Thursday, September 11, 2008


And Now For Something ...

Oh, goody!

Matt Nisbet is criticizing Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers again. That means the science-oriented blogosphere will have some other topic -– and some other target of venom -– than Sarah Palin to obsess over for a while.

Nisbet is humping a couple of articles he's written, one at Skeptical Inquirer and one in Kean Review. This is how Nisbet describes his criticism:

I draw attention to the confusing messages that scientist pundits such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers continue to send to the wider American public. By combining their attacks on religion with their defense of evolution, they blur the lines between science, religion, and atheism, providing fodder to creationists who claim that evolution is part of a larger atheist agenda.
It'll be a welcome break from all the recent lipstick smears turning up on the American electorate's naughty bits.

Ooh, goody, another round of Nisbet-bashing! Can we follow it with another outbreak of the atheist/agnostic wars?

On a (slightly) more serious note. Is Nisbet really impressed - and expecting us to be impressed - with the fact that Expelled played well to sympathetic audiences or received favorable comment from the Usual Pundits? If Eugenie Scott had given it a rave review, I'd have said there was cause for concern but Rush Limbaugh for God's sake?

I have no doubt it will be played at church gatherings to the general satisfaction of all present because that is the choir it is intended to preach to, that is what it is for, to rouse the faithful It is a cheerleader for creationism and the poster should have featured Ben Stein in a ra-ra skirt and waving pom-poms not a school uniform.
It is a cheerleader for creationism and the poster should have featured Ben Stein in a ra-ra skirt and waving pom-poms not a school uniform.

Naw. He should have worn lipstick ... with or without a fake pig's nose.
....Ben Stein in a ra-ra skirt and waving pom-poms

Aaaagh! My eyes!!! The goggles, they do nothing!!
I was the only person to read and comment on Nisbet's blog about either of Nisbet's articles. I'm not exactly in the PZ Myers camp on this--I think there is an unnecessary airing of mutual bad blood going on. However I don't find Nisbet's criticisms much use. You see, unlike Dawkins and even Myers, I feel very optimistic about the future. Religion appears to be receding in the United States as it did earlier in Western Europe (for instance ARIS 1990-2001 reported a 10% reduction in Americans calling themselves Christian over an eleven year period).

Now is an ideal time to raise the temperature of debate and present non-belief in all gods of any kind as a realistic alternative to the rather simple-minded cosmologies of fundamentalism and the sound but uninspiring half-way houses of mainstream Christianity. Dawkins, Myers, et al are in an excellent position to lead the way.

Despite the fundamentalist attempts at framing the whole thing as a crisis of science, science is in absolutely no danger. The churches, on the other hand, face a drastic historical decline that shows no sign of reversing.
I fall between the two camps. I think it is counterproductive to confuse atheism with science (which both extremes do) and to bash the science-accepting religious community, if your goal is to encourage more rationality in society. It encourages an "us vs. them" dichotomy that rationality, on the basis of history, is unlikely to win. I don't really get the logic of the claim that you have to be as extreme as the most extreme of your opponents in order to advance the cause of reason. Gains in rationality have all been incremental and are fragile, having been lost before.

On the other hand, hectoring the extremes is unlikely to do much good either. It's better to let them get it out of their system and follow up with the more moderate statements and/or counter their arguments.

But science is in no danger because it will simply be picked up somewhere else if Americans put it down. There is considerable danger to science in the US, I think.
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