Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ed Brayton Speaks

I'm going to respond to a number if things Ed Brayton says in "With Friends Like These". Let me begin by saying it doesn't really sound like I'm Ed's friend. :-)

Ed Brayton's opening attack on me refers to my tongue in check suggestion that students who reject evolution should be flunked, or not admitted to university in the first place. Anyone with a brain can recognize the humor and sarcasm in such a remark. The fact that it sets the Intelligent Design Creationists all atwitter is part of the fun.

However, behind the humor is a serious point. If students entering university have already made up their minds that evolution should be rejected, then that's a serious problem. It's not a question of ignorance. Those students have made an active decision to choose superstition over science. Given a choice of students to admit into university science programs, I would choose the ones who show some understanding of science over those who reject one the fundamental facts of biology. Wouldn't Ed?

Ed then says, ...
To be honest, I'm rapidly becoming convinced that there are two very different groups involved in fighting against the ID public relations campaign to distort science education. The distinction between the two groups is that one is fighting to prevent ID creationism from weakening science education while the other is fighting, at least in their minds, to eliminate all religious belief of any kind, even those perspectives that have no quarrel with evolution specifically or science in general, from society.
I'm mostly in the first group but I also have an interest in elminating the worst parts of religion; namely, those parts that conflict with reason. The fight against Intelligent Design Creationism and Young Earth Creationism is only part of the battle—there's a lot more involved in trying to improve science education. Some of it requires us to take a long hard look at the way science education is being eroded by well-meaning theists who don't belong in one of the obvious hard-core Creationist camps. Let's call them Theistic Evolutionists for want of a better term.

People like Ed Brayton think it's okay for Theistic Evolutionists to nibble at science and undermine its principles in subtle ways. He probably thinks it's okay because at least they aren't taking big bites. Well, Ed, I'm here to tell you that it's not all right. The little nibbles are just as bad, perhaps worse, and if you defend even a little bit of sloppy science then you are still defending sloppy science and you should be ashamed.

When Eugenie Scott and others promote a theistic version of science they seem to think they are allowing for a safe middle ground where Theistic Evolutionists like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller can find common cause with scientists who don't let superstition masquerade as science. They are wrong. There is no common ground between the rational and the irrational. I've written a little essay to try and explain why [Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground].

Ed continues, ...
How else to explain Moran's earlier comments here that bluntly accuse Ken Miller, the single most effective and tireless advocate of evolution and critic of ID creationism in the nation, of being anti-science merely by virtue of the fact that he attempts to reconcile science with his religious faith? In the battle Moran is fighting, theistic evolutionists are the enemy despite their advocacy of evolution, because his battle is not for evolution or against ID creationism, it is against theism, hence theists, in any form.
I'll tell you how else to explain it, Ed. I'm not a fan of religion but I'm not dogmatically opposed to religion in any form. What I'm opposed to is the attack on science by religious apologists of any stripe. You can't claim to accept evolution and then turn around and say that God is behind it all and He can tweak it whenever He wants. That's not science.

In my essay I included a diagram from a talk given by Rev. Ted Peters, a leading Theistic Evolutionist. I'll include it here.
Note that Ken Miller is way out on the left of the diagram, not far from the Intelligent Design Creationists. As a matter of fact, it's difficult to distinguish his belief from those of some Intelligent Design Creationists. Take a look at where evolutionary biology is positioned. That's where I am.

Let's not forget that this is a fight between rationalism and superstition. Science is on the side of rationalism, and so am I.

28 comments:

  1. This dovetails with a point Dawkins makes in TGD that I thought was particularly astute. Religious apologists who consider themselves not anti-science (they support evolution, etc) still, when the chips are down, end up adopting this stance of, "But there's only so far science can take us, and the BIG questions, like God's existence, are beyond science, and therefore maintaining religious faith is warranted." But as Dawkins points out, if their central belief is that God created the whole universe, how can that NOT be a matter for scientific inquiry? The whole "science and religion should make nice" camp are, I think, terribly naive. In the end it all has to come down to whether you're going to approach all questions in a spirit of rational inquiry, or if you're going to leave room open for religious beliefs to fill gaps in your knowledge. I can't see how one can have it both ways, and I think those who do are practicing a rather egregious form of intellectual cowardice.

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  2. Let's not forget that this is a fight between rationalism and superstition. Science is on the side of rationalism, and so am I.

    Count me in. Ed Brayton can be a tad sanctimonious when it comes to creationist bashing. He appears to belong to that subsect of creationist bashers who believe that there is a line (let's call it "Ed's Special Line") which, if it is crossed, turns you into a "liability for the cause."

