March 30, 2008

I'll tell you why

I got this (anonymous) comment to one of my recent posts countering creationist claims.

But why so terribly arrogant? If you believe you are right, some humility would make it better. The way it is now, it appears to be along the line of "when the arguments are weak, speak louder".

This is a fairly common response to vocal scientists countering any kind of pseudoscientific claims. I see it over and over and on occasion, like now, I have it aimed at myself. First of all it's really rather tiring and, just for the record, I don't think my retort was very arrogant at all. But putting that aside, it's the sort of critique from the peanut gallery that has little validity to the question at hand.

If there are two mutually incompatible views, they cannot possibly both be right. When one of them is nothing but misleading illiterate nonsense, ignorant distortion of facts or outright dismissal of them, it just doesn't merit the kind of "humble" and respectful response advocated by those who feel scientists are too arrogant. In this case, the kind of creationism I countered in my posts deserves nothing but the ridicule and severe rebuke it got. To approach it "humbly" would be to play right into the creationists' hands. It would be to concede that both views are equal and deserve equal attention and respect and that they play on an even field, which is 100% not the case. True humility is to approach questions of science unprejudiced and objectively, which creationists most certainly don't. Who are the arrogant ones?

As I wrote in my retort's concluding remarks;

This [creationism] is not about challenging science. This is not about wanting to bring science forward. This is not about one scientific view arguing with another. It's so very easy to forget that. This is about religious proselytes wanting to destroy a product of rational thought because it challenges their deeply held world-views. For all the science that is involved, for all that I have written in these entries, in the end this is about fanatics wanting to tell us all how we should lead our lives because they patronizingly feel that they have the moral authority to do so. No scientific theory pretends to do the same. The mere thought is utterly ridiculous. But by arguing like this, creationists want to take down evolutionary theory to their playing field. It's important that we don't lose sight of that.

So really, who are the arrogant ones?

Creationists thrive on the "when the arguments are weak, speak louder"-argument and they love nothing more than playing the underdog card whenever they can. Unfortunately a large portion of the general public plays along with their dishonest outcries for humility. When I said that the critique presented in the above quoted comment was not valid to the question at hand, I meant it, but that doesn't mean to say that I don't take it seriously. It is of course unfortunate if the scientific rebukes are seen as arrogant by the general public and if they only reinforce the view of creationists as underdogs. This is often coupled with the fact that scientists speak out from a position of authority, which in any situation is readily mistaken for arrogance. But the solution is definitely not to concede to their tactics and give the impression that science and creationism offer equally valid explanations. The solution is to bridge the disconnect between science and scientific thinking and the general public. It's maybe in that department that those of us who vehemently rebuke pseudoscientific claims have failed. But ultimately dreck is dreck and it needs to be called out on it, forcefully and vocally.

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