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Apr 19 2012

Please, people on my side, don’t make arguments this bad

Uh-oh. Nick Matzke doesn’t like that recent paper by Jerry Coyne on the causes of creationism. It is telling, though, that Matzke’s reasons are terribad. He lists four.

  1. Theodosius Dobzhansky was a Christian and a scientist, therefore he was an accommodationist, therefore…I don’t know, what? How does that refute anything Coyne wrote? No one is claiming that it is impossible for people with screwy personal beliefs to be significant contributors to science.

  2. Darwin was an agnostic, and he would be called an accommodationist today, therefore…again, this is a meaningless argument. Neither Dobzhansky nor Darwin were infallible. Matzke seems to be trying to salvage accommodationism by arguing that people who were significant contributors to science in key domains could not possibly be wrong in others.

  3. Coyne relies, Matzke claims, on claiming that religious people aren’t allowed to endorse natural mechanisms as a method of God’s action. That argument is false and incoherent. Of course religious people can endorse natural mechanisms: every good scientist, of which Matzke has mentioned two, endorses natural mechanisms. Where his argument falls apart is in this bizarre notion that you can simultaneously claim that a mechanism is natural and that it is driven by a supernatural entity. OK, show me such a thing. Show me evidence that mutation, for instance, is the result of a god diddling DNA.

  4. Matzke just doesn’t like that word “accommodationist”. At the same time, though, he claims that accommodating religious beliefs to science is a good thing, so presumably the word isn’t so bad, then. What he doesn’t recognize is that accommodating religion to science means jettisoning supernatural explanations, which we flaming atheists would also say is a most excellent thing; the problem, though, is that accommodationists instead make excuses to modify science to fit their religion…for instance, claiming that quantum indeterminacy is god’s way of tinkering with life.

Then he wraps it all up by questioning whether atheist interpretations of evolutionary biology ought to be allowed to be published in good journals of evolutionary biology, because it isn’t “serious”. That’s ironic. Apparently, it is serious to promote liberal Christianity as an ally of evolution, as the NCSE does.

Those are all pathetically weak “arguments”. Matzke ought to be embarrassed to have made them.

81 comments

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  1. 1
    Worldtraveller

    With friends like this, who needs enemas?

  2. 2
    crocswsocks

    Unfortunately, there are few arguments that are both bad enough to need addressing, and good enough to be worth the time of someone like PZ.

  3. 3
    Aratina Cage

    I don’t really consider Matze to be on my side.

  4. 4
    'Tis Himself

    I hope Matzke shows up here. He was so silly the last time PZ ripped into him.

  5. 5
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    My memory needs refreshing. Is NM the twit who uses NCSE in his nym, even though he no longer works there?

  6. 6
    Reginald Selkirk

    Matzke just doesn’t like that word “accommodationist”.

    Which he announces in the same sentence in which he uses the term “New Atheists.” Clueless^2.

  7. 7
    Anthony K

    Those are all pathetically weak “arguments”. Matzke ought to be embarrassed to have made them.

    Can’t get an ought from an is. That’s what religion does.

    I can haz NSCE job now?

    My memory needs refreshing. Is NM the twit who uses NCSE in his nym, even though he no longer works there?

    He couldn’t change it. Blog sign-in software is much more confusing than the potential confusion that might arise from people mistaking his opinions for that of the NCSE, or thinking that he’s still affiliated with same.

    Remember, he on the side that asserts that it knows best how to communicate and change people’s minds.

  8. 8
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Remember, he on the side that asserts that it knows best how to communicate and change people’s minds.

    Oh, yes, the one who couldn’t change anybody’s mind here. Didn’t make his case.

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    Oh, yes, the one who couldn’t change anybody’s mind here. Didn’t make his case.

    We’re not the ones they’re trying to convince. We’re the ones they throw under the bus to establish their bona fides with the theists.

    It’s nice to be able to help them out.

  10. 10
    autumn

    So, I’m confused. What religious denominations are widely known for allowing atheists to have a say in their dogmas? Would anyone even suggest such a thing?
    Fucking hypocritical fuck-nuggets.
    I don’t want your religion to accept me, and I certainly don’t want your religion to have any impact on science.
    Let the religious keep on ignoring and marginalizing science, and let reality keep on marginalizing idiotic nonsense.

  11. 11
    Inaji

    Brownian:

    We’re the ones they throw under the bus to establish their bona fides with the theists.

    I’m always amused by the cries of “you noisy Gnus are destroying the atheist/secular movement!!1!“, when there wouldn’t be one at all if it weren’t for us noisy Gnus.

  12. 12
    Anthony K

    I’m always amused by the cries of “you noisy Gnus are destroying the atheist/secular movement!!1!“, when there wouldn’t be one at all if it weren’t for us noisy Gnus.

    Further, it’s the accommodationists who claim you don’t judge a group by the members you consider most extreme.

    They should feel free to simply ignore us the way those moderate liberal religious folk do the Pope, WBC, the Taliban, etc., only opposing them when they try to pass illiberal, unscientific policy. The most strident Gnus tend to all be about separation of church and state, secularism, human rights, etc. I don’t see Dawkins advocating for ultrasounds for women considering abortions. I don’t see PZ standing in the way of same-sex marriage.

