Accommodationism Weekend

February 11, 2012 • 6:48 am

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809—all of you should know by now that that is also the day on which Abraham Lincoln was born—and biologists always mark Darwin’s birthday, often with a “Darwin Day” featuring evolution-related lectures.

One of the celebrations is “Evolution Weekend,” created by Michael Zimmerman, who has a Ph.D. in ecology. Zimmerman founded the Clergy Letter Project, a project designed to get the faithful to accept evolution by urging pastors to write letters asserting that evolution is compatible with church doctrine.  (I’m not sure how successful this has been, since there are no data about conversions. And formal church doctrine doesn’t always dictate scientific belief: although the Catholic Church formally accepts a form of theistic evolution in which human souls were created by God, 27% of American Catholics still think that modern species were created de novo by God and have remained unchanged ever since.  Statistics for mainline, non-evangelical Protestants are virtually identical.)

During “Evolution Weekend,” the faithful are supposed to discuss evolution and clasp Darwin to their bosom. That’s a good idea in principle, but Zimmerman tarnishes it by making false claims about faith and gratuitously dissing us nasty atheists.  Here, for example, is a statement from the 2012 Evolution Weekend page:

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.

This is a paradigm of accommodationism, and of course a theological statement as well.  Zimmer neglects, as he must, the palpable fact that religion and science are adversaries, both in their methodology and their conclusions.  Only 16% of Americans, for example, accept evolution the way we scientists see it: as a blind, materialistic process without any divinely-imposed goal or purpose. As I’ve stressed elebenty gazillion times before, the American rejection of evolution stems almost entirely from America’s religiosity. Few creationists are secularists.

And, of course, the wonders of science must enhance and deepen one’s awe and gratitude towards God if you start out a believer, for what choice do you have? When evolution makes hash of your beliefs, you either dump them or confect rationalizations of how God of course would have used evolution as his means of creation.  Every scientific advance must redound to God’s glory, even those, like evolution, that are absolutely at odds with both scripture and people’s beliefs.

Finally, I love Zimmerman’s ludicrous statement that both science and faith “look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.”  The first part is correct—the perspectives are not only different, and at odds—but the second part is garbage.  Religion asks questions like “What is the nature of God?” and “What is his plan for our lives?”, but they never answer them. Such answers are impossible for three reasons: God doesn’t exist, there’s no way to find out the answer to those questions except for the unreliable method of revelation, and those revelations have given different answers to different faiths (and to different people within a faith).  Religion doesn’t answer any questions.  If Zimmerman thinks otherwise, let him come over here and tell us what questions it’s answered.

But I digress.  Zimmerman is touting this year’s Evolution Weekend with a piece at PuffHo (where else?): “Evolution weekend: protecting both religion and science.”  Already from the title you know it’s dire: why does religion have to be protected? Here’s Zimmerman’s agenda for Evolution Weekend:

1. To protect mainstream religion from those who are attempting to define religious belief so narrowly that millions of deeply pious individuals are excluded;
2. To demonstrate that religion and science need not be at odds with each other and to show that a vast majority of religious individuals have both understanding of and respect for the principles of modern science; and
3. To create an opportunity for people to think critically and articulate carefully about these important topics. In short, they are looking to elevate the quality of the debate by pushing aside the veil of ignorance that so many purposefully have used to confuse the issue.

What, exactly, is “mainstream religion”?  Catholicism? Evanglical Protestantism? “Mainline Protestanism”? It doesn’t matter: a substantial percentage of adherents to all of those faiths reject evolution on religious grounds.  Goal number 1 is, of course, a call to protect religion from those shrill and nasty atheists who question all religious belief, no matter how “liberal.”

Point number 2 is correct: religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic.  That leaves deism as the one compatible form of faith.  Most religions, of course, aren’t deistic, and so are inherently at odds with science.

I also doubt Zimmerman’s claim that “a vast majority of religious individuals have both understanding of and respect for the principles of modern science”: where did he get those data?  They’re certainly not true for evolution: the vast majority of all Americans (and an even higher proportion of the faithful) either reject evolution or think that God guided the process of evolution. Religious Americans may aver that they respect science, but they certainly don’t understand it: only 59% of American adults know that dinosaurs and humans weren’t contemporaries, and only 53% of us know how long it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun (!!!).

And, as we’ve seen before from the work of Michael Sherkat, scientific illiteracy is positively correlated with religion: believers show significantly less understanding of science than do nonbelievers, and this is independent of gender, race, education, and where one lives.  (Those tests of literacy, by the way, excluded questions about evolution.)

So Zimmerman is dissimulating for Jesus.  And although he decries the fundamentalists for failing to embrace evolution, he attacks the atheists even more:

Some of the attacks on participants in Evolution Weekend 2012 will also undoubtedly come from “new atheists” who like to lump all religious individuals in with fanatical fundamentalists. In their eyes, anyone who expresses religious sentiments to even the slightest degree is no different from a Biblical literalist. These new atheists will attack the clergy who are participating in Evolution Weekend even though those very same clergy should be their biggest allies when it comes to combating the assault on science taking place in our public schools. But these new atheists can’t see past their own biases and recognize that only a combined effort will protect science.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  Most New Atheists do not lump all religious individuals in with fanatical fundamentalists: that’s just a lie on Zimmerman’s part. How many of us think that a Quaker is the same thing as an Islamic radical, or a Unitarian Universalist the same thing as a Catholic bishop who claims that condoms don’t prevent AIDS?  We don’t lump all religions together in terms of the harm they cause society. Some are worse than others.  But we do lump them together in one respect: they all believe in a celestial father for which there is no evidence.

And I’m certainly not attacking the clergy who preach Darwinism from their pulpits. More power to them.  I have little faith that they’ll achieve much (I still think that Richard Dawkins has brought far more of the faithful to evolution than any preacher), but they’re welcome to try; and if I had been invited to a church to talk about evolution, I would.  I just wouldn’t tell anyone that religion and science are friends, or compatible.

The whole disingenuous tenor of enterprises like Evolution Weekend is summed up in a statement that Zimmerman makes near the end of his piece:

The clergy members participating in Evolution Weekend and the thousands upon thousands who have signed one of The Clergy Letters supporting the teaching of evolutionary theory in public school science classes demonstrate conclusively that the entire evolution/creation dispute is not a real debate. Rather it is a contrived controversy being promoted by those advocating a single religious world view.

“Not a real debate”?  Give me a break!  It is a real debate, and one that has serious consequences for people’s worldviews. It matters to people whether there was a real Adam and Eve, or whether that’s just a fiction. It matters to people whether evolution is a blind, materialistic, and purposeless process (and, by the way, does Zimmerman advocate pastors preaching that scientifically correct view from their pulpits?), or whether God steered it toward the production of Homo sapiens. It is not “a contrived controversy”—words meant to imply that a few people cooked it up in a smoke-filled room.  It is a debate about reason and evidence, and one of vital importance to our society. And it is a debate that passionately engages many Americans.

It is this kind of stuff—this pervasive accommodationism, this disingenuous pretense that science and faith are friends, this idea that the science-religion debates are merely “contrivances”—that takes the luster off of Darwin Weekend.  By all means tell the faithful that evolution is true, but let’s not pretend that that was God’s way of creating, or that humans are a special, God-grown branch on the tree of life.  The 40% of Americans who reject evolution outright, and the 38% who think that evolution occurred but was guided by God, neither understand nor respect science, and are not my allies. My allies are those who teach evolution as it is understood by scientists.

