Robert Wright promotes accommodationism, disses Dawkins

I’ve never encountered a single bit of writing by Robert Wright that hasn’t annoyed me.  A self-described agnostic, he is nevertheless the most ardent faitheist I’ve ever seen, constantly chiding atheists for not being nicer to the faithful.

And it doesn’t help that he seems to totally lack a sense of humor.  Once Wright sat next to me at a meeting in Mexico, determined to get me to admit that I had unfairly maligned him in my review of his book, The Evolution of God. I was so shaken by his relentlessness that I approached Dan Dennett afterwards and asked him for a hug. (There are few things more soothing to a distraught atheist than a hug from the amiable and bearded Dennett.)

At any rate, Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, goes after Richard Dawkins in a piece in Monday’s issue, “Richard Dawkins, unreasonable atheist?” (The answer is “yes,” of course.) I’ll reproduce Wright’s plaint and the relevant video below.  This is his take on the Reason Rally, and all he says about it:

Some of my best friends are reasonable, and I try to be that way myself most of the time, but there is one thing about this rally that bothered me: the intermittent lack of reasonableness evinced by its most famous participant, Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins shares with me, and presumably with everyone at that rally, the goal of keeping America’s science curriculum uncorrupted by fundamentalists. For example, we both oppose a bill recently passed by the Tennessee legislature that allows teachers to challenge the theory of evolution–that is, to “teach the controversy.” (Teaching the controversy would be fine if there was an actual controversy within evolutionary biology about the truth of evolution.)

But is Dawkins really pursuing our common goal in a reasonable way? At the Reason Rally he encouraged people not just to take issue with religious teachings, but to “ridicule” religious belief and show “contempt” for it. Now, suppose you’re a conservative Christian in Tennessee, and a fellow conservative Christian is trying to convince you of the merits of that anti-evolution bill. You’re on the fence–you’d never really given much thought to whether your child’s religious beliefs would be threatened by the teaching of Darwin. Then you hear Richard Dawkins, probably the most prominent Darwinian in the world, advocating displays of contempt and ridicule for your religion.

Mightn’t you sense a threat from Darwinism that you hadn’t sensed before? Mightn’t you become, become, if anything, more fundamentalist (since fundamentalism is, among other things, a reaction against perceived threat)? And is it really reasonable for Dawkins to expect otherwise–to expect that contempt and ridicule will be productive?

I don’t think so. Yesterday, during an appearance on the MSNBC show Up With Chris Hayes, I got a chance to run my argument by Dawkins (whom I’m a great admirer of, and whose writing has had a great influence on me). The encounter is at the 6:05 mark in the clip below. As you can see, he was unswayed.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Wright’s first mistake is assuming that there are many conservative Christians in Tennessee who aren’t currently down with evolution but are nevertheless open to reason based on evidence, so long as you “respect” their faith. And further, you could turn that Christian into a Darwinian by reasoned argument.

That’s simply hogwash.  Such people are (and yes, there are exceptions) impervious to rational argument, regardless of what you say about their faith.  They’ve been brainwashed as children, and their ears are stopped to anything Darwinian.  If they could be swayed by scientific argument alone, they would have been swayed already: do remember that Dawkins wrote plenty of stuff about the evidence for evolution and against creationism before he became a vociferous atheist.  Obviously that “conservative Christian” paid no attention to Richard then, nor to Steve Gould, nor to Carl Sagan, nor to all the nonconfrontational debates about the evidence. (It’s not possible, however, to show that evolution trumps creationism without showing that creationist views are scientifically insupportable. If that constitutes disrepect for religion, then by all means let’s have it.)

Further, there’s simply no evidence that coddling the anti-evolution faithful will turn them into Darwinians.  That is what BioLogos has been trying to do for years, and without a smidgen of success. The evangelicals they’re courting remain unconvinced, all hung up on burning issues like “Who were Adam and Eve?”  I have never heard of a case, though I’m sure they exist, in which an antievolution Christian became converted after hearing that her faith was not, after all, at odds with Darwinism.

In contrast, there’s plenty of evidence that the “strident,” “show-no-respect-for-faith” approach works. Richard Dawkins has been far more effective in turning the faithful to evolution (and atheism) than BioLogos; just see the “Converts Corner” at the Dawkins website. BioLogos has no comparable collection of conversion tales. And yes, you can see “Converts Corner” as a pile of anecdotes, but in this case the plural of “anecdote” is data: data showing that the in-your-face approach does work. Where’s the comparable evidence for accommodationism?  Wright is just wrong.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from teaching evolution, is that resistance to evolution in America comes not from ignorance of the facts supporting the theory, but from entrenched religious belief that makes people closed to the facts.  Coddling their religion won’t make them open to facts, but erasing their religion will.

Now only rarely will someone give up their faith as an adult (though I met several of these at my book-signing in Georgia yesterday), but what Wright doesn’t realize is that proselytizers like Dawkins and me aren’t mainly trying to convert the hyper-religious to Darwinism. We are aiming at the people on the fence—those who aren’t deeply committed to faith but are standing by observantly.  Or those who are already beginning to doubt whether their religious beliefs make sense.  Do remember that more people doubt evolution because of their religious belief than because of the evidence.

As for Richard’s contention that we should question political candidates on whether they believe in Joseph Smith’s golden plates, transubstantiation, the Resurrection, and the like, I am beginning to agree more and more.  If people do make a public show of their faith, then of course their beliefs are fair game. But even if they don’t, their beliefs speak to their rationality. Wouldn’t we want to know if a political candidate was convinced that abduction by aliens in UFOs was common, whether a candidate was a Holocaust denier (after all, that’s a “private belief”), or whether, in the privacy of his home, he put on an aluminum-foil hat and received messages from the beyond? It all speaks to a person’s rationality.  Yes, people are entitled to their personal beliefs, but we’re entitled to judge them on what their personal beliefs are.  And of course candidates don’t have to answer questions about their faith—unless (and this is a big “unless”) they parade their faith in public.

Oh, and Chris Hayes is almost as annoying as Wright.  He flouts the prime rule for interviewers: let your subjects do the talking.

252 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Good article as usual.

    Espeically lke this part:

    “As for Richard’s contention that we should question political candidates on whether they believe in Joseph Smith’s golden plates, transubstantiation, the Resurrection, and the like, I am beginning to agree more and more. If people do make a public show of their faith, then of course their beliefs are fair game. But even if they don’t, their beliefs speak to their rationality.”

    I totally agree. A person trying to gain power over others should be able to demonstrate the they are reasonable and follow evidence. Believing things which are irrational and have no supporting evidence show them to be a bad candidate to take a nation into the future. It shows them to be bad decision makers.

    Beliefs, private or otherwise do have an effect on decisions people make. When their decisions affect others, the others have a right to question them on their beliefs.

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Agreed! Many devout politicians privately believe that God has chosen them to accomplish some divine design. It is entirely reasonable to enquire about it. This is simply exercising the political right to remain free from religion.

    • Gluon
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Clearly religious belief affects people’s political views, and you’d be a fool not to consider that when voting for someone.

      I think, though, that the reluctance to openly criticize politicians on their religious views has a historical context that is worth remembering. In the past, wars were fought over whether the government would be run by Catholics or Protestants or whomever. Those people needed no persuading that one’s religious beliefs were an important part of their governance. Failing to convince the other side of the folly of their beliefs through argument, people resorted to imprisonment, violence, and other ugliness.

      At least some part of the founding of this country was in reaction to all of that. A step away from all that strife was to decide to treat religion as a private matter. No one decided to abandon their religious beliefs, they just decided, as a quid pro quo: I won’t attack your religion, I won’t make it a matter of life or death, of imprisonment, of qualification for office, if you don’t make an issue of mine. It would be better, of course, to dispense with religion all together, but it is an improvement to just neuter it somewhat, and making it a matter of “mere” private opinion.

      Maybe we’re ready to go to the next step, to criticize religion as part of politics again and finally convince the majority of the silliness of their views. The number of open atheists in congress makes me think, though, that maybe it’s still too radioactive, that it could backfire. I don’t know, but it might be just as well to continue with the religion-neutering fiction that beliefs are purely private.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I understand your point, but the Dominionists and other Christian denominations forced our hand, by abandoning the fiction first.

        • Gluon
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. The quid pro quo is essential.

    • Daniel Lafave
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Even if a particular belief has no obvious policy impact, someone’s willingness to believe something for which he has no evidence demonstrates wanton epistemic irresponsibility. If someone demonstrates that sort of irresponsibility, why would I trust him with high public office?

    • Robin Brown
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      I will regard politicians religious beliefs as private if I believed for a single moment that they would consider a rival candidate’s lack of belief as a private matter

    • Ben
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      This one is tough, because in certain respects you could say that the New Atheists are giving in to their tribal/in-group instincts just as much as the religious, and that this is why there is so much conflict.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        You could say it but that wouldn’t mean it made sense.

        • Ben
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          If you look at social psychology and evolutionary psychology, it does.

          • gbjames
            Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            Sorry… that doesn’t amount to a convincing argument in support of your position, which I take to be that Gnu Atheists are responsible for the conflict with religion. It is not reasonable to expect the rest of us to go searching through psychology texts for whatever you are suggesting.

            But, of course, there is enough fudge room in “in certain respects” to drive the Millennium Falcon through.

            • Ben
              Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              I wasn’t meaning to put blame on one side or another. I was simply pointing out that humans have a tendency of forming groups and behaving in a biased manner towards others that are not a part of that group. A quick Google Scholar search would allow you to find the data. I think many “accommodationsts” would agree that promoting science, reason, and compassion for the benefit of humankind are good things, but would assert that condescension is not necessarily a good approach to reaching those goals when interacting with others of differing viewpoints.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                Humans do have a tendency to behave in a human fashion, there’s not much doubt about that. And little need for a scholarly search to verify.

                But I detect the fragrance of tone trolling… If only gnu atheists wouldn’t be so strident/shrill/condescending… then those bible thumping religionists would see the light. But you seem to be taking it one step further. Not only should we be strident/shrill/condescending… we should not even form a human social group!

                Why not just come out and say you think Gnu Atheists should just shut the hell up?

              • Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Well, do you think that “promoting science, reason, and compassion for the benefit of humankind” is the principle goal of gnu atheists?

                /@

              • Ben
                Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

                Perhaps I misunderstood the movement, but I figured that was part of their goal: to promote science, reason and compassion for the betterment of humankind. That’s why I don’t tell them to “shut the hell up.” Also, I don’t do it because it’s just rude.

              • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Well, of course, it’s a goal, but that wasn`t what I asked.

                /@

      • Ben
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I figured the defining characteristic was just a confrontational stance to achieve those goals, and all I am trying to say is that perhaps that approach is counterproductive.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          Being confrontational against bad ideas is not counterproductive. Or at least, if you want to argue that it is you need to produce some real evidence that the “honey” approach is more productive. All you’ve provided is assertions and a “psychology sez so”.

          There were 10-25 thousand people at an forthright atheist rally a week ago in Washington D.C. This was the direct result of less than ten years of Gnu Atheist shrillness and stridency (a.k.a. direct, honest confrontation of bad ideas). Show me the equivalent result of centuries of atheist non-confrontation that comes anywhere near that success.

          • Filippo
            Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            “There were 10-25 thousand people at an forthright atheist rally a week ago in Washington D.C.”

            Concur with your sentiments.

            Suppose some religioso(s) were “offended” by such a gathering. Ought they not gather so as to not so “offend”?

            What if a religioso is offended at the mere thought of the possibility that somewhere some freethinker is thinking freethinking thoughts?

          • Ben
            Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            The effectiveness of the Reason Rally remains to be seen. Religion still permeates and influences our society, in spite of all forthright atheism (and perhaps because of it). It really just shows that people will band together easily. Look at the Occupy movement. It got a bunch of people together, but it doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Constructive dialogue is likely the best chance for reform/change. Cooperation is how our species got this far, and is likely how we are going to overcome all the issues we face at present.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              Are you kidding me? Srsly? Getting 10-20K atheists to rally is a huge success in itself. If it was so easy to get that to happen why has it not happened before? And pretending that the Occupy movement hasn’t changed the national conversation regarding economic and political relations is marginally delusional.

              Please point me to the people who have been advocating the abandonment of cooperation where possible (I’m never going to cooperate with someone who wants to burn down my house or kill my children).

              And tell me how to have a constructive dialog with someone who believes that pigs live in trees.

              There are some ideas that are bad enough to deserve ridicule.

