Uncle Karl defends ignorant young-earth creationists like Marco Rubio

Oh dear. Uncle Karl Giberson, formerly of BioLogos, and someone I thought had long since stopped osculating the rump of creationism, is back again at PuffHo with a spirited defense of Americans’ right to be ignorant about evolution.

Four days ago Greg Mayer reported on the inanities of Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida who made the following creationist statement in an interview with GQ:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

There was strong pushback from writers, including Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, and even conservative columnist Ross Douthat, who argued that identifying conservatism with anti-evolutionism is a losing strategy:

But the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart — yes, scientists and intellectuals included — and the central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire. The more Christians convince themselves that their faith’s core is identical withthe modern innovation of fundamentalism, and in direct conflict with the best available modern biology and geology, the less attainable that goal and the less tenable that central claim.

(I’ll ignore Douthat’s false claim that the idea of a young earth, or creationism as a Biblical claim that’s literally true, is a “modern innovation.” That’s just wrong, no matter how many times you cite—as does Douthat—St. Augustine on literalism.)

Enter “Uncle” Karl Giberson (who is about to lose his affectionate nickname)—the one person willing to defend Rubio’s ignorance. In a piece at PuffHo, “Marco Rubio’s geological cliff,” Giberson excuses Rubio’s ignorance and then blames it on—wait for it—us atheists!

He first claims that Rubio is honestly ignorant rather than wilfully or deceptively so:

We need to step back and ask how these “controversies” might be adjudicated by conservative religious people who are not members of the scientific community — people like Rubio. What does evolution, the Big Bang and the age of the earth look like to lay people who are not investigating such questions from a scholarly perspective?

(I am giving Rubio the benefit of the doubt here about his honesty. I have no reason to believe he was lying to GQ in the interview. In fact, what little I know about Rubio suggests that speaking truthfully is probably important to him, although not without its political challenges.)

I wouldn’t be as charitable as Karl. Is there any intelligent person out there who doesn’t know the scientific consensus on the age of the earth, and that it’s about 4.6 billion years old? If there is such a person, then he’s either lying about the issue or, if genuinely ignorant, is too ignorant to hold an important elected office. It’s not hard in this day and age to find out how old is the planet on which we stand.

But then Karl goes on to show how easy it is for intelligent people to believe in a young earth. All you have to do is listen to what religion says, and simply stop your ears and go “nah-nah-nah-nah” when science speaks:

For starters, it is simply not true that “all educated people accept evolution, the Big Bang, and the great age of the earth,” and only ignoramuses think otherwise. Groups like Answers in Genesis, the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research aggressively market the impressive academic credentials of their staff scientists. The Discovery Institute has compiled a list of hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s who “dissent from Darwin.” Answers in Genesis has a former college biology professor on staff and publishes a “peer reviewed” journal. One of America’s best-known anti-evolutionists is tenured in biochemistry at Lehigh University. There are entire universities — Liberty, Bob Jones, Patrick Henry, Cedarville — where faculty sign faith statements rejecting evolution.

Correction: I believe Michael Behe of Lehigh University, as do most of the Discovery Institute people, accept that the earth is old. But Karl continues:

Answers in Genesis spends $20 million a year assuring conservative Christians that evolution, with its ancient earth, is a decaying fossil of a theory, that scientists are abandoning it, and that the evidence is clearly on the side of the biblical story of creation. They also argue that evolution and an ancient earth contradict Christian beliefs and undermine the authority of the Bible.

This is what people like Rubio are likely to hear in their churches, read in their Christian literature, learn in their Christian schools, consume in their Christian media.

Well what the hell do they hear in their science classes, or on television or in the newspapers? Do they limit their education to the “Christian media”? If so, then then have no right to hold elected office—indeed, to be considered “educated people” at all!  Karl, what are you thinking: that an “educated” person can be called such if he listens only to religious authorities?

But of course this is not the fault of those religious people who lie about the age of the earth, or their minions who choose not to learn about what science tells us. No, it’s those bloody atheists who turn Christians off to science!:

But suppose that Rubio decided to pursue these questions in more detail and, not knowing any actual geologists, went to a well-stocked bookstore and purchased a cross section of popular science books explaining evolution, the Big Bang, and the age of the earth. In all likelihood the authors of these books would be some of America’s most vocal and anti-religious atheists — Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Vic Stenger. And the books would argue with a suspicious passion that belief in God must be rejected if one is to take science seriously. Some of the books would have titles like “God: The Failed Hypothesis. “

This is bullshit.  There is nowhere in WEIT, for instance, that I say that belief in God must be rejected if science is to be taken seriously. Elsewhere, but not in my book, I’ve argued that belief in a theistic God and science creates cognitive dissonance, but what Karl says about WEIT is simply a lie, and I call on him to retract that claim.

And doesn’t Giberson know that there are plenty of straight science books, or books by accommodationists like Ken Miller (a Catholic) or even Francis Collins (an evangelical Christian), that accept both evolution and an old earth?

Finally, Giberson loses all claim to the title “Uncle” by telling this whopper:

Even a diligent search would turn up but a few books explaining how contemporary scientific ideas can be understood within the framework of traditional Christianity.

That is about the biggest falsehood I’ve ever heard come out of Karl’s mouth. For every book by someone like Stenger claiming an incompatibility between science and faith, there are at least two dozen showing how faith and science are compatible.  Here are some of their authors: John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ian Barbour, John Haught, Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, Francis Collins, Nicholas Humphrey, and so on and so on and so on. Believe me: I’ve perused the shelves of the University of Chicago Library for “science and religion” books, and the vast majority are acommodationist ones.  And I’ve read all of the authors cited above. Books claiming incompatibility of the two areas are very thin on the ground.

Karl, you must retract your entire column or you will no longer be called “Uncle.” That was a very bad piece of journalism, full of misrepresentations—deliberate or otherwise.  And you should be ashamed, after all your work trying to convince Christians to accept evolution, that you now excuse the ignorance of those Christians, blame it on atheists, and argue that there aren’t many books reconciling faith and science.  All of those claims are, pure and simple, falsehoods. You should know better.

h/t: Doc Bill and Kink

140 Comments

  1. Golkarian
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    To be fair on one (possibly minor) point, he does say “In all likelihood the AUTHORS of these books would be some of America’s most vocal and anti-religious atheists” not that WEIT was anti-religious.

    • Michael Stirrat
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      You’re not being fair. Read the next sentence which starts: “And the books would argue…”

      Giberson clearly states that WEIT is anti-religious.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Is there something wrong with being anti-religious?

        • articulett
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          Well, the implication is that vocal atheists are making people less scientific. This was also Mooney’s unsupported claim in his book Unscientific America (which was very unscientific of him).

          I’m pretty sure, though, that it’s religionists who have associated science with atheism and atheism with eternal damnation– not the other way around.

          It’s religion that is making America unscientific– particularly religions that claim faith is a “virtue” and that certain beliefs are required to live “happily ever after”.

          • gbjames
            Posted November 24, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

            I was tossing off a flip sarcasm, not really wondering. You are, of course, correct in all particulars of your comment.

            WEIT (the web site, not the book) is pretty directly anti-religion. Our former Uncle Karl was perhaps just mixing the two in his confused mutterings.

            Science and anti-religion are the two things here that most appeal to me. The two are tightly bound, IMO. So I spend time on this site. Boots and cats (and cats named “Boots”) I can find elsewhere.

            http://www.catster.com/name/boots

      • Golkarian
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        Shoot I should have seen that.

    • jimroberts
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      But his next sentence says: “And the books would argue with a suspicious passion that belief in God must be rejected if one is to take science seriously.” (My emphasis.)

      • lamacher
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        Books, of course, write themselves – they are self-authored.

        • Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          I thought that was only true of books about hirsute crockery…?

          b&

  2. Michael Stirrat
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Please correct me if I am wrong but you could even go read Michael Behe. In his book Darwin’s Black Box he clearly accepts the majority of evolution as true but with some moments (such as the flagella *aargh!*) where god has to step in and add some irreducible complexity.

    I am always astounded when people take the little edge that Behe claims for God and then argue that it means the whole young earth thing. It’s like they don’t even want to think any coherent thoughts…

    • MAUCH
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      I can not understand how the idea of theistic evolution is even possible. How would Jerry Coyne teach this approach to evolution? As an example how would you study genetic change? Where in the process of a trait becoming fixed in population does the miracle occur? It pretty effectively relegates the Hardy Weinberg equation and god knows what else to the trash heap. I don’t think the good professor would look forward to the challenge or teaching this mess.

      • Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        How would Jerry Coyne teach this approach to evolution?

        Isn’t it obvious?

        He couldn’t.

        The only ones suitably qualified to teach Idiot Design are ordained clergy. Meaning that the only place one could get a proper education would be a religious school, and that it would be the priests who would have absolute authority over the next generation.

        Which is, of course, the exact outcome desired by those who are demanding that the public schools must indoctrinate all students in their preferred religious fantasies.

        b&

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        “I can not understand how the idea of theistic evolution is even possible.

        Those arguing for theistic evolution fall on a continuum: At one end are those who contend that evolution unfolded entirely naturally, but according to God’s plans, per the rules of nature He put in place. (These presumably includes certain unspecified meta-rules of nature, since the rules as we now understand them employ stochastic processes and operate non-directionally.)

        The rest of the continuum is made up of those who contend He took a more active, hands-on role in guiding evolution — that he at least occasionally poofed into place that which the natural laws could not accomplish on their own.

        Among the areas the latter usually cite as requiring some supernatural poofing are the origin of life (that is, the conversion of non-living matter into a form of rudimentary, single-celled living organism, that became the common ancestor of all terrestrial life); the “sudden” emergence of complex, multi-cellular structure (after approximately three billion years’ of simpler life) at the time of the Cambrian Explosion; and, especially, the evolution of homo sapien sapien from our common ancestors with the other apes, through the various lineages of hominid, culminating in the crowing achievement of theistic evolution, the supernatural poofing that resulted in human ensoulment.

        This is all special pleading, of course, without any evidentiary support (beyond certain supposed “gaps” in the evolutionary record), but it seems to sum up the “how” of theistic evolutionary claims, such as they are.

      • Golkarian
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        Yes, he couldn’t, but in WEIT the whole issue is ignored, so that’s why Jerry says WEIT isn’t anti-religious.

    • mandrellian
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      IIRC Prof Coyne has read Michael Behe and has correctly and unsurprisingly dismissed his work as the special pleading and unevidenced, unscientific dogma that it is. “Irreducible complexity” was more or less stillborn, yet ID advocates insist on continuing their ham-fisted CPR.

      I also don’t recall Prof Coyne ever arguing, assuming or extrapolating that Behe is a young-earth creationist. Behe is certainly a creationist – just one of the modern variety with a scientific education who does not accept a 6000 year-old Universe, but who nonetheless cannot let go of the dogma of their upbringing and so shoehorns their god into any convenient gap in scientific knowledge.

      ID is a fool’s errand as much as young-earth creationism; the only real difference is a lab coat.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

        Great closing line, and I would only add that most of the ID/DI folks haven’t earned a lab coat. History of science and lawyer types who believe that science is done by debate.

      • Posted November 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        My comments were meant in full support of Prof Coyne.

        What I don’t understand is how nearly everyone I have ever met who argues for creation of any stripe and against evolution manages to use ID as an argument for their position. ID (as put forward by Behe) is very clearly in favour of the majority of evolution. Next time you talk to a creationist, look for any nuance whatsoever in this, they will grab Behe as being on their side (idiotic as both they and Behe are). I realise that this is all of a piece with religions incoherence with itself, I just find this particular incoherence astounding.

  3. Gordon
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    On an irrelevant note, and I may have missed it, how is your attempt to wade through the bible going?

  4. Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    ‘Whether the Earth was created in 7 days….’

    Christians are even ignorant about the Bible.

    Their god had supposedly finished creating by day 6, and the Earth was , according to the Bible, created before day 6.

    If Christians are ignorant about their own Bible, why do they insist that atheists have to read sophisticated (sic) theologians?

  5. David Evans
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    An excellent demolition job.

    Perhaps we could allow him to keep “Uncle” in its alternate meaning of “I surrender”.

  6. Dawn Oz
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    To be educated and not understand evolution is to be willfully ignorant. He is making claims of otherwise by assertion. I think it’s Jerry’s well known diagnosis of ‘Lying For Jesus’ once again.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      And willful ignorance is fueled by the need of some same people to believe in an eternal existence after their flesh and bones existence is finished.

      “When I die, no afterlife??!!! No one’s been looking down, pulling my line drives around the foul pole?* Heck, I planned to that when I got to heaven!!”

      *(for the non-baseball world, it would be someone looking down, nudging me shot juuust below the crossbar, and into the net.)

  7. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    I keep going back to Rubio’s original assertion that science has nothing to do with our economic development.

    Really? Wow. L

  8. Ray Moscow
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of Sam Harris’ observation: that religious ‘moderates’ are part of the problem of religious harm, not the solution, because they tend to defend the religious extremists.

    • Socrates Schultz
      Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      What is a religious ‘moderate’? (I don’t read Harris because I see his view of religion as uninformed as a creationists view of evolution.)

      The religious scholars I read do not defend religious creationists and fundamentalists, they debunk them, but it’s not a big deal.

      There is a difference between the serious scientist and seriously religious and both can be embodied within the same person.

      The former is on a quest for knowledge of the natural world. The latter is on a quest for living a meaningful life.

      The rub comes when a religious person allows some religious concept to trump a scientific theory or finding.

      One limiting factor in an inquiry into the science vs. religion discussion is the characterization as to what constitutes each. When the science side insists that religion must be theistic, the progressive religious bow out because there are many non-theistic (humanistic) religious forms within the realm, even emerging Christian and Jewish variations.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Harris doesn’t claim religious moderates actually defend the extreme lunacy and science-denial of more hard-line theists; only that they try to defend the underlying problem of faith and irrationality, which they have in common with the fundamentalists. The respect they demand for their version of religion is by default afforded the more extreme version, since society (and the law) doesn’t bother to discriminate.

        Harris’ actual statement is something along the lines of: “Liberal, moderate religion is the shade tree under which fundamentalist religion is allowed to luxuriate.”

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Again, “What is a religious ‘moderate’?” I don’t know what that means.

          As a religious person I enjoy reading religious scholars I would call modern, meaning they have no reservations as to scientific findings and view religious texts as mainly metaphorical; e.g., Joseph Campbell, John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pagels.

          One difference between the fields of science and religion is that science is seeking ubiquitous truth and religion is about seeking a personal one.

          The religious who offer a single religious solution to personal living miss that point and no amount of arguing will alter the fact.

          • gbjames
            Posted November 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

            “religion is about seeking a personal one” [truth]

            That isn’t truth. Truth requires verifiability. If it is simply personal then it is opinion. Or a delusion. Or, at very best, an unconfirmed potential truth.

            • Posted November 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              I think that I will have to go with Gordon on this one, although semantics come in to play on defining truth. I believe that there indeed is personal truth, although you would call it opinion, e.g. I believe that X is beautiful and you do not, I am emotionally moved by Y and you are not, etc. And that is a reality, and is what I would call idiotypic truth.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

                I can agree that you (or Gordon, or anyone else) holds that X is beautiful. It is a truth that you think this. It can be confirmed by examining what you say about X at different times and places, and other behaviors you might exhibit in the context of X. That isn’t a personal truth and it isn’t what constitutes religious opinion.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                For me, the essential point is that the verifiable is universal and the unverifiable is personal. Both seem true in the mind and, when in a deep conscious state, neither parades through our consciousness with a label of ‘true’ or ‘untrue’.

