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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
NEW YORK -- Judith Miller, the mousy Bush Administration propaganda mouthpiece forced to retire from The New York Times last week, is hardly an anomaly. American journalism is contaminated by widespread institutional corruption. Yet coming on the heels of the same paper's humiliation by phony reporter Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass' reign of error at The New Republic, the Miller mess' further contribution to the media's ever-diminishing credibility--the Gallup poll finds that 49 percent of Americans consider the news mostly or completely unreliable--has prompted industry insiders to propose cures so toothless that they only expose the cluelessness of those proposing them.
Is intelligent design New form of Lysenkoism ??? One key element of
Lysenkoism: government and pro-government media support (Fox with
Roberson, as well as other Christian fundamentalists) are definitely in.
By Harold Morowitz, Robert Hazen and James Trefil
The Chronicle of Higher Eduction
02 September 2005 Issue
Volume 52, Issue 2, Page B6
Scientists who teach evolution sometimes feel as if they are trapped in an old horror film - the kind where the monster is killed repeatedly, only to come to life in a nastier form each time. Since the Scopes trial in 1925, the battle between scientists who want to teach mainstream biology in American public schools, and creationists who want to promulgate a more religious view, has gone through several cycles.
In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1982, a federal court ruled that the introduction of creationism into public-school curricula constituted the establishment of religion, and hence was expressly forbidden by the First Amendment. That decision dealt a serious (though by no means fatal) blow to old-line creationism and its close cousin, so-called creation science. But another variant of creationism, so-called intelligent design, has cropped up. At least 19 states are now debating its use in public education, and President Bush commented in August that he thought both evolution and intelligent design "ought to be properly taught."
Many people fail to understand the subtle but important differences between the new and old forms of creationism, and the different debates those approaches engender. Like the French generals who used tactics from World War I to face the Nazis in 1939, some educators seem intent on fighting the last war.
A word about the authors of this essay: Although our areas of expertise differ, all of us have investigated aspects of life's origin and evolution. In addition, our political views span the spectrum from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. Thus the essay does not represent any particular ideological or disciplinary viewpoint. We are united in our concern that the science curriculum, from kindergarten through university, should reflect the best and most up-to-date scholarship.
Consider, then, several different theories of life's origin and evolution. The main theories are those of miraculous creation and of sequential origins. Within the theories of sequential origins are the theories of intelligent design and of emergent complexity, and the latter can in turn be divided into the theories of frozen accident and of deterministic origins. The debate surrounding each pair focuses on a different aspect of the nature of science.
Miraculous creation versus sequential origins. Was the origin of life a miracle, or did it conform to natural law - and how can we tell? Many different versions of the doctrine of miraculous creation exist, but the one that is most at odds with modern science is called "young Earth creationism" and is based on a literal reading of the Bible. According to the supporters of that theory, our planet and its life-forms were created more or less in their present forms in a miraculous act about 10,000 years ago.
Young Earth creationism is in direct conflict with scientific measurements of the age of rocks, the thickness of polar ice sheets, the expansion of the universe, and numerous other indicators of our planet's great antiquity.
One unusual solution to that disparity was proposed in a book by Philip Gosse, called Omphalos, which was published two years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The word "omphalos" means navel in Greek, and Gosse argued that Adam was created with a navel, even though he had never been inside a womb. From that insight has flowed the so-called doctrine of created antiquity (Gosse actually called it Pre-Chronism), which states that although Earth was created 10,000 years ago, it was created to look as if it were much older. Are some stars more than 10,000 light-years away? The universe was created with light from those stars already on its way to Earth. And what about those apparently ancient rocks? The universe was created with just the right mixtures of potassium-40 and argon to make the rocks appear much older than they really are.
It is impossible to conceive of any experiment or observation that could prove the doctrine of created antiquity wrong. Any result, no matter what it was, could be explained by saying "the universe was just created that way."
In fact, that property of young Earth creationism proved to be its Achilles' heel. Every scientific theory must be testable by observation or experiment - or it cannot be considered science. In principle, it must be possible to imagine outcomes that would prove the theory wrong. In the words of Karl Popper, scientific theories must be falsifiable, even if they are not false. Popper said that a theory that cannot be overturned by experimental data is not a part of experimental science.
Created antiquity is not falsifiable. The teaching of young Earth creationism, along with any other doctrine based on a miraculous creation of life, was prohibited in public schools not because the theory was proved wrong but because it simply is not science. It is, as the court in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education recognized, a religious doctrine, untestable by the techniques of science.