    Ed and other self-righteous religious apologists like Ed labor under the delusion that there is some large group of confused individuals who can be "captured" by rational rhetoric but whose sensibilities are easily offended such that, if they detect a whiff of disrespect towards religion generally, they will turn against rational thinking and adopt the ways of those friendly courteous creationists.

    Of course, this view of the world is hopelessly naive and (surprise!) even Saint Brayton is happy to wallow in gutter talk when the mood strikes him. Such hypocritical behavior belies a "false sense of entitlement" or an "inflated sense of self-importance."

    So now Ed Brayton tell us that Larry's behavior is "profoundly disturbing and dangerous." On top of that, it's "appalling and vile."
    And "disturbing". And "dangerous." Ad nauseum.

    Let's refresh ourselves: what is it that Ed finds so "appalling and vile"?

    Ed finds it "appalling and vile" that a public university would include among its admission standard an understanding of basic facts about biology and geology.

    Ed says he's going to "fight" folks like Larry and myself who advocate for such standards.

    Good luck, Ed.

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  3. I personally don't care if someone chooses to follow a religion, believe in astrology, whatever... what I have a problem with is those who think religion/magic/withcraft/superstition is as good as science, as if they are two sides of the same thing. They aren't. They aren't alternatives to each other, religion does not "pick up where science leaves off".

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  4. Over at Ed's blog, a dude named Jason recites the script:

    Attacking religion out of spite for religion does exactly what Ed says: enlarges the specter of the evil atheist out to destroy god. And that just makes the political right fight all that much harder to destroy science standards and try and teach religion in public schools.

    Sure. And that's why the last political election was such a sweeping victory for fundies and creationists: because atheists like Larry are more visible and outspoken about superstitious religious garbage than they have been for years (if not ever before).

    Right. Got it. Thanks for your profound political insights, Jason.

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  5. They aren't alternatives to each other, religion does not "pick up where science leaves off".


    Indeed. Religion picks up where the brain leaves off.

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  6. Who is the Rev. Ted Peters? For one thing his spectrum seems an incorrect representation for theistic evolution, and for another thing, his placing of people must be widely off if he positions Teilhard de Chardin at the righthand side of his green area. I'm with Ed Brayton on this: agression toward religion does not lead to a better appreciation of science or evolutionary biology.

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  7. I'm mostly in the first group but I also have an interest in elminating the worst parts of religion; namely, those parts that conflict with reason.

    While we're at it, why don't we "eliminate" the "worst parts" of other human activities that "conflict with reason," such as art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships? We can't have people making irrational decisions about what to wear, who to shag, what movies to see, or what art galleries to go to! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

    People like Ed Brayton think it's okay for Theistic Evolutionists to nibble at science and undermine its principles in subtle ways.

    No, we don't; we simply acknowledge that not all "Theistic Evolutionists" are "undermining" science. Pope JP-II's pronouncements on evolution, for example, are pretty explicitly pro-science.

    The little nibbles are just as bad, perhaps worse...

    I'm hearing echoes of the Bolsheviks of another century, saying that liberals and other non-violent, non-radical reformers were at least as bad as the evil fascists and bourgeoisie, because their sensible, democratic, piecemeal reforms allowed the "wrong people" to stay in power and keep their heads attached to their shoulders (and made violent revolution unnecessary).

    This is what we're getting from radical atheists: "opposite" extremists conspiring to shout down, divide, and destroy the center, each extreme hoping to justify itself by pointing to the other as the only alternative.

    And that's one experiment we don't need to repeat -- we've seen the results, and they should stay in the last century.

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  8. Oops, sorry, I forgot to sign that last post: it was by Raging Bee.

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  9. Raging Bean:

    And that's one experiment we don't need to repeat -- we've seen the results, and they should stay in the last century.

    Hahahah! See how it works? If you think religion is a mindgame that stupid idiots play with themselves and your children, you're a fascist.

    Real nice.

    agression toward religion does not lead to a better appreciation of science or evolutionary biology.

    But relentless ridicule and scorn of bogus religious beliefs will cause religion to be kicked into the gutter over time, and that's a good thing for science, evolutionary biology, and whoever it is that religious people would like to take a crap on (i.e., gays, pregnant women, etc.)

    It's quite simple, actually. Too bad you insist on pretending otherwise. Probably you have a religious friend or mommy that you pity.

    Tough.

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  10. Hahahah! See how it works? If you think religion is a mindgame that stupid idiots play with themselves and your children, you're a fascist.

    I know taht you know that that is clearly not what I said, or even implied. Go back and try again.

