Religion doesn’t make people nice

October 20, 2010 • 1:57 pm

This is one of many similar letters I’ve gotten about my USA Today editorial.  I love the “Jerry” salutation (I don’t know the guy) and the way the letter degenerates into vituperation.  Whoever said that atheists are more dickish, strident, and nasty than religious people?  (To be fair, I’ve gotten some nice emails from religious people, too.)

I have never written a letter to a believer (except in response to a nasty screed like this) that has such a hostile tone.  And believe me, I’ve gotten these by the dozen. Note that this guy is not only not an evangelical Christian—he’s a Catholic—but also accepts evolution and was a high school teacher!  Perhaps he has some doubts about his faith?

Jerry,

Read your article “Science and religion aren’t friends.”  Some thought-provoking points.  One statement puzzled me.  “We now know that the universe did not require a creator.”  Since we “know” this, there is some proof.  Correct?  And would you concede that if it did not need a creator, it still could have had one.

I am a Catholic, so most of what I believe about religion is based on faith.  And I don’t profess to be able to explain much of what I believe.  (By the way, I do believe in evolution.)

But much of the arrogance of folks like you turns off those who do not buy into everything you teach.  (My guess is that many of your students are fearful of disputing what you say in class.  You would claim otherwise, but believe me, they are.)

I was a high school English teacher, but science has always interested me, even though much of it baffles me.  Whenever I read a Hawking book, I would run to the physics teacher for interpretation.

By the way, Hawking believes in a creator.  So did Einstein.  And Einstein’s good enough for me.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “He’s a regular Coyne.”

Cordially,

Name Redacted [though I almost didn’t]

157 thoughts on “Religion doesn’t make people nice

  1. “Hawking believes in a creator. So did Einstein.”

    This, in addition to ‘Hitler was an Atheist’, should be archived! Anyone who hears anything to the contrary obviously dismisses the information received. It’s so annoying to hear this over and over again.

    1. As soon as I saw that, I knew this guy had no idea of anything either man wrote. Probably has trouble with poetic language, figurative language, metaphor…don’t let him near poetry!

      Whadda maroon!

  2. Jerry,
    (I love so much your boots I feel entitled to call you Jerry)

    He was an English teacher. That’s better, for his students at least.

    I have two questions:

    the first one for your correspondent:

    I am a Catholic, so most of what I believe about religion is based on faith.

    What’s the specificity of catholics here? Aren’t all religous beliefs based just on faith?

    the second one for you (or anybody else who could be helpful:

    Note that this guy is not only not an evangelical Christian (he’s a Catholic), but accepts evolution…

    Isn’t there a huge difference between the “theistic directed evolution” (view supported by JTF and BioLogos) and just plain evolution without gods leaving their fingerprints all over our nucleic acids?

    1. without gods leaving their fingerprints all over our nucleic acids

      Why does that make me feel dirty all over ?

    2. I believe BioLogos correspondents have come out of the closet with the more apt term “evolutionary creationist”.

      Of course there is a huge difference. A scientific theory like evolution can be tested and describes a natural process with natural mechanisms and natural objects. A religious belief like creationism is in general either rejected by science already or non-testable.

      The dividing line on the later observation is, by its nature and by the actions of religious people wanting to block testing, fuzzy. But if you want an opinion I would say that Miller’s quantum woo, the most unfuzzified of the main stream creationist ideas out there, is firmly rejected.

      First of all, quantum mechanics is a natural process that would have imprints for event selection. But worse for Miller, precisely quantum theory is the one physics theory that rejects hidden variables such as the one he proposes!

      Specifically it rejects “local” variables, but by way of the same relativity that makes this a local (and extremely well tested!) theorem it is also “non-local” in actual extension by the same entanglement experiments used to test it. I believe the usual terminology for this difference is “potato, potatoe”. 😀

      [It is as if nature itself constantly keeps insisting in such a loud voice as possible “there are no magical men behind the curtain”. Funny that. And funny how religious people cover their ears and instead goes “la la la”.

      No really, it is fascinating the way nature rejects human wishes. The “(un)reasonable effectiveness of physics” in telling us that there are no magics, of any kind.]

      A more interesting question is what is the difference between evolutionary creationism and fundamentalist creationism?

      Evolutionary creationism’s creator of humans implies a post-event selection of pathways. An ad hoc (from the POW of science) observed pathway is posited to be the purpose of an agent.

      Fundamentalist creationism’s creator of species implies a pre-event “selection” of pathways. The observed pathways are all posited to be the purpose of an agent.

      But pre or post, it is still the same creator with the same “purpose” of resulting in humans. The difference is technical from the POW of science, to say the least.

      1. Yes, no matter how you slice it, the creator they believe in is cruel, slow, vague, and wasteful if earth (replete with humanity) is his greatest masterpiece.

        Given the plethora of potential people (from a single ejaculate alone!) and the supposed unfathomable intelligence of their creator, many of his “intelligently designed” specimens seem less than… miraculous. And if life is intelligently designed then why not just make one sperm and one egg per person rather than all these wasted gametes– (heck, why make physical people at all if the true essence is a soul which exists for eternity?)

        While I can applaud those who understand and accept evolution, I don’t accept them as fellow rationalists because they hold onto a decidedly irrational belief– and feel proud of it! In fact, I find them primitive and childish– and as long as they feel free to wear their magical beliefs on their sleeves, I’ll feel free to giggle at such beliefs.

      2. Many of the JTF crowd came out after Collins appointment at the head of the NIH. Our local (France) JTF minion after several years protesting as “intellectual dishonesty” calling him a creationists came out in the comments of my blog accepting he was a creationist as far as it was added “as Francis Collins, actual director of the NIH”. Collins’ appointment was a great advertisement for the JTF.

        A few weeks ago, after Shermer attack on Chopra’s quantum flapdoodle at BQO, I asked Shermer why Miller’s quantum flapdoodle and generally JTF’s quantum flapdoodle emphasized by the 2009 Templeton Prize attributed to d’Espagnat wasn’t as well denounced. While Shermer answered my e-mail agreeing to my good point he didn’t take the time to do so on the comments under his post. A premonition? A few days later the comments were shut down and now event the previous discussions disappeared from BQO. Reminds me that Gary Rosen is still a JTF guy.

        You are right here (also):

        But pre or post, it is still the same creator with the same “purpose” of resulting in humans. The difference is technical from the POW of science, to say the least.

        But the point is that the difference is huge from the POV of PR. Much easier to defend ones superstitions while appearing as a reasonable and scientifically important guy. Make opinions look like informed opinions, even scientifically informed opinions. And that sucks.

  3. So is this the part where we find a big list of Einstein and Hawking quotes to show that this doofus is horribly wrong?

    Actually he could just read the beginning of The God Delusion for the former. I just got around to that finally and I can comfortably say the Einstein case is entirely settled.

    And Sean Carroll summarized Hawking’s new book rather well, as far as I could tell without having actually read it.

    1. I can believe he did.

      Of course, as I note in a lengthy comment down thread, these ideas are familiar to science since at least Darwin in the 19th century, and specifically cosmologists have had a similar experience of “no creator” theories since big bang in the 20th century.

      It really takes a devout religious person to be unfamiliar with all of that. More to the point here, I’m sure that Carroll, which have written texts explaining why (almost all) cosmologists are atheists, are well prepared to relate to the subject.

  4. Just a quick correction – he doesn’t claim to be a science teacher. He says he was an English teacher with an interest in science.

  5. /*And would you concede that if it did not need a creator, it still could have had one.*/
    Sure, we can also concede that the universe could have been created by the flying spaghetti monster. It’s also an equally likely possibility.

    /*(By the way, I do believe in evolution.)*/
    How could you “believe” in a logical conjecture based on overwhelming scientific evidence? would you “believe” in gravity, thinking that there could be a supernatural force pulling us all down?

  6. That’s quite a compliment he’s given you, actually. Had somebody so hopelessly worng, clueless, and assholy sung your praises…now that would have been cause for concern.

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. Absolutely right. Especially as he basically claimed to be totaly unable to explain either science or his ‘religion’ (whatever he conceives either to be).

      But apart from the temerity of addressing Prof Coyne as Jerry, despite them never having been introduced, I thought it was really quite restrained, especially compared with some of the stuff that PZ Myers gets.

      Maybe Prof Coyne doesn’t get the really bad stuff, or maybe he’s just shielding us from the worst of it.

      1. Oh believe me–I get the bad stuff. (It often comes via snailmail, in envelopes addressed with bad handwriting and usually with return addresses in either California or the South). I think the moderate stuff like this is more instructive though, for these are the people who are supposedly able to be moved by accommodationism.

        1. It is more likely that it is Gnus that is moved by accommodationism – moved to tears by a combination of frustration and sorrow over human stupidity.

          Then again I think Gnus and Gays (for example) would never let such a dastardly social phenomena stand in the way of liberation in spirit and deed.

        2. Thanks for clarifying that, Prof Coyne. I sort of didn’t think you be exempted (unless perhaps you’d made a back-timed deal with Ceiling Cat).

