The National Center for Science Education becomes BioLogos

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has done some great work in court (and other places) quashing attempts of creationists (IDers or otherwise) to get their falsities taught in public schools. And for that I applaud them. But I don’t applaud them for their constant coddling of religion, guided by the unevidenced belief that if they simply countenance the superstitions of the faithful, evolution-deniers will convert to Darwin.

I do approve of trying to work with clergy to foster acceptance of evolution. Why not? If we can work with religious people to tell the Faithful on the Fence that there is lots of evidence for evolution, and change their minds that way, then so much the better. But what doesn’t seem to work is trying to change people’s minds by telling them that their religion is—contrary to their beliefs or assumptions—compatible with evolution. That’s the tactic BioLogos has taken with evangelical Christians, and it hasn’t worked. Karl Giberson, ex-vice-president of that organization, is constantly bemoaning these days the failure of Evangelicals to give up their false ideas about Noah’s Ark, the Flood, and evolution. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Giberson and other science-friendly Christians. like Biblical scholar Peter Enns, left BioLogos because they wouldn’t bow to the faithful, but took a hard line on the science.

And now the NCSE is taking over from BioLogos. They’ve just sent out this advertisement for online training to forge inter-faith communities, the aim being to produce allies to combat climate-change denialism and creationism.

NCSE

This is just too much religion-osulation for me. Do we really need to discuss how to make nice to the religious? Why not just join together and file lawsuits against schools, or testify at school board meeting?  Let the theologians do their thing (tell the faithful that evolution isn’t a tool of Satan, if they must) and let us secular evolutionists do ours.  I’ll be glad to go to a school board meeting with pastors and testify against creationism, but do NOT ask me to coddle superstition, or tell the palpable lie that evolution does not conflict with religion. Do not ask me to make theological statements about what is and what is not “good” religion. And do not ask me to participate in some kind of interfaith “kumbaya” exercise. What is there to learn except how to work with other people, which we know already? It’s irrelevant that those other people are pastors or faitheists, for religion has nothing to tell me about how to teach evolution. And I have no interest in “bridging religious boundaries.” Let the religious people do that.

Since Eugenie Scott left NCSE, the pro-religion stuff has become more prominent, perhaps because Josh Rosenau, the Programs and Policy director (and author of the notice above) is playing a more prominent role. Rosenau is a diehard accommodationist, and I’ve crossed swords with him many times. I’m not keen to keep doing that, but the laws of physics dictate otherwise.

On the NCSE’s blog, “Science League of America” (a rather poorly chosen name that evokes a comic book), Rosenau took out after “Cosmos” for its treatment of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) a polymathic friar who was burned by the Catholic Church for a list of heresies that included a heliocentric view of the solar system. What was Rosenau’s beef? That Bruno wasn’t really a scientist, but a religious man, and so in “Cosmos” Tyson wasn’t demonstrating the repression of scientific thought by religion. (Rosenau wouldn’t admit that because he’s an accommodationist).

In a post dismissing Rosenau’s complaints, P. Z. Myers notes that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s point was not the repression of science per se by religion (although one count of Bruno’s heresy was “the idea of terrestrial movement”), but the repression of any freethought, i.e., the promulgation of authoritarian thinking that can be antiscientific.

Instead, Rosenau suggested that Tyson should be promulgating a narrative in which science and religion aren’t so inimical:

No, it’s clear that Cosmos wanted to open with a tale about the conflict between science and religion, and repeated hackneyed misreadings of the Bruno tale in order to advance a false historical narrative in which Bruno was an important voice in astronomy, silenced for his views by religious dogmatists.

The failure can be illustrated, as Thomas MacDonald observed, by pointing out that various people who advocated cosmologies comparable to Bruno’s were not punished by the Inquisition for those views. Or it could have been seen in the segment of Cosmos immediately following the Bruno segment, where Neil deGrasse Tyson used the expanding universe and the Big Bang Theory as examples of how science advances through the careful testing of hypotheses. After all, the expansion of the universe was first proposed by ordained Catholic priest Georges Lemaître, who faced no interference from the Church. Then again, his work was initially dismissed by no less a figure than Albert Einstein (a Jewish agnostic), who insisted: “Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable” (“Your calculations are correct, but your physical insight is abominable”) and dismissed the idea by claiming it “suggests too much the creation.” Arthur Eddington, a Quaker whose work served as a basis for much of Lemaître’s own calculations,nonetheless dismissed the idea of an expansionary universe with a definable beginning, stating: “As a scientist, I simply do not believe the universe began with a bang,” and asserting, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant for me.”