    But relentless ridicule and scorn of bogus religious beliefs will cause religion to be kicked into the gutter over time...

    Relentless ridicule and scorn of BOGUS religious beliefs will cause those bogus beliefs to be kicked to the gutter, which is, of course, a good thing. But relentless ridicule and scorn of ALL religious beliefs, without regard to what, exactly, those beliefs are, will only cause certain atheists to be kicked to the gutter, while distracting our attention from those beliefs and actions that are truly dishonest or harmful.

    It's quite simple, actually.

    If you think that human spirituality is simple, then you're a complete idiot.

    Probably you have a religious friend or mommy that you pity.

    I have friends and relatives, of many religions, whom I respect for their wisdom and decency. They EARNED this respect, and if you don't respect them, then there is no reason for me to respect you. Are you channelling Ann Coulter?

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  11. relentless ridicule and scorn of ALL religious beliefs, without regard to what, exactly, those beliefs are

    All religious beliefs are, by definition, bogus. Made-up crap designed to make you feel good.

    Are you channelling Ann Coulter?

    No. Are you channelling C.S. Lewis? Or some other moron?

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  12. distracting our attention from those beliefs and actions that are truly dishonest

    Like the belief that 2000 years ago the "son" of the deity who created the Universe came to earth, was killed, then rose from the dead three days later? Then ascended *poof* into "heaven"?

    I'm not sure if there is a more pervasive and patently dishonest belief in the world today.

    In fact, I'm sure there is not.

    You think it's a good thing that people "deeply believe" such baloney?

    Get real.

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  13. While we're at it, why don't we "eliminate" the "worst parts" of other human activities that "conflict with reason," such as art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships?

    Perhaps you could start by providing some evidence or argument in support of your implied premise that "art", "literature", "social interaction", and "sexual relationships" -- per se -- are in "conflict with reason". Note that many things can be apart from reason without being in conflict with reason. My own preference for Islay over Highland or Lowland Scotch isn't based on reason, but at the same time is not in conflict with reason. Of course, if I were to learn that my Caol Ila had been poisoned, yet still chose it over non-poisoned Glenlivet, then my choice would be in conflict with reason. But note that I think almost everyone would recognize that the choice in conflict with reason was a bad and stupid one.

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  14. why don't we "eliminate" ... art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships?

    Ironically, one of the primary functions of religions throughout history is to arbitrarily determine which aspects of those activities are Approved by God and which are Frowned Upon by God.

    Just one more reason to conclude: religion sucks. It sucks hard. People who apologize for religion are promoting suckiness.

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  15. My own preference for Islay over Highland or Lowland Scotch isn't based on reason, but at the same time is not in conflict with reason.

    So why can't you make the same distinction regarding religious beliefs?

    Are you channelling C.S. Lewis? Or some other moron?

    When you offer some insight even remotely comparable to those found in the Narnia books, I'll take your superior attitude seriously. So far, you haven't managed it -- and that says more about you than it does about Lewis.

    Like the belief that 2000 years ago the "son" of the deity who created the Universe came to earth, was killed, then rose from the dead three days later? Then ascended *poof* into "heaven"?

    I'm not sure if there is a more pervasive and patently dishonest belief in the world today.


    Well, "God hates fags" is worse, at least in my opinion (and no, Jesus didn't say that). So is your insistence on treating all religions the same, despite their glaringly-obvious differences.

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  16. Just one more reason to conclude: religion sucks. It sucks hard. People who apologize for religion are promoting suckiness.

    Except for the fact that not all religions censor artistic expression, nor do all religious people support such censorship.

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  17. "So why can't you make the same distinction regarding religious beliefs?"

    You can make the same distinction about religious beliefs right up to the point where the religious believer opens his mouth and starts pretending that his religious beliefs have any more substance than a dry fart.

    But think about it: religious people voluntarily keeping their traps shut about their religious beliefs? Or voluntarily qualifying those beliefs with an admission that those beliefs have no more substance than a dry fart?

    HAHHAHHAAH!!!!! As if. The only
    way to stop that behavior is to crush it under the heel of scorn and ridicule.

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  18. "Except for the fact that not all religions censor artistic expression, nor do all religious people support such censorship."

    Yeah, that's called "progress." I would like to see a lot more of that. How do you think progress like that is promoted?

    Let me guess: God willed it.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHH!!!!!

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  19. "When you offer some insight even remotely comparable to those found in the Narnia books"

    Parody doesn't get better than that. Thank you for the laughs -- this will keep my spirits up through the long weekend.

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  20. That a position of opposing religious claims on science immediately evokes views of elimination of religious beliefs (or communism, in the comments) is "unsettling and disturbing" to me.

