The AAAS sells out to Christians

Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion . . The claims of science rely on experimental verification, while the claims of religions rely on faith. These are irreconcilable approaches to knowing, which ensures an eternity of debate wherever and whenever the two camps meet.Neil deGrasse Tyson

If you’re a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), perhaps the most important scientific association in this country and publisher of the prestigious journal Science, you should know where your dues are going.  According to Alan I. Lesher, CEO of the AAAS and executive publisher of Science, they’re going to support accommodationism.  (Let me hedge this a bit: I’m not 100% sure that what I’m about to describe is supported by membership dues, but the project is certainly supported and promoted by the AAAS.)  Let this post be a lesson to those who claim that scientific organizations don’t promote accommodationism.

We’ve already seen Leshner posting science-and-faith-are-pals sentiments on HuffPo (aka Accommodationism Central), and he’s just done it again with a post called “Exploring the middle ground between science and religion.”  What’s not new here is Leshner’s usual call for harmony between science and faith:

Discussions about science and religion too often resemble one team lining up against the other. In this country, the science-religion interaction can be as aggressive as NFL football. Sometimes, however, a few serious players come onto the field and refuse to take a side. This disrupts the polarized conflict, and it reminds us that the scientific and religious communities are not opposing teams, and do share common interests and concerns.

What is new—and depressing—is Leshner’s announcement that the AAAS annual meeting, to be held February 17-21 in Washington D.C., is having a symposium on “Evangelicals, Science, and Policy,” designed to harmonize evangelical Christianity with science, thereby drawing that subset of Jebus-lovers into our fold (but not asking them to give up their antiscientific superstitions):

Evangelical Christians constitute approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population, and their influence on public policy is considerable. As a community with major concerns regarding science, ethics, and national priorities, its impact on science policy has been particularly significant, as in the case of stem cell research. Around such controversial issues, communication between science and evangelical Christianity has been hampered by limited appreciation of both the scientific facts and each others’ concerns. On the other hand, new models of positive engagement between these communities around global issues such as climate change is encouraging awareness and leading to science policies that benefit both science and society as a whole. As science progresses in other disciplines, evangelicals will continue to play a significant role, but their positions on many of these issues have not yet been fully formed. The opportunity thus exists to anticipate concerns and to develop a positive understanding that will benefit scientific advancement.

(A grammatical plaint: when did “advancement” replace “advance”?  The longer word is pompous and grating.)

Who is speaking at this symposium? Certainly not anybody opposed to accommodationism.  We have James McCarthy of Harvard speaking on evangelicals and environmentalism.  His abstract includes this:

What resulted from discussions launched by Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and the National Association of Evangelicals (which represents 45,000 local churches) was a remarkably productive exchange of views about the power of partnership between our communities.  Stewardship for the whole of the Creation was clearly a shared goal.  Although we approach this topic from different perspectives a mutual respect for these differences allows us to see that we have a great deal in common.  We have resolved to deploy jointly, whenever possible, our respective resources to address climate change.

“Creation”?  (Note that its capitalization implies divinity.) Is that what we biologists are trying to preserve?  Note, as well, the call for “mutual respect for . . . differences”, i.e., lay off the evangelicals about Jesus. I am not opposed to working with evangelicals for environmental causes, but why on earth do I have to respect their crazy beliefs?

We also have neuroscientist William Newsome of Stanford—described by Leshner as “a devout Christian”—speaking about neuroscience and Christianity. I was at first heartened when I read this part of his abstract:

On such issues [the question of free will and neuronal determination of behavior], resolutely reductionist accounts of behavior will no doubt create conflict with Christianity and other major religious traditions as well. Mainstream Christian thought, for example, postulates the existence of an immortal soul, related to but potentially independent of the physical body, which comprises the most profound essence of personhood.

Indeed, here is a real conflict.  One simply can’t comport the findings of modern neuroscience with the concept of a soul.  Here’s a chance to highlight a genuine impasse between religion and science. But this is an opportunity missed, for  Newsome will harmonize them!:

Is it at all conceivable that these notions can engage constructively?  [JAC: NO!] Can another round of conflict between religious and scientific communities be headed off, or at least steered in directions that are open and curious rather than dogmatic and destructive?  I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies toward a more nuanced conversation concerning human personhood and related social and policy issues such as criminal responsibility, cognitive enhancement, and end-of-life concerns.

There’s that word “nuanced” again. Run away fast when you see it. In this context it’s always a synonym for “obfuscatory.”

Leshner lauds Newsome’s lack of scientism:

A lauded researcher, Newsome says he feels “it doesn’t serve a religion or its adherents to deny the contributions of science.” On the other hand, Newsome says his religion allows him to look at science critically and to consider aspects of life that may not lend themselves to the scientific method. For instance, intuition and commitment without proof may be more appropriate, not only in matters of faith, but also when deciding where to live, whom to marry, or how to proceed in the face of tragedy.

Well, those questions may not be resolvable by hard science per se, but they’re certainly amenable to reason and evidence.  And why is religion a better way to approach them than, say, inspecting the entrails of slaughtered goats or consulting one’s horoscope?  And surely issues of evidence come into play when deciding where to live or whom to marry—unless you’re a Hindu or fundamentalist Mormon and have to marry someone chosen by others. Remember the list that Charles Darwin made about the pros and cons of getting married? Well, that’s a bit “geeky” (LOL!), but we all go through a similar process when contemplating marriage or a move.

The third speaker is James Childress from the University of Virginia, whose topic, “Evangelical Christians and stem cell policy,” has no abstract (perhaps wisely!).

What irks me about all this are two things.  The first is the complete omission of contrasting anti-accommodationist views.  There is a huge subset of AAAS members who don’t feel that science and faith are in harmony—indeed, that they are in dire conflict.  Those views never get represented at these meetings.  You will never see a AAAS symposium on “The incompatibility of science and faith,” with scientist-speakers like Richard Dawkins or Victor Stenger. (What a lovely thing that would be!).  The AAAS chooses to present only one view, as if it represented a majority of its members.  What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?*  (See footnote.)

This one-sided treatment of faith is particularly galling because Leshner pretends to be inclusive:

Acknowledging the diversity of views within both the scientific and religious communities and “encouraging respectful dialogue with insight into different perspectives,” as recommended by the director of the American Scientific Affiliation Randy Isaac, throws off a polarized contest in which “there’s so much heat that people aren’t listening to each other.”

That’s a laugh!  Where is the atheist “perspective”?  The AAAS would rather do anything than acknowledge the important view that science and religion are implacable foes.  Which brings me to the second irk.  Have a look at what members of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christian scientists (note the small “s”), are asked to affirm.  Their first two “planks” are these:

  1. We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.
  2. We confess the Triune God affirmed in the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds which we accept as brief, faithful statements of Christian doctrine based upon Scripture.

In case you don’t know these creeds, the Nicene says the following:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And the Apostles’ Creed:

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

11. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

God, Jesus as the son of God, the virginity of Mary, the Resurrection, sin and its absolution, heaven, Judgment Day, eternal life after death—none of these are in harmony with modern science.  Nor, indeed, is the idea that a group of scientists have to swear to a ludicrous set of beliefs for which there is no evidence. This is what we’re supposed to respect?  Why is this stuff part of a national scientific meeting?  And if it has to be, where is the other side?

In the end, Leshner sees this “dialogue” as a productive:

That’s certainly a good thing. Such conflict is likely to produce few winners. In fact, considering the serious issues facing us at this moment in history, we all stand to lose.

No—here are the real losers: abortion doctors who are shot by evangelical Christians, women forced to bear unwanted babies because abortion is seen as sinful, gays who are either marginalized or demonized because evangelicals consider their thoughts and behaviors as sinful, children who are terrorized—and infused with lifelong guilt—by the concepts of sin and hell, women who must accept their status as a second-class gender. Even believers like Francis Collins, surely on the liberal end of the evangelical Christian spectrum, hold profoundly antiscientific beliefs.  Collins, for example, can’t see how morality could have either evolved or developed in society unless it was a creation of God, and considers the “Moral Law” as profound evidence for the existence of God.  To anyone working in anthropology or neuroscience, that claim is simply embarrassing!

The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate.  “Dialoguing” with evangelical Christians (and granted, not all of them hold the beliefs I’ve just mentioned) only enables superstition—a superstition that, one would think, would be resolutely opposed by a scientific organization like the AAAS.  Remember that Leshner is the CEO of that organization and the executive publisher of one of the world’s two most prestigious scientific journals.

____________

*For the many people who have misinterpreted (willfully of otherwise) what I meant by the “eradication of evangelical Christianity”, it is this:  I hope for the eventual disappearance of this faith, not by banning it or persecuting or killing its adherents, but through reasoned argument that changes minds (or affects minds not made up) over time.  Anyone who has followed this website will understand that.

UPDATE:  P. Z. also discusses this over at Pharyngula, but offers a constructive proposal for a secular symposium.  And Nick Matzke, of course, is over there in the comments, kvetching about the horrid Gnus.

153 Comments

  1. NewSkeptic
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I’d like, if I may, to suggest an early editorial correction; ‘Acordingly’ at the start of the second sentence has a lonely ‘c’ and it needs a twin.

    Looking forward to the remainder of your article, Sir. Though I am often concerned at the adversarial nature of the broader debate, I dislike dishonest concessions made to those who eschew selective elements of reality.

  2. Posted February 6, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    One of the things I love about your writing is that you just say clearly what needs to be said, especially about the deep and irreconcilable conflict between religion and science, without all the weasel words about how supposedly great religion is.

  3. SLC
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    If you’re a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), perhaps the most important scientific association in this country

    Is the AAAS more important then the National Academy of Science?

