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May 20 2014

How to argue for evolution

Jerry Coyne reviews Genie Scott’s talk at the Imagine No Religion conference. It’s mostly positive — Genie always gives a thoughtful talk — but there are obvious points of disagreement.

In the talk, Genie said several times that if you want to change people’s minds—about either climate-change denialism or evolution—the most effective way to reach them is through someone who has a similar “ideology,” be that religious or political. In other words, to make a creationist Christian accept evolution, the best way is for an evolution-accepting Christian of the same denomination to convince them that evolution isn’t inimical to their religious beliefs. (That’s what the “Faith Project” of the NCSE is about.) I suppose this wouldn’t work very well for fundamentalist believers, since no other fundamentalists accept evolution!

I vaguely recall some psychological research showing that people are more convinced in the “lab” under such circumstances, and certainly Dan Barker, in his talk, began his road to apostasy by pondering statements by fellow Christians. But I’m still not sure Genie was right.

I’m not so sure either. I don’t think it’s true that the person doing the convincing has to share the same ideology — it’s messier than that. And what do you know, I had just read a very good article on why people persist in believing things that just aren't true. I suspect that the psychological research Coyne vaguely recalls is the work of Nyhan and Lewandowsky.

False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.

It’s the realization that persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self that prompted Nyhan and his colleagues to look at less traditional methods of rectifying misinformation. Rather than correcting or augmenting facts, they decided to target people’s beliefs about themselves. In a series of studies that they’ve just submitted for publication, the Dartmouth team approached false-belief correction from a self-affirmation angle, an approach that had previously been used for fighting prejudice and low self-esteem. The theory, pioneered by Claude Steele, suggests that, when people feel their sense of self threatened by the outside world, they are strongly motivated to correct the misperception, be it by reasoning away the inconsistency or by modifying their behavior. For example, when women are asked to state their gender before taking a math or science test, they end up performing worse than if no such statement appears, conforming their behavior to societal beliefs about female math-and-science ability. To address this so-called stereotype threat, Steele proposes an exercise in self-affirmation: either write down or say aloud positive moments from your past that reaffirm your sense of self and are related to the threat in question. Steele’s research suggests that affirmation makes people far more resilient and high performing, be it on an S.A.T., an I.Q. test, or at a book-club meeting.

Normally, self-affirmation is reserved for instances in which identity is threatened in direct ways: race, gender, age, weight, and the like. Here, Nyhan decided to apply it in an unrelated context: Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without. That effect held even when no additional information was presented—that is, when people were simply asked the same questions twice, before and after the self-affirmation.

Still, as Nyhan is the first to admit, it’s hardly a solution that can be applied easily outside the lab. “People don’t just go around writing essays about a time they felt good about themselves,” he said. And who knows how long the effect lasts—it’s not as though we often think good thoughts and then go on to debate climate change.

I think the simpler version of that is that if you’re trying to persuade a religious person to accept the truth, you can’t come at it with the approach, “Religious people are stupid. You must accept evolution, or you are stupid.” They resist. They don’t think of themselves as stupid, so they immediately know you are wrong. Or alternatively, they immediately identify with religion, and what they hear you saying is confirmation that religious people do not accept evolution, therefore you have just told them what position a good religious person must accept in this argument.

To address this concern does not require that the evolutionist also be a Christian. I don’t usually go all barking attack dog on creationists, one on one, either — the art of persuasion involves finding common ground, and then showing that to be consistent with their own values, they should recognize that one position is wrong. (Note that the sole value some Christians hold is that the Bible is authoritative and literally true — I can’t really find common ground with them, they’re too far gone. But the majority just have vaguely sympathetic feelings for God and church — they can be reached.)

Coyne also has some ire for the theistic evolutionist perspective, as well. So do I. I think it distorts the science in an ugly way. It’s effective with some soft creationists in the same way the approach I mentioned in the last paragraph works. You find common ground: “I believe in God, too!” Then, unfortunately, to bring them around to your side, what you then do is produce a mangled, false version of evolution — “It’s guided by a higher power!” — in order to get them to accept “evolution”. A gutless, mechanistically compromised version of evolution.

No thanks. Darwin’s great insight was that you don’t need an overseer guiding evolution — that local responses to the environment will produce efficient responses that will yield a pattern of descent and diversity and complexity. To replace “intent was unnecessary” with “God provided intent” does deep violence to the whole theory, and completely misses the point.

78 comments

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  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    I should add that while I can’t find common ground with a literalist, there are people who can — Matt Dillahunty comes to mind. These are people who have experienced that position from the inside, but they don’t have to be Christians now.

  2. 2
    marcus

    I have been thinking about this. I was in a thread at CNN commenting on the Oregon marriage equality ruling and responding to one poster who was virulently bigoted on the matter, but also someone who was articulate and well-educated. My comment was to the effect that, “You are obviously an intelligent* person, you would be better served to use that intelligence to reason rationally rather than to rationalize your bigotry,” (though less preachy and condescending). I don’t think it would have necessarily caused this particular person to reexamine their beliefs but that approach has worked very well in conversations with people who were generally open-minded but were either misinformed or misapprehending the issues.

    *For certain values of intelligence.

  3. 3
    corwyn

    Still, as Nyhan is the first to admit, it’s hardly a solution that can be applied easily outside the lab.

    Sure it can! Before getting into the discussion with a creationist, ask them if they are open-minded. Ask them if they are intelligent. Ask them if they have reasons for the things they believe. Reinforce those (likely) aspects of self-image.

  4. 4
    Ryan Jean

    From Jerry’s mentioning of Genie:
      > “…the most effective way…”
      > “…the best way is…”

    From PZ:
      > “…the person doing the convincing has to share the same ideology…”
      > “…require that the evolutionist also be a Christian.”

    Respectfully, PZ, you’re arguing against something that Genie isn’t saying. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the suggestion from her or anyone at NCSE that the only way to reach someone who doesn’t believe in evolution is to find someone who otherwise exactly matches their ideology; rather, it’s that the very thing you acknowledge — finding common ground and an approach that doesn’t threaten the individual’s identity — is pretty much automatically accomplished by someone ideologically similar. The statement is that it’s an effective method, and perhaps at the strongest that it’s the preferable one, but nowhere except in your strawman is it claimed to be the only way…

  5. 5
    Mr.Diby StillObjects
  6. 6
    cyberax

    I prefer to think about the ‘god provided intent’ theme as about a harm-reduction strategy. Guided evolution Christians are nowhere near as loony as YECs.

    And making the next step to ‘no intent was required’ might be easier for a lot of folks.

  7. 7
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Mr.Diby,

    1)It’s the truth.
    2)Beliefs have consequences (e.g. antibiotic resistant bacteria)
    3)”If they can make you believe absurdities, they can make you commit atrocities.”–Voltaire

  8. 8
    SallyStrange

    May I ask why evolution is so important? What does it matter if people believe in evolution or not?

    Aside from the basic principle that believing truth is better than believing lies, a population that does not accept evolutionary theory as true and useful is a population that is unable to do things such as:

    1. Select for better strains of food-growing crops
    2. Effectively combat drug resistance in disease-causing bacteria
    3. Conserve endangered wildlife populations effectively
    4. Engineer new treatments for pretty much any ailment you can imagine
    5. Understand why global climate change poses an existential threat to civilization

    That’s just a start, off the top of my head. I’m not a biologist, so I’m sure others with better background in biology can fill in some of the many practical applications of evolutionary theory.

