bookmark_borderAtheist Atrocities?

I notice that some comments on recent posts have resurrected the old canard about atheism being responsible for some of history’s worst atrocities. The argument goes like this: Communists committed horrible atrocities. Communits were atheists. Therefore atheism is to blame for horrible atrocities. Prof. Alister McGrath of Oxford Univbersity makes this claim in his book The Twilight of Atheism, Doubleday, 2004. I responded to it at length in my essay “Atheism: Twilight or Dawn?” in The Future of Atheism, edited by Robert B. Stewart, Fortress Press, 2008. Below is a long quote from my essay (pp. 54-57).

According to McGrath’s analysis…atheism’s partnership with Marxism became a deal with the devil when communism, and hence atheism, became the established, and exclusive, ideology of repressive regimes:

“The appeal of atheism to generations lay in its offer of liberation. It promised to liberate the enslaved and exploited masses from their cruel oppression by the state and church. Yet wherever atheism became the establishment, it demonstrated a ruthlessness and lack of toleration that destroyed its credentials as a liberator. The Promethean liberator had turned nasty (McGrath, 2004b p. 234).”

Indeed, McGrath says, the collapse of Soviet communism forced the world to confront the genuine nastiness of atheism:

“The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did more than allow inhabitants of the Soviet bloc access to the West; it also paved the way for Western scholars to inspect the archives of the Soviet Union and its allies. The opening of the Soviet archives led to revelations that ended any notion that atheism was a gracious, gentle, and generous world view…Communism was a ‘tragedy of planetary dimensions’ with a grand total of victims variously estimated…at 85 and 100 million—far in excess of those murdered under Nazism (McGrath, 2004b pp. 232-233).”

But, of course, precisely the same sort of argument could cite the actions of the 9/11 hijackers to discredit theism. The 9/11 hijackers were, to a man, devout theists, but the obvious reply would be that the impetus behind their atrocious acts was not theism per se, but their adherence to a particularly fanatical brand of Islamic fundamentalism. Precisely the same kind of retort could be given to McGrath’s argument. Unless he shows, which he hasn’t, that the communists committed their atrocities qua atheist, that is, that is was their atheism that inspired their murderous rancor, the argument fails. In fact, of course, Marxism/Leninism and Maoism were irrational ideologies that became objects of fanatical, indeed, “religious” devotion for many of their adherents. If theism can take on poisonous and destructive forms without thereby discrediting theistic belief in general, precisely the same should be said of atheism.

McGrath errs in identifying atheism as a “worldview.” From the mere fact that one is an atheist very little else can be inferred. Atheists can be political fascists, conservatives, libertarians, liberals, communitarians, anarchists, or radicals. Their philosophical views can be pragmatist, empiricist, rationalist, idealist, existentialist, postmodernist, feminist, or almost anything else. As cases in point, Antony Flew and Kai Nielsen have been two of the most outspoken atheists among recent analytical philosophers. Their critiques of theism often are nearly identical in content. Yet Flew was a staunch Thatcherite Tory and Nielsen is a dedicated Marxist. Atheism, whether it is taken as the claim that belief in God is false or incoherent or unjustified, just does not have sufficient content to constitute a worldview.

Naturalistic humanism is a worldview, and most present-day atheists are probably naturalistic humanists. Humanists claim no more affinity with Joseph Stalin than do Southern Baptists. Indeed, some of the most damning indictments of Stalinism were written by humanists such as George Orwell and atheists like Arthur Koestler. Bertrand Russell is just as emphatic in “Why I am not a Communist” as in “Why I am not a Christian.” Humanist intellectuals and activists have a long and honorable record of opposing dictatorships of the left and the right, standing against oppression whether conducted by ayatollahs or commissars. Christian churches, let us recall, have far too often winked at right-wing autocrats, just as long as they were friendly to the interests of the Church hierarchy. To mention just one of many possible examples, during his long dictatorship over Spain, Franco enjoyed the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the Roman Catholic Church…

Could Prof. McGrath respond with a tu quoque and argue that atheism…[has] a natural propensity to grow into intolerant and repressive forms? Roger Scruton, in a 1986 essay published in the Times Literary Supplement makes precisely this argument:

“It seems to me that the morally defective feature of the death camp—and of the totalitarian system which engenders it—is the impersonal, cynical and scientific approach to the victims. Systematic torture and murder become a bureaucratic task, for which no one is liable and for which no one is particularly to blame…I do not offer to prove, what nevertheless has been vividly impressed on me by my own study and experience, that this impersonal (and therefore ungovernable) evil is the true legacy of the naturalistic view of man. Those very philosophies which enjoin us to place man upon the throne from which God was taken away for burial, have been most influential in creating a new image of man as an accident of nature, to whom nothing is either forbidden or permitted by any power beyond himself. God is an illusion; so too is the divine spark in man (Scruton, 1986, p. 565).”

