Karl Giberson says that evolution’s had a bad year, but he really means that Christianity did

Over at the January 2 issue of The Daily Beast, Karl Giberson argues that “2013 was a terrible year for evolution.” As you may know if you’re a regular here, Giberson was a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College for 15 years as well as Executive Vice-President of the accommodationist and Templeton-funded organization BioLogos.  That organization was created to make evangelical Christians friendlier to evolution by convincing them that evolution wasn’t inimical to their faith. But it failed miserably, and Giberson left, most probably because his resolutely pro-science approach didn’t sit well with BioLogos‘s increasing desire to avoid offending the Evangelicals, including, among other stuff, lots of ridiculous discussion about the possible historicity of Adam and Eve. Giberson also left Eastern Nazarene College, but more on that later.

I will give this to Karl: he has been uncompromising in his insistence on accepting evolution as it is, rather than twisting it to fit Christian preconceptions. He’s refused to buy into Evangelical apologetics such as the ludicrous “federal headship” model, in which Adam and Eve, instead of being our literal ancestors, really existed but were appointed by God as Titular Ancestors who somehow infected all their contemporaries with Original Sin. But Giberson is still wedded to religious superstition, and that, combined with his unwarranted attacks in HuffPo on Professor Ceiling Cat, made him lose the affectionate title of “Uncle Karl.”

In his Daily Beast post, Giberson argues that 2013 was a bad year for evolution, citing several facts and incidents:

Evolution did not fare well in 2013. The year ended with the anti-evolution book Darwin’s Doubt as Amazon’s top seller in the “Paleontology” category. The state of Texas spent much of the year trying to keep the country’s most respected high school biology text out of its public schools. And leading anti-evolutionist and Creation Museum curator Ken Ham made his annual announcement that the “final nail” had been pounded into the coffin of poor Darwin’s beleaguered theory of evolution.

Americans entered 2013 more opposed to evolution than they have been for years, with an amazing 46 percent embracing the notion that “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so.” This number was up a full 6 percent from the prior poll taken in 2010. According to a December 2013 Pew poll, among white evangelical Protestants, a demographic that includes many Republican members of Congress and governors, almost 64 percent reject the idea that humans have evolved.

Well, in fact the Gallup poll that Giberson cites first really shows only nondirectional fluctuations around the acceptance of creationism: the real trend is a small but significant increase in the number of Americans who accept fully naturalistic evolution—that not guided by God. Here are some data from the 2012 Gallup Poll that I discussed last April:

gallup-2012

This does show that creationism is indeed up 6% since 2010, but it’s the same as it was in 2006 and a tad lower than in some previous years. So it hasn’t been a terrible year for evolution in this respect, just a normal year. What heartens me, though, is a 6% increase since the poll began in 1982 in those who believe in naturalistic evolution. And that looks like a genuine trend, even though only 1 in 6 Americans still view evolution the way scientists do. (Note that in both cases the question asked referred to human evolution.)

Indeed, if you accept the results of the recent Pew Poll (summarized and analyzed by Greg Mayer on this site; see his latest update here), the statistics are even more encouraging, with 60% of Americans accepting some form of evolution instead of the 47% seen in the Gallup Poll. Further, the Pew Poll shows that among all American evolution-accepters, 53% accept naturalistic and only 47% God-guided human evolution. This is in marked contrast to the Gallup Poll, where the breakdown is 32% and 68% respectively. I don’t understand this disparity, since the two polls were not taken that far apart and the results differ more than both polls’ degree of sampling error. At any rate, if you believe the Pew Poll (I am dubious), things are looking even rosier than Giberson thinks.

Giberson decries the increasing Democrat/Republic polarization with respect to evolution, as the disparity between acceptance of “Darwinism” between the parties increased from 10% in 2009 to 24% in 2013 (Dems of course accept evolution in larger numbers). And, really, I don’t care much about how much the parties accept evolution so long as the U.S.’s overall acceptance of evolution is increasing. Republicans are, by and large, igorant science-denialists anyway. Nor do I care about Ken Ham’s pronouncements, which mean absolutely nothing.

As for Darwin’s Doubt, the ID book in which Stephen Meyer attributes the Cambrian Explosion to Jesus, well, it was bought largely by the choir, which is large.  The same choir has also made Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box a perennial good seller.

But, as a pessimistic secular Jew (a redundancy, I suppose), I still see good news about evolution. Creationists lost their final battle in Texas, proving unable to sway the state to adopt biology textbooks that emphasized the “problems” with evolutionary biology. Ball State University canned its science course that forced intelligent design (and Christianity) on captive students. Amarillo College in Texas did the same. Creationists had no victories in 2013, and evolution is slowly but surely insinuating its nose into the American tent.

And one of the reasons it’s doing so is that religion is on the wane, for as religion goes, so goes creationism. (Although there are religions without creationism, there is no creationism without religion.) And so Karl bemoans the fact that Christian youth are leaving the church in droves, and for an excellent reason: they perceive the church as anti-science:

An alarming study by the Barna group looked at the mass exodus of 20-somethings from evangelicalism and discovered that one of the major sources of discontent was the perception that “Christianity was antagonistic to science.” Anti-evolution, and general suspicion of science, has become such a significant part of the evangelical identity that many people feel compelled to choose one or the other. Many of my most talented former students no longer attend any church, and some have completely abandoned their faith traditions.

