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 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.