USA Today strikes back

October 11, 2010 • 12:48 pm

Ahh. . . .they couldn’t let me be.  On USA Today’s “Faith and Reason” blog—an oxymoronical name if there ever was one—writer Cathy Grossman has a poorly written critique with a poorly written title, “Scientist: Faith in God is superstition like leprechauns.”  It includes a photo of fake leprechauns. Grossman even trots out her derringer: a recent USA Today post on the “common spiritual ground of awe at creation, proposed in a Forum essay last month by Chris Mooney.”

But what Grossman seems to hate most of all is the totally appropriate equation of belief in God with belief in leprechauns.  I defy Ms. Grossman to tell me why there’s any difference, save that more people believe in God and that there’s an enormous theological edifice constructed on that particular unevidenced belief. And she seems to have bought into the Mooney-ian myth that our getting all verklempt at good music or sunrises is pretty much the same as believing in sky-fairies and talking snakes:

Coyne argues we must clear vision from the fog of belief and religious structures that nourish communities of faith. No common awe for the dazzling sunrise here. He loathes gray areas (i.e. fog) and insists on the black-and-white view that religion is a force for the awful, unlike science’s force for the good.

Does your gray matter —i.e. your brain—see more shading to all this?

Nope. Crikey, does this woman get paid to write stuff like this?

UPDATE: As the commenters point out, Grossman was a Knight-Templeton Journalism Fellow, in the same class as Mooney (check out the publications that the Fellows choose to use on their Templeton page).

155 thoughts on “USA Today strikes back

  1. Well, she actually gets paid to ask questions like –

    “Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes — or mind or hands, depending on your theology/philosophy — of God?”

    So I couldn’t care any less for her opinions. I don’t know about shading, but my gray matter certainly doesn’t detect any matter whatsoever inside this idiot’s head.

    1. I love how she gives everyone a choice. You can pick God’s hands, or eyes, or mind; just so long as you pick God.

      This is doubtless a follower of a liberal theology, the type accommodationists tell us we should try and get along with.

    2. Yes, I immediately recognized the name, and also chose not to read it. Someone who has the audacity to seriously ask that question is not worth listening to, ever.

      Up next on Grossman’s blog: Blacks — are they people too?

  2. As the poster ahead of me has already pointed out, this is the same woman who declares that parents of IVF babies were only “shopping” for children, and implied that those 4 million human beings are somehow “soulless”.

    (Of course, I will declare that they ARE soulless, along with the 6+ billion other humans on the planet, but is beside the point. She would relegate a 4 million humans to second glass status merely because FUCKING wasn’t the method that caused fusion of sperm and egg.)

    A more light-weight vapid non-rational bag of hammers I haven’t seen since Palin first burst onto the scene.

    1. A bit of spoilers ahead, fyi.

      The most disturbing part of the book “Never Let Me Go”, was that people of that disutopian world justified harvesting clones for organs with the notion that they had no souls. Of course, that did and still bothers me, since I don’t think anyone has a soul, and yet do not harvest my neighbors for their sweet, sweet organs.

      All these religious believes do is divide people and tell the little groups that they are super special, even if it is unearned, and justify treating other groups like crap, even though they are so close to us to make this treatment laughable.

    2. Ah, so let’s list this as Exhibit#1 of how Mooneyism/Accommodationism actually boosts the egos of the idiots and gives them an undeserved sense of legitimacy (which is what I predicted) rather than leading them to think properly. I’m still waiting for Mooney (or any accommodationist for that matter) to come up with credible evidence that his lame-ass scheme works.

      1. That depends upon what one means by ‘works’.
        If it means extending the career of a journalist through willful mendacity, then it clearly *does* work.

  3. I love how people become indignant about the equation of God with Santa or elves or Cthulu. They deeply, firmly believe that it is different, but they have no way of proving it. From my time as a believer, that fact always left me disquieted.

    I wonder if half the rage at the Gnus is as much to ignore that gnawing lack of certainty. The only real difference between the Devil and Cthulu is that one was written more recently and hasn’t had the time to infiltrate the mythosphere.

      1. I dunno, it seems like the articles I’ve seen posted a lot in the Intrawebs lately have been of a collective defense of all religion sort. And in general, I’ve seen people (like my parents) love to discuss religion with people of different faiths and yet recoil at atheism.

  4. “And she seems to have bought into the And she seems to have bought into the Mooney-ian myth that our getting all verklempt at good music or sunrises is pretty much the same as believing in sky-fairies and talking snakes:”

    I, for one, am always wanting to hear more about those talking snakes.

    1. I could never understand that.

      godless: “Ooh, isn’t that a lovely sunrise?”

      godnagger: “Yeah, isn’t god wonderful?”

      godless: “WTF? Where did *that* come from?”

  5. I wrote this response to your article on my website today:
    Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, wrote an interesting op-ed piece for the The USA Today this weekend. In it, he dives head first into the Science-Religion Debate. Coyne claims that science and religion will never reconcile, but remain enemies until faith has ended. His point: faith and science are fundamentally incompatible. To me, religion and science seek to answer different questions and such answers have different purposes. Yes, religious texts and doctrines have made scientifically testable claims, but that is not the primary purpose of such statements. Science-sounding statements in sacred texts only sought to explain the world to a people who had no other answers. While science and literalism will be mortal enemies, science and religion can coexist.

