It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Elephant in the Room


Is God off topic?

Well, as I settle down to read Unscientific America, I thought I'd discuss how I think science ought to relate to religion, so I could get my view on the record independent of Chris & Sheril's.

There is a view in which science and religion address orthogonal questions, and in a sense I'm an advocate of that view.

The separation can't be said to be perfect. Certainly, here in Texas as we are besieged by people who are convinced who "don't believe in" evolution, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the belief baggage that religious people carry. As a related point, whatever the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is, it becomes weaker if you make a point of not challenging young earth creationism; all paleoclimate evidence vanishes in a puff of smoke, and really you're left with an incoherent view of the universe.

On the other hand, the Dalai Lama says:
if science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.
Here is a view that by definition can't be at odds with science.

My own interest in religion centers around two facts: the first is the inherent value of the experience of Unity. This appears closely related to the mystical experience as described in many religious cultures, including traditional Catholic Christianity. The experience of God can be so dramatically intense (the word that the more intellectual person can hang onto it is "numinous") that regardless of what theory of the universe you hold, accounting for the experience itself cannot reasonably be considered as beside the point. This in turn draws attention to the phenomenon of experience, and how very feeble and hollow efforts to reduce the phenomenon of experience (formerly, the "soul") to a basis in a physical theory must be.

As theologian Paul Tillich (apparently; I've seen this attributed to others) said to atheists: "Tell me the God you don't believe in, and I probably don't believe in that God either".

So to me, people like P Z Myers and Richard Dawkins who celebrate atheism are celebrating a naivetee as severe as that of the people they criticize for believing literally in implausible miracles. Tangling up religion with superstition is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable. Most people are not going to be philosophers. But dismissing it is equally unfortunate, leaving the poor adherent of the shallow materialism with no vehicle for spiritual development.

So first and foremost, atheists are very much the wrong people to go after superstition. That is because they don;t understand that there is a baby in among the bathwater. When we allow them to associate their "philosophy" (I use the word loosely because it's a rather shallow philosophy) with science, that serves to discredit science not only among the superstitious but also among the spiritual. It does no good to start to address people's superstitions by attacking God as chief among them.

I started this blog just as Nisbett and Mooney got their paper about "framing" into Science. See also their Washington Post op-ed:
Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins's arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism. More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality. Dawkins not only reinforces and validates such fears -- baseless though they may be -- but lends them an exclamation point.

We agree with Dawkins on evolution and admire his books, so we don't enjoy singling him out. But he stands as a particularly stark example of scientists' failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public.

Scientists excel at research; creating knowledge is their forte. But presenting this knowledge to the public is something else altogether. It's here that scientists and their allies are stumbling in our information-overloaded society -- even as scientific information itself is being yanked to center stage in high-profile debates.
I guess I must have caught the zeitgeist; my first postings here preceded those arguments by just a few days. But I am now and was then convinced that they are raising the right issues.

I've seen some pretty negative comments about Unscientific America, and based on my first gloss of the material I expect I won't fall into that camp. I think some of the hostility has to come from Mooney's discomfort with the shallow and belligerent atheism of Myers.

In fact, I at one time wanted to be part of the SciBlogs list and managed to wangle myself an invitation. I think I was rather rude in ignoring it. After over a year the invitation remains the oldest item in my inbox. I had two complaints about SciBlogs that kept me away. Myers was one of them. (The other was their sense of design. I simply don't want to look at that color scheme every day.)

Anyway, my world view is explicitly theist and explicitly informed by the intrinsic experiential value of religious experience. In the end, if you are so foolish as to offer people a choice between love and reason, you shouldn't be astonished if they choose love.

I wasn't raised in the Christian tradition, and I find the Christian approach to religion confusing. So I'm not the person to do the outreach either.

But we can't proceed to approach the heartland culture by dismissing that part of the culture that they value most, and for perfectly good reasons: the church provides them with a foundation in community, ethics, and appreciation of life. How to approach such people with scientific reasoning is not an easy question, but you shouldn't be surprised if your attempt to trivialize what they consider most holy is not met with a forehead slap and a sheepish laugh and a "what was I thinking?"
--

54 comments:

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

I don't know about Nisbet's theories, but when it comes to Nisbet's practice, he simply sucks.

-- bi

Darwin's Beagle said...

Ermm...

"My own interest in religion centers around two facts: the first is the inherent value of the experience of Unity. ..."

(1) Since I don't know what this really means, I consider "The inherent value of the experience of Unity" an opinion not a fact.

(2) What is the second fact?

Michael Tobis said...

The second fact is that it is impossible to come up with a physical origin for the metaphysical property of consciousness. One way I like to try to get this idea across is to say that there can be no objective accounting for subjectivity itself.

The existence of consciousness is thus inexplicable from the point of view of rational physical analysis. It's not a stretch to call it a "soul" and to call the soul "miraculous". To me, this retains the original religious meaning of the words without reference to any mythos or to magical superpowers.

Sorry if I was unclear.