Had Tyson and the Cosmos team told that story, how might the audience have viewed the relationship between science and religion, especially their own religion? Would viewers have gotten a more accurate, current, and useful vision of that relationship, had the show instead recounted this modern instance where scientists’ prior religious commitments clouded their reactions to new developments in science? And given Carl Sagan’s recognition that science and religion have to work hand in hand to solve the great challenges of our day, wouldn’t telling that story instead have been truer to the show’s own roots?

Tyson, of course, is loath to be called an atheist, and has always shied away from explicitly discussing his nonbelief. But he wanted to make the point that forces of dogmatism, in this case religion, repress scientific thought.

But it didn’t have to be religion; it could have been Stalinism, which gave rise to Lysenkoism and the withering of genetics in the Soviet Union. Never mind. Rosenau simply doesn’t want to hear about any conflicts between science and religion, for the NCSE’s mission is to pretend they don’t exist.

The whole organization is becoming too theological for my taste, and in so doing is also becoming more disingenuous. Religion and evolution are incompatible in many ways, and religion and science are incompatible in fundamental ways. But you’ll never hear that from the NCSE.

 

51 Comments

  1. moarscienceplz
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    ” I’ll be glad to go to a school board meeting with pastors and testify against evolution”

    I suspect that “against” is meant to be an “about”.

  2. gbjames
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    The failure can be illustrated, as Thomas MacDonald observed, by pointing out that various people who advocated cosmologies comparable to Bruno’s were not punished by the Inquisition for those views.

    I’m often puzzled and bewildered at the ease many religious people tend to display when rationalizing atrocities commited by their church.

    To him the defining point of the story apparently isn’t that Bruno got burned and tortured for thinking out loud. The church made up for that in amplitudes by not persecuting others that had similar ideas….

    I don’t get it.

    • John Harshman
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Oddly enough, Galileo was mentioned as one of those folks who weren’t persecuted.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        At least one of the Cardinals comprising the Roman Inquisition that tried Bruno was on the Inquisition that tried Galileo.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Yeah, you see the same with the release of books that try to say Christianity was good to science and even helped develop the scientific method back in the Mediaeval period. Good grief, just accept that it wasn’t and move on. The Cosmos episode clearly talked about dogma and how it is bad – the Church was all about Aristotle and his stupid ideas and Ptolemy and his geocentric model. Dogma – if the boot fits, kick yourself with it!

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Dogma then, dogma now, never a good thing at any time. As Steve Jobs once said dogma “is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” Science generally says here are the results, do the thinking for yourself, whereas religion says here is what you should think, make the results fit. Conflicts in science usually leads to more and better science; conflicts in religion can result in anything from benign ignorance to mass annihilation.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          Yes and this was all sorted in the Enlightenment yet still this theological approach persists….

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        “Dogma – if the boot fits, kick yourself with it!”

        Love it! :D

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          I stole it from All in the Family where Gloria yells “if the boot fits, kick yourself with it” to Mike. I always found that funny, even though I was a kid when I saw that.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          I stole it from All in the Family where Gloria yells “if the boot fits, kick yourself with it” to Mike. I always found that funny, even though I was a kid when I saw that.

  4. John Harshman
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    There are two sorts of intellectual conflict between science and religion. The first involves a testable claim by religion which, upon empirical examination, turns out to be false. The second involves an untestable claim, and the conflict there is not empirical but epistemic; science can’t say the claim is false, but it can claim that you have no way of knowing it’s true either, i.e. that there is no religious “way of knowing” that produces real knowledge. I think the two are often confused, though they are related.

    If religions had a separate way of knowing, we’d have to weigh knowledge gained by that method against knowledged gained by science, and might in principle reject a scientific conclusion in favor of a religious one (e.g., that the earth is really 6000 years old). Creationists even do this, assigning various weights to reality and Genesis. The weights can differ from person to person, which is why most YECs still accept a moving earth and most geocentrists still accept a round one.

