Well, Chris Mooney has decided to continue the discussion about the compatibility of science and faith that he and Barbara Forrest began on his Discover blog. If you’ve followed all this, they criticized me for my “divisiveness” in going after the idea that science and faith are compatible. I responded to this, saying that since Forrest and Mooney apparently agreed with my views (and my atheism), they were in effect telling me to shut up — imposing upon me (and some of my colleagues) a form of intellectual censorship. I also pointed out that in 2001 Mooney published a pretty strong piece criticizing faith/science accommodation — a piece diametrically opposed to the views he espouses now.
Mooney responded that he had indeed changed his mind, and has become much more of an accommodationist:
…indeed, I find my work from 2001 on this topic pretty unsatisfying. I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.
I wrote on Mooney’s blog that I was certainly not flailing indiscriminately against religion, and challenged him to find one example of where I’ve done that, or been uncivil to the faithful (another comment that he implicitly levelled at me). My criticisms of accommodation have been specific: it waters down science and gives people a mistaken view of what science says. (One of these mistaken views is the widespread claim — viz. Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, etc. — that the evolution of humans or human-like creatures was inevitable). This is hardly “flailing.”
Well, Mooney is now publishing a longer critique of what I said, and (oy vey!), he claims that it will be in two or more parts, and perhaps take several weeks. My heart is sinking. Part I is here.
I will wait until Mooney publishes all of his several promised critiques of accommodationism before I respond, but let me take up one issue here.
Was Mooney telling me to shut up? Apparently stung by that suggestion, he denied it vehemently:
So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong.
Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.
But of course he was telling me to shut up! Despite his denial, it’s palpably clear that Mooney (and by extension, Barbara Forrest), was advising me to lie low and let the accommodationists address the compatibility of science and faith. (In this he joins the AAAS, the National Academies of Science, and the National Center for Science Education). Rather than repeat what all of Mooney’s posters have agreed on, which is that he was telling me to put a sock in it because my words were “divisive”, let me just steer you to the excellent analysis by Jason Rosenhouse on his EvolutionBlog. A sample (read the whole thing on his site because there’s a lot more):
Moving on, let’s look a bit more closely at what exactly Coyne did to bring Mooney and Forrest down upon him. He published a book review. In The New Republic. In this review he did not level a single ad hominem attack and praised certain aspects of what Miller and Giberson have done. He then went on to criticize their ideas. Mooney himself, in his follow-up post, wrote
So-I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article.Are you seriously telling me that is poor tactics? A very good, thoughtful, extensive book review in a high-level venue like TNR is just too much for those poor, delicate liberal Christians to handle? Please. Any Christian who has genuinely made his peace with evolution is not going to be driven to the other side because Jerry Coyne offered a few contrary thoughts.
The whole thing is reminiscent of that Jerome Bixby short story “It’s a Good Life” (later made into a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone). That’s the one with the three-year old who has God-like powers, but lacks any sense of judgment or conscience. Whenever someone does something he doesn’t like, the kid simply wills something terrible to happen to that person. Everyone has to go around thinking happy thoughts all the time, because happy thoughts are relaxing to the kid. And everytime the kid throws a tantrum everyone has to say things like, “It’s very good that you did that. We’re all so happy you turned Mr. Smith into that terrible thing.”
That’s what I think of whenever I read essays like Mooney’s. Liberal Christians are playing the role of the kid. Coyne et al are in the role of those doing things the kid doesn’t like. And Mooney et al are in the role of those trying to soothe the kid. “Mr. Coyne didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s very good that you believe religious clerics and holy texts have something valuable to tell us about the workings of nature…”
In one of his follow-up posts Mooney bristled at the idea that he is telling Coyne, in effect, to shut up. Mooney writes
So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong. Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.
No, he didn’t argue that Coyne should shut up. He only argued that writing a very good, thoughtful, extensive article for The New Republic was evidence of how woefully misguided Coyne is about strategy. Which raises the question: where should Coyne have expressed his views? If even a relatively tame article in a high-level venue like TNR is too much for liberal Christians, then what could Coyne have done, short of shutting up, that would have mollified them?
I couldn’t have said it better, so I won’t. Thanks, Jason, for saving me the trouble.
I don’t want to belabor this “he said/he said” stuff about shutting up, but Mooney’s bizarre denial of what he really said doesn’t bode well for future discourse. And I’m a bit wary because I don’t think I have much more to say about accommodationism than what I’ve already said on this website or in my New Republic piece.