Where are the Street Epistemologists?

A little over a year ago, John Loftus excitedly reviewed Peter Boghossian’s silly book as follows:

Peter Boghossian’s new brilliant book will change our nomenclature and effectiveness in disabusing believers of their faith. His book will definitely change the religious landscape.
Nomenclature refers to the names we give to phenomena.
[...]
So he’s calling on a potential legion of people who are willing to help cure believers of their faith virus. He calls them “Street Epistemologists” who are equipped with the tactics he presents in his manual.
[....]
I think that with the Socratic Method as an excellent tool in our toolkit (as he explains in chapter five), Boghossian has given the Street Epistemologist a better understanding of how to argue believers out of their faith, even if many of them still probably cannot be argued out of it. He writes, “In order to reason them out of their faith they’ll have to be taught how to reason first, and then instructed in the application of this new tool to their epistemic condition.” (p. 63)
This is the brilliant part of Boghossian’s book. I look forward to the results in the years to come.

Well, it’s been over a year now, so where is this promised change in “our nomenclature and effectiveness in disabusing believers of their faith?”
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Liars

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Getting Sent to the Kid’s Table

Peter Boghossian did his “adult/childs table” schtick on his Twitter/Facebook page:

If you’ve been relegated to the Kid’s Table because you can’t have an adult conversation, I’ve banned you & won’t be able to see your tweets

Some of the comments in reply are pretty funny:

Does anyone else think that sounds suspiciously like a recipe for “doxastic closure”?

I think tweets are what people do at the kids’ table.

Is this how adults deal with criticism in your world?

One of the reasons the comments are funny is because they hit so close to home. When you tell other adults to “go sit at the Kid’s table,” you are not exactly demonstrating an open mind. In fact, the “Get Thee to the Kid’s Table” attitude that appears to define Boghossian’s thinking is not only a recipe for doxastic closure, it is evidence that doxastic closure is in play. For dismissing someone to the “Kid’s Table” is exactly what we would expect from a closed minded person.

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Peter Boghossian Has a Verbal Tic

As we all know, one of the ways that Peter Boghossian attacks people of faith is by ridiculing them as being childish. He likes to say that religious people don’t belong at the “adult table” and instead belong at the “child’s table.” Yet it turns it this attack is just one of Boghossian’s verbal tics. PZ Myers recently transribed some of Boghossian’s comments from some internet video, where Boghossian is complaining about the atheist/feminist community. Have a look:
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New Atheist Leader Tries to Defend the Raelians. Take 2.

Tulse continued with his/her gentle criticisms:

Jerry, I hate disagreeing with you, but I would suggest it is prudent to be cautious about research reported in a journal with a very clear bias, and that reports on other research that is clearly less supportable and more religiously informed, like the “study” on Raelian “baptism” reported in the same journal. Should we take the latter study just as seriously?

And who is on Scientific Raelian‘s editorial board? Who selects its reviewers? Does it even do peer review? There is absolutely no information on the website that provides any details like these, as one would expect from a legitimate scientific journal. Without those, the “study” is nothing more than a blog post, and hardly counts as publishing scientific research. We rely on proper peer review by other experts to catch errors — without such review, this kind of report seems worthless to me, equivalent to much of the “work” done by the Discovery Institute.

In any case, my larger point was that, even if this research were reported in Nature and impeccably peer-reviewed in a transparent fashion, it isn’t testing the hypothesis under contention, since the Catholic Church has (quite sensibly) never claimed that the actual material in a consecrated wafer detectably changes. Yes, this is a very silly notion, but it’s not the claim that is tested by the “study”. As such, even if it were a completely legitimate piece of scientific research, the conclusion it draws is unwarranted.

Coyne responds:

Yeah, and it’s prudent to be cautious about research published in PLOS ONE, where they simply see if the methods are kosher and don’t worry too much about the results (or the psychology of the investigators). As far as I can see, the authors’ methods are fine, unless you think they’re committing fraud.

