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Saturday, December 24, 2005

IDiot Views Actually Weaken the Foundation of Faith

PZ Myers has an excellent post on the topic which fisks the Discovery Institute Fellow David Klinghoffer's column in the National Review.

The National Review weighs in on the Kitzmiller decision, going for their usual simplistic black & white dichotomizing. David Klinghoffer thinks the choice is God or Darwin. The split is between god-hating atheistic evilutionists (apparently, Judge Jones must be in that group, but I don't know anything about his religious beliefs) and good Jesus-loving Christian creationists, with no conscionable position in between.

To support his claim, he trots out a parade of the wicked: Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Paul Mirecki, and…PZ Myers. Ooo-whee, I find myself in august company!

He's exactly right about one thing: all the people on his little enemies list say terrible things about religion. Speaking for just myself, I don't like it at all—I think it's a bad idea to afflict a society with an institution dedicated to opposing critical thinking, the acceptance of dogma, and belief in unsupported and frankly, ludicrous claims. I'm going to express my detestation often and without reservation here, as the others in that list have done in their own venues. So? Is this an opinion we are not allowed to have? Does it make us unfit to speak on science or philosophy? Is it more offensive than the frequently stated and rarely questioned Christian opinion that we unbelievers are damned to spend all of eternity suffering in agonizing torment? (I suspect that most sensible Christians respond to us saying "piffle on religion" with a weary "eh" and perhaps a little eye-rolling, just as most sensible atheists find the flaming ghost-life threats weird and ineffectual.)

Myers also very effectively points out the threat to faith in the Klinghoffer's approach to science:

Now here's a strange situation. I'm a flaming, uncompromising, damned heretical atheist, with a brutally unkind attitude towards religion, as many have noted. Yet here I am, saying that science and faith have nothing to do with each other, that this hypothetical, mythical god is something supernatural, unreachable by the toolkit of methodological naturalism, and that there are no empirical tests that can decide its existence yay or nay.

I hate to say it, but that makes me a "friend to faith" (not by intent or desire, though, but only as a consequence of adherence to principle), much more so than the conservative Christian who pins his belief in god to whether some microscopic collection of proteins in bacteria proliferating in his bowel evolved by natural means or not.

Klinghoffer doesn't understand that principle at all. He seems discombobulated by the complexity of a Christian professing his confidence in science.

Some advocates go further, seeing Darwin as a friend to faith. When I was in New York recently I spent an enjoyable hour at the new Darwin show at the American Museum of Natural History. In the last few yards of exhibit space, before you hit the inevitable gift shop, the museum addresses intelligent design. There's a short film with scientists talking about Darwin and religion, seeking to show that Darwinism actually has religion's best interests in mind. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project and a self-identified Christian, says that ID can "potentially [do] great harm to people's faiths." How so? Says Collins: by "putting God in the gaps"—by discovering God's creative powers at the junctures in life's history that science can't so far explain. When science at last finds mechanistic explanations for every presumed miracle, where will that leave God?

Smart people see the Christian Francis Collins doing world-class science, and they realize that hey, studying the world around us doesn't conflict with their beliefs in things not of this world. Klinghoffer sees Francis Collins undermining his preconceptions about who can do science, and he thinks that "makes Collins a funny kind of Christian."

That's interesting. Klinghoffer thinks only his narrow interpretation of what Christians should think can define what a Christian is: if you believe in god but don't think he actively and directly conjured up blood clotting proteins, then you must be a "funny kind of Christian". If you want to raise up a child in the church, then by Klinghoffer's strange rules, the scientific professions are all closed off to that kid; if she were to close one of the gaps in our knowledge, she would be shutting out god.

Yet I, who deny all those things, am the threat.

Myers put this very well.

Now the Discovery Institute has gotten the Klinghoffer column published in Myers hometown paper. Apparently after the Discovery Institute issued a press release which criticized Myers, among others, the PR person for the University of Minnesota, Morris wrote Discovery Institute to demand they list Myers affiliation as with the University of Minnesota - Morris. The Discovery Institute put up a blog post on this.

