I’m told to shut up again

October 26, 2010 • 6:53 am

Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, in which liberal theologians proffer testimony that their faith has no beef with evolution, has just put up a brickbat post at (gulp) HuffPo:  “Science and religion aren’t friends, but they could be.”  He’s exercised by my USA Today piece arguing that science and faith are incompatible, and offers another take.

It’s a “brickbat” post because Zimmerman goes way out of his way, almost embarrassingly so, to praise my great talents as a scientist and writer.  But he’s just softening me up for the body blow: the familiar claim that I’m forcing people to choose between science and faith and, by so doing, turning them away from science.  In the end, it’s just a nicely worded but Mooney-esque call for me to shut up about religion.

Like religious fundamentalists, Coyne is arguing that people must choose between religion and science, that they can’t accept both. There are, I believe, two problems with this position. First, pragmatically, studies have clearly suggested that in the United States, when people are given this choice, they will more often than not opt for religion. Now, I’m not suggesting that Coyne, or any of us who care deeply about science, should pervert our understanding of the discipline simply to make converts. No, I’m arguing that there is a way to promote the principles of scientific inquiry fully while not alienating many who are likely to be supporters by belittling their sincerely held beliefs.

Let me reiterate that I’ve never said that people must choose between religion and science, although I’ve argued that a philosophically consistent scientist should eschew superstititon.  What I’ve said—and argued in the USA Today piece—is that the way science and faith try to find truth are incompatible—and, indeed, that there is scientific truth but no real religious truth.   If people think that this means they have to choose, fine.  I do think they should give up superstition in favor of naturalism, but if they want to entertain incompatible views in their brain, so be it.  What Zimmerman really hates is that by making people think about the issue, I could turn some away from evolution.  What a patronizing idea! And we all know that there’s no evidence for this claim.  The thinking could easily go the other way—I have made a few converts to science.

More important, Zimmerman fails to understand that my goal is more than just getting people to accept evolution and science.  As I repeat endlessly (and wish I could stop repeating), my goal, and that of the Gnus,  is the promotion of reason.  Sam Harris, responding to the mush-brained accommodationism of Unscientific America, said it best:

The first thing to notice is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum are confused about the nature of the problem. The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.

Please, Dr. Zimmerman, try to understand this simple idea:  we have more than one goal!  And if I had one wish, it would not be that everyone would magically accept evolution; it would be that religion and superstition would vanish from the face of the Earth.  The evolution acceptance would shortly follow.  Does anyone doubt that?

Zimmerman goes on to claim, as he has before, that the kind of religion with which he rubs elbows is not incompatible with science.  Of course you won’t find him in the megachurches or in the congregations of the South or the south side of Chicago.

. . .the extreme position Coyne has articulated is at odds with much of religion as well as with the basic precepts of science. In fact, religion isn’t the monolithic, dogmatic enterprise Coyne describes, while science can’t provide answers to every question humans can imagine.

Note the gratuitous slur on science: that it doesn’t provide answers to every question humans can imagine.  Well, Dr. Zimmerman, does religion? And does religion do it better than secular philosophy?

Never mind.  Zimmerman makes the claim, as he’s wont to do, that for the vast majority of American “religious leaders” (note: he’s not talking about religious people), science already trumps faith. So what’s there to worry about?

Perhaps most importantly, he [Coyne] makes the case that when religions make empirical claims about the natural world, scientific knowledge has to trump faith. Every scientist I know would likely agree with this statement. Similarly, though, the vast majority of religious leaders I know would also likely agree. The only religious leaders apt to argue are those extreme fundamentalists who believe that their faith traditions are designed to teach us about the workings of the material world. Yes, people like Ken Ham, Albert Mohler and Pat Robertson espouse such dogma, but to imply that they are representative of the majority of religious leaders is ridiculous and gives them power that they don’t deserve.

(I’m not sure why they deserve their power any less than does teh Pope.)

Ken Ham?  Pat Robertson? Let’s talk not about leaders, but about people.  Have you forgotten, Dr. Zimmerman, these dire statistics: 81% of Americans believe in heaven, 78% in angels, 70% in Satan, and 70% in hell. Aren’t those beliefs incompatible with science?  Zimmerman’s pulling a fast one here by concentrating on the beliefs of liberal religious leaders believe rather than on the rank and file.  But of course Zimmerman feels that religious leaders are like border collies who can drive their flock in any direction.  And what do those collies believe?

Many, many religious leaders understand that religion is not dependent upon a single interpretation of any text. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science. They want to make the world a better, a fairer and a more just place and they believe they can accomplish that within a spiritual community.

Yes, I agree that they want to make the world a better place.  But if they’re all on about morality and spirituality, why do they need to talk about Jebus, heaven, and sin?  Why do the Catholics proffer crackers and wine, claiming that they’re the body and blood of Christ?  Why the crosses, why the prayers? Why the insistence on the empty tomb, and the idea that somebody is really up there listening to us?  Do these have nothing to do with empirical claims about the world?

Zimmerman, though seemingly a nice man, is also a deaf one. I am with him on promoting evolution and fighting creationism.  I’m not with him on enabling the superstitious nonsense that causes so much trouble in this world.  And, in the end, he oh-so-politely asks me to shut up:

Coyne and other “new atheists” share many values with religious leaders. If he would stop picking fights with those most likely to be his allies, he would dramatically improve science literacy. And he wouldn’t have to sacrifice any of the principles of science to do so.

What he means by “picking fights with allies” is, of course, pointing out that science and faith are incompatible.  Are you really asking me to stop that, Dr. Zimmerman?  And what is your evidence that my doing so would “dramatically improve science literacy”? I’m a small fish, and while I may have a tiny impact on science literacy, it’s surely not a dramatic one.

But please, Dr. Zimmerman, stop playing Mooney and claiming that my atheism is hurting science education. You don’t have a lick of evidence for that. Or, if that claim is something more than an unsupported opinion, give us the data. While I’m flattered by your description of me as a “world-class scientist and a fabulous writer,” I’d much rather that you quit telling me put a sock in it.

What Zimmerman refuses to acknowledge—he’s not dumb, so I can’t believe he doesn’t recognize it—is that people can come together for some causes but not others.  I’m with Obama on heath care, for instance, but dead against him on prohibiting gay marriage.  And I’m with Zimmerman on evolution, but against him on faith.  But I’m not telling him to shut up.

155 thoughts on “I’m told to shut up again

  1. “What I’ve said—and argued in the USA Today piece—is that the way science and faith try to find truth are incompatible—and, indeed, there is scientific truth but no real religious truth. If people think that this means they have to choose, fine. I do think they should give up superstition in favor of naturalism, but if they want to entertain incompatible views in their brain, so be it.”

    Nice to see naturalism get a nod, and for exactly the right reason: science (occasionally assisted by pesky philosophers) is epistemically responsible, faith isn’t. Thanks Jerry!

  2. “Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science.”

    Whose religion? Theirs? Everybody else’s?

  3. Dr. Coyne,

    I’m a big fan of your work. But your expertise is in biology. My expertise is in psychology. What you are trying to accomplish just won’t work in America. People will choose their particular religion over science any day of the week and twice on Sunday. This is coming from someone who has broken from their religion. But, if a younger version of myself heard you putting me in the position where I had to chose before I was ready, I might still be very much devout in addition to being a creationist today. You want people to accept evolution and good critical thinking? So do I. But you of all people should know that humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s in social contexts. They aren’t a bunch of independent truth seekers. They are social creatures who on the side seek truth. Ignore that and you will come across as naive and unhelpful to those who agree with you, and just one more reason to reject evolution to those who don’t. Take a breath. Step back from the situation. And re-evaluate what you are doing and why.