    The ‘hurting the cause’ canard is just that, and even if it weren’t, the accomodationists claim that religious people should be judged as allies or not based on the goals they share with secularists, not the beliefs they share with other theists.

    As far as I can tell, both Gnus and Accommodationists generally share the same goals, even if each believes the other to have ineffective methods.

    So why are Gnus held to a different standard than those the religious are held to?

  13. 13
    Ingdigo Jump

    As far as I can tell, both Gnus and Accommodationists generally share the same goals, even if each believes the other to have ineffective methods.

    The cynic in me suspects this is not so.

  14. 14
    consciousness razor

    It’s nice to be able to help them out.

    Well, they’re such nice people. It’s the least we could do.

  15. 15
    Ingdigo Jump

    Hearing such arguments always makes me feel like Londo sending Vir off to his first assignment

    “Remember! Don’t give away homeworld!”

  16. 16
    Inaji

    Ing:

    The cynic in me suspects this is not so.

    I’m with Ing here. Oftentimes, when I’ve taken the time to slog through pages of mush-mouthed platitudes and admonitions to the Gnu, it all comes down to “we really do think religion is okay and the world would be worse off without it. The goal should be to temper religious belief and encourage this newer, better religious belief.”

  17. 17
    slc1

    This is the same Nick Matzke who defends scientists who accept money from the Templeton Foundation. Attached is a link to a post by Abbie Smith concerning the association of the chairman of the foundation, John Templeton, with the National Organization for Marriage, a gay bashing outfit which lobbies against same sex marriage. How about it Mr. Matzke, are you still an apologist for the Templeton Foundation?

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2012/04/john_templeton_religion_is_com.php

  18. 18
    Sastra

    Matzke asks:

    Is it good for the professional field of evolutionary biology for arguments about this kind of thing to be aired in the field’s top science journals?

    If scientists don’t start taking the God hypothesis seriously, I think the magical thinking, supernatural beliefs, rational fallacies, and faith-based epistemology which support it will always continue to gnaw their way through every scientific discovery which fails to please a public which does take the God hypothesis seriously. Advising the religious to please, please be inconsistent — many good scientists are inconsistent — is not a good longterm strategy.

    In science journals, the hypothesis should be approached AS a hypothesis. This is the aspect which drives them crazy, of course. God is NOT supposed to be approached as if it were a hypothesis, an empirical claim about the nature of reality reasoned from experience and observation. No, it’s a “faith” belief, and therefore ought to be approached on tiptoes and with hushed voices. We’re supposed to act as if we’ve been presented with a meaning claim, a moral stance, an expression of identity, a cultural marker, a personal taste, a useful therapy… anything or everything other than a truth claim, a proposed explanation which needs to pull its weight against other explanations and not be granted a free ride in a magical pony cart. Scientists are supposed to not realize the problem with this. Scientists are supposed to stand back from one of the hottest controversies on the nature of reality, and pronounce science, reason, and objective honesty helpless on the issue. People neeeed it. The Little People need it.

    Too bad. I think the real ground of contention is over whether special pleading ‘God’ into its own area with its own rules is a sign that you’re taking the idea seriously — or not. I say it’s avoiding the seriousness of the issue, for fear of making “too much” discovery.

  19. 19
    gshelley

    From reading that thread, apparently, to describe people who believe God created the world and guides evolution as Creationists is a slur only used to insult them and avoid debate.
    The difference between that description and the one on the NCSE web site and that Eugenie Scott has given in countless talks is trivial at best

  20. 20
    rdmcpeek43

    @ #1 fastlane

    “…who needs enemas?”

    @ #10 autumn

    “fuck-nuggets”

    Man, this is a fun site!

  21. 21
    Anthony K

    Oftentimes, when I’ve taken the time to slog through pages of mush-mouthed platitudes and admonitions to the Gnu, it all comes down to “we really do think religion is okay and the world would be worse off without it. The goal should be to temper religious belief and encourage this newer, better religious belief.”

    Which, when coming out of the mouth of an atheist, translates to: “the masses need their opiate. I of course don’t, but that goes without saying.”

    It’s the Grandmother problem. While the Gnus are defending themselves from accusations that they want to stand astride Grandma’s death bed and rip apart Bibles, nobody seems to ask the Accommodationists what, exactly, it is about Grandma that makes her too weak and stupid to hold her own against an impertinent and irreligious grandchild: the fact that she is old? Or is it the fact that she’s a woman?*

    *Yeah, I know: kinda smacks of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” leading question.

    But why is it always the grandmother who’s unable to handle the strident Gnus?

  22. 22
    garnetstar

    I’ve never understood why Matzke is so eager, not just to make arguments for his position, but to ensure that no arguments for the opposing position are ever heard?

    Seems very counterproductive to combat opponents by trying to censor them.

    The public even knowing that non-accomodationists exist is too dangerous?

    Why not just make fun of his opponents, always so much more effective.

  23. 23
    Anthony K

    @rdmcpeek43

    Man, this is a fun site!

    Enjoy, but just so you don’t think it’s a complete free-for-all, there are some rules. Probably a good idea to read them. (Click on the tab at the top marked “Dungeon” for a list of those who didn’t, as well as the link to the rules to which I’ve just linked. In case you forget.)

