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From Faitheist to Fundagnostical

by Michael Shermer, Dec 01 2009

Last week, while I was giving thanks for an abundance of family, friends, and food, a brouhaha was brewing over an invited opinion editorial I wrote for CNN celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (on Tuesday, November 24).

The title, “Religion, Evolution can Live Side by Side,” was written by the CNN editors, but it does capture the thrust of the piece which I concluded by noting that if you are a believer in an eternal god, what difference does six zeros make on when the creation happened — 10,000 or 10,000,000,000 years ago — or by what method of creation was used: spoken word or big bang?

Well, this set off a mild firestorm among some observers of the science-and-religion debate, most prominently the estimable Jerry Coyne, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Why Evolution is True, in his website of the same title called me an “accommodationist” and even a “faitheist” (“faith atheist”?)

I responded to Jerry on my TRUE/SLANT blog, and had a good horselaugh (which according to Martin Gardner trumps 10,000 syllogisms) at the comment by Lewis Grossberger (who also blogs at True/Slant): “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one thing worse than a faitheist — and that’s a fundagnostical. I hope you’re not one of those.”

Continuing in the neologistic theme, “Furcas” says that my writing is “faitheistic accommodationism in its purest and most disgusting form.”

Another good horselaugh was provided by a physicist at his own blog: “Michael Freakin’ Shermer’s heart is not pure enough for Jerry Coyne. If Jerry Falwell’s circle of orthodoxy was, say, 1 meter in radius, then His Worshipfulness The Right Reverend Jerry Coyne’s circle of orthodoxy has a radius of, roughly, a Planck Length.”

This comment well captured my position and needs no further comment:

What Shermer is trying to make peace with are sensible moderate theists, not fundamentalists. It is the people in the middle, not those on the fringes, who will, ultimately, determine the virulence of religion and irreligion. Shermer is trying to reduce religion’s virulence, not embracing fundamentalist ownership of the Bible, and it’s ridiculous interpretations of it. Shermer is right to reclaim the Bible as part of the Western cultural patrimony, and not leave it to fundamentalists to tell us what it means, and the implications to be drawn from it.

How one responds to theists all depends on the context and goals of the response. I think we nonbelievers have fallen into black-and-white thinking on the question of “what is the ‘right way’ to respond?” The answer is that there is more than one way. There are multiple ways, all of which work, depending on the context. Sometimes a head-on, take-no-prisoners, full-frontal assault á la Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or Jerry Coyne is the way to go. Sometimes a more conciliatory approach á la Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, or your humble servant is best. It all depends on the context and what you are trying to accomplish.

By the way, agreeing with my alleged critics for a moment, I do not actually think that Dawkins and Hitchens are rude or disrespectful. If you read their works or listen to them in public lectures and debates, they are forceful, clear, and unwaivering, but they are not disrespectful. Watch, for example, the recent body slam Hitchens and Stephen Fry gave the Catholic Church for its stance on women’s rights, birth control, and 3rd-world poverty. It was focused and direct, but not disrespectful.

It is my goal, and the goal of the Skeptics Society, to educate as many people as possible about the power and wonders of science and to employ science to solve social, political, economic, medical and environmental problems. As such, we need as many people as we can get on board with a common goal, whatever it may be (starvation in Africa, disease in India, poverty in South America, global warming everywhere … pick your battle). My concern is that if we insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity, we have just alienated the vast majority of the world’s population from our project.

Sometimes religion is the problem — and when it is let’s not hesitate to call it out. I did so myself on the day before Thanksgiving on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza when Hewitt insisted that we thank God for our abundance and that believing in God leads to a prosperous nation like America. I pointed out — without accommodationism, faitheism, or fundagnosticalism — that 99% of everyone in Peru is Christian and yet they are dirt poor. Why? Because of warring political factions, governmental corruption, lack of education, resource depletion, currency debasement, inflation, and especially the lack of property rights and the rule of law.

So let’s not accommodate or pander in those areas where religion is clearly a problem or unmistakably mistaken. But not all (or even very many) social problems are caused by religion, so let’s pick our battles carefully and choose our strategies wisely.


81 Responses to “From Faitheist to Fundagnostical”

  1. Dax says:

    I was not going to respond, because I did not want to sidetrack the discussion to come. Since everything you blog at this site generates a political comment storm, however, I decided to comment anyway: How can you be so conciliatory when it comes to the absurdities of religion, while you show no such approach when it comes to your political ideologies?

  2. teacherninja says:

    Great post and I agree. 99% of people believe some kind of nonsense. Even fellow skeptics I know have a few irrational beliefs. Our job should be to increase critical thinking and share the wonders of science. I love Dawkins/Hitchens/PZ, etc but there’s a place for that and a place for the work you and Genie Scott do and she’s absolutely right when she says you cannot walk into a Texas state school board meeting without the backing of teachers, parents AND clergy or you might as well give up the fight. If that’s accommodationism, then I am an accommodationist because I’d rather fight the nonsense in a way that works than stamp my foot, know I’m right, and have no one there to listen.


  3. Kitapsiz says:

    My concern is that if we insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity, we have just alienated the vast majority of the world’s population from our project.

    For that absolutely clear, unbiased measure of critical thought Mr. Shermer, you have my complete respect.

    It is not accommodationist, apologist, or any other form of allegedly science denying thought; it shows a pragmatic mindset. Strange how many “would be” critical thinkers have no understanding of the fact that to actually be a critical thinker, there must be pragmatics, as well as logic, reasoning and skepticism.

    Well done, let them howl, it simply uncovers and makes plain their biases and self-serving agendas.

  4. I totally agree with you in this article Michael (If I can call you Michael). People with faith should not renounce it. They should just understand that faith is a personal belief and has no place in the public arena. There are too many people in this world for them to believe the same things.

    Also, whoever wants to believe, will find his way to believing. They do not need to be “converted”, which is another problem with major religions: They try to convert because theirs is the “right” belief system. I say again, believe what you want, but keep it to yourself.

    Science is fact. Based on experiments, trials and errors. When we find something new… the old goes out the window. This is the way society has been able to advance and religion usually hinders this process. (Just look at history)

    I say again, believe what you want, but keep it to yourself. The world needs to be more “secular”.

  5. By no stretch of the imagination would I consider you one of the accommodationists. In this great imagined schism, the people I have called out on their accommodation have a common feature — they have told “new atheists” to shut up and stop talking about atheism, stop calling out the religious when their religion is directly the problem, because they feel that doing so will cause the religious moderates to rally to their defense.

    As for the “disrespect” point, the schism pretty much got wedged open by PZ Myers’ piercing a communion wafer with a nail and throwing it in the trash. Desecrating the holy object which has otherwise zero intrinsic demand for respect, is not in any way disrespecting the people who believe such foolishness. People deserve respect, NOT religious ideas.

    So, to those that say PZ was too rude (to a cracker — not to any person!), and is therefore harming the cause, you’re basically telling the loud atheists to shut up. And that’s when and where I have a problem with you.