    In addition, many of the “alternatives” to evolutionary theory come prepackaged with massive amounts of sexist, racist, and homophobic bigotry, to the detriment of the health and welfare of the populations where such beliefs are prevalent.

    Do you have a convincing reason why we should think it’s NOT important that people believe true things rather than lies? Particularly when it comes to basic questions like “how did humans come to be here”?

  9. 9
    anuran

    “When words and actions disagree, believe actions”

    For that reason, PZ, I am forced to believe that what you have stated here is nonsense. You’ve said repeatedly, loudly, and with a fair portion of venom that you want nothing to do with Progressive religious people or conservative atheists.

    What happens when the subject of common ground with liberal Christians on social and economic justice comes up? You’re vociferous in your contempt. You’ll never cooperate with them. You’ll never have anything nice to say about a Pope or a Church on anything.

    When American Atheists tried to set up a booth at the execrable CPAC convention, you were clear. We don’t need them (conservative atheists). We don’t want them. We have nothing to say to them.

  10. 10
    raven

    May I ask why evolution is so important? What does it matter if people believe in evolution or not?

    Wrong question.

    1. We don’t give a rat’s ass what you believe!!! It’s a free country after all. Bigfoot, elves, UFO aliens, demons, creationism, Flat Earth, supply side economics, whatever.

    2. We do care when you or anyone try to impose your Oogedy Boogedy primitive beliefs on the rest of us. Which the fundies do all the time.

    3. BTW, people don’t “believe” in evolution. They accept the science of biology.

    4. Besides being the truth, evolutionary theory is critical in medicine and agriculture. This matters a lot if you eat and want to live a long healthy life.

  11. 11
    consciousness razor

    The statement is that it’s an effective method, and perhaps at the strongest that it’s the preferable one, but nowhere except in your strawman is it claimed to be the only way…

    What’s effective or preferable about it?

    Theistic evolution isn’t even a way to convince people to accept evolution, for exactly the reason PZ mentioned: it isn’t evolution, because evolution doesn’t involve gods or wizards or unicorns or anything of the sort. If a person needs another wizard-believer to convince them evolution doesn’t conflict with wizard-belief, what this amounts to is being convinced of evolution-with-wizards, instead of evolution-without-wizards. And it’s not just misleading people with yet another false belief. This whole line of thought seems pretty condescending to theists. They don’t need to continue to believe in anything false, not young Earth creationism, theistic evolution, or any of it.

  12. 12
    raven

    May I ask why evolution is so important? What does it matter if people believe in evolution or not?

    This is just a variant of, “what’s the harm of fundie death cult xianity”.

    1. It’s immense. They don’t want to believe weird lies. They want to rule over us. Most of them are xian Dominionists who openly hate the USA and the US government.

    2. For biology, they don’t want to believe in creationism, they want to teach their cult lies to our children in their public school science classes. They do it whenever they can, despite it being highly illegal.

    No one gets too excited about the technology shunning Amish or the hallucinogen using religions. That is because they aren’t trying to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

    The Amish aren’t out in the buggies blowing up power lines. The fundie death cultists are though trying hard to blow up our public schools.

  13. 13
    gussnarp

    @Mr. Dilby:

    Modern biological science, and all of its practical offshoots, only make sense from an evolutionary view. Without it, so much of what makes our lives better now and will make them better in the future would be impossible. Others have given some specific examples of this, but there are many more. But building specifically on what @raven said at #10:

    It doesn’t matter so much what one individual believes, but it matters very much what is taught in our schools. We simply cannot allow creationists to water down school science curricula because we rely on educated citizens to vote for policies and politicians that will affect scientific research funding and the future of our civilization in general. We cannot afford to have politicians who actively reject the foundation of modern biology in light of the impact of biological science on or society. We also cannot afford to lose potential scientists to bad information in schools, or limit the career potential of kids because some parents, teachers, or politicians believe things that are at odds with the theory that makes the science behind those careers possible.

    Also, @a_ray_in_dilbert_space’s quote is important here:

    ”If they can make you believe absurdities, they can make you commit atrocities.”–Voltaire

    Creationism actively blocks all kinds of accurate understanding of the world, not just evolutionary theory, and it represents a kind of belief, completely at odds with mountains of evidence, that is extremely dangerous.

  14. 14
    Mr.Diby StillObjects
  15. 15
    kosk11348

    May I ask why evolution is so important? What does it matter if people believe in evolution or not?

    Human beings are evolved animals. To be ignorant of evolution is to literally not know what you are.

  16. 16
    raven

    troll:

    Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think.

    Most atheists are ex-xians. Including myself. This is due to the tens of millions leaving xianity behind.

    This troll isn’t very good. It appears to be the dumb guy who changes ID every few hours and mostly flings trivial insults.

    The troll feeders can have fun but I’m gone. It isn’t worth any more seconds of my valuable lifespan.

  17. 17
    mikem88

    There’s a woman who regularly comes to an atheist meetup and who used to be a fundamentalist YEC. She has said multiple times that the only way that she was able to begn to come out of it was by reading “Finding Darwin’s God.” In her old belief system, she saw atheist scientists as obviously trying to lead people away from their faith, but other Christians wouldn’t be doing that. Although that book argues for the ‘accommodationalist’ view of evolution, it actually brought her to the real version of evolution.

  18. 18
    gussnarp

    I don’t believe in global warming. Climates change. They always will, and they always have. You’re allowing your liberal religion and worship of government to get in the way of reality.

    Who’s allowing their religion to get in the way of reality here? Greenhouse forcing is just incredibly basic physics. It’s the reason your car gets so hot inside when you park it in the sun. We know the effects of these gases in the atmosphere, we know we’re increasing the amount of these gases in the atmosphere, we know our impact is much greater than natural processes, and we know the different processes that have affected past climates and are affecting ours now. It takes a willful act of ignorance to reject the science on this issue.

    Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think. I used to say all of the same crap as you. But when you become conservative, little by little you see how silly all of it was.

    Most conservatives used to be liberals? Citation needed. I used to be a conservative, myself, but I’m not going to claim to know how you think. I wonder if it’s occurred to you that you know how you thought when you were a liberal without an adequate foundation who was easily swayed to conservatism, but that that gives you no understanding of how liberals who have actually come from conservatism, or simply have a more nuanced and thought out liberal philosophy and maintain it for the long term think?

    I suppose for many liberals, it’s difficult to leave liberalism because of how intolerant and bigoted they are. You know your liberal friends won’t speak to you anymore.

    What utter rubbish. I talk to conservative friends and family all the time. I don’t write people off because I disagree with them, and not many liberals I know do either. It is only because my liberal friends talked to me and willingly argued with me repeatedly on subjects where we disagreed that I became a liberal in the first place. I can only imagine the bigotry and intolerance you must have displayed if people rejected you utterly for expressing yourself. I have known conservatives who’ve labeled people like me traitors and unamerican because of our political opinions. I’ve not known liberals to do that and I would call it the very definition of intolerance. But then again, if you’re generally this patronizing and ignorant in conversation, I probably wouldn’t be your friend either, but it wouldn’t be because of your opinions per se.

  19. 19
    cactusren

    I agree with marcus and corwyn that this method actually can be used outside the lab: you just pepper the conversation with comments like, “You seem to be an intelligent person” etc. This is similar to the method I use in grading students’ papers–my comments start off with one or two positive things about the paper. Then I discuss what didn’t work, and how it could be improved in the next draft or the next assignment. Then I wrap it up with something else positive or encouraging. It’s not always easy (I’ve graded some atrocious papers), but when you start right in on talking about all the things that are wrong, the student gets defensive, and doesn’t seem to learn or improve much.

