Nick Matzke posted Entry 1342 on August 13, 2005 01:26 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1340

I just read Tim Sandefeur’s post saying that “Julian Sanchez has it exactly right” when Sanchez agrees with Jacob Weisberg’s religion-is-stupid rant, “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit pretending they’re compatible,” up at Slate. Tim didn’t post any arguments in support, and disabled comments – he may have suspected that flack would be coming his way on PT, where many of us do make a point of it to note that there is no necessary conflict between evolution and religious faith. So, I will make a few comments on my own, and then let posters discuss it over the weekend.

Jacob Weisberg and Julian Sanchez, who both want to argue that evolution is incompatible with religious belief, have to explain why the same logic does not also apply to meteorology, germ theory, genetics, atomism, etc. All of these contradict certain literal interpretations of fundamental Judeo-Christian-Islamic holy texts. All of these scientific discoveries have experienced objections from certain religious sects, even though, now, it seems silly to almost every religious person that there would be some kind of religious problem with genetics or meteorology.

Evolution relies on “randomness” in exactly the same way as all of these other sciences. All of these sciences study phenonmenon that are a complex interaction of stochastic and regular processes. Evolution is no more or less “naturalistic” than any of these other sciences. None of these sciences, evolution included, conflicts with the theistic theological view that God creates the universe at every moment of its existence. What makes evolution religiously controversial in modern America is historical: fundamentalists on both sides – atheism and Christianity – have, for the last 100 years, used evolution as a club to beat up on the other side. Darwin himself, and most of professional evolutionary biologists since then, did not do this, and neither did most serious religious people. But campaigners on both sides, appealing to the public in popular books, articles, speeches, and sermons, have been much less careful.

Michael Ruse has been getting flack from certain quarters lately for pointing this out, and perhaps he sometimes does exagerrate the sins of Richard Dawkins et al. in this area. But the very reason that Ruse has to pound the table so hard is that a certain segment of evolution/atheism popularizers stubbornly, and in the case of Jacob Weisberg, defiantly, refuses to separate their science and their religious argumentation. Basically, they take the lazy step of saying “Look, folks, it’s science or religion,” and attempt to force people to chose their favorite, rather than actually arguing for their own religious view of atheism. Make no mistake: arguing for atheism is making a religious argument, just like arguing for theism. Having religious arguments is a grand human tradition and all for the good, but history has shown that it is a Very Bad Thing if governments take sides on these arguments. Atheists insisting that evolution proves atheism make it appear as if teaching standard science in biology classrooms is actually state sponsorship of atheism, and this is what motivates creationists/IDists. It is highly doubtful that the evolution=atheism mixture has ever been a significant component of public education in the U.S., but if people who are ostensibly supporting teaching evolution can’t resist mixing in the religious argument for atheism, then it is understandable why the public will continue to be confused.

Continuing the old science-vs.-religion war isn’t going to change any minds that haven’t been changed in the last 100 years, but it will ensure that the political strife over evolution continues for the next 100 years.

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Comment #42636

Posted by dre on August 13, 2005 2:01 PM (e)

“Make no mistake: arguing for atheism is making a religious argument, just like arguing for theism.”

This is a ridiculous statement. Atheism is (by definition) not a religion, but rather the absence of religion. Your whole post is undermined by this claim.

Comment #42642

Posted by natural cynic on August 13, 2005 2:18 PM (e)

“Atheism is (by definition) not a religion, but rather the absence of religion.”

It is too, if the assertion is a matter of faith.

Comment #42647

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 2:38 PM (e)

“Make no mistake: arguing for atheism is making a religious argument, just like arguing for theism.”

Oy, my head.
One wouldn’t say that arguing for a-science - for a nonscientific worldview - is making a scientific argument, right? (is ID making a scientific argument?)
Perhaps one might say that arguing for atheism is making a _________ argument, just like arguing for theism, with the blank being filled in with a higher category, probably one of those big philosophical words whose meaning I always forget, ending with -ological …

I never got the impression that the militant atheist contingent was very large or loud. Granted, scientific prestige is an amplifying force in many circumstances, but so is religion … I’m just not sure how much of the creationist motivation is specifically “[a]theists insisting that evolution proves atheism” … but I’m sure it isn’t helping. But Weisberg - what’s his involvement in this issue? Dawkins and all, that’s one thing, even long-time newgroup and blog people, but it seems like Weisberg just came outa nowhere and started waving his arms about. Am I wrong?

Just was reading Pennock mentioning that evolution was well-received by “many theologians who are now regarded as the founding fathers of Christian evangelicalism” (Tower of Babel, p. 75; citing Livingstone’s book Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders).

So, what is an argument that evolution is bigger than heliocentrism? Besides the fall/death/crucifixion/salvation one.

ts has a very good point on Neufeld’s post below, though - on a practical level, evolution is just as compatible with religion as germ theory was *only* to the extent* that people realize it. Which is a generous reading of Weisberg’s point. In reality, a whole bunch of people realize this, despite what Weisberg and probably Sanchez claim - but agreed, you got folks on both sides (*cough* if you want to say that a small handful of folks out of an already small group, next to to an entire multi-decade movement is a fair comparison*cough*) who are making them incompatible* in a practical sense …

* watched Kinsey last night - all this talk about compatibility is reminding me of that bit from right after they married … not gonna make analogy, not gonna make analogy … I can fight it …

Comment #42648

Posted by Lurker on August 13, 2005 2:39 PM (e)

“Atheists insisting that evolution proves atheism make it appear as if teaching standard science in biology classrooms is actually state sponsorship of atheism, and this is what motivates creationists/IDists.”

That can’t be right, can it? Creationists are merely reacting to atheists when they insist children learn the world is 6000 years old?

I do not think political strife in of itself is good or bad, even if it takes 100 years to resolve. It is certainly an energy drain for those who have vested interests in this debate. On the other hand, people experiencing strife tend to want resolutions. So, to some extent, I am relieved that there are opposite poles at play. If there were not, then I’d be more worried about one side taking over the debate by storm.

I would cast the problem this way. It is the apathy of the citizens towards science that is the key problem – the rampant anti-intellectualism bred by one’s comfort with selective ignorance. Sure, there is nothing *in principle* that requires evolution to be in conflict with Christianity. But the mere existence of a principle does not actually force a person to seek it out and to resolve any perceived conflicts. What does it matter to a Creationist/IDist that the overwhelming scientific facts fly in the face of their beliefs? Nothing… except maybe those pesky fundamentalist atheists that are siphoning potential converts away from their groups.

Thus, unfortunately, it seems the only motivation here to force a resolution is that there is such a conflict of worldviews, each being undetermined by the facts available to us. Thank God, for the atheists, right?

I would turn the problem back to Matzke. If the opinions of Weisberg and Sanchez disappeared, would the problem of IDism and Creationism cease and desist? Conversely, if Dembski or P. Johnson were not around, would atheist find less intellectual fulfillment in evolution?

Comment #42649

Posted by Russell on August 13, 2005 2:40 PM (e)

Some wise individual said:

Atheism is a religion in the same sense that not collecting stamps is a hobby

Arguing for atheism“, on the other hand, could maybe be construed as making a religious statement.

Comment #42654

Posted by Bradley on August 13, 2005 2:48 PM (e)

“Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology.”

– Theodosius Dobzhansky,
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution
http://tinyurl.com/befnj

Comment #42655

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 2:51 PM (e)

Why is it that, when people’s religious beliefs are challenged, they go ballistic? This has got to be the most tendentious and offensive article I’ve ever read at PT, and seems to be geared toward rankling atheists and driving a wedge between them and theists, precisely what the article purports to complain about.

Comment #42656

Posted by C.J.O'Brien on August 13, 2005 2:51 PM (e)

Saying “The modern understanding of Evolution obviates religious explanations of otherwise deeply mysterious phenomena (like the origin and diversity of life)” is not logically equivalent to “Evolution proves there is no god.”

Thus Dawkins et al and their statements (like the famous “intellectually fulfilled atheist” bit) are simply not saying what fundamentalists say they are.

It’s scriptural literalists who conflate their beliefs with the core of theistic faith who are “insulting our intelligence” to borrow a phrase from the Slate piece.

Comment #42657

Posted by Rupert Goodwins on August 13, 2005 2:54 PM (e)

If atheism is a religion, then it is impossible to have no religion. I think it is possible to have no religion, therefore I think atheism is not a religion. Otherwise, you have to equate an awareness of religion with subscription to a religion, and I can’t see the logic in that.

I support no football team. I have no interest in football. Does that make me a sports fan, sports fans? And if I say that I don’t think that football should be used as the underlying explanation of physics does that mean I’m having an argument about sport or about science? If I was a football fan and made the same statement, would it be materially different?

R

Comment #42659

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 3:04 PM (e)

Thus Dawkins et al and their statements (like the famous “intellectually fulfilled atheist” bit) are simply not saying what fundamentalists say they are.

Nor what Matzke says they are: “Atheists insisting that evolution proves atheism”.

Comment #42660

Posted by Gerry L on August 13, 2005 3:07 PM (e)

Hear. Hear, Nick.
Let’s not allow the religious fundamentalists (nor the vocal atheists) to turn discussions about science into a religious debate. There can be no “resolution” when you’re talking about belief (or lack of belief).

Saying that anyone who believes in god is stupid is as useless to the discussion as saying that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is going to burn in hell.

We all agree that science is about facts and understanding, not about believing or faith. Our objective should be to help the general public understand how science works. It’s a waste of time and energy to try to change anyone’s belief’s. You won’t succeed, and it will distract from the real issue: defending science in the classroom (and elsewhere).

[BTW, I spent all last evening when I should have been reading about orangutans going through the discussion under the PR post. It riled me up, but special thanks to Lenny and Ed D for injecting reason into the discussion.]

Comment #42661

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 3:13 PM (e)

Atheism is a religion in the same sense that not collecting stamps is a hobby

”Arguing for atheism“, on the other hand, could maybe be construed as making a religious statement.

So arguing against stamp collecting may be construed as making a philatelic statement? That looks like a category mistake to me. Notably, arguments aren’t statements, they are arguments. And if one actually examines the various arguments for atheism, one does not find religious statements. But hey, one can construe whatever they like, supporting facts and evidence be damned.

Comment #42662

Posted by Tharmas on August 13, 2005 3:15 PM (e)

The difference should be clear enough.

As has been pointed out, the claim is not that atheism is a religion.

The claim is that by arguing for atheism one start to make it function as a religion.

It is the difference between IS and OUGHT.

I AM an atheist. That is not to state a religious belief, but rather its lack.

But when I say you OUGHT TO BE an atheist, my statement starts to function as a statement of belief.

Comment #42663

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 3:16 PM (e)

Hear. Hear, Nick.
Let’s not allow the religious fundamentalists (nor the vocal atheists) to turn discussions about science into a religious debate.

Oh the irony. What sort of blog is this? And what sort of debate has Nick fired up here?

Comment #42664

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 3:19 PM (e)

But when I say you OUGHT TO BE an atheist, my statement starts to function as a statement of belief.

So if I say that one ought to stop at red lights, one ought to quit smoking, and one ought to make only non-fallacious arguments, I’m preaching religion?

Comment #42665

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 3:21 PM (e)

Drat, I left out the best one: one ought only teach evolution, and not ID, in science classes.

Comment #42666

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on August 13, 2005 3:23 PM (e)

Matzke and Sandefur disagree: teach the controversy!

Bradley or Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote:

Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology.

This is utter nonsense. Whether or not evolutionary doctrine clashes with faith depends on the specific nature of that faith. If one’s faith is placed in a genesis-style special creation, then most certainly there is a clash. There are so many religions, so many faiths. To say that evolution does not clash with some of them (e.g. deism) is not to say that it does not clash with any of them.

Nick Matzke wrote:

Jacob Weisberg and Julian Sanchez, who both want to argue that evolution is incompatible with religious belief, have to explain why the same logic does not also apply to meteorology, germ theory, genetics, atomism, etc.

I think Sanchez made a movement in that direction by invoking the Galileo affair. In that episode, the science of astronomy did indeed clash with certain brands of faith.

Not all religions are deism. Not all religions are Unitarianism. Many religions make specific, testable claims about the natural world. Such religions open themselves up to conflict with science.

Comment #42667

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 13, 2005 3:25 PM (e)

Perhaps this is a more appropriate thread to post this in than the one I posted it to before:

This is my goodbye, everyone. I am not even remotely interested in all the dick-waving here. When the loonies leave, someone let me know so I can come back.

In the meantime, anyone who wants to say “Hi” to me can drop in the DebunkCreation list at Yahoogroups. The dicks won’t be following, since religious discussions are OT at DC.

I look forward to the time when PT becomes useful again, instead of just a private forum for certain people to (1) preach their religious opinions and (2) pick fights.

Take care, everyone.

Comment #42669

Posted by Stuart Weinstein on August 13, 2005 3:31 PM (e)

This nonsense is as much a diversion from the “war” on creationism as the war in Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror.

The goal of defending the teaching of evolution is to protect and strengthen the teaching of science in the public school system, not wade directly into the culture wars.

Comment #42676

Posted by Steve Verdon on August 13, 2005 4:04 PM (e)

Gerry L wrote:

Let’s not allow the religious fundamentalists (nor the vocal atheists) to turn discussions about science into a religious debate. There can be no “resolution” when you’re talking about belief (or lack of belief).

Actually, this isn’t quite true. I can believe X = 50 and another can believe that X = 100. Then if we agreed to the bayesian framework we’d modify our initial beliefs via Bayes Theorem as the data became available. Eventually, given enough data our seperate beliefs would move closer and closer toether until they were pretty much the same. The trick is letting the data settle our differences and not becoming dogmatic. With religion it is pretty much about dogma.

Comment #42677

Posted by PvM on August 13, 2005 4:07 PM (e)

Nick wrote:

Make no mistake: arguing for atheism is making a religious argument, just like arguing for theism.

