Mooney takes up “spirituality” in Playboy

UPDATES:  I now have Mooney’s whole article, and reader stvs has published it below in a comment.  It’s even worse than I thought, with Mooney dragooning both Darwin and E. O. Wilson as models of “spiritual” scientists. There is absolutely no doubt, unless you’re obtuse, that the purpose of Mooney’s piece is to show the commonality of scientists and religious people—as both are “spiritual”—and thereby make common cause of the two magisteria. Just look at the title of the piece: “The born-again scientist: spirituality comes to the lab.”

What a smarmy and intellectually dishonest piece of accommodationist tripe, relying as it does on conflating two completely disparate notions of “spirituality”!  Can we agree, then, that when we get all emotional about a piece of music or a novel or a nebula, or experience wonder at the products of natural selection—that we give these emotions a name different from “sprituality”?  That just confuses the diverse meanings of the term (which was Mooney’s intent) and gives ammunition to acoommodationists.

Over at Pharyngula you can read P. Z.’s take on Mooney’s article.

Meanwhile, after the negative reaction Mooney has added this comment to his post:

Wow my Playboy piece is becoming quite the Rorschach. I may have to say more about this.

Please, Chris, spare us.  It’s just like the lad to avoid substantive discussion by simply characterizing his posts as “Rorschach tests of  where his readers stand.

I must say, the intellectual dishonesty and relentless self promotion of the site and the authors’ books, combined with Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s tendency to ban readers who disagree with them even mildly, have really hurt The Intersection.  Comments have fallen to only one or two (sometimes none) per post. Do the authors even realize why this has happened?  The only time there are more than a couple of comments is when Mooney engages in atheist-baiting; and so, I expect, we’ll see more of that.

___________________

Oh dear God, the lad has no sense of decency, at long last.  Over at The Intersection, Chris Mooney touts a piece he wrote for the latest Playboy, and provides an excerpt.  Characteristically, he’s flogging “spirituality” as a framing device to show that religion and science have stuff in common after all.  The excerpt:

But can scientists who say they are awestruck by nature and moved by their research really relate to more traditional religious experiences, a la those reported by saints? Aren’t “awe” and “wonder” nondescript notions that add emotional embroidery to the brute facts of the universe? Perhaps not. Feelings of awe, wonder and mystery recur in the context of human quests for deeper understanding or revelation. In his 1917 work The Idea of the Holy, German theologian Rudolph Otto singled out a sense of awe as a key characteristic of our encounters with what he termed the “numinous”–an overwhelming power or presence beyond ourselves.

Science can unleash this feeling too. Just sit in a darkened room and look at nebulae pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, as University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank describes doing in his book The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. “Scientists are not the only ones who catch their collective breath before these pictures,” he writes. “The momentary hush and the gasp that follow are involuntary.”

A love of nebulae, ergo Jesus. Perhaps a reader with access to Playboy (and who will admit it) can flesh out the rest of this piece, which according to Mooney appears on p. 168 of the January, 2011 issue.

For the nonce, this seems just another cheap attempt of Mooney to show that science and faith must be compatible companions, since they both seek the numinous.

2011 has barely begun, but this brand of intellectual dishonesty is already upon us.

110 Comments

  1. Somite
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    This tweet summarizes my feelings about Mooney.

    RT @duncanwrites Framing works. Talking ABOUT framing — broadcasting how you plan to manipulate people — not so much.

  2. Saikat Biswas
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I remember the first time I was struck by awe and wonder – it was the day I opened the pages of ‘Playboy’ for the first time.

  3. littlejohn
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I’d help you, but I only buy Playboy for the pictures.

  4. Wowbagger
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Wank in a wank-mag? Colour me unsurprised.

    But if Smiley McSmile-Time doesn’t realise that the emotional reaction to something awe-inspiring has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the truth-claims made by religion then he still hasn’t managed to grasp the point of gnu atheism.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Wank in a wank-mag? Colour me unsurprised.

      I wonder if Chris’ article made the pages stick together?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

        Well, I wouldn’t have a glue on him – maybe if it’s a splash page, though?

  5. Simon
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the whole piece, but no less an atheist polemicist than Christopher Hitchens frequently speaks of the ‘luminous’ and ‘transcendent’. Personally I don’t really know what any of that stuff really means, but just sayin’

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      ‘numinous’, not ‘luminous’.

  6. Matt Bowman
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Man oh man, I burst out laughing reading this post! Personally, this spirituality stuff gets under my skin a bit. It’s too wishy-washy. I’ve heard Sam Harris say we don’t need the term atheism. Why do we need the term spirituality? If you are trying to describe your experience, describe it! Don’t just tell me you had a spiritual experience! I don’t know what the hell that means. And frankly no one seems to agree on what it means.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Don’t be absurd. Everyone knows what “spiritual” experience means: it’s that feeling you get when you see Jesus’ image on your toast. Have you not been paying attention?