    Anyway, the Bruno affair only tangentially related to any of that. It’s about the political power of the church, some of whose doctrines, some of which were subject to empirical examination, Bruno denied. Why the church decided that geocentrism and a small size of the universe were matters of doctrine is unclear to me, but once having done so it found it inconvenient to back down. Whether that counts as a conflict between science and religion is a semantic question, but the result is the same. Fortunately, the church began losing political power about the time science began making major progress, or much more might have been delayed or suppressed.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      The second involves an untestable claim, and the conflict there is not empirical but epistemic; science can’t say the claim is false, but it can claim that you have no way of knowing it’s true either …

      I think this is an artificial distinction, akin to agreeing that reiki is ‘testable’ but Human Energy Fields aren’t. If the testable claims would support the “untestable” claim, then that one is also empirical. And, to the extent that the broader claim is an explanation which is supported by evidence, reason, and arguments then from what I can tell there is no reason to think it’s simply a standoff when it comes to science.

      • John Harshman
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. If a testable claim supports an untestable claim, that would mean that the latter wasn’t untestable. That’s what “untestable” means. Some religious claims are carefully designed to be untestable; the poster child is of course transubstantiation. We could argue about just which religious claims are or are not testable, but I can’t see any case for the nonexistence of the difference.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          I think transubstantiation is demonstrably false on the grounds that it presupposes and Aristotelian/Thomistic notion or model of all objects consisting of “substance” and “accident” which we now know pretty much know to be false. The Eastern Orthodox view that the communion is a “mystery” is however unfalsifiable.

          • Chris
            Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

            Actually, I thought that transubstantiation failed because it’s %$£^ING MAGIC!

            I’ve never pretended to be sophisticated.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          In addition to JonLynnHarvey’s point re the antiquated and discarded model of “substance and accident,” you forget all the credulous stories about stolen consecrated wafers that screamed and emitted blood when pierced by nails. If this would count in favor of transubstantiation — and the people who believe in it think it does — then even transubstantiation is not “untestable.” We wouldn’t say that the wafers were testable but the underlying theory isn’t.

          I think you are confusing an immunizing strategy with a necessary attribute. Human Energy Fields may be “defined” as “vitalistic energy which can’t be measured by any scientific instrument” but if scientists suddenly created an instrument and measured them, proclaimed them real, and apologized profusely to the New Agers (“you were right and we were wrong!”) that little bit on how it can’t be measured or tested would be dropped immediately. That’s only adopted in anticipation of failing a test.

          Theists not only believe that God has the power to reveal itself to all (but chooses not to) — they also normally believe that nonbelievers will one day be convinced. They use it as an explanation. It’s empirical.

          • Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            I think you are confusing an immunizing strategy with a necessary attribute. Human Energy Fields may be “defined” as “vitalistic energy which can’t be measured by any scientific instrument” but if scientists suddenly created an instrument and measured them, proclaimed them real, and apologized profusely to the New Agers (“you were right and we were wrong!”) that little bit on how it can’t be measured or tested would be dropped immediately. That’s only adopted in anticipation of failing a test.

            Repeated because it is so awesome and important and true. I wish we could take this paragraph and read it out to, say, a certain philosopher whose name has strangely dropped right out of my head every morning until he gets it.

            • John Harshman
              Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

              Sure, the untestability of religious claims isn’t a necessary feature, just one adopted to avoid falsification, and certain to be abandoned if convenient. I don’t think that changes the point. Nor do I think the philosophical basis of a claim can render it false.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                “What is your evidence?”

                Here, what is the evidence that there remains untestable claims re magic ideas? I’m not aware any remains. See my longer comment below.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      From the Wikipedia entry on Bruno.

      “Bruno continued his Venetian defensive strategy, which consisted in bowing to the Church’s dogmatic teachings, while trying to preserve the basis of his philosophy. In particular Bruno held firm to his belief in the plurality of worlds, although he was admonished to abandon it. His trial was overseen by the Inquisitor Cardinal Bellarmine, who demanded a full recantation, which Bruno eventually refused.”

      From the website of the Vatican Secret Archives.

      “In the same rooms where Giordano Bruno was questioned, for the same important reasons of the relationship between science and faith, at the dawning of the new astronomy and at the decline of Aristotle’s philosophy, sixteen years later, Cardinal Bellarmino, who then contested Bruno’s heretical theses, summoned Galileo Galilei, who also faced a famous inquisitorial trial, which, luckily for him, ended with a simple abjuration.”["Summary of the trial against Giordano Bruno: Rome, 1597". Vatican Secret Archives. Archived from the original on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2010-09-18.]