    1. Forgive me for speaking for Prof Coyne, but I think you’re missing the point.

      He, and the Gnus in general, are telling it like they see it. They are speaking what they believe to be the truth, and refuse to self-censor.

      Many other advantages have been postulated for having an uncompromising attitude:

      – The shifting of the Overton Window;
      – The slow dismantling of the reflexive societal “belief in belief”
      – The tactical value of playing the role of the “boogeyman” in negotiations;
      – The enhanced visibility and how that presents opportunities to discuss topics that were once taboo;
      – The strength that similar-minded individuals can gain from a sense of community
      …and so many more.

      And all of that stands against some well-meaning but evidence-free calls to censor themselves and leave some topics alone. Just like society has been doing for millenia.

      We Must Preserve The Status Quo!

      1. I have to agree. I think many people, and perhaps most, have an incipient taste for truth that must be encouraged, not by strategically planning out PR moves, but by just telling the truth. I’m human, but unless I flatter myself, I would really like my truth plain and undiluted. The moment that you first seriously ask yourself, of any proposition, “Is this position consistent with the evidence?” is like a moment of scales falling off the eyes. We should encourage that moment, and while people may reasonably disagree about the merits of mocking and humiliating others for their superstitions (I don’t like it, being thin-skinned myself) I think just telling the unvarnished truth is where we need to start.

        1. Yes, what you’ve said; and there’s also the fact that many of us are quite sensitive to the whiff of being gamed, framed, manipulated, spoken down to, treated like sheep, etc. It’s a stench that pervades politics and much of the popular press, and practically defines the accomodationists.

          In the same way that some psychologists work to get the word out to doubt advertising, the word needs to be gotten out that what one hears from any apparent authority figures is not necessarily valid. Pandering and dumbing down are deservedly derided. I like to think that the idea of making any claim “palatable to the masses” greatly insults the masses. (Though usually I’m not so generously minded to the non-me masses…)

    2. Yes, we former religious believers were stupid, but we got better (as in the “former” bit).

      Is either our former stupid or our subsequent awakening a reason for people like Prof. Coyne to shut up about science and religion being incompatible?

    3. Don’t worry.
      We are not trying to get you to change your religion.
      We are merely creating an atmosphere where your children realize there is a choice.

      1. Sigmund, you whacked the nail on the head.

        So a few adults are offended because an atheist refused to stay quiet, and spoke truth about religion?

        Fine. Write off the thin-skinned faithful who won’t listen.

        But their kids, and all kids, will grow up in a world where Coyne and PZ and Dawkins and a growing legion of others don’t hesitate to speak undiluted truth, and don’t hold back from making fun of religion when deserved.

        Let the accommodationists fret over appeasing a dwindling population of hard-headed faithful. The coming generation is the one that’ll listen with open ears and open minds. IF we speak up.

        1. Couldn’t agree with you more. It is future generations that will finally rid themselves of societies religious fallacies, but only if we stand up in the here and now for truth. Playing the “don’t kiss don’t tell” game that the accomodationists want us to play has not, nor does not work.

    4. It’s not about the religious people set in their ways. They will not change their minds, period.

      It’s about the young people, who can and will change their minds, but won’t if you let them think religion and rationality are compatible, which they manifestly are not.

      Like most accommodationists, you’re making the mistake of thinking that the goal is to directly convince the targets of our criticisms that they are wrong. It’s the people on the sidelines that the arguments might reach.

      And let me tell you something about psychology that you ought to know, given your professed qualifications – it takes no special effort for a person to be convinced that someone else is wrong. Even if one agreed with that person, provided there’s no public investment in the position (i.e. no need to spend time explaining a change in stance), minds can be changed quite easily.

        1. Well that’s what Max Planck said about the old professors who simply couldn’t accept new scientific truths: you have to wait until they die off and the younger scientists who already know the truth take over.

          If it works for science, it might just work for religion too.

    5. Tim, my expertise is also in psychology, and the actual empirical support for your position is lacking.

      you of all people should know that humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s in social contexts.

      That is correct, and ridiculing a position makes others less likely to adopt it.

      1. Well, coming as I do from a generation in which both politics and religion were banned as social conversation topics, I can anecdotally confirm your point.

        It seems that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a very old and widely adhered to convention in many different contexts.

        On the other hand, there is this more modern ‘dinner party conversation’ jest:

        Dinner Guest 1: “I’ve been reading that modern civilisation has two great issues – ignorance and apathy. Do you think that’s so ?”

        DG 2: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

    6. “But you of all people should know that humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s in social contexts. They aren’t a bunch of independent truth seekers. ”

      THAT’S THE PROBLEM. And it is that very problem that Coyne and other Gnu Atheists are trying to address.

    7. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”. For every story of a person who’d become more defensive after being challenged, there is a story of a person who took the challenge.

      There are plenty of alternative advocates available for those people for whom a “soft” approach might work better. Gnu Atheists don’t really need to add their voices to help those advocates. But no Gnu Atheist is telling those advocates to shut up, or to please stop undermining our own efforts for a less religious society.

      And don’t forget that even these soft-spoken advocates are still trying to change people’s beliefs, if only to a more non-literal interpretation of their faith. They’re just generally not very up-front about it.

    8. But you of all people should know that humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s[sic] in social contexts.

      When the social context is mutually reinforcing ignorance, it is time to work on changing it.

    9. Tim, you miss the point. One that was quite clearly made in the essay.

      Getting people to abandon faith in creationism in favor of faith in Darwin isn’t even a side-show.

      The primary goal is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      If people aren’t convinced by the evidence-supported reasoning, we can try supplementing it with appeals to emotion, but not at the expense of the primary goal.

      First and foremost, we are here to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      Any other goals can and will be sacrificed for the sake of the cause.



      1. Precisely. It is amazing to me that so many religious people have a problem to understand this simple principle. They are not only scared of truth but even of the prospect of communicating the truth to them.

    10. “What you are trying to accomplish just won’t work in America.”

      What do you mean “work”? Work how, work at accomplishing what, work for whom?

      I hate this kind of pseudo-realistic status quo enforcement. A tendentious claim about how things are now coupled to a dogmatic assertion that how things are now can never change. The church of savvy.

      1. Seems to me I’ve heard something like it before…

        “America isn’t ready for a black president.”

        “The perception is that opposition to the Iraq war will make us look weak on terrorism.”

    11. humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s in social contexts. They aren’t a bunch of independent truth seekers. They are social creatures who on the side seek truth.

      All the more reason for an obvious and vocal community of secular humanists to make noise; to show that there is social support on the anti-superstition side as well.

    12. Tim, your posited “younger you” would have been missing the point, just as you are now, just as Zimmerman, Mooney and all the other New Framers are doing.

      Advocating for reason & advocating for a greater understanding of what science is and how it works – indeed, why it works – is not about getting in the faces of true believers and enforcing a contrary, competing, dogmatic worldview. That’s how religion works, not science (it’s not the first time religious tactics were projected onto science advocates).

      Accepting science, however, often has as a byproduct the invalidation of religious belief. OK, hard for some, but in the end – tough cookies. Truth can be difficult to accept. But we want people to know that, though perhaps challenging or uncomfortable, this is not the end of the world and that people in that position are not alone. Indeed, attaining new knowledge or changing a point of view is often uncomfortable, but I’m sure a psychologist such as yourself wouldn’t encourage people to stop learning or stop asking questions just because they might not like the answers. Well, unless perhaps they were completely unhinged, but we’re talking about normal everyday intelligent people here, not patients.

