Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 8, 2009

'UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICA'.... About a year ago, my esteemed predecessor wrote a good "Book Talk" post that I'm going to try to work into a series: "I've been reading an unusually large number of current events books lately (aka 'books that publishers send me for free'), and although there have been a couple of clunkers in the lot, several of them have been very good. I've been remiss in not writing them up on the blog, but at the very least I feel like I ought to give them a brief mention."

mooney_cover.jpg

I've been thinking along the same lines. For example, I recently finished Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, written by my friend Chris Mooney and his co-author, marine scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum.

Now, when I first saw the title, before the book was published, I had a certain pre-conceived notion about what to expect. I figured it would help document just how little Americans understand about science, and why that's a bad thing for all of us.

But that's not really the point of the book at all. Rather, Chris and Sheril have written a great book about the disconnect -- political, cultural, journalistic -- between the scientific community and everyone else. It doesn't matter whether the typical American has memorized the periodic table or can explain string theory; what matters is whether the typical American appreciates the role of science in modern life, and places a high value on scientific inquiry and integrity.

Chris and Sheril explain why we're coming up short, and how we got to this point. Of particular interest, at least to me, was the discussion about how this affects the political process -- we tend to have extremely significant debates on issues where science is critical, but the discussions unfold without a firm understanding of what the science tells us. (In this respect, Unscientific America is a worthy follow-up to Chris' first book, The Republican War on Science, which I also loved.)

It's a fascinating, informative book, which I highly recommend.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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Comments

except..I'm with P.Z. Meyers on this one. The book suggests that atheists among us make nice-nice with the crazy flying-spaghetti-monster nutjobs, and I think the time is LONG past for nice-nice with crazy people.

It's the same old roll-over, roll-over..how long to we roll over for crazy people? Let's *listen* to the crazy people. Let's validate the fact that they believe crazy things. Let's admit that the crazy people have a legitimate place in our public discourse..

sorry, can't do it. The crazy people have been making life miserable in one way or another on this planet ever since we all crawled out of the primordial slime and I, for one, have HAD it with the fucking crazy people.

Posted by: LL on August 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

You have time to read?!

Posted by: henry lewis on August 8, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

What's up with the differnce in font size for the two co-authors?

Posted by: glenintexas on August 8, 2009 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

LL, if by "crazy people" you mean the ones who think the Creation Museum is legit and scientific, I'm with you. If you mean religious people as a general category, then you're an idiot.

Posted by: Mike on August 8, 2009 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Wider scientific literacy isn't possible when such a large percentage of our population belongs to religious denominations that specifically reject long-established scientific fact. Leaving aside the "controversy" over global climate change, just look at the number of people who accept uncritically the notion that Adam and Eve romped around with vegetarian T-Rexes in the Garden of Eden 6,000 years ago, all because their interpretation of the Bible tells them so. Such contempt for science can only have one effect, and it's all bad.

Posted by: bluestatedon on August 8, 2009 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Double-ditto to LL and thank you.

It's appropriate that Steve reviews this pathetic excuse for a book immediately after the "This Week in God" post because it is precisely the failure of Mooney to address the role the freakazoids play in attacking and undermining science that makes the book not just bad but downright dangerous.

Read Jerry Coyne's reviews of "Unscientific America." He covers the book's lies and failures in clear, eloquent detail.

Coyne's review is here.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on August 8, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Two thing contribute to the disconnect. One is that our daily lives do not present evidence of the difficulty of scientific development. All we normally see is the result: an iPod, an automobile. We also are taught to be upset when something breaks or doesn't work the way we expect it to work. The failure seems to be with inanimate objects not paying enough attention to our wants and desires.

Or as it was once said: "Too many notes, just remove a few and it'll be perfect."

The other issue is that the religious nuts feel threatened by the scientific sounding claims made by a certain class of scientist (also nuts). For instance, we are on the verge of producing a machine that can think, or that we could ever "clone" a human or grow a kidney, or even a hand from a few cells. These ideas sprout because we are taught that scientists understand the world so completely. But just remember all the announcements of success or near success that never proved true.

So in general, there is an over-optimistic judgment of our ability to understand nature and develop technology to exploit it...by everyone.

Posted by: tomj on August 8, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, if they'd managed not to hold PZ Meyers as being a "problem" in this mess the book might have been as good as the previous "Republican War On Science"...

But they did, and it leaves this book as a D-

Posted by: Lettuce on August 8, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

What PZ (and LL) said.

LL, if by "crazy people" you mean the ones who think the Creation Museum is legit and scientific, I'm with you. If you mean religious people as a general category, then you're an idiot.

Religion is, hands down, the single biggest motivating factor for denying evolution. From school board crusades to "intelligent design," everyone, every single last god damned one of them, is protecting their idea of God. And that brand of religion is a good chunk of the American population.