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      AAAS is the biggest society of general scientists. NAS was created by the government to advise congress and consists of very prestigious elected members. So one can take one’s pick about which is more important…

      Either way, they both have the same position on religion, which is that tolerance and dialogue are more productive than, say, calls for eradication.

      I mean really, Jerry — the NAS was literally created by the federal government, via signature of Abraham Lincoln. It’s true that it’s a private nonprofit, but do you really expect it ought to work for the eradication of religion? The AAAS might as well be a government institution as well — it is based in DC and a major function is as a congressional lobby for science.

      Your advice amounts to recommending they pretty literally shoot themselves in the head in terms of their major political missions, in the service of your quixotic quest to enlist science to promote atheism. Which is wrongheaded in the first place anyway since science’s power comes from it’s self-restriction to limited empirical issues, whereas you are promoting an answer to an all-encompassing worldview question.

      The usual deny-what-you-just-said reply, “oh, we gnus don’t want these groups to take our position, we just want them to not take any position”, is (a) not what you just said*, (b) clearly not what you want in your heart of hearts anyway, and (c) is dumb in itself as a proposal, because it’s equivalent to recommending that a national science organization refuse to ever do a symposium on the understanding of science amongst different racial groups, cultural groups, economic groups, etc.

      You want to know why gnus get a bad rap? The use of the word “eradication” anywhere near religion is one such reason. Eradication = intolerance. Intolerance = unamerican and illiberal.

      Scapegoating entire populations for the crimes of a few is another such reason.
      The reason gnus don’t get much respect at places like the AAAS meeting is that there is a difference between constructive academic discussion in the service of the quest for greater understanding, and emotional demagoguery. The gnus all too often are on the wrong side of that line.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        * = “You will never see a AAAS symposium on “The incompatibility of science and faith,” with scientist-speakers like Richard Dawkins or Victor Stenger. (What a lovely thing that would be!).”

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          Really, Nick, you come over here and deposit your usual accommodationist drive-by comments (never contributing anything else to our discussions)—comments that completely ignore what I say and have said on this website. I have had a consistent position, which is that these scientific organizations should not make any statements about religion–and certainly not take the position that science and faith are compatible. That is a theological and not a scientific stand, and not worthy of a scientific organization, or one, like your former employer the NCSE, whose job is to promote science rather than superstition.

          But IF those organizations are to have symposia espousing this compatibility, they need to be honest and give a voice to the other side. I would prefer the former alternative of “taking no position”, as I have said consistently. I have never favored using these organizations to promote atheism.

          And that’s what I also said in this post. You now have the temerity to tell me what I want in my heart of hearts? I’ll tell you what I want: for the AAAS, the National Academy, and the NCSE to stop making accommodationist statements about religion. It’s really sort of dickish of you, you know, to say you’re able to peer into my soul and tell me what I’m really up to.

          Finally, it’s not dumb to suggest that if an organization airs debates that favors compatibility, they should at least air the views of the other side. There is a good case to be made that science and faith are incompatible, and, regardless of what you think, many of us think that that dialogue would be productive, for it erodes faith, and faith causes far more harm in this world than does simple American creationism.

          Sorry, but gnus get a bad rap only from religious people and accommodationists like yourself; for the rest of society, who buys and reads the best-sellers by Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins, the public rejection of faith is growing. Someone is buying all those atheist books and not buying the opposing books by people like Polkinghorne and Haught.

          And yes, I favor working for the eradication of religion, just as I favored working for the eradication of segregation. Is that “intolerance” of segregation? Don’t make me laugh. “Intolerance” is just a word that replaces arguments about substance with arguments about tone.

          Maybe some days you guys will realize that working against religion is the best way to promote acceptance of evolution—and other science—in the US.

          • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            “And yes, I favor working for the eradication of religion, just as I favored working for the eradication of segregation. Is that “intolerance” of segregation? Don’t make me laugh. “Intolerance” is just a word that replaces arguments about substance with arguments about tone.”

            Actually, religious tolerance is one of the key differences between modernity and the religious wars of the 1600s. Religion isn’t like illiteracy or segregation. It’s more like race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. This is about more than tone.

            • Roi des Faux
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

              “Religion isn’t like illiteracy or segregation. It’s more like race, gender, national origin, and sexuality.”

              This claim implies that Christians are born Christian, they can’t choose to stop being Christian, and there are no beliefs or practices inherent to being Christians.

              Analogy FAIL.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

                Actually I suspect Matzke seem the analogy as perfectly apt.

                There is a strong paternalist streak running through accomodationism that views the religious, or at least a substantial proportion of them, as being unable to cope with criticism of their religion, and so need protecting from those big nasty gnu atheists.

                It is an infantilising attitude that treats the religious with no respect at all.

            • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

              “Religion isn’t like illiteracy or segregation. It’s more like race, gender, national origin, and sexuality.”

              Religion is not at all like race or gender (and sexual orientation) or national origin, in that your religion is not solely a property of your birth– you make a choice as to whether to believe one set of tales or another (or even none at all). Likewise, religion is quite distinct from sexual preferences in that such preferences are by nature a very private and personal thing, whilst religion informs much of one’s public life and is hence of significant public interest. Indeed, religion is quite similar to issues of literacy, as both are issues of what an individual knows and how they come to know it.

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                Wow. Sexuality is personal and private and therefore deserves tolerance, whereas one’s religion is of “significant public interest”, and so doesn’t?

                It’s not just me saying religious preference is equivalent to these other things, it’s in non-discrimination clauses of U.S. employment law, for gnussake.

                It’s in the U.S. Constitution as well (and, the argument is even stronger there, since religious preference is explicitly protected multiple times, whereas sexuality, race, etc., aren’t, at least not until 13th amendment etc.)

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                “Religion is not at all like race or gender (and sexual orientation) or national origin, in that your religion is not solely a property of your birth– you make a choice as to whether to believe one set of tales or another (or even none at all).”

                The degree to which this is true is highly variable. A large number of people come from a country with only one religion. A large number of people are not just raised in a particular religion, but their entire family, personal and family history, cultural traditions, etc., are tied to it. If we talk about immigrants to the U.S., for example, it’s true that some people break away from their ancestral religion soon after being exposed to religious diversity, but probably it’s much more common for it to take many generations before an immigrant family reaches what we might consider the “default” Western position of high choice in religious belief.

                (And, if various sociobiologists are right, for all we know there may be a human genetic predisposition towards religion which, for many people, might make it very easy to adopt when young and very hard to change later.)

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                Yes, Nick, that’s (almost) exactly what I said. See, sexuality between two (or more) consenting adults doesn’t hurt anyone else. On the other hand, the belief of absurdities in absence of evidence can be the cause of great social ills. For instance, “why should we take care of the planet? God will do that for us,” or “my holy book tells me to cut off my daughter’s genitalia.” Not that all such ills are so extreme, mind you, nor that all that believe absurdities will commit such extreme ills. Rather, my point is merely to illustrate that unlike sexual preference, religion is not well-contained between a small set of consenting adults.

                Where you seem to be deliberately misunderstanding me, however, is by inferring that I think that there shouldn’t be legal protection for religion. Rather, what I’m talking about is what you originally brought up: tolerance. I am not tolerant of nonsense being used to promulgate public policy, but that doesn’t mean that I think that religious people should be jailed, denied jobs or anything else of the sort.

                To summarize, so that you don’t infer such things from me again: religion is not like sexual preference in that it is not merely between consenting adults, and it is not like national origin, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation in that it is not immutable for a given individual. Therefore, I see no reason to afford religion the special privilege of “respect” or “tolerance,” but reserve my right to criticize it and, yes, even to hope for its eradication by means of education and enlightenment (rather than violence, in case that also wasn’t clear).

              • Roi des Faux
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                The non-discrimination clauses of U.S. employment law say that religion is the same as those other identifiers *for the purpose of employment*. The U.S. constitution protects religious preference *from legal interference from the government*. Neither of these things has any bearing on whether or not it is “intolerant” to think that someone’s beliefs are harmful to others and that they should be criticized for holding those beliefs. Similar logic hold for the comparison between religion and sexual orientation.

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                Nick (Matzke) conflates tolerance with respect. These are two very different things.

                I don’t think I’ve ever read a word over here, by either Dr. Coyne or his commenters, opposing religious tolerance. Tolerance simply does not require nor imply respect.

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                “The non-discrimination clauses of U.S. employment law say that religion is the same as those other identifiers *for the purpose of employment*. The U.S. constitution protects religious preference *from legal interference from the government*. Neither of these things has any bearing on whether or not it is “intolerant” to think that someone’s beliefs are harmful to others and that they should be criticized for holding those beliefs. Similar logic hold for the comparison between religion and sexual orientation.”

                All of this is true.

                The only problem for our discussion is where science comes into it.

                Is science just another personal belief which floats around in the froth of public opinion, without any support from government? Obviously not. Scientific research and science education are time-consuming and expensive, and they primarily government-funded activities. They are (primarily) investments paid for by taxpayers). Science should be conducted, and disseminated, for the benefit of all.

                I think that this suggests that people speaking as scientists, science-promoting organizations, etc., should take it as “best practices” to exercise religious tolerance in a pretty broad sense of the term, roughly like the sort of tolerance we expect from employers, school boards, and (non-idiot) politicans and government officials. This respects the social contract which made the science and scientist possible in the first place.

                When scientists who want to promote atheism want to do so, that’s great, they have every right to do so, but they should note that what they are doing is giving their personal views on a topic beyond the strict bounds of “science” defined as a publicly-funded, societal institution.

                (I phrase this as a best practices suggestion, since scientists work in both public and private institutions, and get money from diverse sources, and have academic freedom in their jobs on top of standard Constitutional rights — legally scientists can probably say almost anything they like. So this is different than a legal discussion.)

