Bill Nye Discusses the Ken Ham Debate

There’s not much we need to say about this. Bill Nye discusses his thinking about the upcoming debate during an appearance on CNN.

Nye knows he won’t change ol’ Hambo’s mind. He knows the auditorium will be full of creationists. But he seems determined to proceed. We still think it’s a mistake. One should never bring a slide rule to a knife fight. The video is four minutes long.

Addendum: We’re closing comments here, in order to funnel your comments into our open thread for the actual debate: Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham — Live Debate Thread.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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42 responses to “Bill Nye Discusses the Ken Ham Debate

  1. Bill Nye, the Clueless Guy, completely misses the point. Nye laments that “we haven’t done a good job of science education” and that’s not the issue at all.

    What Nye, and “we” are dealing with in Shambo and the Disco Tute and other creationist outfits is promotion of an ideology that earns these guys a living. It’s not about science, it’s about money.

    Nye says he’s not going to attack Shambo’s religion, but that’s exactly what he needs to do! Shambo isn’t affiliated with any mainstream denomination. Shambo is a con man with a Bible and that’s what Nye should go after.

    We don’t need wimpy, buffoonish Nye attacking Shambo, we need the fearless, articulate, blunt AronRa who is correct when he says he would “destroy Ham.” No doubt.

    It’s not the science that needs to be explained, it’s the sociopathology of these organizations that has to be realized and the way to do that is to hammer them on their finances, embarrass them, call them out on their claims, ridicule them, laugh at and ignore them. Only when their funding dries up will they slink away. Alas, not much chance of that so long as people are willing to pay for the show.

    Where Shambo gets out of line, though, is when he cons a town in Kentucky to issue municipal bonds and give his “ministry” tax credits for his scam projects.

  2. Richard Olson

    Bill is not exactly intellectually nimble in that interview. Probably a tactic to lull the Ham into overconfidence and resultant lazy complacency. No doubt. Well, possibly.

    Uh-huh.

    Nye didn’t rise to the interviewer’s lure with that Ham statement CNN rolled on the screen about evolution eroding faith in our young folks. He refused the attempted bait and switch from science answers questions reliably to science attacks religioun.

    That took up only a minute or so of the 4 minute segment, though, and the tv head didn’t aggressively pursue it. Ham, on the contrary, is going to relentlessly hold Bill in his crosshairs on this very thing for duration of the entire debate. Us vs them on belief in God’s word. Eternal life at stake.

  3. I’m all for the debate, I don’t think it is a mistake. I do wonder if Nye gets his typical $20,000 appearance fee.
    The only misgiving I have is right out of Sun Tzu. He doesn’t not appear to know or understand his opponent. “This guy” and “I’m curious if he actually believes this” shows he doesn’t know jack squat about Hambo.
    I don’t think it can do any harm. People hearing Nye’s unapologetic and stalwart advocacy of evolution can never be a bad thing.

  4. Nye is a nationally recognized promoter of science literacy, and Hambeaux is a con-man who makes his living lying to children and their ignorant, knuckle-dragging parents. I agree with our Curmudgeon that Nye is bringing a slide rule to a knife fight. He will argue science, and the greasy slimeball who teaches children that the earth was created after the domestication of dogs and the invention of beer, will throw pure garbage at Nye, who will be so stunned by Hambeaux’s idiocy that he’ll freeze up while the Hamster winks and grins at the bible thumping, drooling audience.

    Why Nye is so naive that he agreed to the Creation “Museum” venue, and allowed Hambeaux to control the recording, editing, and distribution of the event boggles the imagination. And, on top of that, Nye is allowing Hambeaux to grab much needed cash to continue lying to children. Nye should hang his head in shame for that alone.

    I think we have here a case of Bill Nye beautifully exhibiting the Dunning-Kruger effect. Hambeaux will eat him alive.

    Bye bye, Bill Nye. Your days of credibility are over.

  5. Admittedly, Nye may not be the best person for this kind of event (I really can’t call it a debate). I do think, however, those of us who support Nye’s position should offer him whatever support, suggestions, or talking points that we have. Let’s give the impression that he is not alone in this and that we agree in his pursuit of science literacy.