Dre wrote:

This is a ridiculous statement. Atheism is (by definition) not a religion, but rather the absence of religion. Your whole post is undermined by this claim

I would argue that agnosticism remains neutral on the concept of religion. Whether or not Atheism is a religion is unclear to me, although it seems to be a faith based interpretation.

Comment #42680

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on August 13, 2005 4:21 PM (e)

PvM wrote:

I would argue that agnosticism remains neutral on the concept of religion. Whether or not Atheism is a religion is unclear to me, although it seems to be a faith based interpretation.

Thus stepping from one definition problem to another. Faith is usually defined something like:
“Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”

Thence we devolve into a discussion whether lack of evidence is evidence…

Comment #42687

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 4:43 PM (e)

I would argue that agnosticism remains neutral on the concept of religion.

Huxley coined the word a-gnostic – not knowable; it cannot be known whether there is a God. This is not neutral, certainly not for many people who believe that God is knowable.

Whether or not Atheism is a religion is unclear to me, although it seems to be a faith based interpretation.

There’s weak atheism and strong atheism. Weak atheism is lack of belief in God, the same way we lack a belief that someone named John Karpowsky lives at 25 Dover Lane in Sausalito. It’s possible, but there’s no reason to think so. (Not the best example, I admit, since it’s easy enough to find out). Strong atheism is belief that there is no God. Whether it is faith-based depends on whether there are reasons for the belief. If you actually examine the reasons that strong atheists put forth for their belief (what a concept), you will find that they are generally not faith-based, but are rather based on alleged impossibility proofs or on semantic analysis that allegedly reveals the term “god” to be semantically empty or non-referable. These arguments may be mistaken, but they aren’t a matter of faith: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=faith)

Comment #42689

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 4:48 PM (e)

Thence we devolve into a discussion whether lack of evidence is evidence…

Sagan famously contended that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, but that’s a misstatement (i.e., Sagan was wrong). A proper statement is “absence of proof isn’t proof of absence”. But evidence is a different matter altogether, and when you have searched high and low for evidence and have found none, say for WMD in Iraq (Donald Rumsfeld infamously used used the phrase in that context), that’s rather good evidence for absence.

Comment #42692

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 4:55 PM (e)

If you are a convinced atheist who is also supporter of science, you need to decide which is more important to you:

* defending and promoting science

* tearing down and destroying religion

‘Cause they aren’t one and the same thing. You may have both ends. However, in doing the latter, you are actually, right now, harming the cause of the former. There are plenty of religious scientist types (who fully accept evolution and a 14-billion-year-old Universe) whom you will tweak off. And you will play right into the hands of the creationists who want to argue against evolution on the basis that the people who support it are trying to destroy religion.

If you think that destroying religion is more important than promoting science, then go right on ahead with your attacks on religion.

On the other hand, if you think that promoting and defending science is more important, you are making a grave tactical mistake by insisting that you have to tear down religion in order to defend evolution. You’re throwing away allies, tilting against windmills, and undermining hard-argued positions.

Decide which is more important to you. If it’s defending science, then for the sake of good tacitcs and good sense, bite your lip on destroying religion until science isn’t in so much cultural peril.

-Rob

Comment #42694

Posted by g on August 13, 2005 4:57 PM (e)

Atheism isn’t a religion, but (qua proposition) it is a statement about religion, namely the statement that theistic varieties of religion are wrong.

Is arguing for atheism “making a religious argument”? Matter of definition: it is making an argument about religion; it’s not arguing in a religious mode.

As for schools: Keeping religion out of science classes doesn’t mean that a scientific discovery not dependent on any particular religious position is unmentionable as soon as someone finds a way to use it to support a particular religious or anti-religious position. You can’t keep something out of schools just because it can be used in a religiously partisan way. (Else I can keep anything out of the schools, by starting a new religion based on it.)

Perhaps evolution is evidence for atheism. (Good for atheism, if so.) Perhaps it’s evidence for, say, Hinduism. (Good for Hinduism, if so.) None of that can possibly make a difference to whether it’s right, or to whether it’s scientific, or to whether it’s OK to teach it to children. To disqualify something from teaching in schools because of its consequences if true is stupid.

Comment #42695

Posted by Chris on August 13, 2005 5:02 PM (e)

The reason you don’t see meteorology advanced as a evidence against religion is that theologians never advanced and “Arguement from Rain.” They did, however, advance an “Arguement from Design,” to which evolution is undeniably relevant. And it’s important to see the difference between relevance and proof. Rarely do atheists even come close to saying evolution disproves religion, but they’re right to say it undermies it.

Comment #42697

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 5:15 PM (e)

g wrote:

Atheism isn’t a religion, but (qua proposition) it is a statement about religion, namely the statement that theistic varieties of religion are wrong.

For many people, atheism qua proposition is “I lack a belief in God”.

Perhaps evolution is evidence for atheism. (Good for atheism, if so.) Perhaps it’s evidence for, say, Hinduism. (Good for Hinduism, if so.) None of that can possibly make a difference to whether it’s right, or to whether it’s scientific, or to whether it’s OK to teach it to children. To disqualify something from teaching in schools because of its consequences if true is stupid.

Some people feel that certain beliefs, even if true, are dangerous. Leo Strauss, for instance, held that view toward religion – he argued that the elites should keep the knowledge of the philosophical death of God away from the masses, lest society collapse. And his disciples, Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, et. al., take a similar view on evolution (http://reason.com/9707/fe.bailey.shtml). They weren’t/aren’t stupid, by any means, though I think they are severely deluded.

Comment #42701

Posted by Descent & Dissent on August 13, 2005 5:25 PM (e)

* defending and promoting science

* tearing down and destroying religion

Tastes great!
Less filling!

Comment #42703

Posted by Mark Barton on August 13, 2005 5:28 PM (e)

I’m afraid I think Julian Sanchez is right. The usual emphasis on how compatible religion and evolution is politically seductive but scientifically indefensible. Religion and evolution are “compatible” in the same way that doodling sea monsters in the blank spaces on ancient maps is compatible with cartography - it’s harmless fun as long as nobody takes it seriously. But people _are_ taking it seriously, so it’s regrettably important to be curmudgeonly about it: lack of scientific knowledge is _not_ license to fill the gaps with elaborate speculation. Faith in the apologist’s sense of belief without regard to evidence is _not_ intellectually respectable.

In particular, while liberal Christians are relatively science-friendly in practice because they’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either, even if it’s a tradition that does date back to Augustine. If you actually read Augustine, it turns out he’s simply raised unfalsifiability to a principle, as when he says, ““Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative.” That is, cynically but not unfairly paraphrased, if it’s embarrassing, it’s figurative, never mind figurative for what. That’s not compatible with science, that’s anti-scientific at the most fundamental level.

Comment #42708

Posted by g on August 13, 2005 5:57 PM (e)

ts:

Yes, “atheism” sometimes means “lack of belief in a god” rather than “the proposition that there is no god”. But that sort of “atheism” isn’t the sort that evolution might putatively provide evidence for, because it’s entirely about what goes on in one person’s head. For the same reason, it isn’t something that can be argued for (except maybe by psychologists studying the person in question). Belief in evolution (or any other scientific or other proposition) could cause atheism in this sense, but not support it.

You’re right, of course, that some people think certain ideas are terribly harmful even if true, and it’s not hard to cook up imaginary scenarios where something of the sort is right. So maybe “stupid” was too strong a word. But I think you’d need a very convincing case to justify not teaching something true for fear of its harmful consequences. And I think it’s clear that whatever case there may be (for some) against teaching evolution lest it lead to atheism is not strong enough for such an argument to work. I’m fairly sure Ruse, e.g., doesn’t offer any such argument.

Comment #42709

Posted by steve on August 13, 2005 6:11 PM (e)

Rob, making that choice isn’t necessary, but you are partly right. People should probably not attack religion on Panda’s Thumb. I think defending evolution and attacking religion are both important, but attacking religion on a forum for defending evolution will have those negative consequences you mentioned. People should not discontinue attacks on religion, but they should keep it off this site for strategic reasons.

Comment #42710

Posted by steve on August 13, 2005 6:17 PM (e)

i would put this on the bathroom wall, but the Bathroom Monkey* hasn’t cleaned it lately, so we can’t write anything there:

What’s up with the interminable tedious arguments in the comments lately? Why’s it happening?

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Night_Live_commercial

Comment #42714

Posted by BC on August 13, 2005 6:22 PM (e)

If you are a convinced atheist who is also supporter of science, you need to decide which is more important to you:

* defending and promoting science

* tearing down and destroying religion

Well, that’s a good post. Although, I would point out that defending science is often seen as a threat to religion. Many people are in love with the idea that God was somehow involved in evolution. Other people are in love with a literal Genesis account. Any scientific evidence which contracts this is in contradiction with their particular religious beliefs. This isn’t to say that it’s in conflict with religion, in general, but it requires some adjustments and most people have a severe reaction to changing any of their religious beliefs. Similarly, many people had attached geocentrism to their religious beliefs. Copernicus gained plenty of scorn (especially from contemporary protestants, who saw solarcentrism as a threat to their particular religious beliefs).

Martin Luther called the theory, “The over-witty notions of a fool, for does not Joshua 10 plainly say that the sun, not the earth, stood still?” John Calvin cited Psalm 93:1, “The earth is set firmly in place and cannot be moved … Who will dare to place the authority of this man Copernicus above Holy Scriptures?”

Looking back at this, even religious people would laugh at the illogical adherence religious people displayed towards geocentrism. Perhaps one day, people will realize just how illogical it is to say that evolution is a threat to religion because they will have dismissed the need to have God intimately involved in their creation - just as people dismissed the need to have the sun and planets circle around them. But, that day is not today. Hence, for some people, arguing for evolution will invariably be “a direct attack on their religion”. There’s simply nothing you can do to disentangle the two in their minds.

Although, you make a good point that people should strive to avoid making atheism and evolution into a package deal - explicitly attacking religion is just going to make things worse.

Comment #42716

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 6:28 PM (e)

Julian, Tim, and Jacob Weisberg are right. Nick is wrong.

The conflict between religion–or more specifically Christianity and other traditional forms of theism–and evolution was quite clear to Darwin himself, and seems quite clear to most ordinary people and to most professional biologists (see the results of the Cornell Evolution Project, or Larson and Witham’s survey of the religious beliefs of scientists, for details).

I suspect that even most non-believers who publicly promote the “non-overlapping magisteria” line do that for pragmatic, political reasons, rather than because they really believe there is no conflict.

Comment #42718

Posted by Hiero5ant on August 13, 2005 6:31 PM (e)

Hmmm… an appearing, disappearing retort from Sandefeur. This has all the makings of an intramural blogfight.

Could I just humbly suggest that this is indeed an important issue that needs to be discussed openly and intelligently, and furthermore that since the science of evolution is not a political “big tent” as ID aspires to be, this discussion should be pursued forcefully but nondogmatically? If we’re going to all “be on the same page, rhetorically” I think this should only come about as a result of healthy debate and discussion.

Crazy, I know, especially from someone who chooses for his handle a title that is the apotheosis of dogma and obscurantism, but still…

Comment #42720

Posted by darwinfinch on August 13, 2005 6:36 PM (e)

Religion, in the generally accepted meaning of the word, has nothing to do with anything, except bullying others to fear and hate (and cloyingly, narcissistically love) in a similar fashion to oneself. ToE can, like any real human thought, stand on its own.

About theists, with slight offense, I rather like WSB’s cynically logical take on the effects of [a] One-God Universe(s), where he simply turns the contradictions inherent in such a nonsensical, useless idea into an indictment describing a vicious, callous Being, and exposing the silly bamboozling expressions of religions’ descriptions for what they are: self-inflated/-ing bullshit.

Listen, you wanna believe in this God-stuff? Well, as long as I have breath in my body, you got me fight’n for yer rites! … No, I do NOT wish to make a donation…. Yeah, well I’m busy on Sunday. I got some breathing to do…. I’m gonna, what? Oh! Burn? Where? … Right … Thanks for the pamphlets, yeah … Listen, I’m just going to close the door now. And don’t let me see you talking with my kids if I’m not around.

Comment #42722

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 6:38 PM (e)

So what happened to Tim’s entry, for which I composed a long comment only to see it vanish in a puff of smoke? I do hope that this isn’t case of people proving his thesis by their actions.

Comment #42725

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 6:44 PM (e)

Those who claim that science can say nothing about the God hypothesis, that science can neither support nor undermine that hypothesis, are saying that every conceivable set of scientific observations would be equally compatible with the idea that the world was created by God. That seems to me absurd. It seems to me even more absurd when the hypothesized God includes the characteristics of omnipotence and benevolence, as it does in the case of Christianity. We would expect a world created by a loving God to look different from a world created by an evil or indifferent one, just as we would expect a human society created by good men to look different from one created by evil men. We would expect a world created by an omnipotent God to look different from a world created by an incompetent God, just as we would expect a watch created by a master watchmaker to look different from a watch created by someone who knows little about making watches. If God is so mysterious that we can infer nothing about him from observing the world he supposedly created, then we can say nothing meaningful about him at all.

Comment #42726

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 6:49 PM (e)

Tim, please bring back your post!

Comment #42727

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 6:51 PM (e)

g wrote:

Yes, “atheism” sometimes means “lack of belief in a god” rather than “the proposition that there is no god”. But that sort of “atheism” isn’t the sort that evolution might putatively provide evidence for, because it’s entirely about what goes on in one person’s head.

Huh? What goes on in people’s heads is cognition, which includes belief based on reason. And lack of belief in god most certainly is something that people infer from evolution, as evolution plays a strong role in removing the reasons to have such a belief. Like “I used to believe that, but I no longer have any reason to”.

For the same reason, it isn’t something that can be argued for (except maybe by psychologists studying the person in question). Belief in evolution (or any other scientific or other proposition) could cause atheism in this sense, but not support it.

These claims are quite clearly false. A lack of belief in god can be argued for by arguing that the reasons commonly proffered for such a belief are invalid. And evolution can support that argument.

