John Haught releases the video

Haught finally gave permission to release the video of the Coyne-Haught debate — you can watch it now.

Haught had to get in the last word, though, he released it with a letter. It’s quite a letter, too. He explains that he didn’t withhold the video because he was a coward, oh, no — it’s entirely because Jerry Coyne was such an awful, bad, wicked man.

But let me come to the main reason why I have been reluctant to give permission to release the video. It is not for anything that I said during our encounter, but for a reason that I have never witnessed in public academic discussion before. I’m still in shock at how your presentation ended up. I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it all that I did not want other people to have to share what I witnessed that night in October. I still don’t.

That makes you want to watch it even more, doesn’t it?

Rather than answering my point that scientism is logically incoherent–which is really the main issue–and instead of addressing my argument that the encounter with religious truth requires personal transformation, or for that matter instead of responding to any of the other points I made, you were content to use most of your time to ridicule several isolated quotes from my books. I was absolutely astounded by your woeful lack of insight into, or willingness to grapple with, the real meaning of these passages. Sophisticated argument requires as an essential condition that you have the good manners to understand before you criticize. Your approach, on the other hand was simply one of “caricature and then crush.”

I’m listening to it right now. So far, I’ve only gotten into Haught’s mealy-mouthed babble, and I don’t have much sympathy for him. What does “encounter with religious truth requires personal transformation” even mean? It’s a bald assertion. He gripes that science couldn’t detect cosmic purpose…why? And why should we believe theology can?

I’ll also add that Haught’s letter is a rather nasty, vicious, personal attack in itself. I’ll report back after I’ve heard Coyne’s part — I’ll be listening to see if it’s quite as cantankerous as Haught makes it out to be.


Yeesh. Haught’s closing statement is to tell us to read our bibles and consider kenosis and revelation — it’s pure theo-babble. Where does Haught get any kind of reputation as anything other than a very silly man? He’s just going on and on with this ridiculous crap.


I’m halfway through Jerry’s talk. No ad hominem so far; he’s arguing that there is a conflict between science and religion, and he quotes a few comments from Haught, but I’m not hearing any insults. Coyne disagrees with Haught, which is the whole reason they’re having the debate…is Haught upset because his opponent dares to present an argument in opposition to his?


I am totally baffled by Haught’s complaints. Coyne’s entire talk is on topic, emphasizing that science assesses reality effectively while religion…doesn’t. He points out that theologians, including Haught, fall back on the claim of the metaphorical interpretation, but that’s not an insult, that’s the simple, obvious truth. Sure, he points out that Catholicism has committed evil acts, but that’s part of the argument — if religion were a true source of great moral knowledge, as the religious claim, then why isn’t it legitimate to show that those claims are patently false?

Coyne’s sin is making his case strongly. Nothing more. It was a good, thorough dissection of Haught’s claims, and I can see why Haught would resent it being made publicly available, since he does a great job of making theology look feeble and ineffective and phony. But Haught’s 3-page open letter is far more defamatory than anything Coyne said.

Why I am an atheist – Doubting Thomas

Well I am one because that’s what you call someone who is not a theist, whatever you think that is. So I don’t believe in gods because I don’t see any need to. It seems that the only thing different between believing and not believing is that not believing means you get to do what you want on Sunday and you don’t have to do all the other stuff believers believe they should do. Like be bored to death in church and hate others because they don’t believe what you do.

Everything else is the same. The supposed god does not in any way affect what goes on. He does not answer prayers or intervene in floods and other disasters. He doesn’t reward good behavior. Same result as not praying or not believing.

Someone, Voltaire I think once said, “If there were no god it would have been necessary to invent him”, possibly so, if your goal was to control people. I don’t need that; I’m not a king or government. And since I don’t care for any more authority than is necessary, I don’t see the need to maintain the invention.
I discarded belief in god because it was worthless. The days when an espoused belief was an asset are fading. Politicians in this country still can’t get elected without it, but I’m not a politician. There are other human interactions where ‘having religion’ is still looked on as a plus, but I choose not to get involved with many of those and when I do, such as at funerals and weddings, I just keep quiet, or sit with my sister and laugh and make jokes.