  6. What Nye can’t help but do is put ‘creationism is anti-science’ in the Zeitgeist, even if Hambo seems to win and bloggers will be destroying Ham’s arguments for years. Those who protested as the 99% did not win but they put their cause in the zeitgeist for main stream audiences. Win or lose it’s a win. In the long term having this notion in the mainstream is a win. The 2014 elections are coming and this could put evolution on the election debate agenda and I am seriously hopeful of that. Another possible win from this is that it opens the door for Ham to think he can debate Ra, who will destroy him at nearly every level, even from inside the damned his museum.

    I don’t know if it is calculated as well as that but this debate could be a strong tactical long-term win. The pre-battle skirmishes might heat up a bit to draw in more of the public which might slow down some of Ham’s blatant lying about science.

  7. Stephen Kennedy

    The fact that he did not mention AIG by name and simply referred to Ham as “this guy” is going to enrage Hambo. It indicates that either Bill Nye is engaging in some sort of psychological warfare against Hambo, or really does not know enough about “this guy” to be able to recall his name.

    Nye is giving the impression that he is unconcerned that the debate will take place in Hambo’s building in front of a hostile audience or that Hambo will make this a debate about religion and not an opportunity to spread “scientific literacy”.

    It is somewhat disconcerting that Nye does not seem to realize how important this event is to Hambo and AIG, how critical a moment this is for AIG and the extent to which AIG will exploit a lack-luster performance by Nye to further its despicable goals.

  8. I really hope I’m wrong, but watching Bill Nye on this and other videos, I think he’s clueless about who he’s sharing a stage with in this thing.
    I’ve lost respect for Nye because he’s participating in a fund raising activity for people who would drag us all back to the dark ages — kids first.

  9. Charles Deetz ;)

    Bill Bill Bill !!!!

  10. Meh. The more I learn about this, the more foolish it appears. I blame Vince Lombardi.

    First off—and as many others have already pointed out—questions in science are settled by data and not (as may be the case in philosophy or theology AFAIK) by rhetoric—so the whole notion of a “debate” is a nonsense, as the only philosophical or theological aspect to ‘The Controversy’ is one entirely between different varieties of religiosity. Plenty of mainstream religions/denominations don’t have Ham’s issues with science, so any meaningful rhetorical contest (or ‘debate’, in other words) here could only be between Ham and, say, the Pope. Sola scriptura literalists (of whatever particular religion) simply reject science on non-empirical grounds, so there is nothing science can meaningfully say to such folks.

    Secondly, Nye’s specific argument here, although valid, is very weak and, in this context, self-defeating. He states (correctly) that belief in Creationism prevents one from doing science, and to not do science is to the detriment of the national good. But the wholesale rejection of science is precisely the goal of Creationists (the Discoveroids are absolutely explicit about this in their Wedge manifesto), so that half of Nye’s argument has no weight with such folks. And the second half—the detriment to national well-being—is, though accurate, rhetorically unsound: it is an argument in the form of “A belief in X has deleterious effects, therefore you should not believe in X”, which is indistinguishable from the Discoveroids’ sophistic claim that “A belief in ’Darwinism’ leads to the Holocaust, eugenics, abortion, street crime, social disorder &c &c therefore you should not believe in it”. One can spend all the effort one likes demonstrating that no such causal links exist, but the rhetorical damage is already done—and the validity of the ‘belief’ is no longer the question. In any event, even if one could demonstrate, for example, that Hitler was somehow ‘inspired’ by Darwin, that would only demonstrate that Hitler grossly misunderstood and thereby misused science, not that the science was wrong. IOW, Nye’s argument is simply on the wrong tact.

    So why do I blame Vince Lombardi? I don’t wish to offend American readers (and full disclosure: I was born and raised in the US myself), but there is a national tendency toward a “Winning’s not the main thing, it’s the only thing” mindset—but in the context of science, that’s just not appropriate. Science is about expanding our knowledge of the world, by dint of methodical (often slow and tedious) labour; it’s not about ‘winning’ arguments, it’s about gaining knowledge and insight. Science does not have a problem about being ‘wrong’ about something because it has the mechanisms for eventually identifying and correcting such errors—in fact, that process is science. Consider how much scientific knowledge as it was in the 18th century has been rejected, revised, corrected &c &c—that does not invalidate science at all, it’s what it’s all about, not ‘winning’ debates. Rather than have a ‘debate’, one might as well stage an arm-wrestling match between Nye and Ham: the outcome of such a contest would be as meaningless as this particular fund-raising spectacle in Kentucky.