  20. 20
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I don’t believe in global warming.

    For belief, no evidence is required. Which is what your evidenceless statement attests to.
    Science requires evidence for scientific conclusions, like global warming is happening and evolution occurred and is still occurring.
    That leads to the same question that has dogged you before diby. You believe in your deity, and do so without evidence. Where the fuck is the physical evidence for your imaginary deity diby? I conclude that your deity doesn’t exist without you providing any physical evidence. That is how real logic works.

  21. 21
    Mr.Diby StillObjects
  22. 22
    neuroguy

    Either you separate the science from the debate about the existence of God or you join it. There’s no third way. And intellectual honesty demands that if you believe that evolution disproves the existence of God, that you come right up front and say so, and not disingenuously say how many Christians accept evolution, or how it could in theory have been guided by a higher power, in order to “convince” them of the truth of evolution. But an important distinction is missed here I think: evolution does not disprove the existence of God, if by that is meant a generic omnipotent being; it does disprove the existence of the fundamentalist Christian God, who is also held to be omnibenevolent as well as the direct creator of Adam and Eve, the first parents of every other human being who ever lived.

    If by “God” we just mean an omnipotent being, this particular God hypothesis is unfalsifiable. It can therefore explain everything but predict nothing, like fitting a curve where the number of free parameters equals the number of data points. Therefore putting this kind of God into the picture tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of evolution, and therefore the science should be separated from the existence of God. But Christianity (at least fundamentalist Christianity) makes more claims than this about God, and that simply can’t be ignored. Saying “many Christians accept evolution!” ignores the fact that in order to do so, they have had to abandon many traditional Christian beliefs. We can point this out without going No True Scotsman.

  23. 23
    carbonfox

    Raven:

    May I ask why evolution is so important? What does it matter if people believe in evolution or not?

    Wrong question.

    1. We don’t give a rat’s ass what you believe!!! It’s a free country after all. Bigfoot, elves, UFO aliens, demons, creationism, Flat Earth, supply side economics, whatever.

    2. We do care when you or anyone try to impose your Oogedy Boogedy primitive beliefs on the rest of us. Which the fundies do all the time.

    QFT.

    Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think.

    I used to be a fundie Christian, and know how conservatives think — or rather, how they don’t. (Fortunately, I left my cesspool hometown by going to college where, free of aggressive bigots and family rules about going to church, I escaped the mind virus within the semester.)

    I should add that while I can’t find common ground with a literalist, there are people who can…These are people who have experienced that position from the inside, but they don’t have to be Christians now.

    When I think about my childhood wasted in literalist Southern Baptist churches, it just reinforces for me that trying to talk to literalists is basically useless. Admittedly, I’m a living example that literalists can change, but I was young and curious; I don’t have much hope for the older ones whose entire lives have been built around the idea that they’re special and get to live forever once they die (and as for the preachers where I grew up, accepting evolution would mean throwing away their $25k+ salaries, which they get on top of their normal incomes). I do respect people who have the creativity and patience to try to get through those walls.

  24. 24
    neuroguy

    @21:

    Neither can religion. Contingent facts admit of no ultimate explanation; if they had one, they wouldn’t be contingent by definition.

  25. 25
    cactusren

    @21

    But science can never explain the why.

    What specifically, are you talking about? Because I can think of lots of “why” questions that science can (and has) answered. For example: Why is the sky blue? Why does the tide come in and go out? Why does the Earth revolve around the sun?

  26. 26
    gussnarp

    @cactusren #25:

    I’ll respond solely to you, rather than to the troll. I had a professor who was big on encouraging us to watch out for asking “why” questions in our research, and pointed out that one can be like a toddler, asking a recursive “why” until you get to a point at which you no longer have a question you can answer. I think the issue here is whether we’re talking about “why” meaning what is the cause of the phenomenon, and “why” meaning what is the purpose of this phenomenon. No, science can’t really answer the question of purpose. We sometimes use language that suggests we’re talking about purpose, especially in evolution when we ask “what is the purpose of this adaptation”, but that’s not really what we’re asking. We’re asking, what function could this adaptation serve that led to its selection?

    But when we finally arrive at “why” as a question of purpose, we find that science appears to hit a wall. There’s a reason for this: there’s nothing for science to find. There is no universal, objective purpose. that kind of “why” is a meaningless question.

  27. 27
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’m pretty sure I’m not the troll here.

    Neither does your imaginary, non-existent, phantasm. Never could, never will.

  28. 28
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think. I used to say all of the same crap as you. But when you become conservative, little by little you see how silly all of it was.

    Oh, I know the Liberals you must have been. Yes Liberals also include some serious wackaloons who can be just as bigoted (but is=n a different way)as those conservopods. BUT to generalize their behavior to every Liberals’ attitudes is a HUGE mistake. And your second sentence there is reversing cause&effect: “seeing how silly the Libererals were, one becomes a Conservative” Fixed it for ya.

    But science can never explain the why.

    So another who quibbles about WHY, and won’t accept HOW as an answer? I, a Sciencist, agrees: Science doesn’t answer WHY, only HOW; while Religion will only try to answer WHY with no hint of HOW. Guess which choice I made. I’ll guess which choice you made. Aint tellin, guess.

  29. 29
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Excuse my copypasta failure #27 I was trying to quote diby the delusional fool:

    But science can never explain the why.

    Same answer, since your deity is imaginary, it isn’t an explanation either.

  30. 30
    SallyStrange

    I note that Mr. Dilby didn’t engage with the substantive responses to his questions, nor with my response: does he have a good reason to think that it’s totally okay and without repercussion when large swaths of the population believe lies, instead of truth, particularly when it’s about central questions like “How did humans get here” and “Why is X poisonous while Y is a painkiller”.

    I don’t believe in global warming.

    Then you believe in lies, instead of truth. Does it bother you to know that you believe lies instead of truth? Why or why not?

    Climates change. They always will, and they always have. You’re allowing your liberal religion and worship of government to get in the way of reality.

    There’s nothing about the theory of anthropogenic climate change that requires denying the obvious scientific fact that climates change. If you accept the science showing that climate do change, have in the past and will continue to do so in the future, then you are simply lying when you claim that human-made climate forcings are somehow magically immune to the laws of physics. Essentially you are saying that you accept that the climate warms when natural sources put CO2 or methane in the atmosphere, but if it’s humans putting those same gases in the atmosphere, somehow it’s different. I trust there won’t be any logic from you to explain why you would believe such an absurdity. If logic were a thing you did, you wouldn’t be trapped believing in a lie.

    Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think. I used to say all of the same crap as you. But when you become conservative, little by little you see how silly all of it was.

    I might believe you if you tried explaining how you think liberals think. Or why it’s silly. Also, what of people who don’t fall neatly into the “liberal” box? Most liberals in the American political spectrum still accept capitalism as a legitimate form of economic organization. I don’t. “Socialism” comes closer to describing my political affiliation, but there’s still some distance there. I’m actively searching for new paradigms and labels.

    I suppose for many liberals, it’s difficult to leave liberalism because of how intolerant and bigoted they are. You know your liberal friends won’t speak to you anymore.

    If your liberal friends don’t speak to you anymore then I’d wager it’s a reflection on you and your personal flaws. Conservatives and liberals remaining on cordial interpersonal terms despite disagreements is a fairly common occurrence.

