Sunday, April 26, 2009

Foot Soldiers and Generals

Richard Hoppe published the usual accommodationist drivel on The Panda's Thumb: Generals who don’t know the nature of war. Here's an excerpt ...
I’m one of the foot soldiers in this battle, a sergeant operating in a conservative rural county far from the ethereal heights of the University of Chicago. I’ve been at it (off and on, mostly on for the last 6 years) for more than 20 years. I published my first article on the political nature of the evolution/religion conflict in 1987. I am engaged at the local and state levels, the former on a weekly basis (search this blog on “Freshwater” for local stuff and see here for just one example of State BOE stuff). My political experience goes back to 1968, when I was a big city Democratic party ward officer. I have a hell of a lot better view of what’s pragmatically necessary and what is effective at the level of the local school board and the local church than Coyne can even imagine. Coyne (and Myers and Moran and Dawkins) are not engaged at that level on anything approaching a regular basis. They lead their congregations from high pulpits. They sit above the choir preaching a message that is disconnected from – indeed, sometimes antithetical to – the reality on the ground. They’re the generals who argued against air power, courtmartialed Billy Mitchell, and then watched ships sink at Pearl Harbor. Coyne wants to argue philosophy in a political war. That’s not a tactic, it’s a politically lethal red herring.
I'm not going to lower myself to defending my activities over the past forty years but I would like to say one thing—I'm very disappointed that Richard hasn't made any contribution at all to the fight in my home country, Canada. (That makes the same amount of sense as what he said about me.)

Oh, and one more thing, I wasn't alive in 1941 but many of my Canadian relatives and high school friends of my parents—who admittedly weren't generals—had already been fighting World War II for two years before Pearl Harbor.1 Some of them were involved in a little airplane dustup called The Battle of Britain. Some of them died.

How dare Richard compare me to the American Generals and politicians who sat on their asses while Hitler overran most of Europe and brought Great Britain to its knees.

PZ Myers was as outraged as I am by Richard's childish outburst. Read PZ's reply on Pharyngula: Foot soldiers who lack vision.

What he said.

1. I had no idea who Billy Mitchell was until my friend Google helped out.


  1. Reading Richard's post confirmed my vote on your sidebar that nothing related to religion should be said in biology class.

    Nothing. Nor should it be said in auto-mechanics, home economics, in the maths. If anywhere, religion should be confined to civics classes and then to discuss the institution of religion and its power to shape the political landscape.

  2. How dare Richard compare me to the American Generals and politicians who sat on their asses while Hitler overran most of Europe and brought Great Britain to its knees.And there were a considerable number of American pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain helping to pull Britains' chestnuts out of the fire. If Chamberlain had stood up to Hitler in 1938, there probably wouldn't have been a Battle of Britain as there is evidence that the German General Staff would have ousted him from power.

  3. I'll reproduce here a comment I just posted on Panda's Thumb:

    "My whole point about “foot soldiers” was that they – we – are in a helluva lot better position to judge the tactical and pragmatic utility of this or that approach than are those who have not spent years in the trenches. One of the things I learned in the political battles of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s was to listen to the troops in the precincts: they knew what their friends and neighbors would and would not be persuaded by. We had political theoreticians who were mostly useless in designing the messages we wanted carried house to house in the 11th ward of the 5th Congressional District of Minnesota, where Eugene McCarthy won his first political victory in the 1968 Presidential campaign.

    "And not incidentally, I do not regard myself as an “accommodationalist.” In more than 20 years of writing and talking on this topic, nowhere have I argued that there is an intellectually coherent accommodation between (any variety of) Abrahamic religion and science. I defy you to find such a writing from me anywhere.

    "My point is and was just this: there exist scientists who are Christians – or at least theists who believe in a personal God – who do good science, even distinguished science, including 15% of the membership of the National Academy of Sciences, and it is tactically effective for NCSE and other science organizations, along with us individuals, to point to them as an existence proof of the proposition “You don’t have to be an atheist to accept science and evolution.” That’s one of the main arguments of the fundamentalists, and we need powerful counters to it."

    (And for the record, I was born after the start of the European War but before America's entry in 1941, and had a father and an uncle who were in that war. I did my own military service between wars -- after Korea but before Viet Nam. As an enlisted man.)

  4. The comment Richard made was a reply to me. Context: me; and RBH, as repeated here. I've responded again over there.

    I'll just state here briefly: the analogy is fallacious. Richard explicitly denies that others he names have regular involvement on the ground. This is flatly false -- and Wes Elsberry has corrected Richard on this, with respect to PZ at least. No apology has been forthcoming as yet from Richard for his deliberately insulting descriptions, and one is long overdue.

    Any useful debate on "tactics" is obscured by these self-serving analogies. At the risk of compounding the problem: Richard is shooting his fellow foot soldiers in the back over a disagreement on what bunker to attack.

  5. “You don’t have to be an atheist to accept science and evolution.”But this is not the point that Myers, Coyne, et al. are making. They are making a couple of different points. Science does in fact contradict many religious doctrines, such as the idea that God actively directs evolution, and they give numerous examples where the NSA and NCSE denies this fact.

    They do not ask that the NSA and NCSE promote atheism, they ask that the NSA and NCSE stop marginalizing atheists and actively promoting theism. Either the NSA and NCSE should simply not talk about religion at all, and allow individuals to determine the compatibility between science and their own brand of religion, or they should give voice to the large number of scientists who really do see religion and science as irreconcilable.

  6. SLC said:
    "there were a considerable number of American pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain helping to pull Britains' chestnuts out of the fire."

    In a war already involving millions of troops on each side I don't think 10 (or was it 7?)US pilots represent a "considerable number". There were 3000 RAF pilots! This is the usual US attempt to overplay their contribution in WWII - even neutral Ireland contributed more than the US in the Battle of Britain.

    This is typical US defensiveness over their unwillingness to fight fascism until themselves attacked, allowing others to shed blood and waste resources until the US was directly threatened itself. And what a great red herring saying that it was all the UK's fault anyway in not stopping Hitler in 1938 - the US didn't try to stop him at all until Germany declared war on the US in late 1941.

    Sorry to go off topic but this position has to be challenged.

  7. All these military metaphors and analogies are missing the point.

    Marx (Karl, not Groucho) wrote that "religion is the opium of the people" and that is the key. Religion has survived and flourished because it stimulates and feeds certain basic human cravings, much like drink and drugs.

    The New Atheist crusade against religion has more in common with the temperance movement's drive against alcohol or the current "war on drugs".

    And it stands about as much chance of stamping out faith as Prohibition did of making people stop drinking or the DEA has of stopping drug abuse. Believers are just too fond of their favorite tipple.

    As for the Second World War, Britain's determination to fight on bought the US time, but Churchill knew as well as anyone else that the British could not win by themselves. Alone, the best they could hope for was some kind of armistice. What Churchill hung on for was the Americans because that was the only real chance of victory.

    And all that ignores the fact that when it came to slugging it out with Nazi Germany it was the Soviet Union that did the heavy lifting.