Andrew Brown makes another dumb argument for accommodationism

Apparently, accommodationist-in-chief Andrew Brown has his own blog, and is now using it to make arguments even dumber than those appearing in his recent Guardian piece. To wit: we athiests should be very careful about our tactics. According to Brown, if we persist in equating acceptance of evolution with atheism, then we’ll create a situation in which evolution can no longer be taught in the classroom. After all, teachng atheism in the classroom is tantamount to a denigration of religion, which is illegal in American public schools:

I don’t want here to get into a discussion about whether this [whether atheists embrace the "scientific worldview" more fully than believers can] is true. Christianity at least does seem to require the acceptance of at least one miracle as the most important thing that ever happened in the universe and it’s certainly reasonable for a scientist to reject this. In any case, it’s all part of a much bigger myth, which does far more than science can to explain the world: that of the triumph of reason, truth, and so forth over ignorance, superstition and stupidity. Such myths are not dislodged by argument.

Already, I can hear the voices saying not all in the tones of E. L. “But where’s the evidence?” “How can a scientist believe in miracles?” and so on. But it is precisely at this point, which the new atheists consider their strongest and most unanswerable, that Ruse’s argument takes effect. Suppose we concede that the new atheists are right, and no true, honest scientist could be anything other than an atheist. If that is true, the teaching of science itself becomes unconstitutional. For it is every bit as illegal to promote atheism in American public schools as it is to promote religion. Again, there are recent judgements from the heart of the culture wars to make this entirely clear. . .

But the American courts have never been asked to decide whether science is the negation of religion: in fact the defenders of evolution and of science teaching in schools have gone to great lengths to ensure that the question was not asked. The “accommodationists” whom Coyne so despises, have been brought out in all the court cases so far to say that that evolution and Christianity, science and religion, are perfectly compatible. If the courts were asked to decide whether not whether ID was a religious doctrine, but whether evolution was a necessarily atheist one, and if they decided that Jerry Coyne and PZ and Dawkins and all the rest are right, then science teaching would become unconstitutional in American public schools. They would, in short, have fucked themselves.

It’s at times like this when I think I’ve entered Cloud Cuckoo Land. Does anybody seriously think that teaching evolution is a deliberate promotion of atheism? If so, I haven’t met any of them, and that includes P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins. (Let me take that back — I’ve met two: Brown and his compadre Michael Ruse. Ruse once wrote that I should give my NIH grant back to the government because my research involves the unconstitutional promotion of atheism!)

Actually, we teach evolution because it’s a wonderful subject, explains a lot about the world, and happens to be true. And yes, it’s likely that teaching evolution probably promotes a critical examination of religious beliefs that may lead to rejecting faith. But teaching geology, physics, or astronomy does that, too. In fact, education in general leads to the rejection of faith. (Statistics show that the more education one has, the less likely one is to be religious.) Should we then worry about teaching physics, astronomy, or indeed, allowing people access to higher education, because those “promote” atheism? Should we constantly be looking over our shoulders because the courts may catch onto this? Well, American courts may be dumb, but even our benighted Supreme Court is more rational than Mr. Brown.

What Brown is really saying is that we should be worried about promoting rational values of any type, or any notion that beliefs require evidence. He doesn’t seem to realize the difference between cramming atheism down people’s throats and teaching them to think, which may have the ancillary effect of eroding faith.

Clearly, both Ruse and Brown are willing to use any rhetorical tactic to decry atheism, no matter how mush-brained it is. As I said in my last post about the Ruse/Brown twins, this smacks of desperation. Rather than engage the serious arguments of scientist-atheists, they talk about our “uncivil” tone — and now about the horrible unforseen consequences of our supposed equation of evolution with atheism. I repeat, so that Brown can get it: teaching evolution is NOT promoting atheism, it’s promoting a scientific truth. And the promotion of any scientific truth may have the ancillary effect of dispelling faith. This is almost inevitable, for the metier of science — rationality and dependence on evidence — is in absolute and irreconcilable conflict with the with the metier of faith: superstition and dependence on revelation. Too bad.

p.s. I look forward some day to Mr. Brown dropping the attacks on atheists and discussing, on their own merits, the assertions of the faithful. Does he think Jesus was the Son of God, that God answers prayers, and that there is an afterlife?

 

UPDATE:  Over on Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers has posted his reaction to Andrew Brown’s piece, “In which Andrew Brown gets everything wrong.”

80 Comments

  1. Joshua Slocum
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Does he think Jesus was the Son of God, that God answers prayers, and that there is an afterlife?

    Jerry, you cad! You brute, you beast! I can barely summon the intestinal fortitude necessary to prevent my frame from falling into a swoon onto yonder horsehair divan. Such a base, literalistic question could spring only from a mind so depraved, so corrupted by Enlightenment ignorance that one must question whether this mind is capable of any tender feeling at all. Have you no feeling? Does there not beat a heart at all in your dessicated carcass?

    Are you still eating fetuses?

  2. mk
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Or does he believe some god tinkers with life on a quantum level? Is he playing with neurons? DNA? How ’bout the inevitablility of humans? And by the way… where is this god? I gots me lots o’ questions for him/her/it!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      …who believes that god tinkles?????

      • Barry
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        NewEnglandBob: My guess would be nobody. I doubt if even the most fundamental fundamentalist believes that God “tinkles”. I would think the very notion of a heavenly potty would be considered blasphemy.

      • Sili
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        What do you think that rain is?

  3. Posted June 20, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Last time I looked, Brown was an atheist. Some people at the nuttier end of Anglicanism think that’s why he’s so mean.

    I just don’t think he’s much of a joiner, hence all the stuff about New Atheism over at the Grauniad.

  4. SomeOne
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I agree that Brown is wrong to think that evolution would count as being religious if it entailed atheism.

    However, doesn’t he raise an interesting point that the courts MIGHT buy something like this? While I do not think that the answer is accomodationism, perhaps this is something that should be considered and discussed.

    • DaogRed
      Posted June 20, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

      I actually hope the courts do buy this line of reasoning. I think the law needs a clarification ruling on the topic. I have always hated the categorizing of atheism, in American civil and military jurisprudence, simply as another form of faith. We all know it’s not. While such a mistake does garner certain tax benefits to atheist groups and many think it also gives us some legal protection under the 1st amendment to the Constitution (though I would argue atheists don’t need this protection at all), such a mis-characterization, like accommodationism itself, is still a flabby piece of reasoning that clumsily smooths over ruffled feathers and avoids a tough debate that would undoubtedly lead to a deeper and better understanding in our society of this difference. An understanding, I might add, if we had it widely available today would have kept Andrew Brown from making a complete fool of himself in the press in recent days.

  5. Divalent
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Note that he clearly says that teaching “science”, and not just evolution, would be unconstitutional. Chemistry, physics, geology; verboten.

    I’m not sure what would be left, given that, for example, even courses in literature and history are based on the premise that one is learning about humanity. (Philosophy would be right out, as well).

    Maybe math and physical education would survive.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      Not math either. One would have to check with a god to ensure that 1 + 1 = 2. Physical education has already died in many places.

