Michael Shermer, theologian

It always amuses me when an accommodationist tells the faithful that no, there is no conflict between science and religion, at least not if they stopped believing in just those things that cause a conflict.  In a Darwin-anniversary piece on CNN, Michael Shermer comes out as an accommodationist, and more:  he suggests that people really should modify their beliefs if they conflict with science:

All of these fears are baseless. If one is a theist, it should not matter when God made the universe — 10,000 years ago or 10 billion years ago. The difference of six zeros is meaningless to an omniscient and omnipotent being, and the glory of divine creation cries out for praise regardless of when it happened.

Likewise, it should not matter how God created life, whether it was through a miraculous spoken word or through the natural forces of the universe that He created. The grandeur of God’s works commands awe regardless of what processes He used.

Who is Shermer, I suggest, to tell people what beliefs should or should not “matter” to them?  Try telling this to a fundamentalist Christian or a devout Muslim.  To these folks, scripture is scripture, and it matters that it is true.  If, as recent work suggests, prayer doesn’t work, should Shermer tell the faithful that it doesn’t matter whether or not they pray?

This piece disappointed me, as I’ve long admired Shermer’s writings, and applauded loudly when he went after Bill Maher’s anti-vaccination stance.  But lately he’s been assuming the faitheist mantle more and more often (could it be because of Templeton sponsorship?).

It would be lovely if Shermer would admit that, in the real world, the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism.

115 Comments

  1. Karel de Pauw
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Amen! And isn’t it particularly galling to believers if such ‘reassurances’ come from someone like Shermer who does not share their beliefs?

  2. Paul Claessen
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Probably like MANY people, I was astonished by that CNN piece by – was it really? – Michael Shermer.

    “The grandeur of God’s works commands awe regardless of what processes He used” … are NOT the words (capitals and all) of an admitted atheist!

    Is Mr. Shermer falling back in his previous ‘belief in weird things’?

    • kaizen
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      It was a bit suprising to me too, but I see what he is trying to do.

      It seems to me that he’s willing to suggest it, not necessarily as his own sentiment, in order to invite theists to consider what he is saying, rather than dismiss it as they likely would a brash, agressive atheist statement.

      Apparently he’s more concerned with people accepting evolution than attacking religion, at least for the time being.

      In his own words, “Sometimes religion is the problem, but usually it is something else—local political battles, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, poverty, etc. Don’t forget the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity. Pick your battles carefully and choose your strategy wisely.”

      http://trueslant.com/michaelshermer/2009/11/27/realist-not-%E2%80%9Caccommodationist%E2%80%9D-what-is-the-%E2%80%9Cright-way%E2%80%9D-to-respond-to-theists/

  3. Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    What if it’s not how it looks?

    What if he’s really saying, “If you truly believe in God, you shouldn’t feel so scared of what science discovers?”

    I don’t know. I think we may be rushing to conclusions on this. I’d like to see what Michael has to say

    • Paul Claessen
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      If that’s what he MEANT to say, he should have said just that (and could have stopped that sentence after “shouldn’t”.. as far as I’m concerned.

      Invoking God and His creation infers His existence. That’s a weird thing to do for an atheist.

      • Cathy Sander
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        That’s at most a form of psychological magic: invoking some words concerning X makes X happen. This is not confined to believers…non-believers have this problem too [e.g. the desire to hurt someone by swearing on them].

  4. Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Like me, Shermer is a former fundie, although he left religion much faster than I did.

    I don’t know what he’s on about here. Previously his writings on religion made a lot of sense — e.g., keep faith completely separate from science if you want “faith” to survive.

    • GFA
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      If that is so, he is saying the same thing here – “adjust your faith so it does not conflict with science”. So at least he is neing consistent.

  5. Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I share the concern here, nor agree with your interpretation.

    In the broader context of the article it reads to me like he’s specifically addressing believers, and trying to express that it shouldn’t be so important to them to adhere to literal biblical accounts of time and creation, as opposed to what we now know to be true. Neither understanding is intrinsically threatening to a belief in a god, UNLESS you insist on being a biblical literalist.

  6. Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I think the issue with religion is not so much the belief in god or gods, but the belief in an afterlife/immortal soul. It puts a very different perspective on one’s behaviour in this world if one is viewing it only as preparation for the next.

    • Cathy Sander
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      I find this the ultimate problem with religious belief and practice: the refusal to deal with our mortality with adult grace, and thus to dismiss it away. Unfortunately, this reinforces the mortality fear further…unless the beliefs are so strong that the victim is held captive by them and can’t escape.

  7. Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I’m with Alessa on this one. I took Shermer’s words as, “IF you absolutely MUST believe in a God, do you really think he cares if you think the world is 10,000 or 10 billion years ago? You may as well go with science because at least there’s evidence of that.”

  8. newenglandbob
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Michael Shermer comes out as an accommodationist…

    Shermer has been an accommodationist for years.

    In “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design” published in July 2007, he took an accommodationist stand. As Publisher’s Weekly said at the time:

    “Shermer … how a wealth of scientific data from varied fields support evolution, and why religion and science need not be in conflict. Science and religion are two distinct realms, he argues: the natural and supernatural, respectively, and he cites Pope John Paul II in support of their possible coexistence.”

    • articulett
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I’m always seen him as sort of an accomodationist/apologist for religion.

      He accepted Templeton prize money and I’ve heard him defend them on one of the Beyond Belief videos.

      I’ve always thought Shermer was a little “wimpy”; I prefer atheists who don’t defer to religion –those who treat it the way they’d treat any other superstition.

  9. Somite
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I am becoming more and more disenchanted with non-scientist atheist writers. Maher, Shermer, Hitchens and Penn Gillete all have weird ideas besides their atheism. It is possible it is harder for non-scientist to carry observation and logic to their ultimate conclusion. Or maybe it is just a general anti-establishment tendency.

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Somite:

      Oh, please. Outside of thier specific disciplines, the scientifically trained do not have special access to right conclusions about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or aesthetics. Get a grip. All humans are capable of running their syllogisms and reason into ditches and reductio ad absurdums. The eugenicist Ernst Haekle is just one example: he thought he was bringing evolutionary biology to its logical conclusion, and he was wrong, right?

      Right?

      —Santi

      • Cathy Sander
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        That’s true…until we realise there’s no time machine for us to re-witness the mistakes of centuries past. Everyone has mental shortcuts, and it’s bound to get us into trouble even if we are Renaissance people, who practice and know a wide variety of crafts and sciences. Philosophy, comprising of “metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, [and] aesthetics” is everyone’s game, because it is easy to begin…but not everyone can be a researcher, because it is hard.

        So the question is: Why aren’t scientists as people, let alone any other profession, not entitled to talk about “metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or aesthetics”?

        [By the way, citing Ernst Haekle as an example of scientists going to the wrong conclusion is assuming too much about what scientists, by themselves in the profession, do. Not every researcher will make such claims.]

    • articulett
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Coincidentally (or maybe not, all of those men are Libertarians, I believe. Perhaps that biases their scientific conclusions, somewhat.

  10. Norm
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I agree with Alessa @3.
    I think what he’s arguing for is that if anything, the religious ought to be accommodationists with respect to science, not that scientists should be accommodationists towards religion. I doubt that his argument would have any impact on a fundamentalist however.

  11. santitafarella
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Perhaps if Shermer had used the word “need” as opposed to “should”, it would not raise Coyne’s ire? (As in, “It need not logically matter when God made the world”). Strictly speaking, theism, evolution, and a great age for the Earth are not logically incompatible.

