I think it’s pretty obvious what the Religious Right is up to here: They want to “protect” children from critical thinking, self-reflection and the type of curiosity about our world that an immersion into literature can give us.
The religious right has been freaking out about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” for what feels like an eternity. And, while the theological complaints seem laughable for their rancor and predictability, it’s time we thought harder about what they represent, because the Christian right’s “Cosmos” agita actually indicates a far deeper problem in religious conservatism — the selective acceptance of Enlightenment values. Religious conservatives have selectively adopted the legacy of liberal Enlightenment, from free speech to science, and jettisoned it when it does not suit their narrow ideological aims.
The documentary shows how not only prominent American conservative evangelicals like Scott Lively and Lou Engle but many missionaries and organizations like the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer
have done a great job convincing Ugandan parents that homosexuals are out to get their children. This “recruiting” notion is as old as time and should have been discredited by now, but it seems to work particularly well in a culture that has not had much experience with sexual minorities. Of course, the irony is that it’s the radical evangelicals who are doing the recruiting here, literally whispering their lifestyle into the ears of kids—as a poignant scene at the funeral of slain activist David Kato shows, actual LGBTQ people are struggling just to stay alive.
I'm always amazed at the logical loops the religious right tie around themselves. Here's the latest pep talk video for Indiana's proposed marriage amendment and, of course, it's all about the "right to vote."
Creationists advising the Texas Education Agency, the state’s board of education, are no longer even trying to hide the fact that they want to insert pseudo-scientific material grounded in religious beliefs into public school science textbooks. Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News reports that evolution detractors appointed to the review boards are urging the textbook publishers to ignore the Supreme Court (along with science) and push Creationism, or be rejected.
A response to this religious-right ploy comes from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and its Stand Up for Science Education campaign (the hashtag is #standup4science). TFN explains:
Stand Up for Science is an ongoing TFN campaign uniting parents, educators, scientists and businesspeople in support of sound science education and responsible medical research in Texas. This multi-issue campaign focuses primarily on the issue of teaching evolution and climate change in public school science classes and defending stem cell research in Texas.
It's baffling and regretful that the recent attention online about the Religious Left has insufficiently mentioned the prescient Dispatches from the Religious Left written four years ago and now more relevant than any time since its publication.
There is currently a lot of noise in the media about how a Religious Left is rising. But there is also little evidence that such a movement is being organized. A few years ago, a faux Religious Left was manufactured Inside the Beltway. The product didn't sell well, and here we are. But some people who thought that an authentic Religious Left might be a good idea got together and published a book of essays about what it might be like and how to get there.
There's a temptation to review each new book that makes the case for intelligent design by publishing a laundry list of every fact, experiment, subtheory, and interpretation that the author gets wrong. I'll spare you that exercise, partly because it's been done elsewhere, by scientists, and partly because Stephen Meyer, the author of Darwin's Doubt, is not your typical creationist hack.
Instead, Meyer, who holds a PhD in the philosophy of science from Cambridge, is that odd hybrid: the philosopher-huckster. His arguments are, for the most part, precise, his research is extensive, and many of his points echo those made by leading biologists. Like many other proponents of intelligent design, he's not committed to defending the details of Genesis. He accepts that the world is old, and that evolution does happen—at least in a limited way. As a result, he not only sounds like a scientist, but for much of the book he almost acts like one.
All of which is to say that a laundry list of errors doesn't get to the meat of Darwin's Doubt. Meyer is the finest kind of huckster: he doesn't tell lies, he merely rearranges truths. Darwin's Doubt is a toxic blend of hasty conclusions, cracked arguments, and terminological confusions. It's also, for those who are keeping count, a New York Times bestseller. More plausible than the arguments of 6,000-year-old-earthers, and much slicker than the earlier, bumbling efforts of intelligent design-ers, creationism 3.0 has arrived.
It's remarkable that William Paley's "watchmaker" argument, formulated before Darwin published Origin of Species and which concludes that natural processes suggest there's a designer behind them, endures so strongly. The fact is that a designer is not required to explain the origin of species. As zoologist Richard Dawkins noted, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design...." The universe has its elegant qualities but also its messy ones. There is much about the universe that is harsh, parasitic, inelegant, wasteful, and cruel according to human perception.
Sure, an intelligent designer is one way to explain some of the evidence we see in the fossil record. You can make that case. It just won't be science. Science, after all, isn't a random game of accumulating evidence. It's a very particular method for organizing specific kinds of observations. And when it comes to history, science relies on patterns of cause and effect staying constant across time and space—and not the sudden interpolation of otherwise scientifically unobservable beings. To say otherwise is to ask science to be something it's not.
At this point, Meyer could acknowledge that he has strayed beyond the boundaries of the field. Instead, he tries to stretch those boundaries in order to meet what must be, one can only conclude, personal or political needs.
A critic of the Religious Right (and to be fair religion in general) was Gore Vidal, who many regard as one of America's last great public intellectuals. After an amazing life as novelist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, patrician gadfly, and even for a time candidate and politician, Gore Vidal died in 2012, but not before filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall was able to spend time with Vidal and shoot some great footage for Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.
The documentary had a very
successful premiere at Tribeca Film Festival last month, but Wrathall and his team still need help with the final
archival materials and post production.
You can help. And you'll get mentioned in the credits! Check out the documentary's Kickstarter page.
But deadline is fast
approaching… please get involved. Even a small contribution is appreciated.
Journalist and historian Susan Jacoby talks with Bill about the role secularism and intellectual curiosity have played throughout America’s history, a topic explored in her new book, The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought.
“I’m sure there are plenty of atheists and various kinds of unorthodox religious people in Congress, but they don’t talk about it,” Jacoby tells Bill. “I think that either proclaiming allegiance to a religion or shutting up about it is still an absolute requirement.”
In Austin, Texas, fifteen people influence what is taught to the next generation of American children. Once every decade, the highly politicized Texas State Board of Education rewrites the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly 5 million schoolchildren. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas affects the nation as a whole. Don McLeroy, a dentist, Sunday school teacher, and avowed young-earth creationist, leads the Religious Right charge. After briefly serving on his local school board, McLeroy was elected to the Texas State Board of Education and later appointed chairman. During his time on the board, McLeroy has overseen the adoption of new science and history curriculum standards, drawing national attention and placing Texas on the front line of the so-called "culture wars."
An update from Frederick Clarkson at Talk To Action:
The PBS show Independent Lens, which airs a different original documentary film every week is featuring The Revisionaries, the Religious Right's efforts to transform public education in Texas beginning on Monday, January 28, 2013. Local broadcast dates and times will vary. Check your PBS station schedule.