Oh, and last but not least, believing in gods and all those made up stories about him just seems stupid. I mean, none of it holds up to scrutiny. It’s all silly nonsense.

Doubting Thomas
United States

Predators among us

Feministe has a long, thorough, and scholarly overview of the most common kind of rape: acquaintance rape. It’s not the stereotypical violent assault that is going to affect most women, but the guy who gets them drunk and assaults them quietly, in situations with reasonable deniability. The article is loaded with triggers for you women who have experienced those situations, so I’ll just briefly summarize. The good news: it’s only a small percentage of men who are these kind of sexual predators. The bad news: they do it repeatedly, and usually get away with it. A few guys are making the rest of us look bad, and are inspiring a culture of fear in women.

One very useful part of the article is a summary of what we can do to isolate and stop the recidivist rapists.

(1) Men who inhabit cis- and het- identified social spaces need to listen to women. The women we know will tell us when the men they thought they could trust assaulted them; if and only if they know we won’t stonewall, deny, blame or judge. We need to listen without defending that guy. That guy is more likely than not a recidivist. He has probably done it before. He will probably do it again.

(2) The same men need to listen to other men. The men who rape will all but declare themselves. The guy who says he sees a woman too drunk to know where she is as an opportunity is not joking. Men who rape look for assurance that their social license to operate is in effect; they look for little confirmations that if he takes home the drunkest woman at the party and she says the next day that she said no, that she’ll be blamed and not believed. Choosing not to be part of a rape-supportive environment actually tells the rapist that his behavior has risks, and not everyone will take his side against an accuser.

(3) We need to change the culture of discourse about rape (and I mean all of us). Rapists know that the right combination of factors — alcohol and sex shame, mostly — will keep their victims quiet. Otherwise, they would be identified earlier and have a harder time finding victims. Women need social permission to talk frankly about sexual assault, because the more women can say what happened to them, the more difficult it is for the same man to rape six women without facing legal or even social consequences.

(4) Because the rapists have a fairly well-developed modus operandi, is is possible to spot it and interrupt it. We can look for the tactics and interrupt the routine. We can spot the rapist deliberately getting the woman drunk or angling to get the drunk woman alone in an unfamiliar place, and intervene. A guy offering a drunk woman a ride home may just be offering a ride, but if he is insistent when someone else offers a ride, this ought to raise a flag. If a guy is antagonistic towards women and places a lot of emphasis on sex as scoring or conquest, and he’s violating a woman’s boundaries and trying to end up with her drunk and alone, we don’t have to be sure what he’s doing to be concerned, and to start trying to give her exit ramps from his predatory slide.

I think #2 is going to be the toughest one. The men who engage in that sort of behavior tend to hang together and reinforce each other, and the men who will speak out and shut down predatory behavior in their pals at its onset will quickly find themselves excluded from the wolf pack. The problem, as we’ve seen in online behavior by the self-centered pigs, is that there’s no shortage of men (and women!) willing to form a support group for misogyny and rape culture.

A century of concern trolls

This is a letter to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle from 1916. Look, this person is just trying to be helpful to the cause!

“Have to voters of Montana stopped to seriously consider whether there will be gain to them in sending a young woman to congress? Admittedly there will be novelty in such a proceeding; admittedly the state will be talked about for such action on its part, but will the talk be beneficial to Montana or otherwise? Montana has earned something of a name for herself as one of the most progressive of states looking for practical results rater than the sentimental or freakish; and voters should seriously consider whether by casting their votes for Miss Rankin, regardless of how attractive a personality she may have, they would not be giving the state undesirable publicity.

“Have the suffragists of Montana considered whether the sending of a young woman to congress would promote the cause of suffrage? Is it not true that such action on the part of the voters of this state, by unduly advertising the desire for office on the part of women, would seriously retard the suffrage movement in other states?

“Is there any justification for the claim that the women of Montana owe suffrage to Miss Rankin? Is it not true that other women, Mrs. H. L. Sherlock for example, were working for woman suffrage before Miss Rankin was out of her cradle? Did not suffrage come to Montana rather through the example of other states around her, and through the action and votes of men of the state? Miss Rankin undoubtedly had a part, but no more than many other men and women.

