Scott to grads: Trust your brain

On May 15, Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, got another—and well-deserved—honorary degree, this time from The University of Missouri, Columbia.  I can’t imagine giving a commencement address: what advice can you offer that hasn’t already been given?   But Eugenie did something clever: she elicited suggestions from her Facebook friends.  One of them gave her some really good advice, which became her theme:

Another of my Facebook friends had a suggestion that really resonated with me:

Trust your brain.

Now you’re talking. As you heard, I’m a scientist, and I believe strongly that reason, facts, and empirical evidence are essential for making not just scientific decisions, but other decisions as well. How can I encourage you to trust your brain? Well, as I was writing this talk, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by a reporter who attended a psychic fair. He wrote:

A whole wonderful building full of miracles. Major credit cards accepted.

The reporter went on to describe these miracles, to wit:

It could be a magic bracelet (results not guaranteed), or a magic stick (your results may vary), or a magic meditation magnet (no refunds).  And indeed, there were people attending the fair who seemed not to be using their brains very much. One purveyor would, for $100, converse with a customer’s dead relatives. As the reporter commented, “her conversation seemed to be a trifle one-sided.”

Trust your brain. It’s useful not just for surviving four years of university, but for deciding lots of things that are important. Like what brand of sunscreen to select, or what policies our elected representatives should follow, or whose fault the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is, as well as whether to believe someone can channel your dead relatives.

Excellent!  But why is it always the psychics, the homeopaths, and the astrologers who take it in the neck when scientists attack irrationality?  What about the most widespread form of irrationality?

Let’s rewrite this:

Another of my Facebook friends had a suggestion that really resonated with me:

Trust your brain.

Now you’re talking. As you heard, I’m a scientist, and I believe strongly that reason, facts, and empirical evidence are essential for making not just scientific decisions, but other decisions as well. How can I encourage you to trust your brain? Well, as I was writing this talk, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by a reporter who attended a Catholic church:

A whole wonderful building full of miracles. Major credit cards accepted.

The reporter went on to describe these miracles, to wit:

It could be a rosary (results guaranteed), or a magic cracker  (your results won’t vary), or a magic goblet of Jesus’s blood (also guaranteed).  And indeed, there were people attending the church who seemed not to be using their brains very much. One purveyor would, for a few Hail Marys, ensure your entrance into Heaven.  Observing the congregation’s prayers, the reporter commented, “their conversation seemed to be a trifle one-sided.”

Trust your brain. It’s useful not just for surviving four years of university, but for deciding lots of things that are important. Like what brand of sunscreen to select, or what policies our elected representatives should follow, or whose fault the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is, as well as whether to believe that after you die a magical sky father will send you to live with the angels.

But of course you’ll never hear anyone from the National Center for Science Education, which has a Faith Project, or the National Academy of Sciences, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, say anything of the kind.  It’s perfectly all right to go after people who peddle water as medicine, but not those who peddle wine as grace-providing blood.  By all means go after those who claim that the planets guide your life, but hands off those who think that it’s not the planets, but God.

Isn’t it weird that pro-science organizations gleefully take out after every form of superstition save the one that’s most pervasive?

This double standard about pseudoscience versus religion reminds me of a wonderful essay by New York Times science reporter Natalie Angier,  “My God Problem” (by all means read it):

Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” Web site. To the query, “Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?” the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, “modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God . . . places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions.” He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of “God intervening every time a measurement occurs” before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief doesn’t—and shouldn’t—”have anything to do with scientific reasoning.”

How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology. “No, astronomers do not believe in astrology,” snarls Dave Kornreich. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Kornreich ends his dismissal with the assertion that in science “one does not need a reason not to believe in something.” Skepticism is “the default position” and “one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something’s existence.”

In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry. You, the religious believer, may well find subtle support for your faith in recent discoveries—that is, if you’re willing to upgrade your metaphors and definitions as the latest data demand, seek out new niches of ignorance or ambiguity to fill with the goose down of faith, and accept that, certain passages of the Old Testament notwithstanding, the world is very old, not everything in nature was made in a week, and (can you turn up the mike here, please?) Evolution Happens.

