Accommodationism returns, this time with a nasty streak

There seems to be a resurgence of accommodationism this week, with people arguing that science and religion are perfectly compatible. The argument goes further, and along familiar lines: scientists like Dawkins and me are deemed “arrogant loudmouthed jerks” because our our vociferous atheism supposedly turns people away from science.  And so we encounter the familiar old arguments for compatibility that I thought had disappeared outside of theology: religious laypeople can love science, scientists can be religious, science can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, and so on. I tackled all these in Faith Versus Fact, but people either didn’t read it, or did read it but would rather repeat the old tropes rather than answer the arguments for science/religion incompatibility.

I have to admit that perhaps I’m a bit responsible for this pushback, as I (and others) engaged in a Twitter dispute with rapper MC Hammer last week. Hammer, trying to cover all bases, basically said that he was down with Intelligent Design (citing the old canard of the eye’s complexity), but also was down with God and with creationism as well. Well, you can’t be down with all of those at once without some vigorous scientific and theological tap-dancing. Here are some tweets by and exchanges with Hammer, including Matthew’s and mine.

Osculation of ID. Let the IDers propagandize Hammer, for they’d love to have a famous rapper on their side:

Unfortunately, I lost my cool at one point in the Twitter exchange and called Hammer an “ignoramus,” violating my own dictum to refrain from name-calling. For that I apologize, and I deleted the tweet. Hammer is, I’m sure, a nice person, although he’s confused about religion and science, and I feel bad that I insulted him. I would be delighted to discuss evolution and God with him, but that will never happen. Besides, Stephen Meyer is busy convincing Hammer of the truth of Intelligent Design.

But the exchanges between Hammer and others have brought other accommodationists out of the woodwork again, toting their old, tired arguments. You may remember Sheril Kirshenbaum, for instance, co-author with Chris Mooney of the book Unscientific America How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, which had a strong accommodationist streak. In 2009 I reviewed that book for Science; here are two excerpts from my review:

In Unscientific America, a book slight in both length and substance, science writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum argue that America’s future is deeply endangered by the scientific illiteracy of its citizens and that this problem derives from two failings of scientists themselves: their vociferous atheism and their ham-handed and ineffectual efforts to communicate the importance of science to the public. According to Mooney and Kirshenbaum, atheistic scientists such as Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers [who runs the immensely popular science blog Pharyngula] drive people away from science by forcing them to choose between the facts and their faith. Further, most scientists are neither trained nor deeply interested in selling their work to the public, Congress, or Hollywood. This disconnect could be fixed, say the authors, if scientists would just keep quiet about their atheism and if universities would train a new generation of scientists in public outreach, producing more “[h]ip, fun, trailblazing research pioneers.”

. . . Unscientific America prescribes just the opposite: science illiteracy would diminish if vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins would just keep quiet about religion, a sanction that the authors don’t impose on publicly religious scientists such as Francis Collins. Unfortunately, Mooney and Kirshenbaum provide no evidence that this prescription would work. Do they really think that if Dawkins had not written The God Delusion, Americans would wholeheartedly embrace evolution and vaccination and finally recognize the threat of global warming?

Apparently Kirshenbaum hasn’t changed a bit, for she issued a rude tweet.

I refrain from being rude back.

Apparently not having read my argument for the incompatibility of religion and science, Kirshenbaum asserts “Science neither proves nor disproves religion.” Well, no, Dr. Kirshenbaum, that’s not the case.

First, many tenets of religion have been disproven by science. One of those is, of course, the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, as well as creation stories of Islam and other religions. Other claims refuted by empirical work are those of the Jewish Exodus and the Roman census of Herod the Great.  And don’t get me started on Mormonism, the golden plates, and the Mormons’ claim that Jesus visited America. The fact is this: although, as Kirshenbaum argues that “religion seeks to understand our world,” it hasn’t provided any understanding, at least of factual claims like is there a God?; was Jesus his divine prophet/son?; did Gabriel dictate the Qur’an to Muhammad and Moroni tell Joseph Smith where the golden plates were?. And so on. The many religions on this planet make hundreds of factual but conflicting claims. Which are right? We don’t and usually can’t know.

“Understanding of our world”, if it means knowing how the cosmos works and what is true, cannot be gained by religion. It can be gained by science, though, and it is this disparity that I describe in Faith Versus Fact as the incompatibility between science and religion. Sure, religious people can be down with science, and scientists can be religious, but there’s the indubitable fact that both religion and science make factual claims—existence claims—and have different ways to adjudicate those claims. Science uses empirical methods (observation, hypothesis formation, testing, falsification, and so on), while religion uses scripture, authority, and revelation. Only one set of these methods—the empirical set—can really tell us what’s true. That’s why there’s only one brand of science, practiced by people of diverse faiths and ethnicities, while there are a gazillion religions, each claiming that it’s right and all the others are wrong. You can find ways to figure out if there are gravity waves, but no way to figure out if you’ll go to hell if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior.

