Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The NCSE Position on Science vs Religion

NCSE is the National Center for Science and Education. This is the main American organization fighting against creationism. I am a member and I urge everyone to support NCSE.

In an earlier posting I said, with respect to accommodationism, "As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education."

Josh Rosenau is a Public Information Project Director for NCSE and he replied to this claim in a comment on Sandwalk [Josh Comment].
This is simply false. We may not be able to convince one another of theological/scientific matters, but can we have the discussion without manifest inaccuracy?

Here is NCSE's official position:

"What is NCSE's religious position?

"None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum."

At best, this is an affirmation that some religions may be (or may not be) compatible with science. It is not a blanket statement of absolute compatibility, and suggesting that it is simply misleads your readers.
Josh links to the NSCE website as proof that the accommodationist position is not the "official" position of NCSE. The statement he quotes is irrelevant to the discussion so let's look further into the NCSE webpages.

Before doing that, let me agree partly with Josh. It would have been better if I had not used the word "official" since that is a stronger statement than I wished to make. It would be better to say that the public stance of NCSE is to be supportive of the accommodationist position in preference to the idea that science and religion are in conflict and in preference to the position that NCSE should not take a stance on this controversial issue.

Let's look at the part of the NCSE website that deals with Science and Religion. The main page is authored by Peter M. J. Hess, NCSE Faith Project Director.1
In public discussions of evolution and creationism, we are sometimes told by creationists and opponents of religion alike that we must choose between belief in creation and acceptance of the theory of evolution, between religion and science. Is this a fair demand? Is the choice that stark? Can one believe in God and accept evolution? Can one both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice?

These are complex issues, and deserve thoughtful consideration before a decision is made. Theologians, clergy, scientists, and others belonging to many religious traditions have concluded that their religious views are compatible with evolution, and are even enhanced by the knowledge of nature that science provides. Just as vigorously, other theologians, clergy, and members of other religious traditions reject evolution as contradictory to and thus incompatible with their faith positions. And some nonbelievers argue that the methodology and findings of science are philosophically incompatible with any meaningful form of faith. Passions often run high on all sides.

This section of our website offers resources for exploring a wide array of religious perspectives on scientific questions, and scientific perspectives on topics of interest to various religious groups. We also provide resources for anyone interested in a general exploration of the relationship between science, especially the evolutionary sciences, and religion. One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views. We hope that you find these materials useful in considering these important issues.
It certainly looks to me like NCSE is taking up the issue rather than being neutral as I would prefer. It looks to me like there's a tilt toward getting people to understand that you don't have to choose between the extremes of creationism and "antireligious atheists" but, instead, should opt for the "range of more moderate religious views."

The first article is also by Peter Hess and it addresses the question God and Evolution. He's what appears on the NCSE website ...
Of course, religious claims that are empirically testable can come into conflict with scientific theories. For instance, young-earth creationists argue that the universe was created several thousand years ago, that all the lineages of living creatures on Earth were created in their present form (at least up to the poorly-defined level of "kind") shortly thereafter, and that these claims are supported by empirical evidence, such as the fossil record and observed stellar physics. These fact claims are clearly contradicted by mainstream paleontology, cosmology, geology and biogeography. However, the theological aspect of young-earth creationism—the assertions about the nature of God, and the reasons why that God created the universe and permitted it to develop in a particular way—cannot be addressed by science. By their nature, such claims can only be—and have been—addressed by philosophers and theologians.

The science of evolution does not make claims about God's existence or non-existence, any more than do other scientific theories such as gravitation, atomic structure, or plate tectonics. Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.
That certainly has all the earmarks of an accommondationist position as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps Josh can explain why my interpretation is wrong.