But respect for other persons does not arise from detection of some “divine spark,” whatever that might be, but from the experience of shared humanity. Recognition that another has thoughts, feelings, dreams, hopes, and fears like one’s own naturally promotes empathy towards that person, while campaigns of dehumanization, like that conducted against Jews in Nazi Germany or against the “Kulaks” in Stalinist Russia, almost always precede genocidal campaigns. In fact, the impersonal, reductive view of persons that characterizes totalitarianism is more reasonably seen as a pathological outgrowth of a religious rather than a humanistic worldview. Characteristic of totalitarianism is the exaltation of ideological purity and the enforcement of strict conformity in action and belief. But belief systems that insisted upon doctrinal purity, and enjoined obedience in thought, word, and deed did not enter the world with the rise of naturalism and humanism. Such systems are the legacy of belief in One God, One Creed, One Church, and One Law. Paganism had no concept of heresy or apostasy for the simple reason that it had no creed. A classical Greek could join any number of mystery cults without raising questions about his or her devotion to the recognized Olympian deities. Pagan Rome tolerated associations devoted to the worship of Isis, Mithras, Cybele, Jehovah, and–except for highly sporadic and often half-hearted persecutions–Christ.

bookmark_borderWith a solution, without a solution

There is a sense in which the whole problem of the existence of supernatural powers such as God is soluble. You try to come up with the best broad picture of the universe. You pay special attention to phenomena that have traditionally been explained as due to gods and demons, spirits and ghosts. If a naturalistic picture ends up doing the best job and holds the best promise for further progress, you say that the gods are most likely not real.

There is another sense in which the problem is insoluble. Everything in debates over the gods tends to be contested. Many believers think that the broadly scientific approach I just described is not appropriate for this sort of problem. It becomes very hard to find common ground while seeking a solution, since whatever common ground we think we have will crumble if religiously-significant ideas ever come under threat during the debate. The goalposts are always on the move. The debate is constructed to systematically undermine the possibility of agreement between the faithful and the skeptical.

So unsurprisingly, whether one believes or not depends closely on personality and temperament. This in itself is no big deal. For example, you need the right sort of brain to understand physics. It’s very arduous and difficult to train people to have the appropriate temperament and outlook for doing physics. But also, in doing physics, we can plausibly set aside personal and political matters to engage in debates over physics. In discussing religion, this is not the case. Very often the debate is precisely over a person’s deepest commitments. The threat is that without God, a whole moral perspective and way of life will unravel. And this threat hovers over the whole debate in a way that does not happen in even the most heated discussion of physics.

bookmark_borderPeaking secularity

I’ve run into a paper by Eric Kaufmann, “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century,” that gives an interesting twist to the debate about secularization.

Social scientists have been butting heads for quite some time about secularization, counter-trends of religious revival, and so forth. Kaufmann thinks there’s a new element that affects the picture. Many religious movements today emphasize a pro-natalist morality, and outreproduce more secular populations. They are more resistant to secularizing and population-limiting pressures than traditional believers in more premodern societies, since they put more emphasis on choosing a faith-based way of life, rather than just taking faith for granted because that is the social norm. And their growth rates more than offset defections to secular surrounding cultures. So Kaufmann speaks of a “second demographic transition”; he expects secularizing trends will plateau and be reversed even in Europe, over the long term.

The basic point is sound enough. Cultures have to reproduce themselves, and this correlates closely with biological reproduction. Secular moral orientations predictably lead to less than replacement level reproduction. (A damn good thing, if you’re worried about the environment.) So if secularization is to represent a growing trend in the human population as a whole, it must depend on large-scale defections from previously religious populations. But it’s perfectly conceivable that there can arise new, modern variants of religiosity that both biologically and culturally reproduces at a high rate. These variants would then come to represent a dominant form of religiosity at the expense of more traditional or lukewarmly religious populations. Eventually, by sheer force of demography, they can become dominant in the human population at large.

