07 March 2008

Texas Higher Education and Creation Research, Part 17

The Nature podcast has an featured editorial (link opens an mp3 audio file; editorial starts 14:24 in) on the Institute for Creation Research's application to grant Master's degrees in science education in Texas.

Nature news editor Alex Witze paints a none-too-pretty picture of Texas and Texas scientists. She wrote for the Dallas Morning News for nine years, so she is familiar with the place. She essentially says, "Texas is about the only place where the ICR's application wouldn't be laughed out of the office."

I think incredulity doesn't do justice to the situation. There are several good reasons why ICR application isn't being laughed out. It's no fly-by-night operation, they've done the requisite paperwork, and they have shown a nasty tendency to sue.

She chastises scientists for not talking to people. If only we scientists got out of our ivory towers, creationism wouldn't have such a hold on people and would not be seen as credible.

I have two objections to this.

First, I am not sure what venues she thinks scientists should be doing all this communicating in. Are we supposed to walk door to door with a copy of On the Origin of Species in hand and as people, "Have you considered the benefits of rational empiricism to society?" Stand on a soapbox in the town square and announce to passers-by, "The Earth is ancient! Humans evolved!"? I blog for just this reason, but gone are the days where a spot on the web would guarantee an audience tooling around.

Finding venues for meaningful communication is not a trivial problem.

Second, she claims, "If you want regular Americans to understand why science trumps creantionism, you need to get out of your ivory tower and talk to people. They're ready to listen."

Are they ready to listen? Just yesterday, I wrote about how people's trust of experts varies depending on the perceived values of those experts. For many people, they don't believe in evolution not because they don't have enough information about it -- it's part of their values. These are people who want to be "a good person" and have decided that following a particular form of Christianity is how they can be a good person. And part of that package is that evolution is atheism, therefore evolution is bad, and evolution leads to moral decay, breakdown of the family, homosexuality, drug use, and genocide. And let's not forget that fossils are the handiwork of the devil.

So I really have to question how many people are ready to have a serious conversation about why evolution trumps creationism.

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