              • Ben
                Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

                All I was simply trying to say is that these issues are more nuanced than we would like to think they are. There’s no need to insult me by referring to me as “mildly delusional” Warren Buffet himself even referred to the Occupy movement as “Misguided,” and he is on the side of the “99%.” Also, to my knowledge, the Occupy movement hasn’t influenced the development of legislation, policies, etc. even though it has gotten notable attention in the media.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Well, that’s the way things change, regardless of what Warren Buffet says. First the political conversation changes, then the political action changes. It doesn’t happen any other way. So changing the conversation is massively important. And if you want the conversation to change you have to speak out loudly, clearly, and honestly. Holding “constructive dialog” with the insane is not going to advance any cause but insanity. And denigrating the successes of atheist activism with appeals to gentle persuasion are just attempts to shut people up, as far as I’m concerned.

                By all means, go talk gently to Pat Robertson. Let us know how it went. I’m eager to hear how you got him to understand that 9/11, tsunamis, and hurricanes aren’t revenge from God for homosexual and atheist sin.

  2. Tim
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Wright has clearly not spent much time arguing with creationists. Evidence is really of no interest to most of them and “reasonableness” is definitely NOT reciprocated. A person who is “reasonable” doesn’t resurrect arguments that have already been demolished.

    There’s a bit of that same pigheadedness in Wright himself, for that matter. It seemed to really bother him that the pastor on Chris Hayes’s show, without any prompting whatsoever, directly credited Dawkins for being part of his deprogramming. Just as you’ve said, Jerry, once he was ‘on the fence’ and open to “reason”, Dawkins’s books helped to convince him to go the rest of the way. Wright seemed pretty disappointed to hear that.

    • DV
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      >>A person who is “reasonable” doesn’t resurrect arguments that have already been demolished.<<

      Assuming they agree it was already demolished last time.

      • Tim
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Which only shifts the point in time at which they begin being unreasonable. All the “101 evidences” for young-earth creationism are unreasonable in that the evidence the refutes them overwhelms the evidence in favor of them. I couldn’t care less whether “they agree”.

  3. Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Did Dawkins ridicule the beliefs of Mormonism?

    Or did he just tell people what they were?

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Steven, with the absurdity of mormon beliefs, there’s really no difference; simply describing them literally amounts to ridicule.

      The same can be said of scientology, of course, leading to my favorite joke on the two:

      “What’s the difference between mormonism and scientology?”

      “About a hundred years”

      • Marella
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        I believe this is your cue Ben, something about zombies and intestinal fondling IIRC? 😉

  4. R. Lee Bays
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I’ve felt for a while now that in the realm of public representation, private beliefs are not only fair game, but should be under required scrutiny for the very reason you describe. Mainly we can get a quick read on ones coupling with reality. (unless they are true Machiavellians of course 🙂

  5. Hamilton Jacobi
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Wouldn’t we want to know … whether, in the privacy of his home, he put on an aluminum-foil hat and received messages from the beyond?

    Ahem. As every respectable scientist should know, the purpose of the aluminum-foil hat is to prevent receiving messages from the beyond. I think you must be doing it rong.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      LOL!

    • Steve
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      you must be doing it rong

      Excellent use of Skitt’s Law.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Or, perhaps, to block transmissions from the VALIS satellite, so we can see the battlements of the Black Iron Prison of 250 AD.

      Phil Dick was really onto something there.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Or on something.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          It can be both, in this case.

          We are definitely living in the Roman-designed intellectual prison of Christianity.

  6. Tim Harris
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Surely, the simple point that needs to be made is that ‘private’ beliefs are not in fact private, as fools, sentimentalists and hypocrites fondly believe, and they never have been.

    • Filippo
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of the Honorable Dick Cheney’s reference to ones “private” morality, as if that had no relevance or application to government decision-making.

  7. Tulse
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Wright […] goes after Richard Dawkins in a piece in Monday’s issue, “Richard Dawkins, unreasonable atheist?” (The answer is “yes,” of course.)

    Clearly Wright is unfamiliar with Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

    • DV
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Wright was actually following Betteridge’s Law. Which just goes to show, ignorance of the law is not an excuse for following it.

      • Potsmaster
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        “Militant Atheism: Threat or Menace?”

  8. FrankZ
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Chris Hayes practices the prime rule for people with political talk shows, whether of the left or right: it’s my show so I get to talk all I want. O’Reilly, Chris Mathews, they’re all the same.

    • MAUCH
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Watch PBS Charlie Rose for politics and more. He is one of the few that allows his invited guest actually talk.

      • xuuths
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        Rachel Maddow lets her guests talk, and even lets people interrupt her and continue with their nuttery — she will then do a fact check on their stuff the next day or so.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          And this is why conservatives avoid her show like the plague. Her technique is brilliant.

          • xuuths
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

            What I find amazing are the surprising conservatives who do choose to come on. Inhoff, just a recent example.

            • Larry Gay
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

              Maddow’s ratings are the best of the MSNBC stable, if I remember right. Chris Matthews could learn something.

              • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

                Hayes could use a little work on timing, but otherwise I think his show is pretty great. Like Maddow he tackles less-flashy topics and digs far deeper with his questions/analysis than most talk show hosts. He’s also, like Maddow, unabashedly liberal which I love. I disagree with him on this particular as I do with Bob Wright (who I like on any other topic BUT religion), so I can live with disagreeing with them both on this. I would disagree with Jerry’s claim that Bob has no sense of humor. I’ve read alot of Wright’s books, columns and watched a shit-ton of bloggingheads over the years, and Bob definitely has a sense of humor. That said, I agree with Jerry that he becomes insufferable when dealing with atheists and especially Jerry’s review of his book. But I think that had more to do with the quality of Jerry’s critique striking a nerve.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        FWIW, I’ve noticed that when Richard Dawkins is in some sort of moderator role (what few times he has done so), he does a sterling job of civilly posing topics of conversations, and backing off a bit and letting others talk. E.g., the “Four Horsemen” at Hitchens’s abode. I perceive that Dawkins wishes to be as civil as his protagonists will allow him to be.

  9. Steve
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Just a note… do most people know all the things that Mormons believe to be true? That would be an interesting story for the mainstream media to do, “Just What Do blanks Hold To Be True”

    • Sajanas
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      I could be wrong, but isn’t there a problem with the Mormon church denying various weird aspects of their faith so they don’t appear so strange? Lying for Jesus?

      • xuuths
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Wouldn’t that be Lying for Joseph Smith?

    • Gluon
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Mainstream Christian beliefs are just as silly, they are just embellished with a couple of thousand years of gloss and softened with the fog of time and familiarity.

      Such a show would be fun, but it should really be more of a series.

  10. Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    “Coddling their religion won’t make them open to facts, but erasing their religion will.” — Do you mean eradicating religion altogether or just getting the individual to expunge their own beliefs… ?

    /@

  11. Sajanas
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    I think Wright is making a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Reason Rally as well. It was not there to promote the teaching of evolution, it was there to encourage the removal of religion, quackery, and nonsense from government. I think its perfectly reasonable to talk about a wider opposition to religious thinking and the lack there of in such a forum.

    And even if it were so, I think the people trying to tell people that evolution is compatible with their religion aren’t being exactly honest either. That any hypothetical God would choose to create with what is essentially a murder machine, that the universe is far larger and we are far less significant, and far more similar to animals, is not something you can just pile on top of the teachings of apocalyptic Jews or messianic Arabs. The world is completely different from how religions conceived of it, and rather than try and adjust to it, they’ve mostly been ignoring or denying it, and pretending that that doesn’t happen, and that everything is still fine in Christianity is just disingenuous.

  12. MAUCH
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    What intrigues me about the detractors is that they that they say that Coyne and Dawkins are nothing but #%+$*#%! Then they follow by saying that they can take their ignorance and go to hell. Is it a myth that that the kind & gentle faithful exist?

    • Gluon
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      It’s not a myth, I know a few, but they are not the majority and they don’t get on TV much.

  13. chriskg
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    “I am not a bigot. Some of my best friends are atheists.” –Robert Wright

  14. Heber
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    For greater insight on the obnoxiousness of Robert Wright see these sequence of clips from the Council for Secular Humanism conference. Sam Harri, as always, does a brilliant job rebutting his self-righteous claims.

  15. PoxyHowzes
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I have a modest proposal for Wright and other accommodationists.

    What if you lay off the atheists for a while and focus all your efforts on bringing together, oh, say, Albert Mohler and Joseph Ratzinger to agree that each has an equally valid way of reaching heaven. Or perhaps bringing together Alan Lurie and Ray Comfort to agree on whether there are 10 commandments or 639 commandments or two commandments.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      +1

  16. Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    “Private” beliefs can very rarely be kept private. If those beliefs have ill effects and nobody shows contempt for them, how will people realize there’s something wrong with them?

    There are just so many things that are contemptible about religion…

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      For further consideration:

      What would the civil rights movement have looked like if everyone on the side of equality adopted a stance of simpering, impotent deference, out of some pathological need to “respect” ideas (or even people) that didn’t deserve it?

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        …of equality *had* adopted…

      • Sajanas
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        I’d say the US is currently dealing with exactly that sort of problem with the gay rights movement, where religious people are demanding respect for their religious anti-gay bigotry. Ultimately, trying to show respect for religion just encourages them to use hide any prejudice behind the religious ideas.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          “…trying to show respect for religion just encourages them to hide any prejudice behind the religious ideas.”

          Yahtzee.

  17. Lorenzo
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I would actually go as far as disagreeing with you that we should only question private beliefs if they are voiced. *Private* beliefs are not in some isolated brain compartment such that they would never interact with public policy. If you believe that homosexuals live in sin, why would you pass a policy that would hel

  18. Lorenzo
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I would actually go as far as disagreeing with you that we should only question private beliefs if they are voiced. *Private* beliefs are not in some isolated brain compartment such that they would never interact with public policy. If you believe that homosexuals live in sin, why would you pass a policy that would help the LGBT community. Granted, for a lot of people democracy could probably trumo theology, but I suspect they are currently in the minority.

  19. ForCarl
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I knew exactly what Dawkins was trying to point out in taking his stand, and I tend to agree with him. Religious ideas are opinions and should be afforded no more respect than other types of opinions, like say political opinions. If someone tries to sell you on a political view that is based on shaky “facts” or just plain downright lies, you call them on it. Same with religious opinions. For too long we have afforded these opinions a level of respect that has held them out of the fray of examination, and its time we stop allowing this to happen.

    For example, why don’t newspaper reporters or editorialists writing about the pope’s visit to Cuba call him out for his claim that he talked to a dead virgin on their behalf? Or why don’t they point out that the man in the golden palace full of stolen loot has the audacity to lecture other countries on money and corruption?

  20. Larry Lamb
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    If someone recommended a book to me where the author was religious – on nearly every subject except perhaps relgion itself – I wouldn’t bother reading it. I’d like to know that persons personal beliefs as it will influence what they write.

    It’s rare able to change the minds of religious people by being nice about religion -we probably can’t change their mind at all – so why waste time on them. Focus on the undecided and point out the facts.

  21. jdhuey
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I get the impression from Wright that he is an agnostic because no one can produce any evidence but deep down he would just love to be able to believe in a god. Most atheist just conclude that god does not exist and move on but Wright really really wants to believe, so he keeps bending over backwards, hoping against hope, that one of those religious people will come up with a valid arguement. You can’t call a group of people silly if you hope to some day join that group.

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Actually I think Bob is more interested in defending other religious people. He was raised Southern Baptist and has alot of warm memories for the various positive aspects of religion that many people enjoy. So it’s more an effort to defend people from the attacks of aggressive atheists than it is any desire by him to personally find God. In recent years he has become rather shrill about the New Atheists and gets very defensive anytime the suggestion that religion is useless and on the balance more bad than good, he cries foul and calls the attackers big meanies. He keeps trying to use his knowledge of science to say “well maybe it’s not totally crazy to be a believer” when I think deep down he knows that it is. Defending the faithful from persecution has become his hobby horse, sadly. Like I said above, I’m generally a fan of his work on bhtv, and his first 3 books, and I usually agree with him on most foreign and domestic policy topics. And he’s actually a really nice guy (I met him once.) But he’s definitely got this glaring bee in his bonnet for New Atheism that is unfortunate.

      • Gluon
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        I can sympathize with his position. However, I think the effort would be better spent reminding the faithful that they are NOT, in fact, persecuted. Unless you consider failure to cave to their religious demands persecution.

        It is ironic that a faith that actually was persecuted in the distant past, thrown to the lions and all, has now come to consider a mere slip in hegemony to be persecution. I wonder what all the martyrs would think of this milquetoast whining?

        • Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Agree 100%. I also think he suffers from the delusion that using harsh language, ridicule, snark etc., means that we are JUST AS BAD as the God-hates-fags troglodytes, and thus we should never sink to their level. I don’t agree with that at all.