Science, Dr. Kirshenbaum, doesn’t prove anything—it just gives us more or less confidence in various propositions about the world. And, as Victor Stenger noted, there’s an absence of evidence for any of the claims of religion. Importantly, he added that that absence of evidence could indeed be taken as evidence of absence if the evidence should have been there. And it isn’t—not for gods. That’s why more than half of scientists are atheists—and nearly all of them at the top of their profession. Kirshenbaum’s claim that “science neither proves nor disproves religion” could also be stated a “science neither proves nor disproves the existence of leprechauns and fairies.” But I doubt that Kirshenbaum would defend those who believe in fairies and leprechauns.

The statement “science and religion aren’t incompatible; they both seek to understand our world” covers a multitude of sins and misunderstandings. That’s why I wrote my book.

Now a young scientist at the site shown below (click on screenshot) has expanded another old argument, claiming that we loudmouth atheist scientists are “massive jerks”.  We should, they say, just keep our big mouths shut because being a vociferous atheist and antitheist keeps people of faith from accepting science.

It’s tiresome to have to go through all these arguments again—though none of these critics addressed my own claims in Faith Versus Fact—but I’ll do so briefly. First, excerpts from the Small Pond Science piece, written by Terry McGlynn, one of the three scientists who run the site. (I note in passing that McGlynn has closed the comments on this post.)

Science has an atheism problem

An alternative title for this post might be: Atheism has a jerk problem.

Our scientific communities do not fully accept scientists of faith. As I’ve said before, this is a problem, and it actively hinders our efforts for equity and inclusion.

You can be a great scientist and still be religious. You can fully accept an empirical worldview for the laws and theories that govern life and matter as we know it, but also be part of a religious tradition.

I have to admit, I don’t fully understand the choice that people make to have faith, and that’s not for a shortage of study, inquiry and contemplation. Just because I don’t understand why some people have chosen religious faith, that doesn’t mean I’m going to claim that they’re delusional because they have different perspective on the world than I do.

. . . When technology and theory advance far beyond our current capabilities, will there remain some questions about the nature of existence and reality that are best addressed by faith? Well. I dunno. There aren’t for me. But clearly others might see things differently. Why would that be a problem for any one of us?

Yes, some questions can be addressed by faith, but they can’t be answered by faith

The piece goes on, telling us to shut up because “science needs everybody; that includes people of faith.” Presumably we need flat-earthers and anti-vaxers, too, even though they accept their delusions on religious grounds. I’ve put McGlynn’s “data” in bold.

The most visible New Atheists try to win over converts by being loudmouth arrogant jerks. It might work for some, but it looks to me like it’s hardened the hearts of many more against reason and science in general. Clearly, it’s put atheism in an adversarial posture. Which is bad marketing for science, considering how many of us are atheists, or at least not religious.

Folks who don’t hang out with scientists on the regular might mistake the New Atheists for widely recognized representatives of science. They might see Bill Maher on TV, and read a blog post by Jerry Coyne, and catch a quote from Michael Shermer in a facebook meme. What do all these guys have in common? They’re anti-religious jerks, who are unfortunately the public face of contemporary atheism. Which in the eyes of many religious people might as well be the face of science too. You and I know that science is much more than bunch of old white jerky dudes who judge religious people. But we’re not doing so well in the marketing department.

Oy, I’m an old white jerky dude! But what does my age and race have to do with my arguments?

But wait! There’s more!

We need a cohort of people in the public eye who identify as atheists, but also are not massive jerks about it. We could use folks from all backgrounds, writing op-eds and appearing on TV, who make a point to say that they don’t have a problem with Muslims and Christians and other people of faith. Who can describe atheism as a rational choice but not as a judgement of other people.

I really don’t want to run through all the arguments why atheist/scientists shouldn’t shut up; they’re covered in my book, in Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and in other books like Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.

I’ll just list a few relevant points:

1.) Accepting science is not the only issue here: the other is the harms of religion. It may not kill you to reject evolution, but if you reject Islam in places like Iran and Afghanistan, your life is in peril. And even if you’re not killed, the tenets of several faiths (including Catholicism) deem homosexuality immoral and women second-class citizens. Are we then supposed to shut up about the harmful tenets of Islam, Catholicism, and evangelical Christianity?  Must one harm (ignorance of science) take precedence over all others?

2.) Much religious dogma has led people to reject science. This includes the rejection of evolution, vaccination, global warming, and wearing masks during the pandemic (“God will save us”), as well as advocacy of spiritual healing, theocracy, and the demonization of abortion. Are we supposed to shut up about these issues, too, lest “science lose people of faith”? Give me a break. There are many issues in the world, and scientists are not required to shut up about politics or religion. We are citizens as well as scientists.

3.) Religion is generally a malign influence. The countries that are the happiest, most well off, and most progressive on this planet are the most atheistic countries, like those in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Religion in these cases acts as a stultifying placebo, inhibiting social progress because people can turn to god rather than to their governments.

