Posted by: Dan | November 24, 2006

I’m with M&M too

I don’t intend to take enough time off from my Thanksgiving break to comment thoroughly – I don’t find this discussion all that particularly interesting, but there’s plenty of chatter out there that’s started with a opening salvo from Larry Moran and critical comments by Ed Brayton. PZ Myers has another commentary worth reading, and Bora has the overview. But, in brief, I’d just like to say that I’m with M&M (Moran and Myers) too.

Personally, I don’t get the fuss. While Larry’s comments may be a bit abrasive, he makes sense – as a scientist, I work under the assumption that no God (or fairies, or gnomes, etc.) is interferring in my cell culture or biochemical experiments. For that matter, I have no reason to think that a God is involved in anything in this Universe. All I see is the assertions of the superstitious.

Furthermore, Larry, PZ, and others are right – we should be demanding a level of competency in our students. With regards to the culture wars, that means we either weed out or re-educate creationists pursuing careers in biology, geology and cosmology. We should also be emphasizing “informed skepticism,” or the ability to recognize bogus claims that are based on scant or nonexistent evidence.

The theistic evolutionists, while largely correct on the science, still cling to the idea of a personal God – an idea that is incongruent with the heuristics and assumptions associated with the philosophy of science. It just doesn’t make sense to accept supernaturalism some of the time, and naturalism the rest of the time (or vice versa).

This criticism means little for non-scientists, as they’re entitled to their superstitions and ignorance. Do I want to make war on their views? Yes, in the sense that I want to help educate the public on science, and in a sense, science education makes war on theism. I don’t apologize for that. Does it make me militantly atheistic though? No – I’m just fulfulling my role in society as a scientist.



  1. I’m probably on PZ’s side, but as far over on that side. I do hope we can all work together on values we share, such as supporting science and battling theocracy. It seems to me the sentiment tha Dawkins is damaging the cause of science is a “sit down, shut up and enjoy your seat in the back of the bus” argument. It is a “big tent” appeal of the sort we mock in the Creationists.

    The remnant of belief clung to by Brayton, Wilkins and Lynch, and the lengths they will go to in order to cling to it is pretty sad. My impression is that they really want to believe, and would if they could rationally justify it. Wilkins and Lynch are philosophers, it is sad to see the weakness of the arguments they can offer in defense of their desire to believe.

  2. I also agree with PZ’a argument in that if the problem is religious people scream in terror at the mere mention of atheism, so much so that they are willing to abandon science, then the solution is not to tell Dawkins to shut up, but to address the root cause; the irrational demonization of atheists and atheism by religious people.

  3. No matter which side you take, some people are more tactful than others about asserting their views. Moran seems to be quite inflammatory. He can’t spell well, either.

  4. Yes, the inflammatory nature of some comments (Moran’s especially, and Myers’ as well) is a real shame. Alas…

  5. And again, while Larry may be quite inflammatory, he makes a good point on the topic of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins:

    People all over North America are questioning religion. I’ve seen it on the streets in my own neighborhood and overheard discussions in the restaurants. All of a sudden, people are realizing there are atheists in their midst—and they’re not so bad after all. Ask yourself this: how does the Dawkins form of education compare with the efforts of people like Neil de Grasse Tysons?

    And on whether Dawkins is being “insensitive” towards religion – that’s nonsense. I’ve listened to him on radio and TV, and he’s usually one of the most calm, rational, and polite men around. It’s just that his views are honest, straightforward, and starkly contrasting with theism. If that’s insensitive, then reality must be pretty cruel to Dawkins’ critics.

  6. In this thread at The Daily Transcript, Alex Palazzo states that Dawkins is “losing ground” with respect to tolerance for atheists. Someone points out, losing ground relative to what? There’s plenty of research to show that the status of atheists is low and has been low for a long time. I’m talking about the masses, “red state America”, not the comfy ultra-liberal ivory tower we inhabit. Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton points out an instance of Thomas Jefferson using “atheist” as a slur against Calvin. Jefferson was about as enlightened as anybody alive at the time, but there it is.

    I have debated “coming out” as an atheist to my family and friends in my annual holiday letter. I probably won’t though, because many of my family and friends know already, those who don’t are the older generation who shall soon find out for themselves whether there is life after death, and because of the tradition of keeping such communications on the lighter side.

  7. Yeah, I think Alex slipped up on that one. Clearly, he’s talking about his impression, which may or may not be correct. I don’t know – on the question of science teaching in public schools, I agree that making it a theism vs. atheism war doesn’t help, but I don’t think it hurts either. But then again, I (we?) are biased in favor of Dawkins, and I don’t have any hard data to back up my impressions either.

    I don’t think I really care, either – I’ll call it as I see it, and I see theism as a superstition.

  8. Jason Rosenhouse has another great run-down of the Moran/Myers-Brayton scuffle on his EvolutionBlog, that nicely puts Ed’s comments into perspective.

  9. I’ve been checking that Daily Transcript thread for several days now. Alex didn’t even attempt a reply. I’ll take that as a success.

  10. This is pretty ridiculous: Chris of the Mixing Memory blog rails at Dawkins, Myers, etc for speaking against religion, claiming that 1) they are confusing popular religion with sophisticated theology and 2) They don’t know anything about sophisticated theology, althogh Chris himself begs off being able to refute them because, “I’m not going to get into a long theological discussion, because it’s not something I’m an expert in…”

    Earlier in the same thread, Chris said, “Let me put it this way. My view is that you can think whatever the hell you like about religion, but if you don’t know what you’re talking about (and I’ve yet to meet a Dawkinsian rationalist who does), you’d do well to keep your mouth shut about it.”

    He doesn’t seem to meet his own criteria. What a hypocrite.

  11. Yeah, I noticed that discussion yesterday evening… and two commenters did a particularly good job of calling Chris on his B.S.:
    Richard said:

    Well, I checked out the list that you linked to above, hoping that I would see something new, some writer that was unknown to the average university graduate. Are you trying to suggest that Dawkins, and Myers, are unfamiliar with those philosophers? Come on. You just revealed that there’s nothing that they’re missing.

    And PZ himself:

    So I think we’re still all waiting…where is the nuanced and sophisticated religion?

    Whenever I ask this question, all I get is indignation, and maybe some handwaving at some convoluted bit of sophistry, like Anselm’s ontological argument, but nothing at all persuasive, and nothing that deals with the reality. Theology has nothing to do with religion, near as I can tell — it’s a collection of post hoc rationalizations for the superstitions that people are brought up with. Reality is the assembly of ancient, ossified rituals and traditions (the Catholic church) or the codification and celebration of ignorance (just about every evangelical church in the country) or sheer soul-purging emotionalism (charismatics of various stripes). If one wanted to argue that religion was primal, that it was incorporated into the skeleton of culture and impossible to remove, that it was burned into the personalities of people raised in it, I’d probably agree with you…but this constant deferral to some intangible, unreachable ideal of a sophisticated faith? Baloney. It’s part of the advancement of rationalism that the religious feel a need to pretend to a nuance they lack.

    There are great theists out there, but I think what happens when you look at them closely is that you discover that their religion is the framework through which they express humanist ideals…and it’s the humanism, not the religion, that makes them appealing.

    With arguments like that, how on Earth can anyone see PZ as anything but lucid and rational? I, too, understand that he may upset those with deeply-held superstitions, but that’s their problem, not his.


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