    I would like to look at some of Jerry Coyne’s statements:
    Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.
    Science can also help religion by displaying the majesty of the universe. Science continues to demonstrate the interconnectedness of life, a religious principle. Science helps religion weed out ancient superstitions and allows us to analyze Biblical text with a modern eye.
    Does religion work? It brings some of us solace, impels some to do good (and others to fly planes into buildings), and buttresses the same moral truths embraced by atheists, but does it help us better understand our world or our universe?
    If you take religion to explain the material workings of the world, then no it doesn’t work. Religion acts as a cultural glue helping to pass on those moral truths that help a society survive. I personally believe that atheists are moral people (I reject the angry, anti-social atheist stereotype), but one could argue that acceptance of such moral truths are derived by living in a religious society. Religion helps people cope with their problems and struggles, while some people have abused religion for other reasons.
    There’s no way of knowing whether it’s true.
    I agree with this statement. That is why it is belief. To me, this compels tolerance of religion. We can’t know for sure if it is true, like we can’t be certain that it is untrue. Until then, let us search for the compatibility of science and religion. Religion should not make claims against accepted science, while science should not make claims that it cannot assess.

    Coyne continues by citing a survey showing that religious belief counters understanding of evolution. The problem isn’t religion, but fundamentalism and literalism. Science and religion can stand together to help our society. Each offer something to people whether an understanding of nature or a look at humanity.

    1. “To me, religion and science seek to answer different questions and such answers have different purposes”

      and later:

      “There’s no way of knowing whether it’s true.
      I agree with this statement.”

      That’s why science & religion aren’t compatible. Science provides us with a way to evaluate the truth of many questions, religion provides a guess. Not particularly useful then is it?

      “but one could argue that acceptance of such moral truths are derived by living in a religious society”

      One could argue that, but one would look a little foolish if one did. How can we look at passages in the Bible in which God gives commands & then determine whether or not they are abhorrent to us? Clearly not by using ‘God-given’ morals as we would see these as ok, as they come from God. No, we use the set of humanist morals that we have developed as a society that are superior to those written in Bronze Age writings. We have these morals because that’s how a society survives.

    2. “The problem isn’t religion …”

      Bullshit. Religion is a huge part of the problem because it feeds lies to young children and dissuades them from thinking. Children who think and ask questions about the religious nonsense taught to them are punished by numerous methods – just look at how Michael Behe’s own son is ostracized and physically isolated from his siblings because he’s got the godless cooties.

        1. There’s a tendency among religious moderates to assume that whenever atheists disparage religion, we only mean the crazy, fundamentalist types. No, we mean the wishy-washy, vague “science and religion are compatible” types like yourself as well.

          Why? Because we’re promoting reason and rationality, and faith (even of the type you spouse) is an obstacle to that. The problem is *not* literalism. The problem is faith. The problem is believing that superstition has anything worthwhile to say about ethics or morality. Religion has *nothing* to offer on that front. Just baseless assertions that should be given no more credence than any other opinion. Less so, since a great deal of bigotry and oppression is only continued because of religious justifications.

          Most religions aren’t even compatible with one another let alone what we’ve discovered about the Universe through the sciences. Sure, there’s no way to know with certainty that religion is false, but there’s a great deal of evidence from distinct lines of inquiry that indicates it almost certainly is. So we have more that sufficient justification for concluding that religion is false even if we lack certainty, and that’s because absolutely certainty is an unattainable and unreasonable standard of proof. Notice that apologists’ “certainty” requirement never applies to other subjects. We don’t know with certainty that leprechauns are false, but I don’t see you arguing that we need to search for the compatibility of science and leprechauns. Science and faith aren’t compatible because there is no amount of self-delusion that’s compatible with the honest search for truth. Not even a little bit.

          1. I do not assume that you only mean the fundies, I wish to assert position of a Liberal Christian and understand how my point of view will be taken.
            That all religions and no religion each offer opinions of the world explains why tolerance is so important. However, science has also supported some ugly bigotry.
            While individual doctrines can disagree, religions can agree on major ideas. Both prayer and meditation can alter the brain and help focus one’s attention on the task at hand. Fellowship promotes social bonding. Other aspects of religion offer similar benefits.
            As far as the certainty of leprechauns, we could say the same about ESP, witches, ghosts, and more.

            1. Yes we could; it’s why honest scientists treat all magical beliefs similarly. There is no more evidence for gods, souls, angels, etc. then there are for fairies, Thetans, Greek gods, demons, etc.

              As far as science is concerned, supernatural beings are all cut from the same cloth (the cloth that was, apparently, used to make the Emperor’s New Clothes.) We understand a lot about why humans make up such explanations, but there is not an iota of evidence that any sort of consciousness can exist without a brain. If there was, scientists would be testing and expanding upon the evidence so we could all learn more and all benefit.

              Faith is not a means of knowing anything objectively true And the truth doesn’t have sides. It’s the same for everybody no matter what they believe. For example,the earth rotated around the sun long before there were humans attributed the apparent motion of the sun to gods and chariots or imagining themselves the center of it all.

            2. From what I have read, the results for prayer and meditation work about as well as listening to relaxing music or reading a good book. Neither those (nor meditation, to be honest) require a belief in false things.

              You seem to argue that since religion provides some benefit (can you name one that cannot be provided by secular alternatives?) that it is ok if they are false (my words, not yours). I don’t buy into that – I prefer to believe in things that have evidence behind them, not whether they provide a benefit or not.

