Did Chris Mooney tell me to shut up?

Well, Chris Mooney has decided to continue the discussion about the compatibility of science and faith that he and Barbara Forrest began on his Discover blog.  If you’ve followed all this, they criticized 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 in effect telling me to shut up — imposing upon me (and some of my colleagues) a form of intellectual censorship.  I also pointed out that in 2001 Mooney published a pretty strong piece criticizing faith/science accommodation — a piece diametrically opposed to the views he espouses now.

Mooney responded that he had indeed changed his mind, and has become much more of an accommodationist:

…indeed, I find my work from 2001 on this topic pretty unsatisfying. I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.

I wrote on Mooney’s blog that I was certainly not flailing indiscriminately against religion, and challenged him to find one example of where I’ve done that, or been uncivil to the faithful (another comment that he implicitly levelled at me).  My criticisms of accommodation have been specific: it waters down science and gives people a mistaken view of what science says. (One of these mistaken views is the widespread claim — viz. Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, etc. — that the evolution of humans or human-like creatures was inevitable). This is hardly “flailing.”

Well, Mooney is now publishing a longer critique of what I said, and (oy vey!), he claims that it will be in two or more parts, and perhaps take several weeks.  My heart is sinking. Part I is here.

I will wait until Mooney publishes all of his several promised critiques of accommodationism before I respond, but let me take up one issue here.

Was Mooney telling me to shut up? Apparently stung by that suggestion, he denied it vehemently:

So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong.

Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.

But of course he was telling me to shut up!  Despite his denial, it’s palpably clear that Mooney (and by extension, Barbara Forrest), was advising me to lie low and let the accommodationists address the compatibility of science and faith.  (In this he joins the AAAS, the National Academies of Science, and the National Center for Science Education).  Rather than repeat what all of Mooney’s posters have agreed on, which is that he was telling me to put a sock in it because my words were “divisive”, let me just steer you to the excellent analysis by Jason Rosenhouse on his EvolutionBlog.  A sample (read the whole thing on his site because there’s a lot more):

Moving on, let’s look a bit more closely at what exactly Coyne did to bring Mooney and Forrest down upon him. He published a book review. In The New Republic. In this review he did not level a single ad hominem attack and praised certain aspects of what Miller and Giberson have done. He then went on to criticize their ideas. Mooney himself, in his follow-up post, wrote

So-I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article.Are you seriously telling me that is poor tactics? A very good, thoughtful, extensive book review in a high-level venue like TNR is just too much for those poor, delicate liberal Christians to handle? Please. Any Christian who has genuinely made his peace with evolution is not going to be driven to the other side because Jerry Coyne offered a few contrary thoughts.

The whole thing is reminiscent of that Jerome Bixby short story “It’s a Good Life” (later made into a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone). That’s the one with the three-year old who has God-like powers, but lacks any sense of judgment or conscience. Whenever someone does something he doesn’t like, the kid simply wills something terrible to happen to that person. Everyone has to go around thinking happy thoughts all the time, because happy thoughts are relaxing to the kid. And everytime the kid throws a tantrum everyone has to say things like, “It’s very good that you did that. We’re all so happy you turned Mr. Smith into that terrible thing.”

That’s what I think of whenever I read essays like Mooney’s. Liberal Christians are playing the role of the kid. Coyne et al are in the role of those doing things the kid doesn’t like. And Mooney et al are in the role of those trying to soothe the kid. “Mr. Coyne didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s very good that you believe religious clerics and holy texts have something valuable to tell us about the workings of nature…”

In one of his follow-up posts Mooney bristled at the idea that he is telling Coyne, in effect, to shut up. Mooney writes

So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong. Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.

No, he didn’t argue that Coyne should shut up. He only argued that writing a very good, thoughtful, extensive article for The New Republic was evidence of how woefully misguided Coyne is about strategy. Which raises the question: where should Coyne have expressed his views? If even a relatively tame article in a high-level venue like TNR is too much for liberal Christians, then what could Coyne have done, short of shutting up, that would have mollified them?

I couldn’t have said it better, so I won’t.  Thanks, Jason, for saving me the trouble.

I don’t want to belabor this “he said/he said” stuff about shutting up, but Mooney’s bizarre denial of what he really said doesn’t bode well for future discourse.  And I’m a bit wary because I don’t think I have much more to say about accommodationism than what I’ve already said on this website or in my New Republic piece.

76 Comments

  1. Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Faith and science compatible?

    What, exactly, is faith?

    The best definition I’ve been able to come up with for faith is this:

    To exercise faith is to deliberately attempt to be more certain of something than the available evidence warrants.

    Faith is inherently and inescapably dishonest, because it involves lying to yourself about how certain you should be, and if you’re aim is to find out what’s actually true, exercising faith is very obviously stupid, and there’s just no nice way to state that fact.

    Of course there are the usual equivocations by the faith-proponents, “you have faith that that chair will hold you up, etc.” No, I don’t. I do not believe this chair will hold me up to a degree of certainty which exceeds what the available evidence warrants. If I begin to sit in a chair, and it makes creaking noises, I’m apt to get up and give the chair a hard look, lest it collapse on me, just as anyone would.

    Faith has an undeservedly good reputation. Faith needs to be given the reputation it deserves, which is this:

    Faith is dishonest and stupid.

    There can be no peace between science and faith when the latter is nothing but the deliberate dishonest and stupid act of attempting to be excessively certain.

    • a.j.g.wolf
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Wow. SteveC, that is very well said. Very well indeed. Thank you.

    • MelM
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Faith is a rejection of being conscious of reality and a prerequisite of the lunatic fantasy universes of religion. In any metaethics starting from the needs of human life, faith must surely be regarded as a vice and a psychopathology.

    • andy o
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Can I quote you on my Facebook page? haha…

      • scaryreasoner
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Of course. Spread this meme far and wide.

    • Jack
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 3:03 am | Permalink

      That is very nicely put.

  2. newenglandbob
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Once again, Jerry has laid it out in plain, calm, thoughtful language.

    The comments here, on discover blog, and elsewhere are running heavily against Chris Mooney, as much as 50 to 1.

    • Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      sigh. Why is when Mooney’s called-out and challenged his response is “You’re wrong, wrong, wrong. And that’s just a taste of more to come!”

      Vague teasers on breathy multi-post responders in which he’ll unveil his devastating critique is all hand-waving at this point. This hot air balloon better get off the ground.

  3. Magnetic Lobster
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Jerry, you’ve hit the key issue. He clearly was telling you to shut up.