Once we discard the theories of miraculous creation, we are left with the theories of sequential origins.
Intelligent design versus emergent complexity. The theory of intelligent design, or ID, is a theory of sequential origins, but it is also the latest attack on the idea that the origin and evolution of life follow natural laws. Like created antiquity, ID has a long intellectual pedigree. The English philosopher William Paley first espoused it in 1802, arguing that if you found a watch in a field, you would conclude that it had been designed by some intelligence rather than assembled by chance. In the same way, the argument goes, the intricate universe in which we live reflects the mind of an intelligent maker.
The modern theory of intelligent design is more sophisticated than Paley's argument, although it derives from much the same kind of reasoning. It is anchored in a concept called "irreducible complexity" - the idea that organisms possess many complicated structures, which are essential to the organism's survival but which are useless unless all the structures are present. The chance of Darwinian evolution's producing so many such structures and of their existing simultaneously, according to the theory, is so small that they must have been produced by an intelligent designer.
Intelligent design challenges the conventional wisdom in origin-of-life research that life is a prime example of so-called emergent complexity. All around us are complex systems that arise when energy flows through a collection of particles, like living cells or grains of sand. Ant colonies, slime molds, sand dunes, spiral galaxies, traffic jams, and human consciousness are examples of such systems. Although scientists have yet to produce a living system in the laboratory, most origin-of-life researchers are optimistic that one day we will be able to do so, or at least to understand how life first emerged from inorganic materials.
The supporters of intelligent design resort to the same kind of argument that creationists have used for decades, identifying some biological structure and claiming that it is irreducibly complex. Then supporters of emergent complexity have to analyze that structure and show that its complexity arises naturally. For example, 20 years ago, the predecessors of ID advocates pointed to the modern whale as an example of what would be called irreducible complexity today (that term wasn't used then). The whale, they argued, is a form so specialized that it could not possibly have been produced by Darwinian evolution.
Alan Haywood, author of Creation and Evolution, put it this way: "Darwinists rarely mention the whale because it presents them with one of their most insoluble problems. They believe that somehow a whale must have evolved from an ordinary land-dwelling animal, which took to the sea and lost its legs. ... A land mammal that was in the process of becoming a whale would fall between two stools - it would not be fitted for life on land or at sea, and would have no hope for survival."
The power of science is that, faced with such a challenge, one can test the relevant theory. The theory of evolution predicts that whales with atrophied hind legs must have once swum in the seas. If Darwin is correct, then those whales' fossils must lie buried somewhere. Furthermore, those strange creatures must have arisen during a relatively narrow interval of geological time, after the evolution of the earliest known marine mammals (about 60 million years ago) and before the appearance of the streamlined whales of the present era (which show up in the fossil record during the past 30 million years). Armed with those conclusions, paleontologists searched shallow marine formations from 35 million to 55 million years in age. Sure enough, in the past decade the scientists have excavated dozens of those "missing links" in the development of the whale - curious creatures that sport combinations of anatomical features characteristic of land and sea mammals.
But there's always another challenge to evolution, always another supposed example of irreducible complexity. At the present time the poster child of intelligent design is the flagellum of a bacterium. That complex structure in bacterial walls features a corkscrew-shaped fiber that rotates, propelling the bacterium through the water. Obviously, a completely functioning flagellum is very useful, but it is also obvious that all its parts have to be present for it to function. A nonmoving corkscrew, for example, would be useless and would confer no evolutionary advantage on its own. Roughly 50 molecules are involved in constructing the flagellum, so the probability of all the parts' coming together by chance seems infinitesimally small.
However, that intelligent-design argument contains a hidden assumption: that all parts of a complex structure must have had the same function throughout the history of the development of the organism. In fact, it is quite common for structures to have one function at one time and be adapted for quite another use later on. A land animal's legs become a whale's flippers. An insect may develop bumps on the side of its body to help it get rid of internal heat, but when the bumps get big enough, they may help the insect glide or fly, thus opening up an entirely new ecological niche for exploitation. That process is so common that evolutionary scientists have given it a name: exaptation.
No evolutionary theorist would suggest that something as complex as the flagellum appeared ab initio. Instead, it was assembled from parts that had developed for other uses. For example, some molecules produce energy by rotating, a normal procedure within cells. Other molecules have a shape that makes them ideal for moving materials across cell membranes. The flagellum's building blocks include both types of molecules. Instead of being assembled from scratch, then, the flagellum is put together from a stock of already existing parts, each of which evolved to carry out a completely different task. The flagellum may be complicated, but it is not irreducibly complex.