Regarding the first point, an experience is different from an opinion. It is a fact that people have had a certain kind of experience. This is verifiable from numerous reports.

It is also a fact that people who have had such an experience commonly view the world differently after the event, and a common feature of their response is an increased interest in religion.

Darwin's Beagle said...

I do appreciate the clarification. However,

(1) I do agree that an experience is different than an opinion, however, what I still consider an opinion is "the inherent value" part. The only thing that is may be an objective fact in relation to a subjective experience is that you had one.

(2) I, being one of those shallow materialists, find the brain as a perfectly good explanation for the physical origin of even the subjective experiences of consciousness. 10^10 neurons each with 10^4 synapses -- each potentially modifiable by its history of activation, surrounding neurotransmitters, hormones, and other elements in its surrounding biochemical mileau along with physical forces that may act upon it -- certainly could allow for much of the complex mental phenomena we experience, why not all?

(3) As for events that cause one to change their view of the world ... In one sense everything you do causes you to view the world differently; In another sense, it has been my experience that when someone tells of mystical experiences, there is usually a much more mundane explanation The fact that they may find some special significance in it is no more pertinent than the fact that many psychiatric patients in the past found some special meaning in Rorschach blots. The origin of the meaning was not the event itself, rather their search for meaning. And it has also been my experience that you can find something meaningful almost anywhere you look.

Cheers,

DB

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Well, whatever. Myers is going to continue doing whatever he's doing, Nisbet is going to continue (um) not doing whatever he's not doing, and meanwhile the moderate "I believe in God" folks will just get totally confused and stick to whatever ideology they first came across.

Unless ... well, I don't know. Maybe we can present intellectual rigour as a sort of "freedom" or something. That may sell.

-- bi

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Yup, that's naive materialism in a nutshell; the idea that experience is secondary in the structure of the universe to physical reality. It's internally coherent, but it's confused.

Experience itself is the matter of interest.

The fact that everything has mundane correlates doesn't mean that everything has a mundane explanation.

There is no explaining the self in terms of physics. The usual "emergent property" handwaving is not going to leap the gap, no matter how much you wave. (Hofstader's "Godel Escher Bach" does a wonderful job of handwaving, for instance, but at bottom there is still a mystery.)

Spirituality is not the application of intuition to physical or historical theory. That is the mistake of the fundamentalists that is shared by the materialists. Religion properly construed is less a theory than a practice.

Spirituality is the pursuit of a more elegant, more highly refined consciousness. It is why we have arts in addition to sciences.

If you are not interested in this, my sympathies are unfortunately not enough. I also have to object when you prescribe this way of thinking to everybody else.

The point I am making here is not to defend religion, though. The point I am making is that plenty of intelligent people don't dismiss religion. These are the people who should be talking to fundamentalists, not people who dismiss the whole business as nonsense.

Most importantly, naive materialism is not identical to science. Atheism is every but as materially inconsequential and as unfalsifiable as theism and neither belongs in science.

Defense of Darwinian evolution does not logically require atheism. Invoking atheism in its defense is a substantive error and a huge tactical mistake.

thingsbreak said...

I think this post was a well-meant but exceedingly unhelpful idea.

False equivalences, special pleadings, begging the question, etc. always abound in such discussions.

And it really doesn't do to lump together people like creationists on topics outside of "Creation". Although some (and perhaps most, anyone have relevant crosstab polling data?) creationists dismiss anthropogenic climate change, others, of the Stewards of the Earth mentality, do not.

As with other ideological barriers to combating climate change, the acceptance of the need for mitigation is not inherently based upon the acceptance of science, which makes these discussions more than a little irrelevant.

If the goal is to convince large numbers of those who reject the implications science on ideological grounds, the effort has to be top down rather than bottom up. That is what accomodationists don't seem to understand, and explains why decades of accomodationism have done nothing to promote acceptance of science. Creating an atmosphere of tolerance for religious belief does not promote science so long as those beliefs are hostile to science.

And persuading entire branches of organized religion to accept the implications if not the science they are based on is clearly out of the purview of the average science practitioner/communicator.

Michael Tobis said...

Clarification: my last was directed at DB, not at bi.

Michael Tobis said...

"Creating an atmosphere of tolerance for religious belief does not promote science so long as those beliefs are hostile to science."

This is true in a sense but misses the point.

The point is that creating an atmosphere of direct challenge to religious belief acts against the interests of science. Removing that direct challenge would remove an obstacle and so promotes science as a double negative.

So, insofar as it's true that PZ Myers is not going away, it becomes necessary for others to be explicit that he does not speak for us.

I'm not sure how much weight my opinion as a JuBu (Jewish-Buddhist) will carry with Christian fundamentalists, but I thought it was past time to publicly dissociate myself from the naive materialism which is popular among scientists but which really has nothing whatsoever to do with science.

The rest of us, those with a more nuanced philosophy, tend to avoid speaking up. It's part of the usual scientific dread of controversy. This allows the materialists free reign to claim the mantle of science.