57 Comments

  1. Michelle B
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, as an accommodationist, Scott will not apply your extrapolation to religion.

    Actually, we need not to trust our brains and all its emergent properties. We need to apply our baloney detection kit, and then our brains can be trusted. Kitless brains are just about useless.

    • mk
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      I had similar thoughts. While I am in total agreement with the sentiments… we really need to trust not so much our brain–our brain would tell us the sun revolves around the earth after all–but to hang on to and trust our curiosity.

    • Janet Holmes
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes my first thought is that you need to have a brain that’s worth trusting! This takes some training and education.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Yes. Accomodationism is the inability to recognise that a strategy that has failed abysmally over the last 2300 years isn’t about to suddenly start working now, as if by magic.
      Accomodationism is a triumph of truly cowardly hope over cold reality.
      Eugenie and other faitheists & godly-coddlers are missing the most important skeptical area of their brains, against the most dangerous and pernicious failings of logic known to man: the completely bogus criminal-con that is religion.

  2. Alex
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I think this comes from having two different and somewhat overlapping camps of science advocates: there are those that want to operate with minimal contradiction of social norms (such as religion is socially proper and not in conflict with knowledge), and those that do not discriminate based on how accepted an irrational opinion is.

    I am still shocked at how many scientifically trained people fail to see the folly of this discrimination based on what is socially accepted alone. It’s the socially accepted irrationalities we need to work hardest against! The ones that aren’t that socially accepted (child sacrifice, for example) are not major problems.

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    On several blogs, I have seen many people say that they ‘came out’ or was finally ‘converted’ to be atheists due to the writings of the ‘New’ atheists. It appears (anecdotal) that a large percentage of today’s self proclaimed atheists are the results of the efforts of Hitchen, Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, Dennett, etc.

    Has anyone ever heard anyone say that they ‘came out’ due to accomodationist writing? Has anyone been convinced that theism is a wrong way to think about life due to accommodationist writings?

    • Tulse
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Has anyone ever heard anyone say that they ‘came out’ due to accomodationist writing? Has anyone been convinced that theism is a wrong way to think about life due to accommodationist writings?

      Why would they, when convincing people of atheism is not the goal of accommodationism?

      • articulett
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. The goal seems to be just enough obfuscation so that religionists don’t realize that atheists feel the same way about their religion as religionists feel about all those “other” religions. And for good reason.

    • Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      As one of those who switched camps after reading the God Delusion at age 27. I have to say that I see the point to Scott’s approach. I was generally a skeptical person before TGD,and treated astrology, coffee-reading, palmistry with a healthy amount of content. Then came Dawkins, who I started to read with a small amount of incredulity, but who basically convinced me that what god beliefs i had were simply not tenable. While Dawkins helped me make the leap, it had been a constant rearing in skepticism that led me to the edge.

      Furthermore, even before TGD, when I still believed a god existed, I wasn’t against science and would have been actively against, say the recent debacle at the Texas SBOE if it had been in my back yard. Both approaches can have results.

      • Notagod
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        Except that it is in your backyard. The books that are standardized (bastardized) in Texas are used throughout the nation.

        • Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          Not every poster here is a US citizen Notagod. I’ve split my life between Greece and Canada.

          • Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

            BTW, I have no idea why my nick was cropped to the initial “C” in my first post.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink

              Because coffee crops are delicious?

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      I know of no cases where politely accommodating obvious bullshit has made the gullible come to their senses.

  4. mk
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Oh my! Such a shrill blog post!

  5. Tyro
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    re trust your brain – isn’t it our brains which tell us to believe in Astrology and Creationism or does Scott know something I don’t?

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant, both from Coyne and Angier.

