PDA

View Full Version : Templeton Foundation


thprop
06-22-2009, 02:25 PM
I posted previously (http://brainwaveweb.com/forum/showthread.php?p=115604) that Jerry Coyne refused to appear on BHtv because of the funding by the Templeton Foundation. It appears that the backlash against Templeton is growing -

Coyne - Fighting back against Templeton (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/21/fighting-back-against-templeton/)
PZ Myers - The name “Templeton Foundation” needs to become a mark of failure (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/the_name_templeton_foundation.php)

We will not see Daniel Dennett, AC Grayling or Richard Dawkins (among others) on BHtv.

Grayling's response to Templeton -
Dear Mr Cartlidge
Thank you for your message. I hope you will understand that this is by no means directed at you personally, but I don't engage in Templeton-associated matters. I cannot agree with the Templeton Foundation's project of trying to make religion respectable by conflating it with science; this is like mixing astrology with astronomy or voodoo with medical research, and I disapprove of Templeton's use of its great wealth to bribe compliance with this project. Templeton is to all intents and purposes a propaganda organisation for religious outlooks; it should honestly say so and equally honestly devote its money to prop up the antique superstitions it favours, and not pretend that questions of religion are of the same kind and on the same level as those of science - by which means it persistently seeks to muddy the waters and keep religion credible in lay eyes. It is for this reason I don't take part in Templeton-associated matters.

My good wishes to you -
Anthony Grayling

Professor A. C. Grayling
School of Philosophy
Birkbeck, University of London

bjkeefe
06-22-2009, 03:21 PM
I posted previously (http://brainwaveweb.com/forum/showthread.php?p=115604) that Jerry Coyne refused to appear on BHtv because of the funding by the Templeton Foundation. It appears that the backlash against Templeton is growing -

Coyne - Fighting back against Templeton (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/21/fighting-back-against-templeton/)

[...]

To others: Worth following the Coyne link to see Dan Dennett's reply. I liked that one even better than Grayling's.

Thanks for the links, thprop.

Lyle
06-23-2009, 12:56 PM
Silliness.

thprop
06-25-2009, 12:51 AM
I agree that Dennett's overall comment was better - but Grayling did make the direct charge that the Templeton Foundation is a propaganda machine.

thprop
06-25-2009, 12:53 AM
Silliness.
What is silly about this? There are implications to taking cash from the Templeton Foundation. BHtv is losing potential guests and putting on people who spout Templeton propaganda.

Lyle
06-25-2009, 01:24 AM
No, it's silly that a handful of intellectuals are too picayune to debate people with Templeton connections. They are silly people with silly principles.

Just debate and stop being scared of religion.

AemJeff
06-25-2009, 08:25 AM
No, it's silly that a handful of intellectuals are too picayune to debate people with Templeton connections. They are silly people with silly principles.

Just debate and stop being scared of religion.

I wonder if Lyle will ever post something demonstrating that he understands what it is he's posting about. The odds diminish with each new instance.

Lyle
06-25-2009, 04:29 PM
What exactly do I not understand AEMJeff? Enlighten the community. Back up your comments please.

bjkeefe
06-25-2009, 04:48 PM
What exactly do I not understand AEMJeff? Enlighten the community. Back up your comments please.

Yeah, AemJeff. You know. Put together a well-substantiated post that looks, say, like this:

Silliness.

AemJeff
06-25-2009, 08:24 PM
What exactly do I not understand AEMJeff? Enlighten the community. Back up your comments please.

By what standard are religion and science to be considered to have sufficient compatibility for a comparison? Epistemic? BUUZZZ! Wrong. Do they attempt to answer the same questions? Nope. Maybe we also treat New Age mysticism as an equal to empiricism. Wat about astrology? Is there any reason to think that any sort of religious (or "spiritual") process whatsoever has any relevance to the acquisition of knowledge about the world? Demonstrate that, and while you're doing so explain the success of secular, scientifically aligned societies over all others - by orders of magnitude.

There's a context to this conversation of which you have demonstrated zero cognizance.

Starwatcher162536
06-25-2009, 09:00 PM
Does the Templeton foundation support anything that has nothing to do with mysticism?

AemJeff
06-25-2009, 09:07 PM
Does the Templeton foundation support anything that has nothing to do with mysticism?

I'd say they claim to. (http://www.templeton.org/) I think there's an underlying assumption that Religion is at least co-equal with Science and Philosophy.



In keeping with Sir John Templeton's intent, his Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for research and discoveries relating to what scientists and philosophers call the Big Questions. We support work at the world's top universities in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social science relating to love, forgiveness, creativity, purpose, and the nature and origin of religious belief. We also seek to stimulate new thinking about wealth creation in the developing world, character education in schools and universities, and programs for cultivating the talents of gifted children. Learn more about the Foundation's "Core Themes (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/core_themes/)."

Lyle
06-25-2009, 10:12 PM
By what standard are religion and science to be considered to have sufficient compatibility for a comparison? Epistemic? BUUZZZ! Wrong. Do they attempt to answer the same questions? Nope. Maybe we also treat New Age mysticism as an equal to empiricism. Wat about astrology? Is there any reason to think that any sort of religious (or "spiritual") process whatsoever has any relevance to the acquisition of knowledge about the world? Demonstrate that, and while you're doing so explain the success of secular, scientifically aligned societies over all others - by orders of magnitude.