              The problem is that religion has dug its tentacles into everything, and people think – oh, we can’t have fellowship without a church (or temple, etc). BS. Pure and simple. We need to start building secular alternatives (which will happen, as with AA, as more people start challenging blind faith)

            3. “As far as the certainty of leprechauns, we could say the same about ESP, witches, ghosts, and more”

              Yes – exactly our point. And also gods, spirits, and immortal souls.

              The only positive aspects you mention – meditiation (I don’t include prayer, prayer has no known psychological benefits while some research suggests meditation might) and fellowship are things that can be – and, for millenia, have been – obtained without any supernatural beliefs. Why not just foster those things and jettison the supernatural beliefs, as well as the cultural baggage that comes with a religion whose founder claimed you had to worship him as a god or be cast into a lake of fire?

            4. “However, science has also supported some ugly bigotry.”

              That’s not true. There are/were horrible people out there who took words from the scientific literature and misrepresented the science in support of their own bigotry, and there have even been notable scientists (like Francis Crick) who have used some small sample of reported facts to erroneously support their own bigotry, but science itself only searches for greater knowledge and, unlike various religious sects past and present, does not promote bigotry. For example, Hitler’s own hatred of Jews and other minority groups is based in part on eugenics – eugenics was never part of science and never will be. Most proponents of eugenics have been simple bigoted ignoramuses. Although now and then a prominent scientist of the era may have subscribed to the nonsense (for example, Fritz Haber), eugenics never made it into mainstream science – it remained the domain of kooks and bigots.

            5. “…I wish to assert position of a Liberal Christian and understand how my point of view will be taken”

              You plainly do not.

        2. No, religion is the problem. Religion breeds fundamentalism and literalism – these are inextricable parts of religion. The vast majority of religious people subscribe to literalism (and not only within the abrahamic sects) and all religions have their fundamentalist adherents. If people learned to think properly they would reject literalism (and likely reject their religion and become deists or godless people). Religious fundamentalism is invariably based upon the literalism which all religions push.

          1. And what believer wouldn’t do things they wouldn’t normally if they were convinced that god wanted it?

            How many times are the voices in a persons head mistaken for god?

            Science makes no claims of divine truths or special knowledge. All religions do.

        3. Adam Corey:
          “…the problem isn’t religion, but fundamentalism and literalism”

          More total and complete and utter bollocks.
          Without the moderates, the indigent residue would be locked up in mad houses.

    3. Adam Corey: “Religion acts as a cultural glue helping to pass on those moral truths that help a society survive.”


      There is no moral truth in “Do not use the Lord’s name in vain.”

      In fact, how many of the Ten Commandments are essential to a society’s survival, whatever that means?

      It’s more accurate to say religions promote tribalism through ritual and tradition.

      1. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain may not offer deep moral truths, but we should not be so quick to release obscenities. Cursing may have important properties like a relief of pain and an expression of frustration. But overuse of such language, diminishes the understanding of your frustration and could be related to a rise in stress hormones. No matter what you think about adult languages, we know that people who curse ever other word are fairly annoying.

        As far as the 10 commandments, the first 5 focus on a relationship with God, while the other 5 focus on relationships with others. But these are not the only 5 other commandments throughout the old testament.

        A fairly conservative approach to religion may promote tribalism, but a liberal perspective should promote tolerance, love and compassion.

        1. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain may not offer deep moral truths, but we should not be so quick to release obscenities. ”

          But taking the Lord’s name in vain has nothing to do with using obscenities. You’re trying to twist one of the Commandments to say something relevant, but the text doesn’t support it.

          “A fairly conservative approach to religion may promote tribalism, but a liberal perspective should promote tolerance, love and compassion.”

          To do that you have to ignore the text and tradition of your religion. Why not just get rid of the text and tradition altogether, since they obviously don’t support the values you hold?

        2. Oh, what bullshit.

          Look. The most-commonly-cited of the three very different versions of the Ten Commandments endorses chattel slavery and reduces all women to that status. They are fundamentally not merely incompatible but actively hostile to the First Amendment. They stifle one of the most important driving factors in the human species. And what little good there is in them can trivially be found in far more elegant form in countless other sources.

          The Ten Commandments are and always have been a profound force for evil. The only reason you and your co-religionists think otherwise is because you have faith <spit>.

          If you had reason instead of faith, the evil in the Ten Commandments, the profound evil in the Sermon on the Mount, and all the rest of the blindingly obvious evil that runs through that horrifically filthy work of really bad fantasy snuff porn would be obvious to you.

          That you actually think that an undead zombie, complete with gaping chest wounds, who commanded that all who would refuse to submit to him should be slaughtered at his feet…that you could read such a thing and not have a violent emotional response…well, it’s yet more proof of just how powerful a force for evil faith truly is.



        3. How could any benevolent being leave out commandments like “don’t own people”… “no torture”… “no rape”…. “no pedophilia”… “no bigotry”?

          Oh that’s right, the Abrahamic god is not against those things– in fact, he gives very specific instructions as to carry out some of those things that most humans nowadays would find abhorrent.

          Every atheist I know is better than the Abrahamic God. Moreover, I don’t think any moral human would sentence anyone one to infinite punishment for a finite crime. What would be the point?

        4. How about that bit where god tells the Israelites to kill all the men and male children in a neighboring tribe and to rape the females and keep them as slaves? There’s a nice source of morals – or was I being a literalist? Goddamn, this is tough – how do I know when to be a literalist and when to think of an alternative explanation of god’s command to murder, rape, pillage, and enslave?

          1. Well what you don’t understand is that it was okay for the Israelites to kill everyone with a penis and rape everyone with a vagina back then, but it’s not okay to do that now.