“Has Miss Rankin had the life experience that is necessary to make her a useful servant of Montana in the halls of congress? Does she understand the land questions arising in this state, the questions relating to the various irrigation projects, and other matters of practical importance to the state’s development? If Miss Rankin was a young man instead of a young woman – of the same age and experience – would anyone think of sending her to congress? If we are going to send a woman to congress from Montana, would it not be well to send one who has had a woman’s part in life, who has won her place in the state in a woman’s way?”

I liked this bit best: “Is it not true that such action on the part of the voters of this state, by unduly advertising the desire for office on the part of women, would seriously retard the suffrage movement in other states?” Don’t look to eager, ladies, it might hurt the cause if you’re too bold.

The implication that she’s not a real woman who won by following a “woman’s way”, and at the same time questioning whether a woman could actually know anything about the practical, manly issues in Montana is just icing on the cake.

The candidate, by the way, was Jeannette Rankin, who won the election handily and went on to become the first woman elected to the US Congress. She was a dedicated pacifist who voted against our entry in World War II…and she was also a Republican. I don’t think she’d fit in any more.

The incredible self-destructing psychologist

Holy crap. A Dutch social scientist’s career has just crashed flamingly. He apparently had a tremendous reputation.

“Somebody used the word ‘wunderkind’,” says Miles Hewstone, a social psychologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “He was one of the bright thrusting young stars of Dutch social psychology — highly published, highly cited, prize-winning, worked with lots of people, and very well thought of in the field.”

But maybe someone should have been made a bit suspicious by this behavior:

Many of Stapel’s students graduated without having ever run an experiment, the report says. Stapel told them that their time was better spent analyzing data and writing. The commission writes that Stapel was “lord of the data” in his collaborations. It says colleagues or students who asked to see raw data were given excuses or even threatened and insulted.

Graduate students who were not doing experiments, a PI who was, graduate students doing all the analysis and writing, a PI who wasn’t? This was an obvious inversion of the natural order. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! Such peculiar behavior should have alerted someone early on — data are primary.

And now, the denouement:

Diederik Stapel was suspended from his position at Tilburg University in the Netherlands in September after three junior researchers reported that they suspected scientific misconduct in his work. Soon after being confronted with the accusations, Stapel reportedly told university officials that some of his papers contained falsified data. The university launched an investigation, as did the University of Groningen and the University of Amsterdam, where Stapel had worked previously. The Tilburg commission today released an interim report (in Dutch), which includes preliminary results from all three investigations. The investigators found “several dozens of publications” in which fictitious data has been used. Fourteen of the 21 Ph.D. theses Stapel supervised are also tainted, the committee concluded.

Stapel has made a comment. I don’t think he understands what he has done at all.

Stapel initially cooperated with the investi­gation by identifying fraudulent publications, but stopped because he said he was not physically or emotionally able to continue, says Levelt. In a statement, translated from Dutch, that is appended to the report, Stapel says: “I have made mistakes, but I was and am honestly concerned with the field of social psychology. I therefore regret the pain that I have caused others.” Nature was unable to contact Stapel for comment.

No, he was not honestly concerned with the field of social psychology. If he actually cared about what the evidence told him about the world, he wouldn’t have made it up. He was honestly concerned with the selfish goal of making a name for himself, nothing else.

He’ll never be trusted in any field of science ever again. He’s going to have to look for a new career…maybe theology, where making up data is a way of life.

(Also on FtB)

Theologians don’t get to slither out from under the rules of nature

Keith Ward sounds just like Ken Ham. It’s remarkable. You see, Ken Ham has this schtick in which he basically denies all of history: you weren’t there (the only valid evidence is eyewitness evidence captured through your biological senses), and because history isn’t repeatable, its study isn’t a real science, isn’t empirically verifiable, and is subject to whims and fads and therefore lacks any substantial objective core. Ken Ham says this kind of nonsense because he believes in a great elaborate line of historical bullshit, and wants to pretend that his illusions are on an equal footing with the evidence-based history.

Keith Ward is doing the same thing.

A huge number of factual claims are not scientifically testable. Many historical and autobiographical claims, for instance, are not repeatable, not publicly observable now or in future, and are not subsumable under any general law. We know that rational answers to many historical questions depend on general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment. There are no history laboratories. Much history, like much religion, is evidence-based, but the evidence is not scientifically tractable.

