Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Yet another squint at Vatican priorities

Jul 16th, 2010 10:59 am | By

Alan Cowell in the New York Times spots a connection between the Bishop of Bruges and Roman Polanski. They both fiddled with children and they have both escaped the long arm of the law.

That question seemed likely to be asked more searchingly this week after the Vatican issued new rules about the handling of priestly abuse, listing pedophilia in a catalog of other supposed grave crimes including “the attempted ordination of women.”

“What I did, supporting the ordination of women, they saw as a serious crime,” said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, an American priest excommunicated less than two months after he participated in a ceremony ordaining women. “But priests who were abusing children, they did not see as a crime. What does that say?”

That they really really really think women are Not Good Enough. Other things too, but that’s a biggy.

“The many artists and intellectuals who haughtily dismissed what Polanski had done on the basis of his talent and achievement” were thinking of his films, Richard Cohen wrote for The Washington Post. “They should have thought of their own daughters.”

Well maybe they too really really think women are Not Good Enough. Maybe they think that partly because of the relentless pressure of the “great” monotheisms. Maybe they just do think that a male artist matters more than a female age 13. They probably don’t realize they think that, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think it, in a buried kind of way.

Blogging philosophy

Jul 16th, 2010 10:21 am | By

This is nice: Ben Nelson has joined Talking Philosophy. He has a post on Realisms, the first of a series. It has only three comments, the first two just introductions and the last just rude. Go comment, get him started. I would, but I’m not allowed, because I’m so eeeeeeevil, so you do it.

Actually even if I could comment I wouldn’t have anything of interest to say, because I don’t know enough. Ben’s clever. Go sharpen your wits on him.

News from elsewhere

Jul 15th, 2010 11:15 am | By

I’ve been commenting on that thread at CFI. The moderators want it to go away, but I think they shouldn’t want that, because the underlying issues are entirely relevant to CFI. They think it’s all personal, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. The truth is I don’t care about Chris Mooney as a person at all. Of course I don’t. I care about what he’s saying and doing; I care about the ideas and their consequences. It’s not personal. (I admit it seems personal, while it’s going on, but when I think about it, I realize it isn’t, at all.)

So here’s some of what I said.

He has still never explained what he thinks Jerry Coyne should have done differently, and by extension, what everyone should do differently.

It’s an important question, especially for people who are fans of inquiry. It’s an important question for anyone who reviews books about religion or religion-and-science or related subjects. I, for instance, wrote a review of such a book for the April/May edition of Free Inquiry. I thought it was a pretty bad book, and I said so. If I had been following Chris Mooney’s advice, presumably I would have done something else – but even if I had wanted to follow his advice, I wouldn’t have known exactly what it was. Pretend I thought the book was good? Refuse the invitation to review it in case I thought it was bad? Decide not to review it after all once I had read it, because I thought it was bad? I don’t know.

Mooney could answer that question right now. He could answer it here, where he is among friends – he works for CFI. It really is a question worth answering. He wants us – us “new” atheists – to be more civil, but he won’t explain exactly what he means by that. I don’t see why not. I also think the unwillingness is an uncomfortable fit with support for free inquiry.

I’m back. Well, I do think that. I also – still, after all this – think it’s odd that CM doesn’t think that. I still think it’s odd that he’s comfortable with this level of silencing and stonewalling, given his other commitments.

Connections between theology and the sciences can be explored

Jul 14th, 2010 11:39 am | By

Mark Vernon explains that John Polkinghorne is not a god of the gaps theist-scientist. He’s a nature is underdetermined theist-scientist. That’s much more sensible, apparently.

…there is a possibility of giving an account of divine action within nature, which is compatible with science. It relies neither upon a God who intervenes outside the usual play of nature, nor seeks low-level causal gaps. Rather, God’s action could be viewed as analogous to top-down, emergent causation – particularly when it implies signs of purpose or intentionality.

