Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Note to Iowa Voters: Huckabee doesn't believe in science.

Hi folks,

For my 20 regular readers and whoever drops in from Iowa, a reminder about Mr. Huckabee:

He believes the earth was created within the last few thousand years.

Normally, this isn't a problem. Lots of people believe six or more impossible things before breakfast... but they aren't trying to be President of the United States.

His religious views require him to disbelieve science in the case of human origins even though, in the rest of his life, he believes in scientific usefulness just like the rest of the post-enlightenment world. He believes the lights will go on when he flips the switch. He believes his car will run when he puts gas in it. He believes in aspirin. He believes in all the things that scientific method gives us good reasons to believe... except where his religious views contradict the evidence.

Christianity isn't the problem here. Plenty of Christians believe in science without damaging their compassion or their spiritual commitments. The Catholic Church has even apologized the Galileo and accepted that evolution is probably the origin of human beings physical existence.

It's only a narrow and cherry-picking version of Christianity that causes the problem.

Even inside his own Christianity, he's picked out one detail to accept as true, on the grounds that the Bible claims it's the literal word of God, while ignoring most of the really wacky stuff in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers ... like killing people who wear cloth made from two kinds of thread. No, I'm not making that up.

Why the inconsistency? Because he can get away with it. Because it's winning him votes. Because our increasingly defunded education system has left something like 37% of Americans with the belief that, despite their belief in aspirin and the internal combustion engine, the world is 6 thousand, rather than 16 billion or so years old.

I'm sorry I don't have all the hilarious and disconcerting links tossed in tonight -- you can Google them up pretty easily -- but I have a terrible cold tonight and I can hardly see straight. :^)

This cold, as I'm sure Pastor Huckabee will agree, is caused by trolls living in my stomach.



Rich said...

You don't really believe Huckabee has a chance (at least outside of Iowa) do you? I personally don't think he does but maybe I am being naive.

Mpeterson said...

Hi Rich,

Whew. I just don't know anymore. Maybe PT Barnum was right about a sucker being born every minute -- and I'm becoming more and more certain with every day that I must be one of them. I always guess wrong.

Had you asked me who would win if a nuclear engineer ran for president against an actor spouting voodoo-economics, I'd've said the smart money would favour the nuclear engineer. Mr. Reagan slaughtered Mr. Carter. Our current President wasn't sober until he was 40 years old and is responsible for trading away Sammy Sosa. Without 9/11 he'd be Commissioner of Baseball today.

It's pretty clear than any one can become President... even fundamentalists who believe the earth is 6000 years old.

I'm waiting to see how Rudy's wait-for-Florida strategy is going to pay off. Maybe a Mary Crisp Republican will swoop in and save them.

Who do you like in that crowd?

Anonymous said...

You seem to be a nice guy that is sensible in some things that you have written. However, combining soft science with hard science to make them appear as if there the same is very deceptive on your part.

Most people know that evolution and creation are soft science based on theory whereas the other examples used are obviously hard science.

I think I've read that you teach philosphy and it makes me wonder how you would feel compared with the local bartender or gas station attendant that is giving his or her theories?

There is a new museum that opened down in Ohio that I think is called the Creation Research Museum. It's far exceeding any expectations of vistors (from around the world) and has had good reviews from people on both sides of the issues. One of its directors himself was a prominent evolution scientist.

Perhaps it would be wise to update your knowledge of the origins of this world before taking a deceptive approach at critizing anyone.

Mpeterson said...

Thanks Anonymous,

Updating my knowledge on this topic? Good idea. I do it nearly every day.

I have to tell you, I've spent most of my life studying how religion and science intersect each other, and how their accounts of human origins differ, but if you think my understanding is lacking, I'd be grateful if you'd post up some corrections.

Here's one thing my experience has taught me: when people write the kind of things you wrote, they're usually creationists interested in clouding the difference between science and religion in order to have religious doctrines snuck into science classrooms.

If that's not what you're doing, I apologize.

But here's why I think you're probably interested in clouding the issue instead of clarifying it:

Your response, like most creationist marketing, introduces a verbal distinction that doesn't exist in reality -- the difference between what you've called "hard" and "soft" science.

Typically, creationists have to to stretch the definition of "science" so that it can include nearly everything and an easy way to cheat the truth is to introduce a false distinction between hard and soft sciences, just as you have here.

Evolution, as an explanatory model, is no different from those used in physics or chemistry or sociology. They all make guesses based on observable data and then test those guesses against everything else they know. When they're wrong, they tweak the explanation to make it fit reality better.