The rest of the religious ignore the differences between religion and science and forever hand waving to obscure them.

If Mooney's book ignores religion as the source of America's antipathy towards science, it is only half-baked.

And PZ's complaint about atheism is something of a red herring. The religious, while credulous, aren't stupid. They recognize a threat when they see one, all the way back to Darwin's day, whether there is a tentacle waving atheist in the picture or not.

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

If you haven't read "Republican War on Science," I'd highly recommend it. Great book.

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Any book that can inspire this much mewling fanboi rage from PZ Myers worshippers is automatically good.

Posted by: Eric on August 8, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Religion is, hands down, the single biggest motivating factor for denying evolution. From school board crusades to "intelligent design," everyone, every single last god damned one of them, is protecting their idea of God. And that brand of religion is a good chunk of the American population.

I was taught evolution, and not only taught evolution, but taught that interpretations of the Bible that contradict well-supported scientific theory are false and dangerous. I was taught this in Catholic primary school in the 1960s, out of diocesan-approved text books.

Not all religions believe the same things. Not all Christian denominations have the same beliefs; that's why there are so many of them.

The rest of the religious ignore the differences between religion and science and forever hand waving to obscure them.

It really is hoot, how Christian fundies and hardline, atheist fundies stand shoulder to shoulder in their notions of what "real" religious people must believe.

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Lis: agree, atheists have as much capacity for creating dogma as do religious folks. That is clearly evident in reading comments here.

I will say, once again, that it's insulting to continually read from progressive commenters here and other places that I must be a "crazy" who believes in "fairy tales", etc. because I am a Christian. For the record, I have a degree in science (from a highly-regarded state university known for its science programs), have worked as a research assistant, am always trying to learn more about the natural world. The Christian denomination I belong to and many others are not like the fundies, and in fact are appalled at what those folks are doing. Many of us speak out against their un-Christian and other actions that harm their children (re education), the country and the world.

Posted by: Hannah on August 8, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

The disconnect with science in public life evolves because ambition for the sake of ambition, the naked id, is said to be the principle personal virtue, because it feeds to corporate interest to the exclusion of all else.

It's what you hear in Michael Jackson's music, not musicality or love or sex, but pure naked ambition.

In this environment objective truth is irrelevant, even contemptible.

Posted by: cld on August 8, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Lis: I am not sure you read my post, because you respond to two things I did not say.

1. All anti-evolution people are religious does not equal (=!) all religious people are anti-evolution. I never said all religious people are against evolution. In fact I specified that religious evolution-deniers as a "brand of religion."

2.I never said anything about what "real" religious people must believe. People can and do believe whatever they want, even things that don't make sense.

Religion and science conflict. How can you resolve the facts about our existence with the specific precepts of Christianity? I've never seen it done. It can be ignored, or it can be explained away (hand waving), but neither of them is intellectually honest.

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

"If you mean religious people as a general category"

OTTOMH,

40% of americans believe the universe is less than 6000 years old

Only 35% accept evolution as the correct explanation of the propagation of species.

60% confuse evolution with abiogenesis, the beginning of life.

As a lapsed Catholic and current agnostic, I find it hard to to even define these biblical fundamentalists as a religion, it's a basket full of superstitious certainties on par with the grass skirted native that climbs the hill every morning to throw clams to sun god. Really I look at all religions as such, but these folks insist that it's vital to select only the very best clams and that they must be slung on a particular azimuth and at a specific velocity, if you disagree you're in league with Satan.

That materialists, defined as those who believe if you can't measure it it probably doesn't exist should defer to the grass skirted in matters of policy and ethics is the same as agreeing that the emperor's new suit is marvelous. That they should also refrain from insisting that those who refuse to look to open their eyes and see for themselves is an act of validating superstition in of itself.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum would prefer not to upset those with these fabulist certainties.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/communicating_science/

Posted by: The Pale Scot on August 8, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "... the disconnect -- political, cultural, journalistic -- between the scientific community and everyone else ..."

I've got yer disconnect right here ...

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that time and space are a seamless continuum, and that in reality what appears to one observer to be "space" may appear to another observer as "time"?

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that when you are sitting in front of your computer you are moving at thousands of miles per hour as you whirl around on the surface of the rotating Earth hurtling round the Sun as the Sun itself hurtles through space?

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that what you imagine to be "solid" objects consist almost entirely of empty space, and that even the subatomic bits of "matter" that arrange themselves into such objects are actually fields of energy rather than "solid objects"?

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that packets of energy that are once entangled continue to have instantaneous "non-local" entanglement even if they have moved billions of miles apart?

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that your "body" is a community of organisms and actually contains more bacteria than human cells?

Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that you are so closely related to non-human animals that they might as well be your brothers and sisters?

If your answer to these questions is "no" then you are disconnected from what science has learned about the world.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 8, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Let me reiterate a point I tried to make a couple of weeks ago on a TWIG post.