                It is the efforts on the part of too many religious to promote their personal views as universal that fuels the debate.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                I’d suggest it is also the acceptance of unverifiable ideas as truth that fuels the debate. When one accepts this sort of thing as somehow legitimate, one waives all right to declare crazy ideas about reality crazy. When you start accepting “it is true for me” as meaningful there is no way to deny the whackiest nonsense an equal chair at the table of respectability.

              • Posted November 25, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

                I completely agree, and as we know, it’s often hard to clearly express thinking in this type of forum. My point about individual truth was the same as what you said that it is true that someone believes something to be true. I believe that we agree that any personal truth that cannot be established by the processes you describe should remain personal truth, akin to Moynihan’s statement regarding opinion and facts. The real problem is that most religious folks have their facts wrong and worse yet, want to impose their opinion on others.

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

              Okay. Name a truth, just one that you have personally verified. I have few, if any. We accept what we perceive as something. Let’s call it comprehension.

              Science is about verifiable comprehension. Religion is about unverifiable comprehension.

              This begs the question, “How much of what we comprehend is true?”

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

              You still haven’t answered the first question, “What is a religious ‘moderate’?

              • gbjames
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                Presumably religious moderates are those who don’t sanction killing non-believers, try to restrain themselves from excessive evangelizing, etc. Why is this a burning question?

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              “Gordon, are we debating something? What, exactly?” We were, but I took an unintended detour. Our original issue was my writing “science is seeking ubiquitous truth and religion is about seeking a personal one” and you replying “That isn’t truth. Truth requires verifiability.”

              Which I agree is the scientific meaning of the word and not what I intended. There may be a better word than truth, but I don’t know which to use. The personal truth (opinion, belief, whatever) I mean is that I hold every thought I have to be true in the sense that it is an irrefutable fact, the presence of the thought, not the truth of it’s content. That’s all, as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

              • gbjames
                Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                My recommendation would be to use the word “truth” for things which bear confirmation by others and “opinion” or “belief” for those subjective ideas that don’t. It will enhance clarity when interacting with others. Yes, there are people who prefer to muddy the waters with phrases like “subjective truth” but that sort of usage does not help communication.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Fine by me. I’m not a fan of opinion in this case because it suggests (to me) some use of facts to form an opinion. Maybe the better phrase in the original case would have been to say, “While science is a quest for a ubiquitous truth, serious people, on a quest for a meaningful life, seek a personal view of what is important. Some do so in what might be called a religious framework and others do not.” That there are many who use what they call religion as a refuge for discordant behavior is a fact, a truth(?), but many–most in my circle–are engaged in religious practice to live a better life.

          • Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

            “Religious moderate” is a pretty widely recognized and used term (in these sorts of conversations), denoting more or less what you described in your second para. In addition to accepting, at least nominally, many scientific findings and recognizing that much in the scriptures cannot be literally true, the term also generally connotes a more tolerant, inclusive social worldview.

            All great stuff, but the problem is faith and irrationality, as I already mentioned. Moderates still want to believe quite a lot that is not substantiated by any empirical evidence.

            Also, there is no distinction between personal and universal truths. There is only truth. To wit:

            “Gordon Hill feels transcendent fuzzies when contemplating human compassion.” This is still a universal truth. The claim is not that everyone has that experience.

            Furthermore, I don’t think most people who talk about “personal truths” really know what they mean by that phrase.

            Would you give me a specific example of what you mean by “personal truth”?

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Oops, sorry I missed your answer. Too many posts for my small screen.

              Thanks for the definition of religious moderate. I don’t know any, but then I left Methodism for UUism because of increeping fundamentalism. My view would then be one of religious modernism where science reveals what is known as to ultimate reality and religion is a personal journey into the unknown with a singular intention of discerning how to live an appropriate life whether a formal Religious practice is involved.

              One doesn’t need to read much about organized religion to know that there is no universal view within any of them.

              As for personal truth, I accept your view.

              • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

                Your comment here that “religion is a personal journey into the unknown” and your earlier comment that “[the seriously religious person] is on a quest for living a meaningful life” embody a view of religion that is far from mainstream.

                You say that many here assume that religion is theistic, and criticise that, but that seems to reflect the views of both mainstream religionists and philosophers of religion. The majority of those in the West who self identify as religious do believe in a God. Writers such as Christmas Humphreys and Anthony Grayling characterise, say, atheistic Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion.

                I rather think that most if not all “thoughtful” atheists (contra apathetic atheists) would say that they strive to live a meaningful or appropriate life. Would you contend that they are thus “seriously religious”?

                /@ | Phoenix, AZ

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

                Cute, but not auto-generated.

                In response to your lengthy reply which is embedded so deeply there is no ‘reply’ link, the simple answer is, Yes and no.”

                That some classify religions as theistic only is fine. My reference would not be one individual, but a reference like The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Individuals use definitions they prefer. For example, Humanists have moved from calling themselves a religion, Humanist Manifesto I, to a philosophy, Humanist Manifesto III. Some humanist groups call themselves religious, others do not.

                The question of living a meaningful or appropriate life and being religious are mutually exclusive… you can have one without the other. My term, seriously religious, could be shortened to, serious, meaning that the serious person strives to live a meaningful or appropriate life, religius or not.

              • Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                I don’t think you can really draw any conclusions about what religion is and isn’t from the example you give of humanism.

                Humanism is a large set, possible subsets of which can indeed be atheists *as well* as theists. That’s really neither here not there regarding our discussion about what constitutes religios moderation/extremism.

                And yes, you’re absolutely correct that there is no universal and absolute doctrine among not only different religions, but even within the same denomination. Variation abounds. Why might this be? Could it be because those doctrines do not correspond to an external, objective reality, onto which they could map and against which they could be tested? You can’t converge on the truth if you take no precautions to make sure you’re not simply making up stuff.

              • Socrates Schultz
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                I had missed the characterization of religious ‘moderates’ before posting here. I know a few. In my view they don’t defend Creationists and Fundamentalists, but tolerate them.

                The Christians I have referenced–Borg, Crossan, Spong, Pagels and others (if not here, elsewhere)–not only do not defend the extremists, but challenge them, usually in scholarly articles and an occasional book.

                My allusion to humanism is mainly to show the changing language of what has been a fairly stable religion/philosophy.

                Just as the characterization of scientific terms change with new knowledge, so too, religious terminology changes with religous scholarship.

                As for religion, it’s not about truth, it’s about meaningful living, which can be done with out with out religion however you characterize it.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                “As for religion, it’s not about truth, it’s about meaningful living, which can be done with out with out religion however you characterize it.”

                This sentence makes no sense to me for two reasons. 1) Saying religion isn’t about truth is contrary to what nearly all religious people say. 2) If “meaningful living” can be done with our without religion and you assert religion isn’t about truth, then what is the point of religion?

                At best you’ve just offered an extremely watered down redefinition of religion. Sort of the philosophical equivalent of homeopathy.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                Where to begin:
                “1) Saying religion isn’t about truth is contrary to what nearly all religious people say.” Depending on what you mean as ‘truth’. If I say, “I am a religious person and that’s the truth.” I am telling what I believe is true. If I say, “The Golden Rule is a philosophical truth.” I am saying what I believe. The term, truth, is not limited to one meaning. Neither is ‘theory’, so we use them in context. Are the thoughts I am having as I write this true thoughts? I think so. Are my thoughts of reality precise representations of that reality? Probably not, but they are deemed as true.

