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Feb 22 2014

Saletan is at it again

I don’t say this lightly, but Saletan is one of the more dishonest pundits out there — I’ve read multiple columns by this guy where he lies with numbers and fudges the evidence to fit his preconceptions, and this is no exception. He’s once again arguing that creationism is compatible with science, and he has to make some dodgy claims to do so. Look here:

And what about the engineers in Ken Ham’s videos—the guys who made demonstrable contributions to science and technology while declaring themselves young-Earth creationists? Those men are what a good social scientist would call “evidence.” They back up the hypothesis that you can be a perfectly good engineer while believing nonsense about the origins of life. We can’t wave that evidence away, any more than we can wave away fossils.

The alternative hypothesis, advanced by McElwee, is that “to espouse [creationism] is to preclude practicing science.” The engineers in Ham’s video falsify that hypothesis. They espouse creationism while successfully practicing science.

Do you see the lie? He eases into it so artfully; these are guys who made “contributions to science and technology” drifts into “you can be a perfectly good engineer” and then he wraps it up by noting that the engineers in Ham’s claims practice science.

Engineers can practice real science, but an engineer is not the same thing as a scientist. I agree that creationists can be perfectly good engineers, but how can you trust the scientific acumen of someone who insists that the earth is only 6,000 years old? That says right there that they have no respect for the evidence. How can Saletan ignore Ham’s bogus distinction between historical and observational science, in which he flatly rejects any possibility of inference about the past from the present? This creationism is utterly incompatible with biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, climate science, geochemistry, cosmology, and any other science that deals with cause and effect and history. These sciences apparently do not matter to Saletan, as long as engineers make satellites and doctors do surgery.

Saletan cites Ham’s videos as falsifying the claim that creationism is incompatible with science. Ken Ham makes a big deal of this, too.

There are a few problems there. Who says Ray Damadian invented the MRI? Why, Ray Damadian. The Nobel Committee disagrees, since they gave the 2003 prize to Lauterbur and Mansfield for their work on the MRI. Damadian contributed to some aspects of the engineering, but he didn’t ‘invent’ the thing — there was a whole series of people who contributed.

But even if he had been the sole inventor, as Ray Damadian and creationists love to pretend, it doesn’t change the fact that creationism, and Ham’s ignorant redefinition of science, does irreparable harm to science and science education. That two non-scientists, Ken Ham and William Saletan, are urging everyone to ignore lies and delusions and misrepresentations, does not change the fact that any science that takes history seriously gets flushed away by their foolishness.

The image of creationism as an oncoming threat rather than a receding symptom is just another hypothesis. So is the claim that you can’t practice good science while being a creationist. These hypotheses are much beloved among liberals, atheists, and scientists. But the facts are opposed to them. Give them up.

“Much beloved”? What the fuck? What we see is bad science being promoted by a kook with a religious agenda, and useful idiots like Saletan promoting blissful neglect and agreeing with creationists. I am not giving up on biology, which is what Saletan is asking me to do. I am giving up on Saletan.


As pointed out in the comments, Atrios has an excellent takedown of Lord Saletan. I agree with every word.

60 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    That they are so desperate to wrap themselves in the mantle of science shows that they know their faith in an ancient book is misplaced.

  2. 2
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I am not giving up on biology, which is what Saletan is asking me to do. I am giving up on Saletan.

    The only logical choice. If you believe in delusions like Saletan does, you are delusional. Rational folks must maintain a distance.

  3. 3
    anuran

    By contrast, Salon gets it right

    But this distinction actually obfuscates the deeply political motives of the creation movement, expressed by Ham here:

    As the creation foundation is removed, we see the Godly institutions also start to collapse. On the other hand, as the evolution foundation remains firm, the structures built on that foundation — lawlessness, homosexuality, abortion, etc — logically increase. We must understand this connection.

    This statement shows the operative premise of the young-earth creationist, and from where such creationists draw their power: a literal interpretation of the Bible

  4. 4
    rturpin

    You’re wrong about this one, PZ. Yes, Saletan made a mistake eliding the difference between science and engineering. No matter. If someone were to search hard enough, I have no doubt they would discover people doing real science, who are nonetheless creationists. Even if you define science narrowly enough to preclude research in application areas, such as engineering and medicine.

    That doesn’t mean creationism narrowly and religion more generally isn’t a problem. It just means that people have complex psychologies. The same person who one day goes into their lab and thinks about research problems quite rationally and even with insight may, the next day, step into their church and recite dogma that is completely bonkers on its face, with not a trace of rational defense. Yes, the tension there is greater, given the intellectual discipline required to do the first. Which is why the incidence of such beliefs is less with scientists than people generally. But one doesn’t have to be a scientist to realize the irrationality of religion and the absurdity of creationism. And becoming a scientist doesn’t automatically eliminate compartmentalization and rationalization of favored belief.