    So go ahead and use fuck-nugget all you like, but gendered, racist, classist, or ableist insults are a no-no, and you will earn the scorn of a whole heap of profane assholes should you use them.

  24. 24
    Anthony K

    I’ve never understood why Matzke is so eager, not just to make arguments for his position, but to ensure that no arguments for the opposing position are ever heard?

    Seems very counterproductive to combat opponents by trying to censor them.

    Where has he done this? I don’t consider telling us we’re wrong and should shut up to be the equivalent of censorship. Has he done so in some sort of explicit way?

  25. 25
    Inaji

    Brownian:

    But why is it always the grandmother who’s unable to handle the strident Gnus?

    Hell if I know. Going by my Grandmother and both my Great-Grandmothers, if you planned on winning an argument, you had best be on very solid ground. All three of them were extremely intelligent and formidable. In their lifetimes, they dealt with a whole hell of a lot worse than a noisy Gnu.

  26. 26
    'Tis Himself

    Sastra #17

    I think the real ground of contention is over whether special pleading ‘God’ into its own area with its own rules is a sign that you’re taking the idea seriously — or not. I say it’s avoiding the seriousness of the issue, for fear of making “too much” discovery.

    Religion has its own privilege. Most theists assume this privilege is completely warranted, since it’s granted to the master of the universe, alpha & omega, creator of everything, and decider of football games.

    I think the assault on religion’s privilege is one of the main objections theists and accommodationists have about gnu atheists. We don’t see the privilege as warranted and rail about the unthinking application of privilege to anything connected with religion. Privilege is the reason why irrational faith is considered a virtue by the godly, even those who don’t happen to share the particular article of faith being professed.

    The accommodationists see gnu atheists speaking out against religious privilege and realize, perhaps unconsciously, that theists will be angry about our challenge to privilege. The accommodationists are correct that “you’re not helping.” We’re attacking a major sociological artifact of religion. That isn’t helpful to the accommodationists’ dealings with theists at all.

    Incidentally, I’d like to thank Caine, Classical Cipher, Audley Z. Darkheart, Jadehawk, SC, and all the other Pharyngulite women for making me realize how invasive and widespread privilege is.

  27. 27
    Anthony K

    In their lifetimes, they dealt with a whole hell of a lot worse than a noisy Gnu.

    Mine sure as hell did.

    Anyway, the whole argument smacks of elitism. “Ol’ Gran might pinch a mean pyrogy, but when it comes to science and technology, she’ll just get confused. Best leave her to her superstitions.”

    My one remaining grandparent has so far spanned the days from fabric covered airplanes to spaceflight to the iPad 3. I was born a few months after Microsoft. Which one of us has demonstrated the most adaptability, again?

  28. 28
    AJ Milne

    I figure this whole ‘don’t criticize religion’ reflex is like some kinda cultural immune system the whole shebang has been using for centuries to keep on going, and it’s still ticking, even a few hundred years after the enlightenment. Several hundred years ago, sure, you could shut troublesome apostates up by burning or jailing or stoning, but now that that’s gone by the wayside (outside, okay, a few charming Islamist states that are still kinda down with the stoning, sure), they’re having to find other ways.

    So now it’s ‘Oh, it’s just not fashionable to say it’s bollocks out loud, dahling’. Or it’s ‘No, really, somehow you can’t rubbish the belief that there’s a magical, invisible man in the sky… Rilly… Just can’t be done fer some reason’. Or, as with this one: ‘Truly, these harmless little superstitions could do no harm–so please hush.’

    Anyway, thus there will always* be excuses. And thus they will never make much sense.

    (/Half true. There is a way the excuses could disappear, but this would be only by bringing back the blasphemy laws, and allowing the state murder of atheists for commenting audibly upon religion. And then they’d disappear only because they’d be redundant…

    … And too much trouble. You’ll note how ponderous they tend to get. Really, it’s probably way easier to light up some tinder.)

  29. 29
    Aratina Cage

    But why is it always the grandmother who’s unable to handle the strident Gnus?

    And why is it almost always the men who go around infantilizing elderly women like that?

  30. 30
    Inaji

    ‘Tis:

    Incidentally, I’d like to thank Caine, Classical Cipher, Audley Z. Darkheart, Jadehawk, SC, and all the other Pharyngulite women for making me realize how invasive and widespread privilege is.

    Thank you. We all suffer from privilege. I’d like to add that while privilege can be pointed out until we’re blue in the face, it does no good unless someone is honest enough to examine their own privilege and are willing to face how it colours their viewpoints.

  31. 31
    David Marjanović

    the master of the universe, alpha & omega, creator of everything, and decider of football games

    Sorry. I happened to have TV Tropes open.

    to face how it colours their viewpoints

    Nice pun.

  32. 32
    Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    Anyone have a bingo card?
    From PZ’s points alone we have:

    1. Genetic fallacy
    2. Genetic fallacy and an appeal to authority
    3. Some kind of weird appeal to nature with special pleading
    4. More special pleading and ambiguity

    … with the whole thing smacking of no true scots-not-accomodationist.

    I think that’s bingo. Pity the only prizes are a greater sense of scorn, two half dead brain cells and a mouldy jesus cracker shaped like a herbivorous T-rex.

