Dr. Eugenie Scott on “Hardball”

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Dr. Eugenie Scott appeared on the MSNBC interview show "Hardball" on April 21st. There is a transcript available here. Along with host Chris Matthews, there was Reverend Terry Fox on the program. The topic was the push in Kansas to change public school science standards. Dr. Scott was able to make several good points despite the tendency of Matthews to interrupt his guests.

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Update: HT: Wesley Elsberry for providing more on the Hardball evolution vs creationism segment at The Panda's Thumb. Full transcript of DR Scott avaliable at The Austringer. Having been primed by promos all day from the MSNBC News Show Hardball... Read More

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Chris Mathews fumbles the ball right off by asking Fox:

“…You could simply say this up front.. We all believe this, that this is how God did it, and then proceed from there, in a scientific fashion.”

as if it was perfectly logical to proceed in a “scientific fashion” from that point.

Fox dropped the ball handed to him by that statement. The fact that Mathews even made it to begin with makes me weep for journalistic integrity.

*sigh*

…despite the tendency of Matthews to interrupt his guests.

…despite the tendency of sun to come up in the east.

Matthews’ next guest intoduction:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman has written a new book about globalization entitled “The World Is Flat.” In it, he warns that the United States is in a state of quiet crisis for having fallen behind in education, science and engineering.

Is there a set of “anti-creationist” talking points anywhere that people who go on these awful pundit shows can at least get across in the woefully short time they’re allowed?

We need a set of short, snappy, memorable phrases that can be used at a moment’s notice and deployed in full before the host or opponent has the chance to cut you off.

For example, when creationists like Fox claim that since the majority of people in America believe in creationism we should teach “both sides” of the issue, you should immediately be able to come back and ask if we should be teaching astrology in schools as well as astronomy since a vast number of people in this country read their horoscopes every morning.

I hate to say it, but we could learn a lot from the spinmeisters being employed by the current occupant of the White House in this regard.

Oh, and how about a couple of visual aids to help put the point across how overwhelming the support for evolution is in the scientific community?

First one visual aid (a chart or preferably something solid, tactile, a model) that shows the number of creationist scientists vs the overwhelming number of evolutionists - i.e. a visual version of Project Steve.

I’m not the creative type, but you could hold up, say, three page pamplet in one hand and a four volume set of dictionaries in the other, or perhaps a pair of peas in one hand, and a huge sack of them in the other.

You get the idea - I’m sure someone else can do better.

And while we’re at it, I would love for someone to produce an effective visual representation of the sheer volume of scientific work (papers, books, etc) that have been published supporting evolution as opposed to the paltry amount supporting ID or creationism in general.

I don’t think the general public fully comprehends the huge advantage in numbers evolution has in this debate, be it scientists or their work, and an effective visual cue to clue them in could help sway the debate.

Think Ross Perot (yeah, I know he lost, but he got his point across).

The only disappointing aspect of that interview was Eugenie’s dodging of her own philosophical views. Who cares about Eugenie’s philosophy? Well, if you’re going to play politics, Ms. Scott, then we all do. But given a veteran debater like herself, we should expect a much more eloquent response than “It is… [cut off].”

Let me see if I can help her out:

Chris, I don’t believe it was an “accident.” I believe that life is an inevitable outcome of natural forces and contingent events that are no more accidental than the hurricane that swept through Florida or the asteroid that wiped out life during the age of dinosaurs. I believe that the more we understand through scientific methods about our origins – the origins of life – the better prepared we are to have meaningful discourse about our place on this planet, shared with all other types of living organisms.

Hell, we can try a less wordy approach:

Chris, I don’t know what to believe about our origins. And I don’t think anybody else does either. We just don’t have the facts. We do know what is wrong, moreso than what we absolutely know is right. Without the facts, it would be premature for me to express hard beliefs.

Or, let’s try a combative approach:

Chris, I believe that Reverend Fox is wrong. My worldview can easily fall into one of many other belief systems that are incompatible with the Reverend’s. I do not believe in perpetuating 2000 year old propaganda that the Bible is a science book. I do not believe that the Reverend has the Consitutional right to force his close-minded views on others.

One more comment: Please, Eugenie, find a Christian spokesperson for your group. I am really not sure what to think of your preaching to Christians about what other Christians think, when you yourself are not a Christian. Collect testimonials of Christians supporting evolution, if you have to. Cite them. Don’t just assert.

One more comment: Please, Eugenie, find a Christian spokesperson for your group. I am really not sure what to think of your preaching to Christians about what other Christians think, when you yourself are not a Christian. Collect testimonials of Christians supporting evolution, if you have to. Cite them. Don’t just assert.

As I have often said, it has long been a huge weakeness in the anti-creationist/ID movement that it is made up largely (at least verbally) of atheists. By treating this as a “science v religion” fight, we only fall into the trap laid by the fundies, who use it eagerly to raise money and recruit new followers. Most people in the US, rightly or wrongly, don’t give a flying fig about science or science education, but they DO care about their religious beliefs. Ninety percent of the people in the US are religious, and it is patently stupid to begin a fight by alienating them by attacking or belittling their religious beliefs.

The simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Chrisitans think ID/creationists are nutty, and do not support the theocratic political goals of the ID/creationists. The vast majority of Christians also have no gripe with either evolution or any other part of modern science. Theistic evolutionists are the natural allies of the anti-ID movement. We should be moving them to the forefront, allowing them to counter all the ID bullshit about “science is atheistic!!”.

Is there a set of “anti-creationist” talking points anywhere that people who go on these awful pundit shows can at least get across in the woefully short time they’re allowed?

We need a set of short, snappy, memorable phrases that can be used at a moment’s notice and deployed in full before the host or opponent has the chance to cut you off.