      • Notagod
        Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        So the definition of spiritual would be “Hey, Jesus tastes pretty good! The christian crackers must be make from the meat that had the nails, not the part that was tenderized by thorns”?

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

          That’s as good a definition as any I’ve heard.
          At least you attempt to define it, unlike C. Money.
          (Being Playboy, they won’t show the Mooney Shot)

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    I can’t make any sense out of the excerpt. As far as I can tell, he could be saying that an appreciation of science supersedes a yearning for transcendence. That wouldn’t be numinous, though, would it?

  8. Stewart
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, now that Chris has obviously got the requisite contacts at Playboy, it can only be a matter of time till the poster campaign to make science sexy by posing scientists with Playmates and Bunnies. I wonder who will refuse to participate?

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      Dr Pamela Gay, perhaps?

  9. Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Im just relieved to see that all of the Colgate Twins bitching about sexism and appreciating women for their minds (not their bodies) wasnt just lip-service.

    • SLC
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure that Mr. Mooney only buys Playboy for the articles.

      • MadScientist
        Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

        I used to get it for the Sid Harris cartoons. A bit expensive perhaps, but I really love his cartoons.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      So completely true. He’s titled his piece over at “Intervention”, or whatever he calls his blog, “I’m in Playboy.” Wow, look! He’s a peacemaker too, just like Jimmy Carter!

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:50 am | Permalink

      Please, its the “Toothpaste Twins”!
      Avoid advertising and practise alliteration at the same time.

  10. Scooty
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I have a copy of the issue. The article is not bad as far as Mooney goes. He even acknowledges that what scientists and religious believers mean by the word “spiritual” are not always the same. I can send you a scan of the article if you’d like.

  11. Joe Fatzen
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    At long last, all “I only read it for the articles” excuses are proven wrong.

  12. Marella
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    ‘Spiritual’ is like ‘God’, it means everything and nothing. You should always make people define these terms before agreeing to have a conversation about them. They won’t be able to so you can get on with something useful.

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      But Mooney is conflating many things here – ‘spirituality’ (whatever that means, for me it means fuzzy-mindedness, for some cultures it means getting stoned), ‘awe’, and ‘wonderment’. His message seems to be “scientists go ‘oh, cool!’ and religious people go ‘oh, cool – goddidit!’ therefore science and religion are compatible”. Fortunately such logic is still a rarity in the scientific literature – but that brand of logic also seems to be trying to come back from the dead with publications about how the koran is also a medical textbook in disguise.

    • chlorion
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Define “useful.”

  13. Posted January 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Mooney sitting by the pool at the Hefner mansion is most certainly not a numinous image.

  14. Posted January 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t imagine how a religious person could possibly be awed by a presence that talks to him whenever he folds his hands, is constantly around him, and guides every action on Earth.

    After a while, that would seem mundane, one would think.

  15. Tim Harris
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they’ve got some of those Islamic virgins on the centrefold in Mooney’s issue…

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Complete with niqab, hijab, etc. But they’ve got beautiful naked eyes!

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        And they’re metaphorical!

  16. Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the big deal. I don’t see where he’s saying that the common experience of the “numinous” leads to Jesus. He actually seems to be pointing out that you can have a spiritual feeling of connection to the numinous without any specific reference to God or Jesus.

    What’s wrong with that?

    Don’t we want to tell people that being a scientist is not mutually exclusive with appreciating the wonder of the universe but actually completely harmonizable? Don’t we want to show people other ways to connect with the numinous that don’t require a belief in anything superstitious?

    Those are all things atheists should be doing. We should, to the extent it is true for any of us, be telling the irreligious that we too have full moral, emotional, and even “spiritual” lives in which we are able appreciate what is wonderful about the world, without any need for dogma, authoritarian institutions, irrational faith commitments, etc.

    Really, I don’t get the problem here. Mooney’s been much worse.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, the part that’s quoted here seems fairly innocuous. Not exactly profound or insightful or even clearly phrased, but I don’t really object to it.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        It’s just all been expressed so many times before and so much better, as with Sagan in Pale Blue Dot or Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow or in Gould, Wilson..Darwin, for crying out loud! Mooney’s just so unoriginal and unnecessary. Too bad Playboy and other rags trying to improve their reputations by running stuff like this can’t just run excerpts from the actual masters themselves. Especially the ones who admit to awe and wonder whilst remaining staunch gnus…

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t we want to tell people that being a scientist is not mutually exclusive with appreciating the wonder of the universe but actually completely harmonizable?”

      Are scientists so stupid that they don’t know that, or are normal people so stupid that they’d think otherwise? Is it such a vital issue in society that it must be addressed?

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

        Either normal people are that stupid, or the media thinks they are. I would venture to say that roughly half of the interviews I’ve seen with any Gnu Atheist ask some variant of the question “but don’t you think there’s something bigger than you, don’t you have a sense of awe at the universe, blah blah blah.”

        • Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

          We have two choices, treat popular misconceptions and false dichotomies as so stupid and beneath contempt that we never address them and only let them fester and let the religious charlatans exploit people’s misconceptions, or we do what Mooney is doing here and dispel the false dichotomy.

          Sorry if addressing the crude thinking ignorant masses bores you or is beneath your trouble, but it pisses me off that those who would peddle them lies and shitty habits of thinking pay an immense more amount of attention to reaching out to them than, say, those who purportedly are interested in advancing science and rationality and good philosophy.

          • Posted January 5, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            But that itself is a false dichotomy. We can address popular misconceptions and so on without doing what Mooney does. Lots of us do.

            • Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

              Well, I was specifically responding to Mad Scientist acting as though the question was beneath anyone, Mooney or otherwise, taking the time to answer. He said outright:

              “Are scientists so stupid that they don’t know that, or are normal people so stupid that they’d think otherwise? Is it such a vital issue in society that it must be addressed?”

              I am not saying the only way to do it is to do it as Mooney is doing it. I am, in this case, just not appreciating the kind of atheistic response which holds the ignorance of the masses in contempt rather than has any desire to reach out to them.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      From the short excerpt Mooney makes three mistakes in his eagerness, as Coyne points out, to generally equal anything with religion.

      First, he states that awe and emotion isn’t enough as emotions – and they better have mystery involved.

      Second, mystery is exactly opposite what science results in, so what Mooney describes is a lack of understanding. The whole process from there to “Eureka” is a wonderful process, but there is no mystery about it. Similarly for spirituality btw.

      Third, he tries to conflate emotion for nature with emotion for non-nature (agency). Having the one doesn’t mean one can have the other. Gnus argue that the latter should be emotion against, for example. :-D

  17. Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    He has a mirror that he watches himself in when he writes.

  18. stvs
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a reader with access to Playboy (and who will admit it) can flesh out the rest of this piece

    Dude, everyone
    has access. Trying not to get distracted by the ISLAMIC EROTICA cover article (no joke!—Reza Aslan shares the insight that “One Thousand and One Nights is a raunchy, bawdy burlesque”) and other titillations, but here’s the article … Wait a second, just an amazing posterior photo of Hope Dworaczyk on pdf page 168 … what the hell was I doing? … oh yeah …

    You all will just love this title

    The Born-Again Scientist: Spirituality Comes to the Lab Peter Doherty may seem like an odd choice for a speaker at the 2009 Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion, a giant interfaith conference held every five or so years. After all, the 1996 Nobel laureate in medicine isn’t religious per se. He attended a Methodist church growing up , but he now describes himself as an agnostic. Nor has Doherty’s career in immunology—capped by the discovery of how our immune system recognizes cells infested with viruses—left much time for sustained interactions with religious believers. Nevertheless, Doherty describes himself as “spiritual.” In fact , Doherty is among a growing number of nonreligious researchers who view scientific inquiry itself as a spiritual quest—a trend that has the potential to dramatically upend the idea that science and religion must be in conflict. Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund recently surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists at top U.S. universities about their beliefs. Her most surprising finding was a prevalence of spirituality detached from traditional religion—20 percent of the scientists fit this category. These researchers would appear to be surfing the same “spirituality revolution” sweeping society more generally: In an April survey of 1,200 Americans ages 18 to 29—the so-called millennials—72 percent said they were “really more spiritual than religious.” To be sure spirituality can be a slippery term. We usually define it on an individual level and outside any formal religious context. For instance, spiritual scientists tend to view the world differently than most Americans who embrace the label and who are often interested in angels, demons and mix-and-match religious eclecticism. When scientists feel spiritual it often has more to do with a glorious feeling that comes with contemplating the natural world or the universe—a feeling made all the more intense by scientists’ capacity to peer beneath the surface of things and achieve a deeper understanding, Spiritual physicists feel mystical, even spooked, that their equations can describe verifiable occurrences on the quantum scale; spiritual biologists, meanwhile, marvel at the intricate interconnectedness of nature. Says Doherty, “Spiritual experience for a religious person can manifest as the infinite wonder of God. In a scientist it can manifest as the infinite wonder of the creation and the world around us—and how this has come about and how extraordinary it is.” But can scientists who say they are awestruck by nature and moved by their research really relate to more traditional religious spiritual experiences, a la those reported by saints? Aren’t “awe” and “wonder” nondescript notions that add emotional embroidery to the brute facts of the universe? Perhaps not. Feelings of awe, wonder and mystery recur in the context of human quests for deeper understanding or revelation. In his 1917 work The Idea of the Holy German theologian Rudolf Otto singled out a sense of awe as a key characteristic of our encounters with what he termed the “numinous”—an overwhelming power or presence beyond ourselves. Science can unleash this feeling too. Just sit in a darkened room and look at nebula pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, as University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank describes doing in his book The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. “Scientists are not the only ones who catch their collective breath before these pictures,” he writes. “The momentary hush and the gasp that follows are involuntary.” Today’s spiritual scientists even have a patron saint: Albert Einstein, who spoke of his “cosmic religious feeling” and his “feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe.” Einstein saw no reason to believe in a personal God or the supernatural. But he called himself a “deeply religious nonbeliever” because of the reverence he felt when contemplating the intricacy and mystery of the universe and trying to understand it. Knowledge, in the Einsteinian worldview, thus becomes the new sacred. It is the dearest thing we have. You may argue that Charles Darwin was another spiritual leader of modern science. While he ultimately concluded he would have to remain an agnostic with respect to God, Darwin expressed great wonder at the diversity and interconnectedness of nature. Take this passage from The Voyage of the Beagle: “Among the sciences which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where death and decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.” As Darwin biographer James Moore has put it, Darwin’s scientific creed was that “great things are caused by little things.” Or as Darwin opined, “We are all netted together.” He finished The Origin of Species on a powerfully spiritual note: “There is grandeur in this view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” So you could say that today Einstein and Darwin serve as scientific and spiritual exemplars speaking to successive generations of researchers not only intellectually through their most famous theories but also emotionally through their writings. Therefore, rather than vanquishing religion, modern science might have helped to unleash the human spirit and free it from traditional religious constraints. The result? At least for some, the need for spiritual fulfillment can now be satisfied outside the context of supernatural creeds. And the sacred, which is the object of the spiritual quest, can now be found in nature and in a search for an understanding of it. Indeed, scientists now demonstrate that the spiritual experience itself likely emerges from our biology. According to researchers who are studying the human brain during meditation and those contemplating our evolutionary origins, it looks as though spirituality may be hardwired into our bodies, physically proving that the spiritual experience is universal and shared. Science is also the core basis for helping to preserve the conditions in which such spiritual experiences can occur. The scientific spirituality of people such as Peter Doherty today engenders a new quest—to save the planet. (The title of his panel at the Parliament of the World’s Religions: “Science and Spirituality: Building New Partnership to Heal the Earth.”) And on this count Doherty has impressive company. In his book The Creation, celebrated Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson makes a spiritual appeal to religious believers for help in preserving the diversity of species on Earth. Similarly, other scientists have reached out to religious audiences to find allies in the fight against climate change and for environmental protections. There is, after all, a common interest between scientists and believers: Secular or otherwise, we cannot have spiritual experiences without an Earth to have them on. “Whether you believe all life reflects the operation of evolution or God’s good grace, our responsibility to future generations is to ensure that the creation is preserved in all its magnificence,” says Doherty. “That will happen only if those who live by science and/or by faith can work together in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect.” Chris Mooney is author of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America.