                “2) If “meaningful living” can be done with our (or?) without religion and you assert religion isn’t about truth, then what is the point of religion?” It’s a question of which well you drink from. Joseph Campbell had a simple premise: “If it’s doing you some good, stay with it. If it’s not, abandon it.” In my case, our little UU church is socially active. We are the largest faith contributor to the local food bank. We have adopted an elementary school for school supplies, mentoring and winter clothing. We registered more than 400 voters in September and October. If we did not exist as an organization we would not be participating in our community the same. but then, if it’s not doing you (and others) any good, don’t do it.

                As for a definition of religion, I’ve never seen one, but I have seen many. Look in the front of The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ppg. xv to xxv for one discourse on what religion is and may become.

                BTW, you didn’t reference any of the ‘nearly all religious people’. Who are they?

              • Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                I’ll limit myself to one more comment.

                The claim Harris and others make, and that I tried to make clear in my first comment, is not that religious moderates actively and explicitly defend specific instances of extremist lunacy, a la: “The Westboro Baptists are engaged in a legitimate enterprise; their beliefs and the laws they would impose upon the rest of us if they had the power must be respected, and their actions must be tolerated.”

                Nobody claims this is what religious moderates do. Rather, moderates perpetuate the general taboo on criticizing and disrespecting all things religious by claiming that faith and irrationality are good and legitimate exercises.

                The moderate says: “This is a matter of faith. You can’t criticize me for expressing my faith!” To which the Westboro Baptist says: “Hear, hear!”

              • gbjames
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

                “If we did not exist as an organization we would not be participating in our community the same”.

                The magic word here is “the same”, which cause the statement to be tautological.

                Presumably you would do much or all of those good things in the absence of membership in a faith-club. I, a humble atheist, manage to register dozens to hundreds of voters in every election here in Wisconsin, and we do love us some elections lately. All without the club membership!

                You really don’t think religious folk go on about “truth”? You might want to crank up your Google machine. Here’s what popped up at the top of my query:

                http://www.news.va/en/news/audience-the-truth-is-the-truth-there-is-no-compro

                It goes on, page after page.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                I do wish you did not presume what I think. I made n statement about not doing “those… things in the absence of membership in a (church)”, only that it’s how I prefer to do it. That you, an atheist… register… voters in every election…” is great. The point is not that one way works and the other does not, but that we have a choice (assuming we are free enough to do so) and that the acts are more important than the labels.

                as for the link to the Vatican… no thanks… not a credible source for general religious issues any more than Answers in Genesis.

                You never did tell me who your religious references are.

              • Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

                @ Gordon aka Socrates, re your earlier reply to me…

                I think Bragg et al. were making a social point by talking about humanism as a religion and about “religious humanism” explicitly, positioning humanism as an alternative to the current religions. But note that Bragg, in his introduction to the first manifesto, does say, “[we] are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world” — i.e., humanists are already calling humanism a philosophy, not only later.

                @ musical beef …

                Is it possible to be a theistic humanist? I don’t think so if either term is to be meaningful. I note that the first humanist manifesto, which our other correspondent drew attention to, specifically eschews supernaturalism, just as the BHA does today. Where are these “theistic humanists”?

                @ Socrates aka Gordon re your request to GB for “religious references” …

                I made a similar point to GB’s in an earlier comment, which you didn’t challenge. What I had in mind were the censuses and other surveys (Pew, British Social Attotudes, &c.) in Western countries that show that the vast majority of those who identify as religious cite membership of a theistic religion.

                That religion is generally regarded as theistic is the mainstream position … whatever any philosophers or dictionary editors say.

                /@ | Phoenix, AZ

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                “That religion is generally regarded as theistic is the mainstream position … whatever any philosophers or dictionary editors say.”

                I understand your view, but have a problem with conventional wisdom being the standard as it places the science based argument in the same place as the creationist’s view that evolution is just a theory.

                If I am to used accepted scientific references when discussing evolution, it seems fair to employ credible religious references in that side of the debate. My first reference is The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. It’s fairly complete and does a credible job of identifying the challenges in characterizing religion.

                Several web references can be used as well. One which stays current on the changing religious landscape is the Pluralism Project at Harvard… http://pluralism.org/

              • Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                @ /@:

                No, you’re right. I had seen the term “religious humanism” here and there. But upon further investigation it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                For me, the important point of this is that the term, religion, has many definitions depending on who is discussing it. There are groups which are definitely religious and those which are not. Additionally there are a significant number which fall into an indeterminate area. I see the first problem as one of whether non-theistic religions exist. The second challenge is that there is a small, but growing, movement toward non-theism within traditional theistic religions; e.g., Christianity and Judaism. Since there is no verifiable evidence to confirm whether god exists, the non-theistic Christians and Jews can justify their position by asking for proof of the existence of god (sound familiar?).

                If my muddling through this is bothersome, it is unintentional. I am learning more here than informing and appreciate it. As for the dual handle… I’m trying to come clean. ;-)

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

              P.S. Thanks for bearing with me on this. ;-)

            • gbjames
              Posted November 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

              Gordon, I am not presuming what you think. I am responding to what you write.

              At this point I am unclear as to what your actual point is. Is it that life involves choices and that how people act is important? We have no disagreement on that (although I am undecided on the whole free-chioce matter).

              And I don’t know what you are asking for when you ask for “religious references”. As near as I can make out you are making the claim that religious folk who yammer on about truth are somehow to be discounted. Because, I guess, their version of religion is not the true one. Or something.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

                My view on the free choice issue is that we don’t know. If I remember clearly, Dr. Coyne’s characterization referenced “decisions from an unknown source.” My view is that we have some degree of choice, that the idea of unconditional free will seems far fetched when considering the discrete limitations of our brain which becomes operable through experience.

                as for religious references (I answered this in more detail elsewhere), I propose simply that we respect the experts in both science and religion as to terminology. Both have their zones of uncertainty, but science’s is more narrow (e.g., the differing views as to what constitutes a species) than religion where the question of what constitutes a religion is widely debated by the experts.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

                “experts in both science and religion”…

                I think you are confusing theology with religion. And I see no reason to respect theology.

                It does not take advanced training to recognize religious belief in the vast majority of situations any more than it takes advanced training to recognize daylight. We encounter it constantly. And I think it takes willful ignorance to pretend that the fast majority of religious people don’t speak in terms of “higher truth”, etc.

                I am happy that there are some people within god-clubs who are coming to realize that their theology makes no sense. I wish there were more. But that does not erase the delusions of religion. You seem be wanting to hold tightly to the word “religion” for your non-theist, everyone-is-on-a-journey-of-discovery, good-works UU group. Fine. Have at it. But that is a peculiar and non-standard use. Most religious folk believe things that are both unsupported and implausible. They think that the things like virgin birth are true. They seriously expect the return of long-dead heroes. They think these things are true.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

                One of the challenges in discussing religion is terminology. Science has it’s language difficulties, but they are moderated by the quest for a universal knowledge. Even then, a focused focused scientific inquiry leads to modifiers (physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, neuroscience). If this is appropriate for science where the quest is for verifiable evidence, then religion, where belief is the central and no verifiable evidence exists, merits similar considerations.

                Just as the scientific domain can be characterized as science and non-science with an area of uncertainty in between, so, too, there is religion and non-religion with a zone of uncertainty in between.

                For example, Social Science and Political Science may not be true sciences, but I suspect the serious professionals in those fields make no bogus claims (or maybe they do).

                Similarly, the field of religion is well stocked with serious professionals who a fairly well defined–and evolving–vocabulary to explore the field. In my discussions I opt for the professional jargon in both.

                My point is that if the conversation at WEIT are to be serious then the posters may want to use the terminology of the professionals on both sides remembering that the terminology on the religious side poorly defined even amongst professionals prompting an adherence to the Socratic admonition, “If you would debate with me, first we must define our terms.”