      So, out of interest, how did “younger you” leave his religion? Did a speech, a book, your education or a gradual understanding of science as a result of patient private inquiry lead you to ask questions that, in the end, religion couldn’t answer? If yes, excellent – that’s the goal of science advocates. To get people to think, ask questions and find answers. Noone’s trying to shock believers into abandoning their faith on the spot and it’s a gross fallacy to assert otherwise.

      I really wish “protectors of belief” would take the time to properly comprehend the arguments of people like Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, Harris etc before responding to them. These endless “sssh! don’t upset the faithful!” screeds from people like Zimmerman & Mooney & the various Templeton-funded Framers are getting very tiresome – as is, I’m sure, responding to them.

    13. » Tim:
      My expertise is in psychology.

      That seems like a bit of an overstatement.

      This is coming from someone who has broken from their religion.

      Compelling evidence from a single anecdote…

      But you of all people should know that humans are first and foremost social creatures who develop their worldview’s in social contexts. They aren’t a bunch of independent truth seekers.

      What a fantastically dogmatic and arrogant statement to make. (And don’t get me started on the psychologically revealing apostrophising of a plural. [kidding]) Anybody in psychology knows it is patently absurd to say that people are like this or aren’t like that. People’s responses to situations they find themselves in vary over a considerably broad spectrum. And ‘situation’ is the operative word here: if you haven’t heard of fundamental attribution error, your expertise very much is not in psychology.

    14. Tim: “My expertise is in psychology.”

      Tim: “What you are trying to accomplish just won’t work in America.”

      But, but, but, you’re no sociologist or anthropologist. What business does a mere psychologist have in making such a claim?

      Fragged by your own petard.

  4. Wouldn’t you think that someone would put up (at least some weak) evidence of the ‘harm’ the gnu’s allegedly wreak upon the cause of science? At least we could then talk about something.

    I, for one, have been reinvigorated. I am not a scientist but I loved it in high school and college. My high school senior term paper was on black holes. Now that blew my mind!
    Remember OMNI mag? That was my first self-funded subscription ever. I drifted away from science appreciation over the years.

    Now, thanks to all the new gnu’s with the good news, I am educating my children about the skeptical approach to answering questions. My 9 year olds favorite ‘family night’ movie is Planet Earth. The importance of science and reason is now clear to me.

    Now there is one data point for you Zimmerman, Mooney, et.al.

    1. OMNI magazine! I loved that while I was in high school, but looking back, there was more than a smidgen of pseudoscience in it, and it gradually got much worse. I was shocked to pick up a copy after a few years’ hiatus and find it jammed full of credulous UFO stories. Even in the early years, it had its share – I did a high school report on acupuncture based partially on an article that speculated about endorphins, but ignored the statistics. Great science fiction, though!

      Our family had a subscription to a magazine titled “Science [Current year]”, as in “Science 80” and “Science 83,” also very good, and written for the layman. I learned how helicopters fly from that magazine, as well as how so many people blow the concept of “infinity.” Wish I knew where to find some old copies…

      1. Yes indeed to the pseudoscience in OMNI, not that I realized it then.

        What it did for me was to make rational inquiry and science totally cooool!

    2. I remember letting my initial subscription to Discover magazine lapse because it seemed too atheistic to my fundie mind.

      It was only after I realised that my Christian fundie view didn’t hold water (believe it or not, from too much Bible study) that, much later, realised that my liberal Christian view didn’t actually consist of anything beyond some very vague ideas that I became more interested in a scientific, naturalistic worldview.

      Yes, I’m slow sometimes.

  5. The evolution issue is a huge red herring. We’ve essentially won that battle years ago – at least on the scientific front. The bigger problem with accomodationism is manifest in other areas of life such as equal treatment for homosexuals in society. Exactly the same argument can be made about people accepting scientific arguments about homosexuality :
    (its entirely natural in a proportion of the population and its not a choice) or religious arguments :
    (its an unnatural lifestyle choice and is a sin that offends a magical being that lives in the sky).
    Given a choice between the scientific argument and the religious argument people will choose the religious one.
    So what.
    Does that mean we avoid the scientific facts or must silence the claim that religious claims about homosexuality are based on not a jot of evidence but simply myths from stone-age tribes?
    Why is there a problem in US society regarding DADT?
    With gay marriage?
    With gay adoptions?
    With bullying leading to high levels of suicides amongst gay teens?
    It’s almost entirely down to religious teachings. Why do accomodationists get a free pass on these questions? Does the avoidance of challenging peoples deeply held beliefs include beliefs like religious teaching on homosexuality?
    And if we ARE allowed to challenge those beliefs but only in the same manner we can approach the evolution question (some tiny churches allow gay members – therefore religion is compatible with homosexuality) – then how are we going to make a serious dent on the problem?

  6. If he would stop picking fights with those most likely to be his allies, he would dramatically improve science literacy.

    [citation needed]

    That exact approach was tried for decades and the fraction of Americans who reject evolution for theological reasons has barely deviated by a couple percent. It’s a solid 40% pretty much all the way back to Scopes.

    I guess he thinks Jerry is the Evolution Messiah who has magical powers to change minds when nobody else could, if only he’d give up on this quixotic quest to be honest with people about his own views.

  7. There are three things that jump out at me. The first is, that the accommodationists seem quite ready to accuse (Gnu) atheists of attacking potential allies, but the only ones I actually attacking anyone are the accommodationists. Zimmerman’s entire piece didn’t so much target a concept as Dr. Coyne himself.

    The second is, Zimmerman isn’t aware of how he contradicts himself. He openly says that people won’t abandon their faith, but then refers to them as potential allies as long as their faith isn’t attacked. So, in what way are they going to be allies? This is a question that I’ve had from the start with the accommodationist program, and I’ve finally started to consider them as “Underpants Gnomes.” They really have no idea how to accomplish what they’re promoting.

    Finally, the idea of people being fixed in their ways and unable to change, as the entire “faith” concept is portrayed, is ludicrous and totally unsupported. A few hundred years ago, naturalism was religion, slavery was cool, women were chattel, and washing hands only necessary if you didn’t want your food to taste funny. Atheism isn’t on the rise because parents aren’t teaching their kids about the religion they themselves support. It’s increasing because more people are out there showing that reason and rational thought work better than faith – as well as, it’s okay to be a non-believer, and it doesn’t make you immoral or rebellious.

    Zimmerman is yet another in the pantheon of chuckleheads who cannot grasp that science is simply about knowledge. If something that science has determined doesn’t support a religious viewpoint, it’s not because there’s some scientific scripture arguing against it, it’s because nature doesn’t know that religion exists. What better argument for religion to be a conceit of the human mind?

      1. Well, not in this thread, anyway – when I started typing there were only three comments, one of them Tim’s, and I was already arguing against his in my thought processes 😉

        But yeah, I come to these forums because the intelligence of the comments is often astounding, so I am certainly building from that. Such is the beauty of Gnu Atheism – you get to hear what some very sharp thinkers are saying, rather than digging for it in a library. Credit where it is due.

    1. the accommodationists seem quite ready to accuse (Gnu) atheists of attacking potential allies, but the only ones I actually attacking anyone are the accommodationists.

      That’s hardly fair. When accommodationists talk in more general terms about unnamed atheists and unspecified events, we leap on them with demands for specific evidence that we can examine.

      It’s entirely appropriate to point to specific instances from specific people, and we should not castigate anyone for doing so to explain their position.