  5. 5
    Inaji

    I spent 40 minutes in an MRI yesterday, and I very, very happy it wasn’t invented by a creationist.

  6. 6
    Johnny Pez

    I’m sure this has been linked here before, but it’s always a good idea to remember Duncan Black’s definitive takedown of Saletan: http://www.eschatonblog.com/2012/04/wanker-of-decade-runner-up-5.html

  7. 7
    PZ Myers

    #4, rturpin:

    No, he’s still wrong. Yes, you can find creationists doing science: by discarding creationism while they do it. Marcus Ross is a good example: his Ph.D. research was on the distribution of mosasaurs in the Cretaceous, and his work references 70 million year old fossils…and then he goes to creationist conferences and tells everyone the earth is 6,000 years old.

    Creationism and science are deeply in conflict, and creationism relies on denying almost all the evidence, and misrepresenting the remainder. That idiots can pretend otherwise isn’t an argument for compatibility.

  8. 8
    Al Dente

    The concept of whether or not something is true doesn’t concern Saletan in the slightest.

  9. 9
    imthegenieicandoanything

    Never even heard of him. And I follow political blogs hourly, and have for years.

    Wiki says he’s a self-described “liberal Republican” of Jewish background living in Texas.

    He – and every other person willing to describe themselves as “Republican” – especially if having ANYTHING to do with Texas, can simply fuck off. You are either unusually stupid or perversely evil if you are not the enemy of the goons and morAns of the TX Republican Party.

    Just his being a creationist apologist puts him beyond the pale, of course. And I see not artfulness in his defense of conman and liar Ham, unless being able to write a grammatical sentence meets the standard (one does set the bar as low as possible for these shits).

    Never heard of him before. Hope to never hear of him again.

    If you’re a Republican voter, you’re stupid, ignorant, insane and/or evil.

  10. 10
    knowknot

    Re engineers as scientists, I was about to go on about how universities separate engineering math from their mathematics departments because the engineering students “just need to solve the problems,” how engineers are often confused about their own levels of general scientific understanding, partly due to isolation of course requirements, etc…
    |
    Then I realized that a much better example of the science/engineering muddle comes from Henry Petroski, who is a professor of engineering and history at Duke University. You can find something like this by browsing for the following bit, written by him:
    “Engineering Is Not Science / And confusing the two keeps us from solving the problems of the world”
    The bit speaks to one side of what Nye said in the debate with Ham, and some of the confusion around the nature and sources of discovery and innovation. Though Petroski seems to lean toward a “pro egineering” stance, but he does say this (italics mine):

    Science is about understanding the origins, nature, and behavior of the universe and all it contains; engineering is about solving problems by rearranging the stuff of the world to make new things. Conflating these separate objectives leads to uninformed opinions, which in turn can delay or misdirect management, effort, and resources.

    Unfortunately, and much like an engineer, he limits the problems caused by conflation of science and engineering to technical issues (another angle on Nye’s argument?), and does not mention social and intellectual effects.
    |
    The comments section is very much worth a read, for a view of how convoluted and heated this issue has already.
    |
    I should also add that I have enormous respect for engineering, as a skill, as a discipline, sometimes even an art. I don’t believe it is to engineers’ detriment to say they are not “scientists.” I DO believe it is to everyone else’s detriment to say that they are. (& BTW, among Petroski’s books are some fascinating accounts of how “simple” objects come to be what they are. Fascinating to me, anyway.)

  11. 11
    Rey Fox

    Guy doesn’t have a very good grasp of how to structure a three-panel comic, does he?

  12. 12
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Henry Petroski

    I know that name. He had a monthly article in American Scientist, the Sigmi Xi journal, for years. A very knowledgeable Engineer, who knows the limits of his discipline, and respects the knowledge of others.

  13. 13
    knowknot

    #4 rturpin
    #7 PZ Myers
    |
    OK, I admit density, again, but I am having serious trouble finding the actual point of disagreement here.

  14. 14
    kosk11348

    I think what Saletan is trying to say, is that just because a creationist is wrong about creationism, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a good scientist in another field, which is as trite as the observation that just because someone is wrong about one thing doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything.

    But he neglects to mention that such a thing would be an aberration, not the rule. Magical thinking does impact a person’s complicity to do science. People rarely maintain just one pseudo-scientific belief, they are more likely to hold them in clusters. If a person believes in creationism, they are more-likely to believe other unscientific ideas, like that AIDS isn’t cause by a virus, for instance. Some people can compartmentalize, but most fail. We see wooish idea seep into and pollute science all the time. It’s assinine for Saletan to argue that just because belief in creationism doesn’t automatically make someone a gibbering idiot in every other area of their lives, then the belief itself must be harmless.

  15. 15
    knowknot

    Oh wait… is it the difference between Saletan having “made a mistake” and being a “dishonest pundit?” In that case, I’m not sure they’re mutually exclusive… even a complete and absolute weaslesniffer makes the occasional mistake.