            Oh wait that’s moral relativism, isn’t it?


            How about, “it was okay for them to do it because God told them to do it”?

            I think that pretty much covers the general case, and as a bonus you get to keep your absolute morality! It’s always absolutely moral to do whatever God tells you to do, so thank God God doesn’t talk any more.

        5. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain”

          Why not?
          If I take Sherlock Holmes’ name in vain, would you be offended?
          They are both fictional characters.
          Grow up.

    4. How is the religious method of “answering questions” any different than just asserting things to be true on authority? And what are some questions for which religion provides an answer?

      “Religion acts as a cultural glue helping to pass on those moral truths that help a society survive.”

      No, CULTURE acts as a glue helping to pass on those moral truths that help a society.

        1. And, by so transparently dodging the question, you quite clearly admit that faith, which prides itself on persistence not merely in the lack of evidence but in the face of contradictory evidence, is the worship of lies.

          That those lies are expedient to the whims of certain practitioners of power politics in no way justifies them nor your defense of faith.

          For faith truly is the most dangerous threat humanity faces today. Faith is, by very definition, an active effort to destroy that which has lifted humanity out of the depravity of the jungle to the heights of civilization: the quest for truth and knowledge, aka science.



  6. I get a kick out of the way fake leprechauns are actually real, just like fake Jesus, while real leprechauns are actually fake, just like real Jesus. Suppose Grossman had put up a photo of a guy dressed up as Jesus. What’s the difference between that and a photo of guys dressed up as leprechauns?

    1. She could have done that: she could have put up a photo of a painting “of Jesus” by any number of artists; all would be paintings of a guy dressed up “as Jesus” in a Jesus-appropriate setting (on the cross, carrying the cross, talking to 12 guys, sitting on his mummy’s lap).

            1. There’s no proof that Jesus wasn’t a leprechaun; therefore, via theistic reasoning, he was.

              (You can’t prove me wrong; therefore my woo is true!)

    2. I like how Jesus, a carpenter born in Nazareth on the shores of the Mediterranean sea, a man who supposedly spent a lot of his life working outdoors and walking from one place to another, is always depicted as some pasty skinny nerdy well-groomed anglo-saxon dude with a BDSM fetish.

      Seriously, what the fuck? Jesus would have looked a whole lot more like Osama bin Laden than some poncy Englishman.

      Even the fake Jesuses aren’t very good fakes.

  7. Wow, she mischaracterizes your article but can’t be bothered to explain her contempt. The only real thought she added was the rhetorical question at the end. I kept looking for a “Next Page” link to see if there was more.
    Shorter Grossman:

    Coyne is mean. Do you like susnsets?

    Total content fail.

    1. Other than straw men and complaints about tone, what else has she got?

      Believers get very peeved when the skeptic treats the woo they think is true the same way the believer treats other woo.

    2. “I kept looking for a “Next Page” link to see if there was more.”

      So did I. The article was certainly short; it was approximately 319 words and 142 of those words were from Jerry Coyne’s original article.

  8. Grossman says, “No common awe for the dazzling sunrise here.”

    Dazzling sunrises. Ergo leprechaun!

    No matter how hard one tries, the apophatic leprechaun cannot be ruled out and I, for one, WILL NOT tolerate such black & white views (when they should clearly be green).

    1. I think I said this at Butterflies and Wheels, but it sounds like she is mirroring the Insane Clown Posse. Is she really using the Argumentum ad ICP?

    2. Nonsense, everyone knows that leprechauns create rainbows! They have nothing to do with sunsets, that’s just silly. Get your leprechaunology straight.

    1. Hyperbolic verbs seem to issue naturally from anyone who criticizes a gnu atheist.

      Amazing, isn’t it, how words actually have different meanings when the referent is an atheist? “Fundamentalist,” for example, in everyday usage means “one who stones women, or flies planes into buildings” when the referent is “Muslim.” But when the referent is “atheist,” the word “fundamentalist” seems to mean “one who writes books” or “one who defends science unapologetically.” A neat trick, as Dan Dennet would say.

      1. I think the accommodationist specialty is hyperbolic ADJECTIVES: shrill… strident… and the ever popular “militant”. In fact, I think the term “new atheists” came from those weasel-worded folks. Occaisionally they’ll throw in a noun, like “dick”

        (And they complain when we use the term “faitheist”!”)

        1. It’s almost a good thing: the more hyperbolic their criticism and the more often such hyperbole is launched at us, the sooner they’ll be revealed – once uncompromising cheerleaders for science become daily, ho-hum mainstream voices – as squawking, point-missing, hand-wringing Chicken Littles.

  9. Regarding sunrises, ocean waves and other aesthetically pleasing things, I think Richard Feynman put it best in his Character of Physical Law lectures:

    “As we look into these things we get an aesthetic pleasure from them directly on observation. There is also a rhythm and a pattern between the phenomena of nature which is not apparent to the eye, but only to the eye of analysis; and it is these rhythms and patterns which we call physical laws.”

    No god there… only another whole level of natural beauty behind the things we can see or hear.

  10. it includes a photo of fake leprechauns

    “Hi, I’m Jerry Coyne, I’m a biologist and I don’t believe in leprechauns. I’m you. And just like you, I have to constantly deny that leprechauns are real. Isn’t that what the people of Illinois deserve? A biologist who promises, first and foremost, that any leprechauns you see are fake?”


