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“The Standard Pablum” — Science and Atheism

by Daniel Loxton, Mar 02 2010

I’m pleased to say that the release of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be has been enjoying quite a bit of attention from skeptics — which has helped this full-color kids’ book get off to a great start. Perhaps the most rewarding moment for me so far was receiving a warmly positive quote from Dr. Eugenie Scott (Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education and 2010 National Academy of Sciences “Public Welfare Medal” recipient). Genie is one of the softest, yet most forthright and resolute voices in skepticism, and a great inspiration to me personally. You can imagine my elation when she said,

I am just so delighted with this book! Loxton hits the key concepts perfectly, and without being stuffy about it. A wonderful book to donate to your local library.

I was similarly honored to receive positive reviews from Phil Plait and from P.Z. Myers — both among the most popular science bloggers on Earth. I just about did cartwheels when P.Z. unexpectedly urged readers to “order a copy fast for the kids in your life!”

P.Z., did, however, dislike one subsection of Evolution:

I recommend it highly, but with one tiny reservation. The author couldn’t resist the common temptation to toss in something about religion at the end, and he gives the wrong answer: it’s the standard pablum, and he claims that “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.”

I definitely would not wish to bellyache about a small part of a very kind (and much-appreciated) review, with which I’m genuinely very pleased. It strikes me, though, that P.Z.’s concern offers a convenient access point for a topic I’ve been meaning to touch upon: the relationship between skepticism and atheism.

Pandering to Religion?

It might be useful at this point if I quote the entirety of this brief sub-section from my book:

What about religion?

This is a question people often ask when wondering about evolution. They want to connect the discoveries of science to their religious understanding.

Unfortunately, this isn’’t something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about religious matters, but science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.

Science is our most reliable method for sorting out how the natural world functions, but it can’’t tell us what those discoveries mean in a spiritual sense. Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions.

In blogs, tweets, and direct messages, quite a few of my friends in the atheist community have raised concerns about this section, calling it “the pandering paragraph” or “one of the only parts I disagree with in your book.”

My editor was caught off guard by this sharp focus on a minute sub-section, but I knew in advance that this was likely. It follows from an old, old split within the skeptical community. On the one hand, there are skeptics who see god as simply the granddaddy of all paranormal claims; on the other hand, there are those who think the core claims of theistic belief are different in kind from testable paranormal claims, and therefore out of scope for scientific skepticism.

I am part of this latter group. I think skepticism is a different project than atheism. This is the de facto position for most skeptical and scientific organizations, but advocating this in the wake of the new atheism has become a bit of a lonely thing to do.

Cynical Fibbing?

I don’t mean to imply that atheist reviewers are unkind in their critiques of this section of my book. Quite the opposite: a common theme seems to be sympathy that I was (they feel) forced to make this concession. P.Z., for example, writes,

It’s only two paragraphs, and I sympathize with the sad fact that speaking the truth on this matter — that science says your religion is false — is likely to get the book excluded from school libraries everywhere….

Likewise, according to a kind reviewer from New Zealand,

Loxton’s inadequate reply was unavoidable, given the unwritten social rule that religion has a special role in our society. That we are not allowed to criticise religion. Any properly adequate reply would have lead to people being “offended” and campaigns to exclude the book for schools.

This idea — that anything short of a denunciation of religion must entail dishonesty — is quite common among atheist activists. In a fascinating Darwin Day episode of the JREF’s For Good Reason podcast, heavyweight Richard Dawkins remarks,

there are times when I can be persuaded by some of my colleagues that it would be better, for example, for the cause of getting proper science education in American schools if people like me and PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne were a little bit nicer to religious people. But I think it’s OK if some people are like that, but I really do passionately care about what’s true — what’s true about the world, what’s true about the universe. And I’m not one who’s going to compromise on that for the sake of some kind of political expediency. Others can do that, and maybe they’re politically wise to do that — but I can’t go along with that. I care too much about the truth.

Let’s look at that. Are the only two choices confrontation or dishonesty? Does being “a little bit nicer to religious people” necessarily entail a “compromise…for the sake of some kind of political expediency”?

I respectfully submit that the answer is “no.” It has long struck me as strange that atheists and religious fundamentalists share an assumption that atheism and acceptance of evolution are the same thing. This assumption is,  at least in demographic terms, incorrect. Discussions about public attitudes toward evolution typically neglect a remarkable fact:

In North America, most of the people who accept evolution are religious.

And, I don’t mean by a small margin, either. We’re talking about an overwhelming majority. For decades, Americans who think “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process” have consistently outnumbered those who think God had no part in evolution by margin of three to one (or more). Some of these theistic evolutionists subscribe to an Intelligent Design-type belief that is clearly not supported by the evidence, but many mean something altogether more metaphysical (such as the common Catholic idea that god infused immaterial souls into hominids at some point in human evolution, or the notion that all natural processes are divinely ordained).

Given that, I think we can confidently conclude that most people who say evolution is compatible with god say so, not for political expediency, but because this is what they believe.

But I Am Not Religious

Among those who accept evolution, I am not part of that theistic majority. It happens that I am a thoroughly secular atheist. Does Evolution, then, intentionally avoid confronting theism because, as one reviewer suggests, a “clear comment on religion probably would have prevented the book getting into many schools”?

Nope. The statement in the book is simplified more than I’d prefer (the sociology and biology of belief are valid areas of inquiry, and religiously-flavored empirical claims like weeping statues may of course be investigated by science) but it is what I actually think: that evolution happened; that science is our best means of discovering the natural world; and that metaphysics is not my job.

It is my opinion that the core claims of most religions are out of scope for science, and thus for scientific skepticism. No experiment or observation can shed any direct light on the types of religious claims that people care most about — claims such as the existence of souls, god, or an afterlife.

I’m reminded of the exchange in which the Fourteenth Dalai Lama told Carl Sagan it would be “hard to disprove” reincarnation. “Plainly,” Sagan concluded,

the Dalai Lama is right. Religious doctrine that is insulated from disproof has little reason to worry about the advance of science. The grand idea, common to many faiths, of a Creator of the Universe is one such doctrine — difficult alike to demonstrate or to dismiss.

Such ideas cannot even be formulated as scientific questions. Critiquing them is clearly outside the scope of a natural history book for kids.

Then Why Include that Section At All?

P.Z. Myers suggests that “it would have been better to leave it out than to perpetuate this silly myth [that science cannot disprove theism].”

Should I have omitted this sub-section? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. In fact, I fought to include it, arguing that it might be the most important part of the book. After all, the concept of the book was to raise and discuss common concerns. This question, “What about religion?” is, without any doubt the single most common concern people have when they consider the evidence for evolution. I could hardly ignore that.

So, how did I answer this sensitive and nearly universal question?

As simply and honestly as I knew how.

Like Daniel Loxton’s work? Read more in the pages of Skeptic magazine. Subscribe today in print or digitally!

233 Responses to ““The Standard Pablum” — Science and Atheism”

  1. After listening to Carol Tavris speak criticizing the religious is going to be more of an obstacle to the core message of the book ie the process of evolution.

    Having not read the book I won’t comment further, sufficed to say that I think you probably did the right thing to get the book read by the widest audience possible.

    • Kim Hebert says:

      Agreed, to a point. But: “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” – that sentence is just a bit too absolute. Science can test the religious claims that have predicted natural outcomes.

      • exactly. That’s what I think too. Some religious claims are unstestable, but the majority of them are. World Flood? Proved wrong. Talking snakes? Gosh, even kids know snakes do not talk :D

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” is a provable falsehood.
      Even if it was a ‘convenient political lie’ in order to garner a wider audience, it remains as wholly false.

  2. Somite says:

    I write this as someone who enjoyed Daniel’s book immensely. His book has provided my 10-year old son and I many bonding moments that I am sure will remain memorable no matter how old we grow together.

    However, I did tweet Daniel asking him about that paragraph. The gist of my tweet was “why?” and concern that community leaders and family might not be the best source of information and might actually be part of the problem.

    This is the core of our difference in opinion: “…science is our best means of discovering the natural world; and that metaphysics is not my job.” The problem is that since humans have been collecting information and observations rigurously there has not been one piece of evidence that the metaphysical exists. There is no reason or evidence to believe in anything outside of science or in dualism. This is science most important contribution to humans. To continue to pretend there could be a reality besides the natural world, specially to accomodate magical thinking like religion, is a disservice to science and those that risk everything to promote this rational view.

    • Frank Jude says:


      I personally do not believe in any ‘metaphysical’ or ‘supernatural’ realm, as it appears you do not either. BUT, we must be honest and admit this is a belief! You and I rest our confidence in the lack of evidence that such a realm exists. However, the whole point is that by definition, IF there were such a realm, there’d be no natural way to find any evidence for it!

      Natural means of investigation can disprove claims such as the world is only 6,000 years old; that statues of Ganesh drink milk; or that pictures of Jesus cry. But no natural means exist that can provide evidence for the nonexistence of the supernatural.

      • Somite says:

        And therefore it might as well not exist by all intent and purposes. It is Russell’s teapot argument rehashed.

  3. STrimmer says:

    I am with you on this point. I am, much like most of the skeptics I know, an atheist; however, I also believe that the god question is not within the purview of science. I know that the mission of the JREF and the major local skeptic groups are areligious for this reason. A priority for PZ is fighting religion, even if it may detract people away from theories in science. While popular evolution proponents/skeptics believe that a religious belief shouldn’t matter when it comes to promoting things like evolution (Genie Scott).

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      So you are saying that the millions of ridiculous and utterly false claims about reality are not within the purview of science?

  4. Tom Foss says:

    It has long struck me as strange that atheists and religious fundamentalists share an assumption that atheism and acceptance of evolution are the same thing.

    It strikes me as strange that you can make such a bizarre statement. I don’t know of any atheists who assume that atheism and acceptance of evolution are the same thing, and I sincerely doubt that you do either. Rather, most atheists of a skeptical, scientific mindset arrived at their conclusion on the God position the same way that they arrived at their conclusions on any other positions regarding the existence of magical things. I think you’d find most skeptical atheists citing things like Occam’s Razor as justification for their nonbelief rather than evolution. The only real link evolution has to religion is the relatively minor and particular point that it invalidates various creation myths.

    Regarding gods and souls, I hesitate to see how the matter of their existence “cannot be formulated as scientific questions.” Can we formulate scientific questions on the existence of ghosts or fairies or aliens? What is the substantive difference between a ghost and a soul? The standard skeptical atheist position, as I’d put it forth, is that if a god has observable effects on the universe, then we should be able to examine those effects. If a god does not have observable effects on the universe, then what does it mean to say such a thing “exists”? Isn’t existence effectively the same as nonexistence in that case?

    Isn’t the reasonable position on any claim to accept the Null Hypothesis until sufficient evidence has been provided to overturn it?

    I understand the inclusion of the passage, and I think that NOMA is generally a useful shorthand to defuse the religion/science conflict. But I also agree that there’s some disingenuousness to it, in that either we are creating a class of supernatural claims which are immune to scientific research (as opposed to the supernatural claims we research routinely) or we are not consistently applying the scientific method. I appreciate the theists who accept evolution, and I particularly appreciate the ones like Miller and Collins who are outspoken proponents of the theory, but I think that they have consciously exempted their beliefs from the kind of scientific and rational investigation that they would use on any other claims. That kind of compartmentalization is certainly possible, and I’m sure we all engage in it to some degree (I, for instance, frequently find myself anticipating a Cubs World Series win, despite evidence to the contrary), but I don’t think it represents a fundamental inability to examine such claims.

    I enjoy the book, I have no real problem with the passage, but I think NOMA represents a special exception of the basic principle of the Null Hypothesis, and I’ve never seen any justification for that.

    • Another point of view says:

      What is NOMA, when you use an acronym, it is advisable to make sure your audience understands what it means.
      The rest of the discussion is actually a waste of time.

      • madlilviking says:

        As a reply to “Another point of view”, here’s mine:
        The rest of the discussion was actually only a waste of YOUR time. You should so state it. If one takes the time to try to understand anyone’s or everyone’s point of view, I don’t consider that a waste of time, unless, of course, your conclusions are predetermined and inflexible. If so, your biggest waste of time is participating in this discussion.

    • GoodWithoutGod says:

      I have to agree largely with what Tom says here. I think the inclusion of this section – and more specifically the statement “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” is a cop-out.

      As Tom points out, science has a LOT to say about religion, or more pointedly, the non-existance of evidence to support basic religious claims.

      Let’s put it this way: No one can refute the existance of fairies, gremlins, trolls or unicorns, but you don’t see scientists or authors stating that “science has nothing to say” regarding this nonsense. Religion is no different.

      PS: To ‘Another point of view’…NOMA means Non-overlapping Magisteria. See in order to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.

  5. Skepacabra says:

    I’m sorry but I have to agree with PZ on this one. Every supernatural or pseudo-scientific claim eventually evolves in order to make it as unfalsifiable as possible. Take for instance the anti-vaccine movement, which now promotes some weird wishy-washy argument that no study on specific vaccines or antigens is sufficient because it’s simply all the vaccines together that cause autism. This is no less unfalsifiable than any religious claim and yet skeptics have no trouble at all calling it nonsense. And the current claims of homeopathy are equally unfalsifiable.

    To give religion a pass because its claims are just too unfalsifiable is special pleading. And let’s face it. Many specific religious claims do directly conflict with known science: 6-day creation, talking snakes, spontaneous creation of all language, Jonah and “big fish”, transubstantiation, resurrection, etc. Appeals to magic do not get scientific claims off the hook.

    • To be clear, my position is that all testable claims are within the scope of science, even if those claims are religious in flavor. Many such claims are traditional material for skeptics, such as paranormal weeping statues or pseudoscientific “flood geology.”

      • Kim Hebert says:

        Then why the sentence “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion”? That phrasing seems to contradict your actual position.

      • It depends what we mean by the phrases “science as a whole” and “religion.” I stand by what I intended, but I freely volunteer that this sentence would have been clearer as a paragraph. I discuss it further in this comment.

      • MadScientist says:

        And Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman Monica Lewinsky. See, it all depends on how we define …

      • Skepacabra says:

        I have to say that I don’t find this distinction remotely convincing, and it baffles me that otherwise brilliant skeptics fail to recognize the special pleading.

        Any appeal to magic is equally unfalsifiable. Homeopathic claims or ghost claims are no more falsifiable than anything that comes out of religion.

        We can track the evolution of religious memes over time and across cultures. We can neurologically locate the parts of the brain that lead to so-called transcendent experiences. We can use multiple dating methods to determine that the Earth is not 6000 years as stated in the Bible at least twice and can look at the formation of planets and the universe to determine that they were almost certainly not created by magic spells beginning with the words, “Let their be…” And if we can’t sufficiently dismiss personal revelation then we might as well close down all the psychiatric wards and let all the inmates go.

        I just really don’t understand why some skeptics want to continue to play this game.

      • Skepacabra:

        I don’t think this is what you intend, but that’s correct: ghosts, or psychics, or Bigfoot, or the other things skeptics investigate could turn out to exist. Science doesn’t give us a means to rule out even investigable claims to a certainty. All we can say is that such claims are extremely implausible and well-investigated, usually solvable, known to be mimicked by other phenomena — and unnecessary as hypotheses.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “But what about Bigfoot”

        This is a question people often ask when wondering about evolution. They want to connect the discoveries of science to their cryptozoological understanding.

        Unfortunately, this isn’’t something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about cryptozoological matters, but science as a whole has nothing to say about cryptozoology.

        Science is our most reliable method for sorting out how the natural world functions, but it can’’t tell us what those discoveries mean in a cryptozoological sense. Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about cryptozoological questions.

        After all, Bigfoot might exist, right?

      • Skepacabra says:

        “I don’t think this is what you intend, but that’s correct: ghosts, or psychics, or Bigfoot, or the other things skeptics investigate could turn out to exist. Science doesn’t give us a means to rule out even investigable claims to a certainty. All we can say is that such claims are extremely implausible and well-investigated, usually solvable, known to be mimicked by other phenomena — and unnecessary as hypotheses.”

        Sure Daniel. Big Foot could exist…but he doesn’t. And I’ll happily admit I’m dead wrong about that the very day someone captures a real, honest to Zeus Big Foot.

        Similarly, homeopathy could work…but it doesn’t. And that’s why so many of us are fighting the homeopaths. And again, I’ll happily admit I’m wrong and change my mind as soon as someone proves homeopathy does work. I won’t hold my breath on that one though.

        And to complete the pattern I’ve started, some tribe’s god could exist…but he or she doesn’t. And I’ll happily admit I’m dead wrong about that and change my mind the very day that god is proven to exist through physical evidence and reasoned logic.

        Now what makes that third example any different than the prior two?

  6. Lans Ellion says:

    I respectfully disapprove of the way you make your distinction between scientific and non-scientific claims. First, I should state that I fully agree that science cannot disprove “core” religious beliefs such as whether a god or afterlife exists. I believe that you are making a distinction stating that science can only address testable hypotheses but science cannot address a hypothesis that has no evidence supporting it. This second category would then include all those things that cannot be disproved (which is a rather large category of things).

    Now, after stating this I will state my problem with the way you made this distinction: You made it appear as if “religious” and “spiritual” questions are legitimate questions which should be asked. I take this from your statement “Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions.” However, by stating that science cannot answer these questions you are also stating that there is not any evidence available to answer such questions. Which means that your family, friends and community leaders are not the best people to ask about such questions. In fact, no one is a good person to ask because the best anyone could do is make an uneducated guess. The way you make the distinction between scientific claims and unscientific claims makes it appear as if there is a reliable way to find answers to religious and spiritual questions when in fact there is no such reliable way to do so. I believe this is a harmful thing to do because it lends support to all of those who hold beliefs that are unsupported by any evidence. In addition, I believe that as part of the skeptical community we have a duty to point out when others beliefs are unsupported by evidence and force people to defend their beliefs rather than allowing them to continue to hold onto unsupported beliefs. By encouraging people to look outside science to answer their religious and spiritual questions you have impliedly supported these beliefs rather than taking the proper skeptical avenue and asking: if what you believe is true show me the evidence.

    • Brian says:

      Now, after stating this I will state my problem with the way you made this distinction: You made it appear as if “religious” and “spiritual” questions are legitimate questions which should be asked.

      That’s it in a nutshell.

  7. MadScientist says:

    I still don’t understand the reason for including that bit, but it is your book and I don’t think anyone is telling you what to do with it. You don’t have to appease those who say the book would be better without it (I’m one of those) nor do I see a need to excuse yourself.

    I don’t agree with the claim about a split between skeptics; it is not as if one year some people suddenly decided that not a single superstition would withstand what we have come to know through science. Indeed for over 200 years some people have predicted the demise of superstition as we humans learned more of the world and even a few of the ancient Greek philosophers questioned the veracity of religious claims. Now science itself has much to say about religious claims, and invariably the claims are falsified. The Shroud of Turin: medieval artwork or the shroud of a god? The few existing contemporary writings about the shroud and carbon dating are in agreement; the shroud is a medieval creation. Even Plato’s Socrates, through reason alone (without the aid of modern science) refuted many of the claims associated with various Greek gods. All religions make claims about the natural world; claims which science can refute. Religions also make supernatural claims and though many such claims cannot be tested at this point in time, there is no reason to believe any of them to be true and numerous reasons to believe there is no truth to them. So it is not true that science has nothing to say of religion.

  8. Chris Kavanagh says:

    The issue I would take with the statement is that saying:

    “Unfortunately, this isn’’t something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about religious matters, but science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.”