Comment #42728

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 13, 2005 6:56 PM (e)

Well, it looks like I threw a grenade there. I’m not sure why, I haven’t said anything that hasn’t been said 100 times before. In fact, it appears to be the more-or-less official position of the national science and religion organizations that issue statements on these kinds of things, and most of the major figures.

It’s not clear to me how many of the commentators are mad at me or at each other, but regarding what I said, let’s back up a bit here:

1. The more-or-less official position of the national science and religion organizations, and lots of other prominent spokespeople, is that there is no necessary conflict between evolution/science and religion.

2. In a kind of a can’t-help-themselves backlash against the dominant view (if it wasn’t such a ubiquitous view, they wouldn’t be complaining about it), Jacob Weisberg (remember the title: “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit pretending they’re compatible”) and supporters disagree, and say that evolution really does cause a problem for religion, so let’s just happily have the science vs. religion wars for all eternity.

3. I, in turn, disagree with the backlash, and support the dominant view.

So far, I don’t see any cause for outrage.

Perhaps I insulted the atheists by saying that atheism was a religious view. This appears to be being interpreted the same way a liberal democrat would interpret being called a Bush supporter. All I meant was that atheism is clearly a position on a religious question. I was not saying that atheism is itself a religion, wrong, irrational, or even a matter of faith. But there is no way to avoid the fact that it is a position on a religious question. This is clearly how the courts would interpret it in a public school setting, and this is clearly how the public at large sees it.

Full disclosure: I happen to be agnostic at the moment, I think. I find the whole “does a higher power exist” question quite beyond current evidence to determine. The idea that God created the universe seems about as likely as anything else – the whole idea of the Big Bang, the Beginning of Existence, Time, and Everything is overwhelming mind-boggling anyway – who am I to reach any kind of premature conclusion? Since “atheist” and “agnostic” are all-to-commonly confused, I quote the Talk.Origins Jargon File:

Agnostic 1. Someone who defers belief or non-belief in a god until the evidence is in. Usually accompanied by the assertion that the evidence is not in.

I am so confused on the question, I won’t even take the strong agnostic position (the position that we can’t know if God exists). I will merely take the weak agnostic position that I don’t know, based on what I’ve seen.

It may well be that my weak agnostic position makes me somewhat sympathetic to the science-and-religion-don’t-have-to-conflict view.

A few comments on other comments:

1. Some theists definitely have used the “Argument from Rain” in the past. It’s all over the Bible, in fact, and it extends right into the Manifest Destiny “The Rain Follows the Plow” doctrine during U.S. westward expansion in the 1800’s. Some of the Bible quotes are shown in the previous post that I linked to and boldfaced in my initial post. Atomism, too, was enormously controversial for a time – it was descended straight from ultramaterialist Greek views, it was associated with scandalous individualist, anti-authoritarian views, and it was thought to contradict the doctrine that the communion bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ. And yet, a few generations later, it was utterly noncontroversial. So again, I say, supporters of Jacob Weisberg ought to explain why evolution is not compatible with religion, but atomism and meteorology are.

2. A better analogy than atheism and “not stamp collecting” or atheism and “not liking sports” is atheism and “disagreement with Democrats.” As with religion, in politics disagreement implies that you are taking some other view. Agnosticism and “apatheism” are other possible non-theist positions, but they are all some sort of answer to the question “Does God exist?”

3. I deeply appreciate the comments of Rob, who put it better than I have managed to, yet.

4. In support of the proposition that science popularizers have fairly commonly gone far beyond the science into some pretty fantastic metaphysical territory which would be called religious in any other context, I refer you to Mary Midgley’s (1985) book Evolution as a Religion, and her article online at the AAAS evolution page, “Evolution as a Religion: A comparison of prophecies,” Zygon, 22(2), p. 179-194. I used to have a Mary Midgley fan page which is still up at Wayback. Making these distinctions, between evolution and atheism and religion and science, is not mushy-headed reconciliationism that is done for political expediency. It is simply paying attention to the truth of the matter, which is that some prominent evolutionists have mixed the religion and science fairly flagrantly, and under the guise of science, and thereby continued the cycle with the creationists, who make the same mistakes. In order to maintain credibility we have to call this out when we see it, on either side.

Comment #42730

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:02 PM (e)

People should not discontinue attacks on religion, but they should keep it off this site for strategic reasons.

This is a faith-based claim that I do not believe holds up to scrutiny. Tim Sandefur made the counterargument well; it’s too bad his article is gone. And it’s certainly worthwhile to discuss or debate strategy here, so I’m going to post here what I tried to post as a response to Tim. People may complain about this being anti-strategic, but that’s just begging the question, since my position is that it isn’t anti-strategic at all. And besides, it’s just silly to claim that a single comment here will somehow allow the invading hordes to enter the gates.

——-

In George H. Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God, he writes

The subtitle–The Case Against God–has a twofold meaning: first, it refers to the philosophical case against the concept of god; and secondly, it refers to the psychological case against the belief in god. As a philosopher, I am continually amazed by the credence given to religious claims in the intellectual community; and, as a human being, I am appalled by the psychological damage caused by religious teachings–damage that often takes years to counteract….


It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself. There can be no knowledge of what is good for man apart from knowledge of reality and human nature–and there is no manner in which this knowledge can be acquired except through reason. To advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life.


It is not my purpose to convert people to atheism; such efforts are usually futile. It is my purpose, however, to demonstrate that the belief in god is irrational to the point of absurdity; and that this irrationality, when manifested in specific religions such as Christianity, is extremely harmful, In other words, I have attempted to remove the veneer of intellectual and moral respectability that often enshrouds the notion of a god. If a person wishes to continue believing in god, that is his perrogative, but he can no longer excuse his belief in the name of reason and moral necessity.

He then goes on to present his argument with over 300 pages of reasoning, logic, and evidence. Yet there are people here who have never inquired into any of the facts or literature of atheism who state that it is held as a matter of faith – just as many creationists do the same in regard to evolution. And the common argument against ID is that there is no evidence for it and there’s a better, reason- and fact- based explanation for what ID purports to explain. But the same goes for a great deal of religion, certainly the religion that those who cling to creationism believe in, and that is instrumental in their rejection of evolution. To pretend that religion has nothing to do with it is to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room when 64% of Americans believe that “human beings were created directly by God”, and only 22% believe that “human beings evolved from earlier species” (54% think not and apparently 24% are undecided – http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050706/nyw130.html). We may be able to keep ID out of the classroom, but that’s just one battle. To push beyond that 22% is going to take a lot more, and its not reasonable to hold that religion is off-topic relative to a discussion of education in evolution when it is such a huge driving factor, and when it plays such an important epistemological role.

Comment #42732

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 13, 2005 7:11 PM (e)

I think Tim is writing a reply as a primary post, which is all for the good. It wasn’t clear to me what Tim was intending with the previous post, but I had been meaning to bash on Jacob Weisberg’s Slate article for some time anyway, and Tim gave me the inspiration.

As a commentator said, there is no harm in airing differences publicly on this issue, the IDist “big tent” model is pernicious.

Comment #42733

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:12 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

I’m not sure why

Try “rant … stubbornly, defiantly, … refuses … lazy .. attempt to force people … rather than actually arguing … Atheists insisting that evolution proves atheism make it appear … this is what motivates creationists/IDists … who are ostensibly supporting teaching evolution can’t resist … it will ensure that the political strife over evolution continues for the next 100 years. [it’s all the atheists’ fault]”.

A pack of insults and misrepresentations.

Comment #42734

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:14 PM (e)

I think Tim is writing a reply as a primary post

He already wrote it, posted it, opened it for comments, and then it disappeared.

Comment #42735

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:22 PM (e)

I deeply appreciate the comments of Rob, who put it better than I have managed to, yet.

So you deeply appreciate “bite your lip” and his question begging false dichotomy? I myself thought that was the worst post of the bunch, short of the top article. You really should get ahold of Tim Sandefur and read what he posted – it goes directly to why Rob’s post is so wrong and so offensive.

Comment #42737

Posted by PZ Myers on August 13, 2005 7:30 PM (e)

The more-or-less official position of the national science and religion organizations, and lots of other prominent spokespeople, is that there is no necessary conflict between evolution/science and religion.

And they’re fooling themselves. It’s absurd. There is a conflict. PT wouldn’t need to be here if there were no conflict. And trying to resolve it by dissing the atheists, who are the only ones with sensible ideas on the subject of religion, is counterproductive.

I do agree that this debate should not be going on here, though. Everyone knows Pharyngula is the place where we jump in with both feet clad in steel-toed boots on this subject.

Comment #42739

Posted by Greg Peterson on August 13, 2005 7:35 PM (e)

This stuff really tears me up. Is the choice between supporting science and science education and confronting religion a false dichotomy? I think it might be. My position is pro-rational and cannot be reduced to a simple either/or. I support rationality in part by supporting science, but that’s not all there is to it. I am willing to, as someone said, “bite my lip” in some forums, but why does this have to include not commenting on the absurdity of the notion that evolution does not obviate the truth claims of, for example, Christianity, which holds it as self-evident that “creation” requires a “Creator,” and ultimately, a “redeemer”?

Having said that, I should emphasize, as I have in the past, that acceptance of the fact of evolution can never, by itself, necessitate atheism. My reasons for being an atheist are theological and metaphysical, not scientific. But please bear in mind, for the atheist, evolution is the only game in town. So while not every theist is going to admit to evolution’s correctness, very nearly all modern atheists must. I don’t wish to confuse a robust defense of evolution with an ad hoc attack on theism, but I do view them as of a piece: advancing a rational worldview, free of corrosive superstition.

Must I really “choose this day whom I will serve”?

Comment #42740

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 13, 2005 7:39 PM (e)

If you think of religion anthropologically as an integral aspect of culture rather than as adherence to a set of propostions, American atheists certainly have a religion but it isn’t atheism. It is the civic religion of the Americans, which includes a whole series of rituals involving, importantly, marriage and funerals as well as various political occasions.

Comment #42741

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 7:40 PM (e)

Nick writes:

The more-or-less official position of the national science and religion organizations, and lots of other prominent spokespeople, is that there is no necessary conflict between evolution/science and religion.

2. In a kind of a can’t-help-themselves backlash against the dominant view (if it wasn’t such a ubiquitous view, they wouldn’t be complaining about it)

Your view doesn’t appear to be even the majority one, let alone “ubiquitous.” Not amoung the general public, and not amoung professional biologists themselves. Check out the findings of the Cornell Evolution Project, for example. Only 14% of respondents agreed with either the statement that evolution and religion are “totally harmonious” or the statement that evolution and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria whose tenets are not in conflict.” The overwhelming indication from this survey, and other evidence such as Larson and Witham’s study of the religious beliefs of NAS members, is that the vast majority of professional biologists are not theists, are not religious and do not believe that religion and evolution are compatible. Most of them just keep quiet about it. It’s the minority in the scientific community that believes otherwise–the Ken Millers and John Polkinghornes and their allies–that make all the noise.

I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “national science and religion organizations,” but as I said in an earlier comment, I think many supporters of evolution see this fight primarily as a political and pragmatic one, and believe that the most important goal is to establish the view in the public mind that science and religion are not in conflict to prevent the creationists and IDers from winning the battles over public education, even if they privately reject that view.

Comment #42742

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:48 PM (e)

I quote the Talk.Origins Jargon File

You shouldn’t.

A better analogy than atheism and “not stamp collecting” or atheism and “not liking sports” is atheism and “disagreement with Democrats.” As with religion, in politics disagreement implies that you are taking some other view. Agnosticism and “apatheism” are other possible non-theist positions, but they are all some sort of answer to the question “Does God exist?”

I would expect getting the basics wrong and misrepresenting views from, you know, those other folks. Weak atheism, which is what many if not most atheists, and certainly most scientific, evidence-oriented atheists such as Dawkins, does not answer the question “Does God exist?”, any more than a-teapotorbitingmarsism answers the question of whether there’s a teapot orbiting Mars. That’s an example used by Bertrand Russell, quoted by Dawkins, and posted at PT more than once. If you have no idea what atheism is and what atheist arguments are, you really shouldn’t be writing about it.

I refer you to Mary Midgley

Do you now? The moral philosopher Mary Midgley who is anti-science, anti-reductionism, anti-meme, anti-gene, pro-Gaia-theory? That’s the most amazing bit of cherry picking I can recall seeing. You might as well have found a pack of monkeys at typewriters – they would have been as relevant.

Comment #42743

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 7:53 PM (e)

And they’re fooling themselves. It’s absurd. There is a conflict. PT wouldn’t need to be here if there were no conflict. And trying to resolve it by dissing the atheists, who are the only ones with sensible ideas on the subject of religion, is counterproductive.

Thank you.

I do agree that this debate should not be going on here, though.

So the elephant in the middle of the room should be ignored here? Isn’t this place about evolution education? How will that proceed when 64% of Americans think God made man “directly”? Shouldn’t strategy be addressed? Perhaps if non-believing scientists – the majority – didn’t hide out so much, things might change a little.

Comment #42745

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 8:00 PM (e)

If you think of religion anthropologically as an integral aspect of culture rather than as adherence to a set of propostions, American atheists certainly have a religion but it isn’t atheism. It is the civic religion of the Americans, which includes a whole series of rituals involving, importantly, marriage and funerals as well as various political occasions.

Even if this is true (and I think not), it misses the mark. If we’re going to allow atheistic religion as religion, then we shouldn’t be using the word religion at all, because it isn’t relevant; we should be using the word theism. There’s certainly no debate as to whether science is compatible with civil rituals.

Comment #42746

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 8:00 PM (e)

Ok. Let me see. Lots of religions, with a range of views. Within each religion you have various denominations, sects, etc. (It sounded like somone was saying that different varieties of Christianity were different religions?) The whole thing is a very difficult to define (and in some sense artificial) category. *Anything* that makes certain claims will be in conflict with certain versions! OECism isn’t compatible with YECism! Taking religion as a broad category, or even just picking Christianity as the majority religion in the U.S., it’s pretty safe to say that it can coexist with science. That’s what it reduces down to, y’know - not religion vs. evolution. After all, large numbers of people manage it.