              • benjdm
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                “When scientists who want to promote atheism want to do so, that’s great, they have every right to do so, but they should note that what they are doing is giving their personal views on a topic beyond the strict bounds of “science” defined as a publicly-funded, societal institution.”

                Whereas, when scientists want to promote theism, they get to do so not as a personal view but as an officially endorsed view of the NCSE, AAAS, etc.

              • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

                +1 for benjdm. That’s exactly the double standard that Matzke has been defending.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              Nick, you are absolutely ridiculous. What Jerry said was “reductio ad absurdum”: we all know it will never happen. Problem is, why should the position that religion and science are compatible be endorsed by the organization? What happened to “teach the controversy”? At least here you have a genuine controversy as oppsed to lay opinion v peer reviewed consensus.

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                If you follow the academic literature on science and religion, written by historians, sociologists, etc., who actually do scholarship on this issue, you won’t find any support for the kinds of demagogic statements and calls-to-arms regularly emanating from gnu trade books and blogs.

                Instead, you will find that the scholars of the issue say it’s all quite complex, and simplistic generalizations like science and religion are/aren’t compatible cannot reasonably be made. You will also find that scholarship likes to distinguish between mere science and scientistic metaphysical worldviews trying to pretend they’re just plain science.

                The gnu movement relies on ignoring these kinds of careful distinctions…

              • Tacroy
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

                Instead, you will find that the scholars of the issue say it’s all quite complex, and simplistic generalizations like science and religion are/aren’t compatible cannot
                reasonably be made.

                Have those historians ever, perhaps, asked a biologist about the feasibility of a human parthogenesis event leading to the birth of a male, or the reasonableness of any form of resurrection, or whether or not all humans could have descended from a single breeding pair, or whether or not winges horses exist? Have they asked any physicists about how likely unassisted human levitation is, or astrophysicists about what, exactly is up there?

                Heck, have they asked any of their colleagues whether or not Exodus really happened?

                There are lots of real, measurable places where science and religion conflict, and you can’t just resolve them off by saying “it’s complex”.

              • Insightful Ape
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                Nick, you are one hell of a hypocrite.
                Jerry’s main complain is that the symposium IS TAKING A STAND regarding this matter. We’d much be happier if they just left it alone.
                However, since one side is given a podium, it is only fair that the other side be given a chance too. That is what Jerry is asking for.
                And then a troll like you twists his words to make it look like he wants to “erradicat” religion-and that through violence.
                You are so shameless.

            • Andrew B.
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              Religion isn’t like illiteracy or segregation. It’s more like race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. This is about more than tone.”

              When one discusses the claims of one’s religion with other members, they treat their religion as a system of beliefs. When such people encounter criticism from out-group members, they throw off the “religion as belief-system” hat and put on the “religion as an identity hat” and start whining about persecution based upon an immutable characteristic. It’s extremely dishonest to do so, but apparently this doesn’t bother you.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Um, oh, wow. Have never seen the “identity” card before.

                Urgh, it smells like someone has used it for ass wipe!

            • benjdm
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

              “Religion isn’t like illiteracy or segregation. It’s more like race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. This is about more than tone.”

              Baloney. Race, gender, national origin, and gender are not taught to people. Religion is. It’s just a set of beliefs given a label of ‘religion.’ Eradicating it would consist of changing people’s minds. It’s very much akin to segregation – which also required changing people’s minds.

          • Kevin
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            Bravo!

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              Yes, very good! Jerry did Nick the Bud on the substantial points. (I was very surprised to see the failing equivocation on “what you just said”, and the “former alternative” description puts it right neatly.)

              science’s power comes from it’s self-restriction to limited empirical issues,

              Again with that unsupported claim. Evidence, please! What would be science “self-restriction” and what would be its “limited” empirical area?

              As I noted in another comment:

              Science has managed to make universal claims, say quantum mechanics and cosmology, while laboring from a specific point in space and time. Meanwhile there has been very little progress on understanding the process of science and any limitations.

              Btw, we all know that accommodationism make claims to the effect that “science and religion are consistent” which means that either a) religion makes no empirical claims (but this isn’t observed) or b) science has limited empirical capability (but this isn’t observed).

              I’m not sure what would be gained in claiming both a) (as Matzke does below) and b) (as Matzke does here). It is not a “belt and braces” situation. (In fact, I claim, it doesn’t work at all.)

              Perhaps it is cognitive inability to perceive an inconsistent position?

          • Michael Fugate
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

            The problem here is, as always, the issue of assessment. All of these activities are based on the idea that not questioning religion or claiming religion is not in conflict with science will somehow increase the acceptance and understanding of science. The AAAS could easily fund such studies, but doesn’t. The NCSE, even with its limited budget, could post before/after surveys for pastors involved with the Clergy Letter Project, but doesn’t. Are they afraid they might not get the answer they want?

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

              And it would take “mystery” out of religion, and its fabled successes and entitlement. What if it sucks as an ideal? Then accommodationists and religionists would both see their misery exposed.

              Can’t have that!

              Also, those few studies that are done seems to say that religion tend to disappear when societies are less insecure and undemocratic, and economy and education advances. At least one of those factors would mirror the efforts of NCSE and AAAS less well. I suspect the remaining factors would be bothering for their economical and political supporters if they were brought up as problems to work with.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        You want to know why gnus get a bad rap? The use of the word “eradication” anywhere near religion is one such reason. Eradication = intolerance. Intolerance = unamerican and illiberal.

        Oh, what bullshit.

        Americans are virtually unanimous in their desire to eradicate illiteracy. I don’t have a citation handy, but I’m sure there’s great support, at least in word if not in deed, for eradicating scientific illiteracy.

        Religion is the ultimate expression of scientific illiteracy. Our true desire is to eradicate scientific illiteracy; religion is “merely” an inevitable casualty in that quest.

        Get it? We’re not advocating pogroms. There will be no burnings at the stake.

        We’re just sick of ignorant and stupid people boasting of their ignorance and stupidity and demanding respect for those aspects of themselves which deserve nothing but contempt.

        I mean, really? Members of the AAAS bragging about the fact that they believe in the literal truth of an ancient pagan faery tale that starts with virgin birth and ends with human sacrifice and zombie porn? In this day and age? Give me a break.

        Cheers,

        b&

  4. 386sx
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God”

    Is it me, or does that sound extremely silly. Maybe it’s just me. Lol.

    • yesmyliege
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Actually, it is a physiologically clever incantation when mouthed by members of the flock to demonstrate devotion to, and to increase the pleasure for deity or priest, during an act of spiritual or physical fellation.

      They weren’t spending all their time just copying texts in those monasteries.

  5. NKP
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Damn it! I’m going to have to find a new organization for charitable donations, I’m sick of seeing this kind of nonsensical waste of time and energy when there are clearly more important things in the REAL Scientific Community to be focusing on. Does anybody have any suggestions for a truly non-accommodationist organization I can get behind?

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Planned Parenthood is a charity and your donations will be tax deductible. As much as they are vilified by religious right for doing abortions, that is one part of what they do. They do a lot of good work by providing contraception and health services to women living in poverty.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Yeah, but Planned Parenthood doesn’t organize sessions promoting the eradication of certain religious groups, either, so I guess it’s not really on the Gnus’ good side, either.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          Strawman much? Oh, I forgot, it’s Matzke. Well then, please continue foot-in-mouth procedure.

          • Roi des Faux
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            Strawman is a sexist term! ;-) I prefer “strawgnu”.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              I bow to your expertise! ;-) No really, that is a good, gnu, word.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          Oops, should have looked further up thread. Now comes with trolling too.

        • Badger3k
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          But they host seminars showing how various brands of superstition are not in direct opposition to scientific reasoning and the scientific method? Really?

        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          Nick didn’t use a vulgarity or name call, so clearly that response wasn’t in the category of “being a dick’.

          Still Im left with the feeling that he’s being a douche.

          • Uncle Bob
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

            Hmmm! Maybe you have hit on the new term to describe an accomodationist being a dick.

            The peanut butter has found chocolate.

          • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:22 am | Permalink

            Another data point that shows that absence of course language is not the same as civil language.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Nick, Planned Parenthood is not claiming they are compatible either.
          Speaking of which, when was the last time the Richard Dawkins Foundation held a symposium demanding a religion be erradicated? I guess to Nick the troll, Dawkins shouldn’t be favored by us either.

        • Rieux
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

          Religion is not a group, asshole.

          You know damn well that Jerry is interested in “eradicating” religion by convincing people that religious ideas are false and destructive. Your dishonesty is unbelievable.

        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          The eradication of certain religious groups? As in genocide?

          Are you serious?

          • ckitching
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

            Of course he is. Don’t you understand that Christians are terribly persecuted? Misreading things like this plays very well to their desire to be martyrs without the nasty “having to die” part. Yet, almost invariably they’ll also be the first to complain about “politically correct” speech.

        • benjdm
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          Why does the AAAS want to eradicate poor people and those who eat poorly, Nick?

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve never actually thought of AAAS as a scientific organization. There’s always been a big emphasis on public policy, so I expect this kind of outreach. And I expect that it’s going to be about as productive as E.O. Wilson’s outreach to evangelical Christians.