Here are the ones I have always used:

When asked why ID/creationism should not be taught alongside evolution: Because it’s illegal. Not just wrong. Not just useless as science. Not just an attempt to push religion into schools. It is illegal. As in ‘against the law’.

When asked any question at all about ID “scientific theory”: Let’s be clear about this – there IS NO scientific theory of intelligent design. None. At all. And IDers are flat out lying to us when they claim there is.

When asked why ID shouldn’t be taught when so many people accept it; Science isn’t a democracy. We don’t get to vote on scientific truth any more than we get to vote on whether or not the earth is round.

When asked why we shouldn’t respect the religious opinions of IDers; EVERYONE has a religious opinion. ID religious opinion is no more authoritative than mine or my next door neighbor’s or the kid who delivers my pizzas, and they have no more right to have their religious opinions enshrined in law than anyone else does.

And the point that I try to bring up as often as possible; The ID fight is not about science, and it’s not really about religion either – it’s about POLITICAL POWER. IDers are ayatollah-wanna-be’s. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. What they want – ALL they want – is to “renew our culture” in accordance with their narrow religious dogma. That’s why neary all their money comes from a single whacko billionnaire in California who has preached an extremist theocratic political program for twenty years.

RevDr Lenny;

I’d like to suggest that science is the perfect democracy. The concensus view is based on informed consent within the given discipline. If only electoral politics had such rigor.

Just curious: How does one know that the current “spokesmen” for evolution are not Christian, or Jewish, or Moslem, or in some other faith tradition? For example, we know for a fact that Ken Miller, co-author of one of the most-used biology textbook series, is a faithful Catholic, because he wrote a book about it.

Perhaps the issue really is that people who know about evolution, which is a topic appropriate to science, talk about science. And perhaps others confuse that ability to stay on topic and speak intelligently as being “not Christian.” I think it’s the bias of most people, creationists especially included, that lump intelligent, well-informed people as “not Christian.”

Here is what I think is an effective “talking point” when asked about your own personal philosophy. It has the advantage I think, of being both honest and fair.

My own view of the world is X (if your view is purely naturalist then say so). But evolution as a scientific theory is compatible with many views on religion. It is perfectly valid to look at evolution and conclude that there is an intelligent force behind evolution. It is also valid to conclude the opposite. Scientists should not force either view into the science classroom and when they state their worldview, they should be careful to distinguish accepted theories from metaphysical speculation.

That’s probably a bit too wordy. It will never satisfy the fundamentalists. But we should not worry about satisfying them because we never will. We need to address our arguments to the broad middle of moderate to liberal christians, as well as conservative christians whose approach is compatible with a scientific world view.

I don’t want to steer this thread off-topic, but it looks like a creationist lawyer by the name of Larry Caldwell may be threatening Eugenie Scott with legal action. According to a WingNutDaily article at http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp[…]CLE_ID=43953, Caldwell claims that Ms. Scott libeled him by spreading falsehoods about his proposed changes to a local school-district’s science curriculum.

Does anyone have any information about what Caldwell really *did* propose to the school district? I haven’t been able to find any specific information on-line (curious, given Caldwell’s eagerness to jump all over those who “misrepresent” him).

Caldwell is suing his school district for ignoring his proposals. (You can find his legal complaint on-line at: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/vi[…]d.php?id=274

I downloaded and read through Caldwell’s complaint, and even though he references his proposal (his so-called “Quality Science Education policy”) over 100 times, he provides no specific information as to what is actually *in* that proposal. Anyone here have any info?

the Rev Wrote:

As I have often said, it has long been a huge weakeness in the anti-creationist/ID movement that it is made up largely (at least verbally) of atheists.

I suspect that’s more the doing of the creationist propaganda machine. My personal experience is very different. Or maybe it just seems that way to me because I actually am an “atheist”.

Herein lies the genius of the Wedge Strategy. I would like to think that - even though I deem unlikely the existence of an entity with the characteristics ascribed to the christian God - that Believers might be in some sense right. Some sense I don’t get. But it has to be some abstract sense, not a literal sense. If you insist on a literal sense, then I have to conclude the believer’s just mistaken. The wedgies would like to drive their wedge between the True Christians and the Whateverists - those of us who would be content to think there’s “some sense” in which they might be right, but whatever that sense is, it doesn’t work for me.

Caldwell provided supplementary antievolution materials to the Roseville school board. This is reported in a number of different places. Caldwell objects strenuously to the claim that the Sarfati and Watchtower antievolution books were part of set of materials that he provided.

What would be interesting to see is if there is really any wide mismatch in the content of what Caldwell must stipulate that he did provide to the Roseville School Board and the materials that he objects to having associated with him. It is very likely that the Sarfati and Watchtower books have some form of many of the arguments made in materials such as “Icons of Evolution” (the DVD) and “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” (another DVD). The only reason I see to objecting to those books in particular is that they don’t shy away from making the full argument (“Not evolution, therefore the God of the bible.”) that the DVDs only give the premises of. And that is only a concern given the consistent failure of “creation science” to make any headway in the US legal system.

If I could get some volunteers, this could be a good project to set up. What I’m envisioning is that each volunteer would take on a particular source item (either one of the books or DVDs) and provide a listing of arguments made in the source using Mark Isaak’s “Index to Creationist Claims” (with page references for the books). Then we simply can see which arguments are in both Caldwell’s materials and the materials that he wants no part of. Anybody who is up for this, please let me know.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, Dr Scott, file an immediate “discovery” motion to (1) obtain copies of all of Discovery Institute’s internal memos and documents, and (2) force Howard Ahmanson to release a list of everyone he’s given money to in the past 15 years.

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Eugenie Scott did a good job. Let me break some of this down so we can learn from what she did well and what she could have done a little better.

Eugenie Scott:  Well, I think you put your finger right on the problem, Chris. 

