Andrew Brown, The Guardian‘s resident moron

I’ve had to resort to name-calling, simply because I cannot abide Andrew Brown any longer.  Someone wrote last week that without blockheads like him, we atheist bloggers wouldn’t have anything to write about, and that’s largely true.  But can’t we at least get something interesting out of our opponents?  Is it too much to expect the faitheists to have their own Hitchens, somebody with erudition, wit, a sharp tongue? Instead, we get Andrew Brown, who’s about as interesting (and cogent) as a stale matzo.

In this week’s Comment is Free column, Brown discusses “Are science and atheism compatible?” His piece was inspired by a recent vote of the Synod of the Church of England that science and God are compatible (the vote was 241-2, by the way, a masterpiece of reconciling the irreconcilable by fiat).  But, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what Brown is trying to say.  I’ve struggled through this column several times, and can’t find a coherent discussion of the question at issue.  Here’s the ending:

Nor has the decline of religious belief, in those countries where it has declined, resulted in a growth of scientific knowledge. If anything, the two have declined together. This is distressing for the atheists who believe that science and religion are natural enemies, contending for our hearts and understandings, but it makes perfect sense. Some religious doctrines are untrue, but when you abolish them, you need not thereby add to the world’s stock of truth. You could just add to the variety of its lies.

Science and organised traditional religion have to some extent the same enemies. Both rely for their influence on society on trust in authority and that is rapidly eroding. This is obvious in the case of religion, but we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.

Is he trying to say that scientific knowledge is actually DECLINING in countries like Sweden and Denmark? Or anywhere else? Is his thesis that if science and religion are opponents, you’d predict that as religion declined, science would grow (this is, by the way, exactly what is happening)?

And what does the growth of climate-change denialism have to do with the compatibility of atheism and science?  What sort of “anti-intellectualism” has atheism directed toward religion? It seems to me that atheism has launched straight intellectual attacks at religion—attacks based on rationality and evidence.  Where is the evidence for miracles? How do we know that Mohamed was God’s prophet and Jesus was not?  How, exactly, can a benevolent God allow innocent people to experience evil?  Those are intellectually-motivated questions.

In his hatred of atheism, Brown seems to have degenerated into mindless brain-dump gibbering, flailing about randomly like a jerk with a wet towel in the locker room.  He is beneath contempt, and, from now on, beneath notice.


  1. Neil
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I guess I have reached a different level of atheism. I used to care what the religous thought about science. Now I don’t.

  2. Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Brown: “Nor has the decline of religious belief, in those countries where it has declined, resulted in a growth of scientific knowledge. If anything, the two have declined together.” — linking to a Guardian article entitled “Half of Britons do not believe in evolution, survey finds” —

    Nothing in the linked article supports this silly idea.

    I would expect to find an inverse correlation between religious belief and acceptance of the TOE, in Britain and elsewhere. For example, see here:

    Don’t ask me, I just live here.

    • Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the old ‘provide a link to give the impression of backing up your arguments, then quietly hope no one bothers clicking through’ ploy. I seem to recall Brown pulling a similar stunt in an article about Richard Dawkins a while ago.

    • Posted February 14, 2010 at 1:44 am | Permalink

      Ray Moscow:

      We might all expect that a decline in religious belief would lead to growing acceptance of evolution. I’m not sure why that would be the case in Britain, where both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church have taught evolution as true for the last fifty years,and they are the ones with the schools. But it’s a hypothesis. It can be tested.

      And when you test it, it’s balls. What the article I linked to showed is that there is a large proportion of the population which is neither religious nor accepts evolution.

      So far as I know, this was the first poll to measure public acceptance of TOE in Britain for decades, possibly ever. After all, it has been taught, as true, in every school in the country for at least fifty years now. So why bother measuring it? So I don’t have figures to prove that public acceptance of it is dropping, any more than you have figures to prove that it’s rising (to 25%?). But what it absolutely clear is that the figure believing in either ID or creationism is much greater than the number of active religious believers here. Even if you assume very high figures for Muslims and evangelical Christians, say 2m for each; and even if you assume that all of these people rejected TOE on religious grounds, they add up to less than a quarter of rejectionists found by this poll. So some other factor is needed to explain why there are so many millions of people in this country who do not accept scientific truth. Why is this point so hard to understand?

      • Posted February 14, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

        Andrew, did you intend to demonstrate that an acceptance of the TOE fell in the UK at the same time as belief in God fell?

        I don’t think the article about the survey to which you linked demonstrates this at all. It just demonstrates a low rate of the acceptance of the TOE in the UK.