    Theistic evolution is a distortion of science among other creationisms. The issue of ID should not be a distraction from advocating good science.

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  21. I wrote:

    My own preference for Islay over Highland or Lowland Scotch isn't based on reason, but at the same time is not in conflict with reason

    To which someone else responded:

    So why can't you make the same distinction regarding religious beliefs?

    Was there anything that I wrote that suggests I can't and/or don't?

    And you haven't provided any evidence or argument in support of the premise that "art", "literature", "social interaction", and "sexual relationships" -- per se -- are in "conflict with reason".

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  22. Dr. Moran,

    I saw your original comments, and, quite frankly, they didn't sound like a joke to me.

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  23. Theistic evolution is a distortion of science among other creationisms. The issue of ID should not be a distraction from advocating good science.

    It's not a distortion of science unless the theist in question claims that his theism is in some way supported by science. Not all theistic evolutionists make that claim.

    Also, confalting theistic evolution with creationism (in any of its guises), is pure BS. They're not the same, and in fact, many theistic evolutionists explicitly support good science education and oppose creationism.

    If you can't be bothered to take the time to learn exactly who your allies and enemies are, then you don't belong anywhere near the front.

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  24. Anonymous:
    "It's not a distortion of science unless the theist in question claims that his theism is in some way supported by science. Not all theistic evolutionists make that claim."

    You seem to be discussing a theist that accepts evolution straight up. I am discussing theistic evolution, which is another thing, It injects gods into the description of nature:

    "Theistic evolution, less commonly known as evolutionary creationism, is not a theory in the scientific sense, but a particular view about how the science of evolution relates to some religious interpretations. ... Theistic evolutionists may believe either 1) that evolution (namely macroevolution) is a viable biological mechanism but was guided by God for the determination of species, or 2) that it is not viable and each genetic alteration leading to a new species required God's intervention." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution)

    "Also, confalting theistic evolution with creationism (in any of its guises), is pure BS."
    Perhaps you need to discuss this in the wikipedia article. A 'creation' event is defined to be whenever the 'designer' interacts with nature to create something nature didn't. It is not about 'origin'.

    "If you can't be bothered to take the time to learn exactly who your allies and enemies are, then you don't belong anywhere near the front."
    This is a strawman and an ad hominem against my comment. Blogging doesn't equal claiming to "belong anywhere near the front".

    I will also note in this context that, ironically, commenting anonymous means of course conversely that such a person certainly doesn't belong near a front.

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  25. "You can't claim to accept evolution and then turn around and say that God is behind it all and He can tweak it whenever He wants. That's not science."

    You keep shifting around your goalposts here. You can claim to accept evolution and then turn around and... etc.

    No, it isn't science or directly supported by science, but it also isn't, as you imply either illegitimate or a betrayal of science to do so. Science is not the be all and end all of everything. It's the only epistemology I think it worth a scratch, but I can't prove that scientifically: that's just my position.

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  26. My My My.

    I tend to some other interests for a few days and all Hell breaks lose. Ed Brayton, as usual, is throwing accusations around trying to seem important. One of his more absurd statements is;
    But some, like Larry Moran, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Gary Hurd and others, are involved in an entirely different battle. For them, it's not enough to protect science education from the attacks of some religious people; religion itself, in any form, is to be attacked and destroyed by any means necessary.
    First, I am flattered to be mentioned together with Moran, Myers and Dawkins, but it is totally inappropriate. I have at best a tiny fraction of the scientific accomplishments of these men, or their public influence. Brayton has never contributed to science or education and has comparatively little influence, so this is clearly a "division by zero" problem.

    Nor have I ever considered it necessary to eliminate religion, regardless of means. I don't think that science can do this in any event. The only certain path to atheism I know of is to study theology.

    Let me propose a simple analogy; the pro-science education effort is like a dog. There is the wagging tail at one end, and the bark and even teeth at the other. PZ, Dawkins and others are at the front. Pat, Nick and others are the friendly, inclusive wagging tail and Ed Brayton is the little part just below the wag. I'm the little flea whispering that if you don't want to divide forces, then ignore divisive people like Ed who demand that you have to be on "his" side and don't step in the mess he leaves on the floor.

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  27. orac says,
    I saw your original comments, and, quite frankly, they didn't sound like a joke to me.

    Did you think I would seriously advocate that UCSD flunk 40% of their students just because they didn't believe in evolution?

    Is there anything on my blog that would make you think I'm that stupid?

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  28. "Is there anything on my blog that would make you think I'm that stupid?"

    Is that a rhetorical question?

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