ID does seem very Straussian.

“ lack of scientific knowledge is _not_ license to fill the gaps with elaborate speculation. “

This is up there with the comment about the logical equivalence of various statements (which I do fully agree with). It’ not realistic. (After all, most people have a limited role for formal logic in their lives. ) We’re not the licensing agency for that sort of stuff. And given that there are areas where science cannot by definition go, we don’t get to say what might or might not be there - or if there’s any there there - from a scientific standpoint. Religious, philosophical, curmudgeonly, whatever. But given the nature of the debate it is quite important to be clear. Same goes for whatever you think might not be compatible with science. I wonder if Sanchez and especially Weisberg are participating in perhaps the one of the few real mainstream media bias thingies - real religion involves fundamentalists, preferably speaking in tongues or handling snakes, and can only happen in a megachurch. Anything else isn’t *real* religion (I’m overstating, because it isn’t a total view - it just clicks into place for certain kinds of reporting).

I have great faith in people being able to deal. Misplaced, perhaps …

“I suspect that even most non-believers who publicly promote the “non-overlapping magisteria” line do that for pragmatic, political reasons, rather than because they really believe there is no conflict”

Well, the extent of my public promotion is a no-traffic blog, comment threads, and letters to the editor, but I really believe there is no conflict. Is there a conflict with specific versions? Yes, but one more time for the road, in that case we are talking about most of the world-based academic disciplines, hard and soft, from physics to linguistics. And there’s that same conflict *within* those belief systems…. it just starts getting a little silly.

Remember, methodology and metaphysics are *not* the same.

I know very little about the modern history of creationism, but I wonder what role atheists claiming support from evolution actually played. My understanding is that historians have generally argued for other forces as playing a big part in the 2 or 3 waves of 20th century creationism?

Comment #42748

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 13, 2005 8:04 PM (e)

LOL, PZ. Get out of the quicksand, Panda’s Thumb! You don’t want us barging into your nice comfy quicksand pool? ;-)

Comment #42749

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 8:08 PM (e)

Your view doesn’t appear to be even the majority one, let alone “ubiquitous.”

On top of that, his ad hominem “if it wasn’t such a ubiquitous view, they wouldn’t be complaining about it” inference is totally baseless and bogus and his “can’t-help-themselves backlash” ad hominem is downright disgusting. These are rhetorical tactics fit for William Dembski.

Comment #42751

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 8:14 PM (e)

Don P wrote:

I think many supporters of evolution see this fight primarily as a political and pragmatic one, and believe that the most important goal is to establish the view in the public mind that science and religion are not in conflict to prevent the creationists and IDers from winning the battles over public education, even if they privately reject that view.

Don, do believe that establishing such a view will have the intended consequence? You seem to treat it as a given here. Do you believe the goal is possible?

Comment #42752

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 8:14 PM (e)

In particular, while liberal Christians are relatively science-friendly in practice because they’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either,

No, you are quite wrong.

An inability to read human literature as anything other than either literal truth or as meaningless falsehood is not very intellectually respectable. Yet that seems to be the position that you are trying to force people into.

-Rob

Comment #42753

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 8:16 PM (e)

“The absurdity of the notion that evolution does not obviate the truth claims of, for example, Christianity, which holds it as self-evident that “creation” requires a “Creator,” and ultimately, a “redeemer”?”
My little dictionary says obviate is “to prevent by making unnecessary.” No, I’m not playing word games, I wasn’t sure what it meant. If that’s the general meaning here, it would seem to me that it *doesn’t* - not for Christianity. But trying to deal with this level of philisophical debate makes me feel like I have stuffing for a brain, so I dunno.

Enough for me. I’m going to raise a glass to Jim, who brought up a very important perspective, and then I’m tiptoing out the door. Enjoy! Play nice. Remember, no circular firing squads.

Comment #42754

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 8:17 PM (e)

Well, that’s a good post. Although, I would point out that defending science is often seen as a threat to religion. Many people are in love with the idea that God was somehow involved in evolution. Other people are in love with a literal Genesis account. Any scientific evidence which contracts this is in contradiction with their particular religious beliefs.

I would certainly agree that science is incompatable with some religions.

I would go further to say that those religions are wrong….

But science is not incompatable with religion generally. If you think it is, then you don’t really understand religion; the only religion you understand is the creationist’s sort of religion, which is the “poor substitute for science” sort of religion.

-Rob

Comment #42755

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 8:23 PM (e)

And they’re fooling themselves. It’s absurd. There is a conflict. PT wouldn’t need to be here if there were no conflict. And trying to resolve it by dissing the atheists, who are the only ones with sensible ideas on the subject of religion, is counterproductive.

Nobody is dissing the atheists. There are atheists and the religious who are outraged by the creationists’ attack on science and on evolution. We all share a common cause– or so I thought. I thought the point of PT was to defend against ignorance about evolution and attacks on science, not to attack religion.

What we are dissing is the notion that you must be an atheist to really want to defend science. That is not productive, and also demonstrably false. They’re the radical fringe that says “you must destroy religion to defend science,” and I consider them no more defensable than the religious who say “you must destroy science to defend religion.”

-Rob

Comment #42756

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 13, 2005 8:23 PM (e)

ts wrote,

Do you now? The moral philosopher Mary Midgley who is anti-science, anti-reductionism, anti-meme, anti-gene, pro-Gaia-theory? That’s the most amazing bit of cherry picking I can recall seeing. You might as well have found a pack of monkeys at typewriters – they would have been as relevant.

Ooh, now them is fighting words. Here’s a little secret: I used to think exactly the same thing about Mary Midgley, until I actually read her work. Go read her book Beast and Man (1978, 1995) and then come back. You might enjoy her thrashing of relativism and the “blank-slate” model of humans as completely socially constructed. She beat Steve Pinker to it by 20-some years.

As for the charges:

anti-science, anti-reductionism, anti-meme, anti-gene, pro-Gaia-theory?

Guilty as charged, except on the first point. Midgley is very pro-science. She just acknowledges that science is not necessarily reductionist (see Jane Goodall and ethology, ecology, and evolution in general). “Memes” are scientifically fringe. As for genes and Gaia, the Gaia model is no more metaphysically burdened than, say, Dawkins’s “selfish gene” model.

Oh, and you left out an important point: Midgley is strongly pro-Darwin, and very for the idea that there is a well-defined thing called human nature that is philosophically important. See all of her books.

Comment #42757

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 8:25 PM (e)

In particular, while liberal Christians are relatively science-friendly in practice because they’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either,

No, you are quite wrong.

An inability to read human literature as anything other than either literal truth or as meaningless falsehood is not very intellectually respectable. Yet that seems to be the position that you are trying to force people into.

You’ve given no reasons why he’s wrong, only a tu quoque argument, and a rather preposterous one at that. I’m sure Mark is able to read human literature figuratively, and he’s done nothing to force people into not doing so. Perhaps you should try using a Venn diagram to see where you’ve gone wrong.

Comment #42759

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 8:29 PM (e)

ts,

No, I don’t think the goal (of establishing in the public mind the view that evolution and religion are compatible) is possible, but more than that I just think it would be wrong and misguided to do it even if it were possible, because I think it’s a lie. I don’t have a good answer about what strategy would work best in the fight over public education, but I know it shouldn’t involve the false claim that there is no conflict. Your quote from George Smith really expresses my own views well.

Comment #42762

Posted by ts on August 13, 2005 8:36 PM (e)

As for genes and Gaia, the Gaia model is no more metaphysically burdened than, say, Dawkins’s “selfish gene” model.

Even you’re right on all points, you wrote

In support of the proposition that science popularizers have fairly commonly gone far beyond the science into some pretty fantastic metaphysical territory which would be called religious in any other context … It is simply paying attention to the truth of the matter, which is that some prominent evolutionists have mixed the religion and science fairly flagrantly

Mary Midgley can’t possibly be held up in support of your plural (and implicitly universal), or “commonly”, or “prominent evolutionists”. Once again, what is flagrant here is your cherry picking, with the rhetorical fragrance of Dembski.

Comment #42763

Posted by BC on August 13, 2005 8:45 PM (e)

You’re funny Rob. Here’s my quote, as you quoted it:

Well, that’s a good post. Although, I would point out that defending science is often seen as a threat to religion. Many people are in love with the idea that God was somehow involved in evolution. Other people are in love with a literal Genesis account. Any scientific evidence which contracts this is in contradiction with their particular religious beliefs.

Here’s my very next sentence, which you left out:

This isn’t to say that it’s in conflict with religion, in general, but it requires some adjustments and most people have a severe reaction to changing any of their religious beliefs.

Then your say:

I would certainly agree that science is incompatable with some religions.

I would go further to say that those religions are wrong.

But science is not incompatable with religion generally. If you think it is, then you don’t really understand religion; the only religion you understand is the creationist’s sort of religion, which is the “poor substitute for science” sort of religion.

Huh? You practically quote me in saying, “But science is not incompatable with religion generally.”, but then say (as if you didn’t read the rest of my post), “If you think it is, then you don’t really understand religion…”

Comment #42765

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 8:48 PM (e)

*pokes head back in*
“They’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either”
Why on earth not?

Two things: we’re throwing around meaningless nouns. “Religion”? What does that mean? Looking at religion through the lens of anthro (or sociology) seems much more useful here … (not that I am, which is depressing, since I majored in it …)

Let’s just say religion and science were incompatible, deeply, truly, unfixably incompatible. You think it would matter? Most cases, people believe what they want. They’ll tell you they want taxes cut and services expanded. And yeah, if push comes to shove, they’ll *probably* act in a different fashion - but where/when does that occur in this situation? Folks aren’t generally entirely rational, which is sometimes silly and sometimes very sane (and sometimes a nightmare, true). But honestly, they could be completely incompatible, and people will somehow imagine a way around it (of course, while species aren’t fixed and immutable, religions are?).
Likewise, they’re not, I truly believe, but if groups of people think they are, then for them …)

*stumbles off*

Comment #42768

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 8:51 PM (e)

Huh? You practically quote me in saying, “But science is not incompatable with religion generally.”, but then say (as if you didn’t read the rest of my post), “If you think it is, then you don’t really understand religion…”

I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to argue with you. I was trying to agree with you. I guess I was just too redundant in so doing.

-Rob

Comment #42769

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 8:53 PM (e)

Huh? You practically quote me in saying, “But science is not incompatable with religion generally.”, but then say (as if you didn’t read the rest of my post), “If you think it is, then you don’t really understand religion…”

I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to argue with you. I was trying to agree with you. I guess I was just too redundant in so doing.

The “you” in that sentence was “one”, not you specifically.

-Rob

Comment #42773

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 9:01 PM (e)

Dan S:

Well, I just went to your “no-traffic blog” and read your attempted fisking of Weisberg. I won’t be going back there again. Your critique of his piece is juvenile and dishonest.

Comment #42774

Posted by SEF on August 13, 2005 9:02 PM (e)

It’s the same sort of conflict as arises with many of the other roles people adopt - ones to which they are implicitly or explicitly trained to apply various modes of thought and behaviour. The fact of the existence of these (often conflicting) roles is revealed by statements such as “speaking as a mother …” and “as a friend you should …” even if the rest of those assertions is false, absurd or whatever. If the conflict of different role-playing wasn’t well known then people wouldn’t be adopting that phraseology at all.

It starts early. Kids are made to choose between being law-abiding (as a good citizen) or loyal to their mates (as a friend). It progresses to many other, sometimes subtle differences, eg in driving technique (as a learner striving to stick to objectively good standards versus get-away driver). It’s hardly surprising that some people can have both a scientist hat in which they do good science (despite any religious beliefs) and a religion hat in which they go to church etc (and which they carefully don’t examine too closely). These things do conflict. It’s just that people are quick-change artists rather than wearing all their roles at once and forcing them to be simultaneously asethetically compatible.

Comment #42777

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 9:13 PM (e)

Your critique of his piece is juvenile and dishonest.

I would note that
a) it’s a personal blog; you may be mistaking a common sort of light, humorous, slightly snarky tone for “juvenile”
b) I have twice pointed out to Dan reading comprehension errors and he came back and said (from memory) “you’re right, thanks for point it out”, and “(hangs head) boy, do I have reading comprehension errors” – so there may be a more charitable explanation for any misreadings or misrepresentations (assuming there were any; I haven’t read it carefully) than dishonesty

Comment #42778

Posted by Rob Knop on August 13, 2005 9:13 PM (e)

It’s hardly surprising that some people can have both a scientist hat in which they do good science (despite any religious beliefs) and a religion hat in which they go to church etc (and which they carefully don’t examine too closely).

Oh, they don’t examine it too closely?

Most don’t, but some do. Maybe you can’t imagine how that could be, but then, you probably don’t know a whole lot about the different sorts of things that people who practis religion think. A couple of examples:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/03/10/MNG9BBN70C1.DTL

http://www.ctns.org/

Comment #42781

Posted by jamey leslie on August 13, 2005 9:18 PM (e)

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert(freakin)Einstein

Comment #42787

Posted by Don P on August 13, 2005 9:37 PM (e)

ts,

Well, for example, he substitutes the term “theistic evolution” for the statement “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” to make it appear that Weisberg is foolishly characterizing a 38% share as “not many people,” when I think it’s obvious that Weisberg was, quite reasonably, interpreting the phrase “God guided this process” as a rejection of the naturalistic, unguided processes described by evolution. He pretends that Weisberg’s statement that evolution led Darwin to agnosticism somehow does not include the example of the behavior of parasitic wasps that Darwin cited. Every one of his criticisms of Weisberg is either trivial or wrong.