  7. Eric Welch
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Excellent essay. I suspect what you are describing is part of the evolution of organizations, particularly non-profit ones. They all begin as groups of people organized around a singular passion for an idea or objective, then soon discover that the work of the organization requires the employment of an executive director (who of course needs first a secretary who then has to be promoted to administrative assistant and what’s and administrative assistant without a secretary, ad infinitum.) The goals of the organization’s board then subtly shifts from working on the goals of the organization to maintaining the fiscal health of the organization. That’s the stage AAAS is at. Lesher realizes that raising money to keep the organization (and his job) healthy requires not pissing off anyone, hence accommodation. Original goals be damned. I’ve seen it happen time and again on boards I’ve served on and it’s particularly apparent in the environmental movement now. Wendy Kaminer wrote about similar events at the ACLU. Inevitable downward evolution.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      “That’s the stage AAAS is at. Lesher realizes that raising money to keep the organization (and his job) healthy requires not pissing off anyone, hence accommodation. Original goals be damned. I’ve seen it happen time and again on boards I’ve served on and it’s particularly apparent in the environmental movement now.”

      Another problem with the Gnu movement is wild ahistoricism. In reality, the AAAS had the same position on religion back in the 1920s that it has now.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Clearly you did not get the memo from Rob Knopp. You are no longer supposed to refer to us a gnu atheists as it upsets him. And as you know, accommodationsts are all against upsetting people.

        And as for the AAAS position in the 1920s, they had some excuse back then. Betrand Russell had yet to right “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Seems your history is none to good either.

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          A slight correction.

          Why I am not Christian was not written until 1927. Whilst it was released as a pamphlet that same year, I can find no indication that the phamplet was ever published in the US.

          The essay was later included in a book of selected essays by Russell, but that was not published until a few years later.

          • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

            Oh yes, I forgot, no one knew about atheism before Bertrand Russell’s book explained it to everyone.

            • Matt Penfold
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

              I see you have chosen to deliberately miss the point.

              Want another go, or will you just say sorry ? Remember, you are not allowed to be a dick, and you got a bit near being one there. I

              • Badger3k
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                No, no, no – they can be dicks all they want. It’s just the uppity (Gnu)atheists who can’t be. Gotta bow before the wisdom of our betters.

                Is that enough sucking up to join the AAAS?

  8. Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I think it bears repeating:

    Faith is the bedrock of religion. New Oxford defines “faith” as, “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof” (emphasis mine).

    Science, on the other hand, is, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (emphasis also mine).

    The two are diametric opposites. Reconciliation is not possible. The compartmentalization of cognitive dissonance certainly is, but I’m hard pressed to think of a better example of doublethink (“the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, esp. as a result of political indoctrination”) than the claim that science and religion are compatible.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Mattapult
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      There are a number of definitions of faith. I for one, would like to see the accomodationist authors clarify what the word faith means to them.

      This definition from Merriam-Webster “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” seems to apply to at least some religious dogma. That defintion puts accomdationism on shaky ground–at best.

      Even that definition can be interpreted different ways. Is it a beleif where the evidence isn’t 100%? or beleif despite overwhelming contrary evidence.

      For example: you probably wouldn’t get on an elevator if you thought something was wrong with it. The door opens, people get off unharmed, there’s no loud banging noises or dust cloud. The buttons seem to work and the permit is up to date. You personally haven’t inspected the cables or safety mechanisms to know for sure, but you still take the elevator on faith.

      Now imagine you’re waiting on the top floor. The doors open, there’s no car. You see frayed cables. Still fits ‘a’ definition of faith. Do you step in?

      Until the accomodationists define what they consider to be ‘faith’, we’re trying to hit a moving target.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        I would argue that example of the elevator is not about faith but about experience. Our own experiences, and those of others. I would include lack of experience as well, in that we do not see many stories in the news of people plunging to their deaths in elevators.

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          A slight correction.

          Why I am not Christian was not written until 1927. Whilst it was released as a pamphlet that same year, I can find no indication that the phamplet was ever published in the US.

          The essay was later included in a book of selected essays by Russell, but that was not published until a few years later.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        “That defintion puts accomdationism on shaky ground–at best.”

        Yes. It also elevates the meta question as in “belief in belief” as a faith applied to religious questions.

        Or quite simply, accommodationism as religious dogma. Now the question becomes, if NCSE and AAAS are adamant in institutionalizing theology as dogma, are they churches then? Or merely “proto-churches”?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        As Matt raised the answer, I too would have problem to argue the elevator example “faith”.

        First, I must note that to the large part that Penfold put down to experience I would add process and uniformity. We know that physical processes can be uniform over time, they don’t “stop” for no reason. (Say, Earth rotating giving the day/night cycle from sun light.)

        Second, the little remainder I understand to be uncertainty, not faith. In every process there will be room for uncertainty, say for the elevator to break. The difference is that uncertainty is quantifiable and related to facts, faith is neither. It is some nebulous fuzzy concept, an emotion by heart and an opinion “by brain”. Moving target is an apt description.

      • Rob
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        The problem isn’t belief without evidence. The problem is belief *AGAINST* evidence.

        I don’t call that faith, I call that delusion. And it’s the cornerstone of organized religion.

    • Roi des Faux
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      This is one reason that in discussion about science v religion, I think it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page about what you’re really comparing. My response to the question is “Short answer: they’re incompatible. Long answer: depends on what you mean by ‘science’, ‘religion’, and ‘compatible’.” In the sense that someone can hold both religious beliefs and scientific beliefs without vanishing in a puff of illogic, they are compatible. In the sense of how science (as practiced today) and religion (as practiced today) interact, there’s plenty of conflict, but not all religions conflict with science in this way. If you’re talking about the core philosophy of science and religion, they are epistemologically and methodologically incompatible.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        If a scientist says a little prayer before performing an experiment, nobody will gainsay them.

        If a scientist says they must say a little prayer or the experiment will not work, science, we have a problem.

  9. sherkat
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. Still, I’m dumbfounded that these conferences seeking to understand this conflict (oh, wait, not that!) between religion and science include no scholars who study sectarian Christianity in the contemporary United States using social scientific methods. Instead, Christians are put forward to concoct elaborate denials of conflict. I haven’t clicked on the program yet, but let me guess, I bet Elaine is the token social scientist who supposedly studies religion.

  10. Ivory Girl
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I have canceled my membership to both the AAAS and the NCSE for all the reasons you so depressingly point out.
    “We are not looking for allies,we are looking for converts”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      I feel squeezed too. When I was a researcher in electronics (PhD studies) I was an AVS member for practical purposes. They are members of AIP, which in turn are affiliated to AAAS.

      Oh US, that the light of your shores would be so rudely dimmed as seen from afar!

    • Tacroy
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      The sad thing is, though, that I’m sure that for every gnu-ish atheist who cancels their membership over things like this, at least two religious people breathe a sigh of relief over their impossible views being validated by these respectable, scientific organizations and sign up.

      The benefit of pandering to the religious is that there’s a lot more of them :(

  11. Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink
    For instance, intuition and commitment without proof may be more appropriate, not only in matters of faith, but also when deciding where to live, whom to marry, or how to proceed in the face of tragedy.

    Well, those questions may not be resolvable by hard science per se, but they’re certainly amenable to reason and evidence.

    This is a point on which I diverge from Jerry (as I have mentioned many times). I agree with Newsome in that “reason and evidence”, as Jerry puts it, may actually not be the best way to deal with those questions.

    Of course, read carefully what was said. “Intuition and commitment without proof” may in fact have some value — and I believe they do — in figuring out how to live our lives as human beings. But you don’t need faith in order to do that; rather, faith parasitizes our practical reliance on “intuition and commitment without proof”.

    I know I sound like a broken record here, but: Science isn’t everything, but that doesn’t mean religion is something.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I agree with Newsome in that “reason and evidence”, as Jerry puts it, may actually not be the best way to deal with those questions.

      I’m not sure I can read a conflict into this.

      “Intuition and commitment without proof” is an apt description of, say, unconscious decision ability that evolution has equipped us with. (For example, IIRC there may be some evidence that snap decisions while shopping is better than deliberated choices. In any case we can intuit how to fall survivably, et cetera.)

      That means “reason and evidence” can bear on “intuition and commitment without proof”. However, as my own broken record goes, behaving say morally doesn’t mean there is a means of understanding the details of such behavior. (No consistent “morality”, no general ethical guidelines apply without problem.)

      More generally, these forms of learning (since in evolution the genome learns about its environment) are contingent. Trial-and-error and trial-and-reward learning maps to bayesian algorithms, and those have failed to be sufficient for recovering universal rules. Or they would have replaced theories by now, they are model free learners and works from get go.

      Only testing seem to suffice to shape out universal “fact space” by rejecting falsehoods. It is interesting in this context to know why, btw. Personally I think it is because “classical” theories tend to map to real objects, bayesian learning tend to map to patterns in signals and noise alike. (Which patterns if they become preconceived dogma are “religious”.) But that is me.

      Learning is complementing science empiricism as relating to facts, but they do so by relating to patterns, including religious such. This is empirically dangerous ground, because it is non-NOMA, an overlapping “magisteria”.

      Of course, it is mostly dangerous to contemplate for NCSE and AAAS, so adds to their woes. What if education would encompass, um, learning!? Oh noes!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        [

        “classical” theories tend to map to real objects, bayesian learning tend to map to patterns in signals and noise alike.

        Ah, yes, that would be predicted by the definition as real := give specific reactions on specific actions (roughly, Deutsch's definition). Just learning non-specific signals (and noise) would tend to mask the reality of a system, while "hitting" it with testing all over its dynamic range would tend to bring out its specific characteristics.

        Problem solved!]

    • Roi des Faux
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      “Science isn’t everything, but that doesn’t mean religion is something.”

      I consider the best method for decision making to be what I’d call “rational inquiriy”. Basically, it’s the notion that using logic and evidence is the best method for figuring things out and deciding what to do. Science is one sub-method in rational inquiry, which is devoted only to questions of figuring out “What is…” and “How does it work?”, with rigorous standards for evidence and procedure, and no reference to emotions. If you decide you’re going to drive 4 blocks out of your way because it’s 1:52 and the streets near campus will be swarming with students just out of class, you’re not doing science, but you’re basing your decision on logic and evidence. Emotion can play a role in decision making (in fact without emotions and desires and other “squishy” things you’d have no reason to do anything other than sit there until you died), but not to the exclusion of reason.