  11. Spot on, Megs. Articulately, closely and lucidly argued. Kanny Hambug’s whole duplicitous spiel is nothing more than an onanistic creationist roadshow, one where he has beguiled a gentle and avuncular nerd into lending it a bogus air of probity.

  12. I still think this debate is a mistake.

    However, I think we are underestimating Bill. We all remember bill as “the science guy”.

    He hasn’t been the science guy for 15 years. We don’t really know much about him beyond that and Neither does Ham.

    Since than he’s been the director of a couple science organizations and taken part in many education initiatives.

    He’s a VERY accomplished public speaker who has several years of acting experience and doing presentations to a variety of groups and organizations. His shown the ability to stay on topic and not rise to the bait. He could vary well have a very in depth knowledge on the creationism issue and could have a massive amount of experience when it comes to the arguments and counter arguments through any internet forum.

    Debates are not about the facts. they are about presentation. Bill can do a good presentation.

    I also think that Bill is one of the few people can hold Ham to the Fire. Ham has challenged other Atheists and science promoters before and almost always backed down once he realized the depth of there knowledge. He did this to Aron Ra very recently.

    Bill also commands the national stage. So when Ham, publishes his video and misquotes, edits and lies about the content. Bill unlike anyone else can call up a national news station and show everyone that Ham lied yet again.

  13. On reflection, there is one positive aspect to this whole “The Ham is Nigh!” spectacle: the intense discomfiture it must be inflicting on our friends at the Disco’Tute.

    The Discoveroids, after all, are still attempting to maintain the fiction that ‘Intelligent Design’ is somehow scientific and nothing to do with Creationism. Nothing riles them like being called Creationists, they fully recognise that (accurate) label robs them of any pretence to science–but the ‘debate’ in Kentucky, in its primitive ‘either/or’, Vince Lombardi ‘winning is the only thing’ format can only put the IDiots on the wrong side of science. Where, of course, they belong, but cannot bear to admit. Hence, their absolute radio silence about the event–unless one supposes they haven’t heard about it? :-)

    But otherwise: why not a debate between Bill Nye and Dionne Warwick on the ‘viability’ of psychic phenomena? Or Bill Nye vs. Moon Landing Deniers? That would make as much–or little–sense as stooping down to ‘debate’ with Ham.

  14. Short form of my point in all this: the proper answer to any purveyor of oogity boogity wanting to share a public platform with a scientist should be,

    If you ain’t got any data, there ain’t nothin’ to debate

  15. @Megalonyx Sola scriptura literalists (of whatever particular religion) simply reject science on non-empirical grounds, so there is nothing science can meaningfully say to such folks.
    However, they are rare, tthose who consistently hold that science cannot change their beliefs contrary to the plain reading of the Bible. They must be geocentrists (if not flat-Earthers).

  16. I have to agree with Nye regarding the failure of science education in this country, after all if the majority of people understood just a little bit about scientific methodology the likes of Hambo would be relegated to the hustling of little old ladies over the phone but the entire concept of debating science is ludicrous. Worse, you can’t have a battle of wits with a committed conscientious objector such as Hambo. I have to agree with the other comments already posted, science is about creating a consensus regarding the truth and its breadth and complexity should never be reduced to a simple, gimmicky high school debate. Hambo and his kind have been wrong for thousands of years and that is never going to change with a simple debate.

  17. Erik Bertel observes

    you can’t have a battle of wits with a committed conscientious objector

    That’s good–but “conscientious” gives Ham, a charlatan unburdened by scruples, too much credit. Maybe, you can’t have a battle of wits with an unscrupulous simpleton?

    But I think a better metaphor, to represent the fact that the two sides aren’t even playing the same game might be

    Gary Kasparov can’t play chess with a honey badger

  18. Spector567: “Bill also commands the national stage. So when Ham, publishes his video and misquotes, edits and lies about the content. Bill unlike anyone else can call up a national news station and show everyone that Ham lied yet again.”

    That’s a good point. We can hope.

  19. The point of a TV debate is not to win, in the sense of having better arguments, or even changing minds, but merely to get your point across, and to stop the other guy from getting his point across. Any time spent, for example, on discussing creationism is time taken away from the point that “science education is good”. TV does not allow for your point to be any deeper than that.

  20. @Mega: “If you ain’t got any data, there ain’t nothin’ to debate”
    If Nye sticks to this strategy in a polite but stubborn way he has a good chance, especially combined with Feynman’s “if the data contradict your theory your theory is wrong” to which I add “no matter your interpretation of the Bible, which I’m not going to discuss; ask the pope.”