      • DavidInCambridge
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink

        There’s no need to ask any deity whether 1+1 equals 2.

        Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead proved this in the first volume of their “Principia Mathematica”, published in 1910.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Be careful there David or someone will start a discussion on Kurt Gödel. We do NOT want to g there :)

    • Efogoto
      Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Math won’t survive contradicting I Kings 7:23 = “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.”

      Any math that teaches it takes more than 31 cubits to go round this is obviously anti-religious.

  6. Joshua Slocum
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    If that’s true, Paul, then he’s the queerest sort of atheist I can imagine. The kind that constantly tut-tuts fellow atheists. The kind that rights things like what Jerry cited above.

    If he is indeed an atheist, he’s still absolutely soaked in “belief in belief.” He’s the sort who’d say “I truly wish I could believe.” Not a very becoming, or intellectually respectable stance. Kind of embarrassing.

  7. Posted June 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Brown’s argument is legally and constitutionally inept. He clearly doesn’t understand the American legal system at all, despite considering this issue to be “really important”. Brown is — quelle suprise — talking out of his ass.

  8. Joshua Slocum
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    How embarrassing. I meant to write “write,” not right. Ugh.

    • articulett
      Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      Joshua Slocum, I love your posts, and my brain read it “right”. I, too, mentally flog myself for errors noticed AFTER I press “post comment”. Rest assured, your keen insight and wry ripostes more than make up for the occasional typo. Your brain heard it “right”, but your fingers slyly translated it to “write” as your brain moved on to the next thought. It happens to me all the time, (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an example in this post.)

      ~~~~~~~~~~
      I’m a science teacher and big fan of Dawkins, PZ, and Coyne. I’d like teachers of evolution to have the same freedom not to worry about “creation beliefs” as Astronomers have not to worry about astrology beliefs. When my students bring up the subject, I point out that I think beliefs should be private. There is only one truth regarding how species came to be, and lots of stories on the subject that conflict with each other and the evidence. Science has so far proven to be the only way to find out the truth that is the same everyone. e.g.(see Galileo)

      • Joshua Slocum
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        You’re really kind, articulett, thank you. This is the second time this week I’ve been righteously knocked off my high horse for making dumb grammatical flubs while criticizing someone else.

  9. Posted June 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to side with Brown to THIS limited extent: I once worried about this same argument (yes, Brown is not the first person to think of it … and I doubt that I was either), and I can imagine a sufficiently confused and activist judge worrying about it.

    That said, the legal position is fairly simple. No religion, however large, has a guarantee that its doctrines will always sit well with what mainstream science is discovering about the world. If the science is taught to students neutrally – i.e., without the teacher drawing the inference that it invalidates some religious doctrines (such as YEC claims about the age of the earth) and is difficult to square with others (such as standard kinds of theistic providentialism) – then there’s no legal problem.

    On the contrary, there’s a legal problem if teaching of science in public schools is constrained in order to protect religious positions that incompatible with/difficult to square with the scientific findings. The latter is an attempt, to some degree, to establish religion by state power, and is thus unconstitutional in the US.

    It’s true that science teachers in public schools should not draw inferences, when talking to their students, about whether some scientific findings cast doubt on some religious positions. But is Brown really going to say that NO ONE should draw such inferences in public debate? That would go a long way towards putting philosophers of religion out of business. Does he really think that the whole question is one that should not be debated honestly in the public sphere?

    Does Brown understand how extreme his position is? Maybe he thinks that it should be left to atheistic philosophers of religion to argue against the existence of the Abrahamic God, basing their arguments partly on what we know about the world from science. I.e., mere biologists should shut up about it. I’d disagree – anyone is entitled to put those arguments in the public sphere without necessarily being a paid-up philosopher. But is Brown seriously saying that even paid-up philosophers should engage in self-censorship or intellectual dishonesty?

    Leaving aside concerns about what a confused activist judge might think one day, Brown’s apparent position is so extreme as to defy credulity. I don’t see how the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion could exist at all – at any rate, as an honest intellectual discipline – if we took his advice.

    • Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      The problem is not (nor likely to be) the teaching of evolution or any other science subject per se. The courts have been pretty clear that the primary effect of teaching science is to convey an empiric area of study and any of what one church/state constitutional expert, Kent Greenawalt, has called “spillover effects” on religion do not render such teaching unconstitutional. (The opposite problem, governmental teaching of, say, intelligent design, is actually the more difficult case.)

      What can’t be taught as true by the government is that science disproves religion. Nor can government teach as true any philosophy, such as atheism (or science, if it is just a philosophy or “world view”), that hold that religion in general or particular religious beliefs are false (though it can teach about atheism as one of many different philosophies).

      Creationists have long made the claim that evolutionary theory is just atheism dressed up in scientific terms. Judge Jones addressed this claim in the Kitzmiller case:

      [M]any of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

      To the extent that some of the more, shall we say, vigorous statements of “scientist-atheists” tend to negate that position, there is a potential concern for the effect it may have in future cases. Conversely, to the extent that other scientists and/or scientific organizations say that science neither conflicts with or denies the existence of a divine creator, it reduces those concerns. In short, absent an overwhelming consensus on the issue, it seems unlikely that what goes on in public debates — as opposed to what is actually said in science classes — will decide any court cases.

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 12:32 am | Permalink

        “Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.”

        Strictly speaking, this is correct. There is nothing about evolution, per se, that conflicts with deism.

        However, it does conflict, to a greater or lesser degree, with many specific religious doctrines. Most obviously, it conflicts with the religious doctrine that the earth was created only 6000 years ago. But the theory was never developed for that purpose; it’s just something that it’s hard to avoid noticing (but still not something that a public-school science teacher should be pointing out to students in class). In my view, it also conflicts in various less obvious ways with other religious doctrines (not just Christian ones), but again that’s something to be discussed in a philosophy class, not something to be said by science teachers to their students.

        Of course it’s very different if the science teacher writes a book. What you do in the public domain as a citizen is not the same as what you do as an employee in the workplace.

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        John Pieret: thank you. That seems an extremely reasonable statement of the case. And of course it is not a general argument about what may or may not be said in public, outside state-funded schools or anywhere else. It is a precise and narrowly focussed argument about what may be said in schools. It says that if the courts were to conclude, as many commenters here, and, so far as I know, JC, too, obviously believe — that scientific understanding must, without bad faith or mental illness, lead the understander to atheism — then the creationists would have a strong legal argument against science teaching and evolution in particular. In Pieret’s rather shorter words What can’t be taught as true by the government is that science disproves religion.

        This is a problem for those people, here and elsewhere, who passionately believe that it is or ought to be true that science disproves religion.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 4:49 am | Permalink

        It says that if the courts were to conclude, as many commenters here, and, so far as I know, JC, too, obviously believe — that scientific understanding must, without bad faith or mental illness, lead the understander to atheism…

        This is a dishonest statement, Andrew Brown – no one states this. This is just an obvious ploy to cover up your poor writings.

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 5:33 am | Permalink

        Russell:

        In my view, it also conflicts in various less obvious ways with other religious doctrines (not just Christian ones), but again that’s something to be discussed in a philosophy class, not something to be said by science teachers to their students.

