The worst atheist-bashing article of the year

For some reason, Salon is on a crusade to bash the hell out of atheists, living and dead. Their editors might want to question what the deuce is going on (unless it’s a deliberate editorial decision), for the proliferation of anti-atheist pieces is eroding the site’s credibility. It makes Salon look like an apologist for religion. And the latest atheist-bashing piece is particularly bad, because it’s not only written very poorly, but its argument is so incoherent that I can barely even summarize it.

The new piece is by Sana Saeed, and although it might pain you to read it, it’s not too long, and I’m curious what readers make of it: “Richard Dawkins is so wrong it hurts: What the science-vs.-religion debate ignores.” Its point seems to be that there is no conflict between science and religion, but I don’t understand how Saeed’s arguments support that view.

Here’s Saeed’s profile from the Guardian:

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 6.59.55 AM

Among the tangle of dreadful writing, I think I discern these points:

  • Saeed was an observant Muslim girl who also liked science.
  • Islam has a distinguished history of scientific achievement. Saeed does not mention that this is a thing of the past; that not much new science comes out of Islamic countries, particularly those in the Middle East. This is likely due to the religious influence on education (despite Saeed’s claims, in many places evolution is simply not taught at all), as well as to the poverty of the countries—or rather, the oil wealth that supports the potentates rather than science. Saeed extolls the past and neglects the present:

“In my own religious tradition, Islam, there is a vibrant history of religion and science not just co-existing but informing one another intimately. Astrophysicistschemistsbiologistsalchemistssurgeonspsychologistsgeographerslogiciansmathematicians– amongst so many others – would often function as theologians, saints, spiritual masters, jurists and poets as much as they would as scientists. Indeed, a quick survey of some of the most well known Muslim intellectuals of the past 1,400 years illustrates their masterful polymathy, their ability to reach across fields of expertise without blinking at any supposed “dissonance.” And, of course, this is not something exclusive to Islam; across the religious terrain we can find countless polymaths who delved into the worlds of God and science.”

  • The science-vs.-religion debates focus on Christian creationism. More recent Muslim creationism, such as Harun Yahya, actually borrow from Christian creationism. Ergo it’s not Islam that’s anti-science, but Christianity, which infected Muslims. (Even if this were true, those Muslims didn’t inoculate themselves against this infection.)
  • Islam is congenial to science. Here Saeed’s arguments—and prose—become extremely convoluted:

“The absence of a centralized religious clergy and authority in Sunni Islam allows for individual and scholarly theological negotiation – meaning that there is not, necessarily, a “right” answer embedded in Divine Truth to social and political questions. Some of the most influential and fundamental Islamic legal texts are filled with arguments and counter-arguments which all come from the same source (divine revelation), just different approaches to it.

In other words: There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.”

The problem is that a lot of things are established as “theological truth” in Islam, or at least in many Islamic countries. These include the extreme marginalization of women, the criminalization of homosexuality, and extreme penalties for blasphemy and apostasy. (I’m surprised that Saeed, a woman, doesn’t recognize this.) How can intellectual progress occur in a country dominated by a faith that issues fatwas for merely writing about the Prophet the wrong way in a book (viz.,The Satanic Verses)? Science progresses most swiftly when there is freedom of thought; and when that’s suppressed, as Mendelian genetics was in Soviet Russia, science suffers. This is one reason, I think, that the former glory of scientific achievement in Islamic countries is no more. There have been only two Muslim Nobel Laureates in science, and one of them spent his entire scientific career in America. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that Islamic countries are no longer hotbedfs of scientific progress.

And Saeed waffles, and then descends into obscurantism, when it comes to the evolution thing:

Muslims, generally, accept evolution as a fundamental part of the natural process; they differ, however, on human evolution – specifically the idea that humans and apes share an ancestor in common.  In the 13th century, Shi’i Persian polymath Nasir al-din al-Tusi discussed biological evolution in his book “Akhlaq-i-Nasri” (Nasirean Ethics). While al-Tusi’s theory of evolution differs from the one put forward by Charles Darwin 600 years later and the theory of evolution that we have today, he argued that the elemental source of all living things was one. From this single elemental source came four attributes of nature: water, air, soil and fire – all of which would evolve into different living species through hereditary variability. Hierarchy would emerge through differences in learning how to adapt and survive. Al-Tusi’s discussion on biological evolution and the relationship of synchronicity between animate and inanimate (how they emerge from the same source and work in tandem with one another) objects is stunning in its observational precision as well as its fusion with theistic considerations. Yet it is, at best, unacknowledged today in the Euro-centric conversation on religion and science. Why?

Why? Because al-Tusi is only one lone figure, and somebody whose theory can be forced to comport with modern science only by twisting it into the Procrustean bed of apologetics. But it’s still not a theory that contributed anything to our modern understanding of evolution.

I’ve read a lot of Qur’anic apologetics, and they often consist of taking verses from the Qur’an and showing how, if you interpret them judiciously and squint hard, you can show that the Qur’an not only comports with modern science, but anticipates it. (See Islamic Awareness for some truly dreadful examples of this practice.) Why do we ignore Al-Tusi? Because, although he had a rudimentary theory of evolution, it was largely wrong, excepted humans, and did not become a part of modern evolutionary biology.  Wikipedia translates some of his theory. Al-Tulsi’s words:

“Such humans [probably anthropoid apes] live in the Western Sudan and other distant corners of the world. They are close to animals by their habits, deeds and behavior. […] The human has features that distinguish him from other creatures, but he has other features that unite him with the animal world, vegetable kingdom or even with the inanimate bodies. […] Before [the creation of humans], all differences between organisms were of the natural origin. The next step will be associated with spiritual perfection, will, observation and knowledge. […] All these facts prove that the human being is placed on the middle step of the evolutionary stairway. According to his inherent nature, the human is related to the lower beings, and only with the help of his will can he reach the higher development level.”

Saeed’s entire argument, in fact, seems to hinge on the West’s ignoring of Al-Tulsi’s wonky theory of evolution, and she really gets worked up about this perceived Islamophobia:

My point here in this conversation about religion and science’s falsely created incommensurability isn’t about the existence of God – I would like to think that ultimately there is space for belief and disbelief. I would like to also believe, however, that the conversation on belief and disbelief can move beyond the Dawkinsean vitriol that disguises bigotry as a self-righteous claim to the sanctity of science; a claim that makes science the proudly held property of the Euro-American civilization and experience.

Hoisted into popular culture by the Holy Trinity of Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris, New Atheism mirrors the very religious zealotry it claims is at the root of so much moral, political and social decay. In particular, these authors and their posse of followers have – as Nathan Lean characterized it in this publication back in March of last year – taken a particular penchant for “flirting with Islamophobia.” Instead of engaging with Islamic theology, New Atheists – the most prominent figurehead being Richard Dawkins – are more interested in ridiculing Muslims and Islam by employing the use of the same tired, racist talking points and images that situate Muslims in need of ‘enlightenment’ – or, salvation.

This is not judicious thought but a mind-dump of hatred. What is it doing in Salon?

I’m not at all sure how this tirade goes any distance towards making Saeed’s point that science and religion—Islam in her case—are compatible. In fact, in the following paragraph—and note how horrible the prose is—she makes the point that while Evangelical Christianity may be incompatible with science, Islam is not–it’s just misunderstood! 

The Evangelical Christian Right is a formidable force to be reckoned with in American national politics; there are legitimate fears by believing, non-believing and non-caring Americans that the course of the nation, from women’s rights to education, can and will be significantly set back because of the whims of loud and large group of citizens who refuse to acknowledge certain facts and changing realities and want the lives of all citizens to be subservient to their own will. This segment of the world’s religious topography, however, does not represent Religion or, in particular, Religion’s relationship with science.

That first sentence would be a good example in a manual of How Not to Write.

But really—Evangelical Christians don’t represent religion? What do evangelical Christians think they are—a social club like the Rotarians? And of course they represent a major portion of religion’s relationship with science, for they’re responsible for resistance to evolution in much of the world. (Remember that 46% of Americans are young-earth creationists when it comes to humans.) Here Saeed is simply making false statements to buttress her bizarre ideas. What’s worse is that she willfully ignores the fact that her own faith sets back women’s rights and make sthe lives of Muslims subservient to the will of the mullahs. Such is the doublethink of Muslim apologists.

There is no reason for us to engage with Islamic theology beyond showing that it’s studying a nonexistent subject—and that it’s oppressive and pernicious as well.  I, for one, don’t really want to spend a lot of time studying Al-Tulsi’s theory of evolution so long as Muslims are throwing acid in the face of schoolgirls, executing gays and imprisoning blasphemers, stoning adulterers, and giving women’s testimony in the courts only half the value of a man’s. Saeed’s religion is oppressive, retrogressive, and an impediment to free thinking. And it’s inimical to science, as we can see by its rejection of human evolution.

Yes, I know I’ve gone on too long about someone who doesn’t deserve the attention. But really, this was published in Salon. Have they no standards for publication, no requirement for clear and interesting writing, no need for coherent arguments? All they really want, it seems, are articles that bash atheists.

 

 

 

 

 

163 Comments

  1. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Even if a religion would be compatible with science, it does not make that religion’s teachings true or even important.

    • gravityfly
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I’d like to ask Saeed: in what way does Islam inform science at all, let alone “intimately”?

      BTW her English is dreadful probably because she is thinking in Arabic, where there is minimal use of punctuation and long run-on sentences.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        She grew up in the US and apparently does not speak Arabic, or at least isn’t fluent. She mentions this in her article.

        • gravityfly
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          You’re right. I guess that would give her one less excuse for using bad prose.

          • Achrachno
            Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

            No excuses! 🙂

  2. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Glenn Greenwald, was, of course, among the first to praise this piece and suggest pernicious atheist forces will the stereotyping of anti-scientific Muslims. Salon must be proud.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      No surprise there.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Who does Greenwald think more likely to condemn gays, atheists or adherents of Islam?

      • gbjames
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        But colonialism, no? And surely those new atheists caused that.

        • Achrachno
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.

    • Heath
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Sigh. Greenwald is right about so much, but so completely off base when it comes to atheism and Islam.

      I read this article before seeing Jerry’s piece, and found it as baffling as he does. It’s just non sequitur after non sequitur, with sentences strung together in the apparent hope that they’ll end up proving a point by sheer force of density. Whether or not one agrees with Saeed’s thesis — such as it is — I don’t see any reasonable argument that it’s coherently presented.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        I sigh with you, probably for all the same issues.

  3. John Schneider
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I had precisely the same reaction to this article. This apparently is someone enjoying life in two extremely disparate worlds, in denial about the practical (religious, if not purely logical) reality of conflict between them. The same thing goes on in so-called progressive evangelical Christian institutions: they affirm the theses of evolution, but refuse to face in detail the points of “deep conflict” between Darwinism and the required tenets of their self-professed religion.

  4. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on One HuMan's Journey and commented:
    Merely being right is twisted into hurtful and twisted one moe time into charges of “phobia” or “hate”. It’s an old tactic that is wearing thin – the more this argument is exposed to the light of reason the weaker it gets.

  5. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    “Because al-tusk is only one lone figure”?

    “the Holy Trinity of Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris” — not “unholy”? That’s very kind, Sana!

    /@

  6. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    The Wikipedia source for the al-Tusi quote is obscure (Azerbaijan International). does anyone have a better one?

    Also, there are crucial gaps, necessary to establishing whether al-Tusi is really speaking of change over time, or merely describing, as ibn Khaldun does in a rather similar passage, the Great Chain of Being.

  7. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Ha! Nice malapropism at the end of the piece: “Science and religion are not incommensurable”.

    incommensurable : not able to be judged by the same standard as something; having no common standard of measurement

    So, science and religion can be judged by the same standard? Good. That is what gnu atheists have been saying all along!

    /@

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I was going to point that out, too. She misuses that word at least twice; she’s obviously unaware of the actual meaning of “commensurate”.

      I will judge her arguments commensurate with her command of vocabulary.

      (Yes, I know that’s technically as hom, but decent writing can be a good litmus test for determining whether you should invest more time considering the argument.)

      • Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Fuck!

        AD HOM

        If iOS 7 had a face, I would punch it.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          Blame muphry

          • Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            Or you could just blame Canada.

            b&

            • JoeBuddha
              Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

              Or Obama!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Or vaccines.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

                💉!

              • Posted April 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Obama.

  8. Achrachno
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    “al-Tusi’s theory of evolution differs from the one put forward by Charles Darwin” in that it lacks substance.

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      It also differs in that it is completely different.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        Doesn’t have enough substance to be completely different, IMO. A few bits of idle speculation seems to be the whole thing.

        • Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          That’s one of the differences.