        In explaining the history of life, “goddidit” (either creationism or its latest variant ID) seems to be the main alternative to the TOE for just about everyone.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:38 am | Permalink

        This is what Mr. Brown said in his piece (my emphasis): “Nor has the decline of religious belief, in those countries where it has declined, resulted in a growth of scientific knowledge. If anything, the two have declined together.”

        1. Talks about “a growth of SCIENTIFIC knowledge” in general, not just of evolution

        2. Does not mention “public ACCEPTANCE” of evolution, but just a “growth of knowledge.”

        3. As Mr. Moscow says, you say absolutely nothing to support your assertion that “scientific knowledge” and “religious belief” have DECLINED TOGETHER. The temporal correlation between these two is the salient point of your post. Your comment above—that there are a lot more people in the UK who reject evolution than there are religious believers—says absolutely nothing about that.

        Could you just admit that you made that up rather than try to justify it with post hoc special pleading?

      • Yahzi
        Posted February 14, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        As many pointed out in the “Comment is Free” thread, science is not The Theory of Evolution, or the Theory of Gravity, or any set of facts.

        Science is a process consisting of two steps: 1) constructing theories that require the fewest operational elements to explain the data, and 2) designing experiments to collect data as free as possible of experimenter bias.

        That’s it. That’s all of science in a nutshell. Please stop talking about science until you understand what it actually is.

      • Lizzie
        Posted February 15, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        You say: “We might all expect that a decline in religious belief would lead to growing acceptance of evolution.”

        Why might we expect any such thing? We might certainly expect that a growth in good science education might lead to growing acceptance of evolution, for the simple reason that evolution is a theory supported by an overwhelming amount of data, and that anyone with a good science education will understand the connection.

        Good science education might also be expected to lead to a decline in religious belief, for the simple reason that many religious beliefs are incompatible with scientific data.

        But why on earth expect that a simple decline in religious belief, would, per se, LEAD to increased acceptance of evolution?

        The apparent low rate of acceptance of evolution in the UK (and I’d query the poll question) is likely, IMO, to have more to do with the decline in decent science education in the UK than anything else. I certainly dearly hope it’s not due to an increase in religious fundamentalism.

      • Posted February 16, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        No, there is no real reason to expect that. The acceptance of scientific truth comes from the understanding of scientific truth, which as Lizzie points out, comes from a good education in science.

  3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.

    Is Brown claiming that the same question for evidence that is science and apparently intellectualism (whatever that is) is anti-intellectualism if directed at religion specifically? Again and again it is obvious that religion has two arguments and two arguments only: special pleading and “question religion is unfair – boo hoo, poor us”.

    [Why gods even figure in into such a social setting is a mystery. If special pleading is the answer, what do you need the superfluous stuff for?

    Oops – I put a question. Never mind.]

    And while I have no energy to read his waste of time that is his opinion in testable matters of empiricism, I note that this question (of evidence) is what atheists asks of religion as well. So the answer to his diatribe is singled out by himself; it is obviously “yes”.

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    1. Exercise or application of the intellect. […]
    3. (Philosophy) Philosophy
    a. the doctrine that reason is the ultimate criterion of knowledge

    Well, apparently I’m anti-intellectual as well, because neither of those (even less the rest) concerns science.

    Any dummy can test a hypothesis. And reason has nothing to do with theories or facts, i.e. absolute knowledge, besides the coincidence that science needs global consistency and some forms of reason strives for local consistency.

    Actually, reasoning such as “common sense” or philosophy is often detrimental.

  5. Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    One has to admire the bloody-mindedness of the two who voted against the motion at the General Synod!

    Or perhaps they just marked the wrong option.

  6. Jonn Mero
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Brown discusses “Are science and atheism compatible?”

    Or he could ‘discuss’ if science and a view of the universe based on observed physical evidence (aka science) are compatible.
    The answer should be rather obvious.

    But they simply love to see atheism as a belief system.

  7. Occam
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    He is beneath contempt, and, from now on, beneath notice.

    Because my blood pressure can’t take much more of his obnoxious drivel.

    Witness the amalgam of Brownian non-sequiturs on the suppression and recrudescence of religion in Russia, China, and North Korea. For one thing, he equates the alien Christian cults in China and Korea with religion per se. Wrong, and long before Communism a bone of contention. What harm was done to Chinese and Korean civilisations as such by their present regimes goes far beyond anything Mr. Brown would comprehend, given his shallow notion of religion.
    Closer to home: Eastern Europe and Russia. Mr. Brown could and should be aware of the perverse interplay between the Churches and Communist regimes, especially in countries with an Orthodox majority. He also should acknowledge the disastrous role of the Churches before the rise and after the fall of Communism. Anyone writing what he writes in the face of historical testimony is either an ignorant, an idiot, or intellectually dishonest. The ‘resident moron’ label is actually a charitable one.

