In my readings today I came across a couple of articles that speaking to different subjects that should be brought together.
In a review of Richard Dawkins' new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, reviewer NAME wrote:
Regrettably and ironically, however, one cannot help but worry that Dawkins is preaching to the choir, that those who most need to hear his message are plugging their ears and singing 'blah blah blah blah'.
(See, Winnipeg Free Press, From Darwin to Dawkins: Evolutionary evidence may be falling on undeveloped ears)
Something about Richard Dawkins preaching to the choir while those who need to listen plug their ears and go 'blah blah blah blah'.
Earlier, I had read a posting by PZ Myers on Pharyngula criticizing an article that was written suggesting ways that atheists can seem nice. (See, Pharyngula, Advice for Atheists)
Of course, I begin with a couple of standard moral claims. The first is that criticism must remain focused on those who are actually guilty. To expand the set of accused from those who are guilty to a larger group that one wants others to hate is to commit the moral crime of hate-mongering.
The second is that a right to freedom of speech is a right to immunity from violence, regardless of how detestable the speech is. Nothing in what follows legitimizes violence or even the threat of violence.
People who plug one's ears and refuse to engage the evidence, like young-earth creationists, are engaging in immoral behavior. The world would be better off if we were rid of them, just as we would be better off if the world were rid of hate-mongering bigots, drunk drivers, liars, and thieves. They cost the lives of countless people every year and cause countless more to be maimed. Whole cities have been or will be laid to waste because of their refusal to consider evidence, and the institutions of liberty are made less secure.
This is not nice, but niceness is not deserved. What possible reason can there be to be nice to people who display such a destructive quality?
I would like to repeat that this applies to those who blind themselves to evidence. I also assert that the evidence for evolution and an old earth are so overwhelming that a young earth creationist must be blinding himself to evidence to continue with his beliefs. This is not a case of expanding a group beyond those who are actually guilty. In this case, all young-earth creationists are actually guilty.
To make the moral argument, I will start with these facts:
Plugging one's ears and refusing to engage the evidence is not a proposition. It is an action. It is, in fact, an intentional action in that it is derived from the beliefs and desires of agents. As such, it is the type of action that is subject to moral scrutiny, and is found wanting.
Because refusing to engage evidence is not a proposition, you cannot argue against it. It would like arguing against a person who is swimming by claiming that the act of swimming itself is false. The act of swimming is not a proposition, so it cannot be true or false. Those concepts do not apply. The same is true of the act of lying or of raping a child. The claim that one should respond to an act with a reasoned presentation of the evidence is absurd.
We can still say that an act is wrong. However, it is not wrong in the sense that a belief can be wrong. It is wrong in the sense that a desire can be wrong – that the agent is not motivated to behave the way a good person would behave. A good person cares to make sure that he actually does good in the world. This means that a good person cares to look at the evidence and to come to the conclusion that the evidence supports. He does not want to make a mistake.
On the other hand, the person who does not care to examine the evidence does not care if he makes mistakes. So, we may assume, he does not care of the harm he has the potential to do when he is wrong.
That people who blind themselves to evidence and reason are a threat to the well-being of others is easy to demonstrate.
If you ignore the evidence about what kills people and what keeps people alive, people die. If you ignore evidence about what maims people or keeps them safe, people get maimed. You can ignore evidence about what keeps levees standing around a town or the condition of an airplane, but your reward will be failed levees and crashed airplanes.
Most importantly, if you cannot reason as to what protects valuable institutions such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the right to a trial by jury, and the right to liberty itself, then you cannot recognize threats to those institutions.
Over the years of the Bush Administration we found a huge degree of correspondence between those who blind themselves to evidence and those who supported the policies of the Bush Administration. It was an administration that felt that whenever the evidence did not support a desired policy, that it had the right and the power to change the evidence. As a result, people died and were maimed, whole cities were destroyed, and the Constitution itself became a rag that they were able to 'reason' somehow justified a President who had the power to do as he pleased without legislative or judicial restraint.
We have not yet counted the toll in terms of lost lives and property and the challenge to institutions of freedom and liberty that global warming will bring to future generations because that administration sought to change the evidence of its threat rather than deal with the facts..
Now, the proper way to respond to a bad desire, such as a lack of interest or affection for results supported by reason, is through condemnation. It is by pointing out how people with those values (such as a lack of interest in what best keeps us safe and alive) are a threat to all of us, and to those we care about, and to bring the force of social condemnation against them as a result.
A society that does not properly condemn those who are a threat to its well-being will inevitably suffer the costs.
Within this society, there are many and strong reasons to bring the force of social condemnation against those who refuse to engage the evidence regarding evolution – because if they will blind themselves to evidence here, they have a disposition to blind themselves to evidence elsewhere.
The evidence is there. It is not a matter of reasoning with those who do not accept it. All of the reasoning that can be done, has been done. What we have left is a moral failing. To 'be nice' to those who are guilty of a moral failing – particularly one as destructive of this – requires that one share their lack of interest in the well-being of those who are killed, maimed, or otherwise harmed by those who can’t be bothered with evidence. That is not a wise recommendation.