More thoughts on the presentation of science

I’m re-listening to the podcast grab of the TV show that Matt and I did yesterday. There is a point that I started to make about the framing of science, but I don’t think I carried it all the way through to its conclusion.

What I did say, at the time, was that contrary to Matt Nisbet’s bloviations, science does NOT have the “framing” problem of being associated with atheism. Instead, science has the problem of being perceived as boring. The stereotypical image of a science teacher is a dull, droning guy reeling off disconnected facts. Not unlike Ben Stein’s own infamous Ferris Bueller character, if you will. (“Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. Voodoo economics.”) And so, I concluded, science could actually benefit from more public controversy.

I have more to add to this. Science doesn’t have a problem with not being respected. In fact, despite its stodgy image, science is almost universally accepted in our culture as important and worthy of respect. There is no clearer example of this to be found than in the behavior of creationists. When they lost some early battles in the 60’s they retitled their subject to creation science. When that failed to work, they reacted by redoubling their efforts to make “intelligent design” (a.k.a. “Creationism, the Revenge”) sound less like religion and more like science.

And finally, when people in the ID movement want to boost their own image in the public eye, what rhetorical approach do they take? Why, ID is real science, and evolution is unscientific! Look at all these people who have signed on to this statement titled as “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism”. It says right here that “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” See? That’s not religious at all!

What I’m saying is, in the general battle for science vs. religion, science has already won. In order to make their points more palatable, creationists have to pretend that they’re doing science. And beyond the world of creationism, there is a whole industry of pseudoscientists who peddle their wares by filling the descriptions with science jargon-imitating gobbledygook.

Acceptance of science is not the problem. Convincing people to understand science is the problem — studying is hard, scientists are boring, I’m never going to use this in real life, blah blah blah.

When atheists point out that scientific literacy tends to undermine religion, you might say that they’re doing the same thing as creationists: using the already well-established respected status that science has, and associating themselves with science to receive some of that credibility by proxy. On the other hand, associating atheism with education and science literacy also has the advantage of being true.

Should we obscure that fact, as Matt Nisbet seems to constantly suggest? Hell no. Nisbet would have you believe that the “culture war” is over whether you can get these foolish savages to accept our modern ways and incorporate this new-fangled “science” into their culture. On the contrary, however, they’ve already done that. They all have their own TVs and internet connections and microwave ovens and cars. The job that we, as people who care about education, have before us is to leverage that acceptance of science, tell the truth about how to think critically and evaluate claims, and ridicule the hell out of intelligent design for the phony snake oil sideshow that it is.

If more people are persuaded to become atheists after being so educated, that’s just a fortunate byproduct.

Today on the show: Framing Atheism

Links about today’s topic:

How do all these things fit together? Listen to episode #546 and find out!

The fundamentalist Christian war on education

I don’t know quite how I wound up on these idiots’ mailing list, but I’m glad I did. It helps to understand what the proponents of the New Dark Ages want to reshape our culture into.

The folks behind Worldview Weekend, some kind of fundie pep rally for fear and ignorance, have sent out an email flogging a series of propaganda booklets aimed squarely at students whom they fear will actually be educated if they go to college. The idea is to innoculate their minds against anything that might threaten their precious fundamentalist teachings. In other words, keep the flock stupid so they’ll keep filling the pews and the collection plates.

Education, clearly, is a detriment to blind faith, and so education itself must be tarred with such emotional hot-button words as “socialist,” “communist,” “humanist,” and possibly several other fearmongering sobriquets I didn’t catch.

A quick glance at the blurb for one of these booklets, revealingly titled Christian Worldview for Students (that’s about as clear a title as you could come up with for something that’s basically naked propaganda), shows us that the “Christian worldview” essentially involves rejecting anything any scientist ever thought up, as well as embracing the most extremist right-wing paranoia out there. Seriously, these are people who believe the Bush adminstration isn’t xenophobic enough. Looking at the list below, you can see how these are views that would be eagerly embraced by the next generation of Eric Robert Rudolphs and Timothy McVeighs (and no, I don’t think that’s either a slippery slope or “appeal to consequences” fallacy).

