Thursday, January 19, 2017

Skepticism vs. Scholarship (From James F. McGrath)

Very interesting post from The Religious Prof, aka Professor James F. McGrath.  It discusses the difference between Scholarship and Skepticism:
There is an unfortunate tendency in many circles to suppose that critical scholarship consists of pronouncing negative judgments on early Christians’ own self-understanding of their origins. I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a critical historian. The critical historian is one who formulates a question, attends to the data relevant to answering that question, weighs possible answers, and then affirms that answer which handles the relevant data best. Sometimes that will much resemble early Christians’ self-understanding of their own origins; sometimes it will be remarkably at variance therewith. The skeptic supposes programmatically that the best answer will be at variance with traditional narratives. That is bias, the bias known as skepticism, which takes as its sinister twin the bias known as credulity: the programmatic supposition that the best answer will be fully congruent with traditional narratives. Both arbitrarily close off possible answers before the investigation even begins. As such, the spirit of critical thought is programmatically opposed to both. (
I underlined what I think are the takeaways, at least for me.  It reminded me of an episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show.  Eric Braeden, who had played one of my favorite characters from an even older show "The Rat Patrol",  played a critic who had joined the staff at Mary's television studio.  He was a critic who was critical of absolutely everything, nothing was good in any form and he never said a positive thing about anything.  As with this TV character, I've often found critics focusing on the negative, looking for the perceived problems with no regard for anything positive.

When it comes to being critical of science, the above quote really hit home.  How many critics of current science are not 'critics' at all, but skeptics or out-and-out deniers?  They enter into any area with the automatic assumption that science, and scientists, are already wrong and come into the conversation with a different 'answer', even ones that do not align with any of the evidence.

Look at the Discovery Institute (DI), my favorite target.  How much evidence have they offered supporting their pet religious concept Intelligent Design (ID)?  Absolutely none, and yet they are intensely skeptical of any science that doesn't have a religious imprint.  As new scientific discoveries are made, you can bet that shortly thereafter they will try and put an ID spin on it, regardless of the fact the discovery doesn't support it.

Look at little kennie ham and his Answers in Genesis (AiG) ministry, another favorite.  How skeptical is ham and Co. of real science, and yet again offers nothing but belief in his version of the Bible in return.  Both the DI and AiG cloak their skepticism/denial as if they are being critical, but since they already have their 'answer', they aren't!

If you doubt that, look at the tactic commonly referred to as their "Academic freedom campaign", a campaign that has nothing to do with academic freedom and everything to do with protecting any teacher who teaches Creationism/ID in science class, cloaking their religion under the guise of academic freedom.

They have even started another petition the poorly named "Academic Freedom Petition".  Right on the first page they highlight four 'martyrs' for the cause, yet they have to lie about them to sell their story.  Here's what the DI says on their petition site:
  • In Washington state, high school teacher Roger DeHart was driven from his public school because he wanted students to learn about both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution discussed in science journals.
  • In Minnesota, Rodney LeVake was dismissed from teaching high school biology after expressing doubts about the scientific evidence for Darwin’s theory.
  • In Texas, biology teacher Allison Jackson was ordered to stop presenting students with information critical of key aspects of modern Darwinian theory.
  • In Mississippi, chemistry professor Dr. Nancy Bryson lost her job at a state university after she gave a lecture criticizing Darwin’s theory to a group of honors students.

Yet the truth is Roger DeHart was always an old fashioned Creationist and latched onto ID late in his public school teaching career.  he wasn't 'driven away', but was re-assigned teaching duties that didn't involve teaching his religion -- eventually he resigned and started teaching at a Christian school. 

Rodney LeVake wasn't dismissed either.  After it was made clear that LeVake was refusing the teach the prescribed curriculum in 10th grade biology, he was also re-assigned to 9th grade general science which did not include any evolutionary theory.  He sued the school district and lost as every turn.

I can't find much about Allison Jackson, other that the DI's own comment about her being ordered to stop teaching her religion.  I would have to say she was probably doing exactly what the others were doing and got caught.  There is an Allison Jackson who is now associated with:
"The Society for Classical Learning (SCL) has existed since the mid-1990s to facilitate and encourage thinking and discussion among professionals associated with Christ-centered education in the liberal arts tradition."
My further guess would be that the DI wants to present her as another martyr for the cause, but the reality is she got caught between her professional responsibilities and her religious beliefs and made the choice to abandon her responsibilities.  What did I say just a few posts back (Religious Beliefs vs. Personal and Professional Responsibilities) about what to do when you are caught in such a predicament?  Either accept your responsibilities or get out of the situation.  It looks like Allison got out, but not until she was disciplined for failing in her duties.

As for Dr. Bryson, exactly how and why she left her teaching position at the Mississippi University for Women is unclear, there are conflicting reports, including hearings and a change of heart by the administration after announcing her contract wouldn't be renewed.  But even she admitted that her views on Evolution were based on religion and not science.  Here is a very small part of Dr. Bryson's testimony during the Kansas Hearings from 2005.  Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka lawyer is asking the questions, Dr. Bryson is answering:
Q. Now, that opinion that you have about intelligent design, that's not based on science, correct?
A. Correct.
Q. That's based upon your theistic views?
A. Correct.
Q. And you would agree with me that religion has no place in science?
A. Yes.
Q. And you would agree with me that in a science curriculum religion should not be included, correct?
A. Correct. 
So you see, this isn't critical thinking, or really any scholarship involved, just pure and simple dishonesty.  I would have respected any of the 4 who decided to resign their positions BEFORE abdicating their responsibilities.  But if they had, the DI wouldn't be declaring their martyr-hood.
Does anyone every see any signs of scholarship from the DI?  What we get is skepticism and denial-ism and a bunch of creative writing purposefully designed [pun-intended] to disguise their religious beliefs.

The original quote, at the top of this post, discusses biases.  The DI consistently accuses the scientific community of being biased against their pet ideas.  Yet, who is actually being biased?  Look at their four martyrs, can anyone explain how they are the victim of bias, or are their students and the schools  that hired them the victims of their bias in favor of their religious beliefs.

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