You expressed one Christian position, which is called theistic evolution.  That’s the view that God created through the process of evolution.  There are many forms of theistic evolution.  Reverend Fox expressed another Christian position, which is called special creation, which is, God created everything all at one time in its present form. 

Now, Reverend Fox was talking about teaching both.  There’s more than two.  And we haven’t even exhausted Christianity, much less all the other possible religions of the world.  And I think the question that we really ought to be asking is, what are we supposed to be teaching in high school science class?  Because that’s what this issue is really all about.  And what we should be teaching in high school science class is the consensus view of science, which is that living things have common ancestors. 

And we know some mechanisms that bring this about.  And we have some ideas about the pattern, that this change through time took place.  This is what we should be teaching.

1. She shouldn’t have even mentioned “Christianity” or “theistic evolution.” The best approach is to make clear that a cell, or cluster of cells, that were on earth about 3.8 billion years ago evolved (through reproduction) into all the complex organisms, including humans, to have lived on earth. Common descent is important. It is almost impossible for most humans not to want to know the causes of the existence of organisms, including humans. What good did it do for Scott to bring up “Christianity” and “theistic evolution?” It’s not important in this context to try to help people to reconcile evolution and other beliefs that they might hold. There is too much of that in this culture. For instance, the documentary Evolution, which appeard on PBS, included an entire segment on “God.” In fact, it included really two segments on evolution and religion, as much of the first segment revolved around Charles’ Darwin’s religious beliefs and how they affected his thinking on evolution.

When I’m presenting what I think happened, it is not my job to help other people reconcile that with their other beliefs. I’m going to present what I’m justified in believing happened. Otherwise, they may not learn. And there is a limited amount of time available. And I don’t know what series of events resulted in the onset of matter, space and time. But humans and bacteria share common ancestors, which is important to recognize.

Scott should make clear what should be taught in the public schools, and that evolution occurred. Or, if she wants to be more skeptical, she could say: “It is overwhelmingly probable that evolution occurred.” Evolution is important, and scientists have determined – or are at least overwhelmingly justified in believing that – it occurred.

2. The point Scott brought up about “more than two” was superfluous. We should teach what occurred – what we are justified in believing occurred. In terms of what should be taught in the public schools, it is not important that lots of laypersons disagree about whether a given event occurred. A lot of people don’t believe that electrons move around protons. And clearly we shouldn’t teach in public schools that everything in the universe is made of earth, fire and water. Or that stones fall to the earth because they want to be there.

3. It is very good that Scott brought up what the scientific consensus is. Scientists, particularly biologists and life scientists, tend to understand best the data relevant to being able to determine what caused the existence of, and differences among, organisms. So what the scientific consensus is – especially if it is as overwhelming as it is with evolution – should be important in terms of what is taught in the public schools.

4. It is important that Scott mentioned that we know some of the kinds of events that have contributed to the differences among organisms. For instance, some organisms having produced more offspring than some other organisms has contributed significantly to the differences among all organisms to live on earth subsequent to the first primordial self-replicators.

5. It is good that she brought the topic back to what should be taught in the public schools. That is where her expertise is. The issue is important. And that is one reason she was on the show.

6. When dealing with people who are skeptical that evolution occurred, it is often good to present some of the data that enable one to determine that humans and apes share common ancestors. But Scott might not have had time for that in this interview. Maybe she could have briefly mentioned the fossil record, and that every known mammalian specimen is very similar anatomically to at least one other known mammalian specimen that is older than it and relatively close in age to it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Fox, is that—I don’t want…

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT:  Not religious views masquerading as science.

I don’t like that sentence. What did she mean by “religion” and “science?” Those words have a vague meaning for most people. Moreover, presumably it would be logically possible for someone to hold a “religious view” that was justified and/or a “scientific view” that was not. What is important is that we teach important ideas that we are justified in believing. Evolution is one such idea.  

MATTHEWS:  I don’t want Eugenie to put words in your mouth.

Reverend Fox, do you believe that everything we see on Earth today, in terms of the species, the kingdoms, the families of animals, that all of them are as they were millions of years ago?  Do you believe that?

FOX:  I really don’t.  And I think there’s—I really don’t believe that.  And I think a lot of people don’t believe it.

There’s a lot of discussion about how old the Earth is and different theories of that.  You know, it’s bigger than that.  She talks about, well, there’s different views of creationism.  What we’d like to say is, let’s present some of these views to the students.  I mean, when you look at evolution, you find 1,000 different views of evolution.  So, there’s not just one view of evolution.  And so, I think her argument is unfounded. 

SCOTT:  Well, that’s actually not…

I’m glad that Scott tried to interject. There are not “1,000 different views of evolution.” At least I don’t know what Fox meant by that claim. All credible biologists in the world accept the idea that humans and bacteria share common ancestors. Also, all credible biologists accept that the kind of event that scientists refer to as “Natural Selection” contributed significantly to the existence of, and differences among, all organisms to live on earth subsequent to the first self-replicators. That is, some organisms having produced more offspring than some other organisms has contributed significantly to the differences among all organisms to live on earth subsequent to the first primordial self-replicators.

MATTHEWS: But, Eugenie, what do you think is the harm of teaching some religious theory, along with the scientific theory? 

SCOTT:  I think there’s nothing wrong with teaching comparative religion.  I think we should know more about religion, just as we should know more about science.

But what we’re talking about is, what do you teach in a science class?  People on my side of this issue are perfectly happy to have religion described.  But that’s not what is going on.  They want to advocate a specific religious view and pretend that it’s science.  That just simply is not good education.

Good response. Excellent conclusion. But she should have given at least one reason to try to show that we should teach evolution in science class. She might have said: “Evolution is important, and it occurred.” Or: “Evolution is important; and it is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, which is the community that tends to understand best the data that would enable one to determine the causes of the existence of, and differences among, organisms.”