  22. wunelle
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I read Wright’s “The Moral Animal” years ago, and it was my introduction to a lot of concepts. I’ve never been a believer, but this book showed a layman’s version of some of the science undermining our societal myths. At that time and to this reader it was a valuable book.

    He has seemed to backpedal with each succeeding book, and I’ve moved onto other, less compromised (and compromising) people.

  23. derekw
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Nice article.
    That is what BioLogos has been trying to do for years, and without a smidgen of success. The evangelicals they’re courting remain unconvinced, all hung up on burning issues like “Who were Adam and Eve?”
    I wouldn’t say they haven’t had success. Just the fact that high profile Christian scientists are promoting evolution has had an impact. But they are meeting up against many of the same obstacles the secular community finds (entrenched religious belief/indoctrination closes people to the facts.)
    We are aiming at the people on the fence—those who aren’t deeply committed to faith but are standing by observantly. Or those who are already beginning to doubt whether their religious beliefs make sense.
    Exactly the same folk that evangelicals are targeting too. And I believe this is where the more critical atheistic approach hinders their cause. While you may not respect one’s opinion, the key has always been to respect the person. Cross that fine line with dissing a belief and you lose the individual. Christians have corned the market on this workable type of proselytization for over 2000 years.
    Wouldn’t we want to know if a political candidate was convinced that abduction by aliens in UFOs was common, whether a candidate was a Holocaust denier (after all, that’s a “private belief”), or whether, in the privacy of his home, he put on an aluminum-foil hat and received messages from the beyond?
    Ha truth is stranger than fiction! http://blastr.com/2012/03/politician-says-his-real.php (the first two blog comments are just CLASSIC!)

  24. Cody
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Maybe Wright should come spend some time with Tennesseans. I am from Tennessee (I was actually at the book signing yesterday and talked to Jerry about this). I have friends and family whom I have talked with about evolution (I am a EEB grad student), and I have seen little difference in their level of acceptance regardless of how I go about engaging with them. There have been a number of instances where I’ve sat down and discussed this topic in detail (ie. the evidence for evolution, what a theory is, etc.) with many people who are otherwise perfectly reasonable. In virtually every instance, those I have talked with were either hostile to begin with (usually the situation entails throwing me a 1 Corinthians 1:25 grenade), or ended our discussion by telling me that they found the evidence convincing, but that they would not/could not accept it because it conflicted with their biblical worldview. Most of those people had never really thought about evolution, but the evidence or presentation/approach when discussing evolution matters little compared to the potential biblical and *social* ramifications of considering evolution. I know that a few of those people I talked were convinced by what I had showed them (in some cases, over the course of several weeks/months), but even so, they would never admit it because accepting something like that means a lot more than just, “ok, I accept it” (unless you never admit it again). Many religious peoples’ social lives (at least where I’m from) are so intertwined with church that anything like that could never be admitted or acted upon without negative ramifications.

    I know from first-hand experience. Example of an email I received from a family member who had wrote me to ask about evolution (he was interested in knowing more). I had posted an article on my facebook about Jack Szostak’s work on abiogenesis.

    “PS my advice to you as far as facebook is to NOT post things that the average Joe like me, ——, etc., family, will take offense to. It’s just normal for folks like us.
    Point being, it will only alienate you from those that love you; even though you may not see it directly….folks make judgments in their minds which are difficult to change.. I know you may not care at this young point in your life, but you may later on down the line….just some advice and worth what it cost.”

    • Gluon
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      This is my experience too. I have a number of friends from a college church group who have abandoned their religion over the years. I can’t think of any who are completely open about it now, though. It is not for no reason that I post here under a pseudonym. The social costs are just too high and there is, often, no obvious upside. The situation is very much like being “gay” and having to decide whether or not to come out.

      For a long time I thought I was the only one I knew who had abandoned our religion until, at a dinner, I heard the scandalous gossip that Bob had told his wife he didn’t believe in God any more. Audible gasps went around the table. People expressed sad sympathy for his wife. How hard for her now to have to be the spiritual leader of the family. How hard for the children, to know their father wouldn’t be in Heaven with them. It takes a brave person to clear their throat and say, “Um, me too!”

      I have since learned of many others, but they mostly lie low. Two I know still teach Sunday School!

      In any case, I wouldn’t discount what talking to people accomplishes. In Christian circles, when they talk about spreading the faith, they openly acknowledge that when you “witness” to someone, you may meet with immediate rejection, you may not see them change, but you might plant a seed. The same goes in the opposite direction. Few people are ready to abandon a lifetime’s worth of beliefs and hopes and (even more so) relationships, their identity in short, based on anything that transpires in an hour, or two, or a few weeks. You have to absorb these things on an emotional level, which takes time. But such changes do occur. Ideas roll around in people’s mind. The correct theory of the world accumulates observations and gets stronger at the expense of false theories. So just because someone rejects what you say, even stridently, is no indication of whether you have had an effect on them.

      So Jerry is right that it’s not just about evidence. It’s about psychological deprogramming. And it’s also about social
      pressure.

  25. litchik
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I agree about Chris Hayes, but not in dissing Wright in this case. I have always thought of Dawkins as more of a preaching to the choir – or at best lay folks at the door, kind of speaker. This is not a dis. It is vital work. In politics we now call it mobilizing the base. But if you have the arguments Dawkins suggest, however reasonable they are on the merits, you will alienate many of those you need on your side for important public policy issues. Catholics- Santorum aside – along with many main stream Catholic churches and Judaism choose to deal with the cognitive dissonance involved in supporting evolution. (God was the Big Bang, my childhood priest explained) No it doesn’t hold water, but at least evolution is taught in Catholic schools without ID. (Though a kind of ID is implied, yes.) So there are plenty of Christians that will shut out all you have to say if you start debating transubstantiation or resurrection in a political forum. You will lose far more than you will gain. That’s OK if you are committed to being akin to the American Green Party, but then, no one will hear you ask the questions but the few who already agree with you and you have not moved the debate. So far Dawkins has continued to do what he does best, nudge people that tiny bit with persuasion and rile folks to start conversations. But taking his suggestion to heart and ticking off every believer of every stripe is s stupid political move.

  26. TheMuse
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    We are going to have to agree to disagree. I don’t think making religious people out to be idiots will make them more open to believing in evolution. And if we are going to apply the reasonable test to politicians then why should we stop there? Why not apply the reasonable test to science teachers at the high school and university level and to science researchers? How about NIH director and other public policy positions? Should someone who publicly or privately subscribes to religion be allowed to hold any of these positions? I think this line of thinking is borderline bigotry. People can and do compartmentalize. The best scientists are not necessarily atheists and because someone is an atheist does not even mean that they believe in evolution as I know a few self described atheists who can’t accept evolution because they think it too “improbable”.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      “We are going to have to agree to disagree. I don’t think making religious people out to be idiots will make them more open to believing in evolution”

      You seem to be assuming that getting religious people to accept evolution is Dawkins’s primary goal. It isn’t.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      I don’t think making religious people out to be idiots…

      I don’t think that’s what’s being advocated.

      Pointing out to someone that their beliefs are absurd and deserving of ridicule has nothing to do with idiocy (we know many religionists are very intelligent) but a lot to do with credulity. The technique is to goad them into actually applying their intelligence to consider their beliefs rationally… so, it’s quite respectful in that, um, respect.

      /@

      • Gluon
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Clearly it’s not intelligence. The geographical distribution of belief is enough to show that. The U.S. is not smitten with lower IQ’s than Europe, and the South is not smitten with even lower IQ’s (it’s hard to believe sometimes, I know… but really, there is no reason for geography to determine IQ). I don’t even think that credulity is the main issue even. I think Jerry hits it right when he calls it “brainwashing”. And culture. The powerful effects of social pressure. And TheMuse is right about people compartmentalizing. I have a friend who is an astronomer, he even has a couple of first author papers in Science. I’m a pretty good mathematician, but he has me beat. But he’s a devout Christian, he believes in the power of prayer, and he doesn’t believe in evolution. The ability of people to have, really, two completely different minds living in the same skull is amazing. But his belief is important to him, a big part of his identity, and his social setting. His shelves, full of science and math books lack any evolution, or even biology, books. It’s pretty clear he prefers to leave a foggy haze over all of that. Simply carefully reading Jerry’s book would probably be enough to sway him with the facts, but he has no incentive to pick it up.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          Well, yes, there is an element of “brainwashing” — perhaps better to say “indoctrination” or “conditioning”. But I still suspect that more the credulous are more easily indoctrinated or find it harder to “break the spell”. Or maybe it’s something more like the susceptibility to hypnosis…

          Hmm… Has anyone formally noted any correlation between susceptibility to hypnosis and religiosity?

          /@

          • Filippo
            Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

            I forget the chapter/verse; it starts out, “Bring up a child in the way he should go . . .” and then something to the effect that, when he becomes a man, either he will not distance himself from it, and/or if he leaves, he will return.”

            Something is not true simply and merely and solely because someone says so.

      • Gluon
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        I think sometimes it helps to be a bit stealthy, not just with religion but with anything you want to persuade people with. People are used to being proselytized, by people from other political parties, religions, parenting schools of thought, etc. Most people have a certain amount of inertia, and have built up a bit of identity, around whatever they currently think. I think that people develop reflexive shields to protect their beliefs/identities from attacks. They tune you out as soon as they can identify your party, or religion, or other group affiliation. They seek out confirming information and avoid sources of possibly disconfirming evidence. Religious belief is just the most extreme version of this.

        So sometimes I think part of the trick is to get people to think about their beliefs rationally before you trigger their belief shields. You can still get through the belief shields, of course, but it is harder. This is why I never identify my political affiliations to people when I intend to discuss some political issue. I want to be dismissed later in the argument, after I have engaged them some, not immediately based purely on in-group/out-group messages.

        Haldane’s (supposed) quote about beetles, for example, is something of this sort (roughly: What can be inferred about the creator from a study of his works? An inordinate fondness for beetles.) There is a criticism of the Christian world view buried in that phrase, but it slips into the mind without alerting anti-Darwin defenses.

        On the other hand, I suspect that every kind of approach has it’s merits sometimes. There is also a lot of value just to knowing that a certain number of the people you know, people you may respect, are atheists. So while letting people know that will trigger certain mental shields, it will also undermine a little bit of the social stigma.

        So maybe we need all kinds.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

          I suspect that every kind of approach has it’s merits sometimes.

          I’m convinced that that’s right (apart from the grammatical error! 😉 )

          See Greta Christina’s Good Cop, Bad Cop: Atheist Activism. (Over four years old, but still very relevant.)

          She touches on this again in What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement, with explicit reference to moving the Overton window.

          /@

          • gbjames
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

            +1

          • Gluon
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

            Has it is merits? What’s wrong with that 😉

          • Gluon
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

            Oh, and good links. Thanks.

        • Filippo
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          I once gingerly, congenially, briefly showed a significantly religioso relative my copy of Martin Gardner’s book, “The Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener.” He only looked at the front of the book and made the omniscient pronouncement, “That book has nothing to say to me.” That was very obviously a canned response with which he had been armed by his church’s leaders. I suppose that I “accommodated” him by refraining from asking him how he knew that. A “revelation”? Did it come to him in a dream?

          • Gluon
            Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            There is a fairly radical lack of trust in people’s own reason. In religious circles one is not encouraged to read and learn and make up your own mind. You have the truth, the path to Heaven already. You can only go down from there. And Satan is at work in the world trying to deceive you, so who would willingly expose themselves to that kind of risk?

            The sect I grew up in was very source sensitive. We were very picky about Bible versions, never read commentaries from people outside our sect, and so on. It is one of the hardest things to overcome, actually. You can’t evaluate ideas you’ve never heard, or only heard in bastardized versions from preachers.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Actually, ridiculing people’s religious beliefs is crediting them with the intelligence to do better. It puts us all on common ground.

      I think the Little People Argument — that atheism is fine for the elite but can’t be handled by the simple Little People who need their faith — is much more insulting to believers. We tiptoe around the truth for fear of upsetting those who aren’t ready, or who will never be ready. That’s not respect: it’s forbearance.

      • Gluon
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I’m guilty of this. Having abandoned the religion of my family, I tiptoe around them for fear of upsetting them. On reflection, I think this may be more of my reluctance to engage them than any fear of their reaction to me. I’m not afraid that people will treat me badly if I am more out in the open. Not really. I think I am mainly afraid of making other people sad. My mom will cry. A lot. Who wants that? It feels like being the bearer of bad news. I’d rather tell her I have terminal cancer. It was upsetting to me to lose my religion, it really hurt at the time. But I think you are right that it is patronizing them to act as though I will now protect them from this news, from acting as though they can not handle it.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          I think forbearance is much more common — and much more understandable — in personal relationships, where we’re dealing one-on-one with someone we need to get along with. We’re charitable and “make allowances” partly because we rather hope they’ll do the same for us. Such relationships are also multi-faceted and complex. It’s easy enough to just lay off the political or religious discussions to concentrate on whatever brought everyone together.

