Does Chris Mooney Even Know What Is In ‘Unscientific America’?

For the past few days, PZ Myers and Chris Mooney have been going at it on their respective blogs over Mooney’s new book Unscientific America. I haven’t read Mooney’s book, but apparently it includes a chapter that is uncharitable toward Myers and other so-called “New Atheists.” Myers argues that Mooney’s book is “useless”, while Mooney has decried Myers’ alleged distortions of his claims in Unscientific America.

So far the debate has been marked by Myers raising substantive objections to Unscientific America followed by Mooney either changing the subject or urging interested parties to go read the book. However, there was a telling exchange between Myers and Mooney over at Daily Kos which cast Mooney in an extremely unfavorable light.

In the comments section of a review of UA, a commenter accuses Mooney of distorting the views of Richard Dawkins. The commenter quotes Myers’ critique of UA,

Following this, he proceeds to damn the “New Atheists” for “collapsing the distinction” between methodological and philosophical naturalism, and argues that Dawkins is taking a philosophical position and misusing science to claim it “entirely precludes God’s existence.”

This would be a misrepresentation of Dawkins’ views. Dawkins has written that he thinks the existence of God is a scientific question, and while Dawkins thinks the existence of God is highly improbable, absolute certainty on the question is impossible. Not to worry, though, Mooney replies that this is just another one of those distortions of UA from Myers,

we use that phrase

although it is not attributed to dawkins.

i’ve read dawkins book in some detail, and our objection is to his making god’s existence a scientific question. i realize he does not ascribe full certainty to his atheistic conclusion–but he claims he can reason scientifically about god’s existence. we’re saying that a lot of theologians, philosophers, etc, would say that’s a category error.

i really have to ask that you read our book, rather than its misrepresentation in skewed reviews.

by Chris Mooney on Sun July 12, 2009 at 07:05:48 AM PDT

Well that sucks — you’d hope Myers and the New Atheists wouldn’t go around distorting Mooney’s views. Except, well, they’re not as Myers notes in reply to Mooney,

Yes, you did (13+ / 0-)

Tsk, tsk, Chris. Here’s the quote in context.

But much like the anti-evolutionists do, the New Atheists often seek to collapse the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism. In The God Delusion, for instance, Richard Dawkins makes the dubious claim that the existence of God is, as he puts it, “unequivocally a scientific question.” Quite a lot of philosophers — and scientists — would disagree. It is one thing to say that scientific norms and practices preclude ascribing any explanatory force to God in, say, the movement of atoms, or the function of DNA. It’s quite another to say they entirely preclude God’s existence. In rejecting God or any other supernatural entity, Dawkins is taking a philosophical position.

You unequivocally assign that view to Dawkins. He’s the only person you mention, twice, in that paragraph, and you are using him as your sole example of the attitude you are trying to illustrate.

Your comment is remarkable in that not only do you claim it is others that are misrepresenting your views, but right here you are misrepresenting what you actually said. My paragraph is a very accurate summation of what you wrote.

by pzmyers on Sun July 12, 2009 at 11:15:05 AM PDT

Mooney then concedes the point,

I’ve looked at the passage again (should have been a lot more careful before), and you are right–and I made an error. It does clearly ascribe this view to Dawkins.

Now that I’ve read your criticism on your blog, I think “entirely preclude” states too strongly Dawkins’ position, and we should have been more nuanced here. However he does still try to claim that God’s existence is a scientific question.

Thanks for catching this.

by ChrisMooney on Sun July 12, 2009 at 01:35:59 PM PDT

Wow. What a dunderhead.

And leaving aside Mooney’s confusion about his own damn book, for a book about scientific illiteracy to suggest that part of the solution is to simply wall off this or that particular problem as beyond scientific investigation is insane.