Seen, Heard, Read

To conclude "science and religion week" here (and I promise no more of this next week)--

Seen. The movie Contact is just great. How often does a movie intelligently explore science vs. faith, and have great scenes of the cosmos, and great acting (why isn't Jodie Foster in any movies these days)? A must see.

I thought I'd left the "science and religion" theme behind last night when I watched Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains, the Jonathan Demme documentary. But I kid you not, the movie begins with a scene of Jimmy Carter preaching in a little church about the compatibility of religion and science. Take away lesson: reasonable people really will disagree about these things. He's nothing if not reasonable (but note, "reasonable" does not mean "right").

Heard. OK, I love Jimmy Carter. So what was all that choking about in the post about Francis Collins yesterday--considering that he probably believes roughly the same things as Carter? Interesting question. Fortunately, he did a Point of Inquiry interview, so it's possible to hear him, and not just read him. Lesson learned: people who argue for things I disagree with are more appealing to me the less they are adamant. Collins is much more adamant than Carter. This is a lesson for us all. I think Dawkins & Co. may give theists hives precisely because he's so adamant.

Read. Jerry Coyne's review of Unscientific America in Science is here. He makes some good points, but pulls a trick that Collins decries in that podcast. Distort what someone says, just so you can demolish them more spectacularly. Take for example this paragraph--
But Unscientific America prescribes just the opposite: science illiteracy would diminish if vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins would just keep quiet about religion, a sanction that the authors don't impose on publicly religious scientists such as Francis Collins. Unfortunately, Mooney and Kirshenbaum provide no evidence that this prescription would work. Do they really think that if Dawkins had not written The God Delusion (2), Americans would wholeheartedly embrace evolution and vaccination and finally recognize the threat of global warming?
Notice how his account of their view shifts from the beginning of the paragraph to the end. Beginning: they think science illiteracy would diminish if vocal atheists piped down. End: the question makes them out to believe Dawkins' book is the main barrier standing in the way of Americans "wholeheartedly embracing" evolution, vaccination, and global warming. Do they really think...all that? Of course not, and Coyne knows they don't, as the beginning of the paragraph makes clear.

So why say it? Why waste everyone's time? Coyne writes this in his review, and then someone reads it, and then people demand a response at Mooney and Kirshenbaum's blog, and then they have to waste their time explaining that Coyne misrepresented them, or get accused of being unresponsive...

Well, it's a big waste of time. It just wasted a half an hour of my time, and now I've wasted 5 minutes of yours. Very sorry. I promise, this is the end of the subject.


s. wallerstein said...

It's not a waste of time. It's an intellectual reality-show: I enjoy watching it or I wouldn't tune in every few hours to see who is bashing who. As to whether it advances the progress of humanity, no. I therefore want to thank all the actors in this drama who have entertained me during these cold, dark winter days. Applause for all. Bravo. Encore. More applause.

Jean Kazez said...

Ha...yes, a reality show. I find it amusing. Except it bewilders me, and I worry about injured parties.

It bewilders me how different the blogosphere is from academia. I think in philosophy at least, it's assumed you have the duty to understand the person you're criticizing. This can take a lot of work, and it reflects badly on you if you don't do it well. On the whole, the point is not to put on a show, or gain followers by using manipulative rhetoric.

I'm puzzled by Jerry Coyne--as a professor at University of Chicago (wow!), I would think he'd be beyond that kind of thing.

Faust said...

I think the internet winds up the way it does because of the anonymity. There are conversations that happen in comment sections that simply would not occur if the participants were all in the same room. Yes people in the same room sometimes have really nasty fights, but usually people in the same room avoid the conversations that would lead to said nasty fights for that very reason. Still people who WANT to have real dialogue that are also in the same room behave one way. Those same people in the "internet room" behave differently.

I know this because I constantly discpline myself when on the internet. Many times I write things, save them, and then double check them later to make sure I don't say things I don't want to say. The temptation to get nasty...especially when one percieves other people as being nasty is often overwhelming. But I care more about understanding than getting my rant off....most of the time. Some people enjoy the release of internet ranting...particularly when they find the appropriate section of the internet that echoes their particular brand of thinking...the so called echo chamber effect. Anyway, y'all don't already know.

Still recent bickering here and elsewhere still has an undercurrent of reason to it, sometimes quite a lot of reason!

The same can't be said for the serious crazy you can find on right wing/left wing sites.

s. wallerstein said...

In this affair and in the new atheist question as a whole, we run into what I call the Noam Chomsky syndrome, that is, of academics who do very important work in their field of specialization and then take up a good cause or not so good cause.
I often agree with Chomsky's political positions, but I avoid reading him on politics: he's not a natural-born political commentator. I would prefer to read Seymour Hersh, who has the same political position as Chomsky, but is an expert political commentator. The new atheist academics, especially Dawkins and Dennett, also made important contributions to very specialized disciplines, and their chief opponent, Eagleton, is a well-known literary critic, now converted into an instant theologian. Coyne, another academic. Myers, another. I'm not sure how Mooney earns a living when he's not selling out to the Vatican in search of Templeton Prize money. That is, it's amateur night, so to speak. By the way, one academic who avoids the Chomsky syndrome when writing for a mass audience is your pal, Peter Singer. I often don't agree with Singer, but he does what he does with class and dignity. Singer is never a clown.

Jean Kazez said...

I worry about anonymity too. I used to occasionally post comments elsewhere anonymously. I'm especially tempted to do that at sites where the bloggers are anonymous themselves. But I find anonymity just a tad too disinhibiting. Even if nobody knows it's me being abrasive, I'm ashamed of having done it. Overdeveloped superego, huh?

But the problem is not all anonymity, because many people are utterly outrageous, even under their own names. My diagnosis is that the battle about belief is waged as if it were a political fight. The participants want the "vote" of people who are reading, and will resort to dirty tactics to get it.

Diagnosis part 2: I think the battle about belief "means" something to some atheists that it doesn't mean to me. Dr. Freud is needed here. Why else would you find people referring to creationists as "creotards" over at Pharyngula? (for example) Why would Jerry Coyne himself use words like "godcoddlers" or encourage people to make up new words to insult people like Chris Mooney? As in here--


It is all just strange. In fact so strange that I'm tempted to think about it more, and maybe write something about it...and further derail my attempt to think/write about the puzzles of parenthood!

Jean Kazez said...

Amos--I would be very reluctant to generalize about "the new atheists." I wasn't doing that--just talking about specific things going on in the internet lately. Just thought I'd make that clear!

s. wallerstein said...

Reality shows are great and, as I said before, are a fine example of what Heidegger calls "idle chatter". I love idle chatter myself and read all I can about Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni.
However, another aspect of me would love to discuss something that would make me ask harder questions about myself and the way I live, for example, parenting.

Jean Kazez said...

"another aspect of me would love to discuss something that would make me ask harder questions about myself and the way I live, for example, parenting."

Oh goody. I think that's going to be a frequent topic in the future.

Faust said...

Well you are certainly right about the outrageous under their own names. I guess I was speaking more towards my experience in comment sections.

But yes, some blogs aim to be explosive and transgressive. That connects as you say, to political strategy and positioning. Still when PZ Myers visits that creationism meuseum, he's going to behave very differently in person than he does on his blog. People behave differently when they are in physical proximity with each other for avery good reason: violence (verbal, and ultimately physical)is what happens after certain thresholds get breached.

I mean ideally it would be good if we could figure out a way to resolve everything through discourse. That seems an impossiblity though :(