I keep trying to get this message across: the creationists (Ward is definitely not a fundamentalist/literalist sort, however) aren’t just out to corrupt biology, they stomp all over every scholarly discipline with great contempt. I agree that not every thing in the universe is scientifically verifiable or repeatable, but this cavalier attitude towards history is reprehensible. Yes, there are history laboratories: there are historians who do archaeology, chemistry, biology, astronomy and all kinds of hard sciences to confirm and test historical claims. The provenance and authenticity of documents is a major historical interest.

A discrete historical event may not be repeatable, but it is amenable to confirmation and validation. The source information can be independently verified. Multiple approaches can be taken to test a claim. Did Caesar invade Gaul? It only happened once, you don’t get to repeat the invasion, and no one alive was there, after all. But we can look at the archaeology of France, we can see the linguistic evidence, we’ve got documents from the time, and every time someone digs up a Roman cache from the first century BCE we are getting more information on the event.

I do consider it scientifically tractable. Evidence-based, empirical study and logical analysis are right there at the heart of the discipline of history.

But you know why Ward is doing this, right? It’s so he can claim Jesus, as a historical figure, is totally exempt from scientific examination.

Claims that the cosmos is created do not “trespass onto” scientific territory. They are factual claims in which scientific investigators are not, as such, interested. Scientific facts are, of course, relevant to many religious claims. But not all facts are scientific facts – the claim that I was in Oxford last night, unseen by anyone, will occur in no scientific paper, but it is a hard fact. So it is with the miracles of Jesus, with the creation of the cosmos and with its end.

So, if I claimed that Keith Ward was hatched from a rotten turtle’s egg incubated in a dung heap, that would not be trespassing onto scientific territory? Because it happened in the past and no one directly witnessed it, my claim gets to stand unchallenged and unquestioned? I should think if I made a remarkable claim in defiance of a standard scientific observation — that humans are birthed in a standard mammalian way, and that Keith Ward is a mammal — I think I should certainly deserve an argument on scientific grounds against my assertion.

On his trivial claim that he was in Oxford, unobserved, I’d say it could be turned into question amenable to rational inquiry and verification. Is there evidence that is compatible with him being in Oxford at that time? Did he leave any traces, credit card receipts, was he spotted on a traffic camera, were there witnesses he didn’t see? Even if there actually is a complete absence of evidence and nothing we can directly test, we can at least whether the claim is compatible with what we know.

A better comparison with the miracles of Jesus would be for Keith Ward to claim he’d been on Mars last night. Can we evaluate that scientifically? Sure can. If he’s going to argue that, he’d better have a collection of Mars rocks, a spacesuit, and a rocketship in his back yard.

Again, I’m not claiming that everything has to be demonstrable as a scientific fact. A poem is not subject to a scientific determination of its truth. But the existence of a poem does not flout the nature of the universe, and doesn’t call into question the validity of physics, while Ward is blithely swapping in mundane experience as proof of extravagantly unlikely, ridiculous claims like the “miracles of Jesus”. Not only is it a very weak argument, it’s dishonest. It’s like saying you can’t disprove I had a drink of water this morning, therefore you you can’t disprove that my glass of water had cosmic consciousness and taught me how to fly.

Also, as long as you’re insisting on saying very silly things, could you at least have the courtesy to avoid using your ignorance to spit all over the entirely respectable and rational discipline of history?

(Also on Sb)

Halloween is over, so it’s time for…

…Christmas! I’ve already seen Christmas trees up, so I guess I have to gird my loins and gather up my hosts and prepare for another seasonal campaign in the War On Christmas. Here’s an early salvo, The Ultimate Christmas Quiz. Christians and scholars, click on the link and find out what a confusing botch of a holiday it is.

Of course, this campaign will ultimately end with me gathering up the family and celebrating something or other anyway.

Jeezus. 24? Really?

I didn’t know they made them that young. I scarcely remember that time — that was that abnormal moment in life when joints don’t creak and your back doesn’t ache and you have absolutely no idea what your future is going to be like, right? I’d wish her a happy birthday, but the young don’t need the acknowledgment.

Hey…am I the oldest codger on freethoughtblogs? Now there’s a depressing thought.