          I do this myself, all the time. My dad and I eventually had to just stay away from discussions on the paranormal. He’d get too frustrated (he was pretty much ok with the fact that I was an atheist, but it really, really bothered him that I didn’t believe in ESP.)

          But as a blanket policy towards another group, forbearance is denigrating. “They” can’t handle what *we* can handle. “They” need to be coddled. I’m always a bit surprised that accomodationists don’t think “they” will mind this attitude as long as we leave “them” alone.

        • derekw
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Gluon: Curious to the main/major reason to cause you to leave your faith? Obviously it sounds like it was/is an emotional toll.

          • Gluon
            Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:24 am | Permalink

            Oh, my, what a can of worms. Well, you asked…

            My interest in science is the short answer. What I learned about science just didn’t line up with my religion (old earth, evolution, etc.) Over time, I also noticed that many people selling my religion were frequently ignorant and when not ignorant, willing to lie. For a time I dabbled with my own version of fuzzy genesis-as-allegory kind of religion. The final unraveling of my belief came as a sort of observation. I simply realized that I didn’t actually believe it. I wanted to. I was even trying to. But there came that day when I realized that I simply didn’t.

            When I think about it, a few phases punctuated by notable episodes stand out:

            Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. This did a lot to educate me about evolution, which I previously knew mostly from sermons ridiculing it. There was no internet and Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker was not yet on the shelves (I wouldn’t have bought a copy anyway, of course, it would be too threatening, but I might have thumbed through it and absorbed a few arguments). It’s actually quite amazing how easy it was at the time to know nothing at all about evolution. Not even an accurate description of how it’s supposed to work, much less the evidence for it. I can’t recall any TV shows dedicated to the topic, though if there were I might have avoided them too. Cosmos was the perfect vehicle for me because I was incapable of tearing my eyes away from anything having to do with space. Sagan really sucked me in with his delivery too. I liked Sagan and I wanted to believe him. Call this the end of the ignorance phase.

            A couple of years later, in my freshman or sophomore year in college, there was an apologetics class put on by several science and engineering faculty members who attended the same huge university church as I did. It completely backfired. These were people I respected who had accomplished the sort of things that I hoped to someday accomplish. While I had not been that impressed with the arguments made by various preachers, I was sure that these smart people must have some really good reason for thinking our religion was true. I was a bit surprised to find that they had nothing new to tell me, just the same worn out arguments. What really had a huge impact on me, though, wasn’t the weakness of their arguments, per se, but their willingness to actually lie and distort facts. It’s familiar ground: quoting people out of context, presenting Einstein’s rhetorical god as a belief in a personal god, distorting scientific principles, and so on. When preachers did this I thought perhaps they just didn’t know any better. When the Dean of Engineering of a fairly major university offers the second law of thermodynamics as an argument against evolution you know he knows better but he is choosing to say it anyway. This willingness to lie for Jesus was shocking to me. If even these smart and accomplished people have to resort to distortions and lies, well… in a very real sense the jig was up. Call this the disillusionment phase.

            I still hadn’t lost my religion at that point . I had just lost any obvious mentor or guide. I muddled on for several more years by keeping the science part of my mind compartmentalized from the religion part. I found myself intellectually believing in an old universe, old earth, and to some extent even evolution. Somehow, though, I continued to think that my religion was real, that Heaven and Hell were real, that prayers were answered, and so on. I increasingly tried to interpret parts of the Bible as allegory: all the familiar retreats. Call this the Francis Collins phase. 😉

            This phase ended rather suddenly one day as I was walking around the block. I noticed casually, the way you might notice the color of a passing car, that I didn’t really believe that anything was going to happen when I prayed. I wasn’t debating the evidence in my mind or anything like that. I was just thinking about actually praying, or remembering someone praying, and I just noticed, as a simple point of fact, that I didn’t actually believe that prayer would have any effect. Or any prayer. It was suddenly crystal clear to me that there was nothing I could do about it either. I could pretend to believe it, perhaps, but I could not will myself to believe it. It was like the breaking of a spell. I found myself wondering with a new kind of clarity what else I actually believed. I recall resolving to “believe what I believe”. This sounds absurd, and I guess it was, but religion is like an infection of absurdity. My fundamentalist brand of religion was exactly like an elaborate chain-letter the core of which was a threat that if you believe the wrong things horrible things will happen. When you internalize this sort of view, the very idea of what you really believe gets confused and buried. Call this the breaking of the spell phase.

            It was another year before I couldn’t keep up the charade and told my wife. A couple more years before I told my closest friends. And, 20+ years on, I still haven’t told my parents. Call this the long slow coming out phase.

            It is hard not to feel that all of this would have happened much quicker if the internet had existed. Now, I would think one could breeze through the ignorance, disillusionment, and Francis Collins phases in a weekend, leaving only the uncertain breaking of the spell phase to potentially drag out longer. The continued existence of young believers throws that idea into doubt, though.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

              Thanks for the detailed explanation. It was very interesting. I don’t know if you read Pharyngula, but PZ has a regular series of “Why I Am An Atheist” posts sent in by readers. Yours would fit well.

            • derekw
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

              Gluon: I appreciate the honest and thoughtful response. My path took an opposite turn..in the sense that when growing up I was in a church with some thoughtful scientists and engineers who didn’t seem to have a problem reconciling science and faith. My early exposure to Reasons To Believe reasons.org was also key. Biologos has a similar type of ministry. My youth earth (and bad science) friends are dear to me…but difficult to convince them of certain things. Many church going folk don’t have the educational or scientific background to truly weight scientific principles or experimental results. Therefore they’ll cling to what they hold dear (ie what they were taught growing up/from the pulpit etc. And too many pastors/preachers have taught science from the pulpit without an inkling of understanding.) So the responsibility falls on those within the church community who have a science/higher education background to disseminate truths…and encourage a reconciliation with their faith. I’m disappointed yet not surprised that your college professors had such a poor showing at their apologetics forum. They were unwilling to fairly address scientific theory because they FELT deep down their faith tipped the balance and no reconciliation was possible. They and most YECs honestly believe they have NO choice (not sure this make them liars…just ignorant.) Fortunately a few decades later we have seen progress within the Christian community. YEC is clearly losing ground (how could it not with all the scientific evidence.) It’s slow going but I find it an effort worth the undertaking.

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        Exactly!

        /@

      • DV
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        I don’t think the “Little People Argument” is even a comprehensible argument to these people, to be insulted by it. It just passes over their heads. 🙂

        • Sastra
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Yes. Apparently, all they hear is “blah blah blah … they need faith… blah blah blah… so we should leave them alone and let them believe what they want.”

          And then they go “Yea! A good atheist!”

  27. litchik
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Oh, and have we celebrated that MSNBC devoted a whole show to how to be activist atheists yet?

    • Gluon
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      That is striking, isn’t it?

  28. Thanny
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I actually agree with the idea of letting people’s private beliefs remain private. There’s really nothing wrong with that.

    However, if they are basing policy decisions on those beliefs, they are no longer private at all. That’s the point that Hayes seemed completely incapable of understanding.

    • Anthony Paul
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I agree with that. The important dividing line is where public policy and the law become an issue.

  29. Daniel Lafave
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “Yes, people are entitled to their personal beliefs, but we’re entitled to judge them on what their personal beliefs are.”

    People are legally entitled to their beliefs (although conduct resulting from those beliefs is another matter), but they aren’t epistemically entitled to their beliefs if they don’t have good epistemic reasons, i.e. evidence, for those beliefs. I wish this distinction were made more often in these contexts.

  30. Sastra
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Now, suppose you’re a conservative Christian in Tennessee, and a fellow conservative Christian is trying to convince you of the merits of that anti-evolution bill. You’re on the fence–you’d never really given much thought to whether your child’s religious beliefs would be threatened by the teaching of Darwin. Then you hear Richard Dawkins, probably the most prominent Darwinian in the world, advocating displays of contempt and ridicule for your religion… Mightn’t you become, become, if anything, more fundamentalist

    Ok, now suppose you’re a conservative Christian in Tennessee and you’ve rejected evolution and become even more fundamentalist because you heard Richard Dawkins advocating displays of contempt for your religion. Then you hear Richard Dawkins backtrack — he comes out and apologizes for everything he said about science undermining the case for God because he found out that this has been turning people away from evolution. Can’t have that happen, so from now on Dawkins promises to just stay off the subject.

    Does Wright think that you will now be just fine with evolution? Or that you’ll relax your piety?

    I’m not sure what Wright wants Dawkins to do at this point. I mean, the cat is out of the bag: the problem which evolution poses to the design argument and Original Complexity has already been pointed out. A sudden about-face by Dawkins and a public appeal to atheists to stop criticizing religion for pragmatic reasons is letting the religious in on the super secret plan of manipulating them for their own good. Oooh, strategy. Gotcha.

    Will they not notice or care? Does Wright think they really are stupid?

  31. Golkarian
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    You said you were sure there was a case of accomodationism working, I’m not sure but maybe this qualifies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Waltke
    He was influenced by “The Language of God”

    But I agree, probably a much rarer event. But I do think data would be better than anecdotes, but anecdotes are all we have so far.

  32. Duncan Fleming
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jerry

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and find it incredibly insightful and interesting. I’ve studied Darwinism through Janet Radcliffe Richards’ Human Nature after Darwin, as well as read Dawkin’s The Greatest Show on Earth for leisure purposes.

    I came across this today: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/03/26/war-on-words-nyc-dept-of-education-wants-50-forbidden-words-removed-from-standardized-tests/

    Could someone please shed some more light on this matter? I find it rather disturbing.

    Cheers
    Duncan

  33. John
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Every time I read a piece like this all I can think of is this XKCD comic.

    http://xkcd.com/774/

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Many of us have the same thought, I think.

      /@

  34. Marella
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Just think, if pointed questions about religious beliefs were a normal part of the election process, the British people might have spared a decade of Tony Blair as PM and possibly the Iraq war would not have happened. Blair’s support for that ill-fated venture was very encouraging for Mr GW Bush in his ambitions and without is he might not have gone ahead.

  35. Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Wright just doesn’t get it. Such “accommodation,” such a “touchy feely” approach to dealing with others’ beliefs is precisely why religion has persisted through the centuries to this very day. I side with Dawkins on this 100%. It is high time somebody called a spade a spade, and frankly speaking, when something is *ridiculous* it deserves *ridicule*. Will ardent believers be offended? Meh. Let them. It’s about time they learned to take on the same level as they give.

  36. Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s worth noting the difference between ridiculing a person versus ridiculing a belief. Although some people do deserve to be made fun of, so I’m wondering when atheists are going to get on Penn Jilette for being a global warming denier.

  37. Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Of course I am in basic agreement w/ everyone’s comments here about Hayes. He does tend to yammer on a bit much. But come on. He did a great job with that installment. I can’t recall anyone even coming close to doing such a great job.

    I think you’re beatin’ up on him a little too hard.

    And another thing: I rather enjoyed listening to Chris describe his own grasp on Reason and dissension from superstition. I came away w/ a lot more respect for him.

  38. amycgi
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Conye, I respect you and loved your book, but if mud slinging and belittling of faith is the only way to win atheist converts, one wonders about the depth and persuasive power of atheism’s fundamental message. It is the insecure who rely on an irreverent leader who exacerbates an “us vs. them” mentality and thumbs his nose at “them”. Dawkins’ argument is very simple and goes like this: (1) evolution happened, (2) religion has foibles, (3) I’m really smart, (4) religious people are really dumb, so (5) listen to me and don’t be religious. This argument has many flaws; the most glaring is that nowhere is one shred of evidence offered that disproves God. Why is it that intimidation is the preferred means of winning the hearts of would-be atheists? Is there no more enduring, constructive message to the movement than that? Can we not calmly reason our way to truth or must we rely on negative emotions? Those whose minds won’t change (as your article references) using reason alone also won’t change based on personal attacks, so the real target of the “smarter-than-thou” message are those on the fence, as you point out. How strange that a core message of the “Reason Rally” is to persuade others with vehement emotion (and of course fancy institutions on CVs) rather than measured reason.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your kind remarks on my book, but with all due respect you show profound ignorance of Dawkins’s (or my) message. Are you basing your judgment on his argument completely on the video above? Did you even READ The God Delusion, which contains plenty of evidence for the absence of a traditional God, which you claim Dawkins has never offered. The argument that you present above that is supposedly the atheist argument is a complete and arrant characature. Nobody is asking for wholesale denigration of the faithful themselves, but for criticism of their beliefs.