There's a context to this conversation of which you have demonstrated zero cognizance.

Jeff I haven't missed the conversation. I'm aware of what is going on. All one has to do was go back and read through Coyne's links that he kindly provided to understand what is going on. I had read about this a while back at some other blog or online magazine. I just find it silly that someone refuses to come on to bh.tv over the fact that bh.tv is funded by such an organization (or has Templeton funded persons on). I think it is picayune. If you think someone is so wrong, pound them in to the ground as often as you can. Take as many opportunities as you can to do so. Come on to bh.tv and have at it if Bob lets you.

High brow intellectual politics just annoy me. Intellectual shunning bothers me.

If the religionists were doing the same thing, I'd call them silly too.

bjkeefe
06-25-2009, 10:30 PM
I just find it silly that someone refuses to come on to bh.tv over the fact that bh.tv is funded by such an organization. I think it is picayune. If you think someone is so wrong, pound them in to the ground as often as you can. Take as many opportunities as you can to do so.

Again, you don't understand what you're talking about. The Templeton people, like creationists, love nothing more than to "debate" scientists, because they gain prestige by association. Never mind how lop-sided the debate turns out, the inescapable message is that the wingnuts are being treated as equals. That's all they want. This is basic, Coyne gets it, and it has also been understood by Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and many others, for years.

Lyle
06-25-2009, 10:37 PM
Great, but to not come on bh.tv. over it... silly. And how exactly do I not know what I'm talking about? What does my position have to do with understanding Coyne's position?

I haven't said Coyne is wrong on point; I've said it's wrong that he doesn't come on to bh.tv to talk about whatever.

bjkeefe
06-25-2009, 10:50 PM
Great, but to not come on bh.tv. over it... silly. And how exactly do I not know what I'm talking about? What does my position have to do with understanding Coyne's position?

I haven't said Coyne is wrong on point; I've said it's wrong that he doesn't come on to bh.tv to talk about whatever.

Seriously Lyle, can you even read? I did not make an obscure point. I said the whole point for many scientists is not to debate religious wingnuts because it gives them undeserved prestige. And your answer is "so why don't they come on Bh.tv?"

Lyle
06-25-2009, 10:53 PM
Do they have to debate religionists when they come on bh.tv or can they just talk science?

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 12:54 AM
Do they have to debate religionists when they come on bh.tv or can they just talk science?

My memory of Coyne's statement was that he does not want to have anything to do with an organization that takes Templeton money. I don't believe that everyone shares this broad a view. Sean Carroll is a counterexample I can think of -- he has made several strong statements about the TF and if I recall correctly, refused to take part in something that they were running, but he has appeared on Bh.tv since TF came into the picture, and has gone to at least one conference where TF was only participating in part of the events.

This doesn't seem to be what you were originally asking, though, just to be clear.

Lyle
06-26-2009, 01:12 AM
That's true, my second and follow up posts focused on the debating between the Templeton folks and Coyne. I should have been clearer about what was bothering me with Coyne's anti-bh.tv stance. He clearly can come on and talk science all day long on bh.tv if Bob lets him and not ever debate some Templeton person. Some people need the money and they need it from wherever. They don't have the luxury to take principled stances over every picayune thing.

So to conclude, I don't disagree with Coyne's point about Templeton, by I do disagree with his anti-bh.tv stance thanks to his bias against Templeton.

I often shoot from the hip bjkeefe, I often shoot from the hip. Hope the hole in your hand heals up nice.

Lyle
06-26-2009, 01:15 AM
Coyne could even use bh.tv as way to obliquely criticize Templeton's agenda. Go on a site they fund, and pooh pooh them to high heavens, or just talk Science til the cows come home on a site they fund.

Then again Templeton could pull funding if they wanted to.

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 01:45 AM
Okay. I should state explicitly that while I have been trying to make Coyne's stance clear, it is not one I've yet decided that I completely agree with. As you may or may not recall, when the first discussions about TF cropped up on this site, I expressed the view that it wasn't necessarily the end of Bh.tv as we knew it, that I could understand (guess at) the fiscal realities, and that as long as it was clear where they were directly affecting a given diavlog, I didn't see a worry that, say, Science Saturday or some pure political diavlog was going to be passing through some new hidden filter.

At the same time, I think an awful lot of Coyne's principles on this, and I myself have boycotted or otherwise broke ties with organizations because of some objectionable aspect that others might have called only isolated and not worth making into an all-or-nothing matter.

I should also restate that I view Coyne's position on Bh.tv as a separate isue from the idea of scientists not debating creationists or TF-style line-blurrers. This is something I generally agree with, especially when it comes to the big name people.

However, there is something to be said for choosing to engage from time to time.

Also, it's somewhat moot, because you're never going to get everyone to agree with this principle. Some people believe it's worthwhile to do these debates for the sake of improving the audience's attitude about science, some people believe it's necessary to push back early and often when nonsense is being preached, and some people just like to mix it up, for visceral or financial or other more individual reasons.

