Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, September 9th, 2007.


Uncompromising

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liberalism and progressivism, Religion, science

An article in Newsweek about the struggle between evolution and creationism got me thinking about the recent post on religion and liberalism.

Day before yesterday I wrote about how liberalism seeks to promote domestic tranquility and individual freedom by drawing lines between the personal and the public. To quote John McGowan:

Here I just want to end by noting how “unnatural” liberalism seems. It involves self-abnegation, accepting the frustration of my will. It involves, as I will detail in my next post, compromise in almost every instance, and thus can seem akin to having no strong convictions, no principles. Yet its benefits are enormous; it provides, I am convinced, the only possible way humans can live in peace together in a pluralistic world. …

…Because liberalism aims to insure peace and prevent tyranny in pluralistic societies, it often works to establish zones of mutual indifference. Liberalism strives to place lots of individual actions outside the pale of politics, beyond interference from the state or other powers. And, culturally, it strives to promote tolerance, where tolerance is, at a minimum, indifference to the choices and actions of others and, at best, a recognition that diversity yields some social benefits….

… Except for what are generally weak claims for the benefits of diversity (weak not in the sense of being unconvincing, but weak in the sense that no very major social benefit is claimed and some costs are acknowledged), the liberal argument for non-political interference, for privacy and individual autonomy, is primarily negative. Conflict is the result of trying to tell people what to believe and what to do, so we are better off cultivating a talent for resisting our inclinations to insist that others see the world and run their lives the way I do.

Ironically, anti-liberal forces in America use the values of liberalism against liberalism. For example, creationism is argued to be an alternative view to evolution that is owed respect. Peter Slevin wrote in the Washington Post (March 14, 2005) (emphasis added):

Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that. And a school board member in a Tennessee county wants stickers pasted on textbooks that say evolution remains unproven. …

… Polls show that a large majority of Americans believe God alone created man or had a guiding hand. Advocates invoke the First Amendment and say the current campaigns are partly about respect for those beliefs.

It’s an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism,” said the Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life’s unfurling. “We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country.” …

…That approach appeals to Cindy Duckett, a Wichita mother who believes public school leaves many religious children feeling shut out. Teaching doubts about evolution, she said, is “more inclusive. I think the more options, the better.”

“If students only have one thing to consider, one option, that’s really more brainwashing,” said Duckett, who sent her children to Christian schools because of her frustration. Students should be exposed to the Big Bang, evolution, intelligent design “and, beyond that, any other belief that a kid in class has. It should all be okay.”

Fox — pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, drawing 6,000 worshipers a week to his Wichita church — said the compromise is an important tactic. “The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada. We’re trying to be a little more subtle,” he said. …

…”If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby,” [Southern Baptist minister Terry] Fox said. “If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die.”

See, science is supposed to “compromise” with religion, because to deny religion equal say with science violates the liberal values of “inclusiveness” and “freedom.” And the goal is to destroy liberalism. Of course, if the creationists had the authority they’d see to it that only their version of creation is taught in public schools, because they aren’t liberals.

Here’s the latest round in the evolution wars, by Sharon Begley in the current issue of Newsweek:

There may be some battlefields where the gospel’s “blessed are the peacemakers” holds true. But despite the work of a growing number of scholars and millions of dollars in foundation funding to find harmony between science and faith, evolution still isn’t one of them. Just ask biologist Richard Colling. A professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois and a lifelong member of the evangelical Church of the Nazarene, Colling wrote a 2004 book called “Random Designer” because—as he said in a letter to students and colleagues this year—”I want you to know the truth that God is bigger, far more profound and vastly more creative than you may have known.” Moreover, he said, God “cares enough about creation to harness even the forces of [Darwinian] randomness.”

For all the good it’s done him, Colling might as well have thrown a book party for Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great”) and Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”). Anger over his work had been building for two years. When classes resumed in late August, things finally came to a head. Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book. At least one local Nazarene church called for Colling to be fired and threatened to withhold financial support from the college. In a letter to Bowling, ministers in Caro, Mo., expressed “deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact,” calling it “a philosophy that is godless, contrary to scripture and scientifically unverifiable.” Irate parents, pastors and others complained to Bowling, while a meeting between church leaders and Colling “led to some tension and misunderstanding,” Bowling said in a letter to trustees. (Well, “misunderstanding” in the sense that the Noachian flood was a little puddle.) It’s a rude awakening to scientists who thought the Galilean gulf was closing.

So much for compromise.

Colling’s troubles come as more and more researchers are fighting the “godless” rap, emphasizing that evolution does not preclude a deity (though neither does it require one).

Science doesn’t have anything to apologize for. It’s the creationists and their “intelligent design” allies who dissemble and lie and misrepresent evolution and science in their war against liberalism.

I think it’s a mistake for science to attempt “compromise” with the religionists (and I doubt many scientists are thinking about doing so), because it wouldn’t be an honest compromise. Creationism/ID “theory” is not only based on lies; it has the intention of undermining science. Same thing for liberalism, which does not require giving in anti-liberal factions in the name of “inclusiveness.”

As John Holbo wrote, (h/t Dan S):

I would also like to request a moratorium on critiques of liberalism that consist entirely of a flourish for effect – with accompanying air of discovery – of the familiar consideration that liberalism is inconsistent with blanket, categorical tolerance of absolutely every possible act and attitude. That is, liberalism is incompatible, in practice, with any form of illiberalism that destroys liberalism. If something is inconsistent with liberalism, it is inconsistent with liberalism. Yes. Quite. We noticed.

Also, it might not be a half-bad idea to notice that liberalism is not incompatible with religion, merely with illiberal forms of religion. Just as liberalism is incompatible with illiberal forms of secularism.

Exactly. We should all print that on our T-shirts.

It is not “inclusive” to allow propagandists to hijack science classes. It is not “academic freedom” to lie to children to confuse them. Don’t forget that this controversy is not between religion and science. It’s between a faction of religious totalitarians and modern civilization. We do not have to tolerate them, compromise with them, or humor them. They must be utterly resisted in the public sphere. And this resistance is not a betrayal of liberal values, but a defense of liberal values.

Here is the line drawn between the personal and the public: That minority among the religious who find evolution incompatible with their beliefs are perfectly free to make up their own minds who and what to believe. They can disregard science, if they wish. They can do what Professor Richard Colling did and find their own middle ground. They can even build creationist “museums” with their own money. But they have no right to demand their views be respected as science, nor may they impose their views on children through public schools.

Science doesn’t owe anything to religion, or anyone else, except to be honest, ethical and diligent about the practice of science. However, neither does religion have to justify itself to science. But that’ll have to be the topic of another post.

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