Which, I insist, is both wrong and foolish.

Hank Roberts said...

I'd like to see your review of Wilson's book, Michael; I don't think you've mentioned it before.

It doesn't stir controversy so it hasn't gotten nearly the attention that other, in my opinion far more superficial, work has been given in the press and in blogs.

I think Wilson successfully speaks to the great majority of practicing religious people in this country, without apologizing for his position as a scientist. I know religious folks, old friends from where I grew up in the South, and others through family connections.

Most of them know of or have read Wilson's book. Far too few of my scientist friends have read it.

http://www.google.com/search?q=Wilson+Creation

thingsbreak said...

The point is that creating an atmosphere of direct challenge to religious belief acts against the interests of science. Removing that direct challenge would remove an obstacle and so promotes science as a double negative.

This is the same stance that has done essentially nothing in terms of expanding public acceptance of science over the last few decades. It simply does not work.

I'm not saying that Myers' path will promote acceptance of science, I'm saying what you propose and indeed exists as the status quo demonstrably has not.

When science and ideology (religious or political) conflict, people seem quite happy to chose to dismiss science. Given this, it makes no sense to fight a bottom up battle on convincing these people on points of science. This is why efforts have been made to reframe the issue in terms of energy independence and national security and environmental pollution.

"Why is religion relevant here?" I guess is my question. Evangelicals are hostile to the science on the issue. They're also hostile to science and its implications on other issues. Even if it's possible to change an individual's mind who dismisses anthropogenic warming due to religious influence, short of turning that person into a single issue voter or achieving a total ideological 180 he or she will continue to support political candidates and legislature in opposition to preventing dangerous climatic change.

Michael Tobis said...

Me: The point is that creating an atmosphere of direct challenge to religious belief acts against the interests of science. Removing that direct challenge would remove an obstacle and so promotes science as a double negative.

TB: This is the same stance that has done essentially nothing in terms of expanding public acceptance of science over the last few decades. It simply does not work.

How would you demonstrate that? It seems to me you need two large sets of people of varying degrees of religious orthodoxy, some exposed to the idea that science is atheistic and some not. I admit that my position is only intuitive and plausible, but I can't see what basis you have for declaring it refuted.

Arthur said...

Michael - your oldest item in your inbox is only a little over a year old? Let's see, hmm, looks like my oldest item will be coming up on its 5th anniversary in a few months...

And I appreciate your post here - I think we're in agreement on much of this. To me the boundary between science and, well, whatever you want to call the other stuff, is the boundary between the "objective" and the "subjective". Read Hofstadter or Dennett or other people talking about the brain and you sense some deep disquieting questions about that boundary. Subjective experience is a real thing that may be forever beyond a rationalist scientific perspective. Even if not, current understanding is deeply inadequate, and arrogance on the matter is as bad as anywhere else.

thingsbreak said...

How would you demonstrate that? It seems to me you need two large sets of people of varying degrees of religious orthodoxy, some exposed to the idea that science is atheistic and some not.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any such tests, but we certainly have polling data to draw from.

I admit that my position is only intuitive and plausible, but I can't see what basis you have for declaring it refuted.

The status quo as represented by the NCSE, the NAS, the AAAS, et al. is to constantly reiterate that religion and science are not inherently in conflict.

Despite this, over the last quarter century + the percentage of Americans rejecting evolution has remained essentially static [here]; most Americans fully admit that when science disproves something claimed by their religion, they ignore science [here]; even if the religious groups most hostile to science (be it evolution or climate change) are won over to the scientifically correct position, the demographic breakdown suggests that this will have little impact on political support for mitigation (e.g. white evangelicals and Mormons will still be small government conservative Republicans, black churches are still Democrat-supporting, pro-big government, etc. [here].

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

TB :

The status quo as represented by the NCSE, the NAS, the AAAS, et al. is to constantly reiterate that religion and science are not inherently in conflict.

Which reiteration in my view is broadly correct, though in some important specific cases not so.

Despite this, over the last quarter century + the percentage of Americans rejecting evolution has remained essentially static; most Americans fully admit that when science disproves something claimed by their religion, they ignore science [here]; even if the religious groups most hostile to science (be it evolution or climate change) are won over to the scientifically correct position, the demographic breakdown suggests that this will have little impact on political support for mitigation (e.g. white evangelicals and Mormons will still be small government conservative Republicans, black churches are still Democrat-supporting, pro-big government, etc.

Why does this provide evidence in favor of the more contentious position

Hank Roberts said...

Relevant, splendid blog page here worth reading.

Quoting a bit from the end:


-----
I grew up in a conservative religious town. The people I grew up with were neither bad nor stupid; most of them loved the natural world. .... I know this probably sounds alien or bizarre to many scientists, but many people in the town where I grew up honestly felt oppressed by what they saw as powerful environmental lobbyists with sinister government scientists on their side. (You ecologists can quit rolling on the floor now; I'm serious.) See what I mean about the importance of understanding different perspectives?

