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Nearer My Atheism to Thee: How to Respond to Theists - Comments

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 1 by mordacious1

Shermer has a quote above that he thinks amusing, here's the end of that quote:

Michael Freakin' Shermer's heart is not pure enough for Jerry Coyne.

If Jerry Falwell's circle of orthodoxy was, say, 1 meter in radius, then His Worshipfulness The Right Reverend Jerry Coyne's circle of orthodoxy has a radius of, roughly, a Planck Length.

What a hideous, hateful loser Jerry Coyne is.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:42:00 UTC | #417808

eclampusvitus's Avatar Comment 2 by eclampusvitus

As one who has been guilty of certain... bluntness... myself, I must admit there is room for detente and a certain willingness to grant the opposition's sincerity.

Shermer remains a sharp weapon in the cause of rationalism.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:45:00 UTC | #417809

Eshto's Avatar Comment 3 by Eshto

If you insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity...


Um, I don't recall anyone ever saying that.

I still don't see it being addressed that evolution by natural selection - being by definition the process that happens in nature when there is NO intelligence overseeing things - is logically inconsistent with the idea that there is an intelligence overseeing things in nature.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:49:00 UTC | #417810

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 4 by mordacious1

Darwin’s theory of evolution as the means by which God creates life.


Um...you got this a little mixed up Michael. The TOE has nothing to do with creating life. That would be Unintelligent Design you're thinking of. Been hanging out with your pals at the Templeton Foundation too much? They're getting you confused.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:50:00 UTC | #417811

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 6 by Jos Gibbons

believers who accept Newton’s theory of gravity as the means by which God creates stars, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and universes, can just as readily accept Darwin’s theory of evolution as the means by which God creates life.
There are two options: either every single creationist has simply missed this easy possibility, or you're wrong. It could be either, but here's why I think it is probably the second: Darwinian evolution implies enormous scales of suffering, unfairness and contingency precisely because God did not and does not intervene in biology. This makes the problem of theodicy orders of magnitude larger - but worse still, you can't blame it on people. There was no "fall of man" in the time of the ammonites. When then did God require levels of torment that defy the english Language for each minicule advancement in the gene pool's consensus on how to improve the eye?
When I debate creationists...I try to take a Dawkinsonian approach
The Dawkinsian [sic] approach is to not debate them at all. Get your facts right!
If you insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight
Straw man. We accept any aid we can get. What we ask is that promoters of evolution stop taking sides on a theological question. Some religious beliefs are compatible with scientific facts and some are not, and it isn't Shermer's place to tell American Christians which type of believer they are. Nor is it the role of the NCSE to loudly proclaim that every concern about the evolution-religion compatibility issue is considered flatly wrong by those who represent the scientific community on these scores. I am sick to the back teeth of groups that are almost entirely atheist, precisely because any religious beliefs they may have once had have in their personal judgment lost what sense they made due to subsequent scientific discovery, declaring as if they speak for all of science that science has no atheism-inducing effect, with all who say otherwise being equally bad, whether they are expert contributors to scientific knowledge like Richard Dawkins or idiots like Ray Comfort.
Don't forget the bigger picture of what we're trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity.
And you think the best way to do that is to obsess over convincing people of evolution, however ridiculous their other opinions then have to become? (Christian biologists often suggest convergent evolution produced human intelligence, literally saying they don't see why it only having happened once is a counter-argument. These people's ideas are self-contradictory, the worst any idea can be.) It is the rest of us who are able to see the wood for the trees, knowing that treating religion like a spoiled child who must be allowed its own way even as it is convinced of scientific facts will forever miss the crucial point of WHY they should be believed: because one should believe according to reason. By contrast, one feels like, if only evolution were made a dogma, the NCSE would be happy. But insofar as reason can make a better life for humanity, it must do so by getting people to be reasonable. Focusing on one proposition, whose truth must be promulgated at all costs, is the central failing of people like Shermer.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:55:00 UTC | #417814

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 5 by mordacious1

...we need as many people as we can get on board toward a common goal, whatever it may be (starvation in Africa, disease in India, poverty in South America, global warming everywhere…pick your battle).


