Under pressure from blogosphere, Haught explains and relents

November 2, 2011 • 6:03 am

UPDATE: I have heard from John Haught, who says that he’s satified with my posting his response, and he’ll now okay the release of the video.


Yesterday was quite a day.  I never expected the inundation of emails and support I received for my post about John Haught’s refusal to release the video of our debate on science and religion. That post has now garnered nearly four hundred comments.  The students at the University of Kentucky started an online “free-the-video” petition that’s accrued almost 400 signatures, there were nearly forty thousand views of my site, and l’affaire DebateGate made the front page of Slashdot and appeared on reddit christianitySomeone even amended John Haught’s Wikipedia page to describe the kerfuffle.

Readers apparently fired off emails to all and sundry: the President of the University of Kentucky, the National Endowment for the Humanities (who funds the Gaines Center, which hosted the debate), and various other officials at the University of Kentucky—and, of course, to John Haught and Robert Rabel, who was forced to deep-six his email address.  Rabel also threatened me with legal action because of the “abusive” emails he received. But I was deeply gratified that two awesome lawyers, readers of this website, offered to defend me pro bono should that transpire.  (I’m sure there will be no need for that: Rabel was just blustering and has no legal basis for action).

I also learned what the “Streisand effect” was, and for the first time fully appreciated the power of the internet to effect change, especially change that I desired.

I do regret, though, any abuse or name-calling that came down on Haught and Rabel.  I did not ask readers to write anyone—indeed, I had no idea that this would blow up as it did, nor that people would take it upon themselves to rectify the matter.  For that I am grateful, and have learned something.  But I would ask that until this blows over—and that seems imminent—you remain courteous in all your communications with officials you’re trying to persuade.  And that also goes for any comment attached to this post.

Perhaps most gratifying was the support I received from the skeptical blogosphere.  P.Z. Myers posted on this, as did Ophelia at Butterflies and Wheels (twice), Miranda HaleJason at EvolutionBlog, as well as Eric MacDonald and erv. It’s heartening that, despite our differences, we can all come together when there’s an important issue—free speech and the dissemination of our message—that concerns us all.

The good news is that John Haught has apparently relented, or so I think.  He wrote me an email yesterday saying he would okay the release of the video if I posted his three-page “explanation” on this site. He also asked me to apologize publicly for distorting the facts (he claimed that I said he’d given his permission to post the debate, a claim that’s completely false), for bringing down opprobrium on The University of Kentucky and Dr. Robert Rabel, and for the damage that my approach has done to the notion of free and open debate.

Needless to say, I won’t apologize for those things.  I stated the facts accurately, and if those facts angered people and made them want to do something about this censorship, then that’s all well and good.  Although I don’t consider myself responsible for any vitriol associated with those attacks, I do regret whatever intemperate behavior resulted from my post, and ask readers, for the sake of civility, to stick to the issue at hand: the censorship of a video, the reasons for such censorship, and the issue of science versus faith.

Nor will I give Haught a long post to “explain” himself.  That is not my habit, since this website belongs to me.  But I do think it’s fair to allow him to explain his actions, which, he claims, were not motivated by cowardice or by having “lost” the debate.  Haught has in fact put his explanation in a long comment on the previous thread, which you can find here (it’s comment #122 for those with cellphones).  He’s seems to be angered by my comments on Catholicism.

I have responded very briefly to John’s comment immediately after it was posted (the reply to comment #122). My own words are fewer because I think readers themselves need to judge the veracity of Haught’s claims by watching the video.  I hope that John will honor his promise to release the video immediately.  My hope has always been for readers to watch it and draw their own conclusions. When that becomes possible, I will either put the video on this site or link to it.

If you would like to comment on what John or I said, it might be best to add the comments to this post rather than the previous one:  the earlier post has so many comments that it’s prudent to start a new discussion. Again, try to be civil.

Thanks to the readers for all their help and solicitude, and watch this space! I expect to hear from John and Robert Rabel shortly that the video has been released and posted.

291 thoughts on “Under pressure from blogosphere, Haught explains and relents

  1. Congratulations again on your double victory. A story that involves internet censorship accompanied by the age-old tale of a theologian suppressing information unfavorable to the faith would inevitably go viral. Now Haught has lost twice.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the video.

      1. After all: it’s not up to Dr. John Haught whether or not to publish that video.
        It’s STILL up to Dr. Robert Rabel.

    1. The odd thing is that, if Jerry’s tactics were as blackguardly as Haught says, surely Jerry should be campaigning for the video’s suppression, and Haught for its release?

      1. Truly, for if JAC’s tactics were so vile the video would expose them to the world!!

        But worry not. Haught said that he wanted to protect others from having to see such a horror for their own good, in the best traditions of Catholic Theologians protecting the public by filtering dangerous knowledge and intemperate words from the lay public. Haught is the hero, not the villain, not a censor. He says so himself. :p

        1. Haught sullied forth and slew the Knowledge of Good and Evil Dragon.

          And then the evil minions went out and resurrected it.

  2. Well, that’s good, Jerry, but I’ll believe Haught’s relented when I can actually see the video. Theology’s nothing but elaborate escape hatches, after all, and doubtless Haught and Rabel have already prepared one or more.

    1. “Theology’s nothing but elaborate escape hatches . . . ”

      I’ve been struggling to find a succinct phrase like this to describe my disdain for the slippery and slimy way religions try to get away from the burning, singing light of reason and facts.

      Thanks! I hope you don’t mind me adopting it as my own. 🙂

  3. This is a bizarre case. It is hard to think of any explanation other than the one you have given, Jerry–cowardice and bad faith. If he lost the debate it’s no good trying to hide the fact. If his arguments fell apart they are not suddenly going to become valid because they are out of sight. This impulse to cover up awkward facts is very revealing.

  4. The Streisand effect is what has happened in the UK with super injunctions – they stop the fact of an injunction being granted from being reported. It is one thing to think – ‘I did not put on a good performance’, but let it go and try harder next time which should have been Haught’s approach, but what he did was to try to sweep it under the carpet.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Haught, for doing the right thing and removing your obstruction to the free dissemination of academic discourse. I look forward to the opportunity to decide for myself if you are correct and Jerry uncivilly and dishonestly attacked you personally, or if Jerry is correct and your active support of an institution that has engaged in horrendous crimes is the logical consequence of the theological positions you espouse.



  6. I have not seen Mr. Coyne in a debate before and look forward to seeing the Kentucky video and will reserve judgement on fairness and tact. What comes to mind, however, is that it IS a valid debate technique to ridicule or otherwise refute the opponents arguments. Too often, apologists misconstrue attacks on their arguments to be ad hominem. If a debate opponent can be shown to using poor logic or drawing invalid conclusions, that is perfectly admissible.

    “Being offended is not a defense – it’s the last resort of those without an argument.”

      1. My source is John Dale also, but I, too, have no idea who he is and my brief research leads me to believe that it probably didn’t originate with him. It is a pretty common sentiment and stated various ways at various times. I was probably remiss in not giving it attribution.

        1. The book publisher Scholastic Australia pulled the plug on John Dale’s Army of the Pure a few years ago. This was because booksellers and librarians said they would not stock the adventure thriller for younger readers because the “baddie” was a Muslim terrorist. I don’t think the book ever went to print.

          I found a vid of a related Aussie TV prog & perhaps Dale said that (or similar) on TV, but at 55mins I can’t be bothered to check it. Theory: Most audio commentary never gets transcribed to text ~ perhaps some viewer just picked up on it & stuck their version on the net somewhere.

          Google will have the A.I. power for that in a few years. All those radio programmes of my youth lost for ever though…

    1. Just to be clear, this wasn’t a debate. I haven’t seen it, but AIUI Haught gave 25 minutes on why he thinks science and faith are compatible. Jerry then gave 25 minutes on why he thinks they aren’t. (Then audience questions?)

      Haught’s feathers appear to be ruffled because (1) Coyne critiqued Haught’s arguments rather than just setting out a positive case for incompatibility without reference to combatibilist arguments, and (2) Coyne cited real life examples involving Haught’s faith.

      Personally, I can’t imagine a serious thinker being upset by (1). Not only should Haught expect that, he should welcome it. IMO the essence of academic engagement is analyzing and critiquing each other’s arguments. It is not intended merely to be an exercise in talking past each other.

      I’m witholding judgement on his complaint about (2) until I see the video. But – contra Haught – I can certainly think of reasonable and acceptable ways of using real life examples in an acceptable manner. Even if you pick an example that may provoke a visceral, emotional response from either the audience or your co-speaker.

      1. Just to add my two cents here: I did make a positive case for incompatibility, showing how faith and science are incompatible in three separate ways. As I recall, none of that discussion involved quotes from Haught.

        1. I’d suggest people listen to the podcast you posted where you were interviewed on the debate. You made your argument to the incompatibility of scientific and religious epistemology by showing how moral contradictions remained live options in religion due the top down process of “knowing”, whereas the bottom up review process in science, would lead to modifications in knowledge over time,that would mitigate the same type of suffering. It is a subtle and excellent argument that uses current evidence to show the gap between the moral assertion religious reasoning claims and the moral products derived from its epistemology.

        2. That makes Haught’s offense seem even less explicable. Oh well, I gave it my best speculation. Rather than do any more speculating, I’ll just wait for the video [crosses fingers].

  7. Haught’s response, shortened:

    1. Emperor’s new clothes

    2. You hurt my feelings by directly confronting my arguments and their consequences (social policies).

    Dr. C.: If you were as egregiously impolite (academically) as he directly claims you were, then he should be thrilled to have the video posted and he should be dancing on your grave!

    Something tells me he’s pretty sure others won’t see things his way.

    1. Yes, thanks Dr. Haught for relenting on suppressing the video. Well done in the spirit of free and open exchange of ideas.

    2. Thanks for the Cliff’s Notes version.

      In my mind, there is never a good reason for censorship. Say what you mean, stand behind it or back peddle. But don’t try and make it disappear.

    3. Excellent summary.

      I knew Haught’s response would contain a hearty helping of the Courtier’s Reply.

      And I’m baffled by the way theologians think they can completely divorce their project from the way religion actually exists in the world. I’ve been thinking for a minute or two, here, about a concise way to illustrate this, but there’s just too much fallacy and too little time.

      1. I was gonna suggest the ol’ parental/religious dodge of “do as I say, not as I do,” but that actually comes more from the church than the theologians…

  8. I can’t say I was convinced by John’s arguments for not wanting to release the video.

    After all, if John’s comments about your conduct being poor are true why would he be so keen to suppress it?

    Surely it would be evidence that the gnu-atheists don’t take their scholarship seriously.

    1. After reading Haught’s long, self-pitying complaint about why he didn’t want the video posted, I want to see it even more.

  9. Of course, John Haught’s suggestion that it was Jerry’s “sneering and condescending ad hominem” style of discussion which led him to deny releasing the video is nonsense. If that really was the case, then it would be in his interest to release the video so that everyone could see how nasty these atheists really are.

    Wherever the video does get posted, I hope it has sufficient bandwidth to take the hits that will rain down up it!

  10. Jerry would you modify your links to Haught’s comment and your reply directly? For those of us on cell phones trying to wade through just under 400 comments to find the gold is a bit maddening 🙂 Cheers!

    1. I do find this a big problem with Prof Coyne’s BLOG (if you cut and paste this link you’ll see this is exactly what Jerry calls it at the top left of his very own site 😉 http://jerrycoyne.uchicago.edu/index.html).

      It is very difficult to find new posts in the comments as they are often imbedded within old posts – you can’t just scroll down to the bottom of the page to find what’s new, but have to endlessly scroll up and down looking for new indents. Its a very poor design and I really do hope Prof Coyne goes for an upgrade, where the content is simply in date order without all these idents.

      If people wish to quote an older comment, then they should just use hash tags to do it, its far easier to read than the indent system.

      1. I’ve given the comment number above; would this help in the future?

        Sorry if you’ve had problems with my WEBSITE.

        1. Dr. Coyne, I believe Chinahand is accurately pointing out that on the link they provided — from your website — one of the links in the top left corner, under the image of your book, is clearly the single word “BLOG” and clicking on it takes you to the current set of posts.

          Perhaps that should be edited to reflect that this is not a ‘blog.’

        2. The mobile version on the iPhone dispenses with comment numbers, unfortunately.

          I actually like the nested comments format offered by WP. It makes individual conversations easier, IMO. But it seems WP has recently redesigned the mobile version of their sites. The text is larger now, which results in towering comments of one word per line; and the color scheme – whereby each layer was a different color and the color of the comment field changed depending on whether it had received a reply – is gone.

          I am not a metathesiophobe, but this is not an improvement.

            1. I suppose I should’ve made it clear that the new mobile version resembles the full site more closely. I almost never viewed the full site because the “placard” style comments on the old mobile site were much easier to navigate.

          1. The solution is to let the reader click to see newest posts first or to revert to nested format. I do not know if that is an option anywhere yet, but it should be.

        3. A website where you keep a log of your thoughts. Sort of a weblog, if you will.

          I also have a beef with the use of the term “blog” because, as someone who works in IT, I see firsthand how much unnecessary jargon there is in this industry, and I’m sure it can be off-putting to non-tech people.

          Some people might be unaware that there were people keeping various kind of journals on their websites before the term “blog” was invented. Way back in the mid 90s I used to read the journal of a young woman who lived in New York City and took photos of the gargoyles adorning Manhattan buildings. Damned if I can remember her name now. Anyway, it was everything a blog was, but the word “blog” didn’t exist yet. #coolstorybro #oldguy

  11. Aw, Jerry, he was only trying to protect your reputation! How unkind of you to attack him, then. That’s not very Christian of you… 

    No, wait. ✕ 2

    you were content simply to ridicule rather than refute several of my own ideas, as you interpreted them.

    If Haught and others don’t want their ideas ridiculed, they shouldn’t have ridiculous ideas.

    The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

    — H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), “Aftermath”, in The Baltimore Evening Sun, 14 September 1925

    One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

    — H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), in The American Mercury, January 1924


    1. I copy-pasted your Mencken quote into my scrapbook of pithy quotations, and there rediscovered this one from T. H. Huxley:

      Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that wherever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter have been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched if not slain.

      Shall we all raise a glass of scotch to Dr. Haught?

      1. Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science…

        As I stated reading, I thought it was going to be about the way goddists claim that science must be compatible with religion because historically science was originally a Christian endeavour… à la God’s Philosophers!



  12. Some years ago I decided to find out what “sophisticated” theology was all about and never found it. Complicated, yes, overly complicated, hell yes, but sophisticated, no.