He doesn’t explain why “God” is the right name for top-down, emergent causation, or how one is to reconcile that with the familiar “God” of the people who pray to it, but never mind – it’s all worthwhile, because it introduces us to the Ian Ramsey Centre for science and religion in the University of Oxford. I didn’t know there was such a place, and now I do. Guess who has given it money? I bet you can’t.

The Ian Ramsey Centre is part of the Theology Faculty in the University of Oxford. It has the special aim of promoting high quality teaching and research in the exciting field of science and religion. Within the University the Centre runs a regular seminar series, bringing scientists, philosophers and theologians together to explore interests they have in common. The seminars are open to students and informed members of the public. In addition, the Centre sponsors regional conferences to encourage new networks through which connections between theology and the sciences can be explored. International workshops are organised to enhance the quality of courses on science and religion that are taught worldwide.

See, there’s another outfit with global reach.

Bargaining with the holey C

Jul 14th, 2010 11:24 am | By

It seems to me there’s a considerable amount of bullshit in the UK government’s response to the petition urging it to tell the pope on second thought to stay home.

The visit is described as a Papal Visit with the status of a State Visit… 

The Holy See has a global reach and so is a valuable international partner for the UK Government.  Our relationship with the Holy See enables us to address jointly a range of foreign policy and development issues…

As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship, there are issues on which we disagree.

Lots of things have “a global reach”; that doesn’t necessarily make them worth treating as honored guests. Al Qaeda has a global reach; McDonald’s has a global reach; sexual slavery has a global reach. Some global reaches are perncious and tyrannical, and liberal governments should not give them standing by inviting them for state visits.

And talking about the relationship between the government of the UK and “the Holy See” as a bilateral diplomatic relationship just seems absurd. What diplomacy can the Vatican engage in? What point is there in it? What can the Vatican offer any real government that makes it worth treating as if it were a real government too? What is the reward that makes it worth turning a blind eye to “the issues on which we disagree”?

The reality is that the UK government had no obligation at all to treat the Vatican as a real state with a real government and real diplomats and real benefits to offer. So why is it doing it?

The scarecrow of “scientism”

Jul 13th, 2010 5:10 pm | By

A note on Karl Giberson’s Huffington Post piece.

Can one accept the modern scientific view of the world and still hold to anything resembling a traditional belief in God?

My answer to this question is “yes, of course,” for I cannot see my way to clear to embrace either of the two alternatives — a fundamentalist religion prepared to reject science, or a pure scientism that denies the reality of anything beyond what science can discover.

But that isn’t the choice. Really, it’s not. Science can’t discover exactly what it feels like to be you, for example, but you know that that feeling is real. The complexity of personal experience alone is enough to keep you busy and happy for many lifetimes, and it has no need of religion at all. Why think the choice is between a traditional belief in God, fundamentalism, or “scientism”? That’s just a scarecrow.

A lot of people think that is the choice though. Why do they? Have they never talked to any godless poets or musicians or birdwatchers or gardeners or mountaineers?

Barbara Forrest on philosophical naturalism

Jul 13th, 2010 11:51 am | By

If you’re tired of hearing people say that science cannot address the supernatural, Barbara Forrest’s “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection” is just what you want to read.

From the abstract:

I conclude that the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility.

From page 5

…the methodology of science is the only viable method of acquiring reliable knowledge about the cosmos. Given this fact, if there is no workable method for acquiring knowledge of the supernatural, then it is procedurally impossible to have knowledge of either a supernatural dimension or entity. In the absence of any alternative methodology, the metaphysical claims one is entitled to make are very strictly limited. The philosophical naturalist, without making any metaphysical claims over and above those warranted by science, can demand from supernaturalists the method that legitimizes their metaphysical claims. In the absence of such a method, philosophical naturalists can not only justifiably refuse assent to such claims, but can deny–tentatively, not categorically–the existence of the supernatural, and for the same reason they deny the existence of less exalted supernatural entities like fairies and ghosts: the absence of evidence.

Isn’t that like a nice strong sea breeze after a long stuffy afternoon in an overheated room?

A name change?