      Their position may be wrong, but we can hardly fault them for providing specific evidence of what they’re complaining about.

      1. Well, no, that’s deflecting the point. When Gnus are accused of being mean to religious moderates, in effect perpetrating ad hom attacks, that’s when the accommodationists are asked for specific examples. And somehow never pony up.

        Dr. Coyne’s article did not target anyone in particular, and addressed a practice and philosophy. Zimmerman, on the other hand, was very distinct in isolating Coyne, trying to make it appear that Coyne alone was holding these beliefs. When he had the opportunity to be specific about the multitude of religious leaders who accepted science, he declined to name any, save for referencing his Clergy Letter Project and proclaiming it supportive of science (utter bilgewater on the face of it.) But, curiously, he could name several prominent figures who he claimed were fringe elements and didn’t count.

        That’s beside the point, though. Accommodationists are quick to abuse the idea of attacking people, but that’s really all Zimmerman’s piece was. Faced with the main point of Coyne’s article, he dodged it and claimed it didn’t apply to “most,” then excoriated Coyne for this. He actually made no point whatsoever about compatibility.

        As for the bridge-building the accommodationists’ viewpoint is supposed to provide between religion and science, I missed that entirely. Coyne was demonized for his standpoint and the bridge declared unnecessary. I am willing to bet, however, that Mooney et al are somehow going to miss addressing Zimmerman’s piece. What do you think?

  8. First, pragmatically, studies have clearly suggested that in the United States, when people are given this choice, they will more often than not opt for religion.

    Does Zimmerman seriously think that this is only a problem for science, and not a problem for his brand of religion too? Even if he replaces one interpretation of the Bible with another, people will still need to change their beliefs. And they’ll have to do so because of science, not because Zimemrman’s interpretation of the Bible is so much more straightforward or convincing.

    Similarly, though, the vast majority of religious leaders I know would also likely agree.

    Note that one of the most well-known religious leaders, the Pope, doesn’t agree, as recently discussed on Pharyngula: while evolution may have happened, there must have been a literal Adam and Eve. Otherwise the doctrine of original sin would collapse, and Jesus’ sacrifice along with it.

    1. Deen: “Does Zimmerman seriously think that this is only a problem for science, and not a problem for his brand of religion too? ”

      Indeed. I’ve said this countless times on Mooney’s blog, that every accommodationist I’ve ever read hinges their argument on the improbable likelihood that the majority of Americans will trade their bronze-age mythology for science-informed deism.

      Accommodationists never explain how they hope to achieve this much less acknowledge that it’s even a problem.

      I’m starting to think that Accommodationists seem so concerned in getting the religious to “accept” science that they’ll even water-down said science to get there. It’s a classic ends justify the means.

  9. . . .the extreme position Coyne has articulated…blah, blah, blah, etc.

    So, we should be a little bit superstitious? Ridiculous. I’m tired of people arguing that there should be some point of compromise here. Is it extreme to support the only position that has any evidence in its favor?

  10. When I read “picking fights with allies” I thought of Giberson’s latest piece in which he reveals that he’s been on Coyne’s side all along! Giberson rejects the YHWH deity of the Old Testament!

    In The God Delusion Dawkins eloquently skewers the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament…. But who believes in this deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old?

    Holy Moses! Giberson rejects YHWH! He’s one of us! After all this fuss.

    But he strangely thinks most Christians are with him in this. He feels obliged to defend this “enlightened” view of Christianity, but what’s actually happening is that he’s unintentionally defending the everyday Christian who believes in the Old Testament god.

    It’s a mess.

    1. “…picking fights with allies”. This is the core difference. Zimmerman thinks the controversy is about combat tactics rather than about reason and evidence versus superstition.

      1. Well, clearly, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

        Who would push this kind of thinking other than people who know they can’t stand (OR attract allies) on evidence.

    2. Giberson should visit churches more often. Millions of people still believe in Yahweh and try to rationalise his reported atrocities.

      Admittedly, most think Yahweh has mellowed out a bit, although he’s expected to get pissed off again eventually and destroy the world. But hey, he’s God, so it’s OK.

  11. I think that its important to realize that it is very, very unlikely that religions will ever teach science in their churches. They almost never adjust their dogma to fit scientific theories, and even when they do (as PZ was talking about the Catholics this week) they ‘accept’ evolution, but only in the context of their theology, where random change is not random, but guided by God. If religion was really serious about accommodating science, they’d remove creation and the flood from the bible, since they are obviously completely incorrect. But they cannot, since those stories serve as the underpinnings for much of the other positions in the church. At best they can ignore parts of their own dogma, but that isn’t really the same as change. Its sad that people who would otherwise be interested in science are turned away by church loyalty, but it is the religions that don’t change, the religions that don’t look for truth, and the religions that use family and community loyalty to enforce belief on people.

    1. Religion has always had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards science and rationality. From the Enlightenment onward, anytime progress has been made, it was basically when religion was forced to accede.

  12. If you want to see an example of how theistic evolutionists confront theistic creationists then you can visit the Vibrant Dance conference this week
    – where Biologos, the ‘Brave Sir Robin’ of evolution science has … oooops! … decided that they are not going to challenge the Discovery Institute.
    Never mind, they can always hold hands and pray.

  13. I think you might be justified in telling him to shut up. They always argue the same things. I wish they’d at least directly respond to the statistics that are posted EVERYTIME!!

  14. Something I’d like to ask Zimmerman’s sophisticated librul Christian leaders:

    Has Jesus read the Bible?

    Not, “Did Jesus read the Bible,” since, of course, it was still a work in progress.

    What I mean is, has the Jesus who’s sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven read the Bible?

    If so, Jesus has got to realize that vast numbers of people are taking the words literally. And, that it’s quite the obvious thing to do. So how do the sophisticates know that Jesus expects people to ignore certain huge swaths of the Bible, and which swaths are worthy of ignorance? Is Jesus laying a trap for people who aren’t particularly sophisticated? How do they know that the plain, simple language isn’t the preferred reading?

    And, if Jesus hasn’t read the Bible…why should anybody pay any attention to it?

    (Of course, all this ignores the fact that Jesus is a mythical fabrication, completely unknown to history until at least the latter part of the first century. But never mind that.)



  15. Great post by Mr. Coyne about his wishes and the goals.

    Very informative.

    I also all for promotion of reason and I would also want religion vanish from the face of the earth and together with it any other form of ‘specialness’.

    Why Mr. Coyne does not go into government and promotes reason through making a ‘scientific government’?

    Isn’t it because he knows that it will not work? Or is it because it is much easier to debate with people who lack enough education to see that religion has no choice but vestigialize.

    I must disappoint Mr. Coyne. Untill belief-free scientists join forces and ‘invade’ government to make sure that science is _properly institutionalized_ mankind will be wasting its time arguing about ‘my way is better than your way’ for anything and everything – religion is only _one_ example

    Meanwhile the mankind will continue to diasporate into all possible corners of the planet and extracting existential excesses from it in any way possible until the whole system collapses.

    And then the science will become the only shepherd of human condition because people will only think about surviving and only science will be able to help them with that.

    But it all can be somewhat different if only we stop arguing with people who do not get it and instead focus our energies to bring about _proper institutionalization_ of science.


    1. Alex,

      A tyranny of benevolent scientists would still be a tyranny and as deserving of hatred and doomed to failure as any other.

      When the people are (more) rational, the rest will follow. But imposing rationality upon them is downright evil.