Lyle
06-26-2009, 02:24 AM
Okay. I should state explicitly that while I have been trying to make Coyne's stance clear, it is not one I've yet decided that I completely agree with. As you may or may not recall, when the first discussions about TF cropped up on this site, I expressed the view that it wasn't necessarily the end of Bh.tv as we knew it, that I could understand (guess at) the fiscal realities, and that as long as it was clear where they were directly affecting a given diavlog, I didn't see a worry that, say, Science Saturday or some pure political diavlog was going to be passing through some new hidden filter.

At the same time, I think an awful lot of Coyne's principles on this, and I myself have boycotted or otherwise broke ties with organizations because of some objectionable aspect that others might have called only isolated and not worth making into an all-or-nothing matter.

I should also restate that I view Coyne's position on Bh.tv as a separate isue from the idea of scientists not debating creationists or TF-style line-blurrers. This is something I generally agree with, especially when it comes to the big name people.

However, there is something to be said for choosing to engage from time to time.

Also, it's somewhat moot, because you're never going to get everyone to agree with this principle. Some people believe it's worthwhile to do these debates for the sake of improving the audience's attitude about science, some people believe it's necessary to push back early and often when nonsense is being preached, and some people just like to mix it up, for visceral or financial or other more individual reasons.

Yep, I agree.

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 03:48 PM
To others: Worth following the Coyne link to see Dan Dennett's reply. I liked that one even better than Grayling's.

Thanks for the links, thprop.

I have to say that I was not impressed by Dennett's reply. He writes

I see no reason to go over that ground again, and I particularly don’t want to convey the impression, by participating in an interview with you, that this is, for me, a live issue. It is not.

It may not be a live issue for him (and I share his views) but it is undeniably a live issue in the culture at large. And (not to sound elitist, but) people at large cannot be counted upon to think about it properly if all the best thinkers, such as Dennett, refuse to participate in the discussion.

In Dennett's Breaking the Spell, he has some extremely well-written and thought-out passages where he argues that, if religious people are going to subject the public to the consequences of their religious beliefs, then they have an obligation to subject their religious beliefs to public criticism. Well, here come some religious people looking for public criticism, and Dennett is refusing to offer it.

Dennett could have said, "I'm sick of talking about the subject. I said all I want to say in my many books." That would have been fine. It's not like he doesn't have other things to think and talk about.

He could have said, "I do want to talk about this subject in public forums, but I lack the skill to participate effectively in this particular kind of forum." (I think that that is a perfectly reasonable stance for, say, a biologist who is asked to debate creationists, but who isn't skilled at the performance art of forensic-style debates.)

But his response is more along the lines of, "You people disgust me, and I refuse to allow any of the respect due to me to reflect on you by my mere presence." To be blunt, his disgust doesn't matter. What matters is to get as many people as possible to think rightly about the subject. Maybe shunning could be an effective means to do that. Maybe. But it is far from clear. Merely feeling an impulse to shun is far from proof that shunning is in fact the best way to achieve your ends, and Dennett's ends should be, in part, the education of the public.

uncle ebeneezer
06-26-2009, 04:08 PM
I don't know. Dennett's situation is similar to the creationist/evolution situation where the creationist want the scientist to engage in discussion to create the appearance that there's legitimacy to the creationist point of view, and that noted scientific thinkers are torn on this topic. At some point the thinkers have to say, no this isn't an issue for us and we're not going to be drawn into talks that are only aimed with legitimizing something by associating it's discussion with our reputations. I know in this circumstance Dennett has obviously thought about the topic (as seen in his books) but I can understand the I'm-not-going-to-engage with that discussion, line of thinking.

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 04:39 PM
I have to say that I was not impressed by Dennett's reply. He writes

[...]

It may not be a live issue for him (and I share his views) but it is undeniably a live issue in the culture at large. And (not to sound elitist, but) people at large cannot be counted upon to think about it properly if all the best thinkers, such as Dennett, refuse to participate in the discussion.

Well, let's be careful here. What is "the discussion," exactly? Are you saying that Templeton always automatically gets a seat at the table?

In Dennett's Breaking the Spell, he has some extremely well-written and thought-out passages where he argues that, if religious people are going to subject the public to the consequences of their religious beliefs, then they have an obligation to subject their religious beliefs to public criticism. Well, here come some religious people looking for public criticism, and Dennett is refusing to offer it.

Ah, no, not necessarily. I think that the TF is not looking for public criticism so much as they are looking for an implied endorsement, by being associated with Dennett ("See? Famous atheist Dan Dennett takes us seriously!")

Dennett could have said, "I'm sick of talking about the subject. I said all I want to say in my many books." That would have been fine. It's not like he doesn't have other things to think and talk about.

Didn't he? Here's how he starts the same email (emph. added):

I have had my say about materialism and the persistent attempt by religious spokespeople to muddy the waters by claiming, without a shred of support, that materialism (in the sense I have defended for my entire career) is any obstacle to meaning, or to an ethical life—see, e.g., BREAKING THE SPELL, pp302-307.

He could have said, "I do want to talk about this subject in public forums, but I lack the skill to participate effectively in this particular kind of forum." (I think that that is a perfectly reasonable stance for, say, a biologist who is asked to debate creationists, but who isn't skilled at the performance art of forensic-style debates.)

Since he was responding to a request for an interview, your proposed alternate response seems non-relevant.