  33. 33
    Sastra

    Although they’re both designed to shut the atheist up, the Dying Grandmother Gambit is slightly different than the Little People Argument. As PZ describes it,

    Here’s how it works. An atheist says something assertive about religion; religious sympathizer retorts, “Would you say that to your dying grandmother? You atheists can’t give any consolation to the dying or grieving, and all you can do is flip a finger at believers.” There is usually a tone of high moral indignation, as well, and a smug expression of superiority that the faithful have over the godless.

    A Little People Argument pleads that atheists hold back on religious criticism because religious folks — the ‘Little People’ — just can’t handle the truth like the/we atheists can. They need the comfort; they depend on the familiar; they can’t reason their way to meaning, morals, or merriment in a world without God. It’s their identity. It’s their culture. It’s their crutch. Leave them alone and let them believe what they want as long as they, specifically, aren’t bothering you. The dear little things.

    The first one focuses on the ‘comfort’ atheists can’t provide; the second one focuses on the ‘comfort’ the theists can’t do without.

    I think both tactics are demeaning to the believer — who is, apparently, oblivious to the insult as long as the agreement is to hold off on intellectual challenge to faith. The religious/spiritual can just re-translate both the Dying Grandmother Gambit and the Little People Argument as signs that the Good Atheist cares about them. Forbearance for the weak will pass as respect for faith — if you’re desperate enough, I guess.

    By the way, I love how PZ titled this post. He said “please” — and addressed the accomodationists as “people on my side.” How nice. How … fiendishly clever.

  34. 34
    PZ Myers

    Shhh. If they detect my fiendishness, they might get skittish and run away.

  35. 35
    mnb0

    “quantum indeterminacy is god’s way of tinkering with life.”
    I love that argument. Every believer who uses this should immediately become Pastafarian and worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster – the only supernatural creator who plays dice as a pastime, just to get through eternity.
    Ramen!

  36. 36
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    3.Coyne relies, Matzke claims, on claiming that religious people aren’t allowed to endorse natural mechanisms as a method of God’s action.

    That’s only because God hardened his heart. Subtly, of course. It’s all part of God’s beautiful, life-affirming redemptive plan. I’m sure heddle could explain it better than I.

    ***

    Incidentally, I’d like to thank Caine, Classical Cipher, Audley Z. Darkheart, Jadehawk, SC, and all the other Pharyngulite women for making me realize how invasive and widespread privilege is.

    What a very nice thing to say.

  37. 37
    Ichthyic

    Darwin was an agnostic, and he would be called an accommodationist today, therefore…again, this is a meaningless argument. Neither Dobzhansky nor Darwin were infallible. Matzke seems to be trying to salvage accommodationism by arguing that people who were significant contributors to science in key domains could not possibly be wrong in others.

    logic fallacy fail: Argument from authority.

    Nick uses that a lot.

    I weep for his skills as a communicator. I hope he has plans to leave academia after he finishes his degree. He’d make a lousy instructor, and I base that on seeing the man write stuff since Dover (where he was a fantastic asset to that team). Great researcher, keen intellect. Poor logic skills, lousy communicator.

    *sigh*

  38. 38
    Ichthyic

    We all suffer from privilege.

    True, yet ironic in a way.

  39. 39
    Ichthyic

    Incidentally, I’d like to thank Caine, Classical Cipher, Audley Z. Darkheart, Jadehawk, SC, and all the other Pharyngulite women for making me realize how invasive and widespread privilege is.

    ditto, and add PZ to that list, of course, and those who have continually gathered evidence to show how religious privilege permeates our society as well.

  40. 40
    Ichthyic

    Is it good for the professional field of evolutionary biology for arguments about this kind of thing to be aired in the field’s top science journals?

    FUCK.

    YES.

    In fact, we had major debates when I was a grad student IN YOUR DEPARTMENT at Berkeley 20 years ago where this question was asked and answered in the positive even back then!

    I suspect either everyone that thought this way 20 years ago is dead or gone, or you are quite a bit on your own with your opinions there, Nick.

    I can’t imagine such a huge shift in thinking to happen to that department since I was there. Hell, the professors I knew all had brains and could think rationally.

  41. 41
    'Tis Himself

    Nick Matzke, accommodationist extraordinaire, hates the word “accommodationist.” I’m seriously considering asking him if he prefers the term “suck up”?

  42. 42
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    2. Coyne makes much of the relative un-religiousness of the members of august bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences. Ironically, though, he later gives no weight to the “accommodationist” statement put out by that same august body, and he thinks they should change the statement; unfortunately, no survey data seems to exist on whether or not NAS members think scientists should be actively hostile to religion or tolerant of it.

    This sort of argument has never made sense to me. The only way in which science and religious belief are compatible is the single one that people can be scientists and religious believers (though the epistemic incompatibility is reflected in the decreasing numbers of believers as people advance to higher levels of scientific knowledge, in addition to other social realities). This is a nothing argument – the same could be said of science and astrology or science and Stalinism.

    But this is the only form of “compatibility” they can talk about. Even leaving aside the variation in the specific beliefs of different religions, nonbelievers (like Matzke, I assume) can’t be arguing that science and belief in gods are compatible in the sense that belief in gods can be sustained scientifically. If they genuinely thought that, they would be believers. They’re not believers, so obviously they can’t be making that claim.