    My conclusion was that theology is the study of nothing which is ironic because in physics the study of nothing is actually the study of something!

    But I did observe that theologians, church ladies, creationists and such as (maps!) when backed into a philosophical corner where you are not going to let them wiggle out by agreeing to disagree, for example, they invariably play the Civil Card, accuse you of being mean, misunderstanding their position, misrepresenting their statements and, ultimately, being unable to understand the sophistication of their argument. Back to square one.

  13. I would hope that no regular readers of WEIT sent intemperate comments to Haught or Rabel. The whole point of this page (it seems to me) is *temperate* yet forthright debate.

    1. It’s certainly possible that some did. Some people posted copies of their emails in the comments of the other thread. None of those were abusive or uncivil.

  14. Almost every Catholic I know reacts with personal indignation when I use the crimes of the Roman Church as evidence to the failure of their religious epistemology to claim the moral high ground it asserts. It is as if individual Catholics lose site of the fact that they are an official member of a public institution with observable social policies. I wonder if the somatic practice of the Mass ritual hypnotizes these believers into comprehending their belief as an individual pursuit rather than an institutional commitment. No one cares about how Haught or any other individual Catholic dissents from social policy asserted as either an official Church doctrine or consequence of Church doctrine. Their pride in asserting their Catholicism gives tacit support and approval to these positions. Individual Catholics ARE the Church and the commitment they make as indentifying as a Catholic makes them a spokesperson for the insitution’s policies and responsible to that institution’s actions. The only dissent that would be intellectually honest and morally consistent would be for them to deny their membership as a Catholic. I doubt they would have the psychological strength to do that since the greatest benefit the Roman Church offers its members is a child-like sense of purpose predicated on the predictability authoritarian and collective will provides.

    1. This is not unique to members of church systems.

      If I had a dollar for every time a member of a political party excluded themselves from a specific and delineated plank in their own party’s platform. . .

        1. This would be a fair point if it could be demonstrated that you burn in hell for being a pro-choice Catholic, either.

        2. The Catholic church depends on relatively wealthy pro-choice American and European Catholics (who often use birth control without threat of excommunication) to make the church itself look sane. If it weren’t for the moderate Catholics who only go to mass on Christmas and Easter the Catholics wouldn’t be able to brag how many people are Catholic and they’d lose a significant source of income.

          Can you imagine if your only experiences with Catholicism were stuff like excommunicating clergy for approving abortions in cases of rape or stuff like the Ryan report? Not a single person would have the balls to defend such an institution. It’s only because there’s reasonable people who don’t believe what the church says they should but nonetheless identify as Catholic that the church is able to talk out of both sides of its face.

          I just wish people like Haught and Andrew Sullivan would realize that claiming affiliation with a church that declares their views wrong and sinful would realize that such an affiliation is hypocritical and only serves to protect the worst policies of the church.

          1. He is employed by a Catholic University. But beyond that, there is nothing in Orthodox Catholicism that affords a process for a member to dissent from authority. It is the point Jerry makes with his argument towards the product of religious epistemology in the litany of horrors he cites. The only way for Haught to stand in opposition to the Roman Church as a reformer would be to leave the Church. His Catholic commitment makes him an advocate for its deeds simply by being an adherent to the faith. Any criticism of current Catholic policy is ineffective hand-waving and empty piety. It isn’t moral courage or intellectual honesty.

    2. “No one cares about how Haught […] dissents from social policy asserted as either an official Church doctrine or consequence of Church doctrine.”

      Well, for me, this would only be true if Haught keeps quiet about those aspects of Church doctrine that he disagrees with.

      What I mean is that my estimation of him would go up considerably if he were a known and vocal critic of any of the many unethical doctrines of his Church. At least then there would be a sense that he is trying to improve the Church from the inside. (Not that this excuses his irrational belief system, of course.)

      Does any one know if he does do this or are his criticisms reserved for atheists?

      1. He is employed by a Catholic University. But beyond that, there is nothing in Orthodox Catholicism that affords a process for a member to dissent from authority. It is the point Jerry makes with his argument towards the product of religious epistemology in the litany of horrors he cites. The only way for Haught to stand in opposition to the Roman Church as a reformer would be to leave the Church. His Catholic commitment makes him an advocate for its deeds simply by being an adherent to the faith. Any criticism of current Catholic policy is ineffective hand-waving and empty piety. It isn’t moral courage or intellectual honesty.

  15. So as everyone expected, John’s argument for withholding the video was that Jerry is a poopyhead.

    His suppression of the video was actually to protect us from exposure to poopyheaded behaviour. We should thank John, really, because we’re obviously not mature or intelligent enough to decide – after watching a debate – whether we think a participant might have overstepped marks John personally feels are important. Thanks, John.

    Withholding the video was actually a public service, thanks again, John.

    The important thing is that his decision wasn’t at all or in any way about being owned by superior argument. It was to protect unspecified people for unintelligible reasons regardless of whether they wanted protecting or not.

    1. Yes. How extraordinarily condescending of Haught to tell us he’s protecting us from Prof. Coyne’s ‘poopyheadedness’.

      And how offensive to Prof. Coyne.

      Haught may well require eye surgery (to get that log removed).

  16. Nor will I give Haught a long post to “explain” himself. That is not my habit, since this website belongs to me.

    Dr. Haught, if you wish to post your explanations on your own Web site, I’d sure be surprised if Jerry didn’t link to it. You would retain full editorial control over your own words, and you’d get all of Jerry’s groupies to read it.



    1. But would the groupies read it with a positive attitude toward faith and the proper humility before Almighty God and His spokemen? Perhaps not.

      “Do not cast your clutched pearls before swine, lest perhaps they may trample them under their posts, and then, turning, they may tear your assertions apart upon various discussion boards.” — Jesus

      1. Kind of interesting – you’re supposed to reach out to win the lost, but not cast your pearls before them lest they trample them…

        How the hell are you supposed to get anything done?

  17. I just love the way John Haught already positioned himself as “the sophisticated theologian who writes things very complicated and must be understood in total”, and tries to peg Jerry Coyne as the “unsophisticated, misinterpreting, crude atheist”

    Same old lying house of cards. Sorry, John, but your house is falling down and everyone will see it.

  18. Now I particularly want to see the video. I want you to consider something you may have overlooked in your supposedly science-based bashing of religion, though. This is not apologia, btw, but rather a direct attack on your understanding of science, which I suppose I understand much better than you. (If I’m going to condescend, no point pretending I’m humble, thereby adding dishonesty to my list of social fails)

    You have a long list of evils perpetrated by religious societies. However, there’s no control group. Nearly every society that we know about has something akin to religion in it. And also, nearly every society that we know about has evils.

    This is pretty obvious, so try not to ignore it: _People_ are evil, not religion. Also: PEOPLE ARE RELIGIOUS.

    The reason that’s important is that there is a certain truth implied by survival that is different from the truth of reason. We happen to know that the epic creative force in the universe is not a rational ape-in-heaven, but rather the meeting point between chaos and survival.

    So let’s not ignore that fact. The creative force that we acknowledge has selected religious societies to survive. Non-religious societies haven’t survived, or we’d be surrounded by them.

    So I suggest that you scientifically study (anecdotally if you must) the question: Are atheists as evil as theists? We espouse a mighty doctrine, but SO DO THEY. As far as good acts go, there is truly little room for improvement over Christ’s guide. But nonetheless, Christ’s so-called followers are often jerks. This is because they are fools and hypocrites. But if we, too, are fools and hypocrites then as a scientist you really achieve a much more useful result if you can generalize: PEOPLE ARE FOOLS AND HYPOCRITES.

    In some cases the kind of fool you get is dependent on the ideology you teach him. So I suggest again: do science on it. Examine the kind of fool you get from feeding them atheism. And don’t resort to word games that they can play too: “Oh, that guy was a child molester, he’s obviously not TRULY of my sect” is a claim that works as well on either side of the table. Don’t forgive your own failures unless you’re prepared to forgive theirs as well. Don’t hold them to the light unless you are prepared also to face it. And don’t pretend you are prepared to face the light unless you have actually DONE SCIENCE ON IT.

    1. You don’t understand Dr. Coyne’s argument. He wasn’t saying the Catholic Church is invalid because it is evil but rather illustrating how religious epistemology leads to truth assertions that enhance human suffering. The impossibility of religious dogma to modify its claims in a bottom up way is a key reason it is incompatible with science (and why it leads to terrible consequences.) Yes, society’s and people take evil action but one need not do a double blind study to practice induction. It is fair to make causal claims towards an institution’s behavior relative to the epistemic method that shapes their ideology.

      Also, please don’t present the religious trope of the Jesus character as a paragon of social good. It is insulting to former believers here. The Jesus myth instituted in religious terms the doctrine of Hell and deifies scapegoating as the moral ideal. Neither are consistent with mature moral intuitions and are only plausible within a 1st Century barbarism. These two doctrines make the irrational self-congratulation of the Roman Church a logical consequence of religious epistemology (a central consideration of the debate).

      1. “impossible to modify its claims in a bottom up way”. I like this, it is a legitimate difference between science and religion. If I understand you correctly, we agree that science is rigorously bottom-up. Everything has to be based in an experiment, and a shift in the experimental record causes a bottom-up cascade through our understanding. However, my point is exactly that we all engage in behaviors that cannot be justified from such a bottom-up understanding. You appear to say so yourself in your assertion that you need not have a complete understanding of the bottom of religion (thorough studies with control groups, for example) in order to draw useful inferences. You can do lots of things with abstract inferences and gut hunches but labeling it bottom-up science seems particularly unfair.

        Anyways, the ills you attribute to the jesus myth are poorly supported in the gospels (the only texts I know of which even pretend to describe christ directly). There are some oblique references to hell, but they’re ambiguous and could easily be the result of a translation party. Within various christian sects, for example, there is severe disagreement about the nature of hell (the jehovah’s witnesses, for example, appear to believe that hell is the here-now). And scapegoating, near as I can tell, is explicitly forbidden by christ’s teachings in the gospels.

        In other words, you don’t have to go to the bottom. Just find some non-cherry-picked quotes from the 4 gospels that support the ills you assigned here. And yes, I insist that if you cherry-pick the punchline of a parable then you have to contextualize it by understanding the whole parable. I’m sorry but repeat-translated historical texts are extremely difficult to read as it is.

        I won’t bother to claim that Jerry Falwell is not a true scotsman if you admit that Martin Luther King may also be a true scotsman.

        I am not insulting former believers. As a former believer myself, I understand the frustrations of a rigid cultish church. But the foul taste of the bath water is no excuse for throwing out the baby. Use your own knowledge to ferret out the wisdom within the bible and to discard the cruft. “Seek and ye shall find,” someone once told me.

        1. Greg,

          The question at hand is if Scientific epistemology is complimentary to Religious epistemology, with Dr. Coyne taking the dissenting view.

          The conversation has nothing to do with your post-modern defense of religious belief.

          That is not the question (and probably not debatable due to the fact post-modern thinking is like nailing jell-o to a wall).

          I can examine a sample of religion by looking at its current and historical behavior as evidential product to its way of reasoning. Examining source text as proof due to the contradiction it poses to the practice of the institutions is incoherent to metaphysical naturalism. One should examine what IS rather than what they wish to be.

          You are arguing for a religion you wish existed based on your particular biblical exegesis (elsewhere I’ve pointed out how your reading of the Gospels is shallow and premature – your idea that Christianity is consonant with universal humanism seems a product of your bias, not the intention of those texts), not a religion that does exist based on our current data set.

          The fact that MLK’s Christianity was opposed by Jim Crow’s Christianity is evidence to the fact that religious epistemology fails to draw consensus outside of preference, rooted in institutional authority (not in testable data).

          I didn’t bring up the no True Scotsman fallacy. I think you are suffering under a logical fallacy, that of the strawman variety.

          Your response to me proves too much. The fact that there is greater division over time on a religious theory (e.g. the doctrine of Hell) seems to support the fact that scientific knowing and religious knowing are quite different. Over time with the bottom up practice of science we get consensus. Over time with the top down authority of religion we get more.

          I think Dr. Coyne is correct in saying that science and religion are not compatible.

          Do you think they are compatible? If so why? If not, why not? Please don’t assume my attitude towards Christian morality or apply your biased biblical hermeneutic to my understanding of the Bible. I disagree with your interpretation. Because you have a particular interpretation does not mean it is an academic one (from my perspective it isn’t).

          1. Hi oconnor – I like you, you have convinced me you have actually thought about these issues in a meritorious way. Nonetheless, I would like to continue to differ from you. 🙂

            I don’t understand or respect your apparent ad hominem by way of declaring me post-modernist.

            In our other thread, I addressed the fact that one should examine what IS rather than what is hoped. I agree with you entirely, but I do two things beyond you: I expand the “IS” for christianity to include the good as well as the bad, and I apply the same “IS” test for atheism.

            My “particular biblical exegesis” informs a lot of protestant sects (though none of them uniformly).

            You did bring up the no true scotsman fallacy in the paragraph preceding your statement that you didn’t. I don’t mind that you failed to follow my point, but please try harder this time. Jim Crow, MLK, and the pope are all true scotsmen, and as such we cannot make blanket statements about the inevitability of certain results from the christian faith. MLK’s result is just as representative (though perhaps not as numerically common) as the pope’s. Anyways, the fact that I disagree with you so strongly seems to suggest that scientific epistemology ALSO fails to draw consensus outside of preference. You can declare that I am not a true scotsman, but I would be left with no choice but to declare the same to you and our mutual trust in science would have left us no better off.

            Anyways, you did not point out “how” my reading of the gospels is shallow and premature, instead you pointed out “that” my reading of the gospels is shallow. I _hope_ (but do not assume) that you are aware that the gospels are a specific subset of the bible that contains many stories of the highest moral calibre (as well as a relatively small quantity of blatant bullpoop, but let’s keep their age and pedigree in mind!). Anyways, the only knowledge I assume about your attitude towards christian morality is based on the fact that you said the gospels encourage scapegoating. They don’t, and a citation would be necessary to convince me that we have even come upon an honest disagreement (as opposed to you simply being wrong due to laziness). Learning that there is something new-to-me and objectionable in the gospels is a common occurrance in my life, but I am pretty sure that scapegoating is not one of them. At the very least, NOT scapegoating is in there several times.

            Anyways, I strongly believe that religion and science are compatible, but not all religionists are compatible with all scientists, and the resulting union may not be acknowledged as religious OR scientific by pedants on both sides. There are things about the experience of a human lifetime that we can only learn from our elders, and we can honor the strength of these teachings even while dismissing the obvious bullpoop hidden amongst it. To do so does not make one a false scotsman of any variety. I will not accept any attempt to define a true religionist to only include the intolerant any more than I will accept any attempt to define a true scientist to only include atheists.