  21. you can’t have a battle of wits with a committed conscientious objector

    That’s good–but “conscientious” gives Ham, a charlatan unburdened by scruples, too much credit. Maybe, you can’t have a battle of wits with an unscrupulous simpleton?

    I was basically referencing Hambo’s objection to intelligence but you’re right, he is basically a charlatan selling snake oil to the hoi polloi.

  22. My society, the American society, raised me through my parents to be polite and tolerant, especially about someone else’s religious beliefs. The worst transgression I could make would be to belittle, scoff or ridicule another person’s beliefs. I observe that trend among us Baby Boomers but not so much among our children who were raised in different, possibly more rational and educated, circumstances.

    That said, Nye needs (he must do!) to channel AronRa and destroy Shambo publicly. He must lay out Shambo’s lies and call them lies. He must expose the quote mines and the inconsistencies in Shambo’s patter. And if Shambo challenges Nye to claim the Bible isn’t the true word of God, then Nye needs to look Shambo in the eye and do just that. No polite. No tolerance.

    Shambo is nothing more than a money grubbing con man who lies to children and takes their money. Shambo is able to get away with his business for the same reason Warren and Hagee and Osteen and Roberts and Graham have for decades and that’s because they’re given a free pass. They are not challenged. They are not called out as charlatans, crooks, liars and grifters – which is what they all are.

    We have a choice. We can roll over and let the Shambo’s have their way with us (spread ‘em and smile) or we can turn around, stand eye to eye and tell them, “No. It stops here.”

    Before you watch the video below, consider the hypocrisy of the situation. All these religio-business people conduct their businesses and lives on the backs and works of mostly secular people – the people who design and build their computers and telecommunications infrastructure, their doctors, workers of all kinds. These parasites know that if they actually got their way, all of that would disappear and they also know that’s not going to happen, so they continue to spread their lies and poison unchecked.

    The choice is ours and if the best who can go to battle is Nye, we’re done.

    Check out this more gentle rant.

  23. If you ain’t got data …
    They got data. What they ain’t got is anything to account for these data, rather than those data. What they have, in place of an account, is “something, somehow, somewhere, somewhen, that turned out this way”.
    How did it turn out that the Earth is round rather than flat or shaped like a pretzel? How did it turn out that the human body is most similar to the bodies of chimps and other apes, rather than more similar to insects or octopuses? (All of those being “intelligently designed”, after all.)
    They got data: humans have vertebrate eyes. What they ain’t got is something that says why vertebrate eyes rather than insect, octopus, or potato eyes.

  24. I sort of like Nye’s very polite dismissal of Ham as “this guy”, and his question about whether he really believes it or has some other agenda. He’s completely unimpressed. It’s almost as if he hadn’t heard of him before he accepted the invitation to debate. If he can continue to be blithely dismissive, but polite, that will get under Ham’s skin faster than anything else Nye could do.

    Also, Nye will have seen the museum by the time he takes the stage to debate. It would be nice to hear some pointed comments about the various displays and how misleading they are.

  25. docbill1351, I must confess to a base thrill of glee when reading/hearing a well-constructed and erudite polemic held back by just the right amount restraint, a feeling shared with many, I’m sure. I think it’s what made Christopher Hitchens so formidable.

    Kudos to you.

  26. Stephen Kennedy

    After reading Ed’s comment I watched the video again and was actually struck by how the low key Bill Nye is willing to confront and provoke Hambo. In addition to referring to Ham as simply “this guy” he called him a “notorious” creationist that led an organization with a “scientifically illiterate” mindset which wants to teach things that “are not in the national interest”.

    Furthermore, Nye questioned Hambo’s sincerity and honesty by stating that he wants to find out whether Ham really believes the ridiculous claims he makes about science or whether “he might be in it for some other reason”.

    Nye said he knows that Hambo will pack the audience with creationists but is unconcerned saying “bring it on”.

    On another note, in the one week since BusinessWeek broke the story about Hambo’s plea to investors to purchase $29 million in ark bonds by Feb. 6, the number of “lifetime family passes” to the ark encounter available for sale went from 814 to 813. Since each purchaser of $100,000 in ark bonds is given a complimentary lifetime family boarding pass, this could be an indication that the response to Hambo’s plea has been pretty tepid so far.