    Still trying to get my head around “Spiritual physicists feel mystical, even spooked, that their equations can describe verifiable occurrences on the quantum scale”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      Therefore, rather than vanquishing religion, modern science might have helped to unleash the human spirit and free it from traditional religious constraints. The result? At least for some, the need for spiritual fulfillment can now be satisfied outside the context of supernatural creeds. And the sacred, which is the object of the spiritual quest, can now be found in nature and in a search for an understanding of it. Indeed, scientists now demonstrate that the spiritual experience itself likely emerges from our biology.

      Sounds good; but then how is what he just described essentially any different from vanquishing religion?

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      I guess the song’s right: “It’s as clear as mud but it covered the ground …”

      Some scientists don’t say they don’t believe in any gods. Why, some scientists are even religious! Other scientists have appealed to religious doctrines to encourage religious people to do something. Hmm. So what’s new? I see Osama Bin Laden appealing to religious doctrine to murder people. The archbishop of Phoenix appeals to religious doctrine in poo-pooing physicians for saving a woman – damn them all! God intended the woman to suffer horribly and die! E.O.Wilson appealed to religious doctrine to try to encourage folks to do some good. The unsurprising conclusion seems to be that the sheeple can be controlled by claiming that god told you something and that your claims are backed up by religious doctrine. This is *not* a good thing.

    • Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      I don’t like Doherty’s last quote but other than that I think Mooney did a really fine job with the article. It’s a nice attempt to challenge the idea that basic human spiritual/emotional yearnings need the trappings of dogma, superstition, ancient institutions, irrationalism, etc. It’s a nice apology for the full humanity and spirituality possible entirely independent of religion, which can accomplish the same basic thing of value that people find in religion without any of the gobbeldygook. And it’s done in such a way as to not try to scare the believer away but to soften him up to the idea that spiritual parallels exist outside the narrow ways fundamentalists insist on insisting it is limited to.

      I think it’s a fine job, even if it is not overtly atheistic, of advocating for an essentially atheistic spirituality to be accepted and appreciated and for science to be recognized as not the enemy of something humans rightly value, their “spiritual” feelings of connection to things larger than themselves and their wonder.

