The Sciences

When Stating The Obvious Is Most Important

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Ken Miller has composed a thought-provoking essay about our book entitled, Unscientific America? A Few Thoughts on a Book and its Critics. He begins by considering some central themes:

..In an age when traditional media like newspapers and television have been shedding their science journalists, there can be little doubt that their core thesis is spot on. As they note, to make matters even worse, the scientific community itself harbors ingrained prejudices and resentments against those whom, like Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould, some regard as mere "popularizers" of the discipline.

And is justly critical on certain points as well:

To be sure, there are problems with this book. It's a lightweight - just 132 pages. It's too glib - solving science illiteracy and scientific underemployment at a stroke is more than a bit of a stretch. And the demotion of Pluto from planetary status misfires as an example of scientific illiteracy.

However, most notably, Miller provides perspective on Chapter 8 and the controversy that has ensued over science and religion:

..Myers and his supporters have reacted to these 12 pages of Unscientific America with extraordinary levels of outrage (see, for example, Myers' final response to the book). Having read much of their criticism, I reread the book and the offending chapter to search for slander and personal attacks that could merit such outrage. But I couldn't find them. In fact, I couldn't find anything personal about Myers, Dawkins, or any of the other so-called "new atheists." Instead, Mooney and Kirshenbaum make the rather unremarkable point that Myers' actions in desecrating that communion host were "incredibly destructive and unnecessary." They further observe that such events set "the cause backward by exacerbating tensions between the scientific community and many American Christians." This assessment seems to me to be exactly right.

Here's the crucial part:

While Myers and others may advance the argument that religious faith is the arch-enemy of scientific rationalism, this doesn't imply that insult and ridicule are appropriate tools with which to defend science. Similarly, the blunt tactics of such folks are no reason to reject the "new atheists" as advocates for science, as Unscientific America seems to do, and as others have explicitly suggested. Scientific rationality is too important a cause to limit participation in its defense. We need each and every voice in our society to speak up for science, no exceptions. Mooney and Kirshenbaum are right that the tactics of bloggers like Myers have surely reinforced creationist claims about the nature of the scientific enterprise. It is for that reason that the producers of Ben Stein's notorious anti-evolution movie "Expelled" were delighted to feature PZ Myers in that film. Myers' anti-religious views made a perfect foil for the scientific and historical nonsense dished up by "Expelled," and that's the unremarkable point highlighted by Mooney and Kirshenbaum. They had the nerve to point that out, and that's why we've got a brawl in the scientific blogosphere. It's a brawl, unfortunately, that will only serve to weaken the public case for science, no matter who hangs in there for the last word.

Miller understands why it's necessary to move the book's message into the public consciousness and as he explains, 'there are times when stating the obvious is the most important thing one can do.' Read the full article here.

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