  27. My only hope is that Nye will pull a surprise. And the only reason I have a shred of hope is because of 2 things he said near the end of the clip:

    1. He caught himself before giving the unintended impression that the claim that Earth is only 1000s of years old should be censored. Certainly he believes that everyone should hear that claim – and critically analyze it. Starting with the fact that most self-described creationists reject it. It’s not enough to show that “Darwinists” censor nothing; we must show that anti-evolution activists routinely censor anything that is inconvenient to their propaganda.

    2. He questioned whether Ham himself actually believes that nonsense. To me that’s the huge “missing link” in this entire “debate.” People need to at least ask – and almost never do – whether these activists: (a) really do think the evidence supports their claims – very unlikely, given how they routinely cherry pick and quote mine – (b) take it “on faith” despite any contradictory evidence, or (c) privately know that we’re right but won’t dare admit it due to a genuine fear that the “masses” can’t handle the truth.

  28. Stephen Kennedy

    Frank J,
    Ken Ham does not seem to me to be one of the wise philosophers who know the truth but promotes religion because of the perceived fear of the consequences if the masses were to experience unbelief. I think Ham is sincere in his religious beliefs and when it comes to science he is an ignorant fool.

    However, I do think Ham is aware that many of his tactics are deceitful and dishonest, but are justified on the grounds that he is pursuing a worthy cause. For example, I think he truly believes that the Universe is only 6,000 years old but he also knows that his arguments against radiometric dating and the evidence astronomers have found for the Big Bang are not credible. I think he is genuinely puzzled by the evidence geologist and astronomers have found for the antiquity of the Earth and the Universe and why it does not agree with scripture which he believes must be true. He therefore feels that he is right to lie about science if it preserves belief in the truth of the bible.

    It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be a young Earth creationist who feels compelled to demonstrate that his beliefs are based on science when all the scientific evidence refutes these beliefs and must somehow be explained away. They come up with things like accelerated nuclear decay during the flood and an anisotropic speed of light to explain to their followers things that they themselves just do not understand.

  29. The end of science (being respected) is Nye.

  30. Richard Olson

    Thanks for the link to Origin of the Specious @ reason.com, Frank J. It is easier for me to respect those people deluded by faith (well, not all of them) than it is to muster any respect whatsoever for non-theist intellectuals who advocate for the institution of religion as necessary sop for societies “little people.”

    Neo-conservative & neo-liberal philosophy are just about in a dead heat in an all-out balls-to-the-wall race to plutocracy (the GOP is headed for the cliff edge at 100 mph/some Dem leadership @ about 60), if they can just get reason and reality and democracy pushed far enough out of their way.

    Thanks, Citizens United! (Sheesh; wasn’t the deck for plutocracy already stacked plenty high without that?)

  31. If we’re trying to understand why there are creationists, one fact which demands explanation:
    The Bible clearly says that the Sun is in motion around a fixed Earth. For something like 2000 years, *no one* doubted that the Bible said that. The agreement on that is more than the agreement on what the Bible has to say about things relevant to evolutionary biology.

  32. Stephen Kennedy: “I think Ham is sincere in his religious beliefs and when it comes to science he is an ignorant fool.”

    One of these days I’m just going to have to admit that everyone can read minds except me. :-)

    Seriously, when you say “I think he truly believes that the Universe is only 6,000 years old but he also knows that his arguments against radiometric dating and the evidence astronomers have found for the Big Bang are not credible.” it sounds more like (b) than (a). Another possibility would be Morton’s Demon, but that would be within (a) because then he would honestly think his arguments are credible because his brain would just filter out any contradicting evidence or arguments.

    For what it’s worth (which is nothing) (b) sounds most plausible to me for Ham and his YEC-peddling “kind.” But (c) seems to fit the Discoveroids best. Nevertheless, I get constant pushback on that too, even when I dare to mention it even as a mere possibility.

  33. Richard Olson: “It is easier for me to respect those people deluded by faith (well, not all of them) than it is to muster any respect whatsoever for non-theist intellectuals who advocate for the institution of religion as necessary sop for societies ‘little people’.”

    It’s curious that you say “non-theist.” I have no doubt – and this too is pure untestable speculation from one who can’t read minds – that such people (who privately accept evolution but refuse to admit it) are devout theists. But then so are some of their most vocal critics (Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc.) are also devout theists. Ronald Bailey, whose 1997 article I have cited probably more than anyone, also does not question that these people are devout theists. Though if anything, their faith in a Creator/designer is less strong than that of Miller, Collins and other theistic evolutionists, given their need to find evidence to support their faith.