Viewed from “outside,” the phenomenon alarms and even enrages church leaders. Children are nurtured carefully in their faith through Sunday school, church, summer programs, and at home—and are then sent to expensive private evangelical colleges with the expectation that this faith will be protected as the children mature into well-educated adults. But often students are educated out of their childhood faith and even into no faith at all—at a cost of $40,000 a year. That is a disaster of the first magnitude, as it implies, in the theology of most evangelical parents and leaders, that their children have lost their salvation and will spend eternity in hell if they don’t recover their faith.

What’s so “alarming” about that? Despite historians of science claiming that the “conflict thesis” between science and religion is bogus, Christians know otherwise, and vote with their feet. If people leave the faith because they see it as “anti-science,” then so much the better: religion loses adherents and science gains them. Too bad about the children losing their salvation, but I can’t be bothered with that because there’s no evidence for either salvation or hell.  It’s only people like Giberson who consider this a disaster, and he’d be better off if he relinquished the last vestiges of his superstition.

Sadly, he’s been unable to do this, perhaps in part for the reasons he gave in his book Saving Darwin, which I reviewed (giving this quotation from Giberson) in The New Republic:

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

I’m not sure that, especially to a scientist, those are “compelling” reasons to believe in what’s palpably not true, but they’re compelling reasons to pretend to believe in God.

But we all know from yesterday’s post how wrenching it can be to leave a faith community, and I feel for Giberson.  I feel for him even more because in fact he was in the end forced to leave his teaching job—not for abandoning his faith but for insisting on teaching evolution. And in the Daily Beast piece, for the first time, he recounts the sordid tale. I’ll give just a snippet:

Those of us teaching evolution at evangelical colleges are made to feel as if we have this subversive secret we must whisper quietly in our students’ ears: “Hey, did you know that Adam and Eve were not the first humans and never even existed? And that you can still be a Christian and believe that?”

. . . That was my life for my last 15 years as a faculty member at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, after my books, articles, and lectures made me the focus of fundamentalist rage. Productive scholarship that would be highly valued at other institutions became instead a major liability. Administrators complained that I was too controversial and creating public relations problems—not because they disagreed with what I said but because I was no longer just whispering it quietly in the classroom. Youth pastors informed the admissions office at the college that they were discouraging students from attending the college because it promoted evolution. Affiliated churches withheld financial support. Donors went elsewhere with their money.

I spent countless hours in the office of a succession of college presidents, explaining why Christians needed to make peace with evolution, no matter how painful. I was forced to communicate and even meet with hostile external constituents to defend well-established science against people who knew nothing about it beyond the challenges it posed to their interpretation of the Bible. One such watchdog group, the Reformed Nazarenes, rejoiced when I finally left the college.

Yes, that took courage, and, having exchanged emails with Giberson over the years, I think he knew it was coming.  He has, however, found a more congenial home teaching science writing at Stonehill College, a Catholic school in Massachusetts.

So it wasn’t a bad year for evolution, really, but it was a bad few years for Giberson, and I feel for him. His life did go a bit off the rails, but because he stuck to science, not because he gave up Christianity.

What happened to Giberson has happened to other science-friendly evangelicals at Christian schools, and you can sense the bitterness in his last paragraph:

Truth, alas, seems to resemble a commodity at such institutions, to be purchased by the highest bidder or the most powerful political leader. Accepting evolution and teaching it to students are entirely acceptable until some powerful constituency says they are not.

I wish at some point Karl would realize that science and religion are inimical, for their ways of finding “truth” are completely odds with one another. How can you teach evolution and dismiss the historicity of Adam and Eve on the one hand, and believe in the virgin birth, the Trinity, and the Resurrection on the other? How can you buy the solid evidence for evolution on the one hand (evidence that, says Giberson, is “now piled so high that not even one evolutionary biologist at any of America’s research universities rejects the theory”), and on the other believe the fairy tales of a man-made book from a prescientific era?

It doesn’t make sense.  What I’d like to say to Karl is this, “Your Christianity doesn’t make sense, for there is as little evidence for your religious beliefs as there is massive evidence for evolution. Why on earth do you continue to buy into superstition when you insist in the classroom on the hegemony of empirical truth? Join us as a happy heathen, and you will be free.”

But of course that would send his life off the rails. And believe me, I appreciate that. I just find it ineffably sad.

73 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I suspect that Giberson doubts his religion because he lists only the consequences vis a vis others if he were to leave his faith. He doesn’t say that he believes in all his heart that god is real or that he can’t accept a world without god (ultimately non evidenced claims but claims that are easier to buy as coming from someone who truly believes in god).

    Faking belief while walking a fine line between faith and science (which he has no choice but to trip over) is what is truly sad.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      bingo

      • Posted January 4, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Yup. Thread won in the first post.