        Precisely. The distinction, as far as our Constitution is concerned, is between the science itself and any larger philosophical conclusions that may (or may not) be drawn from the results of science. It would be nice, though not, I think, crucial to future court cases, if everyone would keep that distinction clear.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        Science does not imply that one must choose between evolution and God. Science says the evidence that evolution is a fact is overwhelming. That’s all. God doesn’t get a look in. No design is evident in biology other than the adaptations produced by natural mechanisms, so there is no scientific justification for infering intelligent design of any kind. To introduce God into nature’s proceedings requires predetermined faith. God is a metaphysical add-on, unjustified by the evidence which demonstrates evolution to be a fact.

        From the point of view of the science of evolution, without recourse to any other considerations, there is no need to suppose that God may exist. However, real life is composed of a lot more than just the evidence for evolution – vast as that is. In fact, from the point of view of science in general there is no need to suppose that God may exist. There is no need to suppose that, but there is a need to suppose that God and the supernatural in general may not exist. It is possible that the supernatural may not exist though science can never prove this; nor can science ever perform any test that could confirm that the supernatural does exist.

        Science must assume, therefore, even if the supernatural exists, that there may be an explanation for questions regarding the phenomena which it studies which does not involve supernatural causes. If this assumption were ever to be wrong, then we would not miss finding a natural explanation for want of trying; whereas we could never have any confidence that a supposed supernatural cause is responsible for a natural phenomenon. The history of science is one way traffic in the direction of natural explanations replacing supernatural beliefs. Supernatural explanations replacing natural beliefs isn’t observed in science.

        There are two ways to go in the face of the scientific evidence for the fact of evolution if one is a Jewish, Christian or Islamic believer in God as the creator of the forms of life. One can deny what science says is true or choose to believe that evolution is God’s method of creating different forms of life. Evolution is visible to the eyes of science; God is visible to the eyes of faith. Is evolution therefore scientifically compatible with theism? No, it is not. Science never entertains more hypotheses than are necessary to explain the facts. God is also supernatural. Science does not entertain supernatural hypotheses.

        Is atheism compatible with evolution? Atheism does not add any unnecessary hypotheses to the minimum required to explain the existence of life’s variety of forms. So yes, atheism is compatible with but does not depend on evolution. Atheists existed long before Darwin was born. Evolution is consistent with but is not necessary for atheism. Evolution removes the argument from design in biology but does not prove that God does not exist.

        It would be fatuous to claim that evolution has no bearing on religious faith, but it would also be fatuous to argue that it is necessarily atheistic.

      • Matti K
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Brown

        “It says that if the courts were to conclude, as many commenters here, and, so far as I know, JC, too, obviously believe — that scientific understanding must, without bad faith or mental illness, lead the understander to atheism — then the creationists would have a strong legal argument against science teaching and evolution in particular.”

        Are you serious? Do you really think that sometimes in the future teaching scientific facts in public schools may become unconstitutional in USA?

        And that would be the fault of outspoken “new atheists”?

  10. Michael Kingsford Gr
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Once again, an apologist* places political outcomes over truth.

    Q: What are they apologizing for?
    A: Allowing dangerous infantile delusions to flourish.

    It is as if a physician claims that we must NOT try to ‘cure’ those who have been infected with a hazardous bacterial infection, because drug companies make short-term profit from selling anti-biotics.

  11. GM
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Suppose that his argument is true and that if indeed science requires atheism (which I agree with) is true, then it becomes unconstitutional to teach it because it would be defamation of religion. Why is he (and almost everybody else) failing to see that if that’s the case, there is something wrong with the law and not the position of atheists. The fact is that the rules of proper reasoning are such that no religion can be viewed as anything else than nonsense if they are to be followed.

    In other word, change the law if the law is bad, don’t promote nonsense because of a bad law. I know the counter-argument is that the way the law is right now is the reason why evolution is still being taught, but I don’t see no reason to worry if it is changed from prohibition of official promotion and defamation of religion to prohibition of promotion only. Promotion is what we’re getting in massive quantities anyway.

    • Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      In other word, change the law if the law is bad, don’t promote nonsense because of a bad law.

      As a practical matter (scientists are practical, right?), it is not possible to get 3/4 of the states to agree to remove one of our most cherished freedoms from the Constitution. Nor do I think it would be wise. It is that same freedom of conscience that, ultimately, protects the rights of atheists against legal discrimination by the majority.

      • GM
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        I never said it can happen in practice, I know very well what world we live in.

        All I said is that if a law is so absurd that it it prohibits certain obvious truths (such as the fact that religion is nonsense, at least in the way it is understood by everybody who really practices it) from being openly discussed in schools, then we should not be arguing how to accommodate these truths to fit a bad law.

        Scientific facts are independent from human laws, which are merely social constructs and if the latter contradict science, then they should be changed.

        Again, it can’t happen in a society such as ours, but that’s what we should be actively working to fix.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      This line of posting is absurd. The law does not allow ‘defamation’ of anything. Look up the meaning of defamation.

      Science does NOT require atheism. Again, look up the definition of atheism. It is the lack of belief.

      John Pieret: NO ONE is proposing to change the constitution to get rid of the first amendment.

      • GM
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        1. Where did I say that the the law allows “defamation”?

        2. Science may not require atheism in the absolute sense (God is a non-falsifiable hypothesis after all), but everybody who believes in a God is doing very bad science, which means that for all practical purposes, it does.

        3. I do not suggest getting rid of the First Amendment, I suggest changing is to that schools are allowed to say that religion is nonsense. I was responding to the argument that because of the First Amendment and if science leads to atheism, then science is unconstitutional, and explaining how this should mean that there is something wrong with the constitution, not with the science.

        People are treating the constitution as if it were handed to us by God…

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        I do not suggest getting rid of the First Amendment, I suggest changing is to that schools are allowed to say that religion is nonsense..

        Um … you propose to “allow” the government to use taxpayer money to teach that religion is nonsense against the will of most of those taxpayers (as you admit is the case) but you don’t think you have to get rid of at least the free exercise and establishment clauses from the Constitution?

        I do not think the Constitution means what you think it does.

  12. articulett
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Science also conflicts with Scientology beliefs that the universe is more than 60 trillion years old. Must we walk on egg shells for them too?

  13. Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    “that scientific understanding must, without bad faith or mental illness, lead the understander to atheism ”

    I think it’s more likely to lead the understander to asking those questions that may lead to free thinking. It may not lead to atheism and it’s highly individual. I think that would fall outside the scope of the classroom. Education is supposed to create questions as it answers them. I think it’s a somewhat hysterical claim and I’d love to see the case being brought before the courts that teaching evolution leads to atheism and is therefore anti-religious.

  14. Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    I honestly don’t get why religion has to come into play at all in schools. Isn’t all secular knowledge inherently atheistic? I mean that when one teaches science or history – they teach from naturalistic perspective and don’t invoke religion at all. It seems to me is if we take this extreme view, then most knowledge in public schools is at a risk purely by the virtue of never invoking a supernatural entity and is thus as atheistic as evolution or heliocentric orbit or germ theory…

    I mean, who are we to say that germs cause disease as opposed to it being demons? It’s atheist and therefore a violation of the separation of church and state.

