Weekday update: Templeton, homeschooling, evolution, and accommodationists

March 9, 2010 • 6:31 am

Three quick items:

1. Templeton and credential inflation:  The Templeton Foundation website has sort of fixed Rod Dreher’s credentials.  Until yesterday Templeton had advertised him as a “seven-time Pulitzer Prize nominee,” and, as I pointed out, that characterization violated the Pulitzer organization’s own guidelines.  Dreher’s status has now been changed to this:

Nominated by his editors seven times for the Pulitzer Prize, Rod has spent most of the past two decades as an opinion journalist . . .

Well, this stays within the letter of the law, but since any journalist can be nominated if someone fills out a form and pays fifty bucks, it’s hardly a gold star.  Really, Dreher’s rabid ignorance is an embarrassment to the Templeton Foundation.  They have very deep pockets—can’t they hire someone better?

2.  Homeschooling and evolution. The thread has gotten long and predictable. Religious opponents of evolution came to our website en masse, and, while there was some acrimony, many of you patiently and gallantly tried to instruct the benighted about why scientists accept evolution as not just a theory, but as scientific fact.  This exercise, I think, was futile.  Going back over the threads, I can’t think of a single person who initially expressed doubt about evolution and then changed his/her mind when confronted with the evidence. Indeed, one person even refused to look up the evidence, insisting that we provide not just references, but arguments on the site.

There are several lessons from this.  First—and this is disheartening—these people are simply immune to evidence.  Those whose opposition to evolution is based on faith are almost never “converted” when given the facts.

Second, many of them don’t want to get the facts.  These folks have no interest in examining the evidence for evolution.  Their minds are closed.  And it’s exactly that kind of attitude that I’m worried about with homeschooling: the fear that parents will instill in their children a rigid set of beliefs about faith, morality, and biology, along with the attitude that those beliefs are not to be examined.  That’s why many (yes, I know, not all!) parents keep their kids away from the public schools: to prevent their children from exposure to views that challenge their own.

Ignorance about evolution is not a crime.  Willful ignorance is.

Third, the arrogance of some of these evolution-deniers is amazing.  Without much training in biology, they come to an evolutionist’s website and proceed to tell all of us why we’re wrong.  They offer ancient creationist canards like “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”  Or, “science can’t tell us which came first—the chicken or the egg.”  These misconceptions could be remedied by the briefest of scientific educations. But they don’t want that. We scientists are often accused of being arrogant, but that is nothing compared to the arrogance of these creationists.

Finally, the idea that our being nice will bring evolution-deniers into our camp is ridiculous.  Yes, the homeschooling thread provides some anecdotes, not systematic data, but they show that being “nice” to creationists has no effect on changing their minds.  It only enables their ignorance.

The homeschooling kerfuffle demonstrates, I think, that we won’t rid this country of creationism simply by teaching people the facts of evolution.  We have to loosen the grip of religious faith on the minds of our children.

3.  Accommodationism. There’s another kerfuffle going on at several websites about the compatibility of science and faith.  You can find the relevant links at Larry Moran’s website, Sandwalk.  Yes, I do have a dog in this hunt, and yes, people are criticizing my view that science and faith are philosophically incompatible, but my dog is tired.  For now, I’ve said pretty much everything I have to say on this issue.

Finally, here’s a list of the ten best donut shops in the US.  They made a mistake with Chicago, though: Dat Donuts (near me) is good, but doesn’t hold a candle to Chicago’s Old Fashioned Donuts, home of the world’s absolute best apple fritter:

Fig. 1.  To die for. Old Fashioned’s ineffably good apple fritters.

59 thoughts on “Weekday update: Templeton, homeschooling, evolution, and accommodationists

  1. What’s happening here?

    “many of you patiently and gallantly tried to instruct the benighted about why scientists accept evolution as not just a theory, but as scientific fact.”

    “not just a theory..”!? Saying that plays right into the hands of deniers. I think you must know this, and also that facts and scientific theories are not the same. By wording like this we are playing into their ignorance of what is a scientific theory.