E.O. Wilson tries in The Creation to make environmental arguments accessible to people who are working from a different worldview than most scientists. He doesn't patronize them. He assumes that most Americans want to do the right thing. ....
...
I didn't get all that across to E.O. Wilson in the elevator. But when I mentioned where I grew up, he brightened and said, "I know just what you mean - I grew up in Alabama." When E.O. Wilson wrote The Creation, he was writing for people he knew - a community he was part of, and one he cared about. Those people are citizens of the United States. They one of the groups that science communicators and science policymakers should be most concerned about reaching. We can't write them off. And that is why it is so important that we bring different experiences and perspectives to the table: because as convinced as we may be of the importance of science, there are perfectly reasonable, genuine, caring Americans who do not understand science, do not relate to it, and do not know why they should bother to invest their time in it. If that statement is "contrary" to your expectations, perhaps you should try engaging your cabdriver or airplane seatmate in a genial debate about evolution (I've done both). It might be startling.

If we are going to succeed in improving public science literacy, we can't do it from a bubble or an ivory tower....

-----------end excerpt-----

I've got a relative who's a minister, who is working with others at promoting better understanding of science issues to religious people speaking from "their side" in their terms.

Bless their hearts, I hope they succeed.

Hank Roberts said...

Slipsies.

Excerpt I just quoted is from this page:

http://scienceblogs.com/bioephemera/2009/06/contrary_my_behind_the_vital_i.php

thingsbreak said...

Why does this provide evidence in favor of the more contentious position

I don't believe that it does: "I'm not saying that Myers' path will promote acceptance of science".

You brought up naivete here, and I think that there is a profound naivete among many of those who are or whose peer group mainly consists of theistic evolution types- that many more religious people are of or can be moved toward that kind of religion. Acomoodationism makes a certain kind of sense in that light.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make sense when majorities and/or pluralities of Americans are anti-science on issues due to religious beliefs that they will not amend regardless of the level of supporting evidence they are shown.

The only path left seems to be to either co-opt or reduce in influence the ideologies opposing science.

Michael Tobis said...

When you attack someone, they defend. When you patronize, they defend angrily. When you stress commonalities, they are in a position to learn.

Does "reduce in influence the ideologies opposing science" include "reduce the indivdual's attachment to those parts of their ideologies opposing science"?

Belette said...

"Unscientific America" or "Unscientific American"? The latter makes me think of Nude Scientist.

Re the aetheism stuff, I'm going to tell Paul (http://pw201.livejournal.com/) on you.

Paul Wright said...

Summoned (by Dr Connolley), I appear:

I think "religion" is too broad a category to say whether "science" conflicts with it.

Science can't be in conflict with spiritual experiences: it's a matter of fact that people have them, though I don't quite see what they do to disprove materialism. At least one of the Four Horsemen (Harris) sounds friendly to spiritual experiences in a way that seems to me a bit Buddhist (I'm not a Buddhist, but I'm married to one and I've read some of her books) and even Dawkins talks about having such experiences in the first chapter of The God Delusion. I'm told that William James says those experiences are the beginning of religion, but there's more to religion than that, and it's the "more" than tends to conflict with science, both in terms of facts (creationism) and methodology (the mysterious "other ways of knowing").

You seem to want to make true religion mean Buddhism and the Tillichs, Spongs and Cupitts of the world, and everything else superstition. I don't think this works: Christianity encompasses the sort of beliefs that, say, Dawkins argues against, and in fact, those beliefs seem to dominate it. It's possible that such arguments are doing true religion a favour. As Terry Eagleton, who once accused Dawkins of thinking God was "some sort of chap", says: "If Dawkins has emancipated people, freed them from the religious closet as it were, then all credit to him. Loath as I might be to compare Dawkins to Jesus Christ, in this he resembles the heroic figure in the New Testament who comes to sweep away all the fetishism and sickness and cynicism of the neurotic religionists."

There isn't a good materialistic explanation of consciousness, but it's a stronger claim to say there never can be one. I'm not much of a philosopher, but I'm not sure Dennett's work is naive, although it is materialistic, I think (if you're into this stuff, you might enjoy the script to the Philosophical Zombie Movie).

[I'm having problems with Blogger's interface: I hope this doesn't appear twice]

David B. Benson said...

Darwin's Beagle --- Don't forget the glial cells.

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, thanks for the interesting comments. I'd love to have the occasion to discuss this over a pint someday.

I acknowledge Dennett is not naive, but he is still handwaving, in much the same way that any philosopher who takes the question on is. Butall of that is irrelevant to the main topic at hand here, which is how we collectively come to grips with complex evidence.

Admittedly, some people are lost causes. But by affiliating atheism with science you only increase the number of lost causes. In America, you end up with a majority of unreachable people pretty quickly with a tactic like that.

The point here is not so much what I believe about religion. I have never felt it important that others agree with me. I somewhat wish they would, but I don't feel ethically obligated to try, and it's very difficult to affect anyone's core beliefs directly.