        Ex-Uncle Carl, yes, it will hurt to admit that you’ve abandoned your gods. It will hurt one fucking hell of a lot.

        But doing so will also end the pain of your cognitive dissonance.

        Only you can decide which pain you’d rather live with.

        b&

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I read Jerry’s piece and felt saddened that Karl Giberson found himself in a difficult place. On the other hand it is a difficult place of his own making.

      Charles Darwin, driven by the logic of evolutionary processes, felt unable to believe in the Christian idea of god and chose to remain outside the church when Emma attended. Perhaps Karl should ask himself WWDD – What would Darwin do?

      • gbjames
        Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Gilbertson is a victim. He’s trapped in fear of what he’ll loose if he owns up to reality. Loss of job (he’s already been through that part) but worse, loss (potentially) of family, friends and human comfort. Religion poisons everything, and his situation is an example.

    • Marella
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      “Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

      This was my first thought too. If his reason for sticking with God is the one he gives then he is already an atheist, he just hasn’t admitted it yet, to either his family or himself.

  2. Prof.Pedant
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    “How can you teach evolution and dismiss the historicity of Adam and Eve on the one hand, and believe in the virgin birth, the Trinity, and the Resurrection on the other? How can you buy the solid evidence for evolution on the one hand (evidence that, says Giberson, is ”now piled so high that not even one evolutionary biologist at any of America’s research universities rejects the theory”), and on the other believe the fairy tales of a man-made book from a prescientific era?”

    By recognizing that Adam and Eve, the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, Resurrection, etc. are all things that we made up. And Fandom – Star Wars, Anime, Star Trek, Comics, etc. – shows us how important made-up stuff with internal logical contradictions and a bunch of ‘point-and-laugh’ claims can be to otherwise rational and reasonably functional humans. But distinguishing between ‘things we enjoy thinking are true’ and ‘things that are true’ is essential.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      ‘Made-up’ stuff can be extremely important to people, even when they know it’s just acting.

      When Renaissance Pictures were making ‘Hercules’ and ‘Xena Warrior Princess’ not far from here (near where I was swimming today actually) I sometimes looked at fan forums and it was extraordinary the significance that fans attached to the ongoing story, although they all knew (obviously) that it was just being written – and that story developments often depended on such accidental factors as which supporting actor was available. And the logical inconsistencies were naturally huge. Many of the fans were feminists / lesbians (Xena and her sidekick were believed to have a relationship though the writers never confirmed or denied it) and felt that the TV programme somehow validated their identity.

      I can understand how they got that feeling (though I’m not in the same position, white males are hardly downtrodden) but an engaging story can lighten the day (hands up all on this list who follow a sci fi series?).

      Incidentally, the emergence of Internet mailing lists / fan sites around that time (c. 2000) probably constituted an extremely powerful feedback loop – a bit like going to church does. It made the experience interactive.

      If fans of an explicitly fictional TV series can feel that way, I’m not surprised that someone who finds their religion a support to them, even though they know there are emerging logical doubts about its basis, wants to hang on to it – because without it, they’re left drifting.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Were you swimming at Piha?

  3. Posted January 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I read this piece the other day and wondered “how soon will Jerry weigh-in on Uncle Karl’s plaint?” Knew it wouldn’t be long. And yeah it was NOT a bad year for EVO at all. The Texas loss was huge. And the poll #’s as you point out are “normal” but with that continuing trend up in accepting naturalistic evo. I give Giberson a lot of credit for leading the charge from within Evangelical Xianity. He would have to endure what Dan Barker, Jerry DeWitt and countless others who didnt write a book of their experiences went through to come over to the “Dark Side” cookies or not.
    The mountain of evidence for evo piles up higher by the minute and the public is exposed to it daily more than ever. It’s working. There will be entrenched opposition always, but less and less among the young as time goes on. They see too much. I feel sorry for the guy too. Despite his accomomdationism, I am grateful for his efforts from within.
    And yeah, we all hope Bill Nye has an ace up his sleeve.
    waz

  4. Sastra
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    “God first; Bible second; the knowledge of Man third.”

    A friend of mine was once very upset. It seems that she had recently been thrown out of her holistic naturopathic chiropractor’s office because her aura was black and was making the Healer sick. But my friend didn’t feel like she had a black aura, she had been feeling pretty good up till then. So this was very hurtful to her.

    No doubt. I was sympathetic on one level, sure, yet had to think “But what did you expect?”

    You can’t prove your aura isn’t black if it takes a special sensitivity beyond science to know there are auras and read them. And you can’t prove God worked through evolution if it takes a special sensitivity beyond science to both know that God exists AND to interpret His world.

    Reason and evidence can’t be summoned and dismissed like a taxicab for you — but everyone else has to follow your lead on where you go.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Someone once told me I had a black aura too. I wonder if it’s just the polite woo way to say, “I don’t want to be around you” kind of like how the rest of us would say, “Sorry, I have to go because I have a meeting”. 🙂

      • Sastra
        Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s the passive-aggressive woo way of saying “You’re not giving me enough approval.”