          Darwin does some actual explaining. And the inanimate matter thing is kind of a deal breaker. If your theory includes inanimate matter, it’s not a theory of evolution.

          • Sixxvi6
            Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            Until we understand all the factors involved with how a world that was comprised entirely of inanimate matter at the time, produced the first single-cellular organisms, and thus Life, from the combination of proteins and amino acids (through a process we still have yet to replicate in a lab), I wouldn’t go excluding inanimate matter from the Theory of Evolution quite so readily just yet. This is actually a large part of what we have been working on so far with the Grand Unification Theory, as I understand it.

            • Posted April 6, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

              I should’ve been more specific. A theory that includes inanimate matter is not a theory of biological, reproduction and heredity driven evolution.

              We chide creationists for confusing Darwinian evolution with abiogenesis, so we should be careful not to do that ourselves.

              Saeer’s claim was that al-Tusi’s theory anticipated Darwin’s, but Darwin’s theory had nothing to do with abiogenesis.

  9. Alex Shuffell
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Stories like that in Salon are very easy to argue about and keep the same people coming back to argue, everyone has an opinion on it. It has over 750 comments on it already, most of Salon’s other stories don’t get close to that. It must be great for business.

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      That is why they keep flogging this dead horse, I plum reckon.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        What’s the best rope to flog with – a “plumb line”? Ah reckon that thar plum reckoning is better than dead reckoning. 😉

    • Larry Gay
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      I have not read all the comments, but sampled maybe 75. It seems to me that Salon has got a very lively discussion going here. Most of the comments are not about the piece by Ms Saeed. Rather, the participants are arguing back and forth between various forms of belief and various colorations of non-belief, including “agnostic atheism”. One commenter ventured into the fray asserting that the US is a Christian nation. (She or he was clobbered.) Without Dawkins, Hitch et al this would not be happening. It is far more engaging than what is (not) happening in Washington.

      • Shirley White
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        I just love that term…”agnostic atheism.” I’m an agnostic. People come at me wanting to know what the difference is between an atheist and an agnostic, and most of the people I talk to still don’t understand the difference after it has been explained. To them I’m just an atheist, which is fine by me.

  10. potaman
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    There is some weird logic at play at Salon. The validity of arguments is not based on content , but on who makes them. The more persecuted you are or think that you are, the more valid the arguments.

  11. LARRY COOK
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Religion: When you are afraid of the answers, you simply stop asking the questions.

  12. Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Saeed’s piece was crossposted on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-atheists-dawkins-and-hitchens-are-dead-wrong), where the bulk of the commenters are, very politely, eviscerating her argument.

  13. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The problem is that a lot of things are established as “theological truth” in Islam, or at least in many Islamic countries. These include the extreme marginalization of women, the criminalization of homosexuality, and extreme penalties for blasphemy and apostasy. (I’m surprised that Saeed, a woman, doesn’t recognize this.)

    I’m sure she does, but she’s protected from it. And the terms of her protection require that she defame Islam’s critics.

  14. matt
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    i for one am outraged that modern evolutionary biologists deny our common fire elemental ancestors!

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Yes, I would like to know how heredity works with fire, air, and soil.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        ” . . . fire, air, and soil.”

        The first two combine to provide hot air, and, regarding the third, one sticks his head in the sand.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          You forgot the fourth one, water. Then one can stick one’s head in the mud.

          • Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            This is easy: soil contains life (it’s a mixture of minerals and micro- and macroorganisms), so there is no issue with origin of life or heredity.

      • Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        It’s elemental.

        /@

  15. Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Saeed:

    a quick survey of some of the most well known Muslim intellectuals of the past 1,400 years illustrates their masterful polymathy, …

    What would be more interesting would be a survey of Muslim intellectuals over the last 40 years. If Islam is so favourable to science, where is all the science coming out of Islamic universities in Islamic countries? What advances have they made in physics, astrophysics, chemistry and biology that are ahead of the West. And since science is the engine of technological advancement, where are the technological advances coming out of Islamic nations?

    If someone asked me to point to first-rate science coming out of China or India or Brazil then I could do it. But for Islamic countries I’m not aware of anything significant.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      Malaysia is sort of learning how to not lose planes…

    • Erik Verbruggen
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      well, this University is pretty serious:

      http://www.kaust.edu.sa/

      however, in order to attract talent they banned restrictions on female driving and I think also alcohol use and blasphemy on Campus, so it basically admits islam is not conducive to science.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      In 100+ years of awards of Nobel Prizes in the sciences, exactly 2 have been awarded to Muslims, both of whom worked in western universities or institutes for their entire productive careers. Doesn’t say much for Muslim science.

  16. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Sub

  17. Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    The pseudo-intellectual kewl kids all patting one another on the back for being so-not-strident like that Dawkins! Oh he’s soooo vitriolic!

    Like all kewl kids they are full of crap: they have not read the man’s books (nor any of the other Horsemen’s, nor Pinker’s, nor Coyne’s). They may have read the reviews, at most – and they have likely skimmed one-another’s mutually-reinforcing sneers.

    One thing that all kewl kids have always demonstrated is laziness and lack of rigor. And I am more irritated by that than I am by bad ideas.

    • DianeAlliLangworthy
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Yes, that is my observation also with IDCreationist friends…reading (for example) Alister McGrath’s Dawkins Delusion to learn about Dawkins’ arguments and positions.

  18. Wild Juggler
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    What a lame article!

    Many people are asking about recent scientific advances from Muslim countries or Muslim scientists.

    A few have already been named, though they mostly did not live-work in Muslim countries, but perhaps the greatest “Muslim” scientist of the 20th century was Nobel Laureate Adbus Salam, who helped lead the way to discovering the Higgs Boson.

    I put “Muslim” in quotes above because in his native Pakistan, many if not most Sunni Muslims do not consider him to be Muslim because he was a member of the Ahmadi sect of Islam. In some ways, this could be considered a separate religion from Islam, since it venerates a prophet that came after Muhammed(though they still recognize Muhammed).

    In spite of his scientific achievements, Abdus Salam is so unpopular in Pakistan, due to not being a “true” Muslim, his name isn’t even mentioned in science textbooks anymore. The Ahmadis are despised by a significant portion of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority and are discriminated against. They are kind of like the Jews of Pakistan, similar to how Jews were treated in Europe until recently.

    I’m sure everyone who has commented already knows this, but this may be news to anyone new here http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/08/higgs-boson-pakistan-scientist

    As an aside, it’s very fascinating how minority religious groups or secular people descended from these groups are often overrepresented among influential scientists, especially Jews(Einstein), Unitarians(Linus Pauling, who eventually became an atheist), among others.

  19. Andrikzen
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    ”But what a fool believes … he sees

    No wise man has the power to reason away

    What seems … to be

    Is always better than nothing

    And nothing at all keeps sending him … “*

    to believe what he wants to believe.

    *LOGGINS, KENNY / MACDONALD, MICHAEL

  20. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Islam, like other religions, but even more so, allows hacks like Saeed to spew up some ridiculous conclusion and then look around at the myriad writings and twist some of it to fit the bogus, incomprehensible swill.

  21. ShadiZ1
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Actually, what Sana isn’t telling her audience is that al-Tusi belonged to a faction of Shi’a Muslims called the Twelver, who are considered to be infidels by orthodox Sunni Muslims. In fact, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, one of the most influential Sunni theologians of his time, specifically declared al-Tusi to be an atheist and an infidel, due in part to al-Tusi’s collaboration with the Mongol invaders.

    And al-Tusi isn’t an exception in this regard. A large number of Muslim scientists and philosophers in the middle ages were either deists who forcefully criticized religion and religious doctrines (this group includes the famous physician al-Razi), or Muslims declared heretics – and sometimes infidels – by the theologians of their time (this group includes the Andalusian philosopher Averroes). Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much since then. Abdus Salam, the Muslim theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, departed Pakistan – never to return – because of the Pakistani government’s crackdown on the Ahmadiyya movement, to which he belonged.

    Sana isn’t telling the truth about the status and influence of creationism in the Islamic world either. The vast majority of Muslims are in fact creationists (as revealed in popular surveys). And while it’s true that the Scientific Creationism of Harun Yahya and his elks is an Evangelical Christian invention, the vast majority of Muslim theologians have been – and still are – opposed to evolution and its teaching. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential contemporary Muslim theologians, showed up on a televised program on Al-Jazeera almost a decade ago to discuss the theory of evolution from an Islamic point of view. Funnily enough, his conclusion was that there ain’t any evidence for the theory, but even if the theory was proved beyond all doubt, they can still re-interpret the Quran to fit with it. Talk about the “harmony” between science and religion.

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I am 0 percent surprised that her screed is basically a pack of lies.

  22. Tim
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I’m shocked to learn that everyone isn’t completely ignoring salon by now.

  23. KP
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Re: Salon, subscribe to their Facebook updates. You’ll see how dire the stuff they consider journalism is.

    I saw this article yesterday. At least some of the comments tear Saeed apart.

    • uscjd2004
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Salon has been, for some time now, infested with facile, click-baiting trash. It’s not usually worth the effort to wade through all the bullshit in order to find the occasional nuggets of insight. Pity, that — it used to be a semi-respectable publication.

      • Posted April 7, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        There is one counter-example I’m happy to provide, an article they ran about a former fundamentalist (me!) who left Christianity due to its incompatibility with evolutionary science. It was very well written by Dr. Valerie Tarico and pulls no punches about the issues facing Christians who try to make nice with evolution.

        http://www.salon.com/2013/09/09/i_was_a_fundamentalist_until_science_changed_my_mind_partner/

        • DianeAlliLangworthy
          Posted April 7, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          I enjoyed reading this and had never heard of that particular sect. I’m assuming your wife’s path which lead to “i’m not buying this anymore” had less to do with evolution? That was true for me also.

          The wording — “science robbed me of faith” and “evolutionary biology forced him to abandon…the church” — paints a picture of aggression that I know believers feel and whip up, but I see that as inaccurate.

          • Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, Diane. Few people have ever heard of it, though that doesn’t keep it from making the outrageous claim of being “God’s Kingdom,” the only place on earth where salvation is to be found.

            Yes, I think my wife’s deconversion was more due to a general lack of belief in any of it. Though she did say once, when I had started raising the evolution issue, that either Genesis is true or “none of it” (i.e., the Bible and Christianity) is true. She wound up with the latter view, and after researching and writing about the myriad evolution vs. theology issues, I think it really is that stark of a contrast.

            The sensationalized headline was the one part of the article that neither Dr. Tarico nor I had anything to do with. But, again, I do think (agreeing with Prof. Ceiling Cat) that there is an irreconcilable conflict on many levels that liberal Christians try to disregard or smooth over with obscurantist word salad.

  24. Wild Juggler
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    She gets creationism so very very wrong. “Creationism” is something of a retronym. A couple of centuries ago in the Christian world, practically everyone was a “creationist”. They didn’t have a word for it back then because they didn’t need it before the theory of evolution was developed.

    In most Muslim countries, in particular the poorer, more backward ones, I’m pretty sure they don’t even have a concept for “creationism”, let alone politicized creationism. Sure they have their Islamists who preach literalism, but “creationism”, if we can even call it that, isn’t all that important to them. The basic idea is there, but it is too subsumed into their overarching literalist-fundamentalist agenda that it isn’t considered a separate or important issue.

    In part this is because even the moderate Muslims they are fighting are “creationists” too. Evolution isn’t much of an issue in most Muslim countries, but when it is, they just copy the nonsense put out by Christian creationists in the west who’ve been fighting evolution for almost 2 centuries.

    For example, there’s a lot of political creationism in secular, much more westernized Turkey, but relatively little in much poorer, anarchic Somalia.

    So what the author is saying is equivalent to saying there isn’t a lot of opposition to gay marriage in Muslim countries, when gay marriage isn’t even an important, divisive issue in the vast majority of Muslim countries. There is nothing to even be opposed to, at least locally, so we don’t hear a lot about Muslim opposition to gay marriage in majority Muslim countries. It’s just a given that the vast majority of Muslims are against it though.

  25. colnago80
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    There have been only two Muslim Nobel Laureates in science, and one of them spent his entire scientific career in America.

    And the other spent his entire scientific career in England and Trieste.

  26. Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    WTF?

    The Argument from Polymaths.

    She sure likes that word.

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t the Mormons practice polymathy?

      /@

      • Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        True.

        And the [F/R]LDS church still does (not legally, but in practice). There are many prodigious mathematicians in those sects.

  27. Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The worst atheist-bashing article of the year

    The year’s quite young; plenty of time for even worse.

    b&

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Ha! My thought exactly. Maybe by November we’ll be zeroing in on a truly worst. Though, this will doubtless be a contender.

