The problem with appeasement of creationists is ...

..that even when you try diligently to separate the politics of religion vs. creationism and to say again and again that religion can go along its merry way as long as it stays out of the science classroom, people like Casey Luskin will still find the words in your rhetoric to accuse you of attacking religion.

Back in May, Genie Scott appeared with me and Lynn Fellman on Atheist Talk Radio, where we discussed science education. Genie is the director of the National Center for Science Education.

In a recent posting on the Discovery Institute web site, Casey Luskin makes the contrast between the National Center for Science Education's stance, and thus of Genie Scott's philosophy (she's the director of the NCSE) on one hand vs. what she said in this radio interview.

Luskin specifically contrasts Genie's statement that the NCSE's goals are "not to promote disbelief" but rather to "help people understand evolution and hopefully accept it." Hey, folks, that is is indeed what Genie pushes, and what the NCSE promotes, and it is classic middle-ground nice-guy science education. This is as good as it gets from the point of view of "appeasement" because it says let the religion go its own way, as long at it does not go into the classroom (see this: Accommodationists and New Atheists Sail in the Same Boat)

Luskin then contrasts that position with this quote from the same interview:

"Evolution is the scientific explanation that has the most repercussions, shall we say, for people's worldview and religious perspective. Evolution tells you that humans share kinship with all other creatures. For some, that's a very liberating and exciting idea, and it makes them feel one with nature and it's empowering and so forth. For others, it's threatening. If your view is a human exceptionalism kind of view, that humans are separate from nature and special -- especially if they are special to God as in some Christian traditions, then evolution is going to be threatening to you."

This quote was Genie's answer to Lynn Fellman's question: "[A caller has asked] Why is it always evolution that seems to be under siege?"

Genie's answer is correctly quoted above but with the last part of the quote bolded to emphasize the "threat" language, and Luskin further emphasizes the part about evolution being threatening:

Did you catch that? She just stated that evolution is "threatening to you" if you believe that humans "are special to God as in some Christian traditions."

And, I should mention, the title of Luskin's essay is: Eugenie Scott Claims Evolution Is Threatening to Certain Christian Traditions

OK folks, listen. There is no significant national organization involved in the evolution-creation debate that bends over backwards more to be "nice" to religion than the National Center for Science Education. But here, in Luskin's critique, we see two important things:

1) It is not good enough. In order for Genie's philosophy or the position of the NCSE to be considered "ok" by the Discovery Institute, the contrast that Genie talks about in her quote would have to go away. Human exceptionalism would have to be incorporated into the science or the science teaching. Evolution would have to be taught along side creationism in the classroom.

2) Luskin practices out of context interpretation and quote mining here. Strangely, he is providing the fuller context and the quote mined in the same place, so we see Genie's de facto statement of the relationship between religion and science being converted before our very eyes as "Religious people, Evolution is threatening to you!!!"

It is hard to say that one can win under these circumstances. It is hard to support a be nice to the creationists philosophy under these circumstances. Genie Scott must be some kind of saint.

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That is what to expect from a slime bucket like Luskin. Liars for Jesus⢠will do that every single chance.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 05 Aug 2009 #permalink

If you give a mouse a cookie...

This illustrates why it's important to have a spectrum of voices and confrontational styles when communicating science. My mom would probably get along with Genie Scott; PZ's 'Crackergate' would probably not fly with her. OTOH, someone needs to go toe-to-toe with the Luskins, O'Reillys and Bill Donohues of the world; for them, I'd prefer the someone with the rapier wit of a Frank Zappa, a Bill Hicks, a John Waters. Someone who can dish it out twice as good as they can and keep calm and composed to doubly infuriate their opponents.

I know, Mooney et. al. have 'proven' beyond a shadow of doubt that giving these asshats a public drubbing is counterproductive, damaging even; I should "Shut up, that's why." and leave this to the self-appointed pros. After all, they have evidence to back up their position, which I presume is only temporarily unavailable, just like Bush's WMDs and Capt. Caine's strawberries. In the interim, I want a spokesman with a rhetorical cricket bat to tenderize the headbones of the Discovery Institute's trained buffoons. Let Genie Scott reach the reachable and teach the teachable, and leave the rest to those with a take-no-prisoners approach.

The thing is, in Luskinville and similar locales, not only are there no consequences for quote-mining, but the practice is actually accepted and rewarded.

People like him seem to sincerely believe that they can strip words out of their surrounding context without changing their meaning and intent.

We see the practice as pernicious and underhanded. They see it as routine.

Luskin is so intellectually bereft that I'm surprised anyone ever talks about him any more. Damnable Liar For Jesus.

Bob nailed it -- there's a wide spectrum of approaches on the other side of the debate. We need as many different kinds of approaches to counter them. If you think of it like a bloodless version of a real-time sim like Age of Empires, each unit on its own is vulnerable to another kind of unit, and only a balanced army is likely to thrive. If you have too many of one unit, the opposing army constructs the counterunits and you lose.

Old joke: How do you know when Casey Luskin is lying? His lips are moving, of course.

The man is incapable of honest exposition precisely because of what he's promoting. How can you promote a lie with truth? If the economy was better, I'd suggest he try an honorable profession like selling used cars.

Greg: Human exceptionalism would have to be incorporated into the science or the science teaching.

Which would first need science finding it, right?

At this point, the unusual aspects of humans are primarily abilities to combine/recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain/synthesize/infer new understanding; to apply the same rule or solution to one problem to a different and new situation; to create and apply symbolic representations of computation and sensory input; to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input; and possibly to feel disgust.

That's not much to put us as "God's special children".

Remember that Luskin comes from Fundieland. In Fundieland, when 2 fundies are "arguing", the argument consists of quote mining the bible at each other to exhaustion. He's just doing it here because he thinks it's convincing... it works where he comes from. I think this is often the problem when fundies try to talk to the rest of us... especially scientists. Our idea of evidence does not include biblical quote mine tailings. Our idea of a convincing argument does not include outlasting the other side by sheer volume of repetitive bombast.

BAllanJ: So, what you are saying is that Luskin is treating Scott's words like ... the writings in the Bible? The word of god? Well, that may actually be a form of progress...

It seems that Luskin isn't going to be happy as long as evolution threatens a single Christian tradition. What would he do if Scott had been talking about geocentrists or flat-earthers?

Incidentally regarding Greg's response to BAllanJ's remark: there's a more serious point there: a lot of individuals have an essentially distorted way of what sort of quoting is acceptable and how much context is necessary to preserve meaning. That's what I think BAllan is getting at. In many cases, they are so used to using what amounts to quote-mining as a form of reasoning (generally called using "proof-texts") that there is a an attitude/belief that such quoting is valid and is an effective way of arguing.

Well, so what is really going on here is a doctrinal debate amongst Christians, right? There are certainly Christian traditions that defer to empirical evidence on questions like the age of the Earth, and there are traditions that don't. In that sense, the approach NCSE takes poses a bigger threat to the literalists than the more anti-theist science advocates do -- it might create more of the kind of Christians who never donate to the Discovery Institute.

So it's only natural for Luskin to try to redefine "not the same kind of Christian as me" as "not Christian."