    1. Well I am surprised…

      surprised that Grossman’s rebuttal wasn’t posted before Jerry’s piece! Templeton’s got enough dough to make that happen, I’m sure.

    2. omigod.

      “Cathy Lynn Grossman is a reporter for USA Today, where she established the coverage of religion, spirituality, and ethics for the largest paper in the United States.”

      She established it. Genuflect!

      Well done, Saikat.

      1. If this is the level of proficiency you are expected to acquire in the English language to be eligible for Templeton Fellowship, then lesser mortals like us stand no chance.

  11. Dr. Coyne,
    You call Cathy Grossman’s article a “critique,” but it’s really just a summation of your Op-Ed piece for a different segment of USA Today’s audience. Is there something she wrote or something in the way she quoted you that you disagree with?

    1. I can’t speak for Jerry, but personally I find the assertion that I am somehow totally unable to appreciate a sunrise — because I actually know how it works (as opposed to wallowing in ignorance and attributing it to “God”) — is more than a bit loony-toons.

    2. Are you kidding? What kind of dispassionate, or at least even-handed, “summation” would describe Coyne “wheeling out his most outrageous language for his point”? (“Most outrageous”? As if!)

      How about Grossman’s daring falsehood that Coyne “blast[ed] faith as … the impetus of all evil”? Is it an inoffensive “summation” if the writer misrepresents the work being summated?

      Or Grossman’s allegation that Jerry takes the “black-and-white view that religion is a force for the awful, unlike science’s force for the good”? Do even-handed summaters take potshots like that one?

      And then there’s Grossman’s conclusion:

      Does your gray matter — i.e. your brain –see more shading to all this?

      How does catty condescension work in a simple “summation”?

      In short, no—you’re simply ignoring the near-continuous signals that Grossman is interested in insulting Coyne, not describing his argument honestly. I don’t understand why you didn’t see any of that.

  12. “Coyne argues we must clear vision from the fog of belief and religious structures that nourish communities of faith.”

    Fog is pretty low on nutrients. Maybe if Grossman stopped munching on it, she will be able to understand what she is reading (and write better).

      1. Obviously an editorial failure as well; don’t no edeeturs no know eenrish deese days? “clear vision from the fog” — my blue pen won’t do, I need a bucket of blue paint and a nice big brush.

  13. That was an article? At the end I was still waiting for it to start.

    If my word count software’s accurate, the quoted section of Jerry’s article accounts for 81% of this “article.”

    And if we also subtract the words, “Chicago ecology and evolution professor Jerry Coyne” and “Why Evolution is True” (after all, they’re also all about Jerry), that makes it 88%.

    Nice work, Jer. All of our opponents should be so helpful.

    1. She writes just enough to demonstrate that she is so foggy-minded that she can’t even distinguish between the concepts of Truth and Falsehood, and Good and Evil. Perhaps it’s deliberate though – it is not uncommon for Liars for Jesus ™ to claim truth=good, falsehood=evil, god=truth=good. It’s a wonder there is no greater objection to the use of Good-or-Evil tests in schools.

    2. Correction to me: what I meant was “the quoted section is 81% as long as the Grossman-written part.” Etc.

  14. I guess she’s one of those religious folks who fell for Mooney’s line – I see Mooney has been very effective at turning her into a science-minded citizen. Let’s quiz her on her pre and post-Mooney view of science, and evolution in particular.

  15. I think that the spectacularly ludicrous things religious folks say when confronted with rational arguments comes from the hopeless bewilderment they feel. The urge to defend their delusion while trying to sound witty and cogent is strong in them, but as there is no substance behind it, it comes out as ridiculous gobbledegook.

  16. Take heart, the “Science and religion aren’t friends” article is exposing many people to a view they’ve long been insulated from, and the more rational among them will begin to see things in a new light. The rebuttals, however, have nothing new to offer as persuasion and will only attract more attention to the original article. In other words, all publicity Is good publicity!

  17. Actually, you were too kind. There is probably better reason to believe in leprechauns than in god. After all, we discovered homo floresiensis which is only three feet tall. Dress one in a green suit and call it homo leprechaunsis.

    1. I think they’ve already been declared “hobbits”.

      But your point is valid. Any material being is more likely than any immaterial beings since there is no evidence that immaterial beings exist and tons of evidence that material beings do. Moreover, some of these material beings are known to make up immaterial beings to explain that which they don’t understand.

    1. Jerry is likely referencing one of Mike Meyers’s Saturday Night Live characters. I forget her name, but she used to host a show called “coffee talk” where she would use the Yiddish (not German) word “verklemmt” to mean “emotional”. “I’m all verklemmt” she would say, dabbing the tears from her eyes.

      1. Hey! Surely any WEIT fan knows that it’s not “Meyers,” it’s “Myers“!

        To add to the trivia, Mike Myers based the Linda Richman character on his Jewish (now ex-)mother-in-law, who had precisely that accent, used “verklempt” and similar Yiddishisms, and happened to be named Linda Richman.

  18. Professor Coyne,

    You state that all religions are superstitions and that they created a fog we are living in. I am trying to figure something out if this case. Why do people continue to yearn for peace when they seem to have it? What is your suggestion for helping them achieve this peace without a superstition (as you call it), a drug, or a therapist?

    1. 1. Take at least 20 minutes each day to relax – really relax. Just sit and listen to some music, or watch the sun set.