    So when Matzke says “there are many actual arguments for the position that the connection between science and atheism is less than tight, both as a matter of logic and emotion,” he surely can’t present any of these supposed arguments, because if he really believed that the connection between science and atheism was less than tight on a scientific basis he would not be an atheist. The language of (abstracted) logic and emotion [!] is a sop. If there were reasoned arguments for the compatibility (or against the incompatibility) of science and god-belief, he and the other science-supporting accommodationists would themselves believe in a god and be able to defend that belief within a scientific framework.

  43. 43
    AJ Milne

    Me, I think I’m most amused by this complaint that ‘accommodationist’ is a term of ‘abuse’.

    And no, Nick. It’s just a perfectly descriptive term, actually. Though it’s kind of promising, to my mind, that it’s starting to bother you when people call you that. Who knows. We may make an honest man of you yet…

    (/But anyway, just to reassure you: when I use a ‘term of abuse’, I expect you’ll know.)

  44. 44
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    This is the same Nick Matzke who defends scientists who accept money from the Templeton Foundation. Attached is a link to a post by Abbie Smith concerning the association of the chairman of the foundation, John Templeton, with the National Organization for Marriage, a gay bashing outfit which lobbies against same sex marriage. How about it Mr. Matzke, are you still an apologist for the Templeton Foundation?

    I’m not about to read a post at ERV, but the information about Templeton’s right-wing scumbaggery is fairly well known. Rosenau and co.’s response is generally that Templeton the individual is separate from the foundation (which is pitiful given the obvious connection between the politics of the individual and those of the organization). Unfortunately for them, several of us have provided evidence of the Templeton Foundation‘s funding not just of rightwing organizations around the world but specifically of AGW denialism. At this point, they try to deny the connection because Templeton works through Atlas, so they grasp at straws and try to claim that the Foundation isn’t really supportive. Unfortunately again, though, the evidence is clear that the Templeton Freedom Awards have gone to many AGW denialist organizations, including specifically and explicitly for AGW denialist work, and that Templeton’s funding of Atlas has been renewed on the basis of their satisfaction with the Freedom Awards program.

    For someone like Chris Mooney to apply for and accept a fellowship from Templeton, and for these others to defend that, shows a serious lack of integrity.

  45. 45
    rorschach

    It looks like Dobzhansky and Darwin were just the sort of “accommodationists” that Coyne et al. have been campaigning against.

    This just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s 2012, not 1860 or 1970, and we are “campaigning against” the accomodationists of today, not those who may have fit the label in an entirely different cultural and historical landscape 150 years ago. This is the best Matzke can do ?

    For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists as a term of abuse. It contains the implicit claim that those insufficiently hostile to religion to satisfy the New Atheists are actively accommodating science to religion.

    I find the use of “hostile” here telling. That argument could have come from the Pope or any religious writer.

  46. 46
    Inaji

    ‘Tis:

    Nick Matzke, accommodationist extraordinaire, hates the word “accommodationist.” I’m seriously considering asking him if he prefers the term “suck up”?

    Perhaps he’d prefer Pamperer or Conformer.

  47. 47
    Ichthyic

    For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists as a term of abuse

    So much projection,so little time.

  48. 48
    jerryschwarz

    What religious denominations are widely known for allowing atheists to have a say in their dogmas?

    Unitarian Universalist is the one that immediately comes to mind. They are quite explicit about it. See http://www.uua.org/beliefs/welcome/183024.shtml

    For the record I am an atheist, but I am not a member of any church.

  49. 49
    Robin Lionheart

    @Caine writes “Perhaps he’d prefer Pamperer or Conformer.”

    How about “godly‐coddler”?

  50. 50
    Matt Penfold

    I had a run in with Matzke a year or so ago.

    He tried claiming the AAAS did not take a position on the compatibility of science and religion. When I pointed him to the FAQ on the AAAS website which stated that religion and science are compatible he tried claiming the FAQ did not represent the position of the AAAS. When pressed as who could have hacked their website and inserted the offending words and why such a hack went noticed for so long he could not answer.

    He never had the decency to offer an apology for his ignorance, assuming it was ignorance. I was initially willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I no longer am.

  51. 51
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    How about “godly‐coddler”?

    I’ve always been fond of ‘forelock tugger’.

    As for Matzke, he’s now arguing on the PT thread that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion about the greatness of Handel’s Messiah is a scientismist.

  52. 52
    Kel

    I don’t know what the problem is of putting the blame for creationism with creationists. It seems about as non-controversial a point as one could make. The only rationale I can see is that one doesn’t want creationists to be the voice for religion, but the approach would be like putting the blame for anti-western terrorism on left-wing intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

  53. 53
    'Tis Himself

    As for Matzke, he’s now arguing on the PT thread that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion about the greatness of Handel’s Messiah is a scientismist.

    He does come across as very dogmatic about his opinions.

  54. 54
    aggressivePerfector

    The whole accomodationist position seems very often to depend upon a perceived distinction between the natural, addressable by science, and the supernatural, which is beyond the scope of science. This annoys me.

    ‘Supernatural’ is one of those utterly self-defeating terms, like ‘free will’ and ‘alternative medicine.’ ‘Nature’ is our word for everything that is, and so the term ‘supernatural’ necessarily represents an empty set.

