We’re doing it rong (again)

To mark the 85th anniversary of the Scopes monkey trial (it ended on July 21, 1925), the History News Network commissioned two essays on public acceptance of evolution.  One, by evolutionary biologist David Reznick (University of California, Riverside), highlights the failure of evolutionists to increase public acceptance of evolution.  I share his frustration. What do we do? Some of us think that the numbers won’t budge until we break the chain that anchors evolution denial: religion.

The other essay, “A humanist’s reflections on evolutionary biology,” is by Everett Hamner, a professor of English and journalism at Western Illinois University. It’s an annoying piece ripped straight from the pages of the accommodationist playbook.  Instead of seeing the solution as removing the obstruction, Hamner faults scientists and academics.  It’s as if traffic has been stopped by a huge rock in the middle of the road, and Hamner wants us to resurface the highway. Here are his suggestions (in italics) about what we need to do:

  • Carefully distinguish between science and scientism. . . . My students smell scientism:  the assumption that since the natural order of things can be productively examined via objective, empirical means, there can be nothing outside science’s purview. . . .And thus more recently the New Atheism represented by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens has marketed a reductive determinism in the name of science, in the process occluding the scientific method’s openness to change, unpredictability, nuance, and variety.  Keeping this difference sharp is critical to productive discussions.

It’s strange, but I’ve been teaching evolution for nearly thirty years, and I’ve never claimed in class—though I do believe it—that anything worth knowing and sharing about the world must be found out and verified by reason and empirical examination.  Nor have I seen any other teachers of evolution bring up the issue. I seriously doubt that scientism is the major reason why kids reject evolution. In fact, only somebody who is seriously blinkered could believe this.  The elephant in the room is, of course, what they learn at home.

But if a student came to me after class and asked about the relationship between science and “other ways of knowing,” I’d sure as hell tell her what I thought and ask her to defend the view that, say, dogma and revelation were valid ways of finding out things. (I did this with a graduate student just this month.)  College is a place where you learn to examine and defend your ideas, and I thank god that my own professors constantly challenged my views.  As a student, I spent many hours wrestling with professors’ objections to my ideas and my essays.  It was a struggle, but a good one.

There’s more than acceptance of evolution at stake, too.  Let’s remember what Sam Harris said: “Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc.”

  • Humanize Darwin and other scientists. It is well known in advertising that a white lab coat raises an actress’s credibility with many viewers.  For all its prestige, though, this symbol also connotes an objectification that treats patients as statistics.  The wearer may become a trustworthy paragon of knowledge, but she may also seem to embody creaturely hubris in the face of divine will. . . Darwin was no saint, but neither was he the ardently anti-religious man that much propaganda imagines.  Sensing his complexity helps many students begin to take his ideas seriously.

By all means let’s show students movies like Creation, and put a human face on science. It is, after all, a human enterprise. But let’s not pretend that Darwin was in any sense religious.  True, he wasn’t “ardently anti-religious,” but it’s pretty clear that both his studies and the death of his daughter Annie effaced whatever vestige of theism he retained.  Should we also tell the students about his famous passage on ichneumon wasps? It has been demonstrated over and over again that studying evolution shakes people’s faith.  We needn’t (and shouldn’t!) promote that in the classroom, but we shouldn’t try to prevent it, either.

  • Question bifurcations of the religious and the secular. If our culture fails to distinguish between science and scientism, it is prone to distinguish too absolutely between the religious and the secular.  This is only comfortable.  We bracket politics and religion from polite conversation, letting us pretend our ideas about race, gender, and other topics proceed from the purportedly neutral standpoint of secularism.  But where is this secular no-place?  Isn’t what counts as secular defined in relation to particular traditions and practices we call religious, and vice versa?  The boundaries here are hardly unyielding:  our “secular” friends express religious devotion to sporting events and national defense, while “religious” ones routinely champion popular media and political parties.

When I read stuff like this, the words of Orwell come to mind: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”  Where is this secular no-place? It is, Dr. Hamner, the place where material processes do their thing in a material universe.  It’s the place where we find things out by looking at the evidence rather than superstition.

Conflating science and superstition seems to be Hamner’s shtick, and maybe this is okay in his world of lit-crit where there is opinion and no truth, but I absolutely insist that the distinction is real and that it’s our job to preserve it.  How can we get students to accept science if we pretend that it elides seamlessly into faith?

  • Cultivate more careful readings of scriptures, not their dismissal. Blanket statements about the Bible and other scriptures remain frequent in our culture, even among academics.  A still-common assumption among those outside religious studies is that the purpose of discussing Genesis or the Gospels is either to do theology or to debunk it . . .Too often Americans refuse to read from the library we call the Bible with as much attention to genre, historical context, and intertextual relationships as they extend to popular fiction, news radio, and Facebook postings. . . When people grasp the differences in purpose between the Bible, the Qur’an, and The Origin of Species, major stumbling blocks on the path to consilience begin to dissolve.

Yes, by all means let’s teach students (but not in science class!) the history of the Bible and the Qur’an. But what on earth should we say is their purpose?  Are we going to play theologian and tell students that the stories of the Bible and Qur’an are just metaphors? If so, which parts are fictitious, and which historical?

It’s the position of accommodationists like those at BioLogos and the National Center for Science Education that there is a way to read the Bible that doesn’t conflict with evolution. And yes, there is, but is it the place of secular (oops) academics to tell people that this is the correct way to read the Bible?  Are we supposed to tell students how to interpret their sacred documents?  I for one want no part of such a messy business. In fact, it’s truly bizarre that some atheists are invested in pushing particular brands of theology.

At the end, Hamner recommends some books on science and religion, and you can bet that The God Delusion isn’t among them.

I’m getting weary of people like Hamner telling us that what we’re doing is counterproductive.  Where is their evidence?  There is none.  There used to be  a single anecdote, that of “Tom Johnson” (aka “Exhibit A”), but of course that went up in smoke.  Now there is nothing but unsupported assertion. Against this we can set a pile of stories about the effectiveness of forthright atheism in weaning people from their faith and promoting acceptance of evolution.  Granted, these are case studies, but there are lots of them, and until people like Hamner give us an equal number of anecdotes about how atheistic evolutionists, or wrongheaded teachers who push “scientism,” have set people against Darwin, I’ll keep doing my thing.

h/t: NCSE, where these essays are highlighted

127 Comments

  1. Tim Harris
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I hope that Hanmer sees your criticisms and has the integrity and courage to address them, perhaps in the comments here. Is it at least possible to ensure that he does at least see your objections? As to his having the integrity and courage to address them, well, knowing the litcrit crowd, I think it rather unlikely, but threre is always a chance….

  2. artikcat
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Decades of ‘social” and “personal” reflections about the issues at hand suggest you are wrong: it is not religion that doesnt allow the numbers to ‘budge’ : it is our own inability-failure-to communicate clear cut facts to society at large: people-lay people that is- may be ignorant, which is quite allright, but not dumb. Isnt it suspicious that global warming, oil spills, water in the moon and other important issues all become contentious? Religion? not so. Our failure? I think so.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      I guess,then, that European scientists are a lot better at communicating clear-cut facts to their people, since acceptance of evolution is so much higher there than in the U.S.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        I fear with Islam taking hold in Europe, the scientists on the continent may suddenly realize that their “communication skills” are losing their punch, just like their American counterparts.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          If it is anything like what may happen in Sweden, it isn’t islam itself that is directly responsible, but the usual suspects.

          With the earlier monolithic society moving towards a poly-culturism, and especially with the fear of fundamentalist islam, our christians have sensed the opportunity to move into secular areas again in the guise of “respecting the diversity”. I.e. they see that religion can empower them, old style.