      So if someone pulls out the “Science isn’t everything!” card, I’ll respond, “You’re right! We can talk about the conflict between rationality and religion if you’d like.”

  12. Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Thinking about this a bit more…it seems to me that the proper approach to take towards accommodationists is take the rhetorical offensive to them by taking their claims at face value.

    If science and faith are truly reconcilable, then religious claims must be amenable to scientific verification and faith must be capable of discovering and validating new scientific principles.

    Therefore, I invite Mr. Lesher to propose a scientific experiment which can determine the location of Heaven and Hell and confirm the presence of one Jesus of Nazareth in the former and his absence from the latter. Actually performing the experiment would be icing on the cake; I’d personally be satisfied with the description of a protocol such that, were it carried out, Science would publish the results.

    I further invite him to use faith to provide the mass of the Higgs to within four significant figures before experimental confirmation from CERN. That number must, of course, be published well in advance of CERN’s actual discovery.

    Obviously, no religionist nor accommodationist would even pretend to acknowledge that these demands are not only reasonable but the obvious logical conclusion of their respective positions. Instead, I will be condemned as an arrogant and shrill gnu athiest and dismissed as the lunatic fringe. Fancy that.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Excellent!

  13. Insightful Ape
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    As for as I see this doesn’t even provide for communication between science and all people of faith. Where are the Jews for example, or Episcopalians, or Muslims? The cynic in me says one motive for this, if not THE motive, is to rake in donations, otherwise it wouldn’t be such an “ad numerum” exercise, as Leshner himself admits.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      C’mon, you think *donations* are the reason for this symposium? Every year the AAAS meeting has bunches and bunches of symposia. It’s an academic meeting. Academic meetings have symposia on a variety of topics. They tend to be focused on something specific, so that relevant experts can be brought in for discussions and everyone’s mutual discussion.

      Whether or not you like it, it’s a fact that evangelicals are important in American history and politics, and there are a whole bunch of academics devoted to studying evangelicalism. Actual sober academics, then, might reasonably choose to devote a symposium to discussing evangelicals and science, without deserving any untoward judgment for not having a similar symposium, that year, at that particular meeting, on whatever other group might be chosen.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        How many symposia have been held since the 1920s on a similar subject but involving a dialogue with people from other Christian denomniations ? How many with people from non-Christian faiths ? How many with those of no faith ?

        I agree there is no need to have balancing symposia every year, but there is a need to have some kind of balance over time.

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          I have done some research on the AAAS website.

          I can find no record of the AAAS holding a dialogue between science and any other faith group, or with atheism.

          The closest match I got was a dialogue on science, ethics and religion. Not too sure why they put religion and ethics in together though, unless they mistakenly thought religion is a good place to explore ethical ideas.

          It is possible that some symposia that are not listed on the website, maybe because they occurred before the site was created.

          So if this if the first one, will you, in the interests of balance, be calling on the AAS to include other faiths, and atheism in future years ?

          • Badger3k
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            But these other faiths aren’t seeking to strip all science funding from the budget, proposing anti-climate change legislation, opposing medical interventions such as the hpv vaccine – and the like. As soon as those other religions get the power that evangelicals have, I’m sure the AAAS will be glad to have kumbaya-we’re-all-brothers-here-guys-so-upport-us symposia as well.

            I haven’t looked at anything with this symposium, but do they have anything dealing with the scientific evidence for Resurrection? Transubstantiation? Prophecy?

        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          Actually I bet it’s a historically rare thing, until recently, to “get” prominent evangelicals like Richard Czik to speak. For most of the 20th century most evangelicals were too fundamentalist to come within arm’s reach of AAAS. Czik himself has taken hits within evangelicalism e.g. for endorsing the idea the global warming is real, and is a problem. etc.

          • Matt Penfold
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            So this might well be a first ?

            So will you be wanting the AAAS to have similar events in future years, but involving other faiths, and atheism ?

            If not, how do you avoid the charge of discrimination ?

            • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

              The AAAS meeting is a huge meeting, they have whole programs on education, public understanding of science, and science-religion dialogue every year. The AAAS program Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion sponsors two symposia every meeting, every year. This year, one is on evangelicals, the other on astronomy.

              http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/

              Aaaah! Run for the hills!

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                Handily, they have all the DoSER symposia since 1998 up:

                http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/02_Events/AAAS_AnnualMeeting/02_AM_Archive.shtml

                …looks like I was even involved in one, I forgot about that…

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                FIne.

                Now answer the question I actually asked.

                I note though that you not seem that worried about the exclusion of Jews, Mulims, Hindus etc.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                I just checked that list.

                Not a single symposia involving any specific religious group until this year it seems.

              • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

                It’s not that hard to do your own google search, you know:

                http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2003/1014nasr.shtml

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                No indeed.

                I missed that, so thank you.

                However can you explain how you missd the fact the AAAS does claim science and religion are compatible ?

                Maybe you need to learn to google better.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        “Actual sober academics, then, might reasonably choose to devote a symposium to discussing evangelicals and science, without deserving any untoward judgment for not having a similar symposium, that year, at that particular meeting, on whatever other group might be chosen.”

        If it really were an issue of not hearing the anti-accommodationist perspective (which is also espoused by “sober academics”)at that meeting, then you might have a point. As it is, there is never any attention given by the AAAS to what is a completely reasonable and rational side of an discussion that they claim to want to engage. It is intellectually dishonest, if not outright dishonest, to claim to want debate, to then take a position and shut out dissenters from day one.

        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          Another misconception occurring throughout this thread is that the goal of the AAAS, or of this symposium, is to argue for the compatibility of science and religion. But that’s not the goal. Just as you will never see a symposium saying “Science and religion are incompatible”, you will never see one saying “Science and religion are compatible.”

          The actual goal is to promote science. Amongst other things, this involves outreach to groups with limited access to/understanding of science for various historical reasons. And it involves trying to change minds in those groups traditionally opposed to science. These goals require mutual understanding and dialogue, and symposia like the one we are discussing are an attempt to help that process move forward.

          Bomb-throwing, scapegoating the entire group for the crimes of a few, invective and insults, trying to impose an entire metaphysical worldview on the coattails of the limited empirical endeavor of science, and calling for the eradication of said group are not productive strategies. They might be useful as tribal bonding activities, but not much more than that.

          • Matt Penfold
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

            Here is a quote from the AAAS Q & A on Evolution and Intelligent Design. You can find the original here.

            Are science and religion inherently opposed?

            No. Science does not take a position on an intelligent designer, which is a matter of religious faith, and is not testable scientifically. AAAS and other scientific groups do not want to create the impression that religion and science are inherently in conflict. They live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.

            Science and religion ask different questions about the world. Many individual scientists are deeply religious. They see scientific investigation and religious faith as complementary components of a well-rounded life.

            Sorry Nick, the AAAS say you are wrong. They do take a position on the compatibility of science and religion.

            Why did you lie and claim they do not ?

            • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

              There is a difference between the limited negative statement “no inherent conflict” and the positive statement applying to all religion “science and religion are compatible.” Amongst other issues, some religion is compatible with science (just to pick a clear example, Unitarianism), and some isn’t (e.g. fundamentalism). Thus you can say that there is no inherent conflict, because some religion isn’t in conflict. But this is much different than making the positive statement that all religion is compatible with science, which is a ridiculous statement that no one accepts, and which is a strawman employed by gnus looking for easy targets that don’t have the danger of fighting back.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

                Nick,

                Good non apology there. What is it that stops you from behaving decently ? Lack of manners ? Psychological issues ? You simply cannot be arsed ?

                The type of religion as practised by the audience the AAAS will have been aiming that Q&A at are not going to be some form of deists who’s religion makes no empirical claims about the Universe.

                The vast majority of religions do make such claims.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                But this is much different than making the positive statement that all religion is compatible with science, which is a ridiculous statement that no one accepts, and which is a strawman employed by gnus looking for easy targets that don’t have the danger of fighting back.

                Nice equivocation on “all”. What many people notes is that all religion, as they are practiced, are incompatible. Unitarianism seems to be a christian sect, so they wouldn’t be exempt, I’m sure. Maybe you will explain how they would be the only sect not making up empirical claims.

                Moreover, Coyne and Tyson are immune to your strawman. They argue that the method of science and the method of faith is incompatible.

              • Insightful Ape
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                Another straw man argument from Nick. I think it should be clear enough that this thread is about evangelicals, and the goal of the symposium is to cozy up to them. The statement that “religion in not inherently in conflict with science” clearly doesn’t apply to that religion. Even the most “rational” of evangelicals, that being Collins, frequently makes scientifically erroneous statements as Jerry point out in this same post.

          • Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            If it is a “misconception” to say that the AAAS is promoting accommodationism, then perhaps statements from the AAAS and its leaders ought not to so openly flirt with the idea so as to avoid confusing us deluded atheists.

            All sarcasm aside, your claim that the actual goal is to promote science is highly suspect at best. One does not “promote science” by placing certain scientific questions (e. g.: Is virgin birth possible? Was the world created?) off-limits from the get-go. One promotes science by having an honest, open dialog in which arguments are given weight according to their merits and not to the fervency and prevalence of their adherents.

            If the AAAS’s goal here was to promote science, then the symposium would look quite different, focusing on expanding human knowledge rather than compromising on its limits.

