Chris Mooney and Barbara Forrest love the faithful more than me

Over on his Discover blog The Intersection, Chris Mooney (author of The Republican War on Science) and Barbara Forrest (philosopher of science and witness at the Dover trial) take me to task for not being sufficiently nice to the faithful, and assert that my criticism of science/faith accommodationism will alienate those liberal Christians who support evolution.  Mooney and Forrest have both done good work; his book is a trenchant analysis of the right’s attempt to dismantle good science in the U.S., and in the Dover trial Forrest did an absolutely terrific job of ripping apart the arguments of IDers that they weren’t creationists.  And both Forrest and Mooney are atheists.

But I think they are profoundly misguided in these criticisms of my views.  Indeed, they seem to have completely failed to grasp what I was saying.

When I first read this piece, and Mooney’s earlier criticism of my views, I did a double take. Was this the same Chris Mooney who in 2001 excoriated the PBS Evolution Series because it was too accommodating to faith (see his dissection in Slate, Darwin’s Sanitized Idea)?:

But PBS’s mainstreaming of Darwinism also trims back some of the theory’s more controversial implications. Evolution flatly denies equal time to Darwin’s religiously based rivals, Creationism and intelligent design theory, yet the program repeatedly argues that evolution and religion are compatible. If you eat Darwin’s theory for your main course, Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and others seem to say, you can have religion for dessert. . .

. . . Evolution‘s attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though well intentioned, is finally naive. Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with. What’s insidious is that Evolution allows fundamentalists to say this, but not evolutionists. The miniseries interviews several experts who could be expected to oppose the reconciliation outlook, notably Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, who has written, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But neither Dennett nor Dawkins gets much of a say on the topic of religion.

Well, I suppose Mooney has changed his mind, and has decided, along with Barbara Forrest, to cozy up to the faithful.  Let’s see what Forrest says about my views (Mooney agrees completely with her):

Forrest eloquently defended this view in the first half of her talk; but in the second, she also challenged the latest secularist to start a ruckus–Jerry Coyne, who [sic] I’ve criticized before. In a recent New Republic book review, Coyne took on Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, two scientists who reconcile science and religion in their own lives. Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

Forrest then gave three reasons that secularists should not alienate religious moderates:

1. Etiquette. Or as Forrest put it, “be nice.” Religion is a very private matter, and given that liberal religionists support church-state separation, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world. After all, they are not trying to force it on anybody else.

2. Diversity. There are so many religions out there, and so much variation even within particular sects or faiths. So why would we want to criticize liberal Christians, who have not sacrificed scientific accuracy, who are pro-evolution, when there are so many fundamentalists out there attacking science and trying to translate their beliefs into public policy?

3. Humility. Science can’t prove a negative: Saying there is no God is saying more than we can ever really know empirically, or based on data and evidence. So why drive a wedge between religious and non-religious defenders of evolution when it is not even possible to definitively prove the former wrong about metaphysics?

It’s almost not worth my while responding to this, because the posters on Mooney’s site have already done such an effective job of it (read their comments!).  One of the first things I learned when I set up a website is that you can learn a lot from the posters, who are often thoughtful, intelligent, and take the time to both correct one’s misapprehensions and write careful, reasoned analysis of an initial post.  In this case, thoughtful analysis has worked against Mooney and Forrest.

Let’s first dispose of one argument: Mooney and Forrest’s implicit requirement that atheists should “make nice” with their religious, evolution-accepting opponents and never, ever criticize them.  Where in tarnation did this idea come from?  Why are newspaper columnists, politicians, and even grant reviewers allowed to criticize the ideas of their peers, but we scientist/atheists are not?  Why are we supposed to shut up and other analysts aren’t?  Let’s be clear here:

1.   I have never criticized an evolutionist, writer, or scholar in an ad hominem manner.  My New Republic review, which Forrest and Mooney find so odious, was temperate and respectful. In fact, of all the comments I’ve gotten on this piece, none of them until now have thought it intemperate.   I took care to point out the positive contributions of both Miller and Giberson, and characterized them as “thoughtful men of good will.”  Let me point out to Mooney and Forrest that my behavior and tone have been infinitely more polite than that of “liberal Christians” such as John Haught when confronted by godless evolutionists.  But of course Forrest and Mooney don’t worry about the epiphets heaped on people like Dawkins and myself by the faithful.  At any rate, I believe in civil discourse, but I don’t believe in acting respectful towards ideas that I find weak or odious.

2.  Apropos, my critique of accommodationism has always centered on one proposition:  the reconciliation of science and faith almost always dilutes science, especially evolution.  This was the main topic of my New Republic piece.  In it, I go to great lengths to show that popular forms of accommodationism, such as those expounded by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, require statements that are not supported by science. For example, many accommodationists argue that the evolution of humans was inevitable: that if we reran the tape of life, some God-fearing creature like H. sapiens, or some “humanoid” equally capable of apprehending its creator, would inevitably arise.  I don’t think science tells us this and, as far as I can see, my analysis was the first critique of this popular view.  It was the intellectual discussion of an idea.  Likewise, I criticized the “fine-tuning” argument for the existence of design, and pointed out (as many have before me) the disparity between the materialistic claims of religion (e.g., the Resurrection) and what we know about science.  These are intellectual dissections of intellectual arguments.  In claiming that I should refrain from such work, Forrest and Mooney are, I’m afraid, being anti-intellectual.  Regardless of whether they accept my analysis (and it seems that they do!), they have to admit that it was not an exercise in religion-bashing.  Even Mooney’s posters recognize this (see below).

As for whether I am engaged in “bad tactics” by criticizing our liberal religious friends who support evolution, let me point out, as I have many times before, the following facts.  Accommodationists like Forrest and the National Center for Science Education have been using the “let’s-make-nice-to-the-faithful” strategy for several decades.  What is the result? First, American acceptance of evolution has stayed exactly where it is for 25 years.  The strategy is not changing minds.  Second, the progress that has been made is not in changing minds, but winning court cases, as in Dover. However, winning those court cases does not require that we show that science and religion are compatible.  Rather, it requires showing that creationism and ID are forms of disguised religion.

There is also a strong negative correlation among countries between acceptance of Darwin and belief in God.  Countries with high belief in God, like Turkey and the US, have low acceptance of Darwinism. Countries like France, Sweden, and Denmark, which have high acceptance of Darwin, are not very religious.  Too, there is an obvious relationship between learning evolution and losing one’s faith.  All of this leads me to believe that the real problem with evolution in this country is not creationists, but religion.  You can have religion without creationism, but you never see creationism without religion.  I think, then, that we will only win this war by either vanquishing religion or waiting for it to disappear in the US, as it has in Europe.  There is real room for a discussion on tactics here, but Mooney and Forrest refuse to engage.  They’re just too fond of religion, apparently having what Daniel Dennett calls a “belief in belief.”

The implicit argument of Forrest and Mooney is that I should be spending my time attacking creationism and ID rather than criticizing our “friends.” Well, I’ve been doing the former for 25 years, and I’ll put my record up against that of either Mooney or Forrest in the fight against creationism. (See an earlier article I wrote on ID for The New Republic.) I’ve been writing and speaking against creationism since I got my first job.

Finally, as the posters at Mooney’s site have noticed, often religion is not a private matter.  Religious people are often trying to force their faith-driven agendas down our throats, and so it is perfectly acceptable to “question their personal way of making meaning of the world.”  And, as Richard Dawkins has pointed out (and I believe him), religious “moderates” often act as enablers of religious extremists.  The failure to criticize the excesses of Islam, for example, can largely be laid at the door of our friends the liberal Christians.