          If these, the real religionistas, will succeed is up in the air. While integration of immigrants remains iffy, the acceptance of diversity isn’t terribly dire, and the recognition of the importance of criticism is wide spread, especially and thankfully among our politicians. Of course, anti-abortion and anti-evolution fundamentalist sentiments fetched from mainly US certainly aren’t helping in some extremist corners.

      • artikcat
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        True, but not only.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 8, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        But certainly it’s not mere acceptance of evolution that counts. It should be a fundamental understanding of what it is and how it works. And in this respect I would carefully reserve judgement about any superiority of European academics.

    • Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Um atrikcat… you do realize that people’s acceptance of global warming can be pretty well predicted by their religious affiliation, right? Same with many other issues.

      Granted, it’s a little broader than just “religion”, it’s devoted ideological affiliation to what are stupid bad ideologies. Religion just happens to be a particularly popular example.

      • artikcat
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Really? As we claim: show me numbers. Global warming and religion? or global warming and political affiliation? Dont say they are the same.

    • articulett
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Artikcat

      Decades of thought about the subject at hand as well as years of experience teaching the subject at hand tell me you are wrong.

      The problems stems from the fact that people are taught to trust “experts in the imaginary” (clergymen)for truths and to distrust honest scientists when what they have to say conflicts with those “truths”. Have you read any of Gregory Paul’s studies?

      • artikcat
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        you surely are joking.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:55 am | Permalink

      Why do you say it’s an inability to communicate (Mooney’s claim) rather than a failure on the part of others to learn (they believe too much bullshit)? I suspect there will always be people who believe the bullshit; after all, the nonsense is told to them as fact since they are born. It is not easy for any of them to accept that everything they have been told is a lie, from Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy all the way to God himself. There is also the mistaken notion that so many people cannot be wrong.

  3. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Here is what I think is going on: some people see the battle as being mainly political: hence, if we can lie a little we can get a certain percentage to stop resisting the teaching of evolution, astronomy, etc.

    But scientists are what they are because, well, they tend to deal with “what is true” more than “what people will accept.”

    • Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      I’ll expand on this a bit… it seems that there is a strong correlation between how many people listen to you and how loudly you are saying it — and that this is independent of the truth of what you are saying.

      Scientists have an obligation to tell the truth. But they have no obligation to tell it quietly.

      Seems to me scientists should be doing the opposite of what folks like Hamner and Mooney suggest: Rather than being more polite (which will get you steamrolled), they should be louder and more forthright. Science doesn’t need humility right now, it needs swagger.

      • articulett
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

        I think there are many approaches that have the potential to edify, but I suspect the best approach is for scientists to start treating religion the way they treat other superstitions and primitive ways of thinking. We don’t pretend that the earth might really be the center of the universe any more.

        The truth really isn’t debatable. And religious “truth” is no more supported by science than other myths. Why should any scientist or teacher be afraid to say this?

        I think this bending over backwards for religious superstitions is, by far, the main cause of scientific ignorance. And when someone treats religion like they treat other “woo”, they are called strident, shrill, and confrontational while the liars are praised for their “faith” and lip service is paid to “other ways of knowing.” This gives the impression that there’s something about religion that’s worth protecting. It allows liars to get away with bigotry without anyone calling them on it or even calling them “shrill”.

        I think the Emperor’s clothing analogy is fitting. I don’t really see how the courtier’s reply furthers scientific thinking at all.

      • Posted July 31, 2010 at 4:13 am | Permalink

        “Science doesn’t need humility right now, it needs swagger.”

        I agree, but swagger doesn’t come naturally to people who, despite a lifetime of learning, realise how much they still don’t know.

        Unfortunately, it does come easily to some ignorant people.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      blueolie, you hit the nail on the head. Nearly all the tea party and right wing and various denial groups are only about politics and those people can nothing of the truth.

      Everett Hamner doesn’t realize that a Facebook posting is more relevant than his “library we call the Bible” because it is more likely to have truth in it instead of lies or fabrications.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        care nothing

  4. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    All of this avoids the issue I raised on my blog about how creationists are pulling their shit – by debasing science as dishonest.

    Generally in front of audiences with money.

    You do not lie in order to clear your name for lying.

    • articulett
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      And the liars are never called “shrill”, “strident”, “confrontational”, or accused of “hurting the cause”, while the more truthful “gnu atheists” constantly are– as if repeating the lie can make it more true or noble.

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:58 am | Permalink

        Oh hell no. The liars are always “persecuted”, “crucified”, “martyred” … goddamn, I’d be very happy if that were true!

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        Oh yeah, a recent example of good ol’ lyin’ for jeebus is PZ’s minions crashing of Eric Hovind’s poll “what do you think about evolution?” When lil’ Eric didn’t like the result he changed the text to “what do you think about creation?”

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink

          I saw that; I wish I had been surprised.

          A year back maybe. I’m starting to be experienced, I guess. :-/

  5. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The boundaries here are hardly unyielding: our “secular” friends express religious devotion to sporting events and national defense, while “religious” ones routinely champion popular media and political parties.

    Mrph. As soon as I see a survey showing that one can predict a person’s likelihood of supporting same-sex marriage based on which sports/teams they follow, then I’ll take this guy seriously. Until then, he needs a serious reality check.

    • H.H.
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      As soon as I see a survey showing that one can predict a person’s likelihood of supporting same-sex marriage based on which sports/teams they follow, then I’ll take this guy seriously.

      Do NASCAR fans count?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      That is a great comment! It brings out the observations on religious behavior in a clearer light.

  6. Scott
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Oh, you want to increase people’s understanding (I almost said belief, as if it were a religion) of evolution?

    Show them how their two-year-old little girl could only have been saved by the medical science developed through an evolutionary understanding of the world.

    After all, that’s why religion developed in the first place, as a means to buffer frail, mortal simians from regular destruction at the hands of nature and other forces even more mysterious.

    Today people take the fruits of evolutionary biology for granted. If, forbid, those fruits were doled out, like Communion or salvation, only to registered believers, you would soon see a run on the evolution-believers’ registration office to make your head swim.

  7. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I have been reading your blog for ages now and the reading has occurred during a journey into atheism. Evolution issues actually “sealed the deal.”

    And accomodationism made sense to me until only recently; you can catch more flies with honey type of thing.

    It finally occurred to me that for the evolution-denier ilk, no manner of accomodation is going to fix the underlying problem. All too often, I have had otherwise reasonable, intelligent adults balk in my face at the mention of Darwin or evolution.

    The only thing I can say in favor of accomodationism now is that it may be the only way to get evolution into schools throughout the U.S. Otherwise, I fear that too many children are going tlo lose the opportunity to learn about evolution at all. Sure, there’s college, but I’m also worried about those kids who never pursue higher education and continue to spread the fairy tale disease.

    On a bright note, at least people are no longer being burned at the stake for heretical beliefs; perhaps someday in the not-so-distant future, people would be saying, “did you know that people used to believe that humans were descended from Adam and Eve?” In the same manner that we now talk about the flat earth, or earth as the center of the universe.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      On scientism:

      My students smell scientism: the assumption that since the natural order of things can be productively examined via objective, empirical means, there can be nothing outside science’s purview. Scientism makes science into its handmaiden, targeting whatever claims about reality or values that it perceives as threats. Thus evolution has been co-opted historically by social Darwinism and eugenics, wherein accurate natural descriptions are twisted into dangerous moral prescriptions.

      Of course science results in scientism!