Another link is to a part of the NCSE website that deals with the Clergy Letter Project.
The Clergy Letter Project was initiated in 2004 by Michael Zimmerman, now Dean of Butler University in Indiana, as a response to the common misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict, especially around the question of evolution. In response to by a series of anti-evolution school board policies in Wisconsin, Dr. Zimmerman worked with Christian clergy throughout Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. Within weeks nearly 200 clergy in a wide variety of denominations had signed the statement, and that number has now grown to more than 11,660
I wonder if there's a link to similar petitions from scientists and philosophers who think that science and religion are in conflict? Perhaps Josh can point us to such a webpage that NCSE has put up for balance because otherwise one might get the impression that NCSE actually endorses the statement signed by all these theists.

There's another webpage written by Peter Hess and hosted on the NCSE website. It's about How Do I Read the Bible? Let Me Count the Ways.
Currently, most mainstream Christian and Jewish denominations hold that the Bible was not intended by its authors to teach us about science — a way of knowing which did not exist at the time the Hebrew oral traditions were set in writing as the Book of Genesis. These denominations do not draw from the Bible the literal truths that the earth is flat, or that a global flood once covered Mt. Everest, or that we inhabit a geocentric cosmos, or that the world was created as we now observe it in six solar days, or that species were specially created in their present form and have not changed since the days of creation.

Rather, they read the Bible as a record of a people's developing moral relationship with the God in whom they placed their trust. In a 1981 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for instance, Pope John Paul II said, "Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer." Viewed as such, the Bible enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation and human responsibility within that creation. For these believers, part of that responsibility is using the gift of human rationality to discover the exciting story of how life ― including human life ― has developed on the earth.
I couldn't find the atheist webpages or, for that matter, the Hindu and pagan webpages on the NCSE site. I'd like to alert Josh to the fact that since these balancing points of view are difficult to find (or non-existent, gasp!) one might easily get the impression that NCSE was only supporting Christian accommodationist points of view.

Eugenie Scott has an article entitled, Do Scientists Really Reject God?. The answer is "no."
In a recent issue of RNCSE, Larry Witham reported on research he and historian Edward Larson carried out to investigate the religious beliefs of scientists.They had surveyed a sample of 1000 individuals listed in American Men and Women of Science, (AM&WS), using questions originally asked by the Gallup organization in a series of polls of American religious views.The report, entitled "Many scientists see God's hand in evolution", concluded that although scientists were quite different from other Americans in their views of "extreme" positions— such as young earth creationism and atheism—they were very similar to other Americans in the "middle" or "theistic evolution" position.

In the table below, the full wording of Gallup's question 1 is, "Humans were created pretty much in their present form about 10 000 years ago." The difference between scientists and other Americans is striking. Scientists also respond quite differently to the third question, "Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms. God had no part in this process." But scientists' responses to Gallup's "theistic evolution" question—"Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms of life, but God guided the process, including the creation of Man"—directly mirrors that of the general public. The "middle ground" is apparently equally attractive to scientists as it is to the general public.
Correct me if I'm wrong but that doesn't sound like a neutral position on accommodationism and it doesn't sound like support for the idea that science and religion may be in conflict. It sounds like accommodationism.

The 5th link from the "Science and Religion" home page is Resources especially for clergy.
The articles below have been selected especially for clergy from various sections of NCSE's website as entry points into topics of interest.
I don't see an official NCSE webpage called "Resources for Atheists." I wonder why?

Let's look at one other link on the NCSE site. This one is to a speech by Eugenie Scott, the Executive Director of NCSE [Science and Religion, Methodology and Humanism]. It's an old speech but it the content represents the current position of the Executive Director and I've heard her make the case for accommodationism many times.

Her argument goes like this. Science is concerned with methodological naturalism. Many statements about religion cross over some imaginary line into the realm of philosophical naturalism. Science is not concerned with the metaphysical realm of philosophical naturalism but can only stick to methodological naturalism and statements about the natural world. When people say that science and religion are incompatible they are not really speaking about science because there are many supernatural questions that science can't address.

