Two Essays on Expelled, Dawkins, and PZ

Two essays I wrote on Expelled are now in print and I have placed PDFs of the articles online. The first shorter essay appears at Skeptical Inquirer magazine and reviews the impact of the film at the state level, as it has shaped local news coverage and the legislative agenda. I conclude that as a strategic communication campaign, the film's impact has been greatly underestimated.

The second longer essay appears at the Kean Review, a new arts and ideas journal sold at Barnes & Noble and other larger bookstores. In this essay I review the impact of the film but also anchor Expelled in the context of the decade-long framing wars over intelligent design.

In both essays, I draw attention to the confusing messages that scientist pundits such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers continue to send to the wider American public. By combining their attacks on religion with their defense of evolution, they blur the lines between science, religion, and atheism, providing fodder to creationists who claim that evolution is part of a larger atheist agenda. These confusing messages are only likely to be amplified next year during the anniversary celebration of Charles Darwin, as Dawkins goes on a publicity tour for his new book and Myers is reported to also have a book in the works.

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Your arguments have been used before, most notably to blame victims of crime, especially raped women who "encourage" attackers by daring to go outside and dressing how the choose.

So, to you, oh mighty analyst, when Ben Stein distorts what Dawkins says, it's Dawkins's fault, is it? Do you think many here would agree with that?

The unpricked pomposity of these nonsense essays leaps out: "I review the impact..." - er, no, you opine to defend your ridiculous views. This is opinion, not analysis or review.

Face it, you're wrong, wrong, wrong. You want to allow the ID/C filth their swords of lies and daggers of distortion while allowing only scientists cocktail sticks to defend their arguments. You simply don't get it; you're trying to construct a world of framing which doesn't take account of huge dishonesty on one side.

Assuming that "the confusing messages that scientist pundits such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers continue to send to the wider American public" are harming the pro-science side of the debate, what can be done to counter the harm without telling people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers to shut up?

By foolfodder (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Talk about blaming the victim. That was quite unfair of you.

If there is any confusion on the issue, it is to be lain at the feet of Stein and his ilk. You'll recall that they lied their asses off and committed fraud in order to get Richard and PZ to appear in their little film. They controlled the questions to Dawkins and Myers, they are the liars who are painting Hitchens and Harris as being the face of Big Science, and they are the ones who are shamelessly blurring the lines between science, religion, and atheism.

Blaiming Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers is unfair and borders on a bizzare Stockholm syndrome by which we don't dare criticize Stein and those bastards for their underhanded tactics for fear of providing fodder for them.

It would have been nice to see in your article (to be clear, I only read the shorter one) an explanation that Dawkins and Myers were set up and the victims of fraud, and that the makers of this piece of crap designed their interviews and their edit of the film specifically to do that which you blame Myers and Dawkins for.

Don't blame the victims.

By Woody Tanaka (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

The advice that people should hide what they believe in the interest of "framing science" is dishonest and almost despicable. If you have a problem with them, argue for or against their positions, not their right to publicize their position.

If you somehow convinced PZ and Dawkins to shut up, the creationists will simply point to your statements and correctly deduce the only reason they shut up was political and dishonest. And oh yes they will then quote Dawkins' prior statements and anyone else who appears to take his place.

Yes I think they are over-the-top in their views about religion. But your "solution" would fail even if could get them to agree with it (which you won't). Indeed I think that for all the contempt that PZ and Dawkins give religion, it is not nearly the contempt you show to believers for thinking that they would be fooled any sort of self-imposed gagging of Dawkins et al.

The solution is to admit that not everyone agrees about religion (duh) and try to direct the conversation towards something productive like the overwhelming evidence for evolution.

By combining their attacks on religion with their defense of evolution, they blur the lines between science, religion, and atheism, providing fodder to creationists who claim that evolution is part of a larger atheist agenda.

No. Attacking religion in general and creationism in particular are both part of supporting reality-based science against its religious enemies.

If the fact that the evidence conflicts with their faith-based belief causes them cognitive dissonance, that's a good thing, not something science must protect them from.

Letting religious people believe that understanding reality doesn't involve discarding beliefs that conflict with reality is disingenuous and useless.

Leave lying for Jesus to pastors, not scientists.

By the great and … (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

You obviously have an axe to grind. Dese otha' atheis' is just too damn uppity and teh Cristians goan hate allus! Stop attacking other non-theists for being confrontational just because you want everyone to accomodate religious fundamentalists' beliefs. If you want to pacify those who embrace faith rather than reason, do so - just don't assume you speak for me as well. Otherwise, I wish you well.

By Sui Generis (not verified) on 12 Sep 2008 #permalink

Yes, Dr. Nisbet, we're fully aware that Dawkins and Myers don't present science the way you think it should be presented. Of course, you completely ignore the fact that the fundamentalists take umbrage over any bit of science that doesn't agree with the Bible (since both Dawkins and Myers are biologists, they're automatically suspect even if they were go to church every day and three times on Sunday Christians). So regardless of what Dawkins and Myers might say and how they say it, there is a group that will stick their fingers in their ears and go "nyah nyah nyah I can't hear you." The rest of humanity could care less about Dawkins' and Myers' atheism.

In short, you're barking up the wrong tree. But go ahead and rant. Everyone needs a hobby.

I took a look at your second article, the one in Kean Review.

Two things that sprung out at me immediately were:

1. Intelligent Design died at Dover. It is irremediably and fatally identified as a purely religious doctrine dressed up in the language of science.
2. Intelligent Design has no scientific credibility.

The Wedge Strategy has comprehensively failed. Science is in no danger.

Moreover ARIS and other surveys suggest that the religions themselves are declining. While convinced atheists are still only an insignificant proportion of the population their numbers are growing, and the numbers of secularized adults, with no particular religious adherence, has grown rapidly.

I conclude from this that ID is a last desperate ploy by the religious to sabotage science education. This has had no success either, as the Dover case showed most convincingly.

The one remaining thing the extreme anti-science religions can do is use intelligent design in an attempt to shore up their own support and insulate their supporters from science--which, they correctly believe, will tend to result in further secularization and less appeal for their extreme and untenable ideas.

I predict that this will go the way of abortion and gay rights. The religions will continue to scream and yammer for decade after decade but without much effect beyond the occasional act of sabotage, which in turn will drive reasnable people away from the religions. Nearly all modern people depend on science in their daily lives. Nobody depends on religion, except evangelists, priests and others who make a living from it.