More accommodationism: a letter to Nature

The August 8 issue of Nature contained a review of P. Z. Myers’s new book The Happy Atheist by Glenn Branch. Branch is the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and may well be Genie Scott’s successor when she steps down this fall. Called “Science and religion: The godless chronicles,” (reference below), Branch’s review was decidedly mixed. An excerpt:

Whatever Myers’s target, his weapons are taken from the arsenal of ridicule. He is in good company — writers such as Jonathan Swift and George Orwell spring to mind. Myers’s prose, although serviceable, isn’t quite in the same class, but sometimes reaches lyrical heights. Explaining his decision to bury, rather than burn, unwanted books of scripture sent for his spiritual instruction, he exults “as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms”. Myers’s favourite weapon is the extended metaphor, deployed to expose his targets as arbitrary and absurd. He wields it adroitly, comparing religious diversity to hat variety and theologians to courtiers fawning over the Emperor’s new clothes. These conceits are often amusing and occasionally instructive, but the tactic is cheap.

Whether infuriating or invigorating, ridicule is no substitute for a considered critique, and Myers often fails to do justice to his targets. For example, his analysis of the idea that God guides evolution by acting undetectably at the quantum level, if amusing, is a popular rather than a scholarly treatment, and incorporates value judgements that are unsupportable by science. Myers might respond that his targets are too ridiculous to warrant anything more serious, but such a response presupposes, rather than compels, agreement.

The chief problem with The Happy Atheist, however, is that it seems to break no new ground. By my count, Pharyngula posts provide the basis for at least 26 of the 38 essays and 5 more are adapted from a talk he gave in 2010.

Admirers and detractors alike will be disappointed by the book as a missed opportunity for Myers to refine, systematize and extend his thoughts on science and religion. . .

I take issue with Branch’s claim that Myers’s rebuttal of the “quantum-mechanics-guides-evolution” argument” is popular rather than scholarly. In fact, there is no scholarly rebuttal, for that claim is a God-of-the-gaps argument, an unnecessary add-on to science that cannot be tested.  And an untestable claim is one that need not be taken seriously as either science or theology.  Further, I’m not sure how “value” judgments are involved in dismissing that argument, except for the “value judgment” that science has never needed supernatural add-ons. If Branch really thinks that, then his organization, the NCSE, should dismiss naturalistic evolution as a “value judgment” as well.

Finally, Myers’s book is a popular rather than a scholarly treatment. Branch’s critique reminds me of Terry Eagleton’s “Courtier’s Reply” (satirized by Myers himself) to Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Like Richard’s book, because P. Z.’s is directed at a popular audience, it’s completely unfair to criticize for not providing a “scholarly treatment.” The public doesn’t want a scholarly treatment.

Myers’s “self-plagiarism,” apparently not mentioned in the book, is another issue. I haven’t read The Happy Atheist, but it’s customary for an author who anthologizes his work to note at the outset that this and that bit were previously published, and to mention where. I wanted to do this with a few paragraphs in my new book, and so asked my editor how to handle this. She emphasized that I must indicate which bits have been “self-plagiarized,” and note where they were originally written.

What I really want to highlight here, though, is a follow-up bit of accommodationism: a letter  in this week’s issue of the journal Nature  (link below, but not free) written as a supplement to Branch’s review. The letter is by Robert White, George Ellis, and Denis Alexander, and is called “History: Science luminaries are often religious.”

White and Ellis are at the Universities of Cambridge and Cape Town, respectively, and you’ve probably heard of Denis Alexander, an ex-immunologist who is now head of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge (largely funded by Templeton).  Alexander, an evangelical Christian and a well known accommodationist, is also on the Board of  Trustees of the John Templeton Foundation, and has featured regularly on this site. Here is the letter of White et al. in its entirety:

Young Earth creationists are easy to lampoon (see G. Branch Nature 500, 149;2013). However, using reasoned arguments might hold more sway with the US creationist movement.

PZ Myers, author of The Happy Atheist (which Branch reviewed), should remember that the majority of those who helped to establish the disciplines that we now practise as modern science were religious believers, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Carl Linnaeus, Edward Jenner, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, Joseph Lister, William Thomson and Arthur Stanley Eddington — to name but a few, and excluding a long list of contemporary names. Half of the 10 most influential scientists of the past 350 years chosen for the Royal Society’s commemorative stamps in 2010 were religious believers.

Now this is a completely gratuitous letter, though readers will be familiar with this “scientists of the past were religious” argument, and may be familiar with its refutation. What galls me is that Nature, one of the two most famous science journals in the world (the other is Science), felt the need to print this letter.  Nature has shown a continuing and unseemly desire to osculate the rump of religion, and I wish it would stop it.

The fact is that before the 20th century, nearly everyone was religious, scientist or not. That one can come up with a list of scientists who were religious doesn’t say anything about what motivated the beginnings of science, what motivates its practitioners now, or whether science and religion are compatible.  One could just as easily come up with a list of malefactors, murders, warmongers who were religious.  Indeed, had Newton not spent so much time on his religious activities (he was a non-trinitarian Arian), he may well have produced a lot more science!

What White et al. know, but deliberately fail to point out, is that 92% of the U.S.’s most prestigious scientists—the members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)—do not believe in a personal God. That is a huge contrast with the religiosity of the American public, about 95% of whom believe in God.

Likewise, a recent survey by Robin Elisabeth Cornwell and Michael Stirrat (cited in The God Delusion) showed that 78% of the members of Britain’s Royal Society (the U.K. equivalent of the NAS) strongly disagree that there is a God, and only 20% agree. As always, scientists are far, far less religious than is the general public.

It’s clear that the letter of White et al. intends to not only claim a compatibility between religion and science, but to give religion credit for helping give birth to and advance science. We can dismiss as unconvincing the claim that “using reasoned arguments”—as if their argument from the religiosity of Newton et al. were rational—will help change the minds of creationists. Can you imagine a Christian thinking “Wow! Newton and Linnaeus were religious? That does it—I’m embracing evolution!”?? Such a claim strains credulity.

Adducing the religiosity of some scientists, particularly in the past, carries no weight here. True, some scientists were motivated to find out stuff as a way of revealing God’s handiwork, but the belief in supernaturalism has held back science far more than it has advanced it (think of the opposition to a heliocentric solar system and to evolution). Further, the methods that religion uses to find its specious “truths” are completely incompatible with and inimical to the methods that science uses to find real truth. There are many religions, all with conflicting claims, but there is only one science: a materialistic and godless practice.

But I’ve said this many times before.  What distresses me is that Nature gives its weighty imprimatur to arguments as bogus as those of White et al.  Clearly, the journal has made a decision to go soft on religion—perhaps as a misguided way of drawing believers into science. I wish one of my readers who is a scientist would write a counter-letter to that of White et al.

h/t: Karel

________________

Branch, G. 2013. Science and religion: Godless chronicles. Nature 500:149. doi:10.1038/500149a

White, Robert, G. Ellis, and D. Alexander. 2013. History: Science luminaries are often religious. Nature 501: 33 . doi:10.1038/501033c

157 Comments

  1. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    sub

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      ditto

      • gbjames
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:31 am | Permalink

        sub

        • jimroberts
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          another

        • TonyR
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          sub

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 6, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

            sub

  2. Fry
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    “ONLY” 1 in 5 of the “top” Brit scientists believe in a personal God ! WTF !