    But the (unanswerable) question remains whether they need that evidence for themselves, or just for the “little people?” One clue might be Behe’s admission at Dover that the designer he claims to have caught red-handed, might no longer exist. Would a good Christian want to tell the world “God is dead?” Or might he be genuinely unsure that he caught God, yet still hope that most people infer it?

    But as you know, creationism/ID differ from mainstream science not only because they imply “supernatural causes,” but also in the “what happened, where when and how” part. YEC and OEC make mutually contradictory, easily falsified claims, while ID’s official position is “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When one avoids getting distracted by the God/Creator/designer issues, and looks at the “evolution” of the anti-evolution movement purely in terms of their approach to the “what happened when…” it looks a lot clearer. The movement itself, if not necessarily any individual activist, has evolved over the past 150 years from honest belief that the evidence supported a literal Genesis (itself evolving to accommodate first heliocentrism, then old earth) to pure pseudoscience, with that too, steadily backpedaling from its own testable conclusions and explanations.

  34. Richard Olson

    Frank J: There are a number of references to writings of individuals in the text of the article that lead me to conclude these persons are, while perhaps not atheist — no such claim appears, so I cannot say so — the individuals mentioned are perhaps non-theist. Maybe not, too. I do not copy here every name or every reference upon which I base my speculation, but the following is a representative sample from the article that suggests to me some of the neo-conservatives the author writes about are not theists, and acknowledge political purposes behind pitting Darwin’s Theory against Genesis/religious belief – Richard Olson [all that follows is copied/pasted verbatim with page number for ref]:

    But the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy. That is the view of Paul Gross, a biologist and self-described conservative. Gross is much concerned with the interplay of science and politics–he is the co-author of the 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science–and is puzzled by the attacks on evolutionary biology by people whose political views he largely shares. Regarding Commentary’s anti-Darwin article, he says he is mystified that the magazine “would publish the damned thing without at least passing it by a few scientists first.”

    Gross believes that the conservative attack on Darwin may be a case of tactical politics. Some conservative intellectuals think religious fundamentalists are “essential to the political program of the right,” says Gross. As a gesture of solidarity, he says, these intellectuals are publicly embracing arguments that appear to “keep God in the picture.” (p1) …

    (Page 2 of 4)
    At the heart of the neoconservative attack on Darwinism lies the political philosophy of Leo Strauss. Strauss was a German political philosopher who fled the Nazis in 1938 and began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1949. In an intellectual revolt against modernity, Strauss focused his work on interpreting such classics as Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince. …

    p2 cont.’
    In crude terms, some critics of Strauss argue that he interpreted the ancient philosophers as offering two different teachings, an esoteric one which is available only to those who read the ancient texts closely, and an exoteric one accessible to naive readers. The exoteric interpretations were aimed at the mass of people, the vulgar, while the esoteric teachings–the hidden meanings–were vouchsafed to the few, the philosophers. Philosophers know the truth, but must keep it hidden from the vulgar, lest it upset them. What is the hidden truth known to philosophers? That there is no God and there is no ultimate foundation for morality. As Kristol suggests, it is necessary to keep this truth from the vulgar because such knowledge would only engender despair in them and lead to social breakdown. In his book, On Tyranny: An Interpretation of Xenophon’s Hiero, Strauss asserts with unusual clarity that Socratic dialogues are “based on the premise that there is a disproportion between the intransigent quest for truth and the requirements of society, or that not all truths are always harmless.”

  35. @Richard:

    I don’t disagree, but “theist,” “religion” and similar “ultimate issues” (if I may use a Dennis Prager phrase) have so many definitions, that any debate about them invariably collapses into useless “talking past each other.”

    I call my self a theist (somewhat like Einstein was), but left organized religion 45 years ago, and only go to services on rare occasions “kicking and screaming.” In contrast, what you call “non theists” probably do belong to organized religions and attend services regularly, even if “in their hearts” they’re as unsure of the “ultimate issues” as they appear to be of the basic testable “what happened when” claims of those pseudoscientific alternatives. My point is that we need to focus more on the latter, to truly see how “creationism” has been evolving in the last 150 years. And never, ever, let anti-evolution activists bait-and-switch “ultimate issues” with testable claims of their alternative (if they even have one).