So much for “etiquette.” What about “diversity”?  Well, I have repeatedly criticized fundamentalists of all stripes, including Orthodox Jews and Muslims (a year ago I was in Turkey lecturing on Harun Yahya and Islamic fundamentalism).  I am an equal-oppportunity critic.  Forrest and Mooney are just wrong that I single out liberal Christians for criticism. And they’re wrong in saying that liberal Christians “have not sacrificed scientific accuracy” in their support of evolution.  People like Miller and Giberson have indeed sacrificed such accuracy, giving the public the false impression that science actually supports the idea of a God.  Every time they make the fine-tuning argument, every time they claim that science shows that human evolution is inevitable, they are “sacrificing scientific accuracy.”

And as for humility, well, I don’t see much humility coming from the liberal Christians, who assert without reasons that there is a God.   And although we cannot prove a negative, I doubt whether Mooney or Forrest would give much credibility to those who worship tree spirits, Zeus, or John Frum.  Certainly we can show that the world does not comport with the kind of world we’d expect to see if it were run by an omnipotent, omniscient, and loving god.  Humility?  Yes, I don’t know if there is a God, but the evidence is against it.  In the meantime, I don’t assert that there is no God; I simply find no reasons to believe in one.

It’s a pity that Mooney and Forrest take such an anti-intellectual stance when they could be engaging in real discussion about whether science and faith are compatible. (In his earlier Slate piece, Mooney found them dead incompatible, and was not shy about saying so!)  In their desire to cozy up to Christians, they are trying to impose a form of intellectual censorship on the rest of us.  That is what you do when you’ve lost the argument about the compatibility of faith and science.  I’d take Forrest and Mooney more seriously if they’d deal with the arguments of scientists and theologians who, in their frenzy to accommodate faith and science, give a distorted view of science.

I’ll give the last word to a poster on Mooney’s site, one “Madcap”.  Whoever he/she is, this person has a far more accurate view of matters than do either Mooney or Forrest:

June 1st, 2009 at 3:43 am

Once again, it sounds like Mooney is taking Coyne (and others) to task for choosing reason and science over compromise and political sentiment.

Forrest even admits that Coyne (and presumably, the other “New Atheists” who are inevitably lumped together into one ideological unit) may be right in his assertions; but then rather than discuss or debate those assertions, castigates him for being ‘uncivil’ for daring to suggest that even most liberal theology has incompatibilities with science.

In fact, Coyne’s critique of the recent works by Giberson and Miller was anything *but* uncivil. On the contrary, I found it in-depth and insightful. Coyne went to lengths to explain what he did and did not like about their books in particular and their positions in general. Agree or disagree with Coyne’s point, I fail to see how he is being uncivil. I challenge Forrest and Mooney to find an example of Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett being ‘uncivil’ when discussing religion. (Hitchens, the most common bogeyman of the Christian apologists, is not a scientist.) In fact, the only incivilities I am witnessing here are coming from the likes of Mooney, who is more or less telling Coyne to shut up, for the second time.

Apparently, taking a scientifically-minded theist to task, no matter what the tone or strength of one’s argument, is ‘uncivil’ and impolitic. We must maintain, I suppose, a bunker mentality: the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Anyone paying lip-service to Darwinism must be welcomed as an ally in the great war against Intelligent Design. In the interest of ‘civility’, we must accommodate one version of creationism over another one.

Nevermind that ID has already been legally forbidden from our nation’s public schools; in this post-Dover world, you’re either with us or again’ us. Any creationist willing to ally with us against ID must be our friend, and anyone like Coyne who disagrees is a traitor to the cause. I wonder if, in the interests of science, Francis Galton would be equally welcomed into the fold.

This is the second article I know of in which, for purely political reasons, Mooney has decided to favor the theological side of the argument. If I’m reading Mooney correctly, the pro-evolution forces cannot afford any divisiveness, and that’s why vocal atheists like Coyne must either be quiet, or be called out. The irony appears to escape him.

Coyne previously called individuals with this mentality “accomodationists”. Given these unfair attacks against evolution’s most ardent defenders, I’m beginning to think a more appropriate term is “collaborationists”.

77 Comments

  1. Posted June 2, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    “Religion is a very private matter, and given that liberal religionists support church-state separation, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world.”

    That’s really a breathtakingly large claim. If accepted it would simply close off all rational inquiry into life the universe and everything. I mean what’s the idea – that when The New Republic asks you to review Miller and Giberson you should be determined ahead of time (before even reading the dang books) to refrain from questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world?

  2. James F
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Accommodationists like Forrest and the National Center for Science Education have been using the “let’s-make-nice-to-the-faithful” for several decades.  What is the result? First, American acceptance of evolution has stayed exactly where it is for 25 years.

    The NCSE was founded right around the time that the Christian Right rose to political power. While the lack of progress is distressing, I don’t think this factor can be ignored. What should the NCSE have done? Realistically, what else could they have done?

    Apropos, my critique of accommodationism has always centered on one proposition:  the reconciliation of science and faith almost always dilutes science, especially evolution.

    I contend that it actually dilutes fundamentalism. There is no six-day creation, no Adam and Eve, no talking serpent in the Garden of Eden, no Noah’s Ark; likewise, pi does not equal three and the Earth does not rest upon pillars. Inevitability of intelligent life, while not trivial, is a fine point by comparison.

    You can have religion without creationism, but you never see creationism without religion.  I think, then, that we will only win this war by either vanquishing religion or waiting for it to disappear in the US, as it has in Europe.

    The first point is undeniable, but as for the second point, a “nuclear option” of destroying religion in the US – I can’t see that happening in any of our lifetimes. I’m happy to see multiple plans of attack for public acceptance of evolution, but I also want to see something that has some hope of producing results in the here and now. I think there are signals that the Christian Right is losing political power – a short time ago I never would have thought, for example, that five (possibly six as of tomorrow) states would allow same-sex marriage. As young evangelicals turn their focus to caring for the environment and the poor, they may turn away from the war on science.

  3. Dave
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Pretty nicely handled, Jerry. I have already commented on what I consider are Chris’ and Barbara’s mistakes as presented in Chris’ blog – on this web site.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/tilley-murderer-caught/#comment-2996

    I think you sum up my concern pretty well when you say:

    —“Was this the same Chris Mooney who went after the PBS Evolution Series because it was too accommodating to faith”—

    However, I have one major gripe with your post here.

    Coyne wrote:

    —“Accommodationists like Forrest and the National Center for Science Education have been using the “let’s-make-nice-to-the-faithful” strategy for several decades. What is the result? First, American acceptance of evolution has stayed exactly where it is for 25 years.”—

    There are two major problems with your view on the situation as you present here with your finger pointing.

    One, it’s astoundingly naive to draw such a distinct correlation with the problem of communicating and getting people to accept evolution and the work of NCSE and Barbara Forest. This is nearly the exact argument Dawkins has used in this context and in forwarding atheism, in fact, I would say you are framing it the way you have through being inspired by Richard. Of course, by me pointing this out obviously doesn’t prove you are wrong. However, it simply doesn’t take into account the many factors at play with what has evolved in the United States with regards to battles over evolutionary theory. Dawkins has now said that these are mere skirmishes in a larger “war between naturalism and supernaturalism”, this is somehow going to make things better to forward ENS?

    What is interesting is you say; “The strategy is not changing minds.” Well, you’re wrong, but for the wrong reason – because it has gotten worse if you take into account recent surveys. In 2006, National Geographic reported that those on surveys responding that they were uncertain about evolution over the past 20 years has RISEN, from 7% to 21%. Would you say it was NCSE and Barb that are responsible for this? At this point I almost think you would, or find a way to point your finger at them.