But his response is more along the lines of, "You people disgust me, and I refuse to allow any of the respect due to me to reflect on you by my mere presence." To be blunt, his disgust doesn't matter. What matters is to get as many people as possible to think rightly about the subject. Maybe shunning could be an effective means to do that. Maybe. But it is far from clear. Merely feeling an impulse to shun is far from proof that shunning is in fact the best way to achieve your ends ...

You are entitled to your judgment on tactics, and Dennett is to his. It seems to me, however, that he has experience in this regard -- note, for example, the end of the email where he talks about the astrologers.

As I've said elsewhere in this thread, there are other prominent atheists, scientists, philosophers, educators, etc., who share Dennett's view on this -- that to engage with groups like the TF on their terms is to give them an undeserved legitimacy, which serves only to confuse the very public you're trying to educate, and so therefore should be avoided -- and there are others who do not. Christopher Hitchens, for example, appears ready, willing, and eager to mix it up, anytime, any place. My impression of PZ Myers, to name another, is that he might have stopped doing debates and interviews with certain groups, but if so, that it's a very recent change of attitude.

My own sense is that Dennett, et al, have generally got it right. There are many ways to engage, and not all are equally helpful.

You might review the stance that scientists adopted in 2005 when the state of Kansas was going through another one of their spasms of trying to get creationism treated as science. (In particular, scroll down to the section headed "The science hearings plan and the scientists' boycott" on this page (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/evolutionhearings.html).)

... and Dennett's ends should be, in part, the education of the public.

So, to sum up, don't you think it's possible for him to do that without giving the TF what they're looking for? There are many ways to educate the public, it seems to me, and I don't see why granting this particular interview has to be one of them.

==========

[Added] Further reading, if you're interested:

-- Eugenie Scott: "Debates and the Globetrotters (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/debating/globetrotters.html)"

-- Richard Dawkins: "Why I Won't Debate Creationists (http://richarddawkins.net/article,119,Why-I-Wont-Debate-Creationists,Richard-Dawkins)"

NB: I am not saying the TF is a front for pushing a stealth creationist agenda, but I do think they have similar goals (acquire respectability by sharing a stage) and I think the reasoning in the above two essays applies well to the TF situation.

Francoamerican
06-26-2009, 04:43 PM
In Dennett's Breaking the Spell, he has some extremely well-written and thought-out passages where he argues that, if religious people are going to subject the public to the consequences of their religious beliefs, then they have an obligation to subject their religious beliefs to public criticism. Well, here come some religious people looking for public criticism, and Dennett is refusing to offer it..

They aren't looking for public criticism of their beliefs; they're looking for a public accreditation of them. Every time a scientist or philosopher deigns to take their beliefs seriously they inevitably WIN in the court of public opinion, which isn't really interested in the truth (about anything). If science and religion are, as some people believe, in competition for the truth, why should anyone think that the truth is more than a matter of (public) opinion? The "truths" of religion are accepted on faith, i.e. ultimately they are a matter of mere opinion.

But his response is more along the lines of, "You people disgust me, and I refuse to allow any of the respect due to me to reflect on you by my mere presence." To be blunt, his disgust doesn't matter. What matters is to get as many people as possible to think rightly about the subject. Maybe shunning could be an effective means to do that. Maybe. But it is far from clear. Merely feeling an impulse to shun is far from proof that shunning is in fact the best way to achieve your ends, and Dennett's ends should be, in part, the education of the public.

This is the Enlightenment faith in education. Alas, the reality is rather different: Just consult the internet.

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 04:59 PM
I don't know. Dennett's situation is similar to the creationist/evolution situation where the creationist want the scientist to engage in discussion to create the appearance that there's legitimacy to the creationist point of view, and that noted scientific thinkers are torn on this topic. At some point the thinkers have to say, no this isn't an issue for us and we're not going to be drawn into talks that are only aimed with legitimizing something by associating it's discussion with our reputations. I know in this circumstance Dennett has obviously thought about the topic (as seen in his books) but I can understand the I'm-not-going-to-engage with that discussion, line of thinking.

I think that there are a few good reasons why a scientist might not want to debate creationists. Here are three reasons and why I don't think that they apply to Dennett's situation.

(1) If you are a scientist asked to debate creationists, and you lack the skill to make the creationist come out the worse in the exchange, then you indeed shouldn't debate creationists. And there would be absolutely no shame in that. The skills useful for those kinds of debates are not the skills of a scientist.

Now, maybe Dennett doesn't think that he can come across well in an interview with a journalist. But he seems to have done well at it before. And if he isn't good at it, then someone ought to be. He shouldn't imply that whoever that is is somehow selling out.


(2) Even if you have the skills, I suspect that forensic-style debates aren't the right tool to convey an understanding of science. Closely examining fossils causes one to form correct beliefs about fossils. Even reading popular science books causes one to have correct beliefs---at least more correct than if you hadn't read them. But watching a rhetorical dual for ninety minutes doesn't seem to do that, as far as I can tell. I think that the primary problem is the oral nature. Basically, science is hard. To understand it properly, it helps tremendously to be able to read it at your own pace, unclouded by rhetorical pyrotechnics.

Supposing that that's right, I can see why a scientist might boycott such debates. Not because they lend legitimacy to their opponents, but because the entire exercise is just not the right way to convey an understanding of science to the public.