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

          Yes that’s more like it – a kind of, “you’re rational ways threaten me”.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            But that wouldn’t have applied to my friend, who is the sort who wouldhave a holistic naturopathic chiropractor who reads auras. So my guess is that she either accidentally said something which sounded like criticism … or the Holistic Healer was having a bad day and felt like it must be coming from someone else with ‘negative energy.’

            Steven Pinker wrote that one of the most important cultural changes necessary for the advances of the Enlightenment was the diminishing belief in the Evil Eye as explanation for misfortune.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

              I wonder about what these people are experiencing when they proclaim they see your aura. Do they really hallucinate the aura or are they making it up because they sure seem to behave as though they really are seeing something.

              • Sastra
                Posted January 3, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                Not sure. I think that some people who perceive ‘auras’ may have synesthesia, a rare neurological condition where the brain appears to be perceptually cross-wired so that smells might have sounds or emotions be associated with sensations. For some, people may also be colors. There are also visual halos associated with some disorders (like oncoming migraines.)

                The problem is that, when objectively tested, the auras don’t really extend beyond the body. Cover up the body and it’s pure chance to get the ‘right’ aura.

                The majority of aura-readers though quite probably manage to fool themselves, half-hallucinating and half-making-it-up — much like people who say they hear God speaking to them and then when questioned get all fuzzy and vague. Fake it till you make it can work. Remember, in mystical systems our intuitions and hunches are often supposed to be interpreted as originating from some other level of reality. My understanding is that you can eventually train yourself — deliberately or unconsciously — to ‘feel-as-if’ all sorts of things when it comes to the self and the not-self, the inner world and the outer.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I think from my experience your last paragraph is the most common. I’ll never forget the person who told me I had the black aura because he stared around me like he actually saw something. He was into all kinds of new age woo & read lots of those Seth books.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Oh, no! Almost as bad as someone unfriending you on Facebook. The cruel, cruel world. Might as well stop living. 😉

          • kevinj
            Posted January 3, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            I am now really tempted to go and visit the next woo fair at a hotel near me to find out if I have an black aura.

            Fair play to the healer though. Thats a really hardcore variant of the “if you dont get better its because you are not trying” approach.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      I once made a joking remark to a co-worker about how a cleanup job would be a lot easier if our primate ancestors had retained prehensile feet. I was told that I could not be a Christian and believe in evolution. My first knee-jerk response was, “Well who elected you pope, to tell me what I can and can’t believe?” While he was digesting this bit of rebellion, I followed up with, “And what makes you think I’m a Christian in the first place?”

      He walked out and refused to work with me after that, and was eventually fired for being uncooperative. One for our side.

  5. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

    This demonstrates very well one of the worst aspects of religion and the immersive group-think that it often entails.

    It’s emotional quicksand and the more you worry, the worse it becomes. There simply is no intelligent well-reasoned way out of this. If you admit to losing faith you must be prepared to suffer some very real consequences from those that are supposed to be there no matter what. It’s sadistic, cruel and coercive at every level.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      You know, if you reread this paragraph and substitute atheism for the theism, it reads like a typical “I used to be an atheist” story. Iirc CS Lewis once described his former nonbelief using almost the same argument. In his academic world atheism was the status quo, the mark of belonging. Becoming religious would be disruptive, sending his life completely off the rails and earning him the scorn of former colleagues and friends. And yet … he couldn’t resist the pull of God, try as he may. Oh yes.

      It’s like the Christian wet-dream explanation for non-belief. I’m actually surprised to see this as an apologetic for belief coming from a believer.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        I hate to guess people’s “real” feelings, but it almost reads as if this guys knows christianity is false and that if there is a god, it certainly isn’t the kind and loving one from sunday school.

        It just feels like crap and there’s not really many places to turn to for advice, if any.

        It’s cognitive dissonance and it must be grueling to endure as a long-term solution.

        The clergy project should branch out, imo.

      • Occam
        Posted January 3, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        If you substitute Rhinoceros for «god» or «Christian», you find yourself smack in the middle of Eugène Ionesco’s play).

        As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in Rhinoceros. My parents are deeply committed rhinos and would be devastated, were I to reject Rhinocerosity. My wife and children believe in Rhinoceros, and we attend Rhinogogue together regularly. Most of my friends are rhinos. I have a job I love at a rhino college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the Rhinocerosity that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in Rhinoceros would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

        But Berenger, Ionesco’s hero, differs from Karl Giberson in that he can’t cope with the cognitive dissonance: he can’t transform at will into a rhinoceros:

        My conscience was increasingly uneasy, unhappy. I felt I was a monster. Alas, I would never become a rhinoceros. I could never change. I dared no longer look at myself. I was ashamed. And yet I couldn’t, no, I couldn’t.

        I have enormous sympathy for Karl Giberson’s predicament. But it’s about time he faced the fact that he is trying to remain the rhinoceros he no longer is. The stuff of absurd theatre, if one faces the facts; or of tragedy, if one doesn’t.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 3, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

          Is that an actual quote? O my little ducky daddles, what a very fine find indeed!

  6. Greg Esres
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “but it was a bad few years for Giberson, and I feel for him”

    I have trouble feeling too much sympathy…he was the turtle carrying the scorpion across the river.