    • JGB says:

      It is not enough to be right in the debate – one must also be effective at getting the point across. This includes being sensitive to the feelings of others – even those extremists we’re not trying to reach.

      When we act offensive, we may alienate people we didn’t directly offend or insult. For example, using the word ‘nigger’ in a pejorative way will alienate more than just the African American listeners.

  6. tmac57 says:

    One can probably imagine some line that should never be crossed when expressing opinions about religion both for and against, but for the most part, I think that as long as the parties are trying to be intellectually honest, then all side should be heard, and then we all can decide for ourselves. Inflammatory language has the power to provoke debate, and invite criticism, both of which can have a useful function. Its hard to come up with a set of guidelines by which skeptics of religion should adhere , that won’t somehow shut down some ideas that need to be expressed. The process should be self correcting, without some presumed authority deciding what is, and is not acceptable. I think thats what we have now, and that is what makes a critical thinking group different from many others that try to make all of its members move in lockstep, so that they can control them.

    • Perry Noblett says:

      Actually a good rule of thumb is to give others the same respect that you want from them. That doesn’t mean agreeing with them, just recognizing each persons right to believe as they choose so long as that belief accords the same right to you, and anyone else. As a believer myself I do not require anyone else to agree with me, believers or non. What I require is the right to make my own choices, and do my own thinking and evaluating. I also work to protect that right for every other citizen of our shared world.

  7. JFox says:

    Well said Michael and I agree that there are certainly communication blind spots with many outspoken folk in the atheist camp. Most Christians in North America do not believe in a young earth or even instant creation; and when asked a lot of Christians will even say they think evolution is correct but will hold out for some involvement by a god in the process. This really should be seen as a good start instead of the end of the conversation. For many of the causes atheists hold dear there are many in the religious community who would otherwise agree except for the wall of contempt they typically encounter when they get within striking distance of many atheists. And given that many people give up their religious views over time it should be noted that respectful persuasion and rational discussion will always be more effective than derision and contempt.

  8. Cambias says:

    Would PZ Meyers have dared to desecrate a Koran?

  9. Brandon says:

    Would PZ Meyers have dared to desecrate a Koran?

    He absolutely would and has in fact already done so in the same event in which he desecrated the eucharist. Nothing was spared, not even a copy of The God Delusion.

  10. WScott says:

    My concern is that if we insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity, we have just alienated the vast majority of the world’s population from our project.

    Well put. My Dad always said: if you start out by calling 90% of the human race deluded fools, don’t be surprised if you fail to gain many converts.

    There’s also the long game to consider. For most people, abandoning deeply-held religious beliefs is a huge step, and it’s unrealistic to expect that to happen overnight just because the truth is obvious to us. But if we can get people thinking rationally about secular matters – conspiracy theories, ghosts, bigfoot, anti-vaccine pseudoscience, etc – then the rest will wither and die on its own. And even if it doesn’t? A world where 90% of people are moderately religious but reject fundamentalism, pseudoscience, conspiracy paranoia and other “Weird Things” would still be a vast improvement over our current world!

  11. oldebabe says:

    No way to disagree with you on this, Dr. Shermer, and also JFox. It is hard to find and give explanations for everything in critical thinking, and religion is, after all, only one idea that needs examination. And turning people off with name-calling or derision is counterproductive. Granted, it is hard to be serious and not make fun in the face of some of the outright nonsense…

    My several decades experience as a non-academician, non-philosopher, non-scientist etc. has been that most people, or at least all of those I’ve met/known and to whom I express my critical thinking/skepticism about actions or events in casual conversation (tho not in any religious setting), listen, and are interested to hear me, and if talk goes there, they usually volunteer that their own feelings are not God-driven, tho some say they are `spiritual’. My point is that perhaps while most people say they believe in God, they seem to mean some mysterious, traditional idea which they have never actually questioned… don’t think that there is, and have never experienced, any direct supernatural contact, don’t know, but suspect that it doesn’t really work as advertised. They just `go with the flow’, because it doesn’t affect them specifically, one way or the other.

    While each indivisual’s death should be the final word on all religion and superstition, it is extremely dis-satisfying, don’t you think, that others will never know if one said “Not enough evidence…” , or hear one say `See? I told you so’. ;-)

  12. SeanG says:

    I think this highlights the confusion between atheism and rational/critical thinking/skepticism. They are not the same thing. I’ve met atheists who just hated the church and were rebelling against their parents. Nothing really rational there. Personally I think rational thought and skepticism will lead to being an atheist (which seems to be the case for those like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan) but that isn’t the case for everybody. As a WScott said above, getting everyone to give up on religion is a big step. It seems to me that it will be easier to teach people to think rationally and to improve the understanding and education of science in our world rather than trying to argue people into abandoning their religion wholesale.

    And there is room for both Mr. Shermer’s approach and Mr. Hitchen’s. People will respond in different ways. Some people do respond to reason, others respond to humorously pointing out their folly. Some may be shown more insight into science and start to question their beliefs. And some people just need a good dope slap.

  13. gor says:

    the entire two hour debate the excerpt above is from can be found at
    the stream can be horribly slow but it does work

  14. Vie says:

    In my opinion, taking a conciliatory, apologetic approach towards evolution qualifies as being an accomodationist because you’re asserting that somehow both theories are equally valid and valuable- when they aren’t. But, in Shermer’s defense, people who half-way believe their religion are also accomodationists- trying to have their cake and eat it too.
    How does one half-way, sorta, kinda maybe believe the world was made in 6 days by God and is roughly as old as the human species, but also half-way think that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that our species evolved here?
    Well- you can’t. Those ideas are so intrinsically incompatible that they can’t be reconciled. What possible compromise could there be?
    (The earth was made in 4.5 days by elves!) So in a true sense, there can be no moderate, half-way believers to address in the first place.
    One could certainly feel that the Bible is metaphorical, or contains valuable lessons- but that’s very different from believing the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
    The notion that Shermer’s audience was also trying to accommodate conflicting ideologies does not make it ethical for Shermer to do so. Shermer often professes a love for science, but science’s responsibility is to present information that is as factual as possible. There is nothing factual about the biblical depiction of the planet’s formation and the origins of the human species.
    No matter how you FEEL- the biblical creation story is not consistent with all available information we have regarding the origin of our species and the creation of our planet.
    So what is there to reconcile? Nothing. And pretending that there is accommodates an unfounded belief in a fairytale (however pleasant or preferable the fairytale may be).
    Where is the line drawn?

    • WScott says:

      How does one half-way, sorta, kinda maybe believe the world was made in 6 days by God and is roughly as old as the human species, but also half-way think that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that our species evolved here?
      One could certainly feel that the Bible is metaphorical…

      You just answered your own question. The overwhelming majority of Christians – I’m too lazy to Google survey numbers just now – are not Young Earth Creationists, nor do they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Most of them have no problem with the idea of life evolving over time, they simply believe the process was guided by a divine creator.

