And it doesn’t feel good. Kroto is a Nobel-winning chemist, and I’ve had dinner with him — he’s a good guy, a very outspoken atheist, strongly on the side of science education, and all around smart and personable. So I hate to say it, but this opinion piece on the Michael Reiss affair is just too exclusionist for even me. Reiss, you may recall, was the education director for the Royal Society who resigned after making some conciliatory (or reported as conciliatory) remarks about creationism.
I do not have a particularly big problem with scientists who may have some personal mystical beliefs – for all I know the President of the Royal Society may be religious. However, I, and many of my Royal Society colleagues, do have a problem with an ordained minister as Director of Science Education – this is a totally different matter. An ordained minister must have accepted that there was a creator (presumably more intelligent than he is?) thus many of us (maybe 90% of FRSs) cannot see how such a person can pontificate on how to tackle this fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface. Reiss cannot have his religious cake in church and eat the scientific one in the classroom. This is where the intellectual integrity issue arises – and it is the crucial issue in the Reiss affair.
This is too close to blacklisting people for their personal affiliations, and it should not be acceptable. I agree that being an ordained minister implies that the guy is fairly deeply into weird old woo, but surprise: people are really good, for the most part, at holding a lot of disparate ideas in their heads, and people trained as scientists are especially good, for the most part, at keeping the spiritual blather out of their science. Keep in mind that generic religiosity can be rationalized to avoid conflict with specific issues in science (in ways that are deplorably vague and pointless, of course); this isn’t like discovering that Reiss was a card-carrying creationist with an a priori commitment to anti-science. If we’re going to start kicking scientists out of organizations because they have some bit of irrationality in their lives, we’re all going to be in trouble. Do I need to start expunging the space operas from my bookshelves and the old cheesy horror movies from my DVD collection?
I say that qualified scientists should be awarded positions like Director of Science Education solely on the basis of their record as science educators. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they understand the difference between science and their private hobbies, and aren’t going to mix the two up. And, of course, if they do mix them up, go after them for the specific infraction, and not for their private interests.
This is also difficult for me to say because I do think religion is a taint that corrupts the thinking of otherwise intelligent persons, and I do find it personally suspicious when an ordained minister is given authority in a scientific organization…but no one is perfect, it’s a rational principle to judge by only appropriate criteria, and it’s simply an injustice to shut people out with such an unyielding criterion.
Why? Do you feel they aren’t really works of fiction?
Beth B. says
Now I’m confused. I thought you wanted to round up the religious in cattle cars?
If I were a catholic (I’m not) – I would say that the way to salvation is through the study of science. There ARE scientists that can have faith and be fantastic scientists.
One wonders why Kroto sees a difference between being religious – which he admits first off isn’t a problem – and being an ordained minister, which is apparently One Step Too Far. A minister must have accepted a creator – so must almost any religious person. What’s his point, exactly? Where’s the dividing line?
Oh dear, PZ. If you keep considering each issue on its actual merits, and evaluating each person for their actual behavior, you’re going to lose your reputation as Militant Atheist.
I agree with your stance on this. There are so many different ways of understanding, defining, re-defining, using, and thinking about the “God” concept that you can’t predict how believing in it will change or effect anyone’s work, or even life. Kroto is mistaken here.
On the up side, Harry Kroto is now going to make it possible for you to enjoy the benefits of being one of the reasonable, tolerant, moderate atheists that even religious people can appreciate and get along with. Enjoy it while you can.
Just wait until PZ reads this post and writes up a scathing, spittle-flecked screed of a rebuttal! Wait. This is Pharyngula. Hmm… PZ, your inability to keep to the script your opponents have written for you as an intolerant, hate-filled, screeching moonbat of a man is very confusing. Small minds can’t take it. I’d better go read my Bible. I need something that makes total sense and is completely consistent.
Just in case anyone thinks I’m full of s**t.
(most of you have seen this before)
“What would not have been the stupefaction of Augustine if anyone had told him that faith must close its eyes to the proofs of the divine testimony, under the penalty of its becoming science! Or if one had spoken to him of faith in authority giving its assent, without examining any motive which might prove the value of the testimony! It surely cannot be possible for the human mind to accept testimony without known motives for such acceptance, or, again, for any testimony, even when learnedly sifted out, to give the science — the inward view — of the object.”
Brad D says
“Here, Here! Well spoken Bruce!”
No, he feels they aren’t bad works of fiction.
Rev. "Suds" Pshaw says
I have a problem with his idea that ordained ministers “must have accepted that there was a creator” – I AM an ordained minister and a staunch atheist. I became ordained as a way of putting into context just how ridiculous the notion of religious ordainment is – that and I wanted to perform marriages.
My initial temptation is to say a minister has to be assumed to be woo-prone and therefore not suitable for a position as the one Reiss held.
Lets ignore the issue of whether he said creationism should be taught or not for a moment,I dont think there is agreement on that anyway.
