Science is real


I wish Richard Dawkins stuck to writing science books.

if you’re concerned that religion too often interferes with rationality (as I do), then being a petulant booby about it won’t do much good. Frans de Waal is more my kind of speed.

And, They Might Be Giants are too. This one song is probably going to make more change than the collected writings of Dawkins, Coyne and Myers.  Just because you’re correct about the absence of a god doesn’t mean you should be annoying about it. You can’t win hearts and minds that way, you got to be a little more lighthearted about it. Start with the kids.

(song starts at 0:20)

9 thoughts on “Science is real

  1. I wonder if Dawkins also posts all of the letters he gets from religious people who he’s pissed off, who are now biased against science because of Dawkins connects his fundamentalist atheism to science.

    I personally have never met a person converted over to accepting science over fundamentalist religious texts because they read something from one of the neoatheists. They apparently exist, as Dawkins posted some letters from them.

    On the other hand, I have met dozens of religious fundamentalists who use Dawkins as a piece of evidence in the case that they can’t trust science because scientists are blinded by their atheist fundamentalism. And, in his case, they’re right to not trust Dawkins, who will use any logical maneuver to criticize their beliefs. He might be right, but by attacking their religion he is closing minds to science.

    I can’t use the Blind Watchmaker to teach evolution and natural selection anymore. Dawkins has ruined its usefulness with his subsequent writings. People who are religious no longer suspend their suspicions while reading this book, because they know what else Dawkins has said. The messenger destroyed the message.

    If you’re going to spend your career attacking religion, fine, have at it. But please, don’t do it in the name of scientific progress. There are actually good scientists who are religious. I don’t understand their beliefs, no matter how hard I try, but I’m not going to use my atheism as a reason to ridicule others.

    The bottom line is, Dawkins makes atheists look bad, just like televangelists make Christians look bad. He has the virtue of being right, in my opinion, but being right isn’t license for asshattery.

    If there is a war between religion and reason (I don’t know if there is), then it doesn’t to be waged on the battlefront of science denialism. Dawkins may have a few converts, but he’s convincing far more open-minded religious people that scientists are closed-minded.

  2. I’m sure Dawkins has a lot of hate mail. He’s read some and posted the video on youtube.

    I disagree again. Dawkins makes a specific argument: Faith and Reason are polar opposites, mutually exclusive. He points out that if an individual wants to have both, they’re being philosophically inconsistent. I agree, and its a good thing to point that out.

    He’s overturning the notion in society that we can’t criticize people’s ideas, especially religion. Is criticizing beliefs asshattery? If it is, that is a good thing.

    Its hard to know the extent of Dawkin’s role in changing people’s beliefs with respect to science/religion–it’ll have to be quantified. My inclination is that he’s having a positive impact.

  3. I don’t have a problem with Dawkins’s message. My problem is that he’s a scientist, just like Coyne and just like Myers. They make me look bad by association.

    Why is it that evolutionary biologists have to be the ones to attack religion? I get that religion prevents some people from thinking rationally about evolution, as well as many other things. But that’s not good enough. I don’t want creationists to point to a book about evolution and then a book about the silliness of religion, and then say that the first has no validity because the same moron wrote the second one. That idea is wrong, of course, but it does shut off discourse.

    I don’t know how many creationist students you’ve interacted with and discussed evolution with in a genuine fashion. All I know is that if I ask them to read Dawkins on religion, their brain shuts off. That does the opposite of what we want.

    Does it speak well for religious people that they don’t want to rationally consider these neoathiest polemics? No, of course not, we all should be open to reason. But, sadly, most people are not open to reason to ideas with which they disagree. That’s natural, even if it’s not a positive trait.

    Our goal in teaching isn’t to have the best and most effective argument, but to actually make a difference in educating people. Part of that is the human side of making sure that your reason penetrates. Being right just isn’t enough. Those guys are so filled with bile that they convince very few religious people. Style matters as well as substance. And their style sucks.

    Any student of human nature will know that this reinforces tribalism that will only result in a deeper divide. Unlike those guys, I don’t want to win an argument by browbeating the other side. Life’s too short to be that nasty.

    They should leave the religion-hating to the folks like Hitchens and Pullman, who aren’t prophets for science, but instead, prophets for reason.

    What notion is there in society that we can’t criticize another’s ideas? That’s a defining trait of our species. That explains most wars in human history, because someone doesn’t like someone else’s religious ideas. The neoatheists are just inserting themselves a yet another tribe in the fight among dogmatic perspectives. Every side gets some converts, but nobody ever wins.

    Let me know how many religious people you’ve converted to atheism using reason. I can tell you about all of the religious students I’ve gotten to understand and accept evolution as fact, and it started with respecting their perspective, even if it’s beyond my comprehension. If I started busting out Dawkins, I never would have made any progress.

    Of course, my whole point is that dogmatism is ugly and useless. So I’m not going to get dogmatic or spend too much time arguing about this stuff, I’ve got some TMBG to listen to.

  4. Dawkin’s target audience is not the deeply religious. It’s those ‘moderate’ or ‘fence-sitting’ people that may be persuaded with a tougher rhetoric. I think Dawkins, Coyne, Myers are great for this audience. I believe that it takes a range of rhetoric to ultimately convince a population of people. All I’m arguing is that Dawkins is making a positive impact. Whether that outweighs the negative, I’m not so sure.

    I agree that an aggressive approach such as Dawkins’ is not effective with fundamentalists/creationists. Sadly, I’ve never been able to successfully convince anybody of evolution(if they didn’t believe it in the first place). I have tried very hard. But I agree a ‘soft’ approach is the way to go.

    As for teaching, I have not interacted with any creationist students. I would definitely not use Dawkin’s style of communication. I’m not sure how I would react, but yes, I would not start with ridicule. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I do wonder if my students are turned away from Dawkins. I do recommend his books frequently when I TA.

    As for dogmatism, from my perspective of the atheist community, we’re far from dogmatic. There is a whole lot of arguing and disagreement. I’m personally tired of religion, atheism…that whole discourse. I much rather spend my time thinking about research(go ants!) and how to communicate science. :-)!

  5. Amen. It’s tiring to fret about this. I’m a non-dogmatic atheist, too.

    Keep in mind that you actually interact with creationists students regularly. About third of the country is solidly creationist, and plenty of them are college students in your neck of the woods. They just won’t fess up to it to their evolutionist biology instructor, because they’re wise enough to know it’ll get them in trouble, or at least lead to a conversation they’d rather not have.

    If you’re looking to recommend a book, the one I start with is Beak of the Finch. Unfortunately, most of my students who aren’t wholly convinced of the fact of evolution also happen to be people who watch way more TV than read books.

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