    Of course, evolution and an old Earth are logically incompatible with a literalist reading of the Bible, but the literalist reading is, in any case, blatantly false. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, gives clear structural markers of being written as poetry. Specifically, it is written in poetic parallelism (the 1st day corresponds to the 4th day, the 2nd day to the 5th, the 3rd day to the 6th). What we are reading is a poet laying out the world’s stage (on days 1, 2, and 3) and the things that move (the “actors” on days 4, 5, and 6). To put it in Shakespearean terms, Genesis 1 is a poetic expression of “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women players.” And in this profound sense, Genesis 1 is a reflection of this truth.

    What Shermer is trying to make peace with are sensible moderate theists, not fundamentalists. It is the people in the middle, not those on the fringes, who will, ultimately, determine the virulence of religion and irreligion. Shermer is trying to reduce religion’s virulence, not embracing fundamentalist ownership of the Bible, and it’s ridiculous interpretations of it. Shermer should be reclaiming the Bible as part of the Western patrimony, and not leave it to fundamentalists to tell us what it means, and the implications to be drawn from it.

    —Santi

    • Cathy Sander
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      That’s what Daniel Dennett advocated for quite some time. I recommend his book “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”.

  12. Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Norm said it better than me.

    Shermer makes no excuses for Creationists, nor does he imply that we should be kind to their views. It’s as if he’s addressing THEM and their radical defence against science, suggesting they appease their beliefs and get on with it

  13. Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Shermer on prayer. “Children get inculcated into this by being urged to pray for things that are bound to happen anyway and adults carry on with the reinforcement of the occasional apparent ‘hit’. You see the same thing with gamblers.”

  14. RUKiddinMe
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Does Michael really have a Templeton grant? Does anyone know how much money he took from these people? How about when he got it – anyone know? Are we going to have to wonder about him from now on?

    What a potential loss – he was clearly one of the good guys. If he’s really gone over to the dark side it’s a sad day.

  15. Eric MacDonald
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    This is a very disturbing opinion piece. The following two statements are very worrying:

    “The purpose of civilization is to help us rise above our hearts of darkness and to accentuate the better angels of our nature.”

    “Believers should embrace science, especially evolutionary theory, for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divinity in a depth never dreamed by our ancient ancestors.”

    I don’t understand either one of them. what are our ‘better angels’, for instance? Is this just a way of speaking about our better intentions, our better side, or our less bellicose possibilities? I’m not sure. But how evolution can “reveal the magnificence of the divinity” at great depth is very hard to understand. In what sense could this possibly be true, supposing we can understand it, even for fundamentalists?

    Contrary to what a couple of comments have suggested, I don’t think this has anything to do with non-science writers. This is simply careless writing. Presumably, Shermer thinks this will attract or be intelligible to a paricular demographic, but it is not clear to me that it is not just a kind of woo that is supposed to lull our critical faculties to sleep.

  16. Flea
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I predict a lot of activity at Templeton headquarters!

    I bet wooing emails are being drafted at this very moment.

  17. Posted November 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    @ Jerry: You forgot to mention pantheism, which is, depending on the definition, also not at war with science. I don’t really know if “panentheism” is contradictory to scientific findings because no one seems to be capable of actually defining “panentheism”.

    However, there are a number of convincing philosophical arguments to be made against both of these religious views.

  18. Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    And non-literalist kinds of religion, of course. If you thin out your religion’s epistemic content until God becomes a metaphor, you are no longer in conflict with science. There may well be other problems with your position, but conflict with science isn’t one of them.

    • Gabby
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      True
      That’s what Karen Armstrong does but while she’s not at conflict with science she is really really annoying.
      Do we actually want to encourage that?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Other problems… such as _bad_ metaphor? :-D

    • Posted November 27, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      For me, there are three basic problems with the opening sentence, “It always amuses me when an accommodationist tells the faithful that no, there is no conflict between science and religion…” and closing with “the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism”

      1. “accommodationist” implies someone who looks for accommodations of disparate views is disingenuous which I have never found Shermer to be. Of course I could be misreading the intent. Science has many accommodationists, those who disagree with another’s view, but allow its existence.

      2. “(says) no, there is no conflict between science and religion” suggests that there is, which there is, but only conditionally. Religion comes in many forms. For an atheist to suggest that theism is the only religious form reveals a dismissal of all non theistic religions, particularly secular humanism and Buddhism for example.

      3. “the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism.” What of the religious non-deists?

      • Alexander Hellemans
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        I think your understanding of the term “religion” or “religious” is wrong. Religion implies the acceptance of “revealed” knowledge, information supplied through writings or sayings whic cannot be verified rationally or logically. Secular humanism is definitely not a religion because secular humanists don’t accept the validity of “revealed” knowledge. Saying that secular humanism is a religion implies that science is also a religion. Science is not based on revealed knowledge, science is based on facts and theories. That photons exist is a fact, that they have no mass is a theory (which can be overturned at any moment).

  19. Yakaru
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s a poorly thought out piece.

    “Believers should embrace science, especially evolutionary theory, for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divinity in a depth never dreamed by our ancient ancestors.”

    How exactly does he think evolutionary theory reveals God’s magnificence? What aspects of it should Christians be pointing to and saying “Ah, yes….”????

    Shirmer has always seemed to me to be looking for a market niche.

    • Posted November 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I think we need to be careful – after all, even I have been accused from time to time, of being, in effect, too accommodationist. Some diversity of approaches is not a bad thing.

      It looks to me as if, as someone says above, Michael is telling the religious that they can accommodate science. This is actually true: they can do that if they adjust their views ad hoc, progressively thinning out the epistemic content that they started with.

      What he doesn’t say in this article is that the need to adjust religious views ad hoc to accommodate science is evidence that religion is a human construction, not divinely inspired. I’m pretty sure Michael believes something like that, but he’s addressing believers here without wanting to challenge their beliefs, so it’s not an aspect of his thought that he’d want to share with them.

      I guess you can call him “an accommodationist” for writing a piece that tries to persuade believers to accept science without asking them to give up core beliefs. I also think that he might be accused of being a bit disingenuous here – like me, he is a former evangelical Christian. He must realise that many evangelical Christians of the more fundamentalist kind don’t see the literal Genesis narrative as lying outside the core of their system of doctrine.

      Moreover, Michael is much more accommodating of Christian morality than I am. He thinks that much of the traditional Christian morality can be justified on secular grounds. I disagree: I think that, once we reject the moral authority of the churches and holy books, and look rationally at what moral norms we should support, we end up jettisoning a heckuva lot of the traditional morality. We ought to be prepared to bite that bullet.

      All the same, despite not agreeing with Michael on everything, I consider him one of the good guys.

      I’m probably biased because he’s always been kind in his dealings with me. But above all, I don’t see him telling other atheists to shut up and refrain from criticising religion, even in a thoughtful and civil way. That’s what Chris Mooney has been known to do – though he denies it and shifts ground when called on it – and he has cited Barbara Forrest doing so. I’m not going to jump too hard on Michael Shermer until I see him do something like that.

      • Posted November 26, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        I quite agree. We also need atheists who are – not accommodationists – but “nicer” to believers than the “New Atheists” are. It’s just a fact that Dawkins calls them names (for example he called Ray Comfort an “idiot”, which, of course, he is, but it doesn’t sound well in believer’s groupthinking ears). Hitchens does that as well. Which is alright with me, but it is important that there are “other” atheists as well.