But you make the valid point that so many scientists that do their job fantastically well have a little woo going on somehow,somewhere,and we all know how great the mind is at compartmentalizing.
had a lil crazy going on on the side when they made their world-changing discovery?
I didnt quite expect you to say this PZ,and my gut instinct is certainly saying,”if youre not for us,youre against us”,but given a little thought,what the hell does it matter if Pasteur or Crick or
I get your point of inclusiveness and the democratic correctness of it all.(That’s not a slam,btw). Just having belief in a deity does not preclude you from being a (good) scientist, I get that. And the dividing line is the differences between Reiss and Behe. Behe lets his beliefs get in the way of his science; and even then he should not be excluded from applying for a job similar to Reiss’s
However I do see Kyoto’s point in the illogic of having the head representative of a science organization professing he believes in the supernatural, no matter how compartmentalized his thinking is. I admire Gould, but the non-overlapping magisteria is a complete cop out and a capitulation to those who want to have their rational cake with woo icing and eat it too. It smacks of Nisbet’s framing arguments.
I think that the goal he is reaching for is an admirable one. Freedom from all the old cults that bind us. This will not happen overnight, if ever. Until then, we should try to get people to use the scientific method, even if they happen to have membership in a religion.
By th way, doublethink is now quite common in George Bush’s America….
There’s a huge difference between enjoying realities you know are made up and actually believing them. There’s also a huge difference between little accidental irrationalities that everyone has and revelling in them as with religion.
It matters not at all, because other scientists (potentially with their own odd biases) could nonetheless apply objective rational methods to test their claims of discovery.
But that’s not the same situation as that of an official spokesperson on science education. Here the typical correctives of the scientific method don’t really apply.
I’m conflicted on this particular issue — on the one hand, I agree that we should hire people simply on how well they do their job, and not on their alleged general beliefs. However, one thing that we want science educators to do is to promote rationality about the physical world, and I think it is very hard to be a good example of that if one is also overtly religious. The whole superstitious worldview is what science educators are fighting against, and it seems extremely odd to me to have your chief representative of that opposition someone who endorses such superstition in some fashion. I think that, at the very least, all things being equal, we should prefer to have science educators (or at least representatives of one of the world’s most prestigious science organizations) who aren’t religious.
Your Augustinian fetish is irksome.
Bjorn Watland says
Should Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez have been denied tenure? There was a concern that he was an ID nut. Or if someone is religious, but not an ID nut, it’s ok?
See, he’s not saying that religious affiliations prohibit one doing good science. But the question has nothing at all with Reiss’s qualifications to do science per se. A “blacklist” would bar certain groups from the profession altogether, and no one is espousing that.
But I do not see the point, at a time in history when the primary challenge to science education comes directly from christians, to have a person with a position of leadership in a christian organization also heading a body that is going to come into opposition with christian organizations. It’s too close to conflict of interest.
If there were two candidates for Director of Science Education, and if one of those candidates was an ordained minister, and if everything else was equal, it would be logical to not hire the ordained minister. Some religious people think they are moderate, but there’s nothing moderate about the childish belief there’s a magic fairy hiding in the clouds.
Thank you PZ!
I’ve seen so many disturbing comments on RD.net about this piece by Kroto. It’s almost as if people want to see the religious wear little triangles.
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with a little reservation about this.
Great post PZ. Excluding people because of their privately held religious beliefs is as bad as excluding people based on their lack of said beliefs. That said, I think Reiss was expressing a point of view that was inappropriate for one in his position, and that the RS as a whole has to be firm about sticking to science in the science classroom.
Shame, but I have to diagree with PZ and on my first post here too.
The big distinction here is that Reiss is an ordained minister of the Church of Enngland (CofE). Regardless of his ability to partion science and religion, he may have difficulty partioning public policy and ecumenical polity.
The CofE is divided on the suitability of women or homosexuals for priesthood. Would you still support him if he was Director of the Equal Opportunities Commission?
Tony Sidaway says
I don’t see a problem with this at all. The Royal Society is a members-only club and Reiss (not a member) was employed as one of its officers. Predictably his controversial statements on a sensitive matter confused a lot of people about what the Society intended, and the members asked him to step down. He did so.
I think Kroto is right to bring up the basic conflict that exists between presenting the scientific viewpoint and being an ordained upholder of weird magical beliefs. It isn’t unreasonable to ask that someone in such an important position be free of such encumberances.
We shouldn’t exclude so PZ for Pope! Let’s go Vaticans…
PZ Myers says
So, those of you who think exclusion is acceptable: would it be OK to have a rule in the royal society bylaws that said only atheists should be allowed to hold office?
I’d say no. If there are good reasons to exclude Anglican ministers, such as that some think women and homosexuals are inferior, than ask the individuals about such matters, and get their opinion on it. Look at their record: have they been favoring the promotion of religion, creationism, ID, that sort of thing, in the classroom? Then give ’em the boot for what they’ve done.
