“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
I was listening to a recent BBC Global News podcast that featured a segment on the troubles scientists are having with getting a wave of new blood to take up studies at universities. It was stated that many feel there is a general feeling of disinterest or even uneasiness about science or the scientific method in modern times. One could chalk this up to a problem in our school systems, but I think the problem runs deeper than that. Personally, I feel that scientists are starting do to a handful of things that are really putting folks off and ultimately causing a general distrust in science. Rather than trying to better lives and make discoveries, many top scientists are currently engaging in political feuds, in-fighting, and picking bad allies to champion their causes. But the real kicker is the antagonistic way in which many scientists or their fans treat religious people. This stuff angers people and it frankly does little to further the sciences, and ultimately breeds anti-intellectualism.
First and foremost, I know that the in-thing for all the “rebellious youths” to do right now is engage in hostile anti-religious rants and put down spiritual people, but should scientists be doing this as well? Some leaders in the field have stated that scientists need to gain allies, not pick fights for no reason, but that seems to fall of deaf ears. Shrouding themselves in the fetishized cape of a fictionalized version of Galileo, many scientists are ready to do battle with religion at the drop of a hat. With scientific funding getting slashed in this rough economy, is it really smart to antagonize five billion people that hold some sort of faith? There is no wonder some folks think that intellectuals are elitist, because most of the time a “let’s agree to disagree” viewpoint is off the table, everyone is gunning for the win.
In 2007 The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, interviewed a number of scientists at a festival debate on religion and science. While most of the attendees where fairly hardline against religion. Martin Rees (A British Cosmologist) lays out an argument for non-aggression towards people of faith:
“If we give the impression that science is hostile to even mainstream religion, it will be more difficult to combat the kinds of anti-science sentiments that are really important,” he said. “We need people like that as allies in dealing with extreme fundamentalism.”
This quote angered a number of the participants, especially Richard Dawkins, who thinks that religion is infinitely evil and causes all of the world’s ills. If you don’t know Dawkins, his forte happens to be evolutionary biology, and yet many would think that he is some sort of theologist as he spends almost all of his time ranting about, writing about, and lecturing about the ills of organized religion – especially Christianity. His antagonistic method has been cited as a detriment by his own peers many times, but this only seems to make him louder. I’m going to come right and say that I dislike Dawkins because of his attitude. He epitomizes the condescending nature that many spiritual people see in atheists, and frankly gives them a bad name. Rather than simply explaining his side of a debate, he often resorts to the same repugnant methods that Fox News pundits use to “win debates”. He insults faith, practitioner of said faith, refers to it as mythology or fairy tale, and compares the deity to Santa Claus etc. Eat your heart out Rush Limbaugh!
This outburst by Dawkins caused Lord Rees to retort:
“There are new kinds of extreme views that are separate from religion – there are many strange cults that I find potentially terrifying.” He cited the Raelian cult as an example, members of which believe that their leader came from outer space and are attempting to clone humans, saying: “They would say they are on the side of science. People like the Raelians show that we’re kidding ourselves if we think that a scientific education makes people rational.” […]“You can imagine eco-groups who imagine the world would be better off without human beings. We need to combat these new irrationalities and, in doing this we should seek allies wherever we can, and I think allies do include people who call themselves religious. We should strive for peaceful co-existence with the mainstream religions.”
This is an amazing point that gets overlooked with all the grandstanding that usually goes on with this discussion – Many scientists try to make it seem like the only thing that can harm the scientific method is religion, as if the two institutions are dualistic and mutually exclusive entities. Problem being that this view voids acknowledging that there are scientists out there far too into pseudo-science and agenda based science (Eugenics for instance) that it harms their very own causes. I know that some will argue that this “bad science” will get wiped out by peer review and other scholars, but that isn’t what happens; this bad science lives on in the uneducated masses. These “scientists” will usually go out and meet actual breathing people and teach them fringe ideas via TV shows, books, personal appearances etc. They don’t submit their work to peer reviewed journals because that isn’t their audience. I bet that more people know the name of someone like Giogrio A. Tsoukalos over Brian Cox by tenfold.
I’m not excusing extreme religious fundamentalists by pointing out a flaw with a science cult, but I think that we should separate religious people here. On one side we have normal everyday people that may attend church, or sing in a choir etc. Many of these people don’t discount evolution, like science, and are completely sane. There are even (GASP!) scientists that adhere to a religion out there! This group should not be attacked at every turn simply because they aren’t atheists or agnostics, and could be an ally of science. On the other hand we have groups like “Young Earth Creationists“(They believe the earth is only a few thousand years old) that do things like try to re-write history so that dinosaurs and men walked the earth together.
When someone lumps all religious people into the latter category we have a problem. This antagonistic method by some scientists and atheists has really began to make “people of faith” see religion as the opposite of science as well, and if that is what someone is lead to believe, they will push back. The aforementioned “normal” religious people are starting to really shift towards the other extreme due to their life being questioned. Some are getting special textbooks that are completely false (and more religious) for their kids, and others are starting to attribute things like the 2012 “endtimes” scenario to “stupid scientists” rather than where it actually came from (crackpot new-agers). One would think that these people would just be Fred Phelps-like loud minority, but the truth is they are getting some big backers. When people with large amounts of power and influence can say stuff like the following, we have an issue:
“President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college, what a snob.”
People will hear words like this, and think “educated people are elitists” and “they want to take away my church”, and if there is anything that we have learned recently with gun control in the news, is that you don’t want to piss off misled Christians.
Scientists need to really step back and fight their battles better. Before they can even attempt to change religious people’s minds, they need to battle fringe science. I feel that this will give them a better leg to stand on instead of allowing things like a fake documentary on “mermaids “ washing up on shore getting more press than the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle. And in saying that I leave you with a quote from Peter Higgs himself on the issue:
“What [Richard] Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”
- Higgs Boson Scientist Peter Higgs Criticizes Richard Dawkins Over Anti-religious ‘Fundamentalism’ (consciouslifenews.com)
- Dawkins on Religion (topdocumentaryfilms.com)
- Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Higgs boson theorist criticizes Richard Dawkins over anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’ (rawstory.com)
- Peter Higgs, the Boson Man, takes out after Richard Dawkins for the usual reasons (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Richard Dawkins versus Mehdi Hasan: a confrontation about faith (thewordpressghost.wordpress.com)
- Peter Higgs, of the Higgs-Boson, Doesn’t Like Richard Dawkins’ Style (patheos.com)
- An embarrassing fundamentalist – Peter Higgs’ scathing verdict on Richard Dawkins (scotsman.com)
- Why I Am Not an Atheist (bigthink.com)