      Your post nicely illustrates the biggest problems my theist friend have with atheists as a group: many of us insist on ascribing to Christians-as-a-whole positions and believes that are only held by a minority of Fundamentalists. That’s not to say there isn’t much to criticize in moderate religion. But attacking straw men is not arguing in good faith.

      • Vie says:

        Yes, but there’s no need to tell a Christian who believes that life on earth evolved that religion and creationism can coexist- hence Shermer wouldn’t have been addressing those people. There would be no need to, since they weren’t objecting to evolution in the first place.
        Secondly, picking and choosing aspects of a religion and arbitrarily declaring them true or false, based on what is convenient for the believer in question, is not any more rational than being a fundamentalist.
        Deciding Jesus is the actual son of God and returned from the grave doesn’t make any more sense than God creating the world in 6 days. It’s still an accomodationist attitude. They’re accepting the popular scientific explanation for the formation of the world and evolution of life, but rejecting well-established facts that contradict the idea that Jesus was a supernatural son of god. On the basis of what? It’s a double-think. Those people are attempting to be on whatever side is socially accepted- they’re moderate everythings, so they disagree with no one and are always on the winning team.
        It’s popular to be a “moderate” Christian in America- but being moderate doesn’t make their position anymore rational or fact-based. It’s simply a thinly veiled attempt to splice two contradictory ideas. Which, coincidentally, is precisely what Shermer tried.

      • WScott says:

        being moderate doesn’t make their position anymore rational or fact-based.

        I never said it did; nor was I defending their position. I’m saying that putting all Christians in one big box and acting like they all believe the exact same thing is, at the very least, a poor debating strategy. It unnecessarily alienates a lot of believers who nevertheless agree with rational, secular society of a great many things. We need those people as allies against the true wingnuts! But if we insist on insulting everyone who isn’t 100% Pure Rationalist (as seen on the Internet), we’ve doomed ourselves to permanent fringe status.

        BTW, I just finished watching the linked video. Ouch! I almost felt sorry for the Archbishop & the MP; talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight!

      • Vie says:

        I do acknowledge that you have point and that it would be counterproductive to alienate potential allies- unnecessarily.
        However, we aren’t talking about avoiding alienation, we’re talking about accommodation. It’s one thing to chose to avoid an ideological disagreement by simply avoiding confrontation with someone.
        It’s another to lend default approval to that person’s ideology by falsely asserting that there are no meaningful differences between your ideology and theirs.
        Science and faith can’t be reconciled, and they aren’t created equal. 2+2=4 and 2+2= God are not remotely the same, and only one of those answers could be objectively deemed “correct”. While other people are free to believe what they want, a scientist and a skeptic saying that it doesn’t matter if your answer is 4 or God is a major disservice to rational thought.
        In science, it most definitely matters. The entire point of science is to draw conclusions, as objectively as possible, based on what can be proven through experiments that can be repeated and independently verified.
        The very definition of faith opposes that. Faith is accepting something as true in absence of logical proof.
        Those ideas are so fundamentally different that you can’t be inclined towards both simultaneously.
        The notion that one could is a warm and fuzzy fib. At some point, those two radically different mindsets will converge on a point that cannot be happily reconciled for both parties.
        I understand that Shermer does what he does to gain support for something that he believes in. I think it needs to be acknowledged, however, that doing so requires accommodating the same unfounded beliefs about which he expresses skepticism.
        Hence… the term accommodationist.

  15. Sabio Lantz says:

    Should we embrace the word “accomadationalist” like other minorities embrace the belittling terms of those who feel superior?

    Accomadationalist Atheists: A-squared !

    Hmmm, not a bad start — other ideas?

  16. Tim says:

    I thought the article was nice and so was the video debate. Every time I read or hear somebody speak of multiple solutions to problems I am reminded of the scene from the movie “A Beautiful Mind” when the students protest the heat in the class due to all the windows being shut and Professor Nash says something like “well there is the choice between the heat with windows down and the noise (from outside construction) with the windows up.” A young women then opens the window, shouts down to the constructions workers asking them to resume their work after class is complete (to which they agree), and then Professor Nash remarks “and also in this class you will learn that problems can have more than one solution.”

    I am also reminded of doutchebag liberals who are empty headed relativist buffoons and just say that there are multiple solutions because they know that it is a commonly accepted phrase that they can misuse to advance their philosophical notion that no answers can really be known with a little sleight of hand. That usage is clearly not the case here, but I am reminded of it whenever I hear that phrase. Tools.

    Oh, and for something unrelated I just realized that long before pissed off Muslims started burning Danish embassies that South Park had already run an episode entitled “Super Best Friends” that aired in July 2001 which depicted Mohammed.

    So, enjoy. :-)

    • Beelzebud says:

      Okay… Your little rant about “doutchebag liberals” is pretty LOL-worthy. In your zeal to slam them, you reveal much about yourself.

      • Tim says:

        Wow, how…vague, personal, and irrelevant. Can you elaborate a little more?

      • Max says:

        When Mark Edward took a pot shot at Fox News, you had a hissy fit, but you don’t hesitate to take irrelevant pot shots at liberals.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Not only that, but his shot at liberals there really doesn’t make any damn sense. He went out of his way to slam liberals for hypothetically answering a question posed in a movie. I’m not quite sure what the point was, other than to set up a straw man, so he could knock it down.

      • Tim says:

        It wasn’t a point at all. It was a passing thought put in as a side note about what comes to mind when I hear that phrase. That part about liberals was unrelated to the first part. I thought I made that clear when posting the comment, and upon re-reading the comment that still seems true. The original thread was about how various approaches can be correct and I commented in the first paragraph about how I agree with that assessment, and in the second paragraph I digress into an honest statement of what else comes to mind because I only hear the “there are gray areas” or “just because one answer might be right doesn’t mean that other answers can’t be right too” comments in those two contexts: (1) a description of multiple right approaches/answers and (2) relativistic, anti-rational garbage.

        I think that is relevant. Peacemaking motions like the one put forward by Mr. Shermer are often replicated in form only as an absolute by relativist which means that when you see the can’t-we-all-just-get-along comment, an eyebrow should go up. The two of you are perfect examples of such people from what I remember of your other posts and by the form of your responses to my post (tmac on the other hand just seems to think the comment is irrelevant, a conclusion which I disagree with, but is certainly reasonable). The form with Max was to say that I am no different from something I criticized which is textbook anti-rationalism, to equivocate everything by means of attacking those who think they are right and defending those who they think are wrong (if Max genuinely thought what he thought in the thread he referenced when attacking me then there would be no equivocation, he instead would defend me or not take notice at all just passing the post up as normal). Beelzebud took another approach by attributing an argument to me (straw man) by means of straw man. From the context of my post and direct comments such as “That usage is clearly not the case here, but I am reminded of it whenever I hear that phrase” I clearly am not setting up a false argument for the purpose of discrediting a genuine argument. However by attributing that argument style to me (which focuses on motivations rather than facts or arguments) he hopes to achieve the very thing he is accusing me of; straw man. This purposeful misrepresentation is made clear with his comment “He went out of his way to slam liberals for hypothetically answering a question posed in a movie.” A simple review of my initial comment which he is being critical of shows that this is clearly not the case, indeed so clear that nobody could make the accident of thinking that I could be criticizing the fictional portrayal of Professor Nash with the digression on another, separate form of argument which I go on to criticize in the next paragraph.