Mind you, since we’re already well over the carrying capacity of the planet, this scenario is unsustainable. So if I wanted to make a really long-term prediction, I’d expect civilization to collapse, which would totally wipe out secularists and leave the field, such as it is, to the most committed kind of supernatural believers.

bookmark_borderAtheists have no basis for morality

“Atheists have no basis for morality”—this has to be one of the most common charges laid against nonbelievers.

There is a sense in which the accusation is correct. It just happens to be incomplete. No one has any basis for morality, at least not in the otherworldly sense of “basis” that informs many conversations about the topic.

Note that theists put their emphasis on a basis for morality. If they have any level of sophistication, they do not argue that nonbelievers are bad people. Instead, they say that nonbelievers lack a sufficiently deep reason to be good. If atheists are decent, this is because of external causes rather than reasons that have been thought through. For example, nonbelievers might be brought up in a culture shaped by originally religious ideals. Secular societies might be living off the social capital developed through religion.

In contrast, theists think they have an ultimate basis for being good. Their reasons start with the crude punishments and rewards of heaven and hell, but deepen into reasons for being moral that come through acknowledging a perfectly moral God in charge of everything. We have a moral sense because we are made in the image of God, from which derives our reason and our inherent human dignity and worth. There is a natural moral law inscribed into our hearts. And so on and so forth. One way or another, the oughtness of morality reaches beyond the way things are, and this is because morality is grounded in a source that transcends the blind, mechanistic workings of nature as imagined by naturalistic nonbelievers. Without this transcendent basis for morality, moral knowledge can never be fully secure.

Providing content to this God-given morality is more difficult. Conservative Catholics will invoke human dignity to ban abortion, while liberal Catholics will use similar intuitions to defend individual autonomy and choice. Just like “God did it” is usually a pseudoexplanation in the context of natural science, “God wills it” also has very little substantive content: it can be used to endorse almost anything. Calling on the gods is a handy device for legitimating moral positions, but it can legitimate anything. It discourages questioning instead of providing a real answer.

In that case, can nonbelievers do better in providing a basis for an objective, universal form of morality? Many try. Some secular philosophers favor a Kantian sort of approach, relying on a kind of reason applied by people divorced from actual social circumstances. Some look to base morality on “enlightened self-interest.” Some look to an Aristotelian approach, rooting morality in common human nature and human needs. And so on and so forth.

None of this is altogether convincing. Our moral intuitions, such as that it’s unthinkable to murder our neighbor, remain much more certain than the schemes that are supposed to rationally ground such intuitions. And the multiple conflicting ways secular moralists attempt to find a basis for morality is itself a reason for doubt. This is somewhat like the difficulty theists face with the problem of evil. After examining the various theodicies attempting to excuse the nastiness of our world, one is likely to emerge even more skeptical about the possibility of a solution. There are, perhaps, similar reasons to doubt secular attempts to ground morality.

I don’t know how much we should be bothered by this. After all, if we are trying to explain human morality—behavior, intutions, perceptions and all—we can do well enough without any secure foundation, whether this is the God of the theologian or the Reason of the philosopher. It may be unfortunate that we do not end up describing any objective, universal moral truths. My view is that we end up with a moral ecology, where different ways of life are stable under rational reflection, serve a successfully reproducing set of interests, and can be institutionalized by agreements. If we are attracted by a universalist vision of morality—if on reflection we find ourselves endorsing a universalist outlook such as that of the Enlightenment—that remains an aspiration that can command our political energies. But it is not true that every rational, well-informed person has to share our point of view.

I can see that this view does not wholly satisfy. I think it’s accurate. If the question we face is that of explaining what people do, then, I think I can do a good job arguing for it. But that’s often not the question. We more often ask what action to take, or what advice to give someone. Well, then, statements of the form “if you want to achieve outcome X your best bet is to do Y” are not always helpful. People, ourselves included, also ask what goals are right and proper. And there, I don’t think there is any legitimate answer that stands on some solid foundation removed from our particular life circumstances. We might achieve more coherence, but not the sort of grounding a question like “what sort of life should I live?” implicitly demands.

So there may be some pragmatic substance to the theist’s accusation after all. If we want some sort of ultimate security for our deepest moral convictions, well, ideas like God seem to provide just the kind of magic we need. It’s all very well to talk about human needs and interests. But isn’t the feeling of moral certainty itself a very common human need? If faith in invisible gods provides security to our convictions, why do we complain? Academics, serving academic interests, can afford to indulge in more complex conceptions of morality. But descriptive accuracy can get in the way of the more practical need for security and for having robust motivating reasons to act in a certain way.