  4. Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Regarding accommodationism, but not specifically the above passage:

    My General Biology I prof has gone out of his way to embrace NOMA, extending it to, of all things, astrology! He says science can’t test it, but of course it can as long as you’re willing to place the burden of proof with those making the positive claim – that astrology works. I believe the prof is being intelectually dishonest, but I’m not sure if/how I should say anything.

  5. Dave
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Again, nicely handled Jerry, IMHO.

    The point: -”My criticisms of accommodation have been specific: it waters down science and gives people a mistaken view of what science says.”-

    That is the area I find important. There can be an accommodation, or compatibility between science and religion only if one was not to overlap the two areas (here we would only need to recognize as Stephen Gould had, that the human mind can contain contradiction). There is no way to reconcile science and religion outside of someones personal choice. However, making that personal choice public, especially as a scientist, but also for the simply religious, then it is open for scientific and skeptical analysis and thus if need be, harsh criticism. In that criticism there is no reason to give favor to the unreality that so fundamentally undergirds religion. We can understand the utility while crystallizing the errors in the science, mathematics and philosophy etc.

    I look forward to Chris Mooney’s further explanations, but so far I find it disappointing only in that he has not broached the issue of applying scientific and skeptical methods to claims made in the interest of reconciling science and religion. If the claims are in need of criticism, even to be called “bogus”, then in the interest of history, philosophy and law, to do so is a near necessity.

    I find that Chris is working against a proper application of NOMA. It appears that once again a filtering in of a complimentary aspect of religion to science (and vice versa) could be allowed, which usually will only work to threaten science. Clearly, Chris must realize this to some extent having been part of the modern skeptical movement as he has. It is because of these continued complimentary aspects as well as attempts to shelter religious claims from proper skepticism that I have advocated abandoning NOMA. It is more the fault of the position taken by Chris than by someone like Harris (which is not a paradox if one considers this from the standpoint of science).

    I think there is a great deal to criticize with regards to “new atheism” and I have been very open about that. In fact, I am partly dismayed by the lack of open skepticism from within this movement, it seems to fear a circled firing squad, however that can be dangerous, especially when it appears necessary. The problem partly stems from what creates a momentum for the movement to begin with, which is religion, how religion is viewed and what approach appears best to confront religion. It is quite obvious much of the discussion has gone beyond a concern of watering down science and the mistaken view of science. This is fine, it only makes sense. We do not live in a vacuum and science does not operate in one either. However, this should not be an excuse for making arguments that we need not to self examine and criticize. I should note to that I do find many concerns expressed by those such as Nisbet, Shermer, Kurtz, Mooney and certain others to be valuable.

    To quote Stephen J. Gould from the foreword written for Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things.

    ~~ “Only two possible escapes can save us from the organized mayhem of our dark potentialities – the side that has given us crusades, witch hunts, enslavement’s, and holocausts. Moral decency provides one necessary ingredient, but not nearly enough. The second foundation must come from the rational side of our mentality. For, unless we rigorously use human reason both to discover and acknowledge nature’s factuality, and to follow the logical implications for efficacious human action that such knowledge entails, we will lose out to the frightening forces of irrationality, romanticism, uncompromising “true” belief, and the apparent resulting inevitability of mob action. Reason is not only a large part of our essence; reason is also our potential salvation from the vicious and precipitous mass action that rule by emotionalism always seems to entail. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism – and is therefore one of the keys to human and social decency.” ~~

    I would be willing to enforce NOMA, to remind scientist when they use “wooly metaphor misportrayed as decisive content” (Gould), which in fact works against a proper understanding of science. But, I have found a battle that I fear has no winners, a war so shallow in content in certain respects that emotionalism will surely tamp down rational debate, where skepticism itself is threatened by verbose one-upmanship.

    I am suddenly reminded of one of Michael Ruse’s criticisms of Gould in his review of, Rocks of Ages. It concerns Gould’s quote above about wooly metaphor. Gould was casting dispersions on an attempt to use science to explain a religious belief, a kind of complimentary aspect, which entailed quantum mechanics.

    Ruse quipped; ~~ “why should not the Christian see if there is help and understanding in the new science for the old religious belief? Is the wave/particle complementarity of the electron precisely what Christians have been claiming?” ~~

    Ruse, someone I greatly admire, seems to miss the essential point of NOMA, and has indeed contributed to the complimentary movement. Gould was pointing out the dangers of what happens when you overlap science and religion. It is not science that should become the metaphor, if anything in such debate (and certainly not scientific by any means) it is the religious claims. We should not start from the unfounded claims, then work backward to use scientific understandings as metaphors to add a false legitimacy, that can only work to give people a mistaken view of science (and this especially applies to scientist such as Miller etc.).

    I would also not give to much weight to who appears to be “winning” any blog war debate by the number of comments presented by either side. Atheist are becoming known for comment campaigns (not a bad thing necessarily, not my point, it is recognized and so are the calls to do so).

    • Dave
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I would like to add that there is some fundamental aspects to Chris’ ideas that I do find very agreeable. One is the search for greater acceptance of science and scientific rationality by those more religious and the other is working more with those that are religious, as scientist, non-believers and skeptics. I am skeptical of his approach so far, but we’ll see. This does not lessen my concerns expressed in my previous post.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I have said it before and it bears repeating: NOMA is wrong and Gould did much damage to the acceptance of science because of it. NOMA has been used by religionists and accomadationists to justify their flawed reasoning. Science deals in evidence and observation and deduction. The results of that is often a problem for religion since it shows rational explanations that replace the fears and fictions of religion. Religion has fewer places to hide its irrational dogma.

    • Dave`
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      NewEnglandBob

      –”Gould did much damage to the acceptance of science because of it.”–

      Baseless claim.

  6. Matt Penfold
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    There is some good news though.

    Chris has indicated that he has given up on the “framing” idea, and no longer is collabarating with Matt Nisbett in promoting it. I rather get the impression he got a bit annoyed with having to defend Nisbett’s more asinine comments on the issue.

  7. Erasmussimo
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I’m disturbed by the very notion that you would argue this point, Mr. Coyne. Who cares whether Mr. Mooney told you to shut up? If he did, what does that establish? That he is a big stupid fathead? Great: science marches forward. ;-)

    There are lots of important issues to consider, and even more petty, childish issues to consider. Arguing this point is a puerile waste of perfectly good electrons. Worse, it’s poor strategy. Consider that the religious on this planet vastly outnumber the atheists. Accommodationism reflects this reality; those who reject accommodationism are little different from rabbits planning attacks on wolves.