4.) There is no evidence that the atheism of scientists like Dawkins and others has kept people from accepting science. As I’ve said repeatedly, if you go to “Converts Corner” on the old Dawkins site, you’ll see dozens of people saying that Richard’s atheism and scientific status helped weaned them from religion and brought them to evolution and science. In contrast, I’ve never heard a single person say, “Well, if Dawkins would just shut up about atheism, I’d gladly embrace evolution.” It’s the combination of science and atheism that has done wonders for many people, leading them to reject delusion (yes, religion is a delusion) and embrace science. I know, because I’ve met many of them, and Richard’s site describes hundreds more.

5.) Religion is a more malign force in getting people to reject science than is ignorance itself. A lack of knowledge can be remedied by education, but it’s much harder to overcome religious indoctrination. Which do you think would be the best way to get Americans and Middle Easterners to accept evolution: a) waving your wand and getting rid of religious belief completely, as if it never existed? or b) Giving every evangelical Christian and Muslim a course in evolution and a copy of Why Evolution is True?  The answer, of course, is (a). For virtually all opposition to evolution, and much other opposition to science, comes from religion. I know of only one anti-evolutionist who isn’t motivated by religious belief. That would be David Berlinski, but I suspect he’s secretly at lest a deist.

So there’s no reason why a scientist shouldn’t wear two hats: that of science and that of atheism. Sure, you shouldn’t mix your messages too immiscibly in lectures: I don’t rail against religion when I give talks on the evidence for evolution. That just confuses people. But I do give lectures that show why science and religion are incompatible, and that’s why I wrote a book about it.

I’m not going to shut up, but I don’t demand that other scientist-atheists be as vocal as I. To each their own. That’s true even for religion—so long as your beliefs don’t harm the community of humans. And there are precious few religions that are innocuous in that way.

As for Dr. McGlynn calling me and people like Richard “loudmouth arrogant jerks,” and an “old white jerky dude”,  well, I’ll restrain myself this time and not respond with namecalling. Those names reflect poorly on McGlynn. All I’ll say is that there are cogent arguments for the incompatibility of science and religion and good reasons for scientists to criticize the tenets of religion. Dr. McGlynn might want to read those arguments and answer them instead of making unsupported assertions that Richard Dawkins’s atheism has, on the whole, been bad for the public understanding of science.  (Hint: finding one or two people who say that happened to them is not data.)

And here’s a final source on both incompatibility and the absence of evidence that atheism impedes the acceptance of science (click on the screenshot):

75 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Linda Calhoun
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    There is SO much wrong with this.

    Scientific ignorance is the fault of scientists? The mental laziness that religion engenders, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    A lot of people are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Making stuff up and then clinging to the make-believe is a hallmark of religion. Whereas, with science, if done correctly, is ALWAYS willing to be wrong.

    But for me, the most major incompatibility is procedural. When you draw your conclusions first and look for your evidence afterward, it leaves you in the position of having to discard evidence that doesn’t fit with your conclusions. When science is confronted with evidence that doesn’t fit, it reconsiders its conclusions, and either broadens or refines them, or sometimes discards them altogether. Talk about uncertainty!

    L

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    … you can’t be down with all of those at once without some vigorous scientific and theological tap-dancing.

    Well, it ain’t exactly tap-dancing in the Gregory Hines or Nicholas Brothers sense, but when it comes to vigorous booty-shakin’, you can’t touch this:

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    “…I (and others) engaged in a Twitter dispute with rapper MC Hammer last week. Hammer, trying to cover all bases, basically said that he was down with Intelligent Design (citing the old canard of the eye’s complexity), but also was down with God and with creationism as well. Well, you can’t be down with all of those at once without some vigorous scientific and theological tap-dancing.”

    Before I even get to read the meat of the post I must confess to a basic confusion as to the meaning of the word “down” in this passage. Guess I can’t attribute it to age but since the person who used the word in this post is not too much younger than I. However I can’t determine here whether down means up (positive) or down (negative).

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      What I meant is “good with”. If you’re down with evolution, you approve of it.

      It’s positive. I think “down with” is pretty widely understood, though it may now be obsolete.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        I’ll take your word for it.

        • Robie
          Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          If you walked around carrying a sign that said “Down With Evolution!!” it would (probably) mean you were against it. If you say “I’m down with evolution” it means you are OK with it. Makes perfect sense, no?

          • EdwardM
            Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

            I can tell roughly how old someone is by whether or not they say “I couldn’t care less” or “I could care less”.

            Words change. Language is weird.

            • Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:04 am | Permalink

              Not sure the *meaning* has changed.
              When I see “could care less” (apart from a gnashing of teeth since, given the usual context in which it’s used, makes no sense to me)I can be fairly confident the writer is American.
              I’ve never heard the same from British or Australian speakers who consistently use “couldn’t care less”.

              • phoffman56
                Posted October 6, 2020 at 5:32 am | Permalink

                The ‘could care less’ is ignorance about pure logic of the most simple kind. It does seem very USian to suffer from this handicap of growing up with a moron-ification of the vocal chords, unable to cope with negations. But it has begun spreading elsewhere with TV culture in recent decades.