        So basically I know that Max and Beelzebud are anti-rationalists who are pursuing a strategy rather than attempting to ascertain what is true and what is not. As for any rational concern over the relevancy of my comment, I can see how it can be seen as irrelevant and maybe even cheap, but I think that being aware of various philosophies and ideologies that overlap certain conclusions is necessary for the sake of intellectual self defense. It is very easy for an atheist to find the Christian Origins Conspiracy Theory tempting or to view Bill Maher as a great champion, but the bottom line is that reasoning is essential and conclusions are incidental. So when one comes across a real case of a gray area where there may be different answers that are all right then you must also be aware of what else besides truth lurks in that gray fog.

      • Max says:

        When you feed this troll, he gets verbal diarrhea.

      • Tim says:

        You see what I mean? Argument by insult and belittlement. Even after I explain what their thought process is they still can’t help themselves. Attack, ridicule, demagoguery, it is all they know. They understand reason and they regard it as evil. They attack reason wherever they find it.

        People need to be aware that these almost incomprehensible people exist, and they exist in the gray areas and fringes of issues. Their philosophy is built on eliminating from society the very notion of value and the attempt to be right. Just to drive the point home, here are two paragraphs from the Bible of Anti-Rationalism, the book “Rules for Radicals” by Saul D. Alinsky:

        “This raises the question: what, if any, is my ideology? What kind of ideology, if any, can an organizer have who is working in and for a free society? The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth. For example, a Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order or the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage – the political paradise of communism. The Christians also begin with their prime truth: the divinity of Christ and the tripartite nature of God. Out of these ‘prime truths’ flow a step-by-step ideology.

        “An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma. To begin with, he does not have a fixed truth – truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing. He is a political relativist. He accepts the late Justice Learned Hand’s statement that ‘the mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right.’ The consequence is that general propositions that help to make some sense out of man’s irrational world. He must constantly examine life, including his own, to get some idea of what it is all about, and he must challenge and test his own findings. Irreverence, essential to questioning, is a requisite. Curiosity becomes compulsive. His most frequent word is ‘why?’ ”

        He goes on to speak of a belief in “people” rather than those with closed ideologies.

        “I am not concerned if this faith in people is regarded as a prime truth and therefore a contradiction of what I have already written, for life is a story of contradictions.”

        Notice the clear misuse of the quote from Learned Hand and notice how even when writing he still works within the framework of language that people understand using words like freedom to describe concepts that clearly have nothing to do with freedom. If you doubt the context, the book is cheap, less than 200 pages, and widely taught in American universities today. Indeed there is even a photo of President Obama teaching the contents of this book when he was at the University of Chicago:

        So when people are wary of people who speak of multiple solutions and gray areas, there are very good reasons to be wary…which is why this little digression, a passing comment, has resulted in so many replies. Again, I agree with Mr. Shermer’s original post, there are multiple ways to approach people that can all be right in their own way. My point is that the gray area is a fog and we need to be careful not to lose our way in it.

      • tmac57 says:

        Tim, the inflammatory and irrelevant nature of the comment would probably be considered trolling. I know that you can do better than that.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Apparently flying off the handle, and going on rants about liberals, is his idea of rational thought.

        Most of it sounds like stuff he’s just either copying from some other source, or just parroting something someone else told him.

        The best part is that when called out for it, he resorts to another rant, this time about a book completely unrelated to anything this post was about, and takes the opportunity to call other people ‘anti-rationalists’.

      • Tim says:

        More belittlement and ridicule rather than reason or logic. Each argument given here is not just illogical, but is set up for the purpose of tearing down that which is thought to be right, elevating that which is thought to be wrong until everything meets in the middle and there is nothing left to argue over. If I value rationality, then he says I just go on rants. If I regard myself with self esteem and dignity, then he says I’m either a plagiarizer or a parrot. If I describe how he is taking positions not because he thinks they are correct but because they serve a philosophical end, then I am just being mean and calling people names. Each and every reply is designed to trivialize, personalize, minimize, and mock, but above all convince the reader that there is not a right answer to be found and anything thought to be a wrong answer is just the victim of those who pronounce judgment.

        I addressed every point made AND THEN examined their thought process (because to assume a conclusion to be wrong simply because of the person making it or because their argument may be flawed would be illogical).

        Where am I getting it wrong? Any interested reader can review their comments. When their statements are considered operating on the premise that they are attempting to ascertain the validity of a claim then their posts make zero sense. When considered on an epistemological level, that premise you had of assuming they were attempting to rationally discriminate between what is valid and what is not is shown to be false. The epistemology that people like this use is not reason or logic (using a process of non-contradictory identification and assuming the burden of proof lies on those that make the proposition), it is not faith (assuming a conclusion to be true that is not falsifiable), but rather people like this use anti-reason (they argue and think each thought based on the notion of the possibility of being right is in and of itself not just wrong, but evil). This back and forth I hope shows the dangers that can be found in all areas moderate and fringe (moderate movements are infected on one angle to temper those who think they are right, and fringe movements are infected on another angle to provide a louder voice to those who have been deemed to be wrong).

        End of “rant” (rant being defined as more than one paragraph apparently).

      • Max says:

        It’s a lot like arguing with a Scientologist.

        Call a Scientologist’s rant absurd or hypocritical, and he’ll conclude that you’re a “suppressive person” who “seeks to suppress, or squash, any betterment activity or group” and probably molests children.

        Call Tim’s rant absurd and hypocritical, and he’ll conclude that you’re an “anti-rational demagogue” who “equivocates everything by means of attacking those who think they are right and defending those who they think are wrong” and probably wants to sleep with members of Hamas.

      • Tim says:

        I rest my case.

        Read these remarks for yourself. Did he say I was wrong? No. Did he describe how I was wrong by logically reviewing my comments? No. He just called me names. Had this been a Christian website he would have called me an atheist rather than a scientologist because that would have been what his philosophy requires. Take nothing on faith, read their comments and tell me if I am wrong in my analysis. If I am, tell me specifically where and how so that I can be right or at the very least not be wrong.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Tim stop trying to act like you have the high ground here. When you make blanket statements calling all liberals “douchebags”, “empty headed relativist buffoons”, and “tools”, you can’t really criticize others for responding with ad hominem attacks.

        What did you expect your comments would achieve?