    There are countless factors that differentiate you from any other human being; there are countless factors that unite you with any other human being. You can focus on the first group and spend your life making war on some or all other humans; or you can focus on the second group and spend your life trying to bring people together. It’s a personal choice.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Shorter version:

      It does not matter if Jerry is right, he should cave in the religious anyway and bugger the consequences.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Matt, your point is based on the assumption that accommodationism is defined as “cave in to the religious and bugger the consequences”. That’s a straw man argument. My own version of accommodationism is that we should fight on ISSUES that are important, but not fight on religion itself. Thus, we should fight for evolution to be taught in schools, for a rational approach to AGW, and so forth. But we don’t need to debate theism with the religious. My version of accommodationism can be summarized as “keep your eye on the ball”: attend to the issues that matter, and ignore the issues that don’t matter.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        “My own version of accommodationism is that we should fight on ISSUES that are important, but not fight on religion itself. ”

        I live in the UK. There is NO significant debate over evolution here, and nut much over AGW. All the main polticial parties accept it the science behind it.

        Can I ask why I should carry on fighting over those issues here when we have already won ? They might be important to you, but to me they are of interest only in that some countries that otherwise would be called developed still have issues with them.

        There are more important issues in the rationality vs religion wars to be fought than the one over creationism. I am not aware of people dieing from having creationism taught, but they do die from not using condoms. On a global scale creationism is mere side show.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Matt, I envy your living in a country with a more rational approach. That doesn’t mean that *I* should stop fighting creationism; it means that *you* don’t need to fight it. So don’t! You mention the failure to use condoms as an important issue. That sounds like a worthy issue to contest — go to it! And good luck!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      If you read WEIT, it does not at the outset tackle religion directly, but in various places Jerry does note where various findings completely contrast with any religious interpretation.

      Let’s apply your broad view to some hypothetical finding that contrasts with what everyone assumes/expects/”understands”. A single such finding would probably never pass peer review. But results from multiple approaches all compatible with the same conclusion would, although maybe not with the first attempt or with the first journal. I expect/certainly hope that few would argue that the investigator should not pursue publication because nobody else believes the conclusion at the outset. That is what is at issue here. The contradictions of evidence with religious interpretation are presented as gently as possible in WEIT. My [ital] guess [ital] is that summing up all of those passages probably account for less than 2% of the text (a project for someone!), but I for one am happy to see them there.

    • Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      “My own version of accommodationism is that we should fight on ISSUES that are important, but not fight on religion itself. Thus, we should fight for evolution to be taught in schools, for a rational approach to AGW, and so forth.”

      Kind of like treating the symptom and not the cause, right? How do you propose separating evolution from religion when the religious see it as challenging their beliefs?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        gillt – exactly correct!

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        gillt, you frame the matter as “fighting the symptom and not the cause”. Here’s another framing: “fight the battles you can win, not the battles you will lose”. If you try to convince billions of people to abandon their religion, you will certainly lose. If you instead try to convince them to respect the teaching of science in science classes, you will win (as we already have in the vast majority of cases).

        On every political question, there is always disagreement. If you are a Democrat, the solution to your political problems is not to destroy all Republicans (an impossible task) but to forge majorities to advance those causes you can.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        “On every political question, there is always disagreement. If you are a Democrat, the solution to your political problems is not to destroy all Republicans (an impossible task) but to forge majorities to advance those causes you can.”

        When it comes to political position there one can normally understand where someone arguing a position you disagree with is coming from. You do not agree with it, but you can follow their rationale. For example some have argued for military intervention in Zimbabwe. I do not agree with them, but I see their point. The regime is a vile one with a leader I suspect is insane and the sooner it is gone the better. I just think using force will cause more problems that it solves. Both of us have rational arguments for our positions, and both are defensible.

        When it comes to religious arguments this tends not to apply. A person who opposed, for example, same sex marriage on the grounds their god does not like it, is not arriving at that position rationally. They do not actually have an argument at all.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        You’re right: they don’t have an argument at all. But they do have a vote, and that’s what matters.

  8. Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    So, as you know, I just disagree. I do not want to shut you up or anybody up and I also don’t have the power to do so. What else can I say?

    Anyway, I did my next post in response to you, which is about science and religion in the context of the Dover trial

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/05/why-evolution-is-true-but-coyne-is-wrong-about-religion-part-ii-lessons-of-dover/

  9. Matti K
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I think Chris is more of a politician, less a scientist or philosopher. He seems to think that there is a “scientific party” and a “creationist party”. Both, in his view, fight for the support of the “religious middle”.

    He is not telling scientists and atheists to shut up, he merely gives friendly reminders about the party strategy to people he counts as fellow party members.

    I think he doesn’t understand that scientists, atheists and philosophers do not readily see themselves as party members, with an obligation to be solidaric towards fellow party members.

    • Erasmussimo
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      Matti, I believe that Mr. Mooney is a journalist and writer, not a scientist or philosopher, although he definitely seems to grasp the principles of science firmly.

      It’s true that robust discussion among any group of thinkers is always preferable. And each of us will speak their mind freely to others. I see no obligation to follow anybody’s party line. I think it useful for us to discuss cause and effect when considering how we interact with others. If an atheist takes a confrontational approach to theists, then a confrontation will result — and the outcome of any confrontation between a huge majority and a tiny minority is pretty easy to predict.

      If, on the other hand, atheists use a cooperative strategy, they are more likely to accomplish their goals.

      • MadScientist
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        What goal would that be? “Oh yeah, it’s fine for you to claim that science proves the existence of *your* god?” That’s a really ancient one, from Plato’s Socrates suggesting that by questioning everything perhaps humans can reveal the minds of the gods, through to the ‘golden age’ of islam where relative peace allowed mathematics and engineering to thrive and discoveries were always gifts from the god. The same excuse is used by the catholic church as the Vatican Observatory is established ~1582 (science reveals gods glory).

        So when someone takes science and tries to jam it into some religious framework I say “hold on, that’s bullshit; science does not make such a claim” (proof of god, revealing god’s glory or ‘mind of god’ etc etc).

        What Chris seems to be saying is “don’t oppose such claims, simply shut up and nod because these guys will be on our side”. I say the religious will be on our side when they admit they have nothing and admit the fantastic achievement of humans over the centuries as represented by the volumes of knowledge assembled about nature by science. I don’t believe that will ever happen though; religions above all debase humans and their achievements because nothing can be greater than their nonexistent fairy.

      • MadScientist
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        Oops .. got my facts on the Vat. Obs. wrong; was ~1770s. 1582 was when the church adjusted the calendar based on astronomical observations (using an earth-centric model – that would have been fun).

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

        “If an atheist takes a confrontational approach to theists, then a confrontation will result — and the outcome of any confrontation between a huge majority and a tiny minority is pretty easy to predict.”