My objection is that using religion as a proxy for their scientific ability is a bad idea, and dangerous, when we should be assessing their scientific ability directly. And yeah, that will exclude many applicants right there, and justifiably so.
Regardless of his ability to partion science and religion, he may have difficulty partioning public policy and ecumenical polity.
That’s essentially why I’d like to see ordained clergy prohibited from holding public office. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are the politicians of the imaginary, the unelected representatives of the religious polity to the supposedly-metaphysical. As such, I think there’s a direct conflict of interest.
I’ve read none of the comments on this thread (yet), but I found the letter through another source and read it before I arrived here.
PZ – I agree that Kroto’s article reads a little tto strict as preemption, but the Royal Society handled this rather well. They did, after appoint him to the post, despite his other credentials, and let him do the job – until he demonstrated that his beliefs interfered with performing his duties.
Conflict of interest comes up, though, in all areas of society, and sometimes it’s just the case that an otherwise perfectly acceptable candidate for a given position of sensitivity or that will be subject to public scrutiny has associations or prior commitments that could at least give rise to perceptions of conflict. In those cases, it just makes sense to go with a candidate without such associations and avoid the issue altogether. At the very least, the perceptions are going to distract from the mission, no matter how good the person is at compartmentalizing.
So which are your favorite space opera book PZ?
I used to love the works of Harry Harrison – I recently re-read the Death World series and loved it – especially the athiest – anti-religious themes!
I was a bit shocked by Harry Kroto’s piece. I’ve always been a fan of his but this went too far. As athiests we need to beware of accusing others of thought crimes. Freedom of thought, and speech, are precious.
W. Kevin Vicklund says
Yes, but not because of his involvement in ID. He was denied tenure based upon reasonable criteria. For example, he was unable to secure any grants after joining ISU, and those that he had secured prior to joining ISU were shut down early (he did not receive almost 25% of the original value of the grant awarded to him by Templeton, which he used to write his ID book instead of the promised series of journal articles, and his involvement in a NAI grant was terminated 4 years into a six year program). He graduated no Masters or Ph.D. students at ISU, and the textbook he co-authored was supposed to be the Masters thesis of one of his students (who failed to earn his Masters). Unlike his colleagues at ISU, he was unable to get any additional telescope time, having to rely solely on previously scheduled observations and the observations of others to write his papers.
Quite simply put, while he was undeniably excellent at his work when under the supervision of other astronomers, he didn’t have what it takes to run his own lab. And in science, demonstrating that you can run your own lab is what gets you tenure.
I don’t see that here, on either count. First, it’s not “religion” that’s being identified as the problem, but leadership in a religious organization. And second, it’s not his “scientific ability” that’s being assessed, it’s his fitness to assume specific duties the performance of which may at least be perceived by reasonable people to conflict with his prior commitments.
Gonzalez was denied tenure due to his lack of published research, lack of grants and for doing bad science.
If I recall, it was an ordained priest who came up with the Big Bang theory.
I’m sure the irate catholics surveilling this blog are experiencing major cognitive dissonance right now.
Reiss is still a biologist, and still a member of the Royal Society. He voluntarily resigned from his education post. Resigning is something the English do when they’ve been an embarrassment. In the US, many of our Congress just hang in there, regardless of what they’ve been caught doing. The English handle these things better than we do.
Sir Harold thinks the education post was inherently ridiculous for Rev Reiss, as it was too contradictory. Perhaps that’s correct. The Royal Society may have asked too much of the man.
I’ve no problem with Krotos stance. He was talking about the question of scientific integrity in a particular post – that of director of education of the Royal Society. He was simply stating that its a bad idea for someone to have this as a part time post alongside another job where he tells people that the laws of thermodynamics are frequently being violated by a ghost who made the universe.
Remember, those of us who live in the civilized world don’t need to tippy toe around the question of religious sensibilities the same you you lot in Jesusland seem to require.
“Gonzalez was denied tenure due to his lack of published research, lack of grants and for doing bad science.”
His publishing record was fine, he just didn’t bring in enough grants.
Quite frankly I wish we lived in a world where Gonzales could have got tenure. Despite his ID leanings he seems to be able to get some good work done too (its not as if his silly views on evolution have much effect here anyway). The problem is that hardly anyone gets tenure these days and he is just one of the 95% who didn’t make the grade.
Glen Davidson says
I certainly agree with PZ on this, and have written similarly before this.
But the one thing I’d say for Kroto is that the situation is different in the UK, with a state church. The sense that with the state supporting religion, that religion ought to stay out of science, seems a bit more defensible in such a situation.
Nevertheless, I don’t like judging people for a job by their religion instead of their abilities and adherence to what is expected. Reiss should be judged on his merits, and it’s long past time to kill their state-sponsored religion.
Count Nefarious says
I also can’t see a problem with anything Kroto said. Reiss isn’t just a subscriber to religion. He’s an exponent and presumably a self-professed authority. He preaches religion to his flock, trying to pass it off as fact.
