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Posted: 23 November 2007 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Dr. Neil is a great man, I watch NOVA regularly and probably many of the forum participants watched the 2 hour documentary on the Dover trial.

I am under the impression that Dr. Neil is one of the consultants for NOVA programing. This week’s episode (ants, termites and African Shamans) was truly different. It was not the usual scientific presentation, it was beautiful but far from the scientific method!  My personal impression is that Dr. Neil gave us a brief glimpse to what could happen if we stray from our present approaches of natural causes. I think that he masterfully presented a scenario that avoided a direct confrontation with American religious fundamentalists.

If you missed the episode, it should be available soon at the NOVA website.

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Posted: 23 November 2007 06:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Regarding NOVA - this being a little off topic - I just started watching the Dover case episode via internet but realized this is not my medium. So little information conveyed in so much time! That said, the fact that I have not turned on my TV in years except to watch DVDs (LOTR, Casino Royal, and Dawkin’s BBC series) may explain my lack of patience…

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Posted: 28 November 2007 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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I like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and admire his work to advance science education. I think he’s an excellent spokesman for science, very articulate and likeable.

But I was disappointed by two aspects of the interview.

First, NGT’s aversion to “isms,” since they shut down conversation. He wants everyone to treat everyone else as individuals and nothing else. This is staggeringly naive. In the first place, social psychologists long ago demonstrated that people negotiate their social environment by categorizing people into groups. Group processes are fundamental to the way we as a species function. Classifying people into ingroups and outgroups is as basic as human outlook as it gets. That is, nobody is capable of treating absolutely everybody we meet purely as unique individuals. We always, without fail, automatically categorize people into some group or other. We can’t help ourselves. That is to say, you can’t escape groupishness in human thinking.

More importantly, it is not always the case that categorization leads to prejudice and stereotypical thinking. But it is certainly the case that, with certain “isms” you can instantly draw some conclusions about a person’s beliefs. If I meet a self-confessed Marxist, I automatically know some positions that person holds in order to be a Marxist. The same with a biblical fundamentalist or with a humanist. This does not mean I refuse to talk to them, just that there are some baseline issues I can take for granted in talking to them. Why would NGT find this somehow inhibiting and balk at it?

Second, the suggestion that vocal atheists like Dawkins or Hitchens should not address the public until we’ve all figured out why 7% of scientists are believers in religion is frankly preposterous. Indeed, its raw ridiculousness was demonstrated by the very story NGT told of his question to Francis Collins, geneticist and Christian. Collins’ refusal to say that he would rethink his beliefs should religion turn out to be a demonstrably neurophysical phenomenon is *precisely* illustrative of the faith-based mindset Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris rail against.

The faithful habitually accept things in their belief systems that are founded on simpering subjugation to some authority (God, the Bible, priests, mullahs, whatever),  fly in the face of evidence and—here’s the crux—are immune to revision when presented with new evidence. Why would NGT expect Collins to revise his religious beliefs in the face of hard evidence? The faithful don’t do that. And that is precisely the habit of mind that Dawkins et al. rightly criticize. Insisting that they cease doing so until some new scientific discovery is in—a discovery the faithful will reject out of hand—is more evidence of an astonishing naivety, especially in a time and place where the failings of faith-based thinking in public policy are so glaringly on display.

And for NGT, I have this question: if you are an agnostic because, as you say, one day intercessory prayer might work or prayers might bring Jesus down from the clouds, what would it take for you to rethink your agnosticism? Christians have been praying and waiting for Jesus to return in every generation for two thousand years and counting. Doesn’t that make it rather unlikely his descent from the clouds is going to happen any time soon? If you think not, should we be still conducting alchemy experiments, on the chance that, any day now, one might actually work? Or astrology? Or phlogiston theory?  Why aren’t intercessory prayers made on behalf of amputees, to get their limbs back? Because, I’d suggest, everyone really knows prayers don’t heal. Again—NGT shows what I think is an amazing naivety about these issues.