  16. 16
    raven

    They back up the hypothesis that you can be a perfectly good engineer while believing nonsense about the origins of life.

    Gibberish.

    1. Creationists are free riding off of real scientists. The theory of evolution is critical in agriculture and medicine. This only matters if you eat food and want to live a long, healthy life.

    2. We know what happens when creationists make up most of the population. Science goes nowhere. Case in point:

    A. Moslem countries run around 80-90% creationists. Ken Ham’s dream. Science is more or less, don’t ask, don’t tell. It has no prestige and they don’t do much.

    B. The ones that have oil money import our technology. It’s estimated that they have imported 1/2 trillion dollars worth of western technology.

    It also means that they will always be a step behind us. We do the science, we do the engineering and inventing, they buy it and ship it.

    C. The Dark Ages. We know what it was like when religion dominated the world. The Dark Ages. People died young and they didn’t have cable TV, cars, or the internet.

  17. 17
    raven

    They back up the hypothesis that you can be a perfectly good engineer while believing nonsense about the origins of life.

    1. This is true but irrelevant.

    You can be a good engineer while believing UFOs are landing in your backyard, fairies are dancing in your garden, elves are plotting to take over the world, orcs are flying jets leaving chemtrails, or while being a drug addict or alcoholic.

    This still doesn’t make them true theories or useful ones. And if our entire society believed stuff like that, we wouldn’t be the last superpower.

    2. It also ignores the creationists true agenda. They don’t want to believe silly things. It’s a free country and they can believe anything they want. They want you and your kids to believe their silly things. It’s a missionary religious system.

    They don’t ignore science. They hate science and want it to die.

  18. 18
    mjgoold

    Saying “he’s a creationist but he’s still a competent engineer, therefore creationism is perfectly compatible with science” is like saying “I hurled shit at my dinner table, but none of it landed in the salad, therefore hurling shit at your table before dinner is perfectly compatible with being able to eat there.”

  19. 19
    anteprepro

    Also perfectly “compatible” with science, apparently:
    -Astrology
    -Phrenology
    -Last Thursdayism
    -Fear of the Boogeyman
    -Leprechauns
    -Feet covered in cream cheese
    -An armoire
    -The Ancient Alien Hypothesis
    -Biscuits and gravy

    Oh “compatibility”, what can’t you do?

  20. 20
    Daniel

    I’m an engineer and I think most engineers doesn’t ask themselves about faith. Maybe the disconnection between belief and engineering is easier because we usually work with the artificial world, and study the natural world only in physics courses.

    Most engineering branches do not deal with biology, geology, astronomy… therefore students are not confronted with the conflict between real world and religion.

    About the issue “X is an engineer and believes in creationism” I will ask to X: do you follow the bible when building a bridge/road/electric circuit/industrial plant layout…
    For a naval engineer I will ask about Noah’s Arc.
    For an electronics engineer I will ask which radio frequency does God use to communicate with the preacher.
    For a civil/construction engineer/architect if his walls are Jericho-trumpets safe.

    Well, I’m sure there are better questions than that…

  21. 21
    woozy

    To be a creationist, you have to consciously delude yourself by denying evidence and tying yourself up in knots to explain and accept something that is simply inconsistent and utterly incompatible with reality. You simply can not be an intelligent person if you do that and doing so is antithecal to all decent scientific methodology. It is simply incompatible with science pretty much at a definition level.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t perform great feats of scientific achievement. But even if one does do great feats of science, a creationist is still a shit scientist because he is self-delusional and that is a fundamentally anti-scientific thing to be.

  22. 22
    rturpin

    I lean toward the side that sees engineering and science as lying along a continuum. And I go even further than PZ in where I see the core incompatibility with religion. The first are disciplines relying on rationality, the latter a practice relying on irrationality.

    But that’s an incompatibility in principle. People are messy creatures, capable of rationality one moment in one thing, and irrationality the next moment in something else. Where that introduces practical problems depends on circumstance. And religion is hardly the only intellectual failing of scientists. Some are superstitious. Some cheat with their data. Some carry unquestioned biases around gender or ethnicity. And because we all want to be rational, we each have the tendency to wrap our own surfaced failings in various defenses and excuses.

  23. 23
    augustpamplona

    The weren’t all engineers. He also had a certain Andrew Fabich, Ph.D. from Liberty University.

  24. 24
    theignored

    I found the facebook page where Dan Lietha posted that cartoon that Myers has:
    https://www.facebook.com/dan.lietha.cartoonist/photos/a.319731858049070.75108.316611381694451/706945519327700/?type=1

    I replied there, but here is the photobucket link in case Lietha takes my remark down:
    http://i32.photobucket.com/albums/d27/kvarku/Lietha_Nye01.jpg

  25. 25
    Brain Hertz

    Engineers can practice real science, but an engineer is not the same thing as a scientist. I agree that creationists can be perfectly good engineers, but how can you trust the scientific acumen of someone who insists that the earth is only 6,000 years old? That says right there that they have no respect for the evidence.

