A new book on nature and “The drive-by Dawkins diss”

UPDATE:  Haskell has responded to this blog piece on his own website, “Ramble.” I’ve posted a question, asking him directly if he dissed RD.

_______

Reader Diane G called my attention to a piece in the New York Times about David Haskell, an evolutionist and ecologist at The University of the South: “Finding Zen in piece of nature” (the author of the piece is James Gorman).

Over a year, Haskell monitored 13,000 acres of woods owned by his university and has produced a book (The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature) in the tradition of lyrical nature writing.  A snippet of his observations, these about an emergence of 13-year cicadas:

But to him, the noise is biological alchemy, sunlight into sound. “These guys have been feeding on roots for 13 years. And so it’s 13 years of combined Tennessee forest productivity being blasted out.”

It is this kind of perception, halfway between metaphor and field note, that makes his voice a welcome entry in the world of nature writers. He thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist. He avoids terms like “nature deficit disorder” and refuses to scold the bug-fearing masses. His pitch is more old-fashioned, grounded in aesthetics as much as science.

“You can live a perfectly happy life never having heard of Shakespeare,” he says, “but your life is in some ways a little diminished, because there’s such beauty there.

“And I think the same is true of nature. Much of it is useless to us, and that’s O.K. It’s not true that every species that goes extinct is like another rivet off the plane and the plane’s going to crash. We lost the passenger pigeon and the U.S. economy did not tank. But we lost the passenger pigeon and we lost some of this remarkable music made out of atoms and DNA.”

Although I haven’t seen the book, I appreciate Haskell’s emphasis on the intrinsic value of nature rather than trying to sell it by arguing for its pecuniary value to humans. The analogy to literature is apt.  We don’t need to show people how saving the rain forest will make them healthier or wealthier to justify conservation. That is one reason, of course, but animals and plants have intrinsic value, both aesthetically and simply because they have a right to live. We have no right, as just one evolved species, to destroy every other species on our planet.

Sadly, though, about halfway through the article comes what Diane calls “the drive-by Dawkins diss,” in which someone attempts to gain credibility by denigrating the prominent biologist/atheist:

Dr. Haskell wanted to tell the story of forest ecology and also to refresh himself with a kind of natural history meditation, as opposed to goal-directed scientific research. He has a daily practice of sitting and concentrating on his breathing (he doesn’t use the word “meditation”) of no specific religious bent. He does, however, set himself apart from crusading atheists, like Richard Dawkins, saying he harbors a “deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves.”

I’m not sure what relevance this has to his thesis, nor what his evidence is that “the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves,” which is an explicit denial of materialism.  If he’s not religious, what more is there than “atoms rearranging themselves”? Granted, the way those atoms have arranged themselves, though the process of natural selection, has created structures that inspire wonder and awe—an awe, by the way, that I suspect is expressed much better by Dawkins than by Haskell’s breathless lucubrations.

What galls me is the increasing desire of people to gain credibility by a drive-by snipe at Dawkins’s materialism and atheism. There’s no need for that here, and no need to mention the man.  Haskell is going for readership, pure and simple, and wants to get it by criticizing a well known atheist.

It’s totally gratuitious, and spoils an otherwise okay article.  There is nobody on this planet who has awakened more awe and appreciation at the products of evolution than Richard Dawkins.

UPDATE: As one reader notes below, there’s a Templeton connection here (I should have guessed). As the Amazon page for Haskell’s book notes:

David Haskell’s work integrates scientific and contemplative studies of the natural world. His research and teaching examine the evolution and conservation of animals, especially forest-dwelling birds and invertebrates. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Templeton Foundation. In addition to numerous scientific articles, he has published essays and poems about science and nature.

No wonder the drive-by diss.

81 Comments

  1. TJR
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    To be fair to Haskell, the offending drive-by is not in “quotes”, and looks like an interpolation by the author rather than Haskell.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      I suspect that the “crusading atheists” part, and the mention of Dawkins, came from Haskell. I doubt that the author of the article simply brought in “crusading atheists” himself; that was almost certainly Haskell, and from there it’s not a stretch to envision Dawkins who, after all, is almost universally named when such gratuitious criticisms arise. And even if Haskell didn’t say that, which I doubt, the author of the piece felt incumbent to bring it in. Regardless, it’s a gratuitious slur.