PZ is right that many of us secular folk have nutty beliefs. Few of us make a living out of those nutty beliefs.
Nerd of Redhead says
OT, there is a very persistant troll over at the Jenny/Amanda thread. A little help would be appreciated.
Bjorn Watland says
So, Gonzalez being an ID nut had nothing to do with his denial for tenure? Surely there would be some bias there.
PZ Myers says
Anything by Iain Banks, hands down.
But back to the topic: I agree that there should be suspicion when the leader of a religious organization has a position within a scientific organization — I expect him to be especially scrupulous about keeping the two separate. Caesar’s wife and all that. I also feel that I have to be especially careful to not push atheism on my students in the classroom, and that’s perfectly fair. I just don’t feel that it is right to use external associations that may not impinge directly on performance to discriminate, while recognizing that in cases like this they have the potential to influence.
And in the specific case of Reiss, I actually think it was reasonable for the Royal Society to ask for a resignation. There was a specific claim by Reiss that suggested he might be compromising science and religion in his work, and that specific instance, rather than the generality of his extracurricular affiliation, is the kind of grounds on which decisions like this should be made.
I have to applaud your stance on this one PZ (as I do on many occasions), I thought Reiss was unfairly treated after this comments which were blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
If anything, Reiss was in the best position to talk about the conflict and overlapping magisteria of science and religion. After all, he has to deal with the conflict within his own mind; and therefore, along with his reputable scientific background, comes to a reasonable view of co-existance between science and religion.
We are not going to resolve the educational issues by ignoring and dismissing perfectly valid questioning by students. Science works by both evolution and revolution, and encouraging students to be sceptical in every situation can only be a good thing. If they do not understand the reasoning and science behind a fact, theory or law we would expect a teacher to respond to them, so why not do the same when they question why their worldview says something that contradicts the science?
I couldn’t accept, for instance, the idea behind the fundamental forces at school as it contradicted my ill-formed common sense. After questioning it made my common sense change. To religious pupils, their worldview makes common sense.
But conflict of interest isn’t an “innocent until proven guilty” type of matter. It’s an “avoid even the perception” thing. Many’s the judge, I imagine, who’s recused him- or herself from a case that he or she fully believed (and probably correctly) that the perceived conflict would not actually affect the eventual judgement. But the perception itself would have tainted the verdict.
PZ @ #44
Bill Donahue’s head just exploded. “I could have have sworn Myers was evil..EVIL I tell you!”
Michael Fonda says
I’m not adding anything to this conversation except a heartfelt bravo to PZ. Anyone should be able to play the science game so long as they play by the rules. Keep God, spooks, mystical energy fields, elves, fairies or any other superstitious nonsense out of it. As long as people genuinely save that sort of thing for their own time and don’t betray any hidden agenda for undermining hard science stuff no problem.
I think it would be good if Reiss’s ideas could be tested to see if they work. After all, he may have insights that the irrationally challenged don’t.
I can see both sides of the issue, but honestly, I’ve got to side with PZ on this one. As far as I know, in Britain, religion is generally a private affair. As long as Reiss wasn’t blatantly spewing anti-scientific crap, then there is no reason why he shouldn’t be eligible for the position. Of course, he showed that he has a proclivity for creationist claptrap, and he was called on it. If you ask me, that’s the right way to do things. Don’t make assumptions about people, wait until you have confirmation of what they believe.
Also, have you ever read any Peter F. Hamilton, PZ? The Commonwealth Saga is quite good.
For you space opera buffs: Alastair Reynolds. And Charles Stross, Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are awesome, though perhaps only marginally space opera.
Lovely post, PZ! I dig opportunities to show the religious that atheists can be the bigger man. (Or in my case, woman.)
Louise Van Court says
“This is too close to blacklisting people for their personal affiliations, and it should not be acceptable.”
“If we’re going to start kicking scientists out of organizations because they have some bit of irrationality in their lives, we’re all going to be in trouble.”
From comment #44:
” I also feel that I have to be especially careful to not push atheism on my students in the classroom, and that’s perfectly fair.”
Well said. Good on you.
As one obvious example familiar to most here, Ken Miller would be an excellent director of science education. He certainly believes in a god, a specific Christian god. I can’t speak for PZ, but I’d bet that if they were hiring a director of science education for Minnesota and Miller was the guy they picked, PZ would applaud the decision, even though he would disagree with Miller’s religious views.
Anyone want to bet against that? (I could use some extra cash. :)
Steve Page says
My initial reaction to the Michael Reiss incident was that, regardless of the intent of his words, they were poorly chosen. Since linguistic accuracy is so important within science, suggesting that creationism could be construed as a different “world-view” to evolution was an egregious use of language. The ID crowd are constantly looking for opportunities to elbow their way into science, and it’s quite possible that they would have tried to use this as leverage (although using Reiss’ statement to back up ID is just an argument from authority, I’ve little doubt that it would be taken out of context, as usual), so Reiss had a duty to be more careful about what he said. I know that he subsequently clarified his statement, but the waters had already been muddied by then, making it difficult for him to continue without suspicion about his agenda from many within the scientific community.
