how not to save science from atheists

April 17, 2012

Accommodationist philosopher extraordinaire, Michael Ruse, who recently decided to compare the scientific method to religious revelation, has managed to produce yet another emanation of cluelessness that’s spot on in explaining how those crusading against scientific education think and proceeds to entirely miss why the line of thought being explained is wrong. This time, the subject is a much discussed new Tennessee law that grants teachers immunity from teaching their students pseudoscience by calling this a debate. Why students who are still just learning about the topics involved need to have some sort of debate about something they’ve not been taught yet seems rather odd but with the governor too scared of the backlash if he signed the bill into law and too cowardly to face and creationists if he vetoed the bill, this bizarre legal construction was elevated into law by default. Now, scientific organizations obviously want it repealed because pseudoscience, religion, and political indoctrination don’t belong in the classroom, but Ruse warns that the law might be against them. Not because they’re wrong about the science mind you, but because of all those darn atheists…

[The New Atheist movement’s] supporters openly and explicitly link evolutionary thinking with non- belief, sneering at those (like myself) who think that science and religion can exist harmoniously together. I don’t care what the law says, politically this is moronic. The citizens of Tennessee, the judges of the Supreme Court, are going to believe that if evolution alone is taught in schools the kids of the country would be getting atheist propaganda – no matter what actually happens – and they are going to want to counter it. I imagine every time that Richard Dawkins opens his mouth, the Discovery Institute lights a candle of thanks, or whatever it is that evangelicals do these days.

Well, yes, of course there are people in Tennessee as well as many other states who believe that evolution is just atheist propaganda responsible for all the evil in the world, but they believed that many decades before a popular atheist movement was ever even mentioned in the press. Dawkins and New Atheism are just big red herrings here and regardless of which movement links evolution and their cause, this doesn’t make the peer reviewed science behind it change its validity. Backers of the Tennessee law don’t care about the science and the quality of education for students, they see every worldview unlike theirs as heresy, and because they won’t be allowed to simply ban it as they have before, they’ll try to outshout it. Americans’ relationship with evolution has been very complicated and needlessly stays so, just because we can’t seem to put our foot down to say that facts are facts and we have to teach facts if we want educated and capable students. Those in danger of fainting in shock when the facts disagree with their opinions should examine their own worldviews first rather then rush to censor and outshout any fact they find offensive by virtue of it not fitting into their ideology. Ruse, in his ongoing effort to appease creationists of all types, either doesn’t understand this or refuses to.

When the typical supporters of bills that allow creationism in science class try to support their assertions that evolution is not scientific, they almost invariably proceed to describe the way evolution works in Pokemon and declare that no one has ever seen anything like this happen. Well yes, they haven’t. If they did, we’d have to be triaging our current body of knowledge about evolution for any useful scrap. Creationists fight the science with their ignorance and according to Ruse that’s certainly dreadful and all, but at least they’re not listening to what they consider atheist propaganda so that’s a positive start, right? No, not at all. Ruse is implicitly giving those who value dogma over facts the implicit license to ignore science at whim and then proceeds to blame a very popular but rather small group of atheists for these people’s inability to consider the possibility that no, a deity who created a sprawling universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies and countless trillions of stars did not come down to this planet to coddle them throughout their lives, and have a deep and very personal telepathic relationship with them. As much as accommodationism is claimed to be a framework for reconciling science and religion in cases like these, to me it seems like nothing more than atheist bashing and appeasement.

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  • TOM

    “who think that science and religion can exist harmoniously together”

    Do you think this can happen?

    I’m not religious, i dont deny evolution, but i can agree with them in certain things.
    Mixing education with religious propaganda is something i dont wish… but mixing science with anti-religious and political agenda is an even worse possibility to me.

  • Jordan

    The fact is the Legislature is the supreme authority in a state. If the people support this bill, it should be passed. Regardless of the opinion of athiests.

  • Russ Toelke

    Kinda glad I went to Catholic schools and public schools growing up. Gave me a healthy dose of skepticism toward creationism, as well as a sense of science still having an element of faith. Of course science is much easier to prove, but until it can tell me where we came from and why we’re here, I tend to think both science and religion are essentially asking the same questions.

  • Greg Fish

    Jordan, a couple of problems with your statement.

    First and foremost, there are courts and a governor in a state too and no branch is supposed to have the ultimate authority. That’s a really big deal in the Constitution.