  7. paxton
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    150 years after Origin of Species, it’s hard to place much hope in an increase in acceptance of naturalistic evolution from 9% to 15% over the past 30 years. At that rate we’ll reach 50% shortly before 2200, if we’re still here.

    • Paul
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Please, we have the Internet now. Universal access to information is a game changer. Two or three generations and religion will perhaps be so marginalized (you’re never gonna eradicate it entirely) that belief in God might finally be classified a mental health issue. All we have to do is stay vigilant about getting the right information out there, stopping idiots from trying to teach children lies and the like. If you think I’m being overly optimistic, you are underestimating the autodidactical potential computers and the Internet bring.

      • µ
        Posted January 4, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Agree. I observe my teenage sons getting their education for free on the internet (everything from Wikipedia to South Park). They showed me some of the South Park episodes critical of religion (including Christianity), and I am convinced this next generation grows up with a rather nuanced view of religion. Creationists should be more concerned about South Park than WEIT.

    • Posted January 4, 2014 at 12:13 am | Permalink

      I agree; things are speeding up now, the “nones” are increasing, and we have the Internet and the New Atheists. I doubt we’ll see substantial change in my lifetime, at least, but we will see change

    • Notagod
      Posted January 4, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      The christians have complained several times that there are few young people showing up to be churched. In fact there is a mini celebration that the new Poop’s liberalism is bringing back some of the young people, or so they want it to be believed.

      Anyway, at this time, the majority of the delusionals are represented by older generations. If the trend holds and the usual desire to be part of the crowd holds true, sometime in the next twenty to thirty years could see a ballooning of the portion of the population that disregards christianity as a viable foundation for the pursuit of happiness. The desire of the parents to be close to their children might sway some of the parents to think beyond their christianity. Christianity has felt the tug of reality against Its delusional chains. How long can christianity keep Its evil angels dancing on the head of a pin?

    • paxton
      Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      I hope you’re right, but technology can be used to promote fantasy as well as reality.

      Relevant column in today’s NYTIMES by Charles Blow: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/blow-indoctrinating-religious-warriors.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20140104&_r=0

      I think atheists do the cause a disservice attacking harmless religious practices like Xmas and putting 10 commandments in public spaces.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 4, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        Please provide examples of atheists “attacking Christmas” (much less putting 10 commandments in public spaces… say what? Perhaps a typo?)

        Have you been watching Fox News a lot?

        • paxton
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:27 am | Permalink

          Atheists trying to ban Xmas displays on public buildings. Trying to ban prayers in town council meetings. Trying to ban 10 commandments from courthouses. Putting up billboards in Times Square at Xmas. What good is served by these efforts? Do they demonstrate the irrationality of religion?

          Better to concentrate efforts on cases where religion does real harm, such as denying birth control coverage in health insurance policies.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            None of those are attacks on Christmas. They are attacks on illegal government involvement in religion. They demands that government represent all citizens, not just pious christian ones. Nobody has attacked Christmas including the christians at Americans United who also attack government enforcement of religion.

            I seem to have been right. You’ve been watching too much Faux News.

            • paxton
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

              GBJames: I seem to have expressed myself poorly. I am an atheist with a strong interest in discrediting religious claims and reducing the influence of religion in society and especially government. My musings were about tactics:

              Given the painfully slow progress in advancing scientific understanding of the evolution of life and humans against religious myths, how can we atheists most effectively win over moderate religionists who are susceptible to reason and not wedded to religious superstition, but are reluctant to come out of the closet.

              I’m trying to suggest that we might make more progress if we make it easier for moderate religionists to side with us. Attack superstition (e.g. god hates fags) and immoralities imposed by religions (e.g. no abortion, even to save the life of the mother), but leave relatively benign cultural practices alone (e.g. a creche in front of the courthouse).

              Maybe I’m wrong, as Diana McPherson suggests, i.e that we have to oppose religious presumption whenever it occurs or they will use it as a wedge to expand their claims, butI am not wrong in the way GBJames alleges (I don’t watch fox news, except occasionally to understand the enemy)

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

                First, you’re portraying it as a zero-sum game. It’s not. Those who care about science education can teach science, and those who care about government establishment of religion can keep the church out of the state. And those who care about both can do a bit of both.

                Then, it’s fallacious to think that making people in a position of privilege uncomfortable about their privileges is going to drive them to further solidify their positions. Generally, it’s exactly that sort of thing that sets the stage for cognitive dissonance to kick in and take them the rest of the way to harmonizing their perceptions with reality.

                That leads to this:

                Attack superstition (e.g. god hates fags) and immoralities imposed by religions (e.g. no abortion, even to save the life of the mother), but leave relatively benign cultural practices alone (e.g. a creche in front of the courthouse).

                You’re clearly not offended by by such scenes, presumably because you grew up immersed in a culture in which they’re ubiquitous and favorably viewed.

                But, believe me, there’re many who are very viscerally affected by that sort of thing, and there’re many more who find it as incomprehensibly bizarre as you would find, say, an Hindu altar erected in front of the courthouse.

