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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

 
Naivete

by tristero


From what I can tell, Matt Nisbet has no idea who or what he is dealing with, nor any clue as to who his real friends are. Nisbet youtubes a clip from a new creationist propaganda film, interviews with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. He summarizes the scene as follows:
...the message is spelled out via the interviews provided by PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Notice the very clear translation for audiences as to what supposedly establishment science believes:

A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it "kills off" religious faith.

B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.[Emphasis in original]
Indeed the takeaway is as Nisbet claims. But...

First of all, Nisbet is not quite accurate here. If you actually watch the clip and suffer through the insufferably bad music, you will find fairly innocuous statements by Dawkins and PZ (the "fairy tales" stuff is a bit gratuitous, but hardly offensive compared to what McCain bff Pastor Hagee has said about Catholics). In fact, the Dawkins/Myers material is actually pretty thin and uncontroversial. Hence the unbearable, ominous music and more importantly, the addition of a third interviewee - not Dawkins or Myers - who declares religion "evil" and who serves as the button for the segment.

Secondly, NIsbet fails to realize that Dawkins and PZ didn't create the takeaway message. The producers of the film did, by deliberately misleading them about the nature of the film in the first place, asking questions that provoked certain hoped-for answers, and most critically, editing the film in such a way as to turbo-charge the message. When you're dealing with dishonest filmmakers - Matt, they lied about the nature of the film in order to snag face time with PZ and Dawkins - then no matter who they had "representing" science - including Nisbet himself - they would be slathered with bad music and edited to look like the Devil Incarnate.

Nisbet concludes
As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education.
Oh, he couldn't be more wrong. The lies behind the making of the film are the clue to what is really going on.

The effort to undermine American science and science education - did I just accuse creationists of being anti-American? Yep - is not being conducted by honorable men and women but by extreme right ideologues who will not take yes for an answer. They are funded by men such as billionaire Howard Ahmanson, a passionate follower of the loathsome R.J. Rushdoony, an avowed theocrat, and a man who was far to the right of Pat Robertson.

In short, Nisbet is urging compromise with the American Taliban. It won't work. Ever. There is no middle ground. Or rather, through the refusal of the American Taliban to recognize anything other than their will to power as legitimate, those that compromise with them end up moving the middle ground progressively rightward. Today, it's teach the controversy in biology classes. Tomorrow, it's questioning the Big Bang theory in astronomy.

There is only one reasonable response and that is to insist, loudly, that those working to undermine American science should have no standing in the larger public discourse about the role of science and science and science education. That will take a plethora of honest knowledgeable voices including PZ's and Dawkins', but also Ken Miller, Genie Scott, Barbara Forrest, and Neil de Grasse-Tyson. Each person will speak with his/her own accent and styles. Each, to the extent they are working scientists, "represents" science. None is THE official representative of science and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster preserve us from there ever being such a thing.

Matt, I know you mean well and care deeply about science (as well as carving out a career to communicate science to a wide public). But you are dead wrong here, both tactically and morally. You cannot reason with the American Taliban but you can render them less powerful. Furthermore, it is simply reprehensible to urge people who have been deceived and mistreated to shut up and let others speak for them. You clearly haven't thought this through. Please consider changing your mind. I know it's hard to admit mistakes but better to do so than compound the error. THEY are not your friends; they want to crush you no matter how much effort you expend to "frame" things in an effort to placate them.


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