      These quotes seem to clearly indicate that while, as you say, the Bruno (& Galileo)affair(s) was about political power that the perceived threat to that political power was, at least in part, the new cosmological ideas being introduced by certain people. Sure, it was about power, how could it not be? It was also about challenges to the cosmology approved by the church. Even if only because those were challenges to the church’s authority.

      I am not so sure that the church really feels all that different about this issue these days either.

      “On the 400th anniversary of Bruno’s death, in 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared Bruno’s death to be a “sad episode” but, despite his regret, he defended Bruno’s prosecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors “had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life.”[Seife, Charles (March 1, 2000). "Vatican Regrets Burning Cosmologist". Science Now.]

      • John Harshman
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        darrelle, I believe that’s just what I said. And yes, the inquisitors did everything possible to save Bruno’s life except for the most effective step of not burning him alive. They missed that one. The difference today isn’t in how the church feels about power but in their ability to exercise it. Fortunately.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          The sect murdered him. To claim that they did “everything possible to save Bruno’s life” is a abominable not-pology.

          [I note from other comments that the sect issues they same not-pology even today. They will never apologize for what they did.]

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        “This will hurt me as much as it hurts you.”

        Yeah right.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I can’t think of any untestable claim that science has left behind re magic ideas:

      – Magic – such as miracles or creationism, doesn’t exist by thermodynamics and inflation

      – Souls, prayer interaction – don’t exist, by the standard model of particles

      So, “epistemic”, I assume that is some sort of theology? Is that the same as “I know there are no remaining gaps, but instead I’m going to pretend to hide the problem in broad daylight”?

      Why would theology be interesting, when it has failed so miserably?

  5. Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    On the first paragraph:: Religious people do not feel “unsure” when talking to scientists, and if they feel “awkward” talking to each other, it’s their problem and doesn’t concern science.

    Have these accomodationists ever been in a college science classroom with a YAC student screaming religious rants at the professor? Ever sat in a public 8th grade class while the teacher prayed aloud? Ever showed a curious toddler a plant full of caterpillars and butterflies and been admonished by the child’s parents for exposing the child to “evil” science?

    I thought not.

    P.S. Gotta love the “onward Christian soldiers” message in fine print at the bottom of the announcement.

  6. eric
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Maybe I missed some specific text, but I have no problem with that announcement. The main focus topic is “how to build coalitions.” That /= “we assert science and religion are compatible belief systems.”

    Now I expect that during those courses, some of the speakers are going to bring up compatibility. But that certainly doesn’t mean all of them will, it doesn’t mean the conference as a whole is taking that position, and it doesn’t even mean that other speakers can’t disagree with that claim and promote other strategies for coalition-building that have nothing to do with compatiblism or incompatibilism.

    For example, one of the topics is “what are the best ways to bridge religious boundaries.” One could easily discuss strategies that have nothing to do with compatibility in such a session. The strategy “focus on a common interest, such as keeping government institutions like school secular and religiously neutral” could be discussed.

  7. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    The NCSE’s mission is

    “The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution and climate science in public school science education.”

    Any solicitation or recruitment of clergy involvement is flatly unconstitutional for teachers and school administrators. So, this outreach effort is irrelevant to a significant part of the constituency the NCSE claims to serve.

    That’s fine, not every program can be of interest to every constituent. But, I worry that the more obsessed with religious outreach the NCSE becomes, the less useful and relevant it will be to working educators on the front lines of the conflict.

  8. eric
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Do we really need to discuss how to make nice to the religious? Why not just join together and file lawsuits against schools, or testify at school board meeting?

    The way I read it, the meeting is about finding ways to convince religious folks to join together and file lawsuits etc…

    Now one can grump that they should just want to do that anyway. But the bottom line is, people often need prompting and outreach, often even to get them to do things that are rationally in their self-interest. So if some action is in scientists’ AND religious laymen’s self-interest, I see no problem with hosting a seminar on how scientists can better interest religious laymen to take up the cause.

    • frank43
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      It depends on what your goal is. If you want to defend evolution as a scientific theory (in all the best sense) then making nice with religious people shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to hasten the Inevitable Day of Disbelief, then no.