    Even more so, as I would expect mocking works best. I*m reminded of how, while not at all analogous, Gapminder’s Hans Rosling succeeded in free release of The World Bank data:

    “When I first stopped arguing and then stopped yelling and instead started to be ironical, when it went well, and when I in the end started ridiculing them, it went really fast.” [My transl. from swe.]

    Now irony and ridicule is strident and aggressive, so I would expect accommodationists to claim that it is New Atheism and further not a relevant intellectual pursuit. But oh, how wrong they are on that one! Because it is the effect on the crowd that they are, and should be, always afraid of.

    Regarding the quantum mechanics (QM) argument, I consider it close to professional misconduct to proffer it. QM with great certainty predicts exactly the reverse, no “intervention” is possible. But it can be such a long analysis that I have ducked out on the recent spat of the religious QM argument posts. I’ll see if I have the stomach for it later.

    Meanwhile, another two pet peeves of mine:

    science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god,

    Science can never “prove or disprove” unambiguous fact or theory, that is what philosophy do with sundry and often conflicting truth claims under diverse beliefs.

    We can however easily test if nature is entirely material. (See for example my recent comment on this.)

    And it is. The religious and their enabler of superstition-before-fact-and-moral accommodationists both stand with their comfort pillows and try to push “goose down of faith” into imaginary gaps. The result is loose fluff in everyone’s faces.

  7. Jeremy
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    May I just second the recommendation for Angier’s essay. It’s simply the best essay on God, atheism and rationality that I’ve read.

    • articulett
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I agree!

      I’ve linked to it often in skeptic forum discussions.

      • articulett
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        (I’d like to hear what Angier’s would say in a graduation speech.)

        • articulett
          Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          ignore that apostrophe–gah!

  8. rhr
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Just yesterday I ran across Alan Sokal’s essay Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers? (available on his website). It includes a delightful appendix on why religion should be considered another form of pseudoscience – check it out. I don’t know if Sokal is widely recognized as a “New” atheist, but he should be.

    • Sigmund
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Sokal was in Stockholm last year to give a talk. At the beginning of the talk he announced he was going to divulge a conclusion that would shock a lot of people. I waited, expecting something shocking only to find out his ‘shocking’ point was that religion is incompatible with science. It was a bit of a ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ moment as his audience in Stockholm (almost all atheistic scientists) took this point as obvious. I guess Sokal must be more used to people being surprised by this sort of conclusion.

  9. KP
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Angier: “But when a teenager named Darrell Lambert was chucked out of the Boy Scouts for being an atheist, scientists suddenly remembered all those gels they had to run and dark matter they had to chase, and they kept quiet. Lambert had explained the reason why, despite a childhood spent in Bible classes and church youth groups, he had become an atheist. He took biology in ninth grade, and, rather than devoting himself to studying the bra outline of the girl sitting in front of him, he actually learned some biology. And what he learned in biology persuaded him that the Bible was full of . . . short stories.”

    That was my favorite bit because it describes my first awakening (except the part about being in the boy scouts). As soon as I became a competent biology student in 9th grade it really became impossible to think that life was poofed into existence by a “sky father.”

    Thanks for posting that, I hadn’t heard of it before.

  10. Sigmund
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Actually I’ll have to disagree with Jerry on this one to a certain degree. The NCSE is not above sneering at religion – so long as its not one of their chosen denominations. They mock creationists just as much as the ‘New Atheists’ do. They just hold their tongue when it comes to creationism-lite – such as those denominations that teach intelligent design of the cosmos or supernatural intervention in human evolution to provide morality.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      They mock creationism but they NEVER, NEVER mock religion.

      They apparently fail to realize the close connection between them (see P.Z.’s post today).

    • Tulse
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      The NCSE is not above sneering at religion – so long as its not one of their chosen denominations.

      In other words, the National Center for Science Education engages in theology.

      • Barry
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        And now today, all of you graduates of Notre Dame, I say – trust your brains. But as for you, graduates of Liberty University, I say – Oh hell no! Don’t trust your brains! Don’t even think of trusting your brains.

        There you go – does that clarify the matter?

