Eric MacDonald: why not be strident?

Over at Choice in Dying, Eric has a marvelous post about the Daily Mail’s use of David Attenborough’s agnosticism to show that New Atheism is on the wane. Eric’s piece, “Let’s keep new atheism strident,” is longish, as is his wont, but thoughtful and beautifully written, as is also his wont. And . . . it is far more strident than usual, as if Eric wanted to demonstrate how we should write and behave. It really is, I think, one of the best posts he’s ever done. I won’t spoil it by giving lengthy excerpts, but here’s one, relevant to a post I put up earlier this morning:

The pope and many other Christians, of course, don’t really believe in evolution at all, because they believe that, at some point in the development of life, god directly intervened and created a being with a soul, namely, us. This ontological saltation, of course, is not a part of the theory, but an addition that simply makes a nonsense of the theory. In order to create intelligent, rational beings, who had a ghostly kind of free will, god had to intervene directly in the process, and, as a result, an entirely new order of being was created. This is not supported by the scientific evidence. It is a theological presupposition — made up stuff! The evidence is quite clear. Human beings are animals, like all the other animals on earth, and like them, human beings are related to all of life, including plants and bacteria, amoebae, and even more primitive forms of life. There is no ontological jump from animals to human beings. Given the theory of evolution, there is simply no reason to believe such a thing. We can trace our lineage back to a common ancestor of gorillas and chimps, and further back to the beginning of life, to one-celled creatures just beginning their billions of years’ long journey to the amazing diversity we see in the world around us, including ourselves.

Even on this theological supposition, what are we to do with the billions of years of suffering of so many animals that have come to be and then lost the evolutionary fight, and were replaced by more successful forms of life? Billions of years of meaningless, pointless suffering, with no one around to respond with awe and wonder, as human beings can. It is simply intolerable to believe that there is a god who used this method for creating us, for bringing us into being. It is a completely mechanistic, algorithmic process, set in motion billions of years ago, and just by chance, happened upon beings like us who can think about the universe and our surroundings, and find it full of things at which we can wonder, and consider with awe. The entire reason for the stridency of the new atheism lies right there. There is no reason to believe a god necessary for the production of this evolutionary process, and any god that was responsible for it would have to be a monster.

72 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    !

  2. Ken Looney
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Although I agree with the sentiment of the post, and I realize the data is preliminary, but to me, it seems more and more like we are only ever having reasonable discussions with those capable and at all other times wasting our efforts with those who are not.. Jerry, what does the best of our neurobiology knowledge say about our ability to have “mind changing” discussions with others about “sacred” beliefs?

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/01/biology-of-conflict/?pid=2937&viewall=true

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      But as Dawkins and others have pointed out, the realistic aim is to convince the waverers and the undecided. We’re moving the Overton window…

      /@

      • Tulse
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Exactly — the people we’re arguing with aren’t necessarily the target audience.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        …and I think that ‘research’ like this does not really take into account all the variables as well as the long-term effects of engagement.

        I’ve had plenty of experience with people who initially opposed certain ideas vehemently (not even including atheism), and who as a result of confrontation where their mind was not changed went on to do further research and eventually came to a completely different conclusion from their original one.

        It’s not the Overton window (societal) that’s the stake here, it’s opening up the individual to new ideas…and yes, even exposing their cherished beliefs as being somewhat childish and naive. They might be unwilling to change at first — but eventually, the wall breaks down.

        Of course, the alternative is to shut up. And that is no longer a viable option.

        • Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          If it is a wall. People do defend uncertain positions vehemently. But then so do people who are certain of their beliefs…

          /@

        • Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          Yes, white-anting a huge but badly-constructed wall of denial works quite well in my experience.

    • eric
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Well, and as Pauli (I think?) pointed out, very often it is the next generation that accepts what the current generation rejects.

