Atheist-bashing at the Evolution meetings

June 26, 2010 • 2:52 pm

I’ve spent all morning listening to science talks at the Evolution meetings in Portland, so I wasn’t at a concurent session on “Communicating Science”.

Jen McCreight was there, though, and over at Blag Hag she reports, much to her (and my) chagrin, that the Society for the Study of Evolution has joined the ranks of atheist-bashers:

Much of the talk was about distancing support of evolution with atheistic views – that we need to stress that religion and science is compatible so people in the “middle” can still accept theistic evolution. That people are more willing to accept evolution if they hear it from their pastor. He [Robert Pennock] lauded Francis Collins and the BioLogos foundation for being pro-evolution…even though BioLogos just had a piece trying to reconcile Biblical Adam and Eve with evolution.

. . . The reason why people feel compelled to do this [preserve their religious beliefs and bend the science to fit them] is because religion holds a special status in our society where it can’t be criticized, even when it’s blatantly wrong. This really came out in the second part of the symposium, which was by a woman from AAAS (I unfortunately missed her name). She said there’s no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we’re extremists who won’t change our minds.

Well, I’m sorry to hear this.  BioLogos and Francis Collins praised for accepting evolution?   Is the speaker not aware that, as Jen notes, BioLogos has recently spent much of its webspace trying to reconcile science with a historical Adam and Eve? Is that the kind of respect for facts and data that we, as members of the Society for the Study of Evolution, want to encourage?

Atheists are such a reviled minority in our society that it’s always safe to diss them in public, especially if you want to position yourself in the “middle of the road” between “extremes”—a position that to the benighted always seems to be so reasonable.  But, as P. Z. Myers said,

squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.

As for me, I’m glad I skipped the communication for the science.


Footnote 1:  We just lost to Ghana, 2-1.  Very sad, but good for them!

Footnote 2:  Portland has what is by far the best Thai restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in my long life.  It’s Pok Pok (menu here), and four of us had a spectacular dinner, including drinks, for $92.  The boar collar (neck of a male boar, cooked with soy, star anise, and other spices) is the best Thai dish I’ve ever had.  If you’re a foodie in Portland, don’t miss this one.  And if you’re at the Evolution meetings, grab a cab and get over there!

55 thoughts on “Atheist-bashing at the Evolution meetings

  1. I have seen this so many times at this point so it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s still absolutely horrifying to see how little respect for and understanding of science that majority of people who work in it have…

  2. Sadly, the quislings are still around us, although this a matter of intellectual quislings, the ones who won’t accept that lies are lies, regardless of what you drape them in.

  3. I can understand how evolutionary biologists grow weary of being treated as cultural villains, and so I sympathize with their temptation to assert that what they reveal about nature doesn’t threaten theism.

    Unfortunately, it does, and so they might be better off if they would just acknowledge it and stop worrying about others taking offense. And, guess what, folks? Enlightenment is a good thing.

  4. Meh, I wouldn’t say atheists or creationists are any more extremist than any other philosophy. I’ve got friends on both sides.

    No, it’s when said atheist or creationist criticizes or ostracizes you because you hold a different philosophy than they do that it becomes a problem.

    1. …but, if you read closely, it’s the supposed MODERATES that are excluding the secular opinions from the debate here.

      so, who, exactly, are the ones being ostracized here, and whom is doing the ostracizing?

      1. By definition? No. Ostracize means expel – it refers to the bits of pottery the Athenians used to vote for expulsions.

        Oh well but maybe you mean a minority can’t vote to expel a majority. Good point. Beg pardon.

  5. I seemed to be in the minority in the audience. One guy was saying that some of Sean Carroll’s lighthearted jokes alienated Christians. Heck, my Christian lab mates laughed at those jokes. I was sort of hoping you were there, because giving a dissenting opinion as a post-bach is a little intimidating.

  6. It’s always sad when those who support evolution demonize atheists

    Pok Pok is the real deal. It’s not Thai food designed for the American palate. And I live within walking distance.

  7. It seems as though the goal of accommodationists is to convince people to say they “believe in Evolution.” They don’t care if they correctly understand it, they just want to get them to SAY it. It seems similar to the position on a belief in God. They don’t care how you define it, as long as you use the WORD “God.” These people seem to be more interested in words instead of the ideas they represent.