        You seem to think that presenting ideas is some kind of war. Moreover, the theists are not a majority everywhere in the world.

        I think it is always worthwhile to present well-thought arguments and discuss their merits and dismerits with people opposing them. I am sure most people in “the religious middle” think likewise. Or at least that segment of it, which has the potential to get interested in science in a beneficial way.

        Why should religious people be treated as if they are kids?

      • Matti K
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Erasmussimo said:

        “If, on the other hand, atheists use a cooperative strategy, they are more likely to accomplish their goals.”

        To co-operate, people must have common goals. Certainly there are political goals which most atheists share. To promote such goals, there are specific organizations:

        http://www.atheists.org/

        Religious people not accepting evolution is a problem for people worrying about the future of American science education. It has nothing to do with atheists as such. Religous people do not have a high reagard for the opinions of atheists anyway, so why would they care about their views on the compatibility of religion and science?

        I don’t think Mooney is actually trying to influence atheists who speak out against the compatibility of religion and science. Rather, I think he is collecting brownie points in political circles that prefer appeasement.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        Several points to address here. MadScientist asks what goals atheists might wish to accomplish. I would answer that there are a variety of political goals that atheists would like to see, such as the proper teaching of evolution in schools, support for stem cell research, proper access to abortion, and so on. Alone, we have no chance whatsoever of accomplishing any of them. But if we put aside our atheism and concentrate on getting things done, we can work with the many scientifically-minded theists to accomplish these goals. There are many more scientifically-minded theists than atheists.

        MattiK objects to my claims about confrontation with the observation that “You seem to think that presenting ideas is some kind of war.” In fact, my point is that we *can* present ideas and discuss them freely without confrontation — but when we *do* take a confrontational approach (as with the claim that ‘the only way to get rid of the terrible real world implications of religious views is to get rid of religion’), we are inviting failure.

        MattiK further asks “Why should religious people be treated as if they are kids?” I agree with this sentiment. We should treat theists as adults: with respect for their beliefs, regardless of our own beliefs. If another adult tells me that he thinks that the moon is made of cheese, I’ll demur, but if he makes it clear that his mind is made up, then I drop the matter, because people have every right to hold whatever beliefs they choose. If, however, he proposes that our schools should teach his belief, then I will oppose him.

        Next, MattiK notes quite correctly that “To co-operate, people must have common goals.” This is the basis on which we must build our political strategies. Instead of emphasizing our differences, we should concentrate on the goals we share with theists. One of these is a strong economy. Instead of condemning religion, we should be touting the point that a strong economy requires technological development, and biotechnology has gigantic economic potential. This means that we need strong education in biology — hence we all share a common goal for good biology education. This is the kind of strategy we should use — because it can work.

        Lastly, MattiK offers us a guess as to the motivation of Mr. Mooney:

        “I think he is collecting brownie points in political circles that prefer appeasement.”

        I would suggest a simpler explanation: that Mr. Mooney writes what he does because he believes it. We could, for example, apply the same kind of reasoning to MattiK him/herself and darkly suggest that MattiK is really a provocateur from a fundamentalist church, seeking to confuse us with deceptive arguments. Such reasoning is absurd, isn’t it?

        I think that *both* Mr. Mooney and MattiK write what they believe is the truth.

      • Matti K
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Erasmussimo:

        Why do you think that the statement “science and religion are not compatible” is more confrontational than stating “science and religion are compatible”? Your quote: “The only way … is to get rid of religion”, is a strawman, IMHO.

        Your “cheese moon” analogue is awkward. I don’t think you (or Mooney) would oppose debunking the “moon cheese” hypothesis in articles in newspapers or internet. Coyne and other “new atheists” are not crashing into churches or christian homes in their quest to convert religious people to think that religion and science are not comptible.

        I don’t think holding an opposing view about the compatibility of science and religion is a hinder for co-operation in say, science education. There are outspoken scietist for compatibility and there are outspoken scientists against compatibility. Why should any side “lay low and let others do the talking”?

        About Mooney’s motivations: I don’t think he is stupid. He should have noticed by now that scientists and atheists will not pay much attention to his agenda of speaking out selectively (or “shut up”-agenda, like some say). To whom do you think he is aiming his message?

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Matti K, there’s considerable confusion here about who’s claiming what, so I want to re-state the issues (as I perceive them) in basis form. I start with some statements that I’m sure we both agree with:

        1. Religious belief is objectively incorrect.
        2. Religious belief sometimes triggers socially injurious actions.

        My first point is that we must be careful to differentiate between these two truthful statements. The first statement is true, but it does not by itself require any action on our part. I remind you of the cartoon in which the computer-using male refuses his girlfriend’s request to come to bed because “somebody on the Internet is wrong”. The world is full of false beliefs — I daresay that none here can claim to be immune to this human foible. If somebody wants to discuss their beliefs, that’s great. But if they don’t care to discuss their beliefs, that’s their business, not ours.

        On the other hand, the second statement *is* our business, and that is what we should focus on.

        This distinction between tolerating beliefs different from our own and fighting actions that are injurious is the essence of accommodationism, as I understand it.

        I hope this clarifies matters as to who is telling whom what.

      • Spaghettini
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        I think he doesn’t understand that scientists, atheists and philosophers do not readily see themselves as party members, with an obligation to be solidaric towards fellow party members.

        Era, did you miss the above passage? Your entire argument seems to be based on the idea that ones entire public existence is to be subsumed to the demands of political organizing, which I frankly find bizarre. You are essentially saying that certain subjects are not to ever be discussed due to the chance of injury to some nebulously defined larger agenda–but just who decides what this agenda is to be, and when it is to take precidence over the concerns of the moment?

        Further, I second Matti’s other post–isn’t concealing one’s own views for the purpose of luring others to your “camp” rather dishonest, and disrespectful of their own autonomy of judgement? You seem to have deicided that the religious are to a person uninterested in having an open and honest discussion of these matters, and are so unbending in their opinions that one must keep simpy silent lest you incur their perpetual ire. Who are you to prejudge them this way? Even worse, this approach appears to be of dubious merit even as a matter of realpolitik–it’s been pointed out elsewhere that even Dawkins’ stance on religion has not prevented him from forming coalitions with religious moderates when they share a common cause. So where then is the benefit here?

      • Matti K
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 3:06 am | Permalink

        Erasmussimo; “If somebody wants to discuss their beliefs, that’s great. But if they don’t care to discuss their beliefs, that’s their business, not ours.”

        Why use “they” and “us”? I thought religion is a personal matter.

        I don’t think the “new atheists” are forcing anyone to discuss their beliefs, they are just expressing their own.

