Pharyngula

Virginia Heffernan did us all a favor: it’s easy now to tell who the ignoramuses are by looking for favorable reactions to her ill-informed screed. And of course, if you want to find a real ignoramus, we wouldn’t even need that much: we could just look to Rod Dreher, apologist and apparatchik of the Templeton Foundation. He thinks Heffernan is onto something, by which I think he means she reiterates his same clueless biases.

Heffernan is onto something here, and not just with ScienceBlogs. A few years ago, I was in an editorial board meeting with some pro-science academics and others, who had come in to speak to us about some issue, I forget precisely what, having to do with science education in Texas. We entered that meeting entirely on their side, but by the time it was over, we were, as I recall, still on their side on the merits of the argument, but we had a distinctly nasty taste in our mouth. The advocates were simply dripping with contempt for their opponents, and carried themselves with an aristocratic hauteur, as if they considered it beneath them to be questioned by others about this stuff. I never quite got a handle on why they acted that way, but reading Heffernan, it’s more clear: I thought these people had come to argue about science and science education, but whether they realized it or not, they were class warriors. They acted the same way you would expect 19th century colonial English vicars to behave if asked to give a serious thought to the protestations of the dark and inscrutable Hindoos of the Raj.

What is it with science-oriented advocates who consider contempt a virtue? Who, exactly, do they think they are going to persuade? (You could say the same thing about sneering political bloggers, sneering religious bloggers, and, well, sneerers in all forms of public discourse, inasmuch as sneering seems to be a popular pose these days.) Most of us are tempted to sneer every now and then (I certainly am guilty of this), but some of these people adopt sneering as a basic intellectual stance to the world. It works for drag queens and comedians, who have it down to an art, but for the rest of us, it’s just ugly and, ultimately, boring. In the case I mention, the self-righteousness the pro-science folks could barely contain actually undermined their authority and effectiveness before a sympathetic audience. Nobody likes jerks, except other jerks.

He forgets precisely what, but it had something to do with science education in Texas. Hmm. What could have pro-science educators and academics “dripping with contempt” on that subject? Has he considered the possibility that just maybe the agents provocateur of the creationist side in the culture war in Texas deserve some contempt? It’s hard not to look at someone like Don McLeroy, professional science-denier and flaming creationist asshole, and not feel considerable disgust that that man was in charge of destroying the public school curriculum in the state.

But I forget: Dreher is part of an organization whose goal is to make those poisoners of the minds of children comfortable.

Does Mr Dreher think he’s going to persuade a Don McLeroy, for example, to somehow stop trying to inject lies about the age of the earth or the inadequacy of evolutionary theory into textbooks? I’d like to know how. I’d especially like to see it done. I might just have to back off on my ‘sneering’ at the liars for Jesus if one of these namby-pamby wimps for theistic evolution managed to convince a few of these stark raving mad creationist opponents of science to change their tunes; if they were actually successful in persuading leading creationists, I’d have to admit they have a good strategy.

But of course they don’t. They only work to hush the critics of creationists. I, for one, admit that I have no hope in hell of ever persuading the likes of McLeroy or Ham or Hovind or Comfort of ever recognizing good science, and I don’t think anyone else can, either. So I content myself with being intellectually honest and not pretending that they’re part of a community of reason, and will continue to point and laugh and encourage everyone else to treat these clowns appropriately.