You also suggested that the Creation Research "Museum" in Ohio had received good reviews from people "on both sides" of this issue? The only two sides in any scientific account of human origins depends on whether any evidence exists to support your theory. If yes, great. If no, then you're a Creationist. There aren't two sides on this issue and no evolutionary scientists support creationism. If you read somewhere that one did, the report probably lied to you.

Sorry to say.

So, anyway, based on what you've said here, that's why I suspect that you're the one who's being deceptive -- and, of course, you have to be since there is no evidence of any kind for intelligent design, and the only way to get people to accept it is to deceive them.

One of the most interesting things about creationist arguments is that they're designed not only to deceive others -- they also have to deceive the very people who make them.

Most Christians, again, have accepted the idea that science provides a perfectly good account of human origins -- just as we accept the idea that science can provide a perfectly good account of electricity: good enough, at any rate, to make the internet work and post these messages.

The only people who resist scientific explanations of human origins are folks who cling to a narrow, fundamentalist, reading of Genesis. It's funny that not even Orthodox Jews do that.

Even more ironically, people who believe scientific versions of Darwin are unacceptable, believe that "social Darwinism" is praiseworthy. That seems odd, doesn't it? That Christians should think poverty is a sign of God's displeasure and wealth a sign of grace?

Bartenders are, as everyone knows, the best philosophers.

Anyway, thank you for your comment.

Rich said...


To be honest with you, I guess I personally like Fred Thompson as he is closest to my ideas. I don't think he has a snowball's chance of winning the general election though - he is too divisive (like HRC). My gut tells me McCain is going to walk away with the nomination. On the other side, I still think Edwards is the one to beat. I think/hope the Huckabee train will either stall in New Hampshire or South Carolina.

If those two win their respective nominations, we will see another razor-slim general election.

Timmo said...

Since you raised the topic Prof. Peterson, I thought I'd mention: in the last week's issue of Science, there are short articles describing the various presidential candidates' views on science-related issues. They touch on science related issues as diverse as climate change, stem cell research, science funding, education, renewable energy, evolution, and others. I hope you take the time to read this information, and take into consideration the future of science in this country when you go to the polls.

Mpeterson said...

Thanks Timmo,

We should all have a look at whether our candidates are at least marginally scientifically literate.

Why should we elect a guy, for instance, who would have put Galileo in prison? What would someone like that do with Gitmo?

I used to be more optimistic, but these days it looks like it isn't simply a just and happy America that's at stake, but the entire freakin' Enlightenment.

My favorite philosophical in-joke remains, btw, that Thales was all wet. He remains my role model, except for the falling in a ditch part.


Timmo said...

Prof. Peterson,

when I wrote that I hope *you* take the time to consider the articles in Science, I did not specifically mean you personally (although I do hope you take a look at them), but all of the readers of your blog, especially those uncertain about what their eventual vote will be. There is simply no way to responsibly manage the affairs of an advanced industrial society without a proper understanding of science and the implications scientific findings sometimes have for state policy.

A long while back, I wrote a post, Irreducible Complexity or Self-Assembly?, discussing a popular argument for Intelligent Design. Proponents of ID often appeal to the "irreducible complexity" of organisms in support of the thesis that they have been engineered by God. They argue that there is no way for complex, orderly, and self-sustaining things like organisms to spontaneously come into existence. However, there is a well-known phenomenon called self-assembly, where objects will spontaneously form highly ordered structures! The emergence of self-organized, complex structures is an active area of research at the Biocomplexity Institute, just down the hall from my own office!

I agree that Enlightenment values, like rationality, freedom, and human dignity, are on attack from all sides. The rise of fundamentalist religion, and the growing separation between contemporary politics and its foundations in (classical) liberalism, are signs of the decline of Enlightenment values in world. In the Academy, postmodernists are busy trampling over the Enlightenment. On this, Allen Wood poignantly wrote in his paper "What is Philosophy?" (please pardon the lengthy quotation):

One perniciously distorted view of the Enlightenment sees its essential traits as positivistic dogmatism, the reduction of reason to instrumental reason, and hence leading in politics to a kind of scientistic statism in the service of whatever irrational goals happen to be lying at hand. This in effect identifies Enlightenment exclusively with the deeds of its historic enemies and then criticizes it on the basis of values which the critics draw from nowhere but the Enlightenment itself. Where there is any truth at all in these criticisms – as when they reveal racist or patriarchal assumptions on the part of eighteenth century philosophers -- they merely blame the Enlightenment for not being already what precisely it has made us to be. Or even more unfairly, they blame it for not being already what we still aspire to be and are not.

I do not know what to do about this backlash to the Enlightenment. It deeply troubles me to think of what futures may be in store for us because of it.

Indeed, Thales was all wet! ^_^ But, I'm happy follow in Thales' footsteps, so to speak, and foolishly fall into ditches from time to time.