      So, even if our good arguments in favor of sound science and empiricism never convince any 30+ year-old fundie, ever, we should still put those arguments out into the public consciousness. Because their kids may understand and accept our scientific arguments, even if the parent never does.

      • Persto
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Schopenhauer and Locke produced statements similar to your observation.

        “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Schopenhauer

        “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” Locke

        • microraptor
          Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

          That’s one of the favorite quote-mines for New Agers, conspiracy theorists, and creationists.

          • Jeff Engel
            Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

            Yeah, it’s obnoxiously quote-mined. The mistaken interpretation they’re inviting is that _their_ blissfully evidence-free beliefs are the soon-to-be orthodoxy. But that doesn’t mean that Locke and Schopenhauer are not correctly describing a frequent process for the adoption of good ideas too.

            I do think they err in claiming that’s always the case.

      • smaddox
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        You were probably thinking of Max Planck’s famous quote: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

        I, for one, completely agree. There are rare individuals beyond the age of 20 that can be convinced to change their minds, but I think the vast majority cannot. Their brains are already too well versed in thinking superstitiously. Had I not been a skeptic and asked questions from day one, I might not be an atheist now. You might be able to convince people atheists aren’t evil, but they will never change their core beliefs.

        On an unrelated note, I loved the comment from the crowd member about life before birth. I’ll have to remember that next time I’m discussing life after death. I hadn’t heard the Mark Twain quote, either. He was truly a fascinating man. One of my favorite quotes of his definitely has to be, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

  3. Ray Moscow
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Bravo, Eric!

  4. Matt G
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Eric always writes thoughtful pieces. I wish more people would contribute to discussions at his site.

    • TJR
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Its terrible how we all come here and comment instead.

      Dammit.

  5. KP
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    There is no reason to believe a god necessary for the production of this evolutionary process, and any god that was responsible for it would have to be a monster.

    This is the point that even the “liberal” theists who are accepting of evolution just don’t get.

    Thanks, Eric! Haven’t read the whole thing yet, but looking forward.

  6. Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    It is a theological presupposition — made up stuff!

    Bingo!

    /@

  7. Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Why can’t these strident atheists stop being so new?

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      You should ask Robert Ingersoll that… 

      /@

  8. Thomas R
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I for one have never understood how people can say that they think evolution happened, just that “God helped,” and not understand that that is by definition creationism. *sigh*

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Yep, same here.

      Actually, I think nearly all theists are Creationists, not just a few much maligned fundies. It’s an inescapable position that comes from positing a “Creator”.

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Yes, but at least it’s a variety of creationism that is as responsive to actual science as their religious commitments allow them to be.

      It’s sorta like we’re all married to reason, and supposed to be monogamous. The YEC’s don’t even see their spouse without spitting on her – the theistic evolutionists at least treat her nicely as long as they can get their crazy-sex with some disease-ridden pope quietly on the side.

  9. TJR
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Interesting how they are claiming a trend based on only two examples. Normally the journalistic approach is:

    It happens once or twice – not a trend

    It happens three times – its a trend!

  10. Stonyground
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    It is great fun to watch the theists desperately latching on to the pronouncements of ‘nice’ atheists like De-Botton or David Attenborough. They are like kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar by one parent who is really strict, being really relieved when the more lenient parent pokes their head around the door.

    The Gnu Atheists are stating without apology what bad boys and girls you theists are, stealing and fighting and bullying to promote your evidence-free beliefs. Along comes Alain De-Botton to say ‘oh don’t be too hard on them, remember what you were like when you were a theist’ and they breath a sigh of relief that, this time at least, they got away with it.

  11. FootFace
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve realized my problem. This whole time, I’ve thought strident meant “harsh, grating, and irritating.” But all along, it has meant “reasoned, thoughtful, and forceful.”

    This piece didn’t seem strident to me in the least. But now I know it is.

    • dunstar
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      strident to them means that when they hear your reasons and arguments then they suddenly realize that they are wrong and have nothing else to say! people don’t like that! lol. knowing exactly how they are wrong!

