Posts Tagged ‘re-post’

It seems that one of the interesting moments in the history of this community occurred when Thomas Robey, a Christian, embraced The Scarlet A.  Well, I had a similar coming-out on my blog last December, and I dusted it off for Clashing Culture.  Hear! Hear!

Last December I made a few comments on Greg Laden’s Blog over at ScienceBlogs, in which I expressed some, um, concern regarding an aroma of ugly anti-Christian thuggery. The context was a silly (and banal) article on the “War on Christmas,” which is some idiotic dustup in the so-called Culture Wars.

Now, I’ve bashed Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion repeatedly on this blog. I’ll probably do it again. And I dissed another crappy blog at ScienceBlogs because it consists of far more “atheist chest-beating” than science or scientific commentary.

All this might give the impression that I don’t like atheists, or that I object when they get loud and feisty, or that a prominent aim of my blog is the debunking of atheist claims or the engagement of atheist polemics. Let me be clear: none of the above is true.

My primary audience at Quintessence of Dust — the group of people for whom I intend to write — is Christian, and especially evangelical. This doesn’t mean that I assume that only Christians will read or appreciate the blog, but it does mean that I nearly always write with thinking Christians in mind. I am working to discredit the anti-evolution folk science of Reasons To Believe because I want evangelicals to abandon apologetics that damage the reputation of Christ and the church, and so I’ve written about their elementary errors for the sake of Christian integrity. Debunking nonsense and disarming attacks of various kinds are major goals of mine, but the targets aren’t atheists — they’re Christians.

But still, you might wonder what I think of the New Atheists. In short: I think they’re a welcome addition to the public square. Here are a few of my reasons.

1. Christianity (perhaps I should say Christendom) needs opposition.

For one thing, such opposition is a bit like peer review. The New Atheists aren’t merely announcing their unbelief. They’re saying, “we think your belief is idiotic.” And they’re saying, “we think your belief is harmful.” I say we think of those challenges as negative comments from a manuscript reviewer. In science, when you get a nasty review of a manuscript, you either revise the manuscript or you explain to the editor why the reviewer is mistaken. (Or both. Usually both.) Even if the reviewer is a butthead, her/his critique must be effectively dealt with if the editor is to be convinced that the paper is worthy of publication. As I’ve mentioned before, peer review often makes the original article much better.

Moreover, active opposition can expose weaknesses that the church is otherwise unable to see or unwilling to acknowledge. These flaws might be noted by the critics, or they might be revealed in the ways Christians respond to the attack.

2. Unbelievers should be represented in the public square, in the same way that various faiths are (or ought to be).

The Christian Right has its culture warriors, other faiths have their well-known organizations and representatives. Right-wing Christians can applaud James Dobson, and thereby contribute to the cultural conversation; others of us can oppose him, and similarly stake a claim. How can it be unhealthy or inappropriate for atheist voices to speak similarly on behalf of like-minded persons?

3. The New Atheists are providing atheists an opportunity to clarify their various cultural positions, individually and collectively.

I suspect that many atheists don’t care to be identified with an “atheist community” at all, but to whatever extent they do, they can use the New Atheists as a starting point for identifying areas of specific interest in public discourse. The New Atheists are speaking loudly in the public square, and some of them have staked out positions that may not represent anything remotely resembling a generalized “atheist” position.

I am eager to know, for example, whether most atheists would find Francis Collins’ description of his conversion to represent a religious attack on science. Sam Harris apparently does. Is this a typical position for an atheist? For an atheist scientist? I would prefer to work with unbelievers who reject such warmongering, just as I would prefer to work with Christians who denounce and disavow just about everything Pat Robertson has ever said. The New Atheists, if nothing else, have created new topics for discussion, and given everyone new opportunities to weigh in on those questions.

4. The attack of the New Atheists has encouraged me as a Christian.

Wait…huh? I’m dead serious. I’ve read most of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, as well as his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and much of Consciousness Explained. (I really enjoy his writing and his arguments.) I haven’t read any of Sam Harris other than that sickening letter to Nature, nor have I read Hitchens (outside my ravenous consumption of everything he writes in the Atlantic Monthly). But I’ve read almost everything Dawkins has ever written, including The God Delusion, and I’ve seen the hilariously sycophantic pleading on his behalf by Dennett and Michael Shermer. And this is my response:

That’s it?! That’s all you got?!

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the New Atheists are stupid for doubting, or even for considering Christianity to be rubbish. I just don’t find anything in their writing that is a threat to my belief.

So…here’s to the New Atheists. May God richly bless them.


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Do They Need to Be Clashing Cultures?

Hi, as Tangled Up in Blue Guy, I write as an atheist keenly interested in science and the issues of confusion between science and religion. At my main blog, I write occasionally acerbic posts on the ways that religion intrudes on the personal lives of non-believers. But, mostly I write about what interests me in science and politics. I have been a fan of Hope for Pandora ever since Thomas wrote his post on the Scarlet A, referenced in his introductory re-post.

