More Gnu anti-intellectualism

It looks like Jerry Coyne is not the only one who embraces anti-intellectualism to prop up his Gnu advocacy.  Mathematician Jason Rosenhouse has joined the party.  Like Coyne, Rosenhouse felt the need to debunk Bartlett’s article from the CHE.  Unlike Coyne, Rosenhouse makes a token effort to engage the scientific research by rapidly firing off some skeptical questions (disconfirmation bias?).  But he earns no points for this, as he admits his half-hearted attempt to engage the research is “beside the point.”  So what is his point?

 If the goal is to understand the role religion plays in society, then why on earth are you wasting your time with these rinky-dink, artificial, contrived, social science scenarios? Is there not an obvious natural experiment we can do? If we are worried that a lack of religious belief leads to greed and selfishness, then let’s investigate societies where free non-believers predominate. It turns out there are quite a few, in Scandanavia and Western Europe, and they utterly refute any notion that religious belief is necessary for a decent, moral society. Meanwhile, we can look to the most religious countries and ask if they show evidence of being unusually charitable and generous. Anyone care to defend the affirmative in that debate?

Well, yes, those assertions are debatable.  But let’s not get distracted by them.

Instead, keep your eye on the big picture.  This Gnu atheist has just mocked and dismissed science as “rinky-dink, artificial, contrived” and offered, in its place, a “natural experiment.”  And what is this “natural experiment?”  His opinions about geopolitics that even come with a challenge to “debate.”  No “social science scenarios” there.  Just internet atheist debate scenarios.  I’m sorry, but in no way can this be construed as some type of “experiment.”  Rosenhouse jettisons science and seeks to replace it with some type of armchair debate analysis that is likely to be saturated with confirmation bias.  And he attempts to make this armchair analysis sound sciencey by calling it an “experiment.”  This is the very tactic that is used by pseudoscientists everywhere.

Rosenhouse continues his “experiment” by pounding some more keys:

I’m with Myers. How on earth can Wilson talk so blithely about deciding outcomes before the evidence is in? Is Myers wrong about the oppression of women? Am I hallucinating the cruelty of so many prominent religious groups towards homosexuals? Or their pernicious effect not just on science education but on history as well? Or the tremendous support for right-wing politicians among religious voters, with all the harm that entails? And those, mind you, are just a few of the problems religion causes in the United States, a pretty civilized place in spite of all its problems. When we survey the world’s theocracies the situation gets far worse.

For heaven’s sake, we’re drowning in evidence for the harmfulness of religion. Open your eyes!

I see.  So a list of features cherry picked and spun to make religion look bad followed by an emotional appeal to “open our eyes!” is the “natural experiment” Rosenhouse has in mind.  Why deal with science when we can just “open our eyes!”  Sorry, this is no experiment and no substitute for a scientific analysis.

Look, if Gnus are having difficulty understanding the anti-intellectual essence of this reasoning, then simply use the very same “experimental” approach on another subject they claim to champion – science.  How would Gnus react if a group of people declared “we’re drowning in evidence for the harmfulness of science?”  How so?  Well, without science, there would no global warming.  Without science, there would be no pollution.  Without science, many forests and species would still exist.  Without science, there would be no overpopulation and mass starvation.  Without science, there would be no fear of nuclear war or bio-terrorism.

This type of anti-science argument would be no different from Rosenhouse’s anti-religion “experiment.”  So not only does his anti-intellectualism express itself through cherry picking features to make religion look bad, the very subject of his “experimental approach” is itself cherry picked.

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9 Responses to More Gnu anti-intellectualism

  1. eveysolara says:

    Well, without science, there would no global warming.  Without science, there would be no pollution.  Without science, many forests and species would still exist.  Without science, there would be no overpopulation and mass starvation.  Without science, there would be no fear of nuclear war or bio-terrorism.

    pwnd

  2. Space_Chief says:

    I’d challenge the idea that most of Western Europe is atheist. I’d also make the Soviet Union a better example of pure atheist philosophy in action than say Sweden, because the Swedes have not abandoned their old traditions or religion (or its influences at least in culture) while the USSR ran a social engineering experiment where religion was actively eliminated. USSR had fewer confounding factors.

  3. Alan Fox says:

    Coyne says “live and let live”. What’s you beef with that, Mike?

  4. Alan Fox says:

    >blockquote>I’d challenge the idea that most of Western Europe is atheist.

    You have to accept what people say they believe when asked. France is culturally Catholic with roughly half the population describing themselves as Catholic. A much lower proportion affirm a belief in God when asked directly. There is a huge difference between the social life of the midwest which revolves around the church and Europe, where established religion impinges hardly at all on a daily basis. The rate of decline over time in declared personal belief in countries such as France is also consistent and unremitting.

  5. Crude says:

    You have to accept what people say they believe when asked.

    To a point. Which is why there’s good reason to question the idea that ‘Most of Western Europe is atheist’.

    Hence, say… results like the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll for Denmark: 31% of Danish citizens responded that “they believe there is a god”, whereas 49% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 19% that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force”

    Or the recent finding that ~30% of atheists in the UK admit they pray sometimes.

    The rate of decline over time in declared personal belief in countries such as France

    France is a particular outlier, and has unique cultural reasons for their current state – as do other nations. France in particular is a difficult case, what with the national pride combined with the continued waning of their relevancy on the world stage.

  6. Alan Fox says:

    Crude

    (apologies for late response)

    From the poll you link to, I would suggest there is a broad correlation between first-world and third-world countries with the US as an outlier. The level of religiosity in the US compared to other wealthy countries is striking. I wonder if it has anything to do with the lack of a welfare safety net.

  7. Crude says:

    Alan,

    You shifted from talk of ‘atheism’ to ‘religiosity’. Two different things.

    France remains the outlier, and really, its growing irrelevance is probably a reason. As for the US, we have a welfare safety net. It’s simply a different type and size of one.

  8. Alan Fox says:

    You shifted from talk of ‘atheism’ to ‘religiosity’. Two different things.

    Two different words, indeed!

    As for the US, we have a welfare safety net. It’s simply a different type and size of one.>/blockquote>

    I defer to you, assuming you live in the US, about the size of the holes in your net..

  9. Michael says:

    Alan: Coyne says “live and let live”. What’s you beef with that, Mike?

    He does not say “live and let live.” He is part of an anti-religious movement. He does say things like:

    What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?

    and

    it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.

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