Do you believe in Zeus and Hera? Why or why not? Do you believe in Shiva or Kali? Why or why not? Do you believe in Isis and Osiris? Why or why not?

Christians (and other religionists, except maybe Deist-types) do not believe in any gods but their own. Atheists and most agnostics don't believe in any of them.

It is hypocritical to not believe in Zeus or Isis or Shiva or Kali and then to criticize someone who does not believe in your god. We have just as much reason to disbelieve as you do, but we don't exclude your chosen deity from the equation.

Posted by: Michael W on August 8, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: Have you subjectively, experientially, internalized the reality that you are so closely related to non-human animals that they might as well be your brothers and sisters?

Now there you go again. "Might as well be your brothers and sisters" is clearly disconnected from actual science. About half of your genes are homologous to fruit fly genes, but the mature isoforms of the proteins are not the same. The CYP450 (a large class of liver enzymes) isoforms of humans, dogs and rats do not even metabolize exactly the same drugs at the same rates -- one of the reasons that you usually can't predict human drug pharmacokinetics from rat and dog pharmacokinetics. For organ transplants, your brothers and sisters are better bets than other humans, and you really don't want pig lungs.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on August 8, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Lis: I am not sure you read my post, because you respond to two things I did not say.

You said, and I quoted when I responded:

Religion is, hands down, the single biggest motivating factor for denying evolution. From school board crusades to "intelligent design," everyone, every single last god damned one of them, is protecting their idea of God. And that brand of religion is a good chunk of the American population.

The rest of the religious ignore the differences between religion and science and forever hand waving to obscure them.

Emphasis added for second paragraph.

If that is not saying that religion=disbelief in science and that those of us who are religious and say we accept science, must be fudging on our religious beliefs, why then, you'll have to explain your real position in simpler terms for us dumb religious folk.

1. All anti-evolution people are religious does not equal (=!) all religious people are anti-evolution. I never said all religious people are against evolution. In fact I specified that religious evolution-deniers as a "brand of religion."

It's not what you said in your previous post (or indeed what you say below), and I was responding to what you said in that post.

2.I never said anything about what "real" religious people must believe. People can and do believe whatever they want, even things that don't make sense.

You made it very clear that your definition of "religion" cannot possibly be compatible with science, and that those who believe in both must be intellectually cheating, specifically, "ignoring" the differences, and "hand-waving."

It hasn't occurred to you yet that you simply don't know what many, indeed most, of us believ.

Religion and science conflict. How can you resolve the facts about our existence with the specific precepts of Christianity? I've never seen it done. It can be ignored, or it can be explained away (hand waving), but neither of them is intellectually honest.

And there it is: the core of your misunderstanding. I'll lay it out for you as simply and clearly as I can.

Catholics, most mainstream Protestants (i.e., not the fundies who currently define "religion" for the MSM and many atheists), and I believe most Jews do not believe in Biblical literalism--and never have. As far back as St. Augustine, the Church Fathers rejected interpretations of the Biblical texts that contradicted physical reality. This doesn't rule out the occurrence of miracles--one-time events, and often (not always, by any means) events for which the miraculous aspect was the timing--but it does mean that the Bible is not regarded by most Christians and Jews as a textbook of natural science. Much of it is allegory and parable. Much of it is the history of the Jewish people. Where it talks about the natural world, it generally incorporates the best educated understanding of the time in which pen was put to paper. e.g., the order of creation shows sea life before land life, plant life before animal life, simpler forms before more complex forms--except that it has grass coming before trees, because it was several millennia before people had enough knowledge of grass and trees to recognize which was really the more complex form.

And that is all beside the point, because the Bible isn't about that. It's about our relationship with God. The point of Genesis is to establish that we come from God and have a relationship with him, not to teach Bronze Age pastoralists and farmers about the physical workings of the universe. The early Hebrews weren't ready for string theory and the Big Bang and a detailed description of the makeup and functions of a living cell. They didn't have the means yet to record, analyse, or pass on that knowledge, and certainly not to do anything about it. They didn't need the theory of natural selection to engage in selective breeding of goats and sheep.

It didn't matter if the universe was six thousand or sixty quadrillion years old, because they couldn't do anything with the knowledge and didn't have the spare resources to worry about it.

But, and to return the comment I made in my first post, about Biblical literalism being false (and in fact, from a Catholic viewpoint, heretical) if physical evidence shows that Earth is about four billion years old, the sun a bit older, and the universe much older, and you deny that that is true, you're saying either that God is a liar (since God created the physical world) or that Satan is capable of physical creation (since the alternative is that it's Satan rather than God that planted the false evidence.) And no, I don't expect you to understand why it's heresy to say that Satan is capable of physical creation; you'll just have to take my word for it that's what Catholics and a lot of other Christians believe. The alternative, that Satan is capable of physical creation, and is nearly equal in power to God, is in fact a persistant Christian heresy called Manicheanism.