      It works, while the alternatives (say, revelation) doesn’t, so it _is_ authoritative in the sense that the term connotes. Science has led to scientism for 400 years now. This is well known; why is that so difficult a fact to accept for accommodationists and agnostics both?

      Though Hamner has his own idiosyncratic definition of scientism, which is along one of the two pejorative directions Wikipedia notes: “To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims in contexts where […] there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify scientific conclusions.” Hamner uses the theological, and false, assumption that science have taken it’s success for granted, as an assumption.

      Not only is this rejecting scientific authority, but as a strawman it is both argumentum ad accommodationism and anti-scientific (because Hamner can do better than raising falsehoods on science). And of course the theological device (of claiming “assumption”) is based in the religious idea that faith is relevant.

      And of course the argumentum ad accommodationism on science doesn’t stop there. It isn’t scientism that targets “claims about reality” as Hamner claims but science. What makes the science stick there, everywhere on reality, is of course scientism.

      The real facepalm is the finishing creationist claim, where success of science suddenly becomes responsible for the failed social ideologies of social Darwinism and eugenics. … wait, that isn’t a facepalm, that is a headtwister.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Oops. That wasn’t supposed to be a response to Emi. My bad!

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Emi – “at least people are no longer being burned at the stake for heretical beliefs”

      No, but they *are* being stoned to death for them.
      And beheaded.
      And shot.
      And exploded.
      And …

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      We’ve already got evolution in US schools. The problem is we’ve also got loads of kids trained to jump up and scream “It’s a lie!” while the teacher is talking. I wonder why the kids do that – simply because they were told to or did someone put the fear of hellfire into them? Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry” portrays religion in decline (that was published ~1927) and yet religion persists. There are letters written by people as much as 400 years ago expressing a conviction that civilized society will soon be rid of religion – and here we are still cursed by the nonsense.

  8. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Fear is the problem.

    “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” ~T.S. Eliot

    • Notagod
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      Except that there are several societies that seem to do generally better and are non-religious cultures. I assume that they are living lives that are basically reality.

      I agree that fear instilled by christianity is probably a large part of the problem. Its just that I think the problem could be fixed, and that humans can actually embrace reality, as I and apparently many others do.

      Ceiling cat is all anyone really needs.

  9. Eric MacDonald
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I should have thought, Jerry, that you’d be more than weary of things like this. It’s time to get a bit angry, especially when idiots come out with things like this:

    And thus more recently the New Atheism represented by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens has marketed a reductive determinism in the name of science, in the process occluding the scientific method’s openness to change, unpredictability, nuance, and variety.

    I challenge Hamner to show where either Dawkins or Hitchens ‘occlude scientific openness to change, nuance and variety.’ And what does he mean by ‘unpredictability’ in this context, anyway?

    Or what about this:

    But in the U.S., the leaders behind efforts like Cincinnati’s new $27 million Creation Museum have been mostly fundamentalist Christians, and a secularism that exists only to thwart them is unlikely to serve anyone very well.

    What else can one do but try, at least, to thwart people with this kind of money to throw away on madness? If this is not a plain case of the ‘bifurcation’ between science and religion that Hamner wants to palliate, I don’t know what is. But how on earth does one deal with idiocy on this scale?

    And as for the idea of the secular. Why can people not understand that the secular is not anti-religious? It is indifferent to religion or irreligion. It is the space in which religious and non-religious can gather to settle their problems and learn about the world without interfering biases from idiosyncrasies of belief.

    • Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      And as for the idea of the secular. Why can people not understand that the secular is not anti-religious? It is indifferent to religion or irreligion. It is the space in which religious and non-religious can gather to settle their problems and learn about the world without interfering biases from idiosyncrasies of belief.

      Yes, but some of those people are sports fans, see? That just defeats your entire argument. Don’t you feel stupid now?

  10. Dominic
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    It all makes for grim reading, & it seems to me that we stand on the edge & that if we do not stand up to that sort of nonsense we risk entering a new dark age. The accomodationists are ostriches, heads in the sand, while the “New Religious” are preparing to stamp on the truths of discovery & enquiry wherever they disagree with them.

    • Stephen P
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      That’s rather unkind to ostriches.

  11. Insightful Ape
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Ooh, the nasty habit of scientism…
    So what do you call people who are guilty of this crime? Scientists?

  12. Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    OT, Chris Mooney has his “final word” on the Tom Johnson affair posted. It’s actually a pretty reasonable mea culpa in my opinion. He finally stopped with that “Okay, maybe it didn’t happen… but it could have!” nonsense. There’s very little weaseling — he basically just says he was deceived, he was wrong to have elevated the comment to a post, and asserts that nothing even remotely like TJ’s story actually happened.

    I think it’s about as much as we could expect from Chris at this point, TBH. I’m somewhat encouraged to see it.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Agreed. But let’s not digress into Mooneyland on this thread!!!

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:24 am | Permalink

      I left Mooneyland long ago; any posts criticizing him developed a habit of disappearing. He is dishonest. I’m betting he only admitted to his mistake with TJ because everyone was laughing at him and calling him a fool. I would still laugh at him and call him a fool; he acts the part rather admirably. His co-conspirator, who is allegedly a scientist, often writes as if she had received no scientific training at all. I find it inexcusable that someone who would claim to promote science would also put up patently absurd claims such as the one about increased rate of breast cancer in her home town. If she can’t even understand basic statistics how does she imagine she will be effective at communicating science stories to people? Anyway, Mooneyland is simply not worth visiting.

      • articulett
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        Yes, my posts disappear too. I’m not even told they are “awaiting moderation” anymore.

        Given that Mooney’s main commenters are so daft… and given the people, like Ophelia, that he’s banned– I consider myself to be in good company.

        What kind of seeker of truth is afraid to have his ideas criticized?

  13. Kevin
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I wonder if people like Hamner ever bother to read their stuff aloud before they post such major-league drivel.

    You can’t POSSIBLY read his essay aloud without doing facepalm after facepalm after facepalm.

    “Ooops, that makes no sense at all.” SLAP!

    “Woah, that’s a pretty stupid thing to say.” WHAP!

    “Maybe I should rephrase that so it doesn’t sound so fucking idiotic.” SPANG!

    Hopefully, at least one of the facepalms will restart what obviously is a nonfunctioning brain.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      Restrain yourself lest you suffer brain damage from the facepalms and become one of them!

  14. Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    It’s a mistake to dismiss Hamner as an accommodationist. Pointing the finger at “them”, and saying that “they” need to change, is just a way of perpetuating the current impasse. Pragmatically speaking, we need to see what we can change. Statements, such as those by Hamner, can provide input into how those outside of science see the debate.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      What would you call someone who:
      a: advocates that there is a meaningful intersection of science and religion.
      b: states that the current conflict between science and religion is caused by science being intolerant of religion.
      c: advocates a “more careful reading of scripture” as one of the methods of bridging the gap?

      If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and has webbed feet like a duck and has duck DNA…

      Just because he uses an arcane word like consilience instead of the more appropriate conciliation, that’s no reason to view him as anything other than what his writings reveal him to be.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Oh an addendum to my c: advocates a “more careful reading of scripture” in a way that most of the faithful would object to and reject out of hand?

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:26 am | Permalink

        I would call him a Mooney.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          To be fair, I don’t think the old Mooney a few years back did that.

          It is the New Mooney that is strident and shrill.

    • Darrell E
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      In this particular case, that is bullshit. Hamner is without question an accommodationist. He is parroting the same crap that accommodationists always do. He has offered nothing new.

      His literary background gives him no specialized experience that would lend his views any particular weight in this argument, and his views do not stand on their own.

      Frankly, he sounds like a moron and this piece by him makes him seem like a perfect example of how any idiot can get an advanced degree in something from somewhere.