For this morning, I am going to re-post an article I wrote at Tangled Up in Blue Guy in which I compare the cases of Guillermo Gonzales and Stephen Matheson.

Is it Their Work Product?

The Discovery Institute has taken up arms over the tenure denial case of Guillermo Gonzalez, and insists that he was persecuted because he is a Christian; more specifically that he published books and articles which support the idea of Intelligent Design. His more famous work is The Privileged Plant, an examination of the anthropic principle (read a favorable review here by a Feller.) The confusion comes from whether he was discriminated against because of the publication of this work, through Regnery Books, which shows that he believes in Intelligent Design. The Fellers are making the case that it is a form of religious discrimination, while at the same time insisting that ID is not about religion because they daren’t in public speculate on who their Designer may be. They remain vague about the Designer because they are masking their Creationist roots.

Ben SteinThe upcoming movie, Expelled, seeks to demonstrate that the concept of Intelligent Design takes the watchmaker argument in bold new directions unimagined by either David Hume or William Paley; and that it is being suppressed through censorship and denial of tenure. Gonzalez’s case promises to feature prominently in this documentary, as does the case of Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian Institution. Both of these guys are scientists who are Christian, and so I wonder if there is a way to reliably determine through their work whether or not a scientist is a Christian.

Gonzalez’ bid for tenure was denied for three reasons:

  1. Since moving to Iowa State, the research he had done which led them to hire him in the first place had dropped off considerably during his time at Iowa State.
  2. The grants he had secured during the time leading to the tenure application was far short of the standards of his department in terms of dollars. A major portion of one grant funded the work of a grad student at another university, which doesn’t help his department much either.
  3. A major determinant of a professor’s ability to teach is mentorship of graduate scholars in their department; and Gonzalez had fallen short of department goals. He has had no successful grad mentees in his time at Iowa State.

The Fellers would have you believe that the professors considering the granting of tenure were concerned mostly about his affiliation with Intelligent Design, as evidenced by e-mail exchanges during the tenure review period. Yes, it was a concern, because they don’t accept the scientific claims of ID and don’t think that a proponent has the proper grasp of the scientific process necessary to further the research in the field they represent. It is clear that ID wasn’t the reason that he was denied tenure, but his association with it doesn’t help his case.

Guillermo Gonzalez is a Christian and he has never denied it; but is that the reason that he has been denied tenure, is that the reason that he is being “oppressed” and “suppressed” so that darwinists can “regress” to the 19th century? Is that the reason that he is ridiculed? To examine the question I would like to present a counterpoint. I found this blog through Pharyngula, and it is written by an experimental developmental biologist, who is also a Christian. This site demonstrates that the reason the ID position is ridiculed is not because of its religious affiliation, but because it is bad science and poorly done.

Scientists named steveI have read a few of the articles at Quintessence of Dust, and I am aware of the fact that my predisposition to like his writing is that he makes reference in many cases to Shakespeare and that he is a baseball fan. Stephen Matheson is one of the Scientists Named Steve.

I have actually learned something very cool by reading this post on the domestication of corn from teosinte, a wild grass which had at one time been thought to be more closely related to rice than corn. Domesticated corn and teosinte are genetically identical; in fact they meet the standard of species definition commonly understood. They can be interbred and produce fertile offspring. But they look nothing alike; and the differences are not genetic. The differences in structure are due to variants in multiple genes. Multiple genes which are identical in both plants, but are expressed morphologically in different ways.

Evo-Devo is so much fun to read about because it teaches so much about how DNA works. The existence of a gene is not enough for a protein to be expressed; there are additional factors. And this Steve explains how this affects the premise of Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution:

It would be easy to get the impression from various creationists and ID proponents that mutation and selection can only remove things from a genome. Young-earth creationist commentary on “microevolution” (a yucky term for the now-undeniable fact of genetic change over time) always adds that this kind of change involves NO NEW INFORMATION. (The caps are important, apparently, since caps and/or italics are de rigueur in creationist denialism on this topic.)

Similarly, Michael Behe wants you to think that beneficial (or adaptive) mutations are some kind of near impossibility, and that when they do happen it’s almost always because something’s been deleted or damaged, with a beneficial outcome.

So, anyway, I am not writing this post on corn and teosinte; I am writing it on Stephen Matheson and Gonzales. Both are Christians, both are scientists. One is being “oppressed” and the other is apparently an oppressor. Were Matheson in position to vote on Gonzalez’ tenure, he would likely vote in the negative. Yes, Matheson works at a Christian University and Gonzalez at a public university; and one can say that Matheson is “safe” from having his religious beliefs used in his college as a determinant for tenure. However, his obvious disdain for ID as a baseless “theory” indicates that the “censorship” of Intelligent Design is not motivated by anti-religious fervor but by its lack of explanatory and evidential power.

How can you tell if a scientist is a Christian? Their scientific work product will be silent on the matter; the best way to know is simply to ask or read what they say about their religion.

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