Hey, Daniel Loxton, I Actually Like You a Lot

Daniel Loxton has responded to the numerous comments he received on his post over at Skepticblog concerning his paragraph on religion at the end of his new children’s book on evolution, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be.  In his response he named my post on the subject explicitly.  He writes,

I was surprised by the quantity of the responses to the blog post (208 comments as of this moment, many of them substantial letters), and also by the fierceness of some of those responses. For example, according to one poster, “you not only pandered, you lied. And even if you weren’t lying, you lied.” (Several took up this “lying” theme.) Another, disappointed that my children’s book does not tell a general youth audience to look to “secular humanism for guidance,” declared  that “I’d have to tear out that page if I bought the book.”

These reactions seem too strong, especially given that some of these same critics like the book a lot. (I noticed one outside blog post that devotes almost 1700 words to criticism of my “ridiculous reasoning,” only to conclude that Evolution “is the best children’s book on the science of evolution written.”)

My post is the one referenced in parentheses.  I responded at the site, but I’ll post my response here as well:

I guess I feel obligated to respond since you linked to my post in the beginning of this response. The first thing that needs to be addressed is your quote of “ridiculous reasoning” from my post. That was in reference to a particular argument you made:

It has long struck me as strange that atheists and religious fundamentalists share an assumption that atheism and acceptance of evolution are the same thing. This assumption is, at least in demographic terms, incorrect. Discussions about public attitudes toward evolution typically neglect a remarkable fact:

In North America, most of the people who accept evolution are religious.

Well, that is ridiculous reasoning. To quote myself, “the mere fact that a majority of people hold two positions does not mean those positions are coherent with one another.” You didn’t respond to that, and I don’t see how you could [defend] your position. It’s just a terrible argument. I wish you hadn’t made it, but there it is. Chris Mooney has the habit of making a similar argument, and he’s been picked on so often about it that he guest-authored a Jesus and Mo comic where he made fun of the argument himself (http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/01/22/deny/).

That said, it’s clear that I didn’t label everything you said as “ridiculous,” which is the impression you give from your reference of my post. At the same time, you make the point that I spent some 1700 words addressing this issue, which should suggest that I think this is something worth considering, not something that is simply “ridiculous reasoning.”

Next, you write,

I know that I cannot claim scientific authority for a conclusion that science cannot test, confirm, or disprove. And so, I restrict myself as much as possible, in my role as a skeptic and science writer, to investigable claims.

Great. If you bothered to read my post, you’d know that I say the same thing. Only, as it turns out, lots of religious claims are, in fact, testable. In that light, your assertion from the book that “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion” is simply wrong. Worse, your claim that “Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions” is just weird, and this is for obvious reasons, as I explained in my post. If these are claims beyond the scope of evidence and the reason available to science, it is entirely unclear on why friends and family are “the best people to ask” when it comes to those kinds of issues. Why would you think they have anything of merit to say at all? How did you determine that they were the best ones to ask those questions? If you are not, as you explicitly claim, pandering, then what reason do you have to think that everyone’s friends and family, meaning everyone in the world, since everyone is someone’s friend or family, are the best people to ask? You don’t answer that question at all, and it’s integral to the issue you’ve raised.

And that’s the big problem here. You raised this issue in your book. It didn’t need to be there. It makes little sense to put it there. As I said in the closing of my post, “This stuff isn’t that hard. You should keep religion out of science. That isn’t just true for creationists; it’s true for everyone.” That’s what you’ve missed. You say you want science out of religion, but you injected religion into science. That’s the problem.

All that said, one paragraph doesn’t ruin an entire book, and I wouldn’t have said anything about it if you hadn’t attempted to defend it as you did. Your suggestion that those who are frustrated with this single out-of-place paragraph are somehow contradicting themselves by recommending your book is plain odd.

Looking back over this, I would have written something a little different had I taken more time.  But I wanted to get something out as soon as I read it so it didn’t get lost in the comments, so this is what I put up.  It’s close enough not to worry over too much.

