They’re Everywhere

My remarks about Olvlzl’s post on Echidne came around the same time that Ken Miller, one of the leading voices for evolution and a Christian, in so many words sicced the creationists on atheists.

“Creationists,” biologist Ken Miller, told a large, receptive audience at the University of Kansas last night, “are shooting at the wrong target.”

Showing a slide of the cover art of “The Lie,” an anti-evolution tract by Ken Ham, that prominently features a serpent tempting us with a poisoned apple labeled evolution, Miller said creationists mistakenly take aim at Darwin’s theory because they believe science to be anti-religious.

Evolution isn’t anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it’s the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.

In inter-war Germany, there was plenty of racism around, as we all know too well. But although it was most spectacularly applied against Jews, other minority groups, mainly Poles, didn’t escape it. In fact, while Jews were regarded as bloodsucking parasites, Polish immigrants were regarded as filthy and foreign.

Hence, many German Jews, who possessed no particular Jewish identity, had no trouble dissociating themselves from Poles, and in particular supported immigrant restrictions. Walther Rathenau, a leading German Jewish politician in the late 1910s and early 1920s who supported assimilation, would always say that he was just German and that he supported rights for Germans, not Poles. The right-wing extremists who murdered him in 1922 for being an uppity Jew apparently didn’t care that he was an assimilationist.

Miller comes off as just another Rathenau, as someone who is so mired in his own brand of fanaticism that he’ll happily sacrifice atheists on the altar of acceptance among conservative Christians.

8 Responses to They’re Everywhere

  1. Sri Harsha says:

    I agree with you on that. Mr. Miller comes off as a person who wants to appease the right.

  2. Axel says:

    Oh, the North American Kulturkampf between Science and Religion – it’s so fascinating…

    But I’m not convinced of your historical comparison. Miller is a practicing Catholic and he exactly takes the philosophical stand of his church. Catholics aren’t a discriminated ethnic or religious minority in Europe having social incentives to assimilate like German Jews. Nevertheless, the Catholic position in Europe is exactly as Miller’s in the United States, even sharper – as I expected – after the Pope’s Schülerkreis meeting. It’s the theological difference between Catholics, Protestants and your strange and bizarre North American Evangelicals that counts – completely different world views and philosophical implications concerning scientific knowledge and religious faith.

    Just an example: In 1893, Pope Leo XIII declared in the encyclical “Providentissimus Deus” that the Bible can’t conflict with scientific knowledge. If this seems to be the case it’s just an example of bad theology (a naive and literally understanding of the Bible, for instance) or some misuse of science ignoring it’s epistemological and methodological limitations. That’s the reason why Miller said:

    Some of those who take a materialist world view assert that science alone can lead us regarding the nature of existence, or that scientific knowledge is the only kind worth having, said Miller. In doing so, these skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology.

    PZ Maiers, in my opinion, didn’t understand (or know) this difference between, say, the claim of empirical scientific knowledge (loosely speaking: the truth of scientific statements) and the methododological premisses of science, the latter are AFAIK called “methodological naturalism” in the U.S. And it’s only the equation of methodological naturalism with philosophical or ontic or ethical or whatever naturalism (“materialistic worldview”) he is critizising. And he is absolutely right in doing so. Not because I would share his religious belief but because it’s another level of argumentation if you accept the methodological naturalism of science as a necessary condition, regardless of your personal religious belief. Is it possible to be a methodological naturalistic scientist and a Christ at the same time? Sounds schizophrenic for most atheists/agnostics, but nearly every Christ I know didn’t see serious problems. This is rather another discussion.

    So arguing with scientific knowledge in your hand against holy books and religious beliefs is only possible if your religious counterpart isn’t familiar with the slightest basic knowledge of the philosophy of science and sophisticated theology. Evangelicals and Creationists typically fail. Don’t generalize. One of the reasons why most of European mainstream Christs have no problem with evolution is the “enlightened” theology of Protestants and Catholics and that scientists don’t mix ideology or normative implications with empirical knowledge, unfortunately also a common phenomenon in the U.S.

  3. C. L. Hanson says:

    Obviously I’m not happy to see people always taking it for granted that atheists are bad.

    However, I think it’s critical to emphasize the distinction between science (especially evolution) and atheism.

    The Bible-literalists have been fairly successful at convincing people that atheism is just another religion and that “evolution” is one of its tenets that people believe on faith. It’s that politically-motivated lie that allows the fundamentalists to present “intelligent design” as just another theory — on par with evolution — that deserves some sort of equal hearing in the public school science classroom.

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