            1. The Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement outlined by St. Paul in Romans is scapegoating. Demanding the blood of a complete innocent as the price for the absolutely guilty is not what we consider moral or just and is the central theological crux (pardon the pun) of Christianity. Without the propitiate death of Jesus, there is no Christianity and the theological description as outlined by the epistle defines it as scape-goating.

              I call your philosophy post-modern because that is what you prove it to be due to its reliance on subjectivity and relativity. Your argument to why you think science and religion are compatible is a post-modern justification. Why do you not see that?

              We need to define terms as it comes to consensus, I don’t mean agreement between you and I but operating interpretation of phenomenon as it pertains to an institution. There is consensus within science due to experimentation and peer review. The same cannot be said for theology, even within theological denominations of the same faith (e.g. Sunni vs. Shia Vs. Sufi Muslim).

              1. I didn’t think I was being obtuse when I used the word “gospels” but I must have been. There are four gospels commonly recognized: Matthew Mark Luke John. Paul doesn’t pretend to be reporting on Christ. His text marks the transition to churchiness from divine inspiration. Even if you believe the foofy abracadabra of the bible, there is no convincing (IMO, anyways) reason to give Paul the time of day (but then again, I’m not impressed by the abracadabra). He’s a proto-papist. Christ’s personal commandments generally fell in the realm of how we shall punish sin (with forgiveness), rather than what sin is (and when he did single out sins they were generally sins of pride). That’s why Paul is the one reliably cited for new testament admonitions against homosexual conduct. The church needed a list of rules it could use to punish people more that it needed the directive that punishment can only come in the form of forgiveness. I don’t remember if you were the one who brought up Brothers Karamazov, but I feel I’m about to start paraphrasing it if I talk about Paul any longer.

                Anyways, since I think you’re referring to the whole crucifixion thing, I have to say I disagree with your interpretation (and presumably Paul’s as well). Though I’ll grant you that a jewish audience (or perhaps even a pagan one, I don’t really know) would have been predisposed to view it as a form of scapegoating. But I’m reminded of the book of Hebrews. IIRC they sell it there as a revolution in scapegoating (certainly not as a blanket reaffirmation). At any rate, I can’t get over the hole in the analogy: Christ was willing. Now, I don’t personally put much stock in the meaningfulness of his mode of death, but if I did, I’d be inclined to take it as “blame god for the fact that people are awful” which isn’t really all that different from “life is suffering” (which I do put a lot of stock in). But that’s me. I’ll tell you from my experience, the Catholics don’t use it as an excuse (isn’t that implicit in scapegoating?), but rather as the root af a truly epic guilt trip. Which isn’t to defend the catholics in any sense, merely to point out that there are truly many takes on gospel stories, and some of them (though not generally the catholics) I find quite laudable.

                I truly do not attach any meaning to the word “post-modern.” “Subjective,” on the other hand, I understand fairly well. Yes, life is subjective to homo sapiens. That fact has been objectively measured many times. Are you truly at war with it? Cite science for it.

                It is the specific fact that many questions can only be answered intuitively or subjectively that makes me believe that we have something to learn from our elders, and leads me to accept that there are many nuggets of valuable information in the bible (and of course other ancient texts).

                And yes, I mean difficult questions, like: Why do we bother to get up in the morning? The fact that all the potential parents who did not bother to get up in the morning didn’t give birth to us is interesting, even occasionally inspirational. But as a personal thing, when facing our own alarm clocks, it is not really effective for many people. Keep in mind that almost everyone deals with some form or another of mental illness. I would argue that studies of mental illness (both epidemiological and case) present sound scientific evidence that there is value to our personal experience of life (for us, anyways) beyond the various entropic and evolutionary (“selfish gene”) mandates that we must satisfy.

                I would never say we should ignore science. I mean, I’m an avid consumer of science fiction, where important and currently-unanswerable questions that tend to resolve around “should we” or “could we” are explored using extrapolation. I think we always have to consider the results of experiments we become aware of. Christ himself appeared to say this…Luke 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. The gospels, to me, suggest an inquisitive seeker’s religion. Some questions can be answered by

                Anyways, I’m a big fan of irreducible complexity. I don’t know why people use it as an argument for the account in Genesis (actually, I do know why: it is because they are ignorant and/or stupid). It seems to me to imply the opposite — Genesis reduces the complexity to a vapid story that we can then use to directly justify our more base impulses (xenophobia). We cling to the simplification because we are not able to accept the true irreducibility of it. To me irreducible complexity doesn’t suggest any conclusion beyond sound environmental stewardship rooted in an appreciation of our ignorance of the relationships built up on Earth over the last N billion years.

                But the thing about irreducible complexity is that science lets us look at small parts of it, but it has so far failed to give us a good big picture view. Evolution is compelling, but that doesn’t directly answer the question we’re faced with: if we continue to dominate this planet in the way that we have, what will be the consequences for our species? We can predict CO2 concentration and related environmental trends with some accuracy, but we cannot predict if humanity will deploy a technological hack to reduce solar absorption and whether or not it will be seen as a good idea in hindsight (1000 years from deployment). That process involves an interaction of a truly vast number of variables.

                I’m sorry that was a bit rambly but you appeared to ask me to defend the use of a subjective viewpoint for any part of our day-to-day life. I suppose I should go to the true example that is the focal point of most “militant atheism.” (a term I use to describe atheists who are not content to defend their lack of faith but must also attack those who manifest any respect whatsoever for any kind of faith)

                In my childhood, catholicism was basically a force of evil. It severely fractured my family for two generations in a row. I left the church in my teens, basically as I became aware of my own freedom of will. And once I realized the great number of things I had been lied to about, and been given guilt trips about, I was actively angry at the church (and church people) for a good long while. I mean, say what you want about the evils of the philosophy of the catholic church, that’s nothing compared to the cultish mindset that permeates its membership. I still find that I cannot talk to most of my friends who knew me before I left the church, and my mother still has troubles speaking to her father.

                That’s the subjective backdrop of my life, and my brother’s. Using a psychologist, you could attempt to objectively measure the effects of those subjective experiences. Or I’ll do it for you: I hate fundies. That’s an objective fact, measurable by things like pupil dilation and galvanic skin response.

                So that is exactly why I questioned my dislike for the bible, and re-read the gospels recently. It turns out, most of the crap in the bible that I really hate isn’t in any of the accounts of christ’s life — it’s in the old testament, or the epistles. But I assume it’s also exactly why you hate it when anyone questions hatred of the bible — whatever your own subjective experiences are, they seem to have lead you to a hatred that extends still to the entire sphere of religion. It seems to even extend to me, which is hillarious to me because I’m far from a bible thumper and not even that avid an apologist.

                So your viewpoint too is informed by subjectivism.

                This is not an indictment, it is a datapoint: homo sapiens inevitably manifests subjective experiences in its behavior, rather than behaving strictly in accordance to a creed, no matter what the creed or which ape you decide to study.

            2. Jesus is the scapegoat. The whole point of Jesus’ “sacrifice” is that you can cast your sins on him and your sins die with him, leaving you innocent. That’s the definition of a scapegoat. The gospels approve of this because the Jews were using animals as scapegoats for thousands of years already. From their perspective, it made perfect sense.

    2. As far as good acts go, there is truly little room for improvement over Christ’s guide. But nonetheless, Christ’s so-called followers are often jerks.

      This is where you’re wrong.

      Jesus, as a moral teacher, is nothing special, and the ideas attributed to him fall short of a practical moral system.

      I agree with you that people have the capacity for both selfishness and malice, but there are specific teachings of Christianity that encourage malice.

      1. Forgot to include that I also agree with you that it’s human nature to distort any ideology into the service of authoritarianism, selfishness, and malice.

      2. “Jesus, as a moral teacher, is nothing special, and the ideas attributed to him fall short of a practical moral system.”

        I solicited a certain kind of ignorance, and then received it, and would like to hold it up to the world as proof that everyone who disagrees with me is exactly as I describe them. heh. Sorry, I get carried away.

        But really. Didn’t I say: DO SCIENCE ON IT.

        I’m open to being rebutted BY SCIENCE (in this case, our data source must be history), because I’m not a historian. However, it is my understanding that before Christ every “western” (well, mediterranean?) religion was based explicitly on two consistent principles: (1) We are not them. (2) We are better than them because ___. (do I sound like I’m reiterating the genetic imperative for groups but parsed as religion?)

        If you actually sit down and read the dang gospels (a rare enough act, even/especially among Christians), you’ll see that Christ clearly expounded the opposite: (1) We are all the same. (2) You are awful too (but don’t give up hope).

        It’s not exactly unique — I would go so far as to say (figuratively, as if there was any other way) that Christ was a reincarnation of Buddha. And in today’s world maybe it truly is nothing special. But I’m pretty sure that the formation of Christianity marks a major innovation in western moral discourse.

        And as for how practical it is…you might have something there. I have to acknowledge that even though he gave us “turn the other cheek”, few are ready to follow through on the advice. I propose we grade it on a curve. I’m giving Christ an “A” (Buddha gets the “A+”). But if you can name any ideology that has had more practical success than the gospels at teaching apes pacifism/forgiveness/acceptance/openness, I’m all ears.

        1. “It’s not exactly unique — I would go so far as to say (figuratively, as if there was any other way) that Christ was a reincarnation of Buddha.”

          I didn’t understand that sentence. Could you please explain?

          1. Let’s assume Buddha and Christ are both characters whose fictionality-or-not doesn’t matter (they could both have been created by committee for all I care, in other words).

            Buddha was a prince given a great inheritence and he rejected its accompanying wealth so that he could live as a pauper and extoll the delights of the every-man. He suggested that there was as much virtue in service as in wealth.

            Christ was a prince given the greatest inheritence ever bestowed on man. He rejected its accompanying wealth so that he could live as a pauper and extoll the delights of the every-man. He suggested that there was as much virtue in service as in wealth.

            1. No he didn’t. He was a failed apocalyptic prophet who preached a religion that looked to usher in a Jewish-centric eschatology. Quit reading back into the text your cultural bias and read Mark for what it is.

            2. No, “Christ” was not a prince in any sense of the word. Your history is as bad as your theology is as bad as your science.

              1. Not all descendants of kings are princes. Further, none of the characters in the Gospels treat Jesus or his parents as the descendants of royalty. The only reference to it are the two contradictory bloodlines. Jesus’s human parents had neither status nor wealth. Siddartha’s parents had both.

              2. Rob, please provide where Mary is a direct descendant from a king?

                According to the myth, the father of jesus was the holy spirit, not a human being, so there is no royal bloodline.

              3. No, Rob, that link doesn’t show the lineage of Mary (except identifying her father). The explanation falsely claims it is her lineage, but that isn’t want the text says.

              4. Christ was the “son of God”. “God”, “king”, and “lord” are used almost interchangably in the bible. If sons of god aren’t princes then I think we must truly settle this matter: you’re a nazi.

                Now we don’t have to communicate with eachother any longer. Pfew!

            3. Thanks for the explanation. But as others have pointed out, Christ wasn’t a prince at all. What you seem to be saying is that they both conform to a certain mythical archetype?

            4. “Christ was a prince given the greatest inheritence ever bestowed on man.”

              First off, what was the “greatest inheritance” that he rejected?

              Second, if Jesus’ father was not really Joseph, then he actually has no bloodline to the ancient kings.

        2. I think your understanding of Mediterranean religions of that time period is lacking. Greek and Roman paganism was not about being better than other societies, but about giving honor to and seeking favors from various gods. They also promoted various ideas about virtue and what was virtuous, including loyalty to one’s clan and some ideas about heroism and appropriate masculine behavior.

          Various philosophies in that area, at that time period, addressed morality and ethics more directly. Stoicism certainly seems more moral than the ideas attributed to Jesus, at least by our standards.

          You seem to be assuming that morality and religion always went together in the ancient world, and that’s patently false.

          1. I do not suggest that religion is the only source of morality in any time period.

            However, I ask you to do science on the success of the philosophy, not only its goals. I have a lot of respect for stoicism but its influence (even historically) is quite limited. Religion exists because the memes attached to it are somehow infectious. The only way you are going to spread morality is through infectious memes, so the virility _does_ matter. The masses are going to believe something, and I’ll wager that it’s always going to be stupid. Let it at least have “turn the other cheek” and “cast not the first stone” in there somewhere.

        3. But if you can name any ideology that has had more practical success than the gospels at teaching apes pacifism/forgiveness/acceptance/openness

          Well I don’t consider forgiveness a virtue, so you’ve already lost me. But I think stoicism and related philosophies have had more practical success – they are the roots of secular humanism, after all.

          1. “But if you can name any ideology that has had more practical success than the gospels at teaching apes pacifism/forgiveness/acceptance/openness”

            Buddhism. Secularism. Secular humanism, the Enlightenment.

            Xianity was never about pacifism, acceptance, or openness. It isn’t about that today.

            The religion spread by persecuting the Pagans for a few centuries until there weren’t very many and then spent several centuries systematically slaughtering them all. It’s spread into the new worlds resulted in the near genocide of the natives and their religions. It tried to eliminate Islam by wars without a lot of success.

            The Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch hunts, the Reformation wars, supporting dictators like Franco, Salazar, and Pavelic.

            Xianity is highly tribal and teaches that outsiders are all wrong and will be going to hell to be tortured forever.

            What has made the world a better place today is science and the Enlightenment. It coincides with the churches losing their armies and their power to just murder any one they want any time.

            1. So I take it, if there had not been Christianity then there would have been no crusades, no imperialism?

              This reminds me of an infantile Slashdot article I recently read. They suggested that if Microsoft had bought out Netscape circa 1999 then there would have been no browser wars in the early 21st century.

              It is vexing that if Christianity gets something right, it is irrelevant (or copied from the pagans!) but if it gets something wrong, it is assumed that somehow the religion invented the concept.

              1. No one is arguing what Christianity got right. We are challenging your claim to its truth as evidenced by its growth. Your conclusion that Christianity’s growth was fueled by non-coercive means is what most here don’t agree with. Christianity was not an option among many that believers could choose but it was THE option that had to be obeyed under the pain of death. It seems you are reading current social circumstances into history and confirming a bias to what you see as Christian superior and novel morality in history. You don’t seem to take into the consideration the whole historical record when concluding Christian growth drivers. Additionally your premise relies on an incoherent claim. How would anyone recognize as positive a morality in Christianity as new. Psychology shows that we measure benefit by the known. Offers that are alien generate rejection due to their cognitive dissonance.

