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Good Lord!

Thus spake Hitchens:

Until about 10 years ago, the main figure in American atheism was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was a madwoman ... [American atheism] had a crackpot fringe.

It won’t happen this time. It’s more serious. It just is. I got an invitation from a group called the Atheist Alliance—they’re holding a conference in Washington in the fall, where Harris and Dawkins and Dennett and myself are all going to be. And Matthew Chapman, Darwin’s great-great grandson, who has done a brilliant book about the Pennsylvania case, and maybe Victor Stenger. Whatever you think of us, we’re not a completely negligible crew.

If you're an Unholy Roller, you might be inclined to consult the Atheist Alliance's "Freethought Directory Online." Similarly, you might be drawn to "Atheist Alliance Internet Outreach." You see, this time it's more serious. It just is.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink


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So, they are going to challenge Jehovah to pistols at forty paces?

Although I'm happy to see piety confronted and confounded, this had nothing to do with the Pennsylvania case, which was about using the scientific consensus to teach biology rather than the inspirations of enthusiasts and ouiji board mavens. If belief in God is that dependent on folktales, God would have withered long ago.

Or don't you think?

Posted by: roger at Jul 28, 2007 9:04:01 AM


I didn't follow the Pennsylvania case closely, but my feeling is that it was a clash of competing superstitions.

Clearly some Christians oppose the teaching of the theory of Evolution because, a priori, they don't want it to be true. By positing "Intelligent Design" as the alternative, they're actually playing into the hands of the Dawkinses, who claim that the alleged existence of God is a "scientific" hypothesis. It's not, whatever its (de)merits. Whether or not Intelligent Design ought somehow to be part of a curriculum, it certainly doesn't belong within the domain of "science."

The superstitiousness of the cheerleaders for Evolution is a bit more subtle, but I believe it amounts to the same in the end (viz., a kind of wishful thinking). David Stove was wont to call the evolutionary evangelists "Darwinists," which I think suggests a useful point. An entire worldview animates that creed, going way beyond the cautious and provisional conclusions which ought to be maintained by scientists. Hence Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, et al. have developed a way of looking at EVERYTHING, squinting through the evolutionary lens. I think that kind of misprision does beget and encourage the reaction of its religious opponents, to some degree. Only if you think that "Science" deserves the ultimate word on things will its current "consensus" mean so much.

Good pt. about religion not being co-terminus with superstition (although perhaps that's a danger to which it is particularly vulnerable). Doctrinally, the monotheisms warn against "idolatry," which is a kind of superstitiousness, and the more conscientious churchmen are aware of the danger.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Jul 30, 2007 12:42:31 PM

Paul, one can debate whether evolution is a superstition or the best frame for doing the life sciences in college, and that would be fine with me. But no doubt it should be taught in high school, and no funny business. Our poor children have been abundantly supplied, at taxpayer's expense (given that churches pay no taxes) with Adam and Eve. School, especially high school, is the place to learn the theory of natural selection.
Now I know you think that theory is wrong. But it is one thing to think it is wrong, and another thing to think that it is not the consensus view of the relevant scientific community. I might think, say, that petroleum does not come from dead organic matter, but comes from a separate mineral source. Some people actually do. But those people have not made their case. Similarly, in 1860, there would be no reason to teach evolution, even though Darwin had adumbrated the points. I think Darwin was right, of course, but I think education consists, at a certain level, in ingesting what other people in a given field think is true before one applies one's own method and reading to it. This is sorta the Samuel Johnson view of education. There are a few exceptions to it, but evolution isn't one of them.

Posted by: roger at Jul 30, 2007 3:31:34 PM


Your remarks give the impression of being written as a rejoinder, but we're really not particularly far apart on this one.

I agree that Intelligent Design, whatever its merits, has no home in a science curriculum. However, "evolution" is not as clear and distinct a notion as you seem to suggest. It's one thing to present it as, according to the scientific consensus, the provisionally adequate account of speciation and bio-dynamism. It is another thing altogether to treat it as settled fact in nearly every major particular, and further to treat it as the skeleton key to unlock virtually every mystery of behavior and development in any/all organisms, including humans.

Because of Darwinism's kind of "creeping totalism," I do feel a measure of sympathy for religious folk.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Jul 30, 2007 7:43:37 PM

Seems like the two sides have deeper disagreements than just the origin of species. Why can they not settle differences on those deeper issues first? For example, Roger forthrightly says, "I think education consists, at a certain level, in ingesting what other people in a given field think is true before one applies one's own method and reading to it. This is sorta the Samuel Johnson view of education." The two sides disagree deeply on what constitutes education, and science for that matter. (This is the part where someone goes, "Oh come on, we all know what science and education are, gimme a break.")

Posted by: nameless nobody at Jul 31, 2007 7:54:53 AM


I agree that the "two sides" have radical disagreements; actually I'd insist that there are more than two sides at play here.

I think that Roger's point stands, granted certain assumptions which no self-respecting "modern/sophisticated" person would be prepared to deny. Namely, granted a certain definition of "science," the Theory of Evolution ought to be taught in science curricula.

Of course, how it's taught is the rub. Alas it is, and will, be taught as "close to settled fact," blah blah. Its tendency to escape from its own legitimate sphere of investigation is encouraged by the tacit view that "science" is the best, or even only, way to settle any important question. And certainly you and I agree that view is woefully deluded. (It would be so refreshing to see a little subtlety in the pronouncements of Modern Science's cheerleaders, heeding Aristotle's dictum that different levels (or modes?) of certainty are appropriate to different kinds/spheres of inquiry).