          So everything, more or less, can be made into a ‘teaching moment’, but I confess that, mild-mannered as I normally am, I would simply have no idea how to ‘move’ your name-redacted correspondent. If we can’t ‘move’ educated, intelligent people such as Pamela Gay, how are we expected to move such as he (assuming it was a he).

          The only ‘learning’ that I can see coming out of this is for advanced students of abnormal psychology, or collector/collaters for DSM V.

  7. I’ve seen worse – of course, they were from theists too.

    At least this one didn’t close with “Praying for you”, “go with god” or something equally repulsive.

    1. I say “go with god” regularly. It goes like this: “You Republicans want to pick Sarah Palin as your presidential candidate? Go with god!”

  8. I agree that the lies about Hitler, Einstein, and Hawking need to be bracketed for believers inability to interpret data or argue honestly.

    1. tbh Einstein had the bad habit of saying “god” far to often, so that one is somewhat excusable. Easily dismissed, but I can see how someone not versed in his life could be honestly mistaken about that one.

      1. Also, while Einstein clarified in no uncertain terms that he does not believe in a personal God, he also clarified in no uncertain terms that he didn’t consider himself an atheist and was not really on board with atheism in general. I can’t recall the quote off hand, but it was about as explicit as his “What you have heard is a lie” quote about his alleged belief in a personal God.

        Yes, that’s right. Einstein was an “Atheist But”.

        So really, neither side should be appealing to the Argument from Authority in this case.

        Hawking, though? What a weird invocation. Six months ago, okay, you could have misinterpreted Hawking as having endorsed a belief in a creator. but uh… like I said below, I guess this guy doesn’t read the news…

      2. Ah, here is the quote:

        I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.

        OTOH, he also said (emph added):

        From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.

        But then again, he also said (emph added):

        I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.

        See what I mean? It’s classic atheist-buttery.

        1. On the Einstein/Hawking thing, I’ve come to the view that our response to an appeal to authority of this sort should consist in the main of making the arguer understand that the appeal to authority is a fallacy, and that we actually don’t care what Einstein/Hawking might have said.

          Having established this, we may only then move on to what is merely a footnote, pointing to the abundant evidence to show that Einstein/Hawking does not believe in a personal god.

          The purpose of the footnote is not to serve as a rebuttal to the argument from authority, but merely to protect the reputation of Einstein/Hawking. This footnote should not be presented in a way such that it might be misinterpreted as being offered as an argument, and it may be omitted altogether, depending on how much you care about the reputation of Einstein/Hawking.

          Of course, Dawkins discusses Einstein’s non belief in god at length in his book, but this is mainly to introduce his idea of ‘Einsteinian religion’, not as an argument for atheism.

        1. I dunno — has anyone ever disproven that an actual God plays with actual dice for every quantum event?

          The orbital for Russell’s teapot is getting pretty crowded, but our Lord Heisenberg will hold collisions at bay.

  9. Dear Professor,
    I would consider myself an agnostic and I have an undergraduate degree in biology and therefore have no agenda here, only a question. Please explain how you personally “know that the universe did not require a creator. I have read a C.S.Lewis book and articles on evolution that never were this sure of anything.
    Your statement is the antithesis of “God said it, I believe it and that settles it”.
    I always hated that argument and now I here it stated the opposite way.
    Please enlighten me.
    Thank you,
    Chuck Frazier

    1. Pardon my interpolation in your conversation Chuck, but I have a question for you:

      If you are genuinely an ‘agnostic’ – ie one who claims no belief either way – then maybe you also agree that ‘the universe doesn’t need a creator’. Because if you don’t believe that, then you must believe that the universe really might, or indeed does, require a ‘creator’.

      So may I ask how you come to this conclusion.

    2. Do Volcanoes require a creator?

      Do natural processes require creators?

      Does the creation of stars require magic?

      Does aberrant behavior require the demonic forces?

      Are your answers sure statements?-

      Once you have been able to explain something naturally, than magical explanations are no longer required (not that magical explanations have ever answered anything in the first place- at least not anything verifiable– an often, they keep people from seeking the actual explanation.)

      By the way, it was Stephen Hawking who made the claim about the universe not requiring a creator in his recent book– The same “Stephen Hawking” that the letter writer thought was a believer.

      So, are you agnostic about magic? unicorns, and demons? Or are you just agnostic about the supernatural things you’ve been indoctrinated to believe in? We can’t prove the universe didn’t require the above anymore than we can prove that the universe didn’t require any gods. This is why most scientists find that supernatural explanations are not required to explain anything– including the supernatural explanation you appear to be on the fence about.

      1. The same Hawking that say on the science – religion conflict something like “science will win, it works”.

        I don’t know why a believer would like to hold up a confirmed New Atheist as a shining example. And if so, why not Dawkins, which has been vocal for much longer. 😀

      2. Magic is inadmissible. If you introduce magic, then any effect can equally well be attributed to any cause. All rules of logic and evidence fail. Nothing can be learned or explained.

        Magic explains nothing and is incapable of explaining anything.

    3. Before I get to the point of your comment, I must point out that to people like me the claim “I would consider myself an agnostic … and therefore have no agenda” is an oxymoron. Most agnostics, having made at least a token effort to ponder the issue, makes a religious non-factual claim that “we can’t tell about gods no matter what” or “we can’t tell about gods either way no matter what”.

      Dawkins has written a book why we can in fact tell, and which way, on basis of observation and theory. You might have heard of it, it is “The God Delusion”. I believe the title says it all for the purpose of me providing examples to reject your oxymoron. To be an agnostic is to have an agenda, a religious agenda based on a rejected theological claim at that.

      Indeed, it is to me as hateful a claim as the C.S.Lewis claim, slightly paraphrased as “religious people once suggested a naive cosmological pathway, I believe it is socially relevant even today, and that settles it”.

      As to the issue, as you asked Coyne specifically, I will merely point out here that we have known that no creator is needed since the big bang theory was tested (by observing cosmological expansion at all times); that pathway takes simple structures to complex without any outside influence. But I will also address that point of the post’s quoted letter in more detail in a specific comment below.

      Lastly I have to point out that your comment is as clueless on the easily surveyed context of Coyne’s post as the quoted letter above – I’m specifically thinking about Hawking’s book that has been discussed plenty here. If you are going to ask questions here, it behooves you to raise above the “duh, me no want to understand too [*drools on shin*]” level. Otherwise your comment comes out as both trollish and dickish.

      1. There are the New Agnostics (or are they Militant, or Angry, or Evangelical?) who want to claim that they don’t know if they believe or not, or switch back and forth, or whatever it is (it’s always been a pretty incoherent position to me). I think John Wilkins tries to champion this position, IIRC. So, I’d agree that agnostics (not the “I’m apathetic but want to sound like I’m intellectual” variety) probably have an agenda like the rest of us.

    4. You read C.S. Lewis and think that he was “never this sure” of the basic notions about his religion?

      Maybe you were reading Jerry Lewis by mistake?

    5. Hello, Chuck,

      Because we have plausible natural explanations for the origin of the universe (if an “origin” is even necessary), there’s no need for a “creator”.

  10. Wow, this guy has a really manipulative way of writing. It’s the kind of message that you can’t just forget, despite its wrong facts and cheap insults. It makes me want to write a 10 page justification of my point of view. I imagine this guy has a lot of power over the kids he teaches, and I sure hope he uses this power carefully.

  11. I find it rather funny when a whiner closes with a fake “cordially”.
    And, sorry, what? Hawking believes in a creator? The guy seems to have an awfully short memory.
    As for Einstein, I’d suggest to the guy to look up Baruch Spinoza, Einstein’s greatest inspiration. I am not sure how familiar our English teacher is with the word “pantheism”.
    And yes, the universe could have a creator,even though it doesn’t need one. Just like Thor could be causing thunderstorms, only that assumption would be redundant.
    I guess it is too much to expect him to be familiar with the “principle of parsimony”.

  12. On the subject of being dickish towards believers, Plait himself said the following in a recent blog post:

    —-

    Second, and more importantly, is her [Christine O’Donnel’s] comment:

    What I will support in Washington DC is the ability for the local school system to decide what is taught in their classroom… [I was talking about] a classroom that was not allowed to teach creationism as an equal theory as evolution. That is against their Constitutional rights and that is an overreaching [of the] arm of the government.

    Wow. There is so much wrong in this one statement!

    First is her thinking that creationism is on equal footing as a theory as evolution. That’s not only wrong, it’s spectacularly wrong, as wrong as saying astrology is on equal footing as astronomy. We might as well teach the Stork Theory of baby delivery in health class, and the Tooth Fairy Theory in economics.

    For those who need it spelled out, it’s really quite simple: creationism is nonsense [PDF]. Evolution is a fact.

    —-

    Isn’t that a little bit… dickish?

    Don’t get me wrong – I think Plait is great for the astronomy and the skepticism. But the whole dick thing is only confusing me more as time goes on.

