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.