Survival Kit for the University of Humanism

Glitzy brochures and slick websites that promote many of our universities don’t divulge the all-encompassing secular worldview that slashes God from every equation and consumes ill-prepared students. But collegians today will face many of the:

  • 67% of professors who approve of homosexuality;
  • 84% who condone abortion;
  • 65% who embrace socialist and communist ideals.

The results of four years’ exposure to these teachers are staggering. Recent research reveals that 91% of students from evangelical churches no longer believe in absolute moral truth. Even the Southern Baptist Convention found that 88% of young people from SBC homes slip away from the faith before they graduate from college.

The reason?

Most students say they did not learn enough Bible content growing up to enable them to make biblical life decisions, let alone defend a Christian worldview in the face of vicious opposition. This book provides worldview expert and best-selling author Brannon Howse’s briefing notes to prepare you for the worldview battle that takes place at the university of humanism-whichever one you attend. You will be ready to contend and not bend on topics like:

  1. Why evil and injustice do not negate the reality of a good God;
  2. Why the Bible can be trusted;
  3. Why Darwinian evolution is a lie;
  4. The liberal myth of “separation of church and state”;
  5. The authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection;
  6. What the fossil record really reveals;
  7. The myth of global warming;
  8. How dramatically crime would increase if guns were outlawed;

And more!

So take Brannon’s notes to heart-and mind. The Christian life you save may be your own!

Fear the hallowed halls of academe, Christian students! They want to make the Baby Jebus cry!

There’s a reason fundamentalist students have a hard time defending their “Christian worldview” from “vicious opposition,” which is fundie code for “enlightened and educated views”. Ignorant beliefs cannot stand up to hard facts. I imagine what’s so boo-scary for fundies to discover when they venture out of their shelters into the real world is that reality doesn’t care what your pet ideology is.

And any Christian student who thinks booklets like these will arm them against reality is being cruelly misled. It’s a pretty safe bet, I’d say, that anything these booklets have to say on the subject of evolution or global warming will be the same old moronic canards that have been debunked a thousand times over. Then again, maybe that’s all part of the “Worldview Weekend” racket: a student buys one of these booklets; tries to get into an argument about evolution with his biology professor or his fellow students; crawls away in humiliation after having his ass handed to him; goes back to the “Worldview Weekend” website, where they’re ready to sell him another booklet! Ca-ching! That’s the benefit of having an entire customer base consisting of paranoid, superstitious chumps who’ve been indoctrinated to fear education itself. Get them to think you’re the only ones they can trust, and they’ll keep opening their wallets for you time and again.

A Christian chimes in on Expelled

It’s always nice to be reminded that not all who call themselves Christian are dishonest anti-science ideologues who use their beliefs to justify their haughty disdain for reality. Henry Neufeld is a self described liberal Methodist who has a few things to say about Expelled, and he nails every reason why the movie gets it all wrong with admirable succinctness. From its confusion over what “free speech” really means, to his unequivocal condemnation of the movie’s most brazen lie — that “Darwinism” led inexorably to Nazism and the Holocaust, when in fact the teaching of Darwin’s theory was banned in both the Third Reich and Stalinist Russia, and Hitler famously credited his own anti-Semitism to a certain invisible guy in the sky — there’s not a single one of Stein and Co.’s reprehensible falsehoods Neufeld doesn’t take down. His most interesting point is one which is liable to raise the hackles of most of Neufeld’s brothers in Christ.

Repeatedly, Ben Stein equates the theory of evolution with atheism, and claims that all ID wants is to open the door to considering that God might have done something. Evolution may be incompatible with certain forms of Biblical interpretation, but it is in no way incompatible with basic theism.