Jul 13th, 2010 10:51 am | By

Mooney doesn’t like being called an accommodationist. (Not unlike the way we don’t like being called “the New Atheist noise machine” or “the New Atheist comment machine,” perhaps.) He suggests different words.

I also am tired of the label “accommodationist.” It seems to imply that there is something weak about my view, as if I’m all ready to just cave to some common enemy. On the contrary, I think that I’m being tolerant and pragmatic.

Tolerant of what? Not of overt (explicit, non-apologetic, argumentative, reasoned) atheism, certainly. Tolerant of one side of a dispute that he himself has done a lot to create, so “tolerant” doesn’t really fit. (That’s not a very damning point, in my book – I think the merit of tolerance depends on the merit of what is being tolerated, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a virtue. The self-flattery is a little damning, but only a little.)

And pragmatic about what? That’s the real question. It’s not at all clear what is unpragmatic about explicit atheism. The fact that it annoys people like Mooney? But that’s because Mooney is weirdly phobic about explicit atheism, and it’s not really pragmatic to try to shape one’s thinking to allow for other people’s phobias.

Mooney’s usual way of putting the matter is that explicit atheism is “divisive” and we have to unite in order to tackle important problems. But that’s not adequate, because many things are divisive, and we can’t simply rule them all out in order to unite in tackling important problems. Mooney needs a lot more than that, and he’s never supplied it. So he can’t expect people to call him a pragmatist instead of an accommodationist when we don’t think he’s being particularly pragmatic in campaigning against explicit atheists.

It’s also question-begging. One of the disagreements is about whether there really are compelling pragmatic reasons to 1) hide one’s own atheism and 2) silence atheists in general. If you call yourself a pragmatist on this issue you’re pretending that issue has been decided, in your favor.

What and faith in dialogue?

Jul 11th, 2010 5:50 pm | By

Back when the new round of Toxic Sock-revelations set the felid among the passerines, I was having a quiet good time looking at the strange goings on at BioLogos, home of “science and faith in dialogue.” Now that the passerines are getting bored with Toxic Sock, let’s go back there. Let’s consider Albert Mohler’s sermon. It’s about Why Does the Universe Look So Old? 

He says it’s an important question.

I want to invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter one. We dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the Word of God. [Reads Genesis 1, 2:1-3].

Right. This is BioLogos. This is science and faith in dialogue. Remember? That’s what it says. So…what science? Where’s the science part? If we dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the word of god, how can BioLogos claim to have anything to do with science at all?

I don’t know, and I don’t think it can. BioLogos seems to be going through some kind of crisis. I plan to keep watching.

Update: Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos tells us (see comment 28):

Let me be clear about the reason we at BioLogos posted Dr. Mohler’s talk. We disagree with it! We totally disagree with it. We have three posts showing how strongly we disagree with it and how harmful it is. We transcribed his speech even though he criticized us vehemently, because we wanted our readers to be able to read what he said, so they wouldn’t have to go back and watch the whole speech. Given our three posts and the extremely negative statements he made about us in the post, it never occurred to us that anyone would think we agreed with what his speech.

Not so much agreed with, as considered part of the dialogue, was what I thought; at any rate the clarification is welcome.

Baying for blood? Moi?

Jul 10th, 2010 12:50 pm | By

Are the few people who commented on JK’s post on the Toxic Sock affair really (though metaphorically) “participants in [a] witch-hunt” and “the 21st century, virtual-world, equivalent of a medieval mob baying for the blood their latest victim”?


I can see why they (we – I was one) look like a crowd, because there are quite a few comments and they are critical and sometimes hostile. On the other hand, there are only (if I counted correctly) 23 people total, not counting Jean, and a few of them are friendly; there’s a total of 63 comments. So a rush of mostly-critical comments, yes; a mob baying for blood, no.

But more to the point: are we the Bad People? Are we the bashers, the demonizers, the bayers for blood, the pitchfork-wielders, in contrast to the kindly peaceable loving villagers who want only to be left alone to raise their raspberries and kiwis?