    Secondly, education doesn’t have to suffer from people who mandate that their pet cause be taught too, with no regard for how factually backed it is or how it reflects on the quality of instruction students will receive. It’s not atheists’ opinion that evolution is a science. Evolution is a science because it has data and evidence behind it.

  • TOM

    I remember to my biology class, the teacher said, even when lifeforms are created by God, it is sure they have changed. i wonder if this could be accepted by anyone?

  • Greg Fish

    Tom, well that’s theistic evolution in a nutshell. God created life and all this life grew and changed over time. But it’s not even remotely scientific because a) it starts with the assumption that a deity exists and created life on the grounds that life exists, and b) because theistic evolution says that humans were evolution;s main goal on the basis that there are humans.

    Both notions don’t have any data supporting them and end up as circular arguments. How do we know a deity exists? Because he created life. How do we know he created life? Because life exists. Where’s the step in which we show how he created life? You see there I’m going with this, right?

  • TOM

    As I said i am not religious, but they could also ask, ok there were a Big Bang, what launched it? Ok life appeared on Earth, how? It dont just appear in a lab…

    We can say it is a fact, lifeforms were evolved, changed, we cant say, we know for sure, how life or Universe was created.

    i dont know exactly what they want to teach, however, teaching pure facts dont necessary exclude religious viewpoint, and assure atheist viewpoint.

    It seems to me, whatever you say, someone can be pissed off, but saying that life could be either created by chance or God isnt that much indoctrination, I much more fear other types of agenda by various ***ism -s.

    (Te make myself clear, atheism is ***ism, but there is a difference between that you dont believe in God, especially not, that a deity watch over all people, and intervenes, judges, and launch campaigns like Dawkins.)

  • Tom, you’re missing the point. The fact that there are unanswered questions about the universe does not mean religion should be used to fill those voids in a science class room or lab. It means there are unanswered questions and we should continue looking to explain them using the scientific method.

    The problem here is that people want to go into science classrooms and say things like “God started life, then evolution happened,” when God is completely unnecessary in that discussion since there is zero tangible, testable evidence to support the claim that God exists in the first place, never mind that he created the universe and planted life within it.

    It’s a theological view and doesn’t have any place in science. No one is saying people can’t believe in God, but interjecting that concept into the scientific arena obscures the very nature of science and will do nothing but confuse students about what science is.

  • Tom

    The problem here is that people want to go into science classrooms and say things like “God started life, then evolution happened,”

    It seemed to me, they wanted to present this as an option, not a fact. As it is not a fact, but an option, then this statement is outside science class i agree.

  • badbass

    I think the problem here is ” What makes an atheist?”. I loosely adhere to Zen Buddhism. Am I an atheist? Creationism is junk. Am I an Atheist? Scientific process proves evolution. Am I an Atheist? Atheism is used by the Christian Right of this country to persecute those who don’t share their beliefs. Reminds me alot of Islam. My “God” is the only “God” and you’re an infidel if you don’t believe that. Is this what we’ve come to? Name calling over unshared beliefs. While we all can’t be best friends, how about a little grudging respect? And let the schools teach, as Joe Friday says; “Just the facts, Ma’am”, not theological ideals. Leave that to the church affiliated schools.

  • venqax

    Another aspect of this is the failure of non-fundamentalist religions, like the RCC and mainstream Protestant churches, to step up in the public debate regarding these things. The fact is, most religions don’t have any problem with evolution, or science generally. Only the fundamentalists do. So to allow this issue to always be billed as Religion vs Science, or Atheists vs Christians– as if only atheists acknowledge evolution– does not serve mainstream religion’s interests either.

  • TOM

    “The fact is, most religions don’t have any problem with evolution, or science generally.”

    Wat religions do you think about?

  • venqax

    The Catholic Church expressly has no problem with evolution. LIkewise the non-fundie Prostestants– Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran– just to cite the big ones, have no problem with the theory of evolution. The majority of Judaism as well. They do teach that God created the world, however that might be taken, but as far as Darwinism is concerned they do not object. Those religions are non-fundamentalist and teach the Bible as allegory. Only fundamentalists– most of whom are Baptists of some sort, theologically speaking– hold fast to the notion that the Bible is be taken literally and inerrantly.

  • I don’t have a problem with religion/belief in a deity, but I’ve encountered far too many people who dismiss science with some variation of “Because God, that’s why.” it’s annoying.