Why I'm Staying On Bloggingheads.tv

by Eliezer Yudkowsky1 min read7th Sep 2009101 comments


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Recently, Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, and Phil Plait have all decided to stop appearing on BloggingHeads.TV (BHTV), and PZ Myers announced he would not appear on it in the future, after a disastrous decision to have creationist Michael Behe interviewed by the linguist and non-biologist John McWhorter, who failed to call Behe on his standard BS.

I'm hereby publicly announcing that I intend to stay on BloggingHeads.TV.

Why?  Two main reasons:

1)  Robert Wright publicly said that this was foolish, apologized for the poor editorial oversight that led to it, and says they're going to try never to do this again.  This looks sincere to me, and given that it's sincere, people really ought to be allowed more chance than this to recover from their mistakes.

2)  Bloggingheads.TV has given me a forum to debate accomodationist atheists who are insufficiently condemning of religion - for example my diavlog with Adam Frank, author of "The Constant Fire".  Adam Frank argues that, while of course we now know that God doesn't exist, nonetheless scientific wonder at the universe and its mysteries has a lot in common with the roots of religion.  And I said this was wishful thinking, historically ignorant of how religions really arose and propagated themselves, and a continuation of such theistic bad habits as thinking that things of which we are temporarily ignorant are "sacred mysteries".  And no one at BHTV complained that I was being too confrontational, or too anti-religious, or that it was unfair to have the diavlog be between two atheists.

If BHTV is willing to let me come on and (politely) kick hell out of atheists who aren't atheistic enough to suit me, then I don't believe that their unfortunate failure to have Behe interviewed by someone who could call his BS, represents any deep hidden agenda in favor of religion and against science.

Rather, I think it represents a commitment to having interesting discussions by people who intelligently disagree with each other and have something courteous to say about it - even if that discussion wanders into the fearsome death zones where science does ("does not!") clash with religion - and this commitment managed to go wrong on one or two occasions.

My friends and fellow antitheists, this is an important commitment while most of the world is continuing to pretend that there is no conflict between science and religion.  It's not surprising if that commitment goes wrong now and then.  It is not reasonable to expect that a commitment to repeatedly discuss a scary controversy will never go wrong.  It may well go wrong again despite Robert Wright's best intentions.  But unless it starts to go wrong systematically, I'm going to stay on BHTV, arguing that science and religion are not compatible.

Of course, if most other non-accomodationists jump ship from BHTV as a result of the Behe affair, then it will become a hangout for accomodationists only.  "Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs" is another reason why you should put forth at least a little effort to "Tolerate Tolerance" - to not insist that all your potential trade-partners punish the same people you've labeled defectors, exactly the way you want them punished, before you cooperate.  Yes, Behe is an enemy of science, but Wright is not; and Wright may also dislike Behe, yet not wish to implement exactly the same punishment-policy toward Behe that you advocate; and that needs to be all right, if we're all going to end up cooperating.