    What I always wonder is why there’s so much focus put on the words of the likes of Coyne or Dawkins about atheistic leanings when the people who reject evolution more often than not are those who are in fundamentalist communities and only hear of the “new atheists” in an attempt to discredit evolution? Why are we spending so much effort debating accomodationism when most of the people who reject evolution wouldn’t have even read the likes of Dawkins? It seems misplaced blame, much like blaming Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses for the reaction it caused.

  15. Posted June 21, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    “What can’t be taught as true by the government is that science disproves religion.”

    The thing is – EVERYBODY agrees with this (in its proper context, etc.). But Jerry would be completely entitled to argue that science disproves religion, or certain specific religious doctrines, on his website or in his publications. He is not the government.

    Individual citizens can argue whatever they want about the relationship between science and religion. They can argue that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory somehow proves some sort of idealist theism. They can that quantum theory supports Buddhism. They can argue that the so-called fine-tuning of the physical constants proves the existence of a cosmic designer. They can argue that evolution is incompatible with certain traditional conceptions of God and the soul. They can argue that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria that can never conflict (or support each other). All sorts of things can be argued, legitimately, in the public domain. Some are more plausible than others, and I’ve been open about which ones I think are which. However, anyone who wants can disagree with me about that: all these positions are available to be argued.

    The point is that, first, none of these positions should be taught as fact in science classes in public schools. Second, for different reasons, official science bodies should not promote some of these philosophical ideas at the expense of others.

    Those of us who do see incompatibilities between various scientific findings and various religious doctrines are quite entitled to argue our case in the public sphere. I still have no idea why people such as Mooney are criticising us for doing that, as opposed to disagreeing with us and putting substantive arguments for contrary positions.

    Well, I do have some idea. Mooney thinks it would be politically expedient for us to censor ourselves. But we’ve been over that issue ad nauseam.

    Andrew Brown seems to be trying to say something in addition, but if it only comes down to the quote at the top of this comment, it is something that all the “non-accommodationists” actually agree with. If he thinks it’s a point AGAINST our position, his reasoning is very confused.

  16. Hedgefundguy
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Brown is swimming in the deep end of the pool when it comes to legal matters. He should stick to the kiddie pool. U.S. courts have never ruled that “it’s every bit as illegal to promote atheism in American public schools.” They also have never ruled that atheism or secular humanism are “religions,” which they are not, regardless of the historical revisionists that claim that court dicta has precedential value.

  17. Bryn
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    So, instead of teaching chemistry, we’d have alchemy and astrology instead of astronomy since those are “faith-based” and wouldn’t invoke the evil of atheism? If so, medical schools had best be teaching that leprosy is cured by killing birds and lambs (Lev. 14:2-52)alongside of modern medicine. They wouldn’t want to be accused of “promote(-ing) atheism.”

  18. Aquaria
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    What part of individual rights of private citizens to free speech does Brown not understand?

    Coyne or PZ as scientists promoting atheism on a blog, a speech, at a bar or at home is in no way the concern of the government.

    If they tried to teach science=atheism in a public school, it would be a different story. That’s not what they’re doing, so he’s getting upset about nothing.

    I.E.–Brown is a moron.

  19. Posted June 21, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Jerry (and GM),

    The argument is not that teaching evolution might be ruled unconstitutional because it defames religion. The argument is that if evolution were explicitly and ineluctably linked to atheism in American public schools, it would amount to the promotion of a philosophy, not the teaching of science. It’s always possible that the SCOTUS could let it slide, but I wouldn’t put much money on it.

    Atheism is a metaphysical stance. It doesn’t matter if it is true or not, for constitutional purposes. The establishment clause protects American citizens from the government promotion of a metaphysical stance. I think some commenters here might want to ruminate on the historical value of that very innovative amendment before judging it as a mere hindrance.

    NewEnglandBob,

    At least one commenter here, and one prominant science blogger elsewhere (Larry Moran) have in fact suggested that as an ethical matter (if not a pragmatic one) the constitution should be changed to allow promotion in public schools of a scientific world view.

  20. Posted June 21, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Great post! You are 100% correct. The Templeton stunt should never be pulled by those who call themselves scientists. That’s why it was particularly galling several years ago when the leadership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science resorted to that tactic at Wichita during the heat of the battle for teaching evolution (see http://scientificphilosophy.com/letters.html). Science and theism use opposing assumptions. One either assumes CONSERVATION (Matter and the motion of matter neither can be created nor destroyed) or its opposite, creation. Religious folks love creation partly because of its glorious promises for an imagined afterlife. Scientists, having to deal with the real world, need CONSERVATION and the theory of evolution in order to understand it, to predict it, and to manipulate it.
    The evolutionary purpose of religion is to instill and enforce loyalty, making belief in creation the modern test of allegiance. That purpose is directly threatened by education of any sort, as you and many others have pointed out. The struggle continues indefinitely because neither science nor religion can prove its assumptions beyond all doubt. As scientists and determinists, we assume that there are causes for all effects. Because we can never discover the causes for every effect, we never can have complete proof of that assumption, just as we can never prove evolutionary theory beyond all doubt. But what your approach does so well is to buttress this belief by tying evolution to atheism. It makes all evolutionists stronger, giving us the strength to carry on in the face of loyalty tests we surely must fail. You may not convince more than a few religionists to give up the faith, but you have convinced the rest of us that the cause of truth is worth the sacrifice. Thanks so much for all your work in writing the book.

  21. Notagod
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Have the accommodationists presented or given any thought to the need then to adjust the scientific method to accommodate accommodation?

    To be fair to the children then, so that they can know that accommodationism is really an integral part of science, shouldn’t the scientific method include a statement such as; any analysis that is made should be changed to accommodate the views of those that lack evidence to support their views.

    How are the accommodationists proposing to teach children that accommodationism is a core principle of science? Are they intending to leave it to the children to work out on their own why the scientific method isn’t accommodating?

    Additionally, what the accommotationist may or may not realize (depending on what their real intentions are) is that their proposal, if allowed to stand, will simply become a new base for the next line of accommodationist thought. In other words, the fuzzy thought will be the basis for fuzzier thought.

    I think the accommodationists should think about the impact their proposals will have on the children. They shouldn’t be taught that unscientific methods are intended to be a part of science.

  22. Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Sorry. The correct link to that AAAS letter is: http://www.scientificphilosophy.com/letters.html

    I just learned not to punctuate links. Another evolutionary step…

  23. Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    “The establishment clause protects American citizens from the government promotion of a metaphysical stance.”

    No it doesn’t. The establishment clause doesn’t say a word about a metaphysical stance.

  24. Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    “What Brown is really saying is that we should be worried about promoting rational values of any type, or any notion that beliefs require evidence. He doesn’t seem to realize the difference between cramming atheism down people’s throats and teaching them to think, which may have the ancillary effect of eroding faith.”

    Money quote.

  25. Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia,

    Please clarify. Are you saying that you don’t consider a religion to constitute a metaphysical stance?