Thus, science and religion occupy separate magisteria and can easily be compatible.
I argue for the separation of methodological from philosophical materialism for logical reasons, and for reasons based on the philosophy of science. It is also possible to argue from a strategic standpoint. Living as we do in a society in which only a small percentage of our fellow citizens are nontheists, we who support the teaching of evolution in the public schools should avoid the creationist's position of forcing a choice between God and Darwin. Creationists are perfectly happy if only 10% of the population (the percentage of nontheists) accepts evolution. I am not. I want people to understand and accept the science of evolution; whether or not someone builds from this science a philosophical system that parallels mine is logically and strategically independent. An ideology drawn from science is not the same as science itself.

Ironically, I find myself being praised and encouraged in my position by conservative Christians and taking flak from some fellow nontheists, including some scientists. I must say, though, that over the last several months I have presented lectures at several universities and two meetings of professional scientists in which I have argued that a clear distinction must be drawn between science as a way of knowing about the natural world and science as a foundation for philosophical views. One should be taught to our children in school, and the other can optionally be taught to our children at home. Once this view is explained, I have found far more support than disagreement among my university colleagues. Even someone who may disagree with my logic or understanding of philosophy of science often understands the strategic reasons for separating methodological from philosophical materialism — if we want more Americans to understand evolution.
Josh, while it may be incorrect to say that accommodationism is the "official" position of NCSE, it seems clear to me that it's the only position that your website supports and it's the only position that your leaders advocate in public.


1. Does NCSE have an Atheist Project Director?

37 comments :

  1. Putting on my devil's advocate cap... arguably, the reason the NCSE does not have "resources especially for atheists" is because they recognize there is no need. Reconciling science with atheism requires no special apologetics or mental contortions. But reconciling science with religion does, and it is arguably consistent with NCSE's mission statement to make information on those special apologetics and mental contortions available to those who require them.

    Removing my devil's advocate cap... Yeah, I would have a difficult time arguing that the NCSE's stance is not at least de facto accomodationist. Though I am certainly not an accomodationist myself, I remain somewhat ambivalent its utility as a strategy for promoting science education -- I suspect having some people of both persuasions on the pro-evolution side is the most effective.

    I am okay with the NCSE pointing out that many people have reconciled religion and science, but as you document extensively in this post, they do go beyond that at times. Ah well...

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  2. They do have some links to other religions and the Center for Naturalism at this link http://ncse.com/religion/science-religion-links

    That said, I think they go far beyond the simple statement of fact that scientists fall out along a spectrum on this issue - YEC to naturalistic evolution - and endorse religions that accept evolution. Wouldn't it be better to state the facts and suggest that religious individuals take up the accommodation of their faith and science with their pastor or another authority in their church?

    A science advocacy organization shouldn't be inadvertently sending people off to hell - because who really knows what a Christian should believe?

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  3. Actually even the official NCSE position is one of accomodation.

    And given that in the last few posts, there was plenty of discussion of the "science as way of knowing" vs "science as a body of knowledge" concepts of what science is, and the distinction between the compatibility of these two concepts with religion, I am surprised that you still think the NCSE should be neutral

    What the NCSE should point out is that any religious belief can be fitted to the evidence, but that any religious belief is by definition incompatible with the epistemology of science, which is the primary thing that makes certain human activities worthy of being called science.

    However, while neutral in the sense of being objective, it is hardly neutral with respect to the consequences for the relationships between religion and science in society