    1. I think Phil has always been fine with being dicks to creotards. The accommodationists tend to want us to treat religious folks who accept evolution as if their religion was different than other brands of magical thinking– more worthy of respect and less worthy of ridicule or scrutiny (especially since some of them consider themselves skeptics). The reasoning tends to be that, since they aren’t as bad as the fundies, and we can’t prove their magical stories are false, we should let their crazy beliefs slide.

      More honest people don’t see why religion should get a special pass given the harms it causes and the sense of entitlement it’s adherents seem to have (see the letter write above as an example.) When you respect faith, people tend to think faith is something worthy of respect. Yet, isn’t it just another word for belief without evidence? What is respect-worthy about that?

      I personally think it’s bizarre that people feel special, humble, proud, and saved, because of some unbelievable story they’ve managed to make themselves believe (so long as they don’t think about it to much and make the definitions shift as needed.)

      Yet, it’s clear that some insecure people (like the letter writer above) do cling more tightly to their delusions when they feel those delusions are threatened: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/10/19/when-in-doubt-shout-–-why-shaking-someone’s-beliefs-turns-them-into-stronger-advocates

      When that is the case, I go with Jefferson’s notion that the only appropriate respond to a ridiculous idea is ridicule –and with Dawkins idea that we should methods such as ridicule– not to persuade the meme infected– but for the audience who may be undecided on the issue.

  13. Whenever I think of the harbinger of fear, I immediately envision Jerry Coyne. Sheer terror is the only plausible description to explicate the didactic hubris of WEIT and its supplemental blog site.

    You would claim otherwise, but believe me, it’s true.

    1. Jerry! (note the use of the familiar term because I’m going to mock disparage you) The boots are a sure sign of your didactic hubris. That and your well professed love of good bbq and other unmentioned sins of the flesh. (I’m thinking bearclaws from that bakery in Chicago myself)

  14. (My guess is that many of your students are fearful of disputing what you say in class. You would claim otherwise, but believe me, they are.)

    Apparently Jebus has endowed Mr. Dickhead Catholic with ESP. Perhaps the ESP was transmitted via the consumption of Jebus’s flesh.

    (And John Danley’s comment wins this thread!)

    1. And “what you say in class” is a weasel phrase. What, exactly, does this guy think Jerry does when he teaches? “Hello everyone. Welcome to my course in the Biological Sciences. Now here’s why religion is bullshit…”? Come on.

      1. Though you jest, that is exactly what many Christians perceive.

        Mention even in passing that a particular trait first occurred about 1.2 MYA, and you’ve just proved that Jesus didn’t exist.

        No, really. If the trait is 1,200,000 years old, then so is the species in which it is found, and so is the Earth itself. If that’s true, then Genesis is a faery tale. If Genesis is a faery tale, then there wasn’t any Adam and Eve, there wasn’t any Original Sin™ and therefore there wasn’t any reason for Jesus to offer salvation, and therefore no reason for him to have come on the scene in the first place.

        You really can’t say much of anything at all about science without contradicting the Bible and therefore proclaiming that Christianity is bullshit.

        Of course, the fact that Christianity actually is bullshit might have something to do with it….

        Cheers,

        b&

    2. Apparently Jebus has endowed Mr. Dickhead Catholic with ESP.

      Well, if you believe everything you read, he endowed Mr. Dickhead Catholic’s dickhead pope with ESP.

    3. I think his criticisms of Jerry may be more fitting of him. I bet he says a lot of dickish things his students are afraid to question– I mean look how dickish he is in his letter– doesn’t he remind you of dickish teachers you’ve had? It reminds me of such.

      I notice projection is big with theists. They are the least likely to absorb that message about the checking the beam in one’s own eye before commenting on the mote in another’s.

  15. It must drive Hawking crazy having his alleged religious belief constantly touted like this. How much more does he have to do to spell it out?

    Mr [Redacted], please read “The Grand Design”! It’s a great book and you might just learn something.

    1. If so, Hawking has only himself to blame, for using that language about “the mind of God” in A Brief History of Time. He may have meant it metaphorically, but he ought to have known that many people would interpret it as expressing a belief in God.

      1. Totally agree.

        Hawking did mean it metaphorically. Big mistake; he just radically underestimated the power of religious wishful thinking (and willful blindness).

      1. No, not a “regular” one. But I’ve heard people say “He’s a complete and utter fucking [name redacted].”

  16. Did you ever, Jerry, make any statistics regarding your correspondence? I mean specifically %of hostile and nice letters from both religious/atheist folks etc? That would actually add much to the argument I think.

  17. “…most of what I believe about religion is based on faith.”

    It doesn’t have to be. He could very easily read up on religion. There’s primary source material for at least one religion I’ve heard of available in most bedside table drawers at fine hotels across America.

  18. Maybe I’m just in a strange mood, but that letter didn’t sound all that bad to me…it’s not my idea of vituperation, anyway. The fact that he took time to write makes one wonder if the USA Today article didn’t get him to start thinking just a little bit…

      1. If Dr. Coyne had written a similarly smug and smarmy letter unsolicited to a theist who wrote an article in USA Today, would you think the same?

        I think many people have learned to mentally smooth over arrogance and dishonesty done in the name of religion (such as in this letter writer’s letter) while imagining all sorts of ill intent and nastiness in most anything an outspoken atheist says. The letter writer seems to think that Dr. Coyne said that science proves there is no god when actually Jerry restated Hawkings statement that the universe did not require a creator.

        The letter writer then called Jerry arrogant because of that statement– which is factual– and the letter writer would have no problem if Jerry would have said, “we know the universe did not require pixies”– both statements are equally true. And both gods and pixies are equally unprovable and unavailable to proof or disproof by science.

        Plus,, a theist is far more arrogant than an atheist (who makes no claims of divine knowledge) because the theist, not only thinks there is divine knowledge– they think they’ve accessed it!– even though we all know there is nothing measurable or accessible by ordinary means or science would have accessed it and be expanding on it accordingly! Moreover, all theist know that many other religious folks and myth believers have been fooled when it comes to divine knowledge– but somehow they imagine they cannot fall folly to such thinking. What could be more arrogant than that?

        So who’s arrogant? To me, religion makes people both ignorant and arrogant as they imagine themselves wise and humble.

        I look forward to a day when believers in magic keep their magical beliefs to themselves. Wouldn’t it be nice is the theist who wrote the letter was as private in his wacky beliefs as he wants the Scientologists to be? Clearly he doesn’t respect that religion– but he imagines scientists should have more respect for his similarly unsupportable supernatural notions.

    1. I don’t consider being called “arrogant” insulting at all. Atheists have every reason to be arrogant. We can see clearly, unlike the unfortunate religious folk with their befuddled beliefs.

      1. But I think there is something decidedly un-arrogant about atheism and something very arrogant about theism.

        Atheists don’t claim to know divine truths or to have “special knowledge”– just the same information that’s available to anyone. Atheists don’t imagine that the point of the universe was to bring forth them. They tend to have a much clearer perspective on humanity’s place in the universe as well as a respect for what we humans have come to understand about such things through science (or at least some of us have.)

        The truth is, theists can’t stand the fact that the atheist feels the same way about the theist’s religions that the theist feels about all others myths, cults, and superstitions– and for the same reasons. They don’t even want to ponder this uncomfortable fact, so instead they just automatically call the atheist arrogant and then dismiss anything else they say. This is much easier than examining whether one may me deluding oneself –or protecting religion from scrutiny that would reveal god to be the equivalent of the proverbial emperor’s new clothes.

        I don’t think it’s “arrogant” to point out that the emperor is naked and that there is no such think as “magical fabrics” that only the chosen can see.

      1. Well, yeah, I can see those elements. I didn’t mean I thought it sounded like a love note or anything.

        I think there are positives to this guy’s letter, though. He professes interest in science, to the extent of seeking out help with understanding Hawking. He calls Jerry’s article thought-provoking. Maybe this letter represents just the first thoughts he came up with, and he finds the discussion interesting enough to want to join in…

        I suspect his “Einstein & Hawking believe in a creator” meme came from the propaganda machine on the other side. Wonder what he’d think if he actually looked into the source material? (Sometimes if the rebuttals you get make you mad enough to want to prove your point, you’ll actually seek out the sources–and maybe discover you were wrong and your rebutters were right!)

        But really, I never meant to defend the letter writer, only to say that I sort of expected worse, after that intro. Been readin’ PZ* too long, I guess!

        (*He’s a regular Coyne!)

  19. Lamberth’s atelic or teleonomic argument eviscerates all argument with intent-planned outcomes -as the evidence reveals teleonomy- no planned outcomes. Olus, all teleological arguments begged the question of those wanted outcomes!
    God makes no more sense than a square circle or married bachelor as possible, or gremlins and demons as primary causes!
    Know God = no God!

  20. “Einstein’s good enough for me”

    I’m always perplexed when believers say something like this. My question would be “Why?” Even if it were true, what has Einstein offered, or what could he offer, as reasons for believing in god?