      • TJR
        Posted October 26, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

        Agreed, and it annoys me as well. Being character-straw-manned so often can’t be much fun.

  2. Mike W
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    This is what irks me most about Raymond Tallis. He’s a fine writer and speaker but can’t resist a Dawkins drive-by snipe whenever he opens his mouth or uncaps his pen.

    • Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:45 am | Permalink

      Tallis is very much a man driven by his own fears. Although an atheist he dreads the ‘loss of our humanity’ that he sees inherent in what he calls Darwinitis – he insists we are not ‘merely’ animals. He has a similar fear for our human moral responsibility that he sees threatened by what he calls Neuromania, when we say free-will is an illusion. He entirely misses the point on both counts and goes to such great lengths to offer counter arguments he is easily mistaken for a theist or woomeister. So, yes, Dawkins on our animal nature, and Harris on illusory free-will, are natural targets for him.

  3. Georgia
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    “We have no right, as just one evolved species, to destroy every other species on our planet.”

    Since when do human beings need a “right” conferred by nature (or nature’s god) to do anything? Natural rights in a strictly material universe? Intrinsic values? I don’t follow. Animal species have a natural “right to live”? Tell that to T Rex. Aren’t animal “rights” whatever evolved human brains (and the energies that bounce around therein) agree they should be? Don’t you really mean that “members of our species should agree to behave as if they had no right to destroy every other species on our planet (because unpleasant practical consequences would ensue)” or that “people should agree to behave as if other species had intrinsic value and a right to live, even though they don’t actually”? If not, I’d like to seem some objective evidence for these intrinsic “rights” and “values” that supposedly transcend pragmatic human interests, feelings and pleasures. Otherwise, they are just another set of imaginary gods about which people rhapsodize because it makes them feel good.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Morals are not objective but subjective. It is my feeling that we shouldn’t destroy sentient animals because they value their lives, just as our fellow human beings do, and we shouldn’t destroy the environment because every species in it is just as evolved as we are. You are never going to find any objective evidence for any right or value, but I value “well being,” not just of our own species but that of other species, whether sentient or part of the environment that sentient creatures depend on. That comes from empathy.

      And I resent your implication that my ideas about this derive simply because they make me feel good. This would call for an apology on your part, because you’re simply wrong about that.

      • Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        There are several begged questions in that. One: “we shouldn’t destroy sentient animals because they value their lives, just as our fellow human beings do.” When I move my foot towards a cockroach, it runs away – is that because it values its live, or because many millenia of evolution have bred it to do that instinctively? Is your desire to live because you “value your life”, or driven by exactly the same evolved instincts as the cockroach?

        • RWO
          Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          Never knowingly cause harm.

          • Posted October 26, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            That’s far too broad a suggestion to be useful.

            Surgery, for example, always involves violent harm — and, sometimes, spectacularly so. A heart-lung transplant makes the “chestburster” scene from Alien look like a pleasant holiday picnic.

            It’s just that the short-term harm is (usually, though there’s certainly no guarantee) offset by greater long-term good.

            There’s basically nothing you can do that doesn’t cause some form of harm in some context or another. The question isn’t ever one of not causing harm but rather of not being callous.

            b&

            • RWO
              Posted October 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

              A surgeon who does not excise malignant matter to save the entire organism knowingly causes harm. One may be required to use harmful force against a wrongdoer(s) to prevent violence to oneself or others. To continue to state the obvious, offering the ultimate sacrifice to prevent unnecessary harm is not an absolute requirement of right action. Jesus. Discernment is a quality to nurture.

        • Observer
          Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I wonder if there is any substantive difference between valuing one’s life and the cockroach fleeing out of instinct.

          • papalinton
            Posted October 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            Yes. ‘Valuing one’s life’ is the anthropomorphic version of ‘fleeing out of instinct’.

            No substantive difference there.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted October 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

              I disagree. Unlike cockroaches, we have the ability to value our lives for reasons beyond mere personal survival. We may have people we care about who depend on us for their own well-being, or we may may feel we have a mission to fulfill or some important contribution to make to society as a whole.

              There may well be evolved components to such feelings, but they still seem to me to be substantially different from the cockroach’s simple instinct for self-preservation.