              • gbjames
                Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Gordon, are we debating something? What, exactly?

                I thought we were discussing whether religious folk thought that their beliefs were true or not (me saying “yes”, you saying “no”). If you want to argue about the definition of the word “religion” and demand that I go read (I don’t know… say, Thomas Aquinas or something), then you’re using the Courtier’s Reply.

              • Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                If this is appropriate for science where the quest is for verifiable evidence, then religion, where belief is the central and no verifiable evidence exists, merits similar considerations.

                If that is a defining characteristic of religion — and I would agree that it is the single more important such — then it means that religion is most foolish at best, and profoundly evil in practice.

                I believe that I have an anonymous fan who is very wealthy and who will bail me out of any financial mess I might get myself into. There’s no verifiable evidence for this belief, but that’s okay; it’s a religious belief so I don’t need evidence.

                I also believe that I have an invisible protector who hates dark-skinned people and who wants me to kill as many of them as I possibly can. My protector says that, when I go on my mission, I might die, myself, but he’ll swoop in right away to rescue me if he’s happy with the job I do. Again, since this is a religious belief, so evidence is irrelevant.

                Further, I believe that the nice man on the TV really is healing those poor people by the power of Jesus’s touch, and I trust that if I send him my Social Security checks as he’s asking me to that he’ll cure my diabetes. I’ve even got evidence! That woman got out of the wheelchair, right? I saw it with my own eyes.

                Once more, with feeling: religious faith is the worst possible blight there can be upon a civilized society. Give me a people filled with doubt, not faith.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Marella
        Posted November 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        If you don’t read Harris how do you know that his views on religion are so uninformed? He has an excellent web page where he discusses things of interest to atheists, which I highly recommend.

        http://www.samharris.org/

        I consider Sam to be the most important thinker in the atheist world at the moment.

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted November 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          You make a good point. I’ll give him another visit. My departure was with The End of Faith. A quick look at his website prompts me to take some time in the next few weeks. Thanks.

        • Socrates Schultz
          Posted November 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          Lest you be confused by the two handles, I use one or the other depending on my mood and what comes up automatically which, being old and slower than before, I frequently miss.

          • gbjames
            Posted November 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            Sock puppet?

            • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

              Schizophrenic!

              But you can see that SS and GH are one and the same by the identical auto-generated avatars.

              /@ | Phoenix, AZ

  9. kelskye
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I wonder how many of those books are on the average evangelical Christian reading list. Even if those books where everything Giberson said, I doubt that any Christian gets their understanding of the science/god discussion from those books. If only evangelical Christians were reading the “new atheists”…

    I think Bill Maher’s point that he kept hammering on this year about conservatives living in a bubble is something worth keeping in mind. This is evangelicals having conversations with themselves, creating caricatures of what the “outsiders” think, and not engaging in anything other than proselytism when it comes to “conversing” with the other side. It’s easy to write off this behaviour as a reaction to the counter-culture, but it does heavily rely on the assumption that the counter-culture is actually being paid attention to. Yet the only way that atheists are being paid attention to, in this case, is that there’s recognition of their existence as a social phenomenon. Beyond that, it’s evangelicals talking amongst themselves.

  10. Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    … with a spirited defense of Americans’ right to be ignorant about evolution.

    I fully support the right of politicians to make fools of themselves in public.

    • MAUCH
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      We all support the right of creationists to be heard and we also support our right to rail against them. The public must know that biblical scripture is not considered an alternative to a legitimate education.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I do not want to see any politician make a fool of themselves in public.

      It’s akin to watching the pilot of your aircraft returning to the cockpit, tottering down the aisle with a full glass of Scotch, neat. << Very disturbing.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        If s/he is tottering down the aisle with a glass full of Scotch I think it will be messy, not neat…

        /@ | Phoenix, AZ

  11. gravelinspector
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Quibble:

    Is there any intelligent person out there who doesn’t know the scientific consensus on the age of the earth, and that it’s about 4.6 billion years old?

    I’ve met dozens, if not hundreds, of perfectly intelligent people who don’t know about the scientific consensus on anything. I do spend more of my time working in the third world than do most contributors here, which is one supply of such people, but I meet such people regularly in the UK. Many people simply do not pay attention to what little (if any) science education they receive. Just last month I was having a pint with a friend who I’ve been swapping SF books with for over 20 years and for the first time the subject came up (I’d been reading a book waiting for him to turn up for this quarter’s swap) and I had to educate him. Physics 1.0.1, followed up by an introduction to radiometric dating – took 2 pints.
    My book-swapping friend left school at 15, not having paid the slightest attention to science at all, and went on to work as farm labourer, barman, roughneck, painter & decorator … the whole topic never once impinged on his attention. Perfectly intelligent guy, just ignorant of (and uninterested in) this whole field of knowledge.
    (Incidentally, being an Islander, he’d had his fill of god-squaddies and Wee Frees as far back as he can remember. No contamination by religion there.)

    • Rebecca Harbison
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      I’d say most people have the idea that science dates the Earth is very, very old; even ‘millions of years’ puts it well outside of biblical literalism and human history.

      I’d take that as a good enough answer to show the speaker is at least aware of geology/paleontology*, even if s/he knows very few details.

      * Aka scientists aren’t just guessing about ages.

      • raven
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        even ‘millions of years’ puts it well outside of biblical literalism and human history.

        Anything older than 6,000 years puts it outside the fundie creationists.

        The Sumerians invented glue and beer thousands of years before god created the universe.

        The Flood happened while the Egyptian third dynasty was building the pyramids. They never noticed.

        There are living shrubs that are twice as old as the fundie universe. The oldest is a Tasmanian holly clone that is 7 times as old.

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

          The Sumerians invented glue and beer thousands of years before god created the universe.

          God bless them – I wouldn’t be able to enjoy cricket nearly as much without either of those things (glue is essential to the construction of cricket bats; beer for the immediate increase in one’s knowledge of the game, especially in the areas of “what the captain of our team just got wrong”).

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      To our nations dishonor, we have to include in that list of otherwise intelligent people who don’t know the scientific consensus on the age of the earth our president.

      salon.com/2012/11/21/obama_once_gave_rubio_like_answer_on_earths_age/

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        Ouch! That hurts.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Yeah, it hurts. It annoys me no end that people throughout our society who are taken seriously in other areas of intellectual endeavor are given a complete pass on even the most basic scientific knowledge (and, just for good measure mathematical ability too).

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I am actually convinced that those pronouncements by Obama were simply an act of political pandering and not the reflection of his supposed ignorance.

          Which doesn’t make it any less embarassing.

          • mandrellian
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

            Something of a ditto here – our current Oz PM, Julia Gillard, is an out atheist yet is never shy of osculating the ol’ Holy Rump. She doesn’t buy any of it – she just knows that a lot of voters do (especially in marginal country seats).

            • Marella
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

              And remember that much of the Labor Party is Catholic, she needs to keep them onside to remain in power. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions goes with so many powerful people in the grip of Catholicism. They keep saying they are not the only offenders, but they were certainly the most systematic about it.

  12. NewEnglandBob
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    The only doubt I would grant to Giberson is that he didn’t think before he wrote that garbage, otherwise he has devolved into a liar.

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    That stupid list again! Giberson is spouting gibberish:

    The Discovery Institute has compiled a list of hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s who “dissent from Darwin.” …

    This is what people like Rubio are likely to hear in their churches, read in their Christian literature, learn in their Christian schools, consume in their Christian media.

    That is what they are likely to *hear* since, as Giberson just showed, christians likes to lie for their gods. That isn’t what they should hear, if they were factful in their propaganda.

