Saturday, March 31, 2012

Elephants and Political Correctness

By Hos
The resurgence of creationist bills in several states has put the spotlight back on the creation-evolution "debate". Once again, in the name of "fairness" or "open-mindedness", established science comes under attack from politicians with no scientific understanding or qualification.
But what is often ignored by analysts giving their opinion on this disturbing trend is their avoidance of the R word: religion. It is amazing to watch the mental gymanstics that some people go through to put the blame anywhere but at the doorstep of religious faith. Naming religion as a culprit is a red line in political correctness that is not to be crossed.
For example, there have been two pieces recently in the Huffington Post exploring the issue, while completely ignoring the elephant in the room. In the first one, Kenneth Miller attributes the problem to the overall issue of resistance to science and disdain for authority (which is true but misses the point), while in the second one, Michael Zimmerman claims that attempts to pollute education with creationism are political, not scientific (again true but missing the point).

How can outstanding scientists be so blissfully ignorant? Why is it that disdain for authority, as hypothesized by Miller, is not applied to the Law of Connecting Vessels? Why isn't there an organized political force, according to Michael Zimmerman, to undercut the teaching of Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism? Why are is evolution always singled out? Who are Miller and Zimmerman kidding? At a time when a distinguished, peer-reviewed medical journal withdraws an original research publication on the grounds that it contradicts the Bible, why is it that no one is willing to bring up the R word? Is it going to be an open secret that while religion is not the only reason for resistance to science, it is all too often a big contributor?
Well. I guess no one is left to call a spade a spade, then.
Except for the "New Atheists".


Don Wharton said...

Kenneth Miller is a Catholic. He has performed with distinction in court battles organised by the National Center for Science Education. The scary thing about this issue is the large number of people who think that if it is seen as just a battle between science and religion we will lose. Such people argue that Ken Miller destroys that argument because he is religious.

Hos said...

I am not quite sure. I am aware of the respectable work he has done and he certainly deserves recognition for that. Still he writes a whole article on "Darwin problem" and fails to even mention creationism as a cause for it. I find that mighty naive if not dishonest.

Don Wharton said...

There is also a mixture of dishonesty in how we secularists deal with Miller. We don't really want to know what he really believes. He is an ally in the fight against creationism and we leave his actual beliefs in a realm of "don't ask, don't tell." If he really believed in superstitious nonsense we would have to say how and why it is nonsense. If he were basically a Deist just hanging around Catholics because he enjoyed the community or drama of the litergy, then he is not an honest Catholic. Either way the relationship can become uncomfortable and dishonest so we don't want to know.

Explicit Atheist said...

Don, my own view of the relationship between our secular and religious allies such as Professor Miller, and the non- religious and anti-religious, is a litlle different.

First of all, I agree that for many people (over 60% of the general population) in a conflict between their religious belief and the evidence, they self-assert that they are a-priori inclined to side with their religion.

However, I disagree that therefore we shouldn't openly challenge religious beliefs. My conclusion is the opposite. I conclude that it is not until that sort of dogmatism which characterizes so much of our religious culture is undercut that our society and government can function to its full potential.

I think the notion that because there are religious secularists like miller, we who are non-religious and anti- religious secularists should not advocate for our views is wrong. I don't think the activities of public religious secularists is going to be more effective if non-religious and anti-religious secularists keep silent. Nor do I think religious secularists like miller are more effective than non-religious and anti-religious secularists. On the contrary, I actually think the arguments that can only be made by non-religious and anti-religious secularists are likely to be more effective because they are targeting the underlying problem instead of just the superficial symptoms. The argument between religious secularists and religious non-secularists is primarily a theological argument, and arguments between two different interpretations of scriptures like that are vacuous and therefore very unlikely to convert people on either side of that inter-religion dispute.

I favor dispensing with the dishonesty on our side and just letting the world know why we think ALL religions are false. If people like Kenneth Miller get angry, and threaten to refuse to associate with us, I think they are bluffing. Sooner or later, they will accept us for who we are. I, for one, am aware of Miller's Christian beliefs. I have no problem with telling him and everyone else that I consider his beliefs to be mistaken and inconsistent with the empirically based approach to determining what is true and false, and that I think that once people opt to take a non-empirical approach that they undercut their own ability to argue for scientific conclusions over religious conclusions.

Don Wharton said...

Obviously we agree about both the dishonesty and the our mutual support for supporting the confronting of the dishonesty at least enough to understand what is going on.

I do support NCSE and their work against the creationists. What I do not support is any notion that the relatively modest dishonesty in their relationships with those such as Ken Miller be beyond criticism. We should very much feel free to consider what is happening with these alliances.

Edd.Doerr said...

In the Sturm und Drang of the real world in 2012 we Humanists need all the allies we can get, whether they are "religious" or not. Seeking perfection right now is not the best strategy. -- Edd Doerr

Hos said...

We do need allies. Yet it puzzles me why is it that Dawkins is often accused of being a purist, and yet he was also criticized for his support for anti-vaxer Bill Maher, as not being stauch enough on matters of skepticism.

Explicit Atheist said...

What we need is an effective approach to changing public opinion over the longer term, and the existence of secularist religionists doesn't change the fact that the biggest obstacle is religion. When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin's theory. I don't think that secularist religionists are effective at converting non-secularist religionists. The former cannot argue effectively against the latter because the difference between them amounts to little more than a sterile disagreement over whose mutually incompatible interpretation of scripture is correct. To win the issues that secularists care about over the long term, we must be wiiling to openly take on religion, all religion, starting yesterday.