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  4. For the past decade I have spent a lot of time and energy opposing creationist bills in the Oklahoma Legislature. With a lot of help from many individuals and state and national organizations, so far we have avoided creationist/ID attempts to place pseudoscience into public school science courses. Anyone who has had their boots on the ground fighting these attempts with active direct lobbying, press releases, press conferences, messages to legislators, letters to editors, op-eds, etc., will recognize that pragmatic politics in states like Oklahoma require the help of those mainstream religions that accept evolution. Without the help of religious organizations such as the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Interfaith Alliances and clergy members that support our cause, we would likely have not been successful. Some of our best lobbyists in talking with legislators represent faith-based organizations and members of the clergy. Where 80%+ of the population are people of faith, one can not win without such help. We would get nowhere by attacking religious beliefs here.
    A leader in the Oklahoma efforts has been Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE, http://www.oklascience.org/ ) where the Board of Directors includes atheists, agnostics, clergy, etc., including a members of the national boards of NCSE and Americans United for Separation of Church and State , the latter an ordained Baptist minister. This ‘broad tent’ of individuals has been very useful and will continue to be.
    One may view this as an ‘accommodation’ of religion, but the focus has been and will remain primarily on promoting good science in public schools, but within the context of the very religious and conservative nature of the State. Otherwise, I doubt if we could prevail. We just could not succeed by denigrating religion by making the issue religion vs. evolution.
    Thus, I support the current careful stand of NCSE on the issue. I suspect that many of those working at the local and state levels in most states find this approach politically necessary, perhaps unfortunately. Perhaps things will change in the distant future, but as of now, we do what we can to preserve good science education with all of the necessary pragmatism.

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  5. vhutchison says,

    Thus, I support the current careful stand of NCSE on the issue. I suspect that many of those working at the local and state levels in most states find this approach politically necessary, perhaps unfortunately. Perhaps things will change in the distant future, but as of now, we do what we can to preserve good science education with all of the necessary pragmatism.

    I understand the tactical value of allying with religious people in order to keep the extreme forms of creationism out of the schools.

    But that's not the same thing as proclaiming that science and religion are compatible. It would be perfectly reasonable to avoid taking a position on the compatibility issue in order to keep allies in both camps.

    If the leadership of NCSE actually believes that science and religion are in conflict but they pretend otherwise then that's despicable. Do you think that accommodationism is *just* a tactic used to get support from moderate churches? I don't. I think the NCSE leadership actually believes in some form of NOMA.

    What's wrong with saying that science and religion may or may not be compatible and that it's up to philosophers and others to debate. Meanwhile we (i.e. NCSE) are concerned with keeping religion out of the schools and we (i.e. NCSE) are happy to ally with moderate Christians in that fight?

    I'm not suggesting that NCSE, or any of the scientific organizations, should adopt the position that science and religion are conflicting worldviews. I'm saying that they should not take *any* side on this controversial issue.

    Do you really think that moderate religious leaders would turn against NCSE if it was neutral?

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  6. "In an earlier posting I said, with respect to accommodationism, "As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education.""

    That's rather misleading. You omit above the antecedent to which the "it" in "it's" refers. Surprising, considering Josh had included it in the comment you are addressing in this post.

    You had written: "For years people have been claiming that science and religion are perfectly compatible. As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education." So, you claimed the official position of the NCSE is that "science and religion are perfectly compatible", which would be the most extreme version of accomodationism. However, the materials you've posted from the NCSE website demonstrate, if they demonstrate anything (since they aren't exhaustive), that your claim the NCSE takes such an extreme position was false.

    It is unfortunate that you don't disclose what Josh actually was replying to, which I've supplied above, because in doing so you make it look like Josh was objecting to the milder claim that the NCSE's official position is one of some degree of accomodationism when he was responding to the more extreme claim you actually made.

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  7. Larry,

    I agree that my comments above are not the same as proclaiming that science and religion are compatible and that it is possible to keep religious persons and organizations as allies.

    I see no evidence that NCSE leadership accepts some form of NOMA. Not taking sides on the controversy may well be the best way to go, as you suggest. My impression is that the person at NCSE assigned to work with faith-based groups is to get support from moderate, especially mainstream, denominations. NCSE does have a list on their web site of statements from religious organizations that find no conflict with evolution; that is useful in the conflict.

    That “moderate religious leaders might turn against NCSE if it was neutral” is not my point. That they encourage help from certain religious groups is.

    Genie Scott is an atheist and does not hide it, although she does not flaunt it, for perhaps obvious reasons in her position that attempts to mobilize as many supporters as possible?

    NCSE is our main organization fighting for evolution in schools and they need our full support. I gather that you agree with that.

    I do enjoy your blog posts!

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  8. Could the practical attitude of NCSE (and its workers) be described as follws?