    The statement is a total intellectual copout…

    1. I think this weird thinking must come from people who are used to being told what they are “supposed to believe”. When you have a pope telling you what you are “supposed to believe”, then I guess you look around for someone else to tell you what to believe in areas where the pope hasn’t dictated your belief to you.

      Religious people seem to care more about what they are “supposed to believe” than what is true. I think this is based on a fear that something bad might happen if they don’t make themselves believe the right thing.

  21. “We now know that the universe did not require a creator.” Since we “know” this, there is some proof. Correct?

    I think the way it works is that the folks making the claim that the universe did require a creator need to pony up on the proof for a creator. And that proof can not include the existence of the universe. Sorry, but that’s the way it works.

    I read Hawking’s book and what he says is that with our current understanding we don’t need to posit a creator to explain the existence of the universe.

    He is definitely NOT saying that there is no creator, just that no one need apply for the title Creator of the Universe.

  22. I am really disappointed by the number of readers here who sink to ad hominem attack and profanity. “Dickhead”? “Idiot”? Really? Since you all love quotes so much, here are a few for your consideration:

    “Great minds discuss ideas, lesser minds discuss things, and the intellectually bankrupt get personal.”

    “When a man uses profanity to support an argument, it indicates that either the man or the argument is weak – usually both”

    “Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully”

    “Profanity is the common crutch of the conversational cripple.”

    “Name calling is the last refuge of the out-argued”

    “Name calling– the language of non thought”

    1. Well, he may not be a dickhead but he is an idiot.

      And “Idiot” is not profanity.

      “Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
      -Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

      1. I’m pretty sure Barry Mayo just misspelled “IDiot.” Not “idiot.”

        Hell, his browser might have “corrected” it for him.

      1. One statement puzzled me. “We now know that the universe did not require a creator.” Since we “know” this, there is some proof. Correct?

        Correct, and contrary to the belief of the letter writer, “the proof”, or rather rejection of creators, have been part and parcel of science for a long time now. The problem is that people like him put hands over their ears and go “la la la” every time that happens.

        Historically people have observed this explicitly since the basic theory of all of biology, evolution, was conceived. I believe that in fact it was part of the concerns that Darwin and others had at the time the theory was presented.

        Evolutionary pathways takes simple structures to complex without any influence outside of the natural environment. This of course fails any posit of a creator in a direct test.

        But the general line of explicit rejection comes with big bang cosmology. As I noted up thread, we have known that no creator is needed since the big bang theory was tested (by observing cosmological expansion at all times); that pathway takes simple structures to complex without any outside influence. Again any posit of a creator fails in direct test.

        As cosmology advances, this series of rejection tests for ever more powerful creators. Hawking’s cosmology is self-contained and based on quantum mechanics alone. There are alternatives of environmentally selected multiverses that goes further to have self-contained physics. (Actually at this time I believe the later are observationally preferred as they survive more tests.)

        Then there is a parallel general line of implicit rejection. Accumulated data alone shows the likelihood for creators way down on its lonesome. This is used for effect by Dawkins in “The God Delusion”.

        But there is also the general finding of processes as the natural basis for theories of nature. A process has neither post-event selection guides (say, evolutionary creationism’s creator of humans) nor pre-event selection creators (say, fundamentalist creationism’s creator of species). A process and the processes that lead up to its initial conditions is, again, self-contained.

        And would you concede that if it did not need a creator, it still could have had one.

        Not according to physics, no.

        The fact that universes are zero energy objects (I can give references, or see Hawking’s book I believe) means that they thermodynamically can substantiate by quantum tunneling from other universes but never be causally prompted to do so by a third object.

        Thus you can have an infinite series of multiverses that have eternal existence backwards (and forwards).

        And it will be really difficult to come up with theory and tests that can reject that this process happens while we speak. If it has to happen according to physics as we know it, what will stop it from doing so? It would be much like positing that time can stop.

        Of course as everything else observationally this comes with uncertainty. We can test and reject non-factual theories “beyond reasonable doubt”, but there will always remain unreasonable doubt. And there may come theory extending what we now know and throwing up a hinder for some of the pathways we now see as undeniable processes.

        On the lines of unreasonable doubt, you can also theomagically get around physics by positing that theomagics somehow suddenly intercedes with “first cause” non-causation (non-energy “thermodynamics”), whatever that is. Good luck with making that stick!

    2. Joe, I see you you’re the kind of person who believes quotes that support what you wish were true rather than actually using evidence. Theist perhaps? (I find they are the best at seeing silly platitudes as “deep statements of truth”.)

      In my experience, it’s people who use quotes instead of actual dialogue that have weaker arguments than those who use profanity. Stephen Fry agrees. He seems to have much more expertise in communicating than you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM

      I think those platitudes are perhaps better at convincing yourself or theists that you’ve made some sort of point or that you’ve accomplished something useful by not swearing. (We know that theists don’t refrain from making personal attacks–they just tend to do so in that smarmy passive-aggressive way like you did here.)

      So, Joe, maybe these quotes work with people who welcome preaching and are too vapid to make a point with evidence, but this crowd is a little beyond your High School English teacher’s first day lecture.

      (But thanks for dropping by and giving us something to giggle about.)

      (Also, when you use quotes, you may want to give names so we can see who you think makes your points better than you are able.)

    3. What do you mean “sink to?” You make it sound like we have an obligation to refute this man’s arguments. We don’t, and aren’t interested in doing so. The community of commenters here already understands the counterargument and has no need to discuss it at length. So we skip straight to the “what the heck is wrong with this guy” part of the show.

      If there were a need for us to rebut the above letter, many of the commenters here would be more than capable of doing so. And yes, the argument presented would be quite strong, independent of the presense or absense of any unkind names or expletives.

      But we’re not here to present counterarguments to people who already know them. No one is “sinking to” anything. Some people are venting, and they’re entitled.

    4. Hey Joe,

      when you say that “Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully” are you sure?

      I think that anyone who has a good command of language knows when and when not to use profanity to excellent effect.

      Just because your religion doesn’t allow you to use profanity, doesn’t actually mean a thing to those of us who don’t bow down to the “German bloke in the dress with the burning handbag” who tells you what to think.

      I profane regularly (is that a verb? It is now!) and with great pleasure – when appropriate.

      And before I go, I’m sorry to ask, but, can your god create a stone so large that he, himself, cannot lift it?

      (I love asking that question!)

      Cheers,
      Norm.

  23. Nothing about the public flogging of this person who has the audacity to disagree with any of you does anything to advance the issues raised by science. Making people feel like idiots is not the way to convince them. I’m as guilty of it as anyone but, unfortunately, in a democracy, you can’t just get by on “being right”. We, as scientists, have to think of more creative ways to “spread-the-word” all while realizing that ignorance is fomented and manipulated by those that would benefit from it.

    As Jane Mayer reported in her New Yorker expose’ on the Koch brothers “The Kochs’ subsidization of a pro-corporate movement fulfills, in many ways, the vision laid out in a secret 1971 memo that Lewis Powell, then a Virginia attorney, wrote two months before he was nominated to the Supreme Court. The antiwar movement had turned its anger on defense contractors, such as Dow Chemical, and Ralph Nader was leading a public-interest crusade against corporations. Powell, writing a report for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged American companies to fight back. The greatest threat to free enterprise, he warned, was not Communism or the New Left but, rather, “respectable elements of society”—intellectuals, journalists, and scientists. To defeat them, he wrote, business leaders needed to wage a long-term, unified campaign to change public opinion.”

    So tell me again how the strategy of shaming people into understanding evolution is going to help. Isn’t the overall goal of science to help humanity? Or is it to sit on our high horse knowing how much smarter we are than everybody else?

    1. Claim in public domain: Religion makes people nicer.

      Jerry Coyne: Actually, no. Here’s some evidence to the contrary.

      Crowd: OMG, [Name Retracted] is such an idiot!

      Ridicule is the appropriate response to the ridiculous.

    2. So tell me again how the strategy of shaming people into understanding evolution is going to help.

      That’s not the strategy.

      What you describe is a tactic.

      Atheists are going to treat religious ideas exactly like any other idea would be treated in the marketplace of ideas.

      Ridicule, irony, satire are all valid modes of criticism.

      Get used to it.

      1. OK. I should have said “tactic”. You’re right though, atheists have no strategy.

        I love irony and satire… but ridicule seems ultimately counterproductive to me.

        Treating religious ideas exactly in the market-place of ideas as you would a scientific argument is a bad idea. They speak different languages.

        I get as frustrated and angry (which is the emotion in my opinion lot of “ridicule” comes from) when I see people arguing for creationism in school or whatever… or people who deny global warming. But there are complicated reasons for why so many people believe these things. It’s not just because they are stupid. There is a whole socio-political complex that one must be aware of. Ridicule of the ignorant is like shooting fish in a barrel. It bristles me because I think that it accomplishes nothing. Yes I think science is more than just utilitarian but I also think that scientists have a responsibility to enlighten others. You don’t do that by ridiculing.