      Go read The God Delusion and then come back with your counter-arguments; as things stand above, you have no idea about the real message of Dawkins and the new atheists. And you obviously equally ignorant about of the Reason Rally, whose message was positive and completely different from what you portray.

      You are in effect tone trolling; but worse: tone-trolling without any knowledge of the things you are speaking about.

      • David T.
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        I read the god delusion as a theist and its tone did nothing to challenge my faith. It was easy to cherry pick the obvious errors Dawkins presented and assume that if he’s lying / wrong about these topics then he’s wrong about the others. For example his example about the xenophobia of Jesus claiming that when Jesus talked about love your neighbor he meant only the Jew, completely ignoring the fact that a few lines later when asked who our neighbor is, Jesus tells the famous tell of the good Samaritan. Does this mean that Dawkins was wrong about there likely being no god, of course not, I agree now that there likely isn’t one, but his tone stopped me from accepting that from him.

        The more polite people like Julia Sweeney, Carl Sagan, Kenneth W Daniels were the real kickers, with their tone I was able to actually open up and listen to what they had to say. Tone is everything. The old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is very true.

        Going back to the civil rights movement, Martin Luther did way more for equal rights than the Black Panthers. As much as you want atheists to be the majority they simply aren’t and the attacking techniques creates a divide not an understanding. Of course you’ve already made up your mind and its hard to change someone’s mind when they are completely convinced they’re right.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          “Tone is everything.”

          Only to the intellectually dishonest.

          • gbjames
            Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            Indeed. Tone is tone and nothing more. Having the “correct” tone while conveying a diluted message is a waste of time. Having it “correct” with a false message is lying with a smile. What drives me nuts are those who confuse blunt honesty with offensive tone. To my mind this is just intellectual cowardice.

            • David T.
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

              The correct tone is only a waste of time if you don’t care to convince people. Countless people are tricked to believing the wrong thing because they like the person who’s speaking more than the “correct” person.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

                “Countless people are tricked to believing the wrong thing because they like the person who’s speaking more than the ‘correct’ person.”

                Yes, and that’s their fault. I refuse to lower myself to the level of appealing to cognitive errors.

              • David T.
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                “Yes, and that’s their fault. I refuse to lower myself to the level of appealing to cognitive errors.”

                Fair enough if you don’t actually care about change then keep that attitude. You can be right but not effective. I’d rather be right and effective.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                My point is this: if you (or anyone) prefers one flavor/tone fine. Have at it. There is plenty of “nice tone” material out there for use. But enough of the whining about strident/shrill/wrongTone from those of us who prefer blunt honesty to “honey”. There is plenty of evidence that bluntness works.

        • DV
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          You were not ready for Dawkins at that point. Try re-reading it now.

          • David T.
            Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            DV
            “You were not ready for Dawkins at that point. Try re-reading it now.”

            I’m sure I’ll completely agree. I disliked Dawkins evolution books, preferring others until I lost my faith and later while reading The Selfish Gene, it hit me that I actually do like Dawkins books.

            My point is, had Dawkins taken a different tone, someone like myself would have likely lost my religion a year or two before I did. Sagan’s semi-polite Gifford lectures were far more devastating than Dawkins polemic attack. Of course I realize that I’m projecting my own experience on this situation and I’ll be the first to admit that I could be wrong.

            I still think its common sense. The effective religious people have long known this, take the insane Westboro Baptist, I’d seriously doubt that they’ve converted a single non believer. Their hateful attacks put people on the defensive and no one hears a word they say only their hate (not that they’ve ever said a single worthwhile thing). Whereas when I used to try to proselytize, I knew the easiest way to do this is was to be kind and polite and once they were familiar with me and more open then I’d share Jesus with them, this way sometimes succeeded, other ways failed 100% of the time.

            This is the reason why I’d recommend Kenneth Miller to a christian whom I wanted to convince that evolution is true over any book by Dawkins.

            Once again, seriously if Atheists want to actually convince people stop the attacks, use the same techniques that smart religious people have long known about: kindness and caring. As I said earlier you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

            • DV
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

              I read practically all of Sagan years before I read all of Dawkins. I didn’t really find Sagan challenging faith so much as just encouraging science and reason. Just a different emphasis. It is possible to remain a theist while reading Sagan, in a compatmentalized way. But Dawkins makes no such accomodation. He doesn’t skirt the issue but argues it directly: evolution simply demolishes the Design argument for God.

              I haven’t read Kennet Miller so I can’t make a comparison. But I think Dawkins’ books are excellent for any theist open to being convinced by reason. The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, etc. He didn’t only write The God Delusion, you know.

              • David T.
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                I’ve read 5 of Dawkins books, it wasn’t until the Selfish Gene and my loss of faith that I finally appreciated his work. I’m looking forward to reread all of them (after I read the ones I haven’t previously read).

                Sagan got me thinking, perhaps we’re wrong about our importance in the universe. Dawkins put me on the defensive. Not to say that my experience is going to be like anyone else.

                Kenneth Miller’s books are effective for a theist because he’s a believer who accepts evolution (full Darwinian Evolution also, not the theistic kind). No longer do I have to choose between god and man, I can have my cake and eat it too. Later it hit me that the world with evolution makes even more sense when I quite trying to fit got into it.

              • David T.
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                Atheism is a giant leap for a fundamentalist, the important step is to accept evolution / the age of the earth and start to question the inerrant doctrine of the bible. The less inspired they see the word of god the more likely they’re world view will change and the more reasonable they become.

                I’m someone who doesn’t care about making people atheists, I only want fundamentalism to end (and the things it brings: ignorance, bigotry, a lack of understanding, blind faith, ect).

              • DV
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                I can’t imagine any fundamentalist even venturing so far as to open a Dawkins book, given his current reputation. Dawkins is not trying to reach that demographic.

                Religious people are very insecure about their faith as if they know deep down how fragile the foundation of the whole thing is. There was a big call for boycott of The Golden Compass, clearly demonstrating that they recognize that one hour of viewing a fantasy movie is a threat to undermine years of weekly (even daily) indoctrination.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

              Those of us who prefer directness are, a bit suspicious of honey-spreading. It has the flavor of entrapment and feels rather like the disingenuous techniques that evangelists employ when fishing for converts. It smells of holding back on the truth until the “mark” is ready to swallow the bait. I, for one, refuse to pretend that dumb things aren’t dumb things just because the “bait” might be less sweet.

        • Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          Martin Luther [King] did way more for equal rights than the Black Panthers.

          So, when did you last see Dawkins brandishing firearms, shooting police officers and torturing atheist quislings?

          I think King would have been seen then as just as much a firebrand as Dawkins is now, possibly more so.

          /@

      • hippolyta84
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        There’s a difference between tone-trolling and a high-level summary of assertions being made. I think amycgi’s summary of dawkin’s book forms an overall message that dawkins himself would agree with (although never explicitly that ‘he’s really smart’..he has too good a sense of humor for that). Of course there are many good intellectual arguments laid forth in the GD, but the overall thrust is indeed a wholesale rejection of religiosity as a whole, in my opinion a rather absurd endeavor that relies heavily on non-sequitur conclusions… but i agree it should be debated. we who believe should understand precisely why we believe, which is what the GD helped me come closer to achieving.

      • amycgi
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        I am not tone trolling. I am a deeply theist scientist who studies medical and population genetics, believes in evolution, and I am addressing the arguments made in favor of atheism. Tone and the tactic of mockery can be persuasive, but at the end of the day, these are merely emotional wedges and a mask to obscure an argument with scant if any evidence against God. Mockery is effective against the insecure because it has such a feeling of superiority.

        I have not read The God Delusion (top of my list) but I have heard Dawkins speak numerous times and I have read Hitchens’ god is not Great. Nothing in Dawkins’ or Hitchens’ messages ever disproves God. They cherry pick the worst examples of religious expression, proving nothing about God or religion. They offer only a gross caricature. An analogous attack on evolution/science would be to scour all scholarly writings (or even private writings of scientists), find every mistaken claim or bad behavior, and present this as the “real evolution” or the “real science”.

        I agree that mockery was not the only message of the Reason Rally, but it is a core message, as evidenced Dawkins’ evangelism of it, Wright’s article, and the continual use of this technique. I did follow some of the Reason Rally and agree that it had positive elements.

        My argument can be summarized as: (1) there is no proof against God, (2) to avoid revealing this fact, Dawkins relies on powerful emotional wording, and (3) this approach is persuasive to the insecure. My argument hinges on claim (1). It is a fact: no one has ever offered proof against God. Given this, what is the justification for overconfidently professing atheisms’ superiority?

        • gbjames
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          You say thing like “there is no proof against God”.

          You are a scientist and can’t recognize the absurdity of this claim? You haven’t heard of Russell’s teapot? Do you have proof that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist? Can you prove that Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a real magical being living under my garage? Can you prove that the Invisible Pink Unicorn doesn’t exist? Show it please.

          How are we to resolve this most profound of logical fallacies with your claim to be a scientist? You’ve made my brain hurt.

          • amycgi
            Posted April 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            It is obviously absurd to claim the existence of Russell’s teapot or FSM. Those claims are far different from claiming the existence of God. I might also ask you to prove the existence of Plato: have you any real proof that he lived? The existence or non-existence of FSM or Plato does not shed any light on the question of God’s existence.

            Continuing this argument (which favors agnosticism), consider two models: (1) the big bang happened by random chance, but we have never observed the physical means for it and therefore cannot build a testable scientific model of it, or (2) the big bang happened and God was involved. Neither of these models is more parsimonious than the other (if you disagree, justify philosophically why). Model (2) is abhorrent to those who hate religion, or who follow a culture that is uncomfortable with the notion of God, but discomfort with an idea is not a reasonable basis for condemning it. Moreover, even if we could perfectly describe the big bang scientifically (maybe someday?), that is no proof against God (or model (2)). We might merely be describing God’s methods.

            Why support theism, though? I would be an agnostic except for the fact that God can and has revealed Himself to me and can do so for all. I believe in Him because of my personal experience in communicating with Him. All who wish may verify God’s existence if they will have an open mind and heart. (More on my experience, and brief academic bio of me is here; yes, I am a Mormon.)

            You may complain that this is not scientific proof because it is internal and personal rather than external and physical. Briefly, I’ll say that scientific evidence carries us far in acquiring truth, but does not yield all truth. Godel’s incompleteness theorem says as much in the sphere of logic and math. Day to day experience says this as well: for example, why do you believe your mother loves you? Mere words and gestures are not enough to prove that she has this feeling, and your belief in her feeling love for you has no physical proof to back it.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

              There is precisely as much evidence for your deity as there is for the FSM and the teapot. Zero. So, naturally, you have failed to provide any. But none of us will be surprised about that.

              Sorry to be blunt about this, but running on about internal revealed coversations is no better than just making it up, whatever your resume says. What evidence you have provided suggest only that you are delusional. Or pretending.

              • amycgi
                Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

                My last reply; otherwise we could drone on forever. If you had lived in Western Europe 700 years ago and I told you the earth was round, you would have considered me deluded. Only by putting the idea that the earth was round to the test did Columbus rediscover this fact. When it comes to religion, one cannot be certain either way on the basis of physical evidence alone. I claim that you can know for yourself if you will ask. By asking, you could learn that there is a God and learn more of the purpose, meaning, and hope of life. Your response that I am deluded evidences your faith in atheism.

              • Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                If you had lived in Western Europe 700 years ago and I told you the earth was round, you would have considered me deluded.

                Plainly false: On the Sphere of the World, the most influential astronomy textbook of the 13th century and required reading by students in all Western European universities, described the world as a sphere. … 

                The Norwegian book Konungs Skuggsjá, from around 1250, states clearly that the Earth is round – and that there is night on the opposite side of the Earth when there is daytime in Norway. The author also discusses the existence of antipodes – and he notes that they (if they exist) will see the Sun in the north of the middle of the day, and that they will have opposite seasons of the people living in the Northern Hemisphere. [Wp]

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted April 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                Columbus did not rediscover the earth to be a sphere. It was known in his time already. But that’s not really relevant anyway.

                The appropriate response to an assertion about reality, whether it be “the world is a sphere” or “there is a god” is the simple one any real scientist would ask: “Show me the evidence.” Not “tell me if you feel like it is true” or “what are the voices in your head saying?”