    You also fail to mention the overall lack of good understanding of biology in the United States (not to mention science in general). You, and I notice Dawkins also, fail to turn the finger around at other scientist, and the enterprise in general. You have a great book out now, could make a difference, much more so than your book review of Giberson and Miller’s books. I don’t hear Barb, NCSE or other scientist for that matter bringing up a debate of you being “uncivil” through your book. The point here is the scientific enterprise in general hasn’t been doing a great job getting the messages across. They have stumbled many times when we end up confronted by political and ideological debate. Besides NCSE and Barb, why not point a finger at people involved in the skeptical movement who’ve been less than civil at times, though always very critical of creationism and trying to promote ENS. The reason why you can’t, is because it would be nonsense.

    In fact, Miller’s attempts are fairly new, and he is widely known. This debate we are in may be missing any impact Miller’s attempts could be having for people rejecting creationism and accepting ENS. If we start to see change, would it be more because you see the problem as “accommodation” and speak against, or more to do with efforts by those like Miller. I mean, outside of the evolution debate, all you’re doing is talking about approach.

    To highlight my point again. To paint such a black and white picture of the situation is simply naive and is no more than shallow finger pointing.

  4. mk
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s been difficult watching Mooney these last few months. Pretty embarrassing.

    I’m even beginning to wonder about his professed lack of belief. All this time and energy going after you and Dawkins and PZ and whomever else has been less than perfectly obsequious to the religious. Does Mooney believe in the “inevitability of Humans?” Does he believe that God or some mysterious creator is moving neurons in “scientifically undetectable” ways? Yeesh!

    Also, I wonder what precisely Mooney found “uncivil” in your review. Was it simply the fact that you dared to even do a review?

    Finally, I wonder if your title above is a hint at something deeper. Did you and Chris have a run-in in the past? Did you hurt his feelings somehow? Is there animosity there that we don’t know about?

    Actually you don’t have to answer that… it could be too personal. But it certainly would explain Mooney’s behavior of late. Nothing else seems to.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I have nothing against Mooney–I’ve never written about the guy or criticized him. I did read his book, which I liked. No run-ins that I know about!

  5. Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m feeling left out. Everyone knows that I am the uncivil one.

    • Badger3k
      Posted June 2, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      Well, you’ve already been called out for being uncivil and been told to shut up, so it’s only fair and balanced to share the wealth. I’m sure you’ll be back as the Dark One soon enough. :)

      • Snowflake
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Shut up Eccles!

  6. Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Where do you get that “can’t prove a negative” stuff? (Dawkins has said that also.) It’s ridiculous. Google for:
    prove a negative site:.edu

  7. Jeremy
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “Science can’t prove a negative…”

    Actually, this is a common misconception, since amongst other things every proof (scientific or otherwise) has a corresponding negative that is equally as ‘proved’. In other words, if P is true then P is not false. (Or if that bacterium has been proved to be E. coli, then it’s been proved to not be S. aureus.)

    Even if you discount this trick, science can still prove a negative using deductive reasoning: “if this mixture were hotter than 50 degrees kelvin it would combust. It hasn’t combusted, therefore the mixture is not hotter than 50 degrees kelvin.”

    The only time that it can’t definitively prove a negative is when inductive reasoning is used. “We’ve looked everywhere for God, and not found him, therefore He doesn’t exist” is liable to be falsified in 9 months if God should ever decide to impregnate another female. However, this is not a weakness attributable to the fact that the statement is a negative. All inductive proofs, positive or negative, aren’t watertight. (They’re still immensely useful though!) For this same reason, I similarly can’t conclusively prove that “when I step outside my room, I will still be on planet Earth” is true.

    • Jeremy
      Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      See here for a better explanation! http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-12-05#feature

    • windy
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 4:12 am | Permalink

      It’s strange that Barbara Forrest would say this, because she herself has written an excellent article explaining how it doesn’t matter that we can’t disprove the supernatural; philosophical naturalism is still the most (or only!) reasonable metaphysical conclusion.

      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/barbara_forrest/naturalism.html

      To me, this seems to be more or less what the ‘new atheists’ have been saying! It would be interesting to know why she chose to go the ‘science can’t disprove God’ route in this talk – while it’s technically true, it’s also misleading to imply that that’s the end of it.

  8. Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    There is also a strong negative correlation among countries between acceptance of Darwin and belief in God. Countries with high belief in God, like Turkey and the US, have low acceptance of Darwinism.

    Those are convenient choices, for they leave out Mexico and other highly religious Roman Catholic countries which have no problem with evolution–or didn’t until evangelicals started meddling.

    What Mexico and like countries indicate is not certain, although one reason the US and Turkey may have problems is because they have more grass-roots religion, coupled with its attendant anti-intellectualism.

    My point is not that religion is necessarily compatible with science, but that the experiences of the US and of Turkey do not confirm that claim, for other nations are religious and not opposed to science.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

    • astrosmashley
      Posted June 8, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Well, on the extreme end one could say the same of Haiti. The case being that there are too few people that even KNOW what the claims of evolutionary theory are to have a problem with it in the first place!

  9. Sili
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Since there’s no point in engaging with the subject (I have no idea what’s wrong with Moonbit), I’ll just point out that I think the “who [sic]” is childish – noöne uses “whom” anymore, and most of us wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at that sentence if you hadn’t made an issue of it.

    Iono – as Dan Savage says “We’re winning” – Moonbit are simply feeling their particular brand of accommodationism threatened, and their hypothesis has become more dear to them than ‘the truth’.

    As long as they’re whining, you’re doing something right. Keep up the good work – and kittens/cephalopods.

    • Veronica Abbass
      Posted June 2, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Sili

      The the “who [sic]” is not childish. I noticed that Mooney used who incorrectly when I read “Civility and the New Atheists” yesterday and was pleased to see that Jerry pointed it out by using [ sic] to indicate he was quoting accurately. While few people use whom in conversation, careful writers use it in formal writing.

      I’m sure Jerry Coyne does not need me to defend him; however, the word “childish” irked me; “pedantic” would have been a better word.

      • bric
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        While we are being pedantic, many of us do indeed use whom, but where does that umlaut in ‘no-one’ come from? Neither OED or Chambers has heard of it.

        • Sili
          Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:13 am | Permalink

          where does that umlaut in ‘no-one’ come from?

          The New Yorker. It’s a diaraesis. Personal idiosyncrasy, I fear.

          • bric
            Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:17 am | Permalink

            Really? Wow I’ve been a New Yorker reader for 30 years and I never registered it. Even Melvil Dewey didn’t do that.

            • Sili
              Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

              Well – if they can use it in “coöperate”, I can use it in “noöne”.

              But I’m not making any claims that anyone else should follow my silly habits. (I’m not even consistent.)

      • Sili
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        “Pedantic” would probably have been better, yes.

        Still, “whom” is dead. It’s a made-up word used to trick people.

        (I’m a whomer, myself, but pointing out that someone isn’t is pedantic. I might as well sic people who use “leaped” or “dreamed” where I’d use “leapt” and “dreamt”. It’s natural variation.

      • Snowflake
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        The umlaut (better known in English as the diaresis) was often used before the first world war as a marker for a new syllable when two vowels were adjacent.

  10. Posted June 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    … winning those court cases does not require that we show that science and religion are compatible ...

    Yes and no. In order for evolution to be taught in public schools as true (as opposed to being taught in a comparative religion class), under the Establishment Clause it cannot be taught as disproving religion. The mere fact that evolution conflicts with or disproves some religious claim or claims is not enough to constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause but you cannot teach that it is incompatible with religion in general. It is permissible to teach that some people think they are incompatible and some people don’t, because the existence of those beliefs are an observable fact of the world.