      Anything that helps people keep those things while chucking all the authoritarianism and dogma and irrationalism and superstition, etc. of religion is a-okay in my book.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

        Which would all be well & good, if Mooney, et al, didn’t have to also set up a straw man of the gnu atheists as militant bullies to be thrown under the bus in order to curry favor with the religious. It very likely is going to take all types of approaches to reason with all types of people…Unilateral attacks by accomodationists on gnus accomplish nothing except to please the religious establishment that is more than delighted to sit back & watch us waste time with infighting rather than devoting all our efforts toward the goal of reason-informed societies.

        • Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink

          I wholeheartedly agree, Diane G., about this point about his larger game. But this particular piece is not objectionable and if we cannot acknowledge that but just attack it because of the name of its author and other things the guy has argued elsewhere, then it strikes me as unnecessarily tribalistic.

          He need not be villainized as an enemy in every respect. We can say, good job on the Playboy article, Mooney. But stop throwing us under the bus. Can’t the two sentiments go together?

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:07 am | Permalink

            Well, but…well…but…hmmmm… :)

            Speaking of cognitive dissonance…I hope this article reaches that vast majority of spiritual Playboy voyeurs readers…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      everyone has access.

      That may be so, but has Playboy relinquished copyright? That link goes elsewhere.

      Meanwhile, it is a totally loathsome article Mooney has written. I’m sure everyone here is capable of ripping it to pieces, but for some quick examples:

      – Mooney uses quantum woo (quantum mysticism)!

      “Spiritual physicists feel mystical, even spooked, that their equations can describe verifiable occurrences on the quantum scale;”

      Naturally, it is the whole idea and prediction of quantum mechanics that you can verify quantum scale phenomena. [My respect for the man and his mission to support science is now ripped to pieces. I no longer knows what his goal is - unless it is a religious mission.]

      – Both Einstein and Darwin rejected religion, and Einstein specifically noted that he was misinterpreted for religious purposes :

      “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. – Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman .”

  19. MadScientist
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    He’s no replacement for Isaac Asimov, that’s for sure. Who owns and operates Playboy these days – Jehovah’s Witness?

  20. Dawn Oz
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    This nonsense is on the ABC website in Australia as a view. And it needs trouncing.

    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/42672.html?WT.mc_id=newsmail

  21. Adam
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    There can really only be one solution to this problem. Scientists are going to have to stop expressing awe and wonder at the majesty of nature, at least until unscrupulous hacks like Mooney stop twisting every word they say into religious apology. Got that Einstein, Sagan, Hawking, Dawkins and Darwin? From now on all scientists must be mirthless, anti-social, emotionally stunted automatons. Because if they’re not, that would of course make them religious.

    • Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:44 am | Permalink

      Er, or maybe atheists can take the word “religion” away from authoritarian dogmatic superstitious faith-peddlers and instead own it as an entirely natural impulse that can rationally find satisfactions in ways consistent only with reason.

      This is something that Einstein, Sagan, Hawking, Dawkins, Darwin, and even the hated Chris Mooney understand.

      Maybe it is a sign of “mirthless, anti-social, emotionally stunted automation” to fear the word “religious” rather than reappropriate as something naturalistic and rationalistic.

      With the number of people attached to the idea of religion as a good thing, it may serve us much better to reinterpret what it means in an atheist-friendly way than to try to eradicate all people’s sense that it’s a good thing.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

        The point is that it isn’t a good thing, and we shouldn’t lie about it.

        If we do, obviously we would be accommodationists.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

          “it” refers to religion obviously. [Reaches for more coffee.]

          • Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

            I don’t think it is “accommodationist” to dump out the faith, the authoritarian approach to truth and morality, the regressive traditionalistic institutions, the superstitions, the dogmas, the worship of texts, the irrationalism, etc. and look at the remaining naturalistic awe, wonder, gratitude, sense of the numinous and interconnectedness of all things and rename THAT religion.

            If THAT’S ALL people thought of when they thought of religion, then there’d actually be no conflict between science and religion.

            So, again, the point is we have a choice: convince people to abandon religion or completely redefine religion so that it retains the things people like and need with none of the awful, anti-science thinking and anti-egalitarian practices.

            I’m not convinced on this point Mooney’s not got the right idea.

            Where he is wrong is in pretending existing faiths AS THEY ARE (with their superstitions, faith-based beliefs, traditional institutions, supernaturalism), etc., are just fine and dandy and amenable to sensible matches with science.

            • Michael Kingsford Gray
              Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

              “I’m not convinced on this point Mooney’s not got the right idea”

              When litotes goes wild.

              • Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                hahaha, I never knew there was a word for that! “Litotes”. I love it, thanks!

              • Stewart
                Posted January 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                For some reason I’m not enabled to comment on Dan’s “discovery” of the word “litotes,” but only the previous one. I’ll never forget when and where I first encountered the word. Early 1970s, first (Australian) broadcast of Series Two, Episode One of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the Piranha Brothers sketch. Litotes was one of the reasons grown men would pull their own heads off rather than see Doug Piranha.

  22. Jeff D
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t find the core content of Mooney’s article objectionable, other than the apparent compulsion he felt to keep using that weasel-word “spiritual.” Putting the same label on two different experiences or phenomena does not demonstrate that they are the same in all important respects.