Neufeld’s batted 1000 here. True, Dawkins’ passage from The Blind Watchmaker to the effect that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” is the one often flogged by creos who want to condemn evolution as a tool of the Devil to turn everyone away from Jebus. And the “evolution=atheism” link has been effective in pushing the emotional hot buttons of scientifically illiterate religionists. But, while it’s true that evolution does explain how nature works entirely on its own to effect biodiversity without any “need of that hypothesis,” it’s also true the theory itself is not fundamentally incompatiable with some notions of theism.

The deistic god is one who is said simply to have created the world and then left it alone. So evolution has to be operative under deism. But if the Christian God is supposed to be omnipotent, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have done his business via evolution either. Indeed many liberal Christians have attacked creationism on this very point, that a bunch of stick-up-the-ass fundies are trying to dictate to God how he must have created life, and that it could not have been by evolution. How arrogant! Heh heh.

I, of course, think the concept of God is entirely superfluous, but again, Neufeld’s right in that a basic understanding of the principles of Darwin’s theory does not necessitate atheism. On the other hand, as I read from some commenter elsewhere this morning, the makers of Expelled must be completely clueless doorknobs if they think the Nazi Holocaust is a great argument for the loving God of the Bible!

Time to hit the gym, Wagner!

Okay, Elze has finally posted her collection of photos from Dawkins’ appearance last week, and these include some nice shots from the pre-speech reception. I’ve been reluctant to post the link, though, because they also include a couple of depressing shots of me at the AE Blog Meetup, in which I look to weigh about 653 pounds. Given that I was something of a major gym rat ten years ago, these are…ahem…well, let’s just say I pre-emptively accept every morsel of ridicule with which I’m about to be heaped, and let it go at that. Meanwhile, I think it’s time to dig out the MetRX and the creatine and wheel on down to Gold’s — where I suspect I’ll be pelted with water bottles and dirty jockstraps the minute I walk in the door. O the ignominy.

UK’s Guardian flunks Expelled

Haven’t been blogging for many days, mainly because of being busy, but also because there’s been little to report that hasn’t been covered very extensively elsewhere in the atheist blogosphere, and Austin’s been pretty quiet. Also, what else is there to say about the train wreck that is Expelled? Every day these people reveal themselves to be a little more reprehensible than they already were. My mind reels at the thought of what it would be like to be the kind of person whose life has been so completely swallowed up by the endless stream of lies required to shore up a creaking, desperate ideology. I think of what it must be like to be Ben Stein and Mark Mathis, and, if I believed in souls, I figure I know what it would be like to sell yours to Mammon. Sure, these guys have probably got the Benjamins. But to do so at the cost of all fundamental human decency is just depressing.

The UK paper The Guardian has now weighed in on Expelled (at least the bit of it that’s been previewed online) in a snarktastic little dig at that pompous fool Ben Stein. It’s a fun morning read.

From the parts I’ve seen – the first 10 minutes online – it seems to deploy all the loaded-dice arguments, the overdog’s deep-seated sense of victimhood and conventional rightwing hysteria. Stein lambasts academe for dismissing the work of “ID scientists”, even when they are bankrolled by the rancid likes of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank inseminated yearly with funds from California savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson Jr, who in 1985 told the Orange County Register: “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.” Man, I can’t wait for that, Ben, the priests running everything and we live like it’s Ireland in the 1940s. Par-tay!

Heh. But otherwise, yeah, not much new under the sun. The movie is still a dishonest piece of shit, and the people promoting it are still dishonest pieces of shit. That’s creationism for you. [Cue Thompson Twins] Lies, lies, lies, yeah….

Natural selection to weed out Expelled at box office

The release date for Expelled is said to be April 18. Josh Timonen over at seems to think it’s rolling out wide on 1,000 screens, which I find frankly unbelievable. Independent features, let alone indie documentaries, don’t get that kind of theatrical rollout unless they’re made by guys called Michael Moore. Almost no indie has that kind of a wide release. The simple cost of creating and shipping out 1,000 prints to theaters, and then buying the saturation advertising needed to make such a release strategy pay off, is simply way out of the reach of independent productions. Unless you’ve been picked up by one of the boutique “indie” arms of one of the majors, like Fox Searchlight. Which Expelled hasn’t.