  26. Screechy Monkey
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “If the courts were asked to decide whether not whether ID was a religious doctrine, but whether evolution was a necessarily atheist one, and if they decided that Jerry Coyne and PZ and Dawkins and all the rest are right, then science teaching would become unconstitutional in American public schools.”

    This is absurd. While I have no doubt that there are many judges, and a sizeable number of citizens, who would love to make the teaching of EVOLUTION unconstitutional, there is essentially zero support for making ALL science teaching unconstitutional.

    That’s why the creationist movement has tried to cloak itself in the garb of science, and relies the “teach both sides of the controversy” meme.

    Could some judge pretend to use the “incompatability argument” to ban science teaching? I suppose there’s a few lunatics out there. That’s why god made appellate courts. (Ooops, that was people again!)

    And more importantly, such a person will seize upon ANYTHING to implement his agenda. If you propose to refrain from saying anything that creationists will distort or quote-mine, then you might as well have your vocal chords amputated.

  27. Posted June 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia,

    Let me rephrase my point, since it’s true that there’s no overt constitutional prohibition on government sponsorship of a philosophy (like naturalism). On this matter the constitution is inherently “accomodationist” (a word used in legal scholarship.) The establishment clause doesn’t just prohibit establishment of a national religion, it also has a secondary function of protecting negative establishment. Just as a school board cannot promote the view that (for example) Christianity is true or valid, it cannot promote the view that it is false or invalid. This is what Corbett violated in the Farnan case: “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

    I happen to agree that “creationism is superstitious nonsense,” but this statement goes beyond a denial of specific creationist claims to denigrate — that is, negatively establish — a protected system of belief. On matters of metaphysical disposition, public science instruction in the US must, constitutionally, remain silent. It is a restriction of speech, but a meaningful and important one.

    • GM
      Posted June 21, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      1. I want you to explain to me why is it a useful restriction if it protects dangerous superstitions from ever being properly attacked? After all, do we aim for the elimination of religion from public life or not? If we do, then how is protecting it from open attacks going to do the trick?

      2. I will repeat myself, but why do people, even smart ones, hold the constitution in such a reverence? If it doesn’t work (and it obviously doesn’t in this case), then fix it. Not that such a conclusion is ever going to be implemented in real life, but at least be brave enough to follow the logical chain to its end, i.e. that if A) religion is nonsense, and B) religion is harmful then C) we should get rid of it, but D) the law prevents us from ever being able to do it, then the only way to fix things is to change the law.

      This is not an issue of science education, it is an issue of how we fundamentally view the world around us, and this is what has to change, and our system of laws has to change with it too

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        …if it protects dangerous superstitions from ever being properly attacked?

        It ONLY forbids the government from passing laws to affect that. Anyone else can attack away at will.

        Your #2 is just wrong. You can not be mind police in a democracy.

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        GM,

        You are confusing your categories. The creationist beliefs of the plaintiff in the Farnan case were not publicly expressed. The anti-creationist beliefs of the teacher were, under the aegis of a state institution (Orange County public school).

        You may have an ethical injunction that says it is proper to attack “dangerous superstition” and I would not try to abrogate your legal constitutional exercise of that attack. But a state actor, such as a public school teacher, is bound by the First Amendment not to make such attacks.

        Laws protect everyone equally, not just our allies. Criminals have the same right to due process as the innocent, and superstitious people have the same right not to have their beliefs invalidated by an agent of the state as non-superstitious people.

        If a high school teacher condemned atheism or secular humanism as baleful and dangerous, wouldn’t you want lawful recourse against him or her? Cleaving to a single standard for all citizens (balanced against other pertinent rights and duties) is the heart of the concept of universal rights. Which part of that would you like to change?

    • Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Chris,

      The rephrasing is basically what I was urging. I think the shorthand versions are misleading and that they’re often being used in these discussions in a bullying way. I think sometimes they are used to smuggle in more certainty (about possible future rulings for instance) than is justified.

      • Posted June 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        As a practical matter, the cases have (as far as I can tell) all dealt with the attempt going in the other direction: government trying to force a religious position on everyone rather than to force atheism or other philosophical position on anyone. In the US, no government is likely to take the side of atheism. But we certainly have statements by the Supreme Court to the issue of government imposing a philosophy in opposition to religion, including the one cited, in part, by Brown:

        [T]he State may not establish a “religion of secularism” in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus “preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe .” School Dist. of Abington Tp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)

        There is also the widely cited case of Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952)

        The concept of a “wall” of separation between church and state is a useful metaphor but is not an accurate description of the practical aspects of the relationship that in fact exists. The Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.

        The simple fact is that there is considerable court authority for the proposition that government cannot take a stance, whether you call it philosophy or metaphysics or whatever, that is hostile to religion. Clearly, asserting that a philosophy that holds that religion is false or unjustified belief is true is hostile to religion. Do you have any reason to question that evidence of how the courts are likely to rule or are you just stating an unevidenced belief?

  28. Gingerbaker
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Russell Blackford said:

    “What can’t be taught as true by the government is that science disproves religion.”

    The thing is – EVERYBODY agrees with this (in its proper context, etc.).

    I think that you are correct to say this, if for no other reason that science can not disprove religion, nor would it try to do so, especially as a governmental agency.

    But in my readings about evolution, it appears to be something about the inheritance traits in populations of organisms, not so much about theology. I’m pretty sure that less than half of the pages of even The Origin make reference to the natural selection of Saints or Demons. I have a feeling that any offense taken by religious busybodies would be their own lookout, because evolution makes no claims or predictions about anyone’s lack of belief in gods.

    What science is really about is trying to generate reliable evidence about the world and how it works. And it is here that science does have something to contribute to the issues of the veracity or likelihood of religious claims.

    Scientific organizations, when asked about what science has to say about astrology, for instance, really should not reply by speaking about the color of makeup that a woman born in Cancer should wear to attract a Virgo.

    Correspondingly, when asked about the relationship of science to religion, a scientific organization has no business talking about metaphysical theology. What science properly has to say about religion is… science.

    It should be talking about the most reliable evidence for the historicity of Jesus Christ, Moses, and Muhammad. It has something to say about its ability to measure the human soul, or to detect the influence or presence of gods, angels, demons, heaven or hell. It very definitely has something to add to the discussion about the efficacy of prayer, or the veracity of miracles.

    Why are we not hearing any of these valuable contributions about the nature of religious claims when scientific organizations are specifically asked to say what science has to say about religion? Why are scientific organizations talking about philosophy and not ever mentioning what science knows about – evidence?