Religious beliefs may well be be useful, not just despite their falsehood but precisely because of their falsehood. If fruitless attempts to reason our way to morality get out of hand, that can only threaten the security of existing arrangements. If critical reflection will not lead us to a stable moral standpoint, then it’s far better to short-circuit criticism and just acknowledge human needs for moral security. Faith will get the job done.

And that brings up perhaps the most important question about morality. Never mind all the intellectual song-and-dance about grounding morality. A religious person will ask if an atheist can be trusted, and they will suspect that the answer is no. Oh, an infidel might be decent enough in everyday circumstances and in superficial matters, but can you trust them on deeper things? If they have not demonstrated commitment to the group by saluting the flag and pledging allegiance to the True Faith, where do their loyalties lie? And what better way to demonstrate commitment than do something where there is no apparent rational motivation? Agreeing to brush your teeth does not demonstrate any loyalty, but agreeing never to eat pork might.

And questions about trust and loyalty are not easy to answer, for nonbelievers. Personally, I am very often not loyal to those things religious people care deeply about. Our political coalitions are acts of convenience rather than deep loyalty. If a religious person feels that I, as a nonbeliever, am never quite as fully committed to their community values as they would like, that somehow they have to hold something back in relationships that demand mutual trust, they may well be correct.

I don’t think the accusation that atheists have no basis for morality has too many legs in an intellectual context. But the real concerns believers express may be different. They may be claiming that atheism undercuts practical bases for the sort of morality that engages their loyalty. There may be a good deal of truth to that worry. That does not bother me, because I often don’t particularly care for traditionally religious forms of morality. I inhabit a different way of life. But from their point of view, theists
may have good reasons behind their moral concerns about nonbelief.

bookmark_border“Why Women Are Bound to Religion”

R. Elisabeth Cornwell has an interesting article online, “Why Women Are Bound to Religion: An Evolutionary Perspective.”

Women are, statistically speaking, more religious than men. Cornwell speculates that this has to do with female social conservatism, tendency to avoid risks, and higher dependence on social networks for reproductive success.

I don’t understand why the article favors women emancipating themselves from religion. The more obvious step, I would think, would be to adopt more woman-friendly forms of supernatural belief, not to drop supernatural belief entirely. Why, if women can successfully pressure religions to take a more liberal, feminist orientation, should they become more atheistic?

bookmark_borderBarr dialogue piece from DINA

[ My dialogue piece responding to Stephen M. Barr, from Divine Action and Natural Selection, pp. 479-80. ]

Much of what Dr. Barr says is theological. I have no competence to comment on how it fits in with his particular religious tradition. It also strikes me as irrelevant to those not already committed to his tradition; it certainly has little bearing on scientific matters.

That being said, I think there is some confusion about randomness exhibited throughout the article, and that might be worth pointing out. I do not by this mean issues concerning philosophical interpretations of probability; like most physicists, I am also perfectly happy to set those aside for pragmatic reasons. What I suspect is that Barr does not give algorithmic randomness as defined by Kolmogorov/Martin-Löf/Chaitin its due as a rigorous definition that captures most of our intuitions about randomness, including lack of correlations.

For example, Barr states that “a non-random process (like computing the digits of pi) can generate a sequence that passes all statistical tests for randomness.” This is false. Indeed the notion of sequences that pass all possible statistical tests has been historically important in developing the concept of algorithmic randomness. The digits of pi, or, for that matter, the output of pseudorandom number generators, only pass a limited set of statistical tests and are therefore useful in certain circumstances. They certainly do not pass all tests.

In this context, speaking of randomness is not purely a matter of choosing a pragmatic label. Since almost all (in a measure-theoretic sense) integer functions (or digit sequences, or any number of equivalent descriptions) are random, it makes sense to allow for randomness in physical models. Moreover, exactly all sequences can be expressed by combining algorithms and random functions. It would be surprising if we did not find randomness in fundamental physics.

The main significance of randomness in nature for debates over claims such as intelligent design is the way we build models by recognizing patterns in finite data. Randomness is equivalent to a complete lack of pattern; hence, random data alone cannot support inferences such as a causal structure. For example, if random variation and selection is sufficient to explain adaptive change in the history of life, then that history cannot be used to infer an intelligent designer. This does not, however, preclude an inference to a designer that does not depend on data from biology.