  11. Kirth Gersen
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Jerry’s reminder (by way of Angier) of the burden of proof, and of disbelief being the default state (what I’d lump together as “skepticism”), raises the stakes in terms of acceptance of science (and, by extension, of evolution).

    Empirically, it seems, overwhelmingly, that most atheists arrive at that position because of the burden of proof argument — i.e., because of skeptical thinking. And skeptical thinking is something that tends to come out long before a child takes his first Biology course in school. I suggest that if we want to reverse the trend towards greater acceptance of the supernatural, that all the science education and anti-religious arguments in the world won’t cut it, as long as small children are still being taught to accept, rather than question. In order to pave the way for a scientific understanding later, we need to instill an attitude of skepticism VERY early on — by pushing through an agenda of critical (skeptical) thinking as an essential component of education, starting at a very young age.

    If I’m right, this approach makes the whole current accommodation/new atheism split seem a bit pointless, in the sense of being largely moot. I submit that we need to set our sights a lot lower, if we’re going to effect the kind of meaningful change that we’re all talking about.

    • Notagod
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      Nope. It’s never too early or too late to promote rational thinking.

      Doing nothing is what is pointless.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:42 am | Permalink

      “it seems, overwhelmingly, that most atheists arrive at that position because of the burden of proof argument”

      It is by being born that one becomes an atheist.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      this approach makes the whole current accommodation/new atheism split seem a bit pointless, in the sense of being largely moot.

      Well, that doesn’t work either.

      First, because obviously it doesn’t, it isn’t happening. Second, because utopian ideas, such as that everyone would one day or eventually become skeptic and/or reject religion, are religious thinking. No atheist would (or to accept my own reasoning :-o, should) promote them.

      Now, when I say that isn’t happening, I’m referring precisely to the new accommodationists suddenly becoming true skeptics. What you are proposing makes a lot of sense, and could one day contribute to society.

      Meanwhile Dawkins is proposing that society gets rid of religious indoctrination of defenseless children. That would be a step on the long way to intellectual “justice” and eventual freedom.

      • Kirth Gersen
        Posted May 20, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        @Torbjorn: “One day” is exactly what I’m talking about. Changing a demographic, from a majority deathgrip on Woo to a larger proportion of somewhat more clear-thinking skeptics, would require generations, not days. But then again, I think it’s unrealistic (Utopian, if you like, or even religious) to think in terms of sudden miracles. It’s the long view that we need to take.

        • Notagod
          Posted May 21, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          No, it’s the short view and the long view that we need to take.

          There is no, either one or the other. Do long, short, medium and, in between!

  12. Jason
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never understood how the Skeptics community are so hard on pseudo-science but never seem to want to apply the same level of scrutiny to religion. I dont’ see how you can really call yourself a Skeptic and not an Atheist. There was an interesting discussion on the same issue last month on Skeptic Blog by Steve Novella which is worth checking out. http://skepticblog.org/2010/04/05/science-and-religion-again/

  13. Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it weird that pro-science organizations gleefully take out after every form of superstition save the one that’s most pervasive?

    Yes and no. In a way it’s not weird at all, for the reason given – the one that’s most pervasive is the one that’s most pervasive. It’s the most popular; it reflects the will of the majority. That is of course precisely why it is taboo to treat it like any other bit of quackery.

    Tocqueville’s insights come in handy here. In a democracy, there is a lot of social pressure to conform to majority opinion, and even if you don’t actually conform to the opinion, you’re still under pressure to be deferential toward it. To do otherwise is “elitist,” and that’s a very filthy word in US discourse. Hofstadter joins Tocqueville in helping us understand this.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      Well, I believe you are helping me understand it. I’ve never considered it to be effectively a taboo, more like the “elitist” strawman strategy, but I can see how one can work it both ways.

      If it isn’t taboo for the in group, it is elitist for the out group, so it is double barriers toward non-conformity. Not leak tight, just very, very NCSE accommodationist safe.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

        Also, I think “taboo” is the wrong term, as such are social pervasive I believe. But it’s the best I can come up with for now.