              • Quintus
                Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                You suppose

              • papalinton
                Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

                No. No difference. Only a question of degree.

      • Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        I agree with Georgia – “animals have a right to live” is a statement about the world, not about your subjective feelings or thoughts.

        And I resent your implication that my ideas about this derive simply because they make me feel good.

        I have two comments on this as well:
        1) I’m pretty sure Georgia is right about this. Empathy – the source of your concern for animals – is feeling other people’s pain as your own. Eliminating the source of that pain feels good. Heck, helping people even when they aren’t in pain feels good. This is all about what you are driven to do by your brain (as you of course acknowledge, since you’re always talking about our lack of free will). And if you acknowledge that it isn’t logic, but emotion, that makes you want to treat animals a certain way, how is this *not* about making you feel good?

        2) Even if Georgia (and myself) were wrong about this, I hardly think this would call for an apology. *Being wrong* does not call for an apology.

      • Posted October 26, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Also, Jerry, you didn’t comment on Georgia’s denial of instrinsic values, but he/she’s right about that too. Nature has value *to humans.* The universe doesn’t care.

        And when I read Haskell’s article, it seems to me like the entire thing is about how nature makes him feel good. I don’t see anything that supports the idea that nature would have “value” even if no one were around to feel that way. Haskell does, of course, talk about aesthetic values, as opposed to practical ones. But these are still based on benefits that humans derive from nature.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Surely other organisms besides humans derive benefits from nature. Some of them may even be capable of emotionally appreciating those benefits.

          That would seem to imply that the natural world does indeed have value to the creatures it comprises, even if no humans were around to notice.

          • Posted October 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

            But still no instrinsic value, which is the point of the discussion.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted October 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              I think the sort of value I described reasonably counts as intrinsic value in the sense of value in itself, apart from its utility to us.

              But whatever you call it, it seems pretty clear that that’s the sort of value Jerry is talking about, and is therefore by definition the point of the discussion.

              • Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                “But whatever you call it, it seems pretty clear that that’s the sort of value Jerry is talking about…”

                Comments like Jerry’s are just the kind of comments I’ve seen people write when they want to assert that objective values exist, so what you say is clear isn’t clear at all.

                That said, it is clear that we’re arguing over definitions, not concepts, at this point. We agree on the concepts. But I will say that I think your choice of words (and Jerry’s?) is poor and obfuscatory. Nature doesn’t have value apart from its value to something else. So the value is not “in itself,” as you say, and I think calling it “intrinsic” is not at all what the word usually means.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted October 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                The point you’re missing, it seems to me, is that the “something else” to which nature has value is not separate from nature; it’s part of nature (just as we are). That’s the sense in which nature has value in (or to) itself: the things to which it has value are inextricably entwined with the thing being valued. They’re all part of a continuous whole, and it’s that whole we’re talking about when we say the word “nature”.

                As far as we know, this is the only kind of “nature” there is. So the idea of “nature apart from all the things that value it” seems incoherent to me, and its value moot.

              • Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

                I take your point, but that isn’t relevant to the discussion. No one in this conversation is defining nature as broadly as you just did. For example, you can’t make sense of this sentence using your definition:

                “…I appreciate Haskell’s emphasis on the intrinsic value of nature rather than trying to sell it by arguing for its pecuniary value to humans.”

                What Jerry is saying, according to you, is that he’s glad Haskell isn’t “arguing for nature’s pecuniary value to nature.” But nature is valuable to itself, so you must disagree with Jerry.

                Similarly, Haskell’s piece, which is titled “Finding Zen in a patch of nature,” must actually be about nature finding zen in a patch of itself. This is an accurate description, but completely unenlightening.

                Ultimately though, I’m not even sure I agree with your statement that nature necessarily has value to itself. Nature, for most of nature’s existence, has not contained within it anything capable of valuing something. So while it happens to be true now that nature values itself, it certainly wasn’t always true, and there will come a time when it isn’t true again. So “nature,” if you define it as “everything,” can sometimes value itself, but not always.