But journalism is one effective way to get people to think about these issues properly. Obviously it has lots of drawbacks. It's easy to dwell on all the negatives, such as ignorant misquoting "balance"-seeking journalists. But, to evaluate anything properly, you have to compare it to the alternatives. And here I think that materialists would be foolish to ignore journalism as an avenue to espouse their views.


(3) Maybe merely engaging creationists in debate, no matter how skillfully, will lead the public to believe them more. If so, it's probably a result of the relative status in the public eye of creationists and scientists. I've seen studies claiming that there is an "underdog" effect in forensic debates. The position that starts out less popular often gains at the expense of the initially-more-popular position. Maybe that's because people are less likely to have considered the underdog position seriously before. They had just gone with the more popular position by default, without feeling especially attached to it.

But it's not obvious that materialism and spiritualism have the same relative status as evolution and creationism. On the contrary, I suspect that, for most people, rejecting materialism is the default. If so, materialism is likely to gain from any underdog effect.

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 05:06 PM
But his response is more along the lines of, "You people disgust me, and I refuse to allow any of the respect due to me to reflect on you by my mere presence." To be blunt, his disgust doesn't matter. What matters is to get as many people as possible to think rightly about the subject. Maybe shunning could be an effective means to do that. Maybe. But it is far from clear. Merely feeling an impulse to shun is far from proof that shunning is in fact the best way to achieve your ends, and Dennett's ends should be, in part, the education of the public.
This is the Enlightenment faith in education. Alas, the reality is rather different: Just consult the internet.

Could you be more specific? I don't see what I said here that indicated an "Enlightenment faith in education".

Francoamerican
06-26-2009, 05:19 PM
Could you be more specific? I don't see what I said here that indicated an "Enlightenment faith in education".

You said that Dennett should be willing to debate in public in order to "educate" the public. Dennett has repeatedly stated that he thinks religion is hocus-pocus (if not worse: Breaking the Spell is a pretty thorough debunking of religion in the best Enlightenment tradition). So I assume that if he were to participate in public debates, it would be with the intention of "enlightening" the public about the falsehood, nay the perniciousness, of religious belief, "breaking the spell" in short, just like le Baron D'Holbach (see his immensely amusing Le Christianisme dévoilé (Christianity Unveiled).

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 05:36 PM
You said that Dennett should be willing to debate in public in order to "educate" the public.To be precise, I said that he should want to educate the public, and that shunning the TF is far from obviously the best way to do that. I'm not necessarily saying that doing the interview would be a good way to educate the public. I am saying that the primary reason that Dennett gave for not doing the interview doesn't hold water.

Francoamerican
06-26-2009, 06:13 PM
To be precise, I said that he should want to educate the public, and that shunning the TF is far from obviously the best way to do that. I'm not necessarily saying that doing the interview would be a good way to educate the public. I am saying that the primary reason that Dennett gave for not doing the interview doesn't hold water.

Since he knows from experience that he can't educate or enlighten the public, it seems to me that his reasons are perfectly valid. Religious believers are unable or unwilling to distinguish between belief (faith, opinion) and scientific or philosophic reasoning. So why bother talking to them?

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 06:14 PM
Well, let's be careful here. What is "the discussion," exactly? Are you saying that Templeton always automatically gets a seat at the table?I'm not sure how to be more precise about what I mean by "the discussion". I mean the public discourse at large. I mean the broad public forum in which Dennett calls on religious people to participate. Still, that's not very precise, I know. Are there some alternative meanings to "the discussion" that you would like me to disambiguate?

I certainly think that the TF always automatically gets to participate in the public discussion at large. Everyone does.

Ah, no, not necessarily. I think that the TF is not looking for public criticism so much as they are looking for an implied endorsement, by being associated with Dennett ("See? Famous atheist Dan Dennett takes us seriously!")Of course the TF is trying to get credit for being worthy of public criticism and for willingly subjecting their beliefs to it. Of course they think that they will change other peoples' minds, not have their own minds changed. In Breaking the Spell, Dennett exploits precisely these motivations to encourage religious people to participate in public discourse about their religion. But then, when they take the bait, he doesn't reel them in.

Didn't he? Here's how he starts the same email (emph. added):
He did give that as a reason, but it wasn't his primary reason, as I read him. He wrote,I particularly don’t want to convey the impression, by participating in an interview with you, that this is, for me, a live issue.(emphasis added.)

Since he was responding to a request for an interview, your proposed alternate response seems non-relevant. I don't follow. If I were in his position, I might think ahead to how my own interview would appear interspersed among the others. I might worry that I couldn't give the kind of answers that would be effective in that context. In that case, it would be appropriate to give something like the response I suggested.

You are entitled to your judgment on tactics, and Dennett is to his. It seems to me, however, that he has experience in this regard -- note, for example, the end of the email where he talks about the astrologers.

I think that the astrologer situation was more like a creation/evolution debate, and I explained in my reply to uncle ebeneezer why I think that that is different from an interview with a journalist.

