There seems to be an interesting dichotomy in religious activism. People who want to talk to you about their beliefs usually don’t want to hear about yours. Those who want to condemn intolerance seem to have a passion for trying to ban those who they find so offensive. And those who claim to be a persecuted minority when they want to get publicity with a narrative evoking pity, can and do pound the bully pulpit, declaring themselves the overwhelming majority to manufacture an appearance of power and legitimacy if they need to intimidate someone in their way. Now, if they could only make up their minds…
Take the recent case of Oklahoma State Legislature trying to condemn Richard Dawkins’ visit to the campus of the state university. Their declared reason for doing this is their opinion that his book The God Delusion is intolerant of the opinions and views held by most Oklahomans. So to combat Dawkins’ intolerance, they’re going be intolerant and heavily borrow from a Discovery Institute talking point of “engaging in an open, dignified and fair discussion” about evolution. It seems rather odd to discuss evolutionary theory while ridiculing an evolutionary biologist who knows and understands this topic just because he said a few things somebody considers mean to their beliefs. I wonder how many Oklahoma legislators have ever ever heard him speak.
While the Discovery Institute likes to demonize Dawkins as some sort of anti-Christ, behind the controversial titles and a brief slip into polemic every once in a while, he’s actually a rather soft spoken and deep thinker who simply reasons that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In his recent interview with MPR’s conservative radio personality, there’s no trace of any fiery speeches about the goodness and righteousness of atheism other than those implied by the interviewer. So this soft spoken scientist skeptical about an omnipotent being is a scourge, someone from who the college students of Oklahoma State University need protection for the sake of “tolerance” as defined by people who favor creationism? Is inviting him to speak an act that deserves condemnation from the legislative branch trying to curry favor with voters?
Speaking of the Discovery Institute, they might have a little internal scuffle in the near future as one of their premiere flacks has went off-narrative in a foaming at the mouth rant about all the follies of a biology group boycotting the state of Louisiana for their convention. Michael Egnor, the proud card carrying member of the Darwin Was A Nazi Club and the author of an inane op- ed in Forbes Magazine about his erroneous beliefs, departed from his role in Expelled as one of the persecuted minority in the academic world to declare that nearly 80% of the nation is ready and willing to line up behind the banner of creationism. Wow, those scientists are rough. Even if almost 8 out of 10 people agree with you, they’ll still refuse to publish your papers, treat you as a persona non grata and send you crying to Ben “Science Makes You Kill People” Stein.
Of course it could be that Egnor is both wrong about the number of creationists in the U.S. and just because people believe something, doesn’t make it true or factual. We don’t have to make wild guesses about how many creationists there are in America. We know that they make up as much as 63% of the population. Yes, 6 out of 10 people is a lot, but it’s a lot less than Egnor has declared in his rant. And while in a democracy bills with 63% of the voters backing them will be enacted into laws, science isn’t a democratic process. Facts are facts and that’s that. You don’t get to vote on them. If I go to the store and randomly buy a few bottles of spices without taking the time to look at the labels, none of my declarations of what’s in each bottle will change what the contents actually are. Coriander won’t magically become paprika no matter how much I or everyone I know agree that the bottle should really contain paprika.
And there’s another, bigger issue at hand. For all the emotional declarations about fair debates and all the condemnations of people they don’t like, creationists never actually engage in the debates they spend so much time discussing. About 98% of their time is spent on politicking or demanding that everyone respect them and allow them to say what they want without critique. Rather than face their critics, they want to run away from them or be given pity and sympathy. And if there happen to be a few legislators they can convince to help them out, holding possible votes like a fisherman tempts fish with live bait, they’ll go for it in a heartbeat.