    Mr. Dawkins you still have a lot of work to do.

  3. Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    I’m baffled as to why “self plagiarism” is considered an issue. Yes, pointing out where writing has been re-used is a courtesy to the reader, but it is little more than that.

    Yes, someone buying a book should have an indication of the level of new material, but the use of the word “plagiarism” in this context is silly. If you go to hear your favourite rock band, do you expect them to list all the gigs at which they’ve previously played the songs?

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

      I didn’t coin the term “self plagiarism,” and in fact didn’t know of it until my editor at Viking/Penguin used it. Apparently it’s jargon in the publishing trade.

      • Bobo2
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism#Self-plagiarism

        It’s not really “publishing jargon”. If you follow the blog Retraction Watch, then you’ll notice that self-plagiarism is probably the most common reason for retraction of an academic paper that they document.

        But as long as PZ retains copyright on his old scienceblogs posts (and I’m pretty sure he does), there’s not technically anything “wrong” with his reuse of them in his book. However, it would be a courtesy to the reader for him to acknowledge that the book is overwhelmingly a compilation of material that can be found for free on the web. Add to this the fact that PZ has long suggested to his followers that the book would be something original (including posting his daily word count updates and linking to a review of his book by Greg Laden that suggested the material was all new). Compare this with “A Devil’s Chaplain” by Dawkins, which compiles lots of material not easily available and clearly acknowledges the origin of each chapter.

        One of the bigger problems–and it just goes to show how incredibly lazy PZ’s book is–is that he didn’t even preface each chapter to give any of the context for the post. Many of the chapters are seven or so years old and refer to specific events, but there’s no intro material. Again, compare with “The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Dawkins” to see the way it should have been done.

        No one should waste their money on PZ’s lazy “effort” (or lack thereof) when they can just Google for the chapters.

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          LoL, go on, tell us what you really think.

    • Gordon
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Have always wondered about that. Generally new writing builds on older stuff and the number of self-citations you might use would make you look a right onanist.

      • Gordon
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:09 am | Permalink

        Just adding a quick note-I do recall an article condeming self-plagiarism (a rather meaningless term) in very strident terms in I think an Australian academic oriented magazine a few years back. I don’t think it got any traction.

    • NormallyNotAnonymous
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      It’s a serious issue in scientific academic journals. If you get duplicate publication, you get credit twice for only one original contribution AND you throw off calculations from meta-analyses and so forth. Self-plagiarism is a diluted form of this, and you see it all the time on Retraction Watch.

      In non-scientific academic journals, like philosophy (my field), it’s much more tolerated. George Bealer, for example, regularly copies large chunks of earlier-published text in his articles. Philosophy doesn’t have meta-analyses, so I don’t think that’s a worry. And Bealer isn’t getting published for his old ideas, but his new ideas that are surrounded by his previously-worked-out summaries of the issues. Still, I think it’s somewhat questionable. (And I should add that 99.99% of philosophers do not do this.)

      For popular books, I don’t see how it’s an issue and it was definitely the thing that I cared the least about in the Jonah Lehrer scandal. Maybe your employer cares that they paid for new material and you gave them previously published stuff– but why should the public care?

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        In my field (astrophysics) attempting to duplicate publications in decent journals in the primary literature would be so easily spotted that it would just discredit you.

        It only seems to be an issue in fields with loads of minor journals that no-one ever reads (particularly not referees), and that don’t have online paper aggregators such as arXiv or NASA’s ADS.

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Philosophers also likely publish a lot more book-length items (than astrophysics or many of the sciences), which no doubt “increases the temptation”. That said, one does often see the “permission granted from such-and-such” a lot.

      • eric
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        Very nice analysis. I was going to post on the issue as it relates to different publication types, but you’ve basically said everything I was going to say only better.

    • W.Benson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      So Myers’s book is basically an anthology of essays. Nothing wrong with that. Self-plagiarism, in the pejorative sense, is when the same work, presented as original, is published two or more times, or when segments of old work are republished verbatim without informing the reader.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        That’s exactly what PZ failed to do: inform the reader. See other posts in this thread. Nothing on the jacket, nothing on the cover, nothing substantial on Amazon, and a huge buildup on his blog about it being substantially original.

        On the one hand, I would agree with you: it’s a time-honored tradition for a serial essayist, such as a newspaper columnist, to publish a “best of” anthology. But, it’ll be clearly labeled as such and the individual essays in the book will be headed with original publication information. PZ did the former — publish an anthology of his essays — but not the latter.

        There isn’t even a hint that the book is 90% recycled material, and that’s a problem. A serious one, academically.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          Exactly Ben.

        • Marta
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Agreed completely.

          What PZ decided to use in his book, with the agreement of his publisher–totally up to him.

          But failing to note anywhere on the book that the content was published originally on various websites is unethical. And disappointing.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 6, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

          Is that 90% a pretty accurate figure, Ben?

          • JBlilie
            Posted September 6, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            It’s not far off.

          • Posted September 6, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

            I haven’t read the book; it’s my estimation based on the reviews and descriptions of those who have read it.

            Even if not precise, I think “overwhelming majority” is a fair assessment.

            b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 7, 2013 at 12:18 am | Permalink

              That’s disappointing on more than one level–the book and the man.

              • Posted September 7, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

                Indeed…it seems every passing year significantly diminishes the respect and admiration I once had for PZ. Some grow with age; some wither. PZ is doing the latter at a furious rate.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted September 7, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                “Indeed…it seems every passing year significantly diminishes the respect and admiration I once had for PZ. Some grow with age; some wither. PZ is doing the latter at a furious rate.”

                Funny thing is, I probably would have bought a book called “The Best of Pharyngula,” and that would also seem like a good way to introduce his best writing to the non-blogosphere.

                But this presentation just seems duplicitous. My PZ-admiration trajectory matches yours.

              • Posted September 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a dead-tree version of The Courtier’s Reply would come in handy. But this doesn’t exactly seem like it’d be suited to that sort of thing….

                b&

  4. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    White’s critique starts with

    However, using reasoned arguments might hold more sway with the US creationist movement.

    I used to try to do this. It’s a WOMBAT (Waste Of Money Brains And Time). After some years in the anti-creationist trenches on Compuserve, including a 5 year long message thread that reached over 100,000 messages, someone posted the aphorism that

    “you cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not arrive at by a process of reason.”

    Which sums the problem up quite nicely, I think.
    Then in short order, Compuserve emasculated the forums and changed the API so that off-line readers wouldn’t work (more advertising eyeball-seconds ; but I pay for content, not advertising!). So I left and got a proper internet connection.
    Attempting to reason with creationists is a WOMBAT. The only reason for doing it is for the benefit of bystanders. And generally they’ve already come to their own conclusions before coming to the arena.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:21 am | Permalink

      I like the shorter version…

      “you cannot reason someone out of a position they have not reasoned themselves into”

      • Hempenstein
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Yes, and WOMBAT too!