                Even that’s beside the point. A creche in front of the courthouse says, in no uncertain terms, that the institution one is about to enter is a faithful Christian one, and one should expect Christian values and principles to rule the day, and for those who submit themselves willingly to Christ and his judgements to prevail. Same thing with the Ten Commandments on display at a courthouse — it’s a way of saying that the supreme law of the land is not, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” but, rather, “I am the LORD thy God who delivered thee from Egypt, and thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

                The only civilized response to that sort of thing is, “Fuck that noise. Get that shit out of here and to where it belongs — a church, or, even better, the landfill. We’ve got grown-up business to attend to here.”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

                Ben – unrelated to the content of your comment – your use of the phrase “fuck that noise” immediately transported me back to the ’60s. That was a favored phrase in college, and so useful in so many different situations! Glad to know that you younger folks are keeping it going 🙂

              • Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

                I will cheerfully and shamelessly steal great language whenever and wherever I encounter it — and there’s plenty to be found in the ’60s!

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                A creche in front of a courthouse is not benign if non-christians are unable to put up similar displays.

                But I’m happy to learn that you aren’t a Faux News fan. I stand corrected on that.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        If atheists don’t push for moving religion out of the public space, you’ll see the Christian religion take over wherever they can. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Wedge Strategy? This is what happens when atheists look the other way.

  8. Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Once you stop believing, it may in fact be easy to go through the motions to protect higher values (family, job, etc.). You don’t believe in it, so, it doesn’t matter if you partake of the rituals or not. They are meaningless.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 4, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      It matters to the extent that living a lie matters. Life in the closet is not comfortable whether you are gay or atheist.

  9. docbill1351
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Uncle Karl is lying to himself. He knows the score but he’s afraid to come out and admit that he’s wasted most of his life in this folly.

    To Karl I say, come into the light. We have cookies, too!

    Karl demonstrated to himself through his own honest research that his religion is a bunch of bunk. OK, so toss it and move on, Karl. The “friends” you lose because of that pale to insignificance to the friends you will gain on the other side: honest people, honest friends.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Honesty. Hard to overvalue it.

      • paxton
        Posted January 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        We should not underestimate the difficulty in making the break. Darwin experienced it acutely. At local levels, religious organizations often do much good, and can be the cement of communities. To break with that, even though you know the underlying premises are false, is an extreme option.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

          Did I? Did someone here underestimate that?

          • Achrachno
            Posted January 3, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

            Paxton said “We should not” not that anyone had. P. as just expanding a bit in the problem.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 4, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

              Perhaps. Words are sometimes ambiguous. In context It reads to me something like “Honesty isn’t so important if you have community.” Which, in all honesty, I wouldn’t agree with as it presents a false choice.

        • docbill1351
          Posted January 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

          Right on, Paxton. It’s socially difficult to impossible for a lot of people to make that break.

          That’s why I discount polls about what people in the USA “believe” about science. So much of their answers are sociological rather than intellectual that the polls get skewed.

          But for Karl, his toes are already slightly over the line. One small step for man.

  10. Posted January 3, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    “Children are nurtured carefully in their faith through Sunday school, church, summer programs, and at home—and are then sent to expensive private evangelical colleges with the expectation that this faith will be protected as the children mature into well-educated adults.”

    wrong wrong wrong. The children of the ubertheist are nurtured carefully in their faith, and expected to retain the thumbprints of their parents’ and church leaders’ in their minds. This has nothing to do with being well-educated adults. That is the very last thing that TrueChristians, or TrueTheists of any stripe, want.

  11. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m grateful to Giberson for this piece. He does a good job of calling out evangelical hostility and its consequences. He seems to be severing the tethers more forcefully.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Giberson’ story _is_ ineffably sad. And obviously he has as a true to fact teacher done more people good in matters of education than I have. (Just being a lab assistant on courses for a while.)

    That said, I don’t feel it makes up for the hurt he does biology in the public square by trying to apply the theology of NOMA in matters of biology vs religion. Biology is what it is, and that is what needs to be promoted.

  13. Robert MacDonald
    Posted January 3, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    “I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college.”

    Like he would be forced–forced, I say!–to dismiss anyone else whose head extended beyond his shoulders?

    There’s a story that Sir Francis Drake was supervising the execution of Catholic prisoners and overheard one praying for the Queen’s soul. Drake was moved and asked the prisoner if he would swear allegiance to the Queen, which the prisoner earnestly affirmed. Would he then forsake the Popish church? “No, I would never forsake the Holy Roman Church!” Drake said “oh, well then” and moved on…

    • Robert MacDonald
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I messed up in that post…it wasn’t Francis Drake…it was Walter Raleigh.

  14. Posted January 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    First, this line made me chuckle because I know quite a few 🙂
    “But, as a pessimistic secular Jew (a redundancy, I suppose),”
    Second, it would appear as though Karl [he’s still Uncle to me] is in the proverbial no-man’s land, getting dressed down by a spectrum of groups from Hamites to gnus. As noted, it is a place of his choosing. The good news is that Giberson remains steadfast in his support of science – his real challenge is to help those xians who are committed to post-Christendom.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 3, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      In many ways Karl is a very admirable fellow. I hope he find the door leading out of the trap he’s in. There’s only one and it won’t be the easy way.