      And I, too, was struck by the time Tyson spent on Bruno who was the Velikovsky of his time. I recall that Sagan spent some time on it in The Demon Haunted World. Tyson is Sagan’s acolyte, and Dorian Sagan and Ann Druyan are major contributors to the show.

      • eric
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        NCSE’s mission is (my paraphrase) promoting mainstream science in public education. They used to just be about evolution, but they recently expanded to take on subjects such as AGW.

        So yeah, I’d say their goal is much closer to your first suggestion than your second suggestion, which makes their strategy ‘not a problem.’

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        It !*desperately*! needs to be pointed that that the head !*script-writer*! for the new Cosmos is Ann Druyan and Tyson does not have a writing credit.

        As such, it’s different from the original in which the host and the lead writer were one and the same, Carl Sagan. (Druyan also had a writing credit on the original series.)

  9. Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    At the Galapagos III World Evolution Summit, last June 2013, BioLogos had a young American graduate student participating with a poster at a 3-day-exhibit poster session. The topic was, of course, the Merging of Christianity and Evolution. Although the meeting organizers spotted quickly the creationist nature of the presentation, and did not allow an abstract to be included in the Proceedings of the meeting, the student had space to communicate “the message,” shoulder to shoulder among the serious work of other student counterparts, researchers, and world scholars.

    The student presenter was under the impression that his work was highly appreciated by those stopping by to curiously watch the poster, but the small talking about the “work,” among researchers was not gentle.

    I approached the organizers to politely question the platform given to the BioLogos pseudo-science; they were very aware of the situation, did not sponsor or approve it in any manner but, as explained to me, it was delicate, a difficult situation, to reject the presentation of the “theme” considering the student registered as a member of a legitimate Research University in the US.

    Indeed, caution is needed to avoid “accidentally” endorsing Creationism in Principle and Practice, like BioLogos, with the cosmetic difference that the Maker, Architect of Nature, is in the background watching the unfolding of cosmic events after “He Created the Laws” (=BioLogos sensu stricto).

  10. Sastra
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree with eric. The NCSE isn’t really ‘becoming Biologos’ until and unless it gets into theology and begins to teach or explain HOW you can fit evolution into a belief in God or sacred revelations. Interpret Adam and Eve THIS way; think of God as being like THIS. That sort of thing.

    As it is, the ad sounds more like grassroots activism training.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Ummm. . . you might try reading the “religion” section of the NCSE website, which does tell you how to read the Bible so it comports with science, and has other theological stuff. See here, for instance, for a piece by Peter Hess, NCSE’s director of outreach to religion.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I agree that there are problematic sections on the website. But I was just commenting on this particular advertisement. It sounds to me like it’s focused on forming activist groups with diverse membership, which neither one of us has a problem with.

      • eric
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Jerry (and Sastra) – I agree that NCSE takes a compatibilist position in some of their other PR materials. I also agree with you Jerry that they shouldn’t. However, the particular meeting announcement you’re writing about in this article doesn’t say “we are promoting compatibilism” to me. I look at the topics listed and I see plenty of room to discuss strategies for working together that have nothing to do with compatibilism.

        Sharing experiences building coalitions? Not necessarily stealth compatibilism.

        Identifying potential religious allies? Not necessarily stealth compatibilism.

        Ways to bridge religious boundaries? A bit more eyebrow-raising than the first two, but still not necessarily stealth compatibilism. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a simple example of such a “way” is to stick to agreed-upon goals, such as keeping government institutions secular. Nobody has to respect anyone else’s sectarian beliefs to want to work to keep government out of religion. In fact, it might help the cause of secularism allies greatly dislike and disrespect each others’ sectarian beliefs (or non-beliefs). After all, the main principle behind a secular government is “you don’t want THAT GUY deciding the government’s religion, do you?” ;)

    • Tulse
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      They’re clearly saying that those religions opposing evolution are wrong, which is essentially a theological claim.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        AFAIK they also promote the accommodationist theological claim that science and religion are somehow compatible by not discussing the same things. [Even as religions oppose evolution. Yes, I know. Seems contradictory doesn't it? =D]

  11. Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s the same old same old; half little people, half outright evangelism. On the one hand, I don’t need the crutch of religion but all those dumb schmucks do, so who’m I to make their lives miserable by taking away their favorite blankie? On the other hand, I’m a Christian and I really believe this bullshit about zombies and what-not, but I know I’m not going to convince the rationalists to accept that so I’ll water it down until they can buy into that much and work on them further from there.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my reality straight, thankyouverymuch.

    b&

  12. peltonrandy
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    sub

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Tyson, of course, is loath to be called an atheist, and has always shied away from explicitly discussing his nonbelief. But he wanted to make the point that forces of dogmatism, in this case religion, repress scientific thought.