Perhaps he adppts such a soft approach to allay a public he wants to connect with. Fair enough. I’d rather he just says that than make intellectually incoherent pseudo-arguments.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I may not agree with NGT on the subjects you raise, Trajan, but I wouldn’t agree either with characterizing them as “intellectually incoherent pseudo-arguments.”

People do naturally lump others into groups based on “index” criteria or labels, and while this has some practical utility, I also think it’s a lot more problematic than you suggest. Your very assumption that one cannot justify the label agnostic in the face of the improbability of the Christian myths being true demonstrates this. NGT clearly thinks it very unlikely this mythology, or any other, is true. That is evident from the interview. You assume this means he should therefore be an atheist because of how you define atheism and agnosticism. However, he is not willing to say that the mythologies of religion are certainly or absolutely untrue, only very unlikely. To him that’s agnosticism, to the faithful that’s atheism, to you that’s naive. So you’ve just demonstrated how picking a label and interpreting it to mean what you want it to mean doesn’t actually tell you that much about the nuances of what someone believes. The word “atheist” currently carries the baggage of Hitchens, Dawkins, and other very aggressively anti-religious public figures, and it is perfectly rational to wish to avoid the label and that baggage if one has a less hostile, more nuanced approach to teaching science and confronting superstition.

As for the issue of explaining religious belief in productive, exceptionally bright scientists, I think you missed his point. He’s saying that it is unreasonable to expect that simply teaching the scientific outlook or explaining why the notion of god is farfetched will convert the general public away from religion when an excellent familiarity with science and unusual individual inteligence is not enough to do so for a substantial percentage of elite scientists. He is asking the very important question, what is it in the brains of people who cling so tenaciously to irrational belief in the face of contradictory evidence that makes them do so, and how is this different from what happens in the brains of people who are not so inclined. Now, I agree this is an interesting and important question, though I disagree with NGT in that I don’t think it is likely to lead to any more effective techniques or arguments for reducing the prevalence of religious belief than what we currently have. Still, I think he’s right that it is unreasonable to say, as many “new atheists” do, that the argument against god is so blindingly clear and obvious that you must be stupid, brainwashed, delusional, etc to still believe it. NGT has pointed out that that logic fails for 7% of the NAS, which suggests the logic is unsound.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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you must be stupid, brainwashed, delusional, etc to still believe it

From what I’ve seen personally and read, being brainwashed is

a) a common occurrance, albeit often named with nicer sounding terms like “upbringing”, “socialization” or “cultural heritage”, and it is

b) very very effective.

In other words: Where is the mystery here about religious scientists? As I said above, in earlier centuries or in other cultures today ALL scientists were/are religious. Nobody lives in a vacuum, and all of us play different roles and are masters of compartmentalization.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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scooternyc - 22 November 2007 01:50 AM

This is a great talk if you haven’t seen it; reveals much about the denunciation of intellect and science: Neil At Beyond Belief 2006

Excellent link Scooter.  Beyond Belief covered many of the issues we talk about on this forum.  I understand this is an annual event.  Does anyone have information regarding the next symposium?  Has a date / location been set?  Who will be attending?  Is it open to the public?  I hope Neil returns.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Here.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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retrospy - 28 November 2007 12:20 PM

Excellent link Scooter.  Beyond Belief covered many of the issues we talk about on this forum.  I understand this is an annual event.  Does anyone have information regarding the next symposium?  Has a date / location been set?  Who will be attending?  Is it open to the public?  I hope Neil returns.

Yes, as George notes, it has already happened. I’m looking forward to seeing the videos.

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Posted: 28 November 2007 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

First, of course labeling people facilitates stereotypical thinking, but it does not immediately lead to it, nor does it shut down a conversation, as NGT seemed to assume it did. But there are degrees of labeling that come with degrees of stereotyping—invoking racial pejoratives is not same as, say, using labels for philosophical camps of thought. That is why the sort of blanket aversion to “isms” which NGT clearly expressed is a little naive and, to my mind, elides two quite distinct processes. Saying you are humanist does imply certain things about the content of your philosophy. It would be perfectly reasonable for an interlocutor to assume aspects of that content. If someone, however, assumed you were amoral because you were humanist, the problem would not lie with the label per se (the “ism”) but with that person’s ignorance of humanism and his/her instant recourse to stereotypical thinking.