An important distinction between the theories of intelligent design and miraculous creation is that the former makes predictions that can be tested. The problem with ID, at least so far, is that when statements like the one claiming irreducible complexity for the flagellum are put to the test, they turn out to be wrong.
That distinction means that we should use different methods to counter intelligent design than those that defeated young Earth creationism. The more thoughtful advocates of intelligent design accept many of the tenets of Darwinism - the idea that living things have changed over time, for example. Although the motive of some ID proponents may be to re-introduce God into the debate about the origin of life, their arguments can be met with scientific, not legal, rebuttals. That is good news: They are playing on our field.
Frozen accident versus deterministic origins. The last pair of theories are both subsets of emergent complexity, and both fall within the scientific mainstream; the debate here is about whether life had to develop the way it did, or whether it could have turned out differently. A number of distinguished scientists see the development of life on our planet as a series of accidental, perhaps improbable, events that became locked into the structures of living things - what have been termed "frozen accidents." In the words of the most eloquent advocate for that point of view, the late Stephen Jay Gould, if you played the tape again, you would get a different set of accidents, and hence a different outcome. Therefore life may be rare in the universe, and the way it began and evolved on Earth may be unique.
Other scientists see life's chemical origin and many of its subsequent evolutionary steps as inevitable - a cosmic imperative. Indeed, much modern research on the origin of life is devoted to showing precisely how living things arose from inanimate matter through the action of the ordinary laws of chemistry and physics. That more deterministic view of life's origin and evolution means scientists are more likely to eventually understand the details of life's emergence, and it includes the testable prediction that similar life-forms exist on many other planets throughout the universe.
It seems to us that the frozen-accident theory of life's origin is at best unsatisfying, and may be unworthy of the scientific way of approaching the world. To say that a natural process is random is, in effect, an act of surrender, something that should be done only as a last resort. If you read the frozen-accident literature carefully, you often get the feeling that what is really being said is: "My friends and I can't figure out why things happened this way, so it must have been random."
Another aspect of the frozen-accident school of thought has unfortunate consequences for the educational system. Random events are, by definition, not reproducible. That makes them disturbingly similar to the unknowable interventions posited by intelligent design. Is there really much difference between irreproducible random events and irreproducible acts of God? We should note, however, that proponents of the frozen-accident theory make no claims of divine intervention, while advocates of intelligent design do move on to theological arguments.
Although both the theories of frozen accident and deterministic origins have their supporters, virtually all scientists who work in the field believe that once living things appeared on our planet, the Darwinian process of natural selection guided their development. There is no disagreement on that point, although there is - and should be - vigorous debate on the details of the way natural selection has worked.
Shouldn't we just teach the debates? That is the rallying cry of intelligent-design advocates. Having learned their lesson in Arkansas in 1982, they no longer demand that schools teach the theory of miraculous creation. Instead they say that students should be told that legitimate alternatives to Darwinian evolution exist, and thus biology classes should include the theory of intelligent design.
That argument has an apparent fairness that is hard to resist, especially for academics who believe that, at least in the sciences, subjects should be approached with an open mind and critical thinking. But the idea of "teaching the debate" founders on two points.
First, there really is no debate in the mainstream literature. The vast majority of scientists who study the origin of life accept the idea of nonmiraculous origins without any reservations. Only creationists support the theory of intelligent design.
Second, American students, from kindergarten to university, spend far too little time as it is studying science. We shouldn't teach them about intelligent design for the same reason that we don't teach them that Earth is flat, or that flies are produced by spontaneous generation from rotting meat. It's bad science, and the curriculum has no room for bad science.
Our educational system produces citizens who are ill prepared to deal with a world increasingly dominated by scientific and technological advances. If we were to "teach the debate," what should we remove from the already inadequate curriculum to make room for an idea that has yet to meet even the most rudimentary scientific tests? Should we neglect the environment? Energy? Genetics? Most high-school biology courses devote a pitifully small amount of time to evolution, which is arguably the most important idea in the life sciences. Should we dilute that instruction even further?
The time to discuss altering the curriculum is when the theory of intelligent design reaches the point where it has serious arguments and data to put forward - to the point, in other words, where there is a significant debate among scientists.
