Friday, December 30, 2011

Poisoning the Well of Science in New Hampshire & The Back Handed "Help" From the NCSE

Word's been getting around that there are currently two anti-evolution bills in the legislature in New Hampshire. While such bills pop up all the time and are nearly as quickly struck down, these ones are interesting to me because they may be signaling a new(ish) approach from the anti-science crowd: Poisoning the well.

For those that don't remember how Creationists have tried worming their gibberish into the classroom previously, here's a quick recap:

  • Straight out teaching Creationism - Ruled illegal in Edwards v. Aguillard
  • Straight out teaching promoting Creationism "Intelligent Design" - Ruled illegal in Kitzmiller v. Dover
  • "Critical Analysis" of Evolution using fake "facts" - Ongoing

So where does this new bill fall?

The new bills require that teachers tell students about "the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism".

As if that has anything to do with anything when it comes to statistically sound science. Religion, or lack thereof doesn't change the observations or the math (unless someone's lying, which Creationists do all the time).

So what's this all about? One of the bill's sponsors, Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), says that he wants things taught this way because of "the people who came up with the ideas.... It's a worldview and it's godless." He blames evolution for the Holocaust and the school shootings at Columbine.

Well guess what! So is gravity! After all, it's not Intelligent Falling! But as always, the anti-science crowd is singling out evolution for being "different". It's not. It's still well tested, robust science.

But despite Darwin being initially religious, Bergevin is trying to smear evolution by poisoning the well. This is really a subclass of the red herring fallacy, which attempts to distract from the real issues by invoking guilt by association.

It's one of the most pathetic, childish ways of arguing and Bergevin should be ashamed, but apparently doesn't have the good sense to be. To be fair, it's a tactic Creationists like Kent Hovind and Answers in Genesis have been taking for a long time, but when it comes to schools, they've largely been out of the picture for some time now.

So what does this mean?

It's hard to say. It could be just a coincidence, or it could be the start of a new strategy by the Creationist camp since their "critical analysis" has been stopped by and large since it's devoid of any honest information.

If it's the latter, then what's driving it? Is this a throwback to the harder line, totally bugnuts Creationists like Hovind and AiG? If so, I welcome it. It's only further evidence that the loons at the Discovery Institute have failed, and the old camp is one that's been so thoroughly defeated that the future battles will be a cakewalk.

But perhaps I'm reading too much into this.

Meanwhile, there's one more thing I think that's worth pointing out, and this is the response to this claim from the NCSE.

For some time, many science bloggers (especially PZ and Jerry Coyne) have accused the NCSE of going too far in defending evolution, to the point of actually promoting religion. I think the NCSE's response in this case is a pretty good example of this.

Instead of simply pointing out that Bergevin is committing a fallacy by trying to smear evolution without addressing any of its facts, they ignore this central issue, and instead, bend over backwards to point out
Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. ... If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it's clear to see it's not going to pass legal muster.
While this is vaguely true (there are religious scientists, many of whom I've written about on this blog), what's more notable is that the scientific community is about as non-religious as it gets. But the NCSE hides that, thereby giving the appearance that the religious component is far larger than it really is.

In other words, the NCSE is actually helping Bergevin because they're acting like his accusation is something of which they should be ashamed. Yes, evolution doesn't mention God. Yes, there are more non-religious scientists than there are religious. NO, this is not something we need to shy away from.

The reason is that the first point, not including God in the equations, is exactly what makes science work! Science began making its huge strides forward in explaining how the world works, in repeatable, testable, and meaningful ways, precisely when it cast off the shackles of the supernatural.

The second point, as I've pointed out, is nothing more than a logical fallacy.

But the NCSE doesn't seem to want to own up to these facts. Instead, they want to cozy up to religion and protect it, coddling the fear of atheism and in addition, the naturalistic method that makes science work.


Emily Dietle said...

I like your article, well said. I have to state though that the NSCE must take a neutral stand on religion and dance carefully b/c of the realm that it works with. If they don't, their arguments would never be heard.

RBH Third said...

In principle, writing as a life member of NCSE I agree with your remarks about NCSE's approach, and have argued the point with them. On the other hand, having fought the battle on the ground in the Ohio State Board of Education from 2002 through 2006 and in my local school district even longer (click on "Freshwater" in the tag cloud at Panda's Thumb), I'm also aware of the political realities one contends with.

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