  31. 31
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Dilby,
    “I don’t believe in global warming. Climates change. They always will, and they always have.”

    So by this logic, you do not believe in homicide, as people have always died and always will.

    OK, genius, we are warming an entire planet. Where is the energy to do that coming from–that is energy equivalent to 2.1 billion Hiroshima-style nukes? Or are you a conservation of energy denier as well?

  32. 32
    twas brillig (stevem)

    In other words, to make a creationist Christian accept evolution, the best way is for an evolution-accepting Christian of the same denomination to convince them that evolution isn’t inimical to their religious beliefs.

    Maybe, but don’t seem to be working too well at Bryan University. Where the “oath” was rewritten to specify Adam&Eve as a specific creation; excluding all the theistic evolution accommodationists; leading to lots of resignations in protest. To an outsider, it looks like one can’t get one part of a “side” to convince the other part of that “side” to yield to the “science” side.

  33. 33
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Also, note the classic Xtian apologist approach dating back to St. Augustine:

    ‘Most conservatives, including myself, used to be liberals, so we know exactly how you think.’

    If I had a nickel for every time a fundie idiot had tried to pull that gag, I could retire comfortably and devote the time to laughing at them that they so richly deserve.

  34. 34
    PZ Myers

    Respectfully, PZ, you’re arguing against something that Genie isn’t saying.

    I’m arguing against something the NCSE is doing. They’ve been peddling liberal theism as a solution to creationism for a long time, and I say, no, it’s not. It perpetuates a different version of bad science.

  35. 35
    LicoriceAllsort

    When I was deconverting from fundamentalist Christianity and starting to accept evolution/science, I can’t say that any methods worked better on me than others. They were all just what I needed to hear at the time I was able to process them.

    One major wow moment came when I read Stephen Jay Gould’s book on non-overlapping magisteria. I would hate that book now, but it’s what I needed to hear at the time. It made me open to at least considering the possibilities of a big bang, evolution, etc.

    At another point in my deconversion, I got my ass handed to me in a discussion because I was arguing in bad faith without realizing it. I was lying for Jesus, thinking that the ends justified the means—a pretty normal tactic for where I came from and not anything I’d heard called out before. There was a pile-on; they were very rude and I was pretty shocked. Though it took me several months/years to fully process, it was effective precisely because it shook my self-confidence. In asking myself if I really wasn’t dumb and a liar, I had to at least entertain the possibility that I might be.

    One approach may be persuasive one day and ineffective the next. Similarly, a method that isn’t exactly successful might still prime a person to be receptive to another method.

  36. 36
    Mr.Diby Objects

    [You are BANNED, asshole. That doesn't mean you dig up a fresh email account and get to slither back on. FUCK OFF. --pzm]

  37. 37
    David Wilford

    PZ @ 34:

    Given that liberal theism does at least admit to the physical facts of evolution, it isn’t as wrong as creationism, which is an improvement.

  38. 38
    cactusren

    @ gussnarp #26: I agree with all of that. I just get annoyed when people are ambiguous with their language, and conflate “why” with “for what purpose”. My #25 was my flippant response to that. But yes, the answers to all the questions I gave as examples simply lead to more questions, and all of those are mechanistic in nature–none of the answers deal with purpose. Of course, I find question “For what purpose is the sky blue?” to be rather nonsensical.

  39. 39
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Here goes Diby, lying for Jesus.

    Diby, we have ex-Mormons, ex-Catholics, ex-Baptists. I myself was raised in a liberal Methodist tradition where you were more likely to hear Gandhi quoted from the pulpit than St. Paul

    Voltaire’s quote still applies. Absurd beliefs lead directly to atrocities–viz. your denial of the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

  40. 40
    gussnarp

    @cactusren: I figured, you just got me thinking of how that the purpose question is meaningless and I wanted to lay it out. It’s far more interesting to consider that than to consider anything Dilby has to say ;-)

  41. 41
    gussnarp

    @a_ray_in_dilber_space #39:

    I think he’s going for a cross between a No True Christian™ and a Courtier’s Reply.

  42. 42
    Mr.Diby StillCertainlyObjects
  43. 43
    chigau (違う)

    Diby, you are a joke.

  44. 44
    CJO

    A gutless, mechanistically compromised version of evolution.

    I think this is unfair to theists who really do understand evolutionary processes as well as anyone. If one believes that there is a “higher power” who is imminent in every atom of creation, whatever has happened was “part of god” or “god’s plan” or whatever. A description of evolution as a non-teleological process doesn’t dislodge this conception –even if accepted in every particular. The answer is simply that god is bigger than our minds can conceive; xe can be “in” a process that no human program of observation and testing will disclose as goal-oriented. (This is unsatisfying in all kinds of ways as regards theodicy etc.; I am in agreement there, but those are ancillary concerns about things like what god’s plan is really, and isn’t this kind of a roundabout way to achieve a goal?; not concerns central to holding a mechanistically integral version of evolution.)

    I’m speaking here from the experience of being my father’s son. He was a professor of aquatic ecology and limnology, and a research ecologist of some repute, and a life-long theist. He understood evolution very well, yet all of the sound and fury around the debate just bored and saddened him. The most he could muster in the way of arguing for evolution against a biblical literalist was “If you can’t accept that the means god used to do his creating was evolution by natural selection over vast periods of time, against all the evidence, then you are presuming to dictate to god how he should have done his work.”

    There would be not a single particular of any non-teleological description of evolutionary mechanism that you could present to him that would induce him to try and insert a step where god acted or directed anything. So (again, without reference to metaphysical corollaries like theodicy) what was “mechanistically compromised” about my father’s version of evolution?

  45. 45
    A Masked Avenger

    Coyne also has some ire for the theistic evolutionist perspective, as well. So do I. I think it distorts the science in an ugly way. It’s effective with some soft creationists in the same way the approach I mentioned in the last paragraph works. You find common ground: “I believe in God, too!” Then, unfortunately, to bring them around to your side, what you then do is produce a mangled, false version of evolution — “It’s guided by a higher power!” — in order to get them to accept “evolution”. A gutless, mechanistically compromised version of evolution.

    In my experience of theistic evolutionists, the bolded part isn’t accurate: you appear to assume that they are claiming evolution happened, but that it could not have happened without a god behind the curtain. I.e., that evolution fundamentally doesn’t work unless their god of the gaps steps in and helps it over the cracks.

    That’s not what they actually believe (again, in my experience of them). They recognize that natural selection, acting on mutations, along with horizontal gene exchange, genetic drift, etc., is a sufficient mechanism to produce all life on earth today, unaided. They do believe that their god tinkered–but not that such tinkering is necessary to make it work. Instead he tinkered because, e.g., he dislikes lizards, so 65M years ago he heaved a big rock at them. That sort of thing.

    You can argue convincingly that it undermines one’s ability to think clearly, if one is going to believe unprovable claims like, “That asteroid was no accident!” However, as far as evolution itself goes, it’s completely irrelevant. You can hypothesize that the rock smacked the earth by chance, or that it was flung by aliens, leprechauns, deities, or a time-traveling evil Santa Clause. It has no bearing whatsoever on the mechanism of evolution, which is for life to adapt to whatever the environment (ahem) throws at it.

  46. 46
    consciousness razor

    Given that liberal theism does at least admit to the physical facts of evolution, it isn’t as wrong as creationism, which is an improvement.