    Is simply not true as we have many scientists and many scientific institutions exploring religion and religious belief. The research coming from the cognitive science of religion for instance has a lot to say about religion and religious belief.

    Similarly, as you tacitly recognise when you refer to the weeping statues- many religious claims are testable. We know why Jesus appears in toast and it isn’t because of metaphysics but because of the way our brains organise certain visual patterns.

    You concede all of these points when you say “the sociology and biology of belief are valid areas of inquiry, and religiously-flavored empirical claims like weeping statues may of course be investigated by science”. To me however that makes an important point which the statement “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” completely glosses over.

    Science as a whole routinely contradicts a wide variety of religious claims. Some of the more sophisticated metaphysical beliefs are immune but by and large these kind of sophisticated metaphysical beliefs are not the kind of religious beliefs that are most common worldwide.

    I understand that you are drawing to draw a distinction between metaphysical and natural questions but what happens when we find out that there are many natural reasons as to why we would be likely to have metaphysical concerns. Is research into cognitive science of religion really ‘saying nothing about religion’?

    • Is simply not true as we have many scientists and many scientific institutions exploring religion and religious belief. The research coming from the cognitive science of religion for instance has a lot to say about religion and religious belief.
      Similarly, as you tacitly recognise when you refer to the weeping statues- many religious claims are testable.

      To be clear, I don’t tacitly admit this; I explicitly admit this, writing above that,

      The statement in the book is simplified more than I’d prefer (the sociology and biology of belief are valid areas of inquiry, and religiously-flavored empirical claims like weeping statues may of course be investigated by science).

      Would it have been clearer and more accurate to say “but science cannot confirm, resolve, or debunk the core metaphysical, moral, or spiritual claims of leading religions, such as X, Y, and Z, although it certainly can address empirical claims such as A and B”? Yes. But I was short on space (this sub-section was almost cut to make room) and again — this book is for kids. Simplicity does matter.

      It was my belief that this sentence communicated what I’d intended: that the ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical dimensions of religion are all issues outside of the scope of science.

      I apologize for what is left out of that sentence (a flaw few people mentioned until I raised it here myself) but I stand by its overall meaning.

  9. TIm Reid says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I think that your intentions are clearly noble but you’re oversimplifying a nuanced topic in that paragraph. I haven’t read your book, but have kids who I’m intending to buy it for, but this paragraph would give me serious concerns. It’s really not enough to back away and say “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” as this simply isn’t true. Under the blanket name of “religion” are a huge variety of claims, ideas, myths, stories, beliefs and rituals and science can of course address any material claim or belief that religion makes.

    Best wishes


  10. ZenMonkey says:

    I’m a skeptic, and an atheist, and I have no problem with this section of the book. I thought about my friends who have kids, some of whom are very religious although, as Daniel mentions, they do accept evolution, the real age of the planet, etc. I thought about how they (or I) might want to give this book to their kids, and the fact that those kids might very well ask questions related to their religious upbringing.

    Would it be better to alienate the parents and possibly keep this book away from those kids by making an anti-religious statement? Or to simply ignore the probability that a child is going to ask a religious question? I cannot see where this is helpful. This book is about teaching evolution, not about deprogramming children, and to make a stand on the point of religion would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Now if someone out there wants to write a children’s book about critical thinking applied to religion, I would love to see that. (Seriously.) But it’s not going to end up in nearly as many libraries as Evolution.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      So in order to avoid making a stand, he should make a stand? In order to avoid deprogramming, he should try to soothe any discomfort by condescending to his readers?

      Avoiding the question “What about religion?” may seem like ignoring the probability of children asking this question, but in that case, any book of any size is ignoring some fundamental questions that could be addressed. This isn’t an advice column, it’s a science book. It should answer scientific questions.

      Parents who have deep religious beliefs probably would prefer to answer that question themselves. And including this section at all raises, in the mind of the independently reading child, the idea that there is a conflict that they may not even be aware of.

      • ZenMonkey says:

        First of all, I’m sorry you found that paragraph condescending. Especially given its intended audience, I did not. But I suppose that’s subjective.

        Second: “And including this section at all raises, in the mind of the independently reading child, the idea that there is a conflict that they may not even be aware of.”

        This is a problem? We should keep our kids from thinking and having questions? What better opportunity to “teach the controversy” then after having read this book? I would love the opportunity to tell a kid who asked me about this conflict that yes, there are many people in the world who don’t believe all this awesome stuff that science knows to be true…and isn’t that silly?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “I would love the opportunity to tell a kid who asked me about this conflict that yes, there are many people in the world who don’t believe all this awesome stuff that science knows to be true…and isn’t that silly?”
        Except that up to this point, your kid hasn’t seen any conflict between the faith that you taught him and science. Now he does. In a book that, supposedly, was just about evolution.

        So now he’s questioning the validity of his faith. That’s my point. If parents want to point out fundamentalists and laugh at them, fine, but the purpose of a children’s science book is not to encourage or discourage such behavior.

        Mr. Loxton is a huge fan of sharp dividing lines between what it is appropriate to discuss and not to discuss, and in this case he should not have discussed.

    • MadScientist says:

      No religious statement at all was necessary. Why should a book about evolution bring up religion at all? It simply isn’t relevant unless you want to discuss why religious claims about evolution are wrong as Jerry Coyne (‘Why Evolution is True’) and Richard Dawkins (‘The Greatest Show on Earth’) do.

      • danekart says:

        Absolutely correct. One problem with the teaching of evolution is that people continually link it to religion. Not necessarily the teachers, but people will say “Evolution shows that your bible’s creation story is wrong” and “Evolution directly contradicts what churches teach, and so they are wrong”.

        And that’s a problem for evolution, because religious people hear those words and think “No way I’m going to give up my religious beliefs, I will instead deny evolution”.

        Daniel wrote that science [as a whole] has nothing to say about religion – and that’s true, for certain narrowly defined concepts of religion – but the common person’s understanding of religion involves many claims about the nature of the world which are flatly contradicted by what science shows us to be true. Science is the enemy of religion, like it or not.

        On the whole, I think it’s better to not mention religion in a book about evolution, unless your intent is to also point out the wrongness of religious claims about the history of the world. Claiming that science and religion are compatible ala Gould is wrong; they are not compatible but this is the subject for whole books, not lone paragraphs in a book about Evolution.

      • ZenMonkey says:

        Because it’s a book for kids, and kids ask questions, and this is a question they’re likely to bring up. That’s one reason why. If it were an eighth-grade textbook I would have a completely different opinion on the matter.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        So here’s this book. And the whole book has, so far, been about evolution and science. And then there’s this “what about religion” thing. And it implies, in the mind of the child of moderate christian parents, that there is some conflict in evolution and religion that he had previously not been aware of existing. And it’s a serious conflict, because here is the author discussing it!

        Are his parents going to thank Daniel for introducing their child to the atheist/fundamentalist cat fight?

        Let’s take the other tack: the reader of the book is the child of fundamentalists who claim that science proves god. Daniel has just told the kid that his parents are liars. Then he tells the kid to ask his parents whether they’ve been lying.

        Seriously, if it’s a can of worms, and the question is best addressed by some other source, leave it out. The only reason to leave it in is to pander.

        Neither skepticism nor atheism are projects in and of themselves, and this book concerns neither. The reason that people are offended is that Daniel is on a side in a philosophical debate, and was unable to resist using his book as a propaganda vehicle rather than a kids science book.

      • MadScientist says:

        So what will the kids do – write to the author or the publishers? Will they suddenly become godless people because that paragraph was not put in? I don’t expect to see disclaimers at the end of “Hansel and Gretel” any more than I expect to see disclaimers in a science book or in the bible (“Note: This book really is not the work of the devil.”) I think it is bizarre and reminiscent of the style of writing from a few centuries ago where the great bogeyman must be praised all the time lest the science writer be burned alive for heresy. Even Darwin was nagged into including some mumbo-jumbo about a ‘creator’ in the later revisions of his The Origin of Species. It is an unnecessary bow to religion saying “we recognize you as the boss”.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      “This book is about teaching evolution, not about deprogramming children, and to make a stand on the point of religion would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

      Good comment. Teaching all children about the science of evolution is the one of the best things we can do to get them to reasonably question the concepts of “faith” as they grow older. It is critical that children of “religious families” learn about the facts of evolution early, and Loxton is smart not to force the god issue in this important book. One step at a time……towards truth.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        This is not a question of forcing the God issue. That’s a red herring. If Daniel leaves that section out, he would not be forcing the god issue, in fact, he’d be letting it lie. By mentioning it, he not only forces it, he paints a false portrait of science and religion.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Many children that read Daniel’s book will be immediatly confronted by religious believers that don’t accept evolution. If Daniel left the section out he would leave that door wide open. By including it he is telling children that Religion and Science are two different things with different considerations. Even Michael Shermer tries to convince people that if they choose to believe in gods, at least find one that agrees with the science of evolution. I believe religions are stupid, but telling people they are stupid for believing is no way to enlighten the misguided. I side with Loxton on his decision.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “By including it he is telling children that Religion and Science are two different things with different considerations.”

        Right. So by including it, he’s telling the kids that the community leader, parent, or pastor that they are talking to is wrong, and the best source of information. It’s a self contradictory position.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Seth says….”Right. So by including it, he’s telling the kids that the community leader, parent, or pastor that they are talking to is wrong, and the best source of information. It’s a self contradictory position.”

        Wouldn’t you prefer youth to learn the natural science of evolution and confront their community leader, parent, friend or pastor with questions about any ojections to evolution they have based on faith? This book can get directly to the children that are being brain washed by faith without taking sides on god and at the same time clarifying that Religon and Science have nothing in common when it comes to truth.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I like the book. I just don’t think it should include a section that is self contradictory and includes a section that pretends that the rest of the book isn’t in direct conflict with many religions.

  11. George Blovingsock says:

    The problem is not which side of this supposed skeptical rift you’re on, but that ‘Unfortunately, this isn’t something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about religious matters, but science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.’ simply isn’t true. Science has a whole lot to say about religion, both in terms of their truth claims and terms of their history. When you deny that, you’re willingly lying to your audience, which is especially bad when you’re talking to children.

  12. Tim Farley says:

    I’ve got to agree with Daniel here.

    I have no problem with folks like PZ taking a militant “all or nothing” line in their own personal arguments about rationalism. That’s their choice, and it has its place. But it is the height of pomposity when PZ and others argue that their way is the ONLY right way. I’ve really turned off PZ because of this lately.

    I agree with what Dawkins alluded to in the For Good Reason quote: sometimes you have to do things for political expediency or other practical reasons. There is NOTHING WRONG with this. We have to live in the real world, and the real world is messy and full of greys.

    Is it dishonest to leave atheism out of the discussion when you are lobbying a state legislature to delicense homeopaths? The very question seems absurd. But it certainly could be a deal killer if you dragged atheism into it and the state you were lobbying in happened to be very religious. Scenarios like this are faced by scientific skeptics all the time.

    Perhaps an analogy. When teaching basic math in early grades, one can introduce the concept of a “number line”, with zero in the center and the positive and negative numbers stretching off to infinity in either direction. You then describe math operations in terms of that line. You might make the statement that “all numbers are on this line.”

    Are we lying to kids by not mentioning the fact that there is also another axis containing imaginary numbers? No. That concept is just too advanced for grade schoolers. We save it for later.

    So it is with a rational argument for atheism. This is a VERY DIFFICULT chasm for some people to leap. Forcing them to leap it early on, at the same time they are accepting many other skeptical arguments, is too much to ask of many people.

    This is a book for school kids. The paragraph is entirely appropriate. There might be very good arguments for why it is technically incorrect, heck Daniel gives a few such as flood geology and weeping statues. But it is the appropriate way to broach the subject for this age group.

    • w_nightshade says:

      Hear hear, Mr. Farley (and Mr. Loxton).

      • Chris Kavanagh says:

        I can see manifest reasons why the paragraph is entirely appropriate and politically expedient but Daniel’s whole post was about how he didn’t include the statement for political reasons! He is advocating for a kind of NOMA on religion while at the same time recognising (in his post) that there is a lot of ways in which NOMA doesn’t really work (weeping statues, sociology/cognitive research in religion etc).

        I agree that it will probably be of benefit to the books sales and increasing its audience but Daniel seems to be arguing for it not on any of those basis. He is arguing for it under the basis that he believes it and that science cannot touch metaphysics.

      • Tim Farley says:

        I don’t have a problem with that either.

        I think arguing over this is yet another case where skeptics/atheists get all excited about winning a philosophical battle. Meanwhile we may be losing a much more important war against irrationality.

      • Kim Hebert says:

        I respectfully disagree. The section was appropriate in context, but I think writers have to be more careful about sentences like “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” in a science book. I don’t think that’s accurate, so IMHO that phrase is inappropriate in a science book.

        It’s not a matter of winning a philosophical battle and I think that argument is a bit dismissive of the concern – we know that some religious people *love* to take phrases like this out of context. We should stop giving them ammo.

    • MadScientist says:

      Nice troll. No one is saying their way is the only right way. Your analogies are defective as well. Rational numbers and imaginary numbers (an unfortunate name since they are neither more nor less imaginary than any other number) are not usually explained to people at a stage where it is believed that they will not be able to understand the concepts. Why do you claim that not telling people about some numbers which they probably cannot understand ‘lying’? You cannot explain such systems of mathematics unless the student has some understanding of the other mathematical systems which it is based upon.

      Nothing wrong with lying for political expediency? Irving Kristol would have agreed with you, but good luck finding a reputable contemporary philosopher who agrees.

      In other matters of science, as Isaac Asimov pointed out almost 30 years ago, students are taught approximations. This is not lying – unless the textbook is poorly written. I’ve actually encountered some engineers who used 22/7 as the value of pi – what a disaster that was – but I have always been opposed to teaching the nonsense that pi=22/7 because aside from not being true, there is absolutely no need for such nonsense in explaining the ideas behind pi. Fortunately none of my textbooks as a child had such garbage in them.

      As for an “appropriate way to broach the subject for this age group”, it really is disingenuous to say “trust your parents about religion”; better leave that out. That would not prevent parents from buying teh book or encourage parents to buy the book – do you think the parents will read the book end-to-end before buying it and reject it if they don’t find some apologetics?

      • Tim Farley says:

        Thank you for starting by insulting me in the second word of your comment. As a result, I immediately knew I wouldn’t have to waste my time on a reply.

      • Did you really just call Tim Farley a troll? Did you get involved in skepticism yesterday?

        Tim Farley did more for skepticism this morning than you you will do in your whole life.

        By the way, I am MEANTROLL!

    • Seth Manapio says:

      You might make the statement that “all numbers are on this line.”
      Why bother making that statement if it isn’t true? Or why not say “all natural numbers are on this line” which is much closer to being true?

      Kid: Are there other kinds of numbers?
      Teacher: Yes, but you won’t start studying them until high school.
      Kid: Oh (possibly now curious about these numbers and on his way to a Fields).

  13. Ido says:

    I often find myself in the odd position of being the only in my atheistic gang who recognizes what science can and cannot say. Science can say nothing about the existence of God. That is not to say it cannot say anything about arguments for the existence of God, but that’s limited only to arguments that purport to be empirical.

    That’s why the argument from design is very well refuted by pointing out that highly complex objects which work in orderly fashion can occur naturally, as happened in evolution. But arguments about the existence of God often turn to philosophical debates. There science will not help.

    For example, how can one use science to refute the “last Thursdayism” argument that things just appear old because God made them so? It can’t. The intentions of God are out of the realm of scientific inquiry. When arguments like that are raised, I stop using science and call on my critical thinking skills and point out that this argument is nothing more than special pleading.

    In addition, even if one successfully argue against every argument for the existence of God, that does not mean God is disproved. It means there’s no reason to believe in His existence, but not that it’s entirely refuted. It is unlike science where precise hypotheses lead to testable predictions which we can then test to see whether the hypotheses are right or wrong. It’s more shoddy than that.

    For these reasons I will never utter statements like “Science disproves God” or “Science says your religion is false”. Religious interpretation of scripture vary widely in literality. It would be oversimplifying on my part to claim that science disproves a certain non-literal interpretation. It is better to say that critical thinking lead to disbelief in the existence of God. That’s where I disagree a lot of New Atheists (not just the public figures) who seem not to be able to grasp this nuance in the debate.

    That being said, turning kids to their pastors and family in order to understand the theological implications of the theory of evolution is not a good idea at all. I think every critical thinker should believe in evolution, but also, not believe in God. So if your book is about promoting evolution but not the advancement of critical thinking, than that is a good solution. If you do want to promote critical thinking, a better solution would be “read about the theological implications yourself and form your opinion on your own”.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      So if your book is about promoting evolution but not the advancement of critical thinking, than that is a good solution.

      Valid observation, but moot point. The book is not about critical thinking at all, it is about the fact/science of evolution.

    • MadScientist says:

      “Science can say nothing about the existence of god” is an old chestnut – and it’s not true either. What is this god that science can say nothing of? The deist god, evolved from a biblical god and stripped of all attributes except for having creating the universe? No, people like to claim that god’s existence is beyond scientific investigation, but it simply is not true. The deist has ultimately contorted the notion of god in a vain attempt to put god beyond scientific investigation, but in doing so has created a nonsense god and thus failed to protect the non-existent being. The deist god is utterly meaningless and cannot be, like other gods claim to be, a source of knowledge, morals, miracles, and so on. People like to think somehow that what is philosophically unfalsifiable is beyond science yet valid – but that is not the case at all – what is philosophically unfalsifiable is mere nonsense.

      • Shayne O'Connor says:

        Here’s where I have trouble with “skeptical” thinking of this kind: discussions on the existence of God always end up as philosophical debates that are unprovable. a conclusion for or against the existence of God is never able to be objectively or scientifically proven. fact. according to MadScientist, this makes the concept itself nonsense. if this is the case, where does that leave the external, objective universe? it is just as impossible to prove scientifically and objectively that the outside world exists – even that other people exist. so is the objective world pure nonsense, too? why not? there are just as many potential subjective claims to having witnessed the objective reality of God as there are subjective claims to having witnessed the objective reality of the external world.

        now, i know that someone will be a smart-arse and say “well, how about i punch you in the face?!”, but that doesn’t prove a thing …

        what i’m saying is that you lose your status as a skeptic if you claim the external, objective world has passed some kind of objective verification that God hasn’t.

        They’re my current thoughts on the matter, anyway … feel free to try changing them.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Sure, no problem.

        The external, objective world produces sense data. I can confidently conclude, based on my own sense data and any reasonable definition of “me”, that there are at a minimum two entities: myself, and whatever is generating the data I receive.

        The simplest explanation for the existence of that data is that there is a real world, and I can safely behave as if there really is a real world. In fact, for all practical purposes, that sense data generator is the real world. I can also consistently verify the real world with other people, who again, for all reasonable purposes can be said to exist as independent entities.

        None of this can be said for a supernatural god. Your claim that the physical evidence and observation of god is equivalent to the physical evidence and observation of the universe is actually false, very, very few people claim to have witnessed miraculous events that lack a physical, real world explanation, and 100% of those very few people witness the real world.

      • Ido says:

        I wonder, please, give me one example by which you use scientific inquiry to say something about God. You clearly can attack a God which has certain attributes using science. For example, several medieval Jewish thinkers claimed God is in the clouds, bringing down the rain. Their God is easily disproved by the earth sciences.

