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Introduction: A journalist tries to understand a jealous god – materialist science

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After reading American journalist Pam Winnick’s A Jealous God (Nelson, 2005), I informed her that I wish I had written it.

Winnick and I both started writing a book on the intelligent design controversy at about the same time. My By Design or by Chance? is a closeup look; Winnick used the ID controversy as a jumping off point for a number of interrelated science controversies – and produced a highly informative, easy-to-read book as a result.

She may also have damaged her career, as the Expelled film suggests, because she did not stick to a party line on many topics, but looked at what the evidence actually showed.

Party line vs. evidence? In science? Yes indeed. A profoundly illiberal trend is growing up in science. Once a party line becomes widely accepted, not only are dissenters ostracized and punished but truth, fair comment, and good intent are not permitted as defenses. If that sounds like a Canadian “human rights” commission, the resemblance is not accidental. The trend in science is part of a larger trend in society, though it is expressed in different ways.

Winnick begins with the 1970s debate on the use of live human fetuses in research. She focuses in particular on the sudden importance of “bioethicists” – whose main job, it appears, was to construct justifications for what researchers wanted to do. (pp. 28-29) For example,

“Research on the Fetus” was filled with the moral doublespeak of bioethics, the intellectual shifting, the illogic and the numerous loopholes that soon would typify nearly all writings in the emerging field of bioethics. (p. 80)

These are the things that mainstream journalists like Winnick, who wrote for the Pittsburgh Gazette, are just not supposed to say.

One must rather speak of “anguished choices” and “no easy answers” – as if, in the entire history of the world, the word NO! had never been invented and there had never been a reason to use it. She adds:

Virtually unnoticed at the time was the sub-rosa dismantling of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, the “bias for life” that at least in theory, holds each life dear. (p. 29)

In my experience, that dismantling wasn’t so much unnoticed as impolite to mention. To notice such a thing implied the moral judgement that the loss of Judaeo-Christian ethics was a genuine loss. But our North American society has grown suspicious of moral judgments of any kind, especially judgements in favour of that kind of thing.

Significantly, foreshadowing later developments, advocates of live fetal research called their opponents “scientific know-nothings” who were “anti-research,” thus subtly positioning science itself as on the side of dehumanizing trends.

Next: Part One: Science as popular religion

All the parts:

Introduction A journalist tries to understand a jealous god – materialist science
Part One: Science as popular religion
Part Two: The social justice costs of glorifying “science”
Part Three: Celebrity cosmology and assorted flimflam
Part Four: The simple, basic information needed to blow it all up the river

3 Replies to “Introduction: A journalist tries to understand a jealous god – materialist science

  1. 1
    GilDodgen says:

    I visited the Carl Sagan website just out of curiosity. Below are some excerpts from his baloney detection kit:

    Baloney Detection Kit

    Warning signs that suggest deception. Based on the book by Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World. The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

    Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

    Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no “authorities”).

    Spin more than one hypothesis – don’t simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

    Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.

    Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric:

    Ad hominem – attacking the arguer and not the argument.

    Argument from “authority”.

    Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavorable” decision).

    Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

    Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).

    Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

    Confusion of correlation and causation.

    Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.

    Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

    Would that such baloney detection be applied to Darwinism and manmade global warming.

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    When Carl Sagan predicted a nuclear winter and starvation due to the Kuwait oil well fires in 1991 my baloney detector went off.

  3. 3
    F2XL says:

    Yep, seems like anything printed in the NYT becomes a reference point for how everyone else should follow, regardless of how shaky the claims are.

    Would that such baloney detection be applied to Darwinism and manmade global warming.

    Add gun control to that list. Particularly the assault weapons ban, and every word that comes out the Brady Campaign headquarters.

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