Thursday, June 04, 2009

Chris Mooney Changed His Mind

 
Chris Mooney and Jerry Coyne are having a discussion about whether religion and science are compatible. Coyne says they are not and I agree with him. We don't know what Chris really thinks on this issue but we do know that he's opposed to debating it in public.

Chris supports the accommodationist position, which means that even if you think science and religion are incompatible you should not voice that opinion in public.

Chris didn't always think that way. Back in 2001 he wrote an article in Slate that mentioned how accepting evolution challenges most religious beliefs. He addresses this in his latest posting [Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself].
…indeed, I find my work from 2001 on this topic pretty unsatisfying. I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.
This last part is ... how shall we put it ... disingenuous. Mooney and Coyne are having a polite (so far) and intellectual discussion about the compatibility of science and religion. Why do the accommodationists always have to bring up the worst examples of atheists in support of their arguments? Who's "flailing," Chris?

Isn't it strange that they never mention the bile, negativity, and intolerance of the worst religious fundamentalists? Shouldn't that be just as relevant for an accommodationist? I always wonder why people like Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet don't tell Ken Miller and Francis Collins to shut the heck up because of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter?

And I'm not even going to discuss the backhanded slap about the "unsophistication" of those who think that science and religion are (mostly) incompatible. That's just childish ... and somewhat intolerant.
I am as much an atheist as I have ever been–and I have been one essentially since birth. But I am also much more interested in liberal tolerance (in the classical sense) and in finding common solutions than I am in eradicating religion (if that’s even possible) or in making other people think like I do. I’ll have more on all of this soon as I respond to Coyne.
This is the heart of the issue. Mooney admits that he is not interested in the debate over the truth of religion. In other words, the compatibility of science and religion is just not an issue that concerns him. Fine. Stay out of it. Don't try and argue that others should think like you. Some of us are interested in whether God exists.

Oh, and by the way, Chris, the words "liberal tolerance" don't mean what you think they mean. They are not synonyms for "don't ever discuss the existence of God because it might upset believers."


8 comments :

  1. Accomodate this:


    The Most Dangerous of Satan's Lies

    ...The most cleverly disguised attack on the Gospel of the Bible wears a scientist's lab coat. The Secular Worldview and its engine: evolution, contradict the gospel's definition of death...
    by minglen1

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  2. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

    Accomodate this:



    Exactly.

    Mooney and the rest seem to not understand the nature of the battle at all (and I deliberately use the word "battle" because if it is debate for them, it is a lot more than that for at least a portion, and not insignificant one, of the other side).

    I am sure that they are smart enough people to understand that if you think that religion is a problem, protecting it and not attacking it is hardly the best way to make the problem disappear. From which I conclude that they think that religion is not a problem and it can just exist peacefully without messing up the rest of society. Which can't be further from the truth unfortunately...

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  3. Prof. Moran may be a little behind the times. According to Mr. Mooneys' latest thread on his blog, it would appear that he and Prof. Nesbit are no longer buddy buddy. It would appear that Mr. Mooneys' sojourn in Los Angeles, some 3000 miles distant from Prof. Nisbets' influence has had a salutary effect on Mr. Mooneys' thinking.

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  4. The problem is not with the claim that there is scientific data that is incompatible with some religious claims. The problem is when sweeping statements are made that suggest that science has not only shown that there can be no rational religious beliefs, but that meaning, value, and much else that humans find important have been shown to be "nothing but" particles, or chemicals, or whatever.

    As though a painting's beauty can be "disproved" because one can analyze the paints in terms of chemistry! :)

    But I do think that the rhetoric of "either/or" does harm the cause of scientific education. Many people have the impression that one must choose between scientific analysis on the one hand, and meaning and purpose on the other. When people are told they must choose, is it that surprising that many opt for the latter?