    "Superstition is OK, as long as it does not interfere with scientific thinking"

    Superstition is an "other way of knowing", isn't it?

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  9. Dammit, who cares, there's like shitloads of good research to be doing instead of wasting so much energy on this stuff!

    For the record, I am not an accomodationst either. I simply *ignore* religion, and refuse to acknowledge it is anything more than beliefs of the same kind as fairy tales and conspiracy theories. Yeah some people believe stupid shit, but that's frankly none of our business if they insist on doing so. Accomodationists try carefully not to step on their toes. We don't have to do that -- why not just simply refuse to acknowledge their very existence?

    It seems that this fierce defense of evolution actually backfires and creates some problems in actual evolutionary research. The obsession with panadaptationism is one such result, in my view, as some prominent evolutionary biologists are so busy explaining natural selection to creotards they seem to forget about the rest of evolutionary biology.

    I'm not saying science communication isn't important -- or even crucial and obligatory to those funded by the public -- but there's a certain point where you've explained all you have to say, and they STILL refuse to listen, and that's no longer the responsiblity of academia. There are professionals (eg. public educators, teachers) who must do this!

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  10. What a storm in a teacup!

    Of course the quoted materials show the NCSE to be "accommodationist" (what a horrible word). But I don't see the issue; they're clearly trying to be tolerant (good) and bring religious folk towards a scientific reality-based view of the world (good). They're missionaries for science, not preachers to the converted.

    What would happen if they said that science and religion are incompatible? They'd simply become a figure of hate from religious loonies and lose the respect and/or cooperation of those moderate religious folk who manage to partition their world view between a science-based approach to reality and a religious approach to, er, unreality (and morals too).

    It seems to me that the NCSE understands that you don't win people over to your point of view by shouting at them and insulting them. The noisier and nastier "new atheists" might brag that they're winning arguments, but I bet they don't win any converts to their views that way.

    Like it or not, most decisions people make are made via the emotional parts of the brain; even scientific judgements are often made emotionally initially (hunches, if you like) but then the power of the scientific method is that that is only the beginning of the story; the theory has to be backed up by rational argumentation and data. Nobody is convinced by philosophical arguments about the (non)existence of god(s) - they only use them to back up their own prejudices.

    First make friends, then convince them. If that means not telling them the whole story in one go, so be it.

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  11. They may have a neutral official position but the actions of the NCSE mirror the words of Josh himself.
    "Some religion is bad, some is good. I oppose the bad parts and wish more people would switch from bad religions to good ones."
    Its not even a question of supporting religion against atheism, its the sectarian support of some denominations over others.

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  12. Michael says,

    You had written: "For years people have been claiming that science and religion are perfectly compatible. As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education." So, you claimed the official position of the NCSE is that "science and religion are perfectly compatible", which would be the most extreme version of accomodationism. However, the materials you've posted from the NCSE website demonstrate, if they demonstrate anything (since they aren't exhaustive), that your claim the NCSE takes such an extreme position was false.

    Gimme a break. We're not going to get anywhere if you (and Josh?) are going to engage in this kind of nitpicking.

    You know perfectly well what I meant. Accommodationists do not maintain that science is compatible with every single claim of religion. We've covered that ground many times.

    They do, however, maintain that science is perfectly compatible with the core beliefs of moderate Christianity—and presumably other religions as well. When I said "perfectly" compatible I mean that there is absolutely no conflict between science and some forms of religion, according to accommodationists.

    But you knew that's what I meant, right? You knew it because you've read my posting for content and not just for silly nitpicking.

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  13. "What would happen if they said that science and religion are incompatible?"

    No one is asking them to. All we are asking is that they simply not take a position on the issue.

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  14. What annoys me about the position of NCSE is that they do not clearly indicate that there is considerable disagreement within science and philosophy on the compatibility of science and religion.

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  15. "First make friends, then convince them. If that means not telling them the whole story in one go, so be it."

    Are you suggesting that religious people should be treated like kids?