  12. Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    we are not fans of Eric’s style or ideas, we’re not sure what the trope of billions of years of suffering of animals even means let alone adds to the debate (weird)…so let take this posts’ headline

    the reasons, and there are many, NOT to be strident, like Eric MacDoanld:
    – it won’t work
    – it just produces blowback
    – strident about what? magical beliefs, the pope? who cares?
    – any time you reference your opponent’s ideas you help build them up

    read George Latoff folks, this is ideological marketing 101 stuff…

    better to be thoughtful and strategic rather than a blowhard — if your goal is to get anything done rather than vent…as always…

    • GBJames
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Who is “we”? You and that mouse in your pocket?

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        It’s his daemon.

        /@

        • microraptor
          Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

          Or his tapeworm.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Who are “we”? You have an anonymous blog and criticize someone who posts under his own name. Identify yourself if you have any guts.

      Animal suffering means animal suffering; and I HOPE you’re not in favor of that. Most of us deplore it.

      Stridency does work, as many of Dawkins’s converts attest (go see “Convert’s Corner” at his website).

      And finally, it is reprehensible to imply that Eric is a “blowhard”. He’s a former Anglican priest who saw the light and gave it up, and he writes very well, in contrast to your own post. He’s thoughtful and knows a ton about theology.

      • heleen
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

        Eric is a former Anglican priest, is he?
        I already wondered where I had heard his reasoning before.
        ” … the billions of years of suffering of so many animals that have come to be and then lost the evolutionary fight, and were replaced by more successful forms of life? Billions of years of meaningless, pointless suffering,.. ”
        That is exactly what the creationists advance as argument against theistic evolution. Eric might have lost his faith, but he has retained the arguments of the right-wing fringe of his former profession.

        The argument is evolutionary nonsense: ‘suffering over billions of years’? ‘lost the evolutionary fight’? ‘were replaced by more successful forms’? (and ‘billions of years of animals’?) What is this Eric thinking of evolution? The Great Chain of Being?

        He forgot the billions of years of unicellulars, still suffering, and some years for suffering plants.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

          He forgot the billions of years of unicellulars, still suffering, and some years for suffering plants.

          He did? heleen, did you actually read his post?

          • gerdien
            Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            GBJames
            Are you saying this former Anglican priest is doing anything else than dishing out the standard tripe against evolution? Billions of years of suffering animals?

            • GBJames
              Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              That you ask this question, in this way, tells us all that you haven’t read his blog posting. Your question, thus, is unworthy of a response.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        Stridency may very well work, but I think we want to be careful not to admit to it. We aren’t strident, after all. Speaking the unalloyed truth, demonstrating a commitment to the same, and not tolerating BS is not stridency.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          IMO, the term is to be used with snark. And with as much wit as possible, thrown sarcastically back at those who use it when they have no argument.

    • derekw
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      “Billions of years of meaningless, pointless suffering, with no one around to respond with awe and wonder, as human beings can.”
      If MacDonald wants to assume for a minute that ‘God is the monster behind the process’…then he must also admit like all the creationists God was around ‘to respond with awe and wonder.’
      ‘It is simply intolerable to believe that there is a god who used this method for creating us, for bringing us into being.’
      Darwinian evolution is the best (and only) theory we’ve come up with to explain the history/diversity of life on this planet. Does he suggest another method by which god could have done it? Also the suffering angle just seems like such a…juvenile argument against a creationist position. We think not a lick of it while we study and experiment yet quick to fall back on it when characterizing the creationist god behind the curtains. It’s just part of the ‘elegant’ and ‘beautiful’ evolutionary process. It’s a fact of biological science and material physics. And unless we’re all vegans and don’t wear leather Air Jordans not sure we have much to stand on.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Does he suggest another method by which god could have done it?

        Such as, say, creating everything ex nihilo?