                And asserting that atheism requires faith is a familar trope from religious appologists. It amounts to “oh, yeah? well you’re just as bad”, a pathetic argument at best. And, if you bother to think about it for half a minute absurd. As you may not have heard, atheism is a faith in much the same way as “off” on your TV is a channel or celebacy is a sex position.

                The point you haven’t refuted, and can not refute, is that you have no evidence for your deity. You have only voices in your head. And if you actually hear them, then this is a sign of delusion. If you don’t really hear voices in your head, then you are living in make-believe land.

              • Posted April 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                atheism is a faith in much the same way as “off” on your TV is a channel

                Stolen.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                Shamelessly stolen! 😉

              • Posted April 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Oh, I was meaning that I’d just stolen that from you… it wasn’t an accusation.

                This works much better than “not collecting stamps”, I think.

                Any idea who coined it?

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

                I don’t remember where I first saw the “off channel” analogue, but it has appeared before in WEIT comments, I think. Bill Maher is responsible for the sex position one. Shameless theft of such tidbits is a moral responsibility. 😉

              • amycgi
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

                Evidently we haven’t exhausted substantive dialog here, so I will reply; eventually we’ll likely have to agree to disagree.

                Re: Columbus, the two of you appear more informed than my K-12 history teachers! Nevertheless, there are many examples of previously unknown facts of nature that were discovered and initially disbelieved at the time.

                When one claims, for example, that the earth revolves around the sun or that matter is composed of atoms, a real scientist cannot just passively say “show me the evidence,” he/she must verify the claim. You surely believe that the earth revolves around the sun, but have you verified this for yourself? What proof have you that this is so? Scientific evidence comes through experimentation and analysis of data. Reproducing experiments analyzing data involves work (and in most disciplines, training and expensive equipment), not passive acceptance of a claim.

                So I have come to you with a claim about the verifiability of God, described the methods I’ve used, and leave it to you to decide whether you will verify/reproduce this for yourself. The fact that you don’t like the style of my observation (private, peaceful, loving, hopeful feelings from a divine source) is irrelevant: you have no evidence I am deluded, you only have your belief. Why do you choose to think I am deluded when you have no evidence to support that claim? You can think I’m a liar, but what possible benefit is it to me to lie about this?

                I’m not saying that your faith in atheism is “just as bad” as religionists; I’m claiming that the notion that atheism does not involve faith is false. Dawkins’ analogy to a TV being off is both wishy washy (try to spell out with philosophical rigor what he means by this) and wrong. The only non-faith/”off” position on the question of God is agnosticism. There is, once again, no proof against God, and you have not refuted this claim. We can go in circles on this or agree on the reality that only agnosticism involves a lack of faith.

                As to a lack of evidence for God, I disagree, though the “evidence” for God can be seen in a host of different lights, and isn’t all that compelling to a non-believer. Consider the following: the big bang happened, the physical constants are such that it was possible for life to form, life did form, intelligent, self-aware human beings are here to ask deep philosophical questions, and all cultures derive deep meaning — often religious meaning — from life. Did all this happen merely by chance? That’s a question without an easy answer, and science has not proven that this all happened by chance.

                There is a paradox in atheism. If there is no God, there will never be any proof of this since we cannot feasibly search all of physical space (much less any spiritual realm). In contrast, if there is a God, there is the possibility of Him revealing Himself to us. Thus, only a theist position has the potential of being verified. This paradox does not</em prove there is a God, but it does show that the faith required for atheism is different than the faith exercised by believers. I actually think we need two words for the faith of an atheist and the faith of a theist.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

                “So I have come to you with a claim about the verifiability of God, described the methods I’ve used,”

                Except you haven’t. You’ve just asserted your God exists, you haven’t provided an mechanism for verifying that existence.

                “The fact that you don’t like the style of my observation (private, peaceful, loving, hopeful feelings from a divine source)”

                That’s not a style of observation at all.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

                Traveling, as I am, with only my iPad to type on, I will not attempt to match your comment in word count. But I don’t think that matters given the central fallacy of yor argument which you refuse to recognize. One does not, indeed cannot, prove the negative. You are also an atheist. You do not, as a Mormon, believe in Zeus. Or Thor. Or Baal. Can you prove they don’t exist? Of course not. So stop with these silly arguments that atheists can’t prove at your deity doesn’t exist.

                The atheist position is not one of faith, despite your claims to the contrary. It takes no faith on your part to not believe in his holiness, the FSM. None. And it takes no faith for me to not believe in Joe Smith’s silly gold tablets. They are equivalent claims. Equally vapid. Equally devoid of evidence.

              • David T.
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

                “You are also an atheist. You do not, as a Mormon, believe in Zeus. Or Thor. Or Baal”

                I’ve always disliked this reasoning. Its a pretty small step to reject 99% of all other gods, any theist does this without thinking about it. But to go from rejecting 99% to 100% is a giant leap. To even go from accepting a theist position to the more absent god position of a deist is a giant leap. Furthermore, even if 99% of the gods are wrong doesn’t mean that a) 100% are wrong or that b) all ideas of god are partially wrong, that there is a god and we just don’t fully know his attributes so we’ve called him by many man made names.

              • Filippo
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                So, perhaps we should all bind together as happy campers under the Unitarian-Universalist “Big Tent,” eh? Are all religions, to greater or lesser degrees, “right”?

                The FSM gets disparaged, but why any more so than Wotan, Zeus, Mithras and others and their assigns? A lot of humans used to “believe” in Zeus/Jupiter. Who does now? Why don’t they any more? Who is to deny the efficacy of Scientology, when apparently any claim must inescapably be true simply and merely and solely because someone SAYS so?

              • Tulse
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

                Its a pretty small step to reject 99% of all other gods, any theist does this without thinking about it.

                Exactly, and the point is to get them to think about it. Why should they believe in their god, when others who believe in other gods make very similar arguments for their own faith? What supposedly makes a Christian’s argument for his or her faith more convincing that that of someone who believed in Baal, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or etc. etc. etc.?

              • gbjames
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                David T. You miss the point when you say things like “But to go from rejecting 99% to 100% is a giant leap…”

                The point is that believers have no trouble understanding the atheist position for all gods but the one they happen to be fond of. They dismiss them all and don’t go demanding proof of the nonexistence of these deities. But in the case of the big fella in the sky that they (usually) grew up believing in (not Santa… the other one) they carve out this exception and demand what is unreasonable in all other contexts.

                We atheists are just saying… this demand is equally unreasonable here.

              • amycgi
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                “So I have come to you with a claim about the verifiability of God, described the methods I’ve used,”

                Except you haven’t. You’ve just asserted your God exists, you haven’t provided an mechanism for verifying that existence.

                You may have missed the link; and of course there are millions of others with similar accounts.

                “The fact that you don’t like the style of my observation (private, peaceful, loving, hopeful feelings from a divine source)”

                That’s not a style of observation at all.

                Yes, it is, and psychologists try to explain these sorts of observations all the time. Whether it be, “I feel good when I see someone I love,” or “I hurt when someone says something mean,” or “I feel peaceful feelings when I pray,” all are observations based on internal experiences.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                No. We didn’t miss your link. Your link doesn’t point to anything useful. It goes to a place where you describe how your beliefs make you feel good. But how you feel says nothing about the existence of your deity. Nothing. Zero. It is as good as what a believer in the divinity of Viracocha might provide. A muslim would say much the same about the truth of Muhammad being the one true prophet of Allah. Or a faithful follower of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

                You are confusing revelation with reality. You are fooling yourself. No doubt you get lots of positive feedback from other Mormon believers as a result. But that is evidence only of shared delusion. You have provided zero evidence of anything that exists outside of your own head.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

                Internal experiences can provide you information about internal states, not about things that exist outside you.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              “It is obviously absurd to claim the existence of Russell’s teapot or FSM. Those claims are far different from claiming the existence of God.”

              Really? How so?

              In all three cases, we are talking about a concept that humans invented. With all three cases, we can look for reasons to think that the things some humans thought up exist in reality.

              • amycgi
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                How do you know humans invented the concept of God?

                Let’s simplify the FSM argument, since analogies can easily obscure things (as in the “TV off” analogy above). The argument is something like: (1) some people believe in a God I have never seen and they ascribe to God several properties, (2) I can invite a notion (FSM) that mocks these claims, ascribing to it ludicrous properties twisted from (1), and pretend I worship it, and hence (3) any idiot can see that the claims underlying God and FSM are really the same, therefore there is no God. There are several problems here. First, why does inventing FSM or a teapot convince you there is no God? It does not logically follow. Second, it is great hubris to suppose that FSM and God are comparable: anyone who is convinced that FSM disproves God has already made up their mind; their view of God is as a straw man that they quickly substitute with FSM.

                Further, this sort of reasoning can explain away things that we all accept as true. You quoted me, but omitted my point about Plato. If you’re so convinced that you can disprove God by inventing FSM or a teapot, then why are you not convinced by the similar reasoning that suggests the non-existence of Plato?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                “How do you know humans invented the concept of God?”

                Where else would the concept have come from?

              • gbjames
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                Yes. The FSM is a mocking concept. For an idea worthy of mockery.

                The FSM and teapot are not intended as proof that there is no god. They are intended to illustrate the absurdity of claims like yours that the idea of a deity needs to be disproved. You have it upside down. The burden of proof is on those who make such claims. Existence claims require evidence and you have none to provide.

                It is as unreasonable to say “you can’t disprove my deity” as it is to say “you can’t disprove the FSM.” when you make statements like that you may as well hang a sign around your neck reading “Mock my foolish idea.”

            • David T.
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

              “There is precisely as much evidence for your deity as there is for the FSM and the teapot. Zero”

              I think this is slightly wrong, no significant number of people actually believe in a FSM or the teapot, its okay for mocking beliefs but there’s no evidence for the teapot / FSM. Whereas a theist could claim that his evidence comes in two forms 1) as far back as we have any records of humanity there is evidence of a belief in a deity / rituals (he could therefore argue that a god / gods have always been reaching out to mankind) 2) many theists can claim that they’ve had personal feelings / experiences with a supernatural being / god, Thomson said in his Why We Believe in Gods, we’re primed for religious acceptance, a theist could say that of course we’re primed, its the ‘god gene’. You can’t make these claims with the teapot / FSM.

              On the flip side there are naturalistic explanations for both reasons 1) as early humans our lack of understanding lead us to assume that something caused the unknown, since we didn’t know we labeled this god and worshiped it, cargo cults are modern examples of this. 2) being primed for religion could just be an evolutionary side effect / accident, sort of like the moth’s habit of flying to its death in a fire.

              In either case, the FSM / Teapot don’t disprove a deity.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

                “no significant number of people actually believe in a FSM or the teapot,”

                That’s irrelevant for determining whether something exists.

              • David T.
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                “no significant number of people actually believe in a FSM or the teapot,”

                “That’s irrelevant for determining whether something exists.”

                Yes but people believing in it was relevant when I listed my two common reasons for the belief in a deity. Don’t get me wrong I’m an agnostic atheist but the teapot example doesn’t fit into the common theistic “evidences”.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

                That’s a problem with what they consider evidence, not with the analogy.

                It’s one of the problems the analogy is supposed to highlight.

            • David T.
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

              Okay, last post from me this morning.

              amycgi, you seem well meaning, but you should be careful remaining around websites like this if you actually want to keep your faith, especially the shaky mormon one.

              First, assume that we label this cause of the big bang “god”, what does this prove? At most this proves the Spinoza type of pantheistic god or the absent first mover deist god. This proves nothing and is meaningless, if this “god” caused the big bang does that really mean that he made everything for mankind or that he has any interest in you? This uncaused cause or ‘god’ very well could simply just go around banging out universe after universe for no reason we understand. I think its a lot more likely that what ever this cause was (assuming there is one) that the cause was not to create mankind. Why else is there a hundred billion galaxies each with a hundred billion stars if the purpose is mankind? You have to agree that its an extreme waste and the only logical conclusion is we’re not the reason for the universe. Worship this deist god if you want but he’s not YOUR god.

              Furthermore the bible is full of holes and contradictions and can’t possibly be inerrant, yet this book of mormon takes this to a whole new level. Let me ask you some things, why is it that there is absolutely no evidence for the things listed in the book of mormon? At least with the bible we know that there were in fact Israelites, the same can’t be said for the Nephites / Laminites.

              Secondly in the hebrew bible (old testament) we have zero mentions of Jesus by name, zero of a future church only references to yahweh, there are only vague references to a future messiah, none tell this messiah will be god incarnate. These were gods chosen people and god wouldn’t give them this basic information. Why is it that god told this tribe in america whom none survived details about Jesus where he denied them to his own chosen people, surely if the Israelis knew as much as the Nephites they wouldn’t have killed Jesus. Why didn’t god forsee problems with things like infant baptism when he was on earth yet he corrected it 1700 years later when it was a hot issue? Is it not more likely that Joseph Smith made these things us? Why are there only vague prophecies with things after the year 1830 in the BoM yet before that there are exact ones such as the year Jesus will arrive? Does god know when Jesus is coming and can tell the Nephites exactly but not when he’ll create his future Jackson County Zion?