  29. Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Russell Blackford said: Most obviously, it (evolution) conflicts with the religious doctrine that the earth was created only 6000 years ago. But the theory was never developed for that purpose; “Actually, that is not true. When James Hutton wrote his Theory of the Earth in 1795, he did so in order to challenge the prevailing beliefs of his day that the earth was less than 10,000 years old, and the rock layers were formed by a great flood. He wanted to give an alternative possibility.
    Charles Lyell wrote that his goal was: “to free the science of Moses.” Both clearly had an agenda.
    I love science. I love studying the eye, learning what it is, and how to treat it for disease. But when someone tries to tell me how we got an eye, that is speculative at best, and historical in nature. It should not be allowed to be considered observable, empirical, experimental science. True science, geology, astronomy, biology, etc. never destroys faith or religion.
    Evolution never is, or ever has been, strickly a scientific choice. It is for the most part a philosophical choice. Most are just not honest enough to admit it. Their philosophical worldview will not allow them to.
    Contrary to what Leigh Jackson states: Science does not say the evidence that evolution is a fact is overwhelming. That would be atheist-scientists making those claims.
    Fossils have to be interpreted. The fact that some creatures were buried on top of some other creatures does not prove relationship. It only proves they were buried on top of them.
    If Leigh was buried on top of a hamster, that wouldn’t prove it was his grandfather. Well, maybe to some “scientists” it would. In 1979 a piece of bone discovered in Northern Africa was said to be the clavicle of an apelike creature that was evolving into a man, and that it possibly walked upright like humans. It was later proven to be the rib bone from a Pacific white-sided dolphin! Grandpa?
    As Adolf Hitler said: “If you tell a lie loud enough, and long enough, and often enough, the people will believe it.” That much about the theory of evolution has been proven to be true.

    • Notagod
      Posted June 21, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Arv Edgeworth, it has been a long time since I have seen the evidence for evolution so grossly over simplified by anyone claiming to love science. I’m seen elementary school students do a much better presentation.

  30. Posted June 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Jason Rosenhouse points out some interesting facts about Michael Ruse –

    “In 2004 he edited a book with William Dembski called Debating Design, published by Cambridge University Press. In doing so he effectively cut the legs out from under those fighting school board battles on the ground. It’s pretty hard to argue that the evolution/ID issue is a manufactured debate when Ruse has one of the most prestigious university presses in the world certifying that it is, indeed, a real debate.

    Making matters worse was the fact that the four essays Ruse chose to represent “Darwinism” added up to a very weak case for the good guys. If all I knew about this issue came from that book, I would be an ID proponent.

    More recently Ruse said, in a public debate with Dembski, that the book The Design Inference was a valuable contribution to science. I’m sure this will come as news to the scientific community which, to the extent that they noticed it at all, dismissed the book as worthless.

    When the ID folks were putting together a book in honor of Phillip Johnson, Ruse was happy to contribute an essay to a section entitled “Two Friendly Critics.” The other critic? David Berlinski.”

    So all this stuff about how much damage atheists are doing to the teaching of evolution in schools looks like a smoke screen, or self-deception, or something.

    • GM
      Posted June 22, 2009 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      To everybody that claims that because the law as it is now prohibits teachers from explaining children how nonsensical religion really is, we should never be doing this:

      1) Are you believers yourself or not? If not, then do you think that religion has to go for us to live in a truly civilized society or not? If yes, how are you going to achieve this, if school teachers are not allowed to tell this to kids? Dawkins and P.Z. will never do the job, no matter how good of a job they do, for the simple reason that those 60% of American society we are talking about don’t even know where Britain is, so it is silly to expect from them to know who Dawkins is, much less to actually listen to him or understanding his arguments. The only way for these people to be lifted from the intellectual abyssal they have no chance of escaping on their own is for the state to come and do the job. There is no other way. Now I will hear people saying “But they will not listen”. So what? If they don’t listen, they don’t pass, it is that simple. Then the next argument comes “But it is a violation of their rights if we do so”, which brings me to

      2) We as scientists are proud of our tendency to question everything. Which is why, when we actually do that, we mostly don’t believe in God, are skeptic about astrology, and other generally good things. Part of questioning everything is asking yourself the

  31. articulett
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Arv Edgeworth,

    Your post is incorrect on a number of points. “True Science” often does cast a dubious eye on religious claims (see: Galileo). Science truly defies Scientology’s conjecture about the universe being over 60 trillion years old. And it does the same for YECs. It’s not realities fault that science can’t lend support to inane beliefs. Many things are objectively true for everyone no matter what they believe. For most of human history people presumed the earth was flat because it appeared to be so. It never was. (No holy magic sky daddy thought to correct this misperception by the way.) Science shows us this FACT, and why it is so and gives us a lot more information to boot (such as the fact that the sun isn’t really “rising” every morning–it’s an illusion produced our orbiting earth). If there is a religious belief involving a flat earth, then science would put that belief in doubt. Faith is not a means of knowing anything objectively true.

    And even non-atheist scientists consider evidence of evolution overwhelming (see Miller and Collins). Genomics pretty much seals the deal. I’d say the theory of evolution has fewer gaps and as much validity as the theory of gravity and atomic theory. I don’t know how you define “overwhelming”, but all the intelligent people I know consider these theories to be “overwhelmingly” obvious. (A scientific theory is the best explanation for the observed facts. And the facts just keep piling up…)

    As to how eyes came to be. We can agree that eyes exist and that there is a singular truth to how they came to be whether we know it or not. There are many stories about invisible entities planning and poofing things into existence, however, if we actually want to understand the most likely scenario we follow the empirical evidence. Science is the best (maybe) only method for discovering these types of things. If you really wanted to understand the evolution of the eye you go to people who are zealously interested in the subject not theologians who are very interested in obfuscating understandings that conflict with the faith they are promoting!

    In the same manner, when a child disappears we don’t ponder the possibility of alien abduction, or contact psychics (or rather the rational folks don’t) we contact the experts and follow the evidence if we are truly interested in what happened to the child.

    Science is the only proven method for discovering, validating, and understanding the truth that is the same for everyone no matter what they believe.

    Shame on you for your self aggrandizing apologetic rhetoric. You’ve said nothing and fooled no one.

    • Posted June 21, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Quite so. The remark from Hutton, on its face, simply shows that Hutton wanted to provide an alternative to the geology of the time (and I can think of many good reasons why he’d have wanted to do that). The quote from Lyell is nice, but it hardly shows an anti-religious agenda. In any event, the claim that evolution (along with modern geology) was originally developed with the ulterior purpose of undermining religion or a religious doctrine,and amounts to some sort of atheist conspiracy, is ridiculous. The large numbers of scientists who went over to ideas of deep time in the 19th century and since did so because of the accumulating evidence. 19th century science, on which we’ve built, adopted the new conception of time after giving diluvian geology, with its young earth, the best run that it could.

  32. Terry
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Evolution is the most perfect, and most effective attack on religion. Science is also, and neatly cuts the legs from under religion and the religionists, by definition. The IDists, Creationists, and other wacko mythists see this, and must battle to remove the teaching of evolution from the classroom, or all is lost. That is not an overstatement, all will be lost if all children are taught to think, and reason, and examine every part of their lives, including religion.

    • Posted June 22, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Terry,

      This remark is completely unempirical. You’re aware that Catholicism and the mainline Protestant sects accept evolutionary science in its entirety?

      What you are really trying to argue, I think, is that Naturalism is the most effective attack on religion (this is also unempirical, though it is surely *sometimes* true). Both Coyne’s camp and the Christian fundamentalists agree that science and naturalism are interchangable, which is exactly the problem. If science is *inherently* hostile to religion it is difficult to see how we navigate through all the competing issues of rights and protections. Christians have a constitutional right, whether you like it or not, not to have the state antagonize their religion.

      It may not be a desirable problem, but it’s a real one, and it deserves to be taken more seriously than “fuck the other guys.”