      • Georgia
        Posted October 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Whoa. I hope I didn’t imply that you have no unselfish reasons for wanting to protect animals or that your only reasons for protecting them are purely emotional (although I should hope some of them are). All I said was that imaginary concepts like “natural rights” and “intrinsic value” (which, I’m sorry, do not sound very “subjective” to me, but if you say so)add nothing worthwhile to the discussion. They are relics of theology and idealist philosophy, and they are a distraction if one relies on them for anything more than a little poetic flourish. But you may certainly have whatever apology you need from me. You have a very good website, and I wasn’t trying to make you indignant. You have my permission to delete anything offensive.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I’d like to seem some objective evidence for these intrinsic “rights” and “values”…another set of imaginary gods about which people rhapsodize because it makes them feel good.

      Agree completely. While the concepts are often useful as rhetoric, they tend to disappear when the meaning is unpacked.

  4. Lynn A (Ottawa)
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Although I identify with and applaud the appreciation of nature, the Dawkin’s diss is only one piece of this that bothers me – avoiding nature deficit disorder and not scolding the “bug-fearing masses” are not good things in my book (I work in the field of health promotion) and living happily without hearing of Shakespeare may be true, but might one learn and live better from some of his lessons?

  5. Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I always report suspected neglect and abuse of molecules to The Department of Nucleosynthesis Protective Services.

  6. Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Good catch Jerry. Turns out Haskell is or has been funded by Templeton Foundation.

    About the Author: David Haskell’s work integrates scientific and contemplative studies of the natural world. His research and teaching examine the evolution and conservation of animals, especially forest-dwelling birds and invertebrates. This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Templeton Foundation.

    • okcrounders
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Haskell explaining his Templeton-funded project:

      My Templeton work was summer support (14 yrs ago) for an undergrad and myself to do game theory analyses of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic problem in evolution and ecology. No supernatural involved! 100% computer programming of evolutionary game theory.

  7. Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    He also misunderstands the “aeroplane – rivets” metaphor. The point is that a plane can lose quite a lot of rivets and be just fine. At some stage, though, it’s too many – and we may not get a lot of warning before that occurs.

  8. Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    He does, however, set himself apart from crusading atheists, like Richard Dawkins, saying he harbors a “deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves.”

    He should trust his suspicion. As it turns out, atoms don’t rearrange themselves, and there’s a lot more than just atoms. There’s all the bosons in addition to the atomic baryons, for starters — not to mention spacetime itself….

    Cheers,

    b&

  9. Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    A reply from the author of the book under discussion:

    http://davidhaskell.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/taking-some-contemptuous-cross-fire-disappointed/

    • Daniel Engblom
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      My goodness the hyperbole you’re continuing with! All of a sudden pointing out silly remarks is a start of an inquisition! I was amused by the all the comments patting you on the back like you’re some kind of victim!

      Hope you enjoy milking this situation for all its worth, twist everything to fit the black-and-white picture that sells so well and throw in a few more straw man attacks.

  10. RodW
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I agree that the ‘Dawkins Diss’ is an attempt to increase potential readership. It seems to have worked too. Would Jerry have posted on the review and book if it had not included the DbDD? Seems unlikely since that was the whole thrust of the post……anyway, unless one attempts to justify why they disagree with Dawkins I think it is a cheap shot.

    RW

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I saw a similar drive-by diss of Dawkins in a Times Literary Supplement article on the 19th-century author George Eliot (MaryAnn Evans in actuality). Eliot was a fairly outspoken nonbeliever while occasionally conceding a positive side to religion. The reviewer than had to compare her to the more “strident” and “militant” Dawkins which I thought was not only gratuitous but just flat-out wrong!!

    Dawkins’ superb “Unweaving the Rainbow” is all about the awe and wonder of nature, as is his more recent “Magic of Reality”

    A books.google.com search on the book fails to find the quote, but they may not have digitized the entire book yet.

  12. Kathryn Marsh
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Why not read Haskell and then comment on what he actually says?

  13. Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Sad, that an author would (without or with Templeton encouragement) taint his own good work with a gratuitous, book-focus-irrelevant poke.

    Perhaps someday I’ll pickup a copy of his book from a bargain table or at a yardsale.

  14. Denise
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Please. The important thing is to have more people talking about, learning about, caring about nature. So what if he mentions Dawkins? He’s merely locating himself in the landscape of other voices out there talking about nature. It helps us know where he’s coming from.

    • Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I entirely agree, Denise.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      There is more than one “important thing.”

      Atheists are a despised minority. We are despised not just by the fundamentalists, but by the liberal, spiritual, ecumenical, science-friendly nature-loving person of faith. If anything, the second group focuses MORE scorn on atheists, in order to distance themselves from atheism. To do this, they build a straw-man version of what atheism entails. They do it all the time. Over and over.

      We know where he’s coming from there. And we’re sick and tired of it.

      • Jeff D
        Posted October 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Yes, we are tired of it.

        I heard and thoroughly enjoyed a long public radio interview with Haskell and I resolved to find and read his book. Now that I see his unnecessary “gotcha” dig at Dawkins and his Templeton connections, I have soured, somewhat, on the idea of reading the book. Those who want to call me biased or ill-tempered may do so.

    • Nilou Ataie
      Posted October 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Um, if there is one person that cares about nature and the nature of things it is Dawkins. And from what we know through science what is happening at a fundamental level is about atoms rearranging. Thus, it seems that he cares not about nature but something else.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    sub

  16. MadScientist
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Things like “goal-directed scientific research” (which doesn’t happen much in academia despite what idiot managers may wish) and “hypothesis-driven scientist” are flags indicating you are about to encounter a Sheldrake clone. See, it’s those types who are always putting down the Einsteins like Sheldrake … Well, I just happen to pick on ol’ Rupe – there are scores more like him.

  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    From the blog post by Haskell, it may be that while he expressed disagreement with Dawkins in the book, the NY Times reviewer may have been more focused on it than Haskell. But one would have to see the book to really know.

  18. okcrounders
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    This is silly.

    a)Haskell didn’t mention Mr. Dawkins, the author of the article did. Given Mr. Dawkins’s public profile, its easy to imagine the author asking Haskell about it. I see no grounds to impute malicious motives.

    b)Haskell didn’t say 1) ‘Materialism is false.’ He said, at most, 2) ‘I suspect its false,’ or, at least 3) ‘There is probably more to the story than what current physics tell us.’ Both amount to a weaker claim than a supposed ‘explicit denial of materialism.’

    And at any rate, so what? Who cares if he did? That doesn’t amount to him saying, ‘Materialism is false, therefore God.’ There are plenty of positions in between (I don’t happen to thinks any of them right, but at least they’re not crazy). Is it possible for one to express doubt about a metaphysical-explanatory framework without being slurred as an opportunist? Or a crypto theist? Or is it that one can’t disagree with our Dear Leader, Richard Dawkins?

    Mr. Dawkins is a grown up. He fights hard, frequently, and well in the arena. I’m sure he can handle a fellow scientist asserting that he has a ‘deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves.’

  19. Posted October 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    “UPDATE: Haskell has responded to this blog piece on his own website, “Ramble.” I’ve posted a question, asking him directly if he dissed RD.”

    Actually, you asked him something different. Your comment on his site was “I’m curious, though. Did you make that statement about Dawkins or not?”

    This matters, I think, because the only part of Haskell’s statement in quotes was “deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves.” That in itself is hardly disrespectful of Dawkins. Claiming that he dissed Dawkins, even if he is quoted accurately, is false.

    If you feel the description of Dawkins as a “crusading atheist” is disrespectful, that is another matter. I personally think this is accurate, as Dawkins is certainly a leading proponent of atheism, making him a crusading atheist by definition. However, if you feel that is disrespectful, then really you should be going after James Gorman, the author of the article who wrote the words you seem to dislike so much.

  20. gc
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    “These loafing squirrels were something else. “They are alive; they are our cousins,” he writes. “And they appear to enjoy the sun, a phenomenon that occurs nowhere in the curriculum of modern biology.” Science is one story, he writes, true but not complete, and the world cannot be encompassed in one story.”

    It may not have been in Haskell’s college textbooks, but I would be very surprised if it were not in a naturalist’s field book, probably more than one. This deeper awareness or observation of nature he says he learned from his wife is nothing new nor outside the domain of science, it is simply normal human, child-like curiosity and taking the time to observe objectively. Darwin had the ability, Rachel Carson had it. It is ridiculous to think that Richard Dawkins does not have a zen-like interest in nature, or that science is only concerned with mechanisms. Given a little time, I am sure Dawkins could write a very interesting story about sun bathing habits and needs of various species, from reptiles to mammals that could warm the heart of anyone who read it with an open mind. Lawrence Krauss could write a different but equally interesting story about the “mechanics” of sunbathing that could possibly open up new understandings to the curious mind, some of which may even be counter-intuitive to our natural observations.