It baffles me when I’m asked to make common cause with those who think that the “goal” of evolution was our own species, and that God inserted a soul in our ancestry somewhere along the line from Australopithecus to H. sapiens.  Forget it.

183 thoughts on “Accommodationism Weekend

  1. A significant number of Unitarian Universalists consider themselves atheists, humanists/secular humanists, or agnostics. Many others consider themselves some form of pagan (though I don’t know to what extent they see their paganism as simply love of, or respect for, the natural world and its processes; many of them are probably actually atheist or agnostic). It is NOT correct to say that UUs believe in a “celestial father” (though some may). At one time they did, but not today.

    1. Meh. Jerry’s point still stands, despite apparent lack of agreement among the UU community as to what they believe these days.

      1. You misunderstand: there is no “UUs believe…,” there is only what each individual believes (or doesn’t believe). We have no creed and no doctrines. There is no consensus, and that is not our goal. We are all about encouraging each individual (especially children) to develop his/her own beliefs or LACK of beliefs. I am a lifelong atheist. I wasn’t raised to be an atheist – I was raised to think for myself and make up my own mind.

        1. I very much do understand. I think you are just phrasing it differently. I say “lack of agreement” and you dispute it with “no consensus”. This a a distinction with no difference. We agree on that part.

          What we don’t (maybe?) agree on is whether the fact that UUs eschew a common doctrine is in some way a negation of Jerry’s argument. You seem to suggest it does. I may be misreading your original objection, the trigger for my “Meh”. Am I?

          1. The word that triggered my reply was your use of the word “lack” instead of “absence” (or a synonym). Lack suggests that something is missing, whereas absence indicates that it is not there. I made the mistake of using “lack” when I should have used “absent” in replying to you. Jerry lumped UU in with theist/deist religions, which is false. Further, we eschew not only a “common doctrine,’ but the very idea of a doctrine. We are anti-doctrine, not just non-doctrine.

              1. Divergent evolution, rather:
                the simulator page requires Flash, which Evolution (of browsers) is in the process of sidetracking.
                Anyway, my Safari can’t see it, therefore I can’t see it, therefore it’s not there. Strong anthropocentric principle at work.

              2. Try Chrome. It handles Flash without Adobe Flash having to be installed. My fallback when Safari can’t “translate” Flash.


            1. Ah — right. So I’d got completely the wrong end of the stick when in my reply to you below. We actually agree on that point: UU is not a theist/deist religion. Apologies for my mistake.


            2. Well, at this point I’m fully confused about what you are saying or who “you” is. (Me?)

              I do gather that you are an atheist and that UU members don’t share beliefs about matters religious. Still you said that some may believe in a celestial sky dude, so the distribution along the “believer axis” would seem to be rather wide. What keeps you all in the room together, I wonder?

              In any case, I _think_ my “meh” still stands. As long as UUs consider themselves a religious community in some sense of the word, Jerry’s use of y’all as being quite different from other types of religious organizations and the anti-condom bishop is completely appropriate.

              But again, I may be lost as to what your point actually was.

        2. In what sense, then, does UU qualify as a religion? Many of us gnu/new atheists (I think!) would accept something like Anthony Grayling’s definition: “a set of beliefs about a supernatural agent or agents, and a set of practices entailed by those beliefs, usually articulated as responses to the wishes or demands of the supernatural agent or agents in question.” [Ideas That Matter] (Thus, some forms of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Mohism, and so on, are not religions, but philosophies.)

          Note that, in any case, Jerry did make the point, “religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic”. UU is clearly not a theistic religion, even if it you think qualify as a religion in the first place.


          1. An honest UU should be able to admit that UUism is not a religion. The way I look at it, UUism is a meta-religion: A set of beliefs about which religious beliefs are good and which are bad.

            The problem is that UU congregations call themselves “churches”, their leaders call themselves “ministers”, etc. This is in part for historical reasons, and in part to fulfill the need of some members to be able to say they have a “church” and are “religious”, even though they’re atheists. A UU community plays the same role in my life as a Christian church does to a Christian person: We meet there once or twice a week to learn from each other, be exposed to insights and world-views that are compatible with ours so that we may learn from them and be better/happier as a consequence… and to meet like-minded people and socialize. So it feels like a church, like a religion, and for the most part we get away with calling it that, even though we shouldn’t.

        3. I think it depends some on the UU church you go to. Most are atheist friendly, but I’ve heard of some which are not.

          Anyway, this is somewhat missing the forest for the trees. To the extent that UU is a faith tradition, it’s full of crap. I recognize that for many UUs it is not really about faith. But for many it is. (The last UU church I went to had a huge banner that said “Faith”, and the one I went to before that sang songs about angels and stuff… just sayin’…) And Jerry’s main point in bringing up UUs was to basically praise them as not entirely sucking.

          1. UU: yes, some are atheist, some are agnostics and some are liberal Christians. But many (most) believe in woo of some sort; most reject the standard supernatural stuff but many embrace the new-age type nonsense.

            Jesus: “bad”
            Healing crystals or homeopathic remedies: “good”.

            “sky daddy”: “bad”
            “wise Earth Mother”: “good”.


            1. But then many atheists of other kinds believe in woo of some sort. Not everyone arrives at their atheist through scepticism/naturalism/science/… 


            2. Not true. At the UU churches I have attended, most people there were not only atheists but also skeptics. The proportion of atheists, skeptics, pagans, fans of woo, etc, does vary from UU church to UU church, though. A UU church at a large West-Coast city will have a different composition than a UU church in the Midwest or South.

      1. Oh, no! That won’t do either — not all Buddhists are theists!! (See A.C. Grayling, Ideas That Matter; Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen.)

        Add “Tibetan”.


        1. I took an Indian religion course in college. My professor described Hinduism this way: “In Hinduism, there are thousands of gods. Although there are thousands of gods, there are really only three. Although there are only three, there’s only really one. Although there’s only one, there really isn’t any god at all.”

          1. That sounds like sophistricated theology to me. I’d expect that many ordinary Hindus firmly believe in those thousands of gods… no?


          2. For those scoffing, consider the fact that the same object can simultaneously be an armchair, a chair, a stick of furniture, a wooden construction, a large block of matter mostly composed of dead plant cells, or quadrillions of tightly coupled atoms without any contradiction. Hinduism argues the true nature of the world is a unified whole (the Atman) but that human beings in particular are cut off from this because the nature of our minds forces us into dualistic reasoning (that’s true/false dualism, not substance dualism). As a result, we’re constrained to see the Atman divided into categories, into a sort of taxonomy. The top level is the birth/life/death cycle represented by Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and each of those aspects is further subdivided. So for example, one aspect of life is knowledge, and so Ganesh is seen as a manifestation of Vishnu is seen as a manifestation of the Atman.

            It’s actually a rather beautiful belief system even if you reinterpret it atheistically without all the reincarnation and other metaphysical baggage. One of the reasons I have to laugh at Christians is that their theology is so ad hoc, simplistic, and ugly compared to Hindu and Buddhist theology.

  2. … a vast majority of religious individuals have both understanding of and respect for the principles of modern science.

    Well, its principles, perhaps. But not, evidently, for its practice and its conclusions — and their implications!