                Even a statement, e.g. ‘Every idiotic Drumpf voter is not male’, seems a give away somebody whose mind has been partially amputated by USian ‘culture’, so is likely not an Anglophone brought up anywhere else in the world. Pardon for patronizing, which surely here is unnecessary, but the statement is false unless he/she moves the “not” back to the beginning to untie his/her ‘knot in the brain’ and to begin to speak intelligently.

                Then, a bit more complicated, try teaching such people beginner calculus theory, combining “not” with “every” (as above) and with “some”, in a way which is crucial to understanding.

                This is entirely different from phoney attempts to bamboozle with 4-syllable words or to vary the sometimes boring language with “down with”-type of phrases.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      It’s never too late to get down with “down with,” Jenny.

      If you’re up for it, here’s the inter-generational take from those cunning linguists at Language Log.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Yes. You owned me on that so I must own it or myself or something. So damned confusing to me.

      • Posted October 5, 2020 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        It’s similar to the age old question of whether to get on up, or get down. Perhaps, as George Clinton said, we should all “get up for the down stroke”.

        GCM

      • Posted October 5, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Haha… freeking hell man “cunning linguistics” I can’t stop laughing…

  5. Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    They are not alone. Yes many scientists are religious & I am sure many do good science. However, if their fallback is magical thinking, a requirement of belief without evidence, then they are exhibiting cognitive dissonance.

    Be careful who you get into bed with, lest you catch their STDs.

  6. Posted October 5, 2020 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    The A-Number-One truth claim made by religion — which is foundational to every religion mentioned in this piece — is that minds can exist without bodies. The Faithful believe that Jehovah, storm-god of the ancient Canaanites, has plans, desires, a memory, forethought, and can experience grudging approval as well as towering fury — but what he apparently doesn’t have is a brain (with its attendant metabolism, circulatory system, and, you know, ancestry). And the same goes for human minds: even after our brains are gone, somehow we are supposed to spend eternity praising the aforementioned storm god, or for some of us, suffering in hell. It might have made sense in a pre-scientific age, but that was then, this is now. Now it’s just silly.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      … Jehovah, storm-god of the ancient Canaanites, has plans, desires, a memory, forethought, and can experience grudging approval as well as towering fury …

      Digs burnt-flesh offerings, too.

      Sounds like the world’s worst Tinder profile.

      • phoffman56
        Posted October 6, 2020 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        Better replace “Digs” with “Down with”, just in case someone gets the former mixed up with the word “shovel”.
        And I’m not “shovelling shit” here you know!

  7. Peter N
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them, for then it must sink back into savagery… It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies, but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbors ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat.”

    ― W.H. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief, 1879

  8. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Science is “deeply corrosive” to religion (R. Dawkins).

    Also – the question, as always : is there a better explanation for the phenomena associated with religion? This talk is very interesting in this regard :

    Why We Believe in Gods – Andy Thomson – American Atheists 2009: https://youtu.be/1iMmvu9eMrg

  9. A C Harper
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    A quote from https://newdiscourses.com/2020/09/no-science-isnt-social-construct/

    It seems so shocking because science isn’t so crude, and we all generally know it, even if we don’t know why. The reason is that science utilizes a principle known as universality, which indicates that it doesn’t matter who or what performs an experiment; the result will always be the same if it reflects objective reality faithfully. When combined with the principle of falsification, which is that results in science aren’t proved true but only seen to be not-yet-falsified (by experiments, which could be done by anybody or anything), universality in science completely undercuts the possibility for political contrivance to be a primary determining factor in what constitutes scientific knowledge. Because anyone, regardless of who they happen to be, could falsify a scientific hypothesis, scientific knowledge, by definition, is not easily corrupted by politics—when it is genuinely scientific. The Woke believe that objectivity is neither possible nor desirable, so they reject this entire view, usually by arguing that science is a “social construct,” by which they mean power-politics by specific means.

    My assertion is that religious believers and the Woke share an abhorrence for the idea of universality because it undermines their own beliefs. Especially the Theory of Evolution.

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      This is the most cogent and indisputable response I have read, including its conclusion. Irrationality is the default condition of human beings, being lodged in the part of our brain that governs emotions, i.e. the most primitive part and therefore the most indispensable (at least in the distant past) to human survival. Education, knowledge, reason and science were simply added to our intellectual powers but in no way did this evict or dilute our emotional responses. Human history has been a continual attempt to reconcile these using our powers of intellect and reason. But external events and trends are still evokers of our emotions, and when confronted by threats (not of tigers ) that could reduce our power and our beliefs, as is the case today, it is small wonder that even agnostics and nonobservant people get angry with atheists. Their fundamentally irrational belief systems go into defense mode, often so extreme that vicious ad hominem attacks are needed (because of the absence reason).

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Connected to that is an idea I heard from Michael Shermer, that one way conspiracy theories survive is due to the reluctance in H. sapiens to believe that large scale consequences can arise from comparatively simple premises – or, it is more attractive to have one elaborate story to explain some consequential outcome than a set of simple premises.