              As for feelings they’re meaningless, go to any Pentecostal service and you’ll have the same experience, this same goes for just about every major world wide religion, if you remove feelings you sure can’t use the BoM.

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      A veritable straw professor!

      /@

  39. Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    As a matter of fact, a decisions-maker’s private beliefs should be questioned and scrutinized. What if, for exemple, this decisions-maker happens to privately believe the rapture is iminent. I dare not imagine what influence this belief would have on their decisions and policies…

    IOW: what pretty much what all the comments here say.

  40. Stan Pak
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    The notion of “reasonableness” of Wright is of the same sort of being “reasonable” while talking to the thug who may potentially smash your face against the pavement if he does not like your arguments. (And he does not use reason, because he has other “reasons”.)

    While some religions in civilized countries are now pretty tame, this is not a rule in many other places, and even in Western countries Islamists kill people for criticism and in others (like Poland) you might be taken to the court and pay your price.

    Dawkins is of course right that if reasoned conversation in not possible, the last resort is ridicule of ideas, while not attacking the person holding ideas. Ridicule forces such persons to think through their ideas, revise them in defense to ridicule, thus promoting self-reflection which helps to notice errors in ideas.

  41. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Excellent discussion. As it happens, I can repeat what I noted yesterday on responding to creationists. A recent article on denialism blog offers this:

    “[title] Mooney now agrees with us – Denialists deserve ridicule, not debate [/title]

    He had to realize Nisbett’s framing was worthless and write a whole book on defective Republican reasoning to realize it but it sounds like Chris Mooney has come around to the right way to confront denialism:

    The only solution, then, is to make organized climate denial simply beyond the pale. It has to be the case that taking such a stand is tantamount to asserting that smoking is completely safe, no big deal, go ahead and have two packs a day.””

    “The solution to these problems is not in confrontations or debates or even necessarily careful fisking of their arguments every time they appear in the blogosphere. For one, it’s somewhat futile. They’re cranks. They will just go on and on, immune to any new data, scientific findings, or any evidence the real world can present. Worse, evidence suggests that repetition of false claims reinforces them even if you are debunking the claim. So debating them to supposedly educate those around you is not a legitimate reason because it’s probably making things worse, not to mention legitimizing the denialist.”

  42. David T.
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I’m going to go against the grain once again.

    From personal experience, I grew up an anti-evolution / fundamentalist theist and polite but honest people like Carl Sagan and Kenneth Miller did way more to change my world view than Harris or Dawkins ever did (I’d read their books looking for fallacies rather than hear any type of argument). In fact it took until I completely let go of my faith before I could appreciate Dawkins work (and regardless of what you say ALL of his work is very anti-christian / god).

    I agree with Wright here, I live in fundi Texas panhandle and the hard atheist stances make things worse not better (back someone against a corner and they’ll fight), unfortunately some people who live in more liberal places can’t get out of their world view and realize what kind of headaches they’re causing for us people who do live in the bible belt.

    Read any intelligent design website, people like Dawkins anti-religious stance actually makes it way way harder to get evolution accepted. He’s just too busy fighting religion to care about what it takes to get a fundi to break out of his world view.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Dawkins is on that site because he is perceived as a threat. This is a good thing. His bluntness is a threat to belief. Religion isn’t going to evaporate on its own. Religious advocates are not going to cease prothlesizing if they aren’t challenged. If that were so they would have vanished long ago.

  43. DrDroid
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Religion is a mind virus that requires the strong antiseptic of reason and ridicule to kill it. I think a recent comment by Larry Gay is relevant here:

    “Don’t worry about offending the adult fundamentalists. It’s the next generation that matters.”

    Adult fundamentalists have had their brains rewired to such an extent that there is little or no hope of changing their minds. But young people are a different matter.

    No, I don’t think religion will ever be eradicated (like all viruses it will mutate). But its effect on society can be controlled and reduced. And it should be made clear that while the eradication of superstition is a desirable goal, the method for doing this is shining the light of reason on superstition, not passing laws to outlaw religion.

  44. MAUCH
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    No matter how rude it may seem you don’t decide on who to vote for without the information of whether your candidate holds irrational private obedience to some demanding god. People seem to think that it is not okay to criticize a public official until they get into office and announce that they will now begin preparing us for the rapture. It is better to speak-up now and not give these people the opportunity to effect public policy.

  45. Posted March 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I have to mention that I know several Christians (one a biology professor, one a biologist) who fight against Creationism and climate denial. I also know many Unitarians who fight the exact same fight as atheists.

    Yes, they read the Bible and pray, but to them it’s symbolic, not literal. To them it’s a work of fiction. Something they grew up with and enjoyed. I mean, I find comfort in certain fiction stories, but it’s not as though I think that stuff actually happened.

    I don’t know why atheists would limit who’s allowed to fight against anti-science.

    • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

      I don’t know why atheists would limit who’s allowed to fight against anti-science.

      Nor do I. The more the merrier.

      But who, precisely, is doing that?

      /@

      • Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Well, I suppose it depends on our respective definitions of “the fight for science”. But if we’re talking about defending science on this blog, imagine a devoted Christian commenting here that she prays but it is only symbolic and that she otherwise defends science. She would be chewed up and spit out.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          You say that as if it was a bad thing.

          • Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            Yes, I get the temptation. Trust me. 😉

        • Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Well, she might. But not for defending science.

          /@

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      “Yes, they read the Bible and pray, but to them it’s symbolic, not literal. To them it’s a work of fiction.”

      Those people are atheists.

      • Posted April 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        I admit that’s an interesting thought. I won’t go not my opinion on the matter but I had not considered that angle.

  46. Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    As to what go James and Ben were saying, I have been accused of “tone trolling” here, but really, can’t we separate science (which is a discipline) from condescension vs compassion (which are about emotion)?

    Molecules do not care who is observing them, an atheist, mormon or christian. There’s only one way to get it right. The science of chemistry does not respond to emotions when the methods are unbiased enough to get at reality. That is not tone trolling.

    What surprises me is that all of us would be citing studies when discussing evolution, but when discussing religion and how to change attitudes, which if anything is psychology, no one uses the same logical method: published studies. Prove that “condescension” or whatever does change attitudes. And use the same standards as any other scientific argument. Not just a site from Dawkins.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      I give evidence (and why exactly do you dismiss the hundreds of people who say that the cofrontational attitude helped deprogram them from religion and toward science?); you give none except a belief. Where are the dozens of letters showing that coddling the faithful turns them toward science? We give you proof, you give us tone trolling. Put up some evidence for your hypothesis: give us two dozen letters from religious people who came over to evolution because they were told it was compatible with their faith.

      You have nothing. The published studies say nothing on this issue about evolution and faith, and so we must look look at the data: real human minds being changed in one direction. And all that evidence is on the confrontational side.

      Don’t insult the readers here by saying that they become illogical and use double standards. You really come off here as looking smug and superior.

      • Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Well, there it is. The problem with online communication. You picture me hysterically sceeaming while for all you know I could be sitting around, smoking a joint and enjoying the conversation (okay, I’m not, but….)

        I don’t like the assumption that I’m smug. Look at my bio, I’m a seasonal park ranger and small time scientist at best. So sorry if my wording was not great, but there it is.

        Regarding the data: as a Biologist you know that a cat expert may (in a pinch) turn to primate or canine studies for say, methods to design an ethogram or genetic lab methods, a botanist could use military technology like infared.

        So why the talk of evolution and faith? This is about motivation and attitude. For every letter written by converts, thousands or tens of thousands of “converts” one way or another may not have written a letter.

        Granted I am of the opinion that behavioral studies are imperfect, and I assume you are as well.

      • Posted March 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        That may be unduly harsh, Jerry. Amelie has generally been thoughtful in her comments.

        But, you’re right, and Amelie is wrong, Dawkins’s site is evidence that gnu atheists’ robust, confrontational approach does work.

        Are we saying that other approaches don’t work. No – although, as Jerry, notes we don’t have clear evidence that they do. Similarly we can’t say if they’re more or less successful. But I think it’s clear form anecdotal evidence that different approaches work with different people.

        Should we look at published studies? Yes, if they cover this issue… If, as Jerry says, the don’t, would we expect religious beliefs to be different from other kinds of belief? Well, yes, I think we would. So published studies are not a reliable guide.

        A separate point: You characterise gnu atheists’ robust, confrontational approach as “condescending”. But as I and others have noted already, it isn’t, condescending, but is actually respectful of religionists’ intelligence and capacity for rational self-reflection.

        /@

        • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          I appreciate the moderation, Ant. I think if anyone on Wordperss were to meet me they’d see I enjoy a good debate, but I am most decidedly un-confrontational.

          I should have clarified, my mention of “condescension” and “compassion” we’re merely in reference to Ben and GB James’ comments. I honestly don’t give a rat’s behind how people speak to each other online. It ultimately reflects on our character and is actually helpful in speaking to our integrity as human beings.

          I think anecdotal evidence on the Dawkins’ site tells us something, but if we step back as scientists, we can see it is not an organized scientific method that could be called a study or body of work.

          We would also need comparison of other types of converts, not just a one-way collection of examples.

          • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            UGH sorry for the misprints, freaking autocorrect.

  47. Roz
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I think Dawkins outspokenness is simply giving people courage to mock beliefs that are untrue. There is nothing wrong with that but we’re conditioned to feel it’s wrong. He’s laying a foundation.

    If a friend still believed in santa or the tooth fairy we wouldn’t hesitate to mock their beliefs would we? Science long ago progressed to a point where Noah’s Ark is about as likely to be true as santa or the tooth fairy.

    To talk to someone who has a firm belief in Noah’s ark in the same way you’d talk with someone who doesn’t believe in santa, that’s really going to shake them up a bit and think..why is believing in Noahs ark so outrageous? It might make them think more.

  48. Ali Reza
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ll preface this comment: religions are very probably all false. But one has to prioritize. I don’t understand the obsessive focus on religion. A widely held belief, and atheists are certainly counted among the believers, is the idea that the economy can grow exponentially, forever. This is a far more destructive belief than the faith in god per se. I think there’s a tacit assumption in the “movement” that disbelief in God will automatically usher in a new age of rationality and scientific thinking. I don’t see any good reason to believe that.

    Incidentally, using anecdotal evidence (e.g. the Converts Corner) to make a fairly strong claim about what debate tactics work is not very compelling. Especially when we consider that the more rigorous psychological literature on persuasion doesn’t suggest that getting all up in people’s grills is terribly effective. (I know that I’m scarcely capable of doing otherwise myself but that only means I’m irrational, not wrong.)

    • Ali Reza
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I would go further, in fact. Here are two propositions I would be willing to stake a fairly large amount of money on, and I’m not exactly a gambling man:

      * Most atheists don’t even know about core tools of rationality like formal logic and Bayes’ theorem or, for that matter, a defensible definition of rationality.
      * If these tools resulted in an outcome at odds with any strong conviction they might already have, these same atheists would most likely persist in their beliefs.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        There are commenters here who know about those things. But rationality does not need a defense. The philosophical defenses of it are interesting, they are just formalizations of what humans figure out when they are infants: my senses give me information about the world.

        • Ali Reza
          Posted April 1, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          But rationality does not need a defense.

          Yes it does, and part of that is a good definition. The one given in the excellent text Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach defines rationality relative to a given utility function. And notice that, according to this definition, free market zealots / feminist zealots / other zealots who exist in the atheist movement can’t tell me I’m being objectively irrational because I might just have a utility function different from theirs.

          This is why the movement needs to be more scientifically (and philosophically) literate.

          Right now, it isn’t.

          The philosophical defenses of it are interesting, they are just formalizations of what humans figure out when they are infants: my senses give me information about the world.

          Were it that simple.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted April 2, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

            It is that simple.

            • Ali Reza
              Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

              It is that simple.

              We don’t get raw, accurate data about the world from our senses; there’s a lot of top-down processing involved to make any sense of it. (In fact I’m pretty backprojections to V1 in the visual cortex outnumber forward connections.) Furthermore, humans in general are pretty terrible at using formal logic and probability / statistics correctly.

              No it is not that simple and if you think so you haven’t done your homework.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

                I never said the information we got was entirely accurate or entirely reliable. But it is more accurate or reliable than things we invent in our brains without any outside stimulus. People who don’t employ rationality get run over by buses, starve to death, or die of exposure.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                I never said the information we got was entirely accurate or entirely reliable.