    The common characteristic of “neocons” and other extreme “conservative” people who make misrepresentation of evolution a key part of their “platform,” is that they are all incorrigible authoritarians. That too is a fuzzy word, but I think it’s fair to conclude that it means at least promoting “different truths for different ‘classes’ of people.” To me anti-evolution activists are always in “politician mode,” seeking first to influence the beliefs of others, especially those who are not extreme authoritarians, but are otherwise mostly religious and mostly science-illiterate. If these activists only influenced like-minded people there would be little or no “controversy,” because fellow activists their trained parrots would rarely have enough support to win elections*. But they have influenced as much as 70% (including those unsure of evolution, or favoring it, but still thinking it’s fair to teach “alternatives” in science class).

    * Or if they did win elections, it would be based on other “so-con” issues, and they’d know better than mess with science education. If any really did think creationism/ID had any scientific merit, they’d be the ones prefacing it with “Call me crazy…” not conservatives who accept evolution (like Jon Huntsman in the last presidential primary).

  36. Richard Olson

    It sounds to me like we have quite similar opinions about the nature and proportion of cynical political machinations underlying the ostensibly solely theistic creation vs evolution dispute. I did not mention this earlier, and it is not in the article, but I am convinced that since 1976 the GOP could never take the White House, and they would have far fewer Congressional seats, without their marriage of desparation to the proto Religious Right movement seeded in Falwell’s Moral Majority. This in turn, after too many steps to list here, results in the present House majority dismissing its science advisor and installing some very mentally challenged know-nothings on the Science Committee, and a horrendous policy of limiting/cancelling scientific funding to banana republic levels.

    I still maintain, though, that a couple of the neo-con figures the author writes about in his article are not theistic (I never claim anyone is an atheist unless that person says he/she is, even if they are due to lack of theistic faith. Some folks still cling to the “agnostic” misnomer, and get all huffy when called on it, and it is not worth my time to argue about it).

    Final mention: please review Einstein’s own comments on his personal faith beliefs. There is a single oft-quoted remark that sort of indicates belief in a god that he once made that is consistently produced as evidence for his theism. In later remarks Einstein makes, this is explained and refuted. Thanks for the civil and informative conversation, Frank J.

  37. Richard Olson

    The above reply to Frank J is from me; I failed to notice the empty boxes below the comment dialogue box. Again.

  38. “But the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy.”

    Totally agreed with this statement. The fact that Ann Coulter made it point to disparage evolution in several of her crayon tinged pieces of fiction is evidence that this is all part and parcel of the common neocon talking points to what they construe to be their religious fundamental base: angry, old white guys that lost their jobs over the past two decades due to globalization and who turned to religion because they can’t win the lottery. Quote Ann, “These aren’t scientists. They are religious fanatics for whom evolution must be true so that they can explain to themselves why they are here, without God. (It’s an accident!)”

    Liberals, socialists, communists, Darwinists, humanists, atheists and secularists all get lumped together in this dialog because it takes too long to discuss anything that has any semblance to shades of grey, except for pornography of course. And with politics you are dealing with the great unwashed so only the most basic sound bite will do!

  39. I’ve never thought of Anne Coulter as a neoconservative. Maybe paleoconservative is a better description My understanding of neoconservatism is that it is focused on an active foreign policy hinged on spreading democracy. Krauthammer is a neocon, and he has been critical of ID and creationism.

    Also, reference an earlier comment, a neoliberal does not necessarily vote democratic. Neoliberalism has to do with economics, specifically neoliberals advocate increasing the role of the private sector. Reagan and Thatcher were prototypical neoliberals.

    Neoliberal and neoconservative are not mutually exclusive. I imagine they both vote strongly Republican in US elections.

  40. @Richard.

    I made sure long ago to read Einstein’s own words about religion. I have seen him effectively quote-mined in both directions. Even Darwin’s “breathed by the creator” addition to a later edition of “Origin” has been “spun” as both a recantation, and a reluctant addition merely to please his wife. From what I can tell, his real opinion was well between those extremes. Thoughtful scientists without an agenda tend to admit that (1) Nature is mysterious at its core, but (2) that’s not a reason to reject what has been tested and confirmed, and pretend that a cartoonish god is the only alternative.

  41. People keep talking about Bill bringing a slide rule to a knife fight. IMO the correct imagery is that Bill is bringing a book to a book burning.