    “The New Atheists win the battle easily on the Internet. Their most prominent blogger, the University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers, runs what is probably the Web’s most popular science blog, Pharyngula…”

    Hmmm. It seems M&K have managed to overlook that startling coincidence.

    That’s how perspicuos they are.

    Ah, but it’s a “battle” alright. According to M&K, it isn’t being waged between science and religion, or between evolutionary biologists and creationists, or between atheists and theists. No no, the conflict isn’t that diametrically simple-minded. It’s all much more complicated and subtle than that, you see. And it’s really really important. It’s important enough to write a booklet about it.

    According to their book, the “real” battle line is between hard-line “Extremists” (principally targeting “New Atheists”, while obliquely mentioning Religious Fundamentalists in passing) and “Moderates” (um, let’s just call them “Non-Combatants”…you know, the “meek” who are destined to inherit all, and manage to “win” the battle in the end).

    Their formula? Strive for Political Correctitude. Reframe the conflict in terms of a linear political spectrum, with extremist far left and right wings with the moderates loitering in the space between, affix the imaginary template ideal of a bell curve onto it, then identify the hump in the middle as an intellectual posture deemed desirable, or it wouldn’t be so well populated. Popularity of course then becomes the index that determines “victory”…and it comes without the bother of strife.

    Their message? The “real” battle is being waged between combatants and non-combatants (the latter comprised of accomodationists, fence-sitters, and the studiously care-free, or whatever, like my dog, who has no opinion on the matter).

    Their solution? Something along the lines of, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” BLAH BLAH BLAH

    So there really is no need for “battle” after all! Battles (like, say, intellectual debate) are annoying and can raise negative emotional hackles. They are hard to watch. Casualties accrue. Pain is difficult to deal with.

    Conflict, confrontation, controversy are BAD. They’re HORRIBLE things to be avoided at all cost, because we all know that change can pose disruption. Evolution can be nasty in that way. It can hurt people’s feelings. The turmoil is to be avoided whenever possible to ensure a semblance of peaceful equilibrium and the all-important state of “happiness”. Contrarity is to be regarded as an unacceptablly negative approach…even if it is brought to bear in defense.

    SO? Let’s just find a way to stop it and provide some pseudo-intellectual justification for doing so! Let’s write a book about it! Let’s put on a sideshow!

    Moderation becomes a worthy and noble “cause” because it is so powerfully influential and effective at dousing the flame of battle. “Winning” is still everything, and if it stops the conflagration of conflict, so much the better.

    It is no longer about persuasion, let alone any attention paid to the available evidence that directly addresses the dispute. It is to be regarded as unthinkable that anybody ends up a loser. We wouldn’t want anybody to harbor any consequential resentments or hurt feelings over it.

    Meanwhile, science, atheism and rational thinking continue to be assaulted, as they have historically been by these very same world-views, and have experienced a demonstrable surge in the bombardment over the last several decades.

    Right-wing conservative religious fundamentalists insist on dominating the curricula of school children. EVERYBODY’S. They strive to set government policy. EVERYBODY’S GOVERNMENT. They are compelled to “Spread the Word” in an effort to convert as many people toward their cause as they possibly can. They wish to dominate the entire world, and have explicitly and pridefully indicated their wish to do so. Dominion is everything to them…and it shows.

    After all, they’re EVANGELICAL. It’s in the very bone-marrow of their “faith”. They have a “right” – a “freedom” – bestowed upon them by a “God”, not by any secular rule of law advanced by human beings. Secular aspects of culture, society and government are all systematically marginalized, if not totally demonized by them. The operative term is “God-Given”. Those who have it act with impunity. Those who reject the notion are systematically ridiculed, or worse. The God-fearing are the ones who can – and verily do – act like “God”.

    THEY have set the “Us versus Them” condition. THEY have historically been on the offensive. How DARE anyone object to this state of affairs? How DARE evolutionary biologists defend scientific evidence? How DARE upstart “New Atheists” voice an opinion on the matter, on the expectation that freedom of expression extends as well to them? The issue is automatically weighted to give theists the advantage, as if the whole problem is due to the notion that science and atheism are the root cause of the dispute. As if scientists, atheists or rationalists should not be so presumptuous as to exercise their civic responsibilities by voicing their personal opinions on a par with right-wing religious conservatives.

    So much for the politically correct basis of analysis M&K espouse.

    Yet, M&K wish to reassure the defenders of science, atheism and rational thinking that if they would only drop their weapons, their opponents will not only drop theirs but be more easily persuaded to adopt the position they currently attack with such gusto. M&K propose that a parsimonious respect for freedom of thought and expression will protect us all from the onslaught of religious extremism and fundamentalist aims. They expect everyone to see the “logic” of promoting a fantasy of harmonious union, where everyone knows their place and the lamb of science can lie comfortably with the lion of religion in sustained peaceful coexistence…and all will be well, happily, ever after.

    That’s the “epiphany” THEY offer in their cute little booklet.


    It’s nothing more than another exceedingly dull-witted overture to the prospect of a miracle, hardly distinguishable from the monumental analytical achievements of religion.

    They bemoan the heavy consequences of battle, then draw a new and quite artificial battle-line in an effort to mitigate those consequences. I can think of nothing else within the arena of debate or dispute which is anywhere nearly as wrong-headed and just plain underhanded. Either integrity actually applies to human discourse, looking at all angles and evidence, or it is all just a matter of determining what is “true” on the basis of finding the peak of the populous hump in the middle between the dichotomous extremes extracted from a dully-conceived politically correct foundation.

    One would surmise that Mooney and Kirshenbaum might find merit in relieving themselves of the burden of battle based on their own philosophy. At the very least, according to their very own thesis, it would persuade the rest of us that their book isn’t quite so bad after all.

  38. Actually, I think this Good Cop/Bad Cop side show is working wonders. It plays on the strong psychological desire to appeal to the old “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” thing. It muddies up the ideological purity of the battle lines, which will ultimately serve secularism far better than it will religious dogma.

    I suppose I’m a Good Cop, myself, but from my spot sat way up high on the fence it looks to me like the energy released from this debate is more likely to drive debate than either enabling passivity or fire and brimstone rhetoric alone.

    As for M&K, they certainly don’t speak for we members of the Not Quite That Accommodating Accommodationist movement. They can bugger off and find their own damn fence to sit on.

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