    To quote Gould who also grappled with this insanity.

    “Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is “only” a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?…

    Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome.”

    One more gripe. Yes, you do have a dog in this hunt and are in fact a leader in the battle against accomodationist. You were right to nail Shermer and many others. Get your rest, the battle is still raging and in many ways has just begun.

  2. Well, as long as you keep your priorities in line. Next time lead off with the donuts/apple fritters.

  3. If only wilful ignorance were really a crime. What a world that would be… (one with very full prisons, I suspect).

    Meanwhile, the apple fritters do look good, although not very handy for me unfortunately.

  4. Yes, the homeschooling thread provides some anecdotes, not systematic data, but they show that being “nice” to creationists has no effect on changing their minds.

    Unfortunately, it also shows that mockery (of which there was some) didn’t convince them either. But at least it was more fun for us. And it at least has shown them that there are places in the world that won’t praise them for their ignorance, but call them out on it. That in itself can be a valuable lesson to learn. And I hope they remember it.

    I can see why one could get tired of the accommodationism debates. Luckily, Larry Moran did a good job in summing up all the arguments (yet again).

    1. Here’s my take. First, that thread does provide data supporting an existence hypothesis: there exist religious folks who will not be convinced by nicely going over the evidence. That alone counters some of the weakest accommodationist arguments.

      Second, mockery isn’t intended to convert them. It’s intended to make them look foolish in the eyes of people who might still be convertible. The idea (IMO) is that if religion is a target of mockery, many fewer people will want to be religious. Whereas if religion is an object of unfettered respect (as the accommodationists would have it), more people will want to be religious.

      1. A similar argument could be made that mockery could also trigger the groupthink switches in some “fence-sitters” minds and shove them back towards religion and deeper into defensive irrationality.

        There’s not much actual data to support either argument other than anecdotes, though.


        1. actually, I think if you google a bit, you will find that marginalization has had a long track record of being effective in changing individual and group behavior.

          think about Dover.

          “Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

          -Thomas Jefferson

          1. and even from a rather famous theologian…

            There is a similar quote from Thomas Aquinas:

            In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.

            Which is from his Summa Theologica

      2. Well if nothing else, the mockery might train some self righteous religiotards to keep their magical beliefs as hidden as they think Scientologists and other wackaloons ought to keep theirs–and/or train their kids not to be as embarrassing as their faith filled moms and dads. Wearing your delusions on your sleeve should cause the rational to ridicule you. People should not be granted respect for what they claim to “believe in”.

        I keep hoping if religious folks know that atheists feel the same way towards them that they feel towards other nutters (and for the same reasons), they may be inspired to “pray in the closet” as their book advises while keeping their fairy tale beliefs as private as they keep their fetishes.

        Frankly I don’t care what people “believe” any more than they care what I believe. I care about what is true!

        (Of course, if they were all quiet then we’d lose the merriment that we derive from their mockery… I may have to rethink this–)

        *pass me one of those fritters, would you?*

  5. I’d hesitate to draw conclusions about all creationists from the limited sample here of people who disagreed enough to follow a link to a site they don’t normally read and to post on the comment thread. I’d expect them to be a bit more militant in their creationism.

    Are those glazed croissants in the background? That picture makes my teeth hurt.

  6. Just to demonstrate that the accommodationists are as closed minded as the creationists and just as adverse to being appraised of the facts, I posted a comment yesterday with a link to Prof. Coynes’ post about the Templeton Foundation lying about Mr. Drehers’ qualifications on Mr. Joshua Rosenaus’ blog. Shortly thereafter, the comment was deleted by Mr. Rosenau.

      1. Do you ever (a) delete comments; and/or (b) prevent individuals from making comments and, if so, on what basis?

      2. I suspect it was because I posted a link to Prof. Coynes’ post on the subject. I get the impression from reading the Rosenau post that Prof. Coyne, along with PZ Myers, is not one of the Mr. Rosenaus’ favorite individuals.