        Like it or not, your political philosophy is not the gold standard for skeptics and rational thinkers. The sooner you realize this, the better off you’ll be.

      • Tim says:

        As can be seen here again the anti-rationalists deliberately misunderstand and misrepresent the opinions of others for strategic purposes. I didn’t call all liberals doutchebags and that is obvious, but if my value is discriminating between right and wrong then if he can portray me as making blanket statements then that serves his end. You can tell how annoyed he is that I am advancing the notion that some opinions can be right and others can be wrong because this concept is antithetical to his whole philosophy.

        Another obvious point of misrepresentation is when the issue of ad hominem is brought up. If I value logic then I must be shown to be using logical fallacy. In my arguments I do not make any point with ad hominem, but I do throw out the occasional insult AFTER I make my point for flavor. This presentation is misrepresentation because I said as much in my posts already. However the main purpose of pointing out these particular insults is more likely to be an attempt to confuse the issue by making my discussion of a mindset sound like nothing more than a series of insults. Since I am examining an epistemology rather than a conclusion (although I discuss conclusions first and then examine epistemology because if conclusions are not addressed and I just spoke of why somebody was advocating something then that would be logical fallacy) anti-rationalists will try to suggest that since I am talking about how people come to arrive at conclusions I am therefore accusing them of having bad intentions. If I am just accusing them of having bad intentions then they can claim that I can never know their heart and so on.

        This description of course is incorrect and is only arrived at because they have their philosophy in reverse. Anti-rationalists move from ethics into epistemology rather than the other way around. Figuring out how we know what we know has nothing to do with intentions but rather it is simply figuring out how we know what we know. In the same way that ethics have nothing to do with metaphysics, ethics has nothing to do with epistemology. Either reason, logic, and evidence are the proper method of gaining knowledge or they are not. When I speak of anti-rationalists I am referring to people who reject reason as unethical.

        Objective reasoning is not the gold standard of skepticism, it is skepticism. Skepticism would be meaningless if there were not an objective reality that existed and an epistemological process of reason and logic that could identify that reality.

  17. badrescher says:

    I think we nonbelievers have fallen into black-and-white thinking on the question of “what is the ‘right way’ to respond?” The answer is that there is more than one way.

    Well said.

    I would never respond your way, but there are times when my response would accomplish nothing. At those times, I refer people to things you and others have written. I think it takes all kinds of approaches.

  18. Malachi Constant says:

    That’s one think that really annoys me about the comments on PZ’s blog. I’ve posted saying that there are times when you should keep your skeptical beliefs to yourself, or when it’s not helpful to call people’s beliefs nonsense, but I immediately get put into the “other” group and dismissed as yet another wacko posting there.

    Public figures should be mocked when they say condoms cause AIDS or when they try to push ID in the science class, but I don’t know anyone who busts out the skeptical toolkit everytime someone mentions prayer.

    Maybe it’s cause I live in the south, but how would you even get through your day if you did that?

  19. Max says:

    “which according to Martin Gardner trumps 10,000 syllogisms”

    Did you mean neologisms? A syllogism is a type of logical argument.

    • Dan says:

      I believe that was the point. I think it was a joke.

      • Max says:

        I don’t know what Shermer meant.

        I responded to Jerry on my TRUE/SLANT blog, and had a good horselaugh (which according to Martin Gardner trumps 10,000 syllogisms) at the comment by Lewis Grossberger (who also blogs at True/Slant): “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one thing worse than a faitheist — and that’s a fundagnostical. I hope you’re not one of those.”

        A good horselaugh trumps 10,000 logical arguments?
        “Fundagnostical” trumps 10,000 neologisms?

        The syntax suggests the former, but the context suggests the latter.

      • Max says:

        Ok, it’s the former:
        “One horselaugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.”
        The only question is to whom.

      • tmac57 says:

        “God does not play dice with the universe.” — Einstein

        “Who are you to tell God what to do?” — Bohr

        “God not only plays dice, but sometimes throws them where they cannot be
        seen.” — Hawking

  20. Ben Rast says:

    Well said. Those who disagree with you run the risk of becoming Puritans in the Name of Science — i.e., A person haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere is happy with a harmless faith.

    (Apologies to H. L. Mencken)

  21. Wade says:

    What is not addressed adequately is the fact that religion is largely an accident of birth. If your parents held particular beliefs, they most likely arranged that you be taught those beliefs. Through the relentless repetition of religious instruction you come to hold their dogma as sacred truths. The more times we hear something the more likely we are to believe it – no matter how strange. Cults, brain-washers deprogrammers,and politicians understand this well.

    I see no method apart from slow evolution or totalitarianism of breaking the chain of causation of faith. Slow evolution take patience and can only be helped by showing respect for the person of people of faith. Explaining our position in terms of logic and observables will have more impact if they in turn feel it is done respectfully.

  22. Larry says:

    >It is my goal, and the goal of the Skeptics Society, to educate as many people as possible >about the power and wonders of science and to employ science to solve social, political, >economic, medical and environmental problems.

    Even acknowledging the disjunctive “and” in this sentence, it still seems to me to apologize for science. The geniuses who developed the theories of gravitation, motion, relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynimics, the structure of the atom, etc., etc., were not motivated by social, political or econimic considerations. They were attempting to explain the workings of the universe, which they recognized were not explained by anything in the theistic mythos. I suppose most of us support the CERN experiments, even though there is no reason to believe that they will solve a single social problem. They might, indeed, lead to the development of bigger and better engines of destruction. And they certainly will not “justify the ways of God to man.”

  23. Robert Neary says:

    After reading the CNN opinion, though I wouldn’t consider Michael an accommodationist, it does kind of treat believers with kid gloves. This leaves the door open to the likes of scientist Francis Collins, for example, who further speculates that humans, during some undetermined point in evolution, were imbued with “Moral Law”.

    Belief is one thing, though, and acting on belief is something else entirely. If someone wants to believe in the Tooth Fairy, then fine. But when these proponents direct government policy to stop fluoridation of water because it is offensive to the Tooth Fairy, a line must be drawn. The Tooth Fairy is funny, but the Bush administration’s Faith Based Initiative (continued by Obama’s administration) is not.

    Adherents of religious beliefs often are not content to allow it to govern their own lives, they are more often compelled to project their beliefs, and policies which support them, onto others. This is why I more support the Hitchens and Dawkins approach.

  24. science-based humanist says:

    Bruce Hood in his book, Supersense, makes a compelling argument that belief in the supernatural (of which “religion” is one manifestation) is deeply embedded in human nature. You might say that the same evolutionary process that “made” us also “made” us believe in the supernatural. If that is the case, then Shermer’s pragmatic “pick your battles” approach is the only sensible way for non-theists to engage theists.