        Erasmussimo: “This distinction between tolerating beliefs different from our own and fighting actions that are injurious is the essence of accommodationism, as I understand it.”

        I think “tolerating beliefs” means “not forcing others to change their beliefs”. I don’t think it means “not questioning those beliefs”. By the way, accommodationism means more than just tolerating opposing views:

        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accommodationism

        Chris is not asking just to tolerate religious people or religion, he is asking to partly play their game in order to lure them to play an universially beneficial game. Chris thinks it is politically counterproductive to question the official dogma of NCSA: “Religion and science are compatible”. Do you really see this as tolerance?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Well put, Matti K.

    • Erasmussimo
      Posted June 7, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Matti K, your statement that “religion is a personal matter” is in agreement with my statement that “if they don’t care to discuss their beliefs, that’s their business, not ours.” You seem to be violently agreeing with me.

      “I don’t think the “new atheists” are forcing anyone to discuss their beliefs, they are just expressing their own.”

      Yes, they’re expressing their belief that religious believers are idiots. Don’t you see the difference between declaring “I do not believe in a god” and declaring “You are an idiot because you believe in a god”? The former is a statement of personal belief. The latter is an attack.

      Next, you argue the semantics of the word “accomodationism”. Fine, define that word any way you want. I have been careful to qualify my comments by declaring that “my concept of accommodationism is…” But since you object to that, I will have to coin a neologism: xargzblarb. I can define this term to mean anything I damn well please, and I define it to mean what I previously defined “accommodationism” to mean. Please substitute “xargzblarb” for all instances of my use of the term “accommodationism”. Can we now return to the discussion?

      Lastly, you object to Mr. Mooney’s preference to political compromise in order to accomplish political goals. I ask you, if you refuse to compromise, what do you propose instead? Acceptance of political defeat? Civil war?

      • Matti K
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

        There may be people who call reliious people names, but I was not referring to them. My focus was on the argument about the compatibility of science and religion. Mooney and other accommodationists think that it is politically unwise to argue such matters in public.

        It may be that outspoken atheists are not helping Mooney’s political agenda, but if you believe that Mooney’s bickering will change matters, you believe also in the effectiveness of “abstinence only”-campaings against unwanted teen pregnancies.

        My mother tongue is not english and I often have to look up the general meaning of less common words in the dictionary. I guess I am not creative enough to make up their meaning while I write.

        Speaking out one’s opinion that science and religion are not compatible is not waging civil war. I am sure that moderate religious people agree that even non-religious people may speak out their opinion.

        I agree with Dr. Coyne that religion should be a non-issue when selling science to the layman. I don’t think there is any need for example in NCSA bulletins to stress either the compatibility or non-compatibility of science and religion. It is enough to say that science tolerates both the Millers and the Dawkinses.

        However, when not selling science, the general rules of free speech should prevail.

  10. Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Oh come on, if Mooney was telling Coyne to shut up, fine, but then we’re all being told to shut up countless times during the course of a month.

    Indeed, wasn’t Coyne telling Forrest and the NCSE to “shut up,” if we’re using this particular (loose) standard? Not altogether, of course, but to shut up about religion. Which is the closest Mooney came to telling anyone to “shut up.”

    Or one could understand Coyne and Mooney to be making statements about what is preferable to say, and how to say it. This is done all of the time as well.

    There may be specific objections to be made about what Mooney said (especially the title), but those would be better to focus upon, rather than turning this into an issue of someone supposedly saying “shut up.”

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

    • Magnetic Lobster
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think that there is some accuracy in characterizing Coyne’s remarks to NCSE as “shut up.” But I think a very important distinction is that when he wrote his book review, Coyne was not speaking for an organization, he was speaking for himself.

      If someone is saying something that is true (or is at least their honest opinion), doing so in a civil manner, and clearly speaking only for themselves, I’m having a hard time of thinking of circumstances that would make it acceptable tell that person to shut up.

      I’m really bewildered by the idea that we atheists need to get together to strategize about which of our dangerous ideas we can dare release to the fragile public.

  11. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Intersting commentary at Daily Kos

    Too bad they systematically misspelled your name, Prof. Conye.

  12. Posted June 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the thing about the ‘shut up’ claim. The whole point is to say: put aside the truth of the matter and adapt what you say according to the wishes of a particular set of people.

    I think what Chris doesn’t see is that that can’t help but come across as a version of ‘shut up’ when it’s addressed to people who are engaged in inquiry as opposed to public relations or politics.

    • Erasmussimo
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia, the issue is a bit more subtle than telling somebody to shut up — which Mr. Mooney did not actually do. The real issue concerns where we direct our efforts. I’ll present my version of the argument rather than put words into Mr. Mooney’s mouth. I consider it ineffective to attack the religious beliefs of theists. Try going door to door preaching atheism to people; I think you’ll get the point pretty quickly. Besides, we don’t need to attack their beliefs; we need only insure that those beliefs do not detract from our own lives (just as they seek to insure that our beliefs do not detract from their lives.)

      I’ll go a step further and claim that trying to cram one’s own beliefs down other people’s throats is at best immature. Discuss, yes; insist, no.

      • Magnetic Lobster
        Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps this is also too subtle for me too. I fail to appreciate the relevance of “where we direct our efforts” in the context of criticizing Coyne’s book review, which is what we’re discussing here.

        In what sense is Coyne’s book review part of where “we” direct “our” efforts? Is your argument that Coyne should not have written the book review, or that he should have deleted certain sensitive parts? Did we all pay dues to some atheist club that paid Coyne to write the book review, and so we have grounds to be unhappy that he didn’t conform to the approved club strategy?

      • Posted June 6, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Erasetc

        I know Chris didn’t actually say shut up; that’s why I put it in scare quotes both times. I was attempting to explain why what Chris Mooney did say (and what accommodationists in general say) comes across as a way of saying…’stop talking about X.’

        It’s not a question of ‘attacking’ beliefs. It’s very obviously not a question of going door to door. It is, as M Lobster says, a question of the kind of thing Jerry Coyne wrote in his review.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Magnetic Lobster, I’ve been responding only to some of the claims made in the comments here: to wit, those claims that we need to ‘attack’ religion in some way. I’m in the ‘live and let live’ school.

  13. MelM
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    The strategy of lying about accomodationism also tolerates cults who regard Dr Tiller as a “mass murderer”, promote a “commandments” ethical system, promote the vice of “faith”, and promote a culture of unreason. Accomodationism condones a rod for our own backs. Science is harmed by a culture of unreason, not aided. Pious scientists have and must reach for their god to explain something about or in the universe and thus create some form of “god-did-it” explanations. They will demand accomodationism one day and violate the hell out of it the next and pass off their “god-did-it” explanations as reasonable and scientific.