        /@

      • GBJames
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Methinks, darekw, you have not read MacDonald’s blog. Your objections don’t map to his comments.

      • KP
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Those of us who conduct research on animals are highly sensitive to their suffering and work harder than anyone to minimize it. We also understand their capacity for suffering. No, it’s the theists who are brainwashed with the idea that they can have “dominion” over the animals who don’t know or care a lick for their suffering. Religion poisons everything. Starting with the mind.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      The commenter was banned from Eric’s blog.

      • Egbert
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Indeed sour grapes, and he continues to poison the good that Eric does.

  13. FootFace
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    The guy’s name is George Lakoff.

    But anyway, I still don’t see how Eric or Dawkins are strident. PZ, sure.

  14. Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    It is good to rubbish the emotive journalistic tricks like using the word “shrill,” selecting unfavourable photos (of Dawkins, De Botton) etc. But I wonder if trying to refute or reconcile a theist assertion on evolution is not counter productive. Our stridency has to be that God does not exist – full stop. Trying to argue that his existence would be incompatible with evolutionary theory is something like trying to argue that the Zodiac has some bearing one quantum theory: ludicrous. It almost feeding the ID fire to entertain such views. As for Richard Attenborough, he ought to know better.

    • Duncan
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Why are you dragging in poor Dickie Attenborough?

      I guess you meant David. He should ‘know better’? He was asked his opinion and gave it honestly as far as anyone can tell. His every utterance doesn’t have to serve anyone else’s purpose.

      • S A GOULD
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • Notagod
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      The “God” referred to is often the christian fable of a loving and caring Thing. An abstract “God” isn’t as much of a societal problem. It is the delusion of an actively interfering “God” that is a much larger roadblock to peaceful caring societies. That of course seems counter-intuitive but the data supports more dysfunction in christian style societies (including United States and muslim dominated countries). Remember too that the christian gods aren’t strictly about good bu,t are just as much favorable to horrendous acts, the christian obviously takes note of that when performing Its disgusting deeds.

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Our stridency has to be that God does not exist – full stop. Trying to argue that his existence would be incompatible with evolutionary theory is something like trying to argue that the Zodiac has some bearing one quantum theory: ludicrous.

      Being able to give reasons for a position is what distinguishes sensible people from those thinking with their faith.

      Animal suffering means that there’s no extremely powerful, extremely smart and informed, decent creator God. It’s an instance of the problem of evil. It’s a _reason_ for claiming there is no God (of any description like that).

  15. Tim
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    What is the strategic value of being “strident” (i.e., clear, undiplomatically logical, and forceful)? The case of Attenborough makes that quite clear. Unless you are “strident”, theists will misrepresent your views every chance they get, ’cause they know there’s a good chance you won’t call them on it. Hell, if you even allow that you can’t rule deism out, they’ll start hollering ‘praise Jesus’ faster than you can add that deism has nothing to do with any actual religion theists are selling.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      I hate those bastards when they misquote Dawkins, even more so when they misquote David Attenborough who is too polite to roast them for it.

  16. neil
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    People are what they are. I couldn’t be strident if I tried. But I have no objection to others being strident. At least as long as I agree with them. Its those strident blowhards that I disagree with who get my dander up.

  17. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    The pope and many other Christians, of course, don’t really believe in evolution at all, because they believe that, at some point in the development of life, god directly intervened and created a being with a soul, namely, us.

    I always look askance at arguments that try to tell us what someone else “really” thinks. Usually what we get is what would be convenient to the author for these people to think. And usually the author finds it impossible to distinguish between the two.

    Here MacDonald assumes there is an insurmountable contradiction between a belief in God, which he then proceeds not to demonstrate.

    “This is not supported by the scientific evidence.” Who said it was?

    “It is a theological presupposition . . .” Who said it wasn’t?

    “The evidence is quite clear. Human beings are animals, like all the other animals on earth . . ” Granted.