    It is a fact Dishonesty Institute has filled out their original list of people “who “dissent from Darwin.”” The analysis is fresh (Oct 5 2012), so let us look at it.

    “In 2001 the Discovery Institute, the principal sponsoring organization for the intelligent design movement, began to form a list of scientists who question evolution. Each of the scientists on this list, known as “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” affirmed the following statement [Dissent2010]:

    “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.””

    As Giberson himself hints and is probably aware of, it is very easy to see that the underwriters of the list didn’t have to dissent with “the Big Bang, and the great age of the earth”. They had to vouch minor concerns about a very short list of evolutionary mechanisms’s ability to account for “complexity”, not speciation (evolution).

    As for the latter, speciation is complex, is I think what Coyne tells us. And even the first concept, taken as meaning how traits appear and are fixed, is something that is still a somewhat open question due to near neutral drift and what not, is I think what Moran would like to tell us.

    But more pertinent, it is an erroneous and vague claim.

    – I take it that major types of mutations aren’t “random” in all senses. (Say, mutational hotspots.) But they appear independently of the action of selection.

    – In its widest form the claim can be taken to mean the pertinence of peculiar evolutionary mechanisms’s ability to account for the appearance of life.

    Since this appearance meant passing from a chemical system without self-replicators to one with, I think any astrobiologist would have to underwrite that genetic “mutation” can not be initially present. Chemical variation, certainly.

    And one can probably raise somewhat related problems with “natural selection” if one wants the definition to be constrained to specifically biological genetic material.

    Now on to “hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s”. The DI list had 840 names as of October 2012.

    “If we count only those persons on these two lists who had a Ph.D. degree and/or professional position in a core field closely related to evolution … only 236 (28.1%) of the Discovery Institute list”.

    Of course DI pads the list with Ph.D.s from different fields. Note that however vague and fuzzy the claim is, a comparison gives that those from pertinent fields that underwrote DI’s list is ~ 0.3 % of those who underwrote the science counterlist of “Project Steve”. (Affirming evolution.)

    A quick check gives ~ 400 PhDs on the list as of 2011. Meaning the relevant PhDs is, even now, ~ 110. Hardly “hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s” if you are reading the list with awareness.

    And, as per above, the relevant figure is that these are ~ 0.3 % of the relevant field, underwriting a claim that, if it wasn’t done by a religious institute for its propaganda, many could underwrite.

    Indeed, it has been verified that many of the underwriters didn’t know the anti-science purpose of the list. It has also been verified that DI won’t correct the list in such cases.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Oops. Among other typos, this is most egregious:

      “the underwriters of the list didn’t have to dissent with “the Big Bang, and the great age of the earth”.”

      It should have been:

      “the underwriters of the list didn’t have to dissent with “evolution, the Big Bang, and the great age of the earth”.”

    • SLC
      Posted November 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      That statement is so vague that Richard Dawkins has stated that he could, in good conscience sign it if he were ignorant of the source. Given his attitude toward adaptationism, Larry Moran could probably sign it too.

  14. Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    What I find very puzzling is Giberson’s departing words:

    America’s troubled conversation about our origins is, unfortunately, more of a culture war than a scientific controversy. Geologists have become irrelevant. Give Rubio a break.

    What on earth does he mean by “Geologists have become irrelevant”? It is simply unreasonable to call this a cultural war and not a scientific controversy. Of course, it’s not a controversy in science itself, but it is a controversy about the findings of science and their implications, and it is foolish to suggest otherwise. Certainly it is also a cultural war, but that is only because people continue to make stupid claims about things that have been settled by science. If the religious can’t get their house in order, and accept what is the truth in science, then their own credibility is in the sewer like any number of silly conspiracy theorists. Can’t Giberson see this? And if he can’t, why not? Why does he jump to the defence of the indefensible? I thought he left Biologos because he was growing more reasonable, not less.

    • Rob
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Of course geologists are irrelevant. It’s not like you need to find new oil or rare earth reserves to run and make the computer Uncle Karl uses.

      Oh, wait

    • Anthony Paul
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      However it was intended, the “science is irrelevant, it’s a culture war” remark suggests that the most substantial objective issue in the argument should be ignored. The result is that the opposing sides should just be reported without the rational analysis that conclusively shows that one side is wrong. This sort of lame “let’s you and him fight” reporting is the exact sort of mindlessness that encourages Rubio-style ignorance and gives people like him an advantage in the culture war. No KG-style break is warranted, and KG is either a lousy tactician or has chosen a side.

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I think that Joe McInerney’s comment [17] relates to what Giberson is talking about. As far as many evangelicals are concerned, geologists are indeed irrelevant to the concern re the loss of faith and thus the loss of salvation. Ham, Mohler, et al declare that anything that is contrary to their interpretation of scripture should be ignored [and deemed apostatical as well]. In their world accepting an old earth = loss of /faith salvation. This fear is an easy target for the Rubios of the polictal and evangelical world.

  15. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    In all likelihood the authors of these books would be some of America’s most vocal and anti-religious atheists — Richard Dawkin…

    I don’t know how Dawkins would feel about the usurpation of his nationality.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Is there any intelligent person out there who doesn’t know the scientific consensus on the age of the earth, and that it’s about 4.6 billion years old?

    Indeed. But as it happens it isn’t one of those easy questions, because Earth formation was a gradual process.

    What is established to a very high degree of precision is the date when the solar system started to form. A recent review takes the dating of CAIs (Ca-Al rich inclusions) in chondrites as the date of the first formed material and gives an age of 4567.2 +/- 0.5 (!) million years. ["Chronometry of Meteorites and the Formation of the Earth and the Moon", Kleine et al, Elements 2011.]

    That is a precision of ~ 1.1*10^-4.

    The same review notes how the accretion and core formation processes makes the Earth formation date ill constrained. The main problems is how much the mantle had time to equilibrate and the last large impactor that contributed significant mass, the Earth-Moon impactor.

    If the mantle was considerably unequilibrated, and there are recent observations indicating it may have been, the accretion process could have dragged out closer to 100 million years. (As a comparison, it is believed that Mars accreted in a mere 3-4 million years.)

    The Earth-Moon impactor could have contributed the last 10 % of mass at any given time up to perhaps 300 million years, depending on iffy dating of the crater record in relation to the Apollo samples. The final mantle could be anywhere 4.6 – 4.4 billion years age.

    So if we use a 90 % accumulated mass criteria to date Earth, it is problematic. In engineering sciences, seeing how the accretion process is roughly exponential, they would use a 1-1/e ~ 60 % criteria. That constrains Earth’s age to within 50 million years regardless of the core formation, and a ~ 4.5 billion year age is a good estimate considering the constraints.

    The age of the system continues to be improved on. An improved Pb-Pb technology now gives the same ages for CAIs and chondrules for the first time.
    They are originating 4567.30 +/- 0.16 (!) million years ago.

    That is a precision of ~ 3.5*10^-5.

    As a comparison, I know my own age with a precision of ~ 2.2*10^-6. Welcome to the club, Solar System!

  17. Joseph D. McInerney
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    During my 22 years at the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study I dealt with many people — parents mostly — who truly believed that the acceptance of evolution or an ancient age for the universe would lead ultimately to a loss of faith. Whether I thought that concern was legitimate didn’t matter to them, and I had to be congnizant of that fear, even respect it as a reality, as my colleagues and I combatted the never-ending opposition to the adoption of BSCS textbooks.
    What bothers me most about Rubio and others like him is that the only thing they fear about the acceptance of evolution is the loss of votes. If they thought there was no danger to their political careers in acknowledging deep time or the reality of evolution, their positions would change. They are cynics to the core. I always had more respect for the parents who thought something of real value was at stake than I did, for example, for the self-serving politicians on state boards of education who used the evolution/creationism issue for political gain.