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  16. Are you suggesting that religious people should be treated like kids?

    Since when is treating people with common courtesy treating them "like kids"?

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  17. "Since when is treating people with common courtesy treating them "like kids"?"

    I don't think it is "common courtesy" to leave holes into stories just to win others to your side. Actually, such tactics piss off many people.

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  18. I don't think it is "common courtesy" to leave holes into stories just to win others to your side.

    You seem to have missed the bulk of the post which quoted. The point that the poster made quite clearly is that people often make their decisions based on emotional, rather than logical, "reasons". Thus, by placing them in a situation in which they feel that their beliefs, from which they draw varying levels of identity, one is much less likely to elicit a response that is favorable to the information being conveyed. In particular, if people feel that their religious identity is being challenged by science and that science, by its very nature, must challenge their religious identity, they are much less likely to accept the finding of science.

    While, upon having reread the post which you quoted, I understand that it does explicitly state that one should "make friends" and then "tell[...] the truth", I don't think that it is necessary to cast knowledge of the world gain through science as the truth. This stems mainly from my understanding that science needs only be methodologically naturalistic and that methodological naturalism is an epistemological position about the types of knowledge about entities that can be gained through science, not an ontological position about the types of entities that can exist. Thus, while science most definitely only describes knowledge that can be gained through empirical observation of the world and can only attribute those observations to natural causes, science, by virtue of the aforementioned description of knowledge and attribution of causes, does not necessarily have to claim that only natural causes exist.

    Actually, such tactics piss off many people.

    And so does insisting that to accept science is to reject religion.

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  19. "science, by virtue of the aforementioned description of knowledge and attribution of causes, does not necessarily have to claim that only natural causes exist."

    It doesn't -- the lack of the supernatural is a working hypothesis that is not countered by any empirical data. There is nothing to prevent scientific examination of supernatural causes (e.g., do ghosts exist? If so, what creates them and under what circumstances? Is telekinesis possible? What about clairvoyance?).

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  20. Michael,
    You might want to read the following from the National Academies Press summarizing the latest information on learning: How People Learn and Bio2010. These are available as pdf downloads.

    These documents make it clear that you must confront individual's misconceptions for learning to take place. You must challenge their beliefs or they will never be able to incorporate information that differs from their misconceptions.

    Many people in this debate try to claim what you have - with no empirical evidence to back their view - telling everyone it is just common sense. Common sense is often wrong when it comes to science.

    We need more studies on effective methods for teaching evolution, but I know of none that back your claims.

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  21. I don't see where I ever claimed that people's misconceptions should not be challenged. I just maintain that there re a wide variety of ways to do so in addition to ridicule and derision, which, as far as I have understood, are not effective teaching techniques.

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  22. Now we will be able to say that all the religions start from one basic belief. Once we accept this or think like this way, we can say all the religions believes in one God or a same God with different names and personalities according to the regional and religious creeds. Now we can say that “Y H V H”, “The Holy Trinity’, “Allah”, “Brahma” and all other are the different names of a Single Personality or the Supreme Being. Once we realise this fact, we will be forced to think about the values of religious terrorism. If we think like this way, we can say that there is not having any values in our community for the religious terrorism. Once we realise all the religions originate from a common belief and all are worshiping a common God, we can create our world as a peaceful planet.

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  23. Michael (mjpam) says,

    I just maintain that there re a wide variety of ways to do so in addition to ridicule and derision, which, as far as I have understood, are not effective teaching techniques.

    Ridicule and derision are not politically correct teaching techniques. That's not the same thing as "effective."

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  24. Ridicule and derision are not politically correct teaching techniques. That's not the same thing as "effective."

    Do you have real argument here? Or any evidence that ridicule and derision increase students' knowledge retention or application?

    "Political correctness" has little to do with why ridicule and derision should not be used in the classroom. As far I can recall, every primary and secondary educational institution strives not only to certify that its students have met the legislative standards for curriculum comprehension but also to mold its students into good citizens of the society in which they live. This includes teaching students how to interact socially in ways that minimize conflict when conflict is not necessary, which generally means that students are taught not to tease or bully other students.