And a lot of Christians, not just Catholics, that the MSM is only interested in talking to about abortion and nothing else, regard the fundies as poorly-disguised Manicheans.

And it's those very fundies that the MSM and fundie atheists treat as defining what "religion" is, and on the basis of it call us inconsistent when we believe in two things that, in our religious belief system, are not in conflict.

*feh*

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Susan Jacoby "The Age of American Unreason" gives a slightly different take on our national dumbing down.

Posted by: jean on August 8, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree with the intent of this book, I agree with the actual scientists that are distancing themselves from this Mooney effort. I especially take issue with the vitrol reserved for "New Atheists" like P.Z. Myers. The authors also fail to offer a convincing solution. Sure they offer a solution (and they offer it over and over and over again), but it's neither constructive nor convincing. Sorry Steve, we disagree this time (and it doesn't happen often!).

Posted by: Stephen on August 8, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Here is a neat review by Real Climate blog. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/07/unscientific-america-a-review/
It complements Steve's take on the book and makes some excellent points (i.e. with regards to Carl Segan et al) about how science as a whole is presented to the masses.

And if you like that review has to say, I implore you to listen to Robert Krulwich's commencement speech to CIT alums earlier this year.

Posted by: ▄█▀ █▬█ █ ▀█▀ on August 8, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

The link for Robert K.'s speech is http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/2008/07/29/tell-me-a-story/

Excuse the double post. We need and edit button up in here.

Posted by: ▄█▀ █▬█ █ ▀█▀ on August 8, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

If it's not in the Bible, then it's not true which is why I must be dreaming this because I don't believe in electricity, computers, cars, the Internet, airplanes, modern medicine or TV! Except for Fox News.

Posted by: Glen on August 8, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

First allow me to clarify what I meant; my wording may have been ambiguous: "Every single last god damned one of them," refers to proponents of ID and "school board members" attacking evolution; it does not refer to every religious person.

Second, when I say religion and science conflict, that is what I meant. Religion and science conflict. I did not say biblical literalism and science conflict. I said religion and science conflict. The idea of the supernatural and a god that interferes (via miracles) or even cares about our existence is at odds with what science (and common sense) has shown us. And that is to say nothing of Jesus, who never seems to come up in my discussions with Catholics.

Your word salad above is a prime example of hand waving. It's even the standard variety of Catholic hand waving, smugly pointing out the flaws of your yokel Protestant brethren while throwing in theology to add pseudo-intellectual heft.

(PS. Augustine was rejecting the creation story, because it had become an embarrassment to even 4th century science; and that he has something to say about it indicates what a problem it was and always will be; there's a reason Catholics kept bibles away from people for so many years.)

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Shit - are you rocking the ansi? what the hell is that?

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

handwaving=believing things that conflict with inkadu's atheist-fundamentalist ideas about what religion is.

And no, actually, inkadu, real science, as practiced by real scientists, and not as believed in by fundie atheists, has nothing to say about the existence or non-existence of God.

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Lis - I'm just glad you understand what I'm saying.

It's not at all true to say that science has nothing to say about God.

The idea of any god has a set of implications and supporting beliefs, and science has cut a wide swath through them. For example: Meteorology has done away with Zeus as the cause of lightning, just as neurology has down away with the spirit as the seat of consciousness.

Can their still be a spirit in some undetectable way? Sure. Maybe. If you're willing to accept that, then, by the same logic, you should be willing to accept that Zeus causes lightning in some undetectable way.

Real science (as practiced by scientists) can and does test the positive claims of religion. Does prayer help (more than placebo), for instance, or does distance prayer work, or do religious people have happier lives, etc. Science has a lot to say about anything within it's realm, which is the physical universe you and I both inhabit, and the universe a god most involve himself in if he wants to have any impact on it.

But whether there are gods or not, somewhere, somehow, by some nebulous definition that does not exclude an infinite number of equally improbable beings, you are right. Science does not have anything to say about them.

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Lis and inkadu, science cannot say anything about the existence of deity, since by its very definition (or nature, if you will) deity exists outside of nature and is not observable or testable. But science has plenty to say about certain claims religionists attribute to specific deities. Noah's flood, for instance, and other Genesis stories.

Posted by: Michael W on August 8, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

inkadu, you are expressing your faith--and you are so blinded by your beliefs that you can't see it.

You don't know what I believe, and you never will, because it's important to your belief system that you not understand.

Meanwhile, a bunch of actual working scientists who are much much smarter than either of us are Jesuits priests and brothers. Oh, wait, I forget, they're all "handwaving." Right.