      1. i never said ‘imposing the rationality’ i said to promote _proper institutionalization_ of science

        once there is proper instutionalization then the young will soakscience in much the same way as they now soak religion

        nowhere in the world science is properly institutionalized – goverment everywhere is just an extension of the natural pecking order

        when there were 500 million humans on the planet it was fine but when there is 7 billion – it is not

        and nobody is sitting down to
        _scientifically_ determine: what is good number?


        because they ‘believe’ in natural rights and freedoms – which have no _scientific_ basis – they are simply pronouncements that will die out when the going gets sufficiently tough (no employment – people taking to the streeets- environment polluted everywhere – the civil unrest started in China finally reached US and Canada) – just a matter of time – probably 50 to 100 years

        1. alex,

          So you decide that we should only have, say, two billion people on the planet.

          Then what?

          Forced sterilization?

          Kill a third of the population?

          Use force of arms to isolate populations deemed unproductive until the numbers stabilize?

          I agree. Humanity faces a server overpopulation problem. All our other problems — pollution, resource exhaustion, global warming, whatever — can be directly traced to the exponential growth curve of humanity.

          You know the single best method for not only reducing the rate of population growth but actually inducing negative population growth, ignoring the obvious answer of the Four Horsemen?

          A Western-style middle-class lifestyle.

          Look at pretty much all the wealthy Westernized nations, and their native populations are (very slowly) declining. Population growth in these parts of the world is driven solely by immigration.

          And you know what the single best predictor of whether or not a nation will have a Western-style middle-class lifestyle is?

          A representative democratically-elected government.

          Your proposed experiment has been tried. One of the most notable “successes” to date was performed by the Khmer Rouge. Thanks, but I’ll pass on a repeat of that particular experiment.



          1. ben,

            you are jumping to conclusions

            i have not even got close to actually proposing anything

            i merely point out that there are very pressing issues that scientists need to address but they cannot because of them being the scientists only in the labs – not in their ‘secular’ lives

            western style middle class is no a solution because it will never exist in china , india, former soviet union and even in europe it is not the way it is in the us and canada

            please not that i am not talking about any ‘-ism’, socialism, capitalism, communism are not the answers

            in fact there is no a firm prescription and there never could be one – the system is dynamic

            as it currently is all government including democracy are inedequate in dealing with the problems stemming out of overpopulation

            scientists should sit down and develop ‘heuristic government’ with the only one criteria for validity of this or that policy – _continuing viability of mankind_

            and this is inevitable over geological timeframe – most likely post-collapse of the current civilization

            1. So, a hand-picked group of scientists develop your heuristic government.

              Then what? Point guns at everybody until they agree to abide by the dictates of the heuristics?

              I don’t think anybody has ever expressed the point I’m trying to make better than this:

              When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

              We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security[….]

              Consider my signature added somewhere beneath Hancock’s.



            2. …all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

              Jefferson anticipates religious intransigence…

          2. Ben,

            “server overpopulation problem”

            If the scientists take over I think this problem will get worse;)

        2. Alex — I’ve re-read your post twice, and I’m still not sure what you mean by “_proper institutionalization_”. I’m not comfortable with government controlling science, or politicians with scientific credentials imposing their agendas because they’re “scientific”. We’ve seen how those programs can go wrong. (Think Lysenkoism, engenics.) We need government to protect and nourish science, and to listen to scientists. But anything that smacks of “enforcing” science as an agenda, I distrust.

      1. this staytement has no scientific basis

        it is a belief – not the science behind the nature and course of human evolution

          1. history teaches us nothing

            history is repetition of acting out the misinformation mankind conjured as ‘knowledge’ when science was nowhere in sight

            only from about 1960ties science reached the point when it can adequately understand ‘human condition’

            to date this science is ignored precisely because ignorance is much more _institutionalized_ – it has church, government, etc.

            what schientists do not realize is the fact that they act in much the same way as ignorant layment the moment they step out of their labs and away from their blackboards but they will be the ones who will have to deal with what is coming and some of them already working in the right direction

    2. “Why Mr. Coyne does not go into government and promotes reason through making a ‘scientific government’?”

      Maybe it’s because Dr. Coyne is a scientist, teacher and author (the sum of which seems to keep him fairly busy) and not a politician?

    3. Alex.
      And I very much oppose belief, or lack of belief, enforced by governments.
      But I do have utopian dreams like you do. For instance, I wish you made good on your promise and stopped trolling this blog.

        1. And before anyone points out that this isn’t a scientific statement – of course it isn’t. “Better” is subjective.

  16. As soon as I saw a linked reference to Harris’ work I clicked on it. An just a couple lines into it …

    “Even religious extremists value some of the products of science—antibiotics, computers, bombs, etc.”

    …a paroxysm of laughter invaded me.

    Harris has a way of collecting thoughts and arrainging them in a way that is precise, incisive, 100% rational, and even witty.

  17. First, pragmatically, studies have clearly suggested that in the United States, when people are given this choice, they will more often than not opt for religion.

    How do we know this again? Although I can’t say I follow all survey research, this is a claim that has been made repeatedly, and I’m rather suspicious about never having been linked to the studies. Can somebody do that, please?

    1. Even if this claim were true, I think it would be because people are afraid to question dogma which they’ve been told their salvation depends upong them believing. Science doesn’t promise you everlasting goodies for believing its claims nor does it threaten damnation for doubt.

      There are studies that show that when religion conflicts with faith, a majority will go with religion. But I suspect it’s because they are afraid not to. Due to the manipulation of religion, in thier minds they are risking damnation for a bit of knowledge. Jerry fights those who have this meme infection by fighting against faith. The accommodationists give the illusion that faith is something worth fighting which only exacerbates the problem from what I see.

    2. What articulett said, and also: because people are never really made to make any real (either/or) choice between the two ‘worldviews.’ As long as they’re assured of being able to eat their cake and have it to–choose religion while simultaneously enjoying the fruits of science–any data from any such question put to people would be meaningless.

      Devise a choice between religion and modern medicine, technology, etc., and expectations might vary.

  18. Zimmerman write:

    I can well appreciate that not everyone might share those views or the belief that they might be accomplished within a spiritual community. (Please recognize that neither I nor the religious leaders about whom I am writing are implying that work within a spiritual community is the only way to achieve these goals.) I am arguing, however, that science is not positioned to deny the spiritual sense that some find within religion or the good that might arise from that sense.

    Why does this have to be in the context of a supernatural belief system? Why can’t religion metamorphose into what Secular Humanistic Judaism and the HUUmanists have created? These rely entirely on reason, but also recognize the importance of gathering to celebrate the human spirit.

  19. Well, Dr. Coyne, in his response to Dr. Zimmerman, epitomizes scientific fundamentalism, as closed and arrogant as religious fundamentalism of any type. Responsible science (by its own definition) must be as open to the future as responsible religion. He may not realize it, but Dr. Coyne is playing God in his own way, just not calling it that. Too bad, it could be a tantalizing engagement!

    1. That is absolute crap. Dr Coyne is the person who is being honest. He does not give up integrity for the sake of expediency. Which is bound to rub some people the wring way, obviously.
      And what is this “scientific fundamentalism” bullshit? Can you name a scientist who thinks “the origin of species” or any other book in science is infallible? If Coyne is a fundamentalist, what the the fundamentals?
      And no, you can’t play something that doesn’t exist.

      1. I suspect these platitudes sounded deep when he heard them from his preacher man…

        It’s theists who claim to have special insight and divine knowledge– not scientists. In this way, all theists are more arrogant than any atheist. They all claim to know things which cannot be demonstrated by evidentiary means.