    It’s sad, they’re seem to be sacrificing an emphasis for critical thinking and skepticism just so they can convince people of the fact of evolution (or some mangled form of it). It’s like telling people that facts and evidence are acceptable only if they don’t contradict your existing beliefs. This way no one has to go through the trauma of rethinking their positions and abandoning dead ideas.

    It’s all garbage, of course. Science is an enterprise bigger and more important than any individual. The truth is more important than ones precious beliefs.

    1. This is a problem I have often thought of when people seem to be more concerned with getting others to say they believe in evolution, or believe in global warming etc. than understanding the issues. I think people who believe without any real understanding are very soft supporters. It will not take much to get them to change their minds. It just takes some creationist who sounds convincing. I am not convinced we will see real change until people really do take critical thinking seriously and that means questioning long held beliefs sometimes.

    1. Since you militant atheists put the integrity of people’s DEEPLY-HELD BELIEFS (TM) in jeopardy. Don’t you understand how IMPORTANT these beliefs are to people, you burka-wearing Dawkinsist Fundamentalist?!?

    2. When some atheists working in scientific fields didn’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation with their religious relatives about the fact that the more science tells us about the universe the less possible it is to maintain a justified belief in any of the interventionist creator gods of the major religions.

      They then decided it was easier to attack non-accomodationist atheists and preach false compatibility than to make their elderly Grandma cry.

  8. Jerry, if you enjoyed Pok Pok, you should also check out Ping, Andy Ricker’s street-style restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown. Just an easy stumble from Powell’s (which I’m sure you’ll probably stop by during your visit), and it’s got stellar inexpensive food and drinks. The lineup of skewers changes regularly, but don’t miss the drinking vinegars (and cocktails based on them). 102 NW 4th Avenue.

  9. I don’t see any problem with religion, at least the type based on the fact that man has a soul, embracing evolutionary ideas. One is dealing with man’s biology and the other is embracing that which doesn’t fully get explained by the laws of the physical universe. In addiction therapy it is important to recognize that one can have a physical addiction, a psychological addiction (which can be explained by mental circuitry) and then a part of ones self that is the beingness of the individual, which most people look to religion to find answers for that component. Granted, most religion falls short of the truth in this area, but there are some religions that don’t have to accept the Bible’s doctrine to explain this part of man.

    1. I guess you haven’t gotten the memo – souls do not exist. In fact the idea that they do actively impedes any progress towards understanding the way the human brain works…

    2. He doesn’t have a problem with religions embracing evolutionary biology.
      On the other hand, he does have a problem with religions embracing neuroscience.

    3. fact that man has a soul(sic)

      then a part of ones self that is the beingness of the individual

      So your ones both live in your non-brain together? at the same time? Kinky much? Maybe that is why so many christians are having sex with children.

      Seeking treatment for your addiction Analyst?

    4. Except they don’t explain anything. They make up something, the soul, claim it explains things, and then don’t offer any evidence to support it.

      That sense of beingness you feel? That’s in your physical brain.

  10. “That people are more willing to accept evolution if they hear it from their pastor.”

    People prefer to believe what they hear from professional liars, sad, very very sad.

    1. People are also more willing to accept committing genocide if they hear it from their pastor. Reinforcing the authority of religion is not a very good idea.

    2. Perhaps you and I run into different sorts of pastors, but none of the ones I have met would fit the “professional liar” description. I think they are generally mistaken but sincere in their beliefs. (What’s the alternative, that they’re in it for the money?)

      1. Well…I don’t think they get into it for the money. Our clergy can be some of our most selfless citizens, having, when young, committed themselves to service. After they’re in, though, they’re kind of stuck…for the money. That’s the lesson conveyed by those interviewed by Dennett and LaScola.

        1. Thing is, the money’s really not that good for most pastors (the ones who don’t try to go the celebrity preacher route). I know one who could have gone into economics and who can analyze quarterly reports with the best of them, but went into the ministry to try to do good (yes, he’s one of the liberal preachers we don’t hear about as they are drowned out by the megachurchers). Dunno if he still believes, but I do know that he’s stuck making about $20k/year as his rather limited CV (nothing but preaching for twenty years) wouldn’t allow him to go into any other field at this point. (The irony being that as a preacher who writes his own sermons and organizes the finances and activities of his church, he’s essentially got the same skill set as a chief operating officer of a mid-line company.)