While I concede that Dennett has more experience than I have in public discourse, I also think that he, like all humans, might be subject to certain very human biases. There is a strong human tendency to shun those of whom we disapprove. This impulse to shun is usually emotional, and not the result of careful calculation. Shunning's fine, when you're in a position where it's effective---that is, when you're in a position of strength. But, like anger and a desire for revenge, we should be skeptical that shunning will achieve our ends just because our emotions tell us to do it. I don't think that materialists can shun from a position of strength in the world as it is right now. But, like everyone, we sure wish that we could. For that reason, we have to be careful that we don't fool ourselves into thinking that we are in such a position of strength. This can be particularly tempting for someone like Dennett, who has earned so much renown and respect within his circle. He has to be careful that he doesn't mistake peer-renown for a dominant position for materialism among the wider public.

As I've said elsewhere in this thread, there are other prominent atheists, scientists, philosophers, educators, etc., who share Dennett's view on this -- that to engage with groups like the TF on their terms is to give them an undeserved legitimacy, which serves only to confuse the very public you're trying to educate, and so therefore should be avoided -- and there are others who do not. Christopher Hitchens, for example, appears ready, willing, and eager to mix it up, anytime, any place. My impression of PZ Myers, to name another, is that he might have stopped doing debates and interviews with certain groups, but if so, that it's a very recent change of attitude.

My own sense is that Dennett, et al, have generally got it right. There are many ways to engage, and not all are equally helpful.

On this issue, it sounds like I come down with the others that you mention.

I will say that I'm skeptical of the language of "undeserved legitimacy". I'm not skeptical that such a thing exists, of course. But I think that focusing on "legitimacy" leads our minds to think as though there is some magical "legitimacy" dust, a precious finite resource, and that we must take care lest it rub off on our opponents. Such thinking is at best a very rough heuristic for very complex social dynamics. If we care about getting those dynamics right---that is, if we care about actually getting the public to believe what we want them to believe---then we shouldn't dwell on whether anyone's legitimacy is "deserved" or not. True, you only invoke legitimacy as a means to avoiding confusion for the public. But I would prefer just to turn to such matters directly, without unnecessary recourse to the moralistic language of desert.

You might review the stance that scientists adopted in 2005 when the state of Kansas was going through another one of their spasms of trying to get creationism treated as science. (In particular, scroll down to the section headed "The science hearings plan and the scientists' boycott" on this page (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/evolutionhearings.html).)



So, to sum up, don't you think it's possible for him to do that without giving the TF what they're looking for? There are many ways to educate the public, it seems to me, and I don't see why granting this particular interview has to be one of them.

==========

[Added] Further reading, if you're interested:

-- Eugenie Scott: "Debates and the Globetrotters (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/debating/globetrotters.html)"

-- Richard Dawkins: "Why I Won't Debate Creationists (http://richarddawkins.net/article,119,Why-I-Wont-Debate-Creationists,Richard-Dawkins)"

NB: I am not saying the TF is a front for pushing a stealth creationist agenda, but I do think they have similar goals (acquire respectability by sharing a stage) and I think the reasoning in the above two essays applies well to the TF situation.

As I mentioned above, I think that debating creationists is somewhat different for several reasons, which I tried to explain in my reply to uncle ebeneezer.

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 06:15 PM
Since he knows from experience that he can't educate or enlighten the public, it seems to me that his reasons are perfectly valid. Religious believers are unable or unwilling to distinguish between belief (faith, opinion) and scientific or philosophic reasoning. So why bother talking to them?

If I put your posts together, it sounds like you're attributing to him the belief that his book failed. Is that what you mean to say?

Francoamerican
06-26-2009, 06:28 PM
If I put your posts together, it sounds like you're attributing to him the belief that his book failed. Is that what you mean to say?

His books will only convince people (like you) who already think he is right. As for the vast majority of the faithful I doubt, as I already said, that they are capable of understanding the difference between faith (opinion) and science or philosophy. So, yes, he would certainly fail if he participated in a TF debate where he would have to pretend that the difference didn't matter.

Do I therefore attribute to him the belief that his book has failed? I attribute no beliefs to him. Though I do wonder why he would bother to write such a book.

thprop
06-26-2009, 06:59 PM
A lot of this discussion has moved in the direction of whether scientists should debate creationists. You might want to read this piece by Lawrence Krauss (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124597314928257169.html) in today's WSJ.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in several exciting panel discussions at the World Science Festival in New York City. But the most dramatic encounter took place at the panel strangely titled "Science, Faith and Religion." I had been conscripted to join the panel after telling one of the organizers that I saw no reason to have it. After all, there was no panel on science and astrology, or science and witchcraft. So why one on science and religion?

I'm SO awesome!
06-26-2009, 07:18 PM
Nice work, thanks.

Bob? A response? Oh, still nothing but more pseudo-science garbage?
Nice! Good come back.

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 07:22 PM
I'm not sure how to be more precise about what I mean by "the discussion". I mean the public discourse at large. I mean the broad public forum in which Dennett calls on religious people to participate. Still, that's not very precise, I know. Are there some alternative meanings to "the discussion" that you would like me to disambiguate?

I certainly think that the TF always automatically gets to participate in the public discussion at large. Everyone does.

Well, yes. Put that way, of course I agree. But come on, you're being obtuse now. You know that Dennett is not seeking to ban the TF's voice from the public square writ worldwide. You've started from his declining to do a specific interview and inflated it into something ridiculous.