    I think we should have the selfesteem to fight religion and unreason and not accept the little domain of human life that the religious faithful are willing to carve out for us–a limited domain bounded by their theological drivel and their attacks on reason. A straegy of accomodationism is a losing, short-sighted, begging, appeasement of a dedicated enemy–the misery cults.

    Jerry Coyne’s rejection of accomodationism is right and is a contribution to the future of science and human well-being–the wider value.

    • Erasmussimo
      Posted June 5, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      MelM, I think you’re using a straw man argument. None the accusations you make against accommodationism apply to the concept as I understand it. I certainly do not tolerate the murder of Dr. Tiller, nor do I promote a “commandments” ethical system, nor do I promote the vice of faith, nor do I promote the culture of unreason. You are welcome to denounce your version of accommodationism but you should realize that it has nothing to do with my version of accommodationism — or the version of anybody else I know.

      I think you give away your emotionalism when you talk about having the self-esteem to fight religion. I see it the other way: I have enough self-esteem that the beliefs of others do not bother me. Their *actions* might bother me, but their *beliefs* are not in the least bit troublesome to me. That’s because I am certain of my beliefs. Perhaps you are threatened by theists because you are not so sure of your beliefs. Young children really do have their feelings hurt when somebody calls them a name, because to them, the voicing of the accusation creates a bit of reality that they find hurtful. I ask you to reflect whether there is not a distant echo of this taking place in your own mind. Could it be that the beliefs of others call into question your own beliefs? Remember, they too want to impose their beliefs upon us, because they are unsure of themselves and their beliefs are threatened by our rejection of their faith.

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

        I assumed “accomodationism” is a form of tolerance of religion from the point of view of science. I’ve read the accomdationist statements at the two “Understanding…” Berkely sites. Before Jerry came along, I was unable to generate any concern among others about these sites. Man, was I happy to see him get into the fight.

        The “mass murder” claims of Operation Rescue, for example, are coming from religious doctrine. I’ll venture a guess here that the bottom line for the believers is “salvation”–another doctrine.

        The only way to get rid of the terrible real world implications of religious views is to get rid of religion–which accomodationism doesn’t help do, and, in fact, leaves free of criticism and, by the use of weasel words, implicitly says is “ok”. The use of weasel words is a very important point which has already been discussed on this blog.

        When I wrote about selfesteem, I checked my comment to assure myself that I wasn’t engaged in a psyop–it wasn’t a substitute for reasons. Religion is coming down on us hard and I think we should avoid the–perhaps natural if one drops context–temptation to appease it. I don’t remember ever bringing up selfesteem in a comment but it seemed to fit here.

        As for god(s), they are arbitray assertions that can be dismissed on that ground alone. In addition, they always involve miracles which violate the fundamental law of identity and one has to reject reason to get away with it–that’s why religion needs and perpetuates a culture of unreason. As for my view on the compatability of science and religion, I’ve pesented it before on this blog–I think it’s short and very very solid. I took it for granted on this thread because this thread is about whether or not to shut up and hide the attack on accomodationism. I don’t think accomodationism is accepted by most people here so I saw no need to cover that ground.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 6, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        MelM, the core of your argument is in this statement:

        “The only way to get rid of the terrible real world implications of religious views is to get rid of religion”

        How do you propose to get rid of religion? Nuke the Vatican? Close all the churches? How about going door to door with little pamphlets called “The WatchTower” explaining why there is no god?

        None of these strategies have the remotest possibility of success. You can’t get rid of religion. So accommodationism is not appeasement, it’s a recognition of reality.

  14. Joshua Slocum
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Cross-posted from Richard Dawkin’s site. For context, I’m responding to a commentor who noted that years of accomodationism simply haven’t worked, but robust confrontation of the positions of the religious is actually opening up the conversation.

    I wrote:

    All this nervous nellie simpering over people being “rude” or “confrontational” to the intellectually deluded (I’m talking to you, Ken Miller) reminds me of the years I spent listening to this same argument over gay rights:

    “Well, see, some people, um, just can’t accept you, so, um, it’s so much better not to push them. I mean, if you’re deferent enough, they won’t feel threatened, and they won’t vote against you having equal rights. Just don’t be too flamboyant, mm’kay? And, really, don’t push your points too hard – even though you’re logically and ethically correct, they just can’t handle it, and they’ll shut down.

    Isn’t it so much nicer just to get along quietly, and accept their largesse for allowing you to exist, without forcing them to be grown-ups who face the intellectual and moral consequences of their public pronouncements?”

    Hell no it isn’t.

    And you’re absolutely right, [commentor]: it’s *precisely* about short-term political expediency. Mooney knows that, and if he doesn’t, he’s fooling himself and compartmentalizing his views so he doesn’t have to face them. Maybe because it’s easier to get along with his friends on the accomodationist end of the spectrum, who make their bread and butter splitting the baby.

    This whole issue is so baffling. How can so many very intelligent people (Mooney is among them, you can’t take that away from him) blithely go along acting as if there’s something so peculiar, so special, about American discourse that we cannot, ever, ever, ever, get over our special pleading for religion? Why do they think America, as a society, is incapable of moving on the way most of Europe has? Why are they so content with – so insistent on maintaining – the pessimistic view that America will always be burdened with this intellectual handicap?

  15. Logan
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I just remembered, after having read this post hours ago, that there was a superb essay by the “Freud-basher” Frederick Crews about accommodationism in his anthology of essays: “Follies of the Wise”. The essay in question is called “Darwin Goes To Sunday School” (reminiscent of the title of Coyne’s first post on the subject) and is critical of the strategies of Stephen Jay Gould and Michael Ruse to make Darwin safe for pious consumption.

    • Jeremy Clark
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      I strongly second the recommendation by Logan of Crews’ essays on Darwinism or indeed on any other subject. Funnily enough Coyne himself has written an excellent review of the book in question:

      http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25347-2345445,00.html

    • Dave
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Jerry reviewed Crews’ book back in 2006. The review was Sept. 06, the book was published in March ’06, Crews’ argument is mirrored in, The God Delusion, published in Sept. ’06.

      In Jerry’s review he writes: ~ “In his essay, “Darwin goes to Sunday School”, Crews reviews several of these works, pointing out with brio the intellectual contortions and dishonesties involved in harmonizing religion and science.” ~

      Leading up to this thought, Jerry argues much the same way he does in his review, Seeing and Believing. He sums up this argument, I think, best when he claims: ~ “Supernatural phenomena” are not completely beyond the realm of science.” ~

      Dawkins has made similar arguments, that is why the chapter, The God Hypothesis (in TGD), goes from NOMA to the Templeton Foundation’s funded prayer study. The “God hypothesis”, Richard argues, is a question for science.