    My transcendent or numinous sense of wonder and any religious person’s transcendent or numinous sense of wonder are the same in the limited sense that the same human brain wiring and hormones are at work in each of us, but in other ways (how we verbally describe the experience, and how we act in response to it) there are significant differences. One of Mooney’s purposes seems to be to blur or ignore those differences because . . . because . . . who knows?

    “Spiritual” unfortunately may be the most familiar (if not the best) label we have for that ineffable sense of awe / wonder / connectedness toward the rest of the universe. But “spiritual” is also unfortunately a shabby, mildewed curtain behind which incoherent ideas are hidden to make them seem profound.

    I’ve always thought that curiosity and a little scientific literacy, when properly applied, enrich that sense of awe, wonder and connectedness in ways that ancient superstitions and modern sermons do not (and perhaps cannot, at least not in myself).

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      Agreed. And worse, he wants to bring “sacred” into the mix!:

      And the sacred, which is the object of the spiritual quest, can now be found in nature and in a search for an understanding of it.

  23. Domkinic
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    He finally got published in a Biology journal then!

    • Dominic
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      Domkinic?! Who he?

      And another italic fail… I did it myself once before!

      • Dominic
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

        Sorry – lost my original remark – just saying that Mooney finally got published in a serious biology journal then!

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          Smile!

          Oh, come on–surely Playboy belongs more to modern philosophy…or sociology…or maybe economics (capitalism, marketing…). You can’t support your assertion merely on the basis of its comparative anatomy content…

  24. Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Carl Sagan, from Pale Blue Dot: “In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

    Me: “Nothing new here that many scientists haven’t been saying all along.”

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Perfect. (What I was trying to say in my response to 16…)

      Seems to me scientists have been waxing eloquent like this since…forever. Science can claim awe & wonder like no other discipline…and should.

  25. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    I prefer ‘Wow!’ to ‘God!’, but really both are emotional responses. I’ve no issues with scientists showing their humanity, but science should be rational, not emotional. Yes, I realise the separation is difficult in real life.

    To me that is the heart of the science/religion debate. Un-emotional reason vs emotional (and therefore open to distortion) reasoning.

    I feel that accomodationists do great dis-service to science by trying to make it appear soft and fluffy.

    Does Mr January have a staple through his navel?

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Adam had no navel.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Agree that science doesn’t want to seem “soft & fluffy,” but do feel it’s too easily mischaracterized as cold & unfeeling as well. While science per se should be objective & impersonal, it is an activity engaged in by humans, and humans are emotional; that they should have emotional reactions to what they learn through science is inevitable, and sharing such reactions is one way to “humanize” the endeavor to those whose education has suffered WRT scientific literacy. To the extent that there is a sort of war being waged in the marketplace of ideas, science has to be image-conscious as much as any other contender. When you’ve got a “wow-factor,” use it, I’d say…

      (Rereading your post, I think you said about the same thing, actually, just less wordily. I guess I just take a bit of issue with the utility of “emphasizing the unemotional” when trying to win debates. Though that was a strategy that seemed to work for Cheney…)

  26. Jeff D
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Looks like I triggered the latest “italic fail” by fouling up a close-italics HTML command. Sorry!

    To me, “sacred” is a word meaning that a frame should be or is drawn around some phenomenon, in order to say “This is important. This is precious. This should be cherished and protected.” I don’t feel anything additional when I see or hear the word “sacred.”

    Gregory Bateson once wrote that a “sacrament” is a “metaphor that is meant,” implying that something more is at work when people label things as “sacred” . . . that there is a deliberate, aesthetic blurring of the distinction between the symbol and what is symbolized, but I’m not sure that I got the point.

    P.S. PZ has now weighed in on Mooney’s ararticle.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/awe_religion.php#comments

  27. Tim Harris
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    ‘Indeed, scientists now demonstrate that the spiritual experience itself likely emerges from our biology. According to researchers who are studying the human brain during meditation and those contemplating our evolutionary origins, it looks as though spirituality may be hardwired into our bodies, physically proving that the spiritual experience is universal and shared.’

    I’d be interested to know who these scientists are. Boyet, Atran, Guthrie, McGilchrist (if he can be regarded as a scientist – he’s an interesting man and writer), Lewis-Williams,among others? It surely is of scientific interest that every known society has had some sort of religion, and this does require (scientific) attention: merely repeating that believers are deluded or stupid is not very enlightening. But ‘spirituality’ as ‘hardwired into our bodies': what, first of all, does Mooney mean by spirituality? The ability to have a profound emotional – which is to say corporeal (think of Bernini’s St Theresa)- experience? The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu remarks somewhere that music, which is regarded as the highest and most ‘spiritual’ of arts is in fact the most corporeal, and that is why it affects us so profoundly (Bourdieu, by the way, was not insensitive to the arts like Stephen Pinker). What I dislike about Mooney’s approach is that he manages to cheapen everything and show a lack of respect for everybody’s intelligence: does accommodating the religious sensibility really mean coughing up sentimental pablums about ‘spirituality’ and pretending that intelligent people, whether non-religious or religious, scientists or not, all subscribe to such guff? No, this neither challenges nor discovers anything, and I doubt that it will persuade those benighted Christians (do they read ‘Playboy’?) who suppose that atheists have no feeling for the ‘higher’ things of life. It’s poor stuff.