              2. Thanks, O’Connor, for another clear statement.

                Diversion: I would ask you to refrain from stating what “no one” is saying — it seems like an invitation for me to ask you to defend those who are saying exactly what you say no one is saying. Alternatively, it suggests that you believe that anyone who says that isn’t a true scotsman, putting you in the authoritarian position of defining atheism and excluding everyone else from the club. But I’m sure it is just an unproductive turn of phrase.

                Anyways, I suggest a different kind of truth from Christianity’s success than the kind you are probably thinking off – perhaps we should use a different word? Maybe “value” is better. Consider quantum mechanics’ standard model. I’m pretty sure it’s bogus. But it is valuable — adherents are able to do things that non-adherents are not.

                As for coersion…I consider that neither here-nor-there. Yes, coersion is used every time a mass of people has to work together. So? In a sense, the current trend towards atheism is coerced as well. That is a rather subtle claim, so I’ll go ahead and draw it out.

                I believe that people are becoming atheist because our daily lives put us in touch with the fruits of science. Not only can many of us directly read journal articles, but we all own transistor radios and eat bioengineered food. I hope you don’t mind that I’m conflating the industrial revolution and the rise of secularism — as I say, history is generally inseperable. (As measured by the Successful Societies scale in another thread here) societies which continue in ignorance of the truth of scientificly-derived facts are at a severe disadvantage. They aren’t literally being executed, but older ways of life are no longer possible.

                For example, consider medicine in Africa. For a great long while, Africa maintained relative population stability through a number of brutal but effective and time-tested techniques, probably foremost among them being infant mortality. Among the many many fruits of imperialism, we reduced infant mortality in Africa. Now they are dealing with a kind of problem they haven’t ever faced before, and their old ways of thought are not successful at resolving it. The death of their older way of life, their conversion to a newer science-informed way of life, is even more inevitable than if we literally held guns to their heads.

                Throughout the entire developing world there is a trend of urbanization. I believe this is also a result of industrialization, and thus science. And it also is just as effective at killing off older ways of life and the mentalities that accompanied them.

                I mean, the fundamental capitalist system is coercive. It gives a great deal of freedom, but if you refuse to use the kind of freedom it grants then you will be at a disadvantage compared to other resource allocation strategies.

                This is a memetic selection process. Sometimes it is bloody, sometimes it is not, but I believe the battle of society-defining memes is always inherently coercive.

                You might detect that I don’t put too much faith in free will. 🙂

        4. If you actually sit down and read the dang gospels (a rare enough act, even/especially among Christians), you’ll see that Christ clearly expounded the opposite: (1) We are all the same. (2) You are awful too (but don’t give up hope).

          I’ll grant you the part of (2) that’s outside of parentheses, but the rest? Purest bullshit.

          Clearly, you’ve never actually yourself read the Gospels, else you would remember this passage from Luke 19: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” You would also remember the never-ending raving, virulent anti-semitism, including the “brood of vipers” epithet, the cursing of the fig tree, the scene with the moneychangers, the portrayal of the Sanhedrin, and on and on and on and on.

          Besides which, if you actually had read the gospels, you’d know that they’re childish faery tales. Never mind all the virgin birth nonsense and the wizardry; the end is an epic zombie snuff pr0n fantasy, complete with reanimated putrid corpses horrifying the dearly un-departed’s family, a mass zombie invasion of downtown Jerusalem, and the antihero insisting on having his thralls fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound.

          Great moral lessons? Bah! Men who fail to chop off their hands and gouge out their eyes after eyeing a pretty woman are condemned to infinite eternal torture. Families will be ripped apart unless Jesus is permitted to usurp all familial love. Peace is explicitly not the goal, but the sword — and Jesus will be bringing said flaming sword in Armageddon itself where he will destroy the world and instigate the greatest zombie uprising imaginable.

          Yes, by all means. If you haven’t read the Gospels, please read them, and learn what sort of monstrous insanity Christianity is devoted to promoting.



          1. The entire theological thrust of Johanine Christianity is to demonize 1st Temple Judaism.

            The depth of Christian Theology the poster understands is nothing more than superficial mega-church propaganda. It is ignorant of Ancient Near Eastern societies, the message of Christ in Mark and Matthew (exclusive Judaism-only eschatology) and mystery cults like the Essenes.

            Ugghhhhh. The type of ignorance that boasts the way this poster boasts is one of the most onerous consequences of religious thinking. Middle-brow emotional reasoning masquerading as critical thought.

          2. Wow! I’m pretty sure your ears are deaf and also jewish.

            But let me relate the story of Luke 19:11-27, ending in the slaying quote.

            Christ is faced with people who are behaving stupidly due to their fear of the coming apocalypse. So he tells a story of a great king who travels, and leaves money for his servants to tend while he is gone. Most of the servants tend the money well (profit). One of the servants is so frightened of the master that he hides the money under his pillow, rather than investing it. The king says “give your hidden money to the servant who invested it well and earned 10x as much” and the crowd told Jesus “but that man has 10x as much!” and Christ responds by saying that they who have shall have more and they who have not shall have even that taken away, and then the slaying line.

            Honestly, I’m not sure why that’s the best punchline to the story. I am predisposed to view it as an essentially existential story. To me it is clearly a story about accepting the world you live in. In this life we are given precious little, but we must use it. If we spend our energy, instead, fretting about the fact that we were given so little, then we will have even less. There is little point arguing with whatever force has decided to give us so little, whether it be a king, god, or evolution. And the literal reward for fighting with the thing that arbits your life is death.

            But one thing is clear to me: the story was not about raising a righteous army to kill off the non-believers. It is about making the best of what you have. The killing off of non-believers was just a story-telling tactic he adopted because he knew it would get the attention of the apocalypse-maddened crowd he was addressing. If he had been wrong in this assumption, his words would not still be popular today.

            1. the story was not about raising a righteous army to kill off the non-believers

              That’s precisely how it was interpreted by the early church fathers. Saint John Chrysostom, one of the only Three Holy Hierarchs and a Doctor of the Church used this passage directly to condemn the Jews:

              The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.” … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.” (Luke 19:27)
              —John Chrysostom (349–ca. 407), Eight Homilies Against the Jews, Homily 1

              Jesus’ words in Luke 19:27 are cited by historians as “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political antisemitism of Adolf Hitler” (Steven T. Katz, Ideology, State Power, and Mass Murder/Genocide, in Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World, Northwestern University Press, 1999).

              1. “the story was not about raising a righteous army to kill off the non-believers”

                Yeah, it is exactly that.

                Jesus speaking: ““But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

                It is what jesus the king will do to the nonbelievers when he comes back.

                This is BTW, the standard xian interpretation. The xians aren’t shy about claiming their godman is going to massacre and torture in hell forever, nonbelievers. It is a central belief of most xian sects including the Catholic church.

                What would be the point of belonging to a xian death cult if you couldn’t threaten to kill billions and torture them forever? Might as well be a Unitarian or atheist.

            2. So, the best way the Prince of Peace, the human incarnation of the infinitely wise all-powerful force that created Life, the Universe, and Everything could think of to get the point across hat we should accept the world we live in is by telling us to hunt down everybody who disagrees with us and make blood sacrifices to them at the foot of the undead zombie god?

              You actually buy that shit?

              And you expect others to respect you and take you seriously because you do?



            3. Greg A, there is no contemporaneous eye-witness evidence that your jesus actually existed. More specifically, there is no evidence that “the killing off of non-believers was just a story-telling tactic.”

              Even more specifically, his words are “popular today” because for the most part his followers are ignorant of them.

              Here’s a simple suggestion: individually ask 10 of your christian buddies, just giving them the ‘bring them before me and slay them’ quote from Luke 19, and ask if they think it is a quote from jesus or not. It will be instructive how they respond.

              1. He’s not “my jesus.” I’m an ex-catholic who has hated nearly every church I’ve ever met, please try not to make assumptions. I only support the moral message in the gospels because, for the most part, the flaws that jesus points out in his contemporary jewish practice are the exact flaws that I see today in US churches.

                Anyways, he truly does exist, as much as Archie Bunker exists. If you demand literalism, you will find an almost complete absence of truth in every piece of ancient literature on the planet. But if you accept that it is literature — they are telling a story, and the characters in the story can teach us something regardless of the author’s source of inspiration — then I continue to posit that the gospels are of a very high quality in their moral teaching. There are definitely individual passages that give me pause, but taken as a whole they preach a substantial message of peace, and also a technique for obtaining it.

                Or in other words, read the “Jefferson Bible” — the 4 gospels pruned of bullpoop (cult/authority references, irrelevant miracles, etc). There is no doubt that councils of proto-papists edited the gospels heavily in 0-500AD, so it is certainly not unfair for modern scholars to do the same for the purpose of promoting tolerance and civility.

            4. Christianity didn’t gain popularity by appealing to people, it gained popularity by being the only legally permitted option. For most of European history, failure to be Christian was a capital crime.

              1. And what was the alternative? During the “dark ages”, if there had not been Christianity…I guess egalitarian or libertarian democracy would have won out instead? I am specifically suggesting science. When the control group lacks, you cannot simply make one up out of whole cloth.

            5. “Christ responds by saying that they who have shall have more and they who have not shall have even that taken away”

              I love how Tea Party-esque that sounds.

              1. It is truly a vexing line, but if you would read the whole story, you would see that in the frame of the story it is explicit that the “have” and the “have not” were both given exactly the same to start with — the distinction between them is wholely a result of their own actions. Keep in mind that this is a translation-party of a paraphrase of an inexactly-remembered story. The fact that it is figurative is explicit, and in order to get any truth out of it we would be best not to cherry-pick, but rather to consider the context so we would understand the figures.

          1. The course of history: every society has developed a code of conduct or thought which supports its members more than outsiders. People here have suggested various obscure and long-dead societies which may or may not have been as xenophobic, but the fact that they are dead suggests they were not successful. There may be some exceptions in the modern day, but it’s hard for me to generalize from modernity — it is simply changing too fast.

            So I suggest that, at least in the past, xenophobia is the baseline. It is to societies like carbon is to organic chemistry. There is a lot to learn from studying carbon but we cannot make any statements from authority about what life would be like without it.

    3. Dude, visit a secular country sometime, where few people are religious. Those are the control group.

      Then compare these societies to the various shitholes of the world, which are usually very religious (most of the developing world) or controlled by other narrow ideologies (e.g, North Korea).

    4. However, there’s no control group. Nearly every society that we know about has something akin to religion in it. And also, nearly every society that we know about has evils.

      We do, however, have countries which are more religious, and others which are more secular, and we can compare whether more religion correlates with better or worse outcomes. The science has been done.

      1. However, there’s no control group. Nearly every society that we know about has something akin to religion in it. And also, nearly every society that we know about has evils.

        Wrong again.

        The least religious societies such as Europe, northern Europe, Japan, New Zealand etc. are the wealthiest and most well off. The most religious societies such as Somalia, Iran, and Afghanistan are dysfunctional hellholes.

        Even in the USA we see the same pattern. The fundie xians score low in intelligence and education and higher than the general population in social problems. The fundie heartland is sometimes referred to as “Dumbfunckistan” and states like Texas and Mississippi are famous for poverty and high levels of social malfunction.

      2. Deen – thank you for being the only commenter to cite science. It is refreshing. I happen to know that there is no finality in science, so I assume you also know this and did not imply any in your statement that “the science has been done.”

        So let’s look at that science (I only have time to read “The Successful Societies Scale”). Much like studies of religion in the US (which turn into red state vs. blue state studies), they admit that this study is largely US vs. rest of the world. And within the rest of the world, it is Japan and Sweden vs. less-prosperous nations. There is a lot here for me to take issue with, and the study deserves more time than I can afford it, but here is a cliff-notes of the obvious flaws with the study.

        They beg the question: their definition of “religiosity” is basically a laundry-list of the ills of American fundamentalism. They explicitly define rejection of evolution as a sign of religion. So it is no surprise that the US is such an outlier in their data, as the most religious country (by a large margin).

        Their examples of secular nations are Japan and Sweden. I don’t know much about Japan (though there is on wikipedia a story of Hirohito presenting an apparently Shinto perspective, suggesting that his ministers consider the possibility of peace with China because “across the four seas, all are brothers” — but obviously this appeal failed and we cannot post-hoc separate this variable out and see what it would have been like if he had not been Shinto).

        But Sweden! The Church of Sweden separated from the government of Sweden in 2000. 30 years ago more than 90% of the population were members of this church. The Swedes are often described as secular because they have not followed the obvious trappings of other religious societies. Maybe some would argue that they are only “casually” religious. I would argue the opposite, that they are the “true scotsmen”, so to speak (since I know I am not an authority on scotsmen, I beg you to accept the possibility that maybe the authors of this study are not either). Christ asked us to pray in our closets, and to show our justice by good acts rather than obsequious piety. So it does come down to how you define religion. Which is why it’s so frustrating that they beg the question. At the very least, Sweden’s protestant traditions effectively lead to their current good position.

        I ask: was Jefferson religious? He compiled his own version of the 4 gospels of christ, which is excellent by the way. He professed to be a Deist. He also seemed to suggest that he was only doing so for practical matters. He was certainly not particularly intolerant or ignorant. He helped form our secular government. But here the successful societies survey declares US the most religious nation — did Jefferson fail, or were his goals orthogonal to religion?

        Anyways, this is really a study of very recent change. One part that strikes me is that they have not addressed the hypothesis that prosperity (or multinationalism or …) leads to atheism, rather than vice versa. Another aspect is that they do not appear to have performed historical comparisons — was Sweden always a great place to live or did it only become great after they embraced formal secularism?

        I think that this sort of study can be fruitful. But basically every country in its sample was deeply religious less than 100 years ago, so they are essentially contrasting prosperous first-world modernity with post-imperial “developing world” chaos. With, of course, a helping of “the US is really messed up” on the side. It is frustrating to me that Europe is often cited in these discussions as secular, while at the same time others are always bringing up the crusades. I posit that the current success of Europe is inseperable from their religious history. Their ills and past failings are equally inseperable.

    5. “In some cases the kind of fool you get is dependent on the ideology you teach him. So I suggest again: do science on it. Examine the kind of fool you get from feeding them atheism.”

      And atheism is an ideology how exactly? How many readers here were “fed” on atheism? I imagine that for many of us, atheism is a conclusion, not a premise.

      1. Precisely. The antidote to religion is not atheism, it is science. Which has been and is being done on this topic, as others have pointed out.

        1. Yes but when I suggest that Christianity has high goals, in amongst the cruft, I received a rather hostile response here. In fact, a dog-pile. This is of course largely because I am the only one willing to express such a view here. But, then, what selection criteria has caused all other people who aren’t anti-religious to avoid forums like this like the plague?