        To my experience (I’m on the New Atheist’ track here in Germany), the faitheists just tend to tell us to shut up in an incredibly arrogant tone. In fact, the only serious problems I ever had were not with fundamentalist christians or islamists, but with the “I’m an atheist, but…”-faction. They seem to be much more allergic to critics of religion than the believers themselves (though that might not be the case in the U.S.).

        My problem with Shermer is mainly his libertarian perspective on economics. Just how many economical breakdowns does one need to stop believing in the absolutely free, completely unregulated market?

      • Sigmund
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        I agree with derautor here, about Shermer. I get the feeling that he hasn’t completely overthrown his Randian roots. His libertarian economics has some implications peculiar to the US situation – namely his view that the sort of social security provided by church organizations is good because it means less government funded approaches (and thus less government spending).

      • Yakaru
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:14 am | Permalink

        I still think it’s a very poor piece of writing. My main concern is that he’s compromised logic in pursuit of some kind of political goal.

        But Russell makes a good point, I thnk in distinguishing him from those who tell other atheists to shut up. At least Shirmer’s not a militant accommodationist.

      • Eric MacDonald
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        I agree with much of what you say, Russell, but there is still something worrying about the way Michael Shermer writes about this. Sure, if you thin out the substance of religion to metaphor or myth, then there is no conflict between religion and science. But Shermer suggests, by his language, something more. By talking about our better angels and the divinity in the depth of things it’s not altogether clear what he is saying, and I think that, for the sake of truth, he ought to make it very clear what he means to say.

  20. Occam
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Michael Shermer was being political: Theism was his Thanksgiving turkey to pardon.
    In so doing, he produced a canard. To wit, a dead duck.
    The question is, don’t we have, as the French say, “d’autres chats à foueter”, i.e. ‘other cats to flog’ ?

    (No animals were hurt in the production of the above paragraph, except metaphorically.)

    • Posted November 26, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      That’s a lot of good jokes in one short comment!

      • AdamK
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        If the turkey is both pardoned and unpardoned, the duck both dead and alive, and the cat both flogged and unflogged, that’s six universes right there.

      • Ogre
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Eight universes actually:

        turkey pardoned, duck dead, cat flogged
        turkey pardoned, duck dead, cat unflogged
        turkey pardoned, duck alive, cat flogged
        turkey pardoned, duck alive, cat unflogged
        turkey unpardoned, duck dead, cat flogged
        turkey unpardoned, duck dead, cat unflogged
        turkey unpardoned, duck alive, cat flogged
        turkey unpardoned, duck alive, cat unflogged

    • Gabby
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      (However, some metaphores were tortured)

      • Occam
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 4:31 am | Permalink

        (…a lot less tortured than Michael Shermer’s logic…)

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Michael Shermer was being political…

      Shermer is on the record with this eyebrow raising statement

      “Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.”

      • Cathy Sander
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        Which is very strange…if he actually believed in non-causal free will! That’s contrary to what we know about the world to date: the universe acts in one piece, never pleading to any human being who desires X [as “The Secret” guys would have you.] Because we are physical beings, we can intervene in the world, and make it better. Non-causal free will actually removes responsibility to the individual, since they can circumvent the ‘rules’.

  21. Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the whole article, but just from the bit that Jerry quoted, I think a non-faitheist reading is quite possible. It looks to me as though “if one is a theist” is supposed to govern everything that comes after, so “God” and “the divine” and the rest of it are ventriloquized. Just add a parenthetical ‘for a theist’ before each new sentence and you’ll see what I mean. I think ‘for a theist’ is implied, because of “if one is a theist” at the beginning.

    It can be read both ways, and maybe he did that on purpose and it was a tad pandering – but I think it’s not necessarily overtly theist.

    I’m not very invested though. Anybody who once admired Ayn Rand…well, you know.

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia:

      I’m a Barack Obama liberal, but I think that there is a lot to admire about Ayn Rand. I admire, for example, Rand’s anti-Soviet critiques, her anti-Hegelianism, her self-assertion, her anti-racism, her pro-abortion views, and her insistence on the importance of reason in the governing of your life. I admire the fact that she was an outspoken atheist long before it was popular to be so.

      Why the smugness towards her, and the innuendo directed at Shermer for being a libertarian, and a former Rand enthusiast? Most libertarians go through an Ayn Rand phase. Libertarianism is, in your view, akin to what? Palmistry and astrology? It marks you as an irrationalist to take seriously the anti-Statist intellectual tradition (which includes Rand)?

      —Santi

      • Occam
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:15 am | Permalink

        Why the smugness towards her?

        In no particular order: her questionable logic, her ramshackle philosophy (the pompous sobriquet ‘Objectivism’ being just the tip of the iceberg), and the unbearably purple kitsch of her Weltanschauung-novels.
        As a libertarian, I certainly reject the assertion that ‘most libertarians go through an Ayn Rand phase’.
        But perhaps her reputation suffers most, and maybe unfairly, by retrospective association with some of her disciples and admirers, Alan Greenspan being a prime — or rather, a subprime — example.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 3:28 am | Permalink

        Occam:

        Is there anything at all about Rand that you admire?

        And, in a forced choice, if you had to choose between the political and economic philosophies of Rand or Marx—both atheists, historically—which would you choose? Which thinker should contemporary atheists be proud to have on their side? Neither of them, both of them, or just one of them?

        I wonder which one Ophelia would choose.

        I know which one I’d choose (and without the slightest hesitation): Rand. I don’t see any reason for atheists or agnostics to be ashamed of Rand, or to treat her with contempt. And I’d note that at the International Atheist Alliance convention in Burbank (which I attended last month), Rand’s books were well represented, and for sale. There was also a small table selling Marxist literature, but it was largely being ignored.

        —Santi

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Is there anything at all about Rand that you admire?

        I have to admit that Ayn Rand was very intelligent. She figured out that telling poor people that it’s morally acceptable to be poor would not be profitable.

      • llewelly
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        santitafarella
        November 27, 2009 at 3:28 am:

        And, in a forced choice, if you had to choose between the political and economic philosophies of Rand or Marx—both atheists, historically—which would you choose?

        False dichotomy.

    • Occam
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Santi:

      Is there anything at all about Rand that you admire?
      Her courage. Her independence. Her force of will.

      As to the forced choice between Ayn Rand and Marx, sorry: neither of them.
      Marx’s atheism is a smokescreen: Marxism was just another spectacular form of Millenarianism. Religion without a personal, transcendent god, but otherwise featuring the same broad pathology.

      And why should we, as atheists, be proud to be associated with any of these or other luminaries? Can’t we think for ourselves? Do we have to rely on Ersatz-Gospels supplied by Meisterthinkers? To paraphrase Orwell, freedom is the freedom to state that 2 + 2 = 4. All else follows from it.

      Finally, the book sales ratio Rand/Marx, in 2009 in Burbank, CA, proves very little in relation to the value or validity of their respective works. In Paris in 1968, or Berkeley for that matter, the ratio would have been inverse, and just as irrelevant. These are just fads and fashions of the Zeitgeist.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Well put, Occam.

        Once again, Santi gives a ‘choice’ that is fake and diverts the discussion.

        As far as book sales, that is nothing but a red herring. Sarah Palin’s book is far outselling Richard Dawkin’s book. Does that make is better? No, Palin’s book, like Rands’, is an example of self promotion and little value.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        Occam:

        You said: “Marxism was just another spectacular form of Millenarianism.” True. And Marx was also enthusiastic for Darwin, and an atheist. It should tell you something: the ills associated with religion are not “solved” by absenting people of belief in God.

