I am still sleepy from all that tryptophan in turkey meat and the Evolution wine, so I don’t think I have the energy to write a big post now – I’ll leave much of my thoughts on the matter for a post-weekend post reviewing Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
But I have to chime in briefly by sending you to the relevant links and copying some of the comments I wrote on those comment threads. Brace yourself for a lot of reading as there are several posts and many comments on each of the posts. Sorry, the links are not neccessarly in order, but you’ll get the gist of the argument anyway.
Ed Brayton starts out here and responds to criticisms here.
Larry Moran fires the first salvo here and responds here.
Pat Hayes pitches in here and here.
John Lynch has three posts on the topic: here, here and here.
Buridan clears up some definitions here.
John Pieret takes his side here and here.
John Wilkins just in with this.
PZ Myers (and a gazillion commenters) responds to the whole brouhaha here.
[Update: Josh Rosenau and Mike Dunford have some thoughts on the issue as well.]
[Update 2: Ed Brayton, John Pieret and John Lynch have added further responses.]
[Update 3: Razib, John and Ed have more…and now Josh again! And a good one from Tyler again. And now also Daniel Rhoads. And also Paul Decelles.]
Whoa! What an internecine war! By now, you know that “M&M” stands for Myers&Moran and my title of this post tells you where I stand.
First, let me copy a little quote from my review of Ken Miller’s talk:
“A few years ago, I was of the mind that something like theistic evolution is a good idea to spread the message that evolution is not evil. I thought that people like Ken Miller are great messengers to soften up the people (step 1) and prepare them for eventual compIete abandonment of the Creator (step 2). And even those who never get to Step 2 are less dangerous than straight-out creationists.
I certainly have no problems with anyone personally believing whatever they want. But I am more and more moving to the opinion that this is not a good strategy. It is just providing the apologia for the believers who have a problem with being perceived as medieval, and allowing them to, then, provide apologia for their more extreme brethren. They – the moderates and the fundies – flock together when the going gets tough and it really counts – the political battles between 15th and 21st centuries.
The moderates are no friends of reason when it counts the most, outside of comfortable chats on panels on campuses. Evolution battle is not a battle of science, it is a battle of mindsets and worldviews: medieval vs. modern. Giving a helping hand to those who give their helping hand to the medieval bigots and authoritarians is not a good strategy. They need to be made uncomfortable – Dawkins-style – and forced to choose and come clear with which side they are on. Otherwise, they’ll play nice with us when it does not matter, and stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la-la-la” when real action is required.”
People who focus narrowly on preventing IDC form entering schools do not see the big picture, i.e., that Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology (go read that post now!). Thus, people like Dawkins, Myers (or me) are fighting against the bad politics of the church.
While Lennonnesque Imaginings of a world without religion are cute fantasies, we are a little bit more realistic. We know that religion is here to stay no matter what we do and we know that even organized religion can be and has been harnessed for change for good (as in Civil Rights movement). So, we want to fight against the political (added clarification: conservative) aggressiveness of churches in all spheres – creationism being just one of the prongs of their multi-prong strategy to roll back Enlightement.
While evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science are best suited to counteract creationism (and reproductive and developmental biologists to counteract abstinence-only education, opposition to abortion, stem-cell research and cloning, and psychologists and others should use their knowledge to counteract other prongs of their strategy), we need to all be aware that there is a big picture and that we need to work on it all together.
Part of the battle is to force the mealy-mouthed “moderates” to choose sides. ‘Mealy-mouthed’ moderates are, for instance, “liberal Christians” who believe in evolution and are generally on right side of issues but do not raise any voices against their fundie brethren and, when push comes to shove, side with them (as they are all Christians) against us. [added: this group also includes closet atheists/agnostics too afraid to speak up]
Different targets will respond to different tactics. Dawkins/Harris/Dennett tactic WILL work as one part of the strategy, targeting particular groups, and moreover changing the environment in which the debate is fought (a little bit of niche-construction). Ken Miller and those folks have their roles and can move over other types of people to choose sides.
The M&M approach is only going to push the true fundies away and they are already as far away as can be. The moderates – those who are culturally religious but on the right side on most scientific, moral and social issues – are unlikely to be pushed away by M&M rhetoric, and may even get a validation from it and get pushed in the opposite direction.
Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.
In other words, focusing only on preventing creationism from entering schools is missing the forest for the trees. We have managed to win a bunch of court cases, the latest one in Dover. But we have not won in the court of public opinion. And, if the entire religious plan succeeds, the courts of the future will be filled with clones of Priscilla Owen and all our victories against Creationism (and the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in school, ten commandments in courthouses…) will be reversed.
Thus, in order to win the war, we have to engage the enemy at all fronts, not just the one where we feel like it. Let’s look at some previous success stories.
Women did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. African-Amercans did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. Gays did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat.