    “There is no ontological jump from animals to human beings.” Depends on what one means by ontological jump. If you mean a different line of descent, then no there isn’t. But I’m not sure your opponents, who at least nominally accept evolution, argue for this. All they need to say is that there are very important differences between people and non-people, which difference they choose to account for by referring to God.

    Most people maintain this kind of significant distinction between people and other animals.

    For instance, omnivorous people support the raising, slaughtering and eating of cattle. Some enthusiastically so. But most of them disapprove in the strongest possible manner to the prospect of doing the same to people. There seems to be a pretty big distinction being made there.

    Vegetarians on the other hand never bat an eye as predators throughout nature exploit and kill other animals to satisfy their hunger or even just their urge to kill. And yet people are strongly and repeatedly urged and even threatened to deny themselves the same satisfaction. Again, a pretty big distinction is made. And I think that making this distinction is pretty widespread.

    You can’t reject religious evolutionists by saying man and animal are alike. To everyone who acknowledges evolution acknowledges that much. By reiterating it you prove nothing at all.

    The essential question is not are we alike with animals? That’s setting yourself a rather easy task. (How convenient: your purported opponents purportedly disagree with you on an point you can easily argue!)

    The essential question is *how* are we not alike from them, because we all also seem to grant the distinction, and *how* did we get that way.

    These are more complicated questions> Not that we don’t have a good start on them, and not that I don’t expect we’ll have better ones soon, but the job here is a bit more onerous than saying, “people are animals, so there!”

    When people write about “strident” atheism, they may well be suffering from a vocabulary failure–what they really mean to say, often, might be “blinkered,” or “monomaniacal.” Or whatever other word would tell you that practically any bad argument advanced on the correct side of the dispute is likely to be met with plaudits.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      I always look askance at arguments that try to tell us what someone else “really” thinks. Usually what we get is what would be convenient to the author for these people to think. And usually the author finds it impossible to distinguish between the two.

      Have you noticed that mirror on the wall over there? Take a look. I do not think he is saying what you claim he is saying.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        Oh, he’s not saying what he’s saying in those direct quotes? Then what is he saying, and why didn’t he say it rather than what he actually wrote. If it were me, I’d have written what meant to say, rather than things that I didn’t want to say.

        But anyhow, why don’t you say where it is that you think I say something that he isn’t actually saying and actually use a direct quote to show that I’m saying he said things that you say he didn’t actually say. And then explain how he didn’t say the things he say in the passages where I directly quote him saying them.

        Then look in the mirror and tell me why you spend so much time in the funhouse because just because you say you bought a ticket doesn’t mean you can move in. It says that quite clearly in the small print on the back of the ticket.

        Just saying . . .

        • GBJames
          Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          “Here MacDonald assumes there is an insurmountable contradiction between a belief in God and an understanding of evolution?, which he then proceeds not to demonstrate.” (I assume something like the bold words were left out in your haste.) There is no contradiction between the entirely natural/material process of evolution and a deity-influenced process that the church professes? Srsly? The Pope doesn’t think “God did it”?

          MacDonald is not making the argument that there is no difference between human animals and, say… elephant seals. Where did you read that? He’s making the case that a genial, accommodating form of unbelief is counter productive. “Politeness” is inevitably distorted by theists who pretend acceptance of a position which doesn’t exist.

          MacDonald’s blog post was about how theistic thinking requires one to ignore the profound illogic of a loving god, creator of such massive suffering.

          Eric knows a lot about theistic thinking. You mischaracterize it. You would know this if you had you read any of his blog postings before telling us what would be convenient to the author for these people to think.

        • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

          I had a Christian friend I was arguing the Bible with say this. I said the Old Testament was suffused with advocacy for evil, and named a string of examples. He said “But all those actions are ungodly!” They’re not marked as such in any way, and these are the stories of the role models of Judaism and later Christianity doing these things with the Lord’s direct support, and somehow we’re supposed to know the stories mean the precise opposite of the words on the page.

