Ho hum, it's Madeleine Bunting, who we've encountered before. Her essay starts out well enough, cheering on the coming Darwin celebrations, explaining how this is a great opportunity for the promotion of science, etc., etc., etc., but—there's always a but—oh, deary me, it's going to be hijacked by those dreadful atheists. We have to do something about all the baggage that has been piled on poor Darwin's deceased back.
So the first imperative for the anniversary is to strip away the accumulation of mythology that has made Darwin such a villain.
Wait…for an article that is supposedly praising Darwin, what is this about his villainy? I certainly don't think of him as one; the scientists I know are all on his side; it's only those crazy ideologues, the creationists, who attach such opprobrium to his name. We quickly discover what equals villainy in Bunting's mind: atheism.
In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century. Darwin kept his pronouncements on religion to a minimum, partly out of respect for his Christian wife. Despite continuing claims that he was an atheist, most scholars acknowledge that he never went further than agnosticism.
Yes, yes, we know. We've read his memoirs. We know he was unreligious, but was also conservative and cautious, and preferred to call himself an agnostic. No one knowledgeable is saying otherwise.
However, he would not have been baffled at all by atheists celebrating his ideas. He well knew himself that evolution stripped the need for a creator as a guiding force in the history of life — it's one of the reasons he hesitated to publish, and he knew that it would be detested by the clergy. He felt that revealing his secret was "like confessing a murder," and he knew that evolution was fully compatible with atheism but in conflict with many interpretations of religious belief. Baffled? Heck no. He expected us, even as he feared the consequences. Darwin removed one of the last obstacles to dispensing altogether with the notion of gods, and he knew it.
So certainly atheists will be celebrating this year. Is there something wrong with that? To Bunting, this is apparently deplorable.
The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up). Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin's theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events. It's a position that infuriates many scientists, not to mention philosophers and theologians.
Well? Should Dawkins and Dennett stay home this year? Should only professing Christians who are scientists be allowed to speak in praise of Darwin in public? She seems upset that atheists will actually be given a voice in the Darwin bicentennial!
Let those philosophers and theologians, and even those scientists, be infuriated. Religion is ridiculous, and we aren't going to be silenced because a few people maintain a ludicrous deference for old myths.Read the comments on this post...
Well, it's nothing to be concerned about. Just more of the same ol', same ol', with nothing much of substance to grapple with. Let's tackle Andrew Brown's complaints first. Brown is not a stupid fellow, but I see here a hint of irrationally roused hackles, with little explanation of what exactly he is complaining about. First he names a few of the people he identifies as New Atheists, and then he lists what he considers to be defining characters of this group. Look who he names: I made the grade!
So, who are they? The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration. All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.
It's an unfortunate paragraph, though. He reached for a couple of bloggers to throw in the pot and notes the dreadful lack of philosophers in our ranks…but alas, he seems to have neglected a few rather more prominent names, which damage his premise rather severely. Where's Dan Dennett? Shouldn't he have been named right there with Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens? Perhaps because he is a philosopher, he isn't really a New Atheist. And what about A.C. Grayling? He always seems to be vociferously godless, and he certainly ought to qualify.
I don't think it is required that one be a philosopher to be able to be loudly atheist, anyway. Brown notes that this is a political and social movement, which is true, and denies that there's anything intellectual about it, which I deny. Philosophers do not have a monopoly on social, political, or intellectual issues, so it is rather irrelevant. He might as well have noted that there is an absence of plumbers in his list, which means we must all be unqualified to discuss politics or the economy. Neither are any of us named Joe.
But let that pass. Brown does something interesting: he attempts to define the six characteristic premises of the New Atheism, and invites everyone to keep score. OK! Let's see how I stack up.
There is something called "Faith" which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
Hmmm. "Unjustified" I'll accept, but I don't agree that faith is necessarily false. Still, I'll give it to him in my case: +1 for PZ.
The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn't. "Science is the only way of knowing - everything else is just superstition" [Robert L. Park]
Again, there are two things muddled up here, and I accept part but not the other. The existence of a god certainly is a scientific question. If there exists a prime mover or a cosmic watchmaker or a meddling tinkerer or a thunderbolt-flinging patriarch, and if it had or is having an effect on the universe, then yes, god is something we should be able to detect. If god is some nebulous entity that is not part of or is not involved in affecting our existence, then it is irrelevant and can be ignored.
But I don't think science is the cure for faith. It can be, for some of us, but for others there is a welter of emotional and social issues that are tied up in belief, too. I can give myself only ½ point here, but maybe I'd deserve a full point if the assertion weren't so confused.
Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. "The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition" [Jerry Coyne] "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." [Dawkins]
He does it again! I like the quotes, but Coyne's comment rather clearly states some complexities in the two concepts that belie the Manichean conflict Brown tries to set up. I can only award myself ½ point here, although if he'd just presented the quotes without his strange interpretation it would have gotten a full thumbs up from me.