          This is an atheist forum with an anti-Christian agenda. That appears to have specifically been Haught’s point about Coyne’s work in general. Anti-Christianity is not science.

          I would go so far as to say that anti-Christianity is just as awful as anti-atheism, as far as intellectual purity goes.

          But whether you agree with me there or not, it is not science. Science is DESCRIPTIVE, not PRESCRIPTIVE.

      2. ““In some cases the kind of fool you get is dependent on the ideology you teach him. So I suggest again: do science on it. Examine the kind of fool you get from feeding them atheism.”

        Atheists in the USA score higher in intelligence and education than xians in general and a lot higher than fundies in particular.

        You are wrong again. That seems to be a consistent pattern here.

          1. So between raven and Lowen here, we’ve gotten a pretty clear picture of the demographics that push people towards fundamentalism: low income and poor upbringing.

            So why do they find Christianity so much more appealing than atheism? If atheism is to compete, it has to have something to offer the masses and not merely the cognoscenti.

            Consider Alcoholics Anonymous. I won’t even bother to explain it to you. Your future ignorance will be determined by how thorough your study is. I assure you, though, understanding addictive behavior and successful techniques for breaking it is valuable for every human being without exception.

      3. ““In some cases the kind of fool you get is dependent on the ideology you teach him. So I suggest again: do science on it. Examine the kind of fool you get from feeding them atheism.”

        Many or most atheists including myself were brought up and fed on…xianity.

        Where do you think atheists come from, the stork brings them?

        The vaguely humanoid toad leaders of the fundie xians such as Falwell, Kennedy, Hagee, Dobson, Bachmann, Palin, Parsely, Jacobs, Robertson etc. make more atheists in a day than Coyne, PZ, and Dawkins do in a year.

        You (whoever said the above in quotes) BTW, are helping the atheists a lot. An example of religion induced cognitive impairment leading to making a fool of yourself babbling on an internet notablog.

        1. raven, I really want to make a point of order here. You have posted two follow-ups to the same post. You are, by far, not the only one to do this. What the heck, guys? It’s really tiresome. Any time you try to promote anything non-one-sided on a forum such as this you get a dog pile but it’s a lot worse when you guys can’t even make up your mind why you disagree with me and keep on adding things.

          Anyways, to answer your question: YES ATHEISTS COME FROM CHRISTIANITY!

          So if atheism is so great, and Christianity is a great tool for teaching it…doesn’t that make Christianity great? I don’t mean this ironically, it is exactly my background. I was raised catholic, left the church, was bitter about it for a long time. I happened to meet a few protestants from less xenophobic/imperial traditions (quakers, presbyterians, etc) and by luck they were totally reasonable people. And in so doing, I have come to recognize the great number of things that I know and believe that are indeed straight out of the 4 gospels. This doesn’t mean anything particularly special about Christianity, except, as you point out, it is the founding force of western secular humanism.

          Really, I’m a buddhist more than anything right now. So I say to you, “live in the moment.” Most of the members of this forum blatantly spend a lot of time considering irrelevant what-ifs. “What if I had been raised in an atheist family! My childhood may have been so much better!”

          That’s a wrong attitude for a lot of reasons:
          * living in the past instead of the present
          * cannot change the past
          * thought experiment is guaranteed to be flawed without actual experimental group (actual kids raised in atheism)
          * the past you villainize is the exact one that led to your present enlightened state, so you are proof positive of its potential for success

          More to the point, I’ve got a few friends who were raised in atheist families. Their parents are just as divorced, their siblings are just as addicted to drugs, they have just as much struggling with depression and directionlessness, their relationship with their parents is just as confused. Maybe statistically over a large sample group there is a detectable difference, but from my personal experience it is clear that teaching a child atheism is not a magic bullet. It may be incrementally better but it is not an unambiguous success.

          1. Here is a point of order Greg.

            You’ve hijacked this thread.

            Your strawman is that we are anti-Christian which is not science.

            That of course is not the point of the post. The post is concerned with the accommodating claim that scientific and religious epistemology are compatible.

            Those of us who understand the bottom up self-correcting mechanism within science see the top down dogma of religion as its enemy, so we find any claims to harmony between the two modes of reasoning incoherent.

            You’ve jumped all over the place here and have not addressed the key consideration of the Haught/Coyne debate.

            You’ve misrepresented Dr. Coyne’s use of the Roman Church’s policy consequences as an argument against the Roman Church, rather than its intended purpose of illustrating the logical consequence of top-down dogma. I wrote as much in response to your original post but you have thus far chosen not to engage me (instead trying to fight with those you deem unreasonable). I would venture to say you’ve shown some rhetorical flourish but I have no idea what your argument is to the question at hand, are scientific and religious epistemology complimentary or are they contradictory, if the former, why and if the latter why? Please bracket your bias against those of us who are metaphysical naturalists as being “anti” anything. We are “pro” ways of thinking that offer predictive results and simply discard those ways of thinking that are not as predictive.

            Also, it is incumbent upon the person recommending a methodology (e.g. your direction we practice “science” on religion) to frame the experiment. I doubt you understand how such an experiment would be fielded and only use “science” as a rhetorical gimmick to keep from engaging in logical dialogue. I think it is referred to as a “red herring”.

            1. I appreciate your thoughtful comment. I think that your framing as top-down vs bottom-up is very good. I confess that I have still not watched Coyne’s video, and probably never will as this experience here has convinced me personally that Haught’s criticisms were correct, even as it has convinced me that Haught’s conduct was infantile. I don’t believe anything in humanity is zero-sum, which is why I believe that science and religion can coexist. But it also allows me to believe that both sides are wrong.

              Science is, in its way, top-down. The thing we have at the top is the directive to use bottom-up thinking. I personally think that is a very good thing to have at the top, and in the right mind it can produce wonderful results.

              However, here is one of the experimental frames that has shaped my thinking, even though I have not conducted a thorough numerical study of it: My reading of the gospels has shown a rather reasonable set of directives at the top of christianity. However, the bottom (the conduct of its adherents) is generally rotten. No matter what you think about the merits of the gospels (which is a big “no matter” — bashing of the gospels has taken up the majority of the air in this conversation!), you have to admit that wearing a “WWJD” bracelet is not something christ espoused (he said we should pray in the closet where no one can see us, specifically not to wear our religion as a badge of pride). In short, most modern Christians are hypocrites.

              So that brings us to the hypothesis which we should test with experiment: When dealing with groups of people espousing a fairly uniform set of viewpoints, is it always the case that they are largely hypocrites? Does their practice fail to follow from their top regardless of the merits of that top? And the corollary for this situation: given the real marvel of the science top (doubt and prediction), do scientists then fail to follow through in their daily actions? Is there a true scotsman?

              And it has always been my experience that any time a group of people form around an issue, the group dynamics become a dominant (if not THE dominant) factor in their behavior. A doubter in a church is asked to leave, and a doubter on this blog is asked to leave. If not asked to leave, there is an attempt at conversion which is heavy-handed, closed-minded, and generally altogether unwelcome. I may be guilty too, but if so that just proves the prevalence of the phenomenon.

              Unfortunately, here’s where it gets really difficult. In order to test whether scientists obey their top, we need to establish what such obedience would look like. And inevitably this comes down to how we would interpret history. History provides us a few good parallel examples, but for the most part history is linear. The catholic church that became a political powerhouse is inseperable from the church that sponsored Bach (cited as the primary influence by nearly every composer of note) is inseperable from the church that feeds the poor is inseperable from the church that preserved books through the dark ages is inseperable from the church that conquered south america is inseperable from the church that arrested galileo is inseperable from the church that brought us vatican 2…I could go on for hours. Every field of human endeavor, the highs and the lows, has been influenced heavily by religion. (I feel like, in some sense, I am retelling Asimov’s Foundation story)

              I can’t find here — in the experimental record of human history — any support for any religious-related hypothesis other than “homo sapiens likes religion, but maybe doesn’t like it quite as well today as it did 50 or 500 years ago.” Maybe my reading of history is wrong, but no one here has even begun to provide me with any new information about history that I didn’t already have, so I am not swayed. There seems to be the frequent implication that everything good tied to christianity would have been amplified if christianity hadn’t existed, but everything bad tied to christianity would have magically gone away (or alternatively, christ copied non-violence from pagans but invented hell on his own). But I think even the people who appear to be making that implication would back down from it when it is formulated so plainly (they would probably even accuse me of erecting a strawman). Either way, barring some parallel universe or time travel, we will never know if people would have still found an excuse to kill eachother in the dark ages if no one had ever written “christ” on a piece of parchment.

              So I am, again and again, drawn to the conclusion that a true scientist would have very little to say about the effect of religion on humans. But in practice, as illustrated on forums such as this one, they have a great deal to say. Coyne and you, if I understand correctly, for example, assert that the very concept of a faith-based ideology inevitably leads to evil behavior regardless of the principles espoused at the top of the faith.

              So maybe I’m completely wrong, but it looks to me like scientists are responding mostly to their fears when they attack religion. Just as religious people are responding mostly to their fears when they attack science. So the answer to my original question: can a truly righteous ‘top’ overcome group dynamics to create righteous behavior? Not really.

              1. I confess that I have still not watched Coyne’s video, and probably never will as this experience here has convinced me personally that Haught’s criticisms were correct, even as it has convinced me that Haught’s conduct was infantile.

                Dude, it probably took you longer to type this latest of your rants than it would to watch Jerry’s presentation.

                If you’re not even going to bother with a homework assignment of “watch this short video,” what the hell makes you think you deserve serious feedback from any of the rest of us?

                Now, you’ll excuse me if I proceed to ignore you the same way that you’ve ignored Jerry.



              2. I don’t follow most of your post.

                I agree that we are all subject to bias and that is why science is the best bet we have in understanding what is real.

                You might want to read the work of Michael Shermer. He does great study of our mechanism of belief and how it has derived from evolutionary adaptation.

              3. Thanks Chuck – Shermer is germaine to the conversation, being the exact sort of science I think you should be looking at to understand militant atheism.
                – Greg

    6. First, if you think the words of Jesus are not improvable in terms of moral behavior, you clearly haven’t read the source material very well.

      Second, what do you mean “creative force?” I can think of many potential definitions for that, some theistic, some deistic, some naturalistic, but regardless, the study of science suggests that that creative force is complex chemistry and time.

      Third, the topic of the day is the relationship between science and religion, not the amount of evil between religious and non-religious populations.

      Fourth, re. “In some cases the kind of fool you get is dependent on the ideology you teach him.” Absolutely true. Except atheism isn’t an ideology. It is a lack of or rejection of *religious* ideologies. Secularism, conservatism, liberalism, Marxism, Randism, these are non-religious ideologies, that yes, to varying degrees help create idiots.

      Yes, the True Scotsman Fallacy is something we’re all prone to. A Protestant friend of mine once told me that “No violence has ever been done in the name of Christ” (A true TSF if there ever was one!). We also recognize there’s a difference between Josef Stalin (atheist) and Richard Dawkins (atheist), but because of non-religious ideology. One’s a tyrannical “Marxist” who terrorized, tortured, and murdered millions of people, and the other is Josef Stalin… Except religious affiliation very often informs other ideologies (gov’t shouldn’t give out BC because BC is immoral), whereas atheism intrinsically can’t (I don’t believe in a religion, therefore…?).

      Fifth, religion isn’t intrinsically evil? It really depends on how you define evil doesn’t it?

      1. 1> I never said “not improvable.” I merely suggested they were lofty, as lofty as ours. We have not improved upon them, as compiled by Jefferson. We may have improved upon them as compiled by the various early Christian councils. Whose version is better? *shrug* I’m not pedantic about historical authentication and I don’t think that being pedantic about historicity is necessary to religion (though it sure is central to some rather distressing fads in the US today!) You cannot improve upon fundamentalism if you fall for the exact same fallacies that they have. There is precious little gospel support for their intolerant viewpoints, and pretending that there is just lends credence to their bastard religion.

        2> creative force, look up the words in the dictionary. I mean the same thing that the authors of Genesis meant when they said “god”, or the same thing that Darwin means when he says “evolution”. Whatever it is that caused us to be here, with a strong acknowledgement that I simply don’t know all its attributes, but know that it exists simply because I’m here. I don’t mean anything spooky (and neither did the authors of Genesis — they were simply coming up with the simplest explanation that could be a basis for social norms given their extraordinarily simplistic understanding at the time), but I also definitely do not mean anything truly mundane (if you really thought intelligence was mundane, would you really be posting snarky comments on blogs?)

        3> Tell that to Coyne. That was _EXACTLY_ Haught’s point, to the damn T.

        4> Rejection is a pathetic ideology.

        5> If you define evil as religion then you’re begging the question. If your fingers are in your ears then bugger off.

    7. It’s always nice when the kooks break up their fog of assertions and non sequiturs with a decent formal fallacy. The above post is mostly incoherent drivel, but it has this absolutely beautiful denial of the antecedent in the middle:

      Non-religious societies haven’t survived, or we’d be surrounded by them.

      By this logic, immortal people must be short lived, otherwise we’d be surrounded by them.

      1. “Non-religious societies haven’t survived, or we’d be surrounded by them.”

        Up until recently there wasn’t such a thing as non-religous societies. Up until a few centuries ago, being an atheist was a death penalty offense.

        This is a strawperson stupid claim along the lines of, “UFO alien societies haven’t survived or we would be surrounded by them.”

        We in the USA are being surrounded by less and areligious societies. Canada, Europe, and Japan among others. I’m surrounded by New Agers, Pagans, and No Religions myself, living on the west coast. It’s not a problem.

    8. Greg A,

      I agree with the basic point you were making, that atheists are prone to the same evils as theists, but it’s really an ethical problem and not a scientific one.

      I’m not sure I agree that societies are religious because religion is successful, since societies are cultures and not a biological organism. Evolution is a nice metaphor for culture, but that’s as far as it goes.

      I don’t think your point needed defending, it stands by itself, but I don’t think you’re going to be listened to.

      A healthy rational community is one that both makes and takes criticism. If it can’t listen to criticism internally, then it certainly won’t externally. It becomes close-minded, conformation bias kicks in and it can do no wrong.

      This is the gloomy prediction I make with gnus (or so-called scientific atheists)–that they are now under a delusion and group think mentality. It’s no longer willing to listen to criticism internally, and will gradually become more intolerant until they destroy each other from within.

      For those who actually see this process happening before their eyes and want out, I suggest a return to scepticism.