        1. atheists have no strategy.

          As “atheists” is a large and unorganized group, there should be no expectation of general strategy. That is like asking “women” to have a strategy on gender equality.

          However as for Gnus, there are strategies. Actually you could make a case since accommodationism is mainly opportunistic shortterm thinking it is mostly “tactics”, while gnu atheism has several hypotheses on strategy. You can find many of those discussed on WEIT, btw,

          As for the rest of your comment it is, as noted elsewhere, besides the topic of the post.

        2. Treating religious ideas exactly in the market-place of ideas as you would a scientific argument is a bad idea. They speak different languages.

          Of course they speak the same language.

          Religious idea are propositions on the nature of reality, just like any other idea.

          Religious ideas just aren’t true.

          To treat religious ideas differently from any other sort of idea is the worst form of condescension, as if our religious brethren are too immature to handle any form of criticism.

          I respect the religious too much to stoop to that behaviour.

    3. Who said this had anything to do with evolution?

      Prof Coyne got a ignorant and insulting letter from an uppity Catholic with a chip on his shoulder. That he was audacious enough to disagree with JC isn’t the point; it’s the manner in which his disagreement was expressed (funny, incidentally, how you’re not criticising the “tone” of the original letter). People here are responding to it in the manner it deserves. As they shall respond to you.

      Now, the “overall goal of science”, I would assume, is to objectively determine what can be determined about the universe and examine what can be done with the knowledge acquired (hopefully without interference from the kind of uppity religionist who write condescending letters to professors; alas, this is all too rare).

      The “overall goal” of this blog, however, seems to be whatever the hell Prof Coyne wants it to be (which is du jour for blogs, in case you’re new to the internet): boots, cats, science, evolution, conservative creationist idiots. Today, on this post specifically, it is to expose to ridicule a clear insult from a religious person. If there was anything in that letter that invited clear & reasonable dicussion of a scientific nature, I’m sure it would have been highlighted and responded to. As it is, there’s nothing but a thinly-veiled sneer and an air of superiority – or did your obviously finely-tuned offense-sense miss that?

      Ugh. New Framers, always missing the damn point and never applying their Spidey-sense for “Tone” equally.

      1. What Mandrellian said.

        Surely Cameron and “redacted” were eager to share their opinion with us, and so should welcome our opinion of their opinion in return. Right? Tit for Tat.

        Moreover, as Dawkins noted– one isn’t always responding to try to change the mind of the religiously infected person one is talking with– one might also respond to innoculate other readers from getting such an infection in the first place.

        As far as I’m concerned, redacted and the tone trolls serve as an embarrassing example of how not to be. What did they accomplish except to expose themselves for buffoons they are?

        My goal isn’t to try to get people to “believe in” evolution anyway. Evolution is true rather people “believe in it” or not– just like gravity… and the fact that the earth goes around the sun. I’m glad to teach those who are interested in the facts about such things, but I don’t want to threaten the imagined salvation of those who imagine they are saved for believing some crazy alternate scenario. Should such a brainwashed person ever become unbrainwashed, the facts will be here waiting –accumulating as they have been. (Rest assured, I’d treat a flat earther and an astrology believer similarly.)

        I’ll leave it to the arrogant religionists to tell people what they are “supposed to” BELIEVE. Myself, I’ll continue to base beliefs on evidence– the same evidence that is available to those whose preacher men are promising them salvation for ignoring it.

        My goal with ridicule is to keep onlookers from being brainwashed in the first place– this is why I will continue to support the mockery of faith and those that protect faith from scrutiny. I’m glad that I no longer feel a need to try and believe some magical story, and I wish others to have that freedom too.

        1. I’m not saying that faith should not be scrutinized. You’ve already done so. You’ve already made that decision. Equally so, there are those like the “God Hates Fags” people that have made up their mind as well and probably won’t ever change it. Ridicule is one way “inoculate” those that haven’t made up their minds yet. But, I would argue, that it actually serves to shut doors rather than open them. Such as you are trying to shut my door by calling my opinions “embarrassing” and calling me a “buffoon”.

          My favorite Einstein quote is “In the temple of science are many mansions — and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them there.

          Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, it would be noticeably emptier but there would still be some men of both present and past times left inside — . If the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have existed any more than one can have a wood consisting of nothing but creepers — those who have found favor with the angel — are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other than the hosts of the rejected.

          What has brought them to the temple — no single answer will cover — escape from everyday life, with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from his noisy cramped surroundings into the silence of the high mountains where the eye ranges freely through the still pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.”

          Which are you?

          You can sit and know that you’re opinions are right and feel good about yourself. But attitudes like that seem to not care about things like creationism being taught in schools. I do care about that. I just happen to think that ridicule can be an overly-aggressive tactic that shuts doors instead of opening them. I’m sorry if that embarrasses you.

          1. You lost me at “angel of the lord”–

            And why would you imagine that what you think would embarrass me? I suppose I’m a little embarrassed for you– just like I’d be embarrassed by old writings of mine if any of them sounded like what you wrote here.

            And opinions aren’t “right”– they’re opinions. Or rather, there are lots of “right” answers when it comes to opinions. But opinions are not like facts where there is a single truth, you know. Or maybe you don’t know– theists often confuse facts (the stuff that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe –like the earth going around the sun) and everything else (opinion, belief, myth, motto, conjecture, platitude, etc.)

            Cameron, I suspect you think you are better at communicating than anyone else thinks you are. But for all I know you are making sense to someone– but that someone sure isn’t me. And I don’t think you’ll find anyone jumping on the accommodationist bandwagon here. (Try the Intersection– they have so few commenters these days…) Most of the people here don’t want to give credence to the idea that the emperor might be wearing magical robes that only special people can see.

            Oh, and since you like handing out advice, I’m sure you’ll welcome my doing the same: you might want to be more attune to your goals in writing your opinion of what you think does and doesn’t work when it comes to voting or whatever it is your main concerns are. You might even ask if people share your goals before assuming they do. Ask yourself, “why did I post my opinion here? What did I hope to accomplish? Did I fail or succeed? Am I the kind of person that should be giving advice on how to communicate?” You might might also want to gather evidence instead of just going on what you “think.” (It’s a very scientifically literate crowd here, after all– evidence matters.) And you might want to question whether religious analogies work on the un-indoctrinated or if, instead, they might make nonbelievers think you are as wacky as you’d think a Scientologist is.

            I don’t want to be more like you. You are not the kind of person I’d take advice from. I find the people you are criticizing to be more eloquent, intelligent, honest, and emulation worthy than you are.

            I don’t respect those who promote or protect magical thinking… even if those people accept evolution. If their magical beliefs are true, then why should it matter whether I believe it or find it silly? It’s only if they are AFRAID it might not be that it becomes an issue.

            1. You keep lumping me in with religious folks. I don’t get it. That Einstein quote was not a religious one. The “angel of the lord” is a just a poetic device. As far as how good I think I am at communicating, I don’t know how to answer that. It seems like whenever you don’t agree with anyone, you criticize their ability to communicate and call them a “theist”. Is that all you’ve got? I’m not the only one on this board you’ve said that to. You use that word like McCarthy and Palin use “Commie”.

              Right, opinions are opinions. Scientists can’t have opinions about how science is treated in society?

              Why do you need to personally insult people you don’t agree with?

      2. I get that it was the manner in which Prof Coyne was spoken to which was the point. But that doesn’t change anything for me. Do you expect a child to speak like an adult? Children act like children because they are ignorant. It’s not exactly the same with an adult who supposedly has had time to mature but, again, what point does it serve to criticize it? Someone explain how that helps anyone or does anything to improve the our collective situation. If it’s not doing helping then it is just self-gratifying. I wouldn’t care either way if such wide-spread ignorance didn’t matter. Do you remember the GW Bush administration? It matters. This one letter is just one letter but I take issue with the overall attitude of some atheists/scientists who could care less about the ignorant (willfully or not) as if it didn’t matter. I’m not so worried about what people believe. I more care how they vote and who they elect. I’m more worried that 20% of the US populace still think the Sun revolves around the earth. It’s a problem that people deny the reality of global warming. These are real problems. Laughing them off is sticking your head in the sand.

        Furthermore, if is is important to you that less interference come from uppity religious people, then you should think about how to better communicate with them. Maybe it would actually serve your interests. You can write off [redacted] and people like him as asses but they should serve a reminder of the reality we face as science-minded folk.

        1. Why don’t you explain how you think the original letter does anything to change our collective situation? Or how your concern trolling does? How many people have come to understand evolution through you? Shall we compare that with those you criticize? You ask a lot of questions that might be better asked of you.

          I don’t think you are the expert in communication that you imagine yourself to be.

          You haven’t really given any information about what you think would work better, you’ve just gone on about your feelings that people here aren’t communicating in a way that will make people vote more intelligently. You, like other faitheists, imagine that outspoken atheists are hurting some “cause”. Do you have any evidence of this?

