Friday, March 07, 2008

The Insular Secular Left

Why are Darwinian fundamentalists so eager to vilify intelligent design proponents and other macroevolutionary skeptics? Why is Nick Matzke so eager to lump young earth creationists and ID proponents together, and remain passionately ignorant of important distinctions? Why do so many scientists seem so eager intentionally to misrepresent ID and its advocates?

The statistics in this NY Sun article provide some enlightenment, I think:

We constantly hear from non-religious liberals about the predations of the religious right, and especially the dangerous intolerance of American evangelicals. But do secular liberals actually live close enough to any religious folks to know them personally? You would assume so; after all, the Democratic National Committee has declared that, "The religious diversity of our party reflects the rich religious diversity of our nation."

But in fact, nearly half (45%) of liberals in the 2006 data who called themselves secular — attending a house of worship seldom or never — admitted to having no church-attending neighbors at all. Meanwhile, only a quarter of religious conservatives had no secularist neighbors — despite the fact that non-attendance is rarer than regular attendance at a house of worship in America today.

Many data sources reinforce this finding. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, secular liberals in 2000 were 12 percentage points more likely than religious conservatives to say they had no personal friends with a different religious orientation than their own. In heavily liberal communities like Seattle and San Francisco, this difference opens to about 20 points. Despite the rhetoric about diversity and inclusion, the secular left today is significantly more likely to be cut off from opposing worldviews than the religious right is.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Just because you don't see people with whom you disagree religiously and politically, you can appreciate their views, right?

I believe this is wrong. Personal exposure to divergent worldviews in a democratic society pushes us to be more tolerant, because we are thus less likely to dehumanize people who see things differently than we do. It's easy to see an atheist or an evangelical as the enemy — until you meet at a block party or your kids become friends with hers. Furthermore, it's simply more interesting to live around different kinds of people than in a group where everyone thinks the same way.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

New Review of Expelled the Movie: "Deliciously Uncomfortable" Interview with Richard Dawkins

Presenting a new review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which says in part:

I came into this film very, very skeptical, worried that it would be all about trying to disprove evolution and argue for creationism (thereby reinforcing stereotypes of anti-intellectual religious fundamentalists). I was worried that it would further reinforce the (false) binary that says Christianity and science are on two sides of a battle and can never have any common ground. But I was pleasantly surprised with Expelled on a number of levels.

First of all, it’s pretty funny and quite entertaining. Ben Stein’s hyper-dry way of interviewing people is great fun to watch, and his “everyman” persona makes him easy to sympathize with. His “anyone, anyone” Ferris Bueller character also makes him an appropriate choice for a film about the expulsion of dissenting ideas in the classroom.

Secondly, it’s a reasonably effective, well-mounted argument (if a tad on the manipulative side). The filmmakers interviewed many prominent figures from both sides of the debate, including an extended (and deliciously uncomfortable) interview between Stein and Richard Dawkins (atheist extraordinaire and author of The God Delusion). The film is smart to keep its focus on the glaring double standards and contradictions among the evolution advocates—who have built impenetrable walls around the sacrosanct theory of evolution and (in a very un-academic spirit) refused to allow any rational dialogue on the matter.

I am salivating to see that interview.

The film apparently focuses on "the glaring double standards and contradictions among the evolution advocates," and we have seen several examples of this in commentary about the film before it is even released. Related posts here.

Will this film replace or rival Inherit the Wind (or the Scopes Eugenics Trial) as the reigning paradigm for understanding (or misunderstanding) this controversy? Will the interview with Dawkins rival the cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan (or the mythical version of that in the movie)?

Hat tip to the Evo News blog.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut on Intelligent Design and Intellectual Honesty

After posting on William F. Buckley, I thought I would finally post on another notable intellectual who doubted Darwinian orthodoxy as a sufficient explanation of origins. Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about evolution and intelligent design:

Mr. VONNEGUT: Where you can see tribal behavior now is in this business about teaching evolution in a science class and intelligent design. It’s the scientists themselves [who] are behaving tribally.

INSKEEP: How are the scientists behaving tribally?

Mr. VONNEGUT: They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.

INSKEEP: Does that mean you would favor teaching intelligent design in the classroom?

Mr. VONNEGUT: Look, if it’s what we’re thinking about all the time; if I were a physics teacher or a science teacher, it’d be on my mind all the time as to how the hell we really got this way. It’s a perfectly natural human thought and, okay, if you go into the science class you can’t think this? Well, alright, as soon as you leave you can start thinking about it again without giving aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe of the Christian religion.

As I have said in the past, I am not in favor of requiring teaching about intelligent design in science classes. But it should be permitted, and students questions and curiosity about intelligent design should not be banned or punished.

Macroevolutionary theory is one part of the larger question of origins: Where did everything come from? Science can answer some aspects of origins, but cannot answer others. Philosophy and religion have legitimate answers to some aspects. How a person answers these questions will depend on his or her epistemology and worldview. Public schools and courts should not be in the business of mandating and establishing any specific epistemology of origins. If there is any area where we need pluralism, diversity and tolerance in public schools, it is here.

Vonnegut seems to be suggesting that the way evolution is taught now is forcing students and teachers to be intellectually dishonest. So it goes.

Too bad Kurt Vonnegut was not around to be interviewed for the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.