  28. jose
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Redefining and confusing terms is a common tactic. We’re used to it. Remember stuff like “atheism is just another religion”?

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed. Accomodationists just seem to be making a career out of semantics, one of the most irritating debate strategies IMO.

  29. Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    With respect, I disagree that the excerpt by Mooney is “tripe”. Sure, the title is someone proselytizing, but the main point is valid. I’m a member of a freethinker’s group, and we recently had a lively discussion on this subject. I argued that there is just as much arrogance in the scientific community as in the religious one, and this met strong disagreement. I also argued that “God” is simply whatever created us–that there is no true atheism, since we cannot deny that something created, and continues to create, all that exists. Of course this was met with even stronger disagreement. And I’ve learned, from such experiences that trying to enlighten “atheists” is as useless as trying to enlighten devout Christians, et al. One of my freethinking peers pointed out that the term, “God”, is a very dangerous one–and has led to many atrocities. I’d agree that the term, “Christ” is so–but not “God”. The problem seems to be that so many freethinking people get too hung up on semantics. And as my aforementioned peer seemed unable to escape the connotations of “God”, you seem unable to escape the connotations of “spirituality”. “Spirituality” and “religion” are not synonymous. Spirituality is a gift of the Creator (whatever you consider the Creator to be), religion is an innovation of man. There is a quote that sums up the difference this way: “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to Hell; spirituality is for those who have already been there.” If those, like me, who are free from organized religion in their lives cannot get beyond the dogma of non-Christianity, et al, then they have the same problem as those who cannot get beyond the dogma of Christianity, et al. In other words, one who does not belong to an organized religion can be just as narrow-minded as one who does.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      I didn’t know “freethinking” meant necessarily having such an open mind that your brains fall out. I guess that means I’m not a freethinker. I can live with that.

      Hint: you might want to listen to your circle of critics when you start mentioning this “Creator” thingy. Your critics know something you don’t. Sounds to me like you’d be happier in a New Age gathering, where no one is ever wrong.

      • Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        I didn’t know “freethinking” meant necessarily having such an open mind that your brains fall out. I guess that means I’m not a freethinker.

        Ha! Me neither.

    • Nick B.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Get real.

  30. Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Trying to close the italics tag. Did it work?

    • Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      guess not.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        I fixed it. Geez, people, learn to use the notation!!!!!

        • Dominic
          Posted January 5, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          :(

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Jeez, wordpress, give us a preview function! :D

          (Or at least an edit option.)

  31. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Mooney seems naive to how religious people’s beliefs shape their attitudes and actions towards society and politics. I’d like him to become part of a church community for a year and see how believers make leaps towards their preferred deity based on the kind of statements he makes.

  32. Doc Bill
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Mooney actually wrote:

    “You may argue that Charles Darwin was another spiritual leader of modern science.” ?????

    How is that different from the worst of the creationists trolls who proclaim:

    “Evilutionists worship at the Church of Darwin!”

    Creationist trolls do that because their religious delusion forces them to see everything through their “Bible glasses,” as Ken Ham puts it.

    What’s up with Mooney, though?

    No, you can’t “argue” that Darwin was a spiritual leader of science. That’s a STUPID thing to say.

    Mooney, go to your room! Time out, mister!

  33. Sajanas
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    When you look up the word “Spirituality” in Webster you get it defined as a word that pertains to spiritual matters, which are then defined as being entirely about God, church law, and supernatural phenomena. I think in time, it will also come to represent the feeling of “There has GOT to be more than THIS” that a lot of my friends who are not religious but still hope for some sort of supernatural phenomena.

    It is not a word that should be interchangeable with awe, wonder, beauty, or enlightenment. We have words for all of those already, and spirituality needs to be parsed back down to what it really means, just like the word ‘theory’ needs to be separated from the word ‘hypothesis’.

    • Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Well, there are many definitions of “spirit”. I like to “get spiritual” with some 15-year-old a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberlour_Single_Malt”>Aberlour…

      Ergo Jesus.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        I’m of the Lagavulin sect myself.

        • Sajanas
          Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

          I’ve become more of a Bunnahabhain spiritualist lately, as part of my conversion from Glenfiddich Orthodoxy.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      It is not a word that should be interchangeable with awe, wonder, beauty, or enlightenment. We have words for all of those already, and spirituality needs to be parsed back down to what it really means, just like the word ‘theory’ needs to be separated from the word ‘hypothesis’.

      Well said. (I think the battle’s lost for ‘theory,’ though.)

      • Cosmic Snark
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Never!!! I shall never give up that fight! In theory, anyway.