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

I've read several reviews of the book, and none have been very good. Mooney and Kirshenbaum basically lay the blame for America's poor science literacy on scientists' lack of PR skills. They suggest science grad students take PR courses. They do not attribute blame to the fundie governor of Texas who appoints a fundie dentist to head the panel that wields more influence over textbooks than any other group in the country.
PZ Myers is not the problem. The "mainstream" religions that accept evolution and astronomy but deny the basic precepts behind modern chemistry (by accepting transubstantiation) are the problem. Francis Collins, who does great biochemistry, but claims that science supports his belief that his particular god is the miraculous source of all morality (when science shows how morality evolved) is the problem Mooney and Kirshenbaum are the problem. They would rather supplant the big lie of fundie religion with the little lies of mainstream religion rather than promote real science.

Posted by: Tim H on August 8, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Michael W., if you were paying attention to such things, you'd have noticed that it's not Catholics, Jews, or mainstream Protestants who struggle desperately to prove the literal truth of the account of the Flood. And there's a reason for that.

The fundies do not define what non-fundies believe, or what we have to believe in order to not be "handwaving" away our "real" religious beliefs. The Christian fundies, more numerous and visible in the US than anywhere else in the world, are just a noisy, organized, activist minority regarded by most of us as borderline heretics if not well over the edge. And yet the MSM, and the fundie atheists, continually turn to the fundies to find out what "Christians" believe, and what "values voters" care about.

Dim. Seriously dim.

Oh, and the Flood? Something happened that was cataclysmic for the people who experienced it. People who, incidentally, had no idea of the size of the planet,and who set down the story afterwards in the terms they understood it.

In order to be sure you've disproved someone's beliefs, you'd have to know A)what those beliefs actually are, and B)which parts of those beliefs they regard as central, and which parts they regard as extraneous detail. And you're never going to achieve that with regard to the beliefs of most Christians, as along as you cling to the comforting belief that you can determine those things boning up on the Christian fundies, and taking their word for it that that's what "Christians" believe.

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

FYI Mooney will be on the PoliSciFi Radio show that Steve Benen co-hosts. It airs tomorrow, Sunday, 4-6pm EST and you can listen online and participate in the live chat. Good fun for a Sunday afternoon!

Posted by: PSFR Fan on August 8, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

Lis - Blinded by what I can see! You might be right, there.

Science on a local level (chemistry is an easy example) doesn't have many implications about gods. You can be a practicing laboratory science and not have any issues.

Jesuits are an interesting case. They are obviously very bright and well educated. I would say they are not following science to religion, but following religion to science (in the fine tradition of earlier centuries) and so one comes before the other.

Religion and science can be compartmentalized. You can avoid thinking about science and religion and how they two world views impact each other.

In the case of Jesuits, who are smarter than me, you have a higher (and more advanced) degree of hand waving.

"If religion were based on evidence, it would be called science. And nobody would believe it." - Stephen Colbert

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

The fundies do not define what non-fundies believe, or what we have to believe in order to not be "handwaving" away our "real" religious beliefs. The Christian fundies, more numerous and visible in the US than anywhere else in the world, are just a noisy, organized, activist minority regarded by most of us as borderline heretics if not well over the edge.

The fundies, as measured by the percentage of folks that believe God popped man on the earth less than 10,000 years ago in his present form, is 44%.**

More moderate Christians might believe that evolution has occurred but that God guided the process. But that number is only 36% of the population.

** See http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx

Posted by: Pee Cee on August 8, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

That confusing sentence should have read: The fundies, as measured by the percentage of folks that believe God popped man on the earth less than 10,000 years ago in his present form, are 44% of the US population.

That'll teach me to use preview.

Posted by: Pee Cee on August 8, 2009 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Lis - Both my parents are Catholic. I went Lutheran school during the week, and Catholic mass on Sunday. I was baptized and confirmed. I went to an evangelical camp (which was a little tamer back in the day).

I don't know what core beliefs you personally hold, but I know what a lot of different christian denominations believe, and none of them are compatible with science. And again (second time now), I am not uniquely referring to biblical literalism. I'm not talking about creationism and evolution, or flood and archeology; I'm talking in general about science and religion.

I agree with you that the wide span of beliefs and characteristics of religious people get short shrift from the media. It could be because the MSM likes contrast, or because the fundamentalists have a core of beliefs that is easily definable and widely held.

Also -- this is really ancillary -- if the Bible is just (incorrect) history and poetry, why is it Holy? And could any Catholic please explain to me how a Jesus works in their worldview without conflicting with science? Did he actually have to exist, or could it just have been a story? And what's the view on the Nicene Creed? Can you not believe it and still be considered Catholic?

----

TimH - Dreadfully on-topic post, and terribly concise and effective. No soup for you!

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

inkadu, you are not worth the effort, because like a fundie, nothing will dent your certainty of being Right.

Posted by: Lis on August 8, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

And Lis, as is clear from your gesticulating at a cadre of "fundie atheists" who exist only in your imagination (atheists by definition cannot be fundamentalists), you're an atheophobic bigot.