      Also, while there is certainly merit in using multiple tactics, and that accommodation can be a useful one, how many times do people like you need to be told?

      1)Unapologetic atheism is not “new”.

      2)There is clear evidence that directness and even ridicule do in fact work to change peoples minds about strongly held beliefs, while there is no clear evidence that it aggravates the problem.

      3)Atheists are not telling accommodationists to “shut up and stay out of this discussion, you’re making things worse”. The accommodationists are saying that to the atheists. What atheists are saying to the accommodationists is, “no, we will not shut up, oh and by the way, just about every argument you have made against us is wrong and here’s why”.

      And if the accommodationist happens to be an asshole, then we call him, or her, an asshole.

      In short, no mistake.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        I was struck by how mundane his arguments were. Not an original thought anywhere; nor evidence that one was sought (externally or internally) before this piece was put together.

        I just wonder if he actually got paid to deliver this load of drivel. I might excuse a hobbyist for lazy thinking and lazy writing; but someone who is getting paid needs to do WAY better than this to earn my respect (regardless of whether I agree with him or not).

        I can deliver 1000 words on demand about pretty much any topic you care to bring up. Why can’t I get a gig like this?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      perpetuating the current impasse

      And what impasse would that be?

      – If we look at US (or world) statistics on religion and irreligion, _the numbers of atheists have increased_ (IIRC doubled) during the time atheists have become more vocal. In fact, some have noted that it started before this, was it ~ 95 I believe?

      It may well be that the web, and easy access to information, has resulted in this. In the same way that a critical education makes atheists of agnostics and agnostics of religious, a well known fact that can be tracked in statistics from many nations AFAIU. (But which I don’t have handy as I write this.)

      This is a process, not an impasse.

      (And if the argument is on US education on evolution in isolation: the very fact that atheism can be made to work without making the anti-science sentiments worse is telling.

      So what will happen when new generations, free from superstition, goes into education? It is process here, too.)

      – If we look at the atheist vs accommodationist fencing, there certainly isn’t a static situation. People like Mooney has come out acting as jerks with an anti-atheist agenda, NCSE has been known to have a religious position, and atheist ostracism from debating the problems of religion on science has been adopted as a strategy among accommodationists.

      In short, accommodationism has been coming out as a problem, not a solution. What will happen next we will see, but one thing is abundantly clear: this is a process too.

      • Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Here is a handy guide to statistics on the relationship between religious belief and its negative correlation with quality of life:

        http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

        If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion.
        The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

  15. David Ratnasabapathy
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Off topic.

    Jerry Coyne wrote —

    It has been demonstrated over and over again that studying evolution shakes people’s faith.

    I happened across Richard Dawkins’ evidence for evolution book The Greatest Show on Earth in a bookshop today. It was in the Religion section!

    • Kevin
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Oh, don’t get me started on THAT topic!

      Having Behe’s screed in the science section of the library sets my teeth on edge. Every time I see it, I move it to the religion section, where it belongs.

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

        I see Behe, Sheldrake, and Comfort regularly placed in the “Science” section. I don’t know about Sheldrake’s religious views but he certainly knows no science. Quack! Quack!

      • Jonathan Morgan
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        I’ve done that too–with Demsky’s book!

    • Notagod
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Hopefully the christians will pick it up and read it? Each of their gods know they need it.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        It was stacked right next to his (Dawkins’) The God Delusion :-) So yes, hopefully education will ensue.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

      Hmm … actually that should be “… studying shakes people’s faith”. The likes of Augustine and Aquinas have condemned reason long before Darwin wrote his books. It is rather amusing (but it quickly grows tiring) how Augustine and Aquinas poo-poo reason while pretending to use reason to support their absurd claims – but see, Liars for Jesus are nothing new.

  16. Andy
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I just want to apologize on behalf of those of us with advanced degrees in English. We’re not all morons when it comes to respecting science. Apparently, though, most of us are (Stanley Fish, Marilynne Robinson, et al.).

    In literary studies, there is a certain kind of discourse—one that is somewhat freewheeling and largely free from the rigors of other disciplines (especially the sciences). I think what happens is, a lot of folks in the English biz get to this place where they view the scholarship of other fields as though it were essentially the same as their own. This erodes the important distinctions between the hard sciences and the Humanities—the foremost being the distinction between raw empiricism and discursive, intuitive interpretation. Moreover, for thirty years English departments have been taken over by this thing called “theory,” which is the most unscientific thing imaginable (though it has its utilities). It’s out of this culture of discourse that people like Hamner and Marilynne Robinson arise, mistakingly thinking that scientists don’t really “know” anything, and that religion is compatible everything (because “theory” basically allows you to rationalize anything by tweaking definitions—get it? There is no reality, just “theory”). It’s obnoxious, to be sure. I can report that this is starting to change. There’s a younger generation of literary scholars now who are looking to “get back to basics,” who are interested in actually examining literary texts rather than engaging in mastubatory, elitist “cultural criticism.”

    • Posted July 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      a lot of folks in the English biz get to this place where they view the scholarship of other fields as though it were essentially the same as their own.

      And that they are entirely qualified to scold it, set it straight, correct its errors, generally tell it what’s what. It drives me CRAZY.

      • Andy
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        It drives me crazy too. Ultimately, these people are not respecting their own field either—to the extent that respecting one’s field (i.e., one’s expertise) means respecting the boundaries of it.

        What’s even more galling it that English profs are the most territorial bastards when it comes to maintaining the fences around their own field. I mean, if Richard Dawkins showed up to an MLA conference and starting pontificating about how scholars of Shakespeare’s folios have their textual analysis “completely wrong,” you can bet he’d get run out on a rail. “Stick to what you know,” they’d say, “Go back to the lab and leave the literary scholarship to the pros!” Seriously, that’s what would happen. The difference is Dawkins—or any scientist—would never do that! But English profs do it all the time. It’s reached the point of absurdity.

        • Posted July 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          There is an over-educated type who are addicted to words and vague meanings/associations. Anything goes in the name of supposed creativity. And yet, for the most part, their work is astoundingly insipid, dull, and silly (and repetitive, if you read one of them, you have real them all).

          At least, we were not admonished to behave in the sandbox!

          Do these accommodationists think we are kidding when we say that if we pretend that science and religion is compatible, that would be intellectually dishonest and therefore we can’t do it? What part of being true to oneself do they not get?

          Just because the religious are in the majority, I am not going to give up my integrity.

          If the literal creationists will never accept evolution and if the more moderate religious followers do already, bending over backwards to not critically analyze religious beliefs is going to do what exactly? Nothing.

          Many of us have carefully read holy books, that is why we are atheists!

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      We used to call that “relativism” and it was a disease of philosophers. It is not only fuzzy thinking, it is a vile excuse to promote fuzzy thinking.

  17. mk
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I think this would be a good time for Tim Minchin.

  18. steve oberski
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    highlights the failure of evolutionists to increase public acceptance of evolution

    Not to mention the failure of physicists to increase the public acceptance of gravity.

    Strangely enough you don’t hear about many people walking out of 10th story windows because “gravity is just a theory”.

    It’s not your fault Jerry.

    The failure is on the side of the public.

    There has to be a corresponding public “quid” to the science community “quo”.

    Most people seem to prefer reality tv broadcast into their homes via a system that came about by an extremely sophisticated understanding of reality while at the same time rejecting that reality.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Gnu Accommodationism looks like donkey stuck between strawmen of facts and faith.”

  20. Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’m prepared to get lambasted, but I’m about to troll and offer an alternative perspective. Please read my comment objectively before firing away.