      1. Greg didn’t offer an argument, he misrepresented Dr. Coyne’s argument. He then made a claim for Logical Positivism (use science as THE valid epistemic tool) rather than understanding how Dr. Coyne argued from induction to the incompatibility of scientific to religious thinking using products of each as evidence towards his inference. Greg then followed this confusion by poor Biblical exegesis that used a misunderstanding of Ancient Near Eastern culture, the Bible itself, and history to validate his imagined supremacy of Jesus. It lacked critical thought and the responses to it are not evidence of confirmation bias. They are evidence of holding someone accountable to his ideas and demanding that he practice intellectual humility in argument, or risk being identified as pretentious.

      2. “For those who actually see this process happening before their eyes and want out, I suggest a return to scepticism.”

        That’s twice in two days that you’ve stopped by to comment on your disappointment with the atheistic community, and your particular disappointment with this one.

        Surely there are blogs which are more favorable to your point of view?

        1. Your answer to dissent is “then leave”?

          Are you a secular humanist? An atheist? A scientist?

          Care to elucidate how your response to this situation is better than the Christian response?

      3. This is the gloomy prediction I make with gnus (or so-called scientific atheists)–that they are now under a delusion and group think mentality. It’s no longer willing to listen to criticism internally, and will gradually become more intolerant until they destroy each other from within.

        Gnus have thick skins and we can be stubborn. We gore each other with our horns all the time; it has never been any different than it is now. Your prediction is entirely dismissible.

        For those who actually see this process happening before their eyes and want out, I suggest a return to scepticism.

        Sorry, atheism has never been about which clan one belongs to. It is about having your ideas grounded in reality. I think skepticism has always been part of it. Suffice it to say, there is no place for an atheist to return to because we never went anywhere. We just realize that the tent is invisible and not really there if we are ex-theists or we never fell for that old joke if we were never theists.

        1. “This is the gloomy prediction I make with gnus (or so-called scientific atheists)–that they are now under a delusion and group think mentality. It’s no longer willing to listen to criticism internally, and will gradually become more intolerant until they destroy each other from within.”

          Translation. I say really, really stupid things and people call me an idiot and explain why.

          Way it goes. That is your problem and no one else’s. Join a xian death cult if it makes you feel better. Free country.

        2. Aratina – if atheism is not about group identity then why did Marta suggest that people who are skeptical of it should leave this blog?

          I realize it is frustrating that I am asking you to represent statements made by another. But you appear to be making blanket statements about the motivation of atheists as a group, and as such I want to know how you explain Marta’s apparent motivation. Keep in mind that if Marta isn’t a true scotsman then neither is Jerry Falwell.

    9. You have a long list of evils perpetrated by religious societies. However, there’s no control group. Nearly every society that we know about has something akin to religion in it. And also, nearly every society that we know about has evils.


      So let’s not ignore that fact. The creative force that we acknowledge has selected religious societies to survive. Non-religious societies haven’t survived, or we’d be surrounded by them.

      The second paragraph I’ve quoted here has some difficulties. You’re treating religious belief of a society as if it were a genetic trait of individuals. This requires a couple of assumptions: 1) group selection; that selection acts can act on groups of individuals rather than on only on individuals themselves; 2) selection on cultural rather than genetic traits. These assumption may not be incorrect, but they are controversial. Group selection in particular is denied by most evolutionary biologists, including Jerry Coyne, who has addressed this a few times in this website.

      Granting those two assumption, we have some remaining problems. You seem to be operating under a pan-selectionist view–if non-religious societies don’t exist or are very rare, it is because they are selected against. However, there are a number of other reasons that a trait may not spread, e.g.: 1) random processes (drift); 2) linkage; if a trait by chance co-occurs with (for genetically controlled traits, the genes involved are in close physical proximity on a chromosome and thus cannot assort independently) another trait under negative selection, it may decrease regardless of whether selection on the focal trait itself is positive, neutral, or negative; 3) the trait does not exist. In reference to both “1” and “3”, your comment, “Nearly every society that we know about has something akin to religion in it,” is particularly relevant. Rare traits are particularly subject to drift, and if the trait doesn’t exist at all it is obviously under no selective pressure. As for “2”, presumably we would want to know not just whether religious or non-religious societies are more violent, but whether religious status has anything to do with it. With the exception of clear-cut cases in which violence is explicitly justified by religion, this seems rather difficult to address.

      P.S. Hello brother!

      1. Imagine running into my own brother on an internet forum.

        Well, I think this served mostly to obscure things by being particularly pedantic in my analogy to evolution. Fair enough, but there is a lucid point here I can easily address: “violence is explicitly justified as religion”.

        This is accepting the frame of the religious people. If they are too stupid to understand evolution, then on what basis do you accept their assessment of their own motives?

        After a trying day, I may argue with my wife because she puts clean dishes in the pantry (seriously, dishes in the pantry, beside the spaghetti!). As a behavioral scientist, examining myself, I will find that she puts dishes in the pantry every day. But I only yell at her some days. The correlation is poor, though my insistence that it is her bizarre action that caused it remains.

        In fact, I am angry at her because I am angry, and she is there. And a deeper analysis would reveal that perhaps I am not even angry at the other day’s events, but rather angry as a result of various childhood experiences.

        In other words, doing evil deed A in the name of fictional superhero B does not prove that B caused A, or even that belief in B caused A. It merely proves that people who believe in B occasionally commit A. Fair enough, but if people of all beliefs occasionally commit A, big whoop.

        Until you correct the frame through which you view history to remove all of the “could haves” (they “could have” prevented the crusades if they had not been christian, for example), you cannot even speculate on religion. You simply lack the tools to understand the events that have transpired. History cannot be changed. Christianity did rise to be the dominant european religion, and europeans did (repeatedly) wage war on north africa. Now secularism is on the rise, and we are still at war with everyone, but the nature of war is changing. In both cases, I think technology is the much more interesting variable (the dog) than religion (the tail). And don’t give me secular peaceful europe crap, when the Falklands war is within our lifetime, Israel persists through today, and the structure of many societies is defined by western love of oil.

        1. Yeah, well, I’m good at being pedantic and this is a website about evolution. I also note that “fact” is not a word that usually marks analogies.

          You’re right that people may not understand or accurately report their own motives. However, self-reporting seems to be the best evidence we have regarding motivation. Do we throw out data because it might be wrong? Not until & unless we have better data.

          That the Crusades were explicitly justified by religion does not rely on hypothetical alternate histories. It is simply part of what we know about what happened.

          Steven Pinker’s got a new book specifically about declining violence as civilization progresses, but I’ve not yet read it. That you have to drag out the Falklands War does suggest that secular Europe has been remarkably peaceful. Hard to see what Israel has to do with it either way, being neither secular nor part of Europe.

          1. Paragraph by paragraph….

            It is a fact that non-religious societies have not survived (until very recently). It is by analogy that our understanding of survival metrics can inform our appreciation of this fact.

            In other parts of this conversation, self-reporting is not accepted, as Sweden self-reports as overwhelmingly Christian but is classified in the sucessful societies scale as the most secular nation. I’m happy to accept self-reporting, but only in a blanket fashion — we can only dismiss the false scotsman if all scotsmen are assumed to be true.

            My point is that what they were saying while they were slaughtering people isn’t really relevant. The only way it could achieve relevance is if they could have said something different and then, by so saying, not committed the slaughter. Failing that, we have only the fact that people spew bullpoop and people slaughter.

            Falklands and Israel are connected by being the result of lingering colonialism. Even though imperial Europe has released a great number of its subjects (I would argue this is because of WWII and industrialization, not atheism, but whatever), a number of its former properties are still the subject of considerable violence.

            1. In non-analogical evolution, inferring negative selection because a trait has not become widespread is simplistic, as there are a variety of complicating phenomena. If we’re to apply evolutionary reasoning here, those difficulties apply.

              If we accept that all who claim to be scotsmen are such, why then refuse self-reporting when they claim, “I did X because I am a scotsman”? Why accept self-reporting for group identity, but not for motivation? Otherwise, lacking a good alternative means of establishing motivation, we seem to be left with your approach: people say things, and people do things, and never the twain shall meet. This is unhelpful.

              In the case of Sweden, AFAIK, the Swedes do overwhelmingly report themselves to be Christians, but do not ascribe governmental policies to Christianity. So perhaps we should call it a secular government of a Christian populace.

              As for the Falklands and Israel, in both cases I interpret the primary cause of violence to be colonialism or attempted colonialism by non-European countries (Argentina and Israel), with a strong religious motivation in one case (Israel). I don’t think either case can directly address violence due to modern secular governments in Europe. You’re right, of course, that the aftermath of European colonialism has not been pretty.

              1. Well, I didn’t mean to imply negative selection for atheism. The claim, as I understand it, that really set off this dog pile, is that Christ’s ideals (as described in the gospels) are as lofty as atheists’ ideals. To support that, I cited positive selection for religiosity. There are difficulties in this analysis but it is a certain fact in humanity that the views (and success) of children are influenced by the culture they are raised in. Cultures that embrace religion have successfully stewarded our genetic material for millenia. More impressively, the religion has often been passed down intact. In our times, catholic parenting leads to militant atheism. In our times, tolerant protestantism leads to a variety of results that more closely approximate agnosticism. But in antiquity, it tended to breed true — catholic parents gave rise to catholic children. That’s incredible (the jewish story is even more impressive!). It is my unsupported hope that militant atheists will give rise to agnostic children, rather than a reiteration of the hate and fear manifest among so many atheists today.

                Anyways, I don’t respect self-reporting of motives because I can come up with an experimental frame trivially that would seem to test it. If you say you did evil A due to your exposure to memetic content B, we must only know what would have happened without exposure to that given memetic content. As I keep saying, we cannot literally separate history — we cannot know what evils Europeans would have committed without Christianity. But we can know that warfare, massive class inequality, xenophobia, etc. are all generally endemic to the whole planet (even, in various forms, outside of homo sapiens). So whatever the cause for evil A is, we can say definitively that there are many more causes than meme B. If there were substantial examples of non-violent cultures that haven’t already died out that we could argue about, you might have something worth talking about. Because I am not relying on the mere fact that SOME other cultures manifest evil A, I am relying on the fact that ALL other successful cultures manifest evil A (open to new data, of course).

                To test identity, though, I can’t come up with an experimental frame that doesn’t beg the question: we have to start with a definition of a true scotsman. If we do not trust that an irishman self-reports as catholic, to what can we appeal? His parentage? The records kept by his church? Church attendance rates? This is a very real problem, as the Successful Societies Scale paper (which begs the question extraordinarily by defining religiosity in terms of American fundamentalism) defined Sweden as the most secular nation, while until recently the records kept by the Church of Sweden indicated >90% membership. I propose self-reporting as a reasonable compromise, but only because I don’t have any better idea.

                I’m not sure it’s true that the Swedes do not allow christianity to influence their government. I continue to claim that the kind of christianity practiced in Sweden is fundamentally different than what is so visible here. Christ never said “seek out the poor among you and tax them more heavily.” Sweden’s progressive tax system could well be a RESULT of their overwhelmingly protestant population, not in spite of it. Just to cite a pretty banal example. At any rate, IN NAME, they literally did not separate the Church of Sweden from the Nation of Sweden until 2000. 2000!! To describe anything there as secular begs the question in a way that I simply find insulting. To consider Sweden as secular, you must have defined religion as awful and then decided that since Sweden looks like an alright place to live (modulo weather), it must not be religious.

                And regarding post-colonial war, I did not mean to imply that secularism is evil. I was supporting the claim that the rise of secularism has failed to correct the evils. Perhaps this is too big a leap to leave unstated: the crusades and imperialism appear to be two sides of the same coin — the conceit in some relatively developed nations that their wisdom and way of life is so superior that they have a right to slaughter anyone they view as weaker (for their own good of course). If religion caused the crusades, and didn’t cause imperialism then I’d say that we have yet more evidence that evils are not tied to religion. If religion also caused imperialism then I’d ask why it appears that the major events in the decline of imperialism are related more to WWII than to the rise of secularism. Secularism isn’t evil because it invented imperialism, it’s simply impotent (much like religion) to stop evils like imperialism. And lest we get into too much historical wiggling about post-colonial good deeds, I want to make sure “oil” enters your thinking at some point.

  19. Having read Haught’s open letter, I have to wonder how he can both complain that, by quoting his words, Professor Coyne’s attacks on him were personal and veered from the issue, while also decrying his attacks on official Catholic theology as examples of the conflict between religion and science. Is nothing in religion fair game to be attacked or disputed?

  20. Debate ad hominem: You’re an idiotic, base child molester.

    Semi ad hominem: Your belief in ____ is idiotic and base because _____.

    Correct statement: Belief in _____ is idiotic and base because ______.

    So to be fair, statements 2 and 3 are really equivalent. One wouldn’t argue for a position they didn’t think was reasonable. But it’s the whole point of a debate to say “no, you’re wrong.” It can be said mildly or intemperately, and that might matter personally to someone, but it doesn’t effect the quality of an argument. But a true ad hominem does not pertain to the issue at hand and is directed at an opponent personally. Furthermore, the ad hominem could be true (ie he is a child molester), but that wouldn’t detract from the correctness of his argument.

    But here’s some lucid and clear-cut reasoning: I felt slighted because my opponents arguments were directed at me personally, off-topic, offensive, and unsupported (things one doesn’t want to be in a debate). THEREFORE, I don’t want anyone to see whether that’s true or not.

    Haught clearly isn’t a coward. He’s unreasonable.

    I’m sorry, was that too intemperate of me? There there big boy.

  21. I was fortunately able to attend the debate at UK.

    From Dr. Haught’s response:

    “I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it […] You put on the screen a list of all the ‘evils’ you associate with Catholicism […] I have never witnessed such a blatant smear or malicious attempt to impute guilt by association in all my years in university life”

    So Dr. Haught’s main reason for censorship was because you aired some of religion’s dirty laundry and he felt personally attacked? That makes about as much sense as everything Haught argued in the debate (which isn’t much is what I’m getting at…)

    As I remember it (we’ll see in the video hopefully), you were pointing out a very valid argument: what science has given humanity vs what religion has given humanity.

    1. ““I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it […] You put on the screen a list of all the ‘evils’ you associate with Catholicism […] I have never witnessed such a blatant smear or malicious attempt to impute guilt by association in all my years in university life””

      Haught is an idiot and being dishonest here.

      The Catholic church is drenched in blood and atrocities for nearly 2,000 years. That is just a historical fact, well known and exhaustively documented. It happened well into the 20th century. Catholics even had significant involvement with the Hutu attempted genocide of the Tutsis.