        I think it was an interview on Startalk…

  10. Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I hate it when celebrities make conclusions on subjects for which they have little knowledge. They suffer from over-confidence and an audience willing to listen to their every word. Of course, celebrities can go to school and do it right. Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, got a PhD in Astronomy and, I believe, now does research in the field. Sounds like MC Hammer went a different way. He had a short conversation with someone and delivered his verdict. Not interested!

    • Stephen Mynett
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Greg Gaffin of the band No Religion also has a PhD, in zoology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Graffin

      His education as well as his music is much better than Hammer’s.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I was just thinking “(Old White) Jerky Dudes” would make a good name for a rocksteady band.

  11. EdwardM
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    “This has been a drive by post” is about the only bit in McGynn’s bit that everyone can agree on. It is also an accurate summation of the intellectual honesty of the piece.

  12. phoffman56
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    To say the obvious, it is easily possible to be an ignoramus and a nice person at the same time. Mostly through no fault of their own, there seem likely to be at least 5 billion such persons right now, if using my definition of ‘ignoramus’. It is those who try to shove their ignorance, when harmful, down other people’s throats that needs to be strongly countered, no quarter given.

  13. Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If you’re an atheist and you’re old, white and male, you must be wrong.

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      I guess the author of the Small Pond Science piece, who’s white and male but younger than I (though by no means “young”), has more credibility!

      • Filippo
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        “I guess the author of the Small Pond Science piece, who’s white and male but young, has more credibility!”

        I reasonably assume that he prefers to live a longer rather than a shorter life.

        • Filippo
          Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          I wonder if McGlynn has gone on record on whether sex is a “social construct,” and whether his decision to (not) hold forth on the matter is influenced by the “DIE” considerations/requirements he seeks to impose on others.

  14. Jay Baldwin
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Hmm…it’s socially unacceptable for an atheist to critically assess religious ideas publicly but a-okay for an atheist to call well-respected scientists “loud-mouthed jerks.”

    The good Dr. may be delusional, his atheism notwithstanding.

  15. Mark Jones
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    They think new atheists are jerks about accommodationism, so to convince everyone about accommodationism they write loudmouth arrogant articles about new atheists? Sheesh – it’s that self-defeating accommodationism *again*. Thought that had gone out of fashion in the noughties.

  16. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    These critics level accusations of arrogance at Professors Coyne and Dawkins but both the Small Ponds piece and the Sheril Kirshenbaum tweet come across as nauseatingly smug, arrogant and patronising.

    As to the (undeniable) fact that there are some practising scientists who are also religious, this proves the compatibility of science and religion in only the most banal sense. We can easily find many examples of people simultaneously holding two or more contradictory views but that is an indication of the fallibility of the human intellect not that the ideas can be forced into compatibility by being entertained in the same brain.

    • Peter N
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      To cite the obvious example: pedophile clergy. Or, if that’s too cheap a shot, embezzling clergy, tax-dodging clergy, self-enriching clergy, adulterous clergy, murdering clergy, and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

    • eric
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how anyone who has studied both can think they are compatible in method.

      But on the compatiblist side, I don’t see why they hang their hat on this either. IMO they’re making their stand in the wrong place.

      Humans do use multiple incompatible methods for decision-making, and most humans are quite good at compartmentalizing. That’s probably where they should hang their hat.

      My opinion (which is my own) is that this makes perfect sense because compartmentalization is an adaptative trait for most animals whose offspring require support and learning. Separating play fighting from real fighting requires compartmentalization; this attack is fun, that one is serious. So we shouldn’t be bashing compartmentalization as some evil habit preventing us from Spock-like consistency; we should be happy we have it because it lets us do everything from sports to jury duty to science without demanding they all use the same rules of assessment and decision-making. In this respect, the problem with theists is that they are compartmentalizing when they shouldn’t, not that they are compartmentalizing period. And this is why the vast majority of theist scientists are not ticking time bombs of irrationality; because they, like everyone else, are pretty darn good at keeping their Sunday morning methodology from intruding on the Monday morning methodology.

      • Posted October 5, 2020 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        You nailed it: compartmentalization is a thing. That’s why Jerry’s off the mark when he says

        “science needs everybody; that includes people of faith.” Presumably we need flat-earthers and anti-vaxers, too, even though they accept their delusions on religious grounds.

        But most religious people aren’t flat-earthers or anti-vaxers. I work with some religious engineers, and never found them rejecting F = m * a or the steam tables because of some bible passage. Heck, they even use evolutionary algorithms without batting an eye.

        So yes, if a would-be scientist applies to the biology department and doesn’t accept some basic well-known facts about evolution, reject them. But if that person seeks to be an astrophysicist and is damn good at astrophysics, accept them.

        • darrelle
          Posted October 6, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure Jerry was not saying that people of faith, flat-earthers and anti-vaxers should not be accepted into science. He said that science doesn’t need them. He was refuting the claim by McGlynn that science needs people with these views, that by virtue of these views that science will be made better or more effective. Jerry wasn’t making the case that science should reject these people.

          • Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            Indeed, there is no way Jerry would condone the firing of an astrophysicist because the guy was a creationist. Jerry is a total free speech defender. But “accept” can mean something stronger than just “don’t force out”. It can also mean, take a relaxed attitude toward the person: for example, don’t presume that they will turn into a non-mask-wearing, vaccine refusing person who endangers the health of your community.