  28. Joe L
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    The Salon sub-head stated “Acolytes of Dawkins & Hitchens pretend that ignorant evangelicals represent all of religion.” This might be slightly true. After all, there are also ignorant Muslims, ignorant Jews, ignorant Catholics, ignorant Protestants, ignorant Orthodox, ignorant Buddhists, etc. etc…. Although “ignorant evangelical” could be considered a redundancy. We pick on them because they’re so pick-on-able.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      When the gnu atheists go after the Sophisticated Theologians they’re still castigated. “Why, you must think we’re ignorant fundamentalists!”

      • Posted April 6, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        I think what pisses off the Sophisticated Theologians™ is that we see the distinction between them and fundamentalists and the regular churchgoers as much the same as the distinction between somebody who’s memorized every episode of Star Trek as opposed to somebody who enjoys watching new episodes if they happen to be in front of the TV when they’re on as opposed to somebody who’s drawn up his own schematics of warp core engines. Sure, that last category really takes his Star Trek seriously…but so what?

        There is, of course, a crucial difference between religious believers and Trekkies: almost all Trekkies, even the sophisticated schematic-drawing ones, understand that it’s all make-believe.

        And that’s why we don’t take the Sophisticated Theologians™ seriously. Not because they’re not sophisticated, but because they’re living in a fantasy world and they insist on pretending that their fantasies are real. The Sophisticated Theologians™ think that their sophistication should be enough to earn them respect, but it’s not. No amount of sophistication could ever make up for living a fantasy.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • abrotherhoodofman
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          Great analogy!

        • Sastra
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          In a way this analogy is a strange fit in that Sophisticated Theologians can be seen as being like Star Trek fans who insist that Star Trek is not a fantasy but quite real … and yet constantly refer to all its virtues as fiction when this is challenged.

          • Filippo
            Posted April 7, 2014 at 3:32 am | Permalink

            Perhaps there are at least a few Star Trek enthusiasts who give themselves over to the idea that Star Trek is “real.” (I wonder if there are any Star Wars enthusiasts with similar mindsets.)

            Years ago my brother and I were watching an original Star Trek episode. Our mother, passing by, said words-to-the-effect, “Do you really believe that stuff?” As if our interest in it could possibly be reasonably construed as believed in its actual existence. Must have been her apparent aversion to the science, outer space, astronomy aspect of it. At least it was somewhat REALITY-based. (There had been moon landings, after all. Why not disbelieve THAT – assuming one could possibly ignore the evidence.) Had we instead watched “Casablanca” or “Camelot” (one of her favorites), she wouldn’t have said a word.

            We did not respond because we were occupied, and because she was the “strident” chip-on-the-shoulder, confrontation – dump personified type one could very easily get into a daily tussle with if one so desired. (At least we weren’t engrossed in the O. J. Simpson and other such dramas as she was some years later. Otherwise, she never bought/read a book.)

        • Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:05 am | Permalink

          They’re more like trekkies who learn to speak Klingon and then claim you can’t understand the series unless you do likewise.

  29. Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    It may be that some Arab countries were sufficiently stable some 1000 years ago to be able to foster individuals (Averroes, Algorizm, Avicenna…) that have a place in the history of rational thought. But that is hardly the case now. And just because progress is made in an area that has some particular dominant religion doesn’t mean that those ideas belong to that religion.

  30. drew
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    She takes pains to talk about the history of Islam and science, and while it’s true, she doesn’t seem to recognize, or has just conveniently omitted the fact, that this effectively ended in the 12th century with Hamid al-Gazali.

    His philosophy, basically, was that mathematics was a thing of the devil. And boy did that philosophy take hold in Islamic culture.

    One shouldn’t try to enter the fray trotting out turn of the second millenium CE (800-1100) Baghdad, as a shining example of how Islam and science are all buddy-buddy when the prevailing Islamic philosophy regarding science for the intervening 900 years has been that attempting to understand the world was inherently evil.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I thought similar. My entire response so someone basing their claim that religion and science cab worm together on the distant historical past is: so? Who cares if people held simultaneous scientific and religious occupations in a time when science is not what it is today and people lived on absolutist monarchies that bore sharp resemblances to theocracies.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Oh dear. That’s why I shouldn’t reply in my phone. It is “my entire response to” not “so” and “Cab worm” is “can work” and it is “in” absolutist monarchies not “on”

        • Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          I was wondering where taxis and invertebrates came into the discussion. Or is “cab worming” the latest slang for some sort of licentious activity? Better ask Mr. Muth about that….

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

            Whatever it is, it sounds gross.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          I read it as “can worm together” and it seemed to make sense somehow – a lot of wriggling and writhing going on.

          • Merilee
            Posted April 6, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

            Like a game of sardines…

            • drew
              Posted April 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

              I read that one as a game of sadness at first. It seemed to fit.

  31. gluonspring
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    “On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.”

    Even as familiar as it is to me I find this argument astonishing. What could be more inimical to science than ideas that can not be examined, debated, and disagreed over? Nothing really. In this one sentence she makes the case for the incompatibility of science and religion. They are opposed at their very core by the absolute requirement of stifling debate on the one side and the equally absolute requirement of fostering debate on the other.

    This same bizarre thought came up with critics of the Cosmos Bruno segment who tried to make the strange point that Bruno wasn’t burned for *science*, but only for holding the wrong unscientific views, for being offensive and, it seems, undercutting the pillars and articles of faith or some such thing. How blinkered can you be not to see that that kind of environment is to science as deadly as the flames were to their victims. I am also shocked that anyone would think to say anything, however tangential or mild, to mitigate the culpability of those who set people on fire for their ideas. Even to raise the question of the actual content of those ideas, as though it matters, marks one as an enemy of all human kind in my view.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Bravo!

    • DianeAlliLangworthy
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      very well stated

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      In my view too. Well said!

    • Posted April 7, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Moreover, almost anything can be shoved into “articles of faith”, so that can immunize *anything* from criticism. (cf. Galileo.)

  32. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Another long, bellowing death wail of the dying phenomenon called religion.

    Can somebody please take religion to Switzerland (or Oregon) and put it out of its misery peacefully? Surely it is old enough (and hopeless enough) to qualify.

  33. Jeffery
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Her article makes it all too apparent that observing the religion of Islam causes life-long brain damage. Now that Jerry’s pointed out her inadequate arguments and deeply-flawed logic, she can disregard it all and simply accuse him of being an “Islamaphobe”. Well, if this is what even the seemingly intelligent Muslims are like, I’d say that I’m a little scared of them, myself!

    • Filippo
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      I wonder if there is someone out there who would take offense at the term “Ignoramusphobe.”

      Perhaps the term should be “Willful Ignoramusphobe,” as to be ignorant is simply to not (yet) know, as in the case of a four-year-old, though “ignorant” has become a pejorative. On the other hand, to “ignore” generally is held to mean to willfully not pay attention, to willfully avoid paying attention to, something right in front of one. And again, contrariwise, one must have the cognitive wherewithal to notice something right in front of him. It’s the rare squirrel that notices the car a hundred or so feet away, versus only noticing when it is imminently bearing down on him in the middle of the road.

      Is there a one-word descriptor meaning “willfully ignorant”?

      • Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Is there a one-word descriptor meaning “willfully ignorant”?

        “Faithful.”

        b&

  34. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. This, from Eric Pickles, UK Communities Secretary:

    I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish. Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”

    Somebody prominent in New Atheism needs to refute the argument that claims atheism is just as dogmatic as religion, because it is one of the very first stances a person who hasn’t studied the matter carefully will take. (I used to be one of these people.) This stance also serves politicians extremely well, as demonstrated above.

    Ignorant people like this think they are defending personal liberty, when all they are doing is squatting on the untenable middle ground.

  35. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Religion and science were somewhat compatible, back before Darwin, when life was magic.

    Life is not magic anymore, it is science. All religions are having a hard timing catching up with that. Science is now moving on, and leaving them behind.

    Darwin was 155 years ago; Watson and Crick 60 years ago; the Humane Genome Project was 13 years ago. It is all pretty recent, and unfolding at a very fast pace, and religions seem to have little chance of keeping up with it.

    • Posted April 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      It actually goes back to Newton. Pretty much all the religions rely upon Aristotelian metaphysics as the basis for their parodies of science. Once Newton showed that motion doesn’t require an unmoved mover, that was pretty much the death knell for magic. If you don’t need an unmoved mover, you don’t need an undesigned designer or an immoral lawgiver or any of the rest.

      b&

      • derekw
        Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Yet…Newton himself saw God as the final cause or ‘unmoved mover.’ From his Principia “this most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.” He felt the structure of the universe enables one to “know (God) . . . by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes.”

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Which only goes to show that even the very smartest of humans can talk a load of rubbish once they start talking about something about which they know nothing.

          It’s called the God of the Gaps Argument. Dara Ó Briain explained why this is a bad argument thusly: Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy-tale most appeals to you.

        • Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          That is true that Newton said that. The great thing about science is that, Newton’s great accomplishments in one area have no bearing on his authority in another.

          His statement regarding an intelligent designer, taken alone, has to be construed as opinion when no supporting evidence is offered. From a logical viewpoint, it is nothing more than a fallacious argument from ignorance. Newton saw no other explanation, so he filled in the gaps with a default presumed position.

        • Posted April 8, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Newton was also seriously into alchemy, and his interpretation of Christianity would be radically heretical even today.

          Newton’s own interpretation of his work isn’t the point, any more than Linus Pauling’s crazy ideas about Vitamin C is relevant to his groundbreaking work on chemical bonds is.

          The point is that, thanks to Newton, we know that motion does not require a Mover; that being the keystone of Aristotelian metaphysics, we’ve known since Newton that metaphysics is bunk.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Sastra
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget neurology and the fatal blow to what was once universally assumed to be the obvious truth of mind/body dualism. Both Roy Porter’s Flesh in the Age of Reason and Carl Zimmer’s Soul Made Flesh detail the 16th, 17th, and 18th century scientific wrestle with the implications of our discoveries regarding the brain.

      • abrotherhoodofman
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Soul Made Flesh is an excellent read.

  36. Bob Carlson
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    From page 18 of the Kindle version of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died:

    It is common knowledge that medeival Arab societies were far ahead of those of Europe in terms of science, philosophy, and medicine, and that Europeans derived much of their scholarship from the Arab world; yet in the early centuries, this cultural achievement was usually Christian and Jewish rather than Muslim. It was Christians–Nestorian, Jacobite, Orthodox, and others–who preserved and translated the cultural inheritance of the ancient world–the science, philosophy and medicine–and who transmitted it to centers like Baghdad and Damascus. Much of what we call Arab scholarship was in reality Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, and it was not necessarily Muslim. Syriac-speaking Christian scholars brought the works of Aristotle to the Muslim world: Timothy himself translated Aristotle’s Topics from Syriac into Arabic, at the behest of the caliph. Syriac Christians even make the first reference to the efficient Indian numbering system that we know today as “Arabic,” and long before this technique gained currency among Muslim thinkers.

    • drew
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      I think this really kind of misses the point of exactly what was going on in Baghdad ca. 800-1100 CE.

      The issue isn’t necessarily that the Muslims were the ones responsible for the things that came out of the period, the issue is that they were forward thinking enough to make the Middle East a place of learning and study. Scholars congregated there from all around the world because inquiry was allowed/encouraged. As a result, the major things that were happening were named with Arabic names. Further, the arabic world became a place of, then, modern marvel and scientific advances.

      This is in contrast to the Christian world of the time, in which any idea, or experimental result, that went contrary to the church’s doctrine could earn you a one way ticket to the pyre.

  37. Sastra
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Taner Edis’ An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam deconstructs the idea that the Muslim were extremely advanced in science during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

    “It is more accurate to say that Muslim thinkers took the Greek philosophical concept of reason they inherited and remade it into a form more suited for a revelation-based civilization.”

  38. hank_says
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    For some reason, Salon is on a crusade to bash the hell out of atheists…

    Seems to me, Prof CC, that they want to bash their hell into us…

    However, I do agree with your assessment of the writing as equally lacking in both skill and substance. I’ve just started writing professionally (in my late 30s – never too late to start!) and, complaints about content aside, I’d be ashamed to submit something so poorly constructed and and badly reasoned.

    As for why Salon’s on their “bash the Gnus” tack, they either have an editorial bias against the non-religious and/or they’ve realised that bashing atheists gets clicks – both from believers who’ll give it a thumbs-up and from atheists who’ll link to it or show up in the comments to give it a roasting.

    I’d suggest any responders who link to it do so using donotlink.com – a service which allows you to link to an article from your site but which does not improve that article’s rankings. Perfect for this exact situation.