    • Christian
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Of course, he is a politician and not just one from the lower rungs either. Placating your voters is a winning strategy even if it means getting rid of your spine. So what you see here is just natural selection in action.

      An other thing I noticed when I looked at his Wikipedia page is that he studied law. From my experience, people who chose this profession weren’t that science savvy back in school either and they probably regard scientific facts as mere trivia, something you can negotiate depending on the situation.

      • Jeff D
        Posted November 24, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

        I have noticed levels of science-illiteracy in many of my fellow lawyers that are on a par with (but not worse than) the science-illiteracy of other Americans with 4+ years of post-high-school education. These generally are the lawyers who did not obtain science or engineering degrees as undergrads, and the younger the lawyer, usually the lower the scientific literacy. For myself, I got an honors degree in economics (the closest to theology that I ever came), took 2 physics courses, and tested out of my second semester of calculus.

        But it’s foolhardy to paint lawyers with too broad a brush: Lawyers with engineering or science degrees tend to go into patent or intellectual property law, and lawyers who prosecute and defend cases involving “defective” products, industrial accidents, fires, explosions have to develop high levels of empirical skill and the ability to evaluate scientific and medical evidence.

        Are there lots of lawyers for whom understanding and verifying facts take a back seat to sophistry and advocacy? Absolutely.

  18. Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Searching for explanations for the stupidity of intelligent and educated people like Rubio, I always fall back onto this explanation: The human brain has evolved with the ability to harbor two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time. Depending upon the situation, any of a number of opinions may be formulated and expressed, even though they may be contradictory. We call such proclamations hypocritical, illogical, false, uninformed, and dishonest. Yet to Rubio, they are not. He may not have bothered to stop and think, or research a high school biology book, or check in with any reputable scientific society, or university. “Speaking off the cuff” was a common Romney excuse for misstatements and now may be attributed to Rubio. If so, he needs to take back the statement and admit he misspoke. But, fearing the alienation of evangelicals and Tea Party, he will not. At least we now know exactly where this so called “moderate conservative” stands, on our shit list.

    • Joseph D. McInerney
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Yes; and we can add Jindal, Christie, and Paul to the list, along with, of course, Perry and Bachmann.

      • Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Joe – did you mean Ryan, or one of the Pauls? :-)

        • Joseph D. McInerney
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          Douglas: Rand Paul, who recently said he would “have to pass” on the question of the age of the earth.

    • Christian
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Depending upon the situation, any of a number of opinions may be formulated and expressed, even though they may be contradictory. We call such proclamations hypocritical, illogical, false, uninformed, and dishonest.

      Well, he studied law, after all ;)

  19. Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I think this would be an excellent moment for me to ask again my favorite question for accommodationists.

    Has Jesus read the King James Bible?

    Of course, Jesus couldn’t have read the KJV Bible during his ministry, as it wasn’t written until many many centuries later.

    But Jesus is said to be, this very moment, sitting at the right hand of the Throne of God, and his primary job is to judge the living and the dead.

    And, so, what I want to know, is whether or not he’s taken a moment or three while sitting on said Throne to read the King James Bible.

    Because, if he’s at all qualified to judge humanity, then he has to know that said Bible is literally everywhere. He also has to know –especially as our Creator and Saviour — that humans have a tendency to take important things rather literally.

    So, either Jesus has read the King James Bible and he’s cool with people thinking it’s his official biography and that everything in it is the literal god’s honest truth;

    Or he’s read it, know lots of people sincerely think he personally wrote and / or edited it, and has a problem with that but is going to wait until after they’re dead to judge them for their errors and the atrocities they commit whilst under that misunderstanding;

    Or he hasn’t read it.

    Even if you’re going to accept the fundamental claims of Christianity in the most vague sense possible, it still turns out that you’re fucked. Or that your fucked ideas will get you screwed, if “you’re” fear of the apostrophe leads you to prefer that formulation.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Religious nonsense is so easily mocked that it seems a little unfair sometimes – that is, if it weren’t for the “errors and the atrocities [believers] commit whilst under … [religious] misunderstanding”. Has Jesus read the Koran? Why hasn’t straightened the benighted followers of Islam out, you know, before they’re dead…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      I know who has read the bible: these little beasts.

      I present for your delectation bacteria that:

      – Walk on legs (!).
      – Spill their intestines so that they may be fondled.
      – And on the third exposure are resurrected as zombies.

      Clearly this demonstrates, BioLogos-ly speaking, that the bible is correct!

      Oh, and they are parasites too.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Holy fucking shit, that’s awesome!

        Thank you! Thank you!

        b&

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    A first rate article in Forbes discussing why it IS important for scientists to be scientifically literate is this “Why Marco Rubio Needs To Know That The Earth Is Billions Of Years Old”

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/11/19/why-marco-rubio-needs-to-know-that-the-earth-is-billions-of-years-old/

    IN a different note, re Russ Douthat, the idea of a young earth is not at all a “modern innovation” but the notion that you absolutely have to believe in it to be a legitimate Christian may indeed be such an innovation.

  21. Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    It’s not that hard to get the age of the earth if you have a working smartphone: https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+the+age+of+the+earth

    willful ignorance is the only excuse

    • Marta
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      You know, in thinking about this, I’m okay with someone not knowing the age of the earth.

      If someone said, for instance, “I don’t know exactly, but OLD. Millions of years? Billions of years?” it would be fine with me. It would be fine with most of us. We’d think he’s not a science details guy, but he gets the big picture, science-wise.

      But that isn’t what Rubio said. He didn’t want to piss off the Republican base of deliberately ignorant fundamentalists, so he punted. That’s what makes his statement so utterly craven. Rubio knows the answer. He was just too cowardly to say it.

  22. Jonathan Smith
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Rubio is not only a liar for Jesus but a liar for votes. However Obama is no better http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/21/barack-obama-earth-creation_n_2170810.html

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      It’s not Obama’s fault that it’s necessary to hide your true beliefs if you want be elected in the U.S. And what would you prefer: To elect a religious nut job or to elect someone with rational beliefs who has been forced to adapt to what is a very pernicious catch 22. If it was me I’d prefer the latter any time.

    • horrabin
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I don’t mind Rubio or Obama holding nonsensical views about the age of the earth or evolution (and Obama’s answer in that interview is about as wishy-washy as you can get). What matters is what they do politically, and only Rubio has called for teaching creationism in science classes.

  23. MAUCH
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    In a scolding tone Bill Nye simply says to anti-evolutionists who say they don’t accept evolution, “Why not?” That is reply that everyone should hear. Our not having advanced degrees is not an excuse for being ignorant of evolution. It does not take rockets science to understand the basic tenets of evolution and the overwhelming evidence that supports it. Just read something like WEIT and you can’t help but understand what evolution is about. If instead you choose willful ignorance over an understand of evolution then you can’t be helped. Just don’t use a lack of advanced education as an excuse.

  24. raven
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    douthat:

    But the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart

    central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire.

    This is wildly wrong.

    The purpose of xianity is Salvation for your soul. You are going to heaven unless you end up in hell. Forever.

    Our lives on earth are just a few minutes before eternity. If we blow it now, we get tortured forever.

    Or that is their story anyway. It’s all very cheerful and uplifting.

    • articulett
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Yep… “believe what we do, or my god will torture you for all eternity!” (‘kind of reminds me of Islam.)

      • guilherme21msa
        Posted November 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        Well, Islam got the idea from X-tianity anyway. I’m reading the Koran, and if I had written the Bible, I would prosecute Mohammed for plagiarising my work.

  25. docbill1351
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I have two points. The first is regarding this quote:

    Even a diligent search would turn up but a few books explaining how contemporary scientific ideas can be understood within the framework of traditional Christianity.