Which leads neatly to the main point. If we want to affect somebody's beliefs about science, we should, to the extent possible, decouple their beliefs about science from their views about religion. That is tactically sound.

People for whom that feels like lying should defer that task to people who don't. Committed atheists are on their own regarding whether to speak of it or not, but they shouldn't pretend to be speaking for science. It's tactically and substantively wrong.

King of the Road said...

I wonder if you've seen this item by David Jenkins of the Republicans for Environmental Protection, entitled "God's Climate Plan." It's a fundamentalist's call for limiting the burning of fossil fuels to protect God's creation. They've also written an editorial against the silly Chamber of Commerce call for a "trial" regarding climate change (I'm tired of messing with links, I'm sure readers here know of this).

I wouldn't go so far as to say it decreases my pessimism but it's kind of surprising nonetheless.

thingsbreak said...

@PW: You seem to want to make true religion mean Buddhism and the Tillichs, Spongs and Cupitts of the world, and everything else superstition.

Yes, this is what I meant about special pleading and "there is a profound naivete among many of those who are or whose peer group mainly consists of theistic evolution types- that many more religious people are of or can be moved toward that kind of religion."

And also, when MT says It does no good to start to address people's superstitions by attacking God as chief among them.

He's begging the question and engaging in special pleading. What does granting MT's "God superstition" special deference among other superstitions advance other than a tautological deference towards that superstition? Beliefs in gods should be treated as sacred because they're sacred because they're beliefs in gods, and so forth.

I will state again that I don't see the point in this particular discussion as there are overwhelming associated factors that render the hypothetical conversion of any given rejector-of-science-on-religious-grounds irrelevant in terms of political outcome. That being said, if we're going to go down this road, perhaps it might be more productive to deal with realities as opposed to convenient strawmen.

It is incredibly convenient to assume that Dawkins is equally guilty of the same weak arguments and "shallow" philosophical assumptions as the average creationist (or to whomever he is being compared) but that simply isn't the case, and it's rhetorical laziness of the type routinely and rightly derided when employed by the press on other topics. Does MT actually believe that Dawkins and his ideological fellow travelers are consigned to "shallow materialism with no vehicle for spiritual development" for not believing in others' version of the supernatural? Dawkins' friends describe him as incredibly spiritual in terms of his sense of awe, wonder, and humility in the presence of the majesty of the natural world.

I am not an enormous Dawkins supporter, but I've read/watched several interviews of him and read The Ancestor's Tale, and MT's characterization bears no resemblance to the author of that book that I can easily discern.

Hank Roberts said...

omg ... be careful what you click, thanks to Stoat you can go from Wright to MacLeod to some guy named Brandenberg who -- in "Arctic Ice Sheets Melting, So Ocean Level Rising (Snicker)" -- explains Science:

"... When water gets really cold it somehow traps air in it that causes it to expand, which makes it light. This results in it becoming buoyant and floating ..."

then it's ice cubes in the glass, conflating floating ice and grounded ice, and so sea level won't rise.

Teh stupid, it burns.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, I should've stopped at MacLeod rather than following Wright's "this guy" link to the nitwit.

MacLeod is wonderful as always, and on point, thank you Paul Wright:

Saturday, August 22, 2009
http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/2009/08/scientist-philosopher-and-theologian.html
... walked into a bar ...

---brief excerpt follows---

"What I'd still like to see, some day, is the discussion that Steve Yearley adumbrated and that didn't happen. I am thoroughly jaded with the argument with creationism, and indeed the whole science-and-religion thing. Been there, done that, got the bloody shirt...."

thingsbreak said...

@MT:

Does "reduce in influence the ideologies opposing science" include "reduce the indivdual's attachment to those parts of their ideologies opposing science"?

How would that work exactly? Given the authoritarian structure of the most anti-science sects of religion, it doesn't seem like an easy needle to thread but it might be an incredibly effective tack if it works. I would worry that the thought "if my [spiritual leader] is wrong about [scientific issue], what else is [he or she] wrong about?" would be unacceptable both to the religious authorities as well as the coherence of the rejector's worldview.

The Stewards of Creation tack might be the most effective. Hansen has been alluding to it for a long time, and Wilson has already been mentioned by HR. Invoking the Highest Authority neatly sidesteps the issue of parochial attitudes.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Roberts said...

TB, you've flatly declared that a large number of people don't exist.
You're saying E.O. Wilson is wrong, and the people he's found share his concern about taking care of the world don't exist.

Please, consider the possibility that you are wrong in what you believe, and that you can look up facts that will show you the world is not what you believe it is.

These are real people. You don't agree with some of what they believe.

But they agree that we have work to do, that we can do together, now, desperately needed work.

Please suspend your disbelief long enough to read Wilson and those who echo what he is saying about the job at hand.