Harold Morowitz, Robert Hazen, and James Trefil are, respectively, the Clarence J. Robinson Professors of biology and natural philosophy, earth sciences, and physics at George Mason University.
I'd like to nominate Irving Kristol, the neoconservative former editor of The Public Interest, as the father of "intelligent design." No, he didn't play any role in developing the doctrine. But he is the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement - a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right.
Back in 1978 Mr. Kristol urged corporations to make "philanthropic contributions to scholars and institutions who are likely to advocate preservation of a strong private sector." That was delicately worded, but the clear implication was that corporations that didn't like the results of academic research, however valid, should support people willing to say something more to their liking.
Mr. Kristol led by example, using The Public Interest to promote supply-side economics, a doctrine whose central claim - that tax cuts have such miraculous positive effects on the economy that they pay for themselves - has never been backed by evidence. He would later concede, or perhaps boast, that he had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit."
"Political effectiveness was the priority," he wrote in 1995, "not the accounting deficiencies of government."
Corporations followed his lead, pouring a steady stream of money into think tanks that created a sort of parallel intellectual universe, a world of "scholars" whose careers are based on toeing an ideological line, rather than on doing research that stands up to scrutiny by their peers.
You might have thought that a strategy of creating doubt about inconvenient research results could work only in soft fields like economics. But it turns out that the strategy works equally well when deployed against the hard sciences.
The most spectacular example is the campaign to discredit research on global warming. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, many people have the impression that the issue is still unresolved. This impression reflects the assiduous work of conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't. And behind it all lies lavish financing from the energy industry, especially ExxonMobil.
There are several reasons why fake research is so effective. One is that nonscientists sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between research and advocacy - if it's got numbers and charts in it, doesn't that make it science?
Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth." The headlines on many articles about the intelligent design controversy come pretty close.
Finally, the self-policing nature of science - scientific truth is determined by peer review, not public opinion - can be exploited by skilled purveyors of cultural resentment. Do virtually all biologists agree that Darwin was right? Well, that just shows that they're elitists who think they're smarter than the rest of us.
Which brings us, finally, to intelligent design. Some of America's most powerful politicians have a deep hatred for Darwinism. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, blamed the theory of evolution for the Columbine school shootings. But sheer political power hasn't been enough to get creationism into the school curriculum. The theory of evolution has overwhelming scientific support, and the country isn't ready - yet - to teach religious doctrine in public schools.
But what if creationists do to evolutionary theory what corporate interests did to global warming: create a widespread impression that the scientific consensus has shaky foundations?
Creationists failed when they pretended to be engaged in science, not religious indoctrination: "creation science" was too crude to fool anyone. But intelligent design, which spreads doubt about evolution without being too overtly religious, may succeed where creation science failed.
The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.
... best known for his work on scepticism, and especially for his classic study The History Of Scepticism From Erasmus To Descartes (1960).
In making his case for this central contribution to the development of modern science and philosophy, Popkin gave attention to the intellectual context of the time, especially the role of religious disputes in the take-up of philosophical scepticism deriving from the discipline's Greek founder, Pyhrro. Instead of treating the history of science and philosophy as a series of breakthroughs by canonical figures, Popkin sought to view the thought of the past from within its own framework.
... ... ...
Popkin also achieved fame with The Second Oswald (1966), the book in which he disputed the findings of the Warren commission that Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin. He foresaw the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States and the Middle East, contributing an analysis of its American dimension in Messianic Revolution (1998, co-authored with David Katz).
∑ Richard Henry Popkin, philosopher, born December 27 1923; died April 14 2005
At this point, the scene essentially shifts to the United States. Chapter 6 traces one stream of apocalyptic beliefs from the followers of William Miller in upstate New York, who believed they would be carried off into Heaven in 1843, or 1844 at the latest, to the modern-day Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Branch Davidians.
Chapter 7 follows the adventures of the idea that the Lost Ten Tribes wound up in the British Isles, and that Anglo-Saxons are therefore actually the Chosen People, or at least a branch of them. Originally a harmless piece of Victorian eccentricity, after crossing the Atlantic it mutated into the virulently racist and anti-Semitic doctrine known as Christian Identity, a substantial fraction of whose followers regard terrorism as a legitimate preparation for the imminent apocalyptic racial wars. The last chapter follows millenarian beliefs among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants, most prominently the notion that Armageddon will be an actual nuclear war sparked by a Russian or Arab attack on Israel. When Ronald Reagan was lucid enough to grasp such ideas, he found them at the very least plausible, and said as much before and during his presidency. Despite the end of the Cold War, such ideas continue to be popular among the religious right.