    I think one of the foundational premises here is invalid: that the underlying problem is that the doubt about evolution is rooted in faith. I think theists have come up with some very strong arguments grounded in science that have really found no legitimate refutation nor reasonable positive arguments for the alternative. These begin with, but are not limited to, the following questions:

    1) How did the universe come into existence?

    2) How does one explain the fine tuning of our universe to allow for life on our planet?

    3) How can we explain objective morality without the existence of God?

    I submit a fourth one that I have come across recently:

    4) How can we reconcile intangible concepts (particularly morality and emotions like love and happiness) if the only existence is biological and tangible?

    The theist has an answer for each one of these questions, and his/her position hasn’t really been torn down particularly well, nor has a case been built up for the alternative.

    One final statement, and then I’ll bow out. Remember this: truth is not determined by a majority vote. One only need look as far back as the prior scientific consensus that the solar system was geocentric to verify that statement.

    OK, fire away. But be gentle. :-)

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      The theist has made up an answer for each one of these questions

      Fixed it for you.

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      The theist has pulled an answer out of his/her ass for each one of these questions

      In case the first one wasn’t gentle enough.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      sabepashubbo,

      Before demanding answers, please state how your items 1 – 4 have anything to do with evolution.

    • Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      1 and 2 are valid questions which answers are being sought. Religion will never come up with a falsifiable answer.

      3. Morality is really a human philosophical construct.

      Of course, saying “I haven’t found an answer in science, ergo god did it” really isn’t an answer.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that was trolling; because _none_ of those items concerns the fact of evolution or its education.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Morality and emotions, all of them and not just the nice ones, are part of our biological existence, which doesn’t suffer from simple-minded splits between the tangible and the intangible.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:56 am | Permalink

      1) Does religion offer a valid view? No. The Abrahamic religions have one story, all the other religions have other stories. In fact the Abrahamic religions stole the parts of their stories from earlier (and no longer extant) religions. On top of that it is ridiculous to expect science to have the answer to all questions at this instant. Scientific progress is slow; scientists often spend decades of their lives to make a contribution which can be described in a single paragraph in a textbook. A lifetime’s work often doesn’t seem to amount to much. So – unlike religion, science does not claim to know but some people may be seeking that knowledge. Humans can also formulate questions which cannot be answered; unfortunately there is no simple method for recognizing all such questions. “How did the universe begin” may be one such question. Cosmologists have a pretty good model of how the universe evolved from the big bang, so much is known about the early universe even though no one yet has any ideas about why the universe appeared. Getting back to religion – what created this god which you presume to be necessary to create the universe?

      2) There is no such thing as “fine tuning” – that is a creationist myth. The universe behaves in a way that makes it possible for creatures such as humans to develop – well, that should be obvious because we’re here – duh! And if the universe were not that way, we wouldn’t be discussing it. So, a universe that works in such a way is a precondition for life. There is no need for a deity to diddle electrons. Why do you believe a deity must have done something special in order for us to have this universe we’re in? If there were a deity, why is the earth so special that it is the only rock we know of so far with life on it? If the creation of animals etc were such a wonderful thing, why didn’t this deity do it elsewhere and allow us to know about the others? Why does this deity forbid knowledge in the Genesis story? Isn’t that a shit of a god?

      3) Why do you assume that morality is objective? Why do you assume that a god is necessary for morality? Google is your friend; there have been many valid investigations into moral behavior and there is absolutely no indication that a deity has anything to do with it. In fact there are valid studies demonstrating that people who claim to be religious are more immoral than godless people. Osama Bin Laden’s a good religious man – would you agree that murdering the thousands of people on 9/11 was moral? It was certainly the fruit of religion; in fact Osama says god told him to do it – it must be good, eh? Then god told Dubbyah to invade Iraq. I love this god-based morality because you can make up any shit.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        On ‘fine tuning’, I would also note that it is rejected by observations.

        For example, it is known that you can take out the weak force and still get a universe pretty much like ours, with galaxies, stars and planets! (Famous paper, on arxiv I believe.)

        More importantly, Vic Stenger has modeled this for the benefit of creationism; you can distill it down to a few dominant ratios of parameters – and 50 % of those will give you regular universes.

        There is no ‘fine tuning’!

        While I’m at it, I would also not that, same as for the creationist troll catch origin of life, we already know entire consistent pathways (Linde, Stenger). I.e. we know how to get to our universe “from scratch” as it were. What we don’t know is all of them and which is most likely.

        (And of course it is controversial. But not unknown territory, which creationists lie about: “nor reasonable positive arguments for the alternative”.)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        On the topic of education and biology this is also a fine time to sum up the latest find in astrobiology. Kepler data has just shown us how very ordinary our planetary system is, in the last outstanding aspect.

        But before I get into that, let me polish of the connection with habitability “on our planet”.

        People studying the concept of galactic habitable zone have concluded that our galaxy may have 30 % stars within the zone and increasing, many at least 1 Gy older than our biosphere so amenable for multicellular life.

        However, those models are IIRC based on galaxies developing in isolation. There is increasing recognition that galaxies, our own included, grow by aggregating smaller ones. The end result may well be that the zone concept have to be abandoned because star ages may be mostly well mixed.

        Back to the main topic; in how many ways can I count thy as ordinary?

        * Exoplanet statistics shows that star smaller and larger than the Sun has planets, from red dwarfs (most likely to have planets) up to now latest subgiants (still ~ 30 % with planets).

        * Statistics shows that the Sun, which has somewhat untypical much heavier element, lies within the large plateau in the planet distribution where likelihood of planets max out.

        * As for planet size, number and orbit distribution, we have seen one system with at least 5 planets, the inner than smallest, and of the same size as our.

        * As for other features – asteroid belt, Kuiper belt and Oort comet reservoir – examples of each belt have been seen in infrared, and comets have been seen engulfed in other stars from spectra.

        Finally we have the new Kepler data. Exoplanet and astrobiology researcher Sasselov recently laid it out in a TED talk on the web:

        * Small planets are the most common. In fact, there are already ~ 100 candidates “like Earth”, with around ~ 60 expected confirmations by other observatories in the months to come.

        And, here is the great presentation from Sasselov,

        * If one put up the size distribution of our planetary system, the best one can do with such a small sample is pattern match:

        – 4 “Earth-like” planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars). Roughly same gravity means: roughly same convection, so roughly same plate tectonics/weather patterns for same orbit et cetera; roughly same atmospheric pressures and scale height for same atmospheric mass; roughly same biological max size for species.

        – 2 “Neptune-like” planets (Uranus, Neptune)
        – 1 “Saturn-like”
        – 1 “Jupiter-like”
        – 0 larger

        The roughly same 4-2-1-1-0 is the now known exoplanet size distribution.

        Our solar system is embarrassingly ordinary in all respects!

        It will undoubtedly take years before the creationists discover that their public knows that the religious idea of ‘fine-tuning’ isn’t applicable anywhere from universe to Earth. But the recognition will someday hit that they can’t propagate the lie and get away with it – it is an EPIC FAIL.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      Oops … I missed #4:

      What is there to be reconciled? There are researchers out there trying to understand more about emotions and behavior and there has already been much success in the past 100 years. We have established, for example, how various chemicals can affect our perceptions.

      You also insist that “… his/her position hasn’t really been torn down particularly well, nor has a case been built up for the alternative” but you give us no idea why you believe that. Your belief is wrong; these points have been refuted numerous times, but true believers refuse to unbelieve the nonsense. There is this well established fact of “confirmation bias” in which people, as Simon and Garfunkel may put it, “… hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.”