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22E.O.+Wilson%22+evangelicals

I gave you the link earlier, I think. Again:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/19/AR2006091901664_pf.html

The people you don't believe exist are quoted there:

----excerpt follows----

Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, is holding forth from a couch in the association's modest Southwest Washington office. Asked about Wilson's decision to be straightforward about the gap between the scientific and evangelical worldviews, the pastor has thumbed quickly through his bound galley of "The Creation" to find a passage that spells them out.

The point he's making is the same as Wilson's: We know we have differences. But that doesn't mean we can't share concerns.

Like Wilson, Cizik used to think political action on the environment "isn't our fight." Then, in 2002 -- at the urging of the Rev. Jim Ball, who heads a group called the Evangelical Environmental Network -- he flew to England to attend a conference on climate change. Absorbing everything he could about the threat of global warming, he "came away converted."

Evangelicals, Cizik says, "have begun to speak out on these issues in our own voice. Which is to say not as environmentalists but as evangelical Christians who care about creation."

Cizik is speaking in his personal voice here, not for the National Association of Evangelicals' roughly 30 million members. Evangelicals are far from united on this topic, and since he threw himself into the climate change issue, he's been attacked -- by the Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, among others -- for what amounts to consorting with the enemy.

Part of the conflict is generational, Cizik says. To the older generation, which identifies "enviros" with the political left, "this is a bridge too far. After all, you could lose your faith or something! Hang out with those guys and you'll slippery-slide your way into evolution!"

But momentum, he believes, is on the side of engagement. In February, for example, 86 influential evangelical leaders joined forces to back what they called the Evangelical Climate Initiative, through which they will work to curtail global warming.

Introduced by a mutual friend, Cizik and Wilson met over lunch at the Cosmos Club last summer. Earlier this month, they exchanged views in an "e-conversation" on the Web site of Audubon magazine. The very idea of a rapprochement between evangelicals and secular scientists, Cizik wrote, "will send lobbyists for the status quo into overtime, if not apoplexy, to stop it from happening."

Still, he believes that an alliance is "achievable" -- and that Wilson's book could not have come at a better time. ...

---- end excerpt ----

See the Scholar search link for more.

Hank Roberts said...

Here, from the Society for Experimental Biology, a meditation on, among much else, Kropotkin's tenure as an editor of _Nature_.

Worth reading.

http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/reprint/23/4/973

gravityloss said...

I haven't had time to read the comments, I've just moved, but I don't like how basically the argument is that the public is stupid (can't separate science and atheism), and Dawkins is trashed because of that.

And this pandering will change matters how? It's just exactly the acceptance of idiocracy. The very future this blog and the commenters are fighting against.

I've seen a couple of videos by Dawkins, and he behaved very well, logically and kindly there, and the opponent seemed a complete fraud. Sorta like Michael Tobis and Mark Morano in these blog postings. One uses evidence and logic, the other some misconstrued talking points from a list.

How much more unreasonable demands can you make of anyone? What should Dawkins do? What is wrong with people?

gravityloss said...

Hank, Frans de Waal is the guy to read some pop science books from if you want to talk about co-operation, justice, ethics, morals, and evolution.

Haven't read all the comments, sorry, right now in write only mode because of time lack!

Hank Roberts said...

Another point for TB and others: remember what else has changed, before assuming it's the religious people who are opposed to having good information publicly available.

Consider:

"We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become extremely difficult...."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/opinion/31krugman.html?em

thingsbreak said...

@HR:

TB, you've flatly declared that a large number of people don't exist.
You're saying E.O. Wilson is wrong, and the people he's found share his concern about taking care of the world don't exist.

Please, consider the possibility that you are wrong in what you believe, and that you can look up facts that will show you the world is not what you believe it is.

These are real people. You don't agree with some of what they believe.

But they agree that we have work to do, that we can do together, now, desperately needed work.

Please suspend your disbelief long enough to read Wilson and those who echo what he is saying about the job at hand.


I have to admit to being completely baffled as to how you've come to the conclusion that I think the Wilsonian approach is wrong/doesn't exist/etc. when I explicitly state that it might be the best approach, "The Stewards of Creation tack might be the most effective. Hansen has been alluding to it for a long time, and Wilson has already been mentioned by HR. Invoking the Highest Authority neatly sidesteps the issue of parochial attitudes."

Of course the Wilsonian approach is not the same as the status quo, it's an active engagement on religious rather than scientific grounds, which is probably why it is effective while accomodationism is not.

Hank Roberts said...

TB, if I misunderstood your position I apologize.

My response was specifically to what you wrote above:

"Evangelicals are hostile to the science on the issue. They're also hostile to science and its implications on other issues."

That's the media picture-- the media is selling the controversy.

But the media has to lie aobut this. As the man quoted above said:

"The very idea of a rapprochement between evangelicals and secular scientists ... will send lobbyists for the status quo into overtime, if not apoplexy, to stop it from happening."

"Still, he believes that an alliance is 'achievable' -- and that Wilson's book could not have come at a better time."

---------

Personally -- I know some of the folks like Wilson is talking about, I know they need good information, and I want to be able to send them to read your weblog and even be able to speak up and ask questions there. So if someone does come to your good blog, and asks a question about climate in words that lead you to decide he or she is an evangelical, please, hold your fire.