      • articulett
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Science and naturalism are not interchangeable. http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#truescience but empiricism is the best way to understand what is objectively true.

        Merely by referring to the ancient Greeks and their gods, you are discrediting the notion that there is a singular “god”.

  33. Posted June 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    xposted from Brown’s blog (currently in moderation there):

    [Brown] “I do know about the Lemon Test: how could I not? It was by application of the Lemon Test that James Corbett was found to have unconstituionally caled creationism “superstitious nonsense”.”

    OK (and that was the question that led me over here), but we seem to understand it differently. Again, as BB points out, the prong most obviously dragged into play (as it seems to very non-expert layman me) would have to be 2 (1 would be pretty tough to deny, unlike in the Corbett case – however oddly decided – or Kitzmiller, if from the other end, and 3’s just seems very vague in this sort of case). It’s very, very hard to imagine folks putting forward a successful case that science education had the primary effect “of either advancing or inhibiting religion”, as long as the court didn’t have a majority of folks sympathetic to creationism. (And if Scalia did get (or already has) four compatriots on this subject, than it likely doesn’t matter what new atheists do or do not say, as any case likely to make it the SCOTUS will have enough wriggle room for them to ignore precedent and ruin good science education – they might appreciate the assist, perhaps, but it certainly wouldn’t be necessary.)

    The point about the new atheists is that they believe that scientific understanding ought to lead to a position of disbelief.

    Perhaps what’s going on here is semantic ambiguity combined with a version of the is/ought confusion? I don’t think the new atheists believe (at least primarily) that scientific understanding ought to lead (etc.) in the sense that I ought to balance my checkbook, but rather in the sense that a ball dropped off a tower on earth ought to fall to the ground – a natural consequence. An is, in other words, but not at all clearly an intended result – if they’re right, that’s just the way it goes, basically coincidentally (after all, the world could be otherwise, and science could be convincingly said to, just in the nature of things, inexorably lead to a position of at least possible belief (all dates stop at 4004BC, dinos and people and everything else found mixed together in the fossil record, genetics support an orchard rather than tree model, geology finds evidence of a massive and rapid worldwide flood, archaeology finds a very big boat on a certain mountain, linguistics support Babel story, etc., etc.), but that wouldn’t make teaching science unconstitutional under any reasonable reading, don’t you agree?

  34. articulett
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that the only people who have trouble with evolution are people who imagine themselves saved for believing some unbelievable creation story? You have to have a brain seeped in faith to find evolution incredible while at the same time finding the notion of an invisible guy poofing things into existence credible! What lame standard of evidence could possibly be used to reach such a conclusion? (Oh I know– the one that says, “if you believe this story you get to live happily ever after with bonus points if you can get others to believe too!” And for and extra powerful meme infection threaten eternal suffering for loss of faith.-Too bad there are so many conflicting views of unbelievable stories, but it’s a very powerful meme.)

    It’s not the fault of science, that humans have been indoctrinated with these false and manipulative memes. Understanding evolution might give some folks the first crack at finding their way out of the faith miasma. Scientists aren’t the ones claiming to have “special” or “divine” knowledge–just plain old regular evidence that is available to all interested parties. I hope to be a part of that process for others, and I’m thankful to those who were part of that process for me. There’s lots of fascinating truths that we humans have managed to figure out without any sort of divine intervention. For example, you and your pet cat share a common ancestor. How cool is that? Oh, and that common ancestor is the same for me and my cat… and all the ancestors behind that are identical through time. That’s a FACT. It can be mathematically proven. How much more awe inspiring is that then that damn snake in a garden story? And understanding evolution helps people understand how we can KNOW this. Why, it involves the same simple tools we use for paternity testing and DNA forensics. We can also tell approximately when in time this ancestor existed and what it’s general appearance was(70 mya/shrewish). Why have religionist made me feel fearful of sharing this awesome fact with my students? Isn’t this at least as compelling as learning that our sun is just another star?

    I’m thankful to those who helped me understand these facts. I’m also thankful to let go of the idea of eternal souls that can suffer forever for not “believing” the right thing during the brief period we have on earth. What an angst producing idea to inflict on a smart child! There are so many conflicting and manipulative memes regarding this subject, and it’s nice to know that none has no more scientific support than any other. While one might be true, given what we know about human propensity to fool oneself, it’s far more likely that they are all cut from the same invisible cloth (the one used to make the “Emperor’s New Clothes” I suspect.)

    I feel towards all religions like I feel towards Scientology; I recognize that many derive benefit from their beliefs, but I’m not about to coddle such beliefs at the expense of truth, and I want no part of any propaganda that actively encourages magical thinking beyond the childhood years. I want the world to be full of more critical thinkers… not more people certain that they’ve tapped into some divine truth and truly know what some invisible guy in the sky wants them to “believe” and inflict upon the masses. If all religions were as private in their beliefs as they wish the Scientologists would be, then we wouldn’t need to have this silly discussion about how much science teachers need to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting the faithful.

  35. GM
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    To everybody that claims that because the law as it is now prohibits teachers from explaining children how nonsensical religion really is, we should never be doing this:

    1) Are you believers yourself or not? If not, then do you think that religion has to go for us to live in a truly civilized society or not? If yes, how are you going to achieve this, if school teachers are not allowed to tell this to kids? Dawkins and P.Z. will never do the job, no matter how good of a job they do, for the simple reason that those 60% of American society we are talking about don’t even know where Britain is, so it is silly to expect from them to know who Dawkins is, much less to actually listen to him or understanding his arguments. The only way for these people to be lifted from the intellectual abyssal they have no chance of escaping on their own is for the state to come and do the job. There is no other way. Now I will hear people saying “But they will not listen”. So what? If they don’t listen, they don’t pass, it is that simple. Then the next argument comes “But it is a violation of their rights if we do so”, which brings me to

    2) We as scientists are proud of our tendency to question everything. Which is why, when we actually do that, we mostly don’t believe in God, are skeptic about astrology, and other generally good things. Part of questioning everything is asking yourself the question how we believe what we believe. When this is done on human rights as we understand them and in particular, that section of them concerning religion, we see that the main reasons why we have an establishment clause are two: first, nobody at the time was sufficiently enlightened to reject religion altogether, and second, the memories of religious wars in Europe were still fresh in people’s minds and nobody wanted this to happen again. None of these conditions really holds anymore, but because most people have been conditioned when they were very young that the Consitutition and the principles of Western democracy are something sacred, they can’t question their validity and usefulness. A bad law is a law that has to be changed, not something that’s sacred just because it is a law. After all, the United States is a very dysfunctional society and this fact alone should tell you that something isn’t quite right with the way it is set up as a country.

    3) Having said that, the main reason why I think that the state should actively promote against the major religions is that by doing this it is not only not violating anyone’s rights, but it is in fact reversing the greatest violation of human rights in history.