      • Kevin Henderson
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Brilliantly said:
        “you cannot reason someone out of a position they have not reasoned themselves into”

    • Achrachno
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      You can convert Christians, but it’s work. A lot of work. When I was in the “trenches” on AOL back in the 90s, I converted 3 that I know about, including a Pentecostal and the wife of an evangelical pastor. I also solidified a few wavering skeptics, but I guess that’s another issue.

      It’s true that most of them can’t be talked out of anything, no matter what you show them, but some can. It takes long and patient argument to win just a few. But if each of us converted just 2-3, things would get a lot better.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Considering the number of ex-Christians (such as myself) that you find in the comment threads of skeptic websites, I’d say that the arguing does some good. Had it not been for the Internet, I suspect I might still be a Christian.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure I’d still be religious – I was headed in atheism’s direction – but Pharyngula (some years ago) and RDFRS (the old site, which I think was far superior than the new one) were the pushes I needed to decisively commit to atheism.

    • RGBowman
      Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      As a FYI, that is a modification of a quote attributed to Jonathan Swift:
      “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

  5. Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    PZ Myers … should remember that the majority of those who helped to establish the disciplines that we now practise as modern science were religious believers …

    … and also believers in astrology, alchemy, vitalism, a geocentric cosmology, a relatively recent origin of the Earth, the immutability of species, et cetera.

    • jeremyp
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      Newton was an alchemist, Kepler was an astrologer.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        To anyone who has any doubt about the above, it is worse:

        Try to find *any* of the greats from the scientific revolution who were heterodox. Copernicus, maybe. Boyle, maybe. But Boyle also worried incessantly that the pursuit of the new science would be regarded as heretical! All the greats like Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, etc. were all heretics.

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

      And some proportion of them were undoubtedly slave owners, wife beaters, child abusers and dog lovers.

      It’s like the xtian god, if you are going to attribute good things to it then it also has to take the rap for the bad things.

  6. Howard Kornstein
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    Every time I hear the so-called argument that Christianity nurtured the beginning and development of Science I cringe. William Lane Craig used this old saw once again in his debate series with Krauss, and sadly Krauss did not slam down Lane Craig on the point as he should have. And yet again we see this sort of argument reappear in Nature, of all places. The truth is that the foundations of scientific thinking were laid down in ancient Greece, where religious dogma had no effect whatever in the freethinking philosophers who theorised about the nature of the universe – Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus later followed by Aristotle set scientific foundations. Christiaity PERSECUTED early science -Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno being cases in point.

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      In fairness to Krauss and anyone who as “debated” William Lane Craig, so much shit comes out of Craigs mouth that if one were to try to refute even a small fraction of it one would have no time to advances ones own arguments.

      • Howard Kornstein
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        “…so much shit comes out of Craigs mouth that if one were to try to refute even a small fraction of it one would have no time to advances ones own arguments.”
        I have a daydream of someone involved in a debate with Lane Craig not actually using his/her OWN slide-set, but instead presenting Lane Craig’s slides all over again, and disposing of his bullshit ideas on a point by point basis.
        I do wonder however, if there is some law of physics (entropy?) which implies that the time to counter a load of bullshit exceeds the mass of the bullshit itself.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

          I do wonder however, if there is some law of physics (entropy?) which implies that the time to counter a load of bullshit exceeds the mass of the bullshit itself.

          I wonder how much bullshit it would take for William Lane Craig to implode into a supernova of scattered dung?

          • Chris
            Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

            Brown Dwarf, you mean…

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

              I think he’s a singularity so my bet is he’s turning into a black hole.

              We are just observing it in slowmotion…

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          There is, if one wants to actually *explain* something. If one simply affirms what WLC or others denied, one is just doing “does not” “does too” style, which is unhelpful.

          This is why the “Gish gallop” (which WLC does too) is so very dishonest.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      An awful lot of Christians who made major early contributions to science were very unorthodox and deemed highly heretical during their lifetime. Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Giordani Bruno could all be so characterized. There were also some important contributions to early modern science by Muslims. So nothing makes Christianity specifically per se necessary to the rise of science.

      You CAN indeed argue that in specific cases piety motivated scientific inquiry (surely true in Newton’s case), so it’s more than “trivially true” that most early scientists were Christian. However, just because some theology acted as a “booster rocket” or “bumper crop” to science doesn’t mean we need to hang on to that theology now.

      Dr. Coyne is only sort of historically correct when he says science !*never*! needed God. Isaace Newton beleived that divine intervention was needed to account for unexplained perturbations in the orbit of the planets. However, this proved to be an early “God of the gaps”. It was LaPlace’s ability to explain them with improved physics that prompted his remark that he had no need of the God-hypothesis for his explanation of the solar system.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        “Dr. Coyne is only sort of historically correct when he says science !*never*! needed God.”

        That’s not really correct. God was used as a crutch, a placeholder to hide behind when their understanding came to an end and they ran into an area they couldn’t quite crack.

        You are quite right when you say it is God-of-the-gaps. But that isn’t science, that is the admission that one has reached the limit of their knowledge. In historical context, it was mostly nothing to be ashamed of; but nevertheless it was never anything more than a semantic cop-out.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          Point taken! Isaac Newton may very well have thought it was genuine science, but today we have a better sense of the boundaries between science and non-science.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

          Could a god – good or evil – guide evolution – and everything else in the universe – via quantum mechanics or some other invisible means not even known of?

          Yes.

          Gods can make it look as if they are playing dice, whilst not really doing so; and can similarly direct non-probabilistic phenomena e.g. electromagnetism. Yea – thunder and lightning!

          Science, of course, discounts unnecessary assumptions where otherwise sufficient explanation already exists and in any case only entertains assumptions which can be tested. Gods’ existences are not testable assumptions. Neither are they predictions of well tested scientific theories.

          A god-of-quantum-mechanics is not a god-of-the-gaps argument but an invisible-therefore-undisprovable-god argument. Both such “arguments” stink to theological high heaven.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            Gods’ existences are not testable assumptions.

            Their proposed abilities on the other hand…

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

              Ah rats. Supposed to go like this:

              Gods’ existences are not testable assumptions.

              Their proposed abilities on the other hand…

          • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            Gods can make it look as if they are playing dice, whilst not really doing so; and can similarly direct non-probabilistic phenomena e.g. electromagnetism.

            Yes…and no.

            At the least, one can trivially propose a Matrix-style simulation that the gods control. Or maybe we’re part of Alice’s Red King’s dream, or Zhuangzi’s Butterfly’s dream, or brains in vats, or whatever. And, yes, we would be utterly at the mercy and whim of such masters.

            But!

            Those gods themselves would have no way of ruling out the possibility that they themselves are being simulated and manipulated by some other even more powerful entity.

            This leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is no such “ultimate” overlord, in the exact same way that Turing proved that there is no solution to his famous Halting Program.