But, to return to your point directly ... there's certainly a radical level of disagreement underlying clashes like these.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Jul 31, 2007 9:42:14 AM

Paul, I think your remarks on teaching science apply to every subject. Alas, the Devil, also known as George Bush, rammed through the NCLB act, which is aimed at creating an unparelleled mediocrity and sheepsouledness among the American masses. An act that envisions education as the refined ability to make checkmarks on a list is about the deadend of dumbness. Are we men or gerbils? So I think you need to broaden the scope of your objection to the way natural selection is taught, join the Pepsi generation, and burn our Prez in effigy! It is what all the cool kids are doing.

Posted by: roger at Aug 4, 2007 3:53:22 PM


Little disagreement there - although the kernel of the standard "Liberal" critique seems to be, "you don't do statism and securitarianism as well as we do"!

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Aug 6, 2007 9:41:04 PM

Paul, you hit it. That is the kernel of the liberal critique. Or at least it is the kernel of my liberal critique. I'm all for there being a state and I'm all for it taking security as one of its primary duties.

Posted by: roger at Aug 6, 2007 10:37:12 PM

C'mon Roger, "there being a state" does not entail statism, nor does security entail securitarianism.

But both of those -isms certainly are in tension with Liberty, which, as I understand the term, "Liberals" do not rate highly.

They - you? - ultimately prefer a new, protective Master, embodied in the state, to replace the partial, private (and, no doubt, oppressive) Masters of old; prefer that to the generalized "Liberty" of vulnerability and risk, each Man, within a wide sphere, his own master (free to starve, be ruined financially, etc, to put things in their worst light).

Hence, on my analysis, whatever else they are - Humane, Just, Solicitous, etc - Liberals are not really "liberal." De Jouvenel's limning of the dialectic of Liberty, from the 19th to the 20th century, shows pretty decisively that modern Liberalism does not consummate the old Liberalism, but rather abandons its pith or essence. One lesson to draw is that people don't really value "Liberty" that much - the ascendancy of the pactum subjectionis of modern times is pretty strong evidence of that. And maybe people are right not to value Liberty highly - its burdens may be too heavy ...

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Aug 7, 2007 11:29:22 AM

Come to think of it, this theme deserves extended treatment in a post or posts ...

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Aug 7, 2007 12:31:39 PM

Hey, we've been through this issue before, Paul. I don't define every state action as liberty taking. I think there are dimensions of liberty that state action can actually launch. For instance, the liberty associated with a secure retirement, a thing contrived in many ways by the social democratic state, allows retired people a much greater leaway to do things - travel, make lifechanging decisions like divorce, take up hobbies, etc. - than was the case for most old people in the old, laissez faire days. Now, you could argue that liberty has had unexpected results - not being forced to stay with the family to survive, old people can get awfully isolated, and the family structure itself can become all too fragmented as the liberty to do things becomes dominant. However, that's a different argument. Similarly, the government, for instance, instituting quotas for minorities in education has resulted in an expanded black middle class, which has had trickle down liberty effects.

Nor do I identify liberty with private enterprise. I don't think your average office worker is freer to exercise his or her powers in the average office, but that the punishments for free speech and the like have to be guarded by unions, or they will die. Of course, I think the difference between the state and large corporations is practically a legal convention, not a fact about the social world. Corporate interests and the state overlap.

Posted by: roger at Aug 8, 2007 5:59:41 PM

What happened to the new Craddick? The one who promised his long suffering readers that here, on this site, the opus of Craddickia, a reading of the City of God by way of Roepke, was about to commence. The house lights went dim, but it seems the conductor has fled the stage!

Posted by: roger at Aug 20, 2007 9:44:00 AM


Hitchens after Mother Teresa and the Legion of Christ.

Posted by: nameless nobody at Sep 6, 2007 6:37:50 AM

So is that it, Sr Craddick? You're trying to starve us out? Did we mutter against you, and now we're forced to wander this a-craddickian desert until the last of our generation dies out?

Posted by: nameless nobody at Sep 7, 2007 11:17:51 AM


I remember a story that you told me about your experience with a ouiji board. You told me that you told ouiji something like: if spirits exist, knock three times. Shortly thereafter, it happened: 3 unexplainable knocks. You hid in the bathtub. What is your take on this experience 19 or so years later - in relation to your atheistic leanings?

Posted by: nyca at Sep 23, 2007 1:25:17 PM

So THAT'S how Paul became an atheist... now it all makes sense...

Posted by: nameless nobody at Sep 25, 2007 5:22:28 AM

I'll speak to this issue as the "token Christian." I am currently earning my Masters in Education and plan to teach high school. As a Christian with no children, I would personally send my children to public school and encourage them to learn as much about evolution as they could.

I am a creationist and have philosophical, religious, AND scientific reasons for which I reject evolution. However, I don't believe in shielding people from information or censoring information or being willfully ignorant of the sciences - or anything else for that matter. Its a part of being able to love, interact, and connect with humanity that we learn to take people and their ideas seriously.

For these reasons, I am a bit mystified as to why intelligent design cannot even get an "honorable mention" in the classroom. However, I really do understand church/state issues enough to see the problems with ID in the classroom. I also understand the perceived disconnect between science and religion, which I personally don't believe exist...but I understand the thinking of others on this.

What DOES bother me NOT that ID isn't taught in schools. What bothers me is that the gaps, holes, and problems with evolutionary theory are not being addressed...and they DO exist. Forget offering ID as an alternative to evolution in the classroom. Let's start with just being honest with the kids about the questions evolution can't answer.

Ideas rock...all kinds of ideas...cast the bread of your thoughts and beliefs on the waters and let the marketplace of thought sort them out. That is how I live, even as a Christian...and how I will teach my children to live. I don't fear any idea.

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