An HBO video clip entitled “If the Bible said 2+2=5“ provoked strong reactions on all sorts of Internet forums. As one Facebook origins discussion group commenter wrote: “That’s the level of intelligence we are dealing with!” Not really. At most, intelligence is only a secondary factor.Yes, most evolution-denial arguments are mind-numbingly stupid. Yes, evolution-deniers tend to be less educated, certainly less science-literate, especially in the “hard sciences”. Nevertheless, science education alone rarely solves the problem as the sound bite in the HBO clip should make very clear. Ultimately, science denialism is never about facts. It’s about feelings. Wherever you find denials of science, you will find fears of the implications of that science. And because the denialist is ideologically driven, he/she usually assumes that scientists are ideologically driven. So the when the average Young Earth Creationist is asked why she denies evolution, she will often respond with the Argument from Negative Consequences fallacy: “The scientist wants to use evolution to remove God from our society.”
I have found it very interesting to probe further when someone (usually a creationist) expresses all sorts of suspicions and even contempt towards scientists. I’m amazed how often they will say something like “Scientists always think they know everything!” I respond with, “Really? I’ve known a great many scientists, both in academia when I was a professor and in industry, and from knowing them as colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Not once have I ever heard a scientist say or even imply in any way that he/she knew everything. Considering that they would be out of a job if ever they thought all science discoveries had already been made, your statement would defy common sense.”
So I would inevitably ask the person: “Can you name the scientists who think they know everything? And where did you meet them and what was the context where their know-everything claim arose?”As one would imagine, the people who make such statements rarely have any personal experience in the sciences, whether in academia or industry, and most of the time I have to push them to get an answer—and it all comes down to their reacting to some public statement, video, or article where a particular agnostic or atheist scientist (their description) of the celebrity variety (think Richard Dawkins or Neil Degrasse Tyson) made a condescending statement that they took as a personal insult to their religious views and intelligence.
One soon realizes that the people who say “scientists think they know everything” are the kind of people who don’t make such declarations as pronouncements of fact but as expressions of their emotions. So I’ve found that rather than attack the ridiculous nature of the statement (which even they will often admit is factually incorrect, even if reluctantly), I make more progress by addressing the FEELINGS which explain and dominate their position. Those who affirm The Theory of Evolution and billions of years and who try to explain the scientific terms and details to the uninformed tend to be individuals who are direct-to-the-point people who consider one’s feelings about a scientific concept irrelevant at best (and moronic at worst.)
So when dealing with the evolution-denialist, the educator often faces a cross-cultural experience and a clash of personality types. Therefore, when dealing with evolution-deniers, we should never forget that, even though explaining the actual science is very important, it is rarely the cause of their denial. We must always look for the real obstacle: the denier’s feelings. Whether those feelings are based on fear that their much cherished religious traditions are in danger or because they fear that the science may have moral-ethical implications they consider harmful to society, you will rarely find that scientific or logical arguments explain their opposition. As a result, scientific and logical arguments rarely remove that opposition. Accordingly, you will rarely find denial of the science without opposition to the science.
That is yet another reminder that denialism will never be solved by information alone. I deliberately chose the word “solved” to emphasize that, in general, we should try to oppose and remedy the wrong ideas, not the individual. Obviously, that can be difficult to do. For most denialists, we must address the feelings before the facts will make any difference to them.There’s nothing new or especially profound in what I’ve written. Nevertheless, educators and those who care about science education should never lose sight of why Americans are divided on the science of origins. Unfortunately, for every creationist determined to confuse evolution with atheism, there seems to be a nearby atheist or even an rabid anti-theist determined to reinforce that false equivalence. This only serves to bolster the creationist view that The Theory of Evolution is ultimately a declaration of war rather than an incredible thorough and useful explanation of how life on earth diversified into such a wonderfully complex and beautiful biosphere.
Like all conflicts involving large groups of people, reason calls for knowledgeable and tactful ambassadors, who know how to bring the various parties together on the basis of what ideas and values are shared in common. (For example, everyone agrees that knowledge and education are important.) Instead, the very same “celebrity spokesmen” for science who are best known for fighting against Young Earth Creationists on The Theory of Evolution are also outspoken critics of the Bible and even theism in general. Ask any creationist who represents The Theory of Evolution in the contemporary debate on the world stage and they name Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Ask any creationist who champion’s atheism, ideologically-driven science, and anti-Bible rhetoric, they cite Dawkins, Nye, and Tyson. (The fact that some or all of the aforementioned call themselves “agnostic” when pressed doesn’t matter. Creationists hear “atheist”, especially when Dawkins comes across as anti-theist and the other two use much of the same rhetoric–or, at least, to a Young Earth Creationist they sound the same.)
As if they were trying to make things worse, Dawkins, Nye, and Tyson all have appalling track records for pompously pontificating outside of their fields of training, expertise, and experience. (See Professor Tertius’ Laws of Presumptuous Pontification.) Each has recklessly displayed their ignorance of history, philosophy, religious studies, and–most unfortunately of all in terms of having any kind of credibility with creationists–Biblical studies. In so many of those instances, their ignorance was at its worst when engaged in one of their most petty, ideologically-driven, entirely unnecessary tirades concerning topics upon which creationists are far better informed. Creationists responded much as most people do in such situations: “If this arrogant elitist can’t even get his facts straight about ____, why should I trust what he says about evolution and origins?”
Who within the science Academy exhibits the knowledge, the charm, and the rhetorical skills of an ambassador? Who can and does stand for the very best ideals of the scientific method in seeking out explanations for our world and conveying that understanding to the general public without taint of ideological agenda?
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