Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Purely Political Ploy": Fool the Public for the Sake of Science

Another quote from the TIME article debate between Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins:
TIME: Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, famously argued that religion and science can coexist, because they occupy separate, airtight boxes. You both seem to disagree.

COLLINS: Gould sets up an artificial wall between the two worldviews that doesn’t exist in my life. Because I do believe in God’s creative power in having brought it all into being in the first place, I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God’s creation.

DAWKINS: I think that Gould’s separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it’s a very empty idea. . . .

Dawkins position, which is shared by many, seriously undermines one of the key premises of the Dover ruling by Judge Jones. The judge ruled as if people like Dawkins do not exist, or are wrong as a matter of law. Evolutionary theory and intelligent design both have clear philosophical and religious implications.

For a further discussion, go here.

A Plea to Stop Stereotyping

I recommend an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled "Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals." It is somewhat off topic, but I thought some readers might be interested, because it relates to other topics that have been discussed here: stereotyping and its relationship to bigotry and threatiness and theocracy. It also relates to the recent posts about Cornelia Dean and her stereotyping agenda of focusing only on the similarities between intelligent design and creationism, but keeping her readers in the dark about the very important differences. I think many find the differences more interesting than the similarities.

Here is a short excerpt:

It was in 1976 -- the "year of the evangelical," according to Newsweek -- that conservative Christians burst upon the political landscape. Critics have been warning about the theocratic takeover of America ever since. Thus the plaintive cry of a Cabinet member in the Carter administration: "I am beginning to fear that we could have an Ayatollah Khomeini in this country, but that he will not have a beard . . . he will have a television program."

This election season produced similar lamentations -- Howard Dean's warning about Christian "extremism," Kevin Phillips's catalogue of fears in "American Theocracy" and brooding documentaries such as "Jesus Camp," to name a few. This theme is a gross caricature of the 100 million or more people who could be called evangelicals. But the real problem is that it denies the profoundly democratic ideals of Protestant Christianity, while ignoring evangelicalism's deepening social conscience.

Evangelicals led the grass-roots campaigns for religious liberty, the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on Election Day. The only people who want a biblical theocracy in America are completely outside the evangelical mainstream, their influence negligible.

. . .

It is surely no thirst for theocracy but rather a love for their neighbor that sends American evangelicals into harm's way: into refugee camps in Sudan; into AIDS clinics in Somalia, South Africa and Uganda; into brothels to help women forced into sexual slavery; and into prisons and courts to advocate for the victims of political and religious repression.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Richard Dawkins on Cows and Humans

This is from the current TIME magazine cover article, which consists of a debate between Frances Collins and Richard Dawkins. After Dawkins compares the morality of killing human embryos to harvest stem cells with the morality of killing cows for meat, there is this exchange:
Collins: Do humans have a different moral significance than cows in general?
Dawkins: Humans have more moral responsibility perhaps, because they are capable of reasoning.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cornelia Dean and the Editorial Pseudo-Quote

I think Cornelia Dean (discussed in my last post) may have invented a unique journalistic device. I call it the Editorial Pseudo-Quote. You might also call it the Editorial Tag-Along. How do you do it? You provide a direct or indirect quote, and you follow it closely with your own personal editorial comment. A very careful reader may see what you are doing or wonder, but someone reading quickly may very well believe that the editorial opinion was that of the person being quoted, and not the reporter. Here is one example:
But Dr. Owens Fink, a professor of marketing at the University of Akron, said the curriculum standards she supported did not advocate teaching intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. Rather, she said, they urge students to subject evolution to critical analysis, something she said scientists should endorse. She said the idea that there was a scientific consensus on evolution was “laughable.”

Note how Dean brilliantly sandwiches her editorial comment between two indirect quotes of Dr. Owens Fink. Who believes that intelligent design is the ideological cousin of creationism? Maybe Owens Fink, and maybe not.

Here is another:
"We were invited to debate one supposed theory against another," Dr. Leshner said, when in fact there was no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

Who believes that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution? Maybe Dr. Leshner, maybe not.

The beauty of the device is threefold: 1. You get to add your own editorial comment in the article without it appearing blatant that you are departing from your proper role as a neutral reporter, 2. you add implied weight to your personal opinion by suggesting that the belief is held by the person you just quoted, and 3. you maintain plausible deniability, because what is false or misleading is merely suggested by the device, and not blatant.

Is Cornelia Dean doing this intentionally? I do not know. Is there anything false in these excerpts from her writing? I will answer this way: I think that there is one way of reading them in which they are technically true. However, my personal opinion is that they are misleading. Cleverly misleading.

Let me know if you find other examples.

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By the way, don't miss John West's post, "Inside the Mind of the New York Times: My Exchange with Cornelia Dean, Evolution Partisan."

I have posted several times about Cornelia Dean's reporting. If you only read one other, check out Contemplating Cornelia’s Creed. Here is an excerpt:
Note what must be true for this to be true. For there to be "no credible scientific challenge" to evolutionary theory, all the scientists and others who think macroevolution is not well supported by the facts are not just wrong, they have no credible basis at all for their claims. So according to Ms. Dean, hundreds of scientists at numerous universities, and hundreds or thousands more non-scientific academics doubt macroevolutionary theory on the basis of no credible evidence. The nature and sufficiency of the evidence for and against macroevolution is, of course, one of the "big issues" in the current debates, and for her to pontificate in this way basically tells the reader, "In case you are too stupid to realize, one side of the conflict about which I am reporting is right and the other is wrong. Got that? And, by the way, you can ignore half the people I am quoting.”