  15. Maple
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    When I wander through the book store and come across “Darwin’s Doubt” in the “Science” section–I just re-shelve them over to the “Religion and Spirituality” section, where it belongs, as kindness to the staff who have obviously mis-shelved it in the first place.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 4, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Hee hee, I did some vigilante reshelving Thursday evening myself. I saw Meyer’s Signature in the Cell in the Science section (there was only one copy) so I reshelved it in Christian Religion. 🙂

  16. Jonathan Dore
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised that people like Giberson feel so helpless in presenting the idea that their flock can find a comfortable half-way house in theistic evolution (which would be a major improvement in the situation, even if it postponed the dereligionization of the country as a whole). All they have to do is look outside their own borders. During my religious phase in the UK (late teenage – early 20s) I was involved in various evangelical Anglican churches. Most of the congregation were graduates. No sign of creationism whatsoever.

  17. Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    “Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

    I certainly hope that if I were in Gilbertson’s shoes I would have the courage to “send my life off the rails” and be true to myself. What is the point of living a lie, of play-acting who you are to gain the approval of your family, your friends, and your work colleagues? And what sort of people are they, who demand this sort of conformity from their supposed friend or loved one?
    Nothing seems more of a waste of a life to me than Gilbertson’s decision to “stay on the rails”.

  18. Frank Stabile
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Coming from an entirely Christian family, I understand Dr. Giberson’s points about facing your friends and loved ones. Obviously I don’t think it is a good enough reason to stand by God, but I have been in his position before. As I am sure many of you know, it is not the easiest experience having your family disappointed and even angry with you about your thoughts on religion. So I sympathize.

    On another note, I have always been a bit confused by the contradictory viewpoints on the conflict thesis. To me, the conflict seems pretty clear, but apparently that is a big misconception? I’m not sure. Forgive me if Dr. Coyne has written about this already. It just bugs me to hear that Galileo’s trial had nothing to do with religion, for example.

    • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      I sympathize as well. I grew up in a very strict Catholic family. I had questions all along, even in my most religious times, and as an adult I have now learned that I was far from the only person to have reasonable skepticism towards religious claims. Even into my college years, I thought an atheist was “someone who rejected God” and nowhere in my upbringing was there ever a notion that someone could reject the idea of God.

      Anyhow, religious fantasy aside, I tend to enjoy my time with my parents now, and I kind of go along to get along. One big reason I do this is my memories of my grandfather. He told my father, who was a Catholic convert at age 17, and his siblings, that he didn’t care what religion they joined, just not to discuss it in the house. My grandfather served three decades in the Marines and the only statement I ever knew him to have made regarding religion (other than the don’t discuss it part) was that after what he saw in the South Pacific in WWII, he doesn’t want to hear anything about a loving God watching over humanity. Now, this was clearly driven by emotion, but founded on reason nonetheless.

      My grandfather passed away over 10 years ago and I remember at the time (though I had dropped the weekly Church habit pretty quickly after I left home) praying to God for a sign that my grandfather is all right. After all, who could blame him for questioning a silent God in the midst of carnage? No answer came to me and my slow road to disbelief had hit yet another milestone.

      Coming back to the main point of this post, I read a lot of people saying that they’d be true to themselves in this situation and not go along with religious nonsense they don’t believe in. However, as Giberson points out, and others such as Dan Barker have made a career out of preaching (pun intended), it is not always a cut and dry case of simply being true to yourself and then going on with your life.

      I spent my entire childhood offering up prayers and saying rosaries for my grandfather, that his heart would not be hardened and then he’d be saved from the fires of Hell before he dies. As insidious as the doctrine of Hell is, I see another side to it too. For religious people so entrenched in their belief, it causes true consternation when they believe their loved ones are going to suffer eternal torture. As I mentioned before, I enjoy spending time with my family and they enjoy seeing their grandchildren, so it is a truly tortuous case of cognitive dissonance that I am currently living with.

      Do I want to have them concerned on a daily basis that I will burn in Hell? Do I want to listen to their judgment at family gatherings about how I need to turn my life around? The obvious answer is no. There’s always the chance that reasonable arguments could lead them away from belief, but as they enter the later stage of life, I don’t find that likely. People don’t tend to drop religion as they go through retirement (especially after my father recently put in nearly a decade of study to become an ordained Deacon and my nearly all of my mother’s social network is other orthodox Catholics) and then there’s the other thoughts I have about what it would be like to convince them and have them realize that the bulk of their lives was wasted on woo. I only wish that it were as simple as me stating a reasonable case, convincing them, and then going merrily along for the rest of our lives. It just isn’t so, and as Dan Barker and others have pointed out, this is one of the most vile things about religion.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Let’s imagine I got very old and died and found out (as the christians always say will happen) that I was wrong. If at that point I learned that my children had been lying to me all their lives about what they thought, I’d be royally pissed.

        My parents were quite old when I finally just told them bluntly that I was an atheist. Dismayed as they were they survived and we went on until they died. If they had died not knowing who there son was I don’t know how I’d deal with it.

        • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

          That thought has naturally gone through my head before. I think the largest reason behind my hesitation is there is obviously no going back.

          You say your parents were quite old when you told them. What took you so long to break the news? How long did you keep the information from them and why?

          • gbjames
            Posted January 6, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

            The usual… not wanting to upset them, not wanting to argue. Just basic fear of exposing myself as the kind of person of which society disapproved.

            It isn’t always the case, but generally I think family is more able to adjust than we think. But depending on how tightly people hold to dogma, sometimes it can wreck families. Religion poisons enough families that the fear can’t go away until non-believers expose themselves. I’d love to see some statistics that summarize the results when atheists come out of the closet.

            • Frank Stabile
              Posted January 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

              Yes, those numbers would be really interesting. As much as I understand from experience the difficulties of telling your family, I still think it is necessary. It is certainly better than lying, as gbjames mentioned. Plus, at least in my case, it broke the vacuum of silence in my family when it comes to religion. I’ve always been irritated by the fact that religion and politics, two hugely important topics, are off the table when it comes to my family discussions. So I’m trying to change that, to some family members’ chagrin.

              • Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

                I think part of the use of that information would be to assess the “success” rate of breaking this news in terms of the level of orthodoxy of the religious people in the family.

                Since I already have direct evidence of how immediate family members who were nonbelievers were treated, my fears are at least somewhat based in reality, rather than hypothetical guesses at their potential reaction.

                Do I want to put them through the mental anguish of praying on a daily basis that I will be saved from eternal torture? These beliefs, delusional or not, are real to them. I view it as telling someone afflicted with agoraphobia about all the crime committed in their town that day. It’s accurate information, but it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to relay it to them. On the other hand, my family may already be doing these things, since it is obvious I don’t hold the same religious devotions that they do, so there is still the unknown factor as to the level of surprise if I were to break this news to them.

                Frank, when you say this is much to your family’s chagrin, do you mean it has yielded fruitful conversation about topics in which you disagree? Or has it just caused them to dig in further with dogmatic close-mindedness? In my situation, I still feel there is a very high risk of the latter.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

                It is hard to know that the future will hold when a non-believer comes out to a family of believers. Some people have brains so poisoned by faith that they will sacrifice their family relationships. And probably think of it like Abraham’s almost-sacrifice.

                I think those are probably the minority. Because human nature is strong and love of family is one of the most strongly human characteristics.

                But one thing is guaranteed. If someone lives in the closet they give up something that they can never fully recover. It is impossible to get back time lost living a lie. This is a cost that is gigantic to some. Not so great for others. But it the price of giving in to the fear of rejection.

                It is easy for me to say this, because my parents are both dead now. But I would rather have lived with them knowing that I was not lying to them than to live a life of make-believe. If parents can not accept their children being atheist (or gay, for that matter) then the failure is theirs, not the child who lives honestly.

              • Frank Stabile
                Posted January 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

                Chris, I would say about half and half. Some members of my family have been open to the discussion and ask me questions about my views. Others have closed up or avoided the topic entirely, to the point of leaving the room if it comes up. So I have seen some good reactions, some mildly bad responses, and one really bad one. Though I certainly have not changed anyone’s mind. My goal is just to be open about my ideas and generate conversations that normally would never occur.

  19. Posted January 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I think people are realizing that there is a difference between their lives and the lives of chimps or african gorillas. That, really, they have nothing in common. So, too the new holy grail of physics, the higgs-boson, has nothing in common with, say, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. I recall that when I was going to university B.F. Skinner’s “pigeon model” was religiously taught as explaining human behavior. Scientific procedure places so many filters upon reality that it explains little. Its falsifability ensures that every scientific proof will, one day, be proven false. Science is only a few centuries old. Perhaps, after a few thousand years it will be wiser in issuing its “bulls***”

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Your comment is a combination of deepity, half-truth, misunderstanding, and simple fallacy.

      Your first sentence is classic deepity. It is trivially true, everyone knows that there are differences in the lives of humans and chimps. There are differences between humans and humans. The sentence sounds profound but says nothing.

      The sentence about the Higgs boson and the sermon on the mount is similarly vapid. I know of nobody who has made such a claim, so countering it as you do is classic straw man stuff.

      You went to university once and learned something about Skinner’s work. Congratulations. But I seriously doubt that the subject was taught “religiously”.

      The fact that scientific statements are falsifiable does not, in fact, ensure that “every scientific truth will eventually be proven false”. It means that every statement might be proven false if evidence contrary to the statement is discovered.

      Contrast that to religious statements. These arrive by “revelation”, pulled out of thin air, or the backside of a priest. Every one is equally valid and because they are often not falsifiable there is no way to distinguish which of two mutually incompatible religious assertions is right, assuming that one of them is.

      Finally, the age of an idea has nothing to do with the correctness of the idea. For many thousands of years disease was believed to be caused by evil spirits and witches. Are you convinced that this is true? If you or your child gets sick do you seek medical treatment or do you prefer to pray for relief?

      (I tremble to think of how you might answer that question.)


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