            That is, there may well be local gods such as you describe, and those gods may well be most impressive when viewed from certain perspectives.

            But, logically and morally, they are no different from a pimply-faced teenager playing Sim City.

            More to the point, we can be reasonably confident that, even if we are part of any such conspiratorial model, we’re such a very, very, very tiny part of it that makes no difference. See scholarly discussions of the simulation hypothesis for references, relevant evidence, and discussion.

            TL/DR: We might (but almost certainly aren’t) be some god’s bitches, but that god itself has the same odds of being some ultra-super-mega-god’s bitch’s bitch’s bitch’s bitch.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              TL/DR: We might (but almost certainly aren’t) be some god’s bitches, but that god itself has the same odds of being some ultra-super-mega-god’s bitch’s bitch’s bitch’s bitch.

              …and so the train continues.

              We might as well conclude that we’re a minor bacterial infection in the universal cesspool of atoms and aliens/gods.

              It certainly have a rotten stench to it. :-)

              • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                Don’t know ’bout you, but I personally think we have more to worry about The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief than being flushed.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                I can’t be bothered to worry. I’m to busy working on my Infinite Improbability Drive.

                I let you know when I’m done and we can take it for a test drive.

              • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                Still haven’t tried the Lapsang Souchong? I keep telling you that, delightful as a Tie Guan Yin can be, you just can’t get an oolong hot enough….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                Hmm… It always tasted like chicken to me, maybe the temperature was off.

              • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                Well, there’s your problem! You’re using bouillon cubes rather than tea. Can’t get nothin’ improbable out of soup, no matter how hot!

                b&

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

              Now that’s what I call putting God into proper perspective.

              • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                I would so love to see Jesus’s face after strapping him into the Total Perspective Vortex!

                b&

  7. pktom64
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    From the Amazon description:

    This funny and fearless book collects and expands on some of his most popular writings

    • Michael Johnson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      “Myers’s “self-plagiarism,” apparently not mentioned in the book, is another issue. I haven’t read The Happy Atheist, but it’s customary for an author who anthologizes his work to note at the outsert [sic] that this and that bit were previously published, and to mention where.”

      Question: Is the Amazon description also a description inside or on the back of the book? If so, I think Coyne should update and correct his post, unless Myers doesn’t say which specific blog posts he’s collecting and that’s Coyne’s objection.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:23 am | Permalink

        As far as I know from those who have seen or reviewed the book, there is nothing in it that indicates that some of the chapters have been published before. And that is where that disclaimer is supposed to be: not on Amazon, but in the book.

        I will be glad to correct my post if someone can point me to where it says in the book that chapter x, y, and z contain material that has been published before.

        BTW, I prefer to be called “Jerry” by readers here, since I consider this a community, but I will also accept “our host” or “Professor Ceiling Cat.” “Coyne” has always seemed a bit hostile to me.

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

          This is corect, sir. He does not mention that the book is almost completely lifted from Pharyngula posts. Most of the Amazon reviews point this out.

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          Happy to call you Jerry! It seemed a bit too familiar to me; but if you like it, great!

        • Michael Johnson
          Posted September 8, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          If Jerry’s right (and everyone seems to think so), then it seems PZ did do something wrong. It’s not clear how serious, at least to me. If I paid for an “original, one-of-a-kind” foot rub, and I got a great foot rub that I loved and was satisfied with, but that unbeknownst to me, dozens of other people had gotten, I can’t see where I’d been wronged EXCEPT the fact that I’d been lied to. This matters more or less depending on how much of a consequentialist you are.

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        I will try to check my copy tonight … I don’t usually read what’s written on the dust jacket of books, so it could have been there.

        But the Amazon description is still rpetty slippery. Of course expect an author to expand on previous writings. THA does very little of that. It’s almost verbatim reprints. And almost all that. Minor style tweaks does not constitute expansion — that’s just good editing.

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

          … pretty … of course WE expect …

  8. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    “…using reasoned arguments might hold more sway with the US creationist movement.”

    No it won’t.

    For a depressingly large and complete body of research into the reasons why, read The Authoritarians, by Robert Altemeyer.

    Jerry has asked me to review this book at the end of the month for this website, which I will.

    It’s available as a free PDF. L

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      “Jerry has asked me to review this book at the end of the month for this website, which I will.”

      Thanks. Looking forward to it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Cool! Looking forward to your review.

    • Marella
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I have read this book and it it excellent. Anyone who wishes to understand conservative politics needs to read it, and re-read it.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 6, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Add me to the looking-forward-to-it crowd!

      (No pressure, Linda. :) )

  9. Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Informative list of religious scientists…

    Copernicus didn’t publish until he was safely dead, and even then his model was only accepted as hypothetical or metaphorical, rather than literally true. (Modern theologians will notice that times have changed!)

    Newton didn’t publish his religious ideas because he didn’t want to be executed as a heretic.

    ….And strangely enough Galilleo didn’t even make the list, despite being an accommodationist. — Pope Urban VIII agreed to allow his book to be published as long as he included the Pope’s own idea, namely that as God is infinite, He might be causing all events in an unpredictably new way each time. Foolishly, Galilleo presented this idea (in dialog form) via a character called Simplicius on the last page of the book, and science suddenly stopped being compatible with religion.

    These days a trick like that would have cost Galilleo his Templeton funding, so I guess that’s why he’s off the list!

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      I think this statement makes Galileo the first real scientist:

      What is observed by us is the nature or matter of the Milky Way itself, which, with the aid of the spyglass [telescope], may be observed so well that all disputes that for so many generations have vexed philosophers are destroyed by visible certainty, and we are liberated from wordy arguments.

      Siderius Nuncius, 1610

      Evidence trumps authority and argument.

      Galileo: My hero.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        Galileo was awesome, yes, for exactly that reason.

        But he was hardly the first!

        Eratosthenes, for example, measured the size of the Earth and the distance to and size of the Moon and the Sun, most likely to within 2% of the actual figures. And he did this 2200 years ago….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

          Point taken. Those ancient Greeks, seems to me, still went in for authority quite a bit.

          I am a big fan of Epicurus …

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

          Galileo’s prediction/prefiguring of Newton’s first two laws of motion amazes me. (Though amazed might be too strong: he wasn’t that much earlier than Newton.)

          He did it by observing balls rolling on plates (level plate, plates tilted up and down). He just didn’t manage for formulate them with equations. He got them qualitatively.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Galileo was also not a Christian, but something like a deist. (See _Galileo, Watcher of the Skies_, though if you read enough of the primary sources it is pretty clear.)

      To call him an accomodationist when the alternative is torture is a bit unfair, too.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        In case it’s not clear, I was having a joking dig at accommodationists not at Galilleo. And I also meant it to refer to his initial agreement to publish the pope’s ideas, not his recanting. I wouldn’t make any jokes about torture.

        Thanks for the reference.

        • Posted September 6, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          Yes, I know the dig, but others might not have got it.

          • Posted September 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            Yeh, I should have worded it more carefully. There’s enough misinformation about Galilleo out there without me adding to it!