Randy Stimpson aka Intelligent Designer says
Looks like I’ve had a positive influence on PZ. Now how about a Molly award.
I’m a big fan of Ken Miller but I often wonder what the deal is with his Catholic religion. Is this some gimmick he uses to sell books? Why does he believe in a magic fairy if he doesn’t invoke it to explain the diversity of life? If he really was an atheist, wouldn’t he want to keep that a secret because of the money he makes pretending to believe in Mr. God?
Sometimes I think people like Ken Miller are part of the problem. He is saying it’s OK to believe in religious bullshit and still accept modern science. This is not going to help rid the world of the religious insanity that is good for nothing but ruining people’s lives.
@ EV #17 – I went to the link you provided-and honestly don’t know what you were trying to tell me.
I don’t have a fascination w/St. Augustine, but he has said some things that are relevant to this post. If you look at post #54 – Ken Miller is used as an example. He is also catholic.
I’m just sayin’ …
Jack Rawlinson says
Well, I’m totally with Kroto on this. But then I have generally found that British atheists (and I am one) have far less truck with the religious than our American chums, even ones as estimable and outspoken as the good PZ.
When it comes to defending rationality, I’m all for “blacklisting” the demonstrably irrational. I happen to think that the holding of certain opinions or beliefs rightfully should debar you from holding offices which, by their very nature, would be undermined by those opinions or beliefs.
I am the kind of liberal who does not believe that all things should be tolerated. I’m quite prepared to stand up and say that burquas should be banned in schools or in other state institutions, and I’m equally prepared to stand up and say that ordained god-botherers should be banned from positions of authority in the Royal Society. You may think this makes me a bad person, or at least, mistaken. Respectfully, I do not share that view. I am delighted that someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Harry Kroto is of the same opinion.
No no no! We have to draw a line in the sand. I could not agree more with Kroto.
I find it extremely curious that you do not stoop from complete childishness
like desecrating crackers and then step away from the real battle. You sir have
lost my admiration. I bet you don’t miss it. Whatever.
tim Rowledge says
Interrobang @ #27 –
I fear you are missing half the story. So far as I can make out political parties and movements are rarely anything other than religions to all practical purposes.
+ most of them have their charismatic leader(s)
+ the basic tenets are faith based and not up for discussion
+ they require loyalty ‘to the party’
+ anyone disagreeing is trashed as evil
+ a one-time member leaving is anathematised
+ all of them that I can think of are based on ludicrous idiocy, frequently intended to fleece the sheep
Tony Sidaway says
PZ: So, those of you who think exclusion is acceptable: would it be OK to have a rule in the royal society bylaws that said only atheists should be allowed to hold office?
I found this press release describing the post.
He is not a Fellow of the Royal Society. His work as an advisor in the field of education is renowned, but if he unsettles the Fellows I think he’s the wrong guy for the job.
Another cleric might have managed it better. Another believer might have managed it better. I don’t think atheism is the important factor, but strong involvement in religion is probably less than ideal.
Jerry Billings says
You should be aware that I am by any means a scientist — I am a lawyer — and as such I know what a conflict of interest is. Considering an ordained minister as Director of Science Education is a blatant violation of any application of rules against conflicts of interest. This person is commited to a belief Christianity and as a result in miracles, in supernatural processes, in a virgin birth, in ressurection of the dead, in Satan and his demons, and much more. If he were honest he would reject such beliefs and his failure to do so is ample evidence that he cannot be trusted to fulfill his obligation an the post he is considered for.
There cannot be an accommodation between science and religion. Belief in the supernatural precludes an acceptance of scientific truth in a rational mind.
I’m a big fan of Ken Miller but I often wonder what the deal is with his Catholic religion. Is this some gimmick he uses to sell books? Why does he believe in a magic fairy if he doesn’t invoke it to explain the diversity of life?
Most Christians accept science, including evolution. The idea that they don’t is a myth created by the radical rightwing Christian movement to try to make it seem like they have more support than they do, and to try to sway other religious people with lies. Don’t fall for it.
Now the answer to your question is what PZ said in the post — those Christians (and Jews and Muslims and Hindus etc.) who accept evolution simply compartmentalise. Lots of people do this sort of thing on many subjects. For instance, Log Cabin Republicans, who support a party who wants them to be inferior beings. Another example is those many libertarians who support the GOP, which is the party which promotes the most invasive, least freedom loving policies re privacy and individual rights. I’m sure others could be thought of, but hese two political ones are prime examples because they’re so incredibly stark.
James F says
Agreed all the way, PZ. If Michael Reiss were a creationist (see Don McLeroy in Texas), that would have disqualified him for any sort of leadership post in education (except at a place like, say, Liberty University). As it happened, he made a remark that turned into a media storm, and he showed a lot of class and dignity in resigning his post. His being an ordained minister should have nothing to do with it. Look at Prof. George Coyne and Prof. Michal Heller, both Catholic priests and both staunch opponents of ID. I would argue that having Reiss in that post could have been a positive thing, helping to quell some science vs. religion tensions.
