Plinks: Adam Frank, PZ Myers, Hendrik Hertzberg

Just after yesterday’s post about Donald Prothero, on “The Serious Consequences of Science Illiteracy”, comes this op-ed by scientist Adam Frank in the New York Times, which says pretty much the same thing….

The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

The list goes on.


PZ Myers notes that Muslim fundamentalists are just as assertive about the veracity of the Qur’ān as Christian fundamentalists are about the Bible–

And there are Muslims who think that the Qur’ān is “not inaccurate or wrong” and therefore science must be rationalized in its context.

Myers quotes quotes his conclusions, and responds,

#1 and #2 are correct. #3 is assuming what they want to demonstrate. #4 is an exercise in rationalization, and cannot generate new knowledge; it’s an admission that science will drive progress and understanding, while the religious apologists will follow along behind and try to steal the credit.

One of the most incisive writers in The New Yorker, bylined in “The Talk of the Town” section, with the lead item every time I’ve noticed, is Hendrik Hertzberg. This past week I clicked through links and found his blog, and this particular post, about the Pope’s recent comments about atheists. The whole post is worth reading, but I was struck by this passage:

Something that has always puzzled me is the stated belief of some Christians in a God who is simultaneously (a) good, kind, forgiving, etc., and (b) capable of condemning people who lead virtuous lives to eternal torment (or even some lesser punishment) solely because they do not happen to believe He exists; or because they do believe He exists but decline to accord Jesus the status of supernatural savior, personal or otherwise; or because they regard the Bible as an admirable collection of folktales but no more divinely authored than any other purportedly sacred text or, for that matter, than the works of Shakespeare or the music of Mozart; or because they do not agree with this or that tenet of a particular religion.

If such a cruel, vain, and tyrannical God did exist, I can’t for the life of me see how the proper response would be to worship or even praise Him. Wouldn’t a more logical, more morally sound, more self-respecting response be to join a rebellion against Him—the Hell Liberation Front or some such—and try to overthrow Him?

I can’t help feeling pleased and grateful that Pope Francis doesn’t believe in that kind of God, even if for other reasons (lack of evidence, plus an inability to formulate a question or questions to which a God or gods would be a satisfactory answer) I can’t join him in believing in any sort of God at all.

PS. I should note that part of my purpose in this blog is simply to gather links and quotes that I might otherwise lose, as happened a while back when I was let go from a job and lost everything I had bookmarked on a work computer. That is, I don’t post these *necessarily* to be provocative, to anyone easily provoked. I have half a mind to write a book someday about how science fiction is an analog to the great philosophical debate of existence, to which religion and atheism are sideshows.

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