No; I seriously don’t think so. I think the issue here is that we “new atheists” think we are allowed to be openly critical of religion, and that we think haters of “new atheists” are wrong and illiberal to keep throwing merde at us for doing so. We think that when it’s Ron Rosenbaum throwing, and we think it when it’s “William/Tom Johnson” and we think it when it’s Chris Mooney.

So we tend to push back when people throw merde at us for doing something that is not and should not be seen as wrong. We pushed back at Mooney and Kirshenbaum when they threw merde at us in their book, and the result was that they banned some of us from their blog while allowing their pets to call us liars. That’s the backstory in a nutshell. M&K have chosen to spend a lot of time demonizing a minority that in the US is already thoroughly despised. That would be reasonable if the minority in question were Child-torturers United; but we’re not, so it isn’t.

So no. We’re not the witch-hunters here.

Mark Jones finds the whole idea quite ironic.

For the record

Jul 10th, 2010 9:36 am | By

Right. I do want to talk about other things now, but I’m not going to be quiet while people say untrue things about me on blog posts with closed comments. I wrote a reply to something Jean Kazez said about me in her latest post, and I emailed her requesting that she add it and saying it’s dirty pool to go after people while preventing them from replying. I said that because it’s what I think. I told her I would post it myself if she didn’t, and she has responded not via email but by an update to her post saying “Ophelia’s now complaining that she can’t leave comments. Boo hoo.” No, I’m not “complaining” and I’m not “Boo hoo”; I’m saying it’s dirty pool.

(Aside: sadly, that remark is very reminiscent of YNH. YNH was always announcing that people were “whining” when in fact they were saying, writing, disputing, etc. It said “Waaaaaa” and “Boo hoo” a lot too. JK isn’t YNH – I don’t think that for a second – but it’s sad that she has its mannerisms.)

So: for the record:

Dirty pool, naming me but preventing reply.

#5 Some think it’s incumbent on me to “out” the mystery person behind all of this if I want to be taken seriously. That’s really strange, since just last week at The Buddha is Not Serious people were making peace with this very person, and saying they respected his desire to remain anonymous. Ophelia Benson was even writing about going Desmond Tutu. Now she’s saying she’s “frosted” because I’m “protecting” this person, despite his bouts of sexism (which she knew about during the Tutu phase).

I made a kind of peace, a reserved kind of peace, with this person, at that stage of the revelations (or pseudo-revelations or whatever they were) because he seemed crushed and because he claimed to be 23. It just didn’t feel right to refuse to acknowledge his apology, so I thanked him for it. (I avoided saying I actually accepted it, because I wasn’t sure I did, really, but I also didn’t want to reject it, so I punted.) I didn’t say anything about “respecting” his desire to remain anonymous – I’ve never respected it, and in fact I think it’s cowardly and ridiculous given the use he had made of his anonymity up to that point. I simply refrained from demanding his self-exposure. The Desmond Tutu thing was (obviously) partly irony directed at myself – making a show of saintly forgiveness.
But even that limited amount of Tutuishness was mostly based on the tentative acceptance of his claim that he was 23 (which his writing skills made plausible). If the guy is an adult with publications and a career, that makes a difference. If it really was an adult doing all this, I do think it’s very odd that people like you (liberals, feminists, etc) should be so anxious to protect his anonymity. That’s all. I’m not contradicting myself – the story has changed, and I was by no means adamant that the sock’s anonymity should be protected in the first place.
I’d like you to post this as a comment or an addendum, and I think you should. If you don’t I will of course post it at B&W, since there’s nothing else I can do (except let it stand undisputed, which I don’t want to do). I’ll wait awhile, but not long. Of course you’re probably out and about, on a Saturday afternoon – but I can’t help that.
You shouldn’t have slagged me off and closed comments. As I said – dirty pool.

Fix the radar

Jul 9th, 2010 10:24 am | By

So now we know all about “Tom Johnson,” except that we don’t. We also don’t have a frank account of how it all went so terribly wrong.

