Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Confusion and Paradox

The Gallup organization has found something very puzzling:

According to new data released by Gallup on Friday, conservatives outnumber liberals in all 50 states--including President Obama's home state of Illinois--even though Democrats have a significant advantage over Republicans in party identification in 30 states.

"In fact, while all 50 states are, to some degree, more conservative than liberal (with the conservative advantage ranging from 1 to 34 points), Gallup's 2009 party ID results indicate that Democrats have significant party ID advantages in 30 states and Republicans in only 4," said an analysis of the survey results published by Gallup.

What are we to conclude from this paradox? Perhaps people either don't understand what it means to be conservative/liberal or they don't understand what it means to be Republican/Democrat. In any case, I think it shows that any politician who thinks that because he won an election he has a mandate to implement an ideological agenda is making a big mistake. Chances are, people voted for him because he was taller or better looking or more charming or a better speaker than his opponent or maybe because their friends were voting for the guy. I'm guessing, of course, but I doubt that very many people, even among those who take the trouble to vote, really have any idea who a candidate is or what he's going to do once elected.

That may be why, when President Obama sought to implement pretty much what he promised in the campaign that he'd do, he was reportedly taken by surprise at the public reaction and resistance. He thought people voted for him to do what he's doing, but many people voted for him for reasons completely unrelated to policy.

It's very discouraging.


Re: The Heavens Declare

Mike writes regarding yesterday's post titled The Heavens Declare to share with us a quote from C.S. Lewis:

It's hard to imagine a more fitting response to the writer of the article you posted on Hubble Telescope than the words of C.S. Lewis in Miracles:

"If our Reason told us that size was proportional to importance, then small differences in size would be accompanied by small differences in importance just as surely as great differences in size were accompanied by great differences in importance. Your six-foot man would have to be slightly more valuable than the man of five feet, and your leg slightly more important than your brain...

To a mind which did not share our emotions and lacked our imaginative energies, the argument against Christianity from the size of the universe would be simply unintelligible. It is therefore from ourselves that the material universe derives its power to overawe us. Men of sensibility look upon the night sky with awe: brutal and stupid men do not...For light years and geological periods are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myths, falls upon them."

Good stuff.


Ruse on the New Atheists

Philosopher Michael Ruse takes the "New Atheists" to the woodshed and gives them a good thrashing in a short essay at Belief.Net. Ruse is himself an atheist but he holds the quaint idea that atheists and believers can still respect each other and even like each other even as they disagree with each other's ideas. He also argues that the new atheists are hurting the cause of science in America. Here are a couple of paragraphs to give you the gist:

Let me say that I believe the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice. I will defend to the death the right of them to say what they do - as one who is English-born one of the things I admire most about the USA is the First Amendment. But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

Secondly, I think that the new atheists are doing terrible political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting. Americans are religious people. You may not like this fact. But they are. Not all are fanatics. Survey after survey shows that most American Christians (and Jews and others) fall in the middle on social issues like abortion and gay marriage as well as on science. They want to be science-friendly, although it is certainly true that many have been seduced by the Creationists. We evolutionists have got to speak to these people. We have got to show them that Darwinism is their friend not their enemy. We have got to get them onside when it comes to science in the classroom. And criticizing good men like Francis Collins, accusing them of fanaticism, is just not going to do the job. Nor is criticizing everyone, like me, who wants to build a bridge to believers - not accepting the beliefs, but willing to respect someone who does have them....

Most importantly, the new atheists are doing terrible damage to the fight to keep Creationism out of the schools. The First Amendment does not ban the teaching of bad science in publicly funded schools. It bans the teaching of religion. That is why it is crucial to argue that Creationism, including its side kick IDT, is religion and not just bad science. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If teaching "God exists" is teaching religion - and it is - then why is teaching "God does not exist" not teaching religion? Obviously it is teaching religion. But if science generally and Darwinism specifically imply that God does not exist, then teaching science generally and Darwinism specifically runs smack up against the First Amendment. Perhaps indeed teaching Darwinism is implicitly teaching atheism. This is the claim of the new atheists. If this is so, then we shall have to live with it and rethink our strategy about Creationism and the schools. The point is however that the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful.

....I have written elsewhere that The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist. Let me say that again. Let me say also that I am proud to be the focus of the invective of the new atheists. They are a bloody disaster and I want to be on the front line of those who say so.

I think Ruse is wrong about Intelligent Design, of course, but he's a good man, a lapsed Quaker who still retains much that is admirable about the Quaker people, and I appreciate and admire his tone and openness.