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that everything we live—do you think our lives, who we are, the world around us, was an accident of some explosion millions of years ago and it led to everything we see?  Do you believe it was all just natural selection or just an accident of scientific development? 

SCOTT:  Well, I’m talking about what we teach in the high school science class.

MATTHEWS:  What do you believe?  What do you believe? 

SCOTT:  Who cares?  Who cares what Genie Scott believes?  That’s, you know…

MATTHEWS:  I’m asking you.  That’s what…

SCOTT:  My own personal philosophy?

MATTHEWS:  I’m curious.  I’m curious.

FOX:  Chris, there’s the point. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe it was all just one big accident?

SCOTT:  It is…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don’t think most people believe it was one big accident.  It’s hard to imagination the sophistication and dynamics and wonder of this world was just an accident.  Some grenade went off two or three million years ago and everything happened.  It just boggles the mind that it’s the case. 

SCOTT:  And many Christians believe that God had a hand.

FOX:  Chris, that’s exactly—exactly what you are saying.

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  I’m sorry.  We have to continue.  This is worth a lot more than 10 minutes.

FOX:  But the question is, what do we teach in science class?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would love to get back to this.  We’ll get back to this. 

Thank you both. I’m sorry for keeping it short.  But I have to.

FOX:  Thanks, Chris.  It was good to be here.

MATTHEWS:  Eugenie Scott, thank you very much for coming in.

Chris Matthews’ line of questioning was not fair. That is none of his business. Scott’s beliefs on the matter is a private issue. Scott was right to refuse to answer. She should have stood totally firm. I would have said: “No one knows the series of events that resulted in the onset of space, time and matter. Moreover, it might be that, at that level, the whole notion of causation gets complicated.”

Suppose Matthews would have kept pushing me: “But, Longhorn, what do you think happened?”

I would have said: “That is a private matter.”

Lurker Wrote:

One more comment: Please, Eugenie, find a Christian spokesperson for your group. I am really not sure what to think of your preaching to Christians about what other Christians think, when you yourself are not a Christian. Collect testimonials of Christians supporting evolution, if you have to. Cite them. Don’t just assert.

Uh, Lurker… what do you think the religious groups section of Voices for Evolution was about? That work has been done and is well known. I guess it could be better known.

Then there is Michael Zimmerman’s Clergy Letter Project. So far, 3,084 members of the clergy have signed a statement saying that evolution and faith are compatible and that the integrity of the science curriculum should be maintained.

There really is no “controversy” over whether many Christians can have their faith and support good science education, too. One need not be a Christian to read the numbers and speak their meaning. Places like “Hardball” don’t pause to allow you to make formal citations of work. Do you really believe that Chris Matthews would NOT interrupt an attempted citation of these projects that make clear that theistic evolution is a common Christian stance?

There are people of faith who speak for NCSE. Many recent news articles have featured Nick Matzke speaking for NCSE. In other places, Alan Gishlick has spoken for NCSE. Perhaps as time goes by I will do more speaking for NCSE. But one must also concede that Dr. Scott is NCSE’s most visible and high-profile spokesperson, and when shows like “Hardball” come calling, they are asking specifically for Dr. Eugenie Scott.

“If I could get some volunteers, this could be a good project to set up.”

I seem to have way too much time on my hands these days. count me in.

I watch the Hardball video and I think Eugenie Scott came off very well. The ramblings of Reverend Fox must have been extremely painful for ID folks to watch. Matthews of course made an idiot of himself as well. For instance:

MATTHEWS: I don’t think most people believe it was one big accident. It’s hard to imagination the sophistication and dynamics and wonder of this world was just an accident. Some grenade went off two or three million years ago and everything happened. It just boggles the mind that it’s the case.

No, it just boggles the mind that anyone could be so misinformed as to say that a “grenade went off two or three million years ago and everything happened.” Who claims this!? Matthews was obviously unprepared for this interview and misrepresented the issues throughout. Again, another example of Matthews’s confusion:

SCOTT: … Reverend Fox expressed another Christian position, which is called special creation, which is, God created everything all at one time in its present form. MATTHEWS: I don’t want Eugenie to put words in your mouth.

Reverend Fox, do you believe that everything we see on Earth today, in terms of the species, the kingdoms, the families of animals, that all of them are as they were millions of years ago? Do you believe that?

Of course Reverend Fox doesn’t believe that. The world is only a few thousands years old for this idiot. Matthews can’t even get the positions correct! Did he even bother to research this beforehand or have one of his lackeys research it? The best line of the interview was Scott’s response to Matthews when he asked her what she personally believed.

MATTHEWS: What do you believe? What do you believe? SCOTT: Who cares? Who cares what Genie Scott believes?

Under the circumstances (Matthews’s interruptions and confusions) I think Scott did a masterful job. Well done Eugenie!

Lenny Flank Wrote:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, Dr Scott, file an immediate “discovery” motion to (1) obtain copies of all of Discovery Institute’s internal memos and documents, and (2) force Howard Ahmanson to release a list of everyone he’s given money to in the past 15 years.

Gosh, Lenny, I’d love to have that information.

Now for the tough part: What is Dr. Scott supposed to give as a legal justification for being given these documents? I’ve missed some connection that seems to be obvious to you.

I didn’t mean to repreat Longhorn’s play by play but there’s a delay in the server. Sorry about that.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, Dr Scott, file an immediate “discovery” motion to (1) obtain copies of all of Discovery Institute’s internal memos and documents, and (2) force Howard Ahmanson to release a list of everyone he’s given money to in the past 15 years.

Gosh, Lenny, I’d love to have that information.

Now for the tough part: What is Dr. Scott supposed to give as a legal justification for being given these documents? I’ve missed some connection that seems to be obvious to you.