Of course the TF is trying to get credit for being worthy of public criticism and for willingly subjecting their beliefs to it. Of course they think that they will change other peoples' minds, not have their own minds changed. In Breaking the Spell, Dennett exploits precisely these motivations to encourage religious people to participate in public discourse about their religion. But then, when they take the bait, he doesn't reel them in.

This is truly a warped way to see it. "Take the bait?" "He doesn't reel them in?" How sinister is our Daniel Dennett!

Again, there is a world of difference between the general sense of participation you say he encouraged in his book and a requirement that he say yes to every interview he's asked to give.

I don't follow. If I were in his position, I might think ahead to how my own interview would appear interspersed among the others. I might worry that I couldn't give the kind of answers that would be effective in that context. In that case, it would be appropriate to give something like the response I suggested.

I have to laugh at how you keep trying to spin this as Dennett being afraid of his own feeble-mindedness (when you're not accusing him of malicious baiting and switching, I mean). It is much more likely the case that he just didn't want to give an interview under the terms as he saw them, for the reasons he gave in the email.

I think that the astrologer situation was more like a creation/evolution debate, and I explained in my reply to uncle ebeneezer why I think that that is different from an interview with a journalist.

Be that as it may, I think it's clear Dennett does not agree with you, at least to the extent that he sees the same inherent problem in debating creationists (or astrologers) and giving an interview to some flack from the TF.

And yes, I say "flack" advisedly. This Cartlidge character doesn't get to wear the "journalist" badge anymore, at least by my lights. He's collecting a paycheck (http://www.templeton-cambridge.org/fellows/2009/) from an advocacy group.

While I concede that Dennett has more experience than I have in public discourse, I also think that he, like all humans, might be subject to certain very human biases. There is a strong human tendency to shun those of whom we disapprove. This impulse to shun is usually emotional, and not the result of careful calculation. [...]

Again, I can only shake my head at your efforts to read the worst into Dennett's decision not to do an interview. If you want to lay it all off on his emotions, well, I don't know what to tell you. All I can say is that he, and others that choose as he did regarding this interview, seem to me to have arrived at a conclusion from considered judgment. Especially when you think how often Dennett and friends are referred to as "the militant atheists," one might think the emotional reaction would be to fight; i.e., do the interview.

I will say that I'm skeptical of the language of "undeserved legitimacy". I'm not skeptical that such a thing exists, of course. But I think that focusing on "legitimacy" leads our minds to think as though there is some magical "legitimacy" dust, a precious finite resource, and that we must take care lest it rub off on our opponents. Such thinking is at best a very rough heuristic for very complex social dynamics. If we care about getting those dynamics right---that is, if we care about actually getting the public to believe what we want them to believe---then we shouldn't dwell on whether anyone's legitimacy is "deserved" or not. True, you only invoke legitimacy as a means to avoiding confusion for the public. But I would prefer just to turn to such matters directly, without unnecessary recourse to the moralistic language of desert.

Well, pick another word, then. How about "respectability?" Or "credibility?" I'm not saying it's a scarce resource (all I'm asking is that people play by the rules) and I'm not trying to convey any moral undertones. The point is, you've got on the one hand people working to understand some aspect of the natural world using the scientific method, and on the other, some people who are trying to repackage their old mystical thinking tradition in some science-y sounding talky-talk, and it is a PR win for them to be mentioned in the same breath as the actual scientists.

Granted, it's not quite that crude, but I think you see my point.

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 07:35 PM
A lot of this discussion has moved in the direction of whether scientists should debate creationists. You might want to read this piece by Lawrence Krauss (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124597314928257169.html) in today's WSJ.

Thanks for pointing that out. A good read.

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 07:59 PM
Well, yes. Put that way, of course I agree. But come on, you're being obtuse now. You know that Dennett is not seeking to ban the TF's voice from the public square writ worldwide. You've started from his declining to do a specific interview and inflated it into something ridiculous.That would be ridiculous. I'm very surprised to see such an implication read into what I wrote. I certainly don't think, and I don't think that I implied, that Dennett was suppressing anything.

Would you explain how you got the impression that I was asserting that?

This is truly a warped way to see it. "Take the bait?" "He doesn't reel them in?" How sinister is our Daniel Dennett! I don't think that there's anything sinister about it. Perhaps I feel comfortable using that language because I agree with that view as I portrayed it. So, although it might be somewhat provocative language, I don't think that it's a strawman.

Dennett argues, in effect, "If you religious people are right, it would be good to expose your views to criticism, because it will persuade others of your views." So, he offers them a motivation premised on a belief that he openly thinks is false. Maybe it sounds sinister, to convince someone to do something for reasons that you think are false. But since he's completely open about where he stands, I don't see anything sinister about it. It's not a malicious bait-and-switch, as you attribute to me below.

Again, there is a world of difference between the general sense of participation you say he encouraged in his book and a requirement that he say yes to every interview he's asked to give.Of course, but he gave a reason that would pretty much rule out direct discussion with anyone who disagreed with him on materialism. For, to do so would evidently imply that the issue is "live" for him.

I have to laugh at how you keep trying to spin this as Dennett being afraid of his own feeble-mindedness (when you're not accusing him of malicious baiting and switching, I mean). It is much more likely the case that he just didn't want to give an interview under the terms as he saw them, for the reasons he gave in the email.