    • Max says:

      Michael Shermer has pointed out that evolution made us xenophobic, and I would add racist and homophobic, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

    • Vie says:

      The idea that human beings are somehow programmed to believe in religion is very popular among psychologists, and to an extent, it’s true.
      However the problem with this hypothesis is that it cannot account for why some people do not believe in the supernatural. If it is a natural part of our wiring to believe in religion, then the obvious conclusion is that being a non-believer is abnormal- that somehow our circuitry is faulty.
      Since there’s often very good reason to doubt supernatural phenomenon of any sort, it would be wrong to imply that the cognitive capabilities of non-believers are impaired.
      So a better explanation for the existence of belief in the supernatural is the desire to identify a CAUSE for an observed event.
      Proponents of the hard-wired theory also fail to identify the difference between genuine belief and belief affiliation. Not everyone who professes to hold a given belief actually does- there is an element of social conformity at work.
      I don’t mean ‘conformity’ in an angsty teenager sense. Conformity- to some extent- is a necessity for all societies and most people fall within cultural norms.
      Religion is also a social device that reinforces cultural norms and values- and it’s continued existence owes as much to that as it does to genuine ‘belief’.

      • brillig says:

        “However the problem with this hypothesis is that it cannot account for why some people do not believe in the supernatural. If it is a natural part of our wiring to believe in religion, then the obvious conclusion is that being a non-believer is abnormal- that somehow our circuitry is faulty.”

        Perhaps we are born with a tendency to believe in the supernatural, but through science and education about the nature of reality we learn to overcome it. I think that belief in the supernatural is derived from the same collection of traits which allow us to make connections and derive information from our surroundings. If our society, through science and education, overcame religion and belief in the supernatural, that would be a cultural phenomenon. If a small population splintered off, became isolated, and lost the knowledge we have gained through science, their culture would most likely return to religion and supernaturalism. At least that is how it seems, given the evidence…

  25. Grace Feldmann says:

    Thank you Michael. I have been saying the same thing. If our eye is on decreasing the negative effects of religion, and not simply reacting to a personal trauma (which much of the vitriol I hear seems to spring from) then it behooves us to work with those non fanatical moderates, who respect separation of church and state, value empiricism, and don’t prosteletyze. There are multitudes of believers in this camp, and I think it’s false to blame them for the fanatical branch of religion. Fanaticism in ANY form the problem,. black and white thinking is the problem… Even though i’d love to suddenly make all believers see the world through my lens, I know that due to a combination of factors;psychological and intellectual development, genetic predisposition, environment– some will always need to lean on some element of belief if only to defend against death anxiety. Whatever degree they can be logically convinced to let go of superstition will come through respectful persuasion and slow observation of others who are compassionate and content without belief. I have watched friends slowly come to the realization that the things they value about “spirituality’ are in fact embodied more so by someone such as myself, than their ‘religious’ acquaintances, and slowly have taken strength from my capacity to frame the discussions in a self confident and compassionate manner. They are becoming more critical of their beliefs. AND cognitive dissonance is a part of the PROCESS…that can’t be jumped over until it’s resolved within that persons psyche. THAT SAID- on the political front, there can be no accomodation. If belief overlaps, and steps on human rights that’s where I draw the line.

  26. cindyb says:

    When I first realized I was truly an atheist, I embraced a sort of militant confrontational approach by ridiculing people for religious beliefs (not always to their faces). After some consideration I’ve decided that’s counter-productive and just makes people who are even mildly religious dig in their heels and try to defend their particular dogma. It really is counter-productive. So even though I truly believe what Sam Harris says about the threat of religion, etc., I’m trying other ways to express myself – like showing an admiration and interest in science. That may or may not work to change anyone’s mind, but I find it does make me a lot less angry. Religious dogma, atheist dogma, political dogma – any kind shuts the doors of potentially open minds.

  27. MadScientist says:

    So – people who have weird beliefs but who are encouraged to believe in evolution while pretending that evolution is a lie will save the world from the likes of Torquemada? Uh huh.

    While many people claim that this accommodationism has benefits, can anyone actually provide evidence for those claims? Or is the objective to lie to religious people and hope they become theologians or more like Karen Armstrong – the sort of people who have a “sophisticated” notion of the supernatural in which the supernatural is only imaginary but real.

    • Max says:

      Do the math. 75% of Americans identify as Christian, only 4% are atheist or agnostic, and I’m sure nearly 100% have some weird beliefs.

      Meanwhile, out of 1000 likely US voters, “Respondents favored teaching evolution over creationism or intelligent design.”
      ( )

      So, what’s a more effective strategy to increase the acceptance of evolution? Get more religious people to accept it, or get more people to drop religion and become atheists?

      • MadScientist says:

        Is teaching evolution really the aim? I really don’t know what the objective is. Personally I think it is far more valuable to teach people how to think and to help them understand the vast differences between the scientific method of inquiry and the “ipse dixit” mode of training perpetuated through most of recorded history. That way people can look at and understand the case for evolution and are less likely to fall for the silly words of folks like Dembski. Many religious people like Francis Collins say they believe in evolution, but they are really creationists because they say god really did it all, isn’t he wonderful. There is no real need for people who, like Collins, say they believe in evolution but that their god started it – that is simply wrong, it is not science, and it completely misses the point of being able to think properly. As for the claim of religion becoming less violent – well, the premise alone is shaky. Is religion fundamentally violent? Absolutely not, but the dogmatic character of religion leaves it open to abuse by violent people with an ego problem. I really can’t imagine someone saying something like “hey, maybe we shouldn’t invade Iran after all because I believe in evolution.”

    • Vie says:

      Snarky and insightful. I like it. Well done MadScientist.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      I agree with the call for scientific stats & figures to back up the nebulous claims of the benefits of weak-kneed accomodationism.
      One must include the simple fact that this faithiest experiment has been conducted since at the time of the putative Socrates, and has yet to gain any headway over the god-believers.
      That is one hell of an experimental period.
      Compare that with the obvious success that the no-godly-codlers such as Dawkins, Hitchens, etc have achieved in say the last handful of years.
      The difference is startling!
      The conclusion is inescapable: accomodationism just doesn’t work.
      It has failed in its 2300 year experiment, and I have no reason to believe that it will continue to fail for another 2 millennia. It just DOESN’T work.
      Not in the short term, nor the long term.

  28. frank says:

    disappointed with Michael’s Peru analogy – hardly ‘scientific’ to present a single analogy to answer a general question.

    (to reverse his analogy how about:- ‘the good ole U.S. of A. is the most prosperous nation on earth; and then note that while she swore allegience to God at every opportunity that prosperity soared. now that there is an increasing trend to renounce that faith, is there a connection here with her slide towards the financial abyss?’)

    is the Peru analogy even relevant? since none of the causes of her woes that Michael lists seem to be related to ‘religious’ issues but more ‘corrupted power’ issues

    just a question

    • Max says:

      In the original debate, Michael wasn’t arguing that Christianity made Peru poor. He was arguing that Christianity didn’t make Peru rich, to rebut Hugh Hewitt’s assertion that believing in God leads to a prosperous nation like America.