        Scientists are just sharing the evidence that’s available to all humans– no matter what they believe. I can see why preachers would indoctrinate their followers to see this as arrogant, but it seems like such a silly trick that I’m amazed that so many fall for it.

    2. We’re not telling you you’re going to science hell or anything. We just think that some things you believe in don’t exist and that you’d have a better perspective on your own value and that of other human beings if you forgot all the magic book nonsense. And we want to be able to say these things with our nominal allies telling us to shut up. And that’s all the OP was about.

      Now, you may not agree with our opinions/convictions/inferences about the non-existence of any sort of god, but the fact of disagreement doesn’t make us “arrogant” or “fundamentalist” any more than it does for you. Maybe you’ve disagreed with someone about the best way to get across town at some point in your life…did you call the other person a “Park Street fundamentalist”? Somehow I doubt it.

      So I guess I have to ask you to be a little more clear: is Coyne arrogant because he has a different opinion from you, or because he’s so uncivil as to actually express it?

    3. Ralph Anderson: Using language in that way is a common way of defaming weasels.

      On behalf of the anti mustelid defamation league I must ask you to cease and desist and:

      1: Clearly state what might happen in the future that Jerry Coyne is not open to
      2: Give a clear definition of “Scientific fundamentalism” and why that is wrong.
      3: Describe what the heck “responsible religion” is and give us a way of differentiate it from the irresponsible kind we know and loathe.
      4: Give a clear description on how a human clearly giving his opinion is “playing god”

      Failure to meet these demands might result in you being badgered…

        1. The badger division of the AMDL is our primary means of enforcing mustelid justice. Their means and their ways are classified, but usually called “badgering”, though some claim that “horrific mutilation” might be more accurate. You are of course welcome to join.

          More serious cases might be transferred to the wolverine division, but wolverining is usually concidered to harsh for a first offence.

      1. Quote from 007 movie “Diamonds are forever”:
        “If god wanted man to fly he would give him wings”.
        I guess I’m playing god every time I visit friends.

    4. Yes, just liked those inflexible, closed-minded fundamentalist mathematicians with their insistence that, in base 10, 1+1=2.

      Oh, if only they weren’t so arrogant we could achieve so much more!

    1. I’ve been trying to get my mind around the concept of an “atheist rabbi”! But I seem to recall that “rabbi” is actually Hebrew for “teacher”, so I suppose it is possible.

  20. So I guess Zimmerman et al are currently writing articles bemoaning those “doctors” that push for blood transfusions to save lives. I mean doctors need to be respectful of parents that withhold life savings medical practices, otherwise the doctors will push these religious people away from our favorite scientific issue du jour. Medicine does not know everything, it still hasn’t cured cancer has it?!?! Doctors need to back off and not try to save these kids if it might offend the parents’ deeply held beliefs.

    What? That comparison is over the top?

    Fine, please explain why are the Jehovah Witness’ beliefs based on superstitious nonsense is ok to beat down, but not a Evangelical Christian’s superstitious nonsense?

  21. Zimmerman is doing one thing that is quite deceptive, whether intentionally or not. He is conflating the “religious leaders” he knows with all of them.

    Similarly, though, the vast majority of religious leaders I know would also likely agree. The only religious leaders apt to argue are those extreme fundamentalists who believe that their faith traditions are designed to teach us about the workings of the material world.

    Notice that in the first sentence he limits it to religious leaders he knows, but in the second sentence he subtracts “extreme fundamentalists” from the total, with the implication that the majority of all religious leaders are compatibilists.

    Are there any stats on what US religious leaders think and preach on this issue? Certainly we know from the Pew studies that the majority of believers let religion trump science and not the other way around, so Zimmerman needs to back up his claims or implications.

    1. I am not sure about his bakcground. So maybe the poor guy has never studied statistics and is not familiar with the concept of representative sampling.

  22. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science.

    Yes, can we please talk about religion’s historical record of moral insights? Let’s start with the notion of punishing the children for crimes of the parents. Without the notion of children being responsible for acts committed by their parents (or distant ancestors), nothing about Christian morality makes sense.

    The question is, does anyone really think children are morally responsible for acts committed by their parents or distant ancestors? And if this particular pillar of Christian morality is hollow, why would I take any of it seriously?

  23. Religious leaders and spokesmon are like the alchemists of medieval times. The heretofore unknown truth about elements has been discovered, rendering the alchemists attempts to turn other elements (lead, iron) into another element (gold, silver) physically impossible. Yet the alchemists fall back on various ideas of “momentum” (e.g. “we’ve been doing this for generations, …many people have made great strides, ..it has been important work for decades”) to justify continuing alchemy study in spite of the vaporization of underlying premise of alchemy, that somehow elements can be transformed on the tabletop into other elements.

    Look, it’s as simple as this: who we are, why I wake up in this body, day after day (and not within in a cloud over the Pacific Ocean, or in the body of a great ape) is because our memory makes us unique. And our memory is the result of a fantastic, complicated set of electrochemical reactions. Potentiation, calcium ions, sodium ions, enzymes phosphorylating another enzyme, in a chain of fourteen, maybe forty-three others…these are all real, physical phenomena that occur EVERY time you talk, read, think, remember. Those human abilities cannot happen without the physical chemicals. And when you die, they simply stay there, in your skull, never to leave. There is NO Hereafter, because you cannot move billions upon billions of ions, enzymes, and all the cells that make up your memory, to any other place. No Hereafter, no reason for any religion…what…so…ever.

  24. “Why do the Catholics proffer crackers and wine, …”.
    They don’t, actually — only the priest gets the wine (during the formal ‘consecration’ when he ‘elevates’ the ‘host’), the great unwashed get just the dry wafer (which sticks to the tongue or palate like a tire patch — it’s not really at all like any ‘cracker’, the slightest drop of any liquid will turn it to a paste).

    1. That’s because they are mean. At least the Church of England shares the wine – & the germs from drinking from the same cup. I suppose they could substitute a pipette.

    2. This is no longer always true, post-Vatican II. For instance, if the group is very small, sips of wine will be passed around. Or if a person is known by the priest to be allergic to gluten, they can get wine instead. Most recovering-alcoholic priests munch but don’t slurp, as well.

  25. I have to take issue with this:

    “And if I had one wish, it would not be that everyone would magically accept evolution; it would be that religion and superstition would vanish from the face of the Earth. The evolution acceptance would shortly follow. Does anyone doubt that?”

    Yes, I do. I know some atheists who…yes, reject evolution. Why? Evolution is too complicated to be explained to them in a way that they understand.

    Yes, I know…many scientists think that the basics of evolution are easy enough for almost anyone to understand, but that simply isn’t true.

    Remember that some skeptics are of the “if I can’t understand it, it must be BS” variety.

    You don’t run into many educated skeptics who are like this, but believe me they are out there.

    1. “Evolution is too complicated to be explained to them in a way that they understand.”

      I find that hard to believe. The details, maybe, but the general outline — descent with modification — it’s not that hard. Once it was first explained, that is, and that’s part of the genius of Darwin, to tie together pieces that are visible everywhere once you know what to look for. If people still have a hard time, I don’t think it’s because the theory is hard, but at least in part because of an active campaign of disinformation. Evolution is not taught in my children’s school, so I have to teach it at home. Not so for black holes, which are harder to grasp IMO.

      1. Black holes aren’t so tough…

        Black holes are places where gravity is so dense that energy, space, and time collapse.