        But what would you with more sophisticated Gods, like the one promoted by several prominent Jewish theologians whose books are quite popular among Jewish Orthodoxy (I was Orthodox once), and who happen to know science well enough to spare their God the conflict with it? Science will not help there. These people don’t take the scripture literally, and so their interpretations may be wrong, but not because science says so, but because critical thinking skills help one discover the flaws in their arguments.

        In short, the deist God is not the only God I know who is immune the scientific inquiry. I can name at least three Jewish rabbis who promote Gods that are the same. Now, that does not mean their Gods are irrefutable. They are. Just not by using science.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “In short, the deist God is not the only God I know who is immune the scientific inquiry.”


        The deist god is an umbrella that covers all gods that do not directly intervene in the workings of the universe or the events of people’s lives. Any god that meets that description is equivalent to the deist god. Any god with direct effects is not immune to inquiry into those effects.

        What science can say without question about a god who is supposed to have direct effects is that those effects are undetectable and indistinguishable from naturally occurring events. This is not a refutation of their god, but it also isn’t having nothing to say about their god.

      • Ido says:

        What you said seems to me as an echo of what I said before: arguments for the existence of God are refutable by science.

        The argument for design attempts to see one effect of God in nature. Miracle or personal providence stories attempt to do the same. All are used to establish God’s existence and are refuted by science easily.

        Better yet, imagine someone who believes in the interventionist God you mentioned. You point out that science has not found this God’s effect, and they immediately say “of course not, God doesn’t want us to find Him, so we’ll have faith. Because I have faith, I see his fingerprint in everything”. Walla, you’re out of the realm of science, and in the realm of critical thinking. Again, science cannot refute God, merely the arguments that support Him, and even that not always completely. Critical thinking is needed to complete the argument.

        What I’m saying is that there are a lot of versions for God. But saying that science refute God is foolish. It does not. Science can say nothing about God as a concept, but it can say a lot about arguments supporting the various version’s existence and a lot about different attributes that people give God. But refuting God? Science can’t.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “of course not, God doesn’t want us to find Him, so we’ll have faith.”


        In other words, god is not distinguishable from chance. Again, this is a statement about god. It isn’t saying nothing. Science has plenty to say about the existence of various versions of god, and about all versions of an interventionist god.

        You didn’t ask for an airtight refutation, you asked for an example of saying “something.” Stop moving the goalposts.

    • Tom Foss says:

      For example, how can one use science to refute the “last Thursdayism” argument that things just appear old because God made them so? It can’t.

      It depends on whether or not your definition of “science” includes Occam’s Razor. The two hypotheses are that the universe which has the appearance of being 13.75 billion years old is 13.7 billion years old, and that the universe which has the appearance of being 13.7 billion years old is actually less than a week old but was specifically made to be indistinguishable from a 13.7-billion-year-old universe. Given that both hypotheses have the same evidence, the reasonable scientific position would be to reject the latter one, on the basis of its unfalsifiability and its invocation of unnecessary, unproven entities. Occam’s Razor shaves it away, whether or not it is actually correct. Until there is some evidence to tip the scales, that hypothesis is neither reasonable nor scientific.

      And somehow I don’t see science books saying “Individual scientists may have personal opinions about the age of the universe, but science as a whole has nothing to say about whether the universe is 13.7 billion years old, or if it is just 6000 years or a week old and has the appearance of a 13.7-billion-year-old universe,” despite the fact that religious groups do make such claims (e.g., the idea that light was created in transit to Earth to give the appearance of distant, old stars) and that they are just as unfalsifiable as claims of a deity’s existence.

  14. Trimegistus says:

    Apparently P.Z. Meyers believes that the way to change minds and win people to your cause is to gratuitously attack and insult their most fundamental beliefs.

    He may be a great biologist, but he’s also kind of a jerk about religion.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      No, P.Z. believes that science books should contain science, not attacks on religion or apologies to religion.

      • Trimegistus says:

        The dude is objecting to a polite disclaimer — “no offense to anyone’s religion” is apparently offensive to him. In other words, he objects to NOT offending religion. As I said, kind of a jerk.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        So, basically, you think that a book on evolution that contains no reference to religion of any kind is offensive to religion? That’s ridiculous.

        If someone is offended because you lay out a scientific case for their mythology being false, they aren’t going to be soothed because you claim that there really isn’t a conflict. For one thing, they know damn well that there is a conflict, because they are religiously offended by your ideas. For another, it’s an apologia for the source material, not to the offended party. Basically, he pretends that there was no offense given.

        I object to bringing religion up in this context not because I want to offend the religious, or because I think that evolution must offend all religions, but because I think that to do so is essentially to tell a lie.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Not that I think, by the way, that Daniel set out to tell a lie or is in the habit of telling lies. Perhaps the word ‘untruth’ would be better.

  15. AdamK says:

    If “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion,” you should have said nothing about it.

  16. LovleAnjel says:

    @ Tim Farley

    I agree. To not address the topic similar fashion, is to say to a bunch of 10-year-olds, “we don’t serve your kind here”. Believers Need Not Apply. How does that reach the masses?

    However, I do have an issue with the broader language (which others have raised) and the directive to talk to religious leaders. What if they, like many children, belong to fundmentalist or similar churches? That would be a wholly inappropriate venue to address questions about evolutionary theory.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      But the questions are those of theological implication, not evolutionary theory. Daniel gives the kids the facts on evolution, then refers them to their loved ones to address any conflict with their religion.

      • LovleAnjel says:

        At which point, Pastor Numnutz will say, “evolutionists are atheists and going to hell”. That is my problem.

  17. Charlottesville says:

    There’s a well known anecdote in the Baha’i Faith on the topic of atheism. An Iranian Baha’i was in the USSR studying at a university on scholarship. One evening he was confronted about his beliefs by Russian. His reply was, “I don’t believe in the same god you don’t believe in.”

  18. What can science – as a whole – tell us about religion? It certainly is a pervasive part of human culture.

    And what can science tell 8 – 15 year olds about religion? Would Daniel’s book have been better if it urged kids to throw off the shackles of ignorance and reject their family’s faith?

    Is that how the atheists here became atheists? You read a sentence in a kids book and -click- you “knew” the truth?

    Simply put, no matter what Daniel put in (or left out) his book, the process of becoming non-theistic (assuming the person in question wasn’t raised in a non-theistic family/culture) involves lots and lots of questioning and testing of ideas.

    It would be nifty if one could simply debate away another person’s erroneous beliefs – but that isn’t how beliefs work. And I’m pretty sure that has to do with how the brain works.

    Still, I’m looking forward to Richard Dawkins’ “Your Family’s Religion Is A Delusion” coloring book. Together with PZ’s “Of Pseudopods and Steeples” pop-up book, they’re really going things going.

    • phlebas says:

      Come now, you don’t need to wait for Dawkins and P.Z. Just read the book that set my young self on the path to atheism: Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Everything You Know About Easter is a Lie.”

      If I had kids, I know I would respect a kid’s book a lot more if it both challenged what I had tried to teach them, then implied that I didn’t know a damn thing about what I was saying. That’ll get the message out. I know my parents would have loved a book that tried to indoctrinate me into a certain position on weighty philosophical matters before my voice had changed.

      Remember people — it’s not a good book unless it kicks all your religious friends in the nuts. (Why do you have religious friends anyway? Religious people aren’t worth listening to!)

      Damn. I typed all this without access to an eye-roll smiley. But this is why atheist gatherings are always so non-tedious and un-irritating!

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Phlebas, this is a total strawman. The issue was not whether Loxton should have included an anti-god screed in his book. It is whether he needed to mention it at all. Failing to include that section would not have kicked anyone in the nuts. It wouldn’t have implied that religious people know nothing. It would simply have been consistent with the position that science has nothing to say about religion.

        The insistence of including the section is defensive. It takes a step beyond what needs to be taken. Evolution doesn’t have to apologize, and science doesn’t have to apologize, and a kids book that is supposed to be on science doesn’t need to give condescending spiritual advice. It’s off topic, and the idea that it is the ‘most important’ part of the book plays into a cultural debate that I think we all agree needs less, not more, press.

        If skeptics shouldn’t talk about religion, or the lack thereof, then we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t tell kids where to get their spiritual guidance, we shouldn’t make statements that are false about what science can and cannot do or does and does not say.

        The idea that failing to include an apologia in the back of the book is some kind of attack is preposterous, and that is all that anyone has suggested.

      • Actually, I used a time machine and went back in time. (DeLorean, not Police Call Box.) I urged Daniel to not include anything about religion. He left it out completely. And then, weirdly, was criticized for not saying something about religion! And when he blogged about it he got almost the same number of posts from people complaining about him leaving it out rather than railing against it.

        I had to come back to this timeline because in the other one my goatee is missing.

      • NightHiker says:

        As amusing as your story my be, I’m afraid its core claims are not empirical, so there is nothing Science can say about it.

      • phlebas says:

        Seth – Like it or not, there are a lot of people out there who have tied evolution and religion together in their minds. The objections to teaching evolution in school are based entirely on religious fears, for example. Since many of those people do not actually understand evolution or care to learn anything about it, just mentioning it is offensive to their religious sensibilities.

        If Daniel had been writing a textbook targeted for a high school or college-level biology course, I would agree with you. But this is a book aimed at the general public (or at least the children of the general public). To simply pretend there is no conflict is dishonest, and is going to come off as arrogant to the people already suspicious of evolution.

        Telling kids to talk to their parents is not detracting from the book. It might assuage a few fears from those who have not chosen a side in the Evolution/Creationism debate. While it’s apparently also put a burr under the saddle of some sensitive atheists out there, those people already accept evolution and will probably be teaching it to their kids.

        It’s all about baby steps. I personally had a very fast conversion from vaguely religious/mildly credulous to definitely atheist/skeptical, but it appears that’s not the norm. Get the message out to the kids, appease their parents along the way, and hope it sticks with a few of them.

        Getting your blood pressure up about philosophical purity is only going to shorten your life.

      • NightHiker says:

        “Get the message out to the kids, appease their parents along the way, and hope it sticks with a few of them.”

        It’s important to point out, however, that, according to Daniel Loxton, such was not the reason why he included the polemic paragraphs.

        He didn’t, or so he says, include the section to appease parents, but because it is correct. And that has been the main point of contention here.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “To simply pretend there is no conflict is dishonest, and is going to come off as arrogant to the people already suspicious of evolution.”

        Yet, this is exactly what Daniel does in his quote, and this has been my point all along. He says that science has nothing to say about religion. This glosses over the very real conflicts that are actually occurring in the book, that he’s actually making.

        Leaving religion alone means that kids with questions will automatically go to their parents or pastors. Daniel doesn’t need to tell religious children who to talk to, and he didn’t need to bring the topic up.

  19. Somite says:

    “If “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion,” you should have said nothing about it.” This applies not only to books and skeptics but to everyone. Religion is not even a question.

  20. Sajanas says:

    I’m grateful for the production of a children’s book on evolution, and I think that it is surprising how long one can go through ones education without getting a critical examination of it, especially living as I do in the American South. I do think that NOMA has been addressed over and over again by Dawkins and others, and you miss some of his reasoning with your quotes.

    Namely that religion does make claims to understand the workings of the real world. It is only because of scientific inquiry that we know hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues and volcanoes are not religious judgment, and that the world and life were formed through natural processes. I think that the large number of theists who acknowledge (why say “accept”? Evolution is true regardless of their viewpoint) the scientific truth of these things may not have really sat down and thought about it. As a teenager, in my head I drew my own little NOMA line in my head, and learned about science and my Lutheranism both, but slowly but surely it began to be hard to reconcile them both as true things.

    Sure, you can never disprove a creator, but its a little disingenuous to say that scientific theories have not robbed the gods of some of their sting. No direct creation of the world or man, no direct intervention through the circumventing of natural laws. We’ve even seen how it is possible to change someone’s personality and memory through brain damage. I suppose the universe might have a watchmaker creator, but is that really worth my Sundays and 10% of my income? You can sweep God into a little corner and say he’s not disprovable, but you don’t really have much to base a religion on. Today’s religions haven’t really caught up with what we know about the world, and being chained to their thousand plus year old holy books will likely prevent that from happening quickly

  21. BJ Kramer says:

    1. Daniel’s point that he had to address the question seems logical. It *IS* something that will get asked quite a bit.
    2. It is of course correct to make a distinction between the specific paranormal claims of religion, and fundamental core tenets which are not testable. (This is why NOMA is a bit of a dodge; once you remove all of the areas of religion that science can address you’re left with something not much more than deism, which is not what most people have in mind when they think of their religion.)
    3. Someone earlier compared the (non-scientifically-testable) hypothesis of the soul to that of ghosts. This is valid, and shows that while science may not be able to disprove the existence of ghosts (or souls), logic *can* address the issue and inform us.
    4. Daniel’s book is about Evolution, not about science in general. Even a general science book can make a distinction between evidence-based science and that which can only be addressed through logic, considering it’s untestability. A good science book should still probably address these issues, but a more narrow book like Evolution shouldn’t.
    5. While we can argue (rather effectively, I think) that ‘spirituality’ is merely a convenient shorthand for certain psychological phenomena, it is nonetheless something that most readers will think they have, to some degree.
    6. The book *does* address the scientifically testable claims of some religionists (throughout), specifically those that fly in the face of biology (and geology, cosmology, etc).
    7. Given these points, Daniel’s brief foray into the topic of religion was right on target. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘science’ in the general sense that he does, because I think science has *some* things to say on the subject, but a book about evolution certainly does not. A minor quibble. People who have this question will likely have people in their lives they consider important to their ‘spirituality’, and whether or not they have anything of *value* to add to the conversation, they are certainly a more appropriate (if unfortunate) place to go for discussion than a book that has nothing to do with their untestable beliefs.

    • Retired Prof says:

      Yes, BJ Kramer. I especially agree with point 7.

      Kids are going to have questions about religion. They should ask those questions of people who hold religious opinions, to avoid inadvertent or intentional misrepresentations. They should be encouraged to direct their inquiries to a variety of people so as to explore a range of beliefs. Let them hold competing religious claims up to scrutiny and decide for themselves which ones make sense. Probably they will become skeptical of all of them; I did. If they do adopt an irrational belief, at least it has a chance of being one that fills some personal psychological need.*

      It seems to me Mr. Loxton’s disputed paragraph does a good job of nudging them in that direction.

      *Disclosure: my own son became an atheist; my daughter became an Orthodox Jew. Both are satisfied.

      • BJ Kramer says:

        Disclosure: I was an Orthodox Jew all my life. Well, until rather recently. I am the only exception to a large and loving extended family or Orthodox Jews. As far as I can tell, all of us are satisfied, too.

  22. science-based humanist says:

    Excerpt of a dinner time conversation in our household: 8 ½ year old says “there is no such thing as god,” while 5 ½ year-old says that “there is, too, god!” I gently correct the 8 ½ year-old that it’s probably more accurate to say that there is no evidence for god. I ask the 5 ½ year-old to tell me *why* he thinks there is god.

    Daniel, I’m not sure if you would agree with my approach. If not, how would you respond if your son made “there is” or “there is not” comment?

  23. Seth Manapio says:

    Truth, decency, and skepticism would have been better served by simply not mentioning religion at all. Simply put, if science has nothing to say about religion, than your children’s book about science should have had nothing to say about religion. If it isn’t the place of skepticism to comment on religion, than it isn’t your place, as a skeptic, to tell children where to get their spiritual guidance.

    For another thing, your answer was wrong. The best place to get guidance on religion is from your own critical mind. You know, and I know, that their parents, teachers, ministers, and others are simply relaying to them a story that human beings made up, with no basis at all in any kind of fact. You know, and I know that you know, that believing stories that other people tell you, with no basis in fact, is not the best way to gain knowledge. So essentially, you not only pandered, you lied.

    And even if you weren’t lying, you lied. Because here you are, telling them what science can and cannot say about religion (a basic falsehood, Science, as a method of gaining knowledge, tells us a lot about how to evaluate claims) you were giving them spiritual advice. Which you then say you aren’t equipped to do. That’s not only pandering, it’s incoherent.

    Basically, if you can’t include a section without either lying or contradicting yourself, I think that your book would be better served without it.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      You seem to be overlooking the fact that this book is for CHILDREN. Do you think they should look to their own “critical minds” for guidance, as undeveloped as they may be?

      Daniel didn’t contradict himself, you are making an unfair assertion. He gave no spiritual advice whatsoever. The facts presented in the book will contradict a lot of what they’ve been taught by their parents and teachers as pertaining to religion, and this will inevitably create many questions for the kids reading it.

      Daniel’s paragraph was an entirely appropriate way of saying (to a child) “I know you want explanations for your religion, but they do not belong in this book. Ask your mommy and daddy or pastor.”

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Mommy and Daddy? This book is for 8-13 year olds, not 5 year olds. And in fact, unless a child’s religious upbringing specifically includes the idea that we did not evolve, there’s no reason to think that the child will have any questions relating to religion at all. And if their upbringing does include that, than Mr. Loxton just called their Mommy and Daddy and pastor liars anyway, so it’s a little condescending to tell them to go ask these liars how to reconcile Daniel’s satanic book and their upbringing.

        Furthermore, whatever Daniel meant to say, the actual sentence that he included in the book is not correct, and therefore contradicts his maxim of “never say anything that isn’t correct” and it contradicts the actual content of the book. The kid’s reading the book don’t have the benefit of knowing what he would have preferred or wanted to say, they only have the stuff that was actually included.

    • M Kimberlin says:

      I take issue with your comments and attitudes, Seth. First off (just for the purpose of being snarky) check your use of the word “than”. What you mean is “then”. “Than” is used when making comparisons and not when referring to time or spacial ordering, nor when creating a conditional. Snark out of the way, let’s move onto the issue at hand:

      People’s spirituality and/or religious beliefs are not the domain of science. Science can provide evidence that may lead us to believe that there is no higher power pulling the strings, and that is fine. However, the purpose of spirituality in humans is a psychological one. It provides a number of very important psychological benefits to a great number of people. That said, a poor application of those beliefs can admittedly produce harmful effects in certain circumstances. This is when skepticism should step in and play a role by showing scientific reasons that the application in question is inappropriate.

      Sending children to their parents for guidance is ABSOLUTELY the appropriate course of action. It is presumptuous and arrogant to assume that you are better able to provide guidance to a child because of your skepticism. A child’s view of the world is something that should be handled with great care and smashing it to bits by telling them things that may go directly against the world view that they have developed is both counter productive and unethical. You can do great harm to a child’s psychological well-being with such an act. Furthermore, it is a parent’s choice as to how they will raise their children and what perspectives they will and will not convey to them. These decisions are complex and are very carefully considered by most parents.

      I am a skeptical parent and I take great pains to help my children to learn to question the world around them, including the religious and spiritual assertions that they are exposed to. However, I would never willingly expose my child to a book that would tell them so flatly that spirituality is nothing but lies and that science says so. Science says no such thing and I am not yet sure whether or not one of my children might be among those that NEED spirituality to achieve psychological peace. Instead, I will do what I can to teach my children kindness, compassion and critical thinking. Then I will trust that they will use those tools to come to thoughtful and well-reasoned conclusions about the world around them.