      2. Try do live the life you want to live.

      3. Regular exercise.

    2. What would be wrong with having the assistance of a well-trained therapist? Many people have improved the quality of their lives—finding a kind of “peace,” I suppose you could call it—in such clinical settings. Why should that be lumped in with superstition and drugs (the latter of which I’m not altogether against either).

    3. First, I’ve noticed that atheists, in general, tend to be much more at peace with themselves and the world than True Believers™. Take that for what you will.

      My suggestion?

      Decide what it is you want to do with your time and your life. Try to think of the most realistic path to actually living your life in that manner. Implement the plan you just developed. Periodically review your progress and decide if changes are necessary.

      If you’re like most people, you’ll find that all the archetypal things put in personal ads (sunsets, sports, walks on the beach, hot sex, good food, hanging out with friends, etc.) are generally good things to do with at least part of your time and will help bring you peace.

      One thing mentioned above that can also help that doesn’t tend to get as much publicity is meditation. Sit upright with good posture, but as relaxed as possible. Your spine should be stacked and compressed so that your head is balanced on a column that goes all the way to the chair. Concentrate on each part of your body in a methodical way, willing it to relax by making it feel as heavy as possible. Once you’ve relaxed all your muscles, breathe in and out deeply, and focus your attention on nothing but your breathing. Each time your thoughts wander, let go of the wandering thought without criticizing yourself for the lack of discipline and herd your thoughts back to just your breathing. The goal is to get into a state where you literally aren’t thinking of anything at all. It might not happen often, but it’s an amazing sensation when it does happen.

      Doing that for fifteen minutes or so a day can do wonders.

      Lastly…don’t be afraid to revel in life. Carpe diem and all that. It’s clichée, but it’s also true.



    4. What’s wrong with seeking a therapist? People often seek counsel from priests or religious gurus, they just receive bad advice. At least therapists are constrained by ethical guidelines.

    5. Although your indoctrinators may have lead you to believe otherwise, many, many people manage to lead happy, productive, moral, peaceful lives without believing in magic.

      For some people fear of hell is actually a major source of stress and angst.

      Trying to believe the right magical story with the right fervency caused my childhood to be far from peaceful.

      I find much more peace without religion. If I can’t know something, and scientists don’t know, then it’s really unlikely than some guru, priest, or self-appointed prophet somewhere DOES know.

    6. Why do people yearn for peace when they seem to have it? Part of it is that people have different ideas of peace for them, so if you think they should have it, they may not think so. We also have a culture that emphasizes never having enough – there is always more we need (not just want, but need) – our consumer culture does not help find peace.

      As for finding peace, I’d suggest a trained therapist if it is that bad, but such simple things as learning to accept that bad things happen, that we cannot have everything we want, that we do not need everything we see, that we can accept death without having a false belief that these spirits are watching us 24-hours a day (hi grandma! I’m on the toilet now!). Accept that our thoughts are not evil, that we have no fascist big brother monitoring our every thought, that our loved ones (and billions of others) will not spend an infinite amount of time being tortured. That being different is not evil, that we are not dirty and sinful to begin with, even babies…

      Damn, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg of problems that religion creates so it can solve them. Jettisoning these beliefs will work wonders for some. But if it is serious, better to go to someone trained in counseling than someone who will tell you comforting lies that might treat a symptom but will not treat the cause.

      Just my thoughts.

  19. As a scientist and former atheist, I see your ‘truths’ as more transparent. I spent 40+ years looking to science to provide that truth, but it ultimately fails as it is constrained by our collective knowledge on the larger issues. You make a strong statement of never having met a Christian who would tell him what would make him abandon his belief in God. I’ll take that one on as that’s me. I came to God because science fails on what you claim is a ‘truth’ (this is just one example so please be patient if you want to continue a dialogue)- that the universe did not need a creator. Science is pretty clear on the conservation of mass/matter — right? So how is it that all these brilliant scientists can say the ‘big bang’ created all universe and matter? It explains nothing. All it explains is that a large chaotic event turned previous matter into a new format of matter. Even Hawking’s recent works dodge this point from what I understand in his explanations of the pre-bang order (note — I am only going by what I get in the free press). I am saddened by the tone that you take in this article as you sound like my intellectually challeged aethist friends who make up their own truths as unfounded as those of relgious people they are dogging. Seems like now science is your new religion and it just worships a more material and immediate, maybe more affirming diety.

    1. “Science is pretty clear on the conservation of mass/matter — right? So how is it that all these brilliant scientists can say the ‘big bang’ created all universe and matter?”

      They don’t. The big bang does not involve the creation of matter.

      Now, what explanation does your religion offer, and what evidence does it have to support it?

      1. According to the inflation model, which is the most accepted big bang model and also consistent with all measurement of the cosmic microwave background, the mass/energy was created by the decay of the inflaton field that gave birth to the universe. I doubt that will convince John, though.

    2. –attributing it to a magical invisible guy explains even less.

      –attributing it to a magical invisible guy who had a son (who was really him) is silly.

    3. Hey Jerry, John is saddened by your “tone”–

      (Now what was it Jason Rosenhouse had to say about tone?)

    4. John, I’m not really sure why you think that’s a good argument given that there are so many different, obvious rebuttals. I mean, there’s even a comic about how limited and misleading it is.

      Have you actually looked for refutations to your argument online? There’s several, and you don’t even have to spell it right to find them!

    5. John, may I ask for your academic credentials? Where, for example, might I find your dissertation? Where have you published since then?