It was just a blog post, and I had no reason to think there was anything fishy going on. And I did note that the story was “one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

He did though. He did have reason to think there was anything fishy going on. He had – what to call it – he had an ear. He had his skeptical faculty. He had reasonable sensible journalistic caution. He had an acquaintance with human beings and the way they talk and behave. He had any reason to think Tom Johnson’s story sounded fishy for the same reason I did: because it sounded fishy!

It did. It sounded stupid. It sounded like a childish caricature. It had that stupid, childish note of exaggeration – the bit about atheists screaming in believers’ faces for instance. Come on! Yes, Virginia, that does sound fishy.

It sounded fishy in just the way the story that William told on YNH sounded fishy; the story about being a woman and “a scientist” (that itself sounds fishy) and an atheist, who saw the error of her ways when her young son came home from school with a tale of having called a goddy schoolmate “stupid.” Our scientist atheist mother realized she had taught her son this behavior, and she was stricken with remorse.

Yeah, right.

That’s it, really – Tom Johnson’s story was a “yeah, right” story. Chris Mooney is a journalist, or at least he used to be. (He’s more of a commentator now.) Surely journalists are supposed to have some ability to spot fairly obvious implausibility of this kind? Isn’t that just part of the job?

I had no reason at the time to suspect he was beginning an increasingly elaborate career of sock puppetry.

He did though. Just as before, he did. He had the same reason – there was too much of an echo effect in the comments at The Intersection. Not just agreement, but an echo effect. I noticed it at the time – though I don’t think I thought of sock puppets, I just thought (rather disgustedly) that there were a lot of brainless sheep all going “baaaaaaaa” at the same time. But then it wasn’t my blog. If I had a lot of commenters all going “baaaaaaaaaa” I hope I would have the sense to wonder if they were sock puppets, even if they agreed with me. I do in fact have one regular longstanding commenter who does go “baaaaaaa” and I don’t like the bleating any more because it agrees with me. In fact I may like it less, because it so often sounds like a parody of me. (No it’s not you, this guy knows who he is.)

Update: Really – if I haven’t told you it’s you, it’s not you. I haven’t told you it’s you. So it’s not you!

So no, M&K aren’t quite the innocent victims Mooney wants to pretend. They have seriously bad radar. Their radar tells them to ban me, and then as the months and years roll on, to ban lots and lots of other reasonable people too, while they keep people like “bilbo” and “MiltonC” and Kwok. That is some malfunctioning radar.

Mooney says what he has figured out

Jul 8th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

He told us in a comment on the “omigod there are sock puppets here!!” thread yesterday that he had figured out what is going on and would write more soon. He didn’t do it soon, but he did it. He did say more.

He said yesterday “was quite a day.” Yes, it was. What made it quite for him, do you suppose? Was it realizing quite how many people hold him in contempt? Was it seeing all his efforts at concealment and carrying on as if nothing had happened, just turn into more blog fodder and more contempt? Well yes, probably. Other than that, there wasn’t anything particularly quite – unless of course his car broke down, but he didn’t mention that. Yes, probably he didn’t much enjoy seeing his continued stonewalling of me and his frantic deletion of comment after comment after comment bring him no satisfaction other than scorn and indignation.

To those legitimate commenters who were annoyed by bad behavior—and had reason to be!–I’m sorry we didn’t catch on to what was really happening before now. And I want to emphasize: That apology goes out to ANY commenters who may have encountered a sock puppet on our site.

No it doesn’t. That’s pure bullshit. Why? Because he’s still deleting posts for no good reason apart from the fact that they mention me. He’s still banning me – so the apology does not go out for instance to me, because you can’t apologize to people while still doing arbitrarily unreasonable things to them.

Now in a sense people’s blogs are their blogs, and they can delete anything they like and ban anyone they like. But in other senses it’s not so simple. Mooney and Kirshenbaum have made a specialty of telling off various named people, so in a sense they have a certain obligation to allow disagreement for the sake of fairness.