University of Minnesota (Morris) Wants Credit for Darwinist Biologist P.Z. Myers

Note: From now on, we will try to properly credit the University of Minnesota, Morris as the employer of Darwinist biologist P.Z. Myers. In a press release earlier this month, we mistakenly stated that P.Z. Myers was a biology professor at the University of Minnesota. We soon received an e-mail from a public relations person at the University of Minnesota, Morris. She wanted to make clear that Dr. Myers was actually employed by the University of Minnesota, Morris.

The press release in question highlighted Myers' bigotry and intolerance, pointing out that he advocated "the public firing and humiliation of some teachers" because they are critical of Darwin, and quoting his complaint that Darwinists "aren't martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough."

Apparently administrators at the University of Minnesota, Morris are proud of P. Z. Myers, and want to make sure that when we highlight his bigoted and intolerant comments that their institution gets appropriate credit for making such comments possible. OK, we'll try to comply. After all... we want to give full credit where credit is due.

This all means that PZ Myers is successful at what he does.

We have an excellent university out here in our lonely stretch of the prairie, and I think it is wonderful that the Discovery Institute has chosen to mock us for our institutional support for diversity. That's public relations gold. "Come to UMM—the university the Intelligent Design creationists detest!" It's good timing, too, as this is when we're trying to get students to apply and enroll for the next academic year. It's not too late: if you know any high school seniors, send them to our page for prospective students, have them apply, and we promise to give them a first-rate liberal arts education if they are accepted and choose to come here. As another bonus, the Discovery Institute's PR is going to discourage students who are poor at science, the only ones who approve of their message, from coming here. It's free advertising, and it's going to select for a better applicant pool. Woo-hoo!

Oh, and I really can't let this slide. It's so representative of the dishonesty and distortion the Discovery Institute relies on to make their false cases. They say,

he advocated "the public firing and humiliation of some teachers" because they are critical of Darwin

Notice that only part of the quote is actually from me, and the closing bit is a complete fabrication. You can read the whole thing in context, where you'll see that what I'm demanding is basic competence from teachers, not some slavish adherence to 19th century doctrine, and in fact I am critical of Darwin.

Hey, there's a new slogan for them. "The Discovery Institute: supporting incompetence in education since 1990!" Or maybe, "The Discovery Institute: we don't require rigor and discipline. And it shows!"

I would recommend Morris to students who want to get a good rigorous liberal arts college education. It's a smaller school than the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities - and that means lower class sizes - and more of a feeling of a University community.

The Discovery Institute is trying to drum up complaints about Myers to the Provost - and trying to do to Myers what John Altevogt did to Paul Mirecki at the University of Kansas.

A commenter on Myers blog adds:

John Emerson — 12/24 at 09:42 AM
You have to give credit to UMM. Of course, they have a national reputation and really aren't dependent on drawing from the surrounding counties the way some other Minnesota schools are, not to name any names. And their ultimate head office is presumably in Minneapolis, and safe from local attackers.

Disovery Institute's true colors do come out pretty clearly here, don't they? First playing the victim card, and then trying to rouse the pitchfork-wielding know-nothings. I doubt that it will work very well, even in Stevens County.

That's exactly what the Discovery Institute is trying to do to PZ Myers. Myers should be happy that the Discovery Institute is attacking him. What that means is he has been effective. I'm sure it burns the Discovery Institute, that Myers is now the go-to guy to get a comment about stories about IDiocy in the mainstream media. In a story about the Dover decision, the Strib sought comment from PZ Myers and creationist Dave Eaton - from the Minnetonka school board. Other Minnetonka board mebers aren't too happy with Dave Eaton - since he's made it look like their school district is pushing for IDiocy. That's not the case - Dave Eaton is pushing for IDiocy in the Public Schools in Minnetonka.