I really wasn’t going to bash Kristof over his recent apologia for evangelicals. I’ve done so before, and I didn’t really see the point in doing so again. But, by way of ScienceBlogling James Hrynyshyn, I came across Kristof’s response to some of the criticism he has received (in bold is his synopsis of a particular criticism; italics mine):
It’s okay to deride evangelicals because they’re Neanderthals on science and other issues. If people don’t believe in evolution, they invite mockery. If we call them nuts, it’s because we have good evidence that they are nuts.
I agree that the fundamentalist opposition to evolution is ridiculous, and it’s certainly fair to argue that point or to criticize people’s scientific beliefs. But mocking religious beliefs is different because religions are neither rational or irrational. As Kant argued, breaking the old Cartesian paradigm, religion is neither provable nor disprovable. And Kant was no nut.
There’s also a question of tactics. Most of us would agree that female genital cutting is an outrageous ritual that is linked to religion (most of those who practice it are Muslims in Africa, although it predates Islam and also is practiced by some Christians). For decades, the standard Western response was to shower contempt on the practice and try to outlaw it, and this got nowhere. In the last decade, some local grassroots groups like Tostan have taken a much more respectful approach — that’s why it’s now called “female genital cutting” rather than “female genital mutilation” — and finally they’re making astounding inroads toward elimination of the ritual. Dialogue with people really does get you further than yelling at them.
I can’t speak for partygoers in Manhattan, but I don’t make fun of evangelicals because of their particular theological beliefs. I really don’t care if you think Jesus is the Son of God or if the Eucharist is really Jesus in flesh and blood. I also don’t care if you are an atheist, agnostic, deist, or anything else. I’ve been around long enough to realize that no single metaphyiscal position has a hammerlock on Good or Evil.
I’ve also never bought into the idea that religiosity or a belief in God (which are not the same thing) necessarily translate into a fundamental irrationality that manifests itself in other areas such as scientific analysis. Case in point: me. So if there are people espousing flat-out bigotry against evangelicals, stop it. It’s wrong.
Having said that, Kristof conflates bigotry (which probably does exist) with vehement political opposition. Once any sectarian dogma is translated in public policy, it is no longer ‘religion’, but is like any other -ism, such as liberalism, or conservatism. As such, I will treat it in the same way I treat political ideologies that I dislike. I will use scorn, derision, humor, and any other rhetorical trick that I deem fit and appropriate. I am tired of watching the sorry spectacle of theopolitical conservatives cowering behind the Cross the moment they receive any criticism of their political agenda (particularly when it is a moronic agenda). There is a reason the Blood of the Lamb has become anemic, and that has little to do with the prospect of same-sex marriage.
Another part of the response that bothered me was Kristof’s declaration that “Dialogue with people really does get you further than yelling at them.” Regarding creationism, we’ve tried that. It doesn’t work:
When I started first dealing with creationism, I suffered from what I call the Halberstam fallacy. In his landmark book about Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam describes how, once he realized the horrible mistake [which] that war was, he would talk to various civilian and military officials. He earnestly believed that if he could just provide them with yet one more piece of evidence, one more story, that these men of intellectual honesty would come around to his opinion. What Halberstam ultimately realized is that these men were not intellectually honest, that they were not interested in rationally assessing the evidence, but instead, had decided that the war was the desired outcome, and that the facts must be altered or ignored to fit the ‘reality’ of the war (if this sounds in any way, shape, or form similar to contemporary events….).
Quite simply, they were not operating from a position of intellectual honesty. Words were as weapons to such men. So too, with the creationists.
It took me a while to realize that the ‘professional creationists’ were not intellectually honest either.
….Creationist leaders and spokesmen are willfully ignorant. How many times do they have to be told what scientists mean by a theory? How many times will they misstate the basics of evolutionary theory, such as claiming that natural selection is a tautology? The list goes on and on. These creationists have heard the evidence-based rebuttals of their false arguments many times.
And these rebuttals did not take. They never take. Creationist speakers continue to repeat these falsehoods even though they have heard the explanations over and over again, to the point where they could probably make the arguments themselves, were they so inclined. And they present themselves as an embattled minority, struggling for the truth. They are quite simply on the wrong side of the evidence, evidence gathered from disparate fields, such as biochemistry, genetics, geology, and physics.
There has always been a debate among biologists about engaging creationists. Do we ignore them, and consequently allow them to spout their willful ignorance unchecked? Or do we engage them, and thus grant them intellectual validity by creating a situation where they can be viewed as a legitimate alternative? I think there is another way: engage them, but when doing so, make it clear that they are not only mistaken, but foolishly wrong. Make it clear that they have heard the arguments before, and that they refuse to seriously consider them. Make it clear that they are not intellectually honest, that they view words not as a means to understanding, but as tools to manipulate and intimidate.
Make it clear that their ‘science’ has as much validity, rigor, and seriousness as flat-earthism.
This is where a small dose of invective is not only useful, but necessary.
The evangelicals’ willful ignorance regarding evolution isn’t just a ‘lifestyle choice’, it actually has real-world consequences.