    Except the physical facts like what is responsible for evolution. Whenever they want to insert a god into the story, they shove in a god. That’s not an improvement. It’s like saying Deepak Chopra at least admits to the facts of quantum mechanics, because the nonsense he peddles refers to it and distorts and abuses it, so he isn’t as wrong as those who outright reject quantum mechanics. No. Just no.

    If they don’t do that kind of bullshit, then they must believe in a god who has nothing to do with life. Name any Christian (or any theist) who sincerely believes that. I can’t think of one.

  47. 47
    David Wilford

    @ 46:

    Except the physical facts like what is responsible for evolution. Whenever they want to insert a god into the story, they shove in a god. That’s not an improvement.

    As long as they’re o.k. with teaching the theory of evolution in public schools, that’s an improvement over the creationists as far as I’m concerned. It isn’t necessary to have 100% agreement over what’s ultimately responsible for life, the universe, and everything to agree that we don’t need religious instruction masquerading as science in the classroom like the creationists want.

  48. 48
    consciousness razor

    There would be not a single particular of any non-teleological description of evolutionary mechanism that you could present to him that would induce him to try and insert a step where god acted or directed anything. So (again, without reference to metaphysical corollaries like theodicy) what was “mechanistically compromised” about my father’s version of evolution?

    What seem compromised here is his version of theism. It sounds a lot like pantheism to me. So, fine — he believes in nature, and he calls it something else. Hooray for words. The point is that it isn’t a theistic conception of a god, as a personal being who does things like “act” and “direct” stuff to happen (teleologically).

    When you say something like this:

    whatever has happened was “part of god” or “god’s plan” or whatever

    I think you need (on pain of incoherence) to commit to one or the other — or whatever. My left arm is “part of me,” and my left arm is not “my plan.” That’s just not how parts and plans work (unless of course you’re the special case of an “immanent” being that “wills existence” by its very nature, I guess). At best it’s just confusing, and I don’t know how we’re supposed to rationally come to the conclusion that some confused mess of beliefs is consistent with reality.

    Is that what you’re saying? That it’s actually consistent? Or that believers are capable of thinking that it’s consistent, because they may not recognize what the problem is?

  49. 49
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    I’ve never really understood the whole theistically guided evolution thing. It seems there could be three flavors of this:
    1)It proceeds exactly as it would without said deity’s existence–according to purely materialistic principles. If so, then why the hell invoke said deity at all? It plays no role in the theory. As near as I can tell, the Universe is just a game the deity wound up and left on the desk until the spring runs out of energy.

    2)The idea that the Universe was designed by a benevolent, caring deity (who just happens to like watching critters die agonizing deaths from parasites, disease, etc.) implies to the believer that somehow everything will work out for the best. (God cares about the death of a sparrow…) Not only is this idea contra-indicated by just about everything that occurs in the Universe, it is dangerous, as it encourages the believer to think that somehow the design of the Universe will protect us from our own stupidity and keep us from bringing about our own extinction.

    3)That the deity is constantly jamming its fingers into the cosmic clockwork to protect us–but in ways undetectable and masked by materialistic processes. Not only does this have all the dangers of 2), it implies that the deity is too incompetent to design a self-sustaining system.

    The question raised by all of these is “Why?” I have yet to find any xtian who can answer that why?

  50. 50
    PZ Myers

    #45, Masked Avenger:

    In my experience of theistic evolutionists, the bolded part isn’t accurate: you appear to assume that they are claiming evolution happened, but that it could not have happened without a god behind the curtain.

    If the godly diddling was not necessary, what is the point of invoking a god at all? Where is their evidence that there was an intervention? I can recognize that some hypothetical theistic evolutionist proposes that god was not necessary, but that simply begs the question why they are inventing this imaginary entity in the first place…and what possible scientific information invoking it adds.

  51. 51
    busterggi

    ” In other words, to make a creationist Christian accept evolution, the best way is for an evolution-accepting Christian of the same denomination to convince them that evolution isn’t inimical to their religious beliefs.”

    What? Why not torture creationists until they recant? They’d do the same for us if they could.

  52. 52
    CJO

    I think you need (on pain of incoherence) to commit to one or the other — or whatever. My left arm is “part of me,” and my left arm is not “my plan.” That’s just not how parts and plans work (unless of course you’re the special case of an “immanent” being that “wills existence” by its very nature, I guess). At best it’s just confusing, and I don’t know how we’re supposed to rationally come to the conclusion that some confused mess of beliefs is consistent with reality.

    Well, my throwaway “or whatever” is my own admission that I can’t see things this way and I’m not comfortable going all-in on a devil’s advocate stance. There are no coherent accounts of godly imminence as far as I can see, I just don’t think that isolating evolution as the obvious lacuna in any conceivable “billion-year plan” of an entity capable of operating undetectably on that scale gives any traction against belief in god per se.

    Is that what you’re saying? That it’s actually consistent? Or that believers are capable of thinking that it’s consistent, because they may not recognize what the problem is?

    Again, speaking for my late father, he certainly did not recognize the problems because he was a strict pragmatist with very little tolerance for metaphysical speculation. He believed in god primarily because he believed in an afterlife of some kind and because he was raised Christian. It just wasn’t a belief he interrogated. But I do know for a fact that he saw absolutely no reason to invoke god in any natural process in the sense that it would be different or incomplete somehow if there was no god, and nor did he have any patience with those who would put an interpretation of scripture before the plain evidence of observed reality.

  53. 53
    CJO

    If the godly diddling was not necessary, what is the point of invoking a god at all?

    You’re replying to A Masked Avenger, but our (adjacent) posts were similar enough for me to answer in the vein of my #44. To my father, there precisely was no point of invoking a god in terms of natural processes. The point of invoking a god was in his mind completely orthogonal to his study of the natural world. God was the best in people; god was the guarantor of a continued existence in some form after death. God was, I guess, someone you could turn to with your problems in a dark night of the soul because he was already part of you, and always there.

    I don’t “get it”; I’m a lifelong atheist. I just happen to know at least one instance of a theist whose understanding of the mechanisms of nature was not compromised by the fact.

  54. 54
    ryangerber

    If I may bring some context here, regarding that Q&A. The questioner had asked her for advice about a growing estrangement from his family member (nephew?) who was refusing to accept evolution after his repeated attempts to teach. She told that questioner to stop trying as it was obviously not working, preserve the existing relationship as best he could, and bring in help from the nephew’s co-religionists if possible.

    It seems quite different to use this as a last desperate attempt, rather than the initial offer.

  55. 55
    unclefrogy

    questions about disbelief in evolution and Climate change from my personal experience are tied up with self image and ego.
    It is very hard to argue with deniers with the idea of changing their minds and not sound like you are calling them stupid or otherwise insulting them at least for me. Added to that they are often already aggressively defensive and hostel like our recent winner of the ban hammer.
    Pretty hard to have a productive discussion with someone who judges you as evil wrong and dangerous and whose own ideas are completely cast in stone because they have special knowledge of the real truth.
    The reality is I guess is there is no way to convince everyone of the truth.
    Getting through the ego defenses is not always possible reason alone is not enough.
    uncle frogy

  56. 56
    A Masked Avenger

    PZ, #50:

    If the godly diddling was not necessary, what is the point of invoking a god at all?

    I anticipated that question and answered it in advance thusly: “he tinkered because, e.g., he dislikes lizards…” Same reason we diddle with dogs because we happen to want one with short legs, a long body, a flat face and no tail.

    Where is their evidence that there was an intervention?