      The vast majority of Fascist dictators of the 20th century, were Catholics and supported by the RCC. Franco, Mussolini, Pavelic, that German guy, Salazar, and Tiso (a Catholic priest and Fascist dictator of Slovenia) among others.

    1. From what I gather, he’s given up on the whole newfangled internet thingy as hopelessly evil and gone back to quill, parchment, and bondservant delivery.

  22. I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it all that I did not want other people to have to share what I witnessed that night in October.

    I’d be clutching my pearls too if I hadn’t accidentally dropped them out the window of my ivory tower.

  23. Awesome, what the power of the internet can achieve in service of free-speech (among other things). Now all will be laid bare for all to see, and I can’t wait. Congratulation Jerry.

  24. Very well said, Jerry. I won’t add more, but I think it should be made very clear to believers that they will not be mollycoddled just because they are religious believers. This applies especially to religious organisations like the catholic church which has so many retrogressive positions and practices which cause untold misery to thousands. No one who is a catholic, and especially anyone who is a flag bearer for the church as Haught it, should be allowed to get away with saying, in general terms, “Well, I don’t believe everything the church teaches.” If he doesn’t he should make it very clear which teachings he abhors, and why he does so, and he should make some effort to bring about change where those teachings and practices impact people in negative (sometimes very negative) ways.

  25. Haught’s main argument (from the ‘debate’) appears to be that if scientism is logically incoherent, then science is compatible with religion. This is obviously a hopeless argument without development (else it would also follow that science was compatible with astrology), but I guess I’ll have to wait to see how Haught develops this on the video.

    A couple of points:

    1) As others have pointed out, Haught’s dismay at ridicule is hard to understand; he ridicules new atheists, as do accommodationists – it’s a time-honoured tool of discourse – so this is not a strange tactic only perpetrated by ‘them evil gnus’. He and accommodationists need to get over it and grow up.

    2) I get the feeling that Haught perceives what Jerry did as an atheist version of the Gish Gallop: firing off paragraphs from Haught’s work which look ridiculous at first glance, but which it would take Haught far too long to explain the nuances of, because of the density of the context – we can all imagine that possibility if science is being treated the same way by creationists, for example. I think this would have merit if theology amounted to anything. Obviously, I don’t think it does, any more than discussing learnedly the ins and outs of succussion means homeopathy is true. And the point is, some subjects are not actually about something that is true. But he does think it’s true, so draws a different conclusion. I’m sure it’s far too much to expect a theologian to denounce the subject of his life-long study.

    1. “I’m sure it’s far too much to expect a theologian to denounce the subject of his life-long study.” I don’t know about that. If he did so he would be welcomed into the skeptical community. Especially since, as your comment implies, we would recognize the courage and intellectual honesty it must have taken.

  26. Nothing is settled here – Jerry didn’t meet his conditions. He will back out of his offer to finally release the tape. But when it does come out, this is going to be more popular than a Lindsey Lohan crotch shot!

  27. From Haught’s explanation:

    “instead of addressing my argument that the encounter with religious truth requires personal transformation … (long snip) … You put on the screen a list of all the “evils” you associate with Catholicism: its stance regarding divorce, contraception, priest pedophilia, homosexuality–and I can’t remember what all–as though these have anything at all to do with the topic of the panel or with my own personal views on the relationship of science to theology.”

    Pick a horse and ride it, Mr. Haught.

    You don’t get to wax eloquent about the need for a moral “transformation” in order to have faith and then complain when someone points to the moral atrocities which are the direct result of people having faith.

    I don’t think the audience would automatically conclude that Haught agreed with everything on the list of evils — nor did Coyne mean to imply it. The point is that, given the methods of faith, there is NO RATIONAL WAY to establish that those evils are wrong because that’s not what God really wants. The common ground is gone. All you have now is one faith vs. another.

    This list of “evils” is what happens when you believe in implausible things for dubious reasons. It is what happens when men aspire to know the mind of God.

    1. This list of “evils” is what happens when…men aspire to know the mind of God.

      Not quite. When men aspire to know the mind of God, you get monks sitting in abbeys meditating. Its when people claim they already know the mind of God and you’d better listen to them – that is when you get religious evils. Torquemada wasn’t trying to figure out what God wanted. According to him, he already knew.

      But that’s a quibble. I completely agree with your main point. Divine revelation, as a methodology, has an immense self-inconsistency problem.

      To parse the problem in scientific terms: we do not know the accuracy of any of our moral systems. We don’t even know if there’s an outside referent which would make “accuracy” a meaningful concept. We can, however, note that divine revelation is horribly imprecise on top of having the same accuracy problem. There’s huge scatter, much worse than many other systems.

  28. I think this sentence from Haught’s comment really says it all:

    “You should be grateful that I have tried to protect the public from such a preposterous and logic-offending way of bringing your presentation to a close.” [that is, describing the evils of the Catholic church]

    Haught styles himself an educator, and at core, he thinks people ought to applaud him standing in judgment of adults being exposed to true information. I cannot think of a better way to sum up what the religious mind does to people.

  29. I’ve thought before that what distinguishes new atheism is dismissal of theology as a legitimate academic discipline. I suspect that John Haught finds this deeply offensive, and that this offense is shared by others of his sensibility. (Something related, I think, informs accommodationism. Religion is such a big part of our culture, it just can’t be that it offers nothing of value.)

    It’s one thing to argue against God, but to argue that theology is useless, well…One might as well be trying to shut down the alchemy department.

  30. For all of us who are waiting here for the video to be released: let’s not forget that Prof. Haught has placed the ball back in Jerry’s court .. when he said in the last paragraph of his comment in Jerry’s previous post:

    … go ahead and ask the Gaines Center to release the video as well.

    After all, it’s the Gaines Center that ‘owns’ the video and, ultimately, makes the decision whether or not to release the video. Since Dr. Rabel appeared to be rather disturbed by all the ‘hoopla’, he may still decide to not publish the video.

    I’m STILL not holding my breath, when it comes to ever seeing that video!

    1. Dr. Rabel has consistently stated from the beginning that his refusal to release the video has been at Dr. Haught’s request. Dr. Haught has withdrawn that request, leaving Dr. Rabel without his previously-stated justification for the sequestration.

      If Dr. Rabel now stands in the way of the video’s release, it is likely that the National Endowment for the Humanities will come down on him like a ton of bricks, and that a FOIA request would also be successful. I’m sure Dr. Rabel understands the consequences of further obstructionism. He’s a smart guy. I don’t doubt that he’ll make the right choice at this point. After all, he has nothing to gain and everything to lose by blocking the release at this point.

      That’s not to say that he’ll necessarily be in a hurry to do so, though I would personally suggest that it’s in his best interests to get it over with — release it today, and it not only becomes part of today’s firestorm but helps quench the flames. Release it a month from now, and it’ll just keep the fire burning in the mean time with a huge flareup when the release finally happens.



      1. Right ..
        But I still think it will probably help move things along quite a bit, if someone, preferably Jerry, actually ASKS Dr. Rabel to release the video, pointing out that there are no longer any valid reasons to withhold its release.

  31. Good for you, Dr. Haught. The era when you could censor things is over. Welcome to the present!

    You should be grateful that I have tried to protect the public from such a preposterous and logic-offending way of bringing your presentation to a close.

    This paternalistic attitude is offensive.

    1. Isn’t it, though? Its amazing Haught thinks anyone would be so dumb as to fall for the “my competitor’s product is so bad, I will spare you the sight of it” line.

  32. Seems like the organizers might have been a little unclear about how this was going to go down — Jerry had been calling it a “debate” well before the event but apparently Haught was not expecting a debate. This seems to be the cause of at least some of Haught’s discomfort with the release of the video. Well, that’s cleared up easily enough. Haught didn’t think it was a debate and Jerry did. A simple misunderstanding. Unfortunate that Haught would leap to the conclusion that it was some sort of calumny on Jerry’s part that led to the approach of, you know, reading and trying to understand Haught’s specific arguments in order to rebut them.

    Other than that, Haught’s complaint mainly seems to be that Jerry misrepresented his views. Unfortunately, Haught is nowhere specific about what his views are and how they were misrepresented. There is also the all-too-familiar complaint that pointing out the absurd beliefs that a faith-based moral system can lead to is somehow “unfair,” but I’ve never bought this: if you’re going to argue that morality can’t exist without religion then you need to be ready to address the immorality that wouldn’t exist without religion.

    Despite the great length of Haught’s comments on the previous thread there were no specific criticisms of Jerry’s arguments, just broad-based assertions that somehow Jerry wasn’t playing fair.

    Prof. Haught, it would be much more informative to know specifically how Jerry Coyne misrepresented your views rather than simply being told that those views are misrepresented. Otherwise, the only competing perspective is Jerry’s: that he read your works in good faith, understood the arguments you were trying to make, and found those arguments wanting. Without knowing the specifics from your perspective I can’t really assess the strengths or weaknesses of Jerry’s arguments.

  33. Dr Coyne, you don’t call your pillow website a blog because we don’t like the word, but the word “blogosphere” appears in the title of one of your posts?
    As for Haught-sorry, the truth hurts.

  34. I’m only partway through reading Haught’s comment, and already I’m thinking that this guy is going to look like an even bigger fool now for having written that comment after we watch the video and see your “attacks” on him being nothing of the sort and see his “academic manner” sneering and condescending toward the nonreligious and perhaps even infantilizing of the religious.

  35. Another example of the Barbra Streisand effect is when you constantly assert that your blog is not a blog, then people are more inclined to argue with you or make jokes about how it is most definitely a blog!

      1. It’s more like a… like a log, you know, as in “Captain’s log”. But, it’s on the Web. If only a convenient portmanteau existed…

  36. My reading of Dr. Haught’s reasons for initially suppressing the video seem to be based on this:

    “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

    We will see from the video who’s reputation is in the most danger from this.

  37. Shamelessly misquoting Gene Spafford, the Internet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea — massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it.

    And if it suddenly decides to beat a path to your door, you probably will not have a door for long.

    1. Probably just genetic mutations — you know, random chance, evolution, satan messing with your DNA, whatever else makes fundies cringe.

    2. Differences?

      Well, here in the WEIT forum we are all wearing smoking jackets and cowbowy boots, as we calmly converse with one another about science and religion. There are fabulous meals and entertaining cat antics. Phyrangula, on the other hand, is a massive tank of vicious tentacled creatures fighting for dominance. Well, or at least that is my impression. 🙂

  38. UPDATE: I have heard from John Haught, who says that he’s satified with my posting his response, and he’ll now okay the release of the video.

    How gracious of him to do what he should have done in the first place.


    What an ass.

  39. A big thank you and congratulations to everyone who participated! It feels good to be a part of something that actually elicited a positive response so quickly. I sent an email to about six different people/groups, but only because of the guidance of the commenters on yesterday’s post!

  40. While i am on your side when it comes to religion vs faith it saddens me that you seem to have a smug, arrogant and undignified personality.

    That is, in my eyes, a greater shame than believing in a non-existant god.

    Do enjoy your ‘victory’

    1. I love it when the tone police arrive.

      What could be more smug, arrogant and undignified than the religious person’s claim to an exclusive relationship with the creator?

      Sometimes it is best to fight fire with fire.

    2. I, in turn, am saddened by the easily saddenable personality you seem to have, Will.

      If you prefer to associate with dignified and ineffectual milqutoasts instead of people who are honest and forthright, may I suggest The Intersocktion?

      (wait: ‘Will’? Are you saying that Coyne is Not Helping?)

    3. Evidence? I’ve been reading Jerry’s writing for a long time and I see absolutely zero evidence of any smug, arrogant, or undignified behavior.

    4. Dignity is overrated. But honestly, how can you say that someone not behaving how you want them to but still behaving civilly is worse than acting from personal and widely-held beliefs and church dogma about a tyrannical and evil imaginary dad?

    5. Placing quotation marks around the word victory in your post is substantially more arrogant and undignified than any statement Jerry Coyne has made about this issue.

      1. I was wondering about that too …

        I was under the impression that Jerry was, pretty much, coming down on the SAME side of both issues, and wasn’t too concerned about the “vs” of the two.

        *sniff* Hmm.. could it be .. *sniff* .. is there a troll in the room?

    6. Oh, you poor thing. You has a sad. May I loan you a hankie? I know you don’t want anyone to see you this way. Do you need help finding your coat?

    7. Will,

      I suppose Dr. Coyne is merely taking a page from the mythical jesus’ book and following his non-smug, non-arrogant, dignified response and claim that he, Dr. Coyne, is the way, the truth and the life. No one can come unto the truth except by him.


  41. Haught: “I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it all that I did not want other people to have to share what I witnessed that night in October.”

    Wow, assuming this is the truth and not just his weaseling out of the situation, who does Haught think he is to decide what “other people” should be allowed to see and how they will react to it?

    If Jerry was so offensive and vulgar, then Haught should have the decency to allow us to see that behavior and decide for ourselves, and not be told that it’s just too insulting to watch at all.

    1. It’s really not surprising that a Catholic chooses an authoritarian answer to a supposed problem. It also appears to be a really good example of how top down value systems muck things up as Jerry probably argued (but we don’t know yet due to Haught’s protective care). At least we can be thankful that Haught didn’t use scientism to make his decision but he might have been better off if he had considered probability theory a little bit.

    2. Curiously, Haught doesn’t seem to have been too offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it all to go out to dinner with Jerry afterwards. At least, that’s what seems to be the case judging by the original post written on the debate. Perhaps Haught meant to include Jerry’s table manners as part of the vulgarity encompassing the totality of the vulgar situation, but if so he doesn’t make that clear.

    3. Additionally, if Coyne was such an ill-mannered boor, one would think Haught would be eager to expose that fact to the world. “See for yourself how badly Coyne behaved!” The notion that Haught was trying to suppress the video into order to protect Jerry’s reputation is laughably nonsensical.

  42. “Sophisticated argument requires as an essential condition that you have the good manners to understand before you criticize”.

    This kind of statement irks the heck out of me (You wouldn’t criticize me if you truly understood the argument I’m making. Educate yourself and then return). Very dismissive. I think Prof. Coyne has been educating himself on Haught’s “sophisticated arguments” and Haught was taken by surprise when Dr. Coyne shot holes in his arguments.

    1. Good point. “You simply didn’t understand, you poor child,” is not a legitimate argument — if the person making it sticks to his or her guns there is simply no acceptable answer. (I did understand! No you didn’t! Yes I did! Didn’t!)

      Haught has to be specific about HOW Coyne misunderstood his arguments and correcting these misunderstandings if he wants this to stick. That’s the only way it would be obvious that it’s a legitimate objection and not a last-ditch effort to save face or whatever.