    1. Zimmerman’s “vast majority” statement is vastly wrong. Does he mean the religious individuals that he knows? The ones here in central Pennsylvania? Those in Mississippi? Those in Massachussets? Garbage! I live in a small university town with many college-educated religious individuals. Very few of them have even a ‘casual intimacy’ with the the principles of science, and ‘respect for science’ is perfunctory at best.

    2. Not even its principles, if you consider that the foremost principles of science are skepticism and taking care not to fool yourself with wishful thinking.

    3. Hmm… that “perhaps” should be read as “if we assume that for the sake of argument”. It doesn’t matter that anyone respects the principles if they’re not prepared to accept where those principles lead them.


  3. But these new atheists can’t see past their own biases and recognize that only a combined effort will protect science.

    That’s rich. Who says science needs protection? The bitterness here is striking. The only reason these folks are engaged in such an enterprise is that they fear losing the next generation to reason. And Zimmerman is upset because some scientists won’t collaborate in keeping their kids’ minds controlled?

    1. Science needs protection because a great many of those who don’t accept and don’t understand it are paying for it.

      1. But will it really work to ‘protect’ science by lying to people about what how scientific truths reflect on the ideas they hold without evidence? The taxes of anti-vaccers are still paying for the grants to develop new vaccines, and YECs taxes pay for geological surveys of ancient rocks. Better to stick with the facts and the evidence behind them to than to try an sugar coat it so it will go down easier. Lets be real here, its the religions that are lying to people, not science.

  4. Actually, Zimmerman’s point #1 doesn’t make sense to me if he’s talking about shrill atheists. He must be talking about crazed fundamentalists that don’t think “normal” religious folks are pious enough. No?

  5. I have a prediction. We may see, in our lifetime, whether I’m right.

    I think xianity can only focus on one megavillain at a time. When I learned about the history of Galileo, I thought at the time how strikingly similar their reactions were to Galileo and Darwin. Now, with the exception of a few fruitcakes, Galileo’s observations are accepted.

    So, here’s my prediction: at some point, some abiogeneticist is going to create life from “soup” (please pardon my layperson’s term). At that time, Darwin will be forgotten, and all the vitriol and hatred will be transferred to the new villain, whoever that turns out to be.

    Should be interesting. L

    1. Even more, some intelligent neuro scientist might crack open the biology and science behind consciousness, and these faith heads would start yelling like babies, whose toys were stolen

    2. The Mega-villain all Christians are waiting for is the anti-Christ. They will know him by the signs. When a good-looking, charismatic, secular world leader succeeds in ending war and uniting the entire planet in a common brotherhood, that’s the cue that everything has gone to shit. Christians can’t abide a world without suffering.

    1. Er, the 21st century after what, precisely?

      We are “pandering to these idiots”, as you say, on a daily basis, when we are using their frames of reference, in things large and small. The more unconsciously, the worse.

      Stardate: -310886.02762598655

      1. So… when was this Jesus Christ born, then? (Or… same question, but without the “when”!)

        21st Century after Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as any Classical scholar would aver!


        1. Our calendar was designed during the Christian era though the date chosen for the birth of Christ was totally arbitrary and was chosen by a Pope called Greg. I don’t think that coninuing to use this dating system is anything other than a convenience. How could anyone possibly get an alternative system accepted at this late date? In any case, the days an months are mostly named after Pagan gods, who really makes an issue out of that?

          1. I do. There is nothing convenient in the current calendar systems. Certainly nothing rational in using a seven-day week system patterned on the biblical Genesis fiction, to name another absurdity.
            “How could anyone possibly get an alternative system accepted at this late date?” Late, relative to what?
            Also, it’s an inconvenient convention. Inconvenient conventions deserve overturning.
            But there’s more to it. Let’s try a 90° Hofstadter tack: what if Charles Darwin had told himself, “How could anyone possibly get an alternative explanation for the origin of species accepted after all these millennia of biblical creationism?”
            He confronted fundamental beliefs about the origins and natural history of life. I am merely questioning the archaic bookkeeping of time.

            Plus, imagine the bonanza in new calendar conversion apps 🙂

            1. The even-day week system is not patterned on the biblical Genesis fiction, but predated it. It’s astronomical (or, more correctly, astrological). Each known “planet” (very loosely), from the farthest to the closest to the Earth, ruled an hour of the day, and each day was named after the ruling planet of the first hour, starting with Saturn, then the sun, moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus. This is more obvious in the names of the days in the Romance languages. See here and here (a poster I prepared for Cub Scouts — !). Note that in some languages the names are quite secular — either numerical or named for domestic activities (such as “bathday”).

              Migrating from a seven-day week would play havoc with employment law in many Western countries, I think!

              From a secular perspective, the (B)CE system is as good as any other — and probably better. Even if we know it’s supposed to be Christian, we also know that what evidence there is for Jesus’s birth (were he ever actually born) points to a date several years earlier. So, the starting date is quite arbitrary. Why not assume it’s based on Classical literature?


              PS. If we were to adopt a new calendar, we wouldn’t need new calendar conversion apps, just another addition to the algorithms and parameters they already use.

              1. You surely are aware — I’m mentioning this only for the less calendaristically minded co-readers — that the old Roman calendar, inherited from the Etruscans, had the nundinal cycle, i.e., 8-day week. The western Celts used a 9-nights week, fitting nicely into their 27-nights sidereal month. Shang Chinese already had a 10-day week, just as the ancient Egyptians. (The décade of the French Revolutionary calendar is not so much a decimal innovation as a return to a grand and ancient tradition.) So the case for a 7-day week is less than compelling.
                My own rhythm is far better suited to a 10-day cycle, although I’d be willing to accept 8-day or 5-day cycles. Just sayin’.

                “Why not assume it’s based on Classical literature?”
                Because we know it isn’t. If it were, the Metamorphoses wouldn’t be my first choice for date zero. If you seek a fictional date zero for a new calendar, my proposition is 25 March 421(CE). I’d be just as happy with a real commemorative date: 12 February 1809.:)

                Re apps: since when do additions of trivial constants to existing algorithms not qualify as paid upgrades? 🙂 Are you trying to ruin the app developers economy?

              2. Oh, I wasn’t suggesting the seven-day week was necessarily best, only that it didn’t have its roots in Genesis.

                But the seven-day week is so well entrenched in Western countries that the social resistance to change would be significant.

                Well, 25 March 421 is a religious date as well, of course. But I wouldn’t object to 12 February 1809 — how could I, today of all days?


                PS. I have no objection to paid upgrades!

              1. Hah! I had been going to mention that above… Thanks for the link!

                Then there was that short story of his that pointed out a, um, religious reason why a single universal calendar might be a very bad idea indeed!


          2. I like it. Could we have 50 hour days and increase the standard work day to 10 hours? Christian employers could be proud that they are getting 2 more hours of work per employee every day.

            It’ll work out, the christians have faith that 10 is greater than 8.

          1. Oh, no — just think of all the songs that would have to be re-written.

            • “Day 1, Bloody Day 1”
            • “Day 2, Day 2”
            • “Manic Day 2”
            • “Day 6 On My Mind”
            • “Day 7 Night’s Alright for Fighting”


            1. Who would rewrite ‘The First Noël’, although many folks nowadays cannot explain, offhand, the precise meaning and origin of ‘Noël’?
              Not more of a problem than the general ignorance of the etymology of ‘scanner’ or ‘dial’, or even the real sense of ‘lock, stock and barrel’. We are continually treading the débris of history, and most of the time we can’t be bothered to tell them from cobblestones.

