Sunday, September 10, 2006


The Debate Over Ken Miller's Speech at KU

There is a really interesting discussion underway just now (scroll down to our previous post to find out where) about Ken Miller's speech at KU last Thursday.

Here's our own contribution posted at PZ Myers Pharyngula where the discussion is going hot and heavy:

I think this is a very useful discussion. While I don't completely agree with either PZ or Ken Miller (I do think this last post comes much closer to my own point of view) both have done something very useful in getting it rolling.

Part of the difficulty is that the different points of view overlap scientific, theological, philosophical, and political considerations.

Where do we place our priorities?

Non-believers, among whom I number myself, are a despised minority who, increasingly, clamor to come out of the closet. Some believe that should be our first priority.

Others, who fear the growing political power of the religious right, want to unite with religious moderates to defend the science curriculum, church state separation, and tolerance of gays and ourselves.

Those are both political questions on which we must make a judgement. Do we do one. If so, which one. Or, can we do both?

The philosophical questions have been around, with varying degrees of urgency, for a couple of Milena. They are not likely to go away.

I do see a parallel between capital "C" Creationists who want the authority of scripture and those on the humanist side who want science to stand for Truth with a capital "T."

In my own view, science, by its very nature is limited in scope. It is evidence based, using observation and experiment to understand the natural world. It doesn't find transcendent truths. It is a method of inquiry.

Existential questions -- among the most important we humans ask -- are beyond the ability of science to answer.

These philosophical questions do have a bearing on the political.

We are against various sects on the religious right using science classrooms to proselytize for their peculiar religious beliefs. They offer the counter-argument that teaching evolution amounts to teaching atheism.

If we insist that evolution proves in a scientific sense that there is no god, we play into their hands legally. And we may end up uniting moderate Christians with fundamentalists politically.

Non-believers, being a tiny minority, need to seek allies in this battle.

In the long battle in Kansas over science standards, these issues -- and how we handle them -- have been critical in organizing moderate Christians to vote fundamentalist Christians off the board of education.

There are undoubtedly atheists in foxholes, but there are none on the Kansas Board of Education -- even among the pro-science moderates.

In my own view, this discussion will go on and on -- as it must. I have placed my own priorities on defeating the fundamentalists because I fear the far-ranging consequences of their political ascendancy -- now more advanced than I ever would have thought possible.


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