Messianic Revolution is neither so focused nor so encyclopedic as its title suggests. Many of the movements and people discussed are not revolutionary (Newton, for instance, or the Seventh Day Adventists). Movements which, like Nazism, have the look and feel of messianic revolutions are excluded if they happen not to be Christian, or even if they simply happen not to be big in the United States. Still, any attempt to tell the millenarian story within a brief compass will have to be drastically selective, and Katz and Popkin's selections are sensible, instructive ones. Their book is readable, intelligent, even sporadically witty. It gets the big points right, and manages to convey a sense of the continued vitality of strange ideas out of the deeps of the past. For anyone curious about millenarian ideas --- even believers who wonder about rival apocalypses --- this is a fine place to start.
First, many educated people seem to be getting their news from Comedy Central. Say what? As any author will tell you, the best TV book shows to be on have long been Don Imus, Charlie Rose, C-Span, Tim Russert on CNBC, "Today," Oprah and selected programs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. They are all still huge. But what was new for me on this tour was the number of people who also mentioned getting their news from Jon Stewart's truly funny news satire, "The Daily Show." And I am not just talking about college kids. I am talking about grandmas. Just how many people are now getting their only TV news from Comedy Central is not clear to me - but it is a lot, lot more than you think.
A lot of things now so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism, just maybe it is clueing people in to where the religious right's moral triumphalism is leading us.” -- Katha Pollitt, The Nation
To the Editor:
"In the Name of Politics," by John C. Danforth (Op-Ed, March 30), was a candle in the darkness.
There are many in this country who have been alarmed by the influence that conservative Christians have with the Bush administration, as well as by the seemingly steady erosion of the separation of church and state, a cornerstone of liberty in our country.
Mr. Danforth's Republican credentials are impeccable. He was a conservative voice in the Senate and an able representative at the United Nations. He is also an Episcopal minister.
It is refreshing, therefore, to read his staunch defense of stem cell research, and his concern that his party's longtime agenda of limited government and lower deficits has become secondary to the agenda of the Christian conservatives.
If there are more Republicans out there who agree with Senator Danforth, let their voices be heard now.
Brooklyn, March 30, 2005
To the Editor:
I'll be voting for Democrats from now on. The Democrats now stand for fiscal responsibility, limited government interference in our private lives, separation of church and state, and business policies that help all Americans.
I share John C. Danforth's concerns. As a Christian, I'm fed up with the hard-right Christian conservative agenda that is taking this country away from its tremendous past.
In the past, America was the moral leader of the world.
Now we look for ways around the Geneva Conventions so we can torture prisoners legally. It is disgusting.
Atlanta, March 30, 2005
St. Louis — BY a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.
Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.
Christian activists, eager to take credit for recent electoral successes, would not be likely to concede that Republican adoption of their political agenda is merely the natural convergence of conservative religious and political values. Correctly, they would see a causal relationship between the activism of the churches and the responsiveness of Republican politicians. In turn, pragmatic Republicans would agree that motivating Christian conservatives has contributed to their successes.
High-profile Republican efforts to prolong the life of Ms. Schiavo, including departures from Republican principles like approving Congressional involvement in private decisions and empowering a federal court to overrule a state court, can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs.
In my state, Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly have advanced legislation to criminalize even stem cell research in which the cells are artificially produced in petri dishes and will never be transplanted into the human uterus. They argue that such cells are human life that must be protected, by threat of criminal prosecution, from promising research on diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes.
It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.
I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God's call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.
The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.
When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.
Take stem cell research. Criminalizing the work of scientists doing such research would give strong support to one religious doctrine, and it would punish people who believe it is their religious duty to use science to heal the sick.
During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.
But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.
The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.
To the Editor:
It was refreshing to read the last sentence of "An Unexpected Softness" (editorial, March 28): "We wake up thinking we know what we know, only to find that we have to think all over again."
In contrast to the unbending ideology of religious fundamentalism, it is science - driven by technological advances - that provides us with rational answers.
Those with open minds can embrace such newly found knowledge and alter their ideologies. As an educator, I urge my students not to be afraid of such changes, because they lead to mental evolution.
