Archives for posts with tag: accomodationism

New Scientist is mostly a great magazine. But every few issues they run another really stupid article about religion and I have to write another letter to the editor. Here’s the latest.

“I do not call myself an atheist,” David Eagleman assures us (25 September 2010, p. 34). “I don’t feel that I have enough data to firmly rule out other interesting possibilities. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to any religion.”

Mr. Eagleman, if you do not subscribe to any religion, you are an atheist. Like it or not, that’s what the word means.

“What if we were planted here by aliens?” you ask. “What if there are civilisations in spatial dimensions seven through nine? What if we are nodes in a vast, cosmic, computational device?” These might be interesting possibilities (I guess), but they have nothing to do with atheism.

You say, “in the debates between the strict atheists and the fundamentally religious, I choose a third side.” But in this context, there is no third side. Do any of the gods described by planet Earth’s many religions really exist? You clearly believe that the answer to this question is No. That makes you an atheist. Sorry, but that’s what the word means.

This is not the only logical fallacy in your article.

I feel I should warn you that in condemning the “the amount of certainty” in books by “the new atheists”, you are making an awkward leap onto a crowded and flimsy bandwagon.

“Their books,” you say of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, “sometimes feed a widespread misconception… that scientists think they have the big picture solved.” But none of these four men has ever claimed, in any book or speech, to have solved the big picture (whatever that means). Your target here is a straw man. The “certainty” you decry does not exist.

Your article is nothing like science, and nothing like news. I am dismayed to find it in New Scientist, where in general the standards are very high.

Roy Sablosky
Sacramento, California, USA

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But ultimately, here is what I want to say to Prothero, and his assertion that female atheists will make the movement friendlier and less confrontational:

Suck my dick.

Or, to be more precise:

Suck my dick, you pompous windbag. You think getting more women into the atheist movement means you won’t have to face a fight? Bring it on. You smug, patronizing, cowardly, sexist prick.

Is that friendly enough for you?

The Atheist Movement Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle

Viewpoint: Scientists who Blast Religion Hurt Their Cause | Newsweek.com

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum continue, in Newsweek, the bizarre attack they began in their book Unscientific America.

As soon as Francis Collins … was floated as the possible new director of the National Institutes of Health … the criticisms began flying. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for one, said Collins is too public with his faith. Collins wrote a book called The Language of God, frequently talks about his religious conversion during medical school, and recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which declares, “We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.”

The critics, though, have it exactly backward: the United States needs more scientists like Collins—researchers who show by their prominence and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs. The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

First, note the dismissive “the criticisms began flying.” Apparently these were not criticisms that need have been taken seriously.

Second, a fact-check. Did Jerry Coyne say that Francis Collins is “too public with his faith”? I searched Coyne’s blog for the phrase “too public”. It was not found. This is classic projection. Mooney and Kirshenbaum believe that Coyne is being too public with his atheism. Jerry Coyne is concerned, not that Collins is too public with his faith, but that his faith might compromise some of his scientific or policy decisions. And it’s not as if we’ve never seen that happen.

What we have not seen is outspoken atheists “turning Americans off to science”. Do Mooney and Kirshenbaum have any examples or measurements of this effect? If there is no evidence of the phenomenon, then it is not exactly a “stunning irony”, and they need not have written a book about it.

Do we really need, more than we need outspoken atheists, “researchers who show … that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs”? Why do we need that — so that religious believers are not afraid to go into science? It’s never stopped them before! Maybe Mooney and Kirshenbaum, looking at the fact that very few serious scientists are hard-core believers, surmise that the scientists are scaring the believers away. But there is a much more plausible explanation. People who possess the intelligence and acquire the education necessary for a career in science tend to be too smart to believe in fairy-tales.

The New Apologists never mention the so-obvious-we tend-to-forget-about-it reason for outspoken atheism: religious doctrines, every last one of them, are false. Hard to reconcile that with the scientific method! If you really want us to take seriously the idea that religion might in certain cases be a good idea even though it is made entirely of lies, then you’ll have to come up with something much more convincing than the idea that atheists are “turning Americans off to science”.

And Collins’s approach isn’t just good as a strategy to get the public to better appreciate science. The idea that science and religion can be compatible is strong on the intellectual merits as well. … [I]f we consider religion more broadly—in its own considerable diversity—we find many sophisticated believers who’ve made a peace between their belief and the findings of modern science. It’s not just Collins; consider the words of the Dalai Lama: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”

That there are people who seem to be doing it does not make compatibility between science and religion “strong on the intellectual merits”. By that measure, science and alcoholism are compatible too.