      But in this blog entry, Michael prefaced the Peru example with, “Sometimes religion is the problem,” and you’re right that he has not explained how religion is the problem in Peru.

    • Tim says:

      I think Mr. Shermer was making a reference to Hernando de Soto and his work to help those in Peru gain property rights as well as the well documented link between property rights and prosperity. He may, and I am just speculating here, have been referring to this book in particular:

      The point Shermer was making was that religion exists everywhere and does not produce any results, however property rights wherever they exist produce prosperity whether that is in Christian America, atheist/buddhist Hong Kong, or Islamic Dubai. None of these locations protect private property in total but as each location increases economic freedom and protection of rights these areas consistently produce results. Mr. Shermer is arguing that the evidence shows that Christianity does not produce prosperity and then he gives an example of something that consistently does show results. I think that compare/contrast analysis is what Mr. Shermer was getting at.

      Oh, and no, America is not declining due to declining faith. America is currently more prosperous than it has ever been, but progress has been slowed by a recession which was induced by…well, that is a whole other topic. I think I’ve made my point and I hope it is persuasive.

  29. Kevin Killeen says:

    The fundamentalist Athiests here need to understand something…humans are not naturally rational beings. We’ve learned it, and our culture has increased the trend, but we are still the hairless, talking apes we were 50,000 years ago. If you do not accept and respond to that part of human nature, you will get nowhere. I don’t know a single “militant atheist” who isn’t a bit of an odd duck. These people (vital though they may be) simply demand that everyone be as rational as they on all matters, and call them fools and idiots when they do not instantly obey, dropping lifelong ingrained beliefs and emotional reactions in favor of the often harsh and cold “rational life” the atheists offer.

    And it doesn’t work. Sagan’s approach works. Shermer’s approach works. Worked on me after years of hearing the atheists. I fell in love with science and nature and clear thought before I abandoned religion. I couldn’t have made an instant break, and neither can most people.

    • Vie says:

      “The fundamentalist Athiests here need to understand something…humans are not naturally rational beings.” ?!?

      Human beings have the innate capability to be rational. Irrational people have moments of lucidity, and even the most rational among us have moments of irrationality.


      This conversation is not about the existence of God- it is about the necessity to present the facts objectively without trying to sell them. There is a difference. Scientists are not politicians- it is a scientist’s job to present data, not to spin that data to make it palatable to their audience.

      No one- in this particular dialog at least- is attempting to make anyone into an atheist. The conversation is about Coyne calling Shermer an accomodationist.

    • MadScientist says:

      “… and call them fools and idiots when they do not instantly obey …”

      No, that is a lie (though it seems an extremely popular lie).

  30. WScott says:

    Vie @ 14 saith:

    It’s another to lend default approval to that person’s ideology by falsely asserting that there are no meaningful differences between your ideology and theirs.

    You’ll have to point out to me where Shermer (or I) said anything resembling that, because I can’t find it. He simply said that people of faith and people of science can coexist peacefully, and that the 10% we disagree on does not preclude us working together on the other 90%. That’s not accommodationism; that’s simple tolerance.

  31. Vie says:

    I said: It’s another to lend default approval to that person’s ideology by falsely asserting that there are no meaningful differences between your ideology and theirs.

    You Said: You’ll have to point out to me where Shermer (or I) said anything resembling that, because I can’t find it.

    My Answer: The entire piece implies that the difference between believing in evolution and creationism (since it wouldn’t make any sense to convince someone who wasn’t a creationist that evolution was correct- they would already believe that). The title is “Religion, evolution can live side by side”.

    And a counterargument can be made that Shermer is not directing his argument towards creationists, but instead to “moderates”- but that explanation makes no sense. Shermer wouldn’t be preaching to the choir, so the only reasonable inference one could make is that he’s trying to persuade those who don’t accept evolution- and those people are- ALL TOGETHER NOW- Creationists.

    That said- I think everyone can agree that there are serious differences between creationism and evolution- and when he attempts to reconcile the two what he ends up proposing is essentially an ID philosophy… which Shermer has expressed a skeptical attitude towards.

    In order to avoid alienating any potential “allies”, and indeed imploring them to join us, he endorses a philosophy (ID) he had already regarded with skepticism. That’s what accommodating means:
    “to adjust actions in response to the needs of somebody”.
    He adjusted his previous stance, not because he believed his stance was incorrect, but simply to accommodate adjusted views of “moderate” creationists.

    Hence… the term accomodationist.

    • Max says:

      Francis Collins and Ken Miller accept theistic evolution, and oppose creationism and ID for the most part.
      If more creationists and ID proponents shifted their views of evolution toward that of Ken Miller, it would be progress.

      • MadScientist says:

        I haven’t spent time looking at Miller, but Collins is a creationist – he just doesn’t like that name and has a different brand of creationism than Behe and Dembski. Any claim of a supernatural creator is creationism – it has no basis in fact. Even for the past 80 years there have been many types of creationists; some insist on the literal truth of the creation stories of genesis, others say that the creation stories are largely symbolic and that animals and so on were created as they are over many years; yet others claim that god designed life to evolve and that evolution is true – praise god for being so clever. So many different types of creationism, and its proponents have one big thing in common: good ol’ ignorance. Just ask Francis Collins for his evidence that god designed evolution – he has none.

      • Max says:

        It’ll be a fine day when the difference between creationism and evolution comes down to metaphysics: i.e. We agree on the process and only disagree whether it was magically set in motion.
        At that point, it’s just a question of whether or not to apply Occam’s razor.

  32. WScott says:

    The title is “Religion, evolution can live side by side”.

    Yes. And if it had said “Creationism, evolution can live side by side” you might have a point. I think you’re reading what you want to read between the lines. To my eyes, the editorial is pretty obviously aimed at the 37% who believe “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.” These people are constantly hearing from the right that evolution (or science in general) is incompatible with faith – any faith at all. All Shermer is saying is “Not necessarily.”

    If you seriously think the proposition that religious people can still believe in evolution is Accomodationism, then you have re-defined that term so far down the scale as to render it meaningless.

    Any claim of a supernatural creator is creationism

    Technically, you are correct. But in practice, the term creationism is generally used to mean “I don’t believe in evolution.” Semantics aside, the majority of non-fundamentalist Christians do not consider themselves creationists, and resent being lumped in with them. They believe in evolution as a mechanism; they just like to believe there’s still some benevolent higher power out there with a plan. Is that belief logical or based on empirical evidence? Of course not! But neither does it make them biblical literalists bent on returning us to the theocratic dark ages either. Lumping all the world’s 6+ billion believers together that way is intellectually lazy, logically dishonest, and strategically just plain foolhardy.

    • tmac57 says:

      Not being a member of the faith based community, I would like to know: Do Christians who believe in evolution, feel free to openly talk about that belief amongst their fellow believers who don’t? Will they, for example, just stay mum on the subject when it comes up, and allow their peers to believe that they are against it? I realize that different people will handle the situation with varied approaches, but as a general observation, what do you think is the most common reaction, and what are the consequences of keeping your mouth shut?

