Chad Orzel says Support the National Center for Science Education:
I try not to do any shilling for political groups on the blog, but I’ll make an exception for the National Center for Science Education. Why? Three reasons:
1) They do good and important, if not always glamorous work, supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools, both in the classroom and in the courts.
2) Josh Rosenau has a really good blog, one of the best on science-and-politics issues, and his day job is with NCSE.
3) Jerry Coyne is a jackass, whose latest bit of jackassery involves sending an open letter to NCSE complaining that Josh (among others) was mean to him on the Internet. Because, apparently, he’s twelve.
So, there you go: it’s an organization that does good work, employs good people, and pisses off the NÃ¼ Atheists. That’s an organization I’ll give money to, and encourage others to do the same.
What is this jackassery he references? An open letter making three basic complaints about how NCSE, my employer, handles issues of science and religion. They are:
- Mean employees: “your employees, present and former, have chosen to spend much of their time battling not creationists, but evolutionists who happen to be atheists.”
- Policy: “The official policy of …the NCSE …is apparently to cozy up to religion.”
- Practices: “You have ‘faith projects,’ you constantly tell us to shut up about religion, and you even espouse a kind of theology which claims that faith and science are compatible. Clearly you are going to continue with these activities, for you’ve done nothing to change them in the face of criticism.”
The line about “employees, present and former” refers to me and to Nick Matzke. Nick has not been an NCSE employee for over 3 years; he’s a grad student at UC Berkeley now. To suggest that NCSE is somehow accountable for an employee three years after he left seems more than disingenuous. As for myself, the complaint involves only the issue of how I behave here, at my blog, which contains a prominent disclaimer that this blog is not an NCSE project, and does not reflect NCSE’s views. I don’t work on it on NCSE time, and the suggestion that NCSE is in any sense responsible for this blog is ignorant, as I’ve pointed out to Coyne repeatedly. (I’ve got a screengrab to the right for clarity.)
No one at NCSE has ever told me that I should blog about a given topic, nor forbidden me from doing so. When I was first hired, I asked whether I should change this blog in any way because of NCSE, and the only suggestion was that I add the disclaimer. My comments here and at other blogs and on Twitter have never been controlled in any way by NCSE, and I have no reason to believe they ever would be. If you have a problem with this blog, there are plenty of ways to express that without going through my employer (or through Nick’s former employer, for goodness sake).
Which means that this first point is entirely irrelevant to NCSE. Neither of the people who Coyne is whining about have been doing so at NCSE’s behest, using NCSE’s resources, or in any capacity as NCSE employees.
Nor, it should be noted, do I spend “much of [my] time” on Coyne and these squabbles over gnu atheism (I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess Nick doesn’t either). I write roughly a post a day, not all my posts are about this issue, and I’m a fast writer, so they don’t take long. His claim about how much time I spend on this is, of course, given without any evidence, nor has he got any basis for making such a judgment. As far as I can tell, the gist of this complaint is that his ego got bruised and he’s upset.
It should be noted that I’ve run this blog for seven years, using it in political fights with people known for their dirty tactics and their influence, and never has anyone tried to influence this blog through any of my employers. People I’ve struggled with include Senators, members of Congress, and several state and federal attorneys general with vast resources at their disposal, reputations for smear campaigns, and the capacity and willingness to abuse their power against critics. But never in my years of blogging has anyone complained to my employer about me, nor can I fathom why anyone would complain to a former employer. This is breach of ethics no one else has dared attempt, and is deserving of special attention.
As to points two and three, they are the same nonsense Coyne and his cronies have been whinging about for years. I responded to the same points, almost verbatim, 13 months ago, and I have little to add now. I want to make clear that I’m responding based on publicly available information, and not in any official NCSE capacity or any information only available to those working at NCSE. Coyne or anyone else could have figured this out just as well.
Has NCSE got an “official policy” of cozying up to religion? No. Here’s NCSE’s official position:
What is NCSE’s religious position?
None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.
To claim that the official policy is anything else is either ignorant or malicious. In neither case is there any excuse, and anyone interested in truth would do well to correct the record, not to repeat this falsehood.
The third point relates to what we might consider unofficial policy. So, Coyne claims there is an NCSE faith project (or perhaps several of them). This is false, though it was true a year or so ago. Dr. Peter Hess was formerly referred to as the Faith Project Director, but is now Director, Religious Community Outreach. A review of the Internet Archive will show that several other titles changed at the same time (over a year ago), including my own. That people are still complaining about a “faith project” over a year after that term was dropped tells you all you need to know about the care they take in gathering and evaluating evidence. Their concerns were addressed, but they couldn’t be arsed to check their facts any time in the intervening year. None of which stops them complaining that their concerns haven’t been addressed!
Coyne claims that NCSE tells people to “shut up about religion.” He offers no source for that claim and a search of NCSE’s website reveals nothing, except an article from 2 years ago saying the exact opposite:
Atheists have every right to believe that theists are woefully misguided in failing to see the obsolescence of religion after Darwin; but that is their philosophical opinion, not an infallibly proven proposition of science or logic. No one is expecting them to shut up or sign on to theistic evolution for the sake of a united front
That article appeared in NCSE’s journal, written by an author outside of NCSE, and unusually for RNCSE, it was paired with a series of responses which make clear that the issue has many facets, and complicating any claim that a single article in the journal would be taken as official NCSE policy. Other than the wingnuts who put together Expelled (and there’s happy company for Coyne), no one can seriously believe NCSE wants anyone to “shut up.”
Finally, Coyne claims NCSE “espouse[s] a kind of theology which claims that faith and science are compatible.” This is asserted blindly as if obviously true that there’s some conflict between NCSE’s official and unofficial policies. It is not obviously true, and to my eye, it is obviously not true. Coyne offers no evidence to substantiate the claim.
Assuming it’s based on the same litany of misreadings and quotemines that he usually trots out, I addressed these issues 13 months ago, and since that post stands unrefuted, I’ll simply refer you there. The only thing I’ll note is that several of the essays on the NCSE site that have generated the most criticism in this regard have been edited to reflect people’s concerns. This again refutes the claim that NCSE has “done nothing to change …in the face of criticism.” NCSE has changed essays on its site, has changed the title of a staff member, and has added new content to the site (as detailed here), all at least partly in response to criticism.
What NCSE has not done, much to Coyne’s apparent dismay, is clamp down on the free speech of someone who worked at NCSE more than three years ago, and a current employee who blogs on these issues outside of work. I don’t know what Coyne thinks NCSE could possibly do to prevent Nick from expressing his concerns about gnu atheist tactics and rhetoric. Nor do I know how he’d like NCSE to interfere in my private life. How would he approach this from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance? Would he accept the University of Chicago telling him to cease his online vendettas? If someone sent an ill-informed nastygram to his publisher, would he agree to curtail his blogging or would he defend himself? What would he think of an employer who caved to the sorts of tactics he is now deploying? What would he think of the people sending such a letter?
What, if anything, should I think of him?