    And I was happy to see it continue in episode 3, where Tyson makes the point that “God did it” does not lead to further questions, but rather closes the door on inquiry.

    Yay. Rosenau is probably freaking out some more.

  14. Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I am not an American so this is not my battle, but it always seemed odd to me to ally oneself too closely with religious people in the fight against creationism. The problem is really that nearly all religion that contains a creator god is at a minimum old earth creationism plus theist guided evolution, and that is just factually wrong. How much of what is demonstrably true science would one have to throw under the bus to get the average liberal priest or theologian to embrace what is left?

    • gbjames
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I am an American and I agree with you.

  15. Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Rosenau’s highly dexterous double-act of wringing his hands whilst clutching his pearls got so bloody tiresome a few years ago that I vowed to just avoid anything else that he wrote. This little tantrum about Bruno appears almost shark-jumpingly desperate in its efforts to find something, anything, wrong with Tyson’s Cosmos.

    Thank you Prof Coyne (and PZ, whose post I read yesterday) for providing evidence that vindicates my decision.

    Anyone want to place bets on Rosenau angling for some Templeton love?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      dexterous double-act of wringing his hands whilst clutching his pearls

      OMG! You’ve managed to incorporate my two favourite manipulations in one sentence & used the word “dexterous”!

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        How very sweet of you to say so :)

  16. ShadiZ1
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    It really boggles my mind that Rosenau equates the Catholic church’s treatment of scientists in the middle ages to Einstein’s or Eddington’s philosophical objections to the Big Bang model. And since we’re speaking of Sagan’s legacy, I don’t think that anyone put it better than him:

    “To its credit, although belatedly and reluctantly, the Church in 1992 repudiated its denunciation of Galileo. It still cannot quite bring itself, though, to see the significance of its opposition. In a 1992 speech Pope John Paul II argued,

    ‘From the Beginning of the Age of Enlightenment down to our own day, the Galileo case has been a sort of ‘myth’ in which the image fabricated out of the events is quite far removed from reality. In this perspective, the Galileo case was a symbol of the Catholic Church’s supposed rejection of scientific progress, or ‘dogmatic’ obscurantism opposed to the free search for truth.’

    But surely the Holy Inquisition ushering the elderly and infirm Galileo in to inspect the instruments of torture in the dungeons of the Church not only admits but requires just such an interpretation. This was not mere scientific caution and restraint, a reluctance to shift a paradigm until compelling evidence, such as the annual parallax, was available. This was fear of discussion and debate. Censoring alternative views and threatening to torture their proponents betray a lack of faith in the very doctrine and parishioners that are ostensibly being protected. Why were threats and Galileo’s house arrest needed? Cannot truth defend itself in its confrontation with error?” ~ Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

    It’s also worth noting that Lemaître himself didn’t see any religious connotation to the Big Bang model that he proposed:

    “As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace’s chiquenaude or Jeans’ finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the ‘Hidden God’ hidden even in the beginning of the universe … Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.” La Structure et l’Evolution de l’Univers (1958)

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it really takes work to equate doubts and debate with threatening an old man with torture and killing another one for engaging in such doubts and debates. Sheesh.

  17. kelskye
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Accommodationism, in this respect, makes perfect sense in light of the overwhelming force that religion can have on the acceptance of science. It wouldn’t make much sense in other countries where religion doesn’t have that kind of influence.

    If, for example, Marxism was a cultural impediment to understanding science, then I could understand why a science organisation would spend effort trying to foster a POV that seeks to harmonise the two seemingly incompatible notions. It’s what advocacy groups ought to be doing, otherwise what’s the point?

    • gbjames
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      Maybe the point would be to communicate the actual facts of the matter without seeking to compromise (er… “harmonize”)?

      Evolution, and science in general, is not subject to compromise. It just is what it is. That’s why accommodationism is a false hope. It is not a realistic goal. The only honest accommodation would be for religion to cease making claims about how the universe works.


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