I dunno – the guy has to have SOME connection with DI somehow.

Wesley,

I think it is great that we have someone like Eugenie being a spokeswoman for evolution and sound science education. I really hope that no one would misconstrue my previous comments to suggest otherwise. We would lose a considerable front in this skirmish if we didn’t have Eugenie.

But, what I do find unfortunate is seeing the most visible person of NCSE get caught a bit flat-footed when it comes time for her to talk about her philosophy. I believe it is a bad day for all when a naturalist or an atheist need to resort to the same sort of insincere double-talk that DI and creationists employ when talking about their own worldviews. Eugenie really ought to stop acting like her philosophy is somehow a liability for good science. After all, she does believe her philosophy is immaterial to good science, no? As I mentioned earlier, yes, people are going to ask her about her worldviews. Yes people are going to wonder if she’s metaphysically biased. No, she shouldn’t deflect those issues by speaking _for_ Christians as if she were a Christian. No, she shouldn’t let anyone cut her off when given such a rich opportunity to demonstrate why such a question is in fact irrelevant.

Let me clarify what I mean about needing a visible Christian spokesperson for NCSE. I realize that Matzke and you and Gishlick are all qualified candidates, and I do not mean to minimize your roles at the NCSE. But making a single person the “highest profile” proponent of a good scientific theory seems to be self-defeating. Frankly, it may be too much burden for one person to bear. Eugenie should find someone to share air time with, and not let the DI make her into the iconic Darwinian. Yet, the reality is that those who are the most knowledgeable about the subject, and most capable of providing testimony to lies and propaganda spread by creationists, are often those with the least amount of time to spend dealing with Creationists. It is unfortunate. But in the meantime, before those scientists figure out what’s at stake for themselves, I am simply advocating a bit of political savvy until the heavy hitters come to play. And sometimes that means directing some of our critical energy towards ourselves.

I posted:

1.  She shouldn’t have even mentioned “Christianity” or “theistic evolution.” The best approach is to make clear that a cell, or cluster of cells, that were on earth about 3.8 billion years ago evolved (through reproduction) into all the complex organisms, including humans, to have lived on earth.  Common descent is important.  It is almost impossible for most humans not to want to know the causes of the existence of organisms, including humans.  What good did it do for Scott to bring up “Christianity” and “theistic evolution?”  It’s not important in this context to try to help people to reconcile evolution and other beliefs that they might hold.  There is too much of that in this culture.  For instance, the documentary Evolution, which appeard on PBS, included an entire segment on “God.”  In fact, it included really two segments on evolution and religion, as much of the first segment revolved around Charles’ Darwin’s religious beliefs and how they affected his thinking on evolution.

When I’m presenting what I think happened, it is not my job to help other people reconcile that with their other beliefs.  I’m going to present what I’m justified in believing happened.  Otherwise, they may not learn.  And there is a limited amount of time available.  And I don’t know what series of events resulted in the onset of matter, space and time.  But humans and bacteria share common ancestors, which is important to recognize.

There are contexts in which it is good for one to try to help others come to terms with an idea that may be unsettling. For instance, I have friend who taught science in public schools to fifth or sixth-graders. My friend taught about evolution. The father of one of her best students visited my friend after school. He asked her not to teach evolution anymore. My friend made clear that she was going to teach evolution and why she was going to do so. She was firm but sympathetic. This particular friend of mine is adept at being both firm and sympathetic. I got the impression from my friend that after making her point about what she was going to teach and why, she tried to work with the gentleman in a constructive way. A lot of people reconcile evolution with other beliefs that are important to them. I think the conversation made an impression on the man. He kept his son in my friend’s class for the rest of the year. However, he may have subsequently taken his son out of the public schools. My friend handled the situation very well.

Moreover, after I present evolution to a person or group, I am willing to field questions from people who express antagonism toward evolution. And I don’t dismiss their claims or questions as “non-science” or “religion.” And, frankly, some beliefs that are justified are logically inconsistent with other beliefs that are important to some people. That’s just the way it is. I make that clear. The universe is not about 6,000 years old. A deity did not turn dust directly into the first two elephants. It is important for people to understand my position on the matter. However, many beliefs are logically consistent with evolution. For instance, it is logically consistent to believe that a being caused the Big Bang and that humans and bacteria share common ancestors.

But if I talk about evolution, I’m going to first talk about evolution. I’m not going to lead my talk by trying to reconcile “evolution” and “religion.” I’m going to lead with evolution.

It would have been better had Eugenie Scott not brought up “theistic evolution.” She should talk about evolution and some of the data that has made it the foundation of modern biology.

When Chris Matthews asked her that final series of questions, she tried to avoid getting pushed in a certain direction. Had Scott not led with the talk of “theistic evolution” maybe Matthews would have been less apt to engage in the last flurry of questions.

I posted:

Chris Matthews’ line of questioning was not fair.  That is none of his business.  Scott’s beliefs on the matter is a private issue.  Scott was right to refuse to answer.  She should have stood totally firm.  I would have said: “No one knows the series of events that resulted in the onset of space, time and matter.  Moreover, it might be that, at that level, the whole notion of causation gets complicated.”

Suppose Matthews would have kept pushing me: “But, Longhorn, what do you think happened?” 

I would have said: “That is a private matter.”

I want to elaborate on this point. As far as I know, no human being knows which series of events resulted in the existence of the first space, matter and time that we associate with the known universe.

However, there have been cases when it was not inappropriate for one to discuss his or her (for lack of better expressions) religious beliefs, lack of religious beliefs or ambiguousness on the issue. Carl Sagan sometimes effectively discussed the issue of “religious belief.” So did Einstein. So did Martin Luther King.

And, of course, it sometimes is important for a person to discuss the issue publicly. As in the cases of Aristotle, Hume, Locke, Kant, Nietzsche, Thomas Nagel and Hilary Putnam.