    A quick google search on “squirrels sunbathing” show that, while it may have been news to Haskell, it was not news to everyone else, nor is it outside of scientific interest. Scientists and naturalists are interested in all kinds of minute details about the animals they study.

    I think Haskell is just late to the game.

  21. Posted October 27, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I also read the piece in the New York Times. I did not know that he also got funds from the Templeton Foundation. Maybe he just wanted to have bigger outreach, by stating that his research is not contradictory to other spirituals ways of thinking about the Universe; at the same time, he can also get more funds because of this open attitude.

    What was interesting is that in the same article they also mentioned him as a disciple of Hamilton, so I guess that his views on nature and how evolution works should be correct, and hope that his view on nature being “more than atoms re-arranging themselves” does not confound his explanations of how nature works, and that is left out just as a slogan to attract a wider audience.

    Personally, I think that if its just atoms rearranging themselves, what an exciting “biological alchemy” it must be!, to paraphrase Haskell’s own words.

  22. Posted October 27, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    2 men alive in the world, one a born again christian the other a non-believer, they live presumptiously happy, they both die eventually, with-in the space of 120 years.

    No God and No Jesus: They both die and exist no more, no more of nothing. All is just fine, that is it for the both of them.

    God and Jesus do exist: The believer is in heaven enjoying all that God has to offer for eternity, the atheist, is in eternal lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal punishment and torment.
    Now which by reasoning of Good and evil would you take your chance with?
    Notify me of your choice and we’ll see.
    Besides Ive both seen Jesus in a cloud and the Holy Ghost. and an Angel. Good luck.
    Why is God invisible, why is the cop behind the road sign? To catch speeders after they ignore the speed limit sign!

    • Circe
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      God and Jesus do exist: The believer is in heaven enjoying all that God has to offer for eternity, the atheist, is in eternal lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal punishment and torment.
      Now which by reasoning of Good and evil would you take your chance with?
      Notify me of your choice and we’ll see.
      Besides Ive both seen Jesus in a cloud and the Holy Ghost. and an Angel. Good luck.

      May Aphrodite, Hera and Durga forgive you for these heresies.

    • Posted October 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      If Jesus wants us to believe that he’s real, then why did he let his authorized biography be part of a third-rate faery tale anthology that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; that prominently features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and that concludes with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy, the thrust of which is that we should believe it’s a true story because the head zombie ordered one of his thralls to fondle his intestines through a gaping chest wound?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Paul wrote in II corinthians verse 3 If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
        You don’t have to believe, God gave you that option. See, He’s not dictative. But there is life after death. Have you ever planted a seed. The seed goes in the ground and dies, and comes up alive something completely different. The natural things speak of Him so none are without excuse.

        • Posted October 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Paul wrote in II corinthians verse 3 If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.

          Right. And Peter Pan said that, if you clap hard enough, Tinkerbell won’t die.

          Seriously — what’s with quoting self-referential passages in faery tales?

          You don’t have to believe, God gave you that option.

          Which god? And why would I care what options some mythological overlord is giving me, any more than I care what type of drinks they serve on the Enterprise’s holodeck?

          But there is life after death.

          Is this life anything like the Leprechaun’s gold at the end of the rainbow, or do you mean something more literal than literary? If the latter…you do know that those sorts of after-death paradises are no more real than Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, right?

          Erm…your parents have told you about Santa…?

          The seed goes in the ground and dies, and comes up alive something completely different.

          Woah. Major botany fail. If the seed dies, nothing ever grows from it again.

          Didn’t you ever do the bit with the bean sprouts and the wet paper towel when you were in grade school? Didn’t you see how the seed transforms itself from the inside out?

          I’m not kidding — anybody who managed to make it out of even the most basic of introductory science classes would know that seeds don’t die. You are in some serious need of remedial education if you actually think that seeds die.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Sastra
          Posted October 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          The natural things speak of Him so none are without excuse.

