Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) attended the Ken Miller talk at KU last Thursday and has followed the ensuing internet discussion closely. Here in its entirety is an entry from Pat’s blog Red State Rabble in which Pat offers a reflection on the affair. Pat is a thoughtful commentator, and I felt his comments deserved a wider audience (although many people already have Red State Rabble on their list of daily blog reading.)
Uniting Against the Common Enemy For a couple of days now, RSR has been digesting the reaction – some would say the over-reaction – to Ken Miller’s speech at KU last Thursday. We’ve exchanged a couple of e-mails with Miller, which we’ll get to in a moment, but first there’s something I want to get off my chest:
Having read the comments to a number of posts here, at Panda’s Thumb, Pharyngula, and the KCFS public discussion forum I’ve been playing and replaying a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” in my head.
In the film, Brian drifts into a plot to sneak into the palace in Caesar’s Square through the underground sewer and kidnap Pontius Pilate’s wife so the Judean People’s Front can issue its demands:
COMMANDO XERXES: What exactly are the demands?
REG: We’re giving Pilate two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Roman Imperialist State, and if he doesn’t agree immediately, we execute her.
Once inside the palace they run into a second commando group made up of officials of the People’s Front of Judea who also plan to kidnap Pilate’s wife and issue demands.
When a fight breaks out between the two groups, the Christ-like Brian chides them all, “Brothers! Brothers! We should be struggling together! … We mustn’t fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common enemy!”
But, no one listens and they are all thrown into the Roman dungeons.
Well, as Reg told Brian back at the Coliseum when he joined the PFJ, “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.” And, of course, the splitters in the Judean Popular People’s Front.
As an active participant in the antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s, Red State Rabble can assure you that Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and the other members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus have created, in the “Life of Brian” a dead-on satire of one of the worst features of an otherwise noble movement to end the war in Vietnam.
In any political movement, such as the movement to defend science education and the separation of church and state, it’s absolutely critical to be able to tell your friends from your enemies. If you can’t do that, you may as well quit fighting, because you can’t do anything.
And, you have to know what you’re fighting for.
RSR is fighting against those authoritarians who would impose their religious views on the rest of us. We don’t believe giving church-goers two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of their religious belief – or else – constitutes a workable strategy.
We’re not interested in philosophical purity, either.
We want to work closely with activists like Ken Miller to defend science education in public schools. Moreover, we respect him for his many contributions to that struggle. In fact, it’s hard to think of many people who’ve done more. We frankly don’t care what his religious views are. It’s his actions that count in our book.
In an e-mail he has given RSR permission to quote from Miller writes:
It is a self-evident fact that some of the most ardent and scientifically eminent defenders of evolution have been people of faith, including the likes of Francisco Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky. All of these people would take issue, as do I, with any thesis that evolution, as a matter of science, rules out God. Does that make us all “creationists” who would throw our colleagues to the wolves? Of course not.
I will continue in the future to make the same points as I did in my Kansas lecture last week, namely, that evolution can be understood in a way that is compatible with religious faith.
For our part, RSR is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of faith who want to defend America’s secular institutions from attacks by the radical right.
As a person with a secular outlook, RSR believes Charles Darwin got it exactly right when he wrote:
I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science.
Those non-believers who don’t learn this lesson, I believe, run the danger of ceding more political power to the religious right. Although I’m optimistic about our ultimate chances for success, in the end, it all comes down to the strategy we adopt.
If we adopt a strategy that unites us with those who are willing to defend the nation’s secular heritage – whatever their religious or philosophical beliefs – we can create a powerful movement to defeat those who demand an authoritarian form of government.
Those who seek some unattainable purity, who would divide believers from non-believers in this movement, may someday find themselves, like Brian, in a dungeon of their own making.
Thanks for those thoughts, Pat