The 'culture wars' keep on keeping on. Mike Gene pokes fun at a Darwin Day petition aimed at the Library of Congress demanding that they re-classify books examining ID so they won't be shelved in bookstores with 'real' science books. I attempted to explain why framing ID as 'anti-evolution' is a poisoning the well fallacy (propaganda), only to find that the critical commenter who asserted and defended it didn't really want to discuss the issues if there are in-principle objections to that frame.
So it was with interest I read Jake Young's latest contribution over on his blog, Why Pairing Science and Atheism is High-Brow. Using an argument made by John Dewey back in 1922 about how science was aligning itself with a "Northeastern liberal establishment" on the subject of evolution – and how that would not serve the cause of convincing a more conservative public – Young brings it up to date with the aims of the 'New Atheists'. His summary is pretty good, so I'll cite it here…
Choice #1: We link atheism and science. We frame atheism as scientific. We as far as we are able exclude the religious from the scientific enterprise. The result of choice one is that the majority of Americans are going to associate science with a secular elite — i.e. science is not for the consumption of the general public. Science in this world is for only special people to understand. Science will in effect become a marker of social status rather than a general approach to understanding the world.
The logical consequence of choice #1?
The logical consequence of making science exclusive is to make those in favor of science a minority. And if we make those in favor of science a minority than we are endangering things that we care about. We are, for instance, drawing continuing scientific funding into question. Why would the public continue to fund what it perceives as counter-cultural and profoundly elitist minority?
The public funding issue is one I have brought up on numerous occasions when critics argue the elitist position while denigrating the very public they depend upon to fund their work. For people who claim to be so much smarter and better than everybody else, this reveals a serious flaw in their thinking.
The public, through their representatives, don't have any choice in what military-industrial complex R&D they'll buy with their hard-earned money. Nor do they have any choice is how corporate R&D investments are made. What they do have a choice about is R&D in academia. This has been made abundantly clear via the restrictions of embryonic stem cell research.
Worse, if the public decides not to fund science departments and no longer provides the paying students, a lot of scientists will have to find real work outside the "Northeastern liberal establishment," in the larger non-elite world. I doubt that will stroke their egos very much. Young offers another choice…
Choice #2: We dissociate atheism and science. We argue that atheism is a valid way to see the world, but that scientists can be religious as well. Further, we stop excommunicating people from the scientific enterprise for what are fundamentally small political differences. We emphasize the importance of science in terms of what it can provide for society, not in terms of metaphysical assertions about the world.
Hmmm… gee, I wonder how it is that Young can suggest on ScienceBlogs that people are being "excommunicated" from the scientific enterprise for what amounts to political differences with the "Northeastern liberal establishment?" At any rate, he justifies this choice thusly…
Let me make clear that Choice #2 does not involve abandoning core scientific values such as verification, commitment to evidence, and argument on the basis of facts rather than interpersonal attacks. We still argue for evolution, for the reality of global warming, and for the utility of stem cell research. What we stop doing is stating that acceptance of science implies a set of political and philosophical values that are unequivocal and about which there can be no discussion.
It's interesting to me that some scientific atheists are noticing that the 'New Atheists' are presenting a real threat to the enterprise of science with their uncompromising authoritarian tendencies. It looks to me like the atheist side of the 'culture war' has broken into factions along the same sort of in-house bickering lines that have been present on the religious side for longer than modern science has existed.
It's an interesting article, so check it out.