It might be someone I sent you who wants good information for good reasons.

Don't insist they agree with you beyond that we have a big shared job to do that we can do while disagreeing.

Yes, this is "one person" not "from the top down" conviction.

That's how people change.

The media portrayal won't change til after the world does, if then.

Hank Roberts said...

An earlier reply to TB is in the queue somewhere, pointing back to what he wrote about evangelicals, which I hope I did misunderstand.

News in my mailbox from
EcoEquity (new website)
http://www.ecoequity.org/

Relevant to this thread, issues of fairly sharing the remaining capacity, such as it is, of the planet to cope with our fossil fuel use do interest religious people once the get the idea.

EcoEquit among much else do serious work on this issue with the churches; here:

http://gdrights.org/2009/06/02/gdrs-and-the-churches/

See also this:

http://gdrights.org/2009/07/06/one-billion-high-emitters/

Eco-Equity's response to the "One billion high emitters" proposal Chakravarty et al. recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More at the links.

Michael Tobis said...

TB:
Of course the Wilsonian approach is not the same as the status quo, it's an active engagement on religious rather than scientific grounds, which is probably why it is effective while accommodationism is not.

TB, I am honestly having trouble understanding.

Please define accommodationism and identify some accommodationists. If it's not too troublesome, provide an accommodationist reference for some of them.

thingsbreak said...

@HR

Rereading this thread, I think a lot of what I wrote was vague and/or poorly worded.

There are a number of points I was trying to speak to, and not all of them dealt with the same goal. In any event, I am cognizant of the risks that MT and you are warning about in potentially alienating large swaths of the public- it's something I myself was vocal about avoiding during the '08 elections.

I thinks these groups can and should be engaged, I just don't think the bottom up method is the way to do so effectively. I'd argue that Wilson (and possibly Hansen) are going about it very, very differently than the typical acommodationist strategy re: evolution.

I've been sitting on a long post about this entire thing for quite some time, and I should probably just go ahead and finish it so that my opinions are clearer.

Hank Roberts said...

Well, last note, as a youngster I got a good bit out of a book by one of those other Huxleys:
"Perennial Philosophy" -- a term Google tells me was originally from Leibniz,used as a book title by Aldous Huxley. There are more recent treatments. There is a human experience that can be acquired in many different ways -- described as anything from what meditators do, to temporal lobe stimulation -- that people like enough to work hard to repeat it, and also to prescribe the only proper way anyone can experience it. There's a dynamic tension there, as Vonnegut had Bokonon say it in Cat's Cradle.

But since I don't have anything to say about it, and the real interest I have these days in religion is how E.O. Wilson is doing, I'll stop.

I think MT is making more sense here than the rest of us put together and I'm going to shut up and listen.

gravityloss said...

Michael, I disagree with your entire post, I think it contains outdated, fallacious and even strawman arguments.

For example,
1) Incapability of science to explain experience / the soul. (This mostly is an argument for the supernatural/magic, which in itself is, as a whole, a useless circular logic concept.)

2) Shallow materialism as somehow the atheist alternative to christian values. (This is a strawman straight from the creationist playbook by the way.)

I don't know if it's fruitful to continue discussion about this topic though - it doesn't really yield anything positive and it only annoys people that might have something much more useful to do.

I respect your religion and you have the freedom to believe. I can not promise to refrain from commenting if some of the stuff you say is not logical, even if it is connected to religion.

keith said...

If you consider yourself pragmatic, then you should welcome Wilson's and Cizic's engagement.

Several years ago, when I was still an editor at Audubon magazine, I brought Richard Cizik, E.O. Wilson and Stuart Pimm together for a week-long web dialogue about just the issues raised in this post and thread:

http://www.audubonmagazine.org/eCorrespondence/eCorrespondence.html

thingsbreak said...

Please define accommodationism and identify some accommodationists. If it's not too troublesome, provide an accommodationist reference for some of them.

I think that roughly defined, accommodationism is the expectation that if it is repeated loudly and often enough that Science And Religion Aren't In Conflict that this will create an environment in which acceptance of (as an example) evolution can and will spread through educational standards. This strategy is ineffective, or perhaps only effective in counterbalancing some offensive moves by those seeking to undermine evolution- in either case, the net outcome is zero progress. Rejection of evolution remains at the same level as it did over 25 years ago. The NAS, AAAS, NCSE, et al. take the accomodationist position and release various press releases and pamphlets to that effect*.

There are other tacks to take. Dawkins, Myers, Coyne, et al. believe that this accommodationism is ineffective and dishonest, as there are many evolutionary biologists who do not believe that religion as it is generally practiced and science are not in conflict. They believe that accomodationism is not honestly representing the views of the entire scientific community, and as accomodationism doesn’t seem to be making any headway anyway, it might be time to acknowledge the substantial dissenters from this practice.