        The details might be a bit non-intuitive, and the math…woohoo…

        1. Kevin: Not to distract from the theme of this thread (and you don’t have to reply), but the general description is just where you lose me. Space and time collapsing, as though space and time were both “stuff” that could collapse, like cereal boxes. Space as something that takes up space, and time as something that has a rate (one hour per hour, more or less). Sorry, but that still leaves me flummoxed! I would love to hear it explained so that a layperson like myself could understand even the “intuitive” parts..

      2. Evolution is not taught in my children’s school, so I have to teach it at home.

        Pretty much ditto. (I don’t count the last 2 weeks of a middle school science course as enough to constitute ‘teaching evolution.’)

        And IME, evolution is remarkably intuitively grasped by children.

        1. I think science education is a little backwards in this. Children (mine at least) have a love and fascination with nature, and we should be handing them tools that enhance that love and enable them to see and understand nature in new ways, before we bore them with thermometers and notebooks. One of the beauties of evolution is how it makes everything in biology make sense. (I think there was a famous quote to that effect.) Why wait until high school, when they may have already lost their childlike sense of wonder?

          1. Right on. The typical K-12 curriculum pounds the natural curiosity out of many students such that by the time they head to college, business and communication majors far outnumber the STEM folks.

  26. and while I may have a tiny impact on science literacy

    You’ve helped me better understand evolution, and that I’m thankful for.

  27. science can’t provide answers to every question humans can imagine.

    No, but we do know that:

    * Science is the best method to get to knowledge, in other words nature is “scientist”.

    If you insist that scientism is to get superior knowledge in all domains, add simple bayesian learning which we all do to get to ad hoc context-dependent data.

    * Nature is “materialist”, to the exclusion of all dualisms.

    This is a really simple theory to test, and the sample is simply and socially contingent the theories we have worked successfully with and not biased by extraneous factors.

    Further it extends the success of uniformity: having the same laws in my bed room as in my living room makes science successful, but so does having the same set of fundamental laws for all the objects in the same room.

    Thus materialism is a successful living theory, likely necessary for successful science as much as the fact of scientism (sensu optimal) itself is.

    That we don’t know everything as of today is simple, well, natural. It is also necessary for having a vital science in the first place. Claiming that we run out of questions to answer is much the same claim as that we run out of universe to survey more. It is ludicrous.

    why do they need to talk about Jebus, heaven, and sin? Why do the Catholics proffer crackers and wine, claiming that they’re the body and blood of Christ? Why the crosses, why the prayers? Why the insistence on the empty tomb, and the idea that somebody is really up there listening to us?

    Why the prayer studies? (Which rejects the catholic versions of gods, by the way.) Why the Adam and Eve ancestral population? (Again rejecting catholicism.) Why the ludicrous idea of souls? (Again a failure.) Why Miller’s quantum woo? (When quantum theory is the one theory explicitly rejecting hidden variables, local and by decoherence universal?)

    Et cetera, ad infinitum.

    1. I was recently asked to read Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect by Chappell and Cook. I skimmed it because I promised to look at the “evidence” for xian compatability with science.
      One of its premises is just what Zimmerman’s quote says. There was no evidence (well the subtitle just says “questions” not “answers”-so what was I thinking?).
      Basically the book presented science well and then said goddidit anyway. I looked at this book in good faith, but got nothing out of it.

      That we don’t know everything as of today is simple, well, natural. It is also necessary for having a vital science in the first place. Claiming that we run out of questions to answer is much the same claim as that we run out of universe to survey more. It is ludicrous.

      Who was it that said if science were done it would STOP? Penn Jillette or that comedian(I forget his name)?

      1. Dara O’Briean, or something like that. Pretty funny, no link readily to hand but Youtube has several of his shows.

  28. I’m with Obama on heath care,

    I’m with anyone on heath care, it is my favorite landscape bar none!

    Ah, the gentle wave of the dwarf-shrub welcoming you in the mornings and wishing you adieu in the evenings.

    1. LOL. I even had to read your post twice to catch the typo, so sure was I of the meaning from Jerry’s context.

  29. What Zimmerman mischaracterizes as a choice between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ is ACTUALLY a choice between reason, on the one-hand, and gullibility, self-deception, self-delusion, irrationality, willful ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, bamboozlement, lies, deceit, sophistry, hypocrisy, and toxic, drooling, malignant stupidity on the other. What he fails to see is that…

    … uh…

    … er…

    … ah…

    … oops…

    … same thing.

    Never mind. Carry-on.

  30. I see that in the comments at the HuffPo, Zimmerman insists that he’s not asking Coyne to “shut up.” This seems to be a particular sticking point with accomodationists.

    When your argument is “I’m not going to address whether your argument is correct or not, I just don’t think you should be saying it,” you are essentially telling that person to shut up. You’re telling them to shut up for what you think are good, fine, noble reasons, but you’re still telling them to shut up. Why not admit it and defend that position?

    Ironically, by their own logic the accomodationists ought to shut up, too. Let me be clear: I’m not telling them to shut up. I find their arguments rather tedious and repetitive as well as wrong, but I’m not going to whine about how they’re hurting “the cause” or whatever. Knock yourselves out, I say. Especially since it seems to me that most of the Gnu Atheists’ media exposure these days comes from them responding to accomodationist criticism. So every time a Zimmerman or a Mooney pipes up to whine about the Gnus, he’s exposing more people to the Gnus. Thanks, Michael and Chris: you guys are really helping!

    1. “I’m not asking you to shut up. I’m asking you to stop saying what you’re saying.”

      See the difference?

      What do you mean, “no, not really”?

  31. This point has been made many times before with reference to the accommodationist position, but I feel it bears repeating:
    Surely if anything is likely to turn away ‘potential allies’ it is the patronizing and arrogant view by those such as Zimmerman that religious types are unable to handle hard scientific facts, and that they can decree what interpretation of the ‘truth’ the religious are ready to handle. That approach might seem all too familiar to those from a religious background…

  32. I think there is a fallacy of composition on the accomodationist’s side of the debate. Yes, it is possible for religion to be compatible with specific scientific theories, such as evolution or gravity. No, religion can’t be made compatible with the *whole* of science, because that would require abandoning all their stupid miracle claims as well as their crackpot faith-based epistemology.

  33. Jerry,
    As usual you’ve nailed it. Science doesn’t need to cater to ignorance, period. I was a believer until I read Unweaving the Rainbow. As an educator I simply couldn’t ignore what Dawkins wrote vs. the bible and I instantly lost my faith. More important, many others are doing the same due to the accessibility to people like you, PZ, Dawkins and others and all the informative blogs…none of which “pull punches” regarding what we know or don’t know about scientific inquiry of various topics. As in my case, I simply didn’t have enough exposure to science, especially evolution information.

    Finally to Tim: psychology, education, and a few other areas of study really need to support science fully and rebuke what you call, “won’t work in America” thinking…scientists unashamedly telling the truth better f@cking work or we be in a world of hurt!

  34. Dr Zimmerman says that he cares deeply about science (the effort to understand the universe) and that he is working to educate the public about the nature of scientific investigation. He credits Dr Coyne for getting the nature of scientific investigation correct when Dr Coyne explains how science (the effort to understand the universe) works (evidence, reason, verification, repetition), and how truths about the universe emerge.

    But then he says that Coyne is not advancing scientific literacy by making it clear that science and religion are not compatible methods of understanding truths in our universe. In other words, he says that Coyne is doing nothing for the understanding of truth in our universe by making it clear that there are systems of determining truth that are better than other systems. SUPERBULLSHIT.