  10. darrelle
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    What a depressing post. On all counts.

    High ranking NCSE person “osculating the rump of religion.” Depressing.

    Nature publishing extremely lame, juvenile accommodationist drivel. Depressing.

    PZ Myers new book sounds pretty crappy, and it seems as if he may have misled people about it. Depressing.

    • Marta
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      +1

  11. Jeff Johnson
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    This argument, that religious belief by scientists indicates that science and religion are compatible, entirely misses the point of the debate and fails to even engage it in the slightest degree.

    That argument says nothing about the domains of religion and science, and is merely a statement about human nature, which is fallible and full of contradictions. By that argument going to church and believing in God are fully compatible with cheating on your spouse, lying, or stealing because lots of religious believers do or have done those things.

    These are not conceptually or morally compatible things. They are conflicts, and the religious have forever had to find ways to smooth over such conflicts (e.g. penance, confession, forgiveness).

    Obviously scientists, as any other humans, are capable of accommodating conflicts in their minds, as long as they remain consistent within their scientific work, and then shift modes of thought when contemplating religion. There is nothing out of the ordinary here.

    That there are scientists who believe in religion is no more remarkable than observing that some scientists speak English, some Japanese, some German or French, to name only a few of thousands of languages. And this isn’t a statement about the languages of published papers, but only of the languages learned in the home from parents and family. Every human has some cultural foundation they start with before studying and learning science, and religion is often a part of that. It is independent of science or the theories and findings of science entirely, and no one need abandon their cultural roots to understand or engage in scientific work, as long as they don’t interject their religion into their work, in which case they would most definitely no longer be doing science.

    It really is surprising and disappointing that supposedly educated people would write and have published in a distinguished journal a letter purporting to make authoritative claims about the compatibility of science and religion based on such a weak argument and so little thought about the matter.

    To properly engage in the debate, it should be obvious that one has to compare the inferences about the natural world that can be made by science and religious metaphysics, for example about the origin of life, about existence of God, about the creation of the Universe, and about the soul and life after death. Here religion has done nothing but backpedal, sequentially abandoning every story about God and every religious claim about nature that science has demolished, so that God now hides somewhere prior to the “big bang” and in the vague uncertainties of superpositions of quantum states. Physics, chemistry, and neuroscience, and cognitive science have pretty thoroughly destroyed the idea of the soul and the afterlife, though most religious believers simply haven’t studied enough science to quite realize that this is true, as they have realized it is true of their creation stories. What remains of “God” is hardly a loving theistic personal friend to humans, and bears no relationship to that object of devotion religious believers everywhere hear about in their worship services and read about in their religious texts. Only the most esoteric theologists preserve the most tenuous thread of vague mystical hope to a hypothesis of an unknowable but all-knowing force behind everything that science observes. And of course religion has no means at all beyond conjecture with which to make enquiries into this hypothesis. Any findings humans will ever obtain, either positive or negative, about the God hypothesis will come from science. Meanwhile religious believers are consigned to hoping and praying, as gamblers do when throwing dice, that the flood of rapture and joy they feel when the choir sings is something more than the evolved biochemical nature of the human brain at work.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is an unsupportable argument that scientists from the past believed in god so therefore it’s okay to continue to believe in god today and be a scientist.

      It’s conceivable that scientists in the past held much the same opinion as their society did (which includes god); most, if not all, probably thought women had inferior minds and were the weaker sex. They might have endorsed slavery and saw other cultures as inferior to their’s. Does it therefore follow it’s okay to hold those views today as well?

      It reminds me of a big internal eye roll I did in a biomedical ethics course I took (internal because I’d already fought with this particular TA and I didn’t want to get a crappy mark). He actually said that we shouldn’t think of the slavery of the ancient world as equal to the slavery of the American south because, after all, Plato had slaves. He actually said that! Good grief dude, it was all that and worse!! City slaves pretty much died right away, house hold slaves, if they were women, were basically there to be raped by their owners, farm slaves were considered equipment with voices. Duh! The irony that it was an ethics class was not lost on me.

      • Marella
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        Of course all women in ancient times were slaves. None of them had any autonomy or control over their own lives. They were sold by their fathers either to husbands or owners, the difference was more one of social standing than anything else. A Roman father had the right of life and death over his whole family, the boys would eventually grow up to be in charge of their own families in the same way, but a woman had no escape.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Yes certainly they were never free and their limited freedom depended on what period of Rome we’re dealing with; for example, marriage rights changed from time to time a and Roman women enjoyed far more rights than Greek women.

          However, even though women could at certain periods in Roman history, own property, they were never citizens, couldn’t participate in public life & needed to appeal to a male relative for protection from abusive husbands even when they had the most marriage rights (when their husbands couldn’t just say “I divorce you” a few times to oust you).

          The best “occupation” for an Ancient Roman woman was, in my opinion, a Vestal Virgin. You won’t die in childbirth (like many women did), suffer your child’s death (Rome had such high infant mortality that parents were cold to their children until they had reached a certain age, to protect themselves from heart break), you get good seats at all the games (other women got the nose bleeds) though yuck, don’t know that that’s a good thing as it was horribly violent & you knew all the secrets of wealthy, powerful men who left their documents in your care. I believe the vestals had some education as well. The only trade off was if you let the stupid flame out, you got killed and if you get caught sleeping around, you also get killed.

          The next best thing is a courtesan – you’re a glorified prostitute but you get to be educated, go to all the really cool parties & again learn all the secrets of wealthy, influential men.

          A book I really liked about women in Ancient Rome is Sarah Pomeroy’s Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    The Happy Atheist. I haven’t Pharyngulated in some time, so I may be out of touch, but I must admit that is not the adjective which would spring most immediately to mind…

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      You are correct. I have read the book.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Maybe he’s being ironic.

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          Based on his essays inside, I’d say not. He does try to paint himself as happy (and I don’t doubt that he is) but the tone of almost all of his writings rather belies that adjective …

          • Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            I know. I was being ironic. That’s meta-irony, twice as effective, but difficult to detect.

            • JBlilie
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

              :)

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 6, 2013 at 2:48 am | Permalink

                In fact when I hear the words ‘The Happy…’ my brain autocompletes it with ‘Hooker’. I suppose this does not say much for my literary tastes at a time when Ms Hollander’s opus was well-known…

  13. JBlilie
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I have almost completely stopped viewing Paryngula (having a much better option on THIS bl … er, website!) because of the invective and cultish feel of it. (Am I really interested in minions? Limbaugh-esque ditto-heads pop to mind.) I just got tired of it. And the screaming that goes on in the comments — sheesh! (Bill O’Reilly shouts people down — do you REALLY want to be like Bill O’Reilly?!)

    I have, however, purchased and read PZ’s book, The Happy Ahteist.

    As many have pointed out, the title doesn’t seem too apt; and the contents of the book mainly bear out that impression.

    As has also been noted, the book is, to a first approximation, just reprints from Paryngula posts. Those are at least 75% of the contents.

    And the book breaks no new ground.