I am not offering these observations as a correction to Dr. Barr, only as a clarification. He does not defend intelligent design (at least not explicitly). And his examples of how randomness can result from design underline the point that the inference to design in these cases has to rely on information that goes beyond the patternless sequence under discussion. Nevertheless, all this does raise the question of what extra information is available that is relevant to biology. Merely stating that certain forms of theology are compatible with evolution is not controversial. But it may also be empty—even fundamentalist views can be compatible with any amount of data, depending on how much we are willing to massage interpretations of religion on one hand and proposed scientific models on the other. Barr does not tell us why his views of divine design are plausible explanations rather than just being minimally compatible metaphysical glosses.

bookmark_borderRandom thoughts

I would say that theists have a hard time dealing with randomness, but that would be misleading. Quite a few nonbelievers also dislike randomness. Randomness offends against the intuition that everything has a cause, whether this eventually means supernatural ultimate causes or a universe where every event has a natural cause.

Still, religious thinkers seem to have a particular animus against randomness, continually speaking about the absurdity of it all coming down to chance. Those parts of modern science that present random aspects of nature attract religious suspicion. Quantum mechanics is full of randomness. Darwinian evolution relies on random variation to supply the novelties selection then works upon. They create theological problems.

Creationists solve their problem by denying and denouncing randomness. But randomness, by suggesting lack of design and direction, challenges more science-friendly theists as well.

Divine Action and Natural Selection has numerous examples of what is one of the standard liberal religious responses to randomness: saying that apparent randomness is compatible with a God running the show. After all, it is possible that if we take a broader view than just physics or biology, what we thought was random might just be God’s way of accomplishing divine purposes. Rabbi Natan Slifkin, for example, points out that

One point to note is that it is impossible to ever determine whether something is truly random. One could take a string of a hundred seemingly random numbers and perform every conceivable test, and discover no pattern. Yet it could be that those numbers were actually the numbers preceding the one hundred digits that appear after the millionth digit of Pi. So, they were not actually random at all. [p. 623]

Indeed, this is absolutely correct. Randomness is, strictly speaking, a property of infinite sequences. By looking at a patternless (algorithmically random) finite sequence, we can guess that the finite data is part of a random sequence. But this inference is always fallible.

But that misses the point! Mere compatibility between science and God is very cheap and easy to obtain. A creationist who declares that God placed fossils in the earth to test the faith of believers is also achieving compatibility, in much the same way. The real question is what is the best model, the best explanation to account for the finite but patternless data. In that context, bare compatibility is not all that relevant. It’s still possible that what we thought was random was only apparent randomness, but we cannot infer this on the basis of the patternless data. We need further information. It may be that an intelligent designer is responsible for quantum fluctuations or the contingencies of evolution. But we cannot infer this from present-day physics or biology. We need some other reason to think there is a God behind the scenes, pulling the strings of what is apparently random. For example, a clear and convincing revelation expressed in some kind of scripture might work. Good luck with that. In the absence of a pattern revealed by bringing in a wider range of data, scientists are perfectly correct to say that they’re dealing with actual randomness.

I don’t want to pick on Slifkin; he’s just the easiest one to quote. There are others in Divine Action and Natural Selection who make the same error, even when they should know better. For example, Stephen M. Barr, who is a legitimate and respectable particle physicist, but who is also a conservative Catholic with ambiguous intelligent design leanings. Indeed, Barr has become a favorite among some conservative Catholic intellectuals in the US, such as Michael Novak.

A shorter exposition of Barr’s thoughts on randomness and evolution can be found in his First Things article, “The Design of Evolution.” After Barr’s paper in Divine Action and Natural Selection, you can find my critique, as part of a dialogue between us. But in short, it’s the same mistake, made worse by errors in Barr’s technical understanding of randomness. (Why does a physicist, when reflecting on randomness, not refer to the relevant mathematical literature, rather than drowning the concept in theological gobbledygook?)

I’ll stop here before this turns into even more of a rant. In any case, randomness is one of my personal hobbyhorses, and one of the major themes in my books. If you’re interested, read them to find out more.

bookmark_borderCreationist scientists

It’s easy to suspect that characteristically philosophical questions are irresolvable. And not just in the sense that there are no final and incontestable answers, but in the sense that you can’t even make progress on them. The main reason to suspect this is that philosophers don’t in fact seem able to resolve their disputes. (You might think that this indicates that a lot of philosophical questions are really pseudoquestions. But whether this is so is itself a philosophical question, and therefore irresolvable.)