              BTW, it’s ‘Manic Day 1’ in my secular calendar 🙂

  6. But we do lump them together in one respect: they all believe in a celestial father for which there is no evidence.

    That’s just not fair! Some religions believe in various other celestial family members for which there are no evidence.

    Stupid new atheists trying to paint all religions as identical. What we need is a nuanced and respectful discussion which acknowledges the great diversity of faith traditions are each utter crap in their own unique way. Enlightened minds see it not as a simple pile of bullshit, but as a beautiful colorful wonderfully human tapestry of stinking bullshit.

  7. The gazzzong moment:

    Few creationists are secularists.

    Gazzzong! I didn’t know there were any. I couldn’t imagine there being any. Or is this the ultimate third-degree litotes, like “a whelk’s chance in a supernova”?

    1. Actually, somewhere in the 2007 Kansas science hearings clown car there was a secular philosopher. As I recall, it wasn’t so much that he was a creationist as that he thought that everything about the distant past ought to remain really uncertain, so he supported creationists on those grounds.

  8. Although I admire Richard Dawkins, this statement did surprise me slightly.

    ‘I still think that Richard Dawkins has brought far more of the faithful to evolution than any preacher’

    Interested to know on what basis Jerry is inclined to think so.

  9. I fail to understand the vitriol and what strikes me as mock outrage. Given the abysmal level of science literacy it is better to have lay people talking about evolution than not. It is an important conversation to have even if it is in the context of the compatibility of evolution and faith. Religion is not going to go away anytime soon. People here need to get over it already.

    1. It is. But that’s not really Jerry’s objection, as I understand it. After all, Jerry said that he’d be quite happy to talk to the faithful, in church, about evolution.

      The objection is to the claim that the theory of evolution is compatible with religion and that theistic religion arbitrarily inserts God into the theory (such that it is no longer a scientific theory).

      If the clergy would tell their flocks that the theory of evolution indicates that evolution is blind and purposeless and that there is no shred of evidence for the guiding hand of God or any other intelligence there would be no problem… (for us).


      1. I don’t get a sense, at least in this case, that the message they are going to be preaching is that God is there guiding evolution along to make certain species possible. If so I would have to agree they should be called out on it. Having said that I understand that this is a religious group so I would not be surprised to hear the claim made that God is the source of evolution as is claimed by Francis Collins and other religious scientists. As far as I’m concerned that would be a theological claim akin to someone saying that God is the source of the laws of physics and so I’d have no objections to it.

        1. Saying that GOd is the source of the laws of physics can be a deistic claim. And that might not be objectionable (depending on the exact concept of the deity).

          But saying that God guided evolution is quite a different claim. That necessitates an intercessionary diety for whom humanity is special, which is bollocks.


    2. The problem Jerry and most of us “here” have with accomodationism is that it just isn’t true … and once they start defending the absurd premise that faith and science are not in contradiction, it certainly appears that virtually all accomodationists just can’t resist making claims to support the premise that are also not true. Zimmerman makes one claim after another that are demonstrable bullshit.

      1. People are full of contradictions and accommodate all sorts of conflicting ideas in their heads all the time. I’m saying to get religious people talking about evolution in the first place is a good thing… a very good thing. You are not going to get people to even have the conversation when you suggest that in order for them to truly accept evolution as scientific fact they must abandon their faith. It is just not going to happen.

        1. The question is whether a conversation that requires dishonesty is worth having. And to what end? Certainly, the people who are trying to disrupt science education loathe the Clergy Letter Project as much as they do Jerry.

          1. Why does a conversation about evolution and faith require dishonesty? One of the best books on evolution I’ve read is Relics of Eden by Daniel Fairbanks. Fairbanks makes one of the strongest cases I’ve read anywhere about the genetic basis for evolution. Oh and Fairbanks happens to be a Mormon. You can make the case for evolution and go on believing in as many sun gods as you want to as Fairbanks and other religious scientists seem to have done.

            1. I don’t think anyone here would deny that religious people can be great scientists and science writers. We all know that science and religion can be compartmentalized. The issue is whether scientists do something wrong in pointing out that science and religion cannot be reconciled, noting, for example, that if supernatural events occur (which religious truth claims require), science cannot be reliable. That’s a pretty straightforward observation but, if you make it, count on some pretty ugly reaction.

        2. Now _you_ are making accommodationist claims that are demonstrable bullshit.

          From already mentioned Convert’s Corner:

          “The first stumbling block I encountered when I studied another religion, Islam. It was so obviously and blatantly a product of human imagination that I started questioning the logic of my own faith. I continued to be influenced by Christian holy men and established religion though until I came across ‘The God Delusion’ in a book shop whilst visiting the popular science section.

          My biology teacher had mentioned your name a few times so I decided to buy the book not really knowing what it was about. I am embarrassed to admit this but upon reading the part of the book where you state that any reader with any sense of reason will be an atheist by the end of it, I did raise an eyebrow and think that was not likely as I had thought a lot on the subject and was very confident in my beliefs if anything it would be a test of my faith (I shudder when I think about how I could have been so deluded). By the end of it atheist I was though.”

        3. Oops. In response to “You are not going to get people to even have the conversation when you suggest that in order for them to truly accept evolution as scientific fact they must abandon their faith. It is just not going to happen.”

          1. Oops! My response was intended for TheMuse
            Posted February 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm. I neglected to notice the quotations properly.

        4. Few of us would ever make the claim “that in order for [believers] to truly accept evolution as scientific fact they must abandon their faith.” That would be stupid since many people who haven’t abandoned their faith do accept evolution. We’re not in the habit of rejecting facts – that’s the job of theists.

          It is quite another thing to write books and articles and to launch campaigns that claim the science and faith are not incompatible. They are – it is just as you’ve said it, “People are full of contradictions and accommodate all sorts of conflicting ideas in their heads all the time.” What are accomodationists are saying that the contradictions are not contradictions!

          1. That should have been in response to The Muse.

            Perhaps you are hung up on is the sense in which I meant that science and faith are incompatible. What I mean is logically incompatible. Science demands evidence, faith makes of virtue of believing things without evidence. Of course, since human being are quite capable of being illogical and inconsistent, it is quite possible for a person to retain their faith while accepting the results of scientific investigation.

  10. Point number 2 is correct: religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic. That leaves deism as the one compatible form of faith. Most religions, of course, aren’t deistic, and so are inherently at odds with faith.

    Did you mean to say science here?

  11. “The Clergy Letters supporting the teaching of evolutionary theory in public school science classes demonstrate conclusively that the entire evolution/creation dispute is not a real debate. Rather it is a contrived controversy being promoted by those advocating a single religious world view.
    This is so disingenuous it makes me want to vomit. The only objections I have ever received to teaching evolution in public schools have been on religious grounds. From school board members to teacher and parents, to slimy politicians, all have been in defense of their religious ideologies, irrespective of their individual denominations
    They will stand and look you in the face and lie for Jesus without flinching and try to convince you that religion has nothing to do with it.

  12. Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God.

    Yeah, but that’s only because they’re keeping the methods and discoveries of science away from God itself. Zimmerman: let’s see what happens when you throw out the obligation to try to find a way to believe in God and instead start on in the hypothesis from the bottom up.