      If you really want to understand something you need to put a lot of time into thinking about it – how can the claim be falsified? How can it be verified? People trapped in confirmation bias only seek information which supports their belief and avoid (and make excuses to reject) any information which would suggest otherwise.

  21. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Thus evolution has been co-opted historically by social Darwinism and eugenics, wherein accurate natural descriptions are twisted into dangerous moral prescriptions.

    Actually, this is a fair assertion. Social Darwinism was informed by a flawed understanding of evolutionary theory, eugenics perhaps even more so.

    We should encourage one another actively to acknowledge this dark history, because the creationists are praying (literally) that our students will hear it first from them.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Well, I don’t think so. In my earlier comment, which mistakenly ended up under Eli comment, I said:

      “The real facepalm is the finishing creationist claim, where success of science suddenly becomes responsible for the failed social ideologies of social Darwinism and eugenics. … wait, that isn’t a facepalm, that is a headtwister.”

      I don’t know much about those ideologies, but I assume they were informed by evolution, or rather their systematic reading of it.

      Likewise pedophiles are informed by pornography. Does that mean that Hollywood romantic movies are responsible for pedophilia?

      This is a creationist claim, and as for the creationism vs science debate it belongs in social study class. I think it is a good idea that we should encourage such study. I do not think it was a fair assertion however, but an ill-conceived kvetch.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know much about those ideologies, but I assume they were informed by evolution, or rather their systematic reading of it.

        Likewise pedophiles are informed by pornography. Does that mean that Hollywood romantic movies are responsible for pedophilia?

        What part of flawed understanding was I unclear about?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          None. I note that it isn’t a “fair assertion” but a kvetch, and illustrated why by an analogy.

          We must be discussing at cross purposes. Perhaps “fair assertion” means something else to you than to me. To me, putting blame where it doesn’t belong isn’t fair, nor is creationist blame games “fair assertion” – it isn’t correct.

          [Nor is it dangerous. When understood, that is why I think education on this is a good idea.]

          Let us drop this, it is a minor misunderstanding somewhere, probably mine.

          • Ken Pidcock
            Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

            Agreed, and any misunderstanding is not yours.

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        “Social Darwinism” is something which was around when Darwin was alive. Darwin’s own response was that those people do not have the slightest notion of what his work is about. It is an unfortunate name because it has nothing whatsoever to do with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and yet the misnomer sticks. It was godbots that invented that nasty name too.

        • Ken Pidcock
          Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          This is what I was taught, as well, but I’ve found it generally useful to not just believe what I’m taught. I’m afraid the historical record reveals imperialists invoking Darwin. Wrongly, of course.

          • MadScientist
            Posted August 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            Huh? I thought I just said that. Yes, people claimed they were interpreting Darwin, and Darwin himself said they were full of shit (though not quite those words).

  22. ThatGuyMontag
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering if it would be possible to shift the focus of the discussion because what really interests me about Hamner’s essay is the charge of scientism.

    Now it’s obviously a very common charge and it always gets stuck together with comments like “science can’t explain love(seriously?!?) or beauty.” but to be perfectly honest I can’t get my head around what anyone who says that thinks science is. Any takers on a useful description of what image people have to have of science to be able to accuse others of scientism?

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Somehow I don’t think they have an image consonant with some other relevant ‘isms; realism and pragmatism, for starters. Probably much more like my image of ‘philosophism…’

      Snark aside, I agree with you. I’m fed up with this usually unchallenged charge and feel it deserves much more critical attention. It’s thrown around more to put science on the defensive than achieve any other end, IMO. Typical philosophist framing…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      Actually Wikipedia’s article is a good source on this. As I mentioned in an earlier comment they show two types of pejorative use, but they also discuss “Relevance to the science and religion debate”.

      The first claim is that “for many theologians and philosophers, scientism is among the greatest of intellectual sins” [Gregory R. Peterson]. I.e. for them the accommodationist claim is paramount, science is “not authoritative” on theological and philosophical areas _no matter what_.

      The second claim is that it is a form of belief. (Yeah, we have heard that one before, haven’t we?) That from _a parapsychologist_! But it is actually a variant on the first, except that it denies authority on _anything_. You have to have that, if you want to push pseudoscience.

      The third claim is the interesting one: “The Persian scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, commented that in the West, many will accept the ideology of modern science, not as “simple ordinary science”, but as a replacement for religion.[19]”

      So some, like Nasr, thinks that one can abstract a scientific ‘ideology’, and that replaces religion. This is a much more general claim than the first two. Nasr, which is an islamic theologian, thinks that at heart science is a wholesale religion.

      [Logically it is only coincidence then that science works; I don’t know how Nasr squares that cognitive dissonance. He is also a philosopher of science.]

      Or at least, he thinks that science competes with religion on its own terms on its own turf. And in that case it must obviously be false, since his religion is true, right?

      • MadScientist
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        Bah, Nasr’s claims are nothing new. We’re back to Augustine yet again. Although modern science did not exist back then, there were still the empiricists and mathematicians. (There were some goofy mathematicians back then too.) Remember also that even earlier than that, philosophers such as Plato’s Socrates challenged the claims made about the gods. Socrates was famous for annoying people by saying “that’s nice, but how do you know this?”

        Science is better than religion because it is consistent and the claims are verifiable. Religion is just shit made up and hence is internally inconsistent as well as inconsistent with what we know of the world.

        • ThatGuyMontag
          Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:24 am | Permalink

          Great yubbly that Wikipedia article has pissed me off.

          I’m sorry if what follows is a bit rough as I’m still working on getting my thinking clear on this but I’m going to start with a rough definition of science. As far as I’m concerned all that science is, is taking our epistemology seriously. This means that our ontology, our theory of what exists, strictly comes after and is limited by our theory of how we know. What this means is that science is not evolution, or the best cosmological theories or the standard model of physics, all it is, is the assertion that what we believe must follow our best theory of how we know.

          This is where I find people who assert there is such a thing as scientism lose me. Let’s take the assertion that science can tell us nothing about art say. I’m not entirely sure how that can even make sense. The way I read that is they’re asserting something like our best model of physics tell us nothing about art. But surely that’s a clear category error? The response from the proponent of science is you’re doing it wrong; tell me how you know whatever it is you say about art and if your account is good enough, we’ll call it the science of art, or the social sciences or whatever.

          Admittedly this is a bit of a tautology. I’ve essentially defined science as whatever our best theory of knowledge is, but to be honest I don’t see how that doesn’t actually reflect science. Do astronomers use any of the same techniques biologists use? When was the last time you saw a physicist conducting a survey to do physics even though surveys are actually really useful for psychology? The closest thing therefore to a charitable account of the charge of scientism is: scientism is what happens when an astronomer tells a philosopher they need to give a cosmological account of Utilitarianism. Apart from ridiculous situations like that, the charge holds no water.

  23. Diane G.
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Too often Americans refuse to read from the library we call the Bible with as much attention to genre, historical context, and intertextual relationships as they extend to popular fiction, news radio, and Facebook postings

    Oh, hey, point of agreement! I’m happy to extend to the Bible every bit as much attention to its cultural relevance(/irrelevance) as I extend to popular fiction, news radio, and Facebook. More, even.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Well, to put it in context:

      “Too often Americans refuse to read from the library we call Grimm’s Fairy Tales with as much attention to genre, historical context, and intertextual relationships as they extend to popular fiction, news radio, and Facebook postings”

      This is the primary reason why children still disappear when they walk into the Black Forest – they just don’t believe that the evil witch with a gingerbread house really does exist. If they did believe that Truth, then they wouldn’t wander into the forest alone and never be seen alive again.

