One of the problems with the "new atheism" is that it is confronted with people who seem to be significantly lacking in certain moral virtues; in particular, the moral virtues of honesty and intellectual integrity.
One manifestation of this is the degree to which they critics of the “new atheism” lie, distort, and otherwise misrepresent the claims of those they criticize ('bearing false witness' against others to their readers and listeners) in order to present a view that they can easily refute. In doing so, they ignore the claims that those they criticize actually make.
An instance of this springs from my post concerning Ben Stein's movie, due out next month, "Expelled: No Intelligence in the Classroom." The movie aims to argue that the ‘Darwinists’ that dominate America’s institutions of higher learning are engaged in an unjust campaign to silence critics this persecution is not being carried out because intelligent design is not science (the reason that, for example, astrologers are not welcome in the community of astronomers), but because 'Darwinists' have a religious intolerance of all things religious.
Seth Elliott, writing for the organization “In His Name,” wrote recently that he wants to use my earlier criticism of Ben Stein’s movie as a starting point for addressing certain concerns that atheists might have with Christians.
Well, from the Atheist Ethicist’s internet blogging, we can begin to understand the fear that for an increasingly large number of people comes from Christians. I intend to use one of this blogger’s main points to begin a series of articles to re-articulate the Christian faith and to reduce the irrational fears that misinformation has produced about those of us who seek to follow Christ and His teachings.
What is "one of this blogger's main points?" According to Elliott it is:
He honestly fears that the refutation of evolution might mean an onslaught of religious fervor that would seek to replace things like MRI’s with crystal balls and neuroscience with phrenology. He, and others, imagine a world where everyone abandons boats and starts drowning while trying to walk on water. They see censorship, hysteria, and catastrophe when religious fools start throwing themselves off of cliffs to see if angels will catch them. I am heartbroken about where this dude went to church and the kind of Christians he knows.
The question to ask is: Are these empirically true facts about me? Or is this an example of 'bearing false witness' - an example of the morally questionable practice of telling others things about a person that are not true.
Of course, it is the latter.
The most personally disturbing fiction that Elliott witnesses to is his assertion that my writing is directed against Christians. I have devoted a great deal of my blog to promoting and practicing the principle that blame must be narrowly assigned to those who are actually guilty. I am as critical of atheists who violate this principle as I am of theists, as illustrated by my recent series of postings criticizing the act of putting an, “Imagine: No Religion” sign in a park in Connecticut as a part of a holiday display.
The fact is, it would be wrong for me to blame Christians for this attack on science. Many Christians (and, officially, the Catholic Church) accept evolution, and some make significant contributions to the biological sciences. Though we might argue that evolution is inconsistent with a literal interpretation of the Bible, some do not interpret the Bible literally.
So, the claim that I have written against Christians commits the moral crime of bearing false witness against me. It is a malignant distortion of my views that will give Elliott’s readers false impressions of what I actually believe and say;
My point here is not just that Elliott's claims are false, but that they represent a moral failing on his part. He wrote a series of statements about me without showing even the slightest interest in determining whether they were accurate. He bore witness against me without concern over whether the witness he bore was accurate or false.
Evolution and Past Medical Breakthroughs
Elliott bears witness that "[Alonzo] honestly fears that the refutation of evolution might mean an onslaught of religious fervor that would seek to replace things like MRI’s with crystal balls and neuroscience with phrenology."
I find the insertion of the word 'honestly' in this statement to be particularly ironic.
Actually, this is not 'honestly' the case at all. I have no doubt that Christians will continue to make use of current medical breakthroughs. I am well aware of the fact that, while Creationists are busy undercutting the foundation on which medical breakthroughs are built, they have no objection to taking advantage of those breakthroughs anyway. The clear benefit of those breakthroughs will virtually guarantee that they will continue to be used.
My concern is not with abandoning current medical breakthroughs, but with delaying future medical breakthroughs. Those breakthroughs come from people who take phenomena not yet explained, offer theories about possible explanations, and then test those theories through experimentation. The person who shuts down his mind and says, "There can be no understanding of how this happens; God did it and it defies human understanding." discovers nothing, and helps nobody.