            From what I can tell, the AAAS is seeking to make a play in the court of public opinion— this is even a laudable goal, but no one is served by intellectually dishonest arguments or by literal dishonesty about intentions. This is precisely why I and many other ν atheists advocate a position of neutrality on the issue of accommodation. It is clear that the AAAS has no business directly supporting my own views, and it is likewise clear that supporting the accommodationist views is fraught with perils such as those discussed at great length here. Hence, the only option left is to maintain neutrality, and to concentrate on actually promoting science.

            • Matt Penfold
              Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

              Nick is quite simply wrong when he says the AAAS have not taken a position on the compatibility of science and religion.

              To quote from their Q&AL:

              AAAS and other scientific groups do not want to create the impression that religion and science are inherently in conflict.

              I suppose we could read that as they are really not sure whether religion and science are in conflict, but for some reason (likely political) they do not want people thinking they do not have a position.

              Or we could read it as them calming science and religion really are not in conflict.

              Neither position is very honest. Why not just say philosophers and scientists do not agree on whether science and religion are compatible and there is an on-going debate over the issue. ?

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

            Bomb-throwing, scapegoating the entire group for the crimes of a few, invective and insults, trying to impose an entire metaphysical worldview on the coattails of the limited empirical endeavor of science, and calling for the eradication of said group are not productive strategies.

            Evidence, please. There is no evidence these are group (“tribal”) activities:

            – “Bomb-throwing”. Um, what? This _is_ a religious group activity, though.
            – “Scapegoating the entire group for the crimes of a few.” There is no scapegoating seen, AFAIU. There _is_ an insistence that moderate religious take exception to those crimes. (For example, I just did so in this thread.)
            – “invective and insults”. Again, many “dicks” are called, none are actually seen. Calling out incessant trolling when seen is not using invective or insult, btw.
            – “an … metaphysical worldview”. That is the question on the table. Frankly, the “metaphysical” characterization is tiresome, when many or most atheists make an empirical analysis and _you yourself admit to empirical evidence used_.
            – ” the limited empirical endeavor of science”. Um, which limitations? Science has managed to make universal claims, say quantum mechanics and cosmology, while laboring from a specific point in space and time. Meanwhile there has been very little progress on understanding the process of science and any limitations.
            – “calling for the eradication of said group” Again “scapegoating the entire group”. Will you never tire of your strawmen?

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Nick, this is nonsense They are not there to study the evangelical population in a neutral, scientific way. The symposium is to “build bridges”. And I am wrong to say that one of the motives can be to get donations? And of course on average, the bigger group you are reaching out to, the more donations you can expect.
        Speaking of “reaching out”, how representative are the group they are going to be meeting? As far as we have seen in the recent years, while some evangelicals have talked about environmental issues, the majority are too obsessed with “social issues” to care.

  14. Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    If we look at AAAS as a publishing house which is interested in money perhaps more that truth all these things make more sense. More evangelicals make more subscribers. Other (atheistic or non-accommodationists) will rather not un-subscribe for that reason. Maybe they will just gnash their teeth a bit more…

  15. Sili
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    (A grammatical plaint: when did “advancement” replace “advance”? The longer word is pompous and grating.)

    That’s not grammar. Secondly, it’s not The American Association for the Advance of Science, so it makes sense to use “advancement” to tie into the AAAS. Thirdly, I don’t have access to the OED, but I’dn’t be surprised if the answer to your “when” was “sometime before Shakespeare”.

    You will never see a AAAS symposium on “The incompatibility of science and faith,” with scientist-speakers like Richard Dawkins or Victor Stenger. (What a lovely thing that would be!).

    Never say never. If so many members of the AAAS would like to see such a panel, why don’t you ask for one? Petition the organisers: “Here’s some money, here’re some good speakers; go ahead.”

    • Sili
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      I lie (about access).

      1. The raising of any one to a higher rank or position; promotion, preferment.
      c1325 (1300) Chron. Robert of Gloucester (Calig. A. 11) 6388 He ȝef him such auauncement as he wolde.

      4. The helping forward of anything in process toward completion or perfection; furtherance, promotion; improvement.
      1551 R. Robinson tr. T. More Vtopia sig. ✠iii, For the auauncement & commoditie of the publique wealth.

      6. Advancing or advanced condition.
      1793 J. Smeaton Narr. Edystone Lighthouse (ed. 2) §271 [I] gave an account of the advancement of our works.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Yes, have anyone asked for an alternate panel? I’m not sure of the history of such activities, since I don’t think I have heard anything at all on this.

      Surely it would be welcomed! (¬_¬)

    • William Jordan
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      According to Follet’s Modern American Usage, “‘Advance’ refers to any progress, literal or figurative; ‘advancement’ is restricted to individual progress in a career, bueaucracy, or hierarchy….. The soldier or cleric has won advancement.”

      Fowler’s Modern English Usage, on the other hand, allows for more confusion (nuance?): “…the advance of knowledge [science] is the way knowledge is advancing, whereas the advancement of knowledge is action taken to advance knowledge. Apart from this verbal-noun use with ‘of’ following,… ‘advancement’ has only the sense of preferment or promotion, never the more general one of progress.” (?)

      However, if this isn’t grammar, what do you suppose it is?

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    evangelical Christians … The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate.

    That won’t happen of course, and even any “eradication of evangelical Christianity” will eventually raise the religious hydra monster’s heads somewhere else.

    But it would be immoral to pitch in with moderate religious enablers who doesn’t oppose the bad stuff. (Um, like hiring as a teacher to a low grade school who doesn’t kick pedophiles out.)

    And it would be impractical to pitch in with moderates of any kind who confuses empirical conflict with social conflict. (“My holding two conflicting world views in my head at the same time proves that they are both valid.”)

    If we don’t stand up against immorality and unreason “we all stand to lose”. I take my Enlightenment with a bit of light, please.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Well I doubt religion will ever totally go away, but some societies have managed to pretty much confine religion to a matter of personal belief, and keep it out of public discourse.

      I would also note that those countries also tend to score well in international comparisons of scientific literacy, as well as any number of other measures of what makes up a good society (literacy, infant mortality etc.) I doubt very much that the correlation is simple down to chance.

  17. Terry
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Maybe this is the wrong forum, but I have to say this. After reading the column, I still cannot understand how I, a lower IQ person, (may 110 at best,) can understand how pointless and destructive religious beliefs are, and really really smart guys in the AAAS and other organizations don’t get it?

    Both Collins and Leshner have doctorates in some sort of science, yet they continue to believe in invisible beings in a heaven? Wouldn’t these guys have IQ’s in the 150’s of above? Shouldn’t gods and that stuff be silly to them?

    Please someone explain this to me. Why can I read Dawkins, Harris and Coyne, and understand their books, (to some extent at least,) and come away knowing, having been taught, that religion has no place in science. Why don’t Collins and Leshner see this the same way I do?

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      In the words of Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

      More specifically, read up on cognitive dissonance. Whenever somebody has staked out a seemingly-indefensible position, Cognitive dissonance theory almost inevitably offers both an explanation and a solution. It’s powerful stuff.

      You’ll note that one of the ways to resolve the dissonance is by increasing the cost, the pain, of holding on to the disruptive position. And — surprise, surprise — that’s exactly what the strident gnus do.

      It’s one thing to proclaim the mystery of faith in the solemnity of a cathedral. It’s another to explain why you think the zombie king commanded his thralls to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Ouch! I _knew_ I forgot to ask something; why the creeds above didn’t have anything on the fondling of intestines.

        For the benefit of the thread, obviously… :-D

    • Badger3k
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Indoctrination into a particular belief during childhood can be very powerful – I’d wager it influences the vast majority of people. It’s only later that they seek to justify their belief (if they ever do) through standard apologetics pseudo-rational/scientific arguments.

      Sometimes the more intelligent you are, the harder it is for you to avoid falling for bs.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Also, despite what Matzke points to in the discussion of the application of measuring IQ, it correlates to behavioral traits including job capacity. (So why are Collins and Leshner so bad at some things they do? Religion…)

        Those traits are, I believe, generally greater capacities. Including capacities for fooling yourself, and/or mitigating the effects of such unsound behavior.

  18. Kevin
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Wow. So, no Jews or Muslims allowed then. Or Buddhists or Hindi or Bahai or $cientology.

    What about Christian Scientists? They still believe that illness is a function of separation from god and that anyone can be healed of any illness only by having enough “faith”. (My great-grandmother died at the hands of these monsters, in intractable pain).

    And what about non-evangelical Christianity, then? Are they doing it rong, or is some sort of theological concordance expected to come out of this?

    If ever there was a bad idea, this conference is it.

    First and foremost, before any conference of this sort is to be organized, one simple and very important question needs to be addressed.

    What ‘truth claim’ of evangelical Christianity stands up to scientific scrutiny?

    I have been an AAAS member in the past. No more. Maybe not ever again. Not while this is going on.

    Perhaps some resignations of more prominent scientists would open some eyes.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      One more thing — I think I better let this rest before my blood pressure goes up too high.

      Before Nick or anyone else comes up with “answering different questions” as a reply…

      What “different question” has religion EVER asked and answered? What questions therefore are “out of bounds” for science to answer?

      I’ve said it before, but the types of questions the religious wish to claim as their provenance are really science questions. To whit:

      1. The origins of the universe. Science question, no doubt about it.
      2. The organizational structure of the “pre-universe” (and let’s be clear, this is what it’s all about). Science question.
      3. Origination of life on this planet. Science question.
      4. Diversity of life on this planet. Science question (and already answered, to boot!).
      5. Ultimate fate of individual consciousness after death. Science question (and, to be frank, already answered).

      What other questions could religion answer? The nature of love? Well, I’m an atheist and have been for 50 years. I think I know a thing or three about love, so don’t tell me that religion is uniquely qualified to answer this question.

      In the end, it’s all about the death cults speaking in code about “ultimate purpose” when they really mean “the size and temperature of my post-death apartment complex”.