          As far as I can tell, faith based thinking is the biggest problem when it comes to people voting stupidly and being unable to change their minds no matter how much evidence is presented. Treating faith like it’s something to be respected only exacerbates the problem. I think it makes more sense to point out that faith is a way for people to be manipulated by politicians and preachers but it is not a way to know anything valuable or true (and it is not a respect worthy trait).

          Accommodationism hasn’t worked. The faithful just felt more entitled to things because of what they BELIEVED. So step aside, and let the more honest and braver folks do what you faitheists are unable to do. No one is stopping you from kissing as much theist ass as you want. But, unless you have evidence, quit pretending that your method is doing anyone any favors. It’s just making you feel “holier than thou” while doing nothing at all.

          1. No need to get angry. I’m not trying to act like I’m any sort of expert in communication. What did I say that would imply that
            I am religious? I’m not. Because I don’t think that anyone who is is a total idiot? I struggle with this issue all the time. It’s tough and there are no easy answers. I really don’t know the best way to communicate with people who aren’t scientists, but I know being a dick isn’t going to help. I totally agree that dogmatic religiosity is a major problem. All I’m saying is that ridicule isn’t the best way to fight that. As far as offering better suggestions… it’s something that I am always thinking about. I wish more people did. I don’t know. Is that OK to say? I didn’t say anything about [redacted]s letter is helping anything. I agree that he is an example of the problem. It would be great to see people talking about real solutions to problems like him. Just because I don’t have all the answers to that problem doesn’t mean I can’t criticize approaches currently being used.

            I also don’t think that it’s bad that atheist are “outspoken”. I made no such generalizations. I am talking about the value of “ridicule”.

            My evidence that ridicule doesn’t work is based on observation as well as many personal conversations I’ve had with “faith-iests” and social conservatives. Any time it gets insulting, the door is shut. Has anyone had an experience where you called someone a “retard” and they were like… “you know what… you’re right”?

            Stripping people of their humanity is never the right way to go. “you this” or “you that”. I’m a “faith-ist” I’m a “buffoon”… can’t we just have a discussion?

            So if we should no longer accommodate those with such views, what is your alternative? Stripping religious people of the right to vote? Outlawing religion? Is that your answer? What do you mean by we should not be accommodating anymore? What is the practical outcome of this idea? Democracy is what it is.

            1. I’m not angry; you are projecting again. In fact I’m kind of giddy. I love it when a tone troll gets all passive aggressive and back-handedly accuses outspoken atheists of all sorts of things– because once you express your goofy opinion on a website such as this, I feel personally invited to offer my opinion of your opinion. I’m a big believer in free speech, see.

              As I said, I think you are projecting; I think YOU are angry, because people saw through your silly attempt to build yourself up by imagining peoples’ commentary here was hurting some “cause”. Fighting this straw man makes you feel like some moral diplomat (reminiscent of the infamous Tom Johnson). You get to feel good without having to do any good at all– just imagine yourself on some moral high ground by putting others down and telling them to act more like you!

              But nobody saw you as an example of someone they wanted to be more like. You’re a tone troll and don’t know it.

              Which I find funny.

              And then your last paragraph is complete hyperbole. You just imagined a whole bunch of evil intent on my part (and other “Dawkins-y atheists”) so you can continue your imaginary role as “diplomat”.

              I don’t think tone trolling achieves anything, but I’ve seen ridicule get rid of tone trolls so I can vouch that ridicule has its uses even if you can’t imagine it to be so.

              Instead of imagining what this nonaccommodationist thinks, why not just read my words?:

              I think all magical thinking should be treated the same by scientists/skeptics — even god-related magical thinking. Is there a reason scientists should treat religion different than they’d treat astrology? Is there a reason we should treat god belief different than demon belief? Should we treat the magical beliefs of Christians different than the magical beliefs of Muslims or Scientologists or Moonies or Voo doo practionioners? If people who believe in god are more like to imagine that children are witches, should science be silent on the subject as to whether gods are likely to exist?

              Accommodationists think we should, but they can’t give a reason as to why, so instead they just hear any criticism of religion or religious people as being much worse than it is and then run around tsk tsking those “strident” “shrill” “militant” atheists for things they IMAGINED they said (and harms they imagine they cause.)

              Just as you did. Thanks for illustrating my point. You imagined all these bad things that people here were saying and doing and imagined they were hurting some cause and went into all sorts of tangents and hyperbole– your last paragraph was a particularly good example.

              Would you have done this if the letter writer was a Scientologists? Would you have imagined that the responses were so full of ridicule and so harmful to a cause? Would you have written your silly little last paragraph or your goofy angel analogy?

              I think you are hiding the fact that you are a faitheist from yourself. Whether you are a theist or not… you think some brands of faith deserve “coddling” or special “accommodating” that you would not give to similarly unsupported beliefs. You can’t admit this to yourself or us, so instead you tone troll.

              Like Dawkins, I don’t expect to convince you or change your mind. I’m just glad for the opportunity to highlight your words to expose you to others here.

              That’s what ridicule is really about much of the time. It might not change any particular theist (or tone troll) but it makes them less loud and less numerous until they fade into obscurity or become harmless fodder for others’ amusement.

              (If life gives you ridiculous, make ridicule.)

            2. How many logical fallacies can everyone find in Cameron’s concern trolling?

              I think you left out the part where we keep the religious in camps so that we can make Soylent Christian a reality. Not accommodating means questioning religious beliefs, pointing out fallacies, inconsistencies, and all other manners of irrational thinking. Ridicule will be a part of that. But, if you want to keep pushing your strawman up your slippery slope, well, have fun.

              Sheesh. Sometimes ridicule has changed people’s minds. Perhaps not that instant, but later. Testimonials abound (yeah, even though we know what they are worth), but more to the point…if the door is shut – who cares? Seriously.

              The insults already came flying towards Jerry, so the door was already shut. A letter isn’t a discussion either. Finally, life’s tough – either grow a thicker skin and stop feeling offended by the tone…or don’t and keep your smelling salts handy for the next attack of the vapors. Stay away from PZ Myers – he also uses Comic Sans for his letter writers!

              Btw – since most of your ramblings made my eyes glaze over in tldr, did you ever actually get around to criticizing the tone of the original letter writer?

    4. Nothing about the public flogging of this person who has the audacity to disagree with any of you does anything to advance the issues raised by science.

      Your concern is noted. However, science is advanced by science, and the issues it raises in society is advanced by society.

      So tell me again how the strategy of shaming people into understanding evolution is going to help.

      Well, since you came up with that strawman of atheism, why don’t you tell us? You seem to like your inventions.

      However, as regards evolution, which wasn’t the issue here, it is indeed a shame-worthy fact if an individual would not have heard of it and accepted it as a (trivial) fact and (non-trivial) science.

      Understanding it is a tall and unnecessary order. We don’t ask people to understand the quantum physics of the semiconductor devices in their cellulars. Similarly we wouldn’t, or shouldn’t ask people to understand the evolution of antibiotic resistance in their bodies.

      We would, and should, ask them to understand the relevant implications of both (say, not subjecting cellulars to unnecessary heat or bodies to unnecessary antibiotics).

      And we would, and should, help those individuals inclined to satisfy their curiosity towards science specifically.

      Btw, after you tell us how your strategy of “shaming people into understanding evolution” works for atheists, you could go on and tell us how concern trolling accommodationism works for getting “people into understanding evolution” or for anything actually. I’m sure it is a fascinating subject.

      Meanwhile I take satisfaction in that both modern research (plenty of references out there) and historical experience (slaves, suffragettes, gays, religious attitude in Sweden) shows that an “in your face” attitude is what convinces people to change their most deeply held convictions if need be.

      1. How is “in-your-face” working in the middle east?

        I did not intend any of my comments to be construed as a veiled criticism of atheism. It’s more of the attitude I find in some Dawkins-y atheists. No straw-man here.

        I would also say that speaking to fellow science-minded people and questioning their attitudes towards the general populace is a valid conversation. Maybe someone who is reading this and thinking to what degree should they be an a-hole towards the willfully ignorant. Maybe they perused this site looking for a cheap laugh at an ignorant person and left thinking about the value of that cheap laugh.

        I also imagine that it was not the ridicule of southern slave-owners/anti-gay/anti-women that was the political energy behind any downfall any of those movements (still fighting these BTW). Rather, I would contend it was an appeal to the general humanity of the populace. Ridicule is not useless. I just don’t think it’s anything more than short-term gratification.

        1. I think you are telling the wrong people not to be assholes…

          In my opinion, the only assholes on this blog are the original letter writer and the tone trolls.
          I’ve heard that opinions are like assholes– everyone has one and most of them smell.

          No doubt your opinion as to who the assholes are is different than mine. This is why it’s important to distinguish opinion from fact and not to assume that everyone shares your opinion.

          I suspect most people here have a different opinion of what being an asshole is. For example, I bet many (most?) people here would find what you have written to be more asshole-ish than anything Dawkins has written, though you clearly have a different opinion.

          I think most people here think “Dawkins-y atheists” are more effective at communicating and achieving their goals than you are.