So I suspect that an earlier figure I’ve heard of 100 screens is a lot more likely.

But what’s problematic for the movie at this point is that there is literally no buzz for it at all outside of the science/creationism/Christian/atheist blogosphere. Which, I’ll grant you, is big, but it’s not exactly where Jack and Jill Sixpack go for their entertainment news. So if Expelled really does stick to its April 18 release, it might as well be called Ignored. After all, look at what else is going out wide that weekend.

That’s a pretty serious slate of pre-summer Hollywood heavy hitters. Also, there is no April 18 listing for Expelled on the upcoming release pages at such major movie sites as IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, or Box Office Mojo. Those sites do, however, list one prominent independent documentary release for that date. It’s the new movie by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), which has had serious industry buzz for months.

Seriously, going up against a release slate like that, is it any wonder Expelled‘s producers have been trying to bribe Christian schools to take their students to see it? Without the “church bus bubble,” it’s looking like any theater showing Expelled will be as empty as ID’s scientific credibility.

Addendum: Jim Lippard has been dropping the occasional comment over at Pharyngula and reports that Expelled‘s own site claims they’re rolling out on 490 screens. We’ll see if that pans out. In the meantime, enjoy this entertaining report from New Scientist about a different screening, and the way that sleazebag Mark Mathis handled the Q&A. The producer of a movie complaining that ID supporters are systematically silenced threatening to throw out a challenging questioner? Gosh, fundies never do ironic, stupid things like that, do they?

Thanks, Eugenie!

Following up my post about the Facebook group “Protest Ben Stein’s Expelled”, I got this blush-inducing celebrity endorsement from no less than Eugenie Scott!

Martin Wagner, you have your head on very, very straight.

If we raise a fuss for Expelled, we increase the publicity and the gate. We play directly into their frame.

Why would we want to do that?

Okay, take a minute to chuckle at the visual of me putting on my “aw shucks” face. Anyway, Eugenie goes on to point out that while Expelled is sure to be a huge hit in “church basements,” — har! — the general public isn’t exactly awaiting it with bated breath the way they are, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Launching some massive protest campaign against the movie will simply play into their hands by validating their false message that “Big Science” wants to shut down open debate. She goes on to recommend the NCSE’s newly launched site Expelled Exposed. It’s new and fairly spartan at the moment, but it’s been launched both as a one-stop shop for all of the news surrounding the movie’s release and publicity (such as the PZ fiasco), and will go on to be a resource for refuting the false claims in the movie itself. Go on over and bookmark it.

Incidentally, if you’re a member of the Facebook group, you’ll see that one guy who’s responded, one Barrett Cune, is doing a great job making my case for me, by presenting himself as exactly the kind of histrionic assclown we don’t want responding to the movie. In a couple of ALL CAPS harangues, he wails about the need to “hit the streets” and attacks imaginary people who “just want to whine about the Earth and her problems.. you dont actually want to do anything to help.. you want your fucking parents to do it for you.” If old Barrett can’t tell the difference between coming up with ways to counter the movie effectively and productively, and thinking no one wants to do anything simply because we think parading the streets like some kind of I.R.A. rally would backfire, he clearly needs to grow the fuck up. I can understand and sympathize with his passion, but not his immaturity. The idea is that we’re smarter and more rational than the IDiots who do things like make movies comparing scientists to Hitler as a way of concealing the fact they have no science backing up their own position. Acting even stupider than they do is not how to turn the generally indifferent public off to their message.

At least Anne Rice is honest

Former Goth superstar and vampire novelist Anne Rice has gone Christian, with her latest series of novels all about Jesus. Her belief may not be any more rational than anyone else’s. (And you get a sense of the emotional desperation underlying it in this editorial she’s written.) But at least she grasps that.

Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

True dat, Anne. You cannot reason a believer out of a position they did not reason themselves into.