        —Santi

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Of course they’re not, Santi. The main reasons why the monotheistic religions we know today are so dangerous is that they have so many materials in them that encourage totalitarian and apocalyptic thinking. If you think you are doing the work of the one true God, that’s potentially dangerous. But it’s also dangerous if you think you’re doing the work of History or Providence, even if you don’t think of these things as having personality and qualifying as gods. Comprehensive belief systems such as Marxism (of various kinds) and Nazism are as dangerous as theistic systems, perhaps more so in some cases, because they imitate much of the same structure, and in some ways are even more focused on the totalitarian and apocalyptic aspects – the need to change everything and create the communist society or the thousand year Reich, or whatever.

        I don’t recall anyone ever saying that theistic systems are the only dangerous ones that require constant critique. What is being said is that the taboo against critique of theistic systems must be abandoned, partly because the theistic systems are ALSO dangerous. No one denies that Nazism and the more apocalyptic versions of Marxism and dangerous, but there’s no taboo against criticising them. But then again, they are widely discredited – the same can’t be said for the theistic systems, which still have enormous and unmerited prestige.

        Note, by the way, that polytheism, with its diversity of powerful but imperfect and conflicting gods, does not tend to have these totalitarian and apocalyptic characteristics. The ancient polytheistic systems had nothing like the same dangers as Christianity and Islam. If we lived in societies characterised by tolerant, syncretic forms of polytheism, there might be drawbacks, but there would also be great advantages over living in societies dominated by the current monotheisms.

      • scott
        Posted November 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Occam –
        Since millenarianism isn’t necessarily religious,you can’t draw from a millenarianist interpretation of Marx’s thought the conclusion that his atheism was a ‘smokescreen.’ In fact, his atheism was a major motivation for his political and economic thinking.

        You’ve managed to confuse Marx, and Lenin, and communism and marxism. I don’t think you’d try to get away with pronouncing on, say, biological matters you don’t know anything about, so why politics & economics?

  22. Luke Vogel
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ll just re-post what I wrote in a hurry over on Rationally Speaking. This blogpost is a disaster, period. Your naivety is growing ever more hard absurd. Though bias can surely be a good thing and inherently vital at important levels, your selective view from which you argue has allowed the bias to clearly blind you.

    Anyway, here’s my meandering thoughts this blog elicited (“pick” refers to Massimo’s Picks blogposts).

    ….
    Here’s a good pick for you. Jerry “The Big Jesus” Coyne has titled a blogpost – “Michael Shermer, theologian”. He misrepresents Shermer now and suggest Shermer is possibly beholden to the Templeton Foundation (that last one is shameful – he was actually more direct in that false accusation against Robert Sapolsky, who he drastically misrepresented in a blogpost comment – of course he puts himself high on the crate since he declined the science fest invite).

    Shermer is making the same arguments he always has and yet Coyne says: “But lately he’s been assuming the faitheist mantle more and more often (could it be because of Templeton sponsorship?)”. What utter B.S.

    It’s incredible what’s been going on and this “accomodationist” debate has added another level of what was already becoming absolutely absurd. I made the prediction, on Coyne’s site as a matter of fact, that being an “accomodationist” is going the direction of simply anyone who may disagree at some level with “supernatural phenomena being within the realm of science”.

    Coyne says: “It would be lovely if Shermer would admit that, in the real world, the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism.”

    Well, yeah, but science is only going to get you so far. But, the “real world” isn’t where believers belief end up going and science unfortunately is limited. It’s simply not a bad idea to pull in the believers, the outcome will be a greater neutered religion without the Sam Harris fear mongering about jihadist taking college courses so scientific understanding can’t help us anyway (said in the same breath as chants for scientism – its true, yet stifling naive in scope).

    Lately I’ve been trying to extract myself from these debates. However, I wonder when people will stand up against Coyne like nonsense. To many are staying silent for different reasons. One is fear itself (of being called something nearing an “apologist”). Another is being to unsure of themselves and how they think of the situation. Third is not taking the time to understand the claims being made and proper understanding of basic statistics. One more, confused about speaking out against what could have gotten one to speak out in the first place. For me the last one doesn’t matter much, I’ve been an outspoken “atheist”/Humanist/skeptic for 20 years. Though I don’t go nearly as far as Michael Ruse, it’s plain to see where he’s right.

    This garbage I see floating around about needing more than one approach is laughable. It misses a large part of what the criticism mean. All that does is offer an excuse so critics should keep their mouths shut. People like Russell Blackford have made a mockery out of open and free inquiry (even while acting tempered lately) while bemoaning others supposedly telling him to shut up (which he attempts to recount at every turn), he maintains criticism of “new atheist” should be muffled at best (though his bizarre remark about disagreeing with Dawkins 747 arguments is hysterical in making his point that criticism can be ok, gee thanks you nut).

    Anyways, it’s time to go toe to toe with the type of B.S. that occasionally floats out from those self congratulatory, self proclaimed vociferous “atheist”. It’s simply to hard to believe how long it’s taking, and it’s coming out to slowly (my guess was because of internet comment campaign shock and the immediate – late ’06 – early ’07 – cash flow that came in the coffers at places like CFI).

    • Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      Luke, stop bringing my name into every comment you make all over the internet. Your crazy, gratuitous accusations are getting very stale.

      • Luke Vogel
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Dear Russell,

        Please don’t flatter yourself.

        You are hardly in “every comment” I make on the internet. But, I trust you have been reading me elsewhere, that’s good for you.

        In this case, and in two other cases you have been brought up in the manner to which I speak it is extremely apropos.

        It’s simply on record, if the threads still exist on RD.net, where you babble on about how protective we must be in our criticisms of the “new atheist” due to the larger cause. I was actually a recipient of one of those demands after criticizing someone from the RRS on what was clearly an overreaction to a story, in fact my remarks were somewhat tempered.

        In fact from recent blogpost of yours I notice you offer more of the “we” mentality while speaking for yourself, you simply say what “we” ought to do without full rational informed discussion.

        Thanks for reading. On your blog I was specific about a danger you posed to science and reason, which is what I’m referring to here. Lately, you seem more rational, noticeably so. Still, things need to be said.

      • Luke Vogel
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Whoa,

        How convenient. I write quick reply on another site directed at Jerry blogpost, mention something Blackford is known for and low and behold what did I just read:

        ~ “But above all, I don’t see him telling other atheists to shut up and refrain from criticicing religion, even in a thoughtful and civil way. That’s what Chris Mooney has been known to do – though he denies it and shifts ground when called on it – and he has cited Barbara Forrest doing so. I’m not going to jump too hard on Michael Shermer until I see him do something like that.”

        What a terribly mess we do make, Russell. Shermer’s argument (which you obviously misunderstand at some levels beyond what I quote above) does not veer from his stance over the past 17 years in *any* markedly way.

        Actually, Shermer’s reply to Coyne’s “Seeing and Believing” review which appeared on Edge is very much what he’s been arguing all along. It is a scientific approach to the discussion. To throw in this idea that there’s a potential (how else to read that line) Shermer is going to go around telling people to shut up about criticizing religious claims is bizarre, absolutely, without question making a mockery of yourself.

        He’s been open for years about approach, the Skeptic’s Society slogan, Baruch Spinoza’s – “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them”, has been there from the begining and was Shermer’s ideal. It was at a Skeptic’s Society conference a few years ago where Shermer said that Dawkins’ approach is irrational in some respects. He took Harris to task at BB and spelled out what the approach means, and they rely on what we believe or objectives and goals are.