Whoa! Coyne won’t say one critical word about the Raelian website, but attacks a mainstream scientific web journal?! So is Coyne seriously trying to say that PLOS ONE is no more reliable than an website maintained by antievolutionary cultists?

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New Atheist Leader Tries to Defend the Raelians

There was another person who dared to criticize Prof. Coyne for promoting Raelian pseudoscience as science. His/her name is “Tulse.” Tulse made several of the same critiques that I have made, but did so as gently as possible. It is fascinating to watch how Prof. Coyne responds.

Tulse wrote:

This seems to me to be a pretty silly study. Of course the wafer doesn’t change into flesh — I don’t think anyone, including the Catholic Church, has ever claimed that (since it’s rather obvious). Instead, as Jerry notes, the Vatican does its ridiculous theologico-philosophical dance about “substance”. This study doesn’t address that, so it really doesn’t address the claims of the Catholic Church (however silly those claims are).
And honestly, we’re going to cite Raëlian research? I know that Jerry addressed this point by comparing them to Collins, but Collins published in regular journals, not Scientific Born-Again Christians. At the very least I’d question their peer-review process.

And, to be clear, this is the same journal that also published this study:

Raelian baptism: a 35 year old hypothesis validated by science
The Raelian Movement, as many other religious organizations, has a baptism ceremony. A notable distinction is that the Raelian baptism is only performed on consenting adults, not on infants or children. In addition to being a symbolic rite (the recognition of the Elohim as our creators), the Raelian baptism also has a rational purpose and meaning. Called “Transmission of the Cellular Plan” (TCP), the Raelian baptism is understood as a wireless transmission of the baptized individual’s genome to an orbiting computer set up by the Elohim to record the information at the precise time of the ceremony. [...]

Coyne responds:

Would you like to point out to me what you see as the ERRORS in this research? I don’t see any obvious ones? Or are you going to discount it purely because it was done by Raelians?
If you can’t find any errors, I’d appreciate it if you’d say that, and then tell us why Raelians should not be allowed to publish any scientific research.

Let’s dissect Coyne’s response.
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It’s Rude to Criticize New Atheists

Surprisingly, two people were able to post critical comments on the thread where Prof. Coyne promotes Raelian pseudoscience as science. Someone named “Dylan” posted the following:

The argument being made here is a straw man. The Catholic theological position in fact depends on all the physical evidence (accidents) being consistent with wheat, because it is the essence (in the case of bread and wine, “substance”) which changes. The position depends on a Thomstic-Aristiotelian metaphysical understanding of substance and accident which modern natural science doesn’t have the capacity for. If you want to argue the issue, you have to claim that the metaphysical language has no content, or, admitting the validity of metaphysics, challenge the position’s metaphysical cogency. It doesn’t take a faithful Catholic to recognize this, just someone who knows what he’s talking about.

Coyne’s response?
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Posted in Jerry Coyne, New Atheism, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Jerry Coyne Promotes Cargo Cult Science

Two members of the Raelian Movement did a PCR experiment and Jerry A. Coyne, a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, used his popular blog to promote it as science - “Science proves that consecrated wafers are still wheat and not Jesus.”

Coyne even chooses language to make it sound like the Raelian exercise is standard science:

Damien Marsic and Mehran Sam, identified as belonging to the Association of Raelian Scientists (in Las Vegas), have published a paper in a place called “Scientific Raelian”; the paper’s title is “DNA analysis of consecrated sacramental wafers refutes Catholic transubstantiation claim.“ (emphasis added)

Yet Prof. Coyne is misinforming the general public when he characterizes the Raelian project as “science” and a “published paper.” The Raelian project was not published; it was posted on a Raelian web site. There is no evidence the “paper” was sent out for independent peer-review. Instead, it looks like a couple of members of the Raelian Movement simply posted their work on a web page whose stated purpose is as follows:

SCIENTIFIC RAELIAN will focus on more in-depth articles on selected topics related to the Raelian philosophy. We will explain how recent scientific discoveries support the Raelian worldview, with references to original scientific research and publications.