    Religion doesn’t answer any questions. If Zimmerman thinks otherwise, let him come over here and tell us what questions it’s answered.

    Religion answers the question “how do you shoehorn absolutely every possible observation into either support for or a deeper understanding of ‘God’ and not feel intellectually dishonest?”

    Science can objectively answer that as a matter of psychology and biology, but it can’t give a “helpful” answer.

    Point number 2 is correct: religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic. That leaves deism as the one compatible form of faith. Most religions, of course, aren’t deistic, and so are inherently at odds with science

    I’m going to disagree with Jerry here. Unless “Deism” has been so watered down that absolutely no mind-like aspects are left to the Creator God — it doesn’t think, it’s not an agent, it has no goals, it has no values, it has no ethical imperative, it has no attitude, it has no intelligence, it has no consciousness, it has no awareness of self or other — the same problems apply. Minds and their products are the result of a long process of evolution. We would not start out with even a stripped-down deistic “force” without conflicting with science. It doesn’t fit in with what we know and it’s unnecessary.

    That said, I’ll toss Zimmerman a bone. There is no conflict between science and religion — or evolution and God — if you redefine the terms “religion” and “God” to mean “philosophy” and “nature.”

    Just don’t think you can switch them back again when we’re not looking and get away with it.

  13. Bottom line: we are fighting the Copernican argument all over again. Even those who claim to “embrace science” can’t wrap their heads around the fact that the universe was not created with humans in mind.

    In this regard, humans are indeed like cats: they think that all of creation revolves around them.

  14. Religion, especially “western” religions, tend to be more about CERTAINTY, whereas science is (or should be) about uncertainty.

    This is why I wonder why scientists (or “scientists?”) worry so much about religion; why so many seem to be so doctrinaire in their aetheism. Surely, the strongest “medicine” will prevail, as my North American Indian grandmother taught me, will it not?

    1. The “strongest medicine” will prevail if the test is nature. Nature doesn’t cheat.

      People, on the other hand, do. Religious faith is an entrenched form of cheating. The quest shouldn’t be for certainty, but for what it’s reasonable to believe. Atheism (naturalism) isn’t a doctrine: it’s a tentative conclusion and a working theory.

      1. To avoid hopeless ensnarlment, any discussion should take up one issue at a time, preferably the most fundamental proposition, then go through a “true” or “not true” process until a conclusion is reached in the sense that all known aspects of the issue are dismissed or incorporated into the tentative conclusion, working theory, and above all, LAW.

    2. The reason for worry is that, as the new saw says… “Science flies you to the moon while religion flies you into buildings.”

      Religion will not evaporate on its own.

      The world is a far more hazardous place because of religion-induced denial of global warming. Millions, perhaps billions, of lives are made worse by religion-induced misogyny and homophobia. Countless lives are lost to the lack of prevention of AIDS in Africa because the Catholic Church teaches that condoms contribute to the spread of disease. For all these lives, your grandmother’s answer was inadequate. There is plenty to worry about.

      1. I take it that there is a goal here–to evaporate religion. Taking that as a given, what are the alternative strategies for accomplishing that, which of those strategies is best and worst, and why?

        1. I see only one way forward and do not think religion will completely evaporate away, certainly not in my lifetime.

          Atheists need to be visible and vocal. That includes working in the public square to promote good science education which is especially bad here in the US. It includes political involvement to counter theocratically inclined politicians. It requires providing support for organizations like the FFRF in fighting government sponsored displays of religion.

          It also means responding when the religiously-inclined people toss off explicit (and implicit) statements of support for the “godDidIt/religionIsNecessary” view. And it includes the liberal use of ridicule in response to what is ridiculous.

          You got something better?

          1. I don’t know. That’s why I asked. Maybe being as rude and as intransigent with all unbelievers in evolution as possible might work?

            1. Why don’t you just come out and say what you mean. I’m pretty sure I know what you’re trying to say but if I argue with that you’ll accuse me of putting words in your mouth.

              In other words, if you have a point then make it.

    3. Actually, few scientists are doctrinaire in their atheism, whatever the hell that would mean. You’re on the internet, dude.

      As to worrying about religion, I’m afraid that I do. The recent American campaign for unplanned pregnancy reveals a capacity for intimidation that I find disconcerting. As recently as 1981, Barry Goldwater was able to push back against this sort of thing. Today, I’m afraid, he’d be silenced.

  15. Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.” [Larry Moran]

    “Informing religious on evolution is a process that results in imperceptible changes in a population spread over many generations.” [Impatient atheist]

    religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic. That leaves deism as the one compatible form of faith.

    I dunno. Wikipedia seems to have a fair characterization:

    “Deism … in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. … This idea is also known as the clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own.”

    In as much as it has a superfluous creating agent, it is a rejectable theory. In as much as the creating agent is claimed to not need an explanation, it is incompatible with empiricism. In as much as it proposes magic, it is incompatible with naturalism. And in as much as we now have hypotheses on wholly natural pathways, it is incompatible with science.

    [Long postamble: Commenter MattG over at Moran’s blog claimed that Templeton physicist Paul Davies is an “ID creationist”. I am interested in Davies motivations, since he publishes in astrobiology, so I asked what he was referring to. And Davies has witnessed _against_ ID, at Dover I believe.

    Matt G pointed back to Jerry’s posts on Davies infamous articles. As much as I understood the point, the problem revolves around deism and whether it is creationist, in the “intelligent design” preloaded way to boot, or not. Wikipedia do seem to support the “ID” idea.]

    1. I had time to read some more, and I see now that Sastra already made a very similar to same point on deism.

  16. This whole discussion is based on a “category error”. There can be no debate between science and religion because there are many religions and they don’t agree about much. In particular they don’t agree on their attitude toward sciences in general or towards evolution in particular. (These days their attitude towards climate science is also an issue.)

    As an atheist I don’t tell people what their religion requires them to believe I let them tell me. And then (when appropriate) I tell them they are wrong. It’s an empirical observation that there are some people who adhere to some religion and say that their religion requires them to disbelieve in evolution. And there are some who say their religion does not require them to disbelieve in evolution.

    1. And there are some who say their religion does not require them to disbelieve in evolution.

      Of course; that’s not under dispute.

      What’s at issue is whether both God and evolution consistently fit into the same explanatory framework. We’re arguing over the categories.

      1. What’s apparently in dispute is whether to believe people who tell us that their (theistic) religion is consistent with science Jerry Coyne apparently believes it isn’t. He wrote “religion and science need not be at odds with each other, but only if your religion is not theistic. That leaves deism as the one compatible form of faith. Most religions, of course, aren’t deistic, and so are inherently at odds with science.”

        I’m not sure which are “theistic religions” but I think it includes Christian believers who accept evolution. Since I don’t think Coyne is doubting the existence of such people he must be claiming that they don’t understand their own religious beliefs.

        So to address Sastra’s question of whether “God and evolution consistently fit into the same explanatory framework.” I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that “God” is an explanation of anything. If someone who does believe in God claims their belief in God is compatible with evolution I believe them. And if they tell me that their religion is not compatible with evolution then my response is they have to give up their religion because evolution is so well confirmed. In either case I don’t need to inquire about the details of their beliefs.