    In all, I found it very “lite”. It took me less than 2 hours to read the entire book; and I’m not that fast a reader. After all the build-up to the book on Pharyngula, I expected a lot more.

    I was hoping for something with more intellectual heft and more scope to it that what I got. I would recommend WEIT, The God Delusion (any of Dawkins’ books), or Letter to a Christian Nation long before I’d recommend The Happy Atheist.

    If you want a nicely turned-out hard-copy of some of PZ’s most viewed/controversial posts, then you will find value in it. Otherwise, not.

  14. Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Imagine a primitive society in which everybody is religious. Obviously, if such a society is to develop scientifically, the very first person (at least) to take such a step must, obviously, be religious. And, in practice, it seems obvious that the overwhelming majority, if not all, of early scientists would be religious; the only other option is for the first scientist to trigger a mass instantaneous deconversion.

    So religion should get no credit for early attempts at science nor should the fact that the founders of science were uniformly religious be credited to religion’s ledger.

    If scientists had remained religious, then that would be to religion’s credit. But, instead, as Jerry points out, we see the exact opposite: the modern religious scientists are noteworthy only because there’re so damned few of them, and because even those few practice a religion greatly diluted from that of the typical religionist.

    This isn’t rocket surgery, and it’s somewhat shocking that even a single editor at Nature would misunderstand it so spectacularly. Indeed, it makes one question any editorial judgements they might make about evolutionary population changes of any type. Either that, or anthropology (do they not think that the same rules apply to humans as to all other populations?) or sociology (do they always use crass propaganda to promote their own social agendas?).

    Jerry, methinks you need to write a rebuttal to Nature raising these objections. Letting them go unchallenged — and who better to challenge them? — would be a disservice to the scientific community.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Rocket surgery — love it!

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Thanks — but I’m afraid I can’t claim originality. No clue where I picked it up from, though….

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          You probably got it from this Mitchell & Webb sketch

          • Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            That’s a great sketch, but it doesn’t actually put the two together into the quasi-portmanteau of “rocket surgeon.”

            b&

            • JBlilie
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              Reminds me of a true story. One of my best friends is (no shit) a rocket scientist. And he works with many of them (obviously).

              Some of his colleagues did’t have the greatest EQ in the world and aren’t especially gifted in small talk. (Yes, a total stereotype; but for some of his colleagues, it applied).

              At a bar after work, one of his colleagues is trying to chat up a young woman and really says something stupid (doesn’t matter what it was) and the young woman says (of course …), “Wow, you must be a rocket scientist!” “Well, as a matter of fact …”

              • JBlilie
                Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                Please excuse the crappy writing style I applied to that entry! Sheesh, I need to proof-read! :)

              • Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                I know the type too well….

                b&

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        Does the pope shit in the woods?

        I’m sure everybody already knows that one.

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          Da Poop is shit in the woods!

          b&

    • Kevin Henderson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Mass Instantaneous deconversion. I love that!

      Succinct timeline:
      Years from today
      -75,000 – no organized religion but frightened belief systems
      -10,000 – organized religions
      -500 – religion strong but first science
      -100 – mostly religion, science does its thing
      -10 – change is in the air
      +10 – young people are like WTF?
      +100 – who cares? science works!
      +500 – peripheral sects of philosopher/mathematicians are all that remain
      +10,000 – Deconversion: viewed as a historically instantaneous phase transition

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 9, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Ben, I think you should send that reply to Nature. Maybe tweak it a bit, but keep ‘rocket surgery’ in there.

      • Posted September 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Would they even pay attention to me?

        I’m not a subscriber, I’ve never had anything published by anybody anywhere, and my highest degree is a B. Mus. in trumpet performance….

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Why not? You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to write a letter to Nature! :)

          • Posted September 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

            Great…now I have to research Nature‘s policy on publishing letters to the editor. Gee, thanks a lot!

            b&

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted September 12, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

              Don’t thank him until he publishes it. :)

  15. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    For example, his analysis of the idea that God guides evolution by acting undetectably at the quantum level, if amusing, is a popular rather than a scholarly treatment, and incorporates value judgements that are unsupportable by science.

    Since the argument is that Almighty God the omnipotent and omniscient is indistinguishable from random chance, what’s left to refute?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      In other words: The creator is supernatural, and low and behold we’re merely human.

      I have never encountered a deistic omnipotent entity that didn’t end up in some black hole or in the undetectable dark past predating the big bang.

      The cognitive dissonance required to believe in such an entity must be hard work.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      This kind of argument always reminds me of the lines in the White Knight’s song* in Alice Through the Looking Glass

      “But I was thinking of a plan
      To dye one’s whiskers green,
      And always use so large a fan
      That they could not be seen.”

      * (The name of the song is something else

      “It’s long.” said the Knight, “but it’s very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it –
      either it brings tears to their eyes, or else -”

      “Or else what?” said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

      “Or else it doesn’t, you know. The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks’ Eyes.'”

      “Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?” Alice said, trying to feel interested.

      “No, you don’t understand,” the Knight said, looking a little vexed. “That’s what the name
      is called. The name really is ‘The Aged, Aged Man.'”

      “Then I ought to have said ‘That’s what the song is called’?” Alice corrected herself.

      “No you oughtn’t: that’s another thing. The song is called ‘Ways and Means’ but that’s only what it’s called, you know!”

      “Well, what is the song then?” said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

      “I was coming to that,” the Knight said. “The song really is ‘A-sitting On a Gate': and the
      tune’s my own invention.”

      I love the way the last words are so simple and final compared to the rest.)

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        For so many reasons, Mr. Dodgson is best understood as one of the most influential of the early information theorists.

        Cheers,

        b&

  16. Hempenstein
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Hope you’ll this as a letter to Nature.

  17. Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I feel a letter to nature of your own may be warrented

  18. Michael Hart
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Hitchens explained in detail another reason why the “scientists of the past were religious” argument is empty. All the individuals in that list from Copernicus to Eddington lived in a world saturated by religion, where it was unsafe to admit to unbelief. It’s impossible to know but easy to suppose that many were closet atheists and only casual Catholics or posing Protestants.

    • Posted September 6, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      We can examine writings, behaviour, etc. and make good guesses in some cases. For example, Galileo wrote a book on the naturalistic interpretation of miracles (now lost) and Descartes only attended church *once* as an adult, defended the Copernican hypothesis and developed a almost-completely materialist cosmology and only later, when pressed, wrote the “philosophy 101″ Meditations. (I am not saying the latter is not sort of sincere; it is just strikes me as being written as a butt-covering move all the same.) Newton’s views are well known, too, etc.

  19. eric
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I take issue with Branch’s claim that Myers’s rebuttal of the “quantum-mechanics-guides-evolution” argument” is popular rather than scholarly. In fact, there is no scholarly rebuttal,

    I take issue with it too, but for a different reason. Given that it’s the populace that we are primarily concerned about educating, it’s the popular arguments we need to go after.