A big reason they should not have banned me, or should have lifted the ban soon after imposing it, is the fact that some members of their fan club - some of them William’s sock puppets – asserted that I was lying, then repeated it, then repeated it several times more. The ban meant that I had no ability to reply. M&K obviously liked it that way. That’s dirty.

Some people think “Chris, The demands for apologies are absurd….You were duped and he should apologize to you…But you apologize? Nonsense. These folks would have you apologize for having 10 fingers and 10 toes.” But those people are wrong. Mooney has been determinedly demonizing atheists as a group for more than a year, and in one post he relied on an obvious fraud to do so; yes he should apologize.

So we’re looking into ways of doing more, starting now. And because of that, commenting here may become a bit more challenging than before, at least temporarily…(For now, rest assured that if your comment is substantive, thoughtful, not an attack, etcetera, then it will appear fairly promptly, although not instantly of course.)

No it won’t; not necessarily. That’s a falsehood. Plenty of comments that fit that description have been deleted; many have been posted on other blogs for safekeeping.

In short, Mooney has learned nothing.

What we know so far

Jul 8th, 2010 12:41 pm | By

What’s it all about? What have Mooney and Kirshenbaum been up to all  this time? What are they doing, what is their plan, what do they want? What are they after that is worth all this dishonesty and unethical behavior and blatant concealment and refusal ever to admit getting things wrong and slandering people they dislike while relying on obvious fakes and frauds?

The story – the “frame” – is that they want to persuade atheists to be more aware of “communication,” so that we can all unite to do something about the terrible problems we are facing. The idea behind that – one which they spell out at frequent intervals – is that the people they call “the New Atheists” are rude and mean and thus make it impossible for us all to unite. The story, or “frame,” is that we (overt atheists) are mean and bad and they (M&K and other accommodationists) are nice and good. We create division, they create unity. We are dividers, they are uniters.

Oh really. Was Mooney being a uniter when he jumped up at the AAAS conference to ask the panel, “What about the New Atheists?” Is he ever being a uniter when he shouts – for the hundredth time – “what about the new atheists?” Is he not, in fact, being the opposite of a uniter? Is he not making a great point of cutting out the “new” atheists for purposes of othering and hatemongering? Is he not “uniting” only in the sense of uniting all the Nice people in hating on the Bad new atheists? Is he not “uniting” only in the sort of sense in which the Republicans united “the silent majority” against the hated minority? I would say yes, he is.

I would say Kirshenbaum is doing the same thing, and not very subtly.

Shortly after moving, I met a new neighbor on my street. He loves astrophysics and we have similar tastes in books and music. His name isn’t Phil, but for the purpose of this post, that’s what I’ll call him.

I like Phil a lot. He’s smart and witty with a healthy dose of skepticism…Phil nearly always wears one of those black t-shirts with a large red A across the front to express “where his allegiances lie” (his words)…

Early on, Phil wanted to know whether I was an atheist too since I’m in science. I explained that I don’t like labels because they mainly serve to divide people one way or another. And then we get war, bigotry, genocide, and so on.

Really. She doesn’t like labels. And yet…The Intersection is simply packed to the rafters with labeling of “the New Atheists.” Most of it, we now know, is sock puppetry by one foul-mouthed person. Yet Sheril Kirshenbaum, who doesn’t like labels, shares the moderation at this blog where “new” atheists are scapegoated with demented levels of venom and (as we now know) plain old lying.

So, to sum up, it’s all bullshit. All of it. They’re not uniters, and they never have been. They’re otherers and demonizers, and when they are found to have embraced a flagrant fake while heavily moderating people they dislike and just plain banning me – their solution is to close comments to everyone but flatterers.

They should have copped to it. They should have apologized to all the people they’ve helped to demonize all this time. They haven’t. They have the ethics of the people at Fox News.

That’s what it’s all about.


Jul 7th, 2010 11:39 am | By

Further developments in saga of YNH – William – bilbo – Milton C – PollyO – and “Tom Johnson.”

“Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false. When Chris contacted me, I made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from because I didn’t want the Tom character to get exposed as false.