*EDIT:  It has been pointed out to me that giving Mooney authorship of the Jesus and Mo comic above was a joke.  Yea, I blew that one.*

Perhaps the strangest thing about Loxton’s more recent post is that I don’t see that it actually addresses people’s concerns.  It certainly doesn’t address my concerns.  I never suggested that Loxton should tell everyone to be an atheist.  On the contrary, I am explicit that I think people should keep their religion out of science altogether.  And that’s what Loxton is missing, here.  He did this.  He took a subject that has nothing to do with evolution and stuck it in a book on evolution.  That’s the problem.  Well, actually, it’s worse than that.  He took the further step of telling children where to look for guidance on religion in a book on evolution! That was just a bonehead move.  He’s getting called on it, and he should be.  I could say all sorts of things about the condescending attitude that one must have of their readers to tell them where to get guidance on something they believe is wholly made-up (since Loxton is an atheist, after all), but I’ll let that go.  I’m sure my readers can fill in those blanks on their own, and I don’t think that’s Loxton’s intent at all, anyway.

I like Daniel Loxton’s work.  I like it quite a bit, in fact, and making a boneheaded move is not the end of the world.  The problem here is that he isn’t ‘fessing up and moving on with things.  He’s trying to defend something, but it’s not even clear what that is.  At least to me, it looks like people’s problem with this revolve around him appearing to do the very thing that he himself has long advocated avoiding, and that’s mixing up science and religion.  As I said at the end of my last post on this, “You should keep religion out of science.  That isn’t just true for creationists; it’s true for everyone.”

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3 Responses to “Hey, Daniel Loxton, I Actually Like You a Lot”

  1. Ticktock Says:

    I see Loxton’s paragraph on religion as more of an endorsement for the separation of science and religion, rather than a violation of that idea. His book is not strictly a science book – it’s also a skeptic book, meaning that he intentionally addresses false creationist arguments. I think a science book would feel compelled to ignore those hot button topics and just explain the facts.

    So, once Loxton decides to include a section on evolution myths and misconceptions, he would be remiss not to include the common question of religious compatibility. It’s not as if Loxton invented this question – it’s out there, and he’s addressing it in a way that he feels appropriate. His answer to the question is… generic belief in religion is a personal choice and has very little to do with the mechanics of natural selection. He’s saying “this is not a book on spirituality. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, go ask someone more appropriate.”

    • Jim Says:

      The problem here is that it isn’t a misconception that, if some evolutionary story is true, then a literal reading of Genesis, or any other holy book that details the magical origins of any animal, is necessarily not true. So this issue does not fit into the schema you’ve described. Alsot, explaining the myths of evolution absolutely should be in a intro text on evolution, and having such included does not diminish its status as a science text in any way.
      Loxton opens the door for these types of discussions by addressing this issue at all. He legitimizes it. By saying anything, he’s saying that this subject has a place in the discussion of the science of evolution, and it doesn’t. That’s what he thinks. He doesn’t think that religion should play any part in the science of evolution. If that is so, then he shouldn’t bring up religion when discussing evolution.
      And, yet again, even worse than that is his telling children where to go to find out about religion. It is not his place to do any such thing. If it’s ok for him to tell religious children where to go to find out about evolution along with what does and does not conflict with their belief system, then it’s hard to see why he would complain about religious folk telling him where to go to find out about science and what his beliefs do and do not entail. Follow me? He wants to be able to do exactly what he wants to rule out for those on the religious side, and that’s intruding on science’s turf. Fair’s fair, and he needs to stay off religion’s turf and stop telling the devout what to believe and where to receive instruction. That’s the issue, here.
      There is a simple solution to this, and it’s the same one that almost everyone else who has a problem with suggests. What it is not is telling children that they should be atheists or secularists or anything else. It’s simply leaving religion out of the discussion, which, again, is just what Loxton wants anyway. He doesn’t want to tell people what to believe. He just wants to keep religion out of science. But, if those are the rules, then he needs to follow them as well. He needs to keep religion out of science himself and not bring it up. And he absolutely needs to stop patronizing true believers by telling them that they’re wrong that the study of evolution has nothing to say about their articles of faith when it does, and he needs to stop telling children where to go to find out about something he thinks is hogwash and hooey. That’s not building bridges; it’s fanning the flames of the war.

  2. nocompromisewithevil Says:

    Yep, I think we need to realize that this book is poisoned…it looks good at first, but the final lesson it teaches is that evolution and religious belief are compatible, when to any right-thinking person they are not.

    He has spit in the face of everyone who’s worked so hard to legitimize free-thought and rationality. His book will do more damage to the efforts of hundreds of tireless skeptics than any Behe book ever could. I’m afraid I can’t say I like him anymore, as he is helping the enemies of reason and freedom rationalize their idiocy.

    If there is a second printing, he can fix it. If he doesn’t he cannot be considered a reliable friend of skeptical thought. His non-answers so far don’t even convince me that he doesn’t still have some religious beliefs bouncing around in his skull along with the science.

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