    First, the minor offence: last time I checked, everybody has the right to education, and not just any education, but good education. Since religion is pretty much the biggest delusion known to man, it is well known to impede the further intellectual development of people, and also its consequences (as I will discuss in further detail below) are much more deeply reaching than that, the argument can be very convincingly made that by not telling kids that religion is nonsense, we are depriving them of their right of education. Coming from the other side, we can also not allow kids to be indoctrinated into religion, for similar reasons, but because of the influence of families, this will never happen without active state intervention. Therefore, active state intervention is needed. Note that I am not advocating teaching atheism, this would not be good science, what I am advocating is that pretty much every religion ever practice in the world is in contradiction with science, and because of the difference in how confident we can be in science compared to how confident we can be in something that has survived by way of early childhood indocrtination into unquestioned dogma, the only reasonable conclusion is that religion is nonsense. This can be done in a mandatory History and Philosophy of Religion class or something like that.

    Second, the major offence. The really serious problem with religion isn’t whether we teach evolution in the Bible belt or not, it is the way we view ourselves and our place in the world, and how religion influences that. In other words, the difference between realizing that primates are just one tiny twig in the great tree/web of life and they are by no means special, versus the idea that man is special because it is the result of divine creation. In order for a civilization to not self-destruct it must fully understand where it fits in that picture, and for that to happen, people need to be, to quote Garrett Hardin, not only literate and numerate, but also ecolate. This can never happen if they believe that the great bearded man in the sky will bail them out if things go really bad, because, you know, they are special, or even worse, that there is no point caring about the environment because the Second Coming is near anyway.

    Does anyone honestly think that it would not be easier to actually do something about Global Warming in a atheistic society than it is in the current religious one (I am not saying that an atheistic society would do enough, but it would certainly have a much better chance to actually listen to the science)? And GW is just a part of the global sustainability crisis, and all of its parts can be directly traced to some form of religious superstition that has shaped our thinking and attitude so that we act the way we do.

    In other words, because we live in a society that has decided that people have the right to believe any kind of nonsense (including some very dangerous nonsense), the much more fundamental right to life (plus a number of others) is being (or, more accurately, will be in the not so distant future) denied to most, including those who did not believe in any nonsense.

    I am not blaming it all on religion, I actually think that the roots of religion and our predatory attitude towards the ecosystem can be ultimately found in the same cognitive and behavioral imperfections of Homo sapiens, but getting rid of religion is the first step to towards fixing things.

    4) The whole “mind police” argument/fallacy is totally irrelevant. We already are teaching kids so many things that can be considered indoctrination, that I don’t see how teaching them not to believe in the Christian God is any different. I can understand how one can think so though, if he himself has been indoctrinated into thinking that religion is privileged and can never be a subject of attack, just because, well, just because it’s been this way since anyone can remember…

    Of course, nothing of what I advocate will ever happen, I am just telling it the way it should be, because at this point is too late to do anything anyway. The whole accomodationism vs non-accommodationism debate doesn’t really matter, because we all know (or should know) that the momentum of ignorance is so big (and rising with probably every 240,000 out 250,000 children being born every day) that nothing will ever change.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 22, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      GM, your arguments are twisted and specious. You most certainly advocate mind police for nonsense reasons. I chuckled over your so-called arguments you start out each time with a reasonable premise and then take it to outrageous extremes. No one here wants your fascist state.

      • GM
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Instead of simply asserting that they are twisted why not tell us why you think they are twisted?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Because you give no valid arguments, just your opinions of what is 1. a civil society, 2. a good or bad law, 3. your tyrannical, fascist solution, 4. what is education vs indoctrination. I doubt you can get two other people here to agree with even one of your bizarre opinions which is why “Of course, nothing of what I advocate will ever happen…”

      • GM
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        I think that my reasoning is quite logical, the difference between me and you is that I am willing to question the social norms into which each of us has been indoctrinated and which, if one thinks about it, really do us no good. When you do this, you can see that the religion debate goes much deeper than what is usually discussed, with certain logical consequences regarding what’s the best way to approach the problem.

        I don’t see why anyone would call what I propose “a fascist state”. If anything, you have been living in a practically fascists police state all your life, you just don’t realize it.

        And I do not advocate mind police, I simply advocate telling kids that religion is bad and false and explaining them that the only reason why people still take it serious is the chain of indoctrination going back to the cavemen days. I don’t see the difference between doing this and teaching kids not to take drugs, that Nazism was bad, etc, things we can all mostly agree with.

        Again, are you an atheist or not and if you are, do you want a free from religion society and if yes, how do you propose to achieve this?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        You can claim logical reasoning but that does not make it so. Of course those who propose their form of tyrannical dogma do not see “why anyone would call what I propose a fascist state”. Your last paragraph of a series of questions is juvenile, just like the other time you used this silly tactic. I await anyone else here to defend your illogical thoughts.

      • GM
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        You didn’t answer my question

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Because your questions are childish. I am not the one who put outlandish proposals on the table. I do not have to play your games because you want it. I still await someone else to agree with you.

      • GM
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Why is it a childish question? It is quite clearly asked and requires two binary answers plus a short summary of what you suggest in its third part. And it is definitely not a game.

        I very much hate it when people are unwilling to express their honest opinions. Of course, those tend to be the same people who will cry out “You’re a fascist” in the face of anyone who does not conform to their model of behavior.

        I have to say I find this very hypocritical and annoying

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I expressed my honest opinion – your proposals are tyrannical nonsense. Exposing your verbose diarrhea is enough.

        Still waiting for someone to agree with you.

        Still not listening to your temper tantrums.

      • GM
        Posted June 22, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        …and still evading the question…

  36. Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is probably the worst subject for destroying religion. I sure hope it doesn’t become outlawed by some idiot judge who supposes that teaching it is “teaching atheism,” simply because it tells us how to think through bogus ideas.

    In fact, that’s one thing that seems so desperate about ID, the fact that it would fail utterly under any philosophical analysis (and scientific analysis by extension), even if evolution were shown to explain nothing, and to be inconsistent with reality.

    That’s why the IDiots fight the philosophy behind the science (they’re too stupid not to know that “naturalism” and “materialism” aren’t it), because they know that they can’t win according to the normal epistemological/epistemic standards. Unfortunately for them, though, it is the science that shows that the philosophy is sound. Thus they must rubbish both science and the philosophy upon which it rests.

    In one sense, they’re completely wrong that scientific philosophy is atheistic. They are right, though, in recognizing that in this universe, without any tangible miracles or what-not being observed, the philosophy plus the evidence do push us toward the rejection of magical claims.

    Inconsistently, they’re generally pleased with that when other religions are excluded from being called “science,” by not when their own religion is treated equally with the others.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  37. crowepps
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Christianity at least does seem to require the acceptance of at least one miracle as the most important thing that ever happened in the universe and it’s certainly reasonable for a scientist to reject this. In any case, it’s all part of a much bigger myth, which does far more than science can to explain the world

    But it does NOT explain the world. Instead it focuses entirely on human concerns: assurance of survival of the individual after biological death and making things ‘fair’ by seeing to it that those who had an easier/’immoral’ life are disadvantaged later. Soothing fear of mortality, assuaging envy and stoking self-righteousness don’t “explain the world”.

  38. JohnC
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Jerry mentions “statistics show that the more education one has, the less likely one is to be religious”. Does anyone have a reference for this study? I would like to read it.
    Thanks.


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