      I ask because your caricature of the Big Bang is so worng that it’s hard to know where to begin. That might be explainable if your area of expertise is something far outside of physics, though it would still be difficult to understand why you would choose to write with authority on a subject you so obviously know less about than a well-educated layperson. A defining characteristic of a good scientist is that one should know the limits of one’s knowledge and expertise, and it seems pretty clear you don’t.

      If I may further speculate, the tone of your post comes across exactly like one of those “former atheists” who’s never doubted the reality of the Christian pantheon but went through a rebellious phase where you hated and resented The Father and maybe even Jesus himself. (Most rebellious Christian “atheists” generally don’t get around to hating The Holy Spirit or Mary or Noah or the Heavenly Host or the rest of the pantheon, I’ve noticed). Or maybe you sincerely believed but in a different branch of Christianity than you do today, and you consider that other branch to be devoted to a false (and therefore, in your current understanding, nonexistent) version of the Christian pantheon. Perhaps you never really paid a whole lot of attention to the matter before you decided to get serious about it.

      And, believe me. All of those positions are so far from atheism it ain’t even funny.

      You know how absurd the proposition that the Tooth Fairy, Quetzalcoatl, or the Loch Ness monster seems to you? Well, there isn’t a member of your pantheon that isn’t at least as absurd. I mean, really? A dead guy walking around with a gaping chest wound, and people thought that was a good thing? And nobody bothered to notice him until several decades after the alleged fact? C’mon. Get real. Grow up.



    6. Scientist & former atheist? If you really ever were either of those things I can only assume you were terrible at them or being them for the wrong reasons.

      If you were searching for some kind of deep, mystical, metaphysical “truth” in your alleged scientific career – as opposed to searching for verifiable evidence and explanations, like a proper scientist – you were definitely terrible at it. Science is a method of objectively investigating the Universe, not a window into Jesus’ en suite.

      When you say flat-out foolishness like “science is your new religion” you write not only like a common or garden pig-ignorant Christian comment troll but also someone whose woeful non-understanding of what you purport to criticise totally precludes you from being able to offer any credible comment.

      Finally, if you truly believe science is a religion then it’s pretty clear that you understand neither and should probably refrain from commenting on either.

    7. I’m also a former atheist (in that I used to be an atheist). However, I continue to be an atheist.
      Because even though science has completely failed to provide me with a “meaning to existence”, it has also never suggested that I am owed such a meaning. So, in not furnishing it, it is not failing me, any more than the local Korean deli is (they did sell me a tomato that appeared ripe, but turned out to be entirely tasteless, and for this I curse them).

      The big question (and I’m sorry to be making fun of you, but you make it really easy), is WHY you believe you are owed any answers to the “true purpose” of your existence? Who gave you the (highly cruel) idea that such information is available to you? And why would you go seeking it in the various ramblings of 3000 year old lunatics?
      Anyway… I think you’re gone from the thread and your feelings will probably be hurt by the fairly blunt responses that precede mine, but if you get to answering this, I want to understand what brought you back to believing whatever unknowable thing you currently believe.

      1. I agree. This John’s post sounds like the theism of a physicist – a superficially easy answer (god/gods) but one that when you consider it just leaves as many questions as before (why is there a god/gods?). Clearly I just don’t understand religious people – why do they need a god/gods? Wanting to feel a part of something bigger than oneself? You are & it is just matter. Bodies are matter in one transitional form or another, constantly reforming.

        And another thing – if John believes in a god or gods that does not mean there is a ‘soul’ or an ‘afterlife’.

      2. I haven’t had a tastyfull tomato in so long that the thought is simply a fantasy. I would love to find a deli that only had one tasteless tomato and for that I certainly would applaud them.

        1. I have to say the best tomatoes I ever had were ones grown by myself and by others I knew. Also heritage tomatoes are by far the most tastiest if you can find them. Also most ‘market’ tomatoes are so tasteless you might as well not bother.

          What are we discussing again???

      3. “they did sell me a tomato that appeared ripe, but turned out to be entirely tasteless, and for this I curse them”

        Those cruel heartless bastards!

        Curse them and their pink tasteless mush!

    8. It explains nothing.

      How does invoking a magic man help? Seriously, do you think saying “goddidit” explains anything? It’s a non-explanation that can be invoked for anything, and so explains nothing.

      You promote a classic god-of-the-gaps fallacy but turn around and say science can’t provide truth? You sound like a very confused and muddled thinker. I very much doubt you you were ever a scientist since you don’t think like one. Science teacher, maybe. Or an engineer of some kind.

        1. Mohler’s piece is actually very interesting in that it gives a fascinating insight into the mentality of the believer, and it shouldn’t simply be dismissed out of hand as unworthy of note(and in case Michael Kingsford Gray is about with his boringly deferential, unoriginal and repetitive one-liners and inability to read, to say that does not mean that I agree with what Mohler says in any way):

          ‘Are science and Christianity friends?’ writes Mohler. ‘The answer to that is an emphatic yes, for any true science will be perfectly compatible with the truths we know by God’s revelation. But this science is not naturalistic, while modern science usually is. Too many evangelicals try to find middle ground, only to end up arguing for positions that combine theological surrender with scientific naïveté. As Jerry Coyne makes very clear, there really is no middle ground.’