However, if Chris Matthews had asked me the kinds of questions he asked Eugenie Scott, I would have said: “For me, that is a private matter.” The phrase “for me” is important here. I would use that because it isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a private matter for everyone. But it is for me.

But what about Eugenie Scott? Should it be a private matter for her? That is where it gets more complicated. She is representing an organization. And members of her organization have diverse views on the issue of, for lack of a better expression, religious belief. So, what should she do in a public context? Part of it is: What is she comfortable with? I don’t object to her discussing the issue if she is uncomfortable not doing so. But she should not lead with the issue. Moreover, it would be best if she did not bring up the issue at all, especially on news show.

And she did a good job of that in her interview with Matthews. He pushed too hard. He should have recognized that many people prefer to keep their religious beliefs private, that he was putting her in a difficult position and that she was there to discuss the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Lurker posted:

Let me clarify what I mean about needing a visible Christian spokesperson for NCSE.  I realize that Matzke and you and Gishlick are all qualified candidates, and I do not mean to minimize your roles at the NCSE.  But making a single person the “highest profile” proponent of a good scientific theory seems to be self-defeating.  Frankly, it may be too much burden for one person to bear.  Eugenie should find someone to share air time with, and not let the DI make her into the iconic Darwinian.

I disagree. NCSE has no eobligation to have a spokesperson who makes a point of being Christian, or a member of any other religion. In fact, as I’ve said, it is better for them to avoid bringing up the issue of “religion and evolution.” Just talk about evolution. Scott is a good spokesperson. However, there have been times when she brought up the issue of “religion and evolution” when it would have been better had she not done so.

Longhorn, I see your point, but I find it overly optimistic. One cannot simply make the religious implications of evolution disappear by sticking with the science. Matthews started off the show with an explicitly religious tone, talking about his experiences with Christian schools teaching evolution. At that point, Eugenie should have switched gears and composed her message appropriately. We might wish that Matthews had stuck with the science rather than religious abuse of science during his entire interview. It ain’t happening.

You’re right that NCSE has no obligation in a Christian spokesperson. But, I think it helps to have a credible voice when such matters arise. In either case, we agree is that it is better to be prepared next time for such questions. Let’s keep discussing how to be prepared.

By the way, I wish to reiterate. It is a good thing that Eugenie is a spokesperson for sound science education. It is not necessarily a good thing that Eugenie be painted as the _only_ spokesperson for a scientific theory. I see a tremendous risk in having NCSE be associated by the media as the source of all things Darwinian, and even then, to have Scott be its official spokesperson. The NCSE is not nearly as alone as the DI is – they are not simply mirrors. Even the DI does not have a recognizable “official spokesperson” per se. For instance, we often refer to the DI as a whole for ID political activities, not to a single person who represents all of DI.

Lurker Wrote:

It is not necessarily a good thing that Eugenie be painted as the _only_ spokesperson for a scientific theory.

AFAICT, the only person “painting” in that fashion is you. So kindly put down the brush. Dr. Scott speaks for NCSE, not all of evolutionary biology.

I’ve started a thread on the AE discussion board for the “tallying the arguments” project. If you are interested in volunteering to analyze a source document, please come over to that thread and say so.

“but I will read your google group proposal”

thanks, Paul. commentary is not just desired, but essential at this point in the development of this idea.

cheers

” Unfortunately, no one seems all that motivated to organize to beat them”

Are you trying to say there are no political organizations in support of evolutionary theory, or that the ones that do exist, like AAAS are innefective?

could you specify the gap for us Lenny? I would certainly climb on board if you can identify a gap that needs to be filled and come up with an idea to do so.

Longhorm:

“The other day, I had someone tell me that the universe is about 6,000 years old. It’s not. And the other day, I had someone tell me that John Elway never won a Super Bowl. He has. He won two — one against Green Bay and the other against Atlanta. “

ahhh, but there is a grand difference between the two examples given. do you know what it is?

as to the rest, sorry for any confusion; i was directing my comments at Lurker, not yourself.

cheers

ahhh, but there is a grand difference between the two examples given.  do you know what it is?

I’m not sure what you have in mind. Is it a difference that makes a difference in terms of whether I’m jutified in believing that the event occurred?

no. it’s that one is used by some people in order to support their religious belief structure, and the other is not.

I’ve lost track of whether it was in this thread or another, but someone on PT said they had a public debate with a YEC who admitted his mistakes, but then in the very next conversation completely repeated them.

sometimes, you simply CAN’T convince someone of the correctness of your argument, because accepting your point of view would somehow compromise their entire belief structure.

that’s the difference between trying to convince a YEC that the world is older than 6000 years, and trying to convince someone that the broncos won back to back superbowls.

no.  it’s that one is used by some people in order to support their religious belief structure, and the other is not.

I’ve lost track of whether it was in this thread or another, but someone on PT said they had a public debate with a YEC who admitted his mistakes, but then in the very next conversation completely repeated them.

sometimes, you simply CAN’T convince someone of the correctness of your argument, because accepting your point of view would somehow compromise their entire belief structure.

that’s the difference between trying to convince a YEC that the world is older than 6000 years, and trying to convince someone that the broncos won back to back superbowls.

Good point.

But I have had some success in convincing people that the universe is older than 6,000 years old. And I’ve heard of cases of people changing their minds on the matter. There was a man named Glenn Morton who used to be a young universe creationist. I think he even ghost-wrote a book that dealt with evolution from a fundamentalist perspective. And he changed his mind. Now he writes papers about evolution. One I read on fossils and the Ediacaran fauna was pretty good. So don’t give up hope.