    Mr. Brown notably asserts: “Religious belief is not a marker of stupidity.”
    Can’t prove it by your writing, Mr. Brown.
    “Nor is it transmitted by brainwashing.”
    Yes it is.

  8. KP
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, I suppose there is the small proportion of atheists who are atheists for reasons other than science. Meaning ones who don’t necessarily know much about evolution or quantum physics but who have other reasons to deny the existence of a god. In that group, maybe scientific knowledge doesn’t increase with a loss of faith.

    Personally, I only attribute about 30% of my atheism to science. The other 70% to the absurdity of all religious doctrines, the horrible things that happen in the world, and bad personal experiences. In other words, I can find enough reasons to be an atheist BEFORE the scientific ones are even on the table.

  9. Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “trust in authority”

    err … I think science “trusts” data, observation and prediction.

    Sorry Andy.

    • Steve
      Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Nobel Prize winner Richard Feyman’s phrase says it best: “Science is the organised scepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.”

  10. Sili
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    the vote was 241-2, by the way

    Who were the two admirably consistent nuts?

  11. AdamK
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    But stale matzos, when crisped in the toaster-oven, make perfectly fine bread crumbs.

  12. Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve long since decided that responding below-the-line in comments to Andrew Brown breaks the primary internet rule of “Don’t feed the trolls”.

    About every third article of his is pretty much pure troll, and other two-out-of-three almost always manage to get in a sideswipe at Dawkins, Hitchins, the National Secular Society or atheists in general, even if they are primarily about something else. This particular article is in the “pure troll” category.

    The only rational response is to ignore him as intensively as possible.

  13. Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Shit. Broke my resolution to stop responding to AB blogs. Must try harder.

  14. AlvinStargut
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has recently fallen foul of Brown’s method of pre-moderating(I posted under the guise of Fatpants on CiF) any one who points out the obvious flaws in his writing – especially the recent NSS debacle where he grossly misrepresented Sanderson’s position – I can only agree with Jonathan West; do not feed the troll.

    • TurangaLeela
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      Agreed. And to my shame I’ve been guilty of feeding it myself – to the point of attracting notice from the troll itself and suffering the consequent deletion.

      A troll with editor’s privileges – nasty.

      The obvious trolling is bad enough, but what really gets my goat about Brown is the dishonesty. There’s not a post that doesn’t contain at least one – and usually multiple – misrepresentations, selective quotes, straw men and outright falsehoods. The smearing of Terry Sanderson and the NSS mentioned above was a classic example. But there are countless others…

      And his reaction, when these are refuted is, at best, to ignore the refutations. At worst, childish temper tantrums and insults, followed by deletion of posts.

      It does the Guardian no credit, I’m afraid, that they continue to give such unprofessional behaviour a platform.

      Glad to know I’m not alone in my distaste for the man.

  15. steve
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian’s resident moron

    The Guardian is down to one moron ?

    • MartinDH
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      AB is the resident one…the others can find their way home at night.

  16. Shatterface
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say my atheism springs from my knowledge of science because I’ve always been an atheist.

    I’d more accurately say my interest in science is rooted in an atheism that tells me that not all the great questions have already been answered

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted February 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      Very well said.
      That is actually one thing I disagree in with Dawkins: he says Darwin made it possible to be an atheist. But I was an atheist before I knew much about Darwin. The argument from design, if true, would be pointing to aliens from outer space, as far as I could tell.
      But the fact that religious nutjobs have so much against evolutionary science did catch my interest.

      • Notagod
        Posted February 12, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        Yes, everyone is born an atheist. Darwin made pointing and laughing at christians more satisfying.

      • Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        @Insightful Ape:

        Yes, but who designed the aliens?

      • Posted February 13, 2010 at 4:10 am | Permalink

        Insightful Ape, the actual quote by Dawkins is this – “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

  17. Brian
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
    I’m sure Socrates, Epicurus, Hume and many others who were accused of atheism were delighted to postumously realize that their lives were intellectually fulfilled. No attack up on you, but I see many scientists state that before Darwin there might have been “philosophical reasons” for not believing desigh but it required Darwin to make it convincing or fulfilling. This is silly, if it’s philosophically unfulfilling to believe in design, a fortiori it is scientifically unfulfilling. Jason Rosenhouse state that yes Hume made it philosophically ‘arguable’* that there was no designer but Palley would still reply ‘then how do you explain this design’ which was odd from such a sharp intellect. Because that just an argument to ignorance. Hume then Kant completely demolished the argument to design. From then on, it was just another apologetic load of bunk. Just reaching into the dark and claiming you were touching reality. Darwin, and Russel, offered another explanation that fitted the evidence and was logically coherent. But to say that until Darwin atheism wasn’t intellectually fulfilling is tantamount to saying that the 3 persons in one godhead of the trinity doesn’t violate transitivity of identity. In other words it’s just wrong…..By the way, I hold Dawkins in very high esteem.