Chris Mooney commented on that confession. He said he was shocked and appalled.

However, he has not bothered to apologize to, for instance, me. He or he and Sheril Kirshenbaum banned me from commenting at The Intersection soon after I began trying to get them to do a better job of justifying their claims and to criticize their energetic and often inaccurate bashing of new atheists. Commenters who agreed with them were not banned or even moderated, no matter how abusive their comments were. One “bilbo” repeatedly called me a liar after I posted a list of questions for M and K. Note what William just said:

I posted most often as “milton c.” and “bilbo.” I also appeared as “seminatrix” and “philip jr.,” and I believe I posted as “petra” on the value of science blogs thread. My posting under multiple names on the intersection was much like YNH: out-of-context sniping and trying to make a chorus of agreement when I was challenged.

Yet Mooney and Kirshenbaum found that perfectly acceptable, while I was banned. The ban is still in effect, despite what they have just learned. These are not honest people. We knew that, but boy does this underline it. These are shockingly dishonest people.

A category to watch out for

Jul 6th, 2010 12:51 pm | By

Mano Singham noted, in his CHE piece “The New War Between Science and Religion,” that

the National Academy of Sciences have come down squarely on the side of the accommodationists…In a 2008 publication titled Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the NAS stated: “Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. … Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways.

I notice an omission in that passage – a significant omission. It says supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science, but it doesn’t go on to say that they can be investigated by religion. That’s no suprise in one way, because of course they can’t be, but in another way, it is at least noteworthy, because the truth (also of course) is that supernatural entities cannot be investigated by anyone or anything, so why single out science as the one discipline that cannot investigate them? And why not include religion in that impotence?

Well we know why; no need to be coy. Because that’s the whole point. The whole point is to put up a sign saying No Scientists while allowing religionists free passage, despite the fact that religionists are no more able to explore the unexplorable than anyone else is. The whole point is to pretend that religion knows something that science can’t poke into. The truth however is that supernatural entities are immune to any kind of inquiry or inspection or testing, so nobody knows more about them than anyone else. They are just a big Unknown. The fact that purported supernatural entities are immune to inquiry does not magically (or any other way) make science and religion compatible except in the uncontroversial sense that science and reading novels are compatible.

I think this is a category to watch out for. The Uncompleted Parallel might be the right name for it.

Idle gossip between religion and science

Jul 6th, 2010 12:03 pm | By

BioLogos, it tells us, “explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.” Here it is doing that.

Just as we can maintain the created order is God’s good creation warped by the fall, in a similar way we can maintain that Scripture—given through and to a fallen world through fallen men—is both beautiful and broken. No less than the creation, Scripture’s human authors, and the book that they wrote, stands in need of redemption.

That’s the integration of science and faith. Except for the science part.

BioLogos says it really does want to connect and join and link up the two.

BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two.

But then it publishes material like “After Inerrancy” which is bound to be anathema to most scientists, so what do they mean by it? How do they think handwaving about how to read “Scripture” is promoting dialogue between science and religion? In what sense is it exploring the harmony between the two?

BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life.

Maybe that gives us a hint. 

It does it by limiting science to discoveries, while carefully not mentioning methodology and epistemology. It’s ok – there are just some Discoveries, and believers can chew them carefully one hundred times and then digest them without perturbation. Discoveries are discrete and fenced-off and can be manipulated until they no longer seem to interfere with cherished beliefs. How to discover discoveries, and how to evaluate discoveries and purported discoveries – that’s another story; that could lead to unpleasant questions about the “discoveries” that underlie religious beliefs. So BioLogos doesn’t go into all that. At least not on the About page it doesn’t.

Jerry Coyne discussed this yesterday.


