bookmark_borderHow ID perceives real science

Access Research Network, an intelligent design organization, is selling T-shirts etc with the following cartoon:


(Click to see full size)

They also provide an explanation of their imagery. What’s interesting to me is their self-perception: people with science and other intellectual disciplines on their side, attacking a bunch of liberal organizations, academia in particular. The media, the courts, and the dreaded ACLU are the only ones putting up a fight to defend “Darwinism.” NCSE, AAAS, NSTA, NAS etc. — organizations actually representing scientists and science educators — look curiously passive.

bookmark_borderA Parallel “Reality”

One interesting thing about conservative Christianity in the US is the parallel social and cultural reality it has been able to sustain. There are Christian books, music acts, movies — a whole cultural world Christians try to keep pure of contamination by a corrupt secular environment. There are directories of Christian businesses for those who want to shop according to their moral values. There are megachurches that thrive on creating a Christian social and political bubble for the faithful to occupy.

Ordinarily, I would not be too concerned. Let them create a fantasy world and live in it — it would not bother me as long as it did not significantly interfere with things I care about. But that rarely happens. Inevitably, the parallel ideological reality competes for resources in the real world. And occasionally, the right-wing religious populists get ambitions of taking over the country.

Being an academic, the most direct way the parallel Christian reality bothers me are its alternative intellectual structures. Many [correction due to a comment by Humes’s Ghost] right-wing Christians live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience. And since no institution upholding any critical scholarly standards would accept such nonsense, they just do their usual thing: create parallel institutions. Since Christian rightists consider mainstream universities to be fatally compromised by liberal secularist ideology, they set up their own sources of “scholarship” that are guaranteed to confirm their alternative vision of reality. For “education,” you have conservative Christian pseudo-universities such as Liberty, Regent, and Patrick Henry, and a boatload of bible colleges and so forth. For “research,” you have think tanks, which have the extra advantage of direct political influence. For a Religious Right flavor of biology and physics, you have the Discovery Institute. For pseudo-social science, you have the Heritage Foundation.

But what has become scary is how, as the Religious Right has attained political power, this parallel intellectual universe is putting pressure on genuine intellectual institutions. The right-wing Christian constituency not only lives in a hermetically sealed parallel perception of reality, but they are determined to cleanse the rest of the country. So it’s no surprise that science has come under some serious assault during the Bush administration. And there’s more to come. The Religious Right is going after universities for being liberal, evolutionist bastions. More and more often, I’m beginning to see rhetoric such as the following:

I know why our country doesn’t lock up people who fantasize about a new holocaust on a scale that would dwarf all others in human history. We’re a republic that rightly defends intellectual freedom. What I don’t get is why our country–populated overwhelmingly by people who reject the materialistic, nihilistic vision propounded by Pianka and others–nevertheless sets up Ebola holocaust lovers and their nihilistic/materialist cohorts in tenured and taxpayer funded positions at our public universities, not roughly in proportion to their representation among our total population (about 10-12% of us) but in numbers so great that these materialists function as the ideological gatekeepers at these institutions? Maybe when enough socially conservative and moderate Republicans and Democrats begin asking that same question, something will change.

This is from a rant by Jonathan Witt on a Discovery Institute-linked intelligent design blog, where he accuses biologist Eric Pianka of advocating mass murder of most of the planet, and states that this sort of thing is just the logical consequence of evolutionist materialism.

Such lunatic (not to mention slanderous) rhetoric becoming commonplace is disturbing — it ratchets up the feeling of persecution among the faithful, legitimating any measure necessary to eliminate the threat posed by liberal secularists. And I feel particularly alarmed by how often it is the universities that are being set up as targets these days. I can’t be naive and say that those of us who are university faculty are always non-ideological, disinterested inquirers. Nevertheless, by and large, we do a good job. Probably precisely because we have our critical faculties intact, we are rarely favorable toward the ideologicaly-determined picture of the world favored by the Religious Right. They know The Truth, damn the evidence — and they’re now out to get those who disagree and thereby might be a political obstacle. They’re taking back the country for God, after all.

These are fascist attitudes. And the extent of the parallel reality set up by the Religious Right has to remind us of fascist practices in the past.

bookmark_borderNoah’s Ark, discovered yet again

Evangelical Christian “Arkeologists” have again claimed to have discovered Noah’s Ark, this time in Iran. On a recent (second) trip to the site, the explorers included “some of America’s leading businessmen, an attorney who has argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and two leading apologists,” including Josh McDowell. The main explorer is “international explorer and author” Bob Cornuke of the “BASE Institute,” a former Costa Mesa, CA police officer. Unfortunately, they apparently forgot to bring along any scientists (it’s not clear if the “oil and gas geologist” quoted in the article was present on the expedition–but his quote is rather less than an endorsement).

The linked-to website has some rather less than astounding photographs.

Ed Brayton has ably dissected some of the claims in the report, and I comment a bit more on my own blog.

bookmark_border“Godless”

Quite a few creationists, conservatives, and religious-right-types appear to be enthusiastic about Ann Coulter’s latest rant, Godless. So I stopped by at a bookstore and hastily read about half of it. (I’m not buying the thing. Being a bibliomaniac, I spend enough on books that I don’t feel guilty stting down in Borders occasionally and reading loony literature I have no intention of supporting financially.)