      In my opinion, you owe Mr. Loxton an apology. Stating that science doesn’t address spirituality is neither a lie, nor is it spiritual advice. It is an insight and understanding that science does not take on these types of issues and that a child’s world view should be handled with care. Calling him a pandering liar is both inflammatory and completely out of line. Your hard-line stance makes your statements no less harmful than a religious zealot that rails on the evils of science. I hope that you give the psychological well-being of your children a bit more thought than you give your blog comments.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        (just for the purpose of being snarky)

        At which point I stopped reading.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        ” It is presumptuous and arrogant to assume that you are better able to provide guidance to a child because of your skepticism.”

        Wow. I just scanned for two seconds before finding a first strawman argument. I am not surprised.

        I think that for willfully misrepresenting my position and insulting me as a father, you owe me an apology.

  24. rustle says:

    A disbelief in the supernatural and an acceptance of atheism came to me before I even knew what ‘skeptic’ meant. After having been raised Catholic and educated in their schools, I sent my kids to Catholic schools and was even an officer in the Knights of Columbus. After the 9/11 attacks, I finally admitted to myself that I really didn’t embrace faith and was just going through the motions that my family and friends expected. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Dawkins or Harris or Meyers but, just like most converts, I was a fervent, combative representative of my viewpoint. Not one person that I spoke to in that period was persuaded to ever consider what I said. All I did was piss them off and make them less likely to think about it.

    Then I started reading skeptic blogs and reading a variety of books on the subject, including the aforementioned authors and more. But instead of just reading on the subject of atheism, I also read books about how the Abrahamic legends echoed so many other religions iconic stories. Those books, more than the (I use the word with some trepidation) polemics strengthened my atheism. More importantly, it made me see that it was easier to get people to think about the commonality of religious stories than it was to ask them to accept my atheistic convictions.

    My point is that they were much more interested and open when I didn’t assail the belief system they based their life on but instead gave them examples of how their religions evolved. Several of them have since asked about the books I read and I’ve shared with them. I don’t think that would have happened had I been the person I was when I first let go of a belief in the supernatural.

    Human nature leads people to believe in religion. Human nature also leads people to become defensive and combative when they face aggressive attacks that confuse and unnerve them. I think Daniel handled things in a way I appreciate as an atheist parent of adult children who are still struggling with their beliefs. I’m sure I would have felt the same way if I had given them his book when they were younger. It might behoove us to remember that this book wasn’t just written for the children of skeptics.

  25. Robo Sapien says:

    I think the reason there are so many professed Christians that accept evolution is because of good old fashioned fear of God. The newer generations are more in touch with technology, and can more evidently see that science is slowly devouring everything that is “known” by religion. But it is their fear of God that prevents them from letting it go entirely. Because science cannot disprove God, there is still a posibility that he exists, and therefore still the possibility that he will condemn them to an eternity of suffering in a lake of fire as punishment for lack of faith.

    As far as the book’s paragraph in question, I think nothing Daniel said was off base, even by a micron. Science CAN NOT answer for religion, period. Religion is, in a nutshell, a collection of philosophies and guidelines (i.e. fundamentalism) for distinguishing a “good” existance from an “evil” one. There is nothing fundamental about science, because fact is fact. Science does not change a fact, or re-evaluate its meaning because it may be fundamentally incorrect. Religion, on the other hand, shifts all other factors aside in order to preserve its faith, this is why Christians interpret the bible literally in some parts, and symbolically in others. This can be observed in the way Creationists tend to shift their position on the interpretation of a bible story when confronted with unarguable facts of history.

    Example scenario: In the Smurf village, lets say you have scientific Smurfs and religious Smurfs. Everything that either type of Smurf knows about anything stems from the fact that Smurfs are blue. Then one day, a red Smurf is born. Now, all the scientific Smurfs are busy about re-evaluating everything they know to be fact about smurfing to accomodate a relationship to red. Meanwhile, the religious Smurfs are busy defending the fundament of blue smurfiness. They will take the position that smurfiness is still entirely blue, because that is how God Smurf made them. The scientific smurfs will argue that the existance of a red smurf completely undermines smurfing as we know it, to which the religious smurfs will rebut that “God smurfs in mysterious ways”.

  26. Seth Manapio says:

    “Given that, I think we can confidently conclude that most people who say evolution is compatible with god say so, not for political expediency, but because this is what they believe.”

    How the hell is this relevant to what Dawkins said? Dawkins isn’t saying that there aren’t people who believe this, he is saying that he himself sees a conflict and refuses to pretend that he does not. The fact that certain people ask him to pretend that he does not see a conflict is reasonable evidence that they themselves see this same conflict and keep quiet about it, or at least that they see nothing wrong with doing so.

    Dawkins said nothing whatsoever about ‘most people’, he was speaking for himself and hypothesizing about some small subset of his colleagues.

  27. Jim says:

    I support the Daniel/Tim Farley/Genie Scott position. I teach at an elementary school in a conservative area. Personally, I find the paragraph unneeded. But there are people I know who won’t even THINK about picking up a book like this with or without that paragraph. There are others, however, that would find it comforting. Whatever gets the message out, I say.

    One of the reasons evolution is not as accepted as it should be in this country is that we’re afraid to teach it. We’re afraid to teach it because it’s controversial so people are ignorant of the facts and that leads to more ignorance. If a paragraph like this makes it more palatable, I’m all for it because we need more people to understand this so it’s not cloaked in fear and controversy and we can actually talk about it.

    At my school, we’re about a month away from the big standardized test. Sitting on my desk is a table showing “content weights for the test.” For example, the “Reading” part of the test for 2nd grade is “20% vocabulary and 80% comprehension.” If you scan down the list of science topics, “Evolution” is on there. It makes up only 15% of the 7th grade science part of the test. And that’s it for evolution from 1st-8th. the basis of our understanding of biology is a minor fraction of one grade level. And we all know what gets tested is what gets taught. Is it any wonder people don’t understand it?

    I think the book hits the sweet spot and we need more like it.


  28. Kurt says:

    IMO, the section would is fine except for the last sentence:

    Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions.

    I understand the philosophical argument as to why the existence of God is “out of scope” for science. However, in order for that question to have epistemological distance from the science, one has to concede that no one — not just scientists — is capable of proving or disproving the existence of God. Thus, the are no “best people” for asking about religious questions.

    So, the real issue is not that you’re conceding too much to religion, but that you are specifically encouraging children to ask adults metaphysical questions that the adults are also incapable of answering. Perhaps you’re hoping the kids will notice their confusion as well? Clever like a fox, you are.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      Agreed, referring them to parents and pastors is no better than referring them to the mail man or trash collector. However, it would also be extremely unethical to undermine the parents, no matter how wrong they are.

  29. NightHiker says:

    It looks like the main problem here is that, as George Smith has stated in his “Atheism: The Case Against God”, if I am not mistaken, people really don’t go to much trouble to try and define “God”, or, my inclusion, even “Religion”, or “Science”, before engaging in these discussions, and instead speak of special cases as if they were all encompassing terms everyone is supposed to agree with. One can hardly engage in any worthy discussion of those topics, however, without such definitions. So I’ll get that out of the way first, and suggest the broadest possible way I would define them without losing their “essence” (hopefully this one I won’t need to define).

    I would speak of “God” as any kind of supernatural entity ever postulated and that shows some kind of volition. In so doing, I leave out any definition for which the world “Universe” would suffice. “Religion”, as a subset of magical thinking and natural human credulity, I would describe as our inclination to find purpose (or, more broadly, patterns) in everything we perceive. And with “Science” I don’t mean what we’ve come to call the “Scientific Method”, but also explicitly include “logical reasoning”, which is not entirely dependent on observation but can, in certain cases, lead to truths about the Universe. Now, what can “Science”, in my view, say about “God” or “Religion”? Plenty.

    We can logically infer that God either exists or doesn’t. If he/she/it doesn’t, it’s of course irrelevant. If God exists, it can either influence our Universe or it can’t. If it can’t, then again it’s irrelevant. If it can influence the Universe, then its influence can either be detected or not. If its influence cannot be detected, then it once again becomes irrelevant. If its influence can be detected, then it becomes the subject of Science. In short, God is either a valid subject of Science, or it is irrelevant in all regards. And so far Science has this to say of “God”: Not only it hasn’t found any evidence that it exists, but it has also found plenty of evidence such a concept is not needed at all. In short, the “smart money” so far is in betting there is no such thing as a “God”, with as much certainty as anything deserving of scientific consensus – in other words, what Science can’t say about God is what it can’ say about anything else anyway. And we don’t see people speaking about how Science can’t say anything about the Big Bang, or quarks.

    Science can also say that Religion is originated from how our brains are wired, and is likely a largely unavoidable, if undesirable, side effect of our natural thought processes. We can be trained to circumvent such processes, but that (skepticism) is a pretty strenuous activity I believe no one can do all the time (and the reason even the biggest skeptic can fall prey to wishful thinking on occasion). Also, it is an activity very few, if any, can first engage into spontaneously – nearly every skeptic builds his skepticism from others’ teachings.

    So, in addition to stating the likelihood of any relevant definition of God existing is very low from what we’ve learned of the Universe so far, Science also describes why there’s such a gap between this (many would say stark) reality and the general perception of the majority of the population.

    I think that’s saying quite a lot about things it supposedly has nothing to say about.

    I understand quite well the pragmatic view of trying to teach people without getting into a discussion about their religious beliefs, considering the emotional hold religion has on many effectively blocks learning – its a necessary evil, as I see it, although I believe that paragraph was not as good as it could be even taking that into account.

    But saying that the paragraph was there because Science really has nothing to say about Religion or God is just a cheap, if honestly believed, excuse.

  30. Miko says:

    This question, “What about religion?” is not at all a common concern people have when they consider the evidence for evolution. It’s a question asked primarily by people who don’t want to consider the evidence for evolution. These people’s opinions may fall on either side depending on their interpretation of the religious issues, but they are not in any sense considering the evidence for evolution, no matter what conclusion they happen to reach.

  31. miller says:

    “It is my opinion that the core claims of most religions are out of scope for science, and thus for scientific skepticism.”

    This is based on the premise that the scope of scientific skepticism goes no further than the scope of science. I don’t agree with this premise. I agree that science, as an institution, as a practice, and as a set of conclusions, does not conflict with (some kinds of) religion. But I think of skepticism as being broader than that.

    For the lay skeptic, we don’t necessarily have time to find scientific research on all the claims we investigate. So instead, we rely on basic critical thinking and a decent knowledge of the ways that beliefs can go wrong. From this perspective, there is much less of a divide between religious claims and all other claims.

    However, in your book, which focuses much more on science, a narrower view of skepticism is probably appropriate.

    • I agree that science, as an institution, as a practice, and as a set of conclusions, does not conflict with (some kinds of) religion. But I think of skepticism as being broader than that.

      A lot of my work replays the theme that skepticism is most valuable when it is very specific and limited in scope: separate from atheism; deferential to mainstream science; burdened with due diligence; focussed on traditional paranormal and pseudoscientific topics, and so on.

      In my view, the broader skepticism becomes — and the less tied to science — the more often it becomes a fancy label for people to attach to their own divergent, personal beliefs about ethics, metaphysics, politics, and so on. Everyone claims their own positions are the inevitable output of rational processes.

      I try to use the word “skepticism” to mean something more precise and conservative. To that end, I try hard to set aside my own atheism, my own humanism, my own political and ethical ideals in favor of a science-based skeptical mandate that can be widely shared — and useful.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        This isn’t the thread for it, but have you ever considered the possibility that any position that you have to put aside rather than address skeptically is most likely wrong?

      • I don’t even understand your comment here. Are you suggesting the atheism I set aside is wrong?

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I’m just saying that, from myself, I try to keep everything on the table, whether I’m talking about my political perspectives or ethical ideals, I should be able to defend them all from a skeptical perspective… not as inevitable results of skepticism, but as amenable to rational analysis and skeptical inquiry.

        Because I could be wrong.

        I was also sort of making a joke, like… “Have you addressed you position on skepticism skeptically?”

      • OK. Well, yes, of course my positions on all those things could be wrong. I didn’t say they’re unexamined beliefs or insulated from critical reflection. I just make an effort not to inject my personal political views and similar subjective beliefs into my professional work.

  32. WScott says:

    Daniel: “The statement in the book is simplified more than I’d prefer”

    Yeah. I agree with what I think you meant, I don’t love the way you phrased it, but I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better way of saying it in the space available.

    Seth: “Simply put, if science has nothing to say about religion, than your children’s book about science should have had nothing to say about religion.”

    Unrealistic. Like it or not, religion and evolution are linked in many/most people’s minds, so the question had to be addressed.

    • NightHiker says:

      “Like it or not, religion and evolution are linked in many/most people’s minds, so the question had to be addressed.”

      I believe whether the question had to be addressed or not is not the problem – the problem is that it was addressed wrongly. People keep saying things like “Science has nothing to say about God” quite dogmatically, but so far I have not seen anyone actually back up that claim with sound reasoning. All definitions of “God” I’ve found were either candidate subjects for Scientific inquiry or irrelevant. He could have gone as far as stating that Evolution itself does not need to be incompatible with (many takes on) Religion, which is true, but never explicitly state that Science as a whole has nothing to say on the subject of God or Religion, which is false. In his excuse for the paragraph he speaks of “core” ideas of Religion, but doesn’t give any example that would fit his reasoning.

      So, while I agree with the practical reasons for such a disclaimer to be in a book about Evolution for a broad audience, I cannot agree with its execution nor the reasoning offered for it.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      “Unrealistic. Like it or not, religion and evolution are linked in many/most people’s minds, so the question had to be addressed.”

      No it doesn’t. If the best place for people to get spiritual input is outside of science, than the spiritual input that Loxton proposed should have been left out of the science book. If there is truly no conflict between evolution and religion, than there is no reason to create a conflict by addressing the issue. Let their parents/teachers/ministers etc. handle the religion if that’s truly the place to address it.

      On top of which, making the false claim that science as a whole has nothing to say about religion is clear pandering. For one thing, Loxton’s book makes a bold statement that every single religious text on earth is based on a myth and not a series of historical events. That may be fine by many adherents, but it is certainly a statement about religion. Pretending that he didn’t just label Christian mythology as mythology through a science book is condescending at best, disingenuous at worst, and profoundly out of place in the main.

  33. Jim Lippard says:

    I agree with Chris Kavanagh’s criticism of the sentence “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion”–given Daniel’s clarification, this should have said something like “metaphysical claims with no empirical consequences” instead of “religion.” But that is a statement with significantly narrower scope than what was actually written, since religions do make empirical claims that are in scope for skepticism, as Daniel has agreed.

    I agree that “scientific skepticism” includes a commitment to methodological naturalism, and simply doesn’t entertain theories that include supernatural elements; in virtue of that exclusion, it can’t address them. Skepticism in a broader sense, however, certainly can, and empirical evidence can be relevant to philosophical arguments about metaphysical subjects, including those about the existence or nonexistence of gods. But I don’t think that’s a productive area for the skeptical movement (as opposed to individual skeptics, or atheist/freethinker groups on its fringes that have some overlap in goals) to focus on.

    However, I think there are further issues lurking here, such as the idea of the autonomy of science and science as a “value-free ideal,” to use a term from Heather E. Douglas’ _Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal_, a book I largely agree with in its disagreement with that ideal. Not only are the products of science relevant to claims about the role of religion, values (and not just epistemic ones) have a role to play in how science is done, and science neither is nor should be completely autonomous from other areas of human life.

  34. Jim Lippard says:

    Tom Foss wrote: “If a god does not have observable effects on the universe, then what does it mean to say such a thing “exists”? Isn’t existence effectively the same as nonexistence in that case?”

    If Lawrence Krauss is correct, at some point in the future the stars that we see in the sky today will not be visible from the earth. If a future civilization exists on earth at that time, regardless of what instruments they have, they will not be able to empirically detect other solar systems and galaxies, and they will no longer be able to have any physical effects upon the earth.

    If records of their existence survive, that will be an empirical effect that will allow members of such a civilization to conclude that they exist. But if such records don’t survive, there will be no empirical effects. It’s a conclusion of your position that those other galaxies would no longer exist–you thus appear to hold a position of relativism about what exists. That strikes me as wrong. There are facts that are epistemologically inaccessible, even in principle. What we can know or justifiably determine is different from what can be the case, given our limitations of capacity and being situated in a particular context.

    • Akusai says:

      One does not have to be a relativist to believe what Tom espoused. Given your situation, a civilization so isolated by the universe’s expansion as to be unable to see other stars or galaxies, we can, from our perspective in the present, say “But those stars and galaxies still exist.” The people in your thought experiment don’t have that luxury and thus would be fully justified in believing that their sun was the only star in the cosmos. They aren’t being relativists, they’re following the evidence they have; likewise, one who makes Tom’s argument about God’s existence isn’t saying “Things only exist if we know about them,” he’s saying “We only have cause to believe things exist if we know about them.” Tom would, I’m sure, change his stance on God if evidence came to light; this doesn’t make him a relativist, it makes him a skeptic.

      Likely, though, in your thought experiment, there would be people identified as “astarists” and “star agnostics” having similar debates over the proper epistemological position regarding stars other than their own. Tom and I, I think, would fall on the “astarist” side for the reasons we have outlined.

    • Tom Foss says:

      But if such records don’t survive, there will be no empirical effects. It’s a conclusion of your position that those other galaxies would no longer exist–you thus appear to hold a position of relativism about what exists.

      No, my position in that case would be that belief in other galaxies would be unreasonable, unjustified, and unscientific. Whether or not a thing exists, and whether or not a thing can be reasonably said to exist, are two separate matters. If a person in this distant future scenario believed that other galaxies existed, such a person would be factually right through sheer dumb luck, but not reasonably or scientifically justified in his or her belief.

      I would think it an obvious foundational premise of skepticism (and science, for that matter) that it is better to be wrong for the right reasons than to be right for the wrong ones. If a sasquatch stumbled out of the Pacific Northwest tomorrow, it wouldn’t suddenly make every Bigfoot believer retroactively reasonable, scientific, and sane. Their belief ended up being correct, but until there was evidence to support it, it was still unjustified and irrational, and the reasonable position was still the null hypothesis.

      This is really only obliquely related to my quoted point about God; whether or not a noninterventionist God exists, the reasonable position is still the null hypothesis until it is overturned by positive evidence. People who claim that such a God exists are still unreasonable, because they believe without evidence. But there is some difference between galaxies which exist in the natural universe, continue to exist in the natural universe, continue to have effects on the natural universe, but are undetectable from some particular position in said universe, and a God who, as a rule, does not interact with the universe (which, admittedly, is only a subset of God-claims). Even a God who interacted in the past would be, in principle, more easy to establish as extant than a decidedly noninterventionist God (or a God whose interventions appear to be the workings of natural chance).

      Hopefully that clarifies things a bit.

  35. Jim Lippard says:

    Seth Manapio wrote: “The best place to get guidance on religion is from your own critical mind.”

    I disagree–a critical mind is a necessary but not sufficient condition for any realistic evaluation of religious claims. Cartesian rationalism isn’t a plausible epistemological framework; most of what we know is socially mediated and dependent upon the knowledge of others and not an edifice we can reconstruct all by ourselves.

    • NightHiker says:

      “I disagree–a critical mind is a necessary but not sufficient condition for any realistic evaluation of religious claims.”

      I don’t even know if there is such thing as “a critical mind”. I would say there’s nothing intrinsically different between the mind of a skeptic and that of a religious person. What is different is the amount of knowledge the skeptic has of how the world works that was not inferred from just his own senses. Its likely that information that makes him a skeptic, more than anything in his brain itself.