          1. Josh Rosenau needs to change his pic on his Thoughts from Kansas blog. His face looks dishonest in that photo. Just sayin’.

            C’mon Josh! Give us the full frontal exposure. Tom Watson (the golfing legend) is from Kansas, fer chrissakes.

            Man up.

    1. Oh dear, that’s disappointing. I have trouble believing that Rosenau has gone so far over to the dark side that he has now adopted the creationist/theist/denialist/Republican tactic of erasing dissent from his blog comments… :/

  7. Of all the enlightening comments that we got this is my favorite:
    “The problem we have with macroevolution is that if it is true man cannot be made in the image of god”.
    Of course they don’t care about evidence. You need Dan Barker to sing to them “Beware of Dogma”.

    1. I like Jimmy Karr on the subject, “if we’re all created in god’s image, why aren’t I invisible?”

  8. Ennhh. It’s not unreasonable for people to ask for the arguments instead of citations when they’re visiting a website about the education of evolution. And it doesn’t have to take much time. i.e., the “chicken and egg” question can be answered with just three words: “egg from proto-chickens”.

    On the other hand, it is unreasonable to give whiny angry people what they want when they want it just because they’re whiny and angry. It’s the sense of entitlement PLUS the frothy braindead attitude that makes the problem acute.

    1. I understand what you trying to say here, but a comments section on a blog is not the best place to get to grips with the basics of evolutionary theory.

      1. No doubt, blogging is not the ideal way to educate. Assuming we’re inclined to do that kind of thing.

        But you can only work with what you have at your disposal. And citations aren’t helpful in this medium. Curt explanations are much better.

    2. I might agree if they actually wanted to hear the evidence/facts and were willing to learn from them. But they’re not. When blind, unquestioned faith and facts collide, faith will always win.

      Plus, they can Google it themselves. It’s not that hard.

      1. Yep.

        Though remember, these are extremely conceited people. They’re working under the idiotic assumption that scientists Don’t Really Understand Science. Citations don’t convey the right impression, though quick nuggets of information do the job.

        For instance, I was speaking to a relatively civilized (but still dogmatic) climate denialist recently. I listened to her intently, and finally said: “It’s important not to confuse global and local mean temperatures.” From then on in the conversation, she did her best to avoid it.

        On the other hand, if people are acting like four pounds of scum in a two pound bag, then they don’t even deserve citations. In my view.

        1. Not only do are they working under the idiotic assumption that Scientists Don’t Really Understand Science, they really think THEY do.

          They might be able to get a clue if they weren’t so damn convinced that they knew more than those who might give them one!

          1. “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

            points for anyone who knows (without googlefu) who said that.

          2. Is it okay if I looked it up in my personal quote collection? I have so many quotes like that it can be hard to keep them straight sometimes.

  9. Going back over the threads, I can’t think of a single person who initially expressed doubt about evolution and then changed his/her mind when confronted with the evidence.

    I wouldn’t be so pessimistic, Jerry — unlike our opponents, we shouldn’t expect a “Saul on the road to Damascus” conversion experience to rationality. We want folks to read for themselves and consider the evidence, and that takes time. A lot of the de-conversion stories that I’ve seen talk about the process of gradually coming to question one’s beliefs in the face of scientific understanding. I’d like to think that some people have come away from the discussions here a little less certain and a little more curious about the real world, and that this may come to full fruition sometime in the future. This is a long game we’re playing, and patience is a virtue.

    1. Yeah, perhaps you’re right, but I would feel better if at least one person said, “Hey, maybe you’re right. I’m gonna go away and think about it.”

      1. They won’t admit it in public, especially in the company. But who knows…my guess is that at least a few of them will sneak to their local book store and buy a copy of WEIT and discretely shove into a plain paper wrapper….and then when they are alone…start reading. 🙂

        1. PS: “honey…what are you reading? It isn’t Dawkins or Coyne again?”

          “Oh no…it is Hustler”.

          “Oh, ok…I’d better not find WEIT around here again..”

      2. You won’t change the mind of many vocal creationists –they are as impenetrable as anyone in any cult– but there are many silent readers too.