    Agreed that an engineer and a scientist are different things (although there’s very substantial overlap) but I’d have to say that this distinction is pretty irrelevant in this instance.

    How do you trust the engineering output of somebody who thinks the earth universe is only 6,000 years old? The problem is the same either way. In either case, you’re talking about somebody who has no respect for the evidence, and that’s just as much a problem for an engineer as it is for a scientist. In either case, there’s some major compartmentalizing of beliefs going on.

    Incidentally, I’m an electrical engineer, practicing in the industry for 25 years. I meet a lot of engineers. Plenty of them have been Christians (and a host of other religions) but I’ve yet to meet one who actually confessed to be a young-Earth creationist. I’m guessing there have been a few, but they probably guessed that such a view wouldn’t go over so well with their colleagues…

  26. 26
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    He also had a certain Andrew Fabich, Ph.D. from Liberty University.

    *snicker, teehee, bwahahahahahahaha*

  27. 27
    MattP (must mock his crappy brain)

    From personal experience, I want to say that the ‘practicing’ engineers are the equivalent of MD’s. There are lots of good ones, but there are also some really horrible ones. Magical thinking can severely impact the quality of their abilities, but there is almost always someone out there willing to believe/pay in their quackery despite the obvious ridiculousness of their claims (*cough* Paul Broun *cough*).

    Research engineers are sort of an intermediate between physicists/chemists/biologists and ‘practicing’ engineers. Observe the world, do experiments, and try to learn new ways to do things instead of just regurgitating ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’, but they don’t always go so far towards integrating discoveries into science at large or discerning the underlying reasons for the observations (just build a simplified model of the results to extrapolate to other situations, and call it good enough; let the scientists/collaborators figure out the details). Magical thinking can have a more severe impact on one’s abilities and reputation, but it can also get you published (*cough* piezonuclear fission from an earthquake creating the shroud of turin *cough*).

    As for scientists afflicted with magical thinking, sometimes you just get lucky (*cough* Kary Mullis *cough*).

    @Brain Hertz, 25
    Got my undergrad EE/ME alongside a YEC who was also in AFROTC. Was odd sitting beside someone saying that references to ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ were descriptions of dinosaurs while working on a 2nd year engineering project.

  28. 28
    woozy

    I found the facebook page where Dan Lietha posted that cartoon that Myers has:
    https://www.facebook.com/dan.lietha.cartoonist/photos/a.319731858049070.75108.316611381694451/706945519327700/?type=1

    Wow, that is one unfunny cartoonist!

    Um, wow, so … creationists? They, um, actually believe this stuff, don’t they?

  29. 29
    anuran

    @16 raven writes

    2. We know what happens when creationists make up most of the population. Science goes nowhere. Case in point:

    A. Moslem countries run around 80-90% creationists. Ken Ham’s dream. Science is more or less, don’t ask, don’t tell. It has no prestige and they don’t do much.

    B. The ones that have oil money import our technology. It’s estimated that they have imported 1/2 trillion dollars worth of western technology.

    It also means that they will always be a step behind us. We do the science, we do the engineering and inventing, they buy it and ship it.

    You’re kinda cute when you’re being an ignorant, bigoted piece of crap.

    Unlike America most Muslim countries teach evolution in biology class. Saudi Arabia is one of the big exceptions.

    Science and engineering are quite high-status in much of the Muslim world. Iran pushes math and the physical sciences very hard. So do Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and others. They understand just how important it is and set national priorities accordingly. Look at any STEM department’s foreign students. Look at how many are from Muslim countries. Hell, look at India which has nearly the world’s highest population of Muslims.

    Increasingly “we” don’t do the engineering and science. The financial rewards aren’t there. The jobs have all been outsourced, often to countries with large Muslim populations.

    But please, don’t let me stop you. You’ve got a big throbbing hate-on that would do the Imperial Wizard proud.

  30. 30
    raven

    anuran the sick in the head troll:

    You’re kinda cute when you’re being an ignorant, bigoted piece of crap.

    and

    But please, don’t let me stop you. You’ve got a big throbbing hate-on that would do the Imperial Wizard proud.

    Thanks anuran. That is quite a lot of mindless insults with some hate and malice behind it. It doesn’t bother me because I’ve known for a while that you are an idiotic troll, incapable of thought.

    You’ve now proven it beyond any doubt.

    You need to find someone else to stalk and as an outlet for your deteriorating, sick mind. I don’t intend to deal with you any more.

  31. 31
    leszekuk

    rturpin @4

    If someone were to search hard enough, I have no doubt they would discover people doing real science, who are nonetheless creationists.