      And such is why I believe teaching as much as we can about how the world works while avoiding to address religious claims directly can be an efficient way of creating more skeptics. If we give someone enough knowledge to challenge his own religious views, but in a “bit by bit”, non-confrontational way, we might be able to “fool” the blockades religious dogma imprints in his or her brain until critical mass is attained and they will get rid of religion themselves – or if not, if religion has too much of an emotional hold, constrain it to behaviors or areas of thought where it cannot hurt them or us – like it is the case with many religious, but reasonable people, including religious scientists.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        The difference between the skeptic and the believer is not the possession of a critical mind, it is the employment of the critical faculties.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Who said anything about cartesian rationalism? Certainly not me. And I certainly didn’t say that we should construct a philosophical edifice of some kind alone.

      • Jim Lippard says:

        Seth: It appeared to me that you were endorsing an entirely self-directed individual critical approach to examining religion over *any* reliance on guidance, advice, or testimony from others. On re-reading your comment I see that you didn’t take it that far, you just said that using your own mind is the *best* method. I retract that criticism, though we may still disagree. I think reliance on certain kinds of testimony is essential for understanding and critically examining religion.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        If you rely on testimony more than on your ability to think critically about that testimony, aren’t you just accepting a dogma?

      • Jim Lippard says:

        They’re not mutually exclusive, but there are things that we know on the basis of testimony that are not reducible to justification on the basis of our own non-testimonial experience or deductions or inferences from our own non-testimonial experience. We don’t have enough time or experiences from which to inductively support testimony generally. Scientists don’t have enough time or experiences to directly justify all of the past results of other scientists on whose work they depend; they rely upon published reports that they trust unless they find reasons to reject them. That’s not dogma, that’s practical necessity.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        What does any of that have to do with accepting that testimony on faith instead of accepting that testimony because you have considered it critically?

  36. aaron says:

    The sentence is hard to take as anything more than a cop out, I agree with the idea of the subject being left out of your book all together… I have a hard time imagining its purpose, might as well have included ‘science has nothing to say about UFOs or Bigfoot…’which I suppose would have been mentioned if the believers in such were of a large enough demographic as to require coddling.

  37. Jim Lippard says:

    Aaron: There are UFO-based religions; I imagine Daniel would say that science has nothing to say about them except where they make empirical claims. A problem is that there is a frequent defensive maneuver of religions to turn the literal/empirical into the allegorical when challenged. The Unarians are a good case to show that there are fuzzy edges here–it’s a UFO cult, a religion, yet it also claims to be science (it’s the “Unarius Academy of Science”). Is it in scope or out? What about claims of past lives and reincarnation?

    Another problem for a sharp distinction is a claim of a miracle in the natural world–that is a case of a supernatural claim with an empirical consequence. Is that something that skeptics can examine?

  38. Jon says:

    I’m fine with that section of your book. I love PZ’s blog, and I am an atheist, but I see no reason to say that Evolution is in conflict with religion, as if religion were something testable. I think SJ Gould’s essay on non-overlapping magisteria is still the best and final word on the topic.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Leaving the section out would not say that evolution was in conflict with religion. It would allow the magisteria to fail to overlap. Including the sentence overlaps the magisteria.

  39. Tim Farley says:

    The fact that this thread is over 11,000 words of critique and argument concerning UNDER 100 words of Daniel’s fine book (and shows no signs of slowing down) says volumes about why I dislike the atheism movement and align myself with the skeptics.

    While we’ve been arguing here, I suspect that somewhere in the U.S. some school board or other government body was discussing intelligent design at a meeting, and no skeptic was present to offer a countering view.

    • ZenMonkey says:

      I could not possibly agree more. Social realities and practicalities are getting tossed out the window here in favor of a pointless debate.

      Everyone here who’s carping and wailing over that 100 words: I challenge you to put your money where your mouths are and write your own atheist children’s books. I am completely serious. Oh, and not just write them, but find a publisher, and get libraries to stock them. I wish you the best of luck and honestly look forward to seeing your positive and meaningful contributions to children’s rational/science literature.

    • Kim Hebert says:

      You probably didn’t mean it this way, but your last paragraph reminds me a little of the “why are we spending so much $ on the space program when there’s people starving in Africa” argument. We can do both. Admittedly, though, some people are being needlessly hostile.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      We are not critiquing under 100 words of Daniels book. We are discussing the content of his blog post, concerning his position that atheists and libertarians should just shut the hell up and let more enlightened skeptics like himself lead the charge.

    • Jim Lippard says:

      Tim: This doesn’t strike me as a very good argument, particularly since you’ve contributed over 500 of the words in question

      There is legitimate disagreement here, between those of us who think that “science on the whole has nothing to say about religion” is not even approximately true, and those who think that it does say something approximately true, but oversimplified and shortened for space considerations and due to audience. Claiming that there is no disagreement, that the disagreement is unreasonable, that philosophical argument is tedious, and so forth doesn’t make the disagreement disappear–if anything, it probably contributes to it.

  40. NightHiker says:

    Daniel Loxton:”I try to use the word “skepticism” to mean something more precise and conservative. To that end, I try hard to set aside my own atheism, my own humanism, my own political and ethical ideals in favor of a science-based skeptical mandate that can be widely shared — and useful.”

    You came to your atheism, humanism, political and ethical ideals from applying your skepticism to those matters. You cannot detach your skepticism from your atheism or your political views any more than you can detach your thoughts from the neural pathways that promote them. You also seem to be creating some arbitrary, artificial boundaries that are unattainable – when we use skepticism to attack the antivaxx movement, for example, how is that also not an humanistic, ethical, or even political stance? Actually, I would argue that the most important issues for skeptics to tackle are ethical, because they involve our well being and are specially vulnerable to those who are not scientifically inclined but have considerable political influence.

  41. John Draeger says:

    We HAVE tested scientifically the hypothesis that there’s a soul/spirit – Francis Crick wrote a book about it decades ago. We have looked for gods and ghosts and Bigfoot – how much more scientific study do people need before concluding it’s enough evidence? You’ve been brainwashed by Gould/Sagan accommodationist nonsense. Both were great scientists, but they were wrong about this. You might check with Victor Stenger who has covered the scientific evidence that there are no gods. Modern cosmology has offered a plausible scientific explanation for how our universe arose without any magic gods.

    There’s a journal for the scientific study of science, so there’s a lot science can say about religions and their false beliefs. Belief in gods is no different than belief in fairies under the garden – both claims we can test. We can look under the soil and they’re not there. We have looked all over the universe and there are no gods—not a sign of any one of the hundreds that humans have imagined.

    You think that section was the most important part of the book?! I thought the book was supposed to be about evolution, not about telling people to look to their family, friends, and community (all likely just as brainwashed in the same religious woo) for guidance on religion. You told them to do what it takes to remain brainwashed rather than think for themselves and look to science and secular humanism for guidance. I’d have to tear out that page if I bought the book. If there’s ever a second edition, please remove that section.

    I respect you greatly for all your hard work to promote scientific skepticism, but this is a matter on which I hope you will reconsider your stance. Neuroscience now has a lot to say about why people believe in all things supernatural. It’s understood (by science) that gods are imagined by humans to fulfill psychological needs. It’s past the time for accommodation.

    • Retired Prof says:

      You refuse to accommodate another human’s psychological need for an illusion?

      I refuse to adopt someone else’s illusion, or pretend to adopt it and run my life according to it. However, if that person needs the illusion and is willing to tolerate my unbelief and my failure to observe the taboos and rituals it demands, I would be a churl not to accommodate it.

      • NightHiker says:

        “You refuse to accommodate another human’s psychological need for an illusion?”

        I believe that’s a loaded question. It assumes either people really need such psychological comfort or that skepticism can’t give any. And it’s quite condescending to think people can’t handle such truths if they had the opportunity to do so.

        Many skeptics feel very comfortable with the answers they have (i.e. they are the ones that give meaning to their lives, not some unknowable entity).

        Maybe most people find such comfort in religion because it’s the only one they knew growing up. It doesn’t mean they can’t be happy without it. Of course, letting go of God, to paraphrase Sweeney, is a process that must be conducted willingly and gradually, but I find it much more liberating than the religious alternatives – probably because I reached my atheism the right way, from a truly skeptical point of view, and not out of angst or rebellion towards some religion or some god.

      • Retired Prof says:

        Well, some people do need such psychological comfort. Not all. And I definitely get more comfort out of skepticism than I ever could out of any of the religions I’ve examined. Similarly, I could never derive any satisfaction whatever from veganism, cross dressing, or golf, though it is obvious that others do.

        What I meant to imply is this: not all human beings are alike, and we need to give each other room to indulge our oddities.

        We do, however, need to resist the tendency people have to advocate their private psychological needs as the basis for public policy.

      • John Draeger says:

        The psychological needs of believers for “inspiration” and social support can be replaced by the awe and wonder of science, and by being involved in other social groups.

    • MadScientist says:

      I thought Sagan was clearly in the “no gods” camp and invented his dragon hoping that people would realize how a silly notion can be entertained while not being philosophically falsifiable. Sagan was very good at not offending people though; rather than say “that’s nonsense and this is why” he’ll ask questions and propose alternatives. Sagan accepted that other people have their own beliefs, did some things to get people thinking, and left it at that. I don’t see him as an accommodationist at all.

      • John Draeger says:

        Look, I admire Sagan too, but he was an agnostic, not an atheist. I don’t agree with Sagan’s philosophy. I could be wrong, but I think Sagan was in Gould’s NOMA camp, along with the U.S. NAS. Loxton quoted Sagan as saying we can’t disprove gods. Well, I think that’s wrong. So does Victor Stenger. There is clearly a conflict between science and religion, and although we can’t disprove with 100% certainty no gods exist (you can’t have 100% certainty of anything in science), we can disprove them with a high level of certainty, except perhaps a deistic god – that’s mainly a philosophical argument at this point.

        You are right that Sagan’s dragon analogy was a great way of helping people question the existence of imaginary agents. Probably the best approach is not to criticize the specific faith of a believer, just faith in general. Many children are taught to believe it’s good to believe in things by faith. That’s a terribly damaging meme, and all those who care about scientific explanations replacing mystical explanations should speak out against it.

      • NightHiker says:

        “I could be wrong, but I think Sagan was in Gould’s NOMA camp, along with the U.S. NAS. Loxton quoted Sagan as saying we can’t disprove gods.”

        I can’t speak for Sagan, but as far as I know, he was as much an atheist as anyone can be. I’m not saying Loxton’s quote was out of context as much as it failed to address the full length of Sagan’s view on the matter.

        If you read his essay “The God Hypothesis” (it’s in his book “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”, but might have been published elsewhere too), you will find he demolishes pretty much every religious claim up to Spinoza’s God. He realizes the difficulties scientific inquiry has with such concepts, but shows to be, in my view, very far from the “science has nothing to say about religion” stance. Maybe the reason for he to be seen as a having a milder stance is related to his unmatched ability to convey ideas in ways that could not be found offensive. I see him as the modern equivalent of Abu Bakr Al-Razi, the Muslim scholar who critized Islamism as much as he could but was loved by pretty much everyone because of his gentle ways and his varied contributions to the Muslim society of the 9th Century.

  42. Jeshua says:

    The people who thought it was appropriate to include the paragraph on religion were correct. If i had had the skill to write such a book i would have included a similar paragraph, though i would have worded it differently and included it for different reasons.

    “Science on the whole has nothing to say about religion” strikes me as just plain wrong, but i realize the idea had to be simplified for children. The reason i would have included it, even though it does not accord with my own beliefs (or should i say non-belief), is the fact that it makes the book more acceptable to children of religious parents. [I admit this would be somewhat duplicitous, but the paragraph is vague enough that i would still not lose any sleep over it.] Children are notorious for seeing through the fallacies of adults. If they were to ask their parents or a pastor about religious issues after reading the book i think most of them would be inclined to see through the idiocy of organized religion. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “Give a person enough rope and they will hang themselves.”

  43. Susan Fiore says:

    I appreciate the author’s honesty. What science can say is “There’s no scientific proof for the existence of God, and there is scientific proof that the material world acts according to natural laws.” That is not the same thing as definitive scientific proof that God does not exist.

    I’m an ardent believer in both God and evolution, and not in an ‘intelligent design’ mash-up. We need to recognize that fundamentalism isn’t limited to religious people; atheists who insist they know the absolute truth are also fundamentalists. People who are more comfortable with ambiguity have no trouble believing in both God and science. Black-and-white thinkers must have it one way or the other.

    • NightHiker says:

      I think you’re misrepresenting the issue somewhat. One does not need “absolute” proof to reasonably argue against the existence of something.

      You’re coping out of the discussion by raising the bar to an unattainable standard, because there is no such a thing as an “absolute proof” anywhere outside of logics and mathematics. We don’t have absolute proof that if I jump from my window right now I will fall to the ground. We don’t have absolute proof that if I run head first into a concrete wall I won’t come out on the other side. And we don’t have absolute proof that homeopathy doesn’t work or that some vague definition of “god” doesn’t exist.

      None of those things are “impossible”, only a matter of plausibility and probability. I can argue that considering every observation we made so far is on par with the conclusion I will fall to the ground if I jump through my window, that it’s reasonable to say I shouldn’t do it. Since the likelihood of coming out on the other side of a concrete wall after running into it head first is astronomically low, it’s reasonable to say I should not try it. Since every well conducted experiment shows no relevant effect of homeopathy beyond placebo and it also defies all observations regarding the laws of physics in theory, it’s reasonable to argue that I should not use it to try to cure cancer.

      In the same vein, so far no observation regarding relevant issues has found any evidence of anything even remotely close to a supernatural entity existing or even being a relevant hypothesis, and we don’t even have theoretical models about how such entity could feasibly exist. At the same time, we have developed a quite good understanding about why people believe in such hypothesis from our studies into psychology and neuroscience. Put those things together and they’ll amount to a very reasonable argument about why I should not believe in any “god”, even though there is no “absolute proof” it doesn’t exist.

      Of course anyone is entitled to choose the very unlikely conclusion that God does exist, but I suspect it just happens because, unlike the belief that jumping from a window will not end in you falling, it’s a bet with no consequences (to most people). If believing in a a god was as potentially harmful as its existence is unlikely, or, in other words, if believing God exists was a real gamble, I doubt as many people would go for it.

      • Susan Fiore says:

        The conclusions of good science are always provisional: until we have more/better data — which is why scientific conclusions are so often referred to as theories even though virtually all scientists accept them. But where the existence of God is the issue, atheists take the position that we already have enough good data and the case is closed.

        I know quite a few good scientists, many on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (occasionally referred to as a “godless, commie” institution) who are also people of faith. Some have international reputations in their fields, and they belong to my church. One member of my parish, a physics professor of nuclear/particle theory, is also an ordained Episcopal priest. Physicists in particular seem to understand that the Universe is more mysterious than we realize.

      • NightHiker says:

        Susan:”But where the existence of God is the issue, atheists take the position that we already have enough good data and the case is closed.”

        I’m sorry, but this is another misrepresentation. Sure, there are atheists that think this question has been answered, but most, including myself, take the provisional stance. If tomorrow we find out enough, or actually ANY, evidence for some kind of God, I’m sure many will revise the degree of certainty they put into their conclusions. Who actually in their vast majority believe this question has been answered, and in an absolute way, are religious people. OF course, since they’re believers by definition, this is likely a moot point.

        Regarding the issue of scientists and religion, if you take into account that the first are at the same time the better educated group when it comes to understanding of the world around us, and the least religious group on average, I would argue that actually works in the atheists’ favor as far as arguments regarding God go.

        Religion is embedded into most people’s upbringing since childhood and it creates deep emotional roots – besides our natural inclination to it – so, when taking that into regard, it seems that the fact many scientists are religious is not as telling as the fact that many, much more than in any group, are not.

        Susan: “Physicists in particular seem to understand that the Universe is more mysterious than we realize.”

        I would refrain from such statements unless I’m able to come up with actual data comparing the beliefs among scientists of many fields, not to mention that while the fact that the Universe is more mysterious than we realize might very likely be true, it does not include the “God Hypothesis” by default.

      • Susan Fiore says:

        You make some good points, Nighthiker, but you generalize. In referring to people of faith you imply that in many? most?, belief has been embedded since upbringing. Perhaps that’s true of many/most, but please don’t paint us all with the same brush. I grew up in an agnostic household and was something between an agnostic and an atheist until I was 42. Not so curiously, great music (that is, music that has stood the test of time) always has spoken to me of something transcendent, and I call that transcendent something God. In my particular flavor of faith (Episcopal), I have a lot of company.

        I concede that those who make the most noise and get the most media attention think the question has been answered absolutely. One of the problems in this debate is that we have no commonly-agreed-upon definition of God. One of the theologians I regard highly (James Alison) says “God is more like No Thing than like Some Thing because nothing we can imagine can be God.” Kind of a koan, and unintelligible to people in both the no-God and the God as Grandpa camps.

        Some of us, and we are legion, are infuriated and dismayed at how the religious right has corrupted U.S. politics; this is not about religion, it is entirely about power and control. But religion gets blamed.

        Recent findings in neuroscience, brain-imaging, social science and genetics are most interesting. From what I’m reading and how I understand it, in people who think in absolutes, sensory data make a straight shot from the brain stem to the amygdala, while in people who see things in shades of grey and are comfortable with not knowing, data take a circuitous route, including through the frontal cortex. If we are hard-wired to think the way we do, it would seem that changing the way we think would be beyond most people. That being the case, perhaps we should be more tolerant of one another.

      • NightHiker says:


        I clearly used the word “most”, which also implies “not all”, so I honestly fail to see the point of your objection.

        In regard to your commentary on neuroscience: it was a bit confusing. First, as far as I know, sensory data do not flow from the brain stem to the amygdala. Maybe you meant to say from the “thalamus”? Also, the amygdala is just one stop for the sensory data. Such data is also sent to many other regions in the neocortex while being processed along the way, no matter what. What is the case is that for reasons we can’t go at length here, when someone senses or thinks about something they feel strongly about, the amygdala flares with higher intensity, but the data still flows through the other pathways regardless. So how much the amygdala flares up has to do with how emotional someone is about something, and I don’t see how that correlates with “absolute” or “relative” thoughts. If you could point us to what it is you’ve been reading, I would like to see it. Maybe I need to update my views on the matter.

        In any event, the assumption we’re hardwired to think like we do seems to be correct – and what we learn in our formative years develop into very strong neural pathways that can be hard to dissolve – it’s not like someone can just decide to stop being religious. That tolerance is in order, therefore, is very much so – but let me volunteer as well that on such regard, in general, atheists are far more prominent than religious people.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      And therefore you would have no need of such a paragraph. No one whose theological position did not include the idea of a conflict between science and religion would. To those people, Loxton is saying “Your parents are wrong, but go ask them for advice anyway.” It’s just not a coherent position.

  44. Somite says:

    As much as I like Daniel’s book I still believe the paragraph in question should not have been in the book.

    The more I think about it the more it reeks of “teapotism”; the act of unnecessarily discussing things for which there is no evidence of existence. In this case, teapotism is used for the purpose of accomodationism. I can see how this would be disconcerting for hard rationalists.

    Here are some (mild) labels for you!

  45. Unfortunately, Loxton’s unnecessary, uncalled for, and out of context whimpering about religion spoils what would have been a great book — reducing it to a good book (not to be confused with the Bible).

    He did the same thing a couple of years ago in the “Junior Skeptic” section. He should have kept to the subject: evolution.

    Most dissapointing, to say the least.