      If you’re keeping score, the quote I offered by Gould in my other comment here (#5 – “wooly metaphor misportrayed for decisive content”) is directed at Russell Stannard’s attempt to reconcile his faith with science by using quantum mechanics to help explain/understand the Trinity. Well, it was Stannard who, as Richard says [pg.62 TGD], threw “his weight behind and initiative funded by – of course – the Templeton Foundation” (the Templeton prayer study) Richard does not offer any scientific insight into the study itself, only making the point that in a NOMA sense this would not be allowed some how. However, that claim is false, though partly right. The point being that the claims can be tested and this has little to do with NOMA, however what the science is doing is what it does best, which is testing the claims against reality, it is not studying the “supernatural”. Science makes no use for the “god hypothesis”, it is not a scientific hypothesis (to be clear in how this mirrors Coyne, Richard defines the “God hypothesis” as including the word “supernatural”). What is obviously revealed through much of these debates is that Jerry, Richard and certain others are arguing much the same way as Templeton and Intelligent Designers, that science does study the “supernatural”. Interestingly however is that Jerry and sometimes Richard will argue that certain folks, such as Templeton, are confusing science by overlapping science and religion.

      Some of the argument is interesting because we would be elevating something like intelligent design creationism to a scientific hypothesis, and in fact that is what they argue. The key there is that we get to a point where the explanation for design (existence in general for a given thing) would entail non-natural explanation (i.e. can not be explained by natural processes). Doesn’t sound like science to me, it’s certainly unfalsifiable, and so far you would have to redefine science to make ID scientific. In fact, the case that science can study the “supernatural” often employs some form of creationism, such as ID. What unfortunately much of this debate misses, certainly not mentioned by Jerry or Richard (though they clearly do, but they have separated the arguments, perhaps unknowingly) is that “supernatural” beliefs can easily be impenetrable to science, one way to do that obviously is using a “gap filling” argument (which ID is doing mainly, but even historically this has been done, they are usually shown limited or wrong by scientific discovery – in this way god has been slowly pushed out of nature by science, but god has also been defined countless times as beyond nature – the part about acting within nature and the “believers” simply “gap filling” can be a “ploy” or a “cop-out”, but the point still remains that what science is concerned with is not the “supernatural”).

    • Posted June 6, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      I third the recommendation of Frederick Crews’s Follies of the Wise.

      You can read the introduction here -

      http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=198

  16. MadScientist
    Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    I got bored very quickly at the lack of coherent reasoning and decided that unless I were paid to, I wouldn’t bother reading all the other articles. Argument by bulk rather than substance always makes me roll my eyes and walk away.

  17. Posted June 6, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Oy vey is right -

  18. aloysha
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’m a theist, and I’ve read your review of Giberson, and Miller and I thought it was one of the most insightful criticism of their ideas that I’ve read so far, even if it was filled with a bit of rubbish at the end. And I don’t agree with Chris Mooney’s and Barbara Forrest’s argument of treading on the matter with softer hands.

    But it’s a total stretch on your part to accuse them of telling you to shut up, they asked you to be more “civil”, which is far different than telling you to “shut up”.

    I’ve been quite scathing towards many secular beliefs such as progress, and humanism, and often been scolded by individuals for being what they perceived as too “harsh”. I’ve been reprimanded for claiming Dawkins is naive in expounding on religion, because the poor professor was not their to defend himself.

    I don’t agree with these atheist who ask me to be more civil, but it would totally be the sigh of an overtly sensitive little whino, to claim they were telling me to “shut up”.

    It is revealing, that they never used the word “shut up” in their article, and the fact that you didn’t even quote any portions of what they wrote as to be construed as them telling you to “shut up”.

    Mr. Coyne when I read this piece of yours, I didn’t immediately realize it was you who wrote it, my immediate impression was of a wounded teenager, a sort of childish sensitivity, a cry for a sympathy.

    I was startled when I clicked on one of the links to your article in The New Republic, to find out it was you. A bit of that respect I intially had was diminished.

    But of course, following your reasoning, you’re going to accuse me of telling you to shut up, because I claimed you sounded whiny, and shouldn’t be.

    • Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      This is mistaken. It is not the case that Mooney said ‘be civil’ and nothing else – he said a lot more than that. As has already been agreed, none of it was literally ‘shut up’ but the substance of it was indeed ‘don’t talk about certain things’; ‘shut up’ is shorthand for ‘don’t talk about certain things.’

      Mooney said, to cite just one example, ‘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 is not literally shut up but it comes to the same thing.

      • aloysha
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        I still claim that’s an exaggeration on yours and Coyne’s, if the same sort of suggestion were leveled at me, i certainly wouldn’t construe it as someone telling me to “shut up”

        For example:

        Little old lady: “Humanism is a very private matter, and given that humanist are nice people who don’t harm or bother anybody, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world.”

        I’d be a whino for claiming that there is no difference between what the little old lady said, and the the man next door who yells “shut up”, for talking too loud at night.

        Coyne and I could both disagree with the old ladies views, but she was being entirely civil in her request, and rather than arguing why we don’t agree with adhering to it, but instead crying that we’ve been told to “shutup” is just plain childish, and beyond petty.

        It’s more a cry for attention than anything else, and Coyne should have known better. It’s the good old Fox News tactic of exaggerating for sheer and pointless sensationalism. And I expected far more from someone of Coyne’s caliber.

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Two suggestions:

        1. Instead of arguing over *interpretations* of what Mr. Mooney said, don’t you think it would be more productive to talk about what he *actually* said? You quote him as writing: ” ‘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.’

        What do you find objectionable in that statement?

        2. So what? Let’s assume that Mr. Mooney really did mean to say “Shut up!” but didn’t put it in words. Who cares? Don’t we have more important things to consider here?

  19. Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Ach, god – can no one make necessary distinctions?! It’s not an exaggeration, it’s making explicit the implications of what someone says. That’s not the same thing as exaggeration. And what the hell does a little old lady have to do with anything? How condescending is that?

    Yes of course you’d be a whino for claiming that there is no difference, but that is not what is being claimed. What is being claimed is that Chris Mooney is telling people what not to say, and that that is an illegitimate thing to do and that his grounds for doing so are also illegitimate. It has nothing to do with any cry for attention.

    • Erasmussimo
      Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Please see my reply of 12:20, but I’ll now response to this statement of yours:

      “Chris Mooney is telling people what not to say, and that that is an illegitimate thing to do”

      Again, that’s your *interpretation* of what he’s saying. His actual words were “we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world.”