    If a court were to be convinced that evolution and atheism were coextensive, there would be no choice but to relegate evolution to that comparative religion class. Certainly, if a court found that the teaching of evolution was part of a political movement to “vanquish” religion, it would not be permissible to teach it at taxpayer expense.

    Winning those court cases may well depend on at least leaving open the possibility that science and religion are not completely incompatible.

    • pd
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      So, if a science teacher were to point out that the discovery that lightning bolts were caused by an electrical discharge between clouds and the ground invalidated the Greek’s claim that they were hurled by Zeus from the top of Mt Olympus she would be in violation of the Establishment Clause?

      Or is this argument just special pleading for monotheistic gods?

      • Posted June 4, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        monotheistic? Like the father, son, and holy ghost…shouldn’t that be tritheistic?

    • Explicit Atheist
      Posted June 7, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      John Pieret, you couldn’t be more wrong here, Coyne is 100% correct. The compatibility of religion and knowledge (a.k.a science) is irrelevant to Establishment Clause (EC) compliance of the education curriculum. What is relevant to the EC is that the government accurately teach our knowledge irrespective of that knowledge’s religious belief implications. After all, one of the primary goals of education is to challenge ignorant superstitions rooted in authority and tradition and replace the latter with genuine evidence based knowledge.

    • astrosmashley
      Posted June 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      “In order for evolution to be taught in public schools as true (as opposed to being taught in a comparative religion class), under the Establishment Clause it cannot be taught as disproving religion.”

      true ‘nuf friend. Religion need not come into it at ALL. Just as French Literature shouldn’t be taught as disproving Calculus…it’s a non brainer

  11. Yakaru
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    1. Etiquette. Or as Forrest put it, “be nice.”
    In the 1300s, the word “nice” meant “foolish, stupid” (Oxf. Etym. Dict.). In this context it means “patronising, political manipulation, dishonest”.

    2. Diversity
    This whole paragraph doesn’t make any sense.

    “….So why would we want to criticize liberal Christians…”
    Er, if they say something about science which is unfounded, then, what do they expect from scientists?

    3. Humility. Science can’t prove a negative
    Who said it can? Only the ignorant or stupid claim science even tries. Can religion prove a positive?

    Making a public statement that you know how the universe and everything in it got here, and claiming personal contact with its creator is not exactly the epitomy of humility either.

    • bric
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:44 am | Permalink

      ‘Minutely or carefully accurate’ is the way engineers use ‘nice’, and seems like a good way to go.

  12. Wes
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you for the most part, Jerry. The part about “we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world” in Mooney’s piece was extremely irksome to me. I’m a philosophy teacher. Questioning how people make meaning of the world is what I do for a living. Mooney’s trying to put me out of a job! :P

    Anyways, I left a comment at his site explaining why I think his definition of etiquette is unacceptable, and how an open market for ideas entails that beliefs can be publicly criticized (in the appropriate fora) without breech of etiquette. I don’t know if he read it or not.

  13. Posted June 2, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    “Collaborationists” indeed.

    You need not be vicious to say that a particular idea just isn’t worth including in the mix of very necessary ideas that we desperately need to focus on. “God” proposals, whether from liberals or conservatives, are without merit.

    If you can’t simply state that, without being told to “shut-up”, then something isn’t quite right and I would think that something would be of much greater concern to Mooney and Forrest than their collaboration.

  14. Scott
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Excellent rebuttal, Jerry. I’d like to expand upon the following sentence:

    “The failure to criticize the excesses of Islam, for example, can largely be laid at the door of our friends the liberal Christians.”

    I think it’s difficult for any religious person to intellectually criticize another religious person, because they, themselves, have no solid ground to stand on. If Johnny says, “I believe in fairies”, and Suzie says, “I believe in trolls”, and neither can base their belief in on the rational interpretation of empirical evidence, then the conversation is pretty much over.

    Historically, the peoples of different religions just battled it out in war. Nowadays that tactic is frowned upon by liberal religious people. So instead, they consider it taboo to question each other’s beliefs. They just avoid the conversation of “who’s right” all together (at least publically).

    And that’s why we atheists are attacked by both the religious people and the accomodationists. We are violating their taboo.

    But we are justified in doing so, because the taboo, itself, is based upon the weakness of the religious position.

  15. Dave
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, that find of Chris Mooney’s, 2001, Slate, piece is an absolute home run for you! His argument there mirrors yours in so many ways that it makes his most recent remarks seem like an amazing turn of events. Bravo!

    You get some of the main points, but I suggest others read it.

    I mean, look at the title for goodness sake!

    —“Darwin’s Sanitized Idea

    PBS’s Evolution is an exercise in Creationist appeasement.”—

  16. Posted June 2, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    “The part about “we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world” in Mooney’s piece was extremely irksome to me. I’m a philosophy teacher. Questioning how people make meaning of the world is what I do for a living. Mooney’s trying to put me out of a job!”

    My point exactly!

  17. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Socrates would have been out of a job, too!

    jac

  18. Posted June 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m cross-posting, with some changes, from Mooney’s blog a couple of sources (one study) that back up the idea that science and religion at least tend to conflict:

    Here is an account of the study showing conflict between religious and scientific thought, “God Or Science? A Belief In One Weakens Positive Feelings For The Other”:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215121559.htm

    And here is reference data for the original paper:

    FlashReports
    Science and God: An automatic opposition between ultimate explanations

    Jesse Preston a,*, Nicholas Epley b
    a Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 603 E Daniel St. Champaign, IL 61820, USA
    b University of Chicago, 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue Chicago, IL 60637-1610, USA

    a r t i c l e i n f o
    Article history:
    Received 14 May 2008
    Revised 8 July 2008
    Available online 22 August 2008
    Keywords:
    Causal explanation
    Religion
    Science

    a b s t r a c t
    Science and religion have come into conflict repeatedly throughout history, and one simple reason for
    this is the two offer competing explanations for many of the same phenomena. We present evidence that
    the conflict between these two concepts can occur automatically, such that increasing the perceived
    value of one decreases the automatic evaluation of the other. In Experiment 1, scientific theories
    described as poor explanations decreased automatic evaluations of science, but simultaneously increased
    automatic evaluations of God. In Experiment 2, using God as an explanation increased automatic evaluations
    of God, but decreased automatic evaluations of science. Religion and science both have the potential
    to be ultimate explanations, and these findings suggest that this competition for explanatory space
    can create an automatic opposition in evaluations.
     2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    So sure, the opposition has evidence for it.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

    I have problems with extrapolating similar conclusions from just Turkey and the US, but this research appears to support Coyne’s claims of conflict between religion and science.

  19. Posted June 2, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    And another thing.

    There’s one bit of Mooney’s piece that drastically fails to add up.

    “In a recent New Republic book review, Coyne took on Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, two scientists who reconcile science and religion in their own lives…Religion is a very private matter, and given that liberal religionists support church-state separation, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world. After all, they are not trying to force it on anybody else.”

    The first sentence contradicts the last two. If religion ‘is a very private matter’ then what was Jerry reviewing? Did he somehow develop magical powers to read the minds of Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson so that he could review their thoughts? No – he was reviewing their books. Well if they wrote books – then their religion is not a very private matter after all, is it. Books are public, aren’t they; Miller and Giberson put their books out there into the world; so how can it possibly make sense to claim that their religion is a very private matter? It can’t. It’s stark nonsense.

    That matters because the whole line – that religion is private, that they leave you alone so why can’t you leave them alone – looms very large in accommodationism. We need to notice when this bait-and-switch goes on. Miller and Giberson aren’t trying to force their religion on anyone else, but they are putting it out into the public forum. Once it’s out there it has to take its licks like everything else. It’s no good writing books about religion and science and demanding immunity for them because religion is private. Having it both ways; very naughty.