    Glenn Branch, in particular, should know this. NCSE’s mission is to fight popular rather than academic creationism. It was formed to fight state and local efforts to insert popular creationist tropes into the H.S. science curriculum. To fight efforts to include popular but academically-known-to-be-wrong critcisms of evolution. Myers is focusing on a slightly different set of arguments, but both Myers and NCES are fighting the arguments which come from the exact same sociological group. For Branch to tell someone else that they should not be focusing on popular misconceptions or popular bad argument…its pretty myopic.

    Whatever the quality of Myers’ book (I haven’t read it), I see nothing wrong with him taking on popular tropes as a strategy. And neither should the Dep Director of the NCSE, since they use the same strategy.

    • Chris
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      There’s academic creationism?

      /sarcasm

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Or:
        Academic creationism /oxymoron

  20. Kevin Henderson
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Nature Publishing Group should continue to give a voice to accommodationists.

    It is good for scientists to read these pieces. Most atheist scientists that I know do not care enough to think about these issues. And there is a growing consensus that those who were once apathetic are becoming polarized and want to stand up for reason and the incommensurability of science and religion.

    The publicity is good, even if it is bad place for it. But it is showing more badly for the religious than for the scientific. I wish you all could read the comments on Nature’s page…hurray for science.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      I don’t care for unsupportable theological claims, and especially obviously erroneous, as “the incommensurability of science and religion”.

      For example, in 2011 genetic sequencing made it possible to observe that the smallest population of human breeding pairs was > 1200 bps. Earlier this century the catholic church leader, that according to the church thesis is infallible, claimed that its gods didn’t necessarily need to have created the universe but had made the human population start out with 1 bp.

      So we now know that this sect’s gods are not existing. And we also know that science and religion makes commensurable claims, and that the religious claims that are such are all wrong.

      The first is obviously not a theological claim, but follows from facts showing how some theological claims are erroneous. The second is not a theological claim, but an observation on all types of ideas of magical action. It doesn’t exist, and we know that now.

      But more than making the accommodationist standard theological claim, why do you disregard the context of a discussion how the claim is failing to engage the facts of the matter and is in fact as dishonest a claim one can make?

  21. steve oberski
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I’m constrained by the fact that I have read “The Happy Atheist” and follow the Pharyngula blog.

    Any one who reads PZ Myers blog would have known that his book contains a lot of material from the blog and those who do not would be reading new material so I don’t see that there is any substantive issue.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Maybe he’s just trying to increase the number of readers to his blog?

      No doubt some people will find the book interesting.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Steve, the complaint isn’t that The Happy Atheist is an anthology of Pharyngula posts. The complaint is that it’s advertised as an original work.

      I think we’d all be okay with PZ publishing a “Best of Pharyngula” anthology. What’s not cool is doing so after hyping up a forthcoming original book and omitting all mention of such from the book and publicity materials.

      Hell, if he had done nothing more than put the original date of each essay at the head of each chapter, that would have diffused all the controversy. He still might have gotten panned for publishing blog posts in dead tree version, but that’s not a big deal.

      In short, it’s a question of truth in advertising. That the dishonesty in question would have been nearly career-ending had this been a scholarly rather than popular work is especially disturbing.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        … and of all people, PZ should know better …

      • steve oberski
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        Well I bought the book knowing that it would contain a lot of material from the blog.

        I was never under the impression, based on what PZ Myers wrote in his blog, that the book would be an entirely original work and in fact expected many of his best blog postings to appear in the book.

        Perhaps the book was represented otherwise in publications that I don’t follow but I for one do not think that there was any misrepresentation on PZ Myers part.

        • Bobo2
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          If you were never under the impression that the book would contain original material, then you didn’t follow his blog closely enough.

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/26/he-liked-it/comment-page-1/

          In the review he links to (without any correction), Greg Laden says “If you read PZ’s blog you will recognize the themes, and in some cases, the stories, in this book, but rest assured this is NOT a collection of Pharyngula blog posts. [...] this book is not simply a set of more advanced and refined drafts of his blog posts either. These essays actually have a different feel to them. [...] most importantly, if you are a regular reader of his blog, you will want to explore these essays because they are not his blog, they are his book.”

          If the book is merely a collection of essays, how could PZ possibly approve of this review?

          Not to mention that it took him something like six years to “write”.

          • steve oberski
            Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            What’s your point ?

            The review (which I have not read) came out after the book. I make it point not to read reviews of books I’m planning on reading, I prefer to come to my own conclusions. I have no idea why PZ “approved” (whatever that means) the review or if he even did so.

            I obtained my information from his blog before the book was published. Which is apparently more than you bothered to do.

            And you forgot to mention how long it took you to write your last published book.

            Since that seems to be an issue.

            • steve oberski
              Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              I read his blog, I’ve seen him talk in person (University of Toronto) and have watched quite a few of his talks on video and listened to audio presentations.

              I bought his book with the expectation that it would contain both old and new material and that expectation was based on the content of his blog.

              If taking exception to people casting aspersions on his character counts as being up PZ’s butt then so be it and I’m not in the least bit ashamed of that.

              • JBlilie
                Posted September 6, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                No worries Steve.

                My beef is that the book is almost entirely blog posts. More or less unchanged from the originals.

                I was (really, truly) expecting a more significant work than a collection of old blog posts. I didn’t see the point of just reprinting blog posts (it’s just killing trees and cashing in as far as I can see.)

                Dawkins and Harris both produce a large output of web writing (in addition to their other work and their books) and, though the ideas in their books are also clear in their online writing, their books are works of original writing, the books are structured and cohesive and they build to larger conclusions.

                In comparison, PZ, with his book, falls significantly short of the standard set by his (supposed) peers in the public skeptical/atheist community.

                I think almost all og PZ’s fans had similar expectations of this book. (Read the reviews on Amazon and the “helpful” hits and comments: The vote is in.)

                As Ben Goren has noted above, PZ simply could have included the original published date at the head of each piece. And he should have been clear and upfront about the fact that this book is, by and large, a book of reprints. (I read many of his anticipatory posts on Pharyngula and I don’t remember a single one that gave me the impression that the book was going to be a book of reprints.)

              • JBlilie
                Posted September 6, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

                My note at 29 was intended to be a reply to Mr. Oberski at 28. Oops!

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 6, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

            Why would we expect Laden to be honest about anything?

  22. Uncle Ebeneezer
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m disappointed to find out that PZ’s book is mostly blog material. More because I love his writing style and would be very interested to see him do something in longer form. I get the feeling of false-advertising that many are offended by, but it’s not a huge deal or surprise to me. I’m glad I found out before purchasing the book, and I agree there should be some sort of warning to readers. But it wouldn’t have been the first time that I bought a book or album only to find that the material is mostly re-visited material.