  24. Tim Harris
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    But one huge problem that surely needs to be addressed is what it is about American social, cultural and political structures in comparison with those of some other nations that creates this situation.
    Japan, where I live, was mentioned above as a shining example of a pro-scientific democracy. Not, so long ago, though Japan was controlled by military thugs and Japanese people had State Shinto (a late 19th-century invention with lots of borrowings from the Abrahamic religions to render it properly and absolutely ‘religious’). This fell away after the war (though there are still right-wing thugs about wanting to return the society to thuggishness), and Japanese religion (if we except some of the more stridently proselytising Buddhist sects) returned to a more traditional and less spectacular, though no less important role, which is basically that of affirming the bond with one’s ancestors and through that preserving the household. Religion of this kind, which is more private and customary than involved with the public fervencies of belief and which does not involve belief in some all-powerful and single creator god, really doesn’t challenge science (or, rather, science doesn’t really challenge it); and so there can be a co-existence. Also, the Japanese, being essentially polytheistic and like other polytheistic peoples, simply don’t worry about contradictions so much. Nobody (apart from a few die-hards) believes in the truth of the myth of Izanagi and Izanami and the creation of the world (ie the Japanese islands), and bobody really ever did. But Christianity, time and again, has tied itself to asserting the truth of its myths, and unfortunately the most popular kind of Christianity in the States seems to be of the Evangelical kind in which a manufactured fervency of belief trumps everything, including truth, facts and the ability to think straight.

  25. articulett
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Does it never occur to these faitheists that maybe, just maybe, the problem is that religions teach that a person will live happily ever after for believing certain things and be punished forever if you don’t?

    I think that notion is at the very core of “Unscientific America” and the statistics seem to back me up. Why would you accept or try to understand evolution if you think your salvation depends on believing some alternate story?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Exactly, and I can see how that can be Mooney’s tactic: you want to have a nice accommodation so that the fundamentalists can be swayed to less extreme religion without any fear.

      The very idea that you can be told that religion makes you a poor excuse for a free human being, because it haves you cover before imagined fears because you covet an imagined reward, is antithetical to such a tactic. Criticism is dangerous and not to be tolerated.

      The fact that such confrontation, if successful, actually makes people think doesn’t register. The fact that such confrontation, if successful and socially spread, actually makes people embarrassed doesn’t register.

      All what matters for a framer is the frame. Because that is something he can believe in, besides his belief that belief is a good thing. Facts that are harmful to belief are to be ignored.

  26. Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    What I find annoying about this is that the blame is coming out of speculation. If creationists talk about scientism, then we must somehow distance ourselves from Dawkins et al. who preach that… as if the reason people dismiss evolution is because Dawkins is a vocal atheist.

    These kids who are growing up and rejecting evolution aren’t liberal theists who happened to stumble across The God Delusion and realised they need to give up God in order to accept evolution (not that the book or any of his books makes that case), how can we blame the “new atheists” for what is essentially a long-standing problem? Blaming the “new atheists” is just an excuse to not go after the sacred cows that are really at fault.

  27. Wowbagger
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    What I think they’re mistaking – deliberately, even wantonly – is that ‘science’ doesn’t just mean things you can see in microscopes, or weigh or use in calculations; it’s about an objective process of determining what is true from what isn’t.

    When they say we can’t ‘measure’ a god to determine their existence they’re completely correct – but that’s not what applying science to a god hypothesis is. It’s about investigating the validity of the claim with whatever tools are available – which in this case includes reason and logic.

    This nonsense about ‘other ways of knowing’ is the worst, most vapid kind of smokescreen because it doesn’t allow for any kind of analysis other than the mealy-mouthed post hoc rationalisations of religious apologists who constantly have to re-shape presumably ‘inerrant’ (a moving-goalpost term if ever there was one) ancient stories to fit with the ever-changing framework of contemporary human social behaviour.

    ‘Other ways of knowing’ should – if the person claiming this a a valid source of information is intellectually honest – be as subject to verification as anything else.

    Why should religion get a free pass?

  28. articulett
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    I wonder how well Hammer understands evolution and what method gave him his understanding of the topic? I bet he understands evolution a lot less than he thinks he does.

    Why aren’t those giving advice on how “gnu atheists” are doing it “rong”– very successful examples when it comes to teaching others about the topic– often, they don’t even seem to really understand the topic, from my perspective, and I end up wondering if their own understanding of evolution has been garbled by trying to “keep the faith”? Are these the best “fruits” accommodationism has to offer?

    When I hear the word “scientism”, I automatically “think “creotard” or “faitheist”. It’s a word used to bring science down to the level of faith (in peoples’ minds) so that it’s just one of many “faiths” a person can choose from.

    But science is the only verifiable means we have for understanding what is real. Faith allows the ignorant to feel like they understand something deep and true while remaining ignorant of the actual facts.

  29. Tim Harris
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I doubt very much that Hamner knows much, if anything, about the theory of evolution. A great many litcrit people are not only ignorant of things outside their discipline (if it can be called that), but almost wholly incurious: they don’t want to know. (However, there are some good younger critics like Joseph Carroll and Jonathan Gottschall who are seeking to base literary criticism in biological realities.)
    But what is surely even more damning, is that people like Hamner seem blind to the seriousness of the political struggle that is going on in the States, a struggle that thinkers like Emmanuel Todd and Anatol Lieven have drawn attention to and that one hopes for all our sakes the tea-partying ultra-nationalists will not win. The problem with people like Hamner is their fundamental mediocrity and frivolousness.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      I should have added ‘complacency’ to that list of sins.

  30. MadScientist
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    Gee, that Everett Hamner sure is a ham – a moron that is. His students can “smell scientism” eh? OK, let’s see his evidence for that.

    “Scientism” is Hamner’s straw monkey (I’m tired of hearing of straw men). Take the monkey, beat it (hmm … that sounds lewd), then set it on fire like a goat.

    Why do people want a special exemption for superstition? Superstitions make numerous claims which are obviously false; this is a matter of basic sensibility and science is not essential to refute many of the lies. Where science does a great job of dispelling the myths is when we look at the not-so-obvious lies perpetuated by religions.

    It really is so amazing that such a simple con as the christian religion can be so effective:

    cultist: The babble is the word of gawd.
    godless: How do you know?
    cultist: I know, I was told and I have faith. Faith good, reason bad.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      That’s the thing; we just want to have two questions answered: 1) ‘why do you believe what you believe?'; and 2) ‘how would you know if you were wrong?’

      Religion seems built around finding reasons to avoid answering those questions – or, at least, answering them with intellectually honesty rather than an endless succession of special pleading and disingenuous waffling meant to pass as a compelling argument.

      Why is it unreasonable to not take ‘because I say so’ as an answer?

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 1, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Hehehe; well, “because I say so” is what constituted most of the system of education until fairly recently. Fine lot of good that did us; that’s the reason so many non-thinkers still invoke the words of the ancients to support their claims. Somehow people from a less sophisticated society which did not have as much information knew more than the latest lot of humans … Why, just looking through Martin Gardner’s book “Fads and fallacies in the name of science” first published about 60 years ago, many of Gardner’s own claims in that book are simply wrong (particularly about ‘contentious’ issues in cosmology). Scientists have established many more facts and discovered many more things since Gardner wrote that book. The kooks however still behave in much the same was as described in the book – some things never change (much).

