Tuesday, May 10, 2005

From the Comments

With my newfound fame come some truly excellent comments. This one illustrates a point I've made in other contexts, so it's clearly an excellent comment. EmmaPeel writes:
It's not that creationists are afraid that evolution turns children in to atheists per se. Creationists are afraid that if you don't believe literally in the Bible, you'll lose your belief in God the Supreme Authority Figure, and so you'll lose any "objective" reason to behave morally.

Creationists are a lot like postmodernists: They don't believe the real world really gives us any objective criteria by which to judge a moral code over another. Postmodernists tend to side with whichever interest group has the least power in any given dispute, in order to maintain a standoff between the competitors & prevent one from ruthlessly crushing the other.

The creationists' solution is to try to get everyone to believe in the same religious dogma. It doesn't necessarily matter which side this Dictator God declares to be "right" & which ones "wrong" in any particular debate, just that everyone accept His decision as a stand-in for the "objectively best" decision.

As a proud member of the VRWC, let me assure you that there are many conservatives & libertarians who are deeply embarrassed by the creationists on our side of the aisle.

Ironically, many conservatives who accept evolution are themselves religious. The true split on this issue is within the conservative movement itself, not between conservatives & liberals or even between theists & secularists. It's between those whose moral decisions come from what they believe the consequences will be in the real world vs. those who don't have "faith" in the objective nature of the real world to begin with.
Any press reading this should note the part that Emma put in bold. This is not just a conservative thing, it's a fringe conservative movement. Let's say that there are liberals, moderates and conservatives. By some plausible definition, liberals and conservatives both represent fringes. What Emma is saying, and I believe it, is that the ID movement is from the fringe of the conservative movement, which is by definition a fringe of society.

Meditate on that. We don't need Richard Dawkins defending us, we need Arlen Specter and John McCain. Both are fairly conservative in their own ways, but neither would dream of going along with this nonsense.

It is a side effect of the political movement, born in the 70s, which seeks to impose a special brand of religious morality on everyone. Dominionism, or Christian Reconstructionism, is a movement that aims to convert the United States into a "Christian nation." Fans of Kathy Martin will recognize that phrase ("Of course this is a Christian agenda. We are a Christian Nation. Our country is made up of Christian conservatives"), in several forms ("our nation is founded on Christianity – not science"). Fans of my series on Kris Kobach will also remember this. They create a mythology in which our founding fathers were little Apostles, creating a Christian country. The idea of religious freedom is constrained. "Where does the Constitution say 'separation of church and state?'" they ask. "Religion is disenfranchised, like women and racial minorities once were," they say.

The movement, in its broadest sense, sees the materialism of the modern world as deeply wrong (Mustafa Akyol says that's why the West is so hated). The idea that anything is amoral is offensive to this movement. Where there are diverse views, one must be right, and they want to be the ones deciding.

Left2Right has a nice discussion of relativism and it's opponents. After dismissing true relativism (all morality is relative to the actor or the observer) as incoherent (everyone has to play by the same rules), Velleman lists several belief systems that see themselves as anti-relativist, but are really just pushing their own ideologies.
  • Fanaticism: "You don't believe in the absolute truth as I see it, so you're a relativist."
  • Authoritarianism: "You don't accept the domination of my moral leader, so you're a relativist."
  • Intolerance: "You don't think I should be able to enforce my moral code on you, so you're a relativist."
  • Moralism: "You don't think every aspect of life (reading preferences, etc) are subject to moral standards, so you're a relativist."
  • Absolutism: "You don't see the application of moral standards in black and white (torture, death penalty, abortion, etc.), so you're a relativist."
  • Rigorism: "You think we shouldn't condemn Romans or Biblical Jews for holding slaves, so you're a relativist."
Clearly, the opponents of evolution and secular liberal democracy, rely on a form of intolerant, fanatical, authoritarianism. But it's their moralism that drives the fear of non-theistic science. They claim that not teaching about the supernatural in science classes will leave the impression that science has all the answers, and theistic belief is unnecessary. That presupposes an absolutist, moralistic scientism, in which science is the only way to separate right from wrong. Clearly this is not what anyone believes. But Stephen Meyer, Angus Menuge and Warren Nord insisted that this confusion is hurting America!

In a comment at the Panda's Thumb, Emma expands on her comments, noting of Dominionists:
They don’t use the language of postmodernism, but this is exactly what postmodernists believe. The only difference is in how the two groups propose to avoid the War. Postmodernists side with whichever interest group is the least powerful, in order to sustain a tense truce between roughly equally powerful combatants. Creationists want to get everyone to believe in this all-powerful deus-ex-machina God who simply floats down & decides what the moral Truth will be.
Get it? Moralism promoted through warped scientism produces creationism.

Imagine the resulting history class. In addition to teaching that the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michaelangelo based on his extensive study of human anatomy, possibly involving grave-robbery and his alleged homosexuality, the teacher would have to present the possibility that angels guided his brush and those of his assistants.

Literature classes would have to deal not just with the Shakespeare deniers, but with the possibility that Shakespeare, as an author of the King James Bible, was an agent of God (some believe the KJV to have been divinely inspired). Is this balanced? I dare say not. Under cover of relativism, it insists that religion, and a particular religion at that, is the organizing principle of all life.

I want to emphasize, as always, that science has no inherent conflict with religion. I like to say that religion says why and science says how. They serve different purposes, and when you try to insert one into the other, both are at their worst.

The Republican party, like the Democratic party, is constructed of a series of interest groups all cooperating out of convenience. There are libertarian republicans, who reject authoritarianism of any sort. They may agree with moralistic or absolutist worldviews, but don't think the government's place is to enforce those rules. There are also authoritarians, who want to enforce their (religious) views into every corner of life. That's a tension that is straining the party.

The authoritarians have no interest in the libertarians or the moderates. They are purging their party leadership of opposing voices. It's not that the party is moving further to the right, it's moving to a more authoritarian place. That's bad in all sorts of ways. Look at Dave Neiwert's work, documenting the rise of pseudo-fascism (PDF link) in America. Look at the tension between authoritarian pressure and corporatism as Microsoft endorses, then withdraws its endorsement, and then endorses a gay rights measure.

This is a schism. If we, and I mean Democrats, not scientists, don't exploit that divide, we deserve to be a permanent minority party. In the mean time, scientists need to take the opening. This is about fairness. This is about whether fringe religious ideas will be forced on our children, whether our tax dollars will be spent flying fringe ideologues in from all over the world, and whether our time is going to be spent teaching our kids every fringe position, or teaching the mainstream of science.

It's Only Divine Right” by The New Pornographers from the album Electric Version (2003, 4:11).