        1. If someone who does believe in God claims their belief in God is compatible with evolution I believe them.

          I’d believe that they might believe that, but I doubt that they’d be able to demonstrate that that claim is true for any theistic God.


        2. Since I don’t think Coyne is doubting the existence of such people he must be claiming that they don’t understand their own religious beliefs.

          Or he’s saying that they don’t understand evolution, that the notion of evolution they claim to accept is a cartoon version that bears little resemblance to the unguided, purposeless reality of evolution explicated by science.

          In other words, they can claim to accept evolution all they want, but unless they’re also prepared to reject the idea that evolution exists to produce us, then they haven’t really accepted it at all.

          1. There are lots of people who don’t understand evolution. There are undoubtedly atheists who don’t understand evolution. It’s sad, but it doesn’t demonstrate a conflict between their religion and evolution.

            But I think what you are talking about is people who understand evolution but who want to say the there is some purpose to it, or that it’s part of “God’s plan” or something like that. They are wrong because as an atheist I don’t think there is any God or purpose to the universe. But if there are no empirical consequences to these claims then they are consistent with the science of evolution. follow.

            1. “…people who understand evolution but who want to say the there is some purpose to it…”

              If they say there’s purpose to it, then they don’t understand it. Purposelessness is the empirical fact that they are denying.

              1. Does advancement or progress in evolution (as stated by Richard Dawkins elsewhere on this site) imply purpose (improvement)?

    2. And there are some who say their religion does not require them to disbelieve in evolution.

      And they are nevertheless still wrong.

      But regarding your first point, absolutely. To say that religion is compatible with religion, one with another, is a more fundamental error.


      1. @Ant.
        To say that someone is wrong about what their religion asserts about evolution you really have to know a lot about their religion. A blanket assertion about all religions would have to be based on something that all religions have in common.

        1. Jerry Schwarz: I do not understand why one has to know a lot about their religion. All you really need to know is if their beliefs include the supernatural. In any form. If the religion does, then it is incompatible with evolution. No deeper knowledge is required.

          1. @CBJames

            Subject to some quibbles about the exact nature of their “supernatural” beliefs such claims would be enough for me to reject their religion. In general I’d guess they are more likely to contradict physics than evolution.

            1. Their beliefs can’t contradict physics without also contradicting biology/evolution. T’aint possible in this universe.

              Maybe that is the way it works in some other universe, where my evil twin brother “CBJames” lives. In that universe, all “G”s are “C”s. 😉

    3. @Sastra, @Ant, @Gregory Kusnick, @CBJames

      Here is a possible religious belief that includes a supernatural god, but doesn’t contradict evolution.

      This god created the universe 13 billion years ago. It never interacted with earth until about 10,000 years ago when it for some unknown reason become interested in earth and started performing miracles. (E.g. the resurrection of Jesus)

      I just made this up. I deliberately constructed it for purposes of this discussion. It is preposterous for a lot of reasons, although no more (or less) than other religions.

      Your challenge is to show how evolution contradicts it.

      1. Why? We’re under no obligation to refute your straw-man example of a religion that nobody believes in.

        The point is that real religions that people do believe in claim either that evolution didn’t happen, or that God guided it to produce us. The facts of evolution contradict both claims.

        1. Maybe it has ben lost in the discussion, but my only claim is that you need to address each religion on it’s own terms. And if some religious person claims God “guided” evolution then you need to understand what that means. If it doesn’t have any empirical consequences then science can’t contradict it.

          1. If religious claims about evolution are an incoherent mess, science is certainly entitled to say so.

            If some religious model of guided evolution is empirically untestable, science is entitled to dismiss it as vacuous, just as it would with any other unfalsifiable hypothesis.

            But again, I don’t believe any such coherent but untestable claims about evolution exist in any actual religion.

            1. We seem to be in a state of “violent agreement”. Do such incoherent claims about evolution exist in any actual religion? I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised that incoherent claims of any form are part of actual religions.

        2. @Gregory Kusnick
          Perhaps you should reply to Dan L who responded that my made up religion is close to what Christians believe.

      2. You didn’t really make that up. It is, aside for possible quibbling about dates from sect to sect, mainline Christianity.

        It is wholly unscientific. It relies on the supernatural to “explain” reality. Science, by definition, is the process of understanding reality using purely natural processes.

        1. Well I did make it up (except for the parenthetical bit about the resurrection of Jesus). If I happened to hit on something somebody actually believes it was an accident. But I think you should reply to Gregory Kusnick who in response to my comment said “We’re under no obligation to refute your straw-man example of a religion that nobody believes in.”

          1. Oh, come on Jerry Schwarz. What part of this isn’t part of generic Christian belief, if you leave out quibbling over dates?”

            This god created the universe 13 billion years ago. It never interacted with earth until about 10,000 years ago when it for some unknown reason become interested in earth and started performing miracles.

            1. I’m not a Christian, so I could be wrong. But I though Christians believed God has been interacting with earth ever since it created the universe (or earth). If they think god has something to do with evolution then it has been doing something on earth for some of that time. My made up religion asserts that god has not done anything on earth for that 13 billion years.

      3. It depends. If we’re talking about a Christian sect that believes this then the problem is pretty obviously the “Christianity” part. Christianity makes no sense unless you allow for the doctrine of original sin and your little narrative doesn’t seem to. Why would Jesus be resurrected in your scenario? If humans are evolved creatures like any other rather than the metaphysical purpose of evolution then there wouldn’t seem to be any sort of sin from which we must be saved.

        So you need some kind of ensoulment clause (theistic evolutionists usually invoke such an event to reconcile evolution with Christianity). This also contradicts any model of evolution where the forms of intelligence and moral reasoning displayed by modern humans accreted through both biological and cultural evolution — that is, if ensoulment has any effects. And it MUST have effects if we’re supposed to be a special animal.

        That specialness is the problem. If we’re special it’s because we ended up special as a result of a long, path-dependent process. Any sort of religion is going to put the cart before the horse by saying we’re intelligent because we’re special — the specialness was God’s decision and the intelligence is his gift to us. But the reality is the opposite, that if we’re special it’s because we’re intelligent.

        1. I’ll leave the discussion of specific religions to others.

          But I’ll note that you do seem to be telling believers what they have to believe. Specifically you are claiming that ensoulment MUST (your emphasis) have some effect. In other words you are claiming that someone who already believes in something false (the existence of God) can’t also believe in something ridiculous (ensoulment without effect). Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but my point has always been that you have to take their word for what they believe.

          1. Sorry, I thought you were actually trying to engage. I see when someone actually responds to your bullshit you just clumsily dodge. Nice. Why don’t you leave the entire discussion to others since you never really wanted to honestly discuss anything in the first place?

            Incidentally, “matters” is a synonym for “has effects”. I’m not telling anyone what they have to believe, I’m just saying that only real things are real. If I say there’s a dragon in my garage with no effects it means there’s no dragon in my garage.

            1. Your challenge is to show how evolution contradicts it.

              Incidentally my post was a response to this. I met your challenge and you were the one who begged out. Shall I assume you concede this point then?

              1. You seem to have misunderstood the point of my made up religion. It wasn’t supposed to be some form of Christianity. I would never claim to explain any form of Christianity. To me it’s all pretty much mumble jumbo that makes no sense. In your words it is bullshit and I have no interest in discussing bullshit. I have atheist friends, mostly who had been brought up as Christians, who relish endless discussions of why Christianity is wrong. I try to avoid such discussions because I find them boring. I definitely did not intend to engage in such a discussion here. Sorry that you thought I did.