Second, I did not assume anything about agnosticism from the mere label, but from what NGT himself actually said: he was agnostic because intercessory prayer might yet be proven effective, and Jesus might descend from the clouds. That he thought these outcomes as unlikely is secondary to invoking them as examples of what makes him agnostic rather than outright atheistic. On that model, all atheists are agnostic, because in the face of either scenario we’d surely have to rethink our atheism. That is to say, NGT’s agnosticism, on his own criteria, appeared to me both naive and misguided.

Third, NGT clearly said that Dawkins et al. should not address the public until this issue of the 7% of NAS believers was sorted out (and then told the story about Collins which showed it could never be sorted out!). As you put it:

“It is unreasonable to expect that simply teaching the scientific outlook or explaining why the notion of god is farfetched will convert the general public away from religion when an excellent familiarity with science and unusual individual inteligence is not enough to do so for a substantial percentage of elite scientists.”

I agree that these 7% is worth studying, but I do not agree that their mere existence somehow invalidates Dawkins et al.‘s agenda. It seems to work rather well for 93% of NAS cases, no? Why abandon that project? Wouldn’t the world look a lot different if 93% of humanity abandoned religion and superstition and embraced rational analysis founded in evidence?  I’d take that result, thank you very much. I see nothing at all “unreasonable” in aiming for that outcome, or even another outcome short of a 93% success rate. The two—studying the 7% and attacking religion publicly by raising consciousness about rationalism—are not mutually exclusive projects

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Posted: 28 November 2007 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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From what I’ve seen personally and read, being brainwashed is

a) a common occurrance, albeit often named with nicer sounding terms like “upbringing”, “socialization” or “cultural heritage”, and it is

These are certainly processes by which people acquire beliefs, but they are not mere euphamisms for brainwashing. I was referring to the more outrageous and extreme end of the spectrum of aculturation practices, which generally include a lot of emotional abuse, denial of access to alternative pints of view, and more unpleasant tactics than typical aculturation practices. I get your point, but I would say not all childrearing is tantamount to brainwashing.

In other words: Where is the mystery here about religious scientists? As I said above, in earlier centuries or in other cultures today ALL scientists were/are religious. Nobody lives in a vacuum, and all of us play different roles and are masters of compartmentalization.

Absolutely! I do think there probably is something worth looking at in the brain that might predispose some people to being better at or more in need of the kinds of thinking necessary to hold religious faith and scientific epistemology in their minds concurrently, but I agree that it’s a ubiquitous phenomenon. That is why simply talking people out of their religion ain’t going to work.

[ Edited: 28 November 2007 03:56 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 28 November 2007 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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<>

[ Edited: 22 January 2008 08:50 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 28 November 2007 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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[ Edited: 22 January 2008 08:50 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 28 November 2007 06:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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moreover - 17 November 2007 07:33 AM

Tyson has an admirably clear way of expressing himself. However, several times he mentioned the problem that scientists speak in jargon.

The issue of communication was one Tyson repeatedly raised—he attacked it from a number of articles.  He ended up on the point that communication is the responsibility of the educator and not the students. 

This is a point which bounces back to the “what is the purpose of CFI” thread—- it is our responsibilty to communicate reality to these 7r;s in a way that works.

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Posted: 03 December 2007 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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I finished listening the Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and I think it was one of the best episodes from POI.

I understand his reluctance to the ‘isms’, but sometimes is imposible to avoid them (Tyson called himself an agnostics just a few minutes after his statements against ‘isms’).

What I really liked about Tyson statements was his hypothesis about the origin of sciece and technology innovations: the tendence to question authority. I really like it, because I think that, no matter how scientific literate you are, if you thing that everything is done, that the perfect way of knowledge and behaviour is on the past, and that you are not smart enough to challenge authority.

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