    Not only is what he is saying wrong, he is also acting immorally by using his power and credentials to confuse curious children and adults whose last refuge is science. As a mother of small children, people like him scare the shit out of me. There are curious children and adults that have nowhere to go but science, and when scientists like Dr Zimmerman start shitting in the pool of knowledge THEY ARE BEING IMMORAL. How? By chipping away at the foundations that may one day allow for the supreme privilege of having lived one’s only life with an understanding of what they are and where they came from. By holding back those that may otherwise wake up every morning free from fear of damnation. By robbing others of the truth of our fragility and of the understanding of the sheer improbability of having ever been born, both of which can bring great richness and value to life. By encouraging moral practices based on doctrine and promoting the suffering of gays, women, and children.

    He is wrong in the utility of his approach and he is wrong in the morality of his approach. The question is: if not because of lack of intelligence, why is he really doing this?

  35. Thales of Miletus and Strato of Lampsacus are ever ahead of the creationists evolutionists ;Behe, Dembski and evolutionary creationists- Miller, Ayala. The former knew that teleology explains nothing and wanted it out of science whilst these two groups want its in there surreptitiously n the form of their religious beliefs, but they are obscurantists. Lamberth’s atelic/ teleonomic argument reflects the wisdom of Paul B. Weisz in his ” The Science of Biology” that causalism [ teleonomy- Ernst Mayr] has no truck with teleology, which puts the effect before the cause, the future before the past, thereby negating time with backwards causation! Weisz maintains however that religion and science are two different languages. No, the former is grunting!
    Furthermore, not only does teleology therefore contradict the weight of scientific evidence, it violates the Ockham with convoluted, ad hoc suppositions, that contrary to Alister Earl McGrath, advanced theologian, is no useful redundancy!
    I take on those silly theologians with verve! Purveyors of solecistic, sophisticated sophistry- ignorant, complicated nonsense- deserve sarcasm,eh?
    Despite their greater language skills, their rantings rank with those of John Edward and Sylvia Brown[e]! Rev. Billy Crackers and Pope Benny Ratz are scam artists of the mind!

    1. Oops, I should learn to enable scripting to reply to a specific comment. That was meant to Wowbagger inside #22.

  36. I’m all for the Gnu Atheists attacking otherworldly supernaturalism. But I would argue that we would all do well to remember this too…

    Evidence from neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral economics, and other disciplines reveals that human beings are much more likely to be led by their feelings than by rationality.

    Widespread embrace of science and reason in America will not occur until it becomes much more widely known that a naturalist view of reality provides better (more dependable, more consistent) access than myths to feeling-states humans have always needed to thrive, individually and collectively, such as trust, gratitude, inspiration, etc.

    1. Evidence from neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral economics, and other disciplines reveals that human beings are much more likely to be led by their feelings than by rationality.

      Which is why making people feel silly and idiotic holding religious views can be effective.

    2. There’s something of a chicken-and-egg problem there.

      A major reason that people cling to supernaturalism is that they think the supernatural is essentially connected to feeling states.

      They think they have souls and a God, and that souls and God are necessarily where you get things like emotions and morals.

      They believe in irreducibly mental or teleological essences, which is why naturalism seems cold and incomplete.

      The hardcore accommodationists (e.g., Nisbet and Mooney) tell us that the “deficit model” is wrong, i.e., that the problem is not that people lack any particular knowledge, and it’s all about the emotions.

      I think that’s substantially false.

      Emotions and beliefs are profoundly intertwined. When you have an emotion, such as worshipful reverence for God, there are generally beliefs that it hinges on—e.g., that God does exist and that God is the sort of thing that is worship-worthy. People may not be able to articulate those beliefs, but they’re there, and they’re tremendously important.

      Likewise, they are emotionally attached to their supposed souls because they think their souls are what allow them to be emotionally attached to anything, and they not only emotionally “don’t want to lose that,” they rationally don’t see how it could be true that they don’t have souls, given their unquestioned ontological assumptions. (Supernaturalist dualism.)

      The deficit model is substantially right, when it comes to rejecting naturalism, and it has everything to do with both the prevalence of religion and the rejection of (and lack of interest in) science.

      People will never know that science is very interesting and important if let them keep deluding themselves that religion and spirituality are more interesting and more important.

      If we keep telling them that science and religion are compatible, they’ll keep believing in supernaturalist religion, because that’s exactly the kind of religion almost everybody believes in.

      (Even Karen Armstrong and John Haught push some crucial supernaturalish ideas, e.g., Armstrong’s transcendent mystical faculty of “intellectus,” which is “above” rationality and AIUI has irreducible intentionality. It just knows things that the rational mind can’t know or can’t articulate.)

      If we keep telling people that only “fundamentalist” or “scriptural literalist” religion interferes with the acceptance of science, they’ll keep believing in all the usual central orthodox tenets of religion—souls, God, and a whole ontology of weird crap like essentialist Sin, atonement via substitutional punishment, Divine Command Theory, etc.

      The science/religion problem isn’t mainly about fundamentalism or literalism or even innerantism. Not even close. It’s about central tenets of almost every religion and all sorts of woo—souls, gods or God or a Godhead, an afterlife of any sort, sin or Karma, a life force or Chi, or just transcendent mystical insight.

      (Even the most austere and atheistic forms of Buddhism are generally polluted with assumptions about irreducibly mental phenomena—e.g., bypassing the mind to tap into some more direct and reliable form of knowledge, skill, or wisdom.)

      I suspect a lot of people are like I was when I was a kid, in that I wasn’t nearly as interested in science when I was religious. I didn’t realize that religion was all crap at the core, and that science was where the action was if I wanted to know what kind of world I really lived in, and what really mattered.

      Like most people I thought that science was interesting in a kind of abstract, puzzle-solving way—all well and good, and fun to know some of, but not critically important to me. And if you like it too much, you’re kind of a geek.

      (I was a geek, so that was okay for me, but I could also see why people would think I was a geek for being interested in stuff that wasn’t intrinsically all that interesting—i.e., not closely related to basic human interests, as religion is.)

      I even thought that maybe I should be a priest. What could be more important than being God’s own representative on earth, able to transmute matter, mediate the forgiveness of sins, and dispense timeless wisdom? (Show me a scientist who can do that! By comparison, scientists are majoring in the minors, right?)

      Religion perpetuates itself by arrogating everything interesting and important to itself: Truth, Wisdom, Justice, Love, Fulfillment, Commitment (e.g., Marriage), etc.

      Well, no wonder people find religion so darned interesting and science so dry by comparision.

      We’ve let them believe that religion’s domain includes the really interesting and important stuff, and that science has to respect its (apparently severe) limitatations—i.e., it’s not even about the really interesting stuff.

      What crap.

      It may be hard to change people’s minds about things they’re so emotionally attached to, and take a long time, but it sure isn’t going to happen as long as we keep telling them they’re right.

      They do have a knowledge deficit—a huge one—and if we keep playing along with it, and telling them religion is fine and dandy, we are part of the problem, not the solution.

  37. Education, pure and simple.

    How much better off would we be as a nation, if not a world, if people spent all those church & Sunday school hours studying something useful?

    Keep up the good work…

    Speak Up, Fight Back!

  38. I have two comments on this post:

    And if I had one wish, it would not be that everyone would magically accept evolution; it would be that religion and superstition would vanish from the face of the Earth.

    This is my wish too, an end to all religions of all kinds and let’s get on with truth and common sense.

    I lied about my second comment. 😉


  39. It is so revealing when the religious and their apologists use the term “New Athiests” as if it’s a new kind of fad i.e. newly developed and undoubtedly to be short-lived. This is clearly evidence of the typical symptoms of righteousness and ignorance that has plague humanity for far too long.

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