                The point of the example is that it is perfectly possible to have a theistic religion that is compatible with evolution. Several commenters have said it is impossible to have such a religion.

                To elaborate, the reason my made up example is compatible with evolution is that the god in my made up religion has done nothing on earth until 10,000 years ago.

              2. I don’t think your pretend religion is at all compatible. Evolution is a purely material process that is one significant piece of an overarching body of scientific theory and fact. It does not matter if your made-up deity didn’t pay attention until 10,000 years ago, and only then started performing miracles. Those miracles violate the laws nature as understood by science. They don’t become compatible simply because you adjust the dates on which they were performed.

              3. @CBJames
                Yes the miracles presumably violate natural law in some form. But they don’t contradict evolution. In my original comment I wrote “It is preposterous for a lot of reasons, although no more (or less) than other religions” One of the reasons I had in mind was exactly that the miracles would violate physics.

              4. Two points.

                1) It is not reasonable to pretend that evolutionary theory is somehow separate from the rest of scientific theory.

                2) There is no evidence for miracles. And there is none for “CBJames”, who also a misunderstanding of reality.

      4. Not evolution, but cosmology: talking about the beginning of the universe (and worse, that it was “created”) is contradicted by cosmology. (One in principle could create our local hubble volume, but that’s then not a divine act.)

        1. Yes. That’s my exact point. People have claimed that any theistic religion would have to be in conflict with evolution and I’ve said it doesn’t. I never meant to suggest that any theistic religion would make sense. My original comment said: “It [my made up religion] is preposterous for a lot of reasons, although no more (or less) than other religions.”

  17. Speaking of accommodationist weekend, here is an accommodationist piece of astronomer and sometime skeptic Phil Plait, an ardent believer in belief:

    “FiveBooks Interviews > Philip Plait on the Wonders of the Universe

    Your last book selection is by the most famous American astronomer of recent times, Carl Sagan. Tell us about The Demon-Haunted World.

    Carl Sagan has written many books, and there’s not a single one I wouldn’t recommend. The way he writes, he holds your hand and shows you the wonders of science and the universe. The Demon-Haunted World, a discussion of the history of science and why it’s so important, is probably his best book. Science has shown us that it’s not demons that make thunder. Science has solved the mysteries of the universe that we once used myths to explain. The universe is not a strange, chaotic place – there are rules to it.

    Carl Sagan’s two gifts to the world were first, to make science fun and approachable through his television series Cosmos. And second, to show how important critical thinking is. In this book, he takes on the paranormal and talks about the myths that exist to explain the unexplained. He doesn’t denigrate people who believe in, for example, alien abduction. He shows us how to approach problems sceptically and honestly, and not to make fun of people we disagree with but just to see them as having fallen prey to a quirk of thinking that, like an optical illusion, puts them on the wrong path. …” [My bold; HT Universe Today]

    Plait never misses a chance to pound this point, damn the facts. But science of advertising tells us that emotional appeals and repetition is effective, as Jason Rosenhouse points out.

    So to “denigrate” people by telling them they have “fallen prey to a quirk of thinking that, like an optical illusion, puts them on the wrong path” is precisely what we should do.

    1. Advertising never denigrates the people it is trying to reach. Advertisers aren’t trying to create arbitrary emotional responses. They’re trying to create positive emotional responses and denigrating the audience will guarantee a negative response.

      1. Exactly! Don Draper from Mad Men says it best.

        “It is a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance, that ‘whatever you are doing is OK.’ You are OK.”

        Denigrating people is always a turn off, simply because of the brain’s need to defend its own internal integrity.* We denigrate unsupported and harmful ideas and faulty reasoning. We do this in the hope that a person can realise their mistake and correct themselves, and not fall prey to fallacies in the future.

        * That is not to say that we can’t call people idiots if they are continuously wilfully idiotic, but it should not be the first response to everything.

      2. Well, first of all that’s obviously not true. Plenty of advertisement works on the principle: “You’re too fat/too wrinkly/too old/unfashionable/etc.” Just look at the (wildly popular and successful) Mac vs. PC ads. The whole point of that campaign was: you are an unlikeable dork unless you use Apple products. And it worked!

        That’s ignoring the heinous amount of advertising that encourages putting other people down to sell a product, whether it’s Axe Bodyspray commercials telling guys they’re not hot unless they have dozens of women simpering over them in public or any number of clothing designers body shaming young women.

        The sorts of social alienation/shame preyed upon by advertising companies were originally (and quite infamously) leveraged by religion, especially the Catholic church. Think about that for a bit before you start getting riled up about atheists doing it.

  18. Though the catholic church makes gestures in the media that they are they are the new progressive church that accepts science with open arms they pretend like they do not notice that their flock is still clinging to a literalist interpretation of the bible that comes straight out of the dark ages. Rather than face this problems this church handles this problem in the same way it handles all of its problems; it just turns a blind eye. Below the papal’s thin veil of ligitamacy is a church every bit is barbaric as any church you will find in america.

  19. Everything here said about Zimmerman is, of course, true. Nevertheless, the journey from god belief to atheism or agnosticism can be long, with a gradual rejection of one miracle after another until nothing is left to reject. Sudden de-conversion seldom happens. That was true for me in my youth as I rejected religious claims one by one until I realized I was an atheist. Seldom does this realization come without careful consideration of facts and a thoughtful reasonable analysis. The journey from belief to non-belief can take years once the trip has begun. Rather than using just belligerent criticism, there may be other more effective ways to persuade god believers that no god exists. Our factual arguments are correct, but our attitude may not be as effective as it might.

    1. Oh, stop the tone trolling. Show us where someone has advocated just belligerent criticism. Please. That’s a really tiresome straw man you are attacking.

      If you want to be a warm and fuzzy atheist, by all means have at it. But getting the vapors over someone not being suitably respectful of irrational belief is embarrassing. It disrespects the very people you pretend to protect. They are (presumably) adults who ought to be able to get through life without requiring protection from atheist barbs.

    2. (This is not an original thought. I attribute it to Will Wilkinson, of all people.) The supposition is that people respond to belligerent criticism by dismissing it without consideration. But it may also be that they respond to it by vigorously trying to defend the position being criticized, something they may never previously have been asked to do. And it may be that only in trying to defend their position will they come to the realization that it is indefensible.

      In any event, I’m having trouble imagining what other more effective ways to persuade god believers that no god exists might entail. Believers will, inevitably, regard any effort to persuade them that no god exists to be belligerent.

  20. Thanks for the post. I awoke on Darwin Day to a post at the Triangle Freethought Society (in NC)to a guy saying he’s going to CHURCH because they are spouting some accomodationist drivel this Sunday morning. That just, I have to admit, strikes me as inane. Insane. “Let’s see what they have to say”–I KNOW what they have to say! I read! Nothing new under the sun for them. Sheesh.

  21. Is the “March of Progress” drawing, apparently originated in the Time-Life book, “Evolution” in the 1960’s and copied extensively ever since, reflective of the view of Richard Dawkins and others, that organisms advance over time?

    Are we an example of the kind of advancement depicted in the March of Progress drawing? Are we an improvement over our antecedent species?