          1. Well I don’t think I’ve tried to personally insult anyone. If I have then I apologize. I’ve been called a lot of names though. I assume religious dogmatists are going to be a-holes more often than those who are open to being wrong as any scientist should be. So, I think you are misunderstanding my point. I guess I want to hold science-minded people to a higher standard. I don’t think we should stoop to the level of the dogmatist.

            I’m OK with being in the minority here. I obviously know that most people here aren’t going to like my opinions. But that’s OK. Where else can such a discussion take place? I could sequester myself to like-minded places but how boring is that?

            1. You’ve insulted people in general and assumed things about certain atheists– and Dawkins and Dawkins-y atheists– moreover, you’ve assumed that everyone would agree with you about who the “a-holes” were along with all sorts of other things. I don’t think you really see how you were coming across. Maybe the socially unaware are the least likely to perceive themselves as the socially unaware and the most likely to imagine that they ought to be giving advice to others.

              See, you seem to think you are being polite while you are actually insulting a group and implying that somehow your method of communication is better or works for achieving some goal– though you present no evidence of such.

              It’s smarmy. Really. You’d recognize it as such if someone did it to you.

              I don’t think science minded people should be held to your standards on this blog. I think it’s weird that you’d try to scold or silence or temper the conversation here to your liking.

              Listen, I’m probably being tough on you, because you insulted a group of people I really care about and respect. People do that a lot to atheists– and it’s particularly annoying when other atheists do it (faitheists.) In essence you are perpetuating a stereotype while pretending to fight against it. Sure you were vague and didnt’ name names, but that’s dickish as has often been discussed here. It allows everyone to imagine that everyone has the same prejudices and thinks the same people are dicks that they think are dicks– and it achieves nothing. Whenever anyone is asked to cut and paste the most awful thing that Dawkins has said, they fail to past anything awful. They just seemed to hear and imagine things that he never said or assumed that he was saying shrill awful things because others had said so. And this happens to all outspoken atheists– even Dennett, for fsm sakes.)

              I don’t want to read other people who write more like you– that’s why I read here rather than at the Intersection… I don’t want the people here to tone it down. This isn’t a church. I don’t share your “standards”. Nobody is forced to read anything here. And I think the honesty is beneficial– refreshing, funny, intelligent, poignant– even the ridicule (maybe especially the ridicule.) If we can’t goof on the goofy here, where can we goof on them?! For some of us, this helps us exorcise our own demons as we were once believers. We like laughing at our old “demons”.

              Anyhow, I don’t think there’s any harm, and I think there may be benefit that you can’t imagine– yet.

              I think you need to let go of your knee-jerk desire to defend “faith”. Faith doesn’t need your protection. And nobody here needs your advice as to how we should respond to a letter from some blowhard that Jerry posts. You’re free to respond how you want and if others like it, they may model their responses accordingly. I don’t think anyone here is hurting your cause or any cause they might consider themselves a part of. For science, the main “cause” is the truth, isn’t it?
              No one is trying to stop your expressing your way of getting people to think more scientifically but you are trying to change the people here. Go read your first posts again. I think you over reacted to what you read here.

              But I’m going to leave you alone. Your letter was hardly the worst of the tone trolls… just as Name Redacted is hardly the worst of the theists– both are pretty mild over all. It’s just fun to goof on the goofy sometime– and it’s for a good cause; it helps loosen the grip that “faith” has on society.

              Anyhow, it’s late, and I probably have been too rough. But I’m curious as to what effect peoples’ ridicule had on you? Are you more or less likely to post commentary tsk-tsking peoples’ reaction to a letter on a blog? Are you going to protect faith with even more ferocity next time or not? Do you think others are more or less likely to tone troll after reading your post and the responses? I know it’s a sample size of one, but you can be one data point regarding the effect of ridicule and that counts more than common sense or gut instinct when conversing with a crowd like this.

            2. Really articulette, your response to people who bring up the tone issue is like a script. Which, in and of itself is not a bad thing, except the script is full of bad logic.

              First you accuse every “tone troll” of being a theist and/or faithiest, because you apparently can’t comprehend that respecting a person and respecting their beliefs are two different things. Rebutting a religious argument without using ridicule is still rebutting a religious argument. It’s not a logical contradiction to be outspoken without using ridicule. It can be nothing other than willful ignorance that you do not acknowledge this every time it comes up.

              Next, you defend your need to attack every tone troll on the internet by ascribing beneficent motives to yourself. You mock the religious just in case someone who is on-the-fence about such matters should happen to see your mockery in the comments section and thus, be saved from brainwashing! Heroic. I totally buy that. Meanwhile, you claim that the other person is the one who is doing this just to feel good about themselves. It’s amazing how many people you argue with (allegedly) do this!

              At some point you ask the other person for the evidence that their way works better, or works at all, meanwhile neglecting to present your evidence that ridicule actually prevents random onlookers from being brainwashed.

              Next, after the other person in the argument has tried several times in vain to explain their position and how it isn’t quite what you ascribe to them, you show that you haven’t really been reading anyway. “Would you have written your silly little last paragraph or your goofy angel analogy?” The last paragraph was questions, not assertions. The analogy was Einstein’s, and it isn’t really about angels, as Cameron already pointed out.

              In the end, you might apologize for being “too rough.” But it was for a good cause- the other person was being insulting! For someone who flings a lot of insults, articulette, you certainly have thin skin. From Cameron’s OP: “So tell me again how the strategy of shaming people into understanding evolution is going to help. Isn’t the overall goal of science to help humanity? Or is it to sit on our high horse knowing how much smarter we are than everybody else?” Omg! I feel so bad about myself now! That invective was just too much for me to bear.

              …And that’s about how it goes. Apologies if I got the order of that slightly wrong.

              At this point I’d usually explain how my defense of Cameron does not imply a defense of Cameron’s views, since I am only partially in agreement with him. But that doesn’t seem like it would be black and white enough for you, so I won’t bother.

        2. “How is ‘in your face’ working in the middle east” ?

          Seriously? Ridiculing someone is the equivalent of warfare? Obviously, you’ve never been in the military…and I suspect you are not long out of high school as well. Either that, or you don’t get out much.

          I think with your “apology for insults” bit that you wrote before my reply here touches all the concern troll bases. Congratulations.

          1. Edit – “warfare” isn’t correct since the mid-east situation is the result of a huge variety of political, economic, and religious ideas. Comparing that to calling someone an idiot…Jebus H Christ on a camel on a pogo-stick!

            1. It’s obviously not the same as far as the repercussions, but in the “marketplace of ideas” insulting someone’s humanity is functionally equivalent.
              You can go ahead and not care what people think. I would ask though, if a door is open at all, why would you want to shut it? Where does that get you? And why does questioning the value of “ridicule” make me a crusader? I just see a lot of it on this blog. I just don’t see the value in it. It’s not like I’ve never done it either or don’t feel the urge to.

              I’m not saying we should not question religion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to improve critical thinking. I’m not saying we should do anything to encourage “magical thinking”. Whose projecting? I didn’t say anything like that. Anywhere. I didn’t say it because I don’t believe it. If you want to put me into a tone-troll box, insult my intelligence, and call me a religious-sympathizer then go ahead. Thanks for the “discussion”. I didn’t come here to insult anyone.

              More generally, instead of spending time condemning religion and pointing out why it’s logically wrong, why don’t we ask, why does religion exist? What is the psychology of a religious person? At some point in history, religion was a valuable social construct. Why does it still persist? What are the conditions in which it flourishes? What is the underlying evolutionary psychology? Why do people write letters like this? It’s easy to say “well, because they are afraid.” OK. So where do we go from there? Certain people are probably more likely to become religious than others. Why is that? If religious dogmatists are just that, “dogmatists” then what’s the point of pointing out their logical fallacies? You’re just running into a wall. Pointing out logical fallacies to those that don’t think in a logical framework to begin with is counter-productive. It’s like trying to write a code in flash using pascal. I think you must appeal to the psychology of a religious dogmatic. You guys think ridicule is a good way to do that. Permit me to disagree. I suppose that makes me a “commie”.. oh I’m sorry a “faith-ist”. I just have an honest disagreement with you and I don’t appreciate personal insults.

        3. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about Cameron. As veteran (and an effective one) of the gay rights movement, I was *there*. It wasn’t namby-pamby mealymouths who got America to stand up and take notice – it was us uppity queers who got up in people’s faces, demanded an end to police brutality, demanded AIDS funding, and did the hard work of being outspoken. All while people of your disposition wrung their hands and tittered, lending moral support to the oppressive majority.

          You’re not a “nice” person at all. You’re incredibly insulting and offensive.

          1. I honestly don’t think Cameron understands how insulting and degrading his fatheist position is towards the theists.

            Treating them as people who cannot understand a rational argument and have to be coddled for the rest of their lives is worse than treating them like children.