Cheers

“So don’t give up hope.”

heh. I’m close, but i haven’t quite yet. let’s just say i’m packing my bags, just in case.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 1, column 128, byte 128 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Is this sort of another version of talkorigins.org/indexcc? It would be good to have a totally comprehensive linkable list of creationist claims.

steve Wrote:

Is this sort of another version of talkorigins.org/indexcc? It would be good to have a totally comprehensive linkable list of creationist claims.

The cataloguing uses the index that Mark Isaak built.

Hmmm. Your suggestion is a good one. I’ll have to add another table or two to get to the point where one could browse a claim and see all the places where it has been deployed or referenced.

” Unfortunately, no one seems all that motivated to organize to beat them”

Are you trying to say there are no political organizations in support of evolutionary theory, or that the ones that do exist, like AAAS are innefective?

Both. And worse than that, most people don’t see any NEED to organize politically against the ID/creationists. Not the scientists, not the mainstream religionists, not even the anti-conservative politicals.

Alas, I fear that nobody will bother to fight the fundie nuts until they start rounding people up and putting them behind barbed wire.

But I have had some success in convincing people that the universe is older than 6,000 years old. And I’ve heard of cases of people changing their minds on the matter. There was a man named Glenn Morton who used to be a young universe creationist. I think he even ghost-wrote a book that dealt with evolution from a fundamentalist perspective. And he changed his mind. Now he writes papers about evolution. One I read on fossils and the Ediacaran fauna was pretty good. So don’t give up hope.

In my 20-odd years of creationist-fighting, I can remember maybe five or six people who converted from creationism to some sort of theistic evolution.

While I have no problem with people who attempt to convert creationists, I myself view the payoff as simply not worth the effort.

And it’s also useless from a realistic point of view. For every creationist converted, there are foor or five willing to take his place. No political movement has ever been defeated by simply converting all its members to other viewpoints. And neither will ID/creationism.

So unfortunately I think all efforts to covnert the fundies are, in the end, a waste of time.

Lenny posts:

So unfortunately I think all efforts to covnert the fundies are, in the end, a waste of time.

I disagree. It is difficult. But look at the number, and the percentage, of U.S. citizens who now accept evolution versus the number who did in 1920. I’m sure that the raw number, and the percentage, is higher. Of course some of that is because of immigration. But I really think people can learn.

However, where I agree with you – or at least what I think you are getting at – is that we shouldn’t invest so much energy in trying to change the minds of adult fundamentalists that we beat ourselves up and wear ourselves down. I think our energy is best spent trying to improve the science teaching in the public schools. Kids tend to be more open to good science and evolution than do adult fundamentalists. Also, in general, our public schools aren’t good enough. The science literacy and critical-thinking skills of our kids is disappointing. Compare us with Japan, Scandinavia and even Canada and you have to think that we can do better.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that evolution tends to get U.S. citizens really interested in science and learning. Many people see it as a threat, so they try to learn about the universe in order to try to show that evolution is wrong. Others think it is an elegant, true idea that explains so much and is so interesting. So they want to learn about it, partly to promote it and to help people to stop being fundamentalists. So, I think evolution – and teaching students how the think critically – should be the center focus of our public schools science curricula. It should be in the spotlight. In my elementary school, junior high and high school biology classes, we learned a little about cells and dissected some frogs. I guess that was sort of interesting, but it never really got be excited about learning about the universe. We never got into evolution. If evolution and evolutionary theory had been the focus of my public school science courses, I would have been totally enthusiastic about learning about the universe.

@Longhorm:

“ So, I think evolution — and teaching students how the think critically — should be the center focus of our public schools science curricula. It should be in the spotlight. In my elementary school, junior high and high school biology classes, we learned a little about cells and dissected some frogs. I guess that was sort of interesting, but it never really got be excited about learning about the universe. We never got into evolution. If evolution and evolutionary theory had been the focus of my public school science courses, I would have been totally enthusiastic about learning about the universe.”

I agree with you, hence the ngo i proposed, but Lenny has a good point as well. the political will on the science side of this issue seems to be a bit spineless (just looking at democratic positions on the issue). I’m not convinced that AAAS is not doing its job, but I see room for someone lighting a fire under the demos asses.

I see Lenny as being the perfect person to come up with a way to do that.

I spent my time in the political arena, working for ngo’s trying to establish more support for research. I’m now leaning more towards education. However, if you, Lenny, have any good ideas for how to motivate politicians to get off their collective ass on this issue, I’m all ears.

cheers

I spent my time in the political arena, working for ngo’s trying to establish more support for research. I’m now leaning more towards education. However, if you, Lenny, have any good ideas for how to motivate politicians to get off their collective ass on this issue, I’m all ears.

Let me crude, but accurate.

Politicians don’t get off their ass until somebody kicks them in the nuts.

What we need is a movement to counter the ID movement. We’ve been, collectively, RE-active for too long, and have let the nitjobs set the agenda for too long. It’s time we go on the offensive and take the fight to them. And since the legal front has been the most effective against them, that’s where our efforts should go.

I will repeat a suggestion I made a long while ago – I think it is just as relevant now as it was then:

Most states in the US have, in the past years, either srengthened or added in their state curriculum standards a requirement that evolution be taught as a part of a good science education. While some states have very strong detailed standards and others have brief ambiguous ones, the fact remains that they have decided that evolution is an important part of biology and must be taught as part of any good science education.

Creationists, on the other hand, have still been able to intimidate many local schools into dropping mention of evolution as “too controversial”, and this local base of support is the only thing holding the creationists up right now.

So I propose we kill it.

I propose we find a state which has very strong detailed standards requiring evolution, find a district within that state which is NOT teaching evolution (either because the local school board “doesn’t believe in it” or because they “don’t want to offend parents” or because the subject is “too controversial”), and then sue them on the grounds that they are not meeting the state’s educational standards and are therefore, by the state’s own definition, providing a sub-standard science education to its students.

