Friday, June 23, 2006

A parallel ivory tower

Of the various contributors to the Secular Outpost, Taner Edis is the most prolific. He’s an intellectual, and his stuff is normally characterized by a sober tone of emotional detachment.

Here’s an excerpt of something he posted a couple of days ago:

“Being an academic, the most direct way the parallel Christian reality bothers me are its alternative intellectual structures. Many [correction due to a comment by Humes's Ghost] right-wing Christians live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience. And since no institution upholding any critical scholarly standards would accept such nonsense, they just do their usual thing: create parallel institutions. Since Christian rightists consider mainstream universities to be fatally compromised by liberal secularist ideology, they set up their own sources of "scholarship" that are guaranteed to confirm their alternative vision of reality. For "education," you have conservative Christian pseudo-universities such as Liberty, Regent, and Patrick Henry, and a boatload of bible colleges and so forth. For "research," you have think tanks, which have the extra advantage of direct political influence. For a Religious Right flavor of biology and physics, you have the Discovery Institute. For pseudo-social science, you have the Heritage Foundation.”

There are several problems with this paragraph:

1.Does he have any firm polling data to show that right-wing Christians believe Iraq was responsible for 9/11?

Remember, Edis claims to live by a fact-based rather than faith-based worldview. So he shouldn’t have any difficulty backing up his allegation with solid statistical data. Is there, say, a peer-reviewed study by a reputable sociologist to bear out his claim?

2.Why would it be irrational to question global warming? After all, science has been politicized, just like every other field of knowledge.

This is not to say that global warming is a myth. Rather, it’s to say that science is a human discipline consisting of human beings who happen to be scientists. As such, they are not ideologically neutral, or immune to peer pressure or academic fads.

So why would it be irrational to reserve judgment on the current hype over global warming?

3.Then there is his general-purpose smear about Christian institutions of higher learning, as well as conservative think-tanks. Here again we encounter several problems.

i) Why does he associate the Heritage Foundation with the religious right? Here is a list of the policy wonks working at the Heritage Foundation:

Perhaps Mr. Edis would like to tell us what the religious affiliation is for each of these individuals, and whether their religious affiliation represents the right-wing of the theological spectrum.

After all, Edis is drawing an invidious contrast between the “critical scholarly standards” of the academic establishment, to which he belongs, and the fantasy world of the religious right. So I’m sure that he’d be happy to substantiate his identification with rigorous evidence.

ii) In addition, in what sense do the fellows of the Discovery Institute represent the religious right?

Here’s a list:

Is David Berlinski a card-carrying member of the religious right? Is he a right-wing Christian?

Is Nancy Pearcy an avid fan of the Left Behind series? Is Michael Behe a Bible-thumping Southern Baptist? Is Pattle Pun an ardent young-earth creationist? Is Paul Chien a member of Opus Dei?

Do any of the fellows at the Discovery Institute believe in stoning adulterers?

I look forward to Taner’s informative discussion of what denomination each of them belongs to, where that ranges along the theological spectrum, and what their personal views are on theonomy or flood geology or the inerrancy of Scripture or the age of the earth, and so on and so forth.

iii) Finally, Edis classifies the biology and physics of the Discovery Institute as pseudoscience while he says the same thing about the social science of the Heritage Foundation.

Very well, then, why doesn’t he strike up an email correspondence with some of the folks at the Discovery Institute or the Heritage Foundation and post both sides of the exchange. Then we’ll be able to see for ourselves the superior rationality of his secular worldview. I’m sure than Taner will not disappoint us.


  1. Here is evidence of Christains on global warming and Iraq:

  2. This links us to a statement by the religious left, not the religious right. Try again.

  3. What do you mean by right and left?

  4. If you can't tell, ole boy, don't expect me to tell you (clue, World Council of Churches, read their policy statements). Let's just say the main Protestant proponents of the WCC are way out theological Liberals.

  5. The best scientific evidence supports the idea that there is a global warming trend. The jury's still out on these issues:

    1. Is current global warming the result of man-made processes (automobile exhaust and factory smokestacks belching "greenhouse gases" into the atmosphere) or is it one of the natural variations in worldwide climate that have occurred periodically throughout history?

    2. What might be the ultimate impact of the current global warming trend?

    3. Can humanity either avert continued global warming or at least adapt to its ultimate impact?

    People with an ideological bias against capitalism and industrial growth (this would include some scientists and Christians) assume a worst-case scenario (global warming will melt the polar icecaps) as a justification for imposing strict government controls on economic activity (ban those SUVs!).

    On the other hand, those who favor capitalism and industrial growth (including some scientists and Christians) tend to believe the long-term impact of global warming will be less than catastrophic and that humanity may adapt without curtailing economic development.

    It does seem that those with a non-theistic worldview seem to be more worried about the possible effects of global warming. Jewish writer Dennis Prager has an interesting essay about why this may be so:

  6. Gerard Charmley: If you can't tell, ole boy, don't expect me to tell you (clue, World Council of Churches, read their policy statements). Let's just say the main Protestant proponents of the WCC are way out theological Liberals.

    Vytautas: Well, I thought you were talking about political positions not theology. So what is the difference bettween left and right in the political sence? You could give links.