        To do what you guys are doing is a disgrace certain ways. This making him beholden to Templeton even is obscene. He has addressed that issue *three* times at length. He absolutely has to be one of the most independent thinkers in the skeptical/humanistic/atheistic movements. Very influential mainly do to his commitment to the scientific approaches to understanding ourselves, nature the cosmos and forwarding that our quest will forever continue.

        Ad astra!

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Luke, you must be the most prolix troll yet discovered. Maybe Jerry could enter you in the Guinness Book of Records.

  23. MadScientist
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Shermer was once a fundamentalist; perhaps his message is intended for fundamentalists. “Oh come on, you can believe in the science and still believe in your god, you’ll just have to keep telling yourself that Biblical Myth #1 really is just a bedtime story but that everything else you believe must be TRUE.”

    I don’t understand that position at all; Mooney clearly has the same sort of position but I can’t see it as anything other than dishonest in the bad old tradition of Irving Kristol. It undermines intellectual progress. “Oh yes, there’s nothing wrong with your beliefs at all, but please consider not believing in your god.” I prefer the “you know, those stories are pretty dull at best and have no foundation in reality. Investigations of virtually every claim in the bible ranging from the creation stories of genesis to alleged historical facts about Jesus have demonstrated conclusively that the bible is not based at all on fact, much less a divine and true text.”

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      Mad Scientist:

      Shermer is not speaking to fundamentalists. He’s speaking to reasonable people who are religious. Perhaps you regard this as an oxymoron. Fine. But please stop lumping moderate religionists with fundamentalists. Your move is akin to the conservative who doesn’t make distinctions between Muslims.

      —Santi

      • MadScientist
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        What is the difference between a “moderate religionist” and a “fundamentalist”? I really see no difference – they share many bizarre delusions but one group seems to be louder than the other. The quote makes no sense if Shermer is not addressing fundamentalists. For example, let’s take a typical catholic and a pentecostal. Odds are the catholic believes in evolution, an old earth, and so on while the pentecostal does not. I also don’t buy that “oh, but we’re moderate” story because the same defective lack of thought exhibited by the self-proclaimed moderates is what encourages the extremists. There is no such thing as a religious “moderate”.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Mad Scientist:

        Okay, let me put it this way: Shermer is advocating Robert Wright’s “Evolution of God” thesis that religion, over time, can become less virulent if you think of the “other” in non-zero sum terms. Shermer is trying to reach over the divide to people who are open to moderating their views of Biblical literalism. Just as you inflame moderate Muslims by using blanket language concerning Muslims, you drive people otherwise open to the secular world away from it if you insist that their only option in being religious is to be fundamentalists. It’s as if Coyne doesn’t want religionists to declare for moderation. He wants them all on the fundamentalist side so that he can strengthen his own argument that everyone religious is crazy. If you read what Coyne said, he shows himself to be miffed that Shermer might suggest to religious people that an old earth is in accord with the Bible, and they should consider believing it! How silly is that? You want the religious to stay in a ridiculous position? It has to be all or nothing? There’s a rhetorical Robespiere element at work here: if even Shermer isn’t in the fold of good atheists—if he is now a “faithiest”—then Coyne will be coming for you next.

        —Santi

  24. MadScientist
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    @Eric #11:

    That thing about revealing “the magnificence of divinity” blah blah blah is the same as S.J. Gould’s NOMA. It is basically a paltry excuse used in the past to avoid being condemned and murdered by the religious authorities and their goons. As far as I know, Gould gave it that name and in his case he used the excuse to avoid discussions of Religion v. Science when he went to church to participate in the choir.

    It is nothing new; the earliest case which I had seen evidence for was back ~1600 when the Vatican Observatory was established. Keep in mind that this largely preceded Galileo’s incarceration. The motion of the planets in the ‘celestial sphere’ were calculated using ‘epicycles’. The planets were not generally thought of as large objects not too unlike the earth and for most people the sun revolved about the earth, although the work of Nicholas Copernicus and Tycho Brahe (and about the same time as Galileo, Johannes Kepler) challenged that view. So religious authorities were wary about these astronomers. The excuse used when the observatory was established was that the work does not detract from religious teaching but helps to glimpse the great wonders of creation. So some people were able to go about their work, which differed substantially from what the church preached and practiced, without being burned for witchcraft. People like Galileo, who made much of their interesting discoveries public, were just begging for trouble by contradicting the church; it’s not easy to claim NOMA as an excuse when you publicly challenge the church’s ideas about what the world is like.

  25. PGPWNIT
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I didn’t see anything too damning in your quotes. Must all we atheists march in lock step though the cause be lost?

    Are we fundamentally saying that you follow our brand of atheism or you shall be shunned?

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      PGPWNIT:

      Be careful. You’re asking a question that might find you voted off Atheist Island and relegated to the “faithiest” category.

      —Santi

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:17 am | Permalink

        And, Santi, you’re being smartarse … which has become all too typical of you. As you may have noted, I expressed some civil (and admittedly mild) disagreement with Jerry about this one. It’s possible to have an adult conversation, even on the internet. By contrast, your attitude poisons good discussion; it doesn’t help anything.

    • MadScientist
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      I don’t see anyone being shunned simply because people disagree. I seem to disagree with Shermer far more than I agree with him on anything but I certainly don’t shun him. I never hesitate to write to him and say that I disagree or why I disagree; he seems quite reasonable unless you bring up libertarian ideology. Jerry is doing the same thing – he’s stating that he doesn’t believe there is anything substantial to accommodationism and except for the deist stance, religion necessarily conflicts with science. Personally I believe that the accommodationist approach is not very effective (as suggested by history) and that it is dishonest at best so I oppose it on matters of principle.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Mad Scientist:

        When Coyne sets Shermer up as the bearer of (and I quote) “the faitheist mantle”, that doesn’t sound like an adult talking to an adult about a complicated issue. That sounds like disrespect. Shermer doesn’t call himself a faithiest, he calls himself an atheist. And he’s been on the side of the angels in fights involving reason (from Skeptic magazine to his book on Holocaust denial) for a very long time. Why is Coyne trying to tar Shermer? Why is he putting the term faithiest on him? It’s like a Republican putting the term RINO on a fellow Republican (Republican in name only).

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Shermer doesn’t call himself a faithiest, he calls himself an atheist.

        Actually, Shermer calls himself an agnostic and has written quite extensively on the atheist/agnostic topic.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Bob:

        Shermer is emphatic about calling himself an atheist. Just last month, I asked him (at the atheist conference in Burbank) point blank, and on two separate occasions (because I wanted to see if he would balk), if he considered himself an atheist or an agnostic, and he was very clear: he said he is an atheist. I asked him while he stood in front of his magazine and book stall talking with conference goers between sessions.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Santi,

        I accept your word on what he said. He must have changed him mind. His previous writing was also emphatic.

      • AdamK
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Atheist and agnostic are not mutually exclusive categories. I am an agnostic atheist. Most atheists are.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Bob,

        Something that tells me that Shermer wasn’t bullshitting me is because I told him that I wasn’t an atheist myself, but an agnostic. So he wasn’t, in his response, trying to be agreeable with me. He wasn’t trying to please me by his answer. I was hoping, with a bit of prodding, that he would admit to me that he leaned more to agnosticism. But he didn’t. I’d even say he was adament. I would have liked to hear him say to me that he was an agnostic, and I frankly was disappointed by his answer.