    They have none. You already know this one.

    I can recognize that some hypothetical theistic evolutionist proposes that god was not necessary, but that simply begs the question why they are inventing this imaginary entity in the first place…

    That’s because the only notion of god that means anything to you is “god of the gaps.” I.e., god is invented to explain why it snows, and how the piggy got a curly tail. Once we find out where the piggy got his tail, god becomes superfluous and can be dispensed with.

    To these particular theists, god is not intended to explain anything. They just happen to believe this being exists, mostly because their parents told them so, and they choose to continue believing it, probably because it makes them feel good in some way, or lubricates their social relations, or some other reason. But not because they want to invoke this being as an explanation for anything.

  57. 57
    Kevin Kehres

    As to the main question — how to dissuade people from false beliefs — I think the literature is pretty dismal with regard to effective interventions.

    I’m starting to use the argument from incredulity. I can’t believe someone who has heard all of the evidence and understands its strength, weight, and depth can possible conclude in an opposite direction.

    It’s hard, because people don’t want to think rationally. They want to “intuit”. Intuition is easy. Rational thinking is hard. And when the barriers to thinking rationally / systemically become too large, people will shut down and not even answer the question in play. They’ll answer a completely different, easier question.

    “I don’t believe in climate change” — really, you don’t believe in the mountains of evidence, the overwhelming scientific consensus, the overtly pro-black-energy funding for virtually every dissenting expert opinion?

    “I don’t trust scientists” — See. Second question. Much easier to intuit. The goal then is to get them back on task – go back to the original question. Which specific data do you disagree with? Of course, most people don’t engage once they’ve intuited an easy answer to the easier question. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

  58. 58
    PZ Myers

    I anticipated that question and answered it in advance thusly: “he tinkered because, e.g., he dislikes lizards…” Same reason we diddle with dogs because we happen to want one with short legs, a long body, a flat face and no tail.

    That is no answer at all. You know nothing of the nature of this god, so you invent an arbitrary preference, and it is intrinsically teleological. I could just as well say that the two poles of a magnet repel each other because they have a personal antipathy…it is not a valid answer.

  59. 59
    mikeyb

    It is easy to see how creationism ties into one’s personal identity. I find it a bit harder to see how climate denialism ties to one’s identity, unless you work for the oil and gas industry. What Christian or conservative principle says a priori that the climate cannot be affected by human activity. I’ve never read that in the Bible. I don’t recall Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman ever pontificating how – on proper economic principles, humans cannot fuck up the planet.

  60. 60
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    mikeyb
    Dealing with climate change requires acknowledging that Markets™ can’t fix every problem, and in fact cause a lot of them. This contradicts the right wing Markets™ are Sacred And Infallible doctrine.

  61. 61
    Christopher

    I think the issue here is whether we’re talking about “why” meaning what is the cause of the phenomenon, and “why” meaning what is the purpose of this phenomenon.

    True. This is the big hangup of those infected with religion: they cannot accept the fact that there is no purpose to life beyond consuming energy and propagating and there is no purpose to the universe beyond entropy.

    We make our own purpose and that level of personal control is unfathomable to authoritarian religionistas

  62. 62
    cirbryn

    That is no answer at all. You know nothing of the nature of this god, so you invent an arbitrary preference, and it is intrinsically teleological.

    That would be a valid complaint against a claim that theistic evolution was scientific. The NCSE isn’t claiming that though. They are saying that creationism is disproven by the evidence, whereas theistic evolution is not.

  63. 63
    A Masked Avenger

    That is no answer at all. You know nothing of the nature of this god, so you invent an arbitrary preference, and it is intrinsically teleological…

    Well, since this being is imaginary, it’s impossible for anyone to “know the nature of it.” Conversely, since it’s imaginary, I guess the people doing the imagining get to define its nature. Either way, what does that have to do with your point?

    Your point was that these people don’t believe in evolution, because they believe that evolution doesn’t work without an invisible elf making it work. I’m telling you they believe nothing of the kind. They believe it works perfectly fine all on its own. They merely believe that their invisible elf likes stirring anthills with sticks for the fuck of it. This neither adds to nor takes away from the theory of evolution, because it has fuck-all to do with evolution. And it also has fuck-all to do with teleology: people breeding pug-nosed dogs is the opposite of teleology, and invisible elves murdering the dinosaurs by throwing a rock at them is, likewise, the opposite of teleology. Positing such a thing would suggest that evolution is not directed at producing humans, because with favorable climate and no surprise asteroid impacts dinosaurs would remain the apex predators.

    It’s puzzling to me why this causes you so much difficulty. Belief in an intelligent being whose existence is unprovable is of course irrational. Belief that this being has taken various unprovable actions in the past is equally so. However it has no bearing whatsoever on the theory of biological evolution.

    This being differs from humans only in the respect that humans can actually be proven to exist. Humans have hunted all sorts of creatures to extinction, have extinguished other species through habitat destruction, and have through domestication rendered other species both horrifyingly populous and incapable of survival in the wild. They have had a massive impact on the path of evolution. Yet none of this indicates that evolution can’t work in the absence of humans; it did so just fine for some three billion years. These theists believe, just so, that an invisible elf has likewise influenced the direction of evolution, purely based on its elvish whims, but this has no bearing on the theory itself.

  64. 64
    A Masked Avenger

    In these discussions, I keep getting the impression that the theists deity is regarded as a logical construct: a hypothesis needed to complete an archaic cosmological theory, or a moral construct, or some sort of logical premise to avoid an infinite regression of causes for effects. That’s understandable if you suppose that all theists are like Thomas Aquinas, but practically none of them are. Even good Catholics aren’t, despite their reverence for him.

    The theists’ deity is an imaginary being who, like the Greek or Roman gods, does things for no reason whatsoever than that he wants to. He “stirs anthills for the fuck of it.” He eradicates Canaanite civilization because he doesn’t like the cut of their jib. He allows polygamy but makes polyandry a capital crime because penis. He sets up the Israelites with a nice little kingdom, and then smites them with plagues, and then exiles them to diaspora, then regathers them, as his moods rise and fall. And he’s been around since at least the big bang, if not before–which means that before he had Israelites to fuck around with, he probably fucked around with neanderthals, and platypuses, and theropods.

    All this bullshit about uncaused causes, or the being who is the perfection of all attributes, and all that rot, has nothing to do with what this deity is supposed to be, nor with why its followers follow it. It’s a retcon to justify their religion to unbelievers who know a smattering of philosophy or science. It’s called apologetics. If you debunk all of their apologetics, you will not have laid a glove on the believers’ beliefs or motivations, because they have nothing to do with apologetics. Apologetics is nothing but an attempt to convert you. Believers sometimes appeal to it to stave off doubts sown by people like yourself, but in that case it’s still nothing but a crutch. It’s not their core belief, and it’s not what motivates their belief.

    You keep treating apologetics as if it somehow embodies the substance of their belief. As a recovered believer myself, I can tell you that I’d only laugh at these arguments, because I could have conceded everything you said without losing anything that meant anything to me.

  65. 65
    Ichthyic

    just don’t think that isolating evolution as the obvious lacuna in any conceivable “billion-year plan” of an entity capable of operating undetectably on that scale gives any traction against belief in god per se.

    literally true.

    it also gives no reason to reject anything else I can imagine in the next 10 seconds.

    which makes it a trivial argument, even though logically consistent.

    somehow, I doubt that’s how your pop, or any religious adherent, views the issue, or in fact, there would not BE an issue to begin with.