Those who embrace religious fundamentalism (including President Bush and his right-wing allies in Congress) are typically afraid of change and often reluctant to accept scientific knowledge they perceive to be a threat to their faith-based principles.
What worries me most is that if left unchallenged, these religious zealots will turn our nation from a democracy into a theocracy.
Stony Brook, N.Y., March 28, 2005
The writer is an associate professor of biomedical engineering, genetics, and orthopedics, SUNY, Stony Brook.
While the press and the public are distracted by one sensational news story after another - Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, steroids in baseball, etc. - the president and his party have continued their extraordinary campaign to undermine the programs that were designed to fend off destitution and provide a reasonable foundation of economic security for those not blessed with great wealth.
... ... ...
Education funding would be cut beginning next year, and the cuts would grow larger in succeeding years. Food assistance for pregnant women, infants and children would be cut. Funding for H.I.V. and AIDS treatment would be cut by more than half a billion dollars over five years. Support for environmental protection programs would be sharply curtailed. And so on
... ... ...
This is not a huge national story. It's just the way things are. It was Herbert Hoover who said: "You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They're too damn greedy."
Have you noticed how often the name George W. Bush is associated with going backwards in time? Backwards in the field of civil rights, where NAACP president Kweisi Mfume said last year, "We've got a president that's prepared to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and dominance." Backwards on the rights of workers, as union leader Douglas Dority said, "The Bush Administration would take us back to the 19th century . . ."
Then there's the environment, where Al Gore has accused Bush of "threatening to take us back to the days when America's rivers and lakes were dying, when the skylines were some days not visible because of smog, and when toxic waste threatened so many communities around America."
There is more, of course: Bush has frequently been accused of trying to take us back to the 19th Century on taxation, to the 1950s on the Cold War and to the early 1930s on Social Security. Try Googling "Bush" and "take us back." You'll find references to all of above and many, many more -- over 22,000 hits in total, when I checked.
But if you ask me, these examples all miss the point. Bush isn't trying to take us back to the 20th Century, the 19th Century or even the 18th Century. He has his eye on a much bigger prize -- a journey all the way back to the 14th or 15th Century -- well before the age of The Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment's guiding principle, after all, was dedication to scientific truth and human reason over dogma, especially religious dogma -- a view now widely accepted among non fundamentalist religious faiths.
One of Pope John Paul's greatest achievements has involved his imperfect, yet profoundly important, efforts to mend the traditional divisions between science and the Church. In confessing the Church's wrongs against Galileo, for example, the Pope established the doctrine that faith can never be allowed to conflict with reason. In short, religious faith must be prepared to accept the discoveries of science, even when those discoveries seem inconsistent with existing doctrine, as was true when Galileo supported the Copernican system of heavenly bodies rather than the Ptolemaic system handed down from Aristotle.
It's also worth noting that the Enlightenment's commitment to reason over blind faith was the motivating philosophy for most of the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States.
Yet, within the increasingly "faith based" Bush administration, scientific truth has become an endangered species. At the recent meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science, speakers expressed grave concern over the many ways this administration is stifling the scientific voice. Scientists are being ignored in policy discussions, funding for basic scientific research is being slashed and government scientists are being pressured to alter findings unfavorable to administration policies.
A survey of scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service found that a full 42 percent -- 42 percent! -- felt pressured to withhold from the public any findings contrary to Bush administration policies on endangered species. Almost a third felt pressure to avoid expressing such findings even within the agency itself."
Bush may not need to resort to intimidation much longer, however, since he has been busily filling scientific boards and panels with unqualified, but ideologically committed, stooges. You know, the sort of "scientists" who don't need all that sissy scientific method shit, because they know the "correct" answer going in.
One particularly striking example involved the appointment of an antiabortion zealot to chair the FDA's Reproductive Health and Drug Advisory Committee -- a guy who, among his other varied "qualifications," recommends that women read the Bible as treatment of premenstrual symptoms. The prestigious British medical journal Lancet wrote of this affair that "further right-wing incursions of expert panels' membership will cause a terminal decline in public trust in the advice of scientists."
No shit, Sherlock.
In fairness, Bush's hostility to science isn't exclusively faith based. While religious dogma trumps science in areas like stem cell research and abstinence only "sex education," in other areas, such as global warming and increased development in national wildlife areas, good old fashioned greed appears to be the primary focus of scientifically unsound governmental policies.
Still, given the Greed is Godly theology advocated by the leadership of the Religious Right, one can't completely ignore their hand even in what appear at first glance to be capitalistically driven crimes against science.