Stop being prejudice against Christians PZ… oh wait.
Yeah, I agree with you here. There’s no reason to exclude theist scientists just as long as they keep their beliefs out of the scientific realm.
Though I can understand his concern, especially if we are able to look before the big bang (if there even can be a before) and into the multidimensional realm that may (or may not) lie beyond. If the big bang is God’s moment of creation are we in effect killing god (in the Nietzsche sense) by studying the science beyond that point?
He wrote a good essay of his beliefs here. In fact there are some great essays from the likes of Stephen Pinker, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens and Stuart Kauffman here.
@4: I wonder if the difference is perhaps that an ordained minister has taken an oath/agreement to teach Christianity, as opposed to “merely” be a follower? If so, a minister would have a confict of interest from the onset, whereas a follower possibly might not.
Ian H Spedding FCD says
When Chris Comer was forced to resign from her post as the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, apparently because she had forwarded an email announcing a forthcoming presentation by Barbara Forrest, it was roundly – and rightly – condemned as an example of religious prejudice, of the bigotry of the Religious Right.
But when Professor Michael Reiss was forced to resign from his post at the Royal Society, following a campaign led by Sir Harry Kroto amongst others, this action was applauded by the majority of atheists commenting on these blogs. In their eyes, he was guilty of two mortal sins: suggesting that creationism might be discussed in the science classroom if the topic was raised by a student and being an ordained minister of the Church of England.
Yet any honest reading of what he actually wrote and said – rather than the press reports of his words – reveals them to be unobjectionable. He did not advocate teaching creationism or intelligent design in the science class, merely that, if asked, the teacher should explain why they are not considered science and to treat the questioner respectfully. As for being a member of the Anglican clergy, that could only be held against him if it could be shown that he had allowed his religious beliefs to unduly influence his scientific work or he had abused his position at the Royal Society by proselytizing for his faith. No evidence for this has ever been offered.
What we are left facing is the unpleasant truth that there is a double standard operating here: what was wrong for Chris Comer was right for Michael Reiss. Yet if the treatment of the former smacked of a McCarthyist witch-hunt then so did that of the latter and it is all the more shameful that it was perpetrated by highly-respected academics who should have known better.
Peter Hearty says
I’m very glad to see that both PZ and Richard Dawkins have come out against blacklisting people on the basis of their religious beliefs. Michael Reiss was an excellent and well qualified director of education for the Royal Society. There is no evidence whatsoever that he allowed his religious beliefs to influence his work.
His view, that children from creationist homes suffer from the wrong world view, is perfectly correct and his statement that such children’s views should be challenged in class when they raise them, is simply Royal Society policy. The relish that so many people showed in attacking Prof. Reiss was an unedifying spectacle. I personally believe both he and the Royal Society should have stood their ground and exposed the journalists who so blatantly mis-characterized and sensationalised his views.
Just having belief in a deity does not preclude you from being a (good) scientist, I get that.
I’m sure this has already been touched on here, but we’ve had this discussion before, and rather than thinking that religion should preclude one from any given position, I’ve always been of the opinion that it rather should be looked on as a handicap instead. Many handicaps can be overcome with a bit of application and hard work, and being a good scientist while carrying a bagful of religious woo around with you can certainly be done as well (there are plenty of case examples to choose from).
I personally concluded long ago that when speaking to fellow scientists who are religious, I would approach it from the angle of: “recommend you drop the unnecessary baggage” rather than: “you can’t be part of our club carrying that baggage with you”.
I got eaten alive previously on Pharyngula for suggesting that religion was a handicap, just like missing a leg or an arm might be a handicap for a baseball player to overcome, though.
I have plenty of lives if someone would like to chew on that position again.
as to Ian:
In their eyes, he was guilty of two mortal sins: suggesting that creationism might be discussed in the science classroom if the topic was raised by a student
sorry, but that still DOES stand as being ridiculous when debating secondary level education, Ian. Nor does it have much to do with what is under discussion in THIS thread.
nice try playing the concern troll yet again, though.
There’s no reason to exclude theist scientists just as long as they keep their beliefs out of the scientific realm.
The problem is, the greater the cognitive dissonance between the science and the woo, if the woo is not entirely abandoned, the more likely the woo will start leaking in, causing said person to say really, really stupid things.
Francis Collins being an excellent case on point.
realize it CAN and HAS had an affect on any number of scientists throughout history, and that we should be actively encouraging those who want to have a career in science to reject woo?
those Christians (and Jews and Muslims and Hindus etc.) who accept evolution simply compartmentalise.
agreed, except it’s not all that simple.
It takes a lot more effort to balance two plates than one.