Wilson, Hansen, and others appear to be pursuing yet a different path, by leaving the realm of ‘science/scientists only’ and engaging the religious on their own turf, speaking their language, and perhaps most importantly of all framing their arguments for religious leaders (who will presumably propagate them downstream) rather than attempting a bottom up conversion of individuals.

My end of the conversation got muddled because I was attempting to discuss the Dawkins et al. approach on its own merits independently of climate outreach while also trying to emphasize that I think only a top down effort made outside of the purely scientific (e.g. Wilsonian, Hansenian) is likely to be successful (vs. the accommodationist approach) when trying to win over rejectors-of-science-on-religious-grounds because there are too many other confounding factors in play for the accommodationist stance to work. The majority of those who reject evolution do so not because of a perceived lack of evidence, but on religious grounds- when confronted with science that contradicts (or is perceived to contradict) their faith, they choose their faith. Evolution, or in our case climate reality, has to essentially become incorporated into religious worldviews in order to get it accepted by large swaths of religious believers. This happened to some extent with evolution and Catholicism if I'm not mistaken, which might explain their relative embrace of evolution.

*[This being said, the NCSE et al. do occasionally go beyond the passive There Is No Conflict stance, but none of these instances seem to be as genuine or potentially successful as the top down approach properly implemented could be.]

Hank Roberts said...

Keith, the Audubon pages are great; but in the ending paragraph on the last day, Cizik says:

----
Ed and Stuart, we need to explain these political and economic realities to our movement as much as we do the scientific facts. No social or religious group is better positioned than evangelicals to alter the current political landscape in which industry literally writes a hefty portion of our energy and environmental policies. Thus, we're launching a new website in late September called "Revision" (to be found at

www.revision.org

) that will address the theological, scientific, and political imperatives for our evangelical leaders. As you yourself have written: "Creation — living Nature — is in deep trouble" and "Pastor, we need your help." Amen, and amen.

Warmly,

Richard Cizik
National Association of Evangelicals
-----

But the link doesn't work. Can you follow up or suggest how to find out what happened?

Hank Roberts said...

This is not an elephant.
It's a mastodon.

http://global-warming.accuweather.com/2009/08/a_partial_solution_to_the_urba.html#comment-200721

keith said...

Hank,

Richard Cizik was ousted from his long-time position last year. I discussed this in a post that I wrote in April, which also includes an interview I did with him.

http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2009/04/22/the-resurrection-of-richard-cizik/

That'll bring you up to date on him. As for the site he mentions in the Audubon thread, I'm guessing it went dark when he was tossed aboard.

Hank Roberts said...

Thanks Keith. That's far from anything I follow myself-- it helps to have links to point to.

eco101 said...

How would you demonstrate that? It seems to me you need two large sets of people of varying degrees of religious orthodoxy, some exposed to the idea that science is atheistic and some not.
MT, that's basically the exact same argument that denialist use against climate change science - You can't do a proper experiment, because you don't have a control, so how do you know that it's real.

In such a situation, it's not really a valid criticism...

Hank Roberts said...

An aside, for those interested in whatever the heck it is that people experience that they call religious experience -- besides that Huxley book (The Perennial Philosophy, a snippets from a great many religious that bring out the similarities) -- there's one book of practical advice for those who want the experience that I think is well worth some time, particularly if you don't need the religious side but want to know what the feeling is that many religious describe and try to teach.

Try Gendlin ("Focusing"), from the 1960s. He tried to pull out of all the different kinds of 'meditation' and 'prayer' and 'spiritual exercise' a few basic practices and express them in simple how-to form.
It's of the "you don't have to believe anything for this to work" variety of advice. And about that he wrote:

"Adopt a "split-level" approach to all instructions: On the one hand follow the instructions exactly, so that you can discover the experiences ... On the other hand be sensitive .... The moment doing it feels wrong ... back up slightly. Stay there with your attention until you can sense exactly what is going wrong.
... you will find your own body's steps, either through the instructions, or through what is wrong with them...."


Quote is from this:
http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2234.html

When I talk to religious people who ask me my own beliefs, I say I look at the world, practice knowing what needs to be done and getting on with doing it, and when I'm not sure what needs to be done, the focusing steps work for me. That's close enough to E.O. Wilson's approach to make sense to most religious people.

Belette said...

I finally got around to writing:

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/09/the_stoat_in_the_room.php

Sorry.

llewelly said...

Hank Roberts:

"Most of them know of or have read Wilson's book. Far too few of my scientist friends have read it."

An amusing review, which concludes:

"Still, though, I agree that Wilson deserves to be awarded a Green Book Award for The Creation—we can't afford to wait for all the Baptists to commit apostasy before we draft them to support biodiversity. Let's hope he wins many more, and especially let's hope more religious organizations start acknowledging his ideas!"

Hank Roberts said...

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2009/09/world-council-of-churches-statement.html

"September 4, 2009
World Council of Churches Statement

... in addition to ecological and economic perspectives.... eco-justice and ecological debt. ... the WCC as part of its current programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line ... provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much.