But what's probably most important about Bush's anti-scientific bias is what is says about the state of his mind in general. Many, perhaps most, of the top people in the Bush administration, including most significantly the big guy himself, display an attitude -- and attitude is most definitely the word -- that's antagonistic, not just to scientific expertise, but to all forms of expertise.
These are guys who repeatedly "feel" and "faith" their way through minefields, seemingly uninterested in what maps may exist that could show them where the mines are buried. They decide to go to war with Iraq, for example, while almost totally excluding input from anyone who actually knows something about the country. You know -- the sort of people who would insist on bringing all of those annoying little complexities into the mix.
Why muck around with a bunch of pointy headed policy wonks when anytime you have a question you can simply pick up the direct line to heaven?
From my communist youth, I still remember the formula, endlessly repeated in official proclamations to mark the "unity of all progressive forces": "workers, peasants and honest intellectuals" - as if intellectuals are, by their very nature, suspicious, all too free-floating, lacking a solid social and professional identity, so that they can only be accepted at the price of a special qualification.
This distrust is alive and well today, in our post-ideological societies. The lines are clearly drawn. On the "honest" side, there are the no-nonsense experts, sociologists, economists, psychologists, trying to cope with the real-life problems engendered by our "risk society", aware that old ideological solutions are useless. Beyond, there are the "prattling classes", academics and journalists with no solid professional education, usually working in humanities with some vague French postmodern leanings, specialists in everything, prone to verbal radicalism, in love with paradoxical formulations that flatly contradict the obvious. When faced with fundamental liberal-democratic tenets, they display a breathtaking talent to unearth hidden traps of domination. When faced with an attack on these tenets, they display a no less breathtaking ability to discover emancipatory potential in it.
This cliche is not without truth - recall the numerous fiascos of the 20th-century radical intellectuals, perhaps best encapsulated by the French poet Paul Eluard's refusal to demonstrate support for the victims of Stalinist show trials: "I spend enough time defending the innocent who proclaim their innocence, to have any time left to defend the guilty who proclaim their guilt." But hysterical over-reaction against "free-floating" intellectual renders such a critique suspicious: distrust of intellectuals is ultimately distrust of philosophy itself.
In March 2003, Donald Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophising: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the "unknown knowns", things we don't know that we know - which is precisely the Freudian unconscious. If Rumsfeld thought that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the "unknown unknowns", the threats from Saddam we did not even suspect, the Abu Ghraib scandal shows where the main dangers actually are in the "unknown knowns", the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values. To unearth these "unknown knowns" is the task of an intellectual.
On September 11 2001, the Twin Towers were hit. Twelve years earlier, on November 9 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. November 9 announced the "happy 90s", the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history", the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search is over, that the advent of a global, liberal world community lurks just around the corner, that the obstacles to this Hollywood happy ending are merely contingent - local pockets of resistance where leaders did not yet grasp that their time was over. By contrast, 9/11 is the symbol of the end of the Clintonite happy 90s, of an era in which new walls are emerging everywhere, in the West Bank, around the European Union, on the US-Mexico border. The prospect of a new global crisis is looming: economic breakdowns, military and other catastrophes, states of emergency .
In their recent The War Over Iraq, William Kristol and Lawrence F Kaplan wrote: "The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there... We stand at the cusp of a new historical era... This is a decisive moment... It is so clearly about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the US intends to play in the 21st century." One cannot but agree: it is effectively the future of the international community that is at stake now - the new rules that will regulate it, what the new world order will be.
The ruling ideology appropriated the September 11 tragedy and used it to impose its basic message: it is time to stop playing around, you have to take sides - for or against. This, precisely, is the temptation to be resisted: in such moments of apparent clarity of choice, mystification is total. Today, more than ever, intellectuals need to step back. Are we aware that we are in the midst of a "soft revolution", in the course of which the unwritten rules determining the most elementary international logic are changing?
The danger the west is courting in its "war on terror" was clearly perceived by GK Chesterton who - in the very last pages of his Orthodoxy, the ultimate Catholic propaganda piece - exposed the deadlock of the pseudo-revolutionary critics of religion: they start by denouncing religion as the force of oppression that threatens human freedom; but in fighting religion, they are compelled to forsake freedom itself, thus sacrificing precisely what they wanted to defend: the atheist radical universe, deprived of religious reference, is the grey universe of egalitarian terror. Today the same holds for advocates of religion themselves: how many fanatical defenders of religion started by ferociously attacking secular culture and ended up forsaking religion itself, losing any meaningful religious experience?