        —Santi

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        As far as I know, Michael still takes the position that he explains at some length in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief. To simplify: he is an atheist in how he lives his life, but “atheist” is not his preferred term for himself, partly because it carries certain baggage where he comes from.

  26. santitafarella
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    Russell,

    I haven’t posted here at Coyne’s site for more than a month, so I don’t know where my typical smart assness is being detected. And I’m sorry, but for a fellow atheist or agnostic to take after Michael Shermer is like Jerry Falwell taking after Jimmy Swaggart for speaking in tongues. It’s the narcissism of very small differences.

    And Shermer has done a lot, over many years, for the atheist, agnostic, and humanist community. He is a promoter of reason. And I say that as someone who lives, like Shermer, in Southern California, and who has been attending his events at Cal Tech since the beginnings of Skeptic magazine. I was probably one of the first thousand people to subscribe to that magazine.

    And Russell, let’s be blunt: using the term faithiest is not in accord with “adult conversation.” It’s a demeaning term. It’s not what I would call myself, and it’s not what Shermer would call himself. Such a term is disrespectful, and if I convey annoyance at times in my posts, it starts (for me) with the rudeness and disrespect that Coyne started toward a segment of the atheist and agnostic community by putting that term into circulation. It’s alienating and akin to conservative Republicans calling moderate Republicans RINOS (Republicans in name only). It purifies the movement ideologically, but it doesn’t serve respectful dialogue, but provokes like for like smart assness.

    Nevertheless, I respect you, and if you think I’m too snarky in this thread, I’ll be mindful of it and tone it down. But don’t put it all on me. Every time somebody uses the word “faithiest” it is a provocation to cut down civil discussion and dissent. It is disrespectful, and puts poison into a thread.

    —Santi

    • Luke Vogel
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Santitafarella,

      Even though we have some great disagreements, which were brought to out on RD.net some time ago, I wanted to offer a helpful explanation to your post here.

      Russell Blackford has been using that tactic for sometime now. He’s stepped it up on his site, most recently to the commenter, a Christian named “David” (who has blog which has discussed this). In an exchange with NewEnglandBob, who has basically hounded Dave several times with gratuitous remarks, it was David who got the warning and told he was being a smartarse. Baseless accusations are pitifully damaging especially when the real smartarse comments are coming from his supporter (to which I must add I support a good deal of Russell’s work and applaud his book which I wish him the best of luck).

      I want to write this is caps, but that over doing it, but an important point to remember is – That is what he does, it is his form of argumentation.

      For a quick run down of my observation see the comment section to Russell’s blogpost: “In the bolshevik cabaret – John Gray” and a few others where NEB reveals himself, as he has done here, as able to be a shallow smartarse.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        I guess Luke Vogel thinks it is ok for him to label people as “The Big Jesus”.

        Now I know I was correct in dismissing anything that Luke Vogel posts due to it being completely bat-shit crazy.

        I am proud to be disliked by him.

      • Luke Vogel
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Ha! NEB,

        You handled that well I see.

        Jerry “The Big Jesus” Coyne, obviously stems from Jerry’s insistent defense of his Oral Roberts inspired “thought experiment” which he used in part to make the claims that “supernatural phenomena” are within the realm of science (of course, Jerry keeps himself awake thinking up ways to believe in God, or relies on Darwin). It’s laughable and fun to ridicule, I’m simply mocking it (we all know about the valuable “thought experiments” Oral Roberts offers the scientific community – oh the “silly talk” – of course with Jerry we could use, Jerry “only bad people get cancer” Coyne).

        “Bat-shit crazy”, and Russell said “Your crazy” – influenced much NEB, and always one to go that extra mile.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        No, Luke, I have read your posts elsewhere and have marveled about how you could be so wrong about most things and so out of touch with reality.

        I did not ask you for a definition of your ad hominem statement, I had seen you use it numerous times all over the place. Of course, you took a statement of Coyne, who used it as an example and tortured it to no end.

        I have actually unsubscribed to some posts because I saw your bat-shit crazy posts and refused to waste my time.

      • Luke Vogel
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Ok NEB,

        Fair enough. My “ad hominem” must be over the line. Jerry “The 900 Foot Jesus” Coyne deserves better than some ribbing, which he even spared one to create women.

        Of course you see me say it elsewhere, it’s how I refer to Jerry “The Big Jesus” Coyne. Of course it’s an “example” NEB, a brilliant “thought experiment” to make a claim about the nature of science.

        There’s a funny side note to much of where this discussion stems. I had my criticism of a few of Coyne’s statements in his New Republic review “Seeing and Believing”, but overall I was extremely positive. He used a Gouldian approach to beat down the “humans are inevitable” argument, masterfully I thought. I even defended him against Mooney with the charge of “uncivil” in that review (I think he and Barb simply read past to much of Jerry’s argument – as Jerry has done numerous times himself – shit happens and we debate it). But, a drastic turn occurred when my argument that Coyne was simply off base in some of claims, which were then compounded by Blackford. I said the argument from a scientific standpoint is mainly meaningless, idiotic, pointless and crazy (of course there a bit more to than I’m going to lay out here). It is! All of that and more. A very simply understood philosophical mistake is being made and compounded which has appeared to have somewhat turned into a part of an “atheistic” belief system for a chosen few – Which the original goals to get people to understand science has lots to say about religious *claims* and refutes the factual claims to nature was commendable and what I (and many, many others, including Shermer) have been arguing for 20 years – even though charged for doing the opposite by Blackford and hinted at by Coyne, I never said different.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 27, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Thanks Luke. That clears up a lot for me.

        … Which the original goals to get people to understand science has lots to say about religious *claims* and refutes the factual claims to nature was commendable…

        I think this is the heart of what all non-theist parties are trying to accomplish, whether it stands alone or part of a belief system.

        I, for one, am bothered by Shermer’s writings, either on the web or several of his books that I have read. I agree with a lot of what he says but there is a significant portion (some of it a matter of degree) that I vehemently disagree with. I don’t often talk out loud to myself when reading but some of Shermer’s writings can get my blood pressure to rise.

    • MadScientist
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Do you mean like a “Great Rift in the Global Atheist Conspiracy”? I don’t see what is poisoned here. Jerry has written numerous times in the past to explain why he believes accommodationism doesn’t work and why people should move on beyond the “science is compatible with religion – some of my scientist friends are religious” which is absolutely trivial and meaningless. I’m sure Shermer can deal with being labeled a ‘faitheist’ (at least Jerry didn’t choose ‘homeopatheist’); whether he likes it or not is irrelevant. I’m not going to ignore Shermer just because he and Jerry don’t agree (or the other way around).

  27. Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    >”It always amuses me when an accommodationist tells the faithful that no, there is no conflict between science and religion”

    I periodically check science for updates on if there is a conflict between science and religion. I do this because I routinely see scientists claiming that there is a conflict. However the scientists tasked with investigating this issue are sociologists and historians and it is them I look to for guidance on the issue but it is not them i see claiming that there is a conflict. I often do this kind of thing, instead of consulting biologists on cosmology I look to cosmologists for answers on that topic. Instead of asking computer scientists about biology I look to the biologists. So, what do the sociologists and historians say with regards to there being a conflict between science and religion? Well, they have spent over a century investigating the issue and currently the theory is not enjoying very high credibility in sociology or history of science.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_thesis

    • Cathy Sander
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      It’s only the conclusions derived from the evidence that are at stake. I rather not make appeals to history to deal with current problems in the accommodation debate. Even if the history of science/religion was not that dramatic, it doesn’t detract us from the task of setting the science right for the benefit of religious folks. This, by far, is the most effective way of making religious beliefs less dangerous.