    It may be that many people, after wrestling with the scientific evidence, will end up abandoning their religious beliefs altogether. Each person should be true to their own understanding of where the evidence leads. But to suggest that anyone who takes the scientific evidence seriously must end up without religious beliefs sooner or later is not only false, it seems to me to be bad pedagogy. The important thing is to get people to understand the science, to understand why evolution is true. Why should some be forced with a choice between the sciences and their religious beliefs from the outset, before they've even understood the scientific methods and data, rather than as something they confront once they've understood what science has to offer? The concern many of us have is that the attempt to link particular metaphysical views to the methods an conclusions of the natural sciences in fact hinders the acceptance of science in the general populace.

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  5. It would be much easier for people to understand science if they did not have to chose between science and religion. And they would not have to chose if there was no religion. It is as simple as that.

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  6. Jenny Uglow includes this statement by Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) in her book _The Lunar Men_:

    "We had nothing to do with the religious or political principles of each other,' wrote Priestly. 'We were united by a common love of science, which we thought sufficient to bring together persons of all distinctions ..."(xiv).

    Uglow introduces Priestly's statement by saying,

    "They [the Lunar men] came from varied backgrounds but when they edged towards rows they agreed to differ, turning back to the things they shared."

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  7. James F. McGrath says,

    The problem is not with the claim that there is scientific data that is incompatible with some religious claims. The problem is when sweeping statements are made that suggest that science has not only shown that there can be no rational religious beliefs, but that meaning, value, and much else that humans find important have been shown to be "nothing but" particles, or chemicals, or whatever.

    You exaggerate but I understand the point ... and I agree with it.

    The more you understand science, the more you come to realize that humans are just part of the natural world. You realize there's no reason to believe that humans are any more special than all other species.

    This realization threatens the very core of most spiritual belief systems.

    As though a painting's beauty can be "disproved" because one can analyze the paints in terms of chemistry! :)

    Non sequitur. As a scientist and an atheist I doubt very much whether my appreciation of beauty is any different than yours.

    Unless, of course, you think that all things beautiful come from God.

    But I do think that the rhetoric of "either/or" does harm the cause of scientific education. Many people have the impression that one must choose between scientific analysis on the one hand, and meaning and purpose on the other.

    It happens to be true. I don't know anyone who believes in meaning and purpose who isn't religious. Do you?

    You have to choose between believing that life has meaning and purpose and not believing. If you choose to believe that humans have meaning and purpose because God created them, then your view conflicts with the scientific evidence.

    When people are told they must choose, is it that surprising that many opt for the latter?

    Yes. It's surpising to me that people voluntarily choose superstition over rationality. On the other hand, it's comforting to see that in the long run religion seems to be yielding to science. More and more people these days are abandoning religion.

    The concern many of us have is that the attempt to link particular metaphysical views to the methods an conclusions of the natural sciences in fact hinders the acceptance of science in the general populace.

    It's true that some people will resist adopting science as a way of knowing because they have to abandon their long-held superstitious beliefs. That's hardly a new phenomenon and it's certainly not a reason to criticize science and rationalism as a way of understanding.

    I'm not sure I understand your point. If you are claiming that meaning and purpose in life is compatible with science then let's hear some cogent arguments in favor of that perspective.

    Why do you think humans are special?

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  8. Larry, perhaps I should begin by asking how (if at all) you think "meaning" and "beauty" are inherently different sorts of perceptions. If beauty as a human perception is not explained away or eliminated when we explain the contribution of evolution to our appreciation of color and symmetry, or provide chemical analysis of the paints, then how does the explanation of other aspects of our existence eliminate "meaning" and "purpose"? Or are you assuming that the only sort of purpose or meaning depends on belief in those things being created by God for a purpose? If so, I respectfully disagree. I don't think that bringing God into the picture makes undeserved suffering somehow better, nor that the experience of love, beauty, and any other wonderful aspect of human existence depends on their origin. I think that meaning and purpose, like beauty, arise out of the complexity of the universe producing organisms capable of seeing it as beautiful or living in ways that are meaningful. And when it comes to the question of why the universe should be that way, I often find religious metaphors helpful for contemplating this mystery, in supplement to, but never as an alternative to, the information provided to me about the universe by the natural sciences.

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