Comment #42807

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 11:29 PM (e)

jamey leslie wrote:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert(freakin)Einstein

Albert Einstein wrote:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Comment #42809

Posted by PZ Myers on August 13, 2005 11:32 PM (e)

Yeah, Nick, you’re stealing my schtick.

Rob: this is what we call a straw man around here.

What we are dissing is the notion that you must be an atheist to really want to defend science. That is not productive, and also demonstrably false. They’re the radical fringe that says “you must destroy religion to defend science,” and I consider them no more defensable than the religious who say “you must destroy science to defend religion.”

Nobody has said that. I’m probably the most recklessly brutal atheist in the PT crew, and I haven’t said that. I do think religion is a waste of time, a lot of empty noise, but I certainly recognize that many of the most respected defenders of science have also been religious.

What that kind of thing really is is a routine attempt to demonize atheists and treat them as a “radical fringe” that undermines science. It’s very annoying. Stop it. You see, many other respected defenders of science have been atheists.

I would also add that while you certainly can find a fringe of atheists who say stupid things–atheism is not a cure for stupidity–it is the dominant strains of theism in this country that are advocating anti-science. It’s also annoying to put words in the mouths of a small minority of atheists and make them the enemy, when the problem lies in a prominent majority of theists.

Comment #42813

Posted by Mark Barton on August 14, 2005 12:02 AM (e)

Rob: “An inability to read human literature as anything other than either literal truth or as meaningless falsehood is not very intellectually respectable. Yet that seems to be the position that you are trying to force people into.”

Not at all. Conveying ideas with metaphors and allegory and other forms of non-literal writing is a basic human impulse and it couldn’t be clearer that there’s lots of it in the Bible. The trouble is that it’s far from clear that any of the passages relevant to the evolution debate were so intended. For example the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2 is part of the J narrative, which is a tightly integrated composition beginning with the establishment of the world and ending with the establishment of the kingdom of David and Solomon. The end of it reads like history, and various clues suggest that the author was writing not long this period, so most likely it _was_ tolerably accurate history. It’s a literary history, and uses literary techniques such as puns and ironic self-reference to make a more gripping story, but there’s no sign that the author was in the habit of making stuff up wholesale as an allegory for something else. The author knows what a parable is, and distinguishes it from the regular flow of the narrative, as in Judges 9:8-15. And to cap it off, the single most likely candidate for an allegory, the talking snake of Genesis 3, is the exception that proves the rule. The text tells us explicitly what the significance of the talking snake is, and it’s not an allegory, it’s a simple-minded Just So story. The snake is the ancestor of today’s snakes that crawl on their bellies.

Comment #42814

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 12:15 AM (e)

Well, for example, he substitutes the term “theistic evolution” for the statement “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” to make it appear that Weisberg is foolishly characterizing a 38% share as “not many people,” when I think it’s obvious that Weisberg was, quite reasonably, interpreting the phrase “God guided this process” as a rejection of the naturalistic, unguided processes described by evolution.

He mentioned the 38% number in a conversation with me about the meaning of “many” before he went off to write his blog article. Had I been paying attention I probably would have objected. I’m pretty sure he honestly believed that his term was appropriate, but it does seem uncharitable to Weisberg. The problem, though, is that it’s a crappy poll question and none of us can know what it meant to the each of the respondents. OTOH, according to http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=581, only 22% of all American adults believe in evolution today.

He pretends that Weisberg’s statement that evolution led Darwin to agnosticism somehow does not include the example of the behavior of parasitic wasps that Darwin cited.

Dan is saying that the wasps and Darwin’s daughter’s death are sufficient to get Darwin there, even without evolution, and I think he’s got something there. You seem to be saying observation of wasps supports evolution; observation of wasps supports agnosticism; therefore evolution supports agnosticism – no, sorry, that’s a fallacy. From what I’ve read, the problem of evil was a major factor in his loss of belief, particularly his loss of his daughter, which affected him deeply.

Every one of his criticisms of Weisberg is either trivial or wrong.

It depends on what is trivial. I think you’re overstating your case somewhat, but I would agree that Weisberg doesn’t make any major errors that invalidate his overall argument.

Comment #42818

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 14, 2005 12:30 AM (e)

TS writes “There’s certainly no debate as to whether science is compatible with civil rituals” thus agreeing with me without apparently realizing it. I’m not saying that the civic religion of the atheists contradicts their atheism. It also doesn’t contradict the Christianity of the Christians who mostly follow America’s civic religion, but superimpose another set of doctines and beliefs on top of it in something like the way that many Japanese are at once Shintoists,Buddhists, Marxists, and Christians.

The notion that believing in the truth of a body of propositions is the central characteristic of belonging to a religion is rather parochial. It would be bad for religions in general if that were really the case, since the assertions associated with the various religions are pretty obviously false if construed by the usual criteria.

How about this? Can we say that God “exists” for the Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the same sense that a 10 beats a king in pinochle?

Comment #42823

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 12:56 AM (e)

TS writes “There’s certainly no debate as to whether science is compatible with civil rituals” thus agreeing with me without apparently realizing it.

I disagreed that atheists have a (ritual) religion; my statement above has no bearing on that one way or the other.

I’m not saying that the civic religion of the atheists contradicts their atheism.

What I said, more or less, was “Who cares? This has nothing to do with the evolution debate.”

The notion that believing in the truth of a body of propositions is the central characteristic of belonging to a religion is rather parochial.

It’s not relevant whether it’s the core characteristic; what is relevant is that dogmatic or “faith” acceptance of beliefs is epistemically invalid, and impinges upon the valid epistemology of science. Science repeatedly and reliably produces predictions that turn out to be true, and thus serves as an epistemic source.

Comment #42827

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 1:42 AM (e)

ts,

You’re damn right it’s “uncharitable” to Weisberg. Dan S. deliberately substituted the term “theistic evolutionists” for the wording in the poll question to try to make Weisberg’s perfectly reasonable “not many people” statement appear foolish. And as for the wasps, I think it’s clear in context that by “evolution” Weisberg wasn’t referring to any kind of formal definition of that term but to Darwin’s work in evolutionary biology more broadly. Dan S. isn’t making any kind of serious critique of Weisberg, he’s just looking to score juvenile debating points through tendentious readings and other rhetorical devices.

Comment #42828

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 2:03 AM (e)

The notion that believing in the truth of a body of propositions is the central characteristic of belonging to a religion is rather parochial.

What is the central characteristic of belonging to a religion, then? And I mean “belong” in a substantive, meaningful sense, rather than in a merely symbolic or procedural one.

How about this? Can we say that God “exists” for the Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the same sense that a 10 beats a king in pinochle?

I just think it’s a misleading and abusive use of language to use the word “exists” in that sense at all, at least outside of a formal context in which the unconventional meaning is made clear.

Comment #42830

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 2:11 AM (e)

“Your critique of his piece is juvenile and dishonest.”
Why, thank you! Usually Ijust aim for infantile and mendacious …

“Well, for example, he substitutes the term “theistic evolution” for the statement “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” to make it appear that Weisberg is foolishly characterizing a 38% share as “not many people,”

I was (unthinkingly, perhaps) going by religioustolerance.org’s description of earlier Gallup surveys and overall viewpoints:

“Theistic evolution: (39% support). 1 The universe is over 10 billion years old; the earth’s crust developed almost 4 billion years ago. God caused the first living cell to appear. Humans evolved out of lower forms of life under the direct guidance of God. God steered evolution, at least to some degree, as a mechanism to guide the development of new species.”
http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_over.htm

I definitely agree that the poll questions are pretty crappy and not really getting at what’s going on. Given the numbers, I assumed that their “God had no part” question was getting mostly atheists, while the guided bit was getting most of the rest, along with some ID folks. I probably should have laid out these assumptions, instead of making blanket statements. I’m a pretty slow writer and somewhat fuzzy thinker, and am trying to do too many things at once. If anything, it was an honest mistake, not a deliberate mischaracterization.
- Thanks, ts.

“when I think it’s obvious that Weisberg was, quite reasonably, interpreting the phrase “God guided this process” as a rejection of the naturalistic, unguided processes described by evolution.”
I see that as an example of “believ[ing] in both.” In my mind the big thing is whether they believe or demand that science can detect/prove this guidance. IDers may be taking a much bigger chunk out of this group than I assumed. What sort of views would you see people who “believe in both” as holding?

Can folks suggest some more polls, beside the Harris one? That’s just frightening - over half of respondents think we should teach evolution, creationism, and ID? Yikes.

Comment #42831

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 2:12 AM (e)

You’re damn right it’s “uncharitable” to Weisberg.

Do you actually want to have a reasoned exchange, or do you just want to bark at me? Your tone and scare quotes are uncharitable and unappealing.

And as for the wasps, I think it’s clear in context that by “evolution” Weisberg wasn’t referring to any kind of formal definition of that term but to Darwin’s work in evolutionary biology more broadly.

I didn’t say anything about formal definition. You need an argument that Darwin’s theory is what caused his loss of belief, not just an assertion. If Darwin had lost his daughter and had made all his observations of nature but had never thought of natural selection, it seems quite plausible that he still would have lost his faith. That makes evolution irrelevant, yet Weisberg’s thesis is that evolution, not just observation of nature, is incompatible with religion. If by “Darwin’s work in evolutionary biology more broadly” you mean to include all his observations as a naturalist, independent of the theory of evolution, then it’s too broad.

I hope you’ll relax enough to at least consider what I’ve written on its merits, and not just assume a priori that you have made no mistake.

Comment #42832

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 2:22 AM (e)

Don, you might want to look at
http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/11/a_dog_and_the_mind_of_newton.php

Carl Zimmer wrote:

That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument. It destroyed the faith of Darwin himself, who moved from Christianity to agnosticism as a result of his discoveries and was immediately recognized as a huge threat by his reverent contemporaries.

I get the feeling that Weisberg has yet to read either of the two excellent modern biographies of Darwin, one by Janet Browne and the other by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. I hope he does soon. Darwin’s life as he actually lived it does not boil down to the sort of shorthands that people like Weisberg toss around.

Darwin wrestled with his spirituality for most of his adult life. [lots of relevant bio info]

Comment #42833

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 14, 2005 3:03 AM (e)

Doctrine has always been part of Christianity, but formerly most people also lived the faith in their everyday lives to a vastly greater degree than they do now. As almost everybody has come to live in a largely secular way, adherence to religion tends to be defined as holding certain opinions.

Small example: when most folks argue about religious faith nowadays, they appear to be talking about belief in the existence of a creator god with certain qualites. If you read older religious books, both Protestant and Catholic, you find that the faith in question refers to the confidence or hope that God or Christ will save the sinner despite his or her unworthiness.

By the way, the difference beween religion = membership in a community with shared rituals, endogamy, and enforced moral rules and religion = purely personal choice of a set of ideas explains why it is possible to maintain both that religion is in deep decline and religion is undergoing a revival. Church attendence is down, but people keep on saying they believe in God and even the literal interpretation of scripture when asked survey questions.

Comment #42834

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 3:07 AM (e)

Don P. -
edited my post to reflect this discussion. While your assumptions about my intentions were fairly uncharitable (although, granted, you did assume that I understood what I was reading, and *knowingly* twisting it, so … ), it was very helpful. I would like to second ts’ remarks about relaxing, though …

And yep - he is arguing causation, and doesn’t seem to offer sufficient (or well-supported) evidence. While to imagine evolution plays *no* role seems extremely unlikely, I really would like a bit more meat here, given the claim.

“What is the central characteristic of belonging to a religion, then?”
Oh c’mon, ask a hard one!
That’s a joke. It’s a very important question, though. Do we know? We’re all thrashing around a bit . .

Comment #42835

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 3:10 AM (e)

he being Weisberg, that is.

Jim, that’s great stuff.

Comment #42836

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 3:42 AM (e)

Oh, they don’t examine it too closely?

Most don’t, but some do.

You’re going to have to show that is true - other than for the ones who’ve ditched religion or ditched science and said why. The ones who have explicitly decided to keep their hats separate are also ones who support my contention not yours. They know they can’t afford to look at their shaky faith critically and still keep it. All that’s really left are the ones who’ve avoided commenting and perhaps have shown no signs of thinking about it at all.

Maybe you can’t imagine how that could be,

I’ve just demonstrated that I can - a lot better than you apparently do.

but then, you probably don’t know a whole lot about the different sorts of things that people who practis religion think.

Again it appears I know more than you do and more than you say I do. Your examples don’t show what you believe or pretend they show. The CTNS look like professional apologists and people who carefully keep their hats separate. The Templeton prize is similarly a joke to encourage more dishonesty by holding up as an example the most prominent intellectually dishonest person who fits the apologetics agenda.

What you need are examples of people doing something other than eating one of their hats or determinedly keeping them separate. And first you have to demonstrate that they even have the science hat at all. Many people who claim (or are claimed by others) to have the science hat don’t really have it, eg philosophers and lab people going through the motions without genuinely internalising science (just as many religious people go through the motions of pretending to have morals without genuinely internalising ethics).

Comment #42837

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 3:47 AM (e)

Oops, I’m misusing “apologetics” a bit there and hit the post button before ever coming up with a more accurate word. Um … on the rather banal side “the [pretence of compatibility] agenda” is more it. I had this feeling there was a single word for it somewhere though. Oh well.

Comment #42840

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 3:58 AM (e)

Dan S. wrote:

While to imagine evolution plays *no* role seems extremely unlikely, I really would like a bit more meat here, given the claim.

Dan, you should definitely read
http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/11/a_dog_and_the_mind_of_newton.php
it pretty much demolishes Weisberg’s “[evolution] destroyed the faith of Darwin”, and is a quite moving portrayal of Darwin.

Comment #42842

Posted by g on August 14, 2005 5:37 AM (e)

ts:

I wasn’t clear enough. (My wrists are a bit dodgy so I’m trying to be brief.)