“It’s not just Collins”, Mooney and Kirshenbaum write — and then they quote the Dalai Lama as saying that he would change the tenets of his religion if he found them to be in conflict with science. This is unlike anything Francis Collins has ever said. To imply that Collins agrees with the Dalai Lama on this point is misleading in the extreme. Collins’s style is to insist that there never could be a conflict. He agrees with Mooney and Kirshenbaum; he does not agree with the Dalai Lama.

Distortions like this are typical of religious apologias. The reason is obvious: it’s terribly hard to come up with good reasons for religion, if you limit yourself to telling the truth.

Robert Wright: Why the “New Atheists” are Right-Wing on Foreign Policy

What the hell happened to Robert Wright? Nonzero was a really interesting book. Now he’s doing apologetics. His new piece in the Huffington Post is awful.

First of all, the title is simply a lie. P.Z. Myers responded very quickly: Uh, we aren’t.

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it “poisons everything,” as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

Consider Dawkins’s assertion, in his book The God Delusion, that if there were no religion then there would be “no Israeli-Palestinian wars.”

For starters, this is just wrong. The initial resistance to the settlements, and to the establishment of Israel, wasn’t essentially religious, and neither was the original establishment of the settlements, or even of Israel.

The problem here is that two ethnic groups disagree about who deserves what land.

No, that is not the problem here. The Palestinians are an ethnic group. They are, by coincidence, from the area that has long been called Palestine. The Jews are not an ethnic group, they are a religious group. Their claim on the land is not historical but literary. Their excuse for living there is that G-d gave it to them. It is true that the dispute is not “essentially religious” — no argument is. Two tribes want the same thing, and they fight over it. One or both of them can give religious reasons for their position, but all religious reduce to “God is on our side”, which is false; therefore, there are no valid religious reasons. Logically speaking, there is no such thing as having a religious reason for your actions. You might believe, or say, that your motivations are religious, but this cannot actually be true. However, having said all that, the proximate reason for the establishment of Israel was that people wanted to do something for a class of people, the Jews, who used scriptural authority for the selection of their “homeland”. If there was not a religion called Judaism, there would not be a conflict over that land now called Israel. That is the notion behind Dawkins’s statement. It is just as simple and obvious as saying that in the absence of Islam no one would have destroyed the Twin Towers. Of course, there is always going to be conflict between human groups. But without religion, these specific conflicts — a “Jewish homeland”, an Islamic terror-cell — would not have occurred. I do not know why Wright wants to take issue with this trivial observation.

And of course Hitchens’s subtitle comes from the same place. This is one of the ways religion “poisons everything”: by motivating or rationalizing conflicts that might otherwise have been avoided. Wright rejects this, and adds a mean-spirited jab: “as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.”

Of course, when religion is handy, special problems can arise. If there were no belief in paradise, there would be few suicide bombers. Then again, there might be less charity.

Oh, really? What an odd thing to say.

Whether belief in posthumous rewards has on balance done more harm than good is an empirical question whose subtlety Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens don’t exactly emphasize.

Another jab! Wright really doesn’t like these guys. Because they are too strongly against religion. What a bizarre development.

I think that this “empirical question” has been adequately tested. Like, for about 5,000 years. True, the experiment has not had a reliable control. But I see no reason to think that “belief in posthumous rewards” has done anyone any good, ever. The only people who think it might are the people who stand to benefit from it. And the only people who benefit from religion are the people who organize it: the imams, popes, and divinely-appointed kings. I think that’s what we’re really talking about here — isn’t it, Mr. Wright? You are an authoritarian. You like religion because it reinforces authority. Have you forgotten that it’s all lies, one hundred percent, from beginning to end? Is that really OK with you? Well, even if it is, please stop lying about us.

  1. The question is wrongly put. There is nothing philosophical about religion. It is pseudo-philosophy. It is marketing disguised as philosophy.
  2. “Are science and religion compatible?” — said the spider to the fly.
  3. Teams A and B are playing a game. Members of team A try to win by following the rules; people in team B try to win by cheating. Therefore team A and B dislike each other and rarely compete at the same table. Lately team B has begun, for unknown reasons, a campaign to discredit team A. Their challenge goes like this: “If you think your method is so superior, why don’t you play against us and prove it?”
  4. Science is compatible with religion in the same way that science is compatible with alcoholism. A single person can do both, but fact that this is possible is not particularly meaningful.