      Is his statement ‘illegitimate’ (as you word it)?

      • Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Erasetc

        “What do you find objectionable in that statement?”

        I’ve dealt with that in some detail on another post. Apart from what I find objectionable, my point is that it is decidedly telling people what not to say, which is just what aloysha was denying.

        “Who cares? Don’t we have more important things to consider here?”

        Why is it up to you to decide what people consider here? If you’re not interested, why keep meddling?

        “His actual words were ‘we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world.’”

        Yes – and how is that not telling people what to say?

      • Erasmussimo
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia, you seem to be interpreting Mr. Mooney’s statement as a command; that’s manifest nonsense, because all of us — Mr. Mooney, you, me — know that he has no means of enforcing any such command. I interpret his statement as advice regarding prudent behavior. If you choose to ignore his advice, that’s entirely your decision.

        Mr. Mooney’s point, and mine as well, is that attacking other people is not a nice or prudent thing to do. If you don’t want to be a nice or prudent person, you don’t have to. If you wish to antagonize people, or turn disagreements into flamewars, or engage in screaming matches with others (which you have NOT done here), that is your right.

        My own preference is to solve problems rather than start fights. I perceive that we in the USA have a problem regarding the role of religion in public policy. I would rather reduce the role that religion plays in public policy, so I seek to hammer out compromises that advance that goal. I consider pugnacious approaches to be inimical to the attainment of the goal of reducing the role of religion in public policy. But if your own personal goal is to attack those you disagree with, please don’t think I’m trying to prevent you from doing so.

    • aloysha
      Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Erasmussimo: “And what the hell does a little old lady have to do with anything? How condescending is that?”

      Don’t tell me to “shut up”!

      You’re telling me what not to say, and this is an illegitimate thing to do and that his grounds for doing so are also illegitimate. And this is not a cry for attention. Or me sensationalizing what you said!

      Get the point yet?

      • Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        I said that, not Erasetc.

        Of course I’m telling you what not to say! Also to shut up. I’m making a qualitative judgment on your comments, which I think are time-wasting and point-missing. What I’m not doing is telling you not to say X in case it frightens the horses.

    • Magnetic Lobster
      Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia is right here. I’d like to add a couple of remarks.

      The hypothetical little old lady is in fact saying not to talk about certain things. Despite her nice intentions and polite phrasing, she IS in effect saying to shut up.

      The implication seems to be that since religion is a “private matter” we atheists should not discuss it. This is particularly ludicrous in the context of criticizing Coyne for writing a book review. If it’s a private matter that shouldn’t be discussed, then Miller and Gibberson should stop mentioning it in their books.

      I think Glen Davidson’s comment at #10 above is relevant here. Mooney is telling Coyne to shut up in about the same way as Coyne is telling the NCSE to shut up.

      The reason it is, in my opinion, acceptable in the latter case is that Coyne is saying that the NCSE organization should not take a position on an issue. By contrast, in his book review, Coyne was clearly speaking only for himself, not for some organization.

      And I think this gets to what I find to be a key issue. The very notion of arguing about whether certain ideas or opinions should not be expressed (in a book review, for crying out loud) seem to presume that we are all in some big club and that we all have to conform to the club’s approved communications strategy. Mooney apparently thinks that this is the case and he sees himself as someone who is going to help the club shape that strategy.

      • Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        “This is particularly ludicrous in the context of criticizing Coyne for writing a book review. If it’s a private matter that shouldn’t be discussed, then Miller and Gibberson should stop mentioning it in their books.”

        Precisely. I made the same point on an earlier post, quoting the bit where Mooney (paraphrasing Forrest) says religion is a private matter. It’s hardly private when it’s in a book! So it’s hardly interfering with private religious belief to dispute claims in published books.

      • Magnetic Lobster
        Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Erasetc,

        I have made no blanket endorsement of all criticisms of religion, no matter how rude. I have no problem with suggesting that we’re better off with discourse that is civil. This seems to be a non sequitur.

        Is it your contention that Coyne’s book review constitutes an “attack” that was “ill advised?”

  20. Posted June 8, 2009 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Science and religion are not compatible at all, but we have to act as if they where to disarm the growing fundamentalism and anti-scientific hostility. Pushing the (valid) science/religion dichotomy will most likely alienate the religious liberals and increase the power of the anti-science fundamentalists. To put it bluntly, we need the religious liberals (and their money!) to fight of creationism and fundamentalism.

    For every creationist Richard Dawkins can deconvert, someone like Kenneth Miller can deconvert a hundred, simply because of attitude, even if we assume that they have equal skill.

    • Posted June 8, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      You put all that in very flat, assertive, no room for doubt terms – but it’s sheer guesswork. You don’t know any of that, you don’t know that the opposite isn’t the case. Predicting who will be persuaded by what and in what percentages is a very fuzzy game, and should not be treated as certain knowledge. That’s all the more the case when the guesswork is being used as the reason to tell people to stop saying certain things.

  21. Kirth Gersen
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I find Dr. Coyne to be a brilliant thinker, an staunch supporter of rationalism, and in general a very likeable guy. Why, them does he continually allow himself to get dragged into the muck of schoolboy bickering with people like Ken Miller, who, grotesque religious opinions aside, did us all an invaluable service in Dover? I can see PZ Mysers getting off on that kind of thing — that’s just his personality, and we love him for it — but Coyne strikes me as a fundamentally more serious-minded scientist.

    We call all agree that atheists can be equally as moral, if not more so, than theists. Let’s prove it by not stooping to these sorts of petty debates!


11 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. [...] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/did-chris-mooney-tell-me-to-shut-up/ [...]

  4. [...] originally wrote this as a comment on Jerry Coyne’s blog, WEIT (Why Evolution Is [...]

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

  6. [...] Did Chris Mooney tell me to shut up? Well, Chris Mooney has decided to continue the discussion about the compatibility of science and faith that he and [...] [...]

  7. [...] sur l’accommodationisme et la scienligion et d’autres dérives du genre. En attendant Jery Coyne est à suivre de près. Meet the komboloi in the sun. Need a new one. Où Denyse O’Leary [...]

  8. [...] 7.  Coyne [...]

  9. [...] 7. Coyne [...]

  10. [...] more than me (by Coyne)- Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (by Mooney)- Did Chris Mooney tell me to shut up? (by Coyne)- Mooney on Dover (by Rosenhouse)- Rosenhouse vs. Mooney (by [...]

  11. [...] that they should “shut up” altogether (see, for example, this post getting taken to exactly this conclusion.) This kind of unthinking hyperpolarization is a staple of internet debate, but it tends to quash [...]

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