Jul 5th, 2010 1:03 pm | By

I’ve just watched that BioLogos video of a pastor at a Florida church explaining – in a rather photogenic, sonorous, and otherwise superficially convincing way – why one has to be very careful about…everything. I say superficially convincing because he doesn’t look or talk like a hayseed or a loon; he looks like any insurance executive or motivational speaker or real estate agent. Yet what he says is pitiful. It’s all about the anxious contortions one has to perform in order not to upset any apple carts or frighten any horses or insert any cats among any pigeons. It’s very fretful, close work, because on the one hand you don’t want to upset these, but on the other hand you also don’t want to worry those, and yet again you don’t want to look like a fool to the others. In short you want to square the circle, so it’s very tricky, and actually all you can do is put on your most sonorous voice and talk very slowly as if you’re thinking hard and hope nobody notices those four corners poking out of the circle.

It’s sad that grown-up non-stupid people feel obliged to do this kind of thing. It’s sad that it’s what’s expected of them, it’s sad that BioLogos treats them as somehow exemplary. It’s sad that they waste a perfectly functional intelligence this way.

I have the same thought reading Darrell Falk’s BioLogos post for today. He has the same problem (of course – they all do, in the nature of the case – that problem is what BioLogos is about) and he betrays it in his words.

The BioLogos Foundation exists in order that the Church, especially the Evangelical Church, can come to peace with the scientific data which shows unequivocally that the universe is very old and that all of life, including humankind, has been created through a gradual process that has been taking place over the past few billion years. BioLogos exists to show that this fact (and it is a fact), need not, indeed must not, affect our relationship with God, which comes about through Jesus Christ, and is experienced by the power of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

Emphasis added. The church is not at peace with the scientific data, BioLogos exists to help it get there. Well why is the church not at peace with the scientific data? Obviously, because they suspect that the data get things right and the church does not get things right. That’s what “peace” means in this context: not worrying that the data get things right and the church gets things wrong.

To an outsider, this is obviously a foolish endeavor. When there’s a conflict between scientific data and a story, it just seems kind of futile to struggle to manipulate things in such a way that one can go on taking the story as true despite its conflict with the scientific data. To an insider, however, it’s all-important. But that’s what’s so sad – people frittering away their talents and energy on this sort of futility.

Falk is caught between (as he explains it) Dawkins and the selfish gene, and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler doesn’t have this anxiety problem, he just dismisses Dawkins and BioLogos. But Falk has it in spades. We can’t help him, because

We at BioLogos believe that Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked on this earth 2,000 years ago in order to show humankind how to live life to the full.

But we would if we could.

Amateur night at the Anti-science Fair

Jul 4th, 2010 5:20 pm | By

Karen Armstrong is a former English teacher and current religious apologist with a strong dislike of science; she has found a novelist who also has a strong dislike of science, and who was invited to give some lectures on the subject at Yale. (Yale invites some very odd fish to give lectures on subjects they don’t seem to know much about. Terry Eagleton for instance, and now Marilynne Robinson. Why does Yale do that?)

[T]he novelist Marilynne Robinson argues that positivism, the belief that science is the only reliable means to truth, has adopted a “systematically reductionist” view of human nature.

Oh yay, a much-needed critique of the reductionism of positivism and the folly of thinking that science is better at finding out things than more amateurish brands of inquiry. That will be new and different.

Armstrong summarizes Robinson in several excruciating paragraphs of uncomprehending formulaic nonsense, then winds up with a final deepity:

If we are indeed completely in thrall to the selfish gene, why not throw all constraint to the winds and just be selfish – individually and collectively, in our politics, social arrangements, financial and economic dealings? We saw during the 20th century (not to mention the first decade of the 21st) what can happen when the “me-first” mentality is given free rein.

She seems to have derived her understanding of the selfish gene from Mary Midgley, or perhaps the back of a cereal box. The whole review is warmed-over Midgley, which might as well be warmed-over Charles Windsor, which might as well be warmed-over Marilynne Robinson. They all peddle the same line of annoying uninformed grandiose New Agey bullshit, and they give me a pain.

Poverty is a gift from God

Jul 4th, 2010 10:59 am | By

Let’s celebrate Christopher Hitchens (and the 4th of July, if you like) by watching his hard-eyed look at a putative saint.