            I read the McGlynn piece and don’t see him saying that religious views will make science better. He’s saying that religious people will do so, independent of their religious views, and that they will contribute more if they are accepted in a pretty strong sense. For the most part, McGlynn’s portrayal of Jerry is an unfair caricature. But with the crack about flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers, Jerry made it look a little less so. IMHO.

  17. rickflick
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Two things: 1. The lame arguments of accommodationists are even superficially suspect. But, they are willing to pronounce these shallow thoughts without reflection or research. 2. Tweets are a very poor way to discuss a complex topic. The best you can do it throw in a reference to an extended treatment.

  18. Neil Wolfe
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I feel we shouldn’t rush to a conclusion regarding the compatibility of science and religion until Sir Mix-a-Lot and Vanilla Ice have also had a chance to weigh in.

    • TJR
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Damn, you beat me to it.

      • TJR
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Actually, Jerry against Vanilla Ice would be a great replacement if the next US presidential debate can’t got ahead.

        Couldn’t be any worse than the first one, anyway?

  19. Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Imagine in a parallel universe where most people were flat earth believers. Imagine that those who hold this view held unwarranted political power at all levels of government, and that policies and laws built around flat earth assumptions caused death. The latter could be from refusal to build accurate maps and navigation systems, so that airplanes regularly flew into mountains or missed runways.
    To the religious people today: Would you be always be polite toward them?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      We have a more serious and life threatening event happening now. This rejection of science and climate change is likely to kill millions of people and has already begun. Still the deniers sit tight and hang on to that religious ignorance and soon it will be too late. Are we to be nice to these people?

  20. Posted October 5, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I don’t know of any case where a religious person was really de-platformed from a faculty position b/c of their religion. They can work within the field just fine as long as they keep their religious views out of their teaching and peer-reviewed research. There is the Establishment Clause thing in our constitution that is to prevent using religion in teaching. There is peer review in publications for the latter — publications need to make claims that are supported by evidence.

    The C/IDers make some claims around one of theirs being de-platformed here and there, but I know of no case where those claims were true. What comes first to mind here was the case where a creationist astronomer at a university did not get tenure. But the problem with that one was he did not get tenure for the plain reason that he did not publish a single paper in a peer review journal from work done while at that position — a requirement stipulated in the bylaws of that department.

  21. Posted October 5, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Note that Darwin in The Origin tried to preempt the predicted tide of outrage:

    “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. . . . It is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that he created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”

    To which I might ask the dead man, “How’s that working out for you after 150 years?”

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I have quite forgotten about that. It is still accommodationism, although in 1859 he had stronger opposition to work against.

  22. KD
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Let me guess, MC Hammer is coming out with a new gospel album?

  23. darrelle
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    One of the first things that stands out about accommodationists is that so often they resort to personal ad hominem attacks. They behave towards their targets exactly as they accuse their targets of behaving.

    And the way they do it is disingenuous. What they do is to assume the premise that arguing against religion is, by definition, being a loud mouth jerk. That gainsaying religion out loud where other people can hear it is the action that renders one a loudmouth jerk.

    A couple of more specific observations about McGlynn’s piece.

    1) It comes off more like virtue signaling than anything else.

    2) He’s using the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” mode with all the talk about needing diversity in science and outspoken atheists inhibit that. Outspoken atheism very likely has contributed much more to diversity in the sciences than Accommodationism could dream to do. And outspoken atheists don’t generally call for believers to be excluded from science. That is a lie and he should be ashamed.

    3)

    The most visible New Atheists try to win over converts by being loudmouth arrogant jerks. It might work for some, but it looks to me like it’s hardened the hearts of many more against reason and science in general.

    Really? Do you have any good evidence to offer in support of that? In 15 years of paying attention to this “issue” I’ve never seen any good evidence offered by any Accommodationist in support of this standard claim.

  24. Posted October 5, 2020 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    “Science neither proves nor disproves religion.”

    Here and elsewhere, Dr. Kishenbaum seems bent on conflating a belief in God—that is, in some transcendent spiritual force—with a belief in the tenets of some religion or other. Religion is to God what a pulpit is to a tree: it hardly seems fair to blame the tree for all the nonsense that issues from the pulpit.

    • GBJames
      Posted October 5, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Blaming god would of course be pointless. The same as blaming leprechauns.

      In your analogy, there’s no evidence that the tree exists.

      • Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        “The same as blaming leprechauns.”

        Like fairies, water sprites, or other forms of woo, leprechauns are simply guesses about God—that is, about some spiritual force in the universe. They may be wrong guesses, but I’d go with them before I’d go with the ones that most religions come up with. And long before I’d go with the one that atheism comes up with. So hey, let’s not be badmouthing leprechauns! 😊

        • Posted October 5, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, but I don’t think that a pious Christian or Muslim would equate leprechauns with their God. And who ever said that leprechauns are “spiritual forces in the Universe”?