  34. Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Semantic trickery combined with a red herring. As I expound on at length here, Mooney’s new “Spirituality Gambit” always reminds me of Tim Minchin’s Peace Anthem for Palestine. Only not as funny.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      The “Spirituality Gambit.” Precisely, and an enjoyably written blog post to explain it. Bookmarked for future use.

      “Semantic trickery” seems to be a conclusion arrived at by many of us here…I think we’re honing our argument. :D

  35. Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    My comment that is ‘currently in moderation **WINK!!!**’ at Intersection:

    Wow my Playboy piece is becoming quite the Rorschach.
    If by ‘Rorschach’ you mean ‘clearly and plainly demonstrates that any/all words that escape Chris Mooneys mouth are ultimately lip-service with the intent to support his true goal of self-promotion and celebrity’, then yes.

    Yes that article is quite the Rorschach.

    • Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      It’s out of moderation!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      And, “If by “Rorschach’ you mean …’any/all words that escape Chris Mooneys mouth are'” as clear as splotches from a leaky pen…

      OB–you mean he actually let something referring to his “goal of self-promotion and celebrity” through?! Wonder if Discover’s been coming down on him for lack of comment activity?

  36. Nick B.
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I’m sure I speak for a lot of us when I say that I flat-out hate the guy.

  37. Screechy Monkey
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what Mooney thinks he’s accomplishing here.

    All this equivocating about “spirituality” is not going to impress the hard-core believers. The parents who think that teaching their children about evolution is blasphemous and will lead to moral decay are not going to lessen their opposition just because the biology teacher tells them how much awe she experiences when she looks at the night sky. Somehow who thinks you can’t be moral with a belief in God is not going to decide that getting a tingly feeling from looking through a microscope is going to impart morality just as well.

    Of course, that leaves the moderate believers. But Mooney et al keep insisting that the moderates aren’t a problem to begin with!

  38. webster
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    The real beauty of this article is that it’s written by Chris Mooney so we don’t even have to read it to know that it’s a tired repetition of his apologetics. Now if only the pictures were something more interesting than Pamela Anderson. These two has-beens go together nicely with a bit of air(head)brushing.

  39. SLC
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I must say, the intellectual dishonesty and relentless self promotion of the site and the authors’ books, combined with Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s tendency to ban readers who disagree with them even mildly, have really hurt The Intersection.

    I was banned from commenting over there, even though I never disagreed with them, because I said bad things about them on other peoples’ blogs (e.g. this one, and ERVs’). It’s a sad commentary when people like Ophelia Benson are banned and schmucks like Anthony McCarthy (with whom I got into an argument with after he bad mouthed Martin
    Gardner and James Randi, two people whose briefcases he is unfit to carry) are permitted to comment. I entirely agree with Ms. Smith over at ERV when she invited Mr. Mooney to perform an anatomical impossibility.

  40. stvs
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    “my Playboy piece is becoming quite the Rorschach”

    We know what Rorschach would have to say about Mooney and Playboy:

    The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll look down and whisper “No.”

    • Chuck
      Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Great reference.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        ditto

        perfect, even.

  41. Ichthyic
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Jerry asks:

    Do the authors even realize why this has happened?

    a better question might be:

    why would they care?

    They got grantz from dah Templeton, and space in Playboy!

  42. Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Knowledge, in the Einsteinian worldview, thus becomes the new sacred. It is the dearest thing we have.

    That isn’t really the basic meaning of the word, which lies in its opposition to “profane.” In the actual sense of the terms, science’s unyieldingly profane approach to knowledge and the natural world is precisely its strength.

  43. Microraptor
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Mooney’s going to get carpel tunnel if he keeps patting himself on the back like that.

  44. Martin
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Wow my Playboy piece is becoming quite the Rorschach.

    I wish he would leave me out of this.

  45. jeremy
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    “There is, after all, a common interest between scientists and believers: Secular or otherwise, we cannot have spiritual experiences without an Earth to have them on.”

    Except for those believers who are working towards armageddon of course.


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] over a terrain it only pretends to authority over), I was pleasantly impressed with Chris Mooney’s new article in Playboy (which I assure you, I don’t read for the articles by accommodationists but for the [...]

  2. [...] back at Whyevolutionistrue, Coyne comments about Mooney’s article and gets to the heart of the matter: What a smarmy and [...]

  3. [...] The title is funny. The post is funny. The comment is funny. It’s all funny, except for the article itself, which is more goofy than [...]

  4. [...] Mooney takes up “spirituality” in Playboy UPDATES:  I now have Mooney’s whole article, and reader stvs has published it below in a comment.  It’s even worse [...] [...]

  5. [...] Chris Mooney’s article in Playboy about the spirituality of scientists has sparked some interesting debate in the atheist [...]

  6. [...] to care so much about feminism and evaluating women based on their minds and not their bodys actively chose to contribute an article to Playboy. And he could not pass up an opportunity to comment on the physical features of the [...]

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