Joined: Jan. 2006
I (as someone who would probably be described by Ed Brayton, Nick Matzke et al. as an "evangelical atheist") am continually amazed by the bitterness and, let me be blunt, downright exuberant tardacity shown by many participants in the debate from both "sides".
To get my love of naughty jokes out of the way first I'll give you an analogy. The late, great Bill Hicks once said something along the lines of:
"Gee, this abortion debate is so heated. Even my friends can't agree on it. Some of my friends think these pro-lifers are annoying idiots. Other of my friends think they're evil fucks. Brothers, sisters, I beseech you! Can't we come together and agree that they are annoying evil idiot fucks?".
I have very, very rarely ever seen an atheist, secularist or rationalist advocate the banning, utter destruction or total removal of religion from human society. Yet accusations of precisely this advocacy are constantly thrust at Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers (or is that spelt Ngmaellaahsch?) and a whole host of openly atheist, stridently secularist people. People with attitudes very much like my own, who I have certainly never seen advocate such nonsense.
I understand the quotemines are rich with Dawkins quotes etc that people choose to take from the warm bosom of their context and use to mean that dear old Prof D wants the Archbishop of Canterbury to be summarily rogered by wild boars and rent asunder by packs of frothing paperazzi, but any even fleeting reading of anything the man has written shows this strawman version of Richard Dawkins' arguments to be false. The phenomenon is so pernicious and prevalent I have coined my own (patent pending you theiving muthafukkas! term for it. There are two people in the rationalist camp with similar names: Richard Dawkins and Richard Strawkins. The first I have met, read all he has written and find him a congenial and intelligent man frustrated at a world gang aft agly. The second I have yet to meet. By the way, this is not a defense of Dawkins as some sort of atheist saint, incapable of mistake or wrong. It is sheer amazement that my co-espousers of reason and rationalism stoop to precisely the same prurient rhetoric and underhanded dishonesty that the very people we are "fighting" do when it comes to atheists, RD especially. It also amazes me when the so called "evangelical atheist" bunch do similar nonsense. Whither reason?
With that in mind, I want to start that religious war currently flaming its merry way across PT, Pharyngula and elsewhere right here at ATBC. Personally I think the after-bar boozy nightclub atmosphere of ATBC, where the pint glasses can fly and let's be honest, we've all had too much booze.
1) Here is one of the kick of points for this latest round: Larry Moran says that creationist kids coming to university biology courses should be auto-flunked in favour of kids with a better appreciation of biology. Guess what, to an extent, I agree. I don't think that they should be auto-flunked, I think they should be given an opportunity (i.e. their creationist ideology is not a sufficient condition for their flunking) to demonstrate their ability or lack thereof. I also think that they shouldn't be given remedial biology classes. The reasons I think this have little, if anything to do with religion/creationism and everything to do with educational standards. Which I suspect is also Larry's reasoning (but I don't know for certain). University attendance isn't a right, it's a priviledge you earn by your efforts and abilities. If these kids, regardless of their religious ideologies, class, wealth or myriad red herring aspects of their upbringing and character cannot meet those minimum requirements (whatever they might be). If a kid is exposed to a year or so of university level biology and STILL holds to the misinterpretations and outright lies of creationist ideologies, then flunk away. It shouldn't be beyond the ability of academics to design exams that test this aspect of a student's understanding of biology.
Now I know some of the members of the IDCist/YECist/Chamberlains/whatever crowds (for different and diverse they are) will cry "indoctrination" "fear of dissent" and perhaps "Lysenkoism", but they are wrong. Let us not mince our words here: If a student after exposure to biology at the university level are either a) demonstrably incapable of understanding the errors and falsity of IDC/YEC/etc, or b) demonstrably incapable of correcting their cherished ideas in the face of overwhelming evidence then they lack either a) the intellectual ability, or b) the intellectual honesty required of a qualified scientist.
A science degree isn't something nice for the mantlepiece, it is the rigourous, demanding and expensive training for a career scientist. Whether or not all students go on to become scientists is irrelevant, we need to get away from the intellectual snobbery here. The purpose of a science degree is to begin the training of a scientist, that these skills are useful elsewhere is lovely, and good luck to those people who use them, but we cannot expect that the university system makes every course suitable for every purpose. Individual courses should be tailored to a specific set of purposes. We need to serve our kids better, give them a better idea of what is expected of them in certain careers and what requirements will be made of them to commence those careers. Perhaps even to delay university start, or make our school education system more rigourous. I favour the delay strategy because people mature at different rates and blossom at different periods in their lives. Oops I've digressed.
The issue with exclusion of creationist students is simple. We are not dealing with a Hegelian vs a Kantian philosophical perspective, nor a Smithian vs Vandenburgian economic perspective. We are not even dealing with a physicist who supports M-theory vs "non string" supersymmetric physics. We are dealing with a student who so profoundly lacks the intellectual gifts or honesty that they don't understand one of the singley best supported ideas in science. That is a flunking requirement. We are not debating geocentrist astronomers or flat earth geographers. The only reason this idea gets its credence is because of the undue feraful respect religious ideas recieve in every part of the globe.
2) I respect religious people and religious ideas.
I'll say that again in case some people missed it or didn't understand it.
I respect religious people and religious ideas.
100%, totally and utterly. I devote the same automatic, unswerving and unthinking respect to relgious people and religious ideas I give to all people and all ideas. This means that I expect religious people to be able to demonstrate the coherence and validity of their ideas, and for those ideas to be absed on some form of evidence, to be coherent, to be demonstrable. And before I get the strawmen, yes I can demonstrate my feelings for my wife, yes they are based on reason and observation (whether conscious or not) and yes my passions and emotions are entirely based on interaction with the universe as it is. These aspects of my humanity do not arrive from some supernatural arena, they are natural, reality based aspects of an evolved organism. The conscious processing or otherwise is nothing to do with their rational nature.
I firmly believe (yes believe) that religious people and ideas DESERVE (yes deserve) to be held to the same standards that ALL people and ideas are held. I respect them so much I don't think they should be made exempt from critique or examination like the fantasies of silly fragile children. I respect them as adults capable of reason and adult ideas espoused by adults capable of reasonably supporting them. I think the Chamberlain school are missing the point and patronising religious people and ideas. I think this fearful protectionism is condescending and in error. In the arena of gladatorial combat ALL ideas get to stand up and fight. Realise that not all ideas will win, and some of them will be cherished losers.
Does this contradict my previous point about excluding creationist biology undergrads? No, not at all. University is one gladatorial arena of ideas. It is a training camp for the top flight scientific global arena. It is an abrogation of the responsibility of the university gladiator trainers to let their proteges move up to the global arena unarmed. The IDCist/YECist ideas are old tricks. Tricks we in the arena know well. At one point in our history they were potent weapons, potent tricks. But we learnt their secrets, we learnt where they fell down, why they failed and why they weren't any good in a scrap. These are not new, nor successful, tricks! We aren't equipping young gladiators for combat in the 1300s, but the 21st century. We've learnt since then. This also doesn't mean a bad scientist is a bad historian or plumber or athlete or politician, although I would argue that someone who is bad at reason and rational thought is going to have difficulties everywhere. Science is one area that practises reasoned rational thought, perhaps the area in which it is best and most closely practised, but it's not the only one.
Let battle commence!