        2. A bit closer to home (for me), my dad is a retired minister, also of the very liberal variety who doesn’t doubt evolution in the least. He is most certainly still sincere in his beliefs, not wealthy, and not unhappy about having been in the ministry. And several of his colleagues appear to be in the same boat as far as I can tell.

          What I’m objecting to is what appears to be a blanket label of “professional liars” being applied to people with whom we disagree. But perhaps the “professional liar” (or “willfully ignorant”) argument has more subtle nuances than I realize.

          1. Yes. I think one thing it helps to admit (or agree or just note) about religion is that it can attract people who want to do good. It doesn’t make people good, but it does (seem to) offer them a place to go – a line of work that can harness a desire to do good.

          2. …but at the same time, it’s always important to keep the sobering thought that on the flip-side of that, religion also attracts those who wish to do bad and need a vehicle with which to carry out violence/evil/explotation.

            Religion of course isn’t the only institution that provides this kind of double-edged sword…but still.

            I agree that it’s probably not helpful to blanket-term all pastors as “professional liars”…but it’s not exactly truth that they are selling to the millions(billions?) of their congregrations.

          3. It’s not about disagreement, it’s about the fact that they’re making money off telling lies.

          4. The point I’m trying to make is that “telling lies” is an unfair description of someone who believes what he or she is saying. It’s possible to be wrong without being a liar.

            I’m not complaining about tone here. If you can substantiate that someone is lying, then by all means call that person a liar. But I think that for the most part pastors actually believe what they’re saying.

          5. I’m being charitable. I realize many of them are repeating the beliefs they hold without critically examining them. That’s worse than lying in my book.

    3. “People prefer to believe what they hear from professional liars”…

      Of course. How else do you explain Glenn Beck?

  11. Getting the religious to accept evolution without divesting themselves of belief in their gods would be an admirable goal – if evolution denial was the only relevant issue.

    Are we supposed to be okay if Christians accept evolution but still condemn homosexuality and oppress homosexuals? If they still advocate against AIDS-preventing condom use? That society should live by the ten commandments? That oil spills can be fixed by prayer? That women aren’t equal to men?

    Do the accomodationists believe that all the other irrationalities fostered by religious belief are just going to disappear? The Catholic Church has – officially at least – been okay with evolution for years now and yet it’s still encouraging plenty of nonsense with no indication of stopping.

    Yes, this one aspect of science is an area of supreme importance, but is it impossible to consider the possibility that diminishing religious belief in other areas is more likely to foster acceptance of evolution than the other around?

    1. But that is precisely the situation with the Mormon church. They don’t have a problem with evolutionary biology. (As much as their wacky theology, native Americans being of middle eastern descent, is undercut by evolutionary biology). Yet they are homophobic-and we are supposed to revel in how progressive and open minded they are.

  12. The accomodationists seem to want to conflate ‘compatible with science’ and ‘compatible with particular scientific discoveries’ – or maybe they just don’t realize the difference. So they say religion is compatible with science when what they really mean is religion is compatible with this scientific discovery. All while encouraging the belief in unevidenced, superfluous gods, which is anti-scientific itself.

    What they’re doing is trying to get rid of creationism in a way that sets the stage for endless new battles over every new scientific discovery that contradicts their religion. Worse, rather than emphasizing the authority of science in such matters, they insinuate that what’s important is their religious leaders tell them the science is compatible with their faith.

    1. What they’re doing is trying to get rid of creationism in a way that sets the stage for endless new battles over every new scientific discovery that contradicts their religion.

      Yep. Do they think the “moderate” believers will accept every new scientific discovery that pushes their God further back into the gaps? No, they’ll fight each one tooth an nail, holding back scientific and intellectual progress like an anchor.

  13. Squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.”

    Awesome quote by P.Z. Myers. I think even Richard could score a few points with this line.

  14. You would think that scientists “on the side of reason and evidence” would rely on multiple lines of evidence and more accurate reporting of the data before drawing their conclusions. Instead they have drawn conclusions based on a single event and subjective heresay – I hope they don’t use the same approach in their research. I was at the AAAS symposium, and cannot support the claims made in the Blag Hag blog.

    1. Then you might want to state what YOU heard, instead of engaging in a blanket denial, quasi-ad hom attack.

      If you have the evidence, we’d love to hear it.

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