            And he actually thinks we are the nasty ones…

            1. And I can understand how someone might misconstrue my point about “speaking to religious dogmatists like a child”. That is just a metaphor. An adult speaking to a child is an example of communication between two vastly different mental states. When a religious person’s view are based on something like “faith” a state which does not require logic, then how much can we expect there to be any real conversation? I’m not saying religious people are incapable of rationality. I’m saying science has to do a better job do selling itself to people who don’t come from a background or proclivity to science. Neil Degrasse Tyson is a great example of someone who is good at promoting excitement about science and not turning people away. I was glad to see that he and Dawkins put together a talk on something to the effect of “why science is awesome”. I guess I’d like to see more of that. But I take the point that this blog maybe isn’t the place for that discussion. With that I’ll get back to preparing for my presentation on EO WIlson’s paper on the evolution of eusociality and the Hamiltonian counter-arguements. I hope to foster a good discussion. I didn’t do so great here.

            2. When a religious person’s view are based on something like “faith” a state which does not require logic, then how much can we expect there to be any real conversation?

              This.

              This was the attitude I was talking about.

              Gnus argues whit theist and calls out their stupid when they are stupid. That is engaging with them. That is treating them as adult, responsible people who should be treated as person.

              Your way is the way of ostracism. You are saying they should not be engaged because they are incapable of changing. That’s de-humanizing them and makes you a very nasty person indeed.

              I notice that you turn around and say that this is not your position. Either you are inconsistent or you are dishonest. I don’t know, but from experience with tone-trolls the probability lies with the latter.

          2. I commend your efforts and celebrate your hard work. I would say however that Harvey Milk was most successful (and got his initiatives passed) when he got non-gay voters to realize that homosexuals were human beings to. That’s what I meant when I said appealing to people’s humanity. Appealing to people’s humanity was one of Harvey Milk’s (and others) greatest skill.

            1. That is true, but you need to own up to the fact that you didn’t merely highlight that kind of appeal, you actively denigrated other outspoken kinds of activism. Don’t do that. That’s not only inaccurate (loudmouths have made change happen), it’s insulting to people who don’t deserve to be insulted.

            2. Only if you can’t read. Here’s Cameron: “I also don’t think that it’s bad that atheist are “outspoken”.”

              Every comment Cameron’s written in this thread has been about the use of ridicule, not about being outspoken in general.
              /straw man

            3. Tim Martin – why are you telling me I can’t read? my objection was to Cameron’s claim that:

              “I also imagine that it was not the ridicule of southern slave-owners/anti-gay/anti-women that was the political energy behind any downfall any of those movements (still fighting these BTW).”

              So – what is it you think I’m so wrong/obtuse about? Why so deliberately nasty?

            4. Right. Cameron’s claim was about the use of ridicule. Your refutation talked about everything but. Quote, “it was us uppity queers who got up in people’s faces, demanded an end to police brutality, demanded AIDS funding, and did the hard work of being outspoken.”

              See? You were outspoken, you didn’t take no for an answer, you got in people’s faces. Great. That says nothing about ridicule or its effectiveness. Did you win your battles by making fun of the other side? If you did, then say so, because that is what this argument is about. Cameron already stated that he doesn’t have a problem with outspokenness in general- just certain uses of ridicule.

              I apologize for my attitude. The way I see it, you’re giving Cameron an attitude because you haven’t bothered to make a distinction he’s been making this entire thread. Lots of people who argue with so-called tone trolls do this, and I’m kind of tired of seeing it happen.

            5. Tim – I can see I conflated “ridicule” with “outspoken,” but I’m puzzled by why that made you so excessively pissed. Still, Cameron set up a juxtaposition between “ridicule” and “appealing to humanity” that I found insulting. While I should have been clearer, I don’t think it’s wholly unreasonable to read what he said as itself throwing ridicule, uppitiness, and outspokenness all in one basket for the sake of elevating “niceness” over “rudeness.”

              I see that a lot from people who don’t like confrontation. And I really don’t like it. Whether they intend to or not, they throw “mean” people under the bus, never acknowledging that the big old “meanies” actually contributed to freedoms those nice, humanitarian people benefit from. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you cut me a little slack too, just as you’re cutting Cameron some.

            6. Josh,

              I think you’re overestimating how upset I was in my above comment. Due to the range of personalities on the internet, there’s a range of how strongly you have to state things in order to get your point across to different people. From your angry response to Cameron, I inferred that the strong stance that I adopted would be the appropriate one. Perhaps it was too much. I will remember that for next time.

              I completely commiserate with you regarding those who denigrate “meanness” while enjoying the benefits. Perhaps Cameron could be read as having done that- honestly I don’t feel like going back and rereading everything again. But since we’re all cutting each other some slack, I don’t think that’s really necessary. I think you and I understand each other’s positions. All that’s left is for Cameron to clarify his, as pertains to your objection.

              Cheers.

  24. Einstein: Isaacson’s biography addresses this: Einstein publicly denied a personal god (and took heat for doing so) but also said in a letter that he wasn’t an atheist but “you could call me agnostic”.

    Hawking: this letter rider is not up on current events.

    As far as making people nice: religion certainly doesn’t do that though I admit that, at times, a priest/minister did shame me into giving something to charity (I used to be a “believer”).

    And yes, there are times when I become too lazy to, say, give blood, I think “the religious are doing this; are you going to let them outdo you?” and go ahead and give. 🙂

  25. One statement puzzled me. “We now know that the universe did not require a creator.” Since we “know” this, there is some proof. Correct?

    Correct, and contrary to the belief of the letter writer, “the proof”, or rather rejection of creators, have been part and parcel of science for a long time now. The problem is that people like him close their ears and go “la la la” every time that happens.

    Historically people have observed this explicitly since the basic theory of all of biology, evolution, was conceived. I believe that in fact it was part of the concerns that Darwin and others had at the time the theory was presented.

    Evolutionary pathways takes simple structures to complex without any influence outside of the natural environment. This of course fails any posit of a creator in a direct test.

    But the general line of explicit rejection comes with big bang cosmology. As I noted up thread, we have known that no creator is needed since the big bang theory was tested (by observing cosmological expansion at all times); that pathway takes simple structures to complex without any outside influence. Again any posit of a creator fails in direct test.

    As cosmology advances, this series of rejection tests for ever more powerful creators. Hawking’s cosmology is self-contained and based on quantum mechanics alone. There are alternatives of environmentally selected multiverses that goes further to have self-contained physics. (Actually at this time I believe the later are observationally preferred as they survive more tests.)

    Then there is a parallel general line of implicit rejection. Accumulated data alone shows the likelihood for creators way down on its lonesome. This is used for effect by Dawkins in “The God Delusion”.

    But there is also the general finding of processes as the natural basis for theories of nature. A process has neither guides (say, evolutionary creationism’s incessant creators of choices and specific post-prediction outcomes) nor creators (say, creationism’s creator of humans). A process and the processes that lead up to its initial conditions is, again, self-contained.

    And would you concede that if it did not need a creator, it still could have had one.

    Not according to physics, no.

    The fact that universes are zero energy objects (I can give references, or see Hawking’s book I believe) means that they thermodynamically can substantiate by quantum tunneling from other universes but never be causally prompted to do so by a third object.

    And it will be really difficult to come up with theory and tests that can reject that this process happens while we speak. If it has to happen according to physics as we know it, what will stop it from doing so? It would be much like positing that time can stop.

    Of course as everything else observationally this comes with uncertainty. We can test and reject non-factual theories “beyond reasonable doubt”, but there will always remain unreasonable doubt. And there may come theory extending what we now know and throwing up a hinder for some of the pathways we now see as undeniable processes.

    On the lines of unreasonable doubt, you can also theomagically get around physics by positing that theomagics somehow suddenly intercedes with “first cause” non-causation (non-energy “thermodynamics”), whatever that is. Good luck with making that stick!

    1. Something got lost in my cut-and-paste. The original text should be:

      “… can substantiate by quantum tunneling from other universes but never be causally prompted to do so by a third object.

      Thus you can have an infinite series of multiverses that have eternal existence backwards (and forwards).

      And it will be really difficult to come up with theory and tests that can reject that this process happens while we speak.”

  26. Why would the statement that the Universe does not need a creator need to be proved? It doesn’t state that there isn’t one, or wasn’t, simply that it didn’t need one. Seems the man simply wants to verify it himself and lacks the belief he professes, or is looking for things to disagree with.

    Hawking does not according to the latest statements believe in a creator.

    1. I took it to be referring to someone saying “He’s a regular Einstein” as a way of calling someone brilliant.

      And when I thought about it, I couldn’t think of a single biologist anyone refers to in a similar way. Why’s it always rocket scientists & brain surgeons, eh?! I mean, jeez, compared to biology, physics & medicine are cookbook stuff!! Equal time!

      1. Okay I get it now. He means like as in “veritable”. Like I says, I’m not very “hip” to the “scene” I guess.

      2. It actually would be humorous if he weren’t so completely off base and ignorant of Einstein and Hawking. It’s so tragic when a good joke is spoiled by medieval philistinism coupled with the utter lack of knowing what the hell they’re talking about. So very tragic.

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