What those three groups did, and are still doing, is changing the discourse by being darn loud! A hundred years ago, a woman was a man’s property – not any more, and it is deemed extremely vile to suggest so in this day and age. Fifty years ago, stating that Blacks and Whites should be separated because Blacks are stupid and dangerous was a mainstream position – try saying that today and see what happens to you! Ten years ago, saying you are gay invited getting beaten up. See what just a decade of loud agitation has done – some kind of movement towards the right direction (gay marriage of civil unions) in several US states, Canada, Spain, UK, South Africa, now even Israel!
The first, loud pioneers set the stage for the debate and move the goalposts. They often endanger themselves initially, but their example prompts many others to come out of the closet. There are always those who are too afraid to speak out, to rock the boat. They try to talk the enemy out of destroying them instead of exposing the enemy for the brute it is. Being moderate, playing nice, and appeasing the fundies hellbent on destroying you is not a working strategy. Building a large, loud, uncompromising and powerful movement is. Ridiculing the enemy in the public sphere and changing the discourse – what is mainstream and what is not – gradually wins our wars against the anti-Enlightement forces.
If you go to feminist, Black and LGTB blogs, you’ll see that it is easy for them to make fun of latest rantings by white, rich males, like Brooks, Tierney and Derbyshire. But they have particular ire against people of their own who either side with the enemy or allow to be manipulated by the enemy – the antifeminist women, the Blacks who push (as Republican officials, usually) the anti-Black agenda, the Mehlmans and other gays in the GOP who actively work on anti-gay legislation. Why is it suprising that such a thing would not happen in the, much newer and younger, atheist movement?
The silent reverence for religion is something quite American. You need to read this to understand where I come from. In Yugoslavia, in 1941 everyone was officially religious, in 1951 some people were religious but were too afraid to say so because they feared persecution, in 1961, some people were still religious (although getting older), they went to church on Sunday but did not tout their religiosity in fear of ridicule. By the time I was aware of my surroundings in the 1970s and 1980s, only very few people were religious, those were very old and mostly in the countryside and nobody my age believed in God:
“The resurgence of religion in the area in the 1990s is fascinating to me. I do not believe that most of those people are really religious i.e., believe in God. It is purely a political instrument, as well as a way to use easily recognizable signals to differentiate between ethnic groups that are otherwise indistinguishable. Thus Serbs started sporting Orthodox paraphernalia, Croats Catholic stuff, and Bosnians Islamic symbols.”
The Western pundits, steeped in their own culture, quite erroneously labeled the Balkan conflict a “religious war”. It was more a war between the fans of Red Star, Dinamo and Zeljeznicar soccer clubs. And while the decade of wars and economic sanctions, coupled with migrations of the best-educated abroad and the country-folks into cities, made public religiosity by Right-wing extremists OK, the country is still predominantly atheist and secular. See this if you don’t believe.
Here in the USA, we cannot institute a top-down government-sponsored ridicule of religion. The system works differently here. Big societal changes, including changes in how we think about issues, are brought about by large, loud movements. But if atheists form such a movement – and this looks like a great time for a backlash against the fundamentalist overreaching – the discourse will change. Nobody in the next generation will fall for the idiotic notion that atheists are immoral. And, just like the communist government in the old Yugoslavia realized, there is no need for any kind of legislation banning religion and religious activities – public ridicule does the job marvelously on itself.
In this post (another must-read) I wrote:
Thus, we need to see the battle over evolution not as a separate battle, but as a part of a bigger war between Enlightement and Anti-Enlightement. One cannot be won without the other. And while some battles in this war can be and should be fought at the level of national politics, the battle over education, including the battle over evolution, requires us to get at their kids. For that, we need to go local. Winning cases in court works only for the short term – they will come again and again and, with conservative activist judges being appointed left and right, they will start winning soon. Getting elected to school-boards, teaching in schools, teaching the teachers, pushing for non-test-based educational systems, pushing for tests of critical thinking (including evolutionary thinking) in schools as well as for home-schooled children, …those are the ways to fight them long term, thus the only way to win this battle. Winning this battle – the battle over childrearing and education – will be the key for winning the whole war long term. Without new recruits from the new generations of children, the forces of Anti-Enlightement will dwindle in numbers, lose power, and finally die out. As a liberal, I am an optimist, a believer in progress, and cannot see how, in the long term they can win and we can lose. But in the meantime we need to fight to prevent them from incurring too much damage while they still have the power. Explaining evolution over and over again is not the way to do it.
But the project I describe here can only be succesful if the social and political environment allows it. And to change the discourse, to start getting taken seriously, and to change what is mainstream and what is not we need more M&Ms. If reason prevails and fundamentalism looses, then nobody will ever overturn our legal victories against Creationists. If we keep winning anti-IDC cases but ignore the environment in which it all happens, we will soon start loosing in courts as well. It’s fine if Ken Millers of the world want to help out in IDC cases and to move some minds on their lecture circuits, but in the long run, they’ll have to decide are they on the side of reason or on the side of their religion which also includes the most politically active fundies.
Dawkins is correct:
I tell Dawkins what he already knows: He is making life harder for his friends. He barely shrugs. “Well, it’s a cogent point, and I have to face that. My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The sensible” – and here he pauses to indicate that sensible should be in quotes – “the ‘sensible’ religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.”