  66. 66
    Ichthyic

    All this bullshit about uncaused causes, or the being who is the perfection of all attributes, and all that rot, has nothing to do with what this deity is supposed to be, nor with why its followers follow it.

    exactly.

  67. 67
    Ichthyic

    Since it’s so tied to this issue, here’s the bottom line for the NCSE public position IMO:

    If it was in any way the case that in the long term, it was a viable strategic position…

    BioLogos would have been a fantastic success.

    Instead?

    not so much.

    The only reason the NCSE maintains the position wrt to “theistic evolution” that it does, is that it has placed itself into a specific niche where it finds it gets traction tactically, in specific cases, with the NOMA argument.

    their effective attempts to thwart creationists in Ohio comes to mind.

    However, there is no basis to maintain theistic evolution, NOMA, or any related philosophical construct beyond immediate tactical value. They have no rigor to them as concepts, as has been demonstrated time and again by philosophers historically (all you have to do is search on “NOMA” to end up finding the philosophical criticism of it). I firmly believe most of those behind NCSE are well aware of this (how could they NOT be?), but again, it has proven tactical value to them to maintain the position they do.

    It also shouldn’t stop the rest of us from pointing out the philosophical vacuity of that position; that’s their problem to deal with, and so far, they’ve managed to handle that well enough to continue using it tactically.

    Critiquing the rigor of a philosophical stance is different than insisting the NCSE change their tactics though. As I said… they make it work for them with their specific mission in the current climate. Not my place to tell them what works for them and doesn’t.

    I probably would have argued a lot about some of the religious ideology MLK invoked in his speeches, but I can’t argue that he got results with it, whether he really believed everything he said or not.

  68. 68
    consciousness razor

    cirbryn:

    That would be a valid complaint against a claim that theistic evolution was scientific. The NCSE isn’t claiming that though. They are saying that creationism is disproven by the evidence, whereas theistic evolution is not.

    According to Coyne, Scott is claiming theistic evolution is scientific.

    Granted, as Scott notes, “theistic evolution” has somewhat different meanings to different people, and not all of them are allegedly “compatible,” but which ones specifically those are supposed to be, I have no idea. It’s probably best not to get into much detail, because that might offend someone.

    A Masked Avenger:

    These theists believe, just so, that an invisible elf has likewise influenced the direction of evolution, purely based on its elvish whims, but this has no bearing on the theory itself.

    So it influences what happens; but they claim we can’t see that it does that, so it “has no bearing” (despite being an influence) on the theory. Sure. Just like angels pushing the planets around has an “influence” on what we would otherwise call “gravity;” but because they’re invisible angels, it’s the same thing as Newton or Einstein. Same theory. No big deal, right? And moreover, because it’s “compatible with science” in this completely absurd sense, it’s also a “scientific” theory, just like its buddies that don’t involve magic, which both does something and doesn’t do anything, depending on whether or not we’re looking at it. Or even thinking about it, I guess. As I’ve always said, the best kind of theory is one which you never think about.

  69. 69
    LykeX

    I wonder if this strategy might also have the opposite effect. That is, instead of people accepting evolution, they instead settle for a compromise position, which retains a degree of irrational belief. This irrational core can then later be exploited by peddlers of woo.

    Because their beliefs were never subject to a full rational analysis, their acceptance of evolution isn’t firm, nor can it form a basis for future rational evaluation of new propositions. Instead of being a stepping stone towards a more reasonable world view, it becomes a pillow to rest on; a way by which they can avoid accusations of irrationality, despite actually maintaining irrational positions.

    In my opinion, acceptance of evolution is less important than the epistemological path to that acceptance. If you’ve got a sound epistemology, you’ll eventually come around to the truth, even if you’re currently believing all sorts of nonsense. On the other hand, if your epistemology is crap, you’ll eventually come to believe nonsense, even if what you currently believe is true.

    It seems to me that the theistic evolution angle sacrifices solid epistemological training in favor of momentary acceptance of the facts on one isolated subject. It might be useful to overcome initial resistance, but if we don’t follow it up with much more training in rational thought, it’ll be a short-lived victory.

  70. 70
    Ichthyic

    Scott is claiming theistic evolution is scientific.

    I’ve never heard her make that claim before.

    they usually push the “ball roller” idea of theistic evolution for the rubes.

    the idea that there might have been an intelligent agency that set up the playing board, then just let the chips fall where they may.

    since that isn’t incompatible with toe per se, they can get traction with that with religious folks without having to counter any of the evidence FOR evolution.

    now, of course they know that this is a superfluous idea, there is no need for the “extra” explanatory bit, but they are in the business of playing a tactical game, and that strategy seems to work for them.

    they figure that anyone who knows better probably isn’t anyone to worry about wrt influencing science education in a negative way, and since that’s what they really care about (quashing attempts to impose ridiculously religious based “science” standards across the nation), then they are happy to play this game.

  71. 71
    Ichthyic

    It might be useful to overcome initial resistance, but if we don’t follow it up with much more training in rational thought, it’ll be a short-lived victory.

    this, is also true, and if you asked Genie personally, she would agree with you 100%

    overcoming immediate threats to science education is their primary mission.

  72. 72
    Wally Hayman

    For sake of argument, let’s assume willful ignorance and/or generally low IQs are common traits in 98% of dyed-in-wool fundies, but then, what can we make of the 2%; that percentage composed of high achievers, including some renowned scientists who are devout believers? Like the medical sleuth who is more curious about the one in a million person who is immune to some devastating plague, a researcher would likely want to dissect the history and thought processes of a Harvard geologist who is a hardened YEC, or conversely, study the distinguished atheist raised in a strict fundamentalist family.

    We know that early indoctrination can be a insurmountable barrier for many but while I don’t have data to back me up, I would guess that the overwhelming percentage cult joiners in adulthood come from strong religious backgrounds. On surface, believing that cyanide with take you to Space Jesus may appear to be a natural progression for the YECs out there, it does represent a form of break with their long-held belief systems. So again, even though the break from the hold is in a tragically wrong direction, it’s still a break.

    If I had to guess at the one thread common to the troglodytes and erudites, alike, it’s fear. While fear may be more common reaction to the unknown, perhaps fear plays a role in what is known – or on the verge of being discovered. The latter condition may begin to explain the reason some small but measurable percentage of elite scientists will likely remain believers in a magical entity in the sky. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has attributed historical turns to God by many great scientists to frustration with their own inability to solve some major problem = at least with the tools of their era. Therefore, he proffers, they dismiss what they can’t figure out to the exclusive business of God (some perhaps, for sanity’s sake). Of course, it is at that point when even the magnificent Newton ceased to be of value to Science. Perhaps it was frustration combined with ego – or perhaps fear played a role here, too; the fear that they had opened some door to truths they couldn’t handle or comprehend, scientifically or intellectually. It’s not so different from the same fear that Fox News exploits in its far less erudite viewership even when the truth is readily available.