    While I do not necessarily approve of some specific types of "citizen molding" that occur in primary and secondary education,insisting that ridicule and derision are acceptable (let alone effective) teaching techniques completely undermines the objective of molding good citizens.

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  25. Michael,
    You first paragraph of the post I replied says it all.
    Please reread what you wrote.

    If creationism is part of someone's religious beliefs, then evolution will challenge their religious identity.
    If it didn't, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

    You haven't ever taught a science class have you?

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  26. "any evidence that ridicule and derision increase students' knowledge retention or application?"

    Ridicule and derision are not being used for individual pedagogy, but to promote socio-political change. That said, ridicule and derision may be appropriate when individuals are being willfully ignorant and intentionally choosing ideology over empirical truths.

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  27. You first paragraph of the post I replied says it all.
    Please reread what you wrote.


    I did, and I don't see the problem with acknowledging the psychological, sociological, and political implications of insisting that science must incompatible with religion.

    By the way, it does actually appear that ridicule does in fact increase information acquisition but it does so by enforcing social conformity. So, yes I was wrong about ridicule being ineffective as a teaching technique, but I am still concerned that it isolates specific individuals.

    If creationism is part of someone's religious beliefs, then evolution will challenge their religious identity.
    If it didn't, we wouldn't be having this discussion.


    I don't deny that evolution challenges creationism, but the issue under discussion is whether science challenges religion. PLease stop insisting that the instance fully represents the class.

    You haven't ever taught a science class have you?

    No, but I have tutored, and I can tell you that ridiculing students is the quickest way to get to find another tutor or stop receiving tutoring.

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  28. It seems that the non-compatibilists and accommodationists can't agree even what constitutes religion.

    But how about scripture like f. ex. Biable? Is it compatible with science?

    After all, scripture was meant to be read as a word of truth, not just as fables. If knowledge is supposed to be absorbed from scripture, how much room is there for interpretation?

    When reading scripture straightforward, the simplest conclusion is that it is not compatible with science. Is it reasonable to pick the "allegory"-wildcard every time an apparent incompatibility shows up? Just to please those people who can't give up the idea of inerrancy of the Bible?

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  29. It seems that the non-compatibilists and accommodationists can't agree even what constitutes religion.

    But how about scripture like f. ex. Biable? Is it compatible with science?

    After all, scripture was meant to be read as a word of truth, not just as fables. If knowledge is supposed to be absorbed from scripture, how much room is there for interpretation?

    When reading scripture straightforward, the simplest conclusion is that it is not compatible with science. Is it reasonable to pick the "allegory"-wildcard every time an apparent incompatibility shows up? Just to please those people who can't give up the idea of inerrancy of the Bible?


    There has never anything close to universal agreement among Christians (or any religion) on scriptural literalism. For you to say "After all, scripture was meant to be read as a word of truth, not just as fables" is patently false.

    I can't find a comprehensive history of the debates on scriptural literalism but it is enough to note that Augustine of Hippo raged against it in the 6th century and that his work is still held up today as both the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and in various debates on scriptural literalism in Christianity to demonstrate that the Bible was understood to be meant to needing to be taken literally.

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  30. "For you to say "After all, scripture was meant to be read as a word of truth, not just as fables" is patently false."


    Well, what then is the basic difference between the Bible and say, a Chandler novel? The latter is more realistic?

    I still think that people that collected the stories that make up the Bible did deeply believe in the truth of them and wanted that truth to be conveyed to latter generations.

    Only later, when systematic gathering of knowledge heaped more and more contradictory information, compatibilist interpetation became the name of the game.

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  31. MJPAM: "I can't find a comprehensive history of the debates on scriptural literalism but it is enough to note that Augustine of Hippo raged against it in the 6th century and that his work is still held up today as both the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and in various debates on scriptural literalism in Christianity to demonstrate that the Bible was understood to be meant to needing to be taken literally."

