Questions still outstanding
I’ve made a list of questions for Chris Mooney (largely for him, since he’s done nearly all the posting on the subject and the questions arise from his posts as well as his book with Sheril Kirshenbaum). He’s ignored or evaded many questions over the last few weeks, and I thought it would be useful to have a list of the most pressing ones. Feel free to suggest additions.
1) What do you want? What do you mean? You say religion is private so we have no business prying into what people believe, but Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson wrote books, Francis Collins wrote a book and has a website. The National Center for Science Education has a website. Are you saying we can’t dispute claims made in books and on websites? If yes, you’re making a grotesque demand. If no – what are you saying?
2) How do you know overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science? How does that work? What is your evidence?
3) How do you know it doesn’t work the other way? Instead or in addition? How do you know the increased availability of atheism doesn’t make some, perhaps many, people feel more at liberty to explore science, follow the evidence wherever it goes, and the like?
4) How do you explain the fact that theism has had pervasive automatic respect and deference for many decades yet the public-science gap has not narrowed?
5) Do you have any evidence that the putative ‘new’ atheism caused a spike in public hostility to science? Can you point to even a correlation?
6) Do you have any concern that your advice is in sharp conflict with the whole idea of free inquiry, free thought, freedom of debate, discussion, argument? Do you have any sense at all that it is, in general, a bad idea to impose prior restraints and inhibitions on what it is okay (acceptable, advisable) to discuss? Do you worry at all about the general effects of this timid, placating, cautious, apologetic imposition of taboos and ‘ssssh’ and ‘don’t mention that’ on public debate? Do you really think your reasons are good enough to trump those possible concerns? Do they, for instance, rise to the level of the reasons it’s best to avoid racial or sexual or ethnic or national epithets in public discussion? And are their attendant risks as small? Do we lose as little of substance by not saying there is no good reason to believe God exists as we do by not calling women ‘bitches’?
7) Do you take enough care to present your critics’ views accurately? You admitted on Daily Kos that you got Dawkins wrong in your book. Are you thoroughly confident that you haven’t made other such mistakes, in the book and on your blog? I know I’ve seen other inaccuracies of that kind, and pointed some of them out to you. (Just one example: you said “The New Atheist critics don’t like [what Eugenie Scott says], it seems, because they want to force people to be “rational” and completely justify their views to a very high standard, or else reject them.” Can you see what is wrong with that? I pointed it out at the time. Do you see the problem? Do you worry that it is pervasive?) Have you noticed that this has happened many times? Does it prompt you to worry more about a tendency to strawman anyone you disagree with?
8) Do you understand the need to be clear about terminology and to avoid ambiguity and equivocation? In particular, do you now see that there is a difference – an important difference, one that’s central to this disagreement – between saying that people can combine science and religion ‘in their lives,’ that ‘you really can have both in your life’, and saying that science and religion are epistemically compatible?
9) Do you understand the implications of the Pew study, which spells out the fact that a large percentage of people simply ignore the findings of science whenever they contradict their religious beliefs? Do you understand that that is not epistemic compatibility but its opposite? Do you have any qualms at all about telling scientists and atheists to just acquiesce in that?