Posted by: Rieux on August 8, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

We need to keep the "typical American" as far away from science as we can.

Posted by: Hazy on August 8, 2009 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe nobody knows what Catholics believe because they refuse to talk about it.

Posted by: inkadu on August 8, 2009 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

The fundamental principle of science is to describe what goes on in the universe in the most concise theory possible without appealing to supernatural explanations. Science doesn’t say there is no God; just that the existence of God is irrelevant to the issues science is concerned with.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on August 8, 2009 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, a bunch of actual working scientists who are much much smarter than either of us are Jesuits priests and brothers. Oh, wait, I forget, they're all "handwaving." Right.

Posted by: Lis

Yeah they've been very flexible. Science. The Inguisition they've done it all.

Posted by: Dale on August 8, 2009 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

P.Z. Myers is not the problem -- he's a symptom. Intellectual thugs are intelligent but still thugs.

Fundamentalism is a disease of belief, whether you're a Jew, a Muslim, or an atheist. If you're an atheist and feel you are constantly under attack if people differ with your beliefs -- congratulations, you're a fundamentalist (and in need of psychiatric assistance).

Posted by: Eddington on August 8, 2009 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Eddington is missing the fundamental difference between PZ Myers and the idiots who are trying to teach Creationism to our children. And their enablers.

Posted by: Dale on August 8, 2009 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Fundamentalism requires doctrine. Atheism is not a belief (that can be "diseased" or otherwise); it's the absence of belief in gods. They are incompatible concepts.

"Fundamentalist atheist" is a term flung by people who are deeply slain by the way certain nonbelievers refuse to kowtow to the suffocating religious privilege so prevalent in American society. It's religious folks' form of "uppity nigger" or "dirty faggot," reserved for atheists who refuse to be satisfied with their rightful place.

Posted by: Rieux on August 8, 2009 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Rieux, if I were "deeply slain" and still communicating I daresay that would be much bigger news than you think. (Maybe we could talk to Thomas Edison, who in his later years tried to develop communication with the dead.) Atheism comes in many forms but the version promulgated by these new militant atheists appears to be based on aggression, fear, victimization, and ignorance of what they're even talking about, which doesn't bode well for the liberation of mankind from dogma and cant, assuming that's what they really want. (I might also point out that I'm an uppity faggot and an atheist, so be careful with your projective assumptions.)

Dale is refusing to admit the fundamental similarities between PZ Myers and those other folks he disagrees with. I'm not saying they're the same people (though I've never seen Myers and Ken Ham in the same room, hmmm), I'm just saying the psychological patterns and in-group vs out-group attitudes are the same, and in neither case is there much informed argument.

JBS Haldane wrote: "I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." The idea that the Universe is at its base intelligible to humans is an example of magical thinking that we can trace back to Decartes, and those who assert that science! has all the answers understand neither science or its history.

Posted by: Eddington on August 8, 2009 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

Someone did a pole a few years ago (sorry, I don't remember who, although it might have been the AAS), and found that 90% of the American Academy of Sciences (composed of the countries most successful scientists) were atheists or agnostic.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on August 8, 2009 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Now, it's been some time since my 12 years in Catholic schools. And Lis is correct that, even back in those dim days, they didn't insist on believing in Genesis and such; not that they went out of their way to deny it...But water to wine, virgin birth, raise the dead, resurrection, ascension, transubstantiation, and much more--oh, yeah. Lis and all, you're obviously free to pretend that these things don't conflict with science--but you're just pretending. Do you really think it's just coincidence that the occurrence of miracles is inversely proportional to the general level of education in society? You can stick with the god of the gaps--good on ya--but if you think defending religion in this discussion is not supporting the fundies, you need to examine your premises. By attacking the targets you've chosen, you've picked the anti-science side. Having gone through the Kansas school board fights, I well know--you're no ally.

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK
Atheism comes in many forms but the version promulgated by these new militant atheists appears to be based on aggression, fear, victimization, and ignorance of what they're even talking about,

Shorter Eddington: naughty atheists--they disagree with religion out loud!

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Mr Parnell's comment (loved you in Repo Man) brings up another puzzle about the new militant atheists. Why are they atheists instead of agnostics? What's that extra thinking that goes from "I don't know (or, it can't be known) if there's a God" to "I know there is no God" (both of which are statements of belief, the latter more zealous in its surety). I guess agnostics are too namby-pamby for today's Fightin' Atheist!

Posted by: Eddington on August 8, 2009 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a nice take on the "aggressive atheist" from a humorous source--http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/06/20/lake/--my apologies for lack of html skills.

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Do you really think it's just coincidence that the occurrence of miracles is inversely proportional to the general level of education in society?"