Here is why I think it’s a good tactic to take:

(1) we can’t lose. The district has no defense to offer —- they must meet the state standards, and they are not. Case closed.

(2) It will accomplish what we all have said for years that we want – it will get evolution into all our schools and textbooks, and it will make it impossible for creationists to intimidate or pressure anyone into keeping it out.

(3) it will establish the legal precedent that evolution is standard part of any good science education and that any school which does not teach evolution (for whatever reason) is not meeting its obligation to teach good science

(4) it will negate the fundie’s power in local school board elections by making those elections irrelevant to the issue – state school standards apply to every school in the state, and those districts MUST comply, no matter WHAT their local school board wants to do. Even if the fundies capture the entire local school board and they ALL vote to drop evolution, they can’t do it – they *must* comply with the state education standards.

(5) Winning in one district will establish the legal precedent, and force every school district in the state to comply. It will also send the message to all the other districts in other states, sicne they will all be equally vulnerable to such a lawsuit. At that point, the fundies will have a choice; they can either choose to contest us in each and every state, which will lead into a long drawn out legal fight for them which will drain their resources and disrupt their own plans, all for a fight that they cannot possibly win anyway; or they can choose to not waste their resources and to cede the field to us, giving up their influence in local districts. Either choice makes me happy. We win either way, they lose either way.

(6) such a strategy disrupts the fundies’ coherent national strategy. For too long, the fundies have been calling all the shots, free to pick and choose fights when and where they want, and the anti-creationist movement has just been following behind them, reacting to what they do. It’s time we stop being defensive with them and go on the attack, forcing them to react to *us*.

This is a collaborative project to exhaustively catalogue the arguments made in various antievolutionary source materials. The public can view the results so far by using this page.

Potential uses for the data collected here range from pure scholarship (tracing the deployment of antievolution arguments over time) to legal issues (demonstrating the close links between all antievolution argumentation).

May I suggest another use? IDers fall all over themselves trying to distance themsleves from creation “science” – they MUST, since creationism has already been ruled illegal, and IDers must therefore argue that they are NOT creationists (I think this is the real point behind the lawsuit filed against Dr Scott).

One way to negate that argument is to show that indeed IDers are still usign the VERY SAME ARGUMENTS that creation “scientists” were using decades ago. Examples —– ICR was blithering about the “Cambrian explosion” decades before Meyer wrote his “peer-reviewed science paper”; YECers were yammering “what good is half an eye” decades before Behe came up with his “irreducible complexity” baloney; YECers were weeping that science journals won’t publish their crap bevcause they are “biased against Christians” long before IDers started their mass weepfest ove the “naturalistic biases of science”; YECers were arguing that evolution is “just a worldview” long before the ID-ites mutated this into “science is just a philosophy”.

NOTHING in any ID argument I’ve ever heard has been new — ALL of it is just cribbed from the same tired old arguments that YECers were making before Edwards v Aguillard.

ID is nothing but an “evolved” version of CS, with some of the more constitutionally objectionable parts left unmentioned. And a good way to demonstrate this is a side by side list, all ID’s arguments on one side, all YEC predecessors on the other. Let’s go through the whole list of creationist claims, one by one, and see how many have been recognizably continued by the IDers. Then let the IDers explain why.

Thanks, Lenny.

overall, your idea has a lot of appeal; especially the ‘take it to em’ aspect of it. I’ve voiced specific concerns below. In general, i’ll start off by saying that I’m no lawyer, so it would be best to get someone who knows better to comment on the legal strategy.

general questions:

Would legal action on this issue be best taken by an independent organization, or through a pre-existing one?

How would legal fees be provided for; or would you be looking for pro-bono work from like-minded lawyers?

How would we select which districts meet the criteria (i mean this from a purely practical standpoint)?

specifics:

“While some states have very strong detailed standards and others have brief ambiguous ones, the fact remains that they have decided that evolution is an important part of biology and must be taught as part of any good science education.”

true, but if school districts suddenly have to provide funding to defend against lawsuits, there could be a lot of pressure put on states to change the standards, yes? perhaps not terribly likely, but a high pressure strategy could backfire in this regard, or am i wrong?

“Creationists, on the other hand, have still been able to intimidate many local schools into dropping mention of evolution as “too controversial”, and this local base of support is the only thing holding the creationists up right now.

So I propose we kill it.”

would it be worthwhile into looking into suing the IDers who are putting pressure on specific districts to violate state standards? I’m always one for forcing folks to “put their money where their mouth is”.

“(4) it will negate the fundie’s power in local school board elections by making those elections irrelevant to the issue — state school standards apply to every school in the state, and those districts MUST comply, no matter WHAT their local school board wants to do. Even if the fundies capture the entire local school board and they ALL vote to drop evolution, they can’t do it — they *must* comply with the state education standards.”

i’m not so sure about this. often times, the illogical only need sufficient provocation to claim they are now being “persecuted” and gain even more support. which might then translate into state-wide efforts to change the science standards.

“At that point, the fundies will have a choice; they can either choose to contest us in each and every state, which will lead into a long drawn out legal fight for them which will drain their resources and disrupt their own plans, all for a fight that they cannot possibly win anyway; or they can choose to not waste their resources and to cede the field to us, giving up their influence in local districts. Either choice makes me happy. We win either way, they lose either way.”

well, as far as draining resources goes, that could work both ways. don’t they have ahmanson on their side?

which brings up an interesting question… where ARE these folks getting funding for their frivolous lawsuits from?

“It’s time we stop being defensive with them and go on the attack, forcing them to react to *us*.”

I would certainly like to be seeing some asses getting kicked on their side, that’s for sure.

cheers

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 23, 2005 9:57 PM.

Michigan’s Impending ID Lawsuit was the previous entry in this blog.

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