                In other words, it isn’t that simple.

                But it is more accurate or reliable than things we invent in our brains without any outside stimulus.

                There are quite a few wonderful things we can invent in our heads without any outside stimulus.

                Here’s one I came up with just this morning:

                People who don’t employ rationality get run over by buses, starve to death, or die of exposure.

                Is your wishful thinking about the prospects for a world without religion rational?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                “There are quite a few wonderful things we can invent in our heads without any outside stimulus”

                Yes, but that tells you nothing at all about the outside world.

                You can invent all kinds of things in your head, but if it’s not based on stimuli you got from the outside world, it won’t correspond to anything in the outside world.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

                Yes, but that tells you nothing at all about the outside world.

                You can invent all kinds of things in your head, but if it’s not based on stimuli you got from the outside world, it won’t correspond to anything in the outside world.

                Mathematics.

                Up until the late 19th century, mathematics as an overall discipline hadn’t changed much since the religious cult known as the Pythagoreans brought reasoning from first principles into the world.

                To this day, mathematicians often chase deductive dragons without much thought about applications, though these might crop up serendipitously at a later time.

                Is that not real knowledge in your book?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                Mathematics describes things in the real world.

              • Filippo
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                Yea, verily, like NASA probe trajectories to and soft landings on other celestial bodies.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

                Mathematics describes things in the real world.

                The Mandelbrot set exists in “the real world”? I was not informed. And, given that it has detail finer than the Planck length, I find this hard to believe.

                It seems you’re not very knowledgeable about the things you’re talking about.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

                No, the Mandelbrot set describes things that exist in the real world. It does not itself exist, except as a concept.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

                No, the Mandelbrot set describes things that exist in the real world.

                Like?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                You don’t think dynamic systems are useful concepts for understanding the real world?

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

                You don’t think dynamic systems are useful concepts for understanding the real world?

                I do but we were talking about the Mandelbrot set in particular, not “dynamical systems” in general.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                And the Mandelbrot set is useful for understanding dynamical systems.

            • Ali Reza
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

              And the Mandelbrot set is useful for understanding dynamical systems.

              Like which ones? You’re going to have to be a lot more specific here because you’re dealing with someone who knows what he’s talking about.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

                Why?

                All it takes is for mathematics to be useful in the real world to refute your point.

                Of course humans can come up with all kinds of concepts in their heads that don’t have any correspondence to the real world. The concept of God, for example.

                Mathematics started because people wanted to understand reality better. It wasn’t created ex nihilo.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                All it takes is for mathematics to be useful in the real world to refute your point.

                I don’t remember asking you about whether mathematics is useful in the real world. I do remember asking you what the Mandelbrot set describes in the real world. You have been stalling on this issue since then.

                I might add: what correspondences do e.g. Julia sets, Pythagoras trees, or Koch curves have in “the real world”?

                Of course humans can come up with all kinds of concepts in their heads that don’t have any correspondence to the real world. The concept of God, for example.

                Or the Mandelbrot set, which we were talking about.

                Mathematics started because people wanted to understand reality better.

                Are you aware that deductive mathematics was founded by a religious cult?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      “A widely held belief, and atheists are certainly counted among the believers, is the idea that the economy can grow exponentially, forever. This is a far more destructive belief than the faith in god per se.”

      I would say it’s equally destructive. It’s also a belief I decry. Atheism isn’t the only thing I talk about, online or in real life.

      • Ali Reza
        Posted April 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        I would say it’s equally destructive.

        Please defend this view to me.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 2, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          The idea that economic growth is sustainable forever has led to poverty and starvation.

          Organized religion has led to wars, mass murders, torture, children being taken from parents, sexism, authoritarianism, and the belief that all the resources of the earth were provided to mankind by God.

          • Ali Reza
            Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            The idea that economic growth is sustainable forever has led to poverty and starvation.

            Not quite.

            What will really cause poverty and starvation is the realization that all this can’t go on any longer and the inevitable conversion to a steady-state economy.

            You have yet to see starvation in this world.

            Organized religion has led to wars, mass murders, torture

            Religion is probably only a distal cause in most armed conflicts.

            And atheism didn’t stop the major Marxist-Leninist wars and massacres of the 20th century, after all.

            authoritarianism

            Plenty of atheists are authoritarian bullies.

            and the belief that all the resources of the earth were provided to mankind by God.

            Libertarian atheists believe essentially the same thing without God. Some of them even think oil is of abiotic origin.

            So it seems you’re talking about a litany of problems that won’t go away when people stop believing in God.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              I never claimed they would go away. There would just be one less cause.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 2, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                I never claimed they would go away. There would just be one less cause.

                Given the current food, water, and energy crises, along with increasing consumption and population (and yes, the world’s secular countries can be blamed for a very large part of all this), eliminating religion as a determinant of armed conflict probably isn’t going to have much impact. At all.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

                It would cut down on the number of people being killed for being gay, or for being accused of being witches, or for working in clinics where abortions are performed.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

                It would cut down on the number of people being killed for being gay, or for being accused of being witches

                So your plan will exacerbate third world overpopulation?

                or for working in clinics where abortions are performed.

                So total reproductive freedom for women will deal with the problems of overpopulation and overconsumption?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                Who said it would?

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                Who said it would?

                Well I inferred (perhaps wrongly) that you think allowing women total reproductive freedom will solve overpopulation. (It won’t and we need a system similar to the Chinese one but more strictly enforced.)

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                “Well I inferred (perhaps wrongly) that you think allowing women total reproductive freedom will solve overpopulation”

                I don’t know how you could have possibly inferred that from what I said.

                Allowing women total reproductive freedom is a goal in itself, not a step to some larger goal.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                Allowing women total reproductive freedom is a goal in itself, not a step to some larger goal.

                And why should they have that freedom when it is so incredibly destructive to the environment and civilization?

              • Filippo
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

                “And why should they have that freedom when it is so incredibly destructive to the environment and civilization?”

                I reasonably gather that reproductive freedom for women is freedom to control their reproductive destinies. Some women in the world do not have meaningful control over their destinies, reproductive or otherwise. Pray, tell – who should have that control – over their own bodies – if not women? Women can’t even get to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                Reproductive freedom is destructive to the environemt and civilization? Really?

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                Yes, because people are having TOO MANY CHILDREN.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                I reasonably gather that reproductive freedom for women is freedom to control their reproductive destinies.

                And why should women be allowed to have as many children as they want?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                Freedom.

              • Filippo
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                Do you believe that men in certain cultures have the right to impose on women the obligation to submit to coitus for the express purpose of begatting offspring, regardless of women’s desires?

                Not a few women would like a lot more education and a few less offspring.

                Why don’t you similarly critique men regarding the burden of responsible procreation? If you’ve said one word about it, I’ve missed it.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

              And the way to remedy that is to reduce individual freedom?

              No, thanks.

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

                And the way to remedy that is to reduce individual freedom?

                No, thanks.

                Keep thinking you have a solution while the planet goes to shit.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

                Did I say I had a solution?

              • Ali Reza
                Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                Did I say I had a solution?

                Your solution appears to be: “stick head in the sand”.

  49. Sherry
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I approve of Wright’s position. I find the in-your-face ridicule not helpful at all. You are correct that to the died in the wool fundie, no argument will work, but you are very wrong that logic doesn’t work to some. Those who were raised fundies but who have never had occasion to either question it or the other side, can be amendable to facts. I have a link at my website http://afeatheradrift.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/reachin-for-fireflies/ to a 3quarksdaily post wherein just such an approach worked extremely well. I am both believer and confirmed evolutionist. You cannot afford to continue to piss off all believers like this. You should be welcoming us as allies, not enemies.

    • Posted April 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Well, that depends on what you think our common goals are?

      /@

      • Sherry
        Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        the common goal I would think would be obvious: the teaching of science in science class and not religion. Creationism and all it’s bastard children such as “intelligent” design, are not science. They have no place in a classroom devoted to science. They belong in theology class rooms. Is not that your goal? Or is it as some suggest: the destruction of religion?

        • Tulse
          Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          My goal is the removal of religion from influence in public policy, including education, but also such things like reproductive technology regulation, climate science, public health response to sexually transmitted disease, foreign policy (including military policy and foreign aid), etc. etc. etc.

          Of course, your goals may be different. And that’s cool — atheists are not a monolith, and we don’t have a pope to tell us what goals to have.

          • Sherry
            Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

            You see you engage in mean spirited crap. The pope does not inform my decision either, other than as a voice that I listen to much as I listen to a variety of voices. Our goals it would seem are the same. I don’t believe religion should be a factor in decision making as it regards to the body politic. This blog is about evolution, which I thoroughly accept as true. I am not in favor of religion deciding issues that are outside the faith itself. Does that settle it? Again, I ponder why the necessity to strike out with the sarcasm that I cannot think without referring to a religious figure for direction. Shame on you.

            • Tulse
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

              You see you engage in mean spirited crap.

              What in my above post was “mean spirited”?

              I don’t believe religion should be a factor in decision making as it regards to the body politic.

              Excellent. We are in agreement.

              I am not in favor of religion deciding issues that are outside the faith itself.

              But for many believers, issues of faith do intersect with public policy. Just look at the fundamentalists who oppose climate science because they believe their god gave them dominion over the earth, or Catholics who oppose the inclusion of contraception in health insurance. The problems here are the imposition of religious beliefs onto public policy, beliefs that their adherents would say are elemental to their faith.

              I ponder why the necessity to strike out with the sarcasm that I cannot think without referring to a religious figure for direction. Shame on you.

              Huh? I think you misread my comment — I wasn’t implying that you had a pope, but rather that the notion that all atheists have the same goals is mistaken, since there is no central source for “official atheist dogma”.

              (That said, I’m a bit puzzled by your deep offence as what you thought I said, since it seems to imply that you have no respect for Catholics, who are supposed to refer to the Catholic Magisterium in general, and the Pope in particular, for their religious dogma. Finding that arrangement offensive is an odd position for someone so prickly about how atheists treat believers.)

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              Nothing in his post was the least bit mean spirited. It was, in fact, quite reasonable and not insulting to anybody.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          Teaching science in science class and not religion is one of my goals. The abandonment of religion is another.

          • Sherry
            Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            You feel the need to force your opinions on others? How interesting. So as far as you are concerned all belief is wrong and to be condemned? No doubt you believe in marriage equality and the right to choose when it comes to pregnancy. But you do not extend that same freedom to those who choose to examine the world and conclude that it is guided by a higher being? I guess that’s a form of bigotry you find acceptable.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              No, I don’t feel the need to force my opinion on others. I don’t force my opinion on anybody.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

              It’s very interesting that you think telling people their beliefs are wrong somehow takes away their freedom.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          I, too, share that goal. But I have others. The destruction of religion is one. I do not intend to abandon one just to satisfy allies of the other.

          • Sherry
            Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            again, it appears that the new atheists are a bigoted lot. The supreme arrogance of your position to force people to your way of belief is truly astounding. For your sad lack of knowledge, the average non-fundamentalist believer,(which is the majority) speaks out often and loudly against the fundamentalist agenda and its sad and lacking exegetical scholarship. Why you think it must be either or is rather bizarre.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

              Please apologize to all the “new atheists” on this site for your insulting remark that they are all bigoted. If you don’t, you won’t be allowed to post here any longer.

              And, as you know, atheists know more about world religions than religious people do.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

              Refusing to ignore an important difference is a far cry from forcing anyone to believe anything. There is nothing arrogant about treating people as adults who can handle ideas that challenge their own. Atheists are not telling believers to be quiet.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Are you really saying that your support for evolution is dependent on other evolution supporters not pissing you off?

      • Sherry
        Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        That’s a ludicrous statement. Is your desire to bash religion so important that you would lose allies in what would be a common fight to protect our youth in receiving competent science education, in order to slap around people you don’t agree with? Let’s be clear. You have an opinion that God doesn’t exist. It is a belief. I don’t have any problem with it, nor do I think bad things will occur by your belief. We have A common goal. You may have other goals, but doesn’t it make sense to join forces in some amiable way on this one? You sound much like the pro-life people who refuse to work with pro-choice people on the COMMON goal of reducing teen pregnancies. Or do you welcome our help, and just ask us to ignore the constant insults?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          How are we losing allies?

        • gbjames
          Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          It is not at all ludicrous. You are asking those of us who recognize the profound link between religion and anti-science to be quiet about this matter. You say we have to shut up in favor of honoring your belief. Do you realize how disrespectful that is? If you want to argue your beliefs, fine. But do not expect the rest of us to refrain from arguing ours.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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