Again, I seem to be communicating very poorly. I was not attributing that feebleness to Dennett. If you read my earlier post, I expressed doubt that he could appeal to that excuse when I wrote:

I think that there are a few good reasons why a scientist might not want to debate creationists. Here are three reasons and why I don't think that they apply to Dennett's situation.
...
Now, maybe Dennett doesn't think that he can come across well in an interview with a journalist. But he seems to have done well at it before.
(emphasis added.)
Furthermore, I said that if I were in his position, I might appeal to that excuse. That wasn't a rhetorical misdirection. As this thread shows, I don't always succeed in expressing my intended meaning. Dennett seems far better at that.

Remember how we got to talking about that excuse: I offered it as an example of an excuse that wasn't available to Dennett (because he seems good at interviews). You said that that excuse didn't even make sense in response to a request for an interview. I then tried to explain why I thought that the excuse could be given in response to a request for an interview, by me, say, if not by Dennett.

I think that I have taken Dennett at face value when he gives his reasons for why he didn't want to participate. I raised others that he could have given as his primary reasons. I raised still others that would apply to an evolution/creation debate, but not to such an interview. I tried to be clear about which reasons I took Dennett to be relying on himself.

Again, I can only shake my head at your efforts to read the worst into Dennett's decision not to do an interview. If you want to lay it all off on his emotions, well, I don't know what to tell you. All I can say is that he, and others that choose as he did regarding this interview, seem to me to have arrived at a conclusion from considered judgment. Especially when you think how often Dennett and friends are referred to as "the militant atheists," one might think the emotional reaction would be to fight; i.e., do the interview.

Here you do read me accurately. While I take Dennett at face value for his reason, I do wonder whether the reason behind the reason is more emotional than rational. To shun the TF, we all agree, is his reason for refusing the interview. But I worry that his desire to shun in cases like this is not rational. It doesn't seem consistent with the strategy for moderating theists that he outlines in Breaking the Spell, which was to draw them into public discourse and criticism.

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 08:49 PM
That would be ridiculous. I'm very surprised to see such an implication read into what I wrote. I certainly don't think, and I don't think that I implied, that Dennett was suppressing anything.

Would you explain how you got the impression that I was asserting that?

I'm going to beg off. That way lies discussion about the discussion about the discussion ...

As to the rest, I am going to try to summarize instead of continuing to respond point by point.

Bottom line(s):

• You think Dennett either should have given the interview or should have had better reasons for declining it. I disagree -- I think he declined the interview for good reasons and I agree with his decision.

• You appear to see Dennett's decision as an inextricable part of a larger whole, so that by declining the interview, he is being inconsistent with something he has said earlier. I disagree -- I see decisions like this one as epitomizing what one means when one says "we'll have to decide on a case-by-case basis," even if there is a sort of guiding principle referred to when making those decisions.

• You think he made the decision by allowing his emotions to carry the day. I disagree -- I see it as the conclusion to a considered judgment. I'll grant that he may have displayed some tone suggesting exasperation in his email. I'd call that justified, or at the very least, understandable.

• You are worried about what this decision of his signifies. I am not.

I don't think we're going to get any closer than we are right now, no matter how much we keep batting it around.

Apologies for taking so many words to say "Let's agree to disagree."

Tyrrell McAllister
06-26-2009, 09:08 PM
An eminently fair summary :).

bjkeefe
06-26-2009, 09:34 PM
An eminently fair summary :).

Shhhh. Not so loud. You'll blow my rep.

;^)

Thanks for the discussion.

bjkeefe
06-28-2009, 10:36 PM
From Jesus and Mo (http://www.jesusandmo.net/2009/06/23/size/), via PZ (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/truth_in_advertising_1.php):

bjkeefe
07-09-2009, 04:26 AM
I posted previously (http://brainwaveweb.com/forum/showthread.php?p=115604) that Jerry Coyne refused to appear on BHtv because of the funding by the Templeton Foundation. It appears that the backlash against Templeton is growing -

Here's another, Robert Hinde, whose actions were described in a note Richard Dawkins sent to PZ Myers (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/robert_hinde_has_the_courage_o.php).

bjkeefe
07-10-2009, 03:20 AM
Here's another, Robert Hinde, whose actions were described in a note Richard Dawkins sent to PZ Myers (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/robert_hinde_has_the_courage_o.php).

PZ has another report from the Cambridge Darwin Festival (where Hinde made his stand as described above). This one is from Dan Dennett (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/dennett_and_evolutionary_chris.php), who "takes a bullet for the team and attended those meetings, and files a report on location — he describes it as 'wonderfully awful', with some exceptions."

It is hilarious.

popcorn_karate
07-10-2009, 05:50 PM
somehow, i ended up on this article ( http://www.springerlink.com/content/g6j5896642734174/fulltext.html ) a couple meanders after following your link.

pretty interesting article about how conservative and liberal religiosity are not poles on a spectrum, but are actually fundamentally different cognitive niches.

claymisher
07-11-2009, 01:58 AM
somehow, i ended up on this article ( http://www.springerlink.com/content/g6j5896642734174/fulltext.html ) a couple meanders after following your link.

pretty interesting article about how conservative and liberal religiosity are not poles on a spectrum, but are actually fundamentally different cognitive niches.

That was pretty cool. Score another one for "people can surprise you."