        Seeds might be planted… People may see what we see in the creationist bunch and decide that they don’t want to be like that.

        They may decide that the truth is more important than faith. They may resent that their learning has been manipulated by threats of hell.

        I know many former creationists that are now very knowledgeable evolutionists, but I don’t know a single evolutionist who suddenly switched to any inane creationist story. Former fundies often make the very best skeptics, because they’ve had to work the hardest to get there.

        Not everyone infected with a faith meme will die with that meme as resistant to logic as it is. All it takes is for someone to ask themselves is “would I want to know if evolution were true?”– and “if so, how WOULD I know?” or “how would I know if my faith was as wrong as the faiths I don’t believe in?”

        I think many fundies never even see such questions. But, here, they do.

        (–Get your science from scientists, folks… just like you trust airplanes made by aviation experts and not magic rug salesmen.)

        1. I have to say that I found this exchange quite encouraging. I think “planting seeds” is a worthwhile goal. On Pharyngula, there was a similar exchange which descended into “foul-mouthed abuse”. While it’s possible a few readers of that exchange may have been shamed into reconsidering their creationist positions, I’m sure far more simply saw signs of “demonic posession” and tuned out the rest of the discussion. The fact that heads remained cool here, and that Jerry resisted banning even the most ignorant posters resulted in a situation where education was possible (even if none the posters themselves showed signs of it).

      3. There are several lessons from this. First—and this is disheartening—these people are simply immune to evidence. Those whose opposition to evolution is based on faith are almost never “converted” when given the facts.”

        Argghhh! Before this morning I would have nodded in agreement with Tulse‘s positive comment, but after spending over an hour discussing atheism and evolution with a young creationist woman (in her twenties) at a coffee shop in quaint, downtown, affluent Pleasanton, CA — I’m sorely disheartened, and more inclined to agree with Professor Coyne at this point.

        This morning, I sat down in the coffee shop with two books; unfortunately, the one I wasn’t reading at the time was Ariane Sherine’s Atheist Guide To Christmas, which sat face-up on a nearby table, its loud, red-colored title blaring “Atheist!” all over the entire room, apparently. (Okay, so it was a little sneaky on my part, but I didn’t expect to catch such a big fish!) The young woman sitting next to me immediately saw the book, and after a moment she very pleasantly asked me what it was about.

        This began a long — very cordial — conversation about religion and evolution. I thought I was being especially brilliant, and I employed nearly everything I’ve learned about atheism; on RD.net, on this website and others, and from the numerous books by our heroes.

        Near the end of our talk, the young lady was gracious enough to admit that she was quite impressed with the breadth and depth of my knowledge on the subject (which made me laugh), and even went so far as to compliment me on my knowledge of the bible (just a smattering of Genesis and Leviticus really). Incredibly, she then excused herself for having to leave, packed up her things, shook my hand, gave me a warm, almost “sympathetic” smile, and then said:

        I will pray for you.”

        I damn near fainted. Some of the more choice tidbits from our discussion:

        1) I asked her what her actual beliefs were. She said “I believe in the bible.”

        2) I said what if I believed Elvis Presley was now a ethereal spirit, watching over us all. She said that would be insane.

        3) I said do you believe in Wotan or Thor? She laughed and said no. I said what’s the difference between belief in the Christian god and belief in Thor? She said she doesn’t know… it’s just what she believes.

        4) I asked her if she believed in Genesis, in particular the story of Noah’s Flood. She said yes.

        5) I then regarded myself as extremely clever for employing Dawkins’ recent humourous line about penguins on “the long waddle South” from the Ark to Antarctica. She said she didn’t know how penguins got to Antarctica:

        Were two penguins on the Ark originally?
        Yes, I suppose.
        So why did they all end up in Antarctica? Did they all just get up and walk thousands of miles, across large, intervening deserts and oceans to get there?
        I don’t know.

        5) Do you know that the bible condemns gay people to death?
        Yes, but nobody believes that anymore.
        I thought you said you believed in the bible?
        I do.