The proposition “I lack a belief in God” is purely about what’s in the relevant person’s head. It could be true even if there were conclusive proof of theism or false if there were conclusive proof of atheism (it would just mean the person in question was wrong). Even if (say) Dawkins is right about the implications of evolution, you can’t get from there to “I lack a belief in God”. You might (under the same hypothesis) be able to get from there to “Belief in God is irrational” or “Belief in God is wrong“, which are statements about how the world actually is.

If you argue that the reasons commonly given for belief in God are invalid, you’re not arguing for the proposition “I lack a belief in God” but for the proposition “It is sensible to lack a belief in God”.

Part of the trouble is that I was trying to make one distinction do the work of two. There’s the distinction between a claim about how the world is (“There is no god”) and a claim about what a given person believes (“I believe that there is no god”), which is what I was addressing. And there’s the distinction between levels of disbelief (“I believe there is no god” versus “I don’t believe in a god”), which I wasn’t.

I don’t think evolution and theism can be incompatible unless evolution provides support for something beyond “weak atheism”; if all it does is to knock down certain theistic arguments, it can’t rule out the possibility that other arguments might support theism. (Maybe there are no such other arguments, but that’s not something evolution itself tells you.) Which is why I assumed a stronger meaning of “atheism” above. Sorry if that caused miscommunication.

Comment #42843

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 6:49 AM (e)

If you argue that the reasons commonly given for belief in God are invalid, you’re not arguing for the proposition “I lack a belief in God” but for the proposition “It is sensible to lack a belief in God”.

Ok, got it. Then (speaking of weak atheism) “I am an atheist” is equivalent to “I lack a belief in God” and atheism qua proposition is mu – atheism per se doesn’t assert anything. There are, however, justifications for being an atheist, and they’ve been given. And talk about not ruling out possibilities is off the mark because we aren’t talking about logical disproof, only methodological error. In comes down to Occam’s Razor, which is a theorem in information theory these days. Evolution and theism aren’t logically incompatible, it’s more about methodology and psychology. The scientific method is an epistemic source (due to its repeated production of predictions that come true) and theism is not. Whatever psychological factors allow for an unsupported theistic belief could be applied to any other belief. As Tim Sandefur noted, belief in the supernatural incurs a cost in intellectual integrity.

Or something like that; I haven’t slept for a few days and am getting a bit punchy. And if I have any sense I’ll be doing a lot less reading and posting here once I reawaken.

Comment #42857

Posted by Rob Knop on August 14, 2005 9:15 AM (e)

PZ Meyers wrote:

Rob: this is what we call a straw man around here.

rknop wrote:

What we are dissing is the notion that you must be an atheist to really want to defend science. That is not productive, and also demonstrably false. They’re the radical fringe that says “you must destroy religion to defend science,” and I consider them no more defensable than the religious who say “you must destroy science to defend religion.”

Nobody has said that. I’m probably the most recklessly brutal atheist in the PT crew, and I haven’t said that. I do think religion is a waste of time, a lot of empty noise, but I certainly recognize that many of the most respected defenders of science have also been religious.

HELLO? Have you READ the discussion? They very beginning of the whole thing comes from an article entitled “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit Pretending They’re Compatable”.

You do a damn good job of being superior and arrogant, but not of understanding why people are getting up in arms.

What that kind of thing really is is a routine attempt to demonize atheists and treat them as a “radical fringe” that undermines science. It’s very annoying. Stop it. You see, many other respected defenders of science have been atheists.

PZ: This is what we call misrepresenting what somebody else said around here.

I did NOT say, explicity and very clearly did NOT say, that athiests were a “radical fringe.”
Read my words above. I have no problem with anybody else’s religion or lack thereof unless they’re trying to force it on me or force it on the public at arge.

What I DID SAY, what I DID [BLEEP] SAY, and still stand by, is that those who insist that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist are a radical fringe. What’s more, I think those are the radical fringe of athiests who give other athiests a bad name– and I’d love to see other athiests disavow them, just as I’d lov to see Republicans disavow the creationists and everybody else disavow their extreme fringe elements.

And they ARE HERE. Look at ts, if nobody else. THOSE PEOPLE are the ones who are hurting the cause, I am arguing.

In the mean time, I’m the hell outta here. PT used to seem to be a really reasonable place, but too many people here are fitting the sterotypes that the annoying extreme religious people seem to think that all scientists fit.

I would also add that while you certainly can find a fringe of atheists who say stupid things—atheism is not a cure for stupidity—it is the dominant strains of theism in this country that are advocating anti-science. It’s also annoying to put words in the mouths of a small minority of atheists and make them the enemy, when the problem lies in a prominent majority of theists.

I don’t argue that the problem is the creationists.

But that also WASN’T WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT. “The problem” wasn’t the big problem of the country, but the problem within PT, which has a selection effect that by and large only the science defenders are here. Within this community, it is those who insist “you religious people must be really stupid” that are the problem.

I am just sick to death of the extremeists who think that others who don’t agree with them in matters of non-empirically-provable faith are either (a) going to hell or (b) intellectually soft-headed. Both of you can just go climb a tree somewhere.

-Rob

Comment #42858

Posted by Rob Knop on August 14, 2005 9:19 AM (e)

Again it appears I know more than you do and more than you say I do. Your examples don’t show what you believe or pretend they show. The CTNS look like professional apologists and people who carefully keep their hats separate. The Templeton prize is similarly a joke to encourage more dishonesty by holding up as an example the most prominent intellectually dishonest person who fits the apologetics agenda.

I hope you’re happy in your little world where you’re smart and everybody else is stupid.

-Rob

Comment #42868

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 10:46 AM (e)

I like SEF’s approach in many ways.

Do we mean logically incompatible, or practically incompatible? If we insist on the former, then past a certain degree we’re demanding more consistency than we often find in other domains - from the morals/ethics example to more banal cases. Perhaps there are two debates here: can evolution and [religion] co-exist sustainably, and can evolution and [religion] be combined in a coherent fashion. Or something

Weisberg had a lot of wiggle room with “Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief,”

But then he tossed this up:
“but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world’s great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well)”
That takes more than a simple assertion (and even if Weisberg is correct about Darwin - click the link ts has - that’s of little relevance.

ts - I really like Zimmer’s writing. Darn, I now have to dig up a biography of Darwin … the more I find out about the man, the more impressed I am.

Comment #42869

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 10:54 AM (e)

and yes, SEF’s saying there *is* a conflict. I really like the point about roles …
We have to look at people’s real behavior here.

Comment #42870

Posted by Ruthless on August 14, 2005 10:56 AM (e)

fundamentalists on both sides — atheism and Christianity — have, for the last 100 years, used evolution as a club to beat up on the other side.

Atheists don’t rely on the Theory of Evolution to reject god or religions. At least, I’ve never met someone who has.

It is too, if the assertion is a matter of faith.

It is not necessary to rely on “faith” to reject unevidenced or impossible entities. For example, simple logic refutes the typical Christian model. A selection of beliefs from the Christian model:
(1) God is supremely merciful.
(2) God is all-powerful and all-knowing.
(3) God will send humans to hell for not figuring out exactly what it is he wants done, where they will suffer for eternity.

(3) contradicts (1) since even I, a mere mortal, wouldn’t punish anyone forever, no matter how bad their crimes. Thus, it must be true that either hell does not exist (as Christians describe it) and/or god is not all-merciful. And since the Bible describes all sorts of genocides and atrocities committed by god, it’s hard to see why anyone would worship such an entity if it existed, and why people would hope such an entity exists!

Despite glaring logical contradictions like this, however, the primary reason atheists primarily reject gods and religion (at least, from what I’ve experienced) is because of lack of evidence; the internal contradictions and the contradictions with science strongly reinforce the idea that the religions of the world are just man-made myths. Disbelieving something for lack of evidence certainly requires no faith, just as the average religious person does not require faith to not believe in unicorns, leprechauns, etc. To argue otherwise is the same silly argument that creationists use: Trying to make both sides appear to be equal, to be based upon faith, when that is clearly nonsense.

That said, the idea that evolution is completely compatible with all religions is demonstrably false: For those who believe the Bible is literally true, evolution contradicts their belief system. (Of course, the Bible contradicts itself, and yet literalists have no trouble accepting the Bible as literally true and infallible…) Evolution does not, however, imply atheism nor does it lead to atheism. I’ve yet to meet an atheist who became so because of the ToE.

Comment #42873

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 11:06 AM (e)

It’s called reality, Rob, and, as is typical, you are misrepresenting it again.

Comment #42876

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 11:15 AM (e)

For those who believe the Bible is literally true, evolution contradicts their belief system.

Yes, those people have a lot more problems with all aspects of reality than they do merely with evolution. They just: (a) notice evolution more because it really is so in your face obviously true (once you know what it is!); (b) think it’s a soft touch to attack first because they might be able to pretend some more diversely ignorant fantasists are on the same side as them.

Comment #42881

Posted by Ruthless on August 14, 2005 11:55 AM (e)

Yes, those people have a lot more problems with all aspects of reality than they do merely with evolution.

Quite correct.

Humans, in general, though, are not rational (well, this is from my own observations, anyway.) Almost everyone has some area where belief (their own pet beliefs) are stronger than evidence, logic, reason. For some people, it’s belief in alien abductions, for some it’s ESP and talking with the dead, some believe in witchcraft or other types of mysticism, some believe their political party is the source of Truth™, some believe in religion, some believe in ghosts, some believe it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder, etc. Humans have a tendency to want to believe in the fantastic, rather than the mundane. They tend to want to believe in certain things that make them feel like they have special knowledge that others don’t have (some kind of feeling of power from that perhaps?) And one trait that is almost always common is that people will go to whatever lengths necessary to protect their pet beliefs, rather than change their worldview or admit that they’re wrong, and that usually this leads to them saying things which they know are not true or that they don’t believe.

Comment #42887

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 14, 2005 12:37 PM (e)

The improbable or plainly impossible beliefs of the various religions are not random fantasies. For example, they always have a law-enforcement function. People get upset when they notice that bad things happen to good people, but they get livid when good things happen to bad people; and they are rightly frightened by what they find in their own black hearts. Absent hellfire, what prevents them from acting on their antisocial impulses? That’s a lot of what God’s for, sociologically speaking; and if the answer isn’t very satisfactory from a philosophical point of view, you’ve got to admit that the question is serious. Arguments about atheism and religion that act as if what’s at stake is the true or falsity of a few propositions miss a crucial angle.

Note that God is not the only way to enforce a moral world order against the evidence. The law of karma plays the same role in Buddhism. Like Yahweh, the Dharma can only be known by revelation or supernatural insight, which is to say there’s no cogent evidence for it either. On the other hand since the machinery doesn’t have to real in order to function, the imaginary status of divine things doesn’t matter very much except to a tiny minority of people who care about factual knowledge.

Comment #42892

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 12:52 PM (e)

Neither are dreams entirely random fantasies. They are based on other cultural things - hence demons and witches becoming alien abduction. Lying to people by making up a religion to get them to do what you want has the same sort of dubious ethics as a doctor knowingly giving a placebo. The difference is that some of us now agonise about these issues a bit more openly rather than taking a simplistic ends-justifies-the-means approach.

Comment #42896

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 1:54 PM (e)

“That said, the idea that evolution is completely compatible with all religions is demonstrably false: For those who believe the Bible is literally true, evolution contradicts their belief system”
I would agree with one big caveat: like species, religions aren’t fixed and immutable. There is variation and change. Certainly, evolution is not compatible with specific *varities* of religion. You basically say this with “for those who believe …” but just reminding myself …

Why *does* evolution* get beat on? (to repeat that question)? SEF’s suggestions make sense, but I think there’s more. Is (like over at the Pharyngula thread) that it touches directly on the people are special bit?

Comment #42901

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 2:07 PM (e)

ts,

Yes, you are punchy. Yes, you should get some sleep. You seem to want to pick an argument with everything anyone says, including people like me who strongly agree with you on the important issues being discussed here. I hold no particular brief to defend Weisberg, and I don’t agree with everyone he said in his piece myself, but this “it was wasps, not evolution” argument is just juvenile nitpicking.

Comment #42906

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 2:46 PM (e)

Jim Harrison:

By the way, the difference beween religion = membership in a community with shared rituals, endogamy, and enforced moral rules and religion = purely personal choice of a set of ideas explains why it is possible to maintain both that religion is in deep decline and religion is undergoing a revival.

Well, again, I think that’s just a misleading, abusive use of language. If your goal is to be understood rather than to play word games you should use different terms for the different concepts you are referring to, instead of making the cute but obscurantist claim that religion is both declining and undergoing a revival. Call the first phenomenon “organized religion” rather than just “religion.” Or call the second one “personal spirituality” instead of religion. I deny that religion in your second sense is undergoing a revival, anyway.

Absent hellfire, what prevents them from acting on their antisocial impulses? That’s a lot of what God’s for, sociologically speaking; and if the answer isn’t very satisfactory from a philosophical point of view, you’ve got to admit that the question is serious. Arguments about atheism and religion that act as if what’s at stake is the true or falsity of a few propositions miss a crucial angle.

The question of whether religion is socially useful is different from the question of whether religion is a source of knowledge, whether its truth claims are correct. There may be occasions when a belief about truth is beneficial to the believer even if it’s unjustified and false, but in the end I don’t think a belief system unsupported by evidence can be anything except harmful, and I certainly see no credible reason to believe that religion, whatever comfort or other benefits it may provide to certain individuals in certain contexts, promotes rather than undermines social welfare and public morality in modern developed nations like the United States. I would refer again to the George H. Smith quote that ts provided earlier, to the effect that any belief system based on faith rather than reason is ultimately destructive of human welfare.

Comment #42909

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 3:10 PM (e)

Dan S:

I agree that the Gallup poll is ambiguous, but I think the totality of the evidence regarding public opinion on evolution and religion, or more specifically traditional forms of theism like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, seriously undermines, rather than supports, your “no conflict” view. And the evidence from expert scientific opinion undermines it even more strongly. The low rates of theism and religiosity amoung scientists themselves suggest a serious conflict, and the results of the the Cornell Evolution Project, which asked professional biologists about their beliefs regarding the compatibility of evolution and religion explicitly, confirm this conclusion. I agree with Weisberg that the conflict isn’t really subtle or arguable at all; it’s pretty obvious from even a cursory comparison between the claims of theism and the nature of the world as revealed to us by science, and that’s why only a small fraction of scientists share your “no conflict” position.