          No they don’t. Natural things point to a natural universe.

          How convincing would it be if we were to tell you “aw, c’mon dale — you DON’T believe in God. You’re just pretending to. You’re lying to us. You don’t believe what you think you believe. WE know what’s inside your head. You’re a liar.”

          Probably not convincing. You can’t persuade someone they’re lying if they’re not lying. You might be able to persuade them they’re wrong. But not that they’re wrong and they know it.

          If it wouldn’t work on you, it’s not going to work on us. It will only sound like you’re trying to convince yourself.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      Now which by reasoning of Good and evil would you take your chance with?

      Keeping good and evil in mind, I would be an atheist. The question isn’t about me and what I would like: the question here has to do with whether God exists. The moral choice would be keeping strictly to that question, and ignoring personal preference and benefit.

      If the atheist is wrong, the atheist still did the right thing. The atheist cared what was true, first and foremost. The person who believed in God because, when it came right down to it, they thought about themselves first ended up being right — but for the wrong reason. A selfish reason.

      A moral God would not punish virtue.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Besides I’ve both seen Jesus in a cloud and the Holy Ghost. and an Angel.

      You’ve SEEN the Holy Ghost?

      What did it look like? I’m curious.

      I’ve never heard anyone describe the appearance of the Holy Ghost. The others, yeah. But this is a new one for me. Thanks.

      • Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        As I was praying at a bible study, for a man that was an unbeliever, I saw the Spirit of God falling on him, it was about 11pm at night. And we were inside his house. and what I saw was light in the form of drooping oil falling from up above his head down to the top of his head. Oh, and after that He spoke in tongues. He is still in the church faith believing the word of God.

        • Sastra
          Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          How did you know that “light in the form of drooping oil falling from above (a) head” was the Holy Ghost itself, and not just some other sort of supernatural manifestation?

          How could you know that?

          • Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            He spoke in tongues, as the Spirit of God gave utterance. and what i saw was what i was allowed i’m sure the Spirit of God is much bigger, the bible says we see in part.

            • Sastra
              Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

              So the Holy Ghost has parts, and part of it looks like oil made out of light?

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          You wouldn’t need to learn that much about the psychology of the human mind to have a much different (and, I suspect, rather more accurate) interpretation of what you think you saw that night. Doesn’t it strike you as odd, for example, that your vision of the Holy Spirit was essentially the metaphorical “anointing with oil” made literal? Funny how people’s visions, whether they be of UFOs, their little green inhabitants, NDE tunnels with lights at the end, or holy figures, always seem to conform to the human-made stereotypes they’ve already internalized.

          • Circe
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            Precisely. If there were stories of Hindus seeing visions of Jesus or Christians seeing visions of Krishna, perhaps there might be some warrant to investigate them. For what it it is worth, these don’t seem to happen.

        • Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          So, how do you know that that was YHWH you saw as opposed to something else?

          Zeus appeared to the virgin Danae as a shower of gold when he impregnated her. The description of that scene is much like what you described.

          And do you think Satan hasn’t read the Bible? How do you know that it wasn’t the Great Deceiver who was playing a particularly nasty trick on you in order to convince you to follow his false flag?

          What you describe is also not terribly remarkable for a garden-variety hallucination. How do you know that it wasn’t just some random electrochemical storm in your brain?

          b&

          • Sastra
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

            I think we’re dealing with a “drive-by atheist diss.” Don’t expect a reply.

            And definitely don’t expect a coherent reply.

            • Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

              I think we’re dealing with a “drive-by atheist diss.” Don’t expect a reply.

              Perhaps, but his pattern of posting is already more in line with somebody who’ll stick things out a bit longer.

              And definitely don’t expect a coherent reply.

              Why would I? He hasn’t given one yet….

              b&

  23. RWO
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Dead seeds? Those will not germinate and grow into plants. Be careful with seed; plenty can go wrong.

  24. Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    do you know in Genesis, that Darwin got his theory of evolution if you just read it, the bible says Let the earth bring forth, and Let the waters bring forth. Darwing Just left out “God said “

    • Sastra
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Darwing Just left out “God said “

      And Darwin put in a lot more detail. Way more.

      What you’ve got is pretty … vague.

      • Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        well I imagine studying how the waters brought forth is much bigger then i can write in this little box. but I started it anyway.