  19. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    … can be as aggressive as NFL football. Sometimes, however, a few serious players come onto the field and refuse to take a side.

    Teh Dumn. What a bone-headed analogy. Since when does a football player ever take the field and refuse to take a side?

    • Kevin
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      And since when is accommodationism not a side?

      False dichotomy: The logical fallacy that suggests there can be only two “sides” to an issue.

      And of course, let’s not forget Dawkins on this issue:
      When two diametrically opposed viewpoints are expressed, the truth does not necessarily lie somewhere in the middle. It is possible that one side is simply wrong.

      Trying to move us away from being perfectly correct to only partially wrong, is, frankly, worse than being wrong. It’s disingenuous.

    • Badger3k
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      When he’s looking for a contract renegotiation?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        I think one thing is for certain: not when he’s looking for public endearment and support.

        Did Leshner just hit a whiff for accommodationism?

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      This shows how accommodationists view themselves: as the referees that will make sure the two sides behave. They like to see themselves as the peacemakers. This is a noble goal, in and of itself, and explains why accommodationism is such a popular position.

      But in the end, whenever there is a controversial issue, a referee is going to have to disappoint at least one of the two sides, and they should not forget that.

  20. אביגיל
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    (A grammatical plaint: when did “advancement” replace “advance”? The longer word is pompous and grating.)

    That’s not a grammatical point, it’s a style point if anything. And as someone pointed out, there’s a logic behind the choice.

    I respect you so much, but you sometimes succumb to irrational grammar prescriptivism (like most everybody). If it looks “wrong” to you, that doesn’t make it wrong.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      “Advancement” is a perfectly cromulent word.

      • Helena Constantine
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, to say, “to benefit scientific advance” would be quite wrong. Its also not a matter of grammar in any case.

        And if anything is pompous and grating, its the word “plaint.”

        • Tulse
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          to say, “to benefit scientific advance” would be quite wrong.

          Of course, but why not just “to advance science”?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        It embiggens the vocabulary. In fact, it just embiggens.

  21. KP
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. My subscription to Science is up in a week or two. I was already thinking about subscribing to Nature instead, maybe I’ll do so as a protest.

  22. Thanny
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    If anything, “advancement” is preferable to “advance” as a noun, because “advance” has so many other meanings.

    As others have pointed out, it’s been used in that way since well before even modern English existed.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      I’d say the rot set in when “obligate” replaced “oblige”.

      • Sili
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        1. trans.
        Thesaurus »
        Categories »

        a. To bind (a person) morally; to put (a person) under moral obligation; to constrain, compel, oblige. Usu. in pass. with infinitive. Now chiefly N. Amer.
        1533 T. Gilbert Let. 7 July in Lisle Papers (P.R.O.: SP 3/10/113) f. 143, I were grettly bownd to praye for yow: where yow haue oblygatt me yn tymys past so for to do.

        But to be fair to you, “oblige” does antedate “obligate” by about 200 years.

        • SAWells
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          Interesting bit of language development in action: looks like verb “oblige” had past participle “obligat” which backforms a new verb “obligate” with a regular past participle “obligated”.

  23. Uncle Bob
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    From Nick (Matzke)

    If you follow the academic literature on science and religion, written by historians, sociologists, etc., who actually do scholarship on this issue, you won’t find any support for the kinds of demagogic statements and calls-to-arms regularly emanating from gnu trade books and blogs.

    Not sure what literature you’re referring to, let alone any hint of a consensus. Considering the categories listed, history, theology, sociology, it would seem you are (once again) arguing since some scientists are also religious, they are compatible.

    Whether or not some scientists are religious is irrelevant. This debate is about methods of finding knowledge. Science has a reliable method for finding knowledge with a long track record to back it up. Religion has a very UNreliable method for finding knowledge with a long track record to back that up also.

  24. Insightful Ape
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s getting real boring. The other day we get Rob, today we get Nick. Is it too much for some not-so-lame trolls?
    Or maybe that is an oxymoron.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Well, as they say, “that’s how the theodicy trolls”.

  25. Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Do these symposia have Q&A? How about some gnus going to the AGM and challenging this codswallop? Jerry?

  26. Militant Scientist
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Continued science funding in the US requires a commitment on the part of citizens. Evangelical Christians have always been skeptical of science but in the past also skeptical of worldly politics. The increased participation of evangelical Christians in US politics requires some diplomacy to maintain scientific funding levels.

    I think of the problem this way, would you rather have evangelicals like Francis Collins or evangelicals like Ken Ham? Tycho Brahe’s model of the solar system was wrong but not as wrong as Ptolemy.

  27. Ambidexter
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    As science progresses in other disciplines, evangelicals will continue to play a significant role, but their positions on many of these issues have not yet been fully formed.

    Rick Warren, a board certified evangelical, has said: “If the Bible and science contradict each other, I will go with the Bible.” Looks like Warren has a fully formed position on the issue of science and religion compatibility. I can name a whole bunch more evangelicals who take the same position as Warren.

  28. Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    If Gnu Atheists are dicks, some accommodationists are complete aaases.

  29. Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Mr. Coyne, I love your book and your blog. I think you’re doing great things to advance science and the atheist view. I am, myself, an outspoken critic of religion..ever since George W. felt God’s calling to run for president. It was after a couple years of that when I finally began to realize what destructive policies a bunch of Christians acting in concert could implement (i.e. the evangelical voting block that nudged him toward victory); it was then that I retired my “live and let live” attitude and began to speak out more forcefully against superstitious, religious beliefs. So I am with you most of the time.

    But I think that you risk marginalizing yourself with the more extreme language that you use… particularly when you say that you would like to eradicate Christianity. In theory that is an admirable goal, but in practice the only way to accomplish such a feat would be through some sort of authoritarian, violent revolution. The term “eradicate” can evoke the memory of certain dictators, or of the Orkin man, a fact that our adversaries are too eager to point out. I don’t think those images lodged in people’s minds help our cause.

    Just consider maybe dialing back the alarming language a bit. It might be more appropriate to talk about the need to vociferously CONFRONT faith whenever possible, or to tirelessly CHALLENGE religious claims wherever they arise. But talk about eradication of religion means only one thing to a believer: death camps. Yet these believers comprise the same audience that you are uniquely positioned to reach with your writing.

    When I read your book I noticed how fair it was toward those evolution doubters, how measured and reasonable it was in tone toward people of faith (compared to, for example, Donald Prothero’s book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”, which slams the believer on the head like a ton of bricks!)

    I try to remember the words of Thomas Paine, who said “The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.” The public must know that our weapons are reason and truth.

    Best of Luck,

    Jeff B, a devoted reader

  30. pittigemaki
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    You are all talking besides reality. Reality is that religion has nothing to do with respect or compassion, that is made by persons not organizations. And that’s exactly what religions are. Every religion has clergy and a mob that must obey without reason. Because they have no evidence for their superstition and lies the only pressure they can give to make the mob obedient is torture. That’s what they have done all 17 centuries long. And that’s what they gonna do as long as they exist. It’s not abortion that is “intrinsic evil” but sending 20 age boys to war, young people who’s parents has put numerous days of hard work in breeding them. They love war and have always blessed guns (read Karlheinz Deschner about this). And that’s the reason why science and “lies” are intrinsic incompatible. Religion has killed every flame of science all history long, now that they can’t kill it anymore they try to master it so they can use it for their own purposes (read: trying to force 1984 over the entire world), they should use neuroscience for example to kill resistance. That’s why we should hate religion, I can’t imagine science using torture to prove their evidence, they don’t need it because science use experiments to prove a theory, that’s honest and you can’t lie. Science gives a better life, religion only create war and hate.

    • Ted Davis
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I respond to this:

      Hang on. Isn’t the right answer to “is evolution incompatible with religion” just “Check your religious beliefs. If they’re incompatible with evolution, then yes.”

      We agree that evolution is not compatible with every single set of religious beliefs; I don’t think the AAAS is trying to say that it is. On the other hand, it apparently *is* compatible with quite a few sets of religious beliefs–and not just those of Dawkins or Mr Coyne.

      I don’t think one can go much further than this, without spelling out exactly what evolution “means” for religion, or without spelling out which particular sets of religious beliefs one has in mind. And on the former (the meaning of evolution), there is no general agreement that I can see, not even among those who think that evolution implies or entails atheism. For example, Will Provine thinks that evolution means that “human free will is nonexistent.”

      http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/darwin/Archives/1998ProvineAbstract.htm

      As he says, “Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication.” Most Christians believe in free will, to one extent or another, but we clearly can’t say that evolution falsifies that religious belief. Many Christians also believe that all humans carry the “image of God,” which is (among other things) a way of giving strong affirmation to the dignity of all persons.

      That’s what Jefferson was getting at in the declaration of independence, at least. Surely evolution is incompatible with a belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Even if we replace the word “created” with “evolved”, those dots just can’t be connected scientifically–at least not without ignoring a lot of what we know about genetics.

      Religion is much like politics, IMO, with regard to such things. Many scientists hold political views that seem contrary to “evolution,” at least to evolution as Darwin presented it (via what Darwin himself called “survival of the fittest,” borrowing with obvious approval from Spencer).

      So–in determining what “evolution” means for religion, one needs first to ask what we mean by the meaning(s) of “evolution.”