    Global warming deniers can easily dismiss the scientific findings of 97% (or more) of elite scientists, but would the same people board a plane if 97% of aeronautical engineers told them beforehand that it was going to crash?.Of course, we’re all passengers on Spaceship Earth and, like it or not, we’re already hurtling through space together. Some of us will always close their eyes while others try to steer clear of killer asteroids. After the BP mega ClusterF%*k in the Gulf, local fundie church members formed prayer circles and appealed to their God for a miracle. That miracle came in the form of thousands of volunteers who spent countless hours raking the fundie’s beaches for them and cleaning the tar off of thousands of struggling birds. No doubt the fundies would attribute the good work of these volunteers to an unseen God much the same way my 3-year-old granddaughter attributes a hidden basket of chocolate eggs and jelly beans to the Easter Bunny. And who can convinve them, otherwise. Like arguing with conspiracy theorists, we all agree that disproving the untestable is a thankless task. My question is, why is it that those most negatively effected by the spill (most of them able of body) remained huddled in fear with their eyes shut while those very human “miracle” workers saved their asses for them? Why is it that poor, conservative Southern whites detest food stamps even though they are the largest beneficiaries of same? Perhaps their false sense of self worth is actually the problem rather than the solution. Did their dirt farmer forefathers who were too poor to own slaves fight for the gentry’s right to maintain the institution or did these lowly white schmucks fight to preserve a social caste of humans lower on the chain than themselves, thereby raising their own false sense of worth and security?

    I suppose we all handle fear and adversity in different ways. Some people just don’t want to think about it, especially when there’s another decade or two to deny the fact that their gonfalon bubble has been pricked. Eventually, a gaping hole will bring them crashing down to Earth. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re sailing on the same airship of fools.

  73. 73
    parasiteboy

    From Coyne’s blog post

    It is ironic that the National Center for Science Education is willing to include theistic evolution as “scientific.” It is wrong, it is hypocritical, and it’s a cynical political tactic unbecoming to scientists. The NCSE has done terrific work in keeping creationism out of schools. But in saying that theistic evolution is “scientific,” as Genie did on Sunday, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. What is science profited if we help evolution get accepted more widely, but in so doing lose our own scientific soul?

    If you accept the theory of evolution and don’t believe in god(s) or invoke god(s) in explaining how evolution works, then you are simply lying to people if you say theistic evolution is a valid interpretaion of the theory of evolution. It’s an “ends justifying the means” strategy and one that scientist should not employ. If the theistic evolutionist actually then looked into evolution they would realize that (From Coyne’s blog post)

    No evolutionary biologist puts in her scientific papers a note to the effect that God might be involved in the process she’s studying. Anyone doing that would be laughed out of the field. So if scientists reject theistic evolution in their own work, why accept it when the public believes it? It’s pure hypocrisy to do so, and a blatant attempt to coddle believers.

    Science does not advance through intellectual dishonesty and neither should science education for the sake of expediency.

  74. 74
    Wally Hayman

    Despite all the potentially valid advice to emerge from the studies, I somehow suspect the better title for your article would have been, “How to Reason With Your Goldfish.”

  75. 75
    Fynn

    I think there is some merit to the idea that fundamentalists are more likely to be persuaded by someone who shares their religious ideology. Admittedly, the likelihood of this happening is still not very high.

    When I was a fundamentalist Christian, if someone who did not share my faith tried to challenge something that I believed, I would have thought that they were probably an agent of Satan, and therefore potentially lying and/or arguing in bad faith, in an effort to make me doubt my faith – in other words, if their argument seemed convincing, I would have thought it was (as a Republican congressman recently put it) “lies from the pit of hell”. On the other hand, I would have been more likely to trust someone who shared my faith, and actually consider their arguments. I don’t think I knew any atheists then, but I do remember checking out people’s biographies while reading stuff they wrote (basically to verify their ideology), in order to determine whether to give any credence to their arguments.

    My road out of fundamentalism and back to reality actually began with reading “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”, by John Shelby Spong. That was my first exposure to the idea that there were liberal Christians who didn’t take the whole Bible (or rather, the most convenient parts) literally. Back then, being a Christian was a core part of my identity, and I couldn’t imagine parting with that. But once I was able to add a “critical thinking” aspect to my identity, in addition to being Christian, it didn’t take long to realize that once you discard the idea of it all being literal, that all you really have left is a charity and a social club, neither of which I would choose to join or donate to, given the broad range of other options.

  76. 76
    Fynn

    To clarify the point I was trying to make: I think there are a lot of people for whom ideology (either religious or political) is a very important, and even the most important factor in how they self-identify. (I would bet that if you ask a fundamentalist Christian “what kind of person are you”, their first (and probably only) answer would be “I am a Christian”.

  77. 77
    cirbryn

    consciousness razor wrote:

    According to Coyne, Scott is claiming theistic evolution is scientific.

    Response: Coyne related the following: “Genie said something like this (I didn’t write down her words), “What we care about is getting the science accepted, and yes, all of these positions are compatible with science, so I have no problem considering them as science.”

    So based on that I’d say that Scott was attempting to say that theistic evolution is compatible with science – meaning the hypotheses of theistic evolution haven’t been disproven. That’s a significant difference from creationism, and one that bears emphasizing.

    I find it very unlikely that Genie Scott would claim (with a straight face) that it’s scientific to assume without evidence that evolution was subtly tinkered with by an intelligent, non-corporeal entity. That’s clearly a faith-based assumption.

    And so long as we all recognize that theistic evolution isn’t science, I see no reason to oppose it. The battle, as I see it, is with people who try to ignore evidence or subvert science because of their faith-based preconceptions. Theistic evolutionists do neither.

    parasiteboy wrote:

    If you accept the theory of evolution and don’t believe in god(s) or invoke god(s) in explaining how evolution works, then you are simply lying to people if you say theistic evolution is a valid interpretaion of the theory of evolution.

    Response: The NCSE isn’t saying theistic evolution is a valid interpretation of evolutionary theory. They’re saying it’s consistent with evolutionary theory in the sense that its faith-based assumptions haven’t been disproven. One could accept all the evidence and still be a theistic evolutionist. One could not accept all the evidence and still be a creationist.

    unclefenris wrote:

    I would bet that if you ask a fundamentalist Christian “what kind of person are you”, their first (and probably only) answer would be “I am a Christian”.

    Response: Exactly! And that’s why it’s so hugely important to acknowledge that no one need choose between being a Christian and accepting evolution. Evolution does not disprove Christianity or God. It just makes them unnecessary as explanations of the world.

  78. 78
    parasiteboy

    cirbryn@77

    And so long as we all recognize that theistic evolution isn’t science, I see no reason to oppose it

    What’s the harm right? While we’re at it, as long as we all recognize that alternative medicine or faith healing isn’t science based medicine there’s no reason to oppose it, except that its not supported by the available facts.

    Response: The NCSE isn’t saying theistic evolution is a valid interpretation of evolutionary theory. They’re saying it’s consistent with evolutionary theory in the sense that its faith-based assumptions haven’t been disproven. One could accept all the evidence and still be a theistic evolutionist.

    But science doesn’t accept everything until it is disproven. Otherwise science would never be able to tell me that my ass leprechaun that comes out every night to sing me to sleep isn’t real, because it has not been disproven yet.

    One could not accept all the evidence and still be a creationist.

    Why not? I don’t know of any that would follow this line of thinking, but why couldn’t someone be a creationist and say that all of the evidence of evolution, age of the earth or universe is just something that was constructed by the creator? It hasn’t been disproven and would be consistent with the evidence.

    Response: Exactly! And that’s why it’s so hugely important to acknowledge that no one need choose between being a Christian and accepting evolution. Evolution does not disprove Christianity or God. It just makes them unnecessary as explanations of the world.

    I agree, unless they say that evolution was guided by God, then they are wrong I approach audiences that may have religious beliefs by saying that evolution does not describe how life came into existence, only how it evolved from the first organism(s).

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