    I agree, the reason why is the one you give:

    And becoming a scientist doesn’t automatically eliminate compartmentalization and rationalization of favored belief.

    I’m not defending Saletan here, but I think that in terms of a question such as “Are Creationism and science compatible?”, there is a lot of cross-talk between accomodationists and atheist activists.

    Take the historical case of Isaac Newton. Most of his output was religious twaddle, numerological theories about the bible. The fact that most of his life’s work was crap doesn’t detract from the fact he is regarded as one of the giants of physics.

    Or Fred Hoyle and his collaborator Chandra Wickramasinghe. He made great contributions to astronomy, though he was egregiously wrong on the steady state universe. But his rejection of Darwinian evolution bordered on crankish. And it wasn’t his belief in some form of panspermia that did him in, it was remarks like these:

    If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. No other possibility I have been able to think of…

    Evidently, you can be a genius in one science and a complete dunderhead in another.

    Or take Linus Pauling and his curious belief in the efficacy of Vitamin C. Please.

    So if by compatible, we mean that one person can be a crank in one area and a rational, scientific agent in another, then yes, religion and science are compatible. Through, as you say, compartmentalization.

    But Saletan’s critics have their valid point. Creationism and other crank beliefs aren’t compatible with doing (or criticising, for that matter) science in related fields.

    It does go further. Once you abandon scientific thinking in one field to favour some religious or other dogmatic belief, how reliable are you in drawing conclusions in other fields? Creationists tend to run in the same circles as climate change deniers, and I suspect the pyschology is similar: deny anything threatening or that makes one uncomfortable or insecure.

    Still, the left can’t crow – they have a lot of irrational anti-vaxers on their side. Doesn’t mean they aren’t rational in other walks of life, but one does tend to wonder.

  32. 32
    leszekuk

    rturpin @22

    I lean toward the side that sees engineering and science as lying along a continuum. And I go even further than PZ in where I see the core incompatibility with religion. The first are disciplines relying on rationality, the latter a practice relying on irrationality.

    But that’s an incompatibility in principle. People are messy creatures, capable of rationality one moment in one thing, and irrationality the next moment in something else. Where that introduces practical problems depends on circumstance. And religion is hardly the only intellectual failing of scientists. Some are superstitious. Some cheat with their data. Some carry unquestioned biases around gender or ethnicity. And because we all want to be rational, we each have the tendency to wrap our own surfaced failings in various defenses and excuses.

    I’m with you in seeing less of a principled distinction between science and engineering. They have different goals, but many of the methods and processes are the same, and if you become compromised in the rationality department by espousing something crankish, the rest of your views can be, perhaps sometimes unfairly, become tainted.

    I mentioned Newton in the post above – his excuse was that he was a pioneer straddling the worlds between science as we know it today, and natural philosophy emerging from a religious background.

    Hoyle and Pauling made their major contributions long before they became notorious for their crankosity.

    Still, with Myers, I tend to get fed up with engineers and other layman ignorant of basic biology making pronouncements about how complexity can only arise through design, just because all they have experienced is human design causing complexity. Same goes for certain physicists/astronomers.

    Biology is a messy, smelly science. It deals with the nitty, gritty, slimey and sometimes positively revolting. Astronomers and physicists have their heads in or beyond the clouds, and don’t get their hands dirty the same way biologists do. Engineers deal principally with design. I can understand when they go off the rails and adopt some form of Creationism/IDism or other. What puzzles me is the MDs. What excuse could they possibly have for denying evolution?

  33. 33
    Rob Grigjanis

    raven @16:

    A. Moslem countries run around 80-90% creationists. Ken Ham’s dream. Science is more or less, don’t ask, don’t tell. It has no prestige and they don’t do much.

    Where do you get the numbers? According to a Pew Research Center study(PDF), the largest numbers for creationists are 67% for Iraq, and 62% for Afghanistan (see p 132). Most of the countries compare favourably with US figures of 40-50% for young earth creationism.

  34. 34
    lpetrich

    ▶ Pathological Physics: Tales from “The Box” – YouTube

    About physics crackpottery. For some reason, a large number of physics crackpots are engineers instead of scientists in the strict sense. So there’s something about engineering that gives some of its practitioners false confidence in their scientific abilities.

  35. 35
    rturpin

    leszekuk: “Still, with Myers, I tend to get fed up with engineers and other layman ignorant of basic biology making pronouncements about how complexity can only arise through design, just because all they have experienced is human design causing complexity.

    Me, too! I hope no one has mistaken my comments as sympathy for creationism or other kinds of crankery.

    It’s just not the case that everyone who does science is immune from that. Yes, generally more resistant. But it’s much like PZ’s recent post on the categories “male” and “female.” If we go around speaking as if “scientist” and “creationist” (or more generally, “crank”) are cleanly defined, fully disjoint subsets, it will be the cranks’ turn to point out the messy edges.