  28. Luke Vogel
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Ooops, I need to clarify.

    In the long paragraph (which I should have broken up, I apologize) I said:

    ~ “But, a drastic turn occurred when my argument that Coyne was simply off base in some of claims, which were then compounded by Blackford.”

    I shifted gears, I’m talking about his claims of how far science can take us, making direct claims about the nature of science with respect to the “supernatural”.

  29. Posted November 27, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I think/hope Shermer is just being ironic. Otherwise, he needs to stick with bicycles.

    • MadScientist
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think he’s being ironic; he’s just not like that in public. You could always write to him yourself and ask him about that article, what he thinks he’ll accomplish by being so patronizing.

  30. recesssuve
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Michael Shermers reply to Jerry’s blog post:

    http://trueslant.com/michaelshermer/

    ” To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.

    Sometimes religion is the problem, but usually it is something else—local political battles, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, poverty, etc. Don’t forget the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity. Pick your battles carefully and choose your strategy wisely.”

  31. recessive
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Michael Shermers reply to Jerry’s blog post:

    http://trueslant.com/michaelshermer/

    “To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.

    Sometimes religion is the problem, but usually it is something else—local political battles, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, poverty, etc. Don’t forget the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity. Pick your battles carefully and choose your strategy wisely.”

    Please delete my double post typo’d username, thanks.
    recessive

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      “To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.

      This is a straw man argument from Shermer.

      Coyne, et al. do not take this attitude.

  32. Norm
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    The shorter Shermer:
    “Hey believers! Come on in the water is fine! You want pageantry? Sure, we got that! There’s grandeur in this view of life! You want to praise your Lord? How about raising your arms in the air to 3.5 billion years of evolution!?”

    etc.

    All Shermer is doing is opening a door to those who for some reason, need to feel warm and fuzzy about life, the universe, and everything. All he’s saying is if you are of this nature, there really is no reason not to incorporate some reality in your beliefs. It’s a sales pitch.

    • MadScientist
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Ah, now a “sales pitch” sounds more like the Shermer I know. I still do not agree with his method though. There are undoubtedly many people out there who have these niggling doubts about their religion – there’s so much that simply does not make sense. Most modern religions say that such doubt is part of life, perhaps god is testing their faith, and that they should reject any such thoughts and focus instead on confirmation bias to perpetuate the myths they have been taught since birth. Modern religions still, as the practice of religions in decades past, rely a lot on social outcasting to help keep the doubters in line. It is those people who have suspicions that religion is a lie who are most likely to spurn religion and also who need the most help in understanding how others see the world around them. I do not see how they are helped by telling them “hey, it’s OK for you to believe in your god and also believe in evilution”. Other people who have decided to ignore and misrepresent evidence are not as likely to change, although now and then some of them may sit down and ask themselves “does this religion of mine really have any evidence for its claims?” The people who deserve respect and help in overcoming the tyrannical bonds of religion need far more than sweet talking and suggestions that religion may have any truth on its side. These people often lose lifetime friends and family for rejecting blind belief; they need to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they can find support with other people, they do not need to be fed more lies. For those with the silly notion that religions are benevolent or at least not harmful, there are numerous recent examples of the bigotry and blind devotion championed by religions in general and officials of religion in particular. God hates fags – forget the Westboro Baptist Church, I’m talking about the catholic pope’s preaching. Atheists aren’t fully human. Hitler was an atheist. Atheist communism is responsible for the largest massacres in history (that lie’s from Ray Comfort). These are the dogmatic beliefs which children are being inculcated with.
      These are just a few of the many lies which victims need to overcome as they shed the shackles of religion, lies which will be turned against them as they try to leave religion.

  33. MadScientist
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    @newenglandbob: It looks like feeding the troll is causing you to grow a tail – proof of evilution! I’ve noticed that you-know-who hangs out with Mooney, Kwok, and McCarthy, so I resist all temptation to feed the troll.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      I rarely look at Mooney-Kwok-McCarthy any longer except when I want a laugh.

  34. Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Shermer is a bit weird on this topic. At the Beyond Belief conference a few years ago, he practically blew up at criticisms of the Templeton Foundation. I don’t think he is receiving money from them, but at the time it was striking in how loudly and angrily he reacted to complaints about an organization to which he didn’t belong.

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      He also seems to be afflicted with the one-eyed practical or ‘political’ approach that is so noticeable in Chris Mooney. He talks about what ‘works’ without pausing to say what he means by ‘works’ – apparently thinking that absolutely everything boils down to some kind of campaign. What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?

      • Cathy Sander
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        This reminds me of this part of the song from Tom Lehrer “Wernher von Braun”…

        …Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department.

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia says: “What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?”

        I’m going to keep batting for Michael here, because I think this gets things a bit backwards. Michael could reply: “What if (at least sometimes) we do care about what ‘works’ as much as we care about getting it right?”

        Now, maybe we should always care more about getting it right, but that’s not the argument. I can’t speak for Michael, of course, but I doubt that he’d deny the following: “sometimes we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right”. I think he’d say, “Yes, sometimes … but not all the time. I’m talking about those other times.”

        If so, is there really that much disagreement?

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      But maybe one might also note that Jerry’s Templeton quip was rather gratuitous, at least in the sense that it doesn’t seem to be particularly conducive to further constructive dialogue between him and Michael Shermer.

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        But Russell, he said what he said. I’m arguing with what he said. Maybe he would rephrase it if you asked him, but he did say what he did say. He said “There are multiple ways [to respond to theists and/or theism], all of which work, depending on the context.”
        I’m saying they don’t all “work” (unless he means something very odd and idiosyncratic by “work”) and whether or not they “work” isn’t the only question to ask about them.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        But Ophelia, he does seem to think that sometimes we just plain straight out should tell the theists that their views are wrong, or are not rationally grounded, or are merely a human construction, or whatever. That’s consistent with his modus operandi in the past … and it’s a funny sort of accommodationist position. He’d probably think that this “works” approach in some sense, but presumably not in the sense of getting theists to fight global warming, etc.

        I don’t think the pieces are written with the kind of rigour that justifies trying to analyse them like statutes or like poems, and they wouldn’t stand up to that sort of analysis. But to me, the question is whether Michael is telling us that religion and science “just are” compatible in some broad, sloppy sense, without all the needed caveats that you and I and Jerry like to insist on (which tend to eat up the claim itself), or whether he wants us to stop criticising religion – things like that. I can see problems in the original piece (I discuss some of these at more length over at Butterflies and Wheels) as well as in his attempt to defend it. But I don’t think he’s doing either of those things. The problems I see are quite specific (some of them are actually theological!). At this stage, they don’t add up to reason to think that Michael has gone over to the accommodationist side.

        And – to everyone – I freely admit that I’m looking at these pieces charitably. But I think we should always do that until we have enough cumulative reason to do otherwise, and especially with someone who has Michael’s sort of track record of opposing irrationalism.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Russell, I don’t want to claim that Michael himself has gone over to the accommodationist side (and anyway, as I said in replying to you at B&W, even if he has he can always come back again). I just want to dispute some (much) of what he says in this particular piece.

        It’s an argumentative piece, after all, and a personal one at that – so I really don’t see why we shouldn’t take its claims at face value and disagree with them if we disagree with them.