  14. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve long employed the Angier argument (as recycled in an Edge debate with David Sloan Wilson) in discussions of this sort, but a word in defense of Eugenie Scott. NCSE has assumed the charge of defending biology teachers who find themselves in hostile environments throughout the US. I’m not sure that all of us fully understand what that entails.

    All hail the truth tellers, but I will always reserve deep admiration for those willing to suffer the derision of Jerry et al. in order to support those under attack.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      How is such an analysis helpful?

      First, Coyne et al are arguing on good grounds that NCSE approach is ultimately futile. We are all trying to help science and education here, because we all benefit from it and in many cases are still involved.

      To say that active scientists and educators aren’t privileged to their own situation is … unusual. True, we are not all in that position. But we are informed by those who are.

      Second, we are all in the position that we can, and should, be derided at one time or other. Admiration is in such a case misplaced.

      And as noted many times before, “mocking works best”. It is the religionistas that find irony and ridicule strident and aggressive, to their own detriment.

      But to suggest that a group of people are “willing to suffer … derision” doesn’t mean that the derision is the problem here. It means that this group is both making themselves a target for humor by doing something outrageous ridiculous, and that they are aware of that problem.

      And do you know what; I tend to agree with them. “Haa haa!

    • Tulse
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Ken, if you read folks like PZ Myers and others, you’ll see that their main complaint is simply that the National Center for Science Education is taking a theological position. No one is saying it shouldn’t help teachers, or that such a job isn’t both laudatory and difficult. All we’re saying is that it should not be explicitly endorsing a particular theological position on the compatibility of science and religion.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted May 20, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Well, yeah, I’m aware that somewhere someone found a J’accuse line on the NCSE website, but you and I both know that appeasement is not taking a position. Keep in mind, too, the environments in which they seek to have some influence. Torbjörn points out that ridicule works. I believe it does when it challenges otherwise reasonable people to defend their superstitions. But it has no positive impact when you’re dealing with fundamentalists and reactionary Catholics. That’s just the way it is.

        • Notagod
          Posted May 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          Christians like to use deception as a crutch to get what they want. If the christians don’t want to hear the truth, that is their problem. To use the christian tool, deception, as a feeding tube to get some mushy partial truth into their brains, is to compromise the essence of why science needs to be taught in the first place.

          • Posted May 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

            Is compartmentalized teaching deception? Is it deception to teach Newtonian physics to kids before mentioning quantum mechanics?

            Now, I am against it when quasi-accomodationists get on the hard-liners for putting the facts out there, that religious belief is in fact incompatible with science. There is a place for that. There is however also a place for teaching critical thinking without simultaneously pitting it against the formidable defenses religion has erected over thousands of years.

            • Notagod
              Posted May 21, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

              ‘Can be’ to the first, ‘Yes’ to the second – “before mentioning” is taken literally. But, that is in no way equivalent to suggesting that one or another of the christian sky fairies might have done it biologically.

              the formidable defenses religion has erected over thousands of years.

              Surely one of those formidable defenses would be an unquenchable desire to eat zombie meat? Or, did you have something else in mind? Feel free to be specific.

            • Posted May 22, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink

              By “formidable defenses” I’m mainly thinking of the belief pervasive in many religious societies that personal inner conviction can and should trump external verification, as well as the social taboo they’ve erected protecting ‘religious’ beliefs from criticism. [i]Faith is divine, doubt is of the devil and reason is a whore, oh and saying its not so is just so uncouth. [/i]

            • Notagod
              Posted May 23, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

              Whether you consider those defenses too formidable to address seriously, is of course your choice. It would seem that you could at least laugh at the absurdity of the suggestion that those defenses are anything but destructive to a maturing society. After all, there isn’t much sense in setting the foundations of a society that should last for thousands of years if you’re expecting a jeebus to whisk you away before you die.