    This is not to say that I have proved the non-existence of ghosts or fairies, but if such things exist, then they are natural phenomena and any sensible contemplation of them is subject to the usual rational criteria.

  55. 55
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    As for Matzke, he’s now arguing on the PT thread that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion about the greatness of Handel’s Messiah is a scientismist.

    That thread is a demonstration of why reasoned, productive discussion with someone like Matzke on this subject isn’t possible. On the other hand, it’s pretty amusing. And there’s an appearance from the kookalicious Moshe Averick (opening of course with “Dear Sirs,…”).

  56. 56
    interrobang

    As a professional communicator, people like Matzke and Mooney make me seriously embarrassed. I cringe like Orac cringes whenever Michael Egnor’s name comes up. UR DOIN IT RONG! I’m so not going to get into that now, because if I don’t get this monster document done like now, I’m in trouble.

    There is another “religion,” for a certain definition of “religion” that is explicitly atheist — Humanistic Judaism. I don’t know that I’d call it a religion, personally; I’d call it a cultural club for people interested in Jewish identity without the God stuff. But to each their own, I guess.

  57. 57
    consciousness razor

    As for Matzke, he’s now arguing on the PT thread that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion about the greatness of Handel’s Messiah is a scientismist.

    What the fuck?

    Watch for moving goalposts, from here:

    Is there truth in Handel’s Messiah?

    To here:

    Handel was a musical genius and found a way to stir the deepest emotions of people with music. But did we get his music from science? No. Does the objectively true statement that Handel’s Messiah is a great work come from from science? No.

    To here:

    It may be an objective truth about human preferences, and some alien species with a different auditory system might disagree, but it’s still objective truth. And so there is at least one kind of objective truth is routinely discovered without science.

    Because of course there’s no way science could have anything to say about human preferences. I mean, what would even we call such a science? Mental-ology? Don’t be silly. Fact is, we “know” the truth because there are other ways of knowing, unless we’re angry, militant gnus.

  58. 58
    consciousness razor

    what would even we call such a science?

    Or, “what would we even call it?” Either way.

  59. 59
    Matt Penfold

    There seems little likelihood Matzke can be totally ignorant of the research done into the effect music has on the brain. He is many things, but stupid is not one of them.

    So why did he say something so obviously foolish ?

  60. 60
    Matt Penfold

    Oh I just love Larry Moran sometimes.

    In reply to being asked “Do you have a word that differentiates between Ray Comfort and Francis Collins?”, he came back with Dumb and Dumber.

  61. 61
    AJ Milne

    … he came back with Dumb and Dumber.

    Please tell Dr. Larry for me if you get a chance that the people around me get alarmed when I guffaw out loud at my smartphone like that.

  62. 62
    supernova

    Then he wraps it all up by questioning whether atheist interpretations of evolutionary biology ought to be allowed to be published in good journals of evolutionary biology, because it isn’t “serious”.

    What banning atheist interpretations of evolutionary biology from good journals would mean in practice is anyone’s guess. Maybe all entries would have to finish with an obligatory footnote “All processes described herein are only allowed by the grace of God, and God intervenes in all natural processes as He sees fit. Amen.”

  63. 63
    Hank_Says

    CR @ 57:

    As a word-nerd and a lifelong music tragic, Matzke’s “Messiah is objectively great” jag is particularly irritating. It’s a work of fucking art – it is practically the living embodiment of subjective endeavour, open to completely subjective assessment and interpretation based on a zillion metrics from prior musical experience and knowledge, personal taste and emotional response! He’s also played the popularity card: “Oh, LOTS of people think it’s great therefore it objectively is” as well as the No True Orchestra card: “Oh, obviously you haven’t heard X orchestra play it at X venue!” His whole stupid argument just boils down to “Lots of people like it” and “You just haven’t heard it properly”. Fatuous nonsense that fairly reeks of apologetics.

    I’ve asked Matzke (twice now) exactly how one objectively differentiates between the greatness of Messiah and the greatness of The Mars Volta’s album “Frances The Mute” – by what definition of greatness, by what process – nothing as yet. His original response to my Frances question was a snide one-liner addressed to no-one which went something like “Oh, looky, all the scientism fans are now a bunch of relativists”. Well, yes, you clown, we’re not talking about empirical facts here, we’re talking about art, appreciation of which is ENTIRELY fucking relative.

    I don’t know what Matzke’s like normally, but his evasion, redefinition of words and general stubborn silliness over the alleged “objective greatness” of his pet choral piece is making him look like a common or garden Panda’s Thumb creo-troll.

    Maybe he’s sitting some kind of Templeton entrance exam – the criteria for passing appear to be dogmatism, apologia and bull-headed refusal to understand even the tiniest hole in your reasoning or give an inch of ground, on any fucking subject, if you perceive the presence of a Gnu.

    Well, balls. We don’t minds like this on our “side”. We need Matzke like we need another Mooney.

  64. 64
    Rip Steakface

    As a word-nerd and a lifelong music tragic, Matzke’s “Messiah is objectively great” jag is particularly irritating. It’s a work of fucking art – it is practically the living embodiment of subjective endeavour, open to completely subjective assessment and interpretation based on a zillion metrics from prior musical experience and knowledge, personal taste and emotional response!