  39. Posted April 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed this assault of salon’s against the “New Atheists”… It does seem too well coordinated to be mere chance. What sort of gets me is how they all go after Dawkins like he’s our Prophet or something. Dawkins is really okay but he’s not my personal Jesus… Okays?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      That happens everywhere. Once there was a cross country discussion in Canada about religion in public places. It degenerated into attacks on Dawkins. It really did seem like those attacking him thought he was the atheist leader.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        Well, if I had to select just one leader it’d be Dawkins … unless it was Jerry.

        Dawkins has more books, but I read Jerry’s website almost every day. Tough call.

        • Posted April 7, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

          We’re atheists. We have as many leaders as cats.

          (Yes, that sentence was deliberately ambiguous.)

          b&

          • Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

            Deliberate misreading: We have many leaders that are cats.

            Everybody wants to be a cat!

            /@

            Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

            >

            • Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

              And our cats are cool, man! You dig?

              b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

            I was going to say something similar but your metaphor of cats is much more illustrative of not only the diversity of those who call themselves “atheist” but also the tendency for atheists not to want to be lead in their atheism.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

              or to be led. You know the metal or the verb – take your pick.

              • Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

                The metal works. It may well have sweetened the wine, but it also turned the Roman Pagans into Roman Catholics.

                b&

  40. JSintheStates
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree! Salon has reached a new low. Personally, I’ve blocked all their future feeds (on Zite); I have no time for their bigotry!

  41. cooeerup
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I listened to an interesting talk between Tom Holland (historian) and Mona Siddiqui yesterday that helped me understand why so many seemingly educated Muslims have so much trouble critiquing their book when many educated Christians don’t. Apparently it’s because Islam claims God is the author of the Quran, whereas Christians acknowledge God isn’t the author of the Bible and Paul gave them permission to question.
    This makes hoping that Islam will go through a Christianity like reformation a little more futile.

  42. shannon
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Pretty sure Harris called a boycott on Salon. They just keep proving him right.

  43. Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Should we be mad at Salon for doing what Salon does? I don’t know the answer to that myself. By giving her views wider dispersion among the Salon audience (which I expect skews atheist and educated) it highlights the idiocy of the anti-atheist arguments while simultaneously generating good link bait for themselves. I don’t see any proselytizing advantages for Islam in it at all. To me it’s just another example of what I shall refer to as the ‘muddled thinking of a mollycoddled Muslim woman in America’. If she is an educated woman, I wonder how many other women with HER education she can point to as recent graduates from any Saudi university. That would be interesting and enlightening. Enjoy.

  44. Turgut
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Al- Ghazali, the influential islamic theologian of the 12th century, marks the point at which islam lost its connection with science and philosophy; a condition which unfortunately continues to this day. Cherry picking the Quran for obscure phrases that seem to imitate scientific declarations is currently a fashionable pastime among islamic apologists. Instead of arguing over ancient phraseology, the worldwide islamic community needs to recognize that what is setting them back are the cultural traditions that emanate from their “holy book” and which are the source of their archaism, misogyny, racism, fear and hatred.

  45. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    That is a piece of especially contorted, nay painfully contorted, hateful apologetics.

    It starts off with the worst ‘argument’ for that religion and science is compatible there is, that one person can indulge in both. With such reasoning religion is also not incommensurate or making cognitive dissonance when indulging in pedophilia and misogyny, say.

    But as opposed to most apologetics it manage to go downhill from there. The reason is of course that mohammedanism clashes most with science of any religion. For some reason Saeed ‘forgets’ to mention that history records that it took only two centuries for the mohammedanist culture to obliterate science in the region. And it hasn’t recovered since, the population size should have supported much more than the meagre 2 Nobel prizewinners it have, one of which made an enirely US career. So much for “vibrant” history!

    Saeed asks: “it is, at best, unacknowledged today in the Euro-centric conversation on religion and science. Why?” Presumably because it has nothing to do with the actual evolutionary theory. That there was a _universal_ common ancestor as opposed to several is not a unique constraint of the theory, it is an observation. And if mohammedanism is so enlightened, how come it can’t recognize and reject creationism as science can?

    Moreover it is no strength that mohammedanism allows “plenty of wiggle room and then some”. It is the purpose of science to replace belief with fact and that of religion to replace fact with belief. That one can stop questioning with pointing to anything and go “magic-entity-did-this” is made so much easier if religion has no spine. But if it has wiggle room, if it makes so few empirical claims, how come it practically bombards society with such through fatwas? (2 million/year, IIRC the recorded output!) The cognitive dissonance is strong in Saeed.

    That is likely why she hates atheists so much. A fair comparison, they are both about hurtful and political propaganda, is “racist”. At the same time the usual religious special pleading is used to protect it from the existence of its fundamentalists such as the evangelical christian Right.

    Finally there is the lunatic claim that there is a “Truth” of the historical existence of the mythical Mohammed (who would then be truly unique among the other pre-Enlightenment religious founders in having historical evidence of any kind) or the existence of a magical entity of any kind. The BICEP2 measurements likely nails inflation as an observable fact, which as I understand it makes creationism, the existence of a magical entity influencing the universe in any way, like homeopathy. It dilutes the purported “magical see volume” in the same way as homeopaths. Only more so, while homeopaths claim their 30 order of magnitude dilutions are magical, creationists now claim a more than 150 order of magnitude dilution is.

    Creationist magic agency is now the most insanely erroneous idea man ever invented!

  46. Michael
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    I am SO fed up with these LIES about Islam having been a harbinger of science and progress.

    Firstly, the overwhelming majority of science attributed to Islam is knowledge Moslems assimilated as a result of conquest. In other words, it is the work of other people (Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Egyptians, Persians, etc.).

    Secondly, the progress by Moslem (i.e. people who happened to be Moslem, and not BECAUSE of being Moslems) thinkers, philosophers, and scientists was very short lived. It lasted for only three or so centuries during which time the M3atazila school of thought prevailed. That ideology emphasized the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment, even if it contradicted religious dogma. The two were independent.

    As soon as, however, the Ash3ari school of thought began its ascent, Islamdom began its stagnation and even regression (the latter particularly being witnessed in present day). The Ash3aris held that the Koran along had all the answers and was singularly necessary to order and manage all facets of life.

    So, Ms. Sa3eed is either grossly ignorant of her own religious history or – more likely – she whitewashes it in an endeavor to make a polemic point, which is plain and simply untrue.

  47. Posted April 7, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    All I managed to get out of Saeed’s piece was getting “Dancing in September” stuck in my head.

  48. eric
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Articles like hers make me want to ditch any academic discussion of compatibility and just adopt a strictly functional approach: compatible is as compatible does.

    This sort of approach may not satisfy the more philosophically-minded folk who are interested in notions of philosophical compatibility, methodological compatibility, and so on. But honestly, I come very close to not caring about that stuff. I almost completely don’t care what your holy book says, and most of the time I don’t care what the best and worst of your religion did 100 or 1,000 years ago. I care whether YOU support secularism NOW. I care whether YOU support the teaching of sound, mainstream science to kids TODAY. If you do those things, then regardless of whatever religious rituals you peform in your spare time, you’re on my side – and if you don’t, you aren’t.

  49. Daoud
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    She would have been fine if she stopped with point 1 (from your list), the first 4 paragraphs. i.e. She’s an observant Muslim woman who loves science. Great. Hats-off. Article shoulda ended there.

  50. Posted April 7, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Since I am thought by some to have pulled a “Saeed” myself, let me just say that I am in complete agreement with Jerry on this point. Saeed’s Salon article (what is this doing in Salon?!) is a rather absurdly transparent piece of crude Muslim apologetics. The astonishing suggestion seems to be being made that contemporary science has every reason to find its roots in Islam, and that there is something Islamophobic about its refusal to do so.

    It is, however, significant, that science did not prosper in Islam, but, after its first flowering, as Muslims conquered neighbouring civilisations, avidly devouring the inheritance of others, the imperatives of divine revelation more and more called such enthusiasm into question, until, today, Islam has become an intellectual backwater, unable to flourish in a world of free enquiry. For it is cleat that, if al-Tusi did have a “theory” of evolution, he says very little more than some Greek philosophers, who also saw some sort of developmental process at work in the growth of different kinds of animals and their adaptation to their environments, but without having the slightest idea that this process was driven by a selection process including both random variation and environmental selection — a reminder, if such were needed, that much of so-called “Islamic” scholarship and science was the product of civilisations not their own.

    The really troubling part of Saeed’s rant against the new atheists lies in her acceptance, without argument or justification, of the foundational (and supposedly divinely revealed) beliefs of Islam, the five ritual “pillars”, and, in particular the first one, the Shahadah, that there is but one God and Muhammad is his prophet, and therefore, that the Qur’an is a perfect revelation, and that Muhammad’s every deed and word presented the divine in all its perfection. So the book and the man as exemplars of what it means to be in some sense “holy”.

    And yet both the book and the man are, as all human things are, frighteningly human, which, by being held to be transcendent, are claimed to be more than human, and thus are allowed to override the claims of human love, compassion and uncertainty. The same features are present in the Roman Catholic idea of the Magisterium, or in the Evangelical Christian idea of the inerrancy of the Bible. These are the most dangerous ideas that are still so often held up, not only for our guidance, but to compel our obedience. The reason that science and religion, so understood, are incompatible, is simply that scientific knowledge is always held conditionally, whilst revealed religion demands unconditional submission. (I might add here my own concern that this conditionality is not always as evident in the way that scientists refer to their discipline, as it should be, which is the fundamental reason for my distancing myself from the new atheism — but that is another story.) This submission is as evident in Roman Catholicism (for all its talk of love and forgiveness) as it is in Islam, though the contradiction is more evident in Catholicism. Though Mona Saddiqui (in the audio linked above) finds in Islam room for a god of love and mercy, the Qur’an is not good evidence for it, where threats of terrible eternal punishment are present on almost every page, and where the slaughter of infidels is encouraged. It does not help Christianity, either, that, taking the Christian Bible as a whole, hell only makes an appearance with Jesus, showing that both Islam and Christianity drank from other springs than those from which the Jews quenched their thirst. (The claim, by the way, that Islam is an Abrahamic religion is, on the face of it, ridiculous, since it explicitly denies the claims of the other supposedly Abrahamic religions to be legitimate heirs of Abraham, just as Christianity, to its shame, did to the Jews (cf. the gospel of John’s “Before Abraham was, I am.” [8.58]) You cannot justly classify religions (plural) as Abrahamic, and then claim that you are the only legitimate heir of Abraham.

    • eric
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      The astonishing suggestion seems to be being made that contemporary science has every reason to find its roots in Islam, and that there is something Islamophobic about its refusal to do so.

      Its somewhat ironic that Ms. Saeed airs this grievance on Saturday…and then on Sunday, on the new Cosmos, NDGT goes on a 2-minute spiel about how science ows a lot to early Islamic thinkers. Giving exactly the sort of credit – to a national audience, no less – that she feels science “refuses” to give. D’oh!

      I might add here my own concern that this conditionality is not always as evident in the way that scientists refer to their discipline, as it should be

      No, it should not be. There is no reason to carve out an exception for science and insist that we speak our empirical claims in convoluted caveats when nobody else does so either professionally or vernacularly. Consider these two statements: “My shirt is blue.” “The earth orbits the sun.” I see no reason to caveat either; philosophical absoluteness is not implied in either, but if it is, its implied equally in both. So if you think its stupid and unnecessary to attach a lengthy caveat to the shirt claim (and most of us probably do), be consistent and acknowledge that its equally stupid and unnecessary to attach a lengthy caveat to the orbit claim.

    • Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      The reason that science and religion, so understood, are incompatible, is simply that scientific knowledge is always held conditionally, whilst revealed religion demands unconditional submission. (I might add here my own concern that this conditionality is not always as evident in the way that scientists refer to their discipline, as it should be, which is the fundamental reason for my distancing myself from the new atheism — but that is another story.)

      I think what upsets many people, perhaps you or perhaps not, is that scientists express extreme and warranted confidence in certain subjects about which non-scientists don’t know enough to express such certainty.

      With the ever-present caveat of the possibility of conspiracy theories or variations thereon, we can have practically absolute confidence that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning. I don’t think there’s anybody who reasonably questions the practicality of absolute confidence in that proposition, especially when coupled with the footnote about there always being at least the hypothetical possibility that we could be worng about absolutely everything.

      Jerry, I’m sure, would express confidence in Evolution comparable to what everybody would express towards an Eastern Sunrise. Those who’ve read his book should have almost as much confidence in that conclusion; those who’ve read his book and followed up and independently verified at least some of the evidential claims Jerry rests his conclusions on should be comfortable with confidence equal to Jerry’s. Granted, there’s still lots and lots and lots and lots to learn about biology, but there’s also lots to learn about solar dynamics. Neither case changes the fact that we know, beyond even the slightest hint of a shadow of reasonable doubt, that Evolution is true and that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

      But how many people have read Jerry’s book or otherwise attained that level of education about Evolution?