  46. Jim Hanley says:


    Religious Freedom is Freedom To Corrupt Humanity

    Religious parents are INFECTING their children with a mind-corrupting PLAGUE “Religion”!

    The worst form of child abuse is corrupting their minds!


    Where did “IT” come from? Why do ‘you’ believe this ABSURDITY?
    Let’s examine the EVIDENCE!
    Why not start with an ABSOLUTE?
    To need a so-called “Creator-God” there must be something to “Create”!
    But, “There NEVER was NOTHING”!

    This means whatever there now is; “EVOLVED” through INFINITY!
    “Mass/Energy never disappear, ever were ever here”!
    Therefore no need to create something! Right?
    A so-called “God” is a fairytale character, used by thieving Charlatans to enslave people like ‘You’! If you are a ‘Religionist’!

    A bit of ‘GOOGLEING’ research would possibly help improve your comprehension of the origin of WORDS, and their meanings, as first uttered by aboriginal humans, and later defined!

    Literate articulate rational people ‘know’ that such phrases or words presuming to describe how the world we live in came about; such as: “First Cause”, “beginning”, “Creation” etc. are veritable ‘oxymorons’ that either’ contradict each other, or fail to produce any reason for believing such asinine presumptions are true!
    In order for something to have a “beginning” it would need to have NEVER BEEN in existance!
    If something is callled a “First Cause”, isn’t this phrase ignoring the “Cause” of the so-called “First Cause”?
    And, isn’t it ‘presuming’ there once was NOTHING!
    Doesn’t “NOTHING” ‘mean’ there wasn’t ‘ANYTHING’ AT ALL’ that could “Cause” even a “First Cause”?
    Cause implies ‘impetus’, but when there is “NOTHING” there isn’t even an impetus!
    “NOTHING” means absolutely NO THING, NOT EVEN ZERO!
    Once these indisputable facts are fully understood, one must realize that anyone claiming knowledge of a so-called “Creator-God” or a “Supreme-Intelligent Designer” is either a ‘Mind-Controlled idiot or, a scoundrel, a LIAR, and, most likely a thief!
    ‘ALL’ “Religions” based on these lies, are ORGANIZED CRIMINAL SCHEMES used to warp the minds of innocent children and naive fools, deprive them of their pristine mental acuity, brainwash, indoctrinate, brand, and program them to be toady robotic slaves and abetting proselytizers, who will help to promote and spread this evil ‘mental sickness’ to ‘present’, and ‘future’ generations of humanity!

    These “RELIGION ORGANIZED CRIMINAL SCHEMES” have been perpetuated for centuries, and passed on generation to generation of ignorant people by the indoctrination of innocent children when they were totally defenseless and believed in a fairytale “Santa Claus” and the “Tooth FAiry”!


  47. Mike Wevrick says:

    I agree with comments 44 and 45; it would have been better to say nothing at all about religion.
    My own take is that while science as such may have nothing to say about religion, the principles that underlie science do. Science is based on the ideas that there is an objective reality that exists independently of our consciousness, that reality follows certain rules/laws, and that we are capable of using observations and reason to understand reality. Religion contradicts these principles, and in my opinion someone who fully accepts the principles behind science cannot also be religious. Of course it is still possible for religious believers to do worthwhile scientific work, but such people have a contradiction in their belief system.

    • I think there are rational principles that shed light on the god question; I am, after all, a non-believer. Those principles are external to science (as you suggest), and out of scope for a kids book on evolution — but in another context I sense we might agree.

      • Mike Wevrick says:

        Thanks for the reply. I think the whole issue of the relationship (or not) between science and religion is “out of scope for a kids book on evolution.” It opens up a huge can of worms that cannot possibly be addressed in a paragraph written at a child’s level. SJ Gould after all wrote a whole book on the topic, and still in my opinion came to the wrong conclusion.

  48. Jim Davis says:

    The sentence “In North America, most of the people who accept evolution are religious” is something I have been discussing (arguing?) for a long time with a Catholic friend. More specifically referring to Catholicism you mention the “common Catholic idea that god infused immaterial souls into hominids at some point in human evolution, or the notion that all natural processes are divinely ordained”. My friend claims that the Catholic church accepts evolution therefore there isn’t any conflict between science and Catholicism on the science of evolution.

    First, The referenced polls may indicate that the majority of people reject Creationism but not that they accept a purely scientific theory of evolution. Unfortunately the poll questions were poorly worded giving the impression that evolution simply meant that human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life regardless of whether God had a part in this process. Maybe that’s OK if we are talking about evolution with a small “e”. But I would think a book about evolution, even for kids, would be dealing with the Theory of Evolution or more accurately, the modern evolutionary synthesis and generally accepted evolutionary concepts that have occurred since. These theories have been based on results obtained through research, obervation, testing and logical deduction all based on the scientific method. My point is that scientific theories, because of their very nature, don’t allow for “the hand of God”.

    So if 36% of the responses to the poll say they believe “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process” then, to me, that would mean they don’t accept a scientific theory of evolution. My interpretation of the 2008 poll referenced in the article is that only 14% of the respondents accepted a scientific theory of evolution.

    Going back to Catholicism, my argument to my Catholic friend is that the Catholic Church doesn’t endorse scientific evolution. What it does endorse would be it’s own specific type of intelligent design. I think that this idea that the Catholic Church and liberal Protestant sects accept evolution is simply a “little white lie” propagated by the those in the scientific community who want to be able to remain religious and still continue to be scientists without dealing with a lot of internal conflict and also by those who want to soothe over any riffs that these questions cause between science, education and religion.

    As for the book paragraph being questioned I think it may have been better to leave it out if it couldn’t be expanded to be a little clearer. While saying “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” may be too all inclusive, your example “but science cannot confirm, resolve, or debunk the core metaphysical, moral, or spiritual claims of leading religions, such as X, Y, and Z, although it certainly can address empirical claims such as A and B”? may be a little more than actually needed. How about “science as a whole can’t deny or confirm the spiritual issues raised by religious theology”.

  49. Jim Hanley says:

    Religious Freedom is Freedom To Corrupt Humanity

    Religious parents are INFECTING their children with a mind-corrupting PLAGUE “Religion”
    The worst form of child abuse is corrupting their minds

    are responsible for the perpetuation of the insanity that condones Government “Faith Based” and “Tax-Free” support of “Religions” that are criminally involved with corrupting the minds of innocent children and the naive fools among us by enforced indoctrination into believing in LIES that ultimately result in their becoming mind-controlled slaves.

    Religion is organized crime!

    • Phil Plait says:

      OK. So how should Daniel have phrased that, exactly, in his book?

      Or did one of us entirely miss the point of what Daniel is talking about here?

  50. Jason Loxton says:

    Wow. The tone of a lot of these comments is really disappointing.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Jason, I can speak to this, I hope.

      In general, non-theistic skeptics have an experience, especially in the United States, of being marginalized and possibly discriminated against. Prominent media voices from the right tell us in no uncertain terms to shut the heck up–think of Sean Hannity or Mark Levine–and the Democratic Party refused atheists a seat at their interfaith alliance. The president mentioning our existence in his inaugural was widely considered shocking. I myself lost a job because, in part, I was not religious.

      I want to say that I don’t doubt Daniel’s sincerity or his good will, and no one can say that he doesn’t go above and beyond as a skeptical activist. But he does have an agenda, one that he is very explicit about. And that agenda echoes the content, if not the intent, of a Mark Levine or a Sean Hannity: we should get back into the closet.

      I doubt that he actually means to say this, exactly. But by saying that, as a public skeptic, I shouldn’t discuss certain topics because it isn’t expedient to do so–or because he simply disagrees with my view that my skepticism informs and generates my religious beliefs–sounds like that to ears which are somewhat sensitized from listening to the shrill protestations of the right.

      And in echoing the demonstrably false idea that science has nothing to say about religion he is using the very words that provide shelter for any number of skeptically addressable ideas, including evolution and anthropogenic climate change. In implying that a failure to mention god is an insult to religion, Daniel echoes the viewpoints of those who want our children to either be forced to participate in a daily prayer of fealty.

      So the discussion occurs in this space, as part of a larger fight for recognition and equal rights. And because Daniel is a prominent skeptic, there’s a sense of betrayal, as if he had gone over to the crazy side..

      So this is a very contentious issue, and tempers flare.

      • John Greg says:

        I think you have made some good and insighful points in that comment Seth. Thanks for that.

  51. Stephen Buck says:

    I find it difficult to purchase this book because it does science a major disservice with the statement “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.” If this is a book about science, then it should really be about science, require true understanding of science, which requires a thorough understanding of religious claims….and most of those claims are indeed assertions about the natural world, and are therefore testable, and while some may not be falsifiable, they are indeed unsupportable by evidence that does exist.

    Remove the statement about religion and I will buy.

  52. NightHiker says:

    Daniel Loxton:”All we can say is that such claims are extremely implausible and well-investigated, usually solvable, known to be mimicked by other phenomena — and unnecessary as hypotheses.”

    I fail to see how it is any different with any religious claim. If you can say that about Bigfoot or ghosts, you can say that about religion. Only difference is people who believe in Bigfoot or even ghosts are a minority with little to no much political influence, while religious people are the majority and can figuratively (or not) kick our butts if they want to. So while I am not sure it’s an ethical solution, I agree avoiding the issue when possible is a good strategy if the objective is to have any positive influence on the general acceptance of scientific claims by mildly religious people (the majority).

    Another thing I see as a cop out is the idea that we can’t discuss religion from a scientific perspective because its “core claims” are not subject of science. Why? Because the least important thing about religions are their “core claims”. Find me one single person whose religious thoughts or behaviors are restricted to “core claims”. Religion is never just about its core claims. Actually, religion is all about applying its tenets to our everyday lives. And, unlike those “core claims”, there is no single religious behavior that cannot be scrutinized by science. Science cannot resolve ethical issues, but it can inform us so we are better equipped to do it, and that includes religion.

  53. OK, I admit I’m too busy/lazy to read all the comments to see if I’m just echoing something someone else has already said.

    I’m not terribly bothered by the paragraphs. I would have left them out, just like I wouldn’t mention religion in the context of chemistry, physics, mathematics, or cosmology. If science has nothing to say about religion, then I would do just that, say nothing about religion, and leave it to the reader to ask/figure out why religion wasn’t mentioned.

    If the reader wants to credit a deity with the big bang or the strong nuclear force, they are free to do so. (against reason, in my opinion)

    Science has nothing to say about religious belief other than there is no logical, scientific support for it.

    The most problematic line to me is: “Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions.”

    There’s a good chance that those people would not be the best people to talk to if you wanted objective or non-dogmatic answers to your questions.

    Telling people to go to what are likely to be religious persons for answers to religious questions implies a non-neutral position that religious belief is valid, but outside the realm of science.

    One might infer (rightly or wrongly) that you are saying, “Go to a scientist for questions about science, go to a priest for questions about God.”.

  54. Jeff says:

    Here’s the bottom line: Without directly addressing those who do not accept science as the pathway to truth, the skeptic movement cannot even hope to change their minds. The paragraph in question does this in an appropriate way within the context of the topic. It simply suggests doing something that we skeptics do all the time: “Look into it.” It’s excellent advice, respectfully presented—and exactly what the skeptic movement should be “moving” people to do.

  55. John Greg says:

    I think Daniel Loxton does very good work for both the skeptical community in general, and for kids and youth. I also think his book on evolution is wonderful.

    Nonetheless, I agree with those people who feel that the sub-section of Daniel’s book, the “pandering paragraph” as he calls it, should not have been included. And interestingly enough, I feel that Daniel himself has supplied sufficient reason for that stance, to wit:

    1. Daniel knew there would be debate about it, and yet as I understand it the argument he is here proposing implies that that debate is inappropriate, perhaps unecessary, maybe even specious. That not only confuses me, but it leaves me doubtful about Daniel’s motive for including the paragraph; along with the rest of his arguments in both the post and his subsequent comments here, I begin to suspect his motives may have more to do with the marketplace than with the honest, careful education of kids and youth.

    2. Daniel states: “The statement in the book is simplified more than I’d prefer….” In that case, it certainly should not have been included. If such a clearly contentious subject, which Daniel states he knew would be contentious, is going to be introduced, then it should have been introduced with a sufficient length of presentation or not at all.

    3. In that same paragraph Daniel goes on to state: “… what I actually think: that evolution happened; that science is our best means of discovering the natural world; and that metaphysics is not my job.” Fine, then stick to the point and do not introduce in such an ambiguous, perhaps disingenuous, and certainly insufficient fashion the topic of the metaphysics of belief.

    4. To continue, Daniel states: “I fought to include it, arguing that it might be the most important part of the book. After all, the concept of the book was to raise and discuss common concerns. This question, ‘What about religion?’ is, without any doubt the single most common concern people have when they consider the evidence for evolution. I could hardly ignore that.” To answer the tacit yet implicit question of the last sentence, Yes, you could have.

    Furthermore, the entire argument of that last quote, and much of Daniel’s post in this topic and context, seems to me to be coming from an exclusively, rather isolationist American perspective, which ignores the fact that in most of the world where this book will be read and purchased the question of religion’s role in evolution will not be of the utmost concern at all.

    That, and much of Daniel’s argument for this specific topic, gives me pause and concern that perhaps the real reason behind the inclusion of the “pandering paragraph” was to help ensure sales in the U.S. And I feel that, if true, such a motive compromises Daniel’s otherwise important position regarding the fundamental importance of a skeptic maintaining honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Pandering to the U.S. market, or any market actually, implies that the number of copies sold is of more importance than is the specific and contextual integrity of the book, which in my opinion somewhat throws Daniel’s higher principles out the window — in this context.

    Because I have a great deal of respect for Daniel’s work in the world of skepticism, I sincerely hope I am wrong in my supposition regarding the motive for the inclusion of the “pandering paragraph”.

    As to the argument that some posters have made that Daniel’s position smells faintly of something like Gould’s accomodationist blather, well, could a statement such as “Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious question” be anything but?

  56. Rayne Krebsbach says:

    I believe it was Richard Feynman who said something along the lines that religion and science are two different subjects. One is based in the realm of the spiritual and based on faith (religion) and the other is based in the realm of the physical and is based on what is testable (science).
    Because I am an atheist, I don’t believe I have the credintials to speak on the subject of religion and although I wish everyone on the other side of the fence felt the same way, I believe we damage the reputation of both religion and science by applying one to the other. I think Daniel’s comment was most appropriate!

  57. RealityGuy says:

    I think science shoulders a responsibility to knock the stool out from under the supernatural. Since most religions are based on the presumed existence of the supernatural, doing that might at least give the religious fence-sitters pause for thought. It’s a tough row to hoe, though, since the vast majority of people seemed to be hardwired for magical thinking as the default mode (which may have held an evolutionary survival advantage at one time).

    A working definition of “supernatural” might be: nonphysical/nonmaterial stuff that doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics. These laws govern our universe and all things that exist must obey them; otherwise, how could they exist in the first place? Consider further: “nonphysical/nonmaterial” actually equates to…nothing. Everything that exists in our universe has to be particle-based (ie, must be physical/material)–else how could it influence or interact with other matter? Which is the same as saying that the supernatural cannot exist.

    If the “supernatural” existed in another universe (a long shot since it’s like theorizing the existence of “nothing”), it could not interact with our matter-based universe. This argument might be thought of as a logical “thought” disproof for the existence of supernatural gods (or spirits, ghosts, demons, etc.) afoot who interact with our material world.

    Little wonder that the Catholic hierarchy has long been frustrated in their efforts to determine the moment God infuses an immaterial soul into the embryo/fetus. Caution here, though: God might “reveal” the answer, which will then be ossified into dogma, dutifully believed by millions as gospel.

  58. Jim Clark says:


    There is in my mind an inherent contradiction or incompatibility between religious and scientific claims because of their contrasting epistemologies. In essence, science provides a repertoire of cognitive tools for coming to valid conclusions about the truth or falsity of our beliefs. For the practicing scientist (rationalist?), anyone who claims that something is true (e.g., God exists) without the claim having satisfied scientific criteria is at best making an unwarranted claim (e.g., it is true that God exists or it is true that the tooth fairy exists) in contrast to justified claims (e.g., it is true that contemporary species evolved from earlier species). As a scientist one simply does not have confidence in beliefs absent the accumulation of relevant evidence.

    That some people can be a scientist and still accept as true unfounded religious assertions is an interesting psychological question, but does nothing to diminish the inherent contrast in the way that beliefs are being adopted in the two cases. That is perhaps why scientists are disproportionately nonbelievers and why many religious people do want to validate their beliefs either by appeal to an inerrant Bible, by criticizing seemingly incompatible beliefs (e.g., evolution), or by presenting apparent evidence for their supernatural beliefs (e.g., studies of paranormal phenomena like the recent book claiming to have validated Out of Body Experiences).

    This contrast also underlies the idea that religion and science are concerned with separate domains. That is, saying that “religion” is not like “science” is saying essentially that religious beliefs cannot be validated in the same way that scientific beliefs can be. But of course, that could mean that religious beliefs cannot be validated in any manner, which would appear to put “god exists” and “god does not exist” on equal footing, hardly what religious people want. But to give greater weight (even certainty in many cases) to “god exists” would require some justifiable way of validating this claim over the converse, returning yet again to questions about how beliefs can be validated.

    An error in a number of the earlier comments, I think, is the misguided belief that science would have to disprove god before atheism (godlessness) is warranted. To me, being unable to turn my “science” switch on and off, the complete lack of credible evidence as commonly understood in science is sufficient to warrant a lack of belief in god.

    Take care

  59. Sharon says:

    Holy crap, I’m late to the debate. But, here goes.

    It takes all kinds of people (skeptics, let’s say) to express ideas in all different ways to reach all different kinds of people. So, there are the nice guys and there are the in-your-face guys. Daniel has every justification to use his methods as PZ has to use his very different ones. They will reach a different audience. That’s good.

    Also, if you strictly hold the view that religion and science are incompatible, you close off the possibility that someday, some cool philosopher will propose some compromise that will advance the issue in a positive direction. It won’t be perfect but I don’t hold any hope that everyone will eventually subscribe to exactly the same worldview as me. At least we might end up with something better than the polarization between these issues that we have now.

  60. Up to this point, I’ve read every comment here — many with some bewilderment. Are we talking about the same kids’ book? (Perhaps not: some critics appear to weigh in on the structure of a book they haven’t seen, as suggested by comments like, “I’d have to tear out that page if I bought the book.”)

    For those who have not looked at the book, it’s important to realize that about half the book is given over to frequently asked questions about evolution (some of them common creationist misconceptions). The question “What about religion?” is just one of several common questions discussed. I stand by my opinion that it is in context within the structure of the book.

    Yes, again, this sub-section is simplified more than I’d prefer; but this is a kids’ book. The entire thing is necessarily simplified more than I’d prefer. (For an example that will amuse biologists, the book barely mentions that evolution and taxonomy are more complex in the microbial world.) Given the limitations of the form, I stand by the message of this subsection — and repeat it:

    The core claims of religion are not empirical questions. In my opinion, people have to hash out those philosophical matters of metaphysics and ethics using philosophical tools. If you’re like me, that effectively means a lifetime of conversations with friends and family and teachers.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      “The core claims of religion are not empirical questions. ”


      No matter how many times you repeat this, it doesn’t make the core claims of the Creation museum any less empirical.

      • Jason Loxton says:

        Seth, true, but a non sequitur.