              The absurdity of those notions that you deemed formidable needs to be put in the spotlight. Those notions have bad consequences to society when incorporated into the lives of the sheep, as they reflect it back as demands that those notions receive prominence when setting public policy.

              There is nothing good about the christian push to rid the world of sanity.

            • Posted May 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              I can freely admit the absurdity of those notions, but I’m not currently in their grasp am I?

              If calling religious belief ridiculous was enough to decovert people we’d be living in an atheist planet by now. The problem isn’t convincing me, its convincing people who have been taught that magic works, and it will punish them for even thinking it doesn’t. Setting up the reliability of skeptical thinking in their minds before attacking the defenses of religion is a valid approach, even of not the only approach.

            • Notagod
              Posted May 24, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

              Yeah, I used “you” too often (mostly intended generically), my bad.

              If I recall correctly, during the years leading up to the election of the Shrub, the christians organized a concerted effort to cram christianity into, well, literally everything. They had a name for their crusade but I don’t remember what it was right now. I think Karl Rove (the quasi-mormon) became a center piece of the forced christinization of the country. The framework of that crusade is still being pushed.

              Prior to that time atheists in general were and had been, as far as I can recall, quiet, at least publicly. There were notable exception but still, generally atheists were not outspoken. The atheists position then was very similar to what the accommodationist position is now – It already didn’t work that way. However, what is being ‘accommodated’ now is even worse because it takes away the one place within the US society were a child can experience thought without christian interference – at least if the teaching isn’t being compromised.

              In the period after the ‘everything is christian’ crusade began, the atheists have had little choice but to speak out against the desire to re-brand the United States as a backward nation. During the short period of atheists speaking out, there have been a few successes, such as Presidents no longer state that atheists don’t exist. The christians have had two thousand years to produce nothing, I would think the atheists should be allow at least some small fraction of that time to try; laughing and pointing at the christians for not noticing the obvious, before deciding whether speaking up is worthwhile or not.

              Instilling christianity in science as accommodationists would do, is not critical thinking. The christians won’t be satisfied by just being considered an alternative, they will be back pushing for more and more until christianity is the center of science.

              A significant portion of christians are waiting and expecting their jebus to show up real soon now, they don’t mind helping create the turmoil that they are hoping for as a sign that their jesus is cummming!

              The christian plan is bad, it doesn’t need to be accommodated, it needs to be scrapped. That isn’t intended to imply that christians should be, they just shouldn’t be respected in the position of control that they have weaseled their way into.

  15. Michael Fugate
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I taught biology in a small Kansas town with multiple churches and one bar (as Ed Abbey said any place with more churches than bars is in for a heap of trouble – or something like that) for two years. We had a school board dominated by one of the Baptist churches. When I started teaching evolution, they started teaching creationism in their Sunday school. Students brought Bibles to my class every day. I was 23 and fresh out of the credential program, but I taught evolution and never considered not teaching it. Maybe I was too naive to be concerned. The best story about evolution at the school was from the social studies teacher who told his students the day’s topic was the “evolution of governmental systems” and a student proudly raised her hand and said “I don’t believe in evolution so I am not going to take notes.”

    Religion really is the problem here and moderate religious believers should be criticizing the antievolution, anticlimatechange wings of their faiths instead of criticizing atheists.

  16. Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me most about this admonition to trust your brain is the fact the typical brain is not a rational beast. The typical brain is an emotional beast, a raving beast, an irrational beast. Your typical brain will glom onto any half assed idea with an alacrity that would be dismaying were it not appalling. Any rational mind is the product of careful education.

    We are emotional creatures, and we tend to see things emotionally. We react emotionally, and for many the ability to act rationally just isn’t in them. For more people than you’d think reason doesn’t apply in certain situations, whether it be evolution, politics, or any subject you’d care to name. Note, for instance, the emotional reactions guiding many of the comments in this thread; each powered by the idea that the commenter is somehow better than his target. (And note, further, the explicit idea that of course the commenter is superior in replies to this comment.)