    As to the title, I think alot of this has to do with context. When I first started reading PZ I thought every post was written in a strident and angry tone. When I finally saw him on Bloggingheads with John Horgan, I was amazed at how light-hearted he was even when using extreme invective aimed at creationists. Ever since I now hear more chuckle/smile in his voice when I read his material. It’s still very easy to read his words and imagine him angrily shaking his fist, but once you have a better idea of his humor and personality, you can also hear a much more joyous tone even in his most provocative posts.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Ellis “is an active Quaker and in 2004 he won the Templeton Prize. … a past President of the International Society for Science and Religion”. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Francis_Rayner_Ellis ]

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Ellis suggests that the multiverse hypothesis is on a par with ID and astrology – because it cannot be tested. Never mind the fact that it is consistent with the value of the cosmological constant – unlike the hypothesis of a monoverse. Never mind that it is predicted by various cutting edge theories in physics/cosmology, i.e. theories consistent with the equations of relativity and QM.

      Let’s suppose that the multiverse is infinite and thus ineffable. Everything that can conceivably exist does exist and perhaps more. Current state of science allows this is possible.

      Ellis should acknowledge that we do not know how to test whether our observable universe is all there is. In which case he should also hold that the hypothesis that there is only one universe is on a par with ID and astrology.

      I do not accept this. What we have is two alternative possible hypotheses with the available evidence and most advanced theories to explain that evidence pointing strongly towards the multiverse scenario. At the very least we now know enough to be very clear that we do not know how many universes actually exist.

      For that we have modern physics and cosmology science to thank.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        Lets suppose that the multiverse is infinite and thus ineffable. Everything that can conceivably exist does exist and perhaps more.

        The one does not follow from the other. The decimal expansion of 1/3 is infinite, yet contains no instances of the decimal digit “4.”

        Further, statistics works much differently with infinite quantities than what we’re used to. I do not think our universe would be in any way near as predictable as it is if we were in one of an infinite number of universes with the same physical laws as we currently understand them. Considering the confidence one can have that there are no hidden variables, I very, very, very much doubt that the Cosmos is infinite in the manner you describe.

        To be sure, it very likely is infinite in a number of different ways. Just not the way that you’re describing. In particular, I would place my bets on there being a significant number of “strange attractors,” huge swaths of statistical space that you could hypothetically propose might happen differently but that would never significantly vary. For example, I do not think there would ever be a universe in which the Nazis won WWII and yet in which Armstrong was the first man to step on the Moon, even though that would be included in the set of everything conceivably existing actually existing — cue the madcap Hollywood adventure if you really need to understand how it could conceivably exist.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted September 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          I was picking up on one of Ellis’s points and embellishing for emphasis:

          “The claimed existence of *physically existing infinities*

          – infinity is an unattainable state rather than a number (David Hilbert: “the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality, no matter what experiences, observations, and knowledge are appealed to.”)

          [So "physically existing infinities"] [is]…not a scientific statement – if science involves testability by either observation or experiment.”

          See here: http://www.aei.mpg.de/~axkl/HermannFestProceedings/Ellis.pdf

          But what if physical reality is infinite even if not realisable in experience and therefore in empirical science? We are stumped. Or are we? Modern theories of physics and cosmology with the anthropic principle to the forefront point if not to an infinity of universes then to as many as are necessary for the cosmological constant to become explicable.

          But if a finite multiverse is still not allowed to be a legitimate scientific hypothesis because we cannot properly test even for that then I say that the hypothesis that there is only one universe must also be disallowed as a scientific hypothesis. This is absurd, however, because there must be either one or more universes. And it would be nice to know which is the case. Then if we cannot conduct convincing empirical tests we have to rely, as far as we can, on theory. And cosmological theory points in the direction of the multiverse. Cosmological constant, stupid!

          Imperfect science is better than no science.

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted September 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            My square brackets.

          • Posted September 7, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

            There has been at least some speculation that P ?= NP is exactly the sort of thing that a Gödel-style indeterminacy would look like. It seems likely that P != NP but that it’s impossible to actually prove it to be the case…which, of course, means that, possibly P = NP but we’ll never discover the fact.

            Multiverses would seem to be the physical representation of the same dilemma. It may well simultaneously be the case both that there are multiverses and that it’s not only impossible for us to detect them but to ever really have any confidence in our conclusions.

            And, at that point, it also becomes reasonable to question whether there’s any meaning to claiming that any such hypothesized alternate universes really are real, after all; for what does it mean for something to be real if it’s not even possible in principle to determine whether or not there’s an hypothetical possibility of reality, if it’s so far removed from us that we can’t even formulate the question? At that point, it has far more in common with imagination and fantasy and fiction than it does with reality. One could just as easily posit Intelligent Falling, that, yes, gravity is real but that, at the same time, a massive army of invisible angels are all very diligently pushing and pulling everything exactly according to the formulas. That theory is possibly every bit as plausibly really real as multiverses…or, perhaps, P != NP….

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted September 8, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink

              Invisible angels do not fall out of quantum mechanics, inflation theory and string theory or predict the measured value of the cosmological constant – as opposed to the hopelessly wrong theoretical value.

              So you think, like Ellis, that the multiverse concept is equivalent to ID and astrology? Count me out. Science seems to be pointing to the possibility of other universes. Not to the possibility of angels or intelligent design or the scientific legitimacy of astrology.

              • Posted September 9, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                Erm…that’s overstating the case a bit. If nothing else, ID and astrology have been solidly disproven, not merely hard to detect. We know what causes the effects that ID and astrology claim responsibility for, and there’s no room left over for either ID or astrology.

                b&

  24. Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Re. Quantum mechanics/evolution/god:

    http://xkcd.com/1240/

  25. Posted September 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Western Europe was dominated by Christianity for about 1000 years before the scientific revolution of roughly the 17th century. If, as many claim, Christianity was a major factor in scientific progress, why was there little or no such progress during that 1000 years? What stimulated it during the Renaissance and thereafter? The rediscovery of Plato and other ancient thinkers, that’s what- not some mysterious push from religion!

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Plato not so much. Eratosthenes and Democritus and Epicurus and Lucretius, yes. But not Plato.

      Christianity is an almost perfect expression of Platonism.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        Indeed if some translator (I imagine a bored monk) somewhere had paid more attention to his Greek lessons, he wouldn’t have translated logos as “in the beginning there was the word” but “in the beginning there was order” which was saying that the Platonic idea of things is the same as the god idea of things.

        I say this in my head every time I hear that biblical passage read at Christian events (funerals & such).

        • Posted September 6, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          I think it plausible “logos” in John 1 is translated “word” because of Genesis’ speaking things into being …

  26. Marella
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Although I used to be a Pharyngulista and even offered advice about the title of the book, (I supported “The Gnu Atheist” which would apparently have been more appropriate than the one it got)I didn’t purchase it because I suspected it would have nothing new to say. PZ has blogged extensively for many years and I was hard pressed to believe he had anything more to add, in addition the publicity made no great claims for the work and I find that if things do not claim a desirable characteristic, in this case novelty, they rarely possess it. It seems I was right to hang on to my money.

  27. Posted September 6, 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I will not be buying PZ Myers book, because if his idea of a happy atheist is to besmirch peoples character by hearsay, I do not want to catch it (the rape allegations).

    If rape did indeed happen, then go to the police, otherwise shut up. I suspect drunken stupidity and regret, turned nasty?


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