        The claims of the Creation Museum *are* empirical, but they are also specifically *not* the core metaphysical/ethical claims Dan is talking about. That’s precisely his point. If you’ve read Dan’s book, you’d know that half of his book deals specifically with the kind of empirical claims the Museum makes.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        This is precisely my point. When Daniel talks about “the core claims of religion”, he is excluding the core claims of–as an example–creationists. But these are the core claims of a religion, and these claims are empirical. So is the claim “We need god to be moral”, which is also a core claim of several religions and many religious people. The statement that Daniel makes is only actually true for Deism and other non-specific, blind-watchmaker style claims. But those are not the core claims of most religions, or of religion in general.

      • NightHiker says:

        I find it interesting that the “core claims” of which the Loxtons speak are only brought into discussion when a religious person feels his/her beliefs are threatened: “How dare you say God doesn’t exist? Science can’t prove it!”. I don’t see the discussion about Science not being able to refute God’s existence at the top of the “Mass Hit Parade” or the “Bible Studies Best Seller List”.

        Despite the legitimate argument that such “core claims” not being empirical is a moot point, I think it’s fairly reasonable to say that the actual “core claims” of any religions are the ones who are the subject of their everyday activities and talked about most. And those are most of the times pretty empirical.

  61. Anoracle says:

    The Author: Daniel Loxton Is in error when he says: “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.”

    In “God The Failed Hypothesis-How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist”
    Author Victor J. Stegner says: “I demonstrated that the absence of evidence that should be there is now sufficient to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims does not exist.”
    Therefore, In my opinoin the inclusion of “Religion” in this Primer on “Evolution” diminishes it’s value as a factual “Scientific” study!

  62. Wow.

    The comments here have been quite amazing to read. I have not purchased Daniel’s book yet (sorry Daniel), so I will not address the specific section that started this discussion. I just want to address the skepticism vs atheism issue.

    For the first few years of my involvement in the Independent Investigations Group, and the skeptics movement at large, I was a regular churchgoer. Not only did I attend church regularly, I was a member of the Board of Trustees at my church.

    If I had been treated in the way that some people on this thread have been treated then I probably would have left the skeptics movement and I certainly would never have become an atheist, which is something that I came to naturally after those first few years.


    • Seth Manapio says:

      What people? How were they treated? What are you even talking about?

      • NightHiker says:

        You know… Now that he mentioned it I came do think that some people were indeed ill treated. I would say that having their legitimate issues not only ignored but indiscriminately dismissed as part of a group containing many bewildering comments to be somewhat offensive…

  63. NightHiker says:

    Daniel Loxton: “The core claims of religion are not empirical questions.”

    Such thought is not the issue. What’s the issue is your attempt to use that to justify the idea that because religion sports “non empirical core claims”, Science has nothing to say about it. Many people have posted legitimate issues and concerns about this and pretty much all you did was dodge them and repeat the same arguments you had already used in the original post.

    The core claims of Chinese Traditional Medicine are also not empirical questions. When we experiment with acupuncture and realize it has no effect on illnesses besides placebo we are not refuting the claim that the body has a vital energy called “chi” which flows through the body and that choke points on such flow may facilitate the appearance of diseases – all we are doing is observing that sticking thin needles into a patient’s body has no verifiable effect in the outcome of diseases. Should we also say because of that that Science has NOTHING to say about CTM or acupuncture? You can use the same argument in regard to pretty much every pseudo scientific or supernatural claim, many of which you have tackled quite unabashedly on Junior Skeptical. It doesn’t matter if Science can’t deal with the “core claims” directly, because the core claims have implications that are testable and since it has a lot to say about those implications Science can actually and reasonably weaken such “core claims”. Saying Science can’t refute such claims, which is true, is one thing. Saying it has nothing to say on the matter is a very different thing, a thing I and others have suggested to be false.

    I also can’t understand how you so quickly detach Science from questions regarding Ethics. Who is better equipped to make an informed decision about Abortion and details regarding its legalization in many countries it is still a crime? A religious person or a philosopher with no scientific knowledge, or someone well versed in embryology and neurology, among other scientific disciplines? What about Euthanasia? Vaccination? Public Health? Philosophy alone can give you the tools to reason once you have knowledge of the issue at hand, but Philosophy alone can’t answer pretty much anything since Science took hold on worldly matters.

    If you said the paragraph was a concession, as some have argued, it would at least make sense, whether people agree with it or no. Your position as currently stated, however, is, in my view, unsustainable.

  64. Anoracle says:


    NightHiker; You are wrong to say this:

    “Saying Science can’t refute such claims, which is true,—”

    Kindly read my post #59?

    Author Richard Dawkins also makes a strong case that ‘Science’ proves “Religions” based on a “Supernatural” “Deity” are totally fallacious!

    • NightHiker says:


      I’m familiar with Steigner’s and Dawkins’ positions. Maybe you missed one aspect of the quote you posted (my emphasys):

      “I demonstrated that the absence of evidence that should be there is now sufficient to conclude BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that the God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims does not exist.”

      I agree with his take, but mind you that he is talking about the judeo-christian god, and not any conceivable concept of “god”, and that to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt is not the same as conclude with no doubt whatsoever, or in an absolute way. It’s enough to dismiss pretty much any God in practice, but not in principle.

  65. Andrew Doyle says:


    I appreciate that the religion comment is a good way to avoid being banned from schools and libraries, as so is a necessary compromise.

    On the other had, it does seem to lead some validation of religion by listen to others around you.

    I heard two quotes which may be useful here:
    – the first was from comedian Billy Connelly who said essentially that religion is about “why things happen” and for science there is no why, there is a “how things happen”. If people are looking for a supernatural “why” from science then they are wasting their time. If more people concerned themselves “how” then science and they would benefit from advancing the knowledge of the human race.

    – the other was from Douglas Adams, of Hitchhikers’ Guide fame, when he says “are you entitled to believe that the moon is made of cheese” as a sacred religious belief. Well only if you accept that your claim is fantastical, open to riciule, sorry fair challenge, and that there can be no scientic proof of you claim”

    So, if you want to believe in a religion, then fine, but don’t try to mix it with science, or expect people who are working on “how” to have any interest in your unscientific “why”.

  66. Michael M says:

    I agree with the comments stating that this sub-section does not state the situation accurately and may be quite over-simplified, but I don’t think that this book was intended to address religious views at all, and this sub-section seems soley intended to just tell kids that religion is not scientific and to ask you family and friends about it. I don’t understand the hubbub surrounding this paragraph. Personally, I don’t want a science book to tell my kids what to believe in. I want it to present the facts, and maybe explain critical thinking to them so that they can make up their own minds. I don’t even plan on telling my own kids what to think, only how to think, any more than that and you risk brain-washing them.

  67. Gary H says:

    I *have* read every post herein, and am surprised to discover that no one has brought up the fact that evolution is not limited to physical systems but is evident in belief systems as well. (_The Selfish Gene_ discusses this at length.)

    Religions are founded on “core claims” which are supposedly immutable, and held to be the foundation upon which the rest of their tenets are built. Yet those core claims adapt to meet challenges, and disappear when no longer defensible. For example, the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe underpinned much theology… until Copernicus.

    Religions again exhibit evolution, displaying competitive adaptation in dooming the afterlife of those who do not join. This characteristic has no basis in core claims; rather, it springs from simple competitive pressure.

    Consider another mutation in a religious belief system: the Catholic Church some time ago began prohibiting the use of birth control devices. Despite the manifestly negative effects of both overpopulation and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the Church evolved a rule that favors more Catholic births.

    Now, clearly, issues such as the above are too advanced for Daniel’s book’s intended audience. But they illuminate the fact that qualities of mankind’s future depend greatly on the outcome of battles between those whose belief system is based on intentionally evolving to better understand and coexist with nature and reality, vs. those whose belief systems are based on faith in the supernatural, and evolve only to defend and propagate the belief system.

    The ability of religion-induced behaviors to produce global harms such as overpopulation, demonstrates conclusively that science has a great deal to say about religion – and a responsibility to say it. The book’s statement denies that important fact, so it should be removed from future editions.

  68. JoeAnderson says:

    Attention people, attention please. I’m invoking Wheaton’s law:

    Don’t be a dick.

    That is all.

  69. Javier says:

    First of all I would like to point that English is not my native language, so I apologize in advance for mistakes I will surely do.

    As the phrase “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.” I think its is too broad. There are parts of religion that can be tested and looked at through a scientific lens, but there are parts that belong to a different realm. And i will try to demonstrate it with the following ideas and definitions.

    Science is “the state of knowing : a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method” Merriam – Webster Online Dictionary 2010.

    While Religion is “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance and (b) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices” Merriam – Webster Online Dictionary 2010.

    Science is the knowledge that results from applying the scientific method in order to formulate hypotheses and differentiate true to false through testing. Religion comprehends beliefs like how the world was made or “created” (which can be tested and proved through the scientific method), but also comprehends attitudes on accepted behaviour like the ten commandments (which can be judged right or wrong but cannot be fully tested or proved through the scientific method) and practices like the prohibition to eat pork or pray at a set time of the day (which falls more under the space of sociological studies and theories).

    I think, therefore that Science has something to say about religion when it comes to beliefs that can be proved right or wrong like denial of evolution, the age of the earth set around 50,000 years, or the superiority of one human race over another.

    But its limited on its response towards attitudes that require a moral judgement. Nobody can deny that lots of harm has been done in the name of religion or science, but it it our sense of right and wrong and our ethical values the ones we should use to formulate a position for or against those attitudes.


  70. Chris Kavanagh says:

    Daniel if you are still reading the comments I would urge you not to be dismayed by the responses. Sure you have a few people decrying your right to the title of skeptic but I think the majority of responses are in fact much more reasonable. Most people seem to be clearly praising your book and the work you have done while at the same time detailing the specific reasons why they disagree with the position you presented on religion/science. Debate and even heated debate is not a bad thing and I think it is also to be expected when you make a post dedicated to discussing a controversial topic.

    However, you should not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of posters here think that overall you have done an excellent job with your book. The fact that they disagree with one paragraph and are detailing their objections to that specific paragraph may make it appear as if the community is being overly critical but I think this would be a misinterpretation of the responses. Most folks aren’t calling for your skeptic badge or declaring that they will never let their kids read your book instead they are reasonably arguing against your position and isn’t that what you would expect from skeptics?

    For me, the overall issue remains that science and in particular the cognitive science of religion has a lot to say about religion and religious belief and consequently I don’t believe that “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” is an accurate statement. This problem is also compounded by the fact that almost every religion in the most popular forms includes many empirical claims which science does in fact directly speak to. However, I feel that you acknowledged all of this in your post when you said:

    “The sociology and biology of belief are valid areas of inquiry, and religiously-flavored empirical claims like weeping statues may of course be investigated by science”

    So I don’t quite understand why in your replies you seem to be taking a harder defensive stance. Don’t you agree that the cognitive science of religion has a lot to say about the potential cognitive mechanisms underlying religious belief? Don’t you agree that popular miracles such as religious figures appearing in toast can be explained better by studied features of our psychology? I think you would agree on both points and so in actual fact I agree with many of the commentators above though I may be wrong and I’d be interested in your reply.

    Anyway, just to make this a bit longer… don’t get disheartened by this debate. The vast majority of us love your work and the fact that you can encourage such passionate debate is not something to feel depressed by. Apathy might seem like it would be more appealing after hundreds of replies but if I had wrote this article I would be impressed with you how many people were willing to read and engage with what I had said! So keep up the good work!!!

    • Chris: Thanks for the kind words. In answer to your question, I believe my position on this is consistent: all empirical claims are in scope for science, whether there are religious implications or not; on the other hand, metaphysics, ethics, and spirituality are not in scope for science. (I personally have opinions about all of those philosophical topics — science-informed, yes, but philosophical opinions all the same.)

      One source of friction in this thread seems to be a disagreement over whether or not religious claims are mostly empirical. I was not being coy when I commented above that “It depends what we mean by the phrases ‘science as a whole’ and ‘religion.'” If “religion” comprises mostly claims that science is unable to resolve, the controversial sentence in the book is approximately accurate (as I contend). If religion is mostly a set of empirical claims, then my critics have raised a fair objection.

      Regional perspective may account for part of the difference in opinion on this point. In highly secular British Columbia, where this book was written, it’s common for parents of school-aged children to have religious beliefs that entail no empirical claims at all: god exists; god wants us to be good; good people may look forward to an afterlife. Defined like that, the sentence in the book is highly accurate.

      Those who live in areas where it is more common to assert that religious creation stories are literal historical accounts will have a different perspective. I’d offer a couple of thoughts about this:

      Throughout the book (which I hope critics will have reviewed) I unhesitatingly defer to current science on all empirical topics. After all, it’s a book about evolution. Moreover, I go the extra step of directly refuting several pseudoscientific misconceptions that creationists commonly raise. It can hardly be said that I cede empirical ground to religion.

      But I stand by my view that the core beliefs of most religions are not in conflict with science, because science cannot investigate those claims. Whether we consider original sin, omnibenevolence, redemption through sacrifice, karma, reincarnation, purity codes, heaven, hell, souls, gods, divine ordination for natural law, divine judgement, personal meaning, or many other core claims of many religions, we’re looking at ideas that science cannot confirm or falsify. These are matters of individual faith or conscience, and they are simply not my business as a science writer. People should, as I suggest in the book, discuss such religious and philosophical questions with anyone in their lives who they think may have relevant insight. In my role as a science writer, that’s the best I can recommend — because this area “isn’’t something science can help with.”

      I remain satisfied with the accuracy of this passage of the book, and I doubt I will get a chance to revise it in the future. But as an exercise, I throw it out there: can someone come up with a way to rephrase that sentence so that it is more accurate, while being equally brief, while being sufficiently clear and jargon-free for kids, while retaining the meaning I intend?

      • Chris Kavanagh says:

        I missed your previous response so sorry for some of the repetition in my reply but in terms of an alternative how about…

        “This is a question people often ask when wondering about evolution. They want to connect the discoveries of science to their religious understanding.

        Unfortunately, this isn’’t something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about religious matters, but science as a whole does not support any particular religious view.

        As we have seen science can be used to examine some religious claims but not all religious beliefs are of the kind that science can provide a definitive answer to. Science is our most reliable method for sorting out how the natural world functions, but it can’’t tell us what those discoveries mean in a spiritual sense. Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions and there are also many scientific studies of different religions and religious belief if you want to research the topic in more detail.”

        Well my attempt is not great but it’s just a rough example. I just think that if there was some way to get your core message across without saying that ‘science has nothing to say about religion’ it would be better. Especially because there are lots of really interesting scientific studies of religion. And while it is true that they are likely to be too complex for your target audience it doesn’t mean that they can’t be made aware that there are scientists studying religion and beliefs and that there are books if they are interested in the topic.

        It is a tricky area and I am certainly biased as someone currently studying in the cognitive science of religion but I don’t think we should be suggesting to young people that science never explores anything about religion because it does and there are many interesting things to be said!

        Oh and finally in regards the core claims you identify I agree that science cannot ever truly falsify any of them but I’m sure you would agree that being unable to completely falsify something does not mean science has nothing to say… we can’t completely falsify that the Christian God isn’t willing the image of Jesus to appear on toast but we can provide very compelling natural counter explanations that account for the image.

      • NightHiker says:

        Daniel: I appreciate that you finally addressed some of the issues people raised, albeit briefly. You remain, however, the way I see it, directing attention away from the main issue. I don’t think the problem is in “Science as a whole” or “Religion”. Those are indeed subjective and may be given varied amounts of spin one way or another. The problem is in “has nothing to say”. It’s not subjective, but very clear and absolute. No matter what percentage of religious claims fall under the “empirical” category, it remains the same – it might be just a bit wrong, or very wrong – but wrong anyway.

        The reason becomes clear when we use, instead of the original phrase, one of its corollaries: “How much you know about science has no influence on how religious you are”. If Science has nothing to say about religion, then no matter how much you know about science, no matter how much you know about the world around you, you are still as likely to be religious as someone who knows nothing about Science. However, it’s very clear that the degree of understanding of Science exerts influence on the degree of religiosity. Sure, there are religious scientists and atheists who have no clue about science. But I don’t think anyone will try to discredit the argument that, on average, the more knowledge of Science people have, the less religious they are (there are plenty of opinion polls that confirm that). How much, or even just how, knowledge of Science works as a negative effect on religiosity might be open to debate. But that it does, I believe, is clear. And that stands in direct contradiction with the phrase “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion”.

      • NightHiker says:

        Just to complement, in case it was not clear, maybe Science has no direct effect on the refutation of “non empirical” religious claims, but knowledge of Science does have a direct effect on how people behave in regard to the acceptance of such claims. It’s evidence Science does have something to say about religion after all.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        ” If “religion” comprises mostly claims that science is unable to resolve, the controversial sentence in the book is approximately accurate (as I contend)”

        Daniel, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. If the religious claims that you are talking about are not empirical claims, then there is absolutely no reason why a kid, raised in a religion with core claims that are not empirical, would ask you “What about religion”. The only children who would ask you this question would be children for whom religious understanding is somehow affected by the idea that man has common ancestors with tree lobsters: I.E., one whose core beliefs are empirical claims.

        It isn’t just that I disagree with your ghettoization of science, and with your understanding of what the core claims of religion are. That’s a different discussion for a different time. It’s more than that. Even if I grant those two points, I’m still experiencing the same kind of rhetorical vertigo I get when people try to explain why the ontological argument for God is not circular. I see a clear contradiction in your position, the idea that the core beliefs of religion are not empirical is at direct odds with your justification for including the passage in the book.

        So perhaps you could explain to me why a person whose religious understanding was compatible with the idea that religion makes no empirical statements about the role of God in human activity or origins would want to ask you “What about religion?” Perhaps the question is meant in the context “I heard that if I believe in evolution, I have to stop believing in God. Is that true?”

        In which case you could have simply stated that “This is not true. Many scientists are religious people who see no conflict between their faith and evolution.”

        And just left it at that.

      • Perhaps the question is meant in the context “I heard that if I believe in evolution, I have to stop believing in God. Is that true?” In which case you could have simply stated that “This is not true. Many scientists are religious people who see no conflict between their faith and evolution.”

        Yes, that’s close to my meaning. But your alternate question formulation assumes the reader is religious. I merely assume that some worthwhile percentage of readers will be curious about religion for any personal reason. I certainly would have been (“does Lucy have a soul?” or “what about the preacher I saw on TV yelling about evolution?”) despite the fact that there was essentially no empirical component to the faith I was raised in.

        The alternate answer statement you suggest here sounds like an endorsement that science and religion are compatible according to “many scientists.” My statement is intended to be less accommodationist than that: I simply say they are different topics, and if you want to pursue religious questions you will have to go elsewhere.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Many scientists who study evolution are religious. That’s just a statement of fact, not an endorsement of an opinion or position. It isn’t that there isn’t any conflict, it’s that they don’t see one. That’s a true statement, one that is not open to debate.

        And I guess that’s my point, where I believe your statement went wrong was in the expression of your opinion that science has nothing to say about religion. That statement is only true for a fairly limited definition of religion, one that ignores many religious credos. It also ignores the work that scientists do in studying morality, ethics, etc.

        It also isn’t true that science has nothing to say about the preacher (or the Ben Stein) on the T.V. railing against evolution. Science has plenty to say, these people live in a reality-free zone and most of what they say is wrong, about science (which you cover) and about history and about personal morality (which you do not). And I mean objectively wrong: the idea that evolution destroys morality or leaves no room for morality isn’t just wrong in my opinion, it is wrong as a matter of measurable fact.