    That is not a problem for science or science education, it is a problem for Christianity (and what Gibberson means by “traditional” I have no idea – I guess it means his personal flavor with all other versions being untraditional, right Gibberson?) Bishop John Spong has written that Christianity needs a new language for the modern era and to recognize stories, myths and parables for what they are. It’s Christianity that needs to change, not science. Gibberson knows this and that makes him dishonest. (How do I know Gibberson knows this? Well, he’s a Christian scholar and has studied this subject for decades. If he knows less than me on the subject he’s a worse hack than I imagine!)

    The second point, and one that REALLY pisses me off, is about this quote:

    “For starters, it is simply not true that “all educated people accept evolution, the Big Bang, and the great age of the earth,” and only ignoramuses think otherwise. Groups like Answers in Genesis, the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research aggressively market the impressive academic credentials of their staff scientists. The Discovery Institute has compiled a list of hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s who “dissent from Darwin.” Answers in Genesis has a former college biology professor on staff and publishes a “peer reviewed” journal. One of America’s best-known anti-evolutionists is tenured in biochemistry at Lehigh University. There are entire universities — Liberty, Bob Jones, Patrick Henry, Cedarville — where faculty sign faith statements rejecting evolution.”

    Good grief, Gibberson! Your dishonesty knows no limits! Here Gibberson compares hacks, scammers and professional con-artists to actual working scientists doing actual honest science. To describe creationists as “staff scientists” and having “impressive academic credentials” is not only insulting but it’s wrong and Gibberson should be ashamed to have written it. Karl would have us accept dishonesty as a substitute for ignorance. No, I reject that premise.

    Uncle Karl gibbers like a monkey which is an insult to monkey-hood, thus his monicker Gibberson. He deserves no respect, only derision for writing this blatantly dishonest, insupportable and insulting piece of crap. Shame on you, Karl Giberson, you have hit a new low I thought was impossible to reach. Ignorance can be fixed. Even willful ignorance can be addressed in time. But, dishonesty is a lifestyle and one that Gibberson seems to be happy to adopt. You are the company you keep, Karl, good luck with that.

  26. Achrachno
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Marta” But that isn’t what Rubio said. He didn’t want to piss off the Republican base of deliberately ignorant fundamentalists, so he punted. That’s what makes his statement so utterly craven. Rubio knows the answer. He was just too cowardly to say it.”

    And that is the crucial point here. Rubio may even be an atheist (as some conservatives, e.g. Rove, are), but he can’t say that because he relies on fundamentalists for votes to advance his career.

  27. Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Stonyground says:

    I have not read the whole thread so forgive me if someone has already made this point. The Bible and the Christian belief system are simply packed full of absurdities that are at odds with modern scientific knowledge. Many Christians have dealt with this problem by simply ditching the silliest beliefs and claiming that they aren’t essential to being a Christian. The Resurrection appears to be non-negotiable. Maybe because St. Paul said specifically that, without the Resurrection, Christianity is indeed false.

    So what do scientists say about the possibility of someone dying for 36 hours and then coming back to life?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      What relevance has this?

      Are you saying that the religious text is erroneous on yet another point, that the to-be-zombie wasn’t actually dead?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Oh, and I forgot: why call it Resurrection and declare miracle, if it is a natural outcome?

  28. Kevin
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    “If there is such a person, then he’s either lying about the issue or, if genuinely ignorant, is too ignorant to hold an important elected office. It’s not hard in this day and age to find out…”

    that life begins at conception.

    Actually, it wasn’t hard even before this day and age.

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Apparently, it is hard, because life began a few billion years ago and hasn’t stopped since. It most emphatically does not “re-begin” at conception.

      The closest that ever becomes to being a true statement is in the context of a particularly popular faery tale often misunderstood as fact, whereby a certain zombie death monster infests its human prey with a magical phantasm at the same moment a spermatozoa penetrates an ovum.

      As with all continua, there is no clear dividing line when personhood begins, which is what you’re mistrakenly fixating on and equating with “life.” Just as you can’t point to a spot on the rainbow where blue becomes green or green becomes yellow, you can’t point to a moment in the development of an individual human when personhood begins. But, just as there are colors that are clearly blue and others that are unambiguously green and others that are definitely yellow, a freshly-fertilized blastocyst is clearly not a person, and almost everybody agrees that a newborn is. (And teenagers? The jury’s still out.)

      But even if we were to grant personhood to blastocysts, that still would have no bearing on the matter of reproductive rights. Women aren’t legally forced to rush into burning buildings to rescue their own infants, and forcing them to risk their lives to risk their own blastocysts is even more absurd.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • jimroberts
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Actually, it was harder than you think now, but for the real story I thoroughly recommend The Egg and Sperm Race by sometime blogger Matthew Cobb. It is an excellent book on how scientists worked out how we and a lot of other animals work out.

  29. Anders
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins is one of AMERICA’s vocal atheists? My oh my, he sure nails that Oxford parody dialect he frequently does!

  30. johnpieret
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    This is what people like Rubio are likely to hear in their churches, read in their Christian literature, learn in their Christian schools, consume in their Christian media.

    Uh … Rubio is a Catholic (though he was briefly LDS at his mother’s insistence). He wouldn’t be likely to hear that evolution or the ancient earth are false theories being abandoned by scientists or that scientific evidence is on the side of the biblical story of creation or that science contradict Christian beliefs and undermine the authority of the Bible in any Catholic church, school or media.

  31. Cathy Crompton
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    So is this man Douthat. Is his name pronounced ‘Doubt-that’ ??

  32. krzysztof1
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Dr. Coyne!

  33. R.W.
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Far more noteworthy, I would think, than anything Uncle Karl said or didn’t say is Alvin Plantinga’s latest essay in The New Republic, Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong, in which he pens a positive review of Thomas Nagel’s recently published, Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

    http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/110189/why-darwinist-materialism-wrong

    • Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      The basic problem that Plantinga has is that supernatural hypotheses don’t solve problems of complex organization, such as abiogenesis, they just relocate them to an undefined place and time, whilst making additional mechanisms necessary to communicate the solution to the place and time where it is actually needed:

      Instead of asking how abiogenesis might have arisen in situ, we now have to ask the much harder question: how did a complex structure that had the ability and the need to manufacture proto bacteria and leave them in muddy pools on some planet/s, arise?

      And does it really make any sense to posit that it is a necessary feature of the cosmos that an entity which exhibits this kind of very specific behavior should exist by fiat?

    • Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      The best component of this drivel is the comment section, with my favorite being: “The real mystery of evolution is how it has produced book reviewers who can spew groundless assertions as though they were eternal truths, as well as editors of respectable publications willing to publish such drivel.”

  34. Socrates Schultz
    Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    For me, the main problem with Gilberson’s permissive treatment of Marco Rubio’s uninformed view is that it’s like sending a note to a teacher stating, “Please forgive Marco, he doesn’t know better and should not be held responsible for his ignorance.” especially since Rubio sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and several space and science subcommittees.

  35. tualha
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    … Marco Rubio, a Republican Congressman from Florida …

    Er, no, actually he’s a Republican Senator from Florida. Much to our shame.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      Well, technically a Senator is a congressman because the Senate is part of the U.S. Congress, but I’ve fixed it, thx.

      • tualha
        Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

        Well, idiomatically, “congressman” is generally construed to mean a member of the House, I think?

  36. derekw
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Newsflash! “If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was.” Pat Robertson, televangelist/founder CBN 11/29/12 Robertson goes on record denouncing young earth. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/29/pat-robertson-challenges-creationism/?hpt=hp_c2
    I’m sure Jerry will have a entry on this. Robertson has said some pretty controversial (ie really dumb) stuff recently but this will stir the faithful (in a good way.) Uncle Karl, Biologos and Reasons to Believe giving out high fives.


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