Wow, that's truly amazing. I wonder if you could cite the experiments that were able to show this. Hopefully it would have a chart of the incidence of scientifically-vetted miracles (!) correlated with education. And I hope it's been replicated. 'Cause otherwise that's miracle-science.

PS: Santayana sez fanaticism consists of redoubling one's efforts when one has forgotten one's aim. Clap louder, I'm sure that'll convince everyone.

Posted by: Eddington on August 8, 2009 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Eddington--you clearly didn't have the benefit of a catholic education, nor a copy of lives of the saints. You really don't need much more than the ability to read to figure out the incidence of miracles and saints over time. Not that we needed it, but thanks for the example of the decline of educated thought in the U.S.

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Eddington: the first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defined "atheist" as "One who denies the existence of God", but more recent editions add "or disbelieves", documenting a change in the usage of "atheist" over the last thirty years or so.

In the 2007 Pew study of religion in America, 29% of self-described agnostics and 73% of atheists said they did not believe in a god.

Posted by: bad Jim on August 8, 2009 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Those of you in the "we only attack the militant atheists" might check out the last item in the "this week in god" post. Yeah, pretty aggressive...

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Remember all those crazy conservative attacks on America's most distinguished man of science, James D. Watson? Thank God liberals stood up unanimously to defend Watson!

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 8, 2009 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK
I wonder if you could cite the experiments that were able to show this. Hopefully it would have a chart of the incidence of scientifically-vetted miracles (!) correlated with education. And I hope it's been replicated. 'Cause otherwise that's miracle-science.

Perhaps I owe Eddington an apology--by the standard set above, there has indeede been no decline in miracles, since scientifically-vetted such have stayed at zero forever. If that was the point, my apologies.

Posted by: les on August 8, 2009 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Les, I had hopes you might be able to teach me something (other than standard net-mediated mammalian dominance behavior that is), but alas they have been dashed, bitterly, by your admission. (Btw, did you know "catholic" is a near-antonym of "Catholic"? I think you undercapitalized.)

Next time you see the sun rising or setting, just tell yourself that the earth is actually rotating instead and see how far that takes you.

Posted by: Eddington on August 8, 2009 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

On new atheism (if anyone's paying attention):
New atheism is about not given religion special status as a belief system. That seems especially rude and offensive to people because religion is so protected. While we are free to point out Ron Paul's errors in thinking about monetary policy, if anyone hints that Jesus may not have been the son of God, everyone breaks out the smelling salts.

That's all the "new atheism," is. People can say, "I'm Christian," without being seen as fundamentalist. Why can't atheists do the same?

And the difference between agnosticism and atheism is another example. Nobody wants to be rude and say they don't think your god does not exist, so they say they're agnostic to not hurt your feelings. But, again, nobody says they're agnostic on big foot, smurfs, or Santa... if you really think something is unlikely, you just say you don't believe it; nobody gets on your case about it. Nobody says, "Really? You don't believe in Santa at all? Not even a little bit? How can you be sure?" Just because Santa is bigger and has more powers doesn't make him more probable; in fact, it's just the opposite.

Posted by: inkadu on August 9, 2009 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

Because atheists *never* believe anything that's not rational.

Posted by: Christopher on August 9, 2009 at 7:58 AM | PERMALINK

One of the missing pieces here is that Unscientific America specifically argues that a confrontational atheist approach (claiming science requires atheism) is counterproductive for science literacy. What we see, on many threads over the net, is a pretty decisive confirmation of their central claim - that being obnoxious backfires. They also claimed that some of these sites had developed insular extremist characteristics, where the rhetoric in the bubble has gotten steadily more extreme. I see a definite 5-minute-hate element in the ritual "let's find an example every day of a religious person doing something bad, but we will never find an example of one of them doing something good."

We have a cast of characters, largely from the anti-religious Pharyngula site, who flood threads like these and make them all about ME ME ME. They insult religious people, attack people who disagree with them, and give not the least ground - it comes across as tribal behavior more at home in a sports stadium.

Is there a single person whom they have targeted who has said...why, yes! I'm a superstitious fool, you've convinced me! For rational people these outcomes would count as evidence. I'd really like to think that I can change people's minds with a good argument, or at least get a hint that they understand what I'm saying.

Posted by: Marc on August 9, 2009 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Marc:

What we see, on many threads over the net, is a pretty decisive confirmation of their central claim - that being obnoxious backfires.
Oh, really? You can document the impact of "obnoxious" atheism degrading scientific literacy on a thread like this one? Impressive.

When I read this thread, I see ignorant atheophobic bigots having their ignorance, bigotry, and slavish imposition of religious privilege justifiably mocked. I fail to see the downside in that.