In other words, the PCR work is an internet posting on a Raelian apologetics site. It is not a published paper and it is not science.

Remember that Prof. Coyne tries to make it sound like he is promoting this work as science because he is standing on principle:

Yes, a Raëlian group did some research, and I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand simply because of who did it (if that were the case, I’d dismiss the Human Genome Project simply because it was headed by born-again Christian Francis Collins). As always, we must evaluate the data on their own.

This is a ridiculous, mean-spirited analogy.  Collins has a long history of publishing his work in the mainstream, scientific journals and the Human Genome Project involved a large team of mainstream scientists publishing their data in the mainstream scientific community. In contrast, the two Realians did not publish their data in a mainstream scientific journal. They posted their results on a Raelian apologetics website that also includes articles that supposedly support “the Raelian baptism…..as a wireless transmission of the baptized individual’s genome to an orbiting computer set up by the Elohim to record the information at the precise time of the ceremony.” That Prof. Coyne cannot see the difference between the Raelian internet posting and Collin’s scienctific acheivements shows us how his hatred of Collins and Catholics disables his brain.

So let’s look more closely at the posting Prof. Coyne insists is science.

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Fuzzy Data

So let’s take a look at the Raelian PCR results that Jerry Coyne promoted as “science”:

Fig_1_Host_DNA

Here is how the Raelians explained it:

Negative controls (water as template, lanes NC) show no amplification product, indicating that PCR reagents were free from human or wheat DNA contamination. Human controls (lanes HC) show the expected 411 bp amplification product with human primers and no amplification with wheat primers, confirming that human DNA can be detected using the selected human primers. Wheat controls (lanes WC) show amplification products with both pairs of primers, with a more intense band with wheat primers. The human DNA detected in the wheat control was likely introduced during handling of the bread sample.

Here is Jerry Coyne echoing their explanation:

WC is the unconsecrated wafer control. As you see, it amplifies with both human and wheat primers (two bands on the “WC” lane in the left amplified with human primers), indicating the presence of some human DNA in the wheat control. This suggests, and it seems likely, that the purchased unconsecrated wafers were contaminated with human DNA when they were being handled. This happens sometimes: it doesn’t take much foreign DNA to show up as a strong band indicative of contamination; this happened to me when I was amplifying Drosophila DNA during an ancient sabbatical in Princeton, and got my own DNA instead).

Here is one reason this Raelian “research” would have never been published in a mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific journal (unless, I suppose, Coyne was the reviewer). The reviewer would have commented as follows:

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Jerry Coyne Embraces Creationist “Research”

Jerry Coyne recently jumped the shark with his blog post entitled, “Science proves that consecrated wafers are still wheat and not Jesus.” I’ll be charitable and overlook the fact that a scientist thinks “science proved” something and instead focus on what is laughably ironic – Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, actually promoted a website entitled, “atheistcreationist.org.” LOL!

Let’s be clear. Evolutionary biologist and atheist activist Jerry Coyne used his popular blog to drive traffic to a website entitled atheistcreationist.org. This only happens to be the website of the antievolution Raëlian Movement. Apparently, because these particular creationists share Coyne’s atheism/anti-theism, Coyne begins by offering up some very mild criticism:

I don’t know much about the Raëlian Movement, but what I’ve learned suggests that Raelians are plenty weird. Their faith is based on Earth’s life having been created by space aliens, so they’re creationists, and they have all kinds of strange views, including a form of baptism that alters your genetic makeup but prepares you for your eventual judgment by the aliens. They’re a small sect, cult, or religion (whatever you want to call them): Wikipedia estimates that there are only about 90,000 members worldwide.

He then proceeds to defend and speak warmly of the atheist religion:

On the other hand, the sect has some good liberal views: they are pro-gay, in favor of food derived from GMOs, and anti-Catholic.

So why is Jerry Coyne promoting and defending this atheistic, antievolutionary religious cult?

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Posted in Jerry Coyne, Religion, Science | Tagged , , | 8 Comments