    1. Improvement implies a universal standard of merit against which all organisms can be ranked. That’s not how evolution works. The only thing organisms are measured against is their immediate environment, their particular ecological niche. Those that are well-adapted to their niche (or flexible enough to exploit a vacant niche) prosper; those that aren’t don’t.

      By this measure there is no overall trend of progress or advancement. There is only local adaptation. Such adaptation is as likely to simplify a lineage as to complexify it.

      On a broader level, there is a trend toward greater diversity in life as a whole, in the same way that a bunch of randomly careening gas molecules tend to diffuse throughout a greater and greater volume. But just as there’s no plan or direction to any particular molecule’s trajectory, neither is there any impetus toward “improvement” in evolution.

      1. Seems sensible to me, but does it seem sensible to Richard Dawkins and others who seem to believe that organisms advance over time through the process of evolution?

        If I am missing some crucial distinction, I hope someone like Dawkins will clarify it for me.

        1. Why don’t you send an email to Richard Dawkins then and stop asking people to defend the views of someone they don’t even know personally? You’re being obnoxious.

          1. I do not have Dawkins’ email address. In any case, I think it most appropriate to continue the unresolved discussion on this Forum, as the subject matter is relevant to its reason for being.

            I am not asking anyone to defend Dawkins’ view; I do not believe that Dawkins alone “owns” that view. I am asking this Forum to clarify that view or not, because it is central to its reason for being. I welcome such clarification and alternative explanations equally.

            As to being “obnoxious,” I think “persistent” might be a more accurate term. At least I don’t attempt to bully people into shutting up. Side debates and other schoolboyish diversions are irrelevant to an objective intellectual enquiry. I consider this to be a open forum for discussion of matters relevant to the blog, not a place for personal invective or praise (though I will defend anyone’s right to either).

            1. You’ve repeatedly asked the people on this forum to defend a position which many people have ALREADY TOLD YOU they do not believe. Why don’t you just take their word for it and acknowledge that no one here is defending that position? This has nothing to do with bullying anyone into shutting up, this has everything to do with you being rude enough to keep harping on a position that no one here holds.

              It’s not too hard to track down Richard Dawkins. He has his own website and everything.

              1. Side debates and other schoolboyish diversions are irrelevant to an objective intellectual enquiry.

                The question you keep asking is, indeed, a “side debate.” Shall I conclude you’re a “schoolboy” hung up on “irrelevancies”?

            2. Here’s the answer just to shut you up though. Not that any directionality implied by the explanation is non-teleological. There is no mysterious metaphysical force guiding evolution.

              Life is complex. The simplest one-celled organism is fantastically complex. So there is a lower bound on the complexity required for life. But there is no known upper bound on complexity. A simple, one-celled organism might be able to accrue greater complexity (e.g. through gene duplication and mutations on the duplicate) but it cannot lose any complexity without ceasing to be alive.

              So over time we would expect organisms to accrue more complexity more often than they lose it — life in general becomes more complex but it an undirected way (and with pockets of evolutionary stasis). Note that this implies nothing about “higher forms of life” or “more advanced forms of life” or anything like that. More complex is not “more evolved.” Sharks have been swimming around roughly unchanged for about 600 million years while modern humans have only been around about half a million — and I’d put my money on the shark in a fair fight.

              1. I would tend to agree with “Dan L.,” but I’m not sure that Richard Dawkins and a number of others would. Dawkins, in a most direct response to my initial post (both inserted here [[in double-brackets]] for the reader’s convenience):

                [[ [Post #3]
                Wayne Tyson
                Posted January 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
                Agreed that Attenborough has done a lot of good stuff.

                But does he believe (as implied in one of his TV programs) that species ADVANCE through evolution over time? How many on this blog do?


                Richard Dawkins
                Posted January 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
                “But does he believe (as implied in one of his TV programs) that species ADVANCE through evolution over time? How many on this blog do?”

                I do, for one. How else do you think complex and efficient adaptations like eyes evolve from their simpler and cruder and less efficient beginnings? How else does subtle and delicate camouflage improve on the crude resemblance of the early stages in its evolution? The idea that evolution does not progress is one of the many misconceptions about evolution promoted by the lamentably influential S J Gould.

                Richard Dawkins]]

                So, is there no inconsistency with “Dan L.’s” description of evolution and Dawkins’? If not, I remain perplexed. If so, how am I (or anyone else) to conclude that there is uniformity of opinion among those participating in this discussion?

                With respect to “public” or “lay” opinion, a brief, unscientific straw poll I have conducted
                seems to favor the view that present-day humans are “advanced” over early humans and that “evolutionary progress” is the central precept of evolution. All respondents “believed in” evolution. Most were familiar with the Time-Life drawing from the book entitled “Evolution” which depicts a “march of progress” from “less evolved” to “more highly evolved” apes with a European male out front. Is this the message evolutionary biologists want to convey to the laity?


              2. Wayne, if you want to know the details of Dawkins’ thinking, read his books. If, after doing so, you still think he believes in the simplistic “march of progress” depicted in that cartoon, then I’d suggest you’ve seriously misunderstood something.

                Even in the brief quote above, I think it’s clear he takes “advancement” and “progress” to mean the degree of adaptation of an organism to its environment, which obviously does improve over time. I don’t know why you keep trying to impute some broader meaning to it.

          1. Please see the discussion at Item #3 and subsequent discussion, which fizzled out without the follow-up question being answered. Dawkins, who was unequivocal in his response, has not yet posted a response in clarification. Hence, my posting it here in a different way in hopes of achieving clarity on the most fundamental issue of whether or not there is linear progress from a lesser form to a more advanced form such as us, for example, over our antecedents, including slime molds and bacteria.

            I remain interested in the proportion of evolutionary biologists who believe that organisms do advance (all metaphors aside) with time by evolution and the proportion who believe that organisms do not advance from relatively inferior forms to advanced forms.

          2. [In response to: Gregory Kusnick
            Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm]

            I may have misunderstood something, but my original question was just that, a question, not an “imputation.” To impute that I was imputing some broader meaning could be a straw-man or a misunderstanding, but something is giving rise to ire, and I suspect that it’s not the original question. It would be very helpful if, when an imputation is imputed that the relevant text be cited or quoted; otherwise it is just an implication.

            I cited the “March of Progress” cartoon as an example of what imprecise or needlessly verbose or convoluted writing can give rise to. To me, the cartoon is more than “simplistic,” it is dead wrong. Somebody provided the information to the artist, and I can only conclude that whoever provided the information must have thought that present-day Homo sapiens is superior to those apes which preceded him. I quite agree with Kusnick with respect to detail, so there never has been a disagreement about that. What I do not understand is how I might read Dawkins’ post other than what he quite clearly stated.

            Dawkins’ post was the clearest response to my actual question I have received. Other responses have included some very good essays, but they haven’t helped me understand how many, if any, evolutionary biologists believe the cartoon is correct and how many believe it is incorrect—I would say dangerously misleading and one that has done a lot of damage; it continues to confuse people. This statement and all others that have followed in response to those who have posted responses are attempts to be responsive to those responses, not to impute any broader meaning to Dawkins’ response at all. The natural question that follows from Dawkins’ post is whether what he said is or is not at odds with the idea that some have that organisms improve over time rather than simply adapt to changed environments and get more complex, but not evolve “into” “higher” forms.

Leave a Reply