    Yeah, that bugged the hell out of me too. I like metal, but I recognize that an album that I consider a masterpiece, like Symbolic by Death, isn’t necessarily going to appeal to the next person, even the next metal head. I also dislike free jazz and vastly prefer swing – does that mean that free jazz is objectively bad? No, because music is probably the MOST subjective thing possible.

    That said, everyone here should go out and pick up a Charles Mingus album and be enlightened.

  65. 65
    Hank_Says

    Steakface:

    Hell yes.

    On that, my metal masterpiece is “The Fathomless Mastery” by Bloodbath. I’d like to see Matzke defend the greatness of THAT overtly Satanic little opus in the presence of the faithful. What’s that, Nick? You wouldn’t because it’s not great? Oh, right, because you said so.

    Git.

    Anyway, +1 to Mingus – and throw in some Gerry Mulligan, Jon Scofield, Sonny Rollins, Billie, Sarah Vaughan and, of course, Miles. And ditto, free jazz sucks. Unless it’s Phil Greenlief and Trevor Dunn doing it.

  66. 66
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Oh, hell, that thread has spun off on a typical set of tangents. People like Matzke just love to steer the conversation towards these noncomparable “ways of knowing” and questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of any deities – the “truths” found in works of art, emotional “truths,”…

    Even if people allowed Matzke to define science in the most absurdly narrow way possible; even if they agreed for the sake of argument that “objective truths” could be established by entirely extra-scientific means (which Matzke’s own statements contradict); even with these ridiculously indulgent hypothetical premises, Matzke has done nothing to establish that any way of knowing he claims to consider valid has shown the existence of any deities.

    And there’s no way he could, so it’s all bombast. If there were a means of knowledge that extrascientifically established truths, Matzke recognized its truths, and it showed the existence of some deity, he would necessarily be compelled to believe in the truth of that deity’s existence. That he does not believe any deity actually exists says everything anyone needs to know. He thinks the belief is false. The rest is simply condescension to the religious and hostility to gnus.

  67. 67
    Inaji

    SC:

    And there’s no way he could, so it’s all bombast. If there were a means of knowledge that extrascientifically established truths, Matzke recognized its truths, and it showed the existence of some deity, he would necessarily be compelled to believe in the truth of that deity’s existence. That he does not believe any deity actually exists says everything anyone needs to know. He thinks the belief is false. The rest is simply condescension to the religious and hostility to gnus.

    In short, the same old accommodationist crap.

  68. 68
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    In short, the same old accommodationist crap.

    Quite. It’s just such a wacky argument to me. It’s bad enough when they argue that gnus shouldn’t openly challenge religious beliefs for political reasons. I disagree with that, but at least it’s honest. To suggest that there are good, valid scientific or extra-scientific arguments for the existence of a deity when you’ve explicitly stated that you don’t believe in the existence of any deity is idiotic or totally dishonest. And they do it so often.

  69. 69
    Inaji

    SC:

    To suggest that there are good, valid scientific or extra-scientific arguments for the existence of a deity when you’ve explicitly stated that you don’t believe in the existence of any deity is idiotic or totally dishonest. And they do it so often.

    Yes, they do. Brownian and I were discussing this upthread, where it seems to be a matter of them saying “oh, of course I don’t believe in gods, that’s silly! However, religion is a good thing and those little peoples need it, don’t be harshing their religious beliefs!”

    There’s zero honesty in any of it.

  70. 70
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Brownian and I were discussing this upthread, where it seems to be a matter of them saying “oh, of course I don’t believe in gods, that’s silly! However, religion is a good thing and those little peoples need it, don’t be harshing their religious beliefs!”

    But this particular line of argumentation is worse than that. That at least recognizes that there’s no basis for the beliefs that’s convincing to them – it’s a matter of politics. What Matzke’s doing in this thread is himself trying to make the “other ways of knowing” argument, post after post. It’s not a sustainable argument for believers to make, but for atheists to attempt it makes no sense at all. It’s transparently contradictory.

    “Stop being so dogmaticallyphilosophicallynaturalisticallyscientismatist! There are good reasons to believe.”

    “Do you believe? If so, for what reasons?”

    “Well, no, but…”

    “So not good enough for you. I rest my case. Liar.”

    There’s zero honesty in any of it.

    Very true.

  71. 71
    consciousness razor

    As a word-nerd and a lifelong music tragic, Matzke’s “Messiah is objectively great” jag is particularly irritating. It’s a work of fucking art – it is practically the living embodiment of subjective endeavour, open to completely subjective assessment and interpretation based on a zillion metrics from prior musical experience and knowledge, personal taste and emotional response!

    Yes, but whatever objectively true things we can say about human preferences, those are all scientific, despite Matzke’s nonsensical claim to the contrary. We can study it like we can any other psychological phenomenon, whether those truths are about individuals, groups, the entire human population, non-human animals, extraterrestrials, AI machines or any other natural entity that could have subjective experiences. So, disregarding Matzke’s specific claims about Handel’s Messiah (whether or not any of them are true or false), his main argument charging us with scientism is invalid and completely irrelevant. He just mischaracterized the nature of the phenomena and didn’t recognize which sciences are able to study them. As far as I can tell, the only other options are that he doesn’t think psychology is a science or that he’s some kind of dualist, and I doubt he wants to claim either of those to support his accommodationist bullshit.