    “Once you abandon scientific thinking in one field to favour some religious or other dogmatic belief, how reliable are you in drawing conclusions in other fields?”

    That’s a question in psychology. I’m not even sure how one would go about collecting data on it. Fortunately, it’s not a question anyone refereeing a paper needs care about. Any more than any other handicaps the authors face.

    “Biology is a messy, smelly science.”

    And people, for all our smarts, are just a species of primate, our behavior and psychology every bit as messy as that would suggest. So an area where we should be cautious about drawing bright lines.

  36. 36
    leszekuk

    rturpin @35

    Me, too! I hope no one has mistaken my comments as sympathy for creationism or other kinds of crankery.

    It’s just not the case that everyone who does science is immune from that. Yes, generally more resistant. But it’s much like PZ’s recent post on the categories “male” and “female.” If we go around speaking as if “scientist” and “creationist” (or more generally, “crank”) are cleanly defined, fully disjoint subsets, it will be the cranks’ turn to point out the messy edges.

    I doubt anyone has any sympathies for Creationists here. They remind me of devout UFO believers. I certainly agree that if people are looking for purity of ideology, they are doomed to disappointment. People are complex bags of varying personality.

    I am a hard core atheist myself. I don’t see the point of religion as a means to learning basic truths. Still, I do take the point of someone like Martin Gardner who wrote the math column for Sci Am. He described himself as a “fideist”. Someone who admitted he couldn’t rationalise his belief system with science, but made a leap of faith. I don’t agree with his leap of faith, but I’d never condemn it.

    That’s a question in psychology. I’m not even sure how one would go about collecting data on it. Fortunately, it’s not a question anyone refereeing a paper needs care about. Any more than any other handicaps the authors face.

    People should read scientific papers critically irrespective of the authors. Just because someone has revealed himself as a crank in one field, isn’t necessarily a crank in another. The research report should stand on its own merits, not the reputation of its author. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.

    And people, for all our smarts, are just a species of primate, our behavior and psychology every bit as messy as that would suggest. So an area where we should be cautious about drawing bright lines.

    Indeed we aren’t perfect. We aren’t consistent. So sometimes we will be right, other times we will be wrong. What bugs me is the tendency towards blanket condemnations of people who say things we do not agree with.

    Obviously, these condemnations are very satisfying to those who make them. Not very productive, though.

  37. 37
    screechymonkey

    leszekuk@31:

    I’m not defending Saletan here, but I think that in terms of a question such as “Are Creationism and science compatible?”, there is a lot of cross-talk between accomodationists and atheist activists.

    It’s not “cross-talk,” it’s willful dishonesty on the part of accomodationists. They pretend that “compatible” just means “one person can hold two compartmentalized views,” then point to their favorite religious/creationist scientist and declare victory.

    If this was the first time this topic had come up, one could perhaps say that was a misunderstanding. But this has been discussed again and again, and there’s no legitimate excuse for it.

  38. 38
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Obviously, these condemnations are very satisfying to those who make them. Not very productive, though.

    You would be surprised. Those criticisms and dismissals can effect lurkers, and start them changing their minds. We have a lot of testament where Pharyngula ridiculed creationists, and this started folks who were creationists to start looking at the lies they have been brainwashed with. The concept that the babble is inerrant, not just a book of mythology/fiction, is one big lie that doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny.

  39. 39
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    creationism. . . does irreparable harm to. . . science education.

    Are there any studies which quantify this harm? For instance, comparing performance in later science courses, or the likelihood of pursuing a career in science, between students who are taught creationism in school and those who aren’t?

    Is creationism taught in parochial schools? If so, have their graduates demonstrated less proficiency in science than those from other types of school?

  40. 40
    jnorris

    It seems to me if the Creationists were good scientist, we would be seeing good peer-reviewed articles on Creation Science in mainstream science journals. How many decades have these Creation scientists been researching it?

  41. 41
    leszekuk

    screechymonkey @37

    It’s not “cross-talk,” it’s willful dishonesty on the part of accomodationists. They pretend that “compatible” just means “one person can hold two compartmentalized views,” then point to their favorite religious/creationist scientist and declare victory.

    I am not defending accomodationists. I don’t know whether Saletan is honest or not. But I know of no atheist who defends the validity of Creationism.

    There is no compatibility between Creationism and evolution. Even Creationists see that.

    But lots of honest people, including a few scientists, integrate scientific and religious perspectives. Admittedly this makes no sense to me, but I am reluctant to impute dishonesty to people who do compartmentalize religion and rationality. Maybe they feel better that way.

    What does seem to me dishonest is to accuse people of differing views with dishonsty. Just becaue someone may be wrong doesn’t mean they are dishonest, and these accusations are corrupting the discussion.