    • Dave
      Posted June 2, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Good points. This touches on my concern. Chris and Barb are both involved and have been in varying degrees with the skeptical , atheist and humanist movements. By the Chris approaches this issue now, he might as well write a piece saying The Center for Inquiry needs to either change or close shop, same with the Skeptic’s Society and some others they have both found support with.

      Chris’ generalization in this instance is troubling, at Yale Chris was:

      “co-president and a founding member of the Yale College Society for Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics” and “interned with the Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) … where he helped draft the organization’s ‘Bill of Rights for Unbelievers.’” CFA is affiliated, or was, I think there’s been a name change, with The Council for Secular Humanism.

      As he mentioned in the Secular Humanist Bulletin ’99: “I am optimistic. We have the leaders, the drive, the creativity and strategies. We have the support of the Council for Secular Humanism. When the CFA meets next in Chicago in May, 1999, expect to hear about hundreds of students demonstrating and stamping currency.”

      Maybe Chris will tell that other Philosopher and one of the founders of the modern skeptical and Secular Humanist movements, Paul Kurtz he’s been wrong all these years, and needs to repent.

  20. Posted June 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    If what happened over the framing debacle is any guide, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Mooney’s response.

  21. Dave
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I can’t stop thinking about this situation and the constant talk about “accomodationism.”

    I’m thinking about comments by Dawkins, such as calling for “sharper bards.”

    Then I’m going over the idea there’s been “playing nice” for decades.

    In one way or the other I’ve been very in tuned to the skeptical, atheist and humanist movements since the early 90’s. Through magazines, books, essays, internet, humanist meetings etc.

    There’s always been debates about approach. There has also always been since I’ve been involved books etc. skeptical and very critical of religion. After Gould’s, Rocks of Ages, there was a fairly strong consensus NOMA was DOA or needing radical adjustment.

    Even some harsh rational criticisms of religion have come from religionist. It can’t be helped to notice Americans United for Separation of Church and State is supported by many religionist.

    Then there is the spike of the “nones” in surveys. Those that say they have no religious affiliation. The first recent noticeable rise in “nones” was in 2001 and 2002.

    Of course there are more vocal atheist now it seems, clearly wanting to be heard, especially in the U.S. and Britain.

    Then the other aspects come into play. One example would be the recent, “105 Things You Can Do to Promote Skeptical Activism”, which has such contributors as Benjamin Radford, Jay Novella, D.J. Grothe, Jeff Wagg and others who provide “things you can do to promote science and advance skeptical thinking.”

    In the guide you will find a demarcation between skepticism and atheism: -“Skepticism is an approach to testable physical claims. Atheism is a conclusion regarding an untestable metaphysical claim. These are not the same thing. You can be both a skeptic and an atheist. I am, and this is demographically common amongst skeptics. But please remember, there are many other skeptics who do hold or identify with some religion. Indeed, the modern skeptical movement is built partly on the work of people of faith (including giants like Harry Houdini and Martin Gardner).”-

    Of course there’s been interesting comments from others such as E.O. Wilson on a way to work with the religious in some capacity for shared goals. Then there is Paul Kurtz himself, who in remarks concerning The Center for Inquiry has made it very clear the focus should remain on secularism, not simply atheism. Paul has made the point several times in recent years the difference between the scientific and skeptical inquiry approach are in contrast to some atheistic assaults on religion that have become popular. Lastly, there is Michael Shermer who has sounded a somewhat quiet alarm with regards to the dangers of being “atheist” centered as a movement.

    My thinking on much of this has gone the way of those who will remark that more than one approach is needed. Well, I’ve been skeptical of that in the past and I’m even more so now. It appears to me that certain atheist are making clear that their view of “accomodationism” could end up to be very sweeping indeed. While I’m not yet comfortable with Mooney’s remarks here, I certainly think something is up. The reactions I have seen to some of Matt Nisbet’s blog postings critical of “new atheist” has been fairly amazing.

    I have had a hard time the past few years reconciling my opinions and feelings on much of this. I almost feel like there’s a decision to be made, like you’re with us, or you’re against us and all that talk about more than one approach is baloney.

    I got thinking of this because of what I wrote here. First, my criticism of Mooney, then my criticism of Coyne. Would something like Paul Kurtz’s comments suddenly be viewed as “accomodationism”, clearly after Michael Shermer’s, Rational Atheism, essay there was charges of “apologetic’s” and political correctness. E.O. Wilson has taken a veiw hits and Euginie Scott seems to be a focal point of the anti-accomodationist movement. How about that skeptic guide comment, is that “accomodationism”, well, I think an honest look at how the debate is playing out would say, yes. These people above and the many others, have meant the world to me. Who the hell is Jerry Coyne, who is Russell Blackford, why do I care if there is suddenly a Richard Dawkins focus on atheism and religion which has garnered a near cult following.

  22. Bryan
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Dave @ #3

    “Dawkins has now said that these are mere skirmishes in a larger “war between naturalism and supernaturalism”, this is somehow going to make things better to forward ENS?”

    Jerry’s argument is that, yes, framing the evolution debate as being between naturalisim on the one hand and supernaturalism on the other hand is, in fact, going to lead to greater public acceptance of evolution.

    “In 2006, National Geographic reported that those on surveys responding that they were uncertain about evolution over the past 20 years has RISEN, from 7% to 21%. Would you say it was NCSE and Barb that are responsible for this? At this point I almost think you would, or find a way to point your finger at them.”

    Yes, Jerry is arguing that the tactics adopted by the NCSE and Barb are responsible for the declining public acceptance of evolution. That’s pretty much what the whole post was about. Maybe he should be even more direct and incivil to be sure that the point is getting across?

    • Dave
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      Bryan
      Post #23

      –“Yes, Jerry is arguing that the tactics adopted by the NCSE and Barb are responsible for the declining public acceptance of evolution.”–

      If you are right about that, then it’s not only wrong and naive but extremely irresponsible.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:55 am | Permalink

        Dave et al.

        Oh for chrissake I never said that the tactics adopted by the NCSE and Forrest were responsible for declining public acceptance of evolution. What I’ve said is that despite these tactics (and EVERYONE’s tactics!), public acceptance of evolution has stayed about teh same. Dave and Bryan: if you want to go after me, please read what I said first.

    • Dave
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Jerry,

      I think your last sentence is unfair to me, obviously. I had clearly said that “If you are right…”. That was not the way I had read you to begin with. My argument for what I see as fairly “naive” rest on the correlation being drawn nearly exclusively. Your evidence for the claim is the surveys, which as you show now, “EVERYONE’S” tactics would have failed. But, of course, you didn’t say everyone’s, nor have I seen you once point the finger at the scientific enterprise in general as lacking at communicating the importance of understanding science and scientific rationality.

      You simply finger point at the “accomodationist”, then say this is what we need to fight against. Like I said, this doesn’t make you wrong necessarily, but it’s wildly naive in scope, you must realize that to some extent if you now say EVERYONE.

      Now that you “go after me” doesn’t follow.

  23. newenglandbob
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Nicely constructed Jerry.

    I think it is time for Mooney and Forrest to apologize to Jerry Coyne and retract what they wrote.

    Let us see if they can be gracious and civil and admit they made a mistake.

  24. Posted June 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post. I continue to disagree and will respond further on my blog. But just two brief points:

    I believe I accurately summarized Barbara Forrest’s talk, but I really only speak for myself. She gave a very good paper and I hope that when published or otherwise available, you folks will read it.