Comment #42912

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 3:31 PM (e)

I think there’s more … that it touches directly on the people are special bit?

The specialness bit would be why they think they can get a greater variety of fantasists on their side too. That demand to be special is so intrinsic that it certainly isn’t just limited to one cluster of religions. Nor does it extend as widely as to include all humans in many cases.

There was some jungle tribe (I forget name/place unfortunately) who regarded all other humans as not being true humans at all but the equivalent of other primates - to be killed and eaten as suited them. They had apparently got through quite a lot of missionaries before they must have become tolerant enough that some documentary makers did eventually manage to arrange a sort of truce and communication via a not too distant tribe. It would be interesting to know whether their classification of “not-we” for other humans and monkeys would make them more or less likely to accept evolution. I don’t think I’ll be popping along to ask though …

Comment #42925

Posted by Ruthless on August 14, 2005 5:14 PM (e)

Why *does* evolution* get beat on? (to repeat that question)? SEF’s suggestions make sense, but I think there’s more. Is (like over at the Pharyngula thread) that it touches directly on the people are special bit?

Basically ignorance: Evolution is much less understood by the lay public than other science which contradicts the literal reading of the Bible. Most people know that the Earth revolves around the sun and the Earth is round (heck, we even have pictures of it!) and those ideas have been well-accepted for hundreds of years, even though before then, the Bible was interpreted to mean that the Earth was flat and the sun orbited it.

Evolution is still (relatively) new, it is one of the last places that religious leaders can successfully defend themselves against science because, well, the ToE is a lot more difficult to comprehend than the Earth orbiting the sun. We don’t see anything like evolution in our daily lives; it isn’t easily observable or imaginable to most people.

Also, Genesis is one of those stories of the Bible that everyone knows at least a little, whereas most people know almost nothing about most of the contents of the Bible, so there’s no reason for the average person to worry about a lot of the contradictions between the Bible and observable reality; but Genesis is fairly well-known (not in detail, but the gist of the story.)

And I don’t think the average person really gives much thought to the idea of special creation; if they did, they’d realize just how ridiculous it sounds to hypothesize that everything just *poof*ed into existence, perhaps at the whim of some giant sky wizard with a long gray beard and flowing robes.

Bottom line: Fundamentalists defend themselves against science (wherever science makes statements that contradict their own pet interpretations of the Bible) wherever they can have any success. If they could convince people that “a growing number of scientists believe the sun revolves around the Earth”, they would. “Teach the controversy!” they’d say.

Comment #42928

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 5:36 PM (e)

Don P., I don’t see any reason to be so agressive - Jim’s not making an obscurantist claim via an abusive use of language - indeed, he’s setting out a valuable division, and *describing* (I believe) claims. And it doesn’t sound like ts is just picking arguments, either.

The wasp/evolution thing doesn’t seem like nitpicking at all. It’s almost the only evidence Weisberg gives that evolution *does* undermine faith in any broad sense. Carl Zimmer’s post at the Loom provides a much more complicated and rather different account. It’s quite possible that these things combined to shape his views - Paley’s vision of a happy world perfectly designed by a benevolent God overthrown, turning out to be neither perfectly designed nor happy, a world where organisms were ceaselessly locked in a Malthusian struggle, and beloved daughters died in childhood. Indeed, in reply to a letter asking about religion, he wrote: “This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one whereas … the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have developed through variation and natural selection.” (quoted in Pennock’s Tower of Babel, p.70). But that’s not what Weisberg says.

[The wasps were a really bad example, though, because they span both things, so you have a point …]

“The low rates of theism and religiosity amoung scientists themselves suggest a serious conflict.”
They are suggestive, . Some new study out of Rice University found that among natural scientists generally, abouy 38% (weird) claimed not to believe in God, with 41% of biologists not believing; on the other hand, only about 31% of social scientists didn’t believe (they were surprised by the lower number, who knows why). The Cornell Project* would* seem to confirm that evolutionary bio was being swamped by other sub-disciplines, with much higher numbers among the evolutonary biologists. All I can say is that scientists aren’t philosophers or theologians.

Comment #42937

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 6:38 PM (e)

Dan S:

Weisberg refers to Darwin’s “discoveries,” which would presumably include the parasitic wasps that Darwin discussed in support of his agnosticism. It isn’t merely the existence of evil in some general sense that Darwin found inconsistent with an “omnipotent and beneficent deity,” it’s the cruel nature of natural selection itself.

As for the Rice University study, your link is to a short news report that provides almost no information about what the scientists were actually asked, so I don’t think you can draw any meaningful conclusions from the statement that “nearly 38 percent of natural scientists … said they do not believe in God.” If the questions defined God in a broad sense that would include some form of philosophical deism then it wouldn’t surprise me if the rate of disbelief was much lower than that found by the Cornell study or Larson and Witham’s NAS study, nor would that result support your “no conflict” position, because we’re not talking about the God of deism here. We’re talking about the religious God of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other traditional forms of theism, a God that is generally posited to be benevolent, omnipotent and in some sense involved in and attentive to human affairs.

Comment #42939

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 6:46 PM (e)

Evolution is still (relatively) new

No, that won’t do on its own. Relativity (in the Einsteinian sense rather than the older Newtonian sense) is a more recent discovery than evolution. Now perhaps physics is intrinsically more exciting (eg explosions) to many than biology (which had a tendency to be bug collecting), ie giving it a better hold over public perception. However, I don’t think that’s enough either.

In the UK, there was outrage when Darwin (and Wallace) went public with what they had figured out. However, the idea had been in the offing for a while and it didn’t really take that long for the dust to settle and everyone (who mattered anyway) to accept the obvious and inescapable truth of evolution. So, unless the Americans never really got it at all (beyond some tiny minority say), something else must have set them off into creationist fantasies again later. Not being in the US, I’m not in the best position to have observed any such moment if or when it did happen.

Comment #42956

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 8:40 PM (e)

“So, unless the Americans never really got it at all (beyond some tiny minority say), something else must have set them off into creationist fantasies again later.”

I’m not familiar with the literature - pulling stuff out my behind, I’d say the popularity probably relates to specific intersections of cultural wars and political aims - anti-social darwinism the first round, opposition to the “’60s” the rise of right wing fundamentalists, and reaganite right for the second, and now, I dunno - rightwingers again?. But I don’t know what started each going - in that second wave, YEC creation’science’ has its roots in the 50s, I think? So …[shrug]. I have to read some more . .

You know, I’m not sure how to take that wasp quote. I have to …yeah, read some more . .

Comment #42969

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 9:43 PM (e)

Don P wrote:

Yes, you are punchy. Yes, you should get some sleep. You seem to want to pick an argument with everything anyone says, including people like me who strongly agree with you on the important issues being discussed here. I hold no particular brief to defend Weisberg, and I don’t agree with everyone he said in his piece myself, but this “it was wasps, not evolution” argument is just juvenile nitpicking.

This is what’s known in the trade as “an ad hominem argument”. The fact is that it was you who turned our discussion into an argument by getting all huffy. The fact remains that, regardless of how trivial, Dan was right about Weisberg being wrong that evolution destroyed Darwin’s faith, as Zimmer’s article makes clear, and Zimmer’s article is anything but “juvenile”, nor does he consider the matter trivial. And I don’t subscribe to this idea, which is seen here a lot, that one should sacrifice intellectual integrity because of how “important” some issue is or that one should judge and weigh what arguments to make and whom to agree with or disagree with based upon political commonalities. You’re often right and I often agree with you, but in this case you were wrong and I disagreed with you.

Comment #42975

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 10:07 PM (e)

Rob Knop wrote:

What I DID SAY, what I DID [BLEEP] SAY, and still stand by, is that those who insist that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist are a radical fringe.

No one, absolutely no one, has said that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist. What you “did [BLEEP] say” – your misrepresentations and misunderstandings of what others have said – is irrelevant.

Comment #42976

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 10:25 PM (e)

Rob Knop: What we are dissing is the notion that you must be an atheist to really want to defend science.
PZ Myers: Nobody has said that.
Rob Knop: HELLO? Have you READ the discussion? They very beginning of the whole thing comes from an article entitled “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit Pretending They’re Compatable”.

So let’s see what that actually means:

Jacob Weisberg wrote:

Many biologists believe the answer is to present evolution as less menacing to religious belief than it really is….

But let’s be serious: Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world’s great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well)….

That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument….

So, what should evolutionists and their supporters say to parents who don’t want their children to become atheists and who may even hold firm to the virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea? That it’s time for them to finally let go of their quaint superstitions? That Darwinists aren’t trying to push people away from religion but recognize that teaching their views does tend to have that effect?…
One possible avenue is to focus more strongly on the practical consequences of resisting scientific reality. In a world where Koreans are cloning dogs, can the U.S. afford—ethically or economically—to raise our children on fraudulent biology? But whatever tack they take, evolutionists should quit pretending their views are no threat to believers. This insults our intelligence, and the president is doing that already.

Nothing there comes anywhere near Rob’s bizarro “notion that you must be an atheist to really want to defend science.”

Comment #42978

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 10:44 PM (e)

Weisberg refers to Darwin’s “discoveries,” which would presumably include the parasitic wasps that Darwin discussed in support of his agnosticism.

The problem with this is what Weisberg said just before that: “That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument.” The article is about evolution, not parasitic wasps or other cruelties one observes in nature. One doesn’t need natural selection to see wasp larvae eating live victims and to wonder what sort of God would make such a thing.

It isn’t merely the existence of evil in some general sense that Darwin found inconsistent with an “omnipotent and beneficent deity,” it’s the cruel nature of natural selection itself.

Well, it’s the cruel nature of such things as wasp larvae and the other observations from which Darwin concluded natural selection. But I’ve already noted the fallacy here. That Darwin’s observations leads to idea of natural selection doesn’t mean that natural selection, or evolution, is what undermines faith; it could just be the cruel nature of nature. Certainly missing here is a truly obvious argument. And the evidence presented by Zimmer about the actual causes of Darwin’s loss of faith makes such an argument impossible. That bio could just as well apply to a Darwin in an alternate universe who sailed on the Beagle, witnessed atrocities in nature, was concerned about his father suffering for all eternity, lost his daughter, but never came up with the idea of natural selection.

Comment #43045

Posted by Krauze on August 15, 2005 9:51 AM (e)

Manual trackback:

“Becoming what you most dislike” on Telic Thoughts

Comment #43057

Posted by Dan S. on August 15, 2005 10:33 AM (e)

Anybody still here should click that telic thoughts trackback; sample
“Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, here it is:

“Naturalistic evolution is consistent with the existence of “God” only if by that term we mean no more than a first cause which retires from further activity after establishing the laws of nature and setting the natural mechanism in motion.”
Phillip E. Johnson, “Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism”, First Things (1990)

What’s interesting is how ID critics for years have been talking as if Phillip Johnson’s views on the relationship between evolution and religion are hopelessly wrong, yet here we find Paul the scientist saying the same as Phil the creationist.”

Good job, guys! Thanks a big %^&^& lot.

Comment #43063

Posted by Rob Knop on August 15, 2005 10:46 AM (e)

ts wrote:

No one, absolutely no one, has said that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist. What you “did [BLEEP] say” — your misrepresentations and misunderstandings of what others have said — is irrelevant.

You really aren’t paying any attention, are you? Not even to what you say yourself? Here are some examples:

Original article: wrote:

But whatever tack they take, evolutionists should quit pretending their views are no threat to believers. This insults our intelligence, and the president is doing that already.

Mark Barton wrote:

Religion and evolution are “ccompatible” in the same way that doodling sea monsters in the blank spaces on ancient maps is compatible with cartography - it’s harmless fun as long as nobody takes it seriously….

In particular, while liberal Christians are relatively science-friendly in practice because they’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either,

ts wrote:

So you deeply appreciate “bite your lip” and his question begging false dichotomy? I myself thought that was the worst post of the bunch, short of the top article. You really should get ahold of Tim Sandefur and read what he posted – it goes directly to why Rob’s post is so wrong and so offensive.

I might note that this last post was in response to somebody appreciating an earlier post where I said that supporting evolution and tearing down religion are two different things. Here are you calling it a false dichotomy, and indeed offensive to call it a dichtomoy.

People said these things. YOU SAID THIS THING. Now you want to deny it, for reasons I simply don’t understand. Some sort of moral high ground? Who knows. But, one thing I do one beyond all shadow of a doubt: people like you give both atheists and scientists a bad name, and make it very, very, very difficult for the rest of us to try to convince the world not to repeat the Galileo mistake with evolution.

-Rob

Comment #43064

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:48 AM (e)

I commented on that in the other thread where Krauze left his intellectually dishonest dropping. He left out a word:

What’s interesting is how [some] ID critics for years have been talking as if Phillip Johnson’s views on the relationship between evolution and religion are hopelessly wrong, yet here we find Paul the scientist saying the same as Phil the creationist.”

“Good job, guys! Thanks a big %^&^& lot.”

Do you know what good faith and intellectual integrity are, Dan? Some people like to tell the truth even if it means you’re going to swear at them and keep moaning “we’ll lose!” like some chicken little.

Comment #43065

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:52 AM (e)

Rob Knop wrote:

Here are some examples:

None of which say “that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist” or anything even remotely like it.

YOU SAID THIS THING.

I did not say “that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist” so STOP LYING.

Comment #43066

Posted by Mona on August 15, 2005 10:55 AM (e)

Dan S says: “I’d say the popularity probably relates to specific intersections of cultural wars and political aims - anti-social darwinism the first round, opposition to the “’60s” the rise of right wing fundamentalists, and reaganite right for the second, and now, I dunno - rightwingers again?. But I don’t know what started each going - in that second wave, YEC creation’science’ has its roots in the 50s, I think? So …[shrug]. I have to read some more . .”