In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as "solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place".)
Nope, I disagree 100% with this one. I don't see religion as doomed at all; there's plenty of evidence that many people will happily swallow all kinds of fabulous pixie dust to think that atheism is destined to succeed. It's going to be an uphill struggle all the way. I also don't believe that being godless is sufficient to be a good, wise person, nor that people afflicted with superstition must be evil and stupid. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn't vigorously oppose stupid ideas…like religion.
Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion's true nature. [Sam Harris]
Another goose-egg for Brown, I'm afraid. His first two words are OK, but the rest is garbage. My personal image of religion isn't fundamentalist at all, but the quietly gullible, unquestioning, moderate faith of my mother's family. I don't think it usually causes serious conflict, let alone "raging, homicidal lunacy", but it does undercut critical thinking, and as we've seen in the past few years in America, that's dangerous.
Just because that faith doesn't lead to loud rants against perceived wickedness or parishioners spasming on the floor or mobs with torches doesn't mean it isn't wrong, though, and it's that to which I object.
Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
Man, this is getting bad. No, all the way through. I don't especially pick on Islam — it's not a major force in my neighborhood — and hey, doesn't this contradict his previous claim, where we're supposed to find more moderate forms of religion "even more dangerous" than Islam? I think religion is an enabling error that is patently false, and one that is made worse by the studious attempt of so many to make excuses for it. But if, for instance, religion evaporated in the Middle East tomorrow, I don't think peace and fellowship would descend on the region: nationalism, ethnic bigotry, and historical grudges would guarantee that danger and wickedness would continue. It would remove one obvious contributor to stupidity.
Well, crap. I got a grand total of 2 out of 6. Andrew is going to have to strike my name from the distinguished list of New Atheists. Maybe that will make room for Dan Dennett…but somehow, I don't think he'll get a very high score, either.
I guess he'll have to try again. Maybe next time, Andrew can also lay out what he finds objectionable about the New Atheists himself, rather than just tossing out definitions and pretending their heinousness is self-evident.Read the comments on this post...
35 Times (2005).
Glazed ceramic panels. Artist: Toby Buonagurio. Photographed at 42nd Street Times Square in the transfer corridor (between the 1, 2, and 3 trains and the Shuttle).Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
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The Year in Bad Science Ben Goldacre reviews some of the science lowlights of the year.In a world where rigorous evidence from scientific research languishes unpublicised, the media continued to churn out bogus wacky science stories. Britain’s happiest places were mapped by “scientists”, although the differences were just chance findings; there were innumerable “surveys” from unrepresentative populations; and the right wing press claimed that ?Lord Nelson and Captain Cook’s ship logs question climate change theories,? although they did nothing of the sort, as the researchers themselves helpfully explained. We saw how the BBC misrepresented the statistics on parents’ choices about keeping a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy, producing their a publicity avalanche on the back of an incorrect story, and learnt along the way about confounding variables, baseline changes, and more.
In the world of evidence based social policy we saw how the government quietly dropped death as an outcome indicator for their drugs policy, the fascinating inconsistencies in food additive judgment calls, and more. We also watched with delight as right-wing think tank Reform produced a report on the crisis in maths in which they got their maths wrong.
Related: Illusion of Explanatory Depth - The Most Trusted Sources in Science - Seeing Patterns Where None Exists - Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg? - Poor Reporting and Unfounded Implications
I just glanced out a window and was stunned by what I saw: Jupiter, the thin crescent Moon, Venus, and δ Capricornus all lined up nice ‘n pretty in the west. If there weren’t clouds over the foothills to my west, I’d have seen[...]
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A new report of 19 pages long is ready to be downloaded (in pdf format) from the canonicalscience site. This Perspective deals with the origin, present status, and future developments of a new and revolutionary approach: canonical science.
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We're getting close to the fifth anniversary of the landings of Spirit and Opportunity, but was we approach that milestone, we're passing another. I've been told that as of yesterday, Spirit and Opportunity have operated on Mars for a combined length of time that is longer than the combined number of sols that the twin Viking landers operated. Today is sol 1,774 for Spirit and 1,754 for Opportunity; that's a sum of 3,528 sols. Viking 1 ....
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Below is a list of proteomics tools we have assembled:http://www.bio.davidson.edu/COURSES/genomics/2003/clement/yeastproteins.htmlhttp://www.ncc.go.jp/en/nccri/divisions/p09prote/p09prote03.htmlhttp://www.expasy.ch/tools/Can you help us build a list of teh tem most important proteomic tools you use on a day-to-day basis? Use the comments section to leave your suggestions.
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Over the holidays I've been lax in posting the Antarctic Search for Meteorites blogs, so today I caught up on nearly two weeks' worth. My delay turned out to be beneficial, as there were still several days of waiting around McMurdo for most of the team until they and all their equipment finally arrived at their field campsite on December 23. It was a relief to finally see them reporting from the field! Their blogs from their first week of ....
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