      It’s not just biology in which scientists have overwhelming confidence in matters the public is unfamiliar with. Physicists are every bit as confident that there’s no magic, no supernatural, no miracles as biologists are that Evolution is true. And their confidence is every bit as Jerry’s in Evolution, and as everybody else’s in an Eastern Sunrise — and, again, notwithstanding the fact that we’ve still got plenty to learn.

      The problem with theologians and philosophers isn’t merely that they lack the scientific knowledge to know that the confidence of the scientists is warranted…it’s that the philosophers and theologians don’t even have the scientific literacy to understand that, not only have scientists answered all the Big Questions the non-scientists are still arguing over, but scientists have demonstrated the Questions to be banal at best and most commonly incoherent. While biologists like Jerry are busy ferreting out the details of fruit fly genetics, theologians are stuck at Darwin’s thesis that design doesn’t require a Designer. And while cosmologists like Sean Carroll are busy trying to pin down the mass of the inflaton and use that figure to complete a GUT, philosophers still haven’t figured out that motion doesn’t require a Mover or time a Timer.

      And that’s the great frustration so many scientists and Gnu Atheists have especially with the religious. We’re in a post-Einstein world and we’re stuck trying to convince people that Aristotle really didn’t have the last word about how the Universe works. And we’re dealing with people who say they want to understand “where life came from” and similar Questions, but who can’t get over the same blocks that Aristotle would have stumbled over.

      I think a bit of frustration over having to keep dealing with these levels of ignorance, especially amongst people with the raw intellectual capacity to know better, is not only understandable, not only justifiable, but perfectly warranted.

      And that’s really what Gnu Atheism is all about: treating religion as the primitive superstition it is.

      And, yes; you can find much beauty associated with primitive superstitions. I don’t think anybody would deny the beauty of Aztec gold or Greek statues or an Egyptian sarcophagus. Nor would we deny the profound emotional attachments so many associated with such great art, or even the religious significance they carried. All we’re saying is that you don’t need the superstition to appreciate the beauty or to create your own beautiful works, and that respecting the superstition itself causes great harm and no good.

      The religious and fathiests would even agree with us on those points with respect to the ancient, discarded religions; they just want to exempt the “modern” favored ones from reasonable examination. And that would loop us right back to the top of my reply….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • eric
        Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        The problem with theologians and philosophers isn’t merely that they lack the scientific knowledge to know that the confidence of the scientists is warranted…it’s that the philosophers and theologians don’t even have the scientific literacy to understand that

        Dunno about philosophers per se, but with theologians I think they explicitly want special (conversational) treatment for the subject of God. That is, all empirical knowledge claims about shirt color or sun rises etc. without caveats should be intpreted tentatively, but atheistic empirical knowledge claims make about God are always to be interpreted as absolute knowledge claims, unless the speaker falls all over him/herself to describe their caveats in extreme detail.

        Though perhaps I am doing them an injustice and what I’m seeing is a general human bias: negative claims made about something which the listener supports are interpreted in the worst possible way, while positive claims made about something the listener supports are interpreted as charitably as possible.

      • Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Ben, this was an excellent little rant. I mean that entirely as a compliment. Sometimes a bit of ranting is called for, and you addressed the frustration well.

        The sad fact is that very many of our fellow human beings are staring dumbly at evolution “like a cow looking at a new gate,” to quote that famous Creationist Martin Luther (entirely out of context, of course). Meanwhile, those of us who have made even the slightest effort at self-education on the topic are running laps around the track, learning fascinating things about everything from our origins to the emerging threats posed by the microorganisms that are evolving defenses to our best drugs, right under our noses.

        And, in the midst of all this, some professional purveyor of ignorance builds theme parks dedicated to religious fantasies and chants, “But were you there?”

        • Posted April 7, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          There’s actually a Christian hymn titled “Were You There?” The chorus consists of the lines, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, oh oh oh sometimes it causes me to tremble…”

          Actually, no I wasn’t there. Neither was anyone else on earth today and neither was the songwriter. Checkmate, Ken Ham! 😉

      • Posted April 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, I’m sure, would express confidence in Evolution comparable to what everybody would express towards an Eastern Sunrise.

        No, I don’t think he would, Ben, nor should he. Matters are much more complex than that, and, while it is true that, so far, it looks to be true that evolution is, in fact, gene centred, it is entirely possible that later discoveries will qualify that greatly. So, if Jerry holds present evolutionary theory with the same confidence that he places in the rising of the sun in the East, he is exceeding the evidence. The basic structure of evolutionary theory will doubtless remain fairly fixed, but in matters so complex it is doubtful that the details can justly be held with same confidence. There seems very good reason to suppose that the century ahead, if we have not destroyed the earth by then (a rapacious exploitation of the earth that has been made possible by science), may yet have many important discoveries about even finer details about the origin and development of life on earth.

        Of course, I wasn’t only referring to what may be supposed to be confirmed scientific theories. I was thinking more in the line of the confidence that is often shown in determinism as against free will (of any description), of questions regarding the nature of consciousness, about which some very definite opinions are held which far exceed the degree of evidence which supports such confidence.

        I would also point out that, as for discarded superstitions you may be quite right, but theological traditions are not simply superstitions. Indeed, many theologians make careful distinctions between superstition and religious faith. While it may be that these positions will not stand up to very strenuous examination; it is a bit hasty to put up tombstones just yet. A bit more familiarity with contemporary theology (and I have on occasion named a number of theologians who are worthy of being treated with respect) is a sine qua non to continued confidence that religion is all simply passé. Though not a theologian or philosopher, Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind deserves a thoughtful response (though some of it is plainly wrong), and this goes for many others who are working at the interface where traditions of faith and modern science and philosophy meet.

        I agree that a lot of it is just bunk, but it is hard to accept, without some more serious attention being given to the matter, that it all is. The casual certainty with which you dismiss all religious thought whatever is hard to credit in someone who claims to have a critical mind. Belief in a god is not simply a superstition, though fundamentalists reduce it to that. And while some philosophers, like Dan Dennett, thinks that the word ‘mystery’ is a sign of intellectual skullduggery, there is more to the depth of human being, and being itself, than he seems to recognise. Those who work along the edges of language, in the borderlands of theology, where imagination, creativity (and not only scientific imagination and creativity either) and critical thought meet, still deserves respectful attention. It is the kind of certainty that you (along with others) express, content to remain ignorant of the cultural roots of your own thinking, that has led me to step back from the edge of the intellectual precipice upon which you are balancing.

        I do not know what is to be found there. It’s easy to scoff, but it is perhaps not so easy to understand what leads so many critical minds to believe that there are still depths there to be explored. Perhaps there is nothing more there than the kind of spirituality that Sam Harris claims to find in meditation, but it strikes me as critical carelessness to dismiss it all as so much smoke, without a real effort to understand. Of course, I think that the positive religions have come away with certainties to which they have no rightful claim, certainties which pose as much danger to us as the confident certainties of science (just take a look at the peril the world is now in on account of scientific advances, for all the benefits that may also be claimed, before dismissing that thought). But I do not believe that what so many generations have devoted their minds to has been mere superstition. Belief in a god or gods is really irrelevant to the religious quest, though it is on the supposed demolition of this belief that so much new atheist confidence is based. As many atheists have pointed out, religion is far more complex, and deserves more respectful attention than it has been given. Not, of course, where religious beliefs are clearly superstitious, and where there have been gods and lords many; but there, where the deepest attention has been paid to the deeps of human consciousness and experience, where science cannot follow.

        It’s interesting. It was Dawkins, I think, who said that he would take to a desert island, Bach’s St. Matthew (or St John) Passion, music transcendent in its signification, but whose significance depends entirely upon imaginative identification with the Christian story of redemption. The story itself may be a mere metaphor, but that it expresses something about the nature of being human, at least as Christians have understood being human, seems unquestionable. But if religious belief can lead one to such imaginative depths of understanding, then it has something of great value to contribute to the task of being human, and it is simply pointless to deny it. It is that imaginative and creative depth, explored in the Greek myths, in the Jewish experience of faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and how that has expressed itself in community: these are real, and have, in our cultural experience, been used over and over again to express what it means to be human, and to love the good. Dan Dennett invites his friends over every Christmas to sing Christmas carols and to remember again the story of the wise men and the shepherds, and the baby born in Bethlehem. I used to think this almost an act of betrayal, and then I realised that we all of us live most of our lives in story, and atheists have their story, one which, in the West, is very dependent on the Christian and Jewish story. That they do not recognise this is an act of forgetfulness so blatant that it calls into question the disbelief that is trumpeted so confidently from so many keyboards around the world. It is an act of cultural forgetfulness that impoverishes us. Whatever we do with our religious traditions, it is folly to dismiss them in the cavalier and simplistic way that has become so common.

        In this light, it is worthwhile remembering what Tom Holland says in his part of the BBC audio linked above, that, for all of his confidence, Dawkins’ atheism is Pauline (that is, dependent largely on things deeply rooted in the culture that stems from St Paul’s transformation of the scope of religious belief), and that, without Christianity, his atheism would be impossible. Which reminds me of Oriana Fallaci’s claim that she was an atheist, but a Catholic one. As Holland points out, contemporary Western atheism is a product of Christian theology, and is unthinkable without it. I think that is true. It is also true, I think (and for the same reason), that the new atheism is not making many inroads into Islam, and is unlikely to. As we cast off so carelessly the riches of our culture, and impoverish the depths of our ability to think deeply about the state of the world, and of humanity in it, we endanger ourselves. We may not be able to be the shepherd of being (as Heidegger encouraged us to do), but we must be able to be the custodians of a very fragile planet. The headlong rush of science towards scientific knowledge is all very well, and doubtless in many ways important, but it is, I am afraid, destroying us. The idea that in getting rid of religion we will achieve some sort of ideal society, where evil will never be done while claiming it to be good, is ludicrous, in the light of the cultural devastation that is happening around us now, a cultural devastation which is largely due to scientific discovery, and the triumphalism of the scientific knowledge, at the expense of every other kind of knowledge hat there is. While I hold no brief for fundamentalists, I can understand why they are so afraid.

        Go back to the beginning, now, and see how you have spelled ‘evolution’ (with a capital). Telling, that little gesture; almost religious, I’d say; perhaps, even, superstitious.

        • Posted April 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          It’s a mistake to imagine that man in a state of nature lived a happy, carefree life frolicking in an unspoilt landscape. In reality, life before the last few centuries was nasty, brutish and short. That progress is largely due to tools that have been discovered through science. Sure, it is a Faustian bargain, since humanity is now in a position to over exploit the limited resources of the planet. But, there is no way back, even if we wanted it, and the only possible solutions are scientific ones; certainly the divisiness created by religions doesn’t and can’t help. And it is very noticeable that in the west it is largely people with a respect for rationality and science who are most intent on addressing these problems.

        • Filippo
          Posted April 8, 2014 at 3:54 am | Permalink

          For starters (as I have to get out and meet the world this morning), in your expressing your concern about the dangers of scientific advancement, you say not one word about the rapacious, exploitative, short-term profit-maximization, scientifically-illiterate capitalist mindset, greatly predisposed to treating scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians as its handmaidens; a mindset which is a the current specific manifestation of the always-existing nature of humans to seek to control and exploit other humans and life and things. As per Darwin, “We bear the stamp of our lowly origin.” As per Hitchens, (commenting on Rand’s objectivist endorsement of human selfishness), “Some things do not require reinforcement.”

          • Posted April 8, 2014 at 5:03 am | Permalink

            Filippo, you say:

            you say not one word about the rapacious, exploitative, short-term profit-maximization, scientifically-illiterate capitalist mindset, greatly predisposed to treating scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians as its handmaidens.

            Of course, the question is: what else are they to do? Yes, we do bear the stamp of our lowly origin. And that perhaps means that there is some knowledge that is dangerous, and should not be pursued. This is precisely the problem that I am dealing with. Science is not the be all and end all of knowledge, because there is nothing within science which regulates the use of science, with consequences that we can all see. That knowledge, that underlies great the moral, political, philosophical and spiritual traditions (whatever we want to say about the existence of transcendent beings or particles), which is being cast aside in the rush to acclaim the super-competence of science, is precisely the kind of knowledge that we need. But if the suggestion is being made that the rapaciousness is being carried out by those who are indifferent to science, and that science somehow emerges from this without stain, then, it seems to me, you have an altogether unrealistic view of science and scientists, who are as liable to opt for short-term profit maximisation as anyone else. The world is not nicely divided into scientists and capitalists, the latter of which are responsible for the misuses of science.