Oh yeah, the religites have done a wonderful job so far with these problems...causing them that is.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 01:55:00 UTC | #417813

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 7 by mirandaceleste

Ugh. This is a truly awful piece. Despite what Shermer asserts, he most definitely is an accommodationist, and this piece only makes that clearer. I wrote a response here.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 02:03:00 UTC | #417815

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 8 by Alovrin

On the other hand, if it is your goal to educate everyone on earth to the power and wonders of science (as it is the Skeptics Society and www.skeptic.com) and to employ science to solve social, political, economic, medical and environmental problems (as it is my personal goal),


Not sure how science can be used to cure purely political or social problems. Might to be over stretching there Michael.

then we need as many people as we can get on board toward a common goal, whatever it may be (starvation in Africa, disease in India, poverty in South America, global warming everywhere…pick your battle). If you insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity, then you have just alienated the vast majority of the world’s population from your project.


I dont see many atheists INSISTING that people renounce their faith. And when the governments of the world make DEALING WITH "Starvation in Africa, Disease in India, and Poverty in South America" their top priority rather than the extermination of a band of illiterates in some inaccessible region in the world. Im sure we will all breathe a sign of relief.
When is that happening Michael? Do you have any news on that front?


To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.


Your rhetoric is getting a bit overblown here Michael.
And, a reminder, its not atheists singing hymns as the "ship of humanity" heads down the gurgler.

Sometimes religion is the problem, but usually it is something else—local political battles, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, poverty, etc. Don’t forget the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity. Pick your battles carefully and choose your strategy wisely.


So why do some 35% of people in the USA still believe people and dinosaurs walked on this planet together?
Why does the vast majority of peoples in Africa still believe in witches and evil spirits? What are religious organisations doing about these abominations?

What is this bigger picture of which you speak?
What battles are worthy of having WISE strategy?
Or maybe your've just gone a bit overboard in the ego protection gambit.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 02:12:00 UTC | #417817

Janus's Avatar Comment 9 by Janus

Shermer hasn't addressed Coyne's criticism at all.

The point is that in his obsession to get religious believers to accept one scientific theory in particular, Shermer is working against the greater goal of getting them to accept science. All of science, not just a few of its conclusions, or even all of its conclusions, but the scientific way of thinking itself.

Take a statement like this:

Believers should embrace science, especially evolutionary theory, for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divinity in a depth never dreamed by our ancient ancestors.


Or even worse, this:

The belief that there is a war between science and religion where one is right and the other wrong, and that one must choose one over the other (...) [is] baseless.


The first quote is just disturbing in its assumption of the truth of 'divinity'. The second quote is faitheistic accommodationism in its purest and most disgusting form.


I don't think any one of us has any problem with teaming up with religious people to solve certain problems, but why should teaming up with someone mean having to do everything to pander to their sensibilities?

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 02:17:00 UTC | #417818

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 10 by mirandaceleste

Comment #436250 by Janus

Excellent comment. This hits it on the head:


The point is that in his obsession to get religious believers to accept one scientific theory in particular, Shermer is working against the greater goal of getting them to accept science. All of science, not just a few of its conclusions, or even all of its conclusions, but the scientific way of thinking itself.


Exactly

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 02:31:00 UTC | #417821

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 11 by Ophelia Benson

I don't think any one of us has any problem with teaming up with religious people to solve certain problems, but why should teaming up with someone mean having to do everything to pander to their sensibilities£


It shouldn't. It doesn't.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 02:45:00 UTC | #417824

Eshto's Avatar Comment 12 by Eshto

Shermer is the new Maher.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 03:01:00 UTC | #417829

j.mills's Avatar Comment 13 by j.mills

I do agree with Shermer that there is room for many approaches: Dennett is mild, Hitch merciless. But different styles are not the same as different facts. It is the theists who regard evolution as incompatible with scripture, and they are justified in doing so for several reasons:

1. If scripture is literally true, evolution didn't happen.

2. If evolution did happen, gods are unnecessary and have no role to play in our origins.

3. If evolution did happen, there's nothing metaphysically special about human beings - no souls, no afterlife, no centre of the universe.