    While personally an atheist, I have changed my views on the science-religion relationship since my 2001 Slate piece, and my decade-old work in the secular movement.

    • Dave
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Well, I thought so, it was the only thing that made sense. I look forward to further clarification of your ideas. I am still skeptical of your generalization as I read it in your blog that is under discussion.

      I to have changed views on approach considerably over the past few years. It has not been easy for me, that I assure you. The change started during my viewing of Beyond Belief 2006. I was very, very excited to watch those videos and in all honesty was glad to see Dawkins show some irateness. However, my view of the situation started to shift while at the same time watching the videos I was holding long conversations about the views expressed. There was a great deal about not “respecting the beliefs”, I thought, well being skeptical, providing the science and offering criticism isn’t necessarily being “respectful of the beliefs”, it is primarily forwarding science and reason. If that reads a bit confusing, it is. Then it was becoming more and more obvious that the “hostility” I was seeing was defended regardless of the merit of the claims. Debate was and is to some extent being stifled by the “new atheist” mentality. The interesting aspect of course is the repetition of claiming others want someone to “shut up.” So, what has evolved are techniques of labeling for the “cause.” My biggest problem is some of this is actually anti-skeptical in approach. The labels extend to calling other scientist, atheist, skeptics – ‘apologist’, he/she is arguing from the stand point of “I’m an atheist, but…”, he/she is being “politically correct”, etc. Of course, my saying this doesn’t say the claim is always wrong, my argument is that it has become OBVIOUS that these are simply tactics used regardless of the merit of debate, on either side. Of course, they are part of other tactics used (again, I am not saying in the least they are all wrong all the times, far from it, also the fundamentals I completely agree with). I think Dawkins got it right at the AAI in ’07 when he said some of it was like propaganda. When one views the importance of their position as possibly saving the world, and claim they are nearly pure in deed (such as it’s all based in compassion), when the evidence doesn’t fully support these notions, we are potentially looking at a new dogmatic movement, where the largest portion of “followers” are not fully aware of the consequences.

  25. Matt Penfold
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    “Winning those court cases may well depend on at least leaving open the possibility that science and religion are not completely incompatible.”

    Which is why relying on winning court cases is not that good a strategy. Creationism (and ID) should not be taught in science classes, not becuase of their religious nature, but becuase they not science.

  26. Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Always, after my presentations as Charles Darwin, I am asked questions about belief in God.I mention the French mathemetian LaPlace when Napoleon asks about his new book, where is God? LaPlace responds-“Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.” To make clear how science works, I go to first cause. In the beginning there was God. And before? Well, God always was.And before God always was? In science-in the beginning there was the big bang. And before? We don’t – as yet-know.Belief means one has stopped thinking and I nolonger am interested.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      David N. Cammpbell, your philosophy is a calm, sane one. When theists come up with evidence, they will get listened to; not before.

  27. Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “Personal idiosyncrasy, I fear.”

    Well if you fear, you could always drop the idiosyncrasy. Or affectation.

  28. SLC
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Just for the information of those folks on this blog who are unfamiliar with Mr. Mooney, subsequent to his 2001 article, and during his sojourn in DC, he came under the influence of a Professor of Communications at American, Un. in DC named Matthew Nisbet, and, IMHO, has been brain washed by the latter. Prof. Nisbet is an accommodationist of the first order and has advocated the use of a technique known as framing, which he is unable to define in any consistent way that distinguishes it from spin. In addition, the good professor has been a consistent critic of Prof. Dawkins and Prof. Myers.

  29. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    2. Diversity. …So why would we want to criticize liberal Christians, who have not sacrificed scientific accuracy…

    I think it’s fair to say that Collins and Giberson do not meet this qualification.

  30. Posted June 3, 2009 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    “For example, many accommodationists argue that the evolution of humans was inevitable: that if we reran the tape of life, some God-fearing creature like H. sapiens, or some “humanoid” equally capable of apprehending its creator, would inevitably arise….Likewise, I criticized the “fine-tuning” argument for the existence of design, and pointed out (as many have before me) the disparity between the materialistic claims of religion (e.g., the Resurrection) and what we know about science.”

    Yes, I and some of the other commenters have discussed the first of these at length to no great conclusion. I think it is fair to say that it is possible to make a good argument based on scientific evidence that some kind of highly intelligent, purpose-driven, creature would emerge eventually given this planet and its particular climactic history. Such events will doubtless be rare in the universe and its hard to make judgements based on what is a sample of one without the prospect of repeatability. Hence is is more of a historical what-if question than a scientific one. I disagree with your statement ‘based on what we know about evolution it is highly unlikely’. I would say the exact opposite and here it seems I am in cahoots with Dennett, Dawkins and Conway Morris. One can have an open ended process that nonetheless throws up predictable outcomes given enough time.

    Fine tuned universe – there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this one, mainly because people appear to have bought the rubbish put out by Victor Stenger. Fine Tuning is a serious problem in cosmology we have to face up to. For a neutral position on this I would suggest Sir Martin Rees’s ‘Just Six Numbers’ or Lee Smolin’s ‘The Life of the Cosmos’. Basically I think it is between an infinite multiverse and God; on both of these ultimate explanations we are inevitably going to run into the limits of science. For my part I can see a number of serious problems with the multiverse (see Paul Davies ‘The Goldilocks Enigma’ for the best discussion of this).

    As for the resurrection of Jesus, I’m afraid where you stand on that is going to be due to your views on the nature of and the existence of God, who, if he/she/it exists, is more than capable of violating laws of nature should it chose to do so. If God is ruled out then we are going to need a naturalistic explanation of the gospel accounts and a lot of hallucinating Jews. It also means a good chunk of our civilisation is founding on the ranting of a poorly educated, middle eastern, lunatic who thought he was the progeny of a sky pixie, in which case we will have to re-read Nietzsche and Michel Onfray.

  31. J.J. E.
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    @ LK:

    “If God is ruled out then we are going to need a naturalistic explanation of the gospel accounts and a lot of hallucinating Jews.”

    Care to cite any secular historical accounts of those events in the Gospel recounted by any “hallucinating Jews”? I found a rather vague, second-hand and uncharacteristic passage no longer than one paragraph from Josephus. And that was the most reliable of the non-biblical accounts. Can you do me one better?

    Jesus’s historical existence (not to mention actual detailed accounts of his actions) are reasonably debated. Your claim that there are many accounts from contemporary Jews are about as well-sourced as the accounts from contemporary Greeks who have encountered Zeus and Hera.

    • Posted June 3, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      ‘Jesus’s historical existence (not to mention actual detailed accounts of his actions) are reasonably debated.’

      The historical existence debate is a ‘reasonable debate’ amongst wackos, kooks and a number of amateur historians nobody takes very seriously. However, I’ll accept ‘detailed accounts’ of his actions are going to be extremely difficult given the nature of the gospels.

      ‘any secular historical accounts’

      Oh come off it, this is ancient history; lack of sources is par for the course. I’m impressed the guy was even mentioned in Josephus.

      My line up of hallucinating Jews would have to include the disciples, the sightings mentioned by Paul and of course Paul himself, unless of course he made most of it up including the ‘road to Damascus.

      • mk
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Didn’t they find a coin with David’s “image” on it? That’s ancient history, too… is it not?

      • Wes
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        When does Paul say anything about the road to Damascus? The only reference to that legend that I’m aware of is in Acts of the Apostles, which was written by Luke two or three decades after Paul died. Luke is not historically reliable at all–for instance, he places the birth of Jesus under the reign of Herod and governorship of Quirinius, even though Herod died 10 years before Quirinius became governor of Syria (which included Palestine at the time). Luke’s whole story about the trip to Bethlehem for the census of Quirinius could not have happened, because if Jesus was born under Herod he would have been approximately 12 years old during that census. As far as I can tell, Luke just made the story up.