      1. I haven’t seen the debate (obviously), so the experience I’m about to describe is NOT about Dr. Haught.

        I’ve been in a few discussions where “You’re misunderstanding my argument” really seems to mean “You seem to understand my argument, but you’re reacting as if what I’m saying is intellectually or morally indefensible, so you must not be understanding it right.”

        Most recently, I saw this in a discussion where a Christian was trying to defend Luther’s statements about reason. The Christian’s argument was that Luther supported reason, as long as it was subordinate to faith. This is exactly what the critic of Luther was criticizing but the defender didn’t seem to understand why anyone would find that stance objectionable.

        1. Well that’s a good point, sometimes people’s values might be so different that they can understand what each other are saying and still not understand why each takes the position xe does.

  43. i’m glad that the video will be released. the drama surrounding is not of that much importance to me, but it’s interesting that the video’s emergence is dependent on him and him alone. i find it hard to believe that mr. coyne has delivered such a “tasteless argument” to theology that it warrants being suppressed. if mr. coyne truly does come off as mr. haught claims, won’t that only help mr. haught’s case/points, rather than hurt them? maybe this point’s been made already and i don’t meant to prolong the thread by restating something already said. i just didn’t wade through every comment. as i said, i’m glad the video will be released.

  44. People with vague ideas put them forth expecting you to flush out the fuzziness with concepts that have meaning to you. The result is that a thousand people read the same paragraphs and think a thousand different things and nod to themselves how wise the author is.

    Students often use this technique; rather than risk being wrong by making precise claims, they resort to vague words that are consistent with a wide variety of concrete statements, hoping that the teacher will assume they were describing the correct one.

    1. Yes, its one of those “I’ve run out of rational arguments” words isn’t it? Its a shame that Daniel on Camels with Hammers (hey, anyone remember that dispute?) used it as well, as otherwise he’s written some good stuff.

      1. Yes, I don’t know why it is catching on as an OK word to use. It isn’t OK because it does attempt to shoehorn science into an ism and scientists or science-lovers into materialist-religious fanatics.

  45. From Haught’s “Open Letter:”

    Rather than answering my point that scientism is logically incoherent–which is really the main issue–and instead of addressing my argument that the encounter with religious truth requires personal transformation…

    Why is the main issue not that “religionism is logically incoherent?” And what does “the encounter with religious truth requires personal transformation” (translation, anyone?) have to do with “are relgion and science compatible?,” (my understanding of what was the main issue, just judging by the title of the whole affair…)

    1. I think the point about personal transformation is that you just have to “open” yourself to God (implications unpleasant), lower your intellectual defenses and let it happen and once you do that it’s kind of like a first hand experience, like when you know your tummy aches, you don’t need a scientific test to know that. You just know it because it’s in you. So science would serve to get to learn things about the external world and God would be a first-hand experience, like a tummy ache. Hence two “ways of knowing”.

      Apparently it’s this kind of first-hand revelation that led the Pope to say divorce and gay marriage are very very bad.

      And that’s the problem with that idea. It doesn’t provide an operative method to tell real experiences from self delusion or which person has the real answer when there are two contradictory experiences. If you can’t tell whether you’re having a Divine revelation or you’re just hallucinating, then the whole approach isn’t very useful.

      Science on the other hand is based on an operative method of this kind: the experiment.

      1. Apparently it’s this kind of first-hand revelation that led the Pope to say divorce and gay marriage are very very bad.

        And led Jim Jones to demand mass suicide of his followers.

        And led Aum Shinrikyo to release sarin gas on the Tokyo subway.

        And led the Christian Phalangists to massacre hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila.


  46. Of course, you know what this means.

    We’ve all be sentenced to listening to the entirety of Haught’s speech.

    I’m not sure my ears can take it.

    A nice Merlot and some brie might go well with it, I’m sure. Tres sophistiqué

  47. Theologians are tasked with trying to make the idea of a Hebrew talking snake palatable if not believable. Keep in mind before the fall there was at least one reptile who could talk to humans. That in itself is weird beyond description.

    I’m astonished that grown men (and women) view the bible as anything other than what Hitchens has described as the incoherent babbling of stupified desert dwellers.

    I have no respect for theologians, they’re worse than preachers because they very well know they’re just making shit up.

    And I am tied of being told we should lie to religionists so they will accept evolution, that if we tell them the truth they will run to the comfort of creationism. Who gives a damn? I mean really, who gives a damn.

    If I have to lie to someone so they won’t run from science to creationism in horror, let them run. Seriously, more speed to you if you can’t handle the truth.

    Nick Matzke is a wingnut in that respect. I am not going to lie for science to that backwards thinking people won’t adopt even more backwards ideas.

    Guess what Nick, the King has no clothes, it’s not a pretty realization, and sometimes the GNUs might make fun of how silly he looks all naked and shit, but he aint wearing clothes and some of us are going to point that out.

    Snakes cannot speak Hebrew, the world was not created in a day, the universe is older than 10,000 years, the bible is demonstrably factually, morally, and logically stunted and unreliable. It is all myths, not matter how hard John Haught tried to pray it away.

    Making this public is not a crime, if people get their feelings hurt they might adopt a more durable outlook, or borrow some thicker skin.

    I am so sick and tired of theologians and their apologists.

  48. Welp, just finished watching the video. I was fully expecting Professor Coyne to pull out a machete and start lopping off limbs, from the description he offered. I’m sad to say, I saw no blood letting. The quotes offered seemed pretty generic, if I may be so bold, they are super nuanced subjects, but general statements that I dare say I’ve heard many many apologists and theologians make. I’d love to hear Mr Haught explain exactly how they were unfairly treated. I would hope we don’t need to read several books to just get an explanation of how his argument missed the mark.

    As for the personal attacks, I didn’t see it. The mention of pedophilia was actually to disassociate it from Catholic belief (the first mention anyway). The commentary on official Catholic dogma seemed both accurate and followed logically on the argument being presented. I don’t see how it could be a non sequitur to offer examples of religious “truth” leading to negative social policy, in contrast with scientific “truth”.

    Overall, I didn’t really think the lecture was controversial at all. If you have read any “new” atheist writings, these are pretty common talking points. I’m curious how this could be offensive to Mr. Haught, considering he clearly read some of them while writing a book in response.

    I’m mystified what all the fainting was about, sorry to say.

    1. Ack. Hit send before proof reading.

      “from the description he [Mr. Haught] offered”

      “they are NOT super nuanced subjects”

  49. Just watched the video; it certainly seemed to me that Dr. Coyne spent virtually all of his time describing legitimate conflicts in the attempt to accommodate religion with science, not attacking Dr. Haught. He gave examples of attempts to make this accommodation and why he sees them as faulty. It just happens that a healthy chunk of the examples were from Dr. Haught. I don’t see this as unfair, given Dr. Haught’s status, although a format with the opportunity for rebuttal would probably have helped.

    What makes me sad is that Dr. Haught appears to be a genuinely nice person who wants to believe nice things about the world. I have great empathy for how it must feel to have the obvious (in my opinion) contradictions that must be so central to his personal identity shredded so thoroughly. The problem is that when you start with your conclusions and work backwards to try to jam the facts into them, you’re setting yourself up with ever-increasing levels of cognitive dissonance. Even worse when you are a public figure specifically for those views. I can’t comprehend the mental gymnastics required to view the bible as anything resembling the template of morality. I expected it to be at least inspiring but, wow, was I wrong (it’s not *all* bad, but is extremely backward by today’s standards).

    Also, re the inclusion of crimes by the Catholic church, they were the ones who set themselves up as absolute authority on truth and morality. Therefore, their actions are perfectly valid evidence of the inability of religion to provide answers on truth and morality. A racist/sexist Darwin poses no problems for the theory of evolution or science in general; any conclusions drawn from personal/societal bias instead of evidence will eventually be burned away in the light of reason.

  50. As far as I can personally see, the argument that God exists is purely to exact control over people. Toe the line or you’ll get yours. So much pain and suffering around religion takes away any divine inspiration for me. Wishing to dupe and bamboozle people does nothing for ethics or morality. Religion is completely at odds with the truth it purports to bring.

  51. I’m glad this video was released so we can all see what all the noise is about.

    I must say I was quite surprised. Contrary to my expectations, I found Mr. Coyne’s arguments to be weak and poorly presented. Very surprising.

    A brief example:

    Consider the discussion around:
    “how many people believe in the literal presence of angels? 78% according to a recent poll. If you’re smart you know there is no such thing as angels [giggles]”
    Consider the larger context of the discussion around this quote, not just the quote itself. Consider the statistics presented in the moments before and after. What is the purpose of this line of discussion Mr. Coyne? This does not address the topic of the discussion (“Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?”) except perhaps at the most superficial level. You had nothing more insightful to say? You did manage to imply that most people are stupid, but I’m not sure how that helped your case. There are those of us that are aligned with your views and are as dogmatic about it as the most devout religous person. Those people probably loved this kind of talk. “Yah, you tell him! Most people are dummies! We’re the elite – the smart ones!” That’s fine if you want to “preach to the converted”. This is very weak content and the rest of the presentation featured much of the same. Frankly it was boring and added nothing intellectually provocative. I can hear that kind of talk in an undergrad lounge over a couple of beers.

    I’m sorry, but from a purely academic point of view, Mr Haught argued his point in a more mature and convincing manner. His delivery was better too. I doubt you convinced anybody new.

    I cannot fathom why Haught would not want this released. It is an academic discussion and must be released unless there is content that is slanderous, hateful, or which promotes discrimination. This is not nearly the case here. Mr. Haught, what were you thinking? Don’t be sensative. There is no place for that here. If you feel you were misrepresented, take advantage of the publicity and reply formally and fully. I would also love to see Mr. Coyne have a second kick at the can. Kick it up a notch gentlemen?

    1. michael #65 wrote:

      “how many people believe in the literal presence of angels? 78% according to a recent poll. If you’re smart you know there is no such thing as angels [giggles]” … This does not address the topic of the discussion (“Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?”) except perhaps at the most superficial level.

      I agree that Dr. Coyne would have been more prudent — and would have made his point more clearly — if he had instead said “If you’re using a scientific approach you know there is no such thing as angels.” But I think this is implied anyway, in context.

      And at the most basic (not superficial) level I think it’s certainly relevant that religious beliefs like angels certainly do conflict with our scientific understanding of what does, and does not, exist. It may be obvious, but bringing it up isn’t childish.

    2. Thanks for joining us, the missing wingnut. Among Haught, that knows he got his ass kicked, and Matzke, who fears Haught got his ass kicked, you place as the one who doesn’t know Haught got his ass kicked.

      If it is so obvious, why do Coyne has to mention it to Haught. And in a discussion about religion, not theology? Maybe _you_ should consider the context, all of it.

    3. . What is the purpose of this line of discussion Mr. Coyne?

      It was simple:

      to show that irrationality is commonplace.

      this, in fact, is why there is such a low acceptance of science itself in the United States.

      It’s a direct attack on the very idea of accomodationism, and Haught’s “sophisticated theology” at the same time.

      It was simple, straightforward, and directly on point.

      that YOU couldn’t grasp it has nothing to do with it being weak.

      1. “there is such a low acceptance of science itself in the United States.”

        Really? Do you also believe that religion is more widely accepted than science is in the United States? That would an interesting. I think I could easily support the idea that they are both widely accepted in the United States and therefore draw an equally weak conclusion that science and religion are very compatible. So, according to you, his argument is: Lots of people believe in angels. That is not smart. Science is about being smart/rational, so science and religion are not compatible. This argument, as you characterize it, is indeed weak.

        Accomodationism on the other hand is loosely defined as the act of adapting to or compromising with an opposing view. Whether or not you think this is a positive practice is somewhat beside the point don’t you think? I also assert that this line of discussion does little to refute Haught’s “sophisticated theology” but feel free to correct me here. That indeed would have been more to the point.

        Our difference in opinion probably has less to do with what I was able to grasp and more to do with your confirmation bias. Are you looking for ideas that support your own rather than looking at the argument objectively? If not, feel free to reply and better demonstrate my lack of understanding.

        Note that in my comments I have not taken a position on the debate topic. I am only discussing the quality of the arguments made.

  52. One question I’m wondering about:

    Haught claims that he was told that he was told that each person would be making a 25 minute presentation and that it would not be a debate. Is there’s any evidence for this? Can Jerry confirm/refute this claim based on what he was told?

    1. What we were told is that we each had 25 minutes to talk on the topic. We were told, as I recall, that it wasn’t a “debate” in the sense that we weren’t going to have back-and-forths on the stage after our initial presentations. So it wasn’t a a formal “debate” in that sense. But there was no stricture on what I could say, and, as I recall, I told Robert Rabel that I was going to take a pretty tough stand.

      1. Hmm, this makes it more plausible to me that there was some degree of miscommunication or illusion of transparency http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_transparency in what not a debate meant. And Rabel may not have realized that by a tough position you meant you were going to go directly against Haught’s position. This makes their behavior and Haught’s reaction make more sense although still seems to be out of line. But I don’t think people realize how often the illusion of transparency can cause serious issues especially when people already have a tendency to presume that people they disagree with are somehow bad.

  53. This is the first time I have heard Jerry Coyne speak and I was very impressed with the fluidity of his delivery and its content. The conclusion I draw from Haught’s reaction is that it’s not nice to point out the cognitive dissonance of another when it wasn’t expected.

    That does mean that Haught could see the absurdity of his position.

    One thing that struck me was how Dr. Coyne submitted that what he was going to say would be hard-hitting and pugnacious. I wonder why Dr. Coyne feels that what he said would be interpreted in such a way.

  54. Greg A.

    Define the experiment you wish us to conduct as a “science” towards analyzing Christianity.

    Right now it comes off as empty sophistry and your utter ignorance of how science works.

  55. In the teapot analogy, the explanation of “I want tea” is pure speculation if the only empirical evidence you have is that the water is boiling. Pure speculation is not reality, it isn’t truth, and it doesn’t deserve respect.

  56. John Haught made a number of problematic or obviously false claims.

    For example, he says: The new atheists don’t want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity … The implications should be nihilism.

    This is more than problematic, it is manifestly false. Nihilism no more follows automatically from atheism than does meaningfulness from theism. As I argue in my recent book, The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives, both nihilistic and non-nihilistic views can follow from either atheism or theism. Most importantly, the view that theism does not guarantee meaningfulness is the generally accepted view among contemporary philosophers, of whom only about 15% are theists. The majority of the remaining 85% of philosophers are not nihilists, as Haught’s argument implies they would be.

    Next Haught suggests that theism justifies hope, whereas atheism cannot:

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