  31. oarobin
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    jerry,
    a wonderful clarification of the issues of methodological vs metaphysical naturalism can be found here:

    http://deisidaimon.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/scientific-presuppositions-and-the-supernatural/

    it would be nice to bring it to a wider attention especially in this debate with accomodationalist as it show the distinction to be useless bunk!

    excerpt

    “The metaphysical naturalism he talks of runs very much counter to this idea of science in that it is supposed to make ontological assumptions without any evidence So, any metaphysical naturalist is not a very good naturalist at all. Indeed, I know of no philosopher who would fit this bill. What about methodological naturalism? That is fairly nonsensical also in that scientists are not naturalists because they have to be in order to do science. No, they are naturalists because, in so far as they allow the evidence to shape their beliefs, no belief in God or any sort is actually required by that evidence.”

    also as a bonus the post is written by a philosopher!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Here’s another one–a pretty good paper by Barbara Forrest on why we are (are should be)metaphysical as well as methodological naturalists:

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

      (Curiously, Chris Mooney has claimed Forrest as an ally despite his rejection of metaphysical naturalism.)

      • Hitch
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Mooney uses her argument to construct a case against Dawkins. Unfortunately it is not sound use, in fact kind of opposite of the spirit of Forrest’s argument.

  32. Tim Harris
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Another matter is that Hamner seems to be unaware that Hitchens is not a scientist – a bit hard to accuse CH of being a scientific reductionist. As for Dawkins, whom in many ways I admire, I get a bit fed up with snobby chat about ‘brights’ and a little taken aback by his gleeful and histrionic indulgence in addressing his readers in one of his books with ‘you’re just a machine’ while scuttling about elsewhere and assuring us in a piece included in Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist that, no, from a Darwinian point of view, human niceness is ‘just plain dumb’ and ‘a perversion of Darwinism’ and that we are a ‘singularity’ – well, what are we? A machine or a singularity that transcends Darwinian mechanics?

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      OK, I cringe every time I read the word brights. But the rest of this seems a teensy bit out of context.

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 1, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        Personally I’d prefer “asshole” to “bright” – imagine being a bona-fide asshole! We can all get together and have a meeting of assholes – what fun that would be! At the very least it doesn’t sound as pompous and pretentious as ‘bright’.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      A machine or a singularity

      I’m not sure of the context, but we are certainly part of populations that participate in evolution, just biochemical machines, and unique objects – all at the same time.

      This is no different from my laptop I’m writing this on, which are part of populations that participate in technological development (by way of their technology, not inheritance), just electronics machines, and unique objects (due to web environment if nothing else) – all at the same time.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted July 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Yes, out of context… Sorry. Got carried away. But by a ‘singularity’ Dawkins means that we, unlike other animals, are not wholly determined by our genes, not that you, I and everybody else are separate individuals: the singularity is the human species and its relative freedom.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Thank you!

          Well, my point covers that in extensio (“participate in evolution”). Anyhow, analysis seem to indicate the question is a false dilemma.

  33. Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I think Mr. Reznick makes a good point about people from other subject areas in the Humanities getting involved in talking about evolution an supporting science. I think it’s important for people to get interested in and learn more about subject areas that may not be their areas of study or expertise. I think Professor Dennett makes a good point when he mentions this in “Breaking the Spell”. In the end, I think it’s not just about evolution (although that’s the topic that is very often attacked) but about being able to tell the difference between good arguments and bad arguments, and that’s important to all disciplines.

    Mr. Hamner does what I’ve seen many others do — he places all the expectations and responsibility on those who are supporting evolution, telling us to be nicer about criticizing religion and so on. Why not also have some expectations of those who have questions about evolution, such as expecting them to go read some books on the topic?

  34. Tim Harris
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    And just to round off things, if you go to Everrtt Hamner’s website, it’s pretty clear that he is no humanist but a fervent believer in Christianity.

    • articulett
      Posted August 1, 2010 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Ah… he’s one of those guys whose peeved with those who dismiss his religion as casually as he dismisses all other religions.

      Accommodationists have no evidence to support accommodationism, and they are bothered to think that their own sacred beliefs might be as foolish as those they laugh at. They vilify the messengers so they never have to listen to perceive this message.

      It takes a lot of flummery to keep the faith. It can also, apparently, involve frequent attempts to silence the critics of faith with unsupported claims that they are “hurting” some “cause”.

  35. efrique
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    In addition to the letters at richarddawkins.net, there are regular ‘thankyou’ posts at reddit.com’s atheism subreddit from newly ex-theists thanking the community for their vigorous arguments. These newly-ex-theists surprisingly often express a new-found delight in learning about the universe… that is, in what they can find out from science.

    There are also many posts from people complaining about how the atmosphere there will be putting people off – which could be so – but they are almost never able to provide even a single piece of evidence of anyone being *convinced* by a more accomodating stance. These posts are long on claims and very short on evidence.

    Even if there were an equal number of testimonials from people saying that they found an accomodationist stance helpful, that would only indicate that a *mixture* of approaches is effective -

    • articulett
      Posted August 1, 2010 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      Yes. These are my observations as well. I think the “gnu atheists” lend a voice to many.

      I can understand why faitheists might be irked (maybe they are unaware of their knee-jerk need to defend faith)or, even, jealous, but from my readings, it seems like the supporters of the “strident gnu atheists”(ha)are far more scientifically literate (as well as funnier, more honest, and smarter) than the supporters of accommodationists. I certainly don’t see evidence that these “gnu atheists” are hurting scientific literacy. Heck, I don’t even see evidence of them being confrontational unless the accommodationists think blog posts are confrontational. I don’t think scientists (or anyone) should have to worry about the magical things people believe in.

      Besides, It seems like a lot more people are reading the writings and responses of those “confrontational gnu atheists” that the faitheists that are constantly telling them how they are doing it “rong”.

  36. articulett
    Posted August 2, 2010 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t think people like Hamner really believe people like Dawkins keep people from learning about evolution. I think he’s more afraid that people like Dawkins turn people away from religion as he educates them about evolution, and Hamner knows that faith needs respect and the support of other faithful to survive, because there sure isn’t any evidence to prop up such beliefs.

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    This may be weak or wrong science as of yet, but maybe the accommodationist strategy is revealed by the facts. It is research on issues and popular opinions, and the most interesting find comes towards the end:

    “The results suggest how would-be persuaders could strategically reveal the majority or minority status of a proposal to achieve the maximum persuasive effect.

    If you feel you have a weak argument, it should be best to suggest right away that a lot of people support your issue, before you make your case. In that case, you’re hoping that the majority endorsement will prevent people from counterarguing. People will rely on the “wisdom of the crowd” to guide their thoughts, without actually considering the issue, Petty explained.

    If you tell people you have majority support after you make your weak arguments, it is too late – it will only serve to give people confidence in the negative thoughts they have generated about your cause, Petty said.

    But for those with a strong argument, it can be helpful to reveal wide support for your proposal after explaining it, as this gives people confidence in the positive thoughts they have generated to your strong arguments, Petty said.”

    I.e. accommodationist strategy is to promote the idea that religion is compatible with science should be elevated to having a lot of people supporting the issue up front, as a frame over facts. That is the strategy those with weak arguments should follow according to research.

    Incidentally we think they have a weak argument. Coincidence? I think not.

    Reversely, those with a strong argument, either evolution or atheism, should push their argument and its explanation first, and only afterwards reveal wide scientific support. This is the strategy Gnu Atheism has adopted. Coincidence? I think not.

    [It is also interesting to note the putative find that psychological mechanisms works so people grow more confident in some beliefs when they find out later that a majority of people disagree with them.

    This means that it is imperative to catch people early on in education. Another instance where Gnu Accommodationism sets itself up for fail, as it wants to move through the pews.]

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      “only afterwards reveal wide scientific support” Well, it looks nicer if I say: only as an afterthought discuss wide scientific support”.

      So let’s say that. :-D


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