Those are serious concerns to the believer, and Shermer can't brush them away with a warm smile. The conflict is real, and to pretend otherwise is a short-term and probably misguided manoeuvre at best.

(I always have to look up how to spell 'manoeuvre'. And US readers will still protest.)

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 03:03:00 UTC | #417831

DeusExNihilum's Avatar Comment 14 by DeusExNihilum

It seems that shermer is far too interested in a strange recruitment drive for people to simply ACCEPT evolution as quickly as possible and not actually understand the damn theory or understand why it is Lunacy to deny its validity.

To me, it seems, that he's saying "Feel free to butcher evolution! Put as many or as little God's in as you like, I'll even let you pick when all the 'magic' was meant to happen and while you do that I'll just not pay any attention. See no evil hear no evil eh?"

No Shermer. No. God is not welcome in evolution any more than he is welcome in planet formation; There is no evidence nor need to suggest any non-directed cause at ANY stage so it is irrational to suggest that there is one.

People need to be shown HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Warping a scientific theory to accommodate for a non-scientific presupposed belief Does more harm than good, all it does is teach people that it's okay to wedge the supernatural into any scientific theory that happens to look at them funny.

Evidence, Reason, Logic, Critical thinking, Scepticism <<< THESE are the things that should be getting touted, understanding and accepting evolution will come as the natural conclusion of applying these.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 03:32:00 UTC | #417839

nother person's Avatar Comment 15 by nother person

Shermer creeps me out. I pondered posting as much on Coyne's site yesterday and restrained myself, primarily because I have trouble pinning my visceral reaction to specific observations of his behavior. It sounds like woo to say it's just a gut feeling or a hunch—'intuition.' There is a piece in this article that sheds some light on the matter though. Shermer says:


If you insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join [emphasis mine] the common fight against these scourges of humanity...


I think Shermer has something I call 'celebrity ego.' He seems to think very hierarchically and traditionally about social interactions. It seems to me he aspires to be an elder of the tribe. He is criticizing Coyne for wanting to be a too strict a gatekeeper for the tribe (totally erroneously in my opinion), but he himself works completely within that tribal paradigm. He wants to be the gatekeeper, or at least he wants the gate to be kept according to his own prejudices. I think the notion that there is no gate would be lost on him. I think he sees himself as some sort of VIP who ought to be listened to, not because what he says makes sense, but just because he thinks he deserves to be in the spotlight leading lesser beings.

He sets off all my bullshit alarms almost as much as D'Souza does.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 03:35:00 UTC | #417840

nother person's Avatar Comment 16 by nother person

Don't forget the bigger picture of what we're trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity.


Shermer tries to co-opt science to serve his utilitarian morality. No. What we are trying to accomplish through science is an understanding of reality. A 'better life for all humanity,' whatever that may be, is a question of politics, not science. Sure technology offers us some options we may not have otherwise, but a better life for all, however one measures it, does not depend on a better understanding of the physical world. It is a matter of empathy and cooperation, sharing, justice, equal rights and protections under the law... there are so many ways to improve our social reality that have nothing whatsoever to do with understanding physical reality.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 03:52:00 UTC | #417844

A's Avatar Comment 17 by A

"Darwin’s theory of evolution as the means by which God creates life."


?

Abiogenesis, 'intelligent design', magic, a cosmic egg . . . there are many ideas that postulate the creation of life, evolution has never been one of those ideas.


....................................................................


Damn, I hate the formatting on this news feed, why not some very basic buttons for commonly used functions like bold, italic, and underscore ?

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 04:07:00 UTC | #417846

Crazycharlie's Avatar Comment 18 by Crazycharlie

I agree that Shermer is too accommodating to theists but I still respect the man. To call a fellow rationalist names like "faithiest" like Jerry Coyne does isn't right. It's just ridicule that Shermer doesn't deserve. There's a wide spectrum of atheist temperaments. I think he's simply a mild mannered, nice guy. It's just in Shermer's nature to try and find common ground with theists. Shermer doesn't say the "New Atheists" are a disaster as someone like Michael Ruse would. If you're arguing for rationalism over superstitious nonsense then you should have Michael Shermer on your side.