        This poor, brain-washed young woman, who was well-spoken, bright, and obviously had well-to-do parents, and who was studying to be a “personal trainer” — was an astonishing example of cognitive dissonance, right in front of my peepers. Her final, insulting comment went something like this:

        I have my faith, and you’re not going to change my mind about it, and I’m certainly not going to change yours. Everybody has their own beliefs.”

        Goodbye. I’ll pray for you.”

        1. My favorite reply to things like: “Goodbye. I’ll pray for you” Is “Thanks, and I’ll THINK for you.”

          Every former believer’s journey away from faith starts somewhere– probably when they are not aware of it. Maybe, just maybe, that woman’s journey began when she started a conversation with you.

          The truth is, all believers want others to recognize that they could be wrong in what they believe and that the believers’ beliefs could be true– yet, they are not willing to do the same in regards to beliefs (or evidence) that conflicts with their own faith.

          This woman expected an “open mindedness” FROM you that she had intention of giving TO you. Isn’t this true of every believer of “woo”? Why shouldn’t we mock that?

        2. Yet, this is an example where sheer ridicule would probably have sent her screaming for her pastor long before you ended the conversation. Your report gives me the impression she picked up at least something, even if she wasn’t prepared to show it. So I guess it depends very much on the situation how you should deal with an individual creationist.

          As to the most fitting reply, how about “I’ll pick my nose for you”? With so many gods around, for sure there must be one appreciating your nose-picking.

  10. With teasing and ridicule, rather than facts and logic, at least it is fun to rile religious under-stump-dwellers!
    Telling them how risible they are in their stubborn ignorance might get some of them to think, – those that are not too far gone into religion’s oblivion already.

  11. Take heart. I was one of those who used to embrace creationism (ok, I was a young teenager who outgrew it).

    But people’s view CAN change; they just don’t change overnight. Sometimes the seeds of knowledge take time to germinate.

    I’d love it if you’d add a poll to see how many ex creationists that you have here.

  12. I was the same way, I read lots of history, archaelogy, and Christian apologetics, only from the Christian side. I read quite a lot about the “holes” in evolutionary “theory” (Dawkins is right that word confuses people).

    What got me more interested in reading other sources was 1. Carl Sagan’s “The demon haunted world” and “Shadows of forgotten ancestors”, the first about the importance of science to cut through superstition, and the second – just comparing human and animal behavior – got me thinking. “why so similar?” and got me more interested.

    Finally I picked up “The Blind Watchmaker” and though I was insulted a lot by Dawkins I pushed through it, and was amazed at how every single argument against evolution I’d read in my apologetics books was refuted decades ago, and these books with old arguments are still being printed, and pastors are still preaching off of 50 year old arguments that hold no water.

    I was still a Christian for awhile, but the more I studied evolution and evolutionary psychology and paleantology, the more I realized evolution and just our poorly designed bodies don’t leave room for an intelligent designer intervening. It would require a God who deliberately made us randomly and in some cases (like our sinuses that drain from near the top) making no sense at all- why would he do that? To deliberately make everything seem random like he wasn’t there? Such a god wouldn’t be good and wouldn’t be the one I believed in.

  13. The Templeton Foundation website has sort of fixed Rod Dreher’s credentials.

    Give them credit for listening, at least…

    Or, “science can’t tell us which came first—the chicken or the egg.”

    Heh, I have my own argument about this one… Of course the question is meaningless because it leaves “chicken” and “egg” undefined in ways that are very important to the question, but… I think, that with any reasonable definition of “chicken” and “egg”, it has to be the egg.

    My argument is that any reasonable definition will have to be that an organism or egg is a member of Gallus gallus based on some criteria regarding its DNA, e.g. some percentage of its base pairs are identical to those of a pre-defined model Gallus gallus genome from modern times. In the organism, it would have to be a majority of its cells which met these criteria.

