My Fargo visit makes the local news!

It’s a fine story, taken from the press conference I gave on Thursday, except for two things.

The comments are a mix of the sane and the deranged. Fargo has some interesting people living up there—a lot of smart, sensible, rational people, and some some very noisy lunatics. It’s strange how the lunatics rarely show up for any of my talks, however, but they always have the most vivid opinions of them.

The other problem is the end. The writer just had to do the usual thing of looking for a dissenting voice and giving them the unquestioned last word.

The Rev. Jeff Sandgren, pastor at Olivet Lutheran Church in Fargo, said Thursday that he doesn’t think science and religion need to be at odds.

He tells the story of an astronomy course he took in college and his introduction to the professor who taught it.

“Here comes this well-known physics professor and the guy is carrying two books, one was this great big astronomy book and the next one was the Bible,” Sandgren recalled.

“Mind you,” Sandgren added, “this is a guy who has been working for NASA, he’s a brilliant physicist and he says: ‘I have two books in my hand, this one tells us how – and he holds up the astronomy book – and this book tells us who.’

“For me,” Sandgren said, “that’s always been the dialectic I’ve lived with.”

OK, fine. He’s always lived with insipid opinions. He’s a pastor, I’m unsurprised.

But tell me…what, exactly, does that Bible contribute to students’ understanding of astronomy, huh? It may say “who”, but so does the Bhagavad Gita, so do the Eddas, so do the local Anishinabe myths, so does Dr Seuss (it’s Cindy Lou Who, in case you forgot). Being a ‘guy who worked for NASA’ does not confer infallibility or even a smidgen of authority in a discussion of the identity of invisible intelligent vapor wafting about outside the universe. Let’s hear some of the arguments, rather than waving about holy books and second-hand physics degrees, please.

I’m also feeling a bit cranky about the asymmetry of the situation. You won’t catch me striding boldly into my classes with a biology textbook in one hand and The God Delusion in the other, triumphantly announcing to the students that one book explains biology, and the other is the philosophy of atheism they should follow — that would be inappropriate, a distraction from the subject students were there to learn, and an unprofessional violation of my responsibilities as an instructor.

Yet here’s this guy proudly recounting tales from his college days when a bible-thumping bozo would come into a science class and preach Christian superstition. No wonder he’s a benighted peddler of hoary dogmas now, instead of an astronomer — he got screwed over in his education, and he’s not even aware of it.