Is there a single person whom they have targeted who has said...why, yes! I'm a superstitious fool, you've convinced me! For rational people these outcomes would count as evidence.
Only if you're foolish enough to think that's the point. Mockery is in fact one of the most potent tools for achieving political and social change, but it rarely changes (or is intended to change) the views of the person mocked. Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin was devastatingly successful, but mysteriously it did little to convince Palin to change her ways. By your ingenious notion of "evidence," Fey's work was therefore a failure. (And, not incidentally, Pharyngula is the most heavily-trafficked science blog in the world.)

Pointing out that you're an ignorant, privileged ass may indeed not convince you that you're an ignorant, privileged ass. But the point of the commentary isn't actually to reach you, Governor Palin.

Only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million.

- ARIS 2008

Posted by: Rieux on August 9, 2009 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

New Atheists, by the way, is not a label forced on a group of people from outside, it developed mutually and in tandem with the media and the public at a time when a group of prominent atheists, some of them scientists, were actively seeking publicity.

In case you dont' believe me, look up the "Brights" debacle (Chris Mooney wrote very accurately and amusingly about it). Not only is that a far worse label than "New Atheists," but it's infinitely worse than "Freethinkers' which is the term the rest of us have used for ourselves for 300 years now.

this dishonest revisionist poor-little-me BS should cease, and cease now. Furthermore, the current totalitarian mindset should be dispensed with. There are other philosophers than A. J. Ayer and Daniel Dennett - other biologists besides Richard Dawkins, other linguists besides Steven Pinker, etc. etc.

If you get to nominate yourselves popes and cardinals of rationality, you get what we've gotten with the New Atheists - many are fervent supporters of deeply religious market fundamentalism and others of the neocon agenda, which is partly based on a fervent Zionism, itself resting on a platform of senile religiosity and racism. And possibly a majority are miltarist supporters of a smug, parochial Kipling-style imperialist outlook based on historical amnesia about 2/3s of the world.

And I could also point out the moronic techno-triumphalism of people like Jastrow or Moravec, who say they can't wait for people to die off and be replaced with more efficient devices, since consciousness, personality, morality, etc. are really atavistic myths. Or what great PR snickering over the Darwin Awards is for the image of "Darwinists."

Anyone too stupid to understand why, e.g., Chris Hedges has no more respect for them than he does for the Christian right is too stupid to tell me anything about epistemology, philosophy, or the history and philosophy of science, IMO.

And I like "New Atheists" because it lets old-fashioned Freethinkers separate themselves from this movement that calls people "accommodationists."

Posted by: Marion Delgado on August 9, 2009 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

If "science" were to study every aspect of the Eucharist, both before and after it is blessed by a priest, then science would find no differences.

Yet Catholics believe that the priest's blessing turns the wafer into the body and blood of Christ.

This is just one example of how the Catholic religion disagrees with science. The two are ultimately incompatible.

Just because one group doesn't interpret the Bible literally doesn't mean that there is no hand-waving going on.

Posted by: Adrienne on August 9, 2009 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

You've had a bunch of self-identified agnostics and atheists tell you that the problem is that you're behaving like a bunch of jerks. Feel free to believe that you're martyrs, but when enough people give you that sort of message it sometimes pays to sit back and think about whether there is any truth to the claim.

Posted by: Marc on August 9, 2009 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK
You've had a bunch of self-identified agnostics and atheists tell you that the problem is that you're behaving like a bunch of jerks.
Clarence Thomas tells me I'm a self-hating Negro, too. But Uncle Toms who neither know nor care the slightest bit about the marginalization and abuse experienced by atheists outside of their safe little enclaves aren't exactly oozing with credibility.

Your religious privilege is disgusting no matter how many atheists enjoy sucking up to it, and to you.

Posted by: Rieux on August 9, 2009 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Adrienne,

Catholic belief about what happens to the bread when a priest prays the Eucharistic prayer is that the appearance of bread (and wine) remains, while the substance of the bread (and wine) are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. This is called transubstantiation. The meaning of "appearance" (according to Catholic belief) includes everything that could be empirically measured.

Therefore, according to Catholic belief, there should be no scientifically measurable difference between a host before and after transubstantiation.

Thus, your claimed example of how the Catholic religion disagrees with science is fallacious.

According to Catholic belief, the only examples where the appearance of bread and wine change during the Mass would be if a (Eucharistic) miracle occurred. Claims of such miracles (such as the one in Lanciano) are subject to scientific scrutiny. If, after investigation, a miracle is accepted by the Catholic Church as worthy of belief, Catholics are free to accept or reject the validity of particular claims of modern miracles.

Some might respond by saying how "convenient" it is that Catholic beliefs in regard to the Eucharist are set up so that they cannot be scientifically debunked.

I would respond by noting that virtually any sufficiently complex system of religious belief that involves the supernatural and non-material beings will necessarily have some particular beliefs that cannot be empirically verified. Catholicism is one such system of belief. And transubstantiation is that kind of particular belief.

Posted by: Fr. Terry Donahue, CC on August 10, 2009 at 5:24 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Delila on March 11, 2010 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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