  35. Peter Beattie
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    From where I’m standing, the most egregious misrepresentation in Shermer’s piece is of scientific thinking itself. In the first part, he asks how important the Origin is and cites three eminent biologists’ judgements of it. If that’s supposed to be an argument, it would have to be one from authority—the very concept that science at its root is striving to make obsolete.

    In the second part, he basically says that faith, ‘properly’ understood, should have nothing to fear from any particular insight into nature that science has to offer. And with that he relegates to the sidelines the second most important concept in science, namely that it is crucial at least to be open to the possibility that a nasty fact may force you to change your views. It’s hard to conceive of anything more virtuous than that, but not only does it go unmentioned by Shermer, he in effect says that it’s not important. Not to the hoi polloi of believers, in any event. Which also might seem a bit condescending, come to think of it.

  36. AnonymousUser
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Let’s ignore science, let’s believe in weird things with no evidence, if it makes us feel good.

    Hey, it worked through the age of Black Death.

    No, wait, it didn’t.

  37. In memory of C.Sagan
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    “We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster.”

    “The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”

  38. dea
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    you know, i’ve met michael, and had a few days to hear him out speaking about science education as opposed religious. Never had he seemed accomodationist, he was a full blown atheist who wanted to schock people out of their silly beliefs.
    To bigger audiences perhaps he just wants to leave them thinking. You know how thinking is detrimental to any religion…

  39. bad Jim
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Joshua Rosenau has just weighed in on this issue, taking Shermer’s side, of course.

    As to the issue of “what works”, it’s a matter of what you’re trying to do. For Mooney and Rosenau and, apparently, Shermer, it’s selling science to the credulous masses who need to be reassured that you can accept evolution and still believe in God, no matter what your pastor says.

    Few of us would disagree that more widespread understanding of science would be generally beneficial, and it’s not exactly wrong to say that you can believe in both God and the uncertainty principle, Einstein notwithstanding.

    However, those who are unwilling to extend the same courtesy to atheists and stop telling us to shut up, lest we frighten the proles, should not expect us to turn the other cheek.

  40. Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Boy, oh boy… a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands. (Guilty as charged, as I read most of these comments, too.)

    1. Jerry may be a bit dismissive and fallacious in the use of terms like “faitheist” or in his imputation that Shermer is tied to Templeton. Stick to the facts and to your point, Jerry.

    2. The facts and your point are DEAD ON!! It is time to stop pretending that science and religion are compatible modes of thinking about how the world works. We (all of us) need to continue to clearly, patiently, forcefully, and without name calling, make this point whenever the obverse is asserted.

  41. Soares
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I think that he should tell believers of all faiths that their mostly cherished beliefs are all bullshit. That what they deem to be the most important things, the core of morality and whatever, are nothing but a bunch of lies.

    That would probably have made they abandon it readily, and accept science, much more efficiently than just to tell them to try to come up with some “explanation” that accepts science when it conflicts with more ancient beliefs associated with the core.

    And that’s what matter most, people accepting science or it’s uttermost conclusions, waging a war against religion – just like the zealots say we do – not just making overlooking the more unfalsifiable creeds, seeing all as OK as long as they accept the results of what comes from scientific scrutiny.

    That is what makes a real difference for society, whereas just selling conformationist/accomodationist books, promoting some sort of mutual agreements between nonbelievers and easily insulted people just helps the authors’ pockets.

    Making excuses for the acceptance of any sort of “light” unfalsifiable claim, as long as one “accepts science” is a gateway to be seeing other stuff as OK soon too, like fundamentalism and fanatics throwing airplanes against buildings. Then the accomodationists will say that we can’t be sure that the reality isn’t really a dream or whatever.

    Not to mention that the absence of attack against “light” faith-based “theories” will stir fundamentalist rage. They will be furious because they’re the only ones being criticized. And they won’t change to a lighter version of the creed just because it’s seen as less incompatible with science, and more socially acceptable, no. They will envy those that are not criticized, this envy soon becomes hate, and they will want to kill them, and the non-believers as well.

    Thanks to the anti-accomodationist trend, mankind has been saved from the ultimate carnage, the final battle of religious zealots agaisnt the rest of the world. If were not by these books, maybe we wouldn’t even be here now. Thanks to them, religious fanaticism is finally decreasing ever more steeply ever since the first anti-accomodationist book, and all religion will reach to an end by 2014. If Gould and Sagan were not such accomodationist pussies maybe they could have helped it come sooner, and lived to see it come to reality.

  42. John Wilson
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Yup, Shermer now is a fuzzy-headed accommodationist. His weaselly attempt to let believers have their security blanket shows that he is not a serious skeptic. Any skeptic who does not try to slam believers to the wall and unerringly point out their stupidity is not worth his salt. Only confrontation is logically pure, and I don’t see how anyone can stand to whore oneself out like that.

    I will no longer be reading Shermer any more than I’d read Heidegger.

  43. Sajani Rajapakse
    Posted August 7, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    After having read both pieces of this absurd writing from Michael Shermer (true to his form), I can honestly say it is a bolus of vacuous nonsense.


11 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] a comment » At Jerry Coyne’s blog today, Coyne takes after Michael Shermer for being a little too cozy with religion: It always […]

  2. […] and religion: Jerry Coyne appears to be amused at those who claim that “science and religion are compatible….so long as the religious change their […]

  3. […] Perhaps predictably, there have been critics responding on both sides, most notably the estimable Jerry Coyne, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Why Evolution is True, in his web page of the same title called me an “accommodationist” and even a “faitheist” (not sure what that is—“faith atheist”? but it’s clever!) Anyway, Jerry is “disappointed” in me and wonders if I’ve gone soft in the brain because of a Templeton Foundation sponsorship. Read it here: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/michael-shermer-theologian/ […]

  4. […] Perhaps predictably, there have been critics responding on both sides, most notably the estimable Jerry Coyne, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Why Evolution is True, who on his web page of the same title called me an “accommodationist” and even a “faitheist” (not sure what that is–”faith atheist”? but it’s clever!) Anyway, Jerry is “disappointed” in me and wonders if I’ve gone soft in the brain because of a Templeton Foundation sponsorship. Read it here. […]

  5. […] Shermer’s ridiculous CNN piece was rightly criticized by Jerry Coyne, among others, and Shermer’s Huffington Post article is a response to these […]

  6. […] Jerry Coyne, in his Why Evolution is True blogging thing: It always amuses me when an accommodationist tells the faithful that no, there is […]

  7. […] Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, is disappointed with Michael Shermer for saying: If one is a theist, it should not matter when God made the […]

  8. […] Why Evolution Is True suggests that the only form of theism that is not at war with evolution is deism. […]

  9. […] Coyne is disappointed with Michael Shermer for writing: If one is a theist, it should not matter when God made the […]

  10. […] Scientist and fellow atheist Jerry A. Coyne didn't like that. He suffers, apparently, from the rather tired (and lazy) atheist syndrome of thinking that religion is only legitimate and true to itself when it is fundamentalist. I know Feuerbach said that God is a projection for religious people, but it seems like these fundie atheists project the religion that reflects their own desires and tendencies. Anyway. Here's what Coyne had to say, This piece disappointed me, as I’ve long admired Shermer’s writings, and applauded loudly when he went after Bill Maher’s anti-vaccination stance.  But lately he’s been assuming the faitheist mantle more and more often (could it be because of Templeton sponsorship?). […]

  11. […] Coyne quoted two paragraphs of Shermer’s conclusion and explained why it represents both an arrogant and unrealistic view of people’s religious beliefs. But he called Shermer an “accomodationist”, which is an apt descriptive term for […]

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