    Saletan is clearly wrong in some of his views. Does that make him a wilful liar? Obviously some think so. Maybe they are right. But even if Saletan is a liar, this doesn’t make all folk who accept science on the one hand and religion on the other dishonest. Inconsistent, certainly, but not deliberately dishonest as such.

    Once we start assuming that those we disagree with are dishonest because they do not agree with us, we have left any rational path. People can be wrong without being dishonest.

  42. 42
    mnb0

    Well, biologists can be bad philosophers, philosophers can be bad physicists, physicists can be bad historians, historians can be bad engineers and engineers can be bad biologists.
    That isn’t hard.

  43. 43
    leszekuk

    Nerd @38

    You would be surprised. Those criticisms and dismissals can effect lurkers, and start them changing their minds. We have a lot of testament where Pharyngula ridiculed creationists, and this started folks who were creationists to start looking at the lies they have been brainwashed with. The concept that the babble is inerrant, not just a book of mythology/fiction, is one big lie that doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny.

    I don’t dispute the bible is a myth, Where is the evidence that mocking it ever converted anyone?

    Ridicule just gets people’s defences up. You need a good alternative story like evolution to change their minds.

  44. 44
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Where is the evidence that mocking it ever converted anyone?

    Try reading:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/

    Now, show me evidence where you accommodationist blatherings really work….

    You need a good alternative story like evolution to change their minds.

    Do you really think we don’t educate too? Again, read the history of the blogs. You will learn something.

  45. 45
    David Marjanović

    No, he’s still wrong. Yes, you can find creationists doing science: by discarding creationism while they do it. Marcus Ross is a good example: his Ph.D. research was on the distribution of mosasaurs in the Cretaceous, and his work references 70 million year old fossils…and then he goes to creationist conferences and tells everyone the earth is 6,000 years old.

    As I’ve been saying for years, I think Marcus Ross lies: when he’s not publishing scientific papers, he pretends to (still) be a creationist so he can keep his job, which is at Liberty University – it’s hard to imagine that any university would take him after he’s been at Liberty. Not upsetting his family & friends is likely a bonus.

    The weren’t all engineers. He also had a certain Andrew Fabich, Ph.D. from Liberty University.

    *snortle*

    What puzzles me is the MDs. What excuse could they possibly have for denying evolution?

    Perhaps the fact that they know humans and only humans. They have nothing for comparison.

    Where is the evidence that mocking it ever converted anyone?

    Some people have said so in comments right here in Pharyngula.

  46. 46
    anteprepro

    Where is the evidence that mocking it ever converted anyone?

    Ridicule just gets people’s defences up.

    Where is the evidence that ridicule just gets people’s defenses up?

    Truth is, as far we can tell, there is no magic bullet. Sometimes ridicule communicates something more poignantly that polite debate can’t. Sometimes ridicule just short-circuits their brains when polite debate would have actually worked for them. And sometimes neither will work, ever. Sometimes one of the two will work, but only very gradually, over a very long, long time. And sometimes a combination of the two is necessary. There isn’t a science to this. There is not blatantly obvious that there is a One True Approach to arguing about religion, politics, or really anything in general.

  47. 47
    screechymonkey

    leszekuk, your comment @41 bears so little correspondence to what I said that I’m baffled why it purports to be a response to me.

    But lots of honest people, including a few scientists, integrate scientific and religious perspectives. Admittedly this makes no sense to me, but I am reluctant to impute dishonesty to people who do compartmentalize religion and rationality. Maybe they feel better that way.

    I wasn’t imputing dishonesty to people who compartmentalize. I imputed dishonesty to the people like Saletan who knowingly distort what atheists say about incompatibility. They’ve been told time and time again that “incompatibility doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for scientists to be religious. We KNOW some scientists are religious.” But every time they trot out Religious Scientist X and declare “see? You’re wrong to say they’re incompatible, because some scientists are religious!”

    That’s what is dishonest.

    What does seem to me dishonest is to accuse people of differing views with dishonsty. Just becaue someone may be wrong doesn’t mean they are dishonest, and these accusations are corrupting the discussion.

    Good thing I didn’t do that, then.

    Saletan is clearly wrong in some of his views. Does that make him a wilful liar? Obviously some think so. Maybe they are right. But even if Saletan is a liar, this doesn’t make all folk who accept science on the one hand and religion on the other dishonest. Inconsistent, certainly, but not deliberately dishonest as such.

    Good thing I didn’t call them that, then.

    Once we start assuming that those we disagree with are dishonest because they do not agree with us, we have left any rational path. People can be wrong without being dishonest.

    Good thing I didn’t do that, then.

    For example, you’ve managed to completely misread my post and impute views to me that I do not hold, then proceeded to flail away at that straw man. I’m prepared to accept that this was simply an error on your part.

    However, if you were to misstate my views on this subject again, dishonesty would become a more compelling hypothesis. You see how that works?