        • Sastra
          Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

          Darwin didn’t get the theory of evolution from reading the Book of Genesis. Though I think it’s interesting that you think that the Book of Genesis comports with the theory of evolution. Refreshing.

    • Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry, but how, exactly, do you think Darwin derived his signature Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection by reading a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard?

      If you had bothered to read so much as the Wikipedia page on Darwin, you’d know that it was his trip on the HMS Beagle that presented him with a whirlwind tour of biological adaptations that was the key source for his seminal work. In particular, his realization that all the funky birds he found on the Galapagos Islands were all finches rather drove home the point quite forcefully.

      Cheers,

      b&

  25. Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Also who is Israels biggest ally? the USA right? well look at Jerusalem now let’s spell it again jer USA lem. Ordained of God. too perfect. I have a thousand of these, and your argument will be attached to everyone.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      LOL. Next you’ll be quoting from the Bible Code…

  26. Sastra
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    jer USA lem

    A thousand like this, huh?

    Dale, have you considered the possibility that you’re stretching a bit here?

    I’m also a bit concerned about your visions.

  27. Pete Cockerell
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of the actual post that Jerry made, I’d say it’s one of the most disappointing I’ve ever read here. Even before I looked at Haskell’s blog post about it, it seemed to be much ado about, if not nothing, then very little indeed.

    The “drive-by diss” accusation just seems ludicrous to me. Dawkins is probably the most famous evolutionary biologist in the world, and well known for his strong (though not extreme, IMO) atheism. Is no-one working in the evo field who takes the slightest issue with anything Dawkins says allowed to voice it, lest they be accused of trying to ride to fame on his coat-tails? He’s just this guy, you know, not a (ahem) god.

    I don’t think it’s very constructive scanning the blogosphere for any perceived slight by people who are actually 99% in agreement with this website’s stance. And if Haskell is to be believed, the Templeton link is massively overblown, and the accusation implicit in noting the relationship is much more egregious than any alleged “diss” of Dawkins by Haskell.

    • jesse
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I have thought long and hard about this post myself. FWIW, I agree with everything you wrote in your comment.

  28. Grace
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne, Accusing Haskell of using this interview to ‘diss’ Dawkins to increase his own visibility really strains credulity. I think your friend Diane was wrong, and that you were wrong to air her snipe on your blog.

    Here’s the offending paragraph of James Gorman’s story:

    “Dr. Haskell wanted to tell the story of forest ecology and also to refresh himself with a kind of natural history meditation, as opposed to goal-directed scientific research. He has a daily practice of sitting and concentrating on his breathing (he doesn’t use the word “meditation”) of no specific religious bent. He does, however, set himself apart from crusading atheists, like Richard Dawkins, saying he harbors a “deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves.”

    Note that the author of the piece, James Gorman, referred to Dawkins as a “crusading atheist”–not Haskell.

    My guess is that you’ve also been interviewed for news or feature articles, which means that you should know that when you spend several hours with a reporter, having a wide-ranging conversation, you have absolutely no idea which snippets he will choose to include when he distils that interview into a 1200-world article or exactly how he will describe your views (or even if he will describe them accurately).

    If Haskell wished to somehow discredit Dawkins by classifying his own personal beliefs as agnostic rather than atheist–a distinction that shouldn’t reflect badly on either of these scholars–shouldn’t he have employed a more effective strategy, such as explicitly stating that in his book? What you’re accusing him of doing is the equivalent of trying to assassinate someone with birdshot.

  29. Vincent Narisi
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Did David Haskell further explain or present evidence or reason for his deep suspicion that the world is more than atoms rearranging themselves? Does he explain why he disagrees with a well known biologist’s views? It sounds subjective. Perhaps you must read the book to learn more about Haskell’s ideas. This article doesn’t motivate me to read the book though.

    I have heard emotional theists insist that the great beauty of nature proves the existence of God. I have heard people say that they feel inspired or emotionally moved so there must be something transcending our material world. Such psychological effects are interesting but they are not rational evidence for the existence or nonexistence of a God.

    Some people who are unable to rationally refute ideas, look for references to authority figures that may appear to support their position or disagree with a different position.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25,540 other followers

%d bloggers like this: