The Questionable Authority

The limits of tolerance

Casey Luskin, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog doesn’t like the reaction that an Idaho crowd had to a PZ Myers quote. He believes that both Myers and the crowd were being intolerant.

Here’s the PZ quote at the center of the issue. Actually, as Paul points out in his own response to Casey, the “quote” is actually two separate quotes taken from two totally separate posts, and stuck together with a totally inappropriate ellipsis. (When two statements appear on two separate websites two months apart, you really aren’t supposed to link them with three little dots and pretend that it’s all one quote.)

In June of 2005, he wrote in a comment on Panda’s Thumb:

Here I am, a biologist living in the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the two biology teachers in my kids’ high school is a creationist. Last year, the education commissioner in my state tried to subvert the recommendations for the state science standards by packing a hand-picked ‘minority report’ committee to push for required instruction in intelligent design creationism in our schools. All across the country, we have these lunatics trying to stuff pseudoscientific religious garbage into our schools and museums and zoos.

This is insane.

Please don’t try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

In August of the same year, he wrote at Pharyngula:

I am a biologist. Like it or not, the Republican party is being led by religious zealots who are anti-biology, who publicly and vigorously oppose reason and knowledge and evidence in my field of study. This hasn’t always been true, and it may not always be true (I hope), but right now and right here, it is inarguably the case. I will not throttle my criticisms of the despicable gang of anti-intellectuals who run this country because it might irritate all those millions of people who voted for George W. Bush; they were wrong and he is wrong and it is my responsibility as a scientist to oppose ignorance, especially ignorance that has power and influence. Let them find comfort and forgiveness for stupid mistakes in their religion, because I sure as hell am not going to give it to them.

Don’t tell me to be dispassionate or less unreasonable about it all because because 65% of the American population think creationism should be taught alongside evolution, or that Americans are just responding to common notions of “fairness”. That just tells me that we scientists have not been expressing our outrage enough. And yes, we should be outraged that the president of our country panders to theocrats, faith-healers, and snake-oil artists; sitting back and quietly explaining that Bush may be a decent man who is mistaken, while the preachers are stridently condemning all us evilutionists to hell, is a damned ineffective tactic that has gotten us to this point.

I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don’t care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way.

The Intelligent Design crowd, for some strange reason, doesn’t like what Paul said. They’ve labeled him “an unabashed ID bigot,” and claim that he is advocating, “academic intolerance towards proponents of ID.” According to Casey, support for PZ’s position as (mis)quoted by the guy in Idaho, demonstrates that one doesn’t value, “academic freedom, tolerance, and civil discourse.

Support for PZ’s “screw the polite words and careful rhetoric” policy does display a type of intolerance toward the strategies and tactics used by the ID movement. That is a bad thing if and only if those strategies and tactics are something that people should tolerate. Anyone who thinks that we should tolerate the strategies employed by the anti-evolutionists should think about what they are asking of us.

We are being asked to tolerate a political and public relations movement that attempts to disguise itself as science. As I pointed out early last year, the Discovery Institute – alone – was producing press releases and newspaper stories at a rate that was about 100 times larger than the rate at which the entire ID movement was producing scientific work, and that the comparison was only that favorable to them if you accepted the DI’s claims about the number of “scientific” publications at face value rather than with the enormous grain of salt it deserves.

We are being asked to tolerate a movement that wants school boards to change the very definition of science, to make it inclusive enough to include people like them (and astrologers, but that’s just an unintended little extra bonus). We are being asked to tolerate their attempts to change the definition by teaching children their definition rather than by convincing the scientific community that they are correct.

We are being asked to tolerate people who routinely and repeatedly lie about their motives in attacking evolution.

We are being asked to tolerate a movement that routinely and repeatedly attempts to deceive the general public, and we are being asked to tolerate their lies even when they are lying about us and about the work that we have done.

We are being asked to tolerate their attempts to move their lies from popular literature to the public school science classroom. We are being told that “academic freedom” really includes the right to teach students those lies, and that we are against “academic freedom” if we do not tolerate those attempts.

We are being asked to tolerate a strategy that claims that if we don’t keep our objections to this sort of thing calm, quiet, respectful, and tolerant, we are showing a disregard for “civil discourse.” At the same time, we are being told that “Darwinism” lead to Hitler. We have been compared, as a group, to white-collar criminals (pdf). We have been told that objecting to the efforts of anti-evolutionists to push their garbage in public school school classrooms, “smacks not of open scientific inquiry but of a rigid and oppressive scientific McCarthyism.” We get to watch anyone who disagrees with them, no matter how removed from the debate or objective (like, say, a certain federal judge), get accused of ignoring the evidence.

That’s a lot to tolerate.

Despite that, we do display, as a group, quite a bit of tolerance. I know of nobody who wants to restrict the rights that the anti-evolution does have. They have the right to their beliefs, no matter how divorced from reality they might be. They have the right to communicate those beliefs to others, and to try to convert others to their cause. They even have the right, legally speaking, to use quite a few dishonest and despicable tactics to advance their cause.

That does not mean, however, that there is any reason for me – or PZ, or anyone else – to be quiet while they are exercising those rights. They have the right to hold their beliefs, and the right to talk about their beliefs, but I have the right to talk about their beliefs, too, and to point out to people the simple fact that their beliefs about the physical world run counter to reality.

In addition to the rights that the Intelligent Design proponents have, there are rights that they don’t have – that nobody has – but that they try to exercise anyway. In particular, they don’t have the right to try and change the teaching of science in the public school classroom for religious reasons. Those attempts infringe on the rights of others, and that is not something that should be tolerated. It’s something that should be opposed, and opposed vocally and loudly every single time it’s attempted.

Paul suggested that:

The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

He’s right. Teachers, schoolboard members, and sleazy politicians of whatever political stripe who try and insert religious teachings into the public school classroom are doing something wrong. They are ignoring their responsibility to the Constitution, and they are demonstrating a massive lack of respect – a massive lack of tolerance – for those who don’t agree with their own particular brand of religion.

Insisting that people who are responsible for the proper education of all their students should take that responsibility seriously is not intolerance. Insisting that they respect the fundamental First Amendment rights of their students is not intolerance. Suggesting that those who willfully refuse to do so should be removed from their jobs is certainly not intolerance.

It’s just an appropriate consequence for wildly inappropriate actions.

Comments

  1. #1 Gary Hurd
    March 3, 2007

    This was a well reasoned argument. This is also why I left Panda’s Thumb as a co-founder and contributer because there ultimately is no common ground with the sorts of politics practiced by Ed Brayton, Tim Sandefur or those of their ilk.

  2. #2 Anthony
    March 3, 2007

    I feel like insane street preachers are being funded by the millions.

    I was at the debate, front row. The ID guy, “Reverend” (street preacher) Bryan Fischer, actually suggested that:

    1) Scientific materialism isn’t needed in science since it wasn’t the sole factor of 16th century science (maybe Galileo would have been less faithful if they weren’t burning Bruno at the time).

    2) Peer review isn’t needed – hell, even Darwin didn’t have it, so who needs it?

    3) As pointed out above…. Pro-evolution scientists are the new McCarthy.

    I mean – this is flat out scary. He had this wild, crazed look in his eye the whole debate. Seriously, these guys belong in a jungle or something.

    You’re totally right – there should be no tolerance for such nasty assaults on the Enlightenment.

  3. #3 Mike Elzinga
    March 3, 2007

    And we are supposed to tolerate death threats also (like those Judge Jones received for his decision).

    I agree that scientist have been too timid, but part of the reason is that most have not been aware of the threat or the nature of the ID/Creationist tactics. Once those tactics and are highlighted and continually publicized, I suspect plenty of people will get mad enough to kick ass.

  4. #4 JohnnieCanuck
    March 3, 2007

    If we ever need a theme song, I think I’ve found it. Somehow, to me at least, every line in these two last verses is relevant to the subject at hand.

    You keep lying, when you oughta be truthin’
    and you keep losin’ when you oughta not bet.
    You keep samin’ when you oughta be changin’.
    Now what’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet.

    These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do
    one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

    You keep playin’ where you shouldn’t be playin
    and you keep thinkin’ that youŽll never get burnt.
    Ha! I just found me a brand new box of matches yeah
    and what he know you ain’t HAD time to learn.

    Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

  5. #5 James Cantnor
    March 3, 2007
  6. #6 MarkP
    March 3, 2007

    Great post Mike. The Iders/creationists seem to forget that the right to one’s opinion does not come with an exemption from criticism.

    To the IDers/creationists, you may believe anything you want guys, and some of us may exercise our right to free speech to condemn you as intellectually dishonest charlatans. That’s how it works. Your attempts to portray PZ’s comments as espousing literal violence, instead of the clear figurative meaning it has, is only the latest example.

  7. #7 Derek Shields
    March 3, 2007

    Well said! I get so sick and tired of hearing non-thinkers say that there is no evidence for evolution. There are at least attempts to discover truths about evolution and the mechanisms involved and to test their veracity. There is no attempt to ‘test’ theism, in fact not to have blind faith is a sin in the eyes of many fundamentalists (and I’m talking about all fundamentalism including rightist so-called Christians). There is no evidence at all to suppuort a creationist view, but if people need that delusion they should be free to have it as long as they don’t interfere with the beliefs and education of thinking people.

  8. #8 Mark Duigon
    March 3, 2007

    There are many schools whose rulebooks clearly state that the institution will not tolerate cheating or academic misconduct. Why do the proponents of of Intelligent Design (who continually engage in cheating and academic misconduct) call others intolerant for pointing out these dishonest practices of IDers?

  9. #9 JONBOY
    March 3, 2007

    PZ
    David Heddle is having a good time spouting his stilted
    diatribe against you on his blog “He Lives”
    GTC and I are not letting him have it all his own way.

  10. #10 Peter Buckland
    March 3, 2007

    Really sound argument. I appreciate your dissection of their rhetorical strategies and the repetition you used: “We are being asked…” Rather artful I’d say. I’ll link people here from my blog.

  11. #11 Gerard Harbison
    March 3, 2007

    What you said, Mike.

    And when a former faculty advisor for the College Republicans is agreeing with you and PZ, things have really gotten out of hand. Conservative political correctness should be an oxymoron, but now it seems to be the only thing some so-called conservatives have in the way of argument.

  12. #12 Kurzleg
    March 3, 2007

    Derek said: “There is no attempt to ‘test’ theism, in fact not to have blind faith is a sin in the eyes of many fundamentalists (and I’m talking about all fundamentalism including rightist so-called Christians).”

    That’s right on the money, and you can imagine the impact it has when the stakes are so high (your SOUL!!!). When you boil it all down, ID proceeds from the notion that evolution prevents people from knowing Jesus and going to heaven, and to these folks there can be no higher calling than to prevent evolution from standing between man and God. No higher calling, which means that all options need to be kept on the table since the end justifies the means.

    Mike’s point about the Discovery Institute more less being a PR organization deserves further consideration. PZ’s right that we must up the ante in confronting this challenge, and part of upping the ante is taking time to give some careful consideration to strategy and tactics that will be most likely to succeed against the PR of Discovery. I don’t have any specific ideas in this regard, but I do know that relying on the “rightness” of our position will only get one so far.

  13. #13 ERV
    March 3, 2007

    **deep breath**

    I needed this. Thanks :)

  14. #14 J. J. Ramsey
    March 3, 2007

    The problem I see is that Myers is blurring two very different issues: how we respond to those who have demonstrably argued in bad faith, such as the advocates for ID, and how we respond to theistic evolutionists and people in the pews who are not necessarily as committed to ID as the likes of Dembski. I have to wonder who Myers is talking about when he writes:

    one of the things that really annoys me about my side of the debate is that so many sit in such terror of making anyone unhappy that they avoid any vigor in the arguments; they seem to blanch in terror that whomping down hard on the stupidity of their so-called “allies” will cause them to run away.

    Last time I checked, the IDers weren’t our allies; people like Ken Miller are. It’s pretty clear that Myers has the so-called “Neville Chamberlain atheists” in mind. Furthermore, these “Neville Chamberlain atheists” are not only harsh on IDers, but it was allies like Miller that helped make the success in Dover happen.

  15. #15 afterthought
    March 3, 2007

    A very well reasoned post.
    Kudos.

  16. #16 decrepitoldfool
    March 3, 2007

    I second the call for strategy. It is not dishonest to look for the narrow goal we can achieve (separation of church and state and all that it implies) and to make alliances with millions of religious people who share that goal. The broader goal of destroying-all-religion while being intentionally offensive to good people who happen to have some cultural hang-ups is a fantasy. Human nature does not suggest we can get those people on our side by blowing up bridges.

    We need not “tolerate” religion-based policy but there is effective opposition, and there is foot-stamping, and they don’t overlap much.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    March 3, 2007

    “The broader goal of destroying-all-religion while being intentionally offensive to good people who happen to have some cultural hang-ups is a fantasy.”

    I don’t entirely agree with that, since I don’t think we are good enough predictors of the future to say that religion will never cease. I also don’t think that rational critique of religion should be squelched, even for the sake of strategy. Using a patchwork of insinuation and ridicule to lump moderate theists with IDers is anything but rational, though.

  18. #18 Crow
    March 3, 2007

    Last time I checked, the IDers weren’t our allies; people like Ken Miller are. It’s pretty clear that Myers has the so-called “Neville Chamberlain atheists” in mind. Furthermore, these “Neville Chamberlain atheists” are not only harsh on IDers, but it was allies like Miller that helped make the success in Dover happen.

    Nice to see some sense posted here for a change.

    It sure as hell does get tiresome, spending my evenings giving public talks explaining the overwhelming evidence for evolutionary biology and explaining why ID is not science, dealing with all the disingenuous and set-up questions from the creationist fringe — and then coming here to read about how my own I ought to be applying for position at the Discovery Institute if I’m unwilling to spit in the face of religious moderates.

    -Crow (of the Neville Chamberlain persuasion.)

  19. #19 Crow
    March 3, 2007

    (Clarification to the above:

    In my post, “here” refers to a number of the evolution-related ScienceBlogs in general, not merely to this blog in particular. )

    -Crow

  20. #20 Chris Ho-Stuart
    March 3, 2007

    Well said; I endorse this without reservation.

    I’m going to continue to be critical of Paul Myers from time to time, despite the high regard I have for him, since Paul’s rhetoric sometimes overflows from the issues you mention here into other matters where he becomes a bit less sensible.

    I don’t think there’s any need to refrain from saying negative things about religion for fear of alienating religious people who share with us a low regard for the pseudoscience of ID. Religion gets no free pass; rock the boat as much as you like.

    My objections start when (in my opinion) Paul or others get stupid, and that does happen from time to time. It’s not the mere fact that derision is applied nor the fact that religion itself is often a target.

    That’s not a consideration for this post. The two extracts from Paul’s passionate articles you have quoted are magnificent. Bravo.

    Cheers — Chris

  21. #21 Jason
    March 3, 2007

    decrepit,

    I second the call for strategy. It is not dishonest to look for the narrow goal we can achieve (separation of church and state and all that it implies) and to make alliances with millions of religious people who share that goal.

    No, of course not. But it is dishonest to intentionally create the false impression among those people that you consider their religious beliefs to be reasonable or justified or rational, for fear of alienating them if they were to discover the truth about your opinion of their religion. If you think their religious beliefs are nonsense, you should tell them that clearly. You don’t have to be obnoxious about it, but you do have to be honest and clear.

    The broader goal of destroying-all-religion while being intentionally offensive to good people who happen to have some cultural hang-ups is a fantasy.

    There is benefit in merely reducing religion, not just in eliminating it altogether. So even if it’s true that religion can never be eliminated entirely (how do you know that?), attacking it is a good idea. And there is no doubt that religion can be reduced. Religion has been in decline throughout the developed world for decades, and there already are highly successful countries with very low levels of religiosity. There’s no reason to believe that the United States cannot join them.

  22. #22 J. J. Ramsey
    March 3, 2007

    Jason: “There is benefit in merely reducing religion, not just in eliminating it altogether. So even if it’s true that religion can never be eliminated entirely (how do you know that?), attacking it is a good idea.”

    Not all attack strategies, though, are alike. Referring to the bulk of religious people as “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads” is counterproductive. Lumping the moderates in with the fundies and implicitly describing them all as Nazis, or simplistically describing the religious as immune to evidence is not productive, either.

  23. #23 Bryson Brown
    March 3, 2007

    I’m puzzled about the appearance of the Nazi trope here. Criticizing ID proponents vigourously for their frequently dishonest tactics, for their regular attempts to blame evolution for Nazism, Stalinism and immoral behaviour in general, for their empty hypotheses, scientific ignorance and self-aggrandizing pronouncements, and for their aggressive attempts to impose a religiously-motivated belief system on science curricula around the world, is obviously legitimate and completely fair ball. Nothing in this post or PZ’s remarks strikes me as directed at anything but these traits of the ID movement and its creationist fellow-travellers. The only ‘moderates’ targeted here are the ‘moderates’ supporting unconstitutional educational policies because they’ve decided that scientists who support evolution are part of an absurd conspiracy to hide the truth. This paranoid element in American politics needs to be outed, not coddled.

  24. #24 Eamon Knight
    March 3, 2007

    I think the “Nazi trope” ultimately goes back to Dawkins’(?) invocation of the shade of Neville Chamberlain to criticize “appeasers” — atheists who would give moderate religion a free pass as potential allies in the fight against the extremists. While I’ve seen attempts to limit the analogy to the “appeasement” theme alone, I find them unconvincing, even disingenuous. It is an irresistible train of thought that, if someone is Chamberlain, then someone else must be Hitler — and while I would grant that there are some that deserve the comparison (the obvious theocrat wannabes), the logic of the allegory dictates that it applies to all the religious, including the moderates. If one can’t see that that is a ridiculous (and odious) overstatement, then I don’t know what to say.
    (See also Mustafa Mond’s comment calling Mixing Memory Chris a “Quisling” on Sandwalk the other day).

  25. #25 Thursday
    March 4, 2007

    Organizing this lot is going to take a while… The biggest problem is that we freethinker types aren’t exactly used to taking (or following) marching orders. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t organize, of course; especially considering the threat.

    Anarchists of the world! Uni- Hey! HEY! Over here! Are you listening?

  26. #26 raj
    March 4, 2007

    I’ll repeat a comment I just posted over at PZ’s site:

    “Tolerance” is an over-rated concern. One should not tolerate murder, theft, bigotry, and a myriad of other activities. The sad fact is that the bigots, et al., have picked up on the “tolerance” motif as a mechanism to silence cries against their bigotry.

    In effect, what the bigots are saying is “You’re intolerant because you will not tolerate my bigotry.” My response to that is, damn right I won’t tolerate your bigotry.

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    March 4, 2007

    raj: “‘Tolerance’ is an over-rated concern. One should not tolerate murder, theft, bigotry, and a myriad of other activities.”

    But no one here is thinking of tolerating such things. There is certainly no tolerance on the part of the so-called “appeasers” for the lying and fraud of IDers.

  28. #28 Jeb Baugh
    March 4, 2007

    Can we start pushing to teach evolution in Sunday and Xtian schools?

  29. #29 Scooter
    March 4, 2007

    If they’re allowed to teach their myths and unfounded beliefs the classes should be called religious indoctrination, not science.

  30. #30 Kansas Resistance Front
    March 5, 2007

    When PZ starts talking about bringing out the “steel toed boots” and “brass knuckles” he gives the game away.
    What he wants is what atheists always want when they get control…extermination of the opposition.

    This has been the pattern is all officially athesitic societies.

    Then it would be the Gulags, “re-educaton centers” and brainwasing camps.

    I am glad PZ is coming out with this.

    We must never submit to rule by atheists.

    Its no joke that ATHEIST spells EATSHIT.

  31. #31 Derp
    March 5, 2007

    Its no joke that ATHEIST spells EATSHIT.

    Wow, that’s deep *bonghit*

  32. #32 ctenotrish, FCD, PhD
    March 5, 2007

    ooh, ooh!! and GOD = DOG!! That is NO JOKE either! I tell you, there is some meaning there, people.

  33. #33 Metro
    March 5, 2007

    Kansas Resistance, why don’t you leave the discussion to people who can actually spell and define the word “metaphor”, hmm?

  34. #34 J. J. Ramsey
    March 5, 2007

    Metro: “Kansas Resistance, why don’t you leave the discussion to people who can actually spell and define the word ‘metaphor’, hmm?”

    Metro, I know the trolls are cute, and it can be fun to toss them some crumbs and watch them eat ‘em up. But let’s not get too carried away. You know that they keep coming back if you feed them too often.

  35. #35 Metro
    March 5, 2007

    Good point, J.J. But if they follow me home can I keep just one, puh-leeese?

  36. #36 J. J. Ramsey
    March 6, 2007

    “But if they follow me home can I keep just one, puh-leeese?”

    Only if you take care of it yourself. Remember that troll kibble isn’t cheap, and you have walk your troll every day. Plus, they need to be housebroken. :-p

  37. #37 Alexander Vargas
    March 7, 2007

    I am an atheist, but not like PZ. I know PZ is part of the problem, not of the solution. To preach the idea that people should have no religion lays him at the same level as the bigots who argue all people should have religion. One thig is to defend evolution; a completely different one is to try to wipe out religion while at the same time been unable to provide an alternative existential framework and social glue for common folks. His true jod should be to come up with that an alternative, humansitic framework for a harmonious society. But can we expecte this form an asshole who thinks what we should be doing is calling religious people “demented fuckwits”. Not really, huh. He is proud of being “non-human”, in his own words. As I said, he is part of the problem, he is mere scientific chauvinism that walks. HE is standing in the way.

  38. #38 J. J. Ramsey
    March 9, 2007

    Alexander Vargas: “To preach the idea that people should have no religion lays him at the same level as the bigots who argue all people should have religion.”

    No, it does not. You can picket a church with a sign that says “God is Fake” and not be an anti-religious bigot.

    The problem comes when criticism of religion stops being reality-based. Tarring all the religious as dolts is not reality-based, nor is slandering atheists as being “appeasers” because they are deemed insufficiently hostile to theists.

  39. #39 Alexander Vargas
    March 11, 2007

    I am fine with people openly expressing atheistic points of views, though choosing a church to do so is just reciprocity to the attitudes of the religious assholes that shove it down our throats all the time. I’d choose a more effectve strategy and a better audience.
    In fact, no one SHOULD get converted to atheism thorugh imitating the tactics of religious crackpots as you do. If you get cheap thrills by fighting karate with theist teenies that’s understandable, but do not delude yourself that you are contributing to a greater good, you are just accentuating the problemfor the sak of your own silly fun.
    You are indeed undeserving of ever wearing a black belt.

  40. #40 J. J. Ramsey
    March 11, 2007

    “You are indeed undeserving of ever wearing a black belt.”

    Errm, I don’t have a black belt. You are confusing me with the guy who pickets the churches.

    “If you get cheap thrills by fighting karate with theist teenies that’s understandable”

    Judging from the posts, he wasn’t too thrilled about his karate misadventure and was taken aback by it. Indeed, if you read down to the posts where he actually pickets a church, you’ll find that he’s surprisingly cordial. That’s my point. One can be blunt, even to the point of standing in front of a church with a “God is Fake” sign, and NOT act like a strident SOB.