            As for there being no way back. No, I don’t suppose there is; but there may be a way forward which is not so narrowly scientistic. Not being able to go back does not mean that, in handing science all the laurels, we have not abandoned types of knowledge and understanding that are of vital importance to our stewardship of the planet. To suggest that only (or even largely) “people with a respect for rationality and science who are most intent on addressing these problems,” is simply to make a claim for which there is (I suspect) not an overabundance of evidence. A little more humility on the part of scientists, and a recognition of their contribution to the present parlous state of the earth, would not go amiss. The problem with science is that it has no internal self-regulating mechanisms. It is based on the basic premise that knowing the truth (and that’s begging the question if anything is) is more important than any other human end, and yet it is scientific models of truth that are surely largely responsible for the fix that we are in. And, to add to the problem, science itself (at least in the figure of the new atheism) has more or less arrogated to itself the very idea of truth — and so of knowledge — denying that there is any other sort, — so that other sources of knowledge, such as the crucially important moral and aesthetic realms, are left to fall useless by the wayside. This hubris of science has made it almost impossible to govern and regulate its untrammelled use in reducing the earth to a pile of rubbish. This is not to deny the achievements of science, and its use for good, but it is to claim that science, like every other human endeavour, is not in any sense a pursuit that can be separated from its cultural milieu. Science is as culturally embedded as any other human pursuit is, even though it may not recognise this. The claim that it transcends every culture, and is therefore superior to all demands other than the pursuit of scientific truth, is exceedingly dangerous. I see this as a problem, which is why I have backed away from scientific new atheism (for that seems to be what is distinctive of the new atheism), because it reduces all other human pursuits to what it calls superstition, deepities and obfuscation, which includes not only religion, but morality, the self, mind and consciousness, and everything that has to do with the health of individual thought and cultural traditions.

            • Posted April 8, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              As for there being no way back. No, I don’t suppose there is; but there may be a way forward which is not so narrowly scientistic.

              Us “scientismists” generally agree that science, broadly construed, is the apportioning of belief in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation. That’s my own formulation, but it’s congruent with other definitions. Some, for example, will be more explicit about the methods used, often indicating that the apportioning of the proportions of belief is best done through the peer review process; but the basic idea remains the same.

              And, as such, a claim that there’s something better than science means that you’re somehow deviating from that goal. It means that your believe something more or less strongly than warranted by a rational analysis of objective observation. Maybe you’re not relying on observation; maybe your observations aren’t objective; maybe your analysis isn’t rational; or maybe your beliefs are stronger or weaker than your analysis indicates. No matter what, experience indicates that those are all unwise courses of action.

              Of course, we’re often forced to make decisions in situations where we lack good observations or we don’t yet have a good rational framework for understanding the observations. In those cases, a scientific approach is to maintain an high degree of uncertainty — of keeping the error bars wide. But — and here’s the key point — you should still keep your conclusions within the error bars.

              For example, it is true that we don’t yet understand abiogenesis. However, we’ve got good error bars on the phenomenon, and we know that the answer is going to be some sort of a ratcheting geochemical process, with a footnote reserved for the remote possibility of a panspermia-style initial ratcheting geochemical origin somewhere other than Earth. Assuming anything else at this point, especially magical intervention by one god or another, is far outside those error bars and scientifically unwarranted and unwise.

              So it is with questions regarding pollution and resource exhaustion and overpopulation. Economists today overwhelmingly assume the inevitability and desirability of perpetual 2% – 3% annual growth, yet there is no question but that such growth simply will not continue — and, indeed, is what’s driving all our problems. The scientific answer is to stop treating growth as sacred, and to try to figure out humane and practical ways to reverse growth and stabilize our society at a sustainable size — likely one with under a billion humans. Simple math tells us we can’t keep growing; we’ve already used up half the planet’s entire petroleum reserves, and polluted the shit out of the air and oceans in the process. There are finite limits to fossil fuels and to the pollution capacity of the environment, and we’re already feeling the first hard pushbacks from those limits and absolute certainty that we’re only going to get pushed back harder and harder the more we try to pretend they don’t exist.

              Of course, even if we had perfect knowledge, there’s no guarantee that there’s actually a way out of the mess we’ve worked ourselves into…but one thing’s for certain: if such a way exists, the only way we’re going to find it is with science (broadly understood).

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 8, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

                I couldn’t agree more; well said.

                All the “other ways of knowing” smack only of who can be the most persuasive; too many humans are too eager to aspire to that mantle. (And the others too willing to bleat in adulation.)

              • Posted April 8, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                Yes, of course — that’s the flip side of the coin. “Other ways of knowing” virtually always winds up encompassing religious faith…and that faith is no different from the type exploited by confidence artists. It seems inevitable that, when one urges that belief be apportioned differently than in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation, that the particular beliefs being urged are disproportionately skewed to the personal advantage of the one doing the urging.

                As such, all “other ways of knowing,” in practice, and regardless of sincerity, is exactly congruent with, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Ben is cooking with fire today! (Or whenever it was. I’m losing track.)

                /@ / IAD

                Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

                >

            • Posted April 9, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

              Well, Ben, you will expect this response.

              First, “science broadly construed” does not actually individuate anything at all. It’s just a way of expressing your preference for scientific knowledge.

              Second, “ways of knowing” is a non-starter, for it assumes that the only “way” of knowing is the one marked out by science, without noting that there are different kinds of knowledge which do not use the scientific paradigm, and yet are dependent on sources of confirmation just as science is. All of them must, of course, be rational in some sense (dependent upon the giving of reasons), and may (like history) make use of empirical evidence. However, the interpretive process involved in historical understanding is very different from the interpretive process from which scientific hypotheses derive. Indeed, the conclusions of historical investigation, while demanding evidence in the form of documents, monuments, and other tangible pieces of evidence from the past, are often interpretive in the way in which scientific hypotheses are not (though it is important to bear in mind that even science is perspectival). Which should remind you that all our knowledge is, at some point, dependent upon cultural assumptions (often quite rationally accepted) which do not depend upon empirical verification. But there are disciplines (like history) which are primarily interpretive, where claims to know may reasonably be made. I think here of (amongst other things) legal scholarship, moral analysis, aesthetic judgements, interpretations of historical events and so on: all of them more dependent upon canons of interpretation than on empirical confirmation; though all of them are dependent on human cognitive abilities.

              Nor am I claiming, as you so oddly suggest, that there is something “better than science.” All I am suggesting is that your idea of “science, broadly construed,” is simply mistaken, as though by saying this you have captured the essence of what it means to know something. “Science, broadly construed,” is a bit of obfuscation used to retain your confident affirmation of science as “the only way of knowing,” which doubly begs the question; since defining “science, broadly construed,” is not itself doing science, and, second, since making the claim is itself to foreclose on further discussion, without actually doing the analytical work which the obfuscating epistemological claim about knowledge (viz., “science, broadly construed”) actually requires, if you are to make good on the claim. While there are certainly scientific aspects to other disciplines (like history, for instance), and science can even, as Pinker says, contribute to our understanding of literature, it is not at all clear the humanities can reasonably be thought of in terms of what you call “science, broadly construed.” This is a promissory note which needs to be cashed, and no one that I know has bothered to cash it yet. My guess is that it will be as self-defeating as logical positivism. But that’s only my guess. I think the attempt to show that the only source of knowledge is “science, broadly construed” is an ideological claim without any probative value. And that is the reason I reject it. Without doing the work, the content of the ideological phrase “science, broadly construed” is exactly nil.

              As for your claim that

              In your case, I strongly suspect that the reason you take seriously theology as opposed to, say, alchemy, is because you personally devoted so much of your life to the subject, and you’re not yet ready to admit that there really isn’t any “there” there.

              … you may, of course, strongly suspect whatever you like. But to reduce theology, as most new atheists do, to claims regarding the existence of a god or gods is to show how little you know about it. PZ Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” is very clever, no doubt, but to dismiss thousands of years of rational discussion which includes so much more than just arguments for the existence of gods (including, but not confined to, questions of logic, epistemology, ethics, issues of language and meaning, and even the beginnings of natural philosophy), without which the development of science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have been impossible, is simply to betray a lack of historical understanding of your own discipline. This may not matter, so much, for the immediate interests of the sciences, but it ignores the cultural-historical context in which science develops, as well as the richness of the cultural inheritance which is still important for anyone who is seeking to live fully. Indeed, it was the dessicated world of logical positivism and linguistic analysis that led me to the greater humanity of religion. It is the same dessication that has led me away from the new atheism, since the new atheists seem to me to be content with an impoverished culture in which the cultural roots of their own priorities are simply skimmed over without understanding.

              It is doubtful that science would have arisen in any culture but that of the (predominantly) Christian West. The roots of that development were present both in the exacting demands of medieval theology, and in the breakdown of the religious consensus at the Reformation. Christianity has since played an integral part in the development of science. Perhaps it is like a ladder that you can simply kick away once its work is done, but it is an odd hubris which simply dismisses the relevance of the cultural roots of science. That doesn’t mean that there is no conflict between science and religion, for there is. Religion has not kept pace with the changing world which it in fact (to some extent, at any rate) created, and in which it soon found itself unwelcome, largely because the religions were so rooted in the past that they were unable to adapt to its own culture, in which dogmatic claims based in supposed “revelations” are no longer credible. But there have been movements within both Christianity and Judaism (less so in Islam, for very obvious reasons) towards conceptions of religious belief and practice which are not dependent on attachment to ancient myths, and doctrines derived from them. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe that the experiences out of which religion has come are real and important, and that (whatever their meaning) they may have an important role to play not only in understanding ourselves, but in providing the basis for human community.

              Lastly, while the technical details of how we can recover from the terrible state to which economics and science have reduced the world (the problems caused by religion are of a different order altogether, though they too are real and challenging), it is not at all clear that “the only way we’re going to find it is with science (broadly understood).” The qualification “broadly understood” is, as I have already said, a promissory note without value. Science has so often claimed to have the answers, and yet has so often deepened the problem, that we will have to find at least some of the answers outside of the realm of science. The omnicompetence of science in the face of the challenges that face us is clearly not something upon which we can pin our hopes. Nor is it something upon which we should pin our hopes. Science may be able to understand the objective structures which underlie human life, but it cannot, by itself, give us an understanding of what it is to be human in all its complexity and mystery. Theology may mislead as to the structure of reality (arguments for the existence of god are certainly inconclusive), but theology has explored, and continues to explore, more intimate details of the human situation and predicament. So many people have the idea that theology consists mainly in arguments for the existence of God. But this is a misunderstanding, since the scope of theology is extensive. Systematic theology deals with the structure of (in the case of Christianity) Christian belief as a whole, which of course includes God, Jesus, the relationship of Christianity to Jewish tradition, questions having to do with revelation (which is obviously a bit of a stretch, and where systematic theology tends to break down), redemption, spiritual life and its relationship to the foundations of belief, and so on. But there is pastoral theology, having to do with the “cure of souls”, moral theology, historical theology, biblical theology, and other fields as well. Indeed, contemporary theology has given birth to as many theologies as there are contemporary issues of concern, such as feminist theology, liberation theology, and so on. The point is that each of these “theologies” deals with questions of great moment, and, in general do not derive from systematics, but explore in detail the sense of what it is to be human (in various respects). So, liberation theology explored the implications of Christian belief for political and social justice. To some degree at least the welfare state is an outgrowth of theological concerns about social justice. And I could go on, but will forbear. The simple truth seems to be that atheism’s interest in religion seems to be entirely focused upon whether or not there exists one or more gods, a question which is answered quickly and definitively in the negative, without noticing that religions are cultures, and have interests that stretch far beyond the god question (which, for many theologians is of less interest than other issues of concern), and are not necessarily simply emptied of significance when the question of god is simply held in suspension, or where God is looked upon as a mythical way of accounting for or summing up what ultimately concerns us as human beings.

              Hitchens said he would be disappointed if religion were to disappear, and he was right to suggest that, in such a case, the questions raised by religion are of great concern to us, and need to be explored, would simply be ignored. Besides the existence of gods, religion has always been concerned with existential questions of great importance. Hitchens certainly disagreed with the religious answer to these questions, but he did not doubt their importance. Nor should you.

              • Posted April 9, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

                @Eric, I can see some glimpses of valid criticism in your rebuttal of Ben’s points, but I do not see how your overall point holds water. You did a nice job pointing out that other fields; history, for example, use methods that could not be qualified as scientific without construing science, in a broad sense, which is a non-starter. I think you’re right on the level that there are areas where methods other than the scientific method, per se, are more useful, but you concede that there are elements of science involved such as verifying artifacts. But this is really no different than saying that it is more useful to say I have a headache today because I caught a cold than it is to say what’s going on at a molecular level in my nervous system.

