Discussing the Framing of Science with Matthew C. Nisbet: Are the National Academies lying to Americans?
In response to my post earlier today on Framing Science endorsing Francis Collins as next Presidential Science Advisor, Matt Nisbet, the man behind Framing Science and the Collins endorsement had this to say:
Have you seen the latest National Academies report on teaching evolution & creationism? It’s take on evolution and religion is little different than that of Collins. Would you suggest than that the National Academies and its expert panel is lying to the American people?
My response is yes, I do think the academies are lying to the American people.
Science and religion are incompatible. Science is about having beliefs that correspond to the evidence, following evidence rather than authority or personal preferences, and being honest enough to admit when one does not know something. Does anyone recognize religion in this description?
Religion, on the other hand, relies on faith (i.e., belief on insufficient evidence), arguments from authority (e.g., the Bible, the Pope, or my Priest says…; millions of people believe this and have for a long time so it can’t be foolish, and how dare you for saying that it is!), arguments from ignorance, the selective and hindsight-informed reading of ancient scriptures, easily rebutted arguments from personal experience, and people’s need for community and a sense of meaning and purpose, a set of needs which is fully understandable but does not constitute evidence for supernatural beliefs. Does anyone recognize science in this description?
The two are clearly irreconcilably distinct. So yes, I do think that the National Academies are lying. However, I do not think that these are malicious lies, or lies meant to oppose secularism. I assume that the academies as well as Dr. Nisbet are simply trying to open minds and hearts to science, and feel that this is a necessary step in doing so for many Americans. I, however, have my concerns about this approach as it compromises many of the highly esteemed values of the scientific community. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the act of framing science so as to make it appear to be compatible with religious belief constitutes a dishonest act that receives its power from the authority and trust society accords (well, some of society, anyway) to national scientific boards. Dishonesty and argument from authority are antithetical to what science is all about. Moreover, it could create a whole new set of problems later, as people will have to undue the edifice of deceit perpetrated today.
One could, however, argue that the current situation in America is such that the ideal of being honest about science would not be well received by many Americans, and thus framing, while not ideal, is the best approach that anyone has come up with so far. Just as it is impractical for a crack addict to stop taking the drug cold turkey, but must go to methadone first and then go from methadone to nothing, perhaps presenting science and religion as being compatible is a less-than-ideal but necessary step to encouraging the acceptance of science across America. I am reluctant to conclude this, as it would require contradicting a number of the virtues of science and would likely create a whole new set of misconceptions about science that will need to be undone later, but I remain open to the possibility that this is simply the situation at hand. Lets hope that it isn’t, though, and that the anti-science sentiments that pervade much of America can be remedied without having to compromise any of the principles or integrity of science.