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.