It was kind of interesting. It has quite a lot of anti-evolutionary posturing, aside from its perhaps more predictable attacks on secularism and “liberals.” There’s nothing resembling a real argument in the book — it’s a series of insults against “liberals,” can-you-believe-this anecdotes etc. Nothing wrong with that — much of it is actually kind of humorous, even when it’s my ox that’s being gored. But Coulter (and her audience, presumably) clearly have no regard for truth as I understand it. My first reaction was to think that she’s just lying in every other sentence, but now I’m not sure. Perhaps she just doesn’t care. Ideology frames everything — her “facts” and attempts at reasoning are just apologetic devices for a position that has little to do with any actual argument.

Thing is, when reading stuff like this, I invariably start wondering if this is the way most people think about political and religious matters. Scary thought…

bookmark_borderCollins defends God

Francis Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, is known to be a fairly traditional sort of religious believer. Apparently he’s been working on a book to make the case for God, which will appear in the fall. If this news story is any indication, though, the book is going to be close to the “inspirational literature” genre in nature — lots of personal feelings and some very shoddy arguments. A shame, really.

bookmark_borderCatholics on evolution; Left-wing bible-thumping

I’ve run across a couple of interesting articles in right-wing journals.

First there’s “Darwin’s Divisions,” by Martin Hilbert, in this month’s Touchstone. It comes out against Darwinian (naturalistic) evolution, though it accepts common descent; it has strong intelligent design sympathies. Though Hilbert is a bit clueless about the science, and clearly has no concept of randomness (common religion failing, that), his criticisms of some pro-evolution Catholics from a conservative theological perspective are telling. Plus, somebody should point out that Father George Coyne’s “fertility of the universe” as a third option besides chance and necessity is a load of nonsense.

Then there’s David Klinghoffer’s “Where Religious Left Meets Right,” in the National Review. He thinks more politically liberal religious types such as Michael Lerner, Jim Wallis and so forth using a more left-wing religious langauge is a good thing — makes political discourse less secular. It reinforces my worries about the political left finding religion.

A common thread between the two is that they bring out my ambivalence about religious liberals. The thing is, secularists need liberals. Though he may also talk some minor nonsense in the process, Coyne coming out against ID is politically invaluable. And though Lerner and Co. may drivel about biblical values, political liberalism still puts up a stronger defense against the more obnoxious intrusions of religion on public life. Sigh…

bookmark_borderIslam and the political Left

I’m more interested in criticizing supernatural fact claims than in social and ethical opposition to religion. Still, as your basic secular humanist-type, I’d like to keep religion out of my life as much as possible. These are times of resurgent fundamentalisms all over the world, where religion is very political. So I try and follow political criticisms of religion, particularly where the Abrahamic faiths are concerned. And I have a special interest in Islam, having grown up in a Muslim land.

When I look at political approaches to Islam, however, I find that especially in the popular arena, criticism of Islam has a very right wing character. Bashing Islam appears to have become a significant part of the Right’s culture wars. Conservatives accuse Islam of being aggressive (even intrinsically terroristic), oppressive to women, and an obstacle to democracy. Muslims, apparently, are a mass of religious fanatics who blindly obey their holy book and their religious leaders. When not plotting to blow themselves up, they are “breeding like rats” and immigrating in great numbers. Europe, evidently, is becoming demographically overwhelmed by Muslims, metamorphosing into “Eurabia.” Most of the writings in this genre present themselves as defending liberal Western values, but they also are fervidly nationalistic — dripping with American, Israeli, or some European nationalism. Aside from the overheated nature of the right-wing position, I don’t care much for their sort of nationalism, though I must admit it does have the advantage of being a more secular ideology.

So perhaps others could provide a better critique. I’d especially like to see a response to Muslim challenges to liberal values from a liberal, even left perspective. After all, that’s where I feel politically more at home anyway. But especially from the part of the Left that emphasizes multiculturalism, I see next to nothing. More often, multicultural leftists will celebrate women wearing hijab as a demonstration of cultural freedom, or young people adopting fundamentalist attitudes as an assertion of Muslim subjectivity against Western impositions. And any friction between conservative Muslims and secular Western societies always has a way of being due to the original sin of colonialism.

Now, maybe I should know better than to expect more than predictable and superficial approaches, especially where popular political opinion is concerned. Still, I am troubled, especially by what seems to be the paralysis the political left has when faced with illiberal Muslim positions and actions. They may foam at the mouth, but right-wingers at least do draw attention to significant political problems. What, for example, happens when you have very rapidly expanding Muslim minorities in Western countries, and by all appearances a large number of such Muslims are not integrating and not adopting a privatized, liberal form of religion? What happens to free expression when Muslim communities are notoriously intolerant of any form of perceived insult to their faith? Anti-racist slogans are all very well and good, but they seem to avoid such questions.

It’s really somewhat strange. Given how so many fundamentalist Muslims promote an ideology that can be very similar to the Christian Right, except even more theocratic, I would have thought there would be more room for some (hopefully more nuanced) criticism of Islam from a more liberal perspective.