    By this definition, it obviously has to be the egg. A mutation in some ancestral chicken-like animal resulted in its producing the first egg whose DNA meets the criteria to be called Gallus gallus. For the “chicken” to come first, an already-hatched chicken-like animal would have to undergo separate convergent mutations in a majority of its cells, which is effectively impossible.

    So the egg comes first, science tells us!

    Yes, I do have a dog in this hunt, and yes, people are criticizing my view that science and faith are philosophically incompatible, but my dog is tired. For now, I’ve said pretty much everything I have to say on this issue.

    [shameless blog-pimping warning] Well if Jerry’s dog is too tired to write about it, why not step over to No Jesus, No Peas and read about it! hehehe…

  14. I once had a student, who resisted instruction on evolution, remark, “I know the facts; I just choose not to believe them.”

    1. and thus retained his/her place in heaven …

      We have to remember what’s at stake for many people: eternal life by clinging to religious beliefs, vs. a fiery hell for doubting them — or at best the cold realisation that we humans really are on our own down here.

      To compensate, science can only offer an understanding of reality — and medicine, heat, transport, clean water, dirt-free food, etc.

      1. Which makes it all the more important to point out to people that, no, they aren’t going to hell, because there is none. Fear is a bad counselor.

    2. I once had a student, who resisted instruction on evolution, remark, “I know the facts; I just choose not to believe them.”

      I had a similar experience this semester where evolution was all fine up until humans became involved, then it became, “but humans are different”. They knew the evidence doesn’t say that, they just choose not to accept that evidence by do except the rest of the evidence. It’s a start, I guess??? (maybe not)

      It happens pretty much every semester that I teach evolution. I’ve never understood the “logic” involved in that thought process but I can in ways appreciate how people struggle with overturning what they’ve ‘known’ all their lives as the truth. I never had to worry about that because I grew up in a much more open minded household.

      Small steps…I think we can see it is working but the backlash by the ultra-fundies is not going away. Maybe churches shouldn’t let those under 18 to attend so they can make decisions on their own 😉

  15. Don’t be disheartened Jerry. I’m doubtful that anyone has been won over to rationality. But perhaps a seed of doubt was planted or reinforced in someone. You have a large audience (I presume) so perhaps it wasn’t someone who was willfully displaying their ignorance, but someone who followed the links and saw that there is more to evolution than what Pastor Ig Norance told them in church.

    In anycase, if it is impossible, then we’re being very irrational even contemplating educating evolution deniers. And we (atheists/skeptics/free thinkers) are not irrational are we? 😉

  16. “Nominated by his editors seven times for the Pulitzer Prize, Rod has spent most of the past two decades as an opinion journalist . . .”

    Isn’t that still wrong, given this:

    “Since 1980, when we began to announce nominated finalists, we have used the term “nominee” for entrants who became finalists. We discourage someone saying he or she was “nominated” for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us.”

  17. Faith and science can be compatible as long as faith does not depend on physical manifestations such as the earth was created in six days or man was created in god’s image.

    1. The only faith that doesn’t depend on physical manifestations are the vague and pointless faiths like Deism and Pantheism. All mainstream religions posit a god or gods that interacts with the real world, and thus are incompatible with science.

      1. I think most forms of buddhism have a deistic god and instead have the spirits of ancestors meddling on behalf of the living – just like in the Disney cartoon “Mulan”! I don’t know of any form of buddhism which promotes an active god.

  18. That’s why many … parents keep their kids away from the public schools: to prevent their children from exposure to views that challenge their own.

    I have explained to my (publicly-educated) children that all ideas and claims are absolutely fair game, especially mine, and we teach them the tools with which to evaluate what they are told.

    I even give them practice – I will deliberately make flawed arguments in the hope that they will challenge and refute them.

    This they do with great glee – handing Dad his head on a pike is great fun!

    I am very proud.

    Do they believe in all the same things I do? Not a bit of it!

  19. The chicken or the egg? I thought paleontology answered that question long ago. Oh, that’s right, according to McReady-Price the earth really is only about 6000 years old and geology/paleontology have got everything wrong … including the chicken vs. egg question.

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