You are correct that you need to read more in this area. A good place to start would be Ronald L. Numbers’ book The Creationists. As Numbers shows, creationism was birthed not just by Darwin’s theory, but also by the “higher biblical critcism” that took off in the late 19th century. The latter demonstrated that the Bible also evolved; that, e.g., the Pentatuch was not authored by Moses, but rather was an amalgem, an edited collection indicating clear syncretism drawing on older, pagan mythology.

Fundamentalists in the first decades of the 20th centruy rejected both Darwinism and biblical criticism. These two disciplines powerfully challenged core beliefs about Xianity’s sacred text, and gave rise to the anti-intellectualism seen today in fudnamentalist circles.

The first creationist society was established in the ’30s, and there is a relatively direct line running from the individuals involved in its formation, to the present creationists.

Comment #43070

Posted by Dan S. on August 15, 2005 11:11 AM (e)

Mona, thanks for the reference!
Now I just wish I had the time to read more …
Hmm, maybe if I spent a little less time writing blogcomments … nah …

Comment #43096

Posted by Adam on August 15, 2005 12:47 PM (e)

There are plenty of religious scientist types (who fully accept evolution and a 14-billion-year-old Universe) whom you will tweak off. And you will play right into the hands of the creationists who want to argue against evolution on the basis that the people who support it are trying to destroy religion.

I think you’ll find that many pro-evolution people here, particularly the left-leaning ones, are more interested in asserting their intellectual superiority than in actually winning the political debate.

Comment #43106

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 15, 2005 1:36 PM (e)

I have [bleep]ed the various naughty words in this thread. Please keep it vaguely civilized if possible.

Comment #43107

Posted by Mark Barton on August 15, 2005 1:41 PM (e)

ts to Rob: “I did not say “that atheism is a prerequisite for being a good, intelligently respectable, and thoughtful scientist” so STOP LYING.”

Rob also quoted two remarks of mine in support of this and I feel misrepresented as well. My point is close to the opposite of Rob’s paraphrase: given the current state of the evidence, (weak) atheism is a _result_ of being a good scientist. Moreover, I don’t think that this conclusion is just me being snarky and pulling a No True Scientist argument because some people disagree with me. Every scientist I’ve ever read or quizzed who was to any extent conventionally religious has been quite cheerfully and openly running a double standard - one standard of evidence for work and one for Sundays (or other holy days).

Comment #43110

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 15, 2005 1:45 PM (e)

I would hope the atheist here at Pandas Thumb will comment on this statement by an un-named IDist:

the Darwinist establishment despises (yes I say despises) theistic evolution. They view theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant, who desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist, but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end. It takes courage to give up the comforting belief that life on earth has a purpose. It takes courage to live without the consolation of an afterlife. Theistic evolutionists lack the stomach to face the ultimate meaninglessness of life, and it is this failure of courage that makes them contemptible in the eyes of full-blooded Darwinists (Richard Dawkins is a case in point).

Is that true? Do atheists despise Theistic Evolutionists. Do atheists view Theistic Evolutionists as week-kneed sychophants? I’d be curious to know? Speak your mind. Tell it like you see.

Comment #43111

Posted by Mike on August 15, 2005 1:48 PM (e)

No they don’t despise theistic evolutionists.

Is that clear enough?

Comment #43115

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 1:57 PM (e)

vile Sal wrote:

I would hope the atheist here at Pandas Thumb will comment on this statement by an un-named IDist:

the Darwinist establishment despises (yes I say despises) theistic evolution.

“the atheist” here at Pandas Thumb is not “the Darwinist establishment”. And “the Darwinist establishment” includes theistic evos. Maybe drawing a Venn diagram would help you, Sal.

Comment #43151

Posted by Mona on August 15, 2005 3:49 PM (e)

Salvador asks: “Is that true? Do atheists despise Theistic Evolutionists. Do atheists view Theistic Evolutionists as week-kneed sychophants? I’d be curious to know? Speak your mind. Tell it like you see.”

I don’t know who or what the “Darwinist Establishment” is, that you also wrote of, but it is true that some evolutionary scientists have stated they do not believe theistic scientists who accept the fact of evolution are intellectually consistent. Dawkins, for example. But as an undergrad I was taught Biology 101 – including its evolutionary underpinnings – by an Iraqi-American who was a devout Sunni Muslim. His daughter and I were friends, and he was well-respected by the rest of his dept., evolutionists all.

The mistake I think many make is assuming that because the pitbulls who defend evolution against ID/Sci-Cre often (tho hardly invariably) are non-theists who are ALSO displeased with Xian fundamentlists quite independent of origins issues, that these represent all scientists. Scientists going about their daily work simply are not concerned with the religious beliefs of their colleagues, or for that matter, of anyone else.

Evolution has long been a political issue as well as a fact of science, and politics attracts people with strong views. People who participate in heavily politicized issues are not representative of the whole body politic, including the vast, vast majority of natural scientists who long ago accepted that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence.

If Dawkins and others like him err in tagging support for evolution with atheism, the IDers and other creationists err in assuming a vast conspiracy in the work-a-day world of science wherein there is purported plotting to foist “materialism” on the world. Its just not that sexy. These guys/gals are just about their science.

Comment #43154

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 3:56 PM (e)

Alas, according to people like SEF, ts, and Aureola Nominee, the theistic evolutionists are clearly defective thinkers for failing to acknowledge an evidence of absence of their deity. Of what value are defective thinkers? More importantly, of what value are defective thinkers to the Darwinist Establishment? They are place holders to respond to people like you Salvador T. Cordova.

Comment #43156

Posted by Steviepinhead on August 15, 2005 4:03 PM (e)

Sal, let’s talk about bamboo…

And I’m quite sure that Lenny still has some questions for you, that you haven’t come anywhere close to answering.

Oh, and Sal, great timing, I’ve gotta say. Here you had the “evil”utionists all ripping into each other. A smart young IDiot might’ve just sat back on his hands and enjoyed himself. But now they’re all gonna take a breather, just for the sheer pleasure of ganging up on YOU!!

Bye Sal.

Comment #43160

Posted by steve on August 15, 2005 4:07 PM (e)

And I’ve got one or two for him:

I’ll ask this again, because he didn’t respond the first time:

Sancho P. Cordova said:

Comment #42729

I mean the author of Origin of Species was really versant in…information theory (NOT),

Well, speaking of that, can you direct me to papers in legitimate Information Theory journals which dispute evolution? Or perhaps an Information Theory conference Dembski was invited to present at?

As far as I know, the only recognized Information Theorist who has commented on Dembski’s claims is David Wolpert, who said Dembski’s stuff was junk. Any recognized IT scientists say otherwise, Sal?

Comment #43162

Posted by Mark Barton on August 15, 2005 4:09 PM (e)

Dan S. quoting Mark B.: “They’re perfectly happy to write off as figurative any scriptural passages that look like contradicting science, that’s not intellectually respectable either”

Dan S.: Why on earth not?

Mark B.: I thought I’d already explained, but to repeat: if incompatibility with modern science (or some other problem with “purity of life or soundness of doctrine”) is the _only_ reason advanced for thinking a passage is figurative, then it’s a retreat into unfalsifiablity, which is anti-scientific. There needs to be one or more independent lines of evidence such as textual markers of figurativeness or a compelling suggestion as to what the passage is figurative for.

In particular it can be evidence of figurativeness when a passage is incongruous or physical impossible when literally construed, but only when the incongruity would have been obvious to the author and the originally intended readers. “I am the Bread of Life” is an obvious metaphor. A talking snake is arguable - snakes don’t normally talk, but the circumstances in which the snake supposedly talked were represented as rather unique and not necessarily comparable to everyday experience. Moreover, the significance of the snake is explicitly given and it’s a Just So story, not a metaphor or an allegory. A six-day creation would have been utterly unremarkable as a literal claim. The possibility that the authors of Genesis thought they were in part giving a science lesson and were just plain wrong can’t be lightly dismissed.

Comment #43170

Posted by steve on August 15, 2005 4:49 PM (e)

Sal, maybe you can explain something else. I’m looking at the website for the 2005 IEEE International Symposium for Information Theory. It will be held in Adelaide, Australia. This is The upcoming conference for IT scientists. Now, I was confused when I saw the list of plenary speakers:

* Richard Blahut (Shannon Lecturer)
* P. R. Kumar
* David MacKay
* Benjamin Schumacher
* Terry Speed

Isn’t that weird? No William Dembski. The Isaac Newton of Information Theory, not speaking at the big IT conference? That’s strange. Maybe he’s presenting a paper, though. Is Dembski presenting a paper at the conference? Like you say, Darwin should have known Information Theory to study evolution. Dembski is your big supposed Information Theory guru about evolution. So he should be there, right?

I know. He might have a scheduling conflict. You see, the other big thing going on in September for IT scientists is the workshop in New Zealand. Specifically, the IEEE ITSOC Information Theory Workshop 2005 on Coding and Complexity. Coding and complexity, that’s right up Dembski’s alley, if he’s such an expert at this stuff, isn’t that true? Take a look at the topics covered at the workshop:

Algorithmic information theory; channel coding; coded modulation; complexity, information and entropy; complexity measures; convolutional coding; error-correcting codes; information theory and statistics; iterative decoding; LDPC codes; quantum information theory; quantum-theoretical aspects of coding; randomness and pseudo-randomness; relationships between codes and complexity; rate distortion theory; soft-decision decoding; source coding; source-channel coding; spreading sequences and CDMA; turbo codes.

See that? “Algorithmic information Theory”–“information theory and statistics”–“relationships between codes and complexity”–that’s exactly what you think Dembski is such an expert at. So is he going to be teaching those sections of the workshop? Or will they be discussing any of Dembski’s results there? I mean, it can’t be true that international conferences on Information Theory would fail to discuss revolutionary new results in IT. So if they’re not talking about Dembski, why not?

Comment #43177

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 5:15 PM (e)

lurker wrote:

Alas, according to people like SEF, ts, and Aureola Nominee, the theistic evolutionists are clearly defective thinkers for failing to acknowledge an evidence of absence of their deity. Of what value are defective thinkers?

First, not acknowledging lack of evidence has anything to do with with the complaint against theists; if theists think they have evidence of God, that’s something that can be debated (but not in science class). The complaint is with acknowledging lack of evidence but persisting in belief nonetheless. That’s not how intellectual inquiry works; see
http://www.ukpoliticsmisc.org.uk/usenet_evidence/argument.html

Second, I’m a defective thinker, we’re all defective thinkers, at times, about various things. You’re making a false generalization from a defective act or process to a defective whole person. It just doesn’t work that way, except occasionally in overheated rhetoric when someone says “he’s an idiot” instead of “he said a number of things that are clearly confused or false”.

Comment #43178

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 5:19 PM (e)

Oops: not acknowledging lack of evidence has nothing to do with the complaint against theists

Comment #43187

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 6:36 PM (e)

This person, whoever he may be, corroborates ts’s viewpoint: “the Darwinist establishment despises (yes I say despises) theistic evolution. They view theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant, who desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist, but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end. It takes courage to give up the comforting belief that life on earth has a purpose. It takes courage to live without the consolation of an afterlife. Theistic evolutionists lack the stomach to face the ultimate meaninglessness of life, and it is this failure of courage that makes them contemptible in the eyes of full-blooded Darwinists (Richard Dawkins is a case in point).”

ts would rather use the descriptor “defective thinker”, or someone who does not know how intellectual inquiry works. Oh, I understand that ts is not arguing that the theist is actually a defective person. He excuses this accusation by asserting that everyone is a defective thinker, and thus being in the norm somehow mitigates the deficiency. But, according to those like ts, given the topic at hand, theistic evolutionists just cannot think straight. After all, the complaint amongst atheists like ts is that TEists persist to believe even after acknowledging the evidence of evolution (which as Sandefur explains is synonymous for evidence of absence of evidence). How can the Darwinian Establishment value a defective thinker? Especially, if there is any truth to data cited in the recent posts, that atheists constitute a majority in evolutionary biology? It seems that TEists have an uphill battle all the way being the 2nd class citizen in Atheist country. After all, when one is told he thinks defectively about his own religion, why would he screw up the courage to debate someone like ts, much less think he has any credible voice against Creationists?

It is a good question: how do proponents of evolution science value defectively thinking Christian evolutionists?

A while ago, I noted that the whole present Creation/Evolution controversy is best thought as a solely a religious problem, a Christian problem. I thought Christians should be sorting the message out amongst themselves. I honestly failed to factor in the atheist noise making on the side. No, I am not talking about atheists who are simply defending his belief system – presumably, a defense of atheism does not entail believing Christians are ignorant and defective thinkers. The unfortunate trend, it seems to me, is that those Christians who believe in evolution have simply been reluctant to defend their reconciliation of science and religion to others, be it rabid Creationists or atheists. Maybe they do not feel they have to, but clearly a lack of message control is sending precisely the message that the above cited anonymous poster perceives.

Looking across the recent threads sparked by Sanchez’s post, I have to say that a lot of regular kibitzers on this subject are atheists. I have no hard data. But my initial perception is that the volume of atheist complaints and philosophical viewpoints simply drowns out the Christians. There is a real echo chamber effect here. Does anybody else have evidence I am wrong?

I reiterate my stance I put earlier in this thread that silencing atheists is not the solution, nor is accusing atheists of being the culprit. I was implicitly arguing for an active dialogue such that no one side of the ideological spectrum overwhelms the dialogue. Can we only rely on agnostics like Matzke to do the work of airing dirty laundry?

“It just doesn’t work that way, except occasionally in overheated rhetoric when someone says “he’s an idiot” instead of “he said a number of things that are clearly confused or false”.”

Yes, ts. I am quite positive that you know just how that works.