Bob Vogel says
Ichthyic #73 – I think they also call this problem “Agnostic”
Nick Gotts says
I posted the following on an old thread, just before this one began, but it seems relevant here (for the record, I agree with PZ and disagree with Kroto on this thread’s specific topic):
The shameless distortion is out there…
Why Resiss was right to go:
Comment 60 on
#41 Arthur Putey
The UK Director of Education at the Royal Institution (a prestigious scientific institute) said he wanted creationism taught in schools in exactly the same way as Sarah Palin did”
Ian H Spedding FCD says
I remember my secondary school science teachers as being a largely uninspiring bunch but I don’t remember any of them dismissing a student’s question as being “ridiculous”, although that is apparently how you and Sir Harry Kroto and others believe they should respond. I’m glad I didn’t have someone with your attitude teaching me science at school.
A very nice scientific argument – from the dismissive ad hominem rather than the discoursive school of debate, if I’m not mistaken.
Iain Walker says
Bjorn Watland (#18)
Setting aside the fact that Gonzalez’s advocacy for ID played little or no role in his failure to gain tenure, the two situations are not comparable. ID is anti-science, in that it attempts to subordinate science to religious ideology. Michael Reiss’s religious views do not commit him to such a position, and indeed do not prevent him from being opposed to ID and it’s programme.
So being an ID nut calls into question one’s scientific credentials. Merely being religious, in itself, does not – it depends entirely on how the individual in question understands the relationship between science and their religious beliefs.
Iain Walker says
No, he doesn’t. What Michael Reiss seems to have a proclivity for is making mildly ambiguous comments on the best way of combating creationism and promoting the teaching of evolution in schools. It was the misreporting of his comments by our gloriously moronic British press that got him into hot water.
One can disagree with practicality or desirability of the confront-creationism-without-being-confrontational tactic that Reiss was advocating, but accusing him of having “a proclivity for creationist claptrap” is just plain wrong.
Stross’s Singularity Sky certainly counts as space opera. It’s not milsf though because the events are too plausible (as in `they happened’, just not in space).
I remember my secondary school science teachers as being a largely uninspiring bunch but I don’t remember any of them dismissing a student’s question as being “ridiculous”
you’re officially a fuckwad; not that I haven’t known this for some time.
nowhere in that previous thread, nor in this one, did I ever claim that the response to a student’s question was to brand them idiots or ridiculous. Instead, like there, the specific issue was wasting time discussing creationism in a science class to begin with.
you sound more and more like a Jack Chick with each new post, Ian.
James F says
This is your moment, Arthur Putey!
Good God. A moment of rationality, of conciliation, even. Are you ill? Have you taken your temperature?
Ian H Spedding FCD says
Good, I’m glad to hear it. So, if you’re not going to brand them idiots or ridiculous, just how would you deal with a question about creationism from a student and how would it differ from what Reiss suggested?
…and you sound less and less scientific with each comment like that.
Sir Harold Kroto says
Here is the problem in a nutshell: Rev Reiss in church on Sunday tells a child that God created the World and everything in it. On Monday he is teaching scientific method which is based on disinterested search for evidence – based fundamentally on doubt and skeptical inquiry. Furthermore the child must disregard anything for which there is no good evidence as having any fundamental validity. The child then asks why did Reiss on Sunday tell him that God did it without any evidence. There are people who can rationalise this to themselves but not to me and 90% of scientists and not to the astute child – This is a real problem and that is why it is an intellectual integrity issue.
Good, I’m glad to hear it.
no fucking apology forthcoming from you for lying about it though, right?
So, if you’re not going to brand them idiots or ridiculous, just how would you deal with a question about creationism from a student and how would it differ from what Reiss suggested?
that has been detailed numerous times, even especially FOR you in at least the previous thread, as well has having been discussed in several other threads, both here and at PT, that I’ve seen you poke your weasel nose into over the last year or so.
that you now seem to conveniently “forget” is blatant dishonesty on your part.
like I said.
you’re a fuckwad.
Ian H Spedding FCD says
Posted by: Sir Harold Kroto @#84
First, my thanks for taking the time to post here, Sir Harold.
I assume there is no disagreement over the proposition that it is perfectly possible for someone to do good science whilst holding religious or other unfounded beliefs. Newtonian mechanics, for example, were not rejected because Newton happened to be fascinated by alchemy, nor were the works of Faraday or Maxwell discredited by their respective faiths. In other words, we can assert that in science, as in other fields of human endeavour, it is what people do, rather than what they believe, that counts.
Coming to the specific case of Professor Reiss, if he preaches divine creation on Sunday and naturalistic science on the Monday it is up to him how he reconciles the two. As long as, come Monday, he does not abuse his position as a science educator by improperly introducing his personal beliefs into the science classroom then I would argue that you have no case against him.