        I agree that this is all too deep and specific to get into in a single question, but that’s why I think the better choice would be to leave it out, it’s too complicated of a question. The simplification made your answer inaccurate.

      • NightHiker says:


        Above I demonstrated that the phrase “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” was actually an empirical claim, which made a very clear prediction (knowledge of science should not influence degree of religiousness), then proceeded to demonstrate that prediction was wrong by citing the widely known polls that show that the more scientific knowledge people have, the less religious they were, effectively falsifying your claim.

        Since that obviously was not enough, let me do it another way, with simple logic and sets.

        Lets call Religion, or the set that encompasses all religious claims, simply “R”. Inside R we have two other smaller sets. I’ll call the set comprised of empirical claims “E”, and the set comprised of non-empirical claims “N”. So, R = E + N (I don’t have access to the proper operators here, so bear with me). Now, lets call “Science”, or the set including all empirical claims, simply “S”. “S” is also comprised of two subsets. I’ll call “A” the subset containing all empirical claims but the religious ones. The other subset was already mentioned, and is “E”, or all the empirical religious claims. So, we have S = E + A. From R = E + N and S = E + A, we find that R and S do indeed share certain elements, namely the ones in the “E” subset. Once again, from yet another line of reasoning, I’m irrevocably showing you that your claim that Science and Religion have nothing in common (another way of saying “science has nothing to say about religion”) is simply not correct, no matter how much spin you try to add to it. You’re committing the mistake of thinking R = N, which, if true, would validate your claim, since N is not part of S. In short, you created a straw man version of religion to use in your arguments. Now, whether you will realize and accept that now, or I’ll have to try and find maybe a fifth way of showing you that, is yet to be seen.

        Anyway, answering the question you posted above: what would be a better way to write that phrase (not necessarily your view of the matter, but the correct one)? It is quite simple:

        “Science as a whole cannot answer all religious questions”.

        As simple as the original one, but this time correct, and not less appropriate as far as acknowledging the issue you seem to be worried about.

      • Science as a whole cannot answer all religious questions.

        This is pretty good. It’s short and simple. But it sounds weird to my ears, as though science were in the business of answering “religious questions” — which is a two-edged sword. Yes, that could imply that science eclipses religion on certain points; but it could just as easily imply that science confirms some religious claims.

      • NightHiker says:


        “But it sounds weird to my ears, as though science were in the business of answering “religious questions”

        Well, that could already be said of including the whole section “What About Religion” in a scientific book, so I honestly don’t see the issue.

        And the original alternative might lead people think Science has no answer to any religious claims, what seems to me much farther from the truth.

        My suggestion is not as appeasing to the very religious as your version, for sure, but that should not be a problem, since that’s not the reason the section is there.

      • NightHiker says:

        Oh – and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with science confirming religious claims – after all, if they were confirmed by science, they would be as good as any purely scientific claim. So, in a way, such phrase might lead the one reading it to investigate the issue and try to find such claims, what is also a good thing, despite (or because) the fact he might not find any.

  71. MarMar says:

    First, I have to say I ordered the book as soon as I got my online Skeptical newsletter. It seems like a looooong time ago and I still haven’t gotten it. Oh well.

    I have a 9 year old son, and we are a small family of atheists. In our family there is no Santa or fairies, there is no god or Jesus, there is no xmas or any of the other religious cellebrations, although we acknowledge all and buy presents. However, he is allowed to go to church if he wants to. We have a children’s bible and we have books on Greek, Roman and Slavic mythologies. He thinks of xtian religion as he thinks of any other religion: as a story, a myth, a way of explaining existence. However, in spite of all his freedom, when he has a question related to religion, reality, politics or football teams, I want him to come to me to ask. And for that, I agree with including a paragraph to that effect in the book. I just wish it had said something like “if you have questions related to your family’s religious beliefs and how they relate to the Theory of Evolution, please talk to your parents and trusted ones”.

    One more comment, does anybody have an opinion regarding the use of the word “evolution” and “evolve” for the Pokemon stories? It has been my experience that the fact that my son fell for Pokemon retarded his understanding of the evolution process in some intense ways, mostly because he thinks (still) that the evolutionary process is individual (happens to one person at a time) and it happens in one life time and not everybody evolves. Geee!

  72. AmSci says:

    This thread speaks to my own skeptical philosophy hobbyhorse. Well, the skeptical philosophy hobbyhorse that doesn’t involve making dick jokes at @phlebas’ expense. (Sorry, @phlebas.)

    A while back on my blog, I wrote about the danger skeptics face of falling into a kind of fundamentalism born out of a lack of critical discernment. I argued that many skeptics, for instance, will embrace low-quality output (blogs, books, music, podcasts) simply because they happen to agree with its philosophical perspective. Similarly, many Christians are 100% sure that both Amy Grant and Jars of Clay make good music. (I’ll admit there may be an argument in favor of Amy Grant, but I don’t want this to turn into ANOTHER digression on the finer points of early ’90s synth pop.)

    Some called this post brilliant. Others (ahemDanielLoxtonahem) called it snobby. My mother only said this: “Please, don’t send me any links to your stupid blog.”

    But the militant atheists who’ve commented here with their pledges to never buy this book until the “offensive” passage is removed are making my point. This kind of uncritical fundamentalism can make people dismiss otherwise valid content outright just as easily as it can make them embrace the mediocre.

    Buying the book and ripping out pages or refusing to buy the book until someone rips out pages for you is simply mindless fundamentalism. You’re a single issue voter at that point. You’re the soccer mom with the pro-life bumper sticker who won’t move her huge, stupid van so you can pull into Sonic for a foot-long cheese coney. (Or “hot dog”, for our foreign friends.) (ahemDanielLoxtonahem)

    I’m not going to pretend I like “The Big Bang Theory” just because the characters make math jokes. I’m not going to pretend my neighbor isn’t hot just because she sings in her church choir. And I’m not going to refuse to buy a well-produced and educational children’s book on evolution just because it acknowledges that lots of people believe in God.

    No, I won’t buy it because I don’t have any children.

    Also, I don’t donate books to libraries as they’re all socialist fronts.

    Also, Daniel Loxton once called me a snob. Which is why I hate not only him, but all sheep as well.

    • I can’t blame your for your well-founded disdain for this Daniel Loxton joker, but I must ask you to reconsider one key point: sheep are really very pleasant and good-natured animals.

      • Loxton, I’m sick to death of your pro-sheep accommodationist rants. Also, please unsubscribe me from your ridiculous newsletter “Ewe Bowl: The Zine of Sheep-based Gaming Movies.”

        But while I’m here:

        Who’s a sheep herder’s favorite game show host?
        Chuck WOOLery.

        What’s a sheep lovers favorite porn mag?
        National Lamb-Poon!

        Always happy to elevate the discourse.

      • AmSci says:

        These are unbelievably b-a-a-a-a-d jokes.

  73. JIM orgill says:

    Have any of you guys and gals read Woody Allen lately? He rather wraps the whole controversy up and puts a ribbon on it:

    “You can’t prove the non-existence of God. You have to accept it on faith.”

    However, I do think the burden of proof is on the religionist. They’re the ones who said there is a God.

  74. Paul Bredderman says:

    One’s religion provides one’s accepted narrative for the origins of the observed structure and events (i.e., the observed complexity) in the natural world. That is, religion infuses explanation and meaning into the personal lives of its followers.

    Evolution provides a bottom-up, or self-organizing, explanation for the hierarchically-organized complexity of life and of social systems. As such, evolution deals only with the upper hierarchies of the entire realm of bottom-up hierarchically-organized complexity, which has its roots at the subatomic level, or below. It’s hierarchical all the way down!

    This appropriately broadened scientific scenario is, thus, an inverted paradigm to that of almost all religions. The latter generally assume, a priori, the ultimate in complexity — a creator deity — as the designer of all observed complexity.

    Since, no attempt is generally made to explain the origin of this (preexisting) supernatural deity, it forms the starting axiom or basic assumption of the hypothesis — that which is assumed or taken as a given. Thus, religion is a top-down explanatory hypothesis without any detailed explanatory power. All observed complexity has its mysterious origins in that which is assumed in the primary axiom of the hypothesis. (This is the ‘God did it’ answer to the question at hand.)

    If you can abide simultaneously these two diametrically opposed hypotheses for the origins of the hierarchically-organized natural world, then you can view the world as a place where the two — science and religion — can comfortably coexist. Not everyone will be able to do this, without troubling cognitive dissonance.

  75. stargazer9915 says:

    What’s the record for most responses to a topic on this site?

  76. Jim Clark says:

    Hi again

    In an earlier comment, I emphasized what I thought to be the primary conflict between religion and science (epistemolology), specifically, the elaborate criteria that science has developed for determining the validity of claims, criteria generally omitted from religious claims. Relevant to this, I think that one problem with Daniel’s statement about religion and science being separate questions is that this assumes that religious people generally maintain their beliefs absent reason or evidence. To the contrary, I suspect that if one was to ask a religious person why they believe in the existence of god, they would start to provide you with reasons, such as: biblical claims, logical arguments (someone must have created the universe or guided evolution), anecdotes (Aunt Jane’s cancer went into remission when we all prayed for her), appeals to authority (preferably famous scientists, such as Einstein believed in god, Darwin recanted on his deathbed), transcendental experiences, and so on. Daniel’s version of non-overlapping magisteria, like Gould’s, perhaps only works for people who say something like “I believe in god because I believe in god.” Once people start providing reasons for their beliefs, science (and its hand-maiden, reason; or perhaps science is the hand-maiden to reason) enter the picture.

    It is perhaps relevant to know that at least one study from Cornell has surveyed evolutionary biologists about the NOMA view, and a tiny minority (8%) endorsed that position. Here’s one account:,y.0,no.,content.true,page.1,css.print/issue.aspx

    I don’t know if scientists more generally have been surveyed about NOMA, but I would think it prudent for advocates for science to be careful about advancing views that scientists themselves do not accept and might even have rejected.

    Take care

  77. Tressa says:

    As the book’s subject was the theory of evolution I do not see why religion needed to be mentioned at all (and yes, I’d substitute atheism for religion in that sentence as well).

  78. Morty Causa says:

    As for what sort of disclaimer would be appropriate, assuming any at all is, you might want to consider simply sticking to the boundaries you set for your book and not pronounce (without explanation) on the limits of science. Something like:

    “Any questions you have about how evolution and science affect and relate to religious claims are outside the scope of my work here.” [This way it's not about what science can or can’t do, has or hasn’t done, with regard to religion, or even what religion is or isn’t; instead, it is strictly about what you have done and not done--the focus, and thus the necessary limits, of your book.] You might add if you have the space: “This doesn’t mean that your questions should or shouldn’t be pursued; it just means that they are best saved for another time and place.”

  79. danielresnak says:

    You know, I had some ideas on a kids’ book that would try to lead kids to a scientific view of biology, but to get it into any school libraries I’d have to make any mention of religion at least somewhat respectful.

    From this debate it’s obvious that I will only earn the scorn of the skeptical community. So I won;t bother to try. Atheist Puritans win; it’s all or nothing.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      You’ve missed the point, danielresnak. No one has suggested that Daniel should have made any statements that were not respectful of religion. We are suggesting that he should not have said something that is not true in a misguided attempt to appease religion.

      • Daniel…should not have said something that is not true in a misguided attempt to appease religion.

        The content of my statement has turned out to be controversial; whether it should have been included is a question about which you are entitled to form your own opinions. Everyone knows where I stand on both questions; no one is obligated to agree.

        But I’m getting very tired of being told what I was “attempting” to do, or what I “really meant.” One last time: I said what I think. Simplified, yes; courteous, yes; but not “a misguided attempt to appease religion.”

        I’ve been very clear about this. Please do me the courtesy of assuming good faith.

      • annoyedtoo says:

        Exactly….I’m disheartened by the fact that so many here cannot take you at your word and tolerate a different position from their own.

        I have to say that I see these “debates” as having a lot in common with the debates I used to see over minor theological points when I was a religious person. In both worlds, so many seem unable to see that a reasonable person could hold a differing opinion in good faith…any deviation must be due to nefarious plans at worst or cowardice at best.

        This doctrinaire brittleness of thought is not going to help the cause of spreading science and skepticism; it’s going to turn people off. Case in point: I’ve become much less involved in the “skeptical movement” than I was when I first left religion, largely because I see the same kind of infighting I saw in the religious community. This pedantic, literalist, picayune dissection of every statement eats away at goodwill until people who actually agree on virtually everything feel uncomfortable discussing anything.

        I still work to support science, but not from within the movement…it’s just too much like the Southern Baptist Convention at times.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        You misunderstand the argument, annoyed. I have no problem with Daniel’s opinions. The problem comes up because people like you, with phrases like “fundamentalist atheists” are not tolerating people who disagree with you. And neither is Daniel, for example, read his essay on “Never say anything that isn’t correct.”

        No one is saying that Daniel must discuss atheism, what we’re saying is that it is not honest to pretend that skepticism or science have nothing whatsoever to say about religion.

        You are making up this concept of fundamentalist atheists in the skeptic movement and pigeonholing people like me into it. But the shoe does not fit.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        ” One last time: I said what I think. Simplified, yes; courteous, yes; but not “a misguided attempt to appease religion.””

        Fair enough. In that case, what you think is incorrect. Not because I say so, but in the same sense that I would be incorrect if I thought that the average radius of Saturn’s orbit was smaller than the average radius of Earth’s.

        There are those that will continue to call me intolerant for saying this, but they would of course not call me intolerant if I insisted that those who claimed that Saturn had the smaller radius were wrong. So I will attempt to show that these two positions are equivalent.

        The core claims of many religions include the inerrancy of their holy books. Specifically, Christianity and Mormon Christianity both insist that their books contain true and specific accounts of historical events. However, Historical research and archeology have shown us that these accounts are in fact neither specific nor accurate. Odds are excellent that there were no iron age civilizations in Northern America in the Common era, and it seems that the Exodus never actually happened. Therefore, Archeology (a science) is in conflict with the core claim of a religion (the bible/book of mormon is inerrant).

        Thus, science has at least one thing to say about at least two religions and therefore your position–regardless of the strength of your conviction–is in error.

  80. David Bortin says:

    Whew! That’s a lot of opinions. I confess I’ve only taken time to skim through them all a couple of times. But one common thread that strikes me is the consistent misuse of “religion” as a synonym for “theology”. Etymologically, religion derives from the concept of “binding together”.

    I’m a scientist (professionally, semi-retired, but philosophically, cradle-to-crematorium), a Skeptic, a committed truth-seeker, and an unshakable (friends and foes alike have tried for decades) atheist. (Occasionally, when asked, I define myself as a “Christian atheist,” but that’s just a defensive tweak on those who like to equate atheist with evil sociopath.)

    I’m also very active with the local congregation of my religious denomination (Unitarian-Universalism), of which I’ve been a lifelong member and a wholehearted subscriber to its principles.

    After many years of discussion and contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the rift between science and theology is in many people deeper than it appears: it’s not so much a matter of belief and approach to finding truth, as a matter of value systems; of prioritizing the value of truth and understanding (very high for me), relative to that of other values, such as conformity. And while there are obviously occasions when it’s important to defend one’s own values and challenge those of others (or at least to challenge the conduct apparently inspired by their different values), it’s futile to argue for one path to truth over another when truth isn’t really the issue. And in matters of theology, I haven’t the need, the desire, or the right to question the value systems of others.

    As one of the Unitarian-Universalist principles to which I referred, I prefer to accept others as they are, and to appreciate and grow from the diversity of ideas that surround me, rather than to try to reshape them in my image.

    • annoyedtoo says:

      And I’ll bet you’ve given a lot of people a good impression of athesits and skeptics, and likely started a few people down the road to rationality…by NOT being a fundamentalist atheist.

      Good for you!

    • Seth Manapio says:

      All of which is fine, but it doesn’t actually speak to the point. Science has quite a lot to say about religion when that religion makes claims that might even theoretically be linked to evolution. Evolution was the topic of Daniel’s book, and that is the context in which he makes his statement. That makes his statement inaccurate. All that anyone is saying about that is that he probably should have left the section out rather than say something that isn’t true.

      • annoyedtoo says:

        Fine. You win logically, but we win actually-teaching-people-about-science-wise.

        You are the logical swinging-dick and can crow about how you were semantically the most accurate. Enjoy!

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Actually, I win teaching people about science, since that’s what I do for a living. I just don’t feel the need to discuss religion in the classroom. So actually, I win in both cases, and I will enjoy. Thanks!

        The problem of course is that I’m not interested in “winning”. Apparently, to you, this is a subject of passing interest, a rhetorical exercise in which you bow out when faced with superior reasoning. I find that odd, because to me, discussion is an opportunity for learning and growth. It seems rather unskeptical of you to say to me that, while I’m clearly right, you will continue to believe what you did before our conversation. You seem obscurely proud of being someone who is incapable of changing his mind even when he knows he cannot support his beliefs with either reason or logic.

      • John Greg says:

        Seth, any day now someone is going to along and accuse you of being pedantic and insistent upon specific and accurate language, specific and accurate word defintions, consistency in argument, and other such inconvenient heresies.

      • annoyedtoo says:

        Oh please. You’ve shown no flexibility or growth, only fierce attacks and a determination to pound the other fellow into the ground.

        If you read my posts you’ll see I’ve moved from religion to non-faith, and from a Dawkins-like hostility to a realization that the best way to spread non-faith is simply to teach science and accept that we are wired to believe some crazy things. Obviously I’m capable of changing my mind.

        The problem here is that you are accusing an author of dishonesty because you don’t agree with him…demanding that he say what you wish he’d said, and obscurely proud of assuming the worst of him.

        The funny thing is that unless you teach in a private school or a very progressive urban school, you probably can’t attack religion directly in your classes. Yet you are probably doing more to spread rational thought there than anyone on all these forums and threads. I hope and assume you are warmer and friendlier in person than on this board.

        I’m now going to go away, not because I feel that your “superior reasoning” has convinced me that you “are clearly right” (arrogant much?), but because I have a life and have wasted too much time here.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        “You’ve shown no flexibility or growth, only fierce attacks and a determination to pound the other fellow into the ground.”

        This is a favorite loser out of mine, by the way. It’s very hard to tell when you’ve truly won an internet debate, but for me, when someone starts complaining that you’re too tough an opponent for them, even after they’ve tried insults and sarcasm, that’s a total whuppin’.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Annoyed, you yourself granted that I was right and you were wrong. It isn’t my fault that you now regret doing so.

  81. John H. says:

    I started to post this in response to the announcement of award you’ve been nominated for (for the book), but thought this thread was a more appropriate place. (Better late, than never.) I’m very glad to read of the accolades you’re garnering. My only quibble might be that your discussions of evolution rest on scientific consensus, and statements to the effect that “science can’t tell us what those discoveries mean in a spiritual sense” is opinion.

    Of course, I am not denying anyone an opinion, but a book on science should really be careful about espousing opinions, the author’s or otherwise. But that said, I think you’re probably right, because our spirituality is not of a naturalistic origin. Is it? But of course, now I’m left wondering how such magnificent spiritual stuff came into being in the first place.

    • Somite says:

      Science has nothing to say about the “spiritual” only because there is no evidence there is anything “spiritual” to begin with. Statements like that are just a trick of language that accomodationism uses to not scare the “flock”.