    Your expression here is somewhat ambigous, but it seems that that your are referring to (enlightened?) authorities. Do such arguments have any value?

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  32. Larry Moran says,

    I couldn't find the atheist webpages or, for that matter, the Hindu and pagan webpages on the NCSE site. I'd like to alert Josh to the fact that since these balancing points of view are difficult to find (or non-existent, gasp!) one might easily get the impression that NCSE was only supporting Christian accommodationist points of view.

    To me, that is the big problem with the NCSE website's presentation of the science vs. religion issue -- a total lack of balance. For example, there is an NCSE webpage with statements from major religious groups in regard to this issue, but no statements from major religious groups that reject or have tended to question evolution -- e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and Moslems.

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  33. To me, that is the big problem with the NCSE website's presentation of the science vs. religion issue -- a total lack of balance.

    The NSCE is an American organization that specifically addresses American science-education policy. As a result, it tailors its messge to segments of the American where it might form the most effective political alliances for combating pro-creationist educational policies.

    For example, there is an NCSE webpage with statements from major religious groups in regard to this issue, but no statements from major religious groups that reject or have tended to question evolution -- e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and Moslems.

    The groups that you mention all object to evolution for primarily theological reasons, not scientific reasons. While they may dress their theology up in science, addressing their scientific errors (however useful such an address would be to others) fails to address the fundamental, theological objections they have, which are, quite frankly, beyond the scope of the NCSE's stated goals.

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  34. Mjpam: "The groups that you mention all object to evolution for primarily theological reasons, not scientific reasons".

    Really? I have the impression that all opposition of evolution is basically theological.

    "While they may dress their theology up in science, addressing their scientific errors (however useful such an address would be to others) fails to address the fundamental, theological objections they have, which are, quite frankly, beyond the scope of the NCSE's stated goals."

    Short: NCSE has written them off as possible converts. They will never accept evolution.

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  35. Michael (mjpam) said...

    The groups that you mention all object to evolution for primarily theological reasons, not scientific reasons.

    Yet the NCSE presents -- and even endorses -- the pro-evolution theological arguments of theistic evolutionists and Darwinist cafeteria Christians.

    If the NCSE is going to pretend to be a comprehensive, unbiased, one-stop source of information about the science vs. religion issue, then the NCSE should present -- in an unbiased way -- ALL aspects of the issue.

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  36. Matti K. said...

    Short: NCSE has written them off as possible converts. They will never accept evolution.

    Is that any reason why the rest of us should not find out which religious groups reject evolution, or why they reject evolution?

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  37. Two points:

    First, I think that the NCSE website has the right idea with that section, because this is an actual, on-going debate and they're promoting a place where people can get a start on figuring out how to approach it. I also think that most of the quotes provided were simply comments about how they MAY be compatible (Both of Peter Hess' examples and Eugenie Scott's survey) going only by the quotes. I, however, do agree that Scott's speech does seem to be accomodationist, and if it's on that part of the site, then there is a balance problem. So what I suggest is that people who can write papers such as Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers talk to the NCSE and write papers to express their position. Good papers, with argument and evidence. Even if it isn't intended to get that deep into the debate, I think it will be incredibly useful to have both sides there so that people can see and judge for themselves what the issue really is.

    Second, on ridicule. Ridicule can, indeed, change beliefs. However, for your purposes it changes them in precisely the wrong way. It changes them not by making people be aware of the reasons and arguments and evidence for the position, but simply by making them feel bad if they believe in it. The people that you most want to convert -- those that are rational or at least truly are willing to listen to evidence and argumentation -- and have the strongest minds will simply ignore you, at best. You'll get those who are weak minded enough to change their believes simply because people pick on them for holding them.

    So, by all means, ridicule away if you want to abandon all hope for convincing people rationally. And the oft-cited "Religious people won't listen to reason" won't work, because it seems to me that the entire accomdationist debate is about people who will and often DO listen to reason, and so sitting down with them and figuring out why they still hold religious beliefs seems to be in order.

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