  31. Ted Davis
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Anyone wondering whether the AAAS ever sponsors events involving atheistic views vs religious views, need look no further than this one:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B07E2DB1F3BF933A15757C0A96F958260

    And, concerning the 1920s, Bertrand Russell is mainly a red herring. It’s probably true that there was not at that time a fairly large group of writers, aggressively marketing a gospel of scientific atheism, but there was in America a tradition of public anti-Christianity going back to the 18th century and a tradition of public agnosticism from the 19th century (think of Robert Ingersoll, and don’t forget Clarence Darrow). And, Jacques Loeb, working in Mr Coyne’s back yard, was arguing for mechanistic reductionism before World War I–and teaching his student, John B Watson, to so the same. (There is probably another Chicago link here, insofar as Darrow used ideas from Loeb’s school to defend another Loeb along with Leopold from imposition of the death penalty.) And, the famous study of the religious beliefs of Americans, including scientists, conducted by James Leuba (who was probably an atheist) is from the same period.

    In the 1920s, several leading scientists worked on a AAAS committee concerned with responding to Bryan. They were mainly very liberal Christians who probably didn’t believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection (to bring in things mentioned above), but they were very, very worried about the implications for public policy of the view that evolution = atheism (which is what Bryan and company were saying). In Bryan’s view, the teaching of evolution in publicly funded schools and universities violated religious neutrality. Since (as Bryan believed), public schools should not teach Christianity, they should not teach irreligion either.

    This particular question of Bryan’s might be the key one that is still on the table today: if evolution implies atheism (or, more generally, if science implies atheism), then how indeed can it be taught in public schools?

    • Kevin
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Simple. It does nothing of the sort.

      You can look through any decent textbook of modern biology, evolutionary theory, genetics, biochemistry, organic chemistry, or any other subbranch of the biological sciences you care to investigate.

      Come back when you find one that says within its pages “evolution is true, therefore there is no god.”

      Now, you will find such statements in popular books by Dawkins and others (it’s in most of Dawkins’ output, including The Greatest Show on Earth).

      But not in the textbooks. And most certainly not in the classroom.

      If PZ Myers can manage to teach biology without invoking no-god, I think we’ve identified a strawman.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        Come back when you find one that says within its pages “evolution is true, therefore there is no god.”

        I realize that what you are saying is that science does not teach atheism, I think you might want to rework this, because this statement is a ridiculous example of reductio ad absurdum.

        if, instead, we examined the specific claims made by various religions over the eons, and then compare THOSE to what we have learned from employing the scientific method, then indeed we can say that science, and evolution in specific HAS rejected many specific religious claims previously held to be supportive of the god argument.

        This is why the religious have a problem with science, not because of where we are NOW, but of where we were then, and the religious inherently recoognize that ANY causal claims made of their personal projection of a deity will be susceptible to testing via the scientific method, and there hasn’t yet been a causal religious claim made that has withstood scientific scrutiny.

        so, to say that no textbook actualy says:

        “God is Dead”

        is rather supercilious, given the nature of the history of religious claims.

        that said, perhaps a better response to the author’s contention:

        This particular question of Bryan’s might be the key one that is still on the table today: if evolution implies atheism (or, more generally, if science implies atheism), then how indeed can it be taught in public schools?

        would be:

        This statement is “not even wrong”, as the evidence of evolution conflicts with specific religious claims only.

        Science, or any theory within, IMPLIES NOTHING. Implications are conclusions made based on evidence, and NOT part of the scientific method

        It would have to be the conclusion of those MAKING the claims, not science itself, that if their specific proposed causal mechanisms don’t appear to be supported, that means their deity itself doesn’t exit.

        If I were to say my deity is dependent on a particular version of the bible being wholly precise and accurate, that if all the evidence indicating the world is much older than can be concluded from reading Genesis, or that its very construction is incompatible with what is written therein, then I would be making the personal conclusion that my deity could not exist.

        IOW, it wasn’t the simple fact of radiometric dating, the fact the world is round and the sky is not a “cap”; things we concluded utilizing the scientific method, that make implications in and of themselves.

        it’s only when I link them to specific claims that I make, that I then make my own conclusions about what the implications of these things are.

        so, the idea that science, or any specific theory, implies anything, is only relevant when I introduce a concept for them to be compared to.

        IOW, the idea that science is a religion, is complete logical fail on an epic scale.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Bryan’s argument has been resurrected recently, hasn’t it?

      But there’s a gulf between “implies” and “equals”.

  32. Ted Davis
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Well, I don’t agree with Bryan’s view (evolution = atheism) either.

    University scientists who tell their students bluntly that science entails atheism, or that students must choose between science and their religious beleifs, are probably pretty rare. Will Provine might do this (Will–if you see this, I invite clarification), and Garland Allen told me that he did try to force such a dichotomy on his students, but I don’t have a long list of examples. Allen wasn’t teaching at a public university; whether Cornell is public or private is of course an interesting question.

    However, one doesn’t have to look very far to find scientists who *believe* that evolution entails atheism. It is hard for me to conclude that such views are irrelevant to the public image of science; and, it’s easy for me to understand why the AAAS is concerned about this.

    In fact, there are plenty of American scientists who believe in God, and many of them apparently hold quite traditional Christian beliefs–judging from what we hear and read. If want want the AAAS to make an “empirical” claim, then it seems to me they already have: judging from the evidence, science is in fact compatible with religion, indeed with multiple forms of religion–including the religion of science, a form of which is what I would say that Dawkins, Myers, and Mr Coyne endorse.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      In fact, there are plenty of American scientists who believe in God, and many of them apparently hold quite traditional Christian beliefs–judging from what we hear and read.

      BAH.

      I’m sure there are many scientists who are functional schizophrenics but occasionally see bugs crawling up their arms that aren’t there.

      point is, because humans are good at compartmentalizing, DOESN’T mean that the disparate ideas they are compartmentalizing are therefore logically compatible.

      You obviously don’t understand that the basic issue at stake here is the fundamental disparity between Science and Religion as epistemologies. One is revelational, based on faith, and the other is empirical, based on observation and prediction. The two are entirely incompatible at their foundations.

      The problem with accomodationists (at least those who aren’t playing the tactical game and really DO know better), is that they are entirely ignorant of the fundamentals involved in this debate!

      I’d recommend a basic course in knowledge theory, like this one:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_knowledge_%28IB_course%29

  33. SAWells
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Hang on. Isn’t the right answer to “is evolution incompatible with religion” just “Check your religious beliefs. If they’re incompatible with evolution, then yes.”

    Would that be too blunt and un-nuanced and strident?

    • Ted Davis
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I thought I had replied to this comment, but I must have clicked on the wrong “reply” button. Go up a few places and you’ll find my reply. I apologize for the confusion.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Would that be too blunt and un-nuanced and strident?

      nope.

      that would be dead on accurate and concise.

  34. Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    All about the money, and this time it’s not Templeton!

    Where does most science funding come from? US government. Who controls the purse strings? The House of Representatives. Who just won the House? The political party run by the credulous, the idiotic, the ignorant, and their exploiters. This is both disappointing and unsurprising.

  35. nice_marmot
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I, for one, would like to see a symposium facilitating a nuanced discussion fostering the advancement of respectful and non-aggressive dialoguing toward the non-polarizing production of an understanding of our common ideals, mutual interests and shared perspectives, with world peace, goodwill towards men (and women, natch’) and justice for all, forever and ever, amen.
    Oh, and I’d also like to see the Cubs win the World Series.

  36. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Guys, guys, science doesn’t imply atheism. Evolution doesn’t imply atheism, any more than gravity does when it denies celestial spheres, or the Static Electricity Theory of Lightning Generation when it denies Thor, or the Brain Malfunction Theory of Strokes when it denies that it’s God striking people down. What science does is encourage a rational, evidence-based attitude. That makes people who think scientifically, who know that people see faces in clouds and think their cars “act stubborn” on cold mornings, who know about misperceptions and the unreliability of eye-witness testimony and memory, are less likely to believe in ghosts, paranormal powers, flying saucers, magnetic healing, crystals, qi, homeopathy, “good vibrations,” pixies, fairies, unicorns, demons, angels, or deities.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Guys, guys, science doesn’t imply atheism.

      followed by: a whole bunch of specific examples of scientific conclusions that essentially were, in fact, atheistic within those relative belief systems.

      But I get your point though. The the very concept of theism is IRRELEVANT to science. It simply doesn’t matter what the source of the claim of any causal mechanism is. If it’s repeatably testable, it’s science’s bailiwick.

      it’s NOT science itself that makes the implication that deities don’t
      exist, science is just a method.

      it’s those that have watched specific deistic/theistic claims of causation REJECTED repeatedly by the scientific method that make the claims that the world is without deities. 500 years of formal testing of theistic claims should be enough.

      Hence, as in your example, we have repeatedly utilized the scientific method to demonstrate the causal factors involved in lighting, and Thor was not among them.

      Science didn’t make the claim Thor didn’t exist.

      It is simply a logical conclusion resulting FROM science.

      So, yeah, science isn’t atheistic.

      Instead, rational people USING science make the only possible deduction available:

      the world is atheistic.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] this is also why the kind of thing that Jerry Coyne objects today about the American Association for the Advancement of Science getting involved in accommodation [...]

  2. [...] Jerry Coyne is all fired up again about the AAAS and accommodationism… that’s okay, he’s a better biologist than Dobzhansky [...]

  3. [...] Those were among the topics of discussion at a seminar here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW and ScienceInsider). Called “Evangelicals, Science, and Policy: Toward a Constructive Engagement,” the symposium was controversial before it even began. In the weeks leading up it, several science bloggers decried AAAS for “pandering to superstition” and ” selling out to Christians.” [...]

  4. [...] There are significant issues to discuss in the relationship between science and religion. In the case of the AAAS panel I mentioned last week, which dealt specifically with climate change, there’s good reason to believe that the issue at hand can be addressed only if secular scientists and evangelical Christians find common ground. Evangelicals make up over 30% of the US population, and it’s difficult to imagine that any significant climate change legislation could ever be passed without evangelical support. Unfortunately, some scientists thought that it was more important to focus on name-calling. [...]

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