  33. Stephen J. Levine, MD says:

    I agree with you Dr. Shermer. To be a critical thinker, one must be able to come up with one’s own view of the world without being called an accommodater. There is no orthodoxy to critical thinking and insistance on the former stiffles the latter.

    There is a big difference between what we know and what we don’t know. Anyone who doubts that need only look at the realm of quantum mechanics where all of our classical physical conceptions go out the window. In fact, it turns out that classical physics is just a special case of quantum mechanics applicable to things our size and speeds closer to our realm of experience.

    The idea that evolution is The Hand of God cannot be proved or disproved. On what authority, then, does criticism of this belief stand? It is beyond the realm of science at this point.

    Insistance on Correct Thinking and claims of blasphemy are of primitive derivation. What power is going to punish us for thinking incorrectly? If such a power exists, what skin off its nose is there that it is believed in? Requiring someone to believe in you is a human failing.


  34. Millie Bleu says:

    A couple of thoughts. I heard you say that an alien civilization 500,000 years ahead of us can probably create life, just as (you said) we are close to creating life. You also said you do not believe alien civilizations visit this planet because it’s too far away (I agree alien civilizaitions do not visit this planet). My question is, if aliens created life but haven’t visited our planet, how did life get here? I would posit they are not creating life but are merely copying the creation of life that already exists. If those aliens can create life, who created their life, and so on and so on? I also heard you say that arguing for Intelligent Design runs into the problem of who created God and that no one can solve that dilemma. Actually, that isn’t so. First of all, when you say “life,” you are referring to our physical kind of life. You think that’s the only kind that exists. Why do you think in such a small box? Conscious existence cannot be in any form but physical? Why? This is the failing of modern science! It is incapable of thinking beyond its own small box, because it thinks only in the physical. If anything exists beyond the physical, it states it cannot know about it, but then it goes into utter arrogance by saying nothing beyond the physical exists at all! Really?? Where did it get such all-knowing information?? The fact that anything exists at all argues for a Supreme All-Powerful Intelligence. I find your argument that God must have had a creator to be juvenile. If he lives outside of our reality and in a form totally other than ours, then he doesn’t have to have anything except himself. Furthermore, we are incapable of understanding anything beyond our own reality, our own five senses. We cannot conceive of the inconceivable, yet that does not mean it does not exist. It most likely DOES exist. Look at this enormous universe, and then think that it may be universe within universe within universe — and tell me with a straight face that you have it all figured out based on your puny ability to reason via your five senses and a little bit of math. You say there is no God, because you have him in a box of your own making. Your thinking is mostly likely informed by Sunday School lessons taught by old maids who made you feel bad, and you have images of a devil in a red suit carrying a pitchfork. In other words, you are thinking stereotypically in your dislike of faith. Clear your minds of such thoughts and admit that you DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW. When one truly admits to himself that he DOESN’T ACTUALLY KNOW, humility ought to ensue. Christian socalled “fundamentalists” teach what I have stated above, that God is unknowable and unreachable unless he reaches down for us, that we can’t get to him on our own. In other words, he sent a bus to pick us up because we never could have driven to him ourselves. A further thought is that we can’t see the forest for the trees, we don’t have all the data, we don’t know the end of the story, etc. etc. You think it is unintelligent to believe in God, but I think it is equally (or more so?) unintelligent to posit that it can be known for sure there is no God.

    • tmac57 says:

      “…but I think it is equally (or more so?) unintelligent to posit that it can be known for sure there is no God.”
      Or posit that it can be known for sure there IS a God, by your own logic.

  35. Anna Balfour says:

    Regarding Mr. Shermer’s statement at the beginning of his article, who exactly was he “giving thanks” to?

  36. Overburden says:

    Millie Bleu
    Your ‘rant’ is understandable, your reasoning is not.
    No ‘physical(your word)evidence’ proves or disproves the existence of a deity. Science doesn’t look for something our emotions (fears)tell us exits. You believe in your god because humans are, as you indicated, incapable of thinking ‘outside the box’. You are no different, being human, emotional, humbled and in awe of the cosmos, you have chosen the ‘god box’. While somewhat imaginative for the earlier citizens of earth, the notion of god(s), a humanoid deity at best, still remains a poor solution for explaining our existence – consciousness. A ‘creator’ conceived by the minds of men because there isn’t any ‘knowable’ answer for life, is counter-intuitive farce.
    You believe in your god because you choose to, not because of any ‘scientific’ evidence it exists – faith – and you do so with the preponderance of scientific evidence indicating it does not.
    You are right as you are wrong. And your rigid, unquestioning belief without evidence is not reason, only a form of denial.

  37. Joshua Hunt says:

    Thank you so much for this post Dr. Shermer! I have atheist friends who don’t understand the points you make in this post. I’m going to share it with them, because they think you are something that you are not. An “accomodationist”. I’ve seen you debate the religious/theists and you call them out on their BS. You make your points clearly, forcefully, and without hesitation/timdness. You pretty much sum it up with, “religion is good when it’s good and bad when it’s bad”.

    I will say that there is one part of religion, besides all of the obvious bad stuff, that I really don’t like. It’s the fact that religions teach children & adults that it’s a virtue to believe things in the absence of hard evidence. When religions do that it’s bad, because it could lead people to trouble. It could lead them to lose their money, their emotional security, or even their lives. Get rid of all the bad parts of religion, keep the good stuff, and if you are religious, keep it to yourself.

  38. bill don says:

    “I will say that there is one part of religion, besides all of the obvious bad stuff, that I really don’t like. It’s the fact that religions teach children & adults that it’s a virtue to believe things in the absence of hard evidence. When religions do that it’s bad, because it could lead people to trouble. It could lead them to lose their money, their emotional security, or even their lives. Get rid of all the bad parts of religion, keep the good stuff, and if you are religious, keep it to yourself.” – Joshua Hunt

    What do you consider hard evidence my friend? Have you done all the research required to fully believe and become a member of the atheistic religion? Atheism is not a new trend and it is entrenched in its own tradition just as bad if not worse than any other religion out there. Neo-atheists such as Hitchins and Dawkins are no worse than any religious zealot throughout the world. They have their beliefs and are passionate about them. They base what they believe on so-called evidence but who gives them their evidence? Scientists who are not objective in their research give them their evidence. You like to challenge religion because it is not based on “hard evidence” and yet you fail to see that most evidence which “proves” that God does not exist is fabricated. Case in point, a scientist years ago placed a spotted moth on a tree. The moth blended in perfectly with the tree bark. There were moths of other colors but they were eaten because they did not fit in. This particular scientist “proved” that this particular moth evolved as a result of natural selection and survival of the fittest. So for years scientists had “hard evidence” in favor of natural selection. The problem is it was all an elaborate hoax. For more info see:

    So I ask you again; what is considered “hard evidence”?