        • GBJames
          Posted October 5, 2020 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          “with the one that atheism comes up with”

          Which “one” a that, Gary? That the complete absence of evidence for existence is reason not to believe in existence?

          • Posted October 6, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

            “Which ‘one’ [is] that, Gary? That the complete absence of evidence for existence is reason not to believe in existence?”

            No, GB. What I meant was that I’m more sympathetic with coming up with various forms of woo (e.g., leprechauns) to account for one’s experience of spiritual reality than with denying the existence of spiritual reality because one can’t find physical evidence for it.

            • GBJames
              Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

              One can find NO evidence for it. Or at least none has ever been shown. If I’m wrong, please provide it now.

              • Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                “One can find NO evidence for it. Or at least none has ever been shown. If I’m wrong, please provide it now.”

                The evidence can’t be “shown,” it has to be experienced. So if you can’t provide it from you own experience, then there’s no way I can provide it.

              • Posted October 6, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                A lot of people have experiences that aren’t evidence for anything, and surely you know that. Having a revelation, or a feeling that there is a God, proves exactly nothing about what is true. All it shows is that you had a feeling.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 6, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                “Evidence”

                I don’t think you know what that word means, Gary.

  25. rjdownard
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Science (the process for knowing things that actually are) and Religion (the story-telling modes humans indulge in to provide meaning regarding things they would prefer to be true) are “compatible” if and only if one or the other content is subordinated or trimmed.

    Some religionists cheerily overlook the wacky parts of their magical tales (the Bible is just one prominent example, but all faiths have their foibles to slip under the rug) while others (like Ken Ham) simply flush any and all conflicting science data down the toilet.

    The moment religions make fact claims that are empirically verifiable or falsifiable, at that point it is possible for science to offer a manner of proof or disproof regarding them. Spoiler alert, Bible claims have tripped up over this.

  26. Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Only in America: author of “Unscientific America” Sheril Kirshenbaum sides with rapper on the evolution of the eye, saying it’s an example of “intelligent design” by god, and argues against a biologist and expert on evolution. I found this to be first-rate comedy gold.

    Worth noting, Sheril Kirshenbaum should be considered a Creationist now for several reasons. The tweet by MC Hammer is the most Creationist tweet ever made, and specifically mentions verbatim “intelligent design” and the eye, all time classics of creationism. The tweet she specifically quotes is MC Hammers second tweet, which includes “Pro Science Pro Creation Pro God” which is another unmistakable intelligent design statement. Strike two.

    Our esteemed host and co-host, biologists, refute this creationism. They have every reason to get engaged, since it’s their expertise and creationism is also undermining their work, and corrupts teaching. If this was climate science, Kirshenbaum’s current hobby-horse (good on her), would understand why scientists get engaged.

    And yet, here she is, defends this creationism by tweeting that there is compatibility to be found there, and specifically writes “@MCHammer is correct”, argues for compatibility and says that Jerry’s tweet was opinion, not fact. That’s again very “on brand” of creationism, and strike three.

    To suppose she was not a creationist, we have to assume she overlooked the obvious references to creationism, twice, in short tweets, and that she was trying to argue for NOMA, even though she specifically quotes and defends a tweet saying “Pro Science Pro Creation Pro God”, standard “intelligent design” — creationism disguised as a science. Aside of approvingly quoting a tweet with the ID phrase, any normal person interested in this conversation would click to see the conversation and would see the short context and take away that she means this specific compatibility, i.e. trach the controversy, wedge issue territory, not just NOMA which is about pushing god away into deism and metaphors and vague spirituality.

    Since she’s also an author who wrote “Unscientific America”, I hope it blows up and she’ll explain how exactly creationism is compatible with science.

    Anyway, entertaining situation I hope to see more of.

    • Posted October 6, 2020 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      To be fair, Kirshenbaum didn’t argue for Intelligent Design at all; she’s firmly on the evolution side. But she’s also firmly on the accommodationist side, and that’s why she was so vehement. But the Discovery Institute is using her statement as sort-of-evidence that she’s soft on ID. She’s not. She’s soft on religion.

      But yes, I suppose one could interpret her remarks as sympathy for MC Hammer’s views. But having read her work, I don’t see her as at all sympathetic to creationism. She was sympathetic to Hammer’s religiosity.

      • Posted October 6, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        I appreciate your fairness, but seeing her tweet and how she positions herself there, I come to a different impression. The full exchange is this:

        MC Hammer: “This is your eye under microscope.. Intelligent Design making it’s case SEEN. #intelligentdesign #Hamm400aos”

        Someone else: “[…] The term ‘Intelligent design’ is used by anti-science proponents who say some organs are too complex to have evolved – not so.“

        MC Hammer: “Another myth proven wrong. I’m clearly Pro Science. Find another hill to die on. Pro Science Pro Creation Pro God #intelligentDesign #Hamm400aos”

        Jerry: “ You can’t be pro-science and pro-creation at the same time unless you believe God used evolution as the means of creation. […]”

        Kirshenbaum: “ You again Coyne? Sheesh. @MCHammer is correct. Science & religion aren’t incompatible. They both seek to understand our world. You are entitled to express your opinion, but not as fact. Science neither proves nor disproves religion. But go on. You always do.”