          That ‘any true science will
          be perfectly compatible with the truths we know by God’s revelation’ is not simply, as it may seem to be, an assertion of some sort of position that may be argued about, but is in fact an assertion of authority and power, just as we saw some days ago, when some Roman Catholic apologist, whom Jerry linked to, made what amounted to the assertion that the Roman Catholic church is in charge. What, fundamentally, Mohler is asserting here is that Christians, by virtue of their beliefs, are in a position to judge what is or what is not true in science. One recalls not only the troubled relationship between churches and the sciences over the centuries, but also the insistence of the Nazis (‘Jewish science’)and the Russian Communists (Lysenko)that they were not only in a position of power vis-a-vis science, but that they would bend science to their will. What Mohler’s remarks make clear – as a useful idiot like Cathy Grossman does not (although it is obvious on whose side she would be on if and when push comes to shove) – is that at the basis of this is no mere gentleman’s disagreement, as Chris Mooney would like to believe, but a profound quarrel as to who has authority, and in the end political power.

          1. Well sure, but that’s not a new insight, unless it is new to you of course. The Moonies might as well be christians as neither acts as if honesty has any value when planning strategy or setting policy. When in practice science is intended and needs to remain an honest pursuit.

            It certainly is productive to point out the substantial evidence that shows christians suck at reality, truth and honesty just to name three that are substantially important to science. But, since we have much substance to back it up, isn’t shortening it to “christians suck!” occasionally acceptable?

            1. Yes, by all means say ‘Christians suck’ as many times as it pleases you, if that’s what you want to do…

          2. How bloody ironic.
            You response was a boringly deferential, unoriginal and repetitive one-liner.

      1. Ra? Sol? I see a schism!

        I am beginning to wonder whether atheists are not just more evolved than religious people?

        1. Please please please don’t contribute to the (very faulty) “evoultion has a goal”-meme. Even in jest.

          “More evolved” would mean responding better to one or more selection pressures. Not smarter, not cleaner etc (more handsome and better teeth might work though, but a correlation between those and atheism are tenous at best)

          Atheism and theism are socially derived characteristics. They have at most a tenous link to genetic evolution.

          And just leave social evolution out of it. It’s just better that way. Mkay?

  20. I have read through all of the responses to my question and it did give me some insight in to how someone that does not believe in God does think. All of the responses are very simple and sound very easy. Which makes me wonder why the world has so much violence and pain and if we can just avoid it all be breathing deeply for twenty minutes. It is a common story for why people believe in God. They have every imaginable thing in the world to make them happy and they are still unhappy so they seek something outside of the world, because the world around them is not enough. I am reading that atheist don’t think we know enough about our world and we have to keep seeking out answers and this constant seeking can somehow give you peace (not sure how you find peace when you are constantly searching in a world with no peace?) Before you jump all over Religion for all of the world’s problems. Think about what man has had to figure out. Man at some point saw how violent he can be and had to figure out a reason for it. If he went with the simplest answer that only the strong can survive then we might as well eliminate entire societies and live with anarchy everywhere. This did not completely happen something got man to look outside of himself and towards something else in most cases a God or Gods something that was not part of our world and is greater than themselves. That is the heart of what I am trying to get to. What is that inside of us that is forcing us to seek that?

    1. Religious societies are considerably less healthful than secular societies on many measures.

      So what is it that made humans sacrifice virgins to invisible gods and do rain dances and make up myths to explain that which they don’t understand?

      Why is it that many humans would rather believe a comforting lie than to admit they do not know.

      Why is one’s faith dependent on the culture one was indoctrinated in?

      I’d say it’s because the learning mechanisms we evolved have some properties that cause irrationality. Firstly, we trust those who have authority over us. Another flaw is that we confuse correlation with causation and it takes education to learn how not to do so. Another problem is that we confirm our biases. Once we believe something, we notice the evidence that supports it and use it as “proof” while negating all evidence that disconfirms what we wish to be true. Science aims to corrects those know flaws in reasoning. Faith aims to exploit them.

      You believe faith is good and so you play with semantics to try to prove to yourself that it is so.

      So, did you really actually read what anyone said? Because you didn’t respond to anything particular.

      Just because lots of people really truly believe some really unbelievable things doesn’t make it true or good to believe. Faith is not a method of knowledge.

      From my experience, faith makes people feel humble and knowledgeable, while being arrogant and ignorant.

    2. “Which makes me wonder why the world has so much violence and pain and if we can just avoid it all be breathing deeply for twenty minutes.”

      We can’t. That was a suggestion to help someone find peace. It’s not a cure-all. You will never find permanent peace (until death, and then you won’t be around to enjoy it). We are animals – we are constantly feeling conflicting urges and confusing emotions, because that’s how our brains evolved.

      “This did not completely happen something got man to look outside of himself and towards something else in most cases a God or Gods something that was not part of our world and is greater than themselves.”

      Possibly, but that had absolutely nothing to do with recognizing and reducing the human propensity toward violence. History tells us it had the opposite effect.

      “What is that inside of us that is forcing us to seek that?”

      Nothing. Nothing forces us to seek that. Some people choose to seek something like that for reasons of their own. Others pretend to have already found it so they can use the claim of divine inspiration to control and manipulate others.

      “It is a common story for why people believe in God. They have every imaginable thing in the world to make them happy and they are still unhappy so they seek something outside of the world, because the world around them is not enough.”

      That’s a common story? Do you have evidence to back that up? I’ve never heard of anyone, anywhere start believing in any gods for the reason you just gave.

      “I am reading that atheist don’t think we know enough about our world and we have to keep seeking out answers and this constant seeking can somehow give you peace”

      I’ve never heard an atheist claim that either. The reasons to seek out answers are to make the lives of other humans better, and for the sheer joy of understanding.

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