  72. 72
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I adore Messiah, and will cheerfully sing it every year, but I don’t see that anyone else has to like it. Even so, I don’t think music is *totally* subjective. Largely so, yes, but there are cross-cultural connections. Human brains like patterns. Everyone has rhythm, melody, and uses much the same scale – even where the preferred excerpts vary. Octaves are physics, not subjective.

  73. 73
    Rip Steakface

    Even so, I don’t think music is *totally* subjective. Largely so, yes, but there are cross-cultural connections. Human brains like patterns. Everyone has rhythm, melody, and uses much the same scale – even where the preferred excerpts vary.

    Certain, recognizable patterns actually bug some people. I know people that get bored by blues progressions, and I personally get bored by the Four Chords of Pop. Also, scales and such actually have a lot of variance across cultures: African music has blue notes, Eastern music uses pentatonic scales, and I know at least some South Asian music emphasizes minor melodies instead of major ones.

    European music is unique for being so codified. I personally tend to prefer music derived from African American origins: blues, jazz, funk, gospel (it’s like Messiah – religious, but awesome), and their derivatives (blues led to rock led to metal, and now all three along with others get mixed together, especially in metal [because we think adding chunky, distorted guitars to anything makes it awesome]).

  74. 74
    chigau (違う)

    Octaves are physics, not subjective.

    I think I want that on a t-shirt.

  75. 75
    consciousness razor

    Octaves are physics, not subjective.

    Well maybe if you’re tone deaf, octaves aren’t octaves. Not trying to be a tone troll though. ;) However you or I hear octaves or whatever associations we make with them, I’m pretty sure they weren’t given to us by the invisible pink unicorn. I could be wrong, but whatever the case may be, it’s clear religions don’t cause people to reject science. You can tell, because Handel!! You can’t explain that!111!!!

  76. 76
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Tone troll. Urgh. You go directly to hell, vile punster! Not that that’s so dire a threat. The music is much better there, anyway, what with Robert Johnson and Freddie Mercury for starters. But even if you’re 100% deaf, octaves are still octaves on the oscilloscope. It’s wavelength ratios.

    Rip Steakface, that’s what I meant by ‘preferred excerpts’. Minor scales, pentatonic, blue notes, all are present in the canonical 12-tone extended western scale. The “doh, a deer” major scale is another excerpt. Some traditions do even finer subdivisions than the western classics: quarter tones are used in some Indian and middle eastern music. But the beginning and end are always octaves (ratio 2:1), and AFAIK everyone uses the 5th (ratio 3:2) and 4th (4:3).

    The enjoyment of specific aspects of these is indeed cultural, and subjective, but the actual elements aren’t. Which does leave you some room to assess some music as objectively “great”, if you want to operationalise that by measures of skill and complexity and innovation and historical influence and such. You can appreciate that some music is good, even if you don’t actually personally enjoy it. (Chinese opera, in my case.)

  77. 77
    chigau (違う)

    tone troll?
    ooh
    musical tone
    I don’t get it.

  78. 78
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Western music has used the intervals derived from the natural overtone series for a thousand years. Physics.

  79. 79
    Ichthyic

    So why did he say something so obviously foolish ?

    I’ve watched Nick for years since Dover.

    there is an underlying pathology there. I have no doubt of it.

    he exhibits classic signs of denial and projection. I don’t know what triggered this construction in his head, but he has fortified this particular house of cards with some rather overused defense mechanisms.

    There is no other conclusion. Nick acts on this as if he were an authoritarian personality.

    There is no rational discussion to be had with him on it.

    In fact, I even showed by case examples (several even) where he was exhibiting these defense mechanisms, got others to agree, and he just ignored it all.

    This is not the behavior of someone who is rational.

    Nick needs to figure out why he is so horridly intractable on this issue, because at this point, he knows better because people have carefully pointed out where he is obviously wrong, misrepresenting information, or outright lying, repeatedly over several years.

    I really hope his advisers at Berkeley can see he needs some help breaking out of this cycle he’s got himself in.

  80. 80
    consciousness razor

    You go directly to hell, vile punster! Not that that’s so dire a threat. The music is much better there, anyway, what with Robert Johnson and Freddie Mercury for starters.

    There is a special place in hell for vile punsters, where all the cool kids hang out. It’s an especially cold part of hell.

    But even if you’re 100% deaf, octaves are still octaves on the oscilloscope. It’s wavelength ratios.

    Sure, as long as we’re saying “octaves” doesn’t refer to the percept (or concept, etc.) but the object being perceived. Objects can’t contradict themselves, but of course perceptions can and do often differ. So there’s no need for identical pitch classes (octaves) don’t need to sound like identical pitch classes (perceptions of octaves), and that’s not at all a problem or some huge mystery. It doesn’t mean you can’t study percepts themselves as objects; you just have to study them differently because they’re a different kind of object. But somewhere along the line people confuse themselves into thinking “it’s all subjective” and think it’s impossible, or like Matzke bullshit their way through a pomo religious argument that you can but it’s magic! This shit’s especially annoying to me because I’m a musician and think we’d benefit scientifically and artistically from more research into this stuff, but people pretend like it doesn’t or can’t possibly exist.

  81. 81
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Wordition?

    The punderworld?

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