Wednesday, December 07, 2005

God, science and the kooky Kansans who love them both!

Sarah Smarsh interviewed me and several other people involved in the grand evolution battle a couple weeks ago. WIth the Mirecki imbroglio and other events in the news, her article on is particularly relevant, and well written too.

Go read God, science and the kooky Kansans who love them both! It's a fairly sophisticated look at the way that science and religion interact, based on the views of a local minister, Dr. Mirecki, Dr. Krishtalka (who runs the Natural History Museum), a psychologist who studies how people deal with these issues, Burt Humburg (an expat from Kansas, now in the thick of things in Pennsylvania), and little old me.

There's a lot to think about in it, and I'm glad to see some serious discussion of this topic. As I'm quoted saying in the piece, too often, the debate is "atheists vs. Bible-beating hicks. That’s not constructive.”

Nor is it accurate. In our interview, I said that one of TfK's guiding principles is "People are smart." Smarsh stopped me and commented that I was the first person she'd interviewed who said that. I may or may not have been talking about creationists at the moment, but I think the point is well taken. Too often, each side demonizes the other and essentially ignores what the other side is talking about.

Partly, this is about frames. People mock framing, but it's important to the understanding of this issue. As Burt says in the piece:

Humburg says anti-evolutionists claim the education battle is about a balanced curriculum, when in fact it’s about fear.

“What they’re actually saying is, ‘Evolution threatens my understanding of God,’” says Humburg, who admits that a similar sense led him to participate in the political discussion.

“Here I am as an M.D.,” Humburg says. “Anything that undermines science is a threat to me. Be it politics, religion, Intelligent Design. As a scientist, I should have something to say about that.”
So long as people attack evolution to defend their faith, and scientists respond by arguing about the data, the debate can't move forward. When you understand where the other side is coming from, you can talk about the real issue. My frame as a scientist means that when I talk about evolution, I see it in terms of data and experiments. Bill Dembski (to pick a name out of nowhere) sees evolution framed by its social implications, and the data are secondary. People who've bought what Billy D. is selling aren't interested in the data, because they accepted the way he frames the issue.

To turn that around, you have to reframe it, and that means not being afraid to talk about the ways that evolution has a positive social message and the ways that you can integrate religious faith and scientific evidence. The article is proof that it's possible to talk that way and it's possible to do it intelligently and thoughtfully.