    We are all able to act irrationally, when ever our buttons get pushed. For some it is politics, for others religion. The virulent anti-sasquatch reaction one gets from self-described skeptics has done more to delay progress in the study of the animal than any real lack of evidence. (And will this arouse bile and disgust from certain parties? Indeedy it will.)

    And that’s my point, that no one is immune to emotional reactions, to emotional thinking. If I wanted particularly violent reactions all I need to do is to suggest that Sarah Palin might be right on most any subject. I swear, were I to say that Palin had declared her support for government run health care, and some people would declare that very idea as the spawn of Satan for all intents and purposes.

    We are an emotional species. An emotional species that needs to be carefully trained in the art of rational thought. So long as we ignore our emotional nature we will make no real progress in overcoming our many pressing needs.

    Pogo Possum had it right, but now is the time to accept that we are our own worst enemy, and learn to use our emotions to power our inquiries into the workings of the universe.

    • articulett
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking that too. If I trusted my brain, I’d be wrong so often. The earth feels flat. It doesn’t seem to be spinning a thousand miles an hour. My brain can’t comprehend deep space time. Heck, it’s hard to believe that the earth is rotating towards the sun rather than the sun moving across the sky. I am amazed at how often our brains “fool” us.

      I’d say, trust scientists for your science… trust evidence over intuition. Faith and feelings are not a means of knowing anything true.

      • Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        I think Scott here is playing on the brain / heart “dichotomy”, by which people attribute their emotional motives and actions to ‘thinking with one’s heart’. There is a large segment of people who are discouraged to even think logically, instead the idea that you can ‘figure things our with your heart, within your soul’, which is woo shorthand for intuition and emotional thinking. Getting these people to flex their logical muscles is a prerequisite, after with they can work at making them good at it.

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:45 am | Permalink

          I wish that she would follow her own advice.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    (And note, further, the explicit idea that of course the commenter is superior in replies to this comment.)

    Epic fail, by appeal to motive. :-D

    [ "- Whut? Did you expect different? Oh noes!"]

    More seriously, I don’t agree with any of that. The healthy brain is mostly, by the forces of evolution, rational. It can give predictable responses to inputs, while at the same time retain an ability to adapt.

    This rationality goes for emotional responses as well. So when you characterize the brain as “an irrational beast” it is in itself a display of irrationality with a not small dash of anthropocentric thinking as spice.

    An irrational brain is probably something like a brain with schizophrenia, even though that state seems to have its rational tendencies as well. What you mean by irrationality though is most likely the same as being not coherently rational.

    That is not the function of the brain, its function is to be bounded rational in its tasks. In fact, it is a phenomenally rationally compromise between distributed functionality and central consciousness, where it models its own distributiveness on a boundedly coherent “self” by throwing away the conflicting information as much as possible. But that coherence is all construct.

    A pervasive coherent rationality is impossible, as demonstrated by my pet peeve philosophy. Different belief sets will always coexist (whether or not emotion is part of them), and their rationale with them.

    What we can do is to merge methods that work together, each with their own rationale, towards a single goal in the same way that we construct a single consciousness. That goal can only be empirical knowledge, because that is the only truly coherent system there can be.

    If you wish you could call such a bounded, but guaranteed coherent, rationality “rational”. It is many times the product of education, but ultimately science and its market of ideas. And in such a process emotion is not what power our inquiries but what pervades and help them by being able to be part of rational method, say to illicit emotional response where needed.

  18. PeterKarim
    Posted May 21, 2010 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Exellent entry professor!

    Also when NCSE’s and these astronomers’ accomodationist standpoint on Science and god/religion, always seems to infer god=YAHWE and religion=Christianity.

    A part from the ethnocentrism… there is a bit of hypocresy there: They know that if they tried to accomodate science with other, non-abrahamic, religions and other gods (brahma/vishnu/shiva) their flawed faitheist bullshit arguement will reach a critical mass and collapse under its own weight.


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