                However, on the level at which we look at the definition of the word “science,” your argument is only valid if Ben is in fact claiming that science is something more than what it is generally understood to be. From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, we see science defined as:

                1: : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

                Now, if Ben has somehow defined science as broader than that definition, there is a problem (though I don’t see how this would be easy to do as the definition is very broad to begin with). What I see in your argument is a conflation of the definition of science with the scientific method. The scientific method does not constitute a complete subset of what science is. Just because the full scientific method is not used doesn’t mean that the information gained can’t be categorized as scientific, but I will still concede the minor point that there are sometimes more useful categories to fit the knowledge into for the sake of understanding.

                Regarding the rest of your assertions that New Atheists aren’t interested in the big questions and that all of religion and theology should simply be dismissed and forgotten, I don’t know where you see this to be the case. I’ve seen both Dawkins and Hitchens speak of saving “the good bits” of religion and doing away with the bad. I certainly don’t see where New Atheists claim not to be interested in the big questions, though Dawkins rightly points out that some of these big questions may be ill formed. But, if there is, for example, a valid answer to the question of why the Universe is here, I’m sure we’d all be interested in finding it out. Speaking for myself, I am not interested in filling in these blanks with certainties that have no supporting evidence, a point I think we all agree on here.

                This is where I think, despite your criticism of New Atheists construing science too broadly, you are slicing out an even narrower piece of theology to make your point. The answers to these big questions from a theological perspective always explicitly tie in some kind of revelation, whether in be the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura, or the typical fundamentalist idea of a “personal relationship with God.” Sure, some of the better theology may ask valid questions and have rational discourse, but it always either oversteps its bounds by answering the questions with an unwarranted certainty or by building a logically consistent framework on top of unfounded premises. Of course, this is not the theology that 99.99% of the world’s theists practice. They believe in a personal God, the power of prayer, the existence of heaven and hell; they insert themselves into public policy discussions and make laws based on this stuff. That is where New Atheists jump in with the claim that science and rationality can put these discussions to rest. As Dawkins wrote in the second release of The God Delusion, if all the theists in the world simply discussed the big questions and had rational philosophical debates, he would’ve written a very different book. New Atheism, at its roots, takes on irrational beliefs where they are pervasive in society and the large majority of those beliefs can be discredited by science.

              • Filippo
                Posted April 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                “I certainly don’t see where New Atheists claim not to be interested in the big questions, though Dawkins rightly points out that some of these big questions may be ill formed.”

                I know I’ve heard Dawkins, upon hearing the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing,” (or some such question in that ballpark) reply to the effect, “I don’t find that an interesting question.” My initial reaction was to perceive him employing, so to speak, “The Argument from Personal Disinterest.”

                Though I agree that too many “How” questions are (perhaps inappropriately) “framed” as “Why.”

              • Posted April 9, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

                Eric, I have a hard time thinking that you’re going all PoMo on us suddenly. Please say it ain’t so! I mean, how else am I to interpret something such as this?

                Which should remind you that all our knowledge is, at some point, dependent upon cultural assumptions (often quite rationally accepted) which do not depend upon empirical verification.

                I’m quite sorry, but there is nothing even remotely cultural about the knowledge that force is equal to the product of mass and acceleration, or that the Sun rises in the East. Sure, maybe different cultures attach different labels to the same concepts, but you won’t find any culture in which force is equal to the sum of mass and acceleration, or in which the Sun rises in the West.

                And, no matter how deep we dig, that remains the same. Different cultures (and individuals) may well have different preferences, and some may have some very confused misunderstandings of reality, but we all live in the same Universe, and we all share the same set of facts (whether acknowledged or not).

                But there are disciplines (like history) which are primarily interpretive, where claims to know may reasonably be made.

                That’s actually a bug, not a feature. There are respectable historians out there who are careful to limit their confidence in propositions to proportions indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observations, but depressingly large numbers of historians, especially those working in religious history, are simply inventing fiction wholesale and claiming it to be fact. The common complaint of these anti-scientific charlatans is that, if we don’t take extreme liberties with the facts, we won’t know anything at all about certain “facts” of history. What they miss is that they don’t actually know anything about those facts, and they’re only fooling themselves otherwise.

                All I am suggesting is that your idea of “science, broadly construed,” is simply mistaken, as though by saying this you have captured the essence of what it means to know something.

                Let me repeat my definition of broadly-construed science, and perhaps you can tell me where it goes awry.

                Science, broadly construed, is the apportioning of beliefs in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of all available empirical observations. When such an analysis leaves no significant room for alternative explanations, one’s confidence should be high if not absolute; when observations are lacking or not well understood, confidence should be low if not withheld entirely.

                PZ Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” is very clever, no doubt, but to dismiss thousands of years of rational discussion which includes so much more than just arguments for the existence of gods (including, but not confined to, questions of logic, epistemology, ethics, issues of language and meaning, and even the beginnings of natural philosophy), without which the development of science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have been impossible, is simply to betray a lack of historical understanding of your own discipline.

                First, an analogy. Imagine an eager cryptozoologist, on an expedition to document Bigfoot’s mating habits, discovers some interesting new beetle and even manages to preserve an holotype sample and make some good observations and field notes. If he publishes his findings in Cryptozoology Today, do you think any entomologists are going to notice or give it much credibility if they do? If he publishes it in The Entomologist, do you think anybody’s going to care (beyond an eyeroll) about his Bigfoot obsession?

                When theologians make contributions to other fields than theology, that’s wonderful, but it has nothing to do with theology.

                And, second, your remark about the origins and history of science is as relevant as the Prince of Teasing Shriners. Astronomy grew out of astrology and chemistry out of alchemy, yet neither astrology nor alchemy have nor deserve academic respect today regardless of the success of their children. The history of science is, of course, itself a fascinating field well worthy of study…but the fact that Sean Carroll can trace his academic lineage back to some poor schmuck trying to make better predictions of planetary configurations to help in divination doesn’t mean that he’s going to start casting horoscopes (as anything other than a joke).

                Science may be able to understand the objective structures which underlie human life, but it cannot, by itself, give us an understanding of what it is to be human in all its complexity and mystery.

                Methinks you’ve spectacularly missed the point. If you don’t already know what it is to be human, after all these years and after all you’ve lived through, you’re looking so hard in all the worng places that you’ve missed what’s right there in the mirror.

                Now that you’re all growed up, have you figured out what you want to be?

                No? Sorry; that’s your problem.

                Yes? Well, there you go: that’s your meaning for your life, and the only one that could even theoretically matter.

                It really is that simple, and you don’t need to go looking in an electron microscope or a communion wafer to figure it out. All you need to do is accept responsibility for your own life, and not try to foist that responsibility off on somebody else — whether that somebody else is an human authority figure or an ancient anthology or an imaginary friend or an abstract theoretical construct or whatever.

                Your life; your meaning. There’s your Alpha and Omega.

                Theology may mislead as to the structure of reality (arguments for the existence of god are certainly inconclusive), but theology has explored, and continues to explore, more intimate details of the human situation and predicament.

                First, unless its conclusions are apportioned in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observations, we can be damned sure that theology is going to do nothing but mislead us about everything that fails that test.

                Next, since basically all of theology presupposes the existence of various gods, despite the fact that no such conclusion is warranted, by definition, everything that incorporates that presupposition into its reasoning is doomed to mislead.

                Last, we see this failure in so many empirical observations. (Certain) theologians tell us that life begins at conception; science tells us it began once a few billion years ago. That one whopper has lead to incalculable misery, including millions dead of AIDS in Africa. And, of course — other theologians disagree with that position; yet how are we to tell which theologians are describing reality and which aren’t?

                The answer is clear: rationally analyze objective observations of the theologians, and see if any patterns emerge.

                The pattern that emerges is one of pure randomness and chaos. The only theologians who come even remotely close to reality on any given subject are the ones who have already rationally analyzed objective observations — the ones doing science, broadly construed.

                To some degree at least the welfare state is an outgrowth of theological concerns about social justice.

                This is simply not true. Yes, religious people were instrumental in bringing about the New Deal, but the New Deal itself is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, which is not only entirely secular in origin but an outright rejection of the religion of the time. And those following in the tradition of the Enlightenment are all on the same basic page; those who draw their inspiration from religion are all over the map. Yes, the UCC folks are fighting the good fight, but the Papacy and the Fundamentalists are trying to lead us post haste back to the Dark Ages before the Enlightenment.

                That’s the fundamental problem with theology. From contradiction or absurdity, any conclusion is possible. From sound reasoning of solid observation, only a limited set of conclusions are possible, and that set often only includes a single member.

                There is but one science, though the theologies are truly Legion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 10, 2014 at 3:26 am | Permalink

                Concur!

                Re history, I’m not sure if it was on this site or another, someone made the comment that historians err when they write, say, “Churchill thought…” and should restrict themselves to relating what he said, wrote, or did.

                /@ / back in the UK

                Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

                >

              • Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

                Yes, that was here — though I’m sure the same point has been made elsewhere as well

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 11, 2014 at 1:40 am | Permalink

                RE

                Ben Goren
                Posted April 9, 2014 at 9:36 pm

                That is so excellent, Ben! Hear, hear!

        • Posted April 8, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          This seems to have not made it through. Apologies if it gets repeated….

          Matters are much more complex than that, and, while it is true that, so far, it looks to be true that evolution is, in fact, gene centred, it is entirely possible that later discoveries will qualify that greatly.

          Perhaps we shall have a Marshall McLuhann moment, and Professor Ceiling Cat will weigh in here. If he chooses to do so, I’ll bet you a cup / mug / glass of coffee / tea / beer / wine or other suitable beverage that he’ll concur with my assessment: while the story certainly isn’t complete, while we know there are gaps to be filled, the modern synthesis of the Darwinian Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection is every bit as sound as at least Newtonian Mechanics, and equal confidence is warranted in Evolution, Mechanics, and Easterly Sunrises — with the only reasonable caveats being impossible-to-disprove conspiracy theories such as alien mind rays controlling our thoughts.

          I was thinking more in the line of the confidence that is often shown in determinism as against free will (of any description), of questions regarding the nature of consciousness, about which some very definite opinions are held which far exceed the degree of evidence which supports such confidence.

          And that’s part of the reason why I offered up Evolution as an example of where extreme confidence is warranted. At least at human scales, physics is complete; the physics we know accounts for everything that has ever been observed at human scales and much more. And that physics, at human scales, is overwhelmingly deterministic, with a bit of stochastic leakage from quantum scales. Any claims to the contrary are as scientifically absurd as apples falling up or the Sun rising in the West.

          While it is true that we don’t yet have a complete model of human consciousness, we again know, with practically-absolute certainty, that it is entirely a phenomenon of the brain. You know the chorus: claims that brains do things that as-yet-invented sufficiently sophisticated mechanical computers can’t are akin to oranges falling sideways or the Moon rising in the South.

          Again, I’m not at all claiming that we have all the answers. I am claiming that we absolutely know the boundaries within which the answers absolutely must lie — which also means that we know where and how to find the answers. In the case of abiogenesis, the best we’re likely going to do is laboratory reconstructions that might or might not be conclusive. In the case of consciousness, it’s going to come from neurophysiologists working closely with computer scientists. In the case of physics beyond Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics, we’ve likely already got assembled, just this young year, the last remaining pieces of the puzzle, in the form of very promising presumed observations of quantized gravity and dark matter WIMPs.

          One thing that I think really irks the philosophers and theologians is that their thunder has been stolen. They really don’t have anything to contribute to these matters. Their ideas are as relevant as haruspex, no matter the elegance of the language they’re dressed up in. I’m sure it must be frustrating to devote so much effort into an endeavor that has no chance whatsoever of success…but that doesn’t change the hopelessly futile nature of non-scientific approaches to these matters.

          Indeed, many theologians make careful distinctions between superstition and religious faith.

          Again, unfortunately, despite claims to the contrary, by any objective measure, religious faith really is indistinguishable from any other superstition. It doesn’t matter that the theologians have convinced themselves otherwise. After all, no superstitious person in all of history has ever thought that those superstitious beliefs were mere superstition. All have been convinced that their superstitions really were real.

          And so it is with the superstition that is modern religious faith. Yes, yes — sophisticated theologians insist that their gods are different from the rain-bringers of yore…and, yet, all that’s different is the names of the gods and their claimed superpowers. And they also demand that their Heavens and / or Grounds of Being or whatnot are different from Olympus and Valhalla…except that they really aren’t, not in any substantive way. All are fantasies that not only are completely unsupported by actual evidence but are in violent contradiction with every fraction of the entire body of modern science — and generally the most firmly established and interconnected bits, to boot.