He's not a Templeton Foundation fellow either, as some have hinted.

P.S --Comment#436272 And he's nothing like Dinesh D'Souza.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 04:29:00 UTC | #417853

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 19 by SaintStephen

Shermer says:

To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.
Well thank you very much Neville Chamberlain. Shermer is shamefully fear-mongering here, threatening atheists (and humanity itself !) with impending "disaster" if we don't yield to his peculiar brand of accomodationism. Shermer's political behavior is no better than George Bush's or Tony Blair's. As has been said so eloquently in this thread by Jos Gibbons, Janus, nother person, and others, the idea here is to advance science as a way of thinking and understanding reality. Shermer obviously believes reality is some sort of game whose facts can -- and should -- be argued over and tossed around like beachballs between the "science team" and the "religious team." And he's positioned himself perfectly to be a profitable "referee."

Because in the end, we're all one big team, right Michael? So it really doesn't matter if one person believes Noah chased down a mating pair of skunks sometime before the flood, and another believes 72 virgins (white grapes?) awaits him in Heaven after he sets off the bomb underneath his jacket. Baby steps, right Mr. Shermer?

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 04:39:00 UTC | #417855

ggab7768's Avatar Comment 20 by ggab7768

Oh come on guys. Michael Shermer can't play in our reindear games?
Are we taking our bat and ball and going home?
I thought the problem with those we titled accomodationists was that they seemed to prefer we keep our traps shut. Michael is clearly saying that our style is also valid and we're taking his legs out from under him? Our way or the highway?
I don't know, seems kinda childish to me.
Michael's a good guy, Jerry took a swing at him and Michael threw back an open handed halfhearted slap. He obviously went out of his way to keep Jerry from being too insulted. Are we really this petty?

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 05:43:00 UTC | #417862

njwong's Avatar Comment 21 by njwong

So much hostility towards Shermer just because of opinions he expressed in one CNN article.

And yet, I am sure no one can answer definitively the one key question that Shermer pondered:

What is the right way to respond to theists and/or theism?

There is no ONE "right" way. There are just multiple approaches. What is the composition of CNN's audience like? Would a more aggressive "no-accommodation" stance work with such an audience to encourage them to embrace science and reason, as well as to persuade them not to let their religion and dogma be their why for rejecting evolution outright?

Suppose you are Shermer, and your CNN audience is your religious parents and aged grandparents. Would you temper your message (to promote the understanding of evolution) to them without insisting that they drop their religious beliefs?

However, if the audience is the Cameron and Comfort duo from "Way of the Master" instead. Do you think Shermer would be so moderated in his approach then?

Shermer actually put it very well in his last paragraph:

Sometimes religion is the problem, but usually it is something else—local political battles, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, poverty, etc. Don’t forget the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish through science and reason: a better life for all humanity. Pick your battles carefully and choose your strategy wisely.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 05:54:00 UTC | #417863

Janus's Avatar Comment 22 by Janus

The two posters above don't seem to get it.

Shermer is saying that the forthright (Dawkinsian) approach should only be used when dealing with fundies. He thinks the honey & sugar approach should be used with moderates: It's what he himself does in the CNN article, and it's what he's telling us to do in the True/Slant article.

So yes, he is effectively telling us to shut up, just as he is spreading the usual accomodationist lie that science and religion are compatible.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:05:00 UTC | #417865

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 23 by mordacious1

Comment #436295 by njwong

Suppose you are Shermer, and your CNN audience is your religious parents and aged grandparents. Would you temper your message (to promote the understanding of evolution) to them without insisting that they drop their religious beliefs?


You tell them the truth, no wishy-washy business. You say, "Evolution is as much of a fact as gravity. If you think that is untrue, you are ignorant. If your religion tells you otherwise, it is wrong".