        In that exchange, tagged several times with “intelligent design” to say that he “is correct” and that your view is just “opinion” is a clear case to me. She is rightfully embraced by the ID movement.

        That’s just twitter. Since she found it important to roll her eyes a few times at you, yet couldn’t find the time to point out in a quick tweet that science consensus is not open to whether the eye was made by an intelligent designer, or clarifying that “intelligent design” is pseudoscience and its barminology etc is not at all compatible with anything. She doesn’t, so her agreement of compatibility includes hashtag #IntelligentDesign.

  27. Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    All I can ganar from this particular breed of accommodationism is, according to some, reason and science can make jerks.
    As in, figuratively speaking: jerked back to reality!
    So, what’s their beef again…

  28. revelator60
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    The creationists must be pretty desperate to get excited about the tweets of a washed-up rapper. MC Hammer surely rank high on the list of irrelevant celebrities.

    Nowadays the Woke attack atheists even more than the Accommodationists. Razib Khan recently wrote:
    (https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2020/09/30/why-most-intellectuals-are-not-conservative/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-most-intellectuals-are-not-conservative)

    “In the 2000s Richard Dawkins was the bête noire of organized religion…Today, to a great extent we live in a world more to Dawkins’ liking, as religion is far less influential and powerful as a social force. The United States has gone through a massive wave of secularization beginning in the 2000s.

    “But many people who were New Atheists, and had a dim view of religion, are now revisiting their opinions. Dawkins himself has been denied platforms many times now because of the reality that he has had some harsh things to say about groups like Muslims. Many people who believed Dawkins was admirable in 2006, now find him ‘problematic.’ The world has passed him by.

    “It is not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps organized religion serves as an institutional check upon the passions of the people. Contrary to being the ‘root of all evil,’ religion was a ‘social technology’ which channeled human impulses, sometimes in a negative direction, but often in a positive one. The most furious and hateful denouncers of Richard Dawkins today are not traditional believers, but proud atheists who are creating quasi-religious communities, because their lives abhor the godless vacuum, even if they won’t admit it to themselves.”

    I think Khan is wrong—he’s forgotten how awful religion was when it ruled societies. The woke may get people fired, but they can’t burn them at the stake. But I worry that many atheists like him will be driven back to nostalgically approving of religion because they despise the fervor of the Woke. As far as I can tell, the Woke and the Religious Fundamentalists are equally awful and deserve equal pushback. If that makes us look like “jerks,” tant pis.

  29. KD
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    The accommodation of religion and evolution, a la Malthus:

    1.) Religions, when taken seriously, increase group tfr causing the group to increase its gene frequency relative to the general population. This is related to the “oppression of women and homosexuals”, but obviously is consistent with evolutionary fitness.

    2.) High tfr religion 1 butts into high tfr religion 2, and engage in a turf war over Jerusalem (or wherever), and the results also affect gene frequency. You get the same thing with ant colonies.

    3.) Religions, as well as being breeder cults, also provide a social network of charity (again like ant hives), and thus are more common in places lacking strong states and/or lacking strong state safety nets. Social democracies with strong social nets are probably the cause of low religiosity, but high religiosity does not cause the absence of strong social democracies (look at Ireland).

    4.) Religiosity probably has genetic correlates, so secularists will inevitably “boil off” as their genes decrease in frequency, so the long-term future is probably low IQ fundamentalist breeder cults. Idiocracy with Ayatollahs.

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this. Evolution (the theory) is true, but evolution (the biological process) is not your friend.

      • KD
        Posted October 6, 2020 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        Overpopulation, from the standpoint of a particular group, is a good provided you increase your gene frequency at the expense of the other genes.

        War, from the standpoint of a particular group, is good provided that your competitor suffers disproportionate losses, and you gain greater access to resources and territory.

        Disease, from the standpoint of a particular group, is good provided other groups suffer disproportionate losses.

        With science and technology, we have increased the carrying capacity for human beings, but the reality is that, even with space colonization or other schemes, we will inevitably hit limits due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is in the nature of life to expand and strangle out other life (you can see this in the struggle between the trees and the grasses), and so even if you feel compelled to curtail your fecundity for others, those others will feel compelled to increase their fecundity to make up for it. [Not to mention disproportionate ecological impacts of wealth, which is often the trade off for lower fecundity.] We have come up with some clever ways to postpone a Malthusian reckoning, but such a reckoning is inevitable.

        This may motivate some to transcend the cold hard world of facts in favor of the Great Pie-In-The-Sky.

  30. Posted October 6, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Same old crap. Shut (TF) up about being an atheist.

    Your a big jerk if you don’t coddle religious people. You are a big jerk if you speak clearly about atheism and how religion has no supporting evidence.

    Big jerk for requiring evidence for beliefs.

    And that’s being scientific apparently (don’t ask for evidence).

    What I always tell my son: Always ask yourself (or the other person!): How do they know that?


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