  48. 48
    jamessweet

    One obvious (to me) retort to all of this is to point out all of the people who have done great work in science in art while in the throes of addiction. You can be a damn good engineer and an alcoholic at the same time, but that doesn’t mean the latter doesn’t have an impact on the former…

  49. 49
    Crimson Clupeidae

    The sheer number of idiot engineers who are theists of various sorts, climate change deniers, etc. astounds me. I work around many of them every day. Most engineers are, at best, moderately competent at doing math. Few engineers are really good at actual problem solving involving anything more complicated than modifying something that’s been done before.

    I’ve only met a tiny handful (and I’ve been in the business for almost 20 years) that could even outline the actual scientific process, not to mention apply it to anything resembling a novel problem.

  50. 50
    David Marjanović
    Where is the evidence that mocking it ever converted anyone?

    Some people have said so in comments right here in Pharyngula.

    about themselves, I mean. They’ve said that mocking/shocking them changed their mind.

    Anyway, I agree with comment 46 – each method has different effects on different people.

  51. 51
    leszekuk

    anteprepro @46

    Truth is, as far we can tell, there is no magic bullet. Sometimes ridicule communicates something more poignantly that polite debate can’t. Sometimes ridicule just short-circuits their brains when polite debate would have actually worked for them. And sometimes neither will work, ever. Sometimes one of the two will work, but only very gradually, over a very long, long time. And sometimes a combination of the two is necessary. There isn’t a science to this. There is not blatantly obvious that there is a One True Approach to arguing about religion, politics, or really anything in general.

    I’d agree with this. You need a variety of approaches. And everyone has their own prejudice and method.

    I am not too fussed by folk who would rather mock religion. It does deserve a bit of mockery every now and then. If religions have redeeming features, they do not lie in their dogma.

    I’d just suggest mockery should not be the only avenue of communication. Won’t get anywhere just going down that road.

  52. 52
    leszekuk

    screechymonkey @47

    I wasn’t imputing dishonesty to people who compartmentalize. I imputed dishonesty to the people like Saletan who knowingly distort what atheists say about incompatibility. They’ve been told time and time again that “incompatibility doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for scientists to be religious. We KNOW some scientists are religious.” But every time they trot out Religious Scientist X and declare “see? You’re wrong to say they’re incompatible, because some scientists are religious!”

    To be honest, I hardly ever read Saletan. Maybe his critics are right to pan him mercilessly. I have no compunction to defend him or the other punters on Slate.

    My point is not to defend accomodationists. I don’t much like them either. It’s to defend honest people who find both rational and religious sides to their pysche. Folk, say, like Martin Gardner, who wrote a math column for SciAm a few years ago.

    They aren’t fools or idiots, and I respect their point of view, even though I disagree with it. They aren’t being dishonest.

    Tear Saletan to pieces if you want, Myers and others have criticised him thoroughly, and I agree with some of the criticism. He is not the one I am defending.

  53. 53
    Al Dente

    I’d just suggest mockery should not be the only avenue of communication. Won’t get anywhere just going down that road.

    Not a problem. People like you can be nice to the theists and people like me can be rude to them.

  54. 54
    leszekuk

    People like you can be nice to the theists and people like me can be rude to them.

    Takes all sorts. I’d rather be me than you, and no doubt likewise. In my years of involvement in activism, I’ve found it pays to have people take various approaches. It does take some “in your face” activism to jolt folk out of their complacency. It does open avenues. But in the end, the “in your facers” are piss poor at dialogue. They can generate opportunity and reason for dialogue, but they can’t provide any. That’s left to the rest of us.

    Everyone has their bit to do. Your bit is offensive, mine might be conciliatory.

  55. 55
    leszekuk

    And bear in mind the dialogue isn’t between us and the Creationists. They are a lost cause. Not worth spending time on. The dialogue is between us and the confused.

  56. 56
    leszekuk

    Think “good cop, bad cop”. Still cop.

  57. 57
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’d just suggest mockery should not be the only avenue of communication. Won’t get anywhere just going down that road.

    Why should we be the ones not to mock, compared to the other atheists sites out there. Pharyngula doesn’t represent the whole atheist cultural, but rather the more vocal and liable to mock segment. Quit pretending we are the world…

  58. 58
    Skeptonomist Habilis

    You can’t build satellites if you favor Pope Paul’s biblical interpretations over Galileo’s.

  59. 59
    Eli Rabett

    Just try being a petroleum engineer and a creationist. NOT POSSIBLE

  60. 60
    johnkowalski

    Real Engineers DO science; however the only difference is that they are doing applied science towards some economic/business end.

    However, just because somebody can understand and apply science in one field doesn’t give them immunity to producing BS in other fields.

    That more or less is a better way of stating PZ’s point. But I wouldn’t hire a theoretical physicist, no matter how good, to do a wave propagation device design. It would make everyone weep.

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