And is it not that, in a strictly homologous way, the liberal warriors against terror are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they will end by flinging away freedom and democracy? They have such a passion for proving that non-Christian fundamentalism is the main threat to freedom that they are ready to limit our own freedom here and now, in our allegedly Christian societies. If the "terrorists" are ready to wreck this world for love of the other, our warriors on terror are ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Thus the American commentators Jonathan Alter and Alan Derschowitz love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture - the ultimate degradation of human dignity - to defend it.
Does the same not hold for the postmodern disdain for great ideological causes and the notion that, in our post-ideological era, instead of trying to change the world, we should reinvent ourselves by engaging in new forms of (sexual, spiritual, aesthetic) subjective practices? Confronted with arguments like this, one cannot but recall the old lesson of critical theory: when we try to preserve the authentic intimate sphere of privacy against the onslaught of "alienated" public exchange, it is privacy itself that gets lost. Withdrawal into privacy means today adopting formulas of private authenticity propagated by the contemporary cultural industry - from taking lessons in spiritual enlightenment a to engaging in body building. The ultimate truth of withdrawal into privacy is public confessions of intimate secrets on TV shows. Against this kind of privacy, the only way to break out of the constraints of "alienated" public life is to invent a new collectivity.
Recall the old story about a worker suspected of stealing. Every evening, when he was leaving the factory, the wheelbarrow he was rolling in front of him was carefully inspected, but it was always empty - till, finally, the guards got the point: what the worker was stealing were the wheel-barrows themselves. This is the trick that those who claim today "But the world is none the less better off without Saddam!" try to pull on us: they forget to include in the account the effects of the very military intervention against Saddam. Yes, the world is better without Saddam - but it is not better with the military occupation of Iraq, with the rise of Islamist fundamentalism provoked by this very occupation. The guy who first got this point about the wheelbarrow was an arch-intellectual.
∑ Slavoj Zizek, is senior researcher in philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, and co-director of the Centre for Humanities, Birkbeck College, London; his most recent book is Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle
Re:Let the Bush bashing begin! (Score:4, Insightful)
by SomePoorSchmuck (183775) on Friday February 11, @11:18AM (#11642599)
In my experience, this is so wrong. Most of the people I know are Republican. I can't think of more than one that goes to church (any church) more than three times a year.
I attended two state GOP conventions and one national GOP convention during the mid-late 1980s. I saw the takeover in action. It is real.
I am no longer directly affiliated with the Republican party, but I still have a decent grapevine through old friends and even older family. The incidental party affiliation of "most of the people [you] know" is entirely irrelevant to the matter of who formulates the planks in the party platform in exchange for delivering a highly dependable demographic bloc on election day. What James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and the Wildmons say today will be blended with prettified supply-side economics and become the official GOP talking points six months from now.
The older Republicans were more moderate and accepted this as an expedient trade-off; the establishment only pushed the issues just enough to guarantee electoral victory. The reason George W. Bush arouses such instinctive loathing from "the Left" and such devotion from "the Right" is that he is simply the first of what will be many more generations who believe their own hype. Their party maturation began in the middle of the bargaining process between the plutocrats and theocrats, and therefore they do not maintain an acute awareness of the situation as a calculated political convenience. They have imbued their economic policies have the righteous conviction of morality, and thus they find it natural to make national policy serve their moral ends. We have been witnessing the modern birth of a religious tradition which combines spirituality with economics.
He who has an ear, let him hear.
Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.
"She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."
Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.
In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.
Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.
"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.
They are also, at their heart, profoundly anti-science.
"The Crafty Attacks on Evolution" (editorial, Jan. 23) argues correctly that creationism and its recent progeny, intelligent design, are thinly veiled expressions of religion.
It is only through scientists' taking on the most interesting and challenging questions of their era that scientific progress is made.
There are always gaps in scientific knowledge. It is the task of the scientist to fill in those gaps, not to assume that the answer cannot be found.
Even scientific theories that are thought of as "laws" and that are enormously useful for centuries are, over time, challenged and corrected. The imposition of intelligent design in the science classroom would limit the imperative to study the challenging scientific questions whose answers still elude us.
New York, Jan. 23, 2005
The writer was a lawyer for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas, the case that found that creation science was not science and could not be taught as a competing theory with evolution.
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