    • Persto
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      “I always look askance at arguments that try to tell us what someone else “really” thinks. Usually what we get is what would be convenient to the author for these people to think. And usually the author finds it impossible to distinguish between the two.”

      Eric is not informing us what he imagines they think, but what they, literally, think. I challenge you to present any evidence that the pope and most Christians believe in evolution. Not fabricated, watered-down, God intervened and gave us a soul, flat-out wrong evolution, but you know the scientific theory.

      In your post you say, “Who said it wasn’t? Who said it was? Granted.” I am doing that for the rest of your post until the last two sentences.

      “When people write about “strident” atheism, they may well be suffering from a vocabulary failure–what they really mean to say, often, might be “blinkered,” or “monomaniacal.” Or whatever other word would tell you that practically any bad argument advanced on the correct side of the dispute is likely to be met with plaudits.”

      Do you know anything about accommodationism? Eric is saying atheists have a duty to be ‘strident’ if it facilitates the discontinuance of the expansion and influence of ignominious religious worldviews. Do you disagree with this?

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      In all those words, you have failed to support your implied claim of any difference between theistic evolution (a species of intellgent design) and creationism with a funny hat on.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Easy: Creationism denies the process, Evolution with God does not. If you, or anyone fails to see the distinction, sorry. I doubt MacDonald would deny it.

        MacDonald’s point is that there is a necessary contradiction in the evolution with God view that makes “nonsense” of evolution. I say, not shown.

        With enough imagination, the notion of God is compatible with any concept that science is likely to produce, so it isn’t a very productive or interesting path to go down.

        • Tulse
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Creationism denies the process, Evolution with God does not.

          Unless you mean Deism, that’s just not so. Take, for example, the version of theistic evolution that the Vatican endorses, which seems to be that, at some point, naturally-evolved creatures were “ensouled”. Unless possession of a soul has absolutely no impact on the temporal world, then they are indeed denying that human evolution is fully natural.

          And, of course, to the extent that theistic evolution postulates that divine intervention did not have a physical impact, and thus is indistinguishable from purely natural evolution, then why hypothesize a god in the first place?

        • Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          Old earth Creationism is what you have just described, and even labels itself Creationism. Some theistic evlolution proponents also call their belief evolutionary creationism.

          If God is involved, it’s creationism with a funny hat on at absolute best.

  18. Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    There is no contradiction between the entirely natural/material process of evolution and a deity-influenced process that the church professes? Srsly? The Pope doesn’t think “God did it”?

    I think I’d have written “belief in evolution,” but thanks for filling in my little hiatus there.

    But as to your question here–I think it is possible to believe both in evolution and in God. And I don’t think that creates any insuperable contradictions.

    There are contradictions within physics, for instance. This doesn’t mean we must throw out either relativity or quantum physics–we just use them both and defer a resolution.

    For a lot of people, the same principle applies here. You can believe that a) the process works precisely as Darwin and his followers have described and b) that God is ultimately responsible for that process.

    There is no dispute on Darwin’s green earth where people on one side don’t distort the views expressed on the other. That is not an excuse for everyone involved in any dispute to behave like an ass.

    And my main point here isn’t “be nice to the poor christians.” I’m saying don’t attack them with crap arguments.

    There is no necessary contradiction between evolution and religion. Religion is merely unnecessary.

    • Notagod
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      The is a conflict between christianity as based on their holy book as practiced generally by the vast majority of christians and reality; including the almost unending evidence in favor of naturally occurring evolution and of the natural relatedness all species of life on the planet. The christians don’t only lack evidence they lack a coherent concept.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      It isn’t technically incompatible with deism, which posits a god with no actual effect on the universe. Not that this actually does Christianity any favours whatsoever.

      But you know, in the olden days deism was regarded as a species of atheism, as was agnosticism. Heck, the word “atheist” was first applied to monotheistic Jews who didn’t profess belief in a god someone else wanted them to.