I would hope that, if a child asked him to explain the apparent inconsistency between his faith and science, he would simply say that science can only investigate claims about the natural world. It does not assume the existence of a god because it has not found any credible evidence for such a being; naturalistic explanations have been found to work very well so far and science sticks with what works. Any questions about the nature of the various gods people believe in should be raised in a more appropriate class such as philosophy or comparative religions. As for creationism, he should explain that science can say is that all the evidence gathered so far points towards the Universe starting around 13.7 billion years ago in what is called the Big Bang. Although there is ongoing research, what actually happened at the point of the Big Bang, what initiated it, what – if anything – came before it, is simply unknown for now.
Having read Professor Reiss’s speech and other comments, I see nothing to suggest that he would have acted improperly. Simply answering a student’s question about creationism respectfully is not the same as teaching it or even endorsing it, as Reiss said.
In my view, whatever Professor Reiss’s religious beliefs are, unless there is evidence that they have improperly influenced his work as a scientist or science educator, they were not sufficient grounds for demanding that he resign from his post at the Royal Society. What has happened does not reflect well on the Society or those involved.
Ian H Spedding FCD says
Posted by: Ichthyic @#85
Iain Walker says
Sir Harold Kroto (#84):
Does he? I mean, does he actually preach on a regular basis, and if he does, does he actually make that kind of unvarnished, unqualified assertion? Or is “Rev Reiss” just any hypothetical ordained scientist?
There may be an intellectual integrity issue of sorts, depending on how Reiss (or our hypothetical ordained scientist) actually reconciles their God-belief with their science – to themselves and to others. Maybe they are guilty of self-deception. Maybe they aren’t being as consistent in their beliefs as they would like to think. Maybe they haven’t really thought things through adequately (but then how many of us manage to think through all of our beliefs?).
But this still doesn’t show that there is a conflict of interest that has any bearing on their ability to do an effective job as (say) Director of Education for the Royal Society. If (for example) someone believes that their faith and their science are separate domains, subject to different criteria of evaluation, and they apply that belief consistently by keeping faith-claims out of their work as scientists and science educators, then I don’t see what reasonable grounds you would have for complaint.
You may be sceptical (and possibly rightly so) of whatever rationale they offer up, but the actual validity of the rationale isn’t really relevant to their ability to do their job. What is relevant is whether or not their own belief in their rationale allows them to do the job effectively.
So I’m entirely with PZ on this one.
Troffim Lysenko says
I’m disgusted with you, Myers! How can you sell out the great Kroto like that?
I mean, come on! How can you trust religious scientists? Gregor Mendel was a Catholic monk, which means he OBVIOUSLY had an agenda, and must be dismissed.
Only atheist geneticists like myself can be trusted to be objective!
that’s right, Ian, ignore your lies and focus on the fact that you are a fuckwad.
What has happened does not reflect well on the Society or those involved.
you mean your misinterpretations of events don’t sit well with you, so you project it outwards as if it were fact?
yes, we all know how your mind works: construct pathetically bad strawmen and spend hours tearing them down.
Perhaps this Nobel Laureate is right. As others have pointed out, science has been filled with crazy religious people like Isaac Newton & Gregor Mendel. I believe even Darwin had training in theology and gave at least a passing acknowledgement to some sort of creator in some of his evolutionary writings. That Einstein fellow also talked abotu God alot in some form. Maybe these individuals should all have been banned from science.
Some of you people need to gain a better understanding of Christian theology. Well some ideas are wrongheaded(intelligent design for example), solid theology tells that God can act through secondary causes like motion and change in the natural world investigated by science. God does not change himself, therefore one cannot find direct evidence for him in an experiment.
Iain Walker says
Just out of interest, what are your criteria for distinguishing “solid” from “non-solid” theology?
This is ambiguous, since it could mean one of three things:
(a) God is so slovenly that he’s been wearing the same underwear for the past 15 billion years. Or possibly that he’s so decrepid or lazy that other people have to change him. Appealing as the imagery is, I’ll assume that this isn’t what you meant.
(b) God is completely unchanging, in all respects. In that case, this contadicts your assertion that God can “act”, since action implies a change of state in the agent.
(c) God does not change in essense or nature, but is subject to change in non-essential states (and so can meaningfully be said to act). But in that case, it does not automatically follow that one cannot find direct evidence (experimental or otherwise) for him.
Anyway, science often deals in indirect evidence – you hypothesise an entity, you work out what the observable consequences of the entity’s behaviour would be, and you test those predictions. This does not require direct observation of the entity, just observation of its predicted effects. You’ve already stated that God can act through secondary physical causes, from which it follows that God does have observable effects. Consequently, there is nothing (in principle at least) to prevent one from finding experimental evidence of said deity.
So is this what “solid theology” looks like? Inconsistencies and non sequiturs? Seems more mushy than solid to me.
To be fair, if the effects of God’s actions are held to be indistinguishable from any other kind of phenomena, then it’s true that you could never obtain any evidence of him (direct or indirect), since you could never identify any given effect as being God-caused. The act-of-God hypothesis can indeed be rendered completely untestable if you choose to frame it that way. But that’s a different justification for God being invisible to science than the one you’ve given.