    • Brian
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      Note to self: learn to spell.

    • Posted February 13, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      No argument with any of that, Brian – was just pointing out that Dawkins didn’t simply say Darwin made it possible to be an atheist.

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      “Oh, we all make mistakes,” said the hedgehog as he climbed down from the clothes brush.
      – Alf Prøysen

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Jason Rosenhouse state that yes Hume made it philosophically ‘arguable’* that there was no designer but Palley would still reply ‘then how do you explain this design’ which was odd from such a sharp intellect. Because that just an argument to ignorance. Hume then Kant completely demolished the argument to design.

      In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume did make a pretty good case against biological design, certainly to the point that it could not be considered compelling, but you may recall that his character Philo wimps out in the end, accepting the argument from design because he has not better explanation. Darwin absolutely buried that excuse.

  18. Chrissy-P
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    “…He is beneath contempt, and, from now on, beneath notice…”

    I have a feeling this won’t be true Jerry!

    Yep, I read that article yesterday – he never makes any sense. He’s supposed to be an atheist, but seems to think that he’s the only one allowed to use that term, and that the purpose of an ‘atheist’ is to sing the praises of religion, and constantly state and re-state that people who don’t buy into religion are ‘wrong’. He hates the ‘new atheists’ (read any atheists) almost as much as Madeline Bunting or Melanie Phillips. I keep waiting for the ‘big announcement’ of his conversion. Can’t be long now…

    I think Brown thinks he’s being ‘funny with a point’ in this article. The problem, though, is that he’s neither funny nor does he have a point. Sociology and Evolutionary Psychology are hardly what most people would call the ‘hardest’ of sciences – to put it mildly!

    Even then, the only thing he takes from EvoPsych is that the tendency towards religious belief may have previous sustained us and been beneficial. Well, that’s highly speculative and contentious at best (see Dennett’s alt view that religious belief may act like toxoplasma gondii does in mice – just as valid). Even accepting Brown’s EvoPsych point, the answer consists of 4 words: Yeah. And. So. What.

    He then makes the jump of logic that “at the very least that they can’t be abolished.” Once again, highly speculative and not born out by evolutionary history; features come and go or change into something else. If we take Brown’s point at face value we should still all possess gills and fins because they were “useful” so therefore “can’t be abolished”.

    As for linking to sources that don’t support your ‘non-point’, I think Ben said it best…

    • MadScientist
      Posted February 13, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      Jerry’s done a great job so far of avoiding Mooney -so why not Brown as well?

  19. MadScientist
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Ah, there goes Brown again – attepmting to equate science to religion and claim that his own religion is not 100% bullshit (but other religions of course spread lies). That’s nothing but the usual nonsense perpetrated by religion over at least the past 2000 years.

  20. Posted February 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you there. This is symptomatic of a lot of the whole anti-intellectual, anti-learning, anti-eduation nonsense that is being fanned into flames by the cable TV talk-show hosts. I think a deliberate part of the whole (politically motivated) attack on atheists, scientists, etc. is to keep demanding answers and information and data and computer programs primarily just to keep them busy not doing their own science. Scientists and other interested people are similarly challenged by the overwhelming flood of absurdity that we have to some how train ourselves to (forgive the ranch-locution) swallow a certain amount of shit. Brown seems like a good source of bull who can safely be ignored. If he was destroyed by sense and rational logic, even he wouldn’t notice.

  21. dementedbear
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    The strange thing is, Andrew Brown wrote an article on his blog a few months ago explaining that he’s an atheist himself (!) – athough, married to a Christian and with a great level of respect for what he terms “moderate liberal” religion (whatever the hell that is).

    Andrew is a curious entity, and an example of one of those occasional atheists who is so masochistic and full of hatred towards other non-believers he really wishes he could be religious. His ‘arguments’ are so bad, there’s no point bothering to refute him any more.

  22. James Bannon
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I have a suggestion for Mr. Brown, don’t write about scientific theories unless you know what the words “scientific” and “theory” actually mean in context. Asking a person if they “believe in evolution” is oxymoronic. The only valid question is “does evolutionary theory accord with actual data?”, to which the unequivocal answer is “yes”.

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