When someone makes nice with believers, so they feel good, that someone is perpetuating myths. These myths are destructive. Why pander to this bullshit? I don't think Shermer has given any good answers to that question. So that we can all work together to make a better world? The less religion in the world, the better.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:12:00 UTC | #417866

ggab7768's Avatar Comment 25 by ggab7768

He's saying there's room for both. That's exactly what PZ Myers says and Coyne never wrote a hit-piece on him. Has anyone here accused PZ of accomodationism? Is it just we agressive types that are allowed to make such statements?
I'm a daily reader of Coynes blog and a huge fan but I felt he was reaching too much with his accusations. I feel that Michael handled the rebutal gracefully enough. He was plainly addressing believers in his original piece and approached the subjects in a fitting manner. Our side whipped up a shitflinging party.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:13:00 UTC | #417868

njwong's Avatar Comment 24 by njwong

And further to my earlier comment, and to reinforce the idea that an accommodationist approach might sometimes be the more effective approach in mainstream media like CNN or New York Times, take a look at the New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2009 - Non-Fiction":

http://www.nytimes.com/gift-guide/holiday-2009/100-notable-books-of-2009-gift-guide/list.html?ref=books#list-group-1

Note the glaring omission of any books on Evolution despite 2009 being such a special year for Darwin and the Theory of Evolution. And what made it to the "Notable Books of 2009" list? Oh yeah:

  • The Case for God by Karen Armstrong


  • The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
  • Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:13:00 UTC | #417867

    SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 26 by SaintStephen

    The Accomodationist Conversion Experience

    *Chip, an atheist, and Dale, a theist, are sitting on a park bench one day*

    Chip: Isn't it great that we can both agree on evolution, but keep our conflicting beliefs about God separate and still remain friends? It's just wonderful.

    Dale: Actually, I no longer believe in God.

    Chip: What?

    Dale: I am going to join you as an atheist.

    Chip: That's wonderful! Just wonderful. What made the difference?

    Dale: Yes, it was your gentle treatment of me during my spiritual crisis that finally convinced me that God doesn't exist. It was all your long nights of telling me that maybe there was a greater good somewhere on the planet when New Orleans was being smashed by a hurricane. It was our heartfelt phone conversations, where we would laugh together when you told me "God bless you!" when I sneezed.

    Chip: You mean to say my gentle, chocolate laxative accomodationist techniques masterfully and gracefully paved your road to Godless atheism? You, the committed theist?

    Dale: Yes, it was your magic touch that did the trick. Dawkins just pissed me off, that strident evolutionist, but you... you allowed me to ferment just like a fine wine. To do it my way.

    Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:16:00 UTC | #417869

    ggab7768's Avatar Comment 27 by ggab7768

    Look at it this way.
    When Richard wrote TGD he said that his hope was to get ahold of the fence sitters, and he certainly had some success there.
    Michael is reaching over the fence to the other side. The closer he gets them to the fence, the better chance people like Richard have of pulling them over.

    Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:24:00 UTC | #417870

    chewedbarber's Avatar Comment 28 by chewedbarber

    Ah, it's ok. Just don't get so pissy when someone shores up the rear with the truth, if your aim is anywhere near as good as you hope then they'll get the message and we wont lose anyone to nonsense. I can live with the duplicity, war is hell--eh?

    Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:28:00 UTC | #417871

    Tumara Baap's Avatar Comment 29 by Tumara Baap

    I am vexed Dr. Shermer. In the vein of picking your battles carefully and choosing strategy wisely, one may concede that evolution is controversial. This would placate a swathe of citizenry and biology may continue to be taught unencumbered and without poisoning the civility amongst ourselves. Think about it... would you not like to extend the reach of biology?

    You are clearly willing to dilute the essence of science by suggesting that faith may be be compatible with its absolute antithesis: the very methodology grounded in rationalism and empiricism. From there, giving evolution the shaft should be a very small step.

    P.S. For those who may have missed it, Jerry Coyne has a superb essay in The New Republic on science and religion titled "Seeing and Believing".

    Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:38:00 UTC | #417872

    mordacious1's Avatar Comment 30 by mordacious1

    28. Comment #436303 by ggab7768

    No, Michael has climbed over the fence and is now sitting in their pile of weeds telling them how beautiful their garden is.

    Sun, 29 Nov 2009 06:41:00 UTC | #417873