These are the people who I was referring to in my original post when I wrote that a consequence of 'Expelled' in promoting public hostility to the scientific quest of finding real-world answers to these questions will be the suffering and early death of countless people who otherwise could have been saved or benefited from advances in science.
The Consequences of Refuting Evolution
I would be ecstatic to learn that evolution had been refuted and replaced with a better scientific theory. A better theory, in science, means a better way to explain and predict real-world events. In the area of biology, a breakthrough theory that replaces evolution should generate countless medical breakthroughs and a significant improvement in environmental policy (derived from our better understanding of the environment). In fact, these outcomes are how the new theory would prove it deserves to hold the seat that evolution currently holds.
Intelligent design is not science precisely because it does not offer the breakthroughs in medicine and environmental policy that an improved scientific theory would give us. There are zero medical research proposals waiting for intelligent design theory to be verified or falsified, and there are zero medical research proposals that employ intelligent design rather than evolution as a basis for that research. If intelligent design theorists actually started producing breakthrough medical research and breakthrough understanding of the environment, then those benefits alone would guarantee that they get a hearing.
It is precisely because there is no scientific evidence supporting intelligent design that, instead of offering research results that defend their claim, they are forced to use propaganda such as the movie Expelled, legislation, and public pressure to get their views presented as science.
The Policy Implications of Belief Without Evidence
According to Elliott, I and others “imagine a world where everyone abandons boats and starts drowning while trying to walk on water.”
Actually, I do not recall ever imagining such a world. Taken as a literal statement of what I imagine, the statement is false.
However, it is possible to take this statement metaphorically, in which case it might hold some truth.
We do, in fact, have events like this in the real world. We have people who insist that we can alter the course of hurricanes and prevent tsunamis, for example, by passing laws against homosexual acts and abortion. They are people who think that the absence of school prayer has a material effect on whether federal agents will notice whether a group of terrorists are going to try to hijack airplanes and fly them into sky scrapers. We have people who, in countless individual cases every day, choose an irrational solution based on star charts or what they think is a sign from God. These are, in fact, 21st century equivalents of ‘abandoning boats and trying to walk on water,’ with the same types of tragic consequences.
There is reason to believe that we have nearly 4000 Americans killed and over 20,000 injured in Iraq by a President who ignored evidence and went with ‘signs from God’ in deciding to attack Iraq – another example of the metaphor of abandoning boats and walking on water, where this is taken as a metaphor for abandoning evidence and acting on faith.
More importantly, we have legions of individuals devoting vast quantities of time and effort to actions and policies that deprive others of life, health, and well-being based on beliefs without evidence. Metaphorically, these are not just people who abandon boats and try to walk on water, but who force others out to stand on the water. When their victims sink, they blame the victim for not having enough faith while they shove the next group out onto the water.
Regardless of the accuracy of Elliott’s statement as metaphor, I do see how it would be on topic to relate these effects to Ben Stein’s movie Expelled. In my original article, I have written about how the belief that we can use laws against homosexuality and abortion to influence the frequency of earthquakes and direction of hurricanes has not been scientifically verified. However, that is not the same issue.
Theists who engage in these types of acts are rewarded by the fact that benefit from the fact that more people will read their claims about what these writers said than read what the writers actually wrote. Their willingness to devote so much energy to repeating these false claims, combined with their readers’ and listeners’ tendency to accept claims made on authority without questioning the reliability of the source, promotes a false impression of our views. We must, then, live with the fact that others have made and promoted false claims against us – exactly the type of injustice that makes this type of behavior immoral.
In my original post, I took effort to confine my criticism to “those who were responsible for” the movie. I made sure to declare that I might be mistaken about what the movie claimed (because I had not seen it) and that I was responding to reports about the movie that may be mistaken. I made an effort to make sure that I did not bear false witness against anybody, and that my writing conformed to the moral responsibilities incumbent on all writers.