        As for your “hallucinating Jews”, I explain them the same way I explain the hallucinating Greeks who thought Appolonius of Tyana could perform miracles, or the hallucinating Arabians who thought Mohammad road to Jerusalem on a flying horse, or the hallucinating Americans who believed that Joseph Smith found magical golden plates with a new gospel written on them:

        People are gullible, and believe very silly things, and dishonest people who like to make stuff up exploit this. It’s that easy to explain.

      • J.J. E.
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        So in other words, Jesus is just as well attested in Judea as in North America and just as well attested as Mohammed’s ascension into heaven? And of course, since this is all “ancient history” and actual historical accounts aren’t required, then we can equate Jesus’s historicity with Zeus’s and Odin’s.

        Just so long as I’m clear on it. As long as someone with a vested interest in promoting the story of Jesus writes an internally inconsistent story that contradicts secular history as well as other accounts of Jesus, we can take that as the truth? And truths drawn from that religion are as valid as truths from any other random religion we pull off the shelf, like Islam and the ascension there?

      • Badger3k
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

        Well, most modern biblical scholars have concluded that the Josephus bit (two, actually) were later interpolations, with the most given is that the name of “Jesus” or “Joshua/Yeshua” – a very common name at the time” was in the original, but the Christian supporting bits added later. This is well known and supported by the evidence.

        There are no, repeat no, extrabiblical support for Jesus in any sense, even though we have documents describing numerous other characters. The silence of Paul is telling to many, and the increasing development, through time, of the Jesus mythology, is also well attested. It is a debate that serious scholars, not fringers, are having. While the subject is interesting to me, I agree with Dr Price (and with Dr Schwietzer – sp?) that the lack of information leads to the conclusion that actual evidence, and actual ideas of who (human) or what (myth) Yeshua might have been is pretty much impossible to know.

        That said, there are better places to discuss the minutia of religion than this blog, but I wanted to bring it up that the debate is not as apologists would like it to be.

      • Badger3k
        Posted June 4, 2009 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        Why can’t we comment to replies?

        Wes – the “hallucinating Jews” implies that there were those people, and that they are not a later addition to the stories circulated by the faithful. There are well known mechanisms for this development, and much of the biblical stories fit this pattern. This could be just the same as “I know a guy who knows a guy who has been on a UFO” story.

      • Posted June 4, 2009 at 3:08 am | Permalink

        My my. I thought this blog was about Biology, not New Testament scholarship. Well I’m a newcomer in this area but here is my two cents.

        1. I think it’s fair to say that Acts is a historical account but also a piece of religious propaganda so it is prone to the same distortions as the gospels. Sherman White maintains this position and views Acts as historically accurate. As for the road to Damascus, Paul in Galatians and Corinthians does refer briefly to his conversion experience. The consensus among scholars, at least according to Robin Lane Fox whose book I have read, is that Acts was written by a travelling companion on Paul; possibly Luke. Hence we should expect the details of Paul’s life to be more accurate than the dubious nativity narrative. It’s an enormous leap to go from ‘this part of Luke’s account is false’ to ‘the entire account is false’.

        2. There are two references to Jesus in Josephus. One is authentic and the other has been embellished by Christian scribes. The authenticity of the second passage, referring to James’s (Jesus’s brother) death at the hands of Ananus, is “has been almost universally acknowledged” by scholars according to leading Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman. The second one, the Testimonium Flavianum is viewed as partially authentic by a strong majority of scholars. The reasons for this are 1) there is an authentic core of Josephan language and style, 2) the later reference to James suggests that Jesus was mentioned earlier, 3) No attempt is made to link Jesus to John the Baptists, something which would have been inconceivable to early Christians 4) we have testimony of earlier versions which did not have the clear interpolations ‘he was the Christ’ and ‘if it indeed right to call him a man’.

        3. The ‘Jesus Myth’ is, and always has been a conspiracy theory in the same genre as the idea that Shakespeare did not write his plays. The leading exponents are Earl Doherty, an amateur historian and G Wells who was a professor of German and has shifted his position radically. He now appears to believe there were two ‘historical Jesus’ instead of one, which is an improvement of sorts I suppose.

        4. Mohammed ascension is referred to in the Qur’an but it has only one direct reference to this whole episode. Furthermore it sounds more like a visionary event than a physical event. Ibn Ishaq who collected oral traditions reports that; “one of Abu Bakr’s family told me that Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, used to say: “The apostle’s body remained where it was but God removed his spirit by night””. Hence it sounds like a mystical experience. As for Joseph Smith, well he had three witnesses for the angel dispensing the mysterious vanishing plates. Harris was regarded as a ‘visionary fanatic’ who claimed he had met Jesus in the shape of a deer. Cowdery denied his testimony later but reaffirmed it when the church let him back in. Whitmer changed his story several times, including claiming that God told him to leave the Mormons and form a splinter group.

      • Dave
        Posted June 4, 2009 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        Even Richard Dawkins has finally come out and flatly said that, yes, Jesus existed. The vast consensus by scholars, both religious and secular, is that Jesus existed.

        I should note that Richard also says it doesn’t matter, however, what he points out in doing so are the unlikeness of the miracles and absurdity of believing they happened. This obviously doesn’t say anything about the worth of the teaching attributed to Jesus, which Richard has spoken very highly of in certain context [see: Atheist for Jesus]. That last point one could also say that it doesn’t matter if he existed, we then we would be putting those admirable teachings to someone else. It would seem not only likely he did exist (even in Richard’s essay, Atheist for Jesus, he speaks only as if Jesus did exist), but also in many ways the teachings could be attributed to him at least in a general sense.

  32. Posted June 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Just want to notify folks here that I have begun to respond to Dr. Coyne–but to address the many issues raised in this post and the New Republic piece will take some time and more than one post. I had to begin by saying that I don’t think Dr. Coyne is uncivil, and apologize for at least implying that. But it is also wrong to suggest I’m trying to censor him in some way–that’s just not the case. The link is here:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/03/why-evolution-is-true-but-coyne-is-wrong-about-religion-part-i-the-shut-up-canard/

    • newenglandbob
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      My response to Chris Mooney’s new response to Jerry is number 12 over on Mooney’s blog.

    • Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Implying it? You said it pretty directly. Oh well, at least you’re apologising, but damage has been done.

      You also clearly supported Forrest’s view that we should not say things that “alienate” so-called religious moderates. If that’s not saying we should shut up and not express disagreement with them, I don’t what is. If you don’t believe we should shut up and refrain from criticising the position of so-called moderates, then please don’t write things that suggest otherwise. (By the way, why do you assume that these people are moderates? Have they indicated support for abortion rights somewhere, for example? Have they indicated support for the Millian harm principle and separation of church and state? Maybe they have, and I’d appreciate being told where, but the mere fact that they are not mad fundamentalists doesn’t entail that they are moderates.)

      You can write what you want of course; I’m trying to persuade you by addressing you directly, not to demonise you in an effort to shut you up.

      But what you wrote back in 2001 was absolutely correct and it saddens me that you’ve moved away from this to a far murkier and less defensible position. No amount of philosophical sophistication can take the sting out of the points you made back then.

      It also saddens me that you waste your time and energy undermining the efforts of people who are basically your allies. If you don’t want to help us anymore, it would be nice if you’d stop hindering us.

      And it annoys me that those of us who legitimately criticise the claims and authority of religion now have to waste OUR time defending the legitimacy of what we are doing … rather than just getting on doing it. Can’t you see how damaging this is?

