So tell me, everyone: why are scientists supposed to respect religion, this corrupter of minds, this promulgator of lies, this damnable institution dedicated to delusion, in our culture?
Maybe we need to start picketing fundamentalist churches. Maybe it’s about time that we recognize religious miseducation as child abuse.
Given that a decent chunk of Americans clearly regard evolution as immoral, perhaps even as child abuse, I don’t think that’s a road anyone wants to go down.
The poll teaches us something useful, and it isn’t helpful to get caught up in heated rhetoric. You, dear reader, and I both regard the issue as one centering on science. Those who oppose evolution are not doing so because of any particular interest in what the scientific evidence actually says.
That’s unfortunate, but it’s true of lots of issues. As far as many people are concerned, global warming is not about the effect of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere, it’s about economic growth. For a big chunk of the public, stem cell research is about destroying tiny human beings for financial profit. Educating people about human developmental biology, or about climatology, will change relatively few minds among those who view the issue through those frames lenses.
What do we do about it?
Understanding these facts is the first step. You have to know your audience in order to know how to address them, and to determine what message is appropriate. Many of the same tricks that make a professor a better lecturer also make public intellectuals more effective. It can be simple things like using a new study to address the broader social context. Or it can be a more complex effort to push people to see the issue in a new way.
That’s why the Senate hearing on religious views of global warming were, at least in principle, a good idea. The execution fell apart a little, turning into a debate about the science by non-specialists, rather than the exploration of the ethical consequences of making global changes in our environment. Scientists are often unwilling to discuss the moral implications of their research, for better or for worse.
The public is obviously worried about the metaphysical implications of evolution. The ones ready to listen and be convinced by polite lectures about the details of the science have already listened and been convinced. A little more than a quarter of the public rejects evolution absolutely, and they have no other basis for doing so. Over a third of the public is ready to be convinced one way or another about evolution, and those metaphysical implications are the issues that worry them. They are only hearing those issues addressed from one source, their churches. Picketing churches will not change that.
What would change that is finding a way to have a public discourse on those issues. Until we can separate the ethical issues from the scientific issues, people won’t hear the scientific evidence for evolution.
This is essentially the message in Bloom and Skolnick Weisberg’s essay on resistance to science, which Dr. Myers reviewed recently. Their conclusion? “[O]ne way to combat resistance to science is to persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust.” I don’t see how picketing or accusations of child abuse would contribute to that.