Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Comment

E. , I’d agree with most of your last comment and as your goal is to promote rationality, you certainly see that irrationality isn’t limited to a subset or religious believers.

One of the questions that keeps popping up is why the United States and not some other developed country has problems over the teaching of evolution. You’ve hit on one of the biggest, our system of local and state school boards. If one municipality or state get hijacked by creationist candidates, as has happened, or even a whole state, it can take a court challenge to prevent them from putting it into science classes. I’m skeptical of the ability of a small, unpopular minority to sustain their civil rights on the basis of court rulings. The Rehnquist and Roberts courts have shown any rights gained even by legislation can be effectively abridged by a malicious court. Public acceptance is the only certain way to protect civil rights. I doubt that anyone should expect that Dover is the last word on the evolution struggle, those who want to keep religion out of biology classes in public schools here had better not rest on that, very possibly, temporary decision. Clearly, the new atheists’ hijacking of that issue combined with the rest of their program won’t help in the effort to build broad public support for protecting the science in the schools. You don’t win elections by insulting the majority of voters.

Given how difficult it is to change the basic forms of our government in the United States, the local-state school board structure should be taken as permanent. Even more permanent should be the fact that our basic act of governance is the vote.

The first time I ever waded into this issue was in the months before the 2006 election when the media was trying to provoke the left by widely discussing that stupid poll that showed the public would elect a gay person as president before they would an atheist. Stupid, not just because the poll was bogus, but because most of the various minorities coming out ahead of atheists weren’t in any great danger of being elected. I wrote a piece saying that the coming election was what the left should concentrate on, not getting into the already polluted atheist-religion squabble. I also told atheists that insulting the majority of the voters wouldn’t do a thing to make them want to vote for an atheist. I figured it was about as rational a point as possible to make.

A number of atheists, notably Amanda Marcott took that point and distorted the entire meaning of what I wrote, which was my refresher course in blog ethics. Austin Cline doing the same thing was several months away. But that’s not really important. What is important is that now a sizable number of atheists have recognized that the new atheism is irrational and is already damaging to other atheists’ interests and potentially to science. I think their positions are superior to the new atheists’ they are more rational and honest. I think their positions.

I figure science isn’t my responsibility, the future of science rests in the hands of scientists and those who fund their work. I’d like nothing better than to not have this distraction out of politics altogether. My interest is in political progress, environmental protection, national healthcare, civil rights…. all of which I think are more important than the keeping biology classes pure of extraneous religious content. I’m enough of a practical heretic to think that most of those who take biology classes need some of the other topics covered by the one and only biology class they’ll ever take more than they do a pure and pristine view of their ancestry. A knowledge of evolution isn’t going to keep them from an unintended pregnancy or a life threatening venereal disease. The evolution ball that every always has their eye on is important but its not all that big.

I think the real problem is that the line of explicitly anti-religious intent stemming from those around and about Darwin, as seen most honestly in Thomas Huxley but also others, which took up evolution as a weapon against religion, meets head on with biblical fundamentalism. I don’t think that is useful for science or religious liberalism. In practical terms, in the United States, at least, the effort would clearly favor the biblical literalists. The use of evolution as a weapon against religion has failed the test of history, it’s failed the test of time. It has been damaging to the publics understanding of science and has been an effective tool of political organization among the far right. I don’t think most of the Republicans who kow-towed to the TV evangelists cared at all about evolution and they demonstrably had no intention of following the teachings of Jesus, certainly not in economic and social justice. They saw them as a large and easily used political force. And they have won elections with them. The loss of power by the far right has not been due to the religious right disappearing but due to economic and other factors. The religious right is always going to be a potential source of votes for them.

So, when we are talking about reason, those considerations are the crux of the problem. The program of Dawkins, Harris, et al are irrational and unrealistic. I think their motive has nothing to do with the promotion of reason or science, it’s because they can’t stand the existence of anything but their chosen mix of materialism-scientism. In that they are no different from their opposite. They don’t like pluralism on the issue of belief any more than the most rigid Souther Baptists. The irony with the Southern Baptists is that the Baptist tradition began as a quite liberal one in which individual conscience and reason were major positions it took. There are still Free-will Baptists, though they are quite invisible. The ironies of the new atheism is that they are some of the worst supporters of science and reason and logic, certainly their web presence is anything but a new enlightenment. When arguing with them, notably one “Science Avenger” it was clear they had no concept of the basic requirements of science and had a very damaged idea of logic.

I don’t think religion is the only thing that could usefully be checked at the political door.

P.S. It shouldn't be forgotten that voters will not leave their religion outside of the voting booth.


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