      If you just want to confine yourself to defending the science (as Jerry does in his book), by all means do so. But some of us have reasons to go on the attack against religious doctrines, organisations, and leaders, because we believe that the doctrines are false, that the social influence of the organisations is harmful, and that the moral authority claimed by the leaders is spurious.

      You can dismiss this as engagement in a culture war, but it’s not a war of our making. If the religious leaders concerned did not seek to influence governments and electoral opinion against, for example, abortion rights, there would be no need to ask what moral authority they have. But they do play that political role, they do draw on their claimed moral authority (rather than just making secular arguments), and it is legitimate to criticise their claim to speak on behalf of a god. If doing that is fighting a culture war, I fail to see why fighting a culture war is a bad thing.

  33. Posted June 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, religion has had it’s way with you…….

    thedestuctionoftheearth.wordpress.com

  34. mk
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    For the record… in Chris’ most recent post where he tells everyone he doesn’t want to shut people up, he deleted my comment.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      I just asked you over there what happened to your post @10. I referred to it in my post which is now @11, instead of 12.

      • mk
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Yeah… kinda weird. I’ve seen much worse things said yet that one was dumped. Oh well.

    • Dave
      Posted June 4, 2009 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Jerry

      Tell them it can’t be so!

      I didn’t even cuss gosh darn it…

  35. Bob
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    best not to get into a pissing match with your allies.

    • James F
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      Alas, that train has left the station.

    • Aquaria
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      Left the station? The train is a regular service, I’m afraid, but the origin isn’t from JC’s side, nor from any of the “New” Atheists.

      Dr. Coyne is not an anomaly in being attacked by Mooney–he is, unfortunately, just the latest target of this vindictive crybaby doormat, and his BFF!!!!1111!!! Matt Nisbett.

      Nisbett and Mooney have been going on the attack against “New” Atheists for years. Just about every other month for a while there, PZ Myers would have a post about one (or both) of them whining, whining, whining about this or that outspoken atheist or tactci, and how mean they are and waaah waaah waaah. The criticism is rarely impartial or constructive, and usually comes across as pompous and condescending, like they’re talking to imbeciles, from a vaunted acme of wisdom, knowledge and experience–which seems to exist only in their own ego fantasies.

  36. Aquaria
    Posted June 6, 2009 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I replied to Mooney’s whining–er, post, and I wasn’t very nice. Essentially, I jabbed him for using the disgusting creationist tactic of insisting on a “public” debate, and then I said that debating JC might look good on his c.v. and not so good on JC’s.

    Mean and witchy, yes. Like I said, I couldn’t help myself.

    Of course, my disgust with Mooney and his fellow traveler, Nisbett, goes back a long way, thanks to PZ Myers’s long-time antagonism toward the ‘framing’ and ‘be nice’ b.s. both vomit.

    I’d like to think that these guys are sincere about wanting to use one tactic to win a battle. But that’s the problem. There can’t be one tactic. There never can be with complicated issues. That they refuse to see this, and so quickly and virulently go on the attack against their “allies,” inclines me to suspect that both Mooney and Nisbett want to be the spokesmen for atheism, the big kahunas, and boy are they spittin’ mad at Richard Dawkins, PZ, Coyne and etc., for grabbing the spotlight instead.

    You can just hear them wailing, “Why is that guy getting all the attention? It was supposed to be me! Me! Waaaaaah!”

  37. articulett
    Posted June 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I advocate treating all supernatural claims equally. Biologists ought to be able to dismiss the claims of theists as readily as astronomers dismiss the claims of astrologists. If people truly kept their beliefs privates, we’d never need to have the discussion as to whether being dismissive of religion is impolite. Truly, religionists ought to keep their supernatural beliefs and claims as private as they wish Scientologists or other superstitious people to keep theirs. Is that really too much to ask??

    It seems that the “accomodationists” are asking for coddling of a particular brand of superstition, and the “incompatablists” are fighting for the right to treat all superstitions equally. The “accomodationists” are free to kiss as much theist ass as they wish–but I resent being drawn into supporting this inane notion that “faith” is something to be respected. Accomodationists lend credence to magical thinking and further the prejudice against atheists in the process. They imagine incivility that isn’t actually there in order to see themselves as some sort of peacekeeper. Until they have data to show that their methods work, I think I’ll ignore the sanctimonious pleadings imploring the atheists to tone it down. If religionists actually kept their religion private, there’d be no need for Coyne and others to speak up and say the “uncivil” things they supposedly say, would there?

    Why should Coyne worry about hurting the feelings of those who don’t offer the same consideration to him? Where is the evidence that Coyne’s strategy is harmful to “the cause” (which is what exactly?) and where is the evidence that the “accomaditionist” method is successful?

    When it comes to furthering understanding of evolution, I think Dawkins, Dennett, Coyne, PZ, and the “incompatibilists” who don’t walk on eggshells around religionists have been much more successful. Religionists want us to respect their beliefs– but the beliefs do not warrant such respect.

  38. Posted June 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Why is criticism of religion off the table? Susan Jacoby’s excellent *The Age of American Unreason* speaks at length to the resurgence in the U.S. of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism today: “One of the most powerful taboos in American life concerns speaking ill of anyone else’s faith–an injunction rooted in confusion over the difference between freedom of religion and granting religion immunity from the critical scrutiny applied to other social institutions….
    This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. Millions of Americans are perfectly free, under the Constitution, to believe that the Lord of Hosts is coming one day to murder millions of others who do not consider him the Messiah, but the rest of the public ought to exercise its freedom to identify such beliefs as dangerous fallacies that really do pick pockets and break legs.” (p.21)

    As an activist in the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign, one of the hottest issues amongst us (and sympathetic atheists not involved in the bus campaign) has been: how dare we “convert” or try to convince others. As another member, not so inclined, put it: I have no beef with religious people trying to convert others of their beliefs. They feel strongly about them and try and convince others. The problem is with us, who for some reason allow them to do this without contesting them, cringing at the idea of openly declaring we would like to change peoples’ minds.


12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] will be responding in some detail to this post by Jerry Coyne, which is itself a response to my recent arguments on the subject of science and [...]

  2. [...] Chris and Jerry are back to religion, I’m reminded of my first foray into into the blogosphere in early 2007 [...]

  3. [...] are some things I disagree with in Coyne’s New Republic article–and even more in his blog response to me–I am not arguing that Coyne is guilty of incivility, unthoughtful argument, ad hominems, or [...]

  4. [...] for my “divisiveness” in going after the idea that science and faith are compatible.  I responded to this, saying that since Forrest and Mooney apparently agreed with my views (and my atheism), they were [...]

  5. [...] folks are not to be taken lightly. Jerry Coyne writes that “I’ll put my record up against that of either Mooney or Forrest in the fight against [...]

  6. [...] me for my “divisiveness” in going after the idea that science and faith are compatible. I responded to this, saying that since Forrest and Mooney apparently agreed with my views (and my atheism), they were [...]

  7. [...] lot of people are commenting on our back and forth, and I’m particularly pleased that it has been getting outside of the standard [...]

  8. [...] by Reverend Jensen was “Science and religion should cooperate as well as co-exist.” Jerry Coyne and Chris Mooney are currently having their own debate, but I come down pretty squarely in [...]

  9. [...] 5. Coyne [...]

  10. [...] 5. Coyne [...]

  11. [...] the claim that their religious belief is consistent with science. Accusations of being a “religion lover” are uncomfortable echoes of previous [...]

  12. [...] Chris Mooney and Barbara Forrest love the faithful more than me (by Coyne)- Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (by Mooney)- Did Chris [...]

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