      Theists don’t care about the technical details of shades of atheism – what they get angry and upset at is that someone doesn’t believe in the god they believe in. Hence theists desperately trying to twist Stephen Hawking or David Attengborough’s words to claim support for their god in particular.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

      There is not any fundamental contradiction in physics, as everyone knows that current formulations of quantum field theory and general relativity are merely approximations to a higher theory. There is no dispute, in the sense of general relativity supporters believing quantum field theory supporters to be “wrong”, or vice versa.

      On the other hand, with evolution versus “theistic evolution”, the dispute is between hard science, backed by vast amounts of evidence, and rank superstition, which ignores and denies this evidence. Yes it is possible to believe in both evolution and a prime mover god, but most theists go much further than this. Beliefs such as god guiding, or overseeing evolution, are blatantly counter-factual, as they ignore the evidence that organisms are littered with design flaws. Ignoring such evidence, while claiming to fully believe in the scientific account evolution is a fundamentally contradictory position.

      We are not distorting the views of the other side. We are simply pointing out the elephant in the room, that even amongst the minority of Christians who claim to accept evolution, many of them are embracing an unscientific account of it.

      (As for your comment “That is not an excuse for everyone involved in any dispute to behave like an ass.”, you are getting uncomfortably close to this.)

    • GBJames
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      You said: I think it is possible to believe both in evolution and in God.

      To which I respond: Of course it is. But that is simply because it is possible to hold two logically incompatible ideas at one time in a single brain. These two ideas (if we are speaking of a Theistic god) are NOT compatible. It is NOT possible to have a purely material/natural process at work while allowing a supernatural being the opportunity to impregnate virgins or raise the dead.

      The last time I checked, the Pope was an advocate of Theism, not the “God started it and then fell asleep” Deism you reference in your “a)” and “b)”.

      So I return to that mirror on your wall, finding your words eminently quotable: And usually the author finds it impossible to distinguish between the two.

      There are precious few deistic religions on this planet and falsely attacking MacDonald for pointing out the incompatibility of theism and evolution while being ignorant of his many insights on religious thinking is unworthy of commenters on this blog. Sorry to be so blunt.

  19. Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Do you know anything about accommodationism? Eric is saying atheists have a duty to be ‘strident’ if it facilitates the discontinuance of the expansion and influence of ignominious religious worldviews. Do you disagree with this?

    When I became an atheist no one mentioned anything about duties. Maybe I should look into this agnosticism thing, too.

    But even if I acknowledged your duties, that’s a big if in your sentence.

    If strident atheism worked as you imply might I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, I think there is absolutely no reason to think so.

    • Notagod
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      Most atheists thought as you appear to think until the last couple of decades. Those atheists generally tried to be gentle while avoiding upsetting christians. As is obvious, the christians had and still have no respect for such politeness.

      The christians are clearly the aggressors in the conflict, the atheists are pushing back against that aggression.

    • Persto
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      Atheism isn’t about duties. It is about veracity. Religion endeavors to obstruct and discontinue the pursuit of truth.

      By all means do what you want.

      Religion is a poisonous, malicious, and deceptive worldview. Religious individuals are disseminating the falsehoods of their religion to the uninformed public thereby structuring the specious system of beliefs of the nescient populace. Religion denies equality and encourages ignorance. Religion cultivates and promotes the type of belief that supports homophobia, sexism, racism, sexual repression, and child abuse. Atheists don’t have a moral responsibility to intervene, do we?

      As Jerry stated, “Stridency does work, as many of Dawkins’s converts attest (go see “Convert’s Corner” at his website).”

  20. Egbert
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Eric Macdonald’s post are long and thoughtful but not without controversy. He takes considerable time answering commenters, some of his comments are mini essays that are worth full blown articles in themselves. He is simply a legend and someone I love to disagree with, and will always admire.


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