          A bit more familiarity with contemporary theology (and I have on occasion named a number of theologians who are worthy of being treated with respect) is a sine qua non to continued confidence that religion is all simply passé.

          This is, of course, PZ’s “Courtier’s Reply.” Until and unless convincing evidence to the contrary is presented, there is no more reason to take seriously the claims of theologians, regardless of their nature or sophistication, than there is to take seriously the claims of astrologers, cryptozoologists, or the muttering fool who sees faeries at the foot of his garden. Just as you don’t need to familiarize yourself with the torturously exhaustive screeds of UFOlogists to know that alien abductions aren’t real, the rest of us don’t need to read theology to know that the theological gods are no more real than any other. Maybe if somebody brings some new account to your attention, you might want to skim it just to see if anything stands out…but, after you’ve seen enough, it doesn’t take long to recognize the exact same patterns of failures of objectivity and skepticism over and over and over again. In practice, you’re probably gonna stop as soon as you reach the first real whopper; why waste your time further?

          I agree that a lot of it is just bunk, but it is hard to accept, without some more serious attention being given to the matter, that it all is.

          Why not?

          In your case, I strongly suspect that the reason you take seriously theology as opposed to, say, alchemy, is because you personally devoted so much of your life to the subject, and you’re not yet ready to admit that there really isn’t any “there” there. That would be an admission that all those hours were wasted…and that’s a very painful type of admission to make, even to yourself.

          I would suggest that those hours were no more wasted than the time one might spend wandering around, lost in the woods, were wasted — including the hours when one forged ahead, confidently oblivious of one’s location. You still saw all that beautiful wildlife, the stunning vistas, the pretty flowers, no? You still enjoyed slaking your thirst with a sip from the canteen, and resting a bit while nibbling on GORP, right? So you didn’t use the time and energy as productively as you ultimately wanted to, but you made it out alive and healthy; no harm, no foul.

          You might even want to go back to that part of the forest at some point, which is perfectly fine…so long as you don’t deceive yourself that it’s the path to your original destination.

          And that brings us to your points about Sam and meditation or Richard and Bach. Yes; no doubt: much beauty has been created in the names of the various gods. But much beauty has also been created in the name of all sorts of other fictional characters. Being a trumpeter, I might go with the Christmas Oratorio instead of the Saint Matthew’s Passion, but I can certainly appreciate the urge to go with Bach. But there’re plenty of other mythical traditions, ancient and modern, that are equally deserving of attention as the Christian one. What of Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Does that not offer, amidst all the belly laughs, many great insights into the human condition? Wagner’s Ring cycle certainly does. Do you have any idea just how many musical great works have been written in the past few centuries devoted in one way or another to Orpheus? And then there’s JRR Tolkein’s worlds, Narnia, Harry Potter, the Star Wars universe, comic books, and so many others.

          So I would challenge you: why should we attach special attention to the Christian fantasies as opposed to all the others? Should we not celebrate and enjoy all of them? And, outside of immersive moments of willing suspension of disbelief, why should we think any of them have any “deeper connection with Capital-R-Reality”?

          In this light, it is worthwhile remembering what Tom Holland says in his part of the BBC audio linked above, that, for all of his confidence, Dawkins’ atheism is Pauline (that is, dependent largely on things deeply rooted in the culture that stems from St Paul’s transformation of the scope of religious belief), and that, without Christianity, his atheism would be impossible.

          Quite the contrary, in fact. Atheism — and Richard himself frequently makes this point — is nothing more nor less than agreeing with agreeing with a religious person about all the gods of all the other religions…but merely going that one pantheon further. In exactly the same way that you dismiss Quetzalcoatl, Thor, Horus, Mithra, Krishna, and all the others, so, too, do we equally dismiss Jesus and YHWH and the Ground of All Being and all the other Christian variations on that theme. That we tend to mention the gods of the Christian pantheons more than those of others has to do with the demographics of our audience and culture, but the fundamental point remains: we don’t see any reason to take Christianity’s claims any more seriously than those of any other religion — and it’s that refusal to unjustifiably privilege Christianity that generally seems to upset Christians.

          Go back to the beginning, now, and see how you have spelled ‘evolution’ (with a capital). Telling, that little gesture; almost religious, I’d say; perhaps, even, superstitious.

          No; grammatical. “Evolution” is the shortened proper name of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, and I — caveats of poorfeeding aside — capitalize it the same way I do “Mechanics” when referring to Newtonian Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, or Relativistic Mechanics. Similarly, one should refer to Newton’s mathematical invention as, “The Calculus.” I’m sure you can think of plenty of other examples.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Filippo
            Posted April 8, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

            “Similarly, one should refer to Newton’s mathematical invention as, “The Calculus.”

            I’ve noticed, though, that those who say “The Calculus” don’t say “The Algebra” or “The Geometry,” etc. Why shouldn’t they?

            And it’s Liebniz’s (sp.?) invention too, eh? They sure fussed between themselves about it who ought to get the more credit, like two modern day intellectual property lawyers.

        • Posted April 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          “where science cannot follow”

          With the greatest respect, Eric, … well, Jerry’s roolz deprecate my first thought.

          How can you possibly set limits on scientific enquiry? You’re being as dogmatic as those (straw men) that you criticise!

          /@ / IAD

          Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

          >

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 10, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      scientific knowledge is always held conditionally,

      That is what theologists and more generally philosophers like to say. Scientists look at science and finds that isn’t the fact:

      “The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood
      Not sure why people don’t make a bigger deal out of this fact. … That seems to be worth celebrating, or at least remarking upon, but you don’t hear it mentioned very much.”

      “A hundred years ago it would have been easy to ask a basic question to which physics couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. “What keeps this table from collapsing?” “Why are there different elements?” “What kind of signal travels from the brain to your muscles?” But now we understand all that stuff. (Again, not the detailed way in which everything plays out, but the underlying principles.) Fifty years ago we more or less had it figured out, depending on how picky you want to be about the nuclear forces. But there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

      You might question the “once and for all” part of that formulation, but it’s solid. Of course revolutions can always happen, but there’s every reason to believe that our current understanding is complete within the everyday realm.”

      [ http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/ ]

      Qualified and mutually agreed uncertainty does not mean “open for constant change”. It means over time revolutions become unlikely. Is a condition that approaches 0 so closely we can’t distinguish it from “will never happen” a state of ‘conditionally’? Not in any useful sense.

  51. Posted April 7, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    “Saeed’s religion is oppressive, retrogressive, and an impediment to free thinking. And it’s inimical to science, as we can see by its rejection of human evolution.” It’s exactly this sort of uncompromising view of Islam that Saeed is arguing against. Yes, some Muslims do horrible things in the name of their religion. Most do not. Some Muslims do reject the Theory of Evolution. I know dozens of Muslims and none of them reject the Theory of Evolution. To lump all Muslims in the same category as those who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls is racist, which is what she’s criticizing about many atheist arguments against Islam.

    Also, the sentence that starts “The Evangelical Christian Right is a formidable force to be reckoned with in American national politics…” is a fine sentence. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just long. And here she’s agreeing with your point–that there are religious people who do impede free thinking and who do act oppressively in the name of their “faith.” Saeed’s next sentence, though, is her point: “This segment of the world’s religious topography, however, does not represent Religion or, in particular, Religion’s relationship with science.” I agree. It only represents a portion of uneducated, evangelist, fundamentalist religious folks.

    I went to a Catholic school and we were taught the Theory of Evolution. It was never suggested to any of us that Evolution was somehow antithetical to our faith. When atheists like Dawkins make their wide-sweeping claims about how religion impedes free thinking, they’re not speaking to the experience of numerous religious people. Fox News wants us to believe the debate is so simple–evolution vs. creationism, atheists vs. believers; they ignore a large portion of people who have the capacity for more nuanced thinking. Dawkins’ arguments play right into this mainstream media agenda, which wants us to keep arguing whether or not gay people should be allowed to get married or whether or not women should be allowed to get abortions. Saeed is arguing against all that, and I think she does it well.

    She’s not bashing all atheists, just the ones who refuse to acknowledge the great variety of religious experience–the ones who continue to imply that all Muslims are terrorists and all Christians are hetero-normative Nazis.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, oldsap, but that is just straw-dude nonsense. Please show me an example of atheists claiming that all Muslims are terrorists or the all Christians are hetero-normal Nazis.

      And please provide support for the assertion that there are atheists who “refuse to acknowledge the great variety of religious experience”. Atheists have no problem acknowledging the great variety of religious experience. It forms a central part of the critique of religion in much the same way that epidemiologists recognize the great variety of infectious disease when designing public health programs.

  52. Posted April 7, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    “Saeed’s religion is oppressive, retrogressive, and an impediment to free thinking. And it’s inimical to science, as we can see by its rejection of human evolution.” It’s exactly this sort of uncompromising view of Islam that Saeed is arguing against. Yes, some Muslims do horrible things in the name of their religion. Most do not. Some Muslims do reject the Theory of Evolution. I know dozens of Muslims and none of them reject the Theory of Evolution. To lump all Muslims in the same category as those who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls is racist, which is what she’s criticizing about many atheist arguments against Islam.

    Also, the sentence that starts “The Evangelical Christian Right is a formidable force to be reckoned with in American national politics…” is a fine sentence. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just long. And here she’s agreeing with your point–that there are religious people who do impede free thinking and who do act oppressively in the name of their “faith.” Saeed’s next sentence, though, is her point: “This segment of the world’s religious topography, however, does not represent Religion or, in particular, Religion’s relationship with science.” I agree. It only represents a portion of uneducated, evangelist, fundamentalist religious folks.

    I went to a Catholic school and we were taught the Theory of Evolution. It was never suggested to any of us that Evolution was somehow antithetical to our faith. When atheists like Dawkins make their wide-sweeping claims about how religion impedes free thinking, they’re not speaking to the experience of numerous religious people. Fox News wants us to believe the debate is so simple–evolution vs. creationism, atheists vs. believers; they ignore a large portion of people who have the capacity for more nuanced thinking. Dawkins’ arguments play right into this mainstream media agenda, which wants us to keep arguing whether or not gay people should be allowed to get married or whether or not women should be allowed to get abortions. Saeed is arguing against all that, and I think she does it well.

    She’s not bashing all atheists, just the ones who refuse to acknowledge the great variety of religious experience–the ones who continue to imply that all Muslims are terrorists and all Christians are hetero-normative Nazis.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure that is what she would like you to believe, and I’m sure that’s what you would like to believe. But seeing as she mentions people like Dawkins (who has worked alongside evolution-friendly Church Of England clergy) and Harris (who is currently writing a book on Spirituality) by name; that turns out to not be true.

      She evidently doesn’t give a toss about being truthful and just ignores the facts because it suits her argument. At best it is intensely sloppy, at worst it is intensely dishonest.

  53. Posted April 7, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    It’s not uncommon for a believer to explain how their faith is not incompatible with science, and how this somehow disproves the arguments of atheists.

    It might be a workable position if that person’s religion was not incompatible with *other* religions also claiming to be compatible with science. But it’s not the case.

    This gives us a list of what must be true for these “enlightened” believers:

    For Christians: Christianity and science.
    For Moslems: Islam and science.
    For Hindus: Hinduism and science.
    For Pagans: Paganism and science.
    For Sikhs: Sikhism and science.
    For Jews: Judaism and science.
    For XYZs: XYZism and science.

    Methinks the trend in there is pretty clear and should make these well-meaning accomodationists rethink the validity of their argument.

    That and the fact that antibiotics work whether you believe in a god or not, but prayers never work better than random chance no matter what religion you belong to.

    • eric
      Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Listing things out like that makes a very nice rhetorical point. Sort of like JAC’s two maps, one showing religions of the world and one shownig those who believe in science.

  54. Posted April 8, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    There is no conflict between religion and science. There is only a conflict between the science of the 21 century and that of the 4th Century B.C.E. (paraphrasing Joseph Campbell)

  55. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted April 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Dang there’s a lot of misconceptions about atheism amongst Salon’s readers.

    It’s bootstrapping ad nauseum.


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  1. […] For some reason, Salon is on a crusade to bash the hell out of atheists, living and dead. Their editors might want to question what the deuce is going on (unless it’s a deliberate editorial decision), for the proliferation of anti-atheist pieces is eroding the site’s credibility. It makes Salon look like an apologist for religion. And the latest atheist-bashing piece is particularly bad, because it’s not only written very poorly, but its argument is so incoherent that I can barely even summarize it. [Read more] […]

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