What, then, to make of ostensibly scientific debates that refuse to die? After all, science is impressive precisely because in many cases, we achieve consensus and move on. But what happens when you still have a handful of scientists—good scientists, by all appearances—who go against even a very strong consensus?

Take, for example, Doron Aurbach, an Israeli electrochemist who has more than 320 publications and leads one of the largest research groups in Israel, a country that is by no means a scientific lightweight. He’s also a creationist. What biologists do, to him, is “macro-evolutionary philosophy.” Not only does he not think that the work of evolutionary biologists does not rise to the level of “real science that connects conclusions to solid facts based on reliable measurements,” he thinks the Torah is historically accurate, contains reliable prophecies, etc. etc. He sets aside not just nearly all of modern biology but history and biblical scholarship, all in favor of a cramped Jewish fundamentalism. (All this based on his chapter in Divine Action and Natural Selection.)

Now, there may well be good explanations for this sort of thing. On Orthodox Jewish fundamentalism especially, I found Solomon Schimmel’s recent The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth to be very illuminating. But still, I’m not satisfied. There’s something disturbing about the ability of many good scientists to let intellectual standards slip when it comes to to their religious convictions.

Now, Aurbach certainly would not agree. He argues that it is precisely his scientific thinking that leads him to denying “macro-evolution.” But that’s clearly bullshit; he cavalierly ignores evolutionary biology, history, and biblical scholarship, which are developed fields with plenty of intellectual rigor, comparable at least to electrochemistry. Aurbach is not an isolated case. I’ve run into other physical scientists who acted very similarly. I had a colleague as a postdoc, also Jewish but not even very religious, who was convinced there was something deeply wrong with evolution. I once encountered a Mormon physicist, very good in the lab, the kind of guy who draws in million-dollar grants, who with a straight face argued that he’d personally examined the controversies about the Book of Mormon, and he was convinced that it was a completely accurate description of the early history of the North American continent. This is a completely crazy idea, as far as actual historians or anthropologists are concerned. But no, as a scientist he felt perfectly capable of dismissing all that and certifying the truth of the Book of Mormon.

I don’t know what to do about such cases, other than rant. I think these are examples of thinking that go so far off the deep end that I have to wonder whether there is something wrong with me instead. Even when I think I can see exactly how they go wrong, even when I can see the plausibility of psychological explanations of why they go wrong, there’s something disturbing about such examples.

Weird weird weird.

bookmark_borderDivine Action and Natural Selection

The major intellectual sin of science is that it can get boring. Let’s face it, most of us bang away at research that might be useful, even important for others in our subsubdiscipline, but it’s hardly a big deal. (Do you want me to talk about the effects of stratospheric relaxation in radiative forcing calculations? I didn’t think so.)

But our routine-but-boring usefulness can obscure the way us science-types can go off the deep end as easily as anyone else. And religion, as always, is the great basin of attraction for craziness.

Recently I contributed to an enormous volume, J. Seckbach and R. Gordon, eds., Divine Action and Natural Selection: Science, Faith and Evolution (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2009). It’s fairly unique in that it gives unrestricted voice to a very wide range of views on evolution, not just mainstream science and established opposition such as creationism and intelligent design, but some that I can only describe as crankish. In one chapter you can get someone espousing conventional but comfortable pabulum on how evolution is of course compatible with God, in the next you get someone who clearly inhabits a different universe.

Interestingly, most of the creationist and crankish material comes from scientists. Typically they’re not biologists but electrochemists or computer scientists or something, but they’re also productive workers in their field. I don’t want to dismiss all these as typical cases of scientists coming unglued outside of their area of expertise. They all know how to think through scientific questions, after all, and they seem to have devoted a lot of time, even a second career in effect, to thinking about evolution and creation. And yet as I read through the book, very often my reaction was that I couldn’t believe the loony stuff I was looking at, that I wanted to fling the book across the room. I found myself asking why the hell did I even contribute to such a volume in the first place.

But precisely because of all the weird shit, the book succeeds pretty well at its purpose. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an interesting sample of legitimate scientists acting not as more typical boring people, but wild-eyed crazies. (Though in a dignified, boring scientific writing style.)

It gives me ideas about somethings to rant about, so I’ll post more connected to it.