This is point of inquiry for Friday, January 20th, 2006.
Hello, I’m DJ Grothe. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank affiliated with the State University of New York at Buffalo with branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood. On point of inquiry, we tried to draw on the Center for Inquires relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. And I bring you each week interviews and commentary focusing on the three research areas here at CFI. First there, Pseudoscience of the Paranormal. Second, we treat the growing alternative medicine movement. And third, on point of inquiry, we concentrate on the intersection of religion and science in our society. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, we’re going to be joined by Eugenie Scott, Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, for discussion of the intelligent design movement and the recent landmark ruling in Dover, Pennsylvania. Later in the show, I’ll talk with Paul Kurtz and the third of a three part series entitled Can You Be Good Without God? And you’re going to learn how you can get a free copy of Free Inquiry magazine. During our regular feature, we call from the pages of Also Benjamin Radford will share his regular commentary, Media Mythmakers. But first, Tom Flynn with a segment we call. Did you know?
Did you know that this week the Roman Catholic Church has restated its support for evolution with an argument praising Judge John Jones as ruling in the Dover, Pennsylvania. Intelligent design case last month? That rejects the intelligent design theory as nonscientific. Did you know that in Kentucky, your constitutional rights vary by county? Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Polaski and McCreary counties to remove Ten Commandments displays from public buildings. But in Mercer County, a federal appeals court has ruled that a very similar Commandments display can remain confused. You should be. Did you know that a U.S. district judge ordered Indiana’s legislature to stem an epidemic of sectarian Christian prayer during its sessions? Did you know that New Jersey is spending tax money to create prayer chapels in state controlled sporting arenas? Did you know that the logo of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, the home of the anti evolution intelligent design movement, has gone through some serious evolution of its own. Originally, it featured that familiar painting of Michelangelo’s from the Sistine Chapel of God reaching out with his index finger and touching Adam. The figure of Adam was then replaced with the double helix of DNA. The religious overtones of Michelangelo’s image contradicted the Discovery Institute’s claim that they weren’t pushing a religious agenda, and it was eventually replaced by a picture of a planetary nebula photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.
This week, I’m pleased to have as a guest on point of inquiry, Dr. Eugenie Scott. Dr. Scott is a physical anthropologist who’s been the executive director of the National Center for Science Education for almost 20 years. A former president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is one of the nation’s leading defenders of the theory of evolution and a vocal critic of creationism and intelligent design theory. She’s the author of the textbook Evolution and Creationism, which I’d like to remind our listeners is available at a discount on our Web site. A point of inquiry, dot org. Welcome, Dr. Scott, to point of inquiry.
Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Last month, federal Judge John Jones, the third who was a Bush appointee, ruled decisively that intelligent design doesn’t belong in science class, stating that it’s religion based, that it has direct ties to creationism. Dr. Scott, remind us the circumstances that brought the Dover case to court.
Dover, Pennsylvania, has been struggling with creation and evolution for a number of years below most people’s radar and certainly below the radar of the national press. Unlike the recent situation. But we’ve been kind of keeping our eye on Dover for two, three years now. They’ve had a school board that has varied over time, and sometimes they’ve had more creationist oriented school board members than others. And finally, in 2004, there was a majority of creationists, the board. And that happened to be the year that textbooks, biology textbooks were supposed to be approved. Now, the majority of biology textbooks that are on the market today do include evolution. And although we’d love to have evolution included more accurately and in greater quantity, at least the topic is in the books and students are expected to learn it according to most state science standards, including Pennsylvania.
The situation arose in Dover because the Pennsylvania science standards say thou shalt learn evolution. And because the textbooks include evolution. And here they were having to adapt a textbook that met the state’s standards. And so they were stuck with teaching evolution, so to speak, from their standpoint. So what the board decided to do was to balance the teaching of evolution in the textbook and in the curriculum with some form of creationism.
And they proposed that this book of Pandas and People, which is an intelligent design creationism book, be adopted, as well as the standard biology textbook that you get from commercial publishers. And that set this cascade going of more and more problems with creationism and the teaching of evolution, culminating in the passage of a policy by the board in late 2004 requiring that teachers teach intelligent design. And then that was watered down a little bit, too.
They would just have to read a statement on intelligent design to make a statement that, in effect said there are holes in the theory, there are competing theories and students should know about that.
Absolutely. The disclaimer that the teachers had to read presented the idea that evolution was weak theory and that intelligent design was a valid scientific alternative that students should learn. And of course, the Pandas and People book was available in the library to teach them about that.
But even within science, aren’t there a lot of disagreements about evolution? Isn’t that disclaimer valid?
No, the disclaimer is not valid because although within evolutionary biology we argue about the details, we argue about the mechanisms of evolution and what the pattern of the branching tree of life is and what what pattern takes. We don’t argue about whether living things descended with modification from common ancestors, which is what biological evolution is all about. This is what the Dover School Board wanted the students to take away. This Dover school board wanted the students to doubt whether evolution had taken place. That’s not the same thing as saying students should know about the interesting and legitimate arguments within evolutionary theory.
And there are arguments with an evolutionary theory, but not that it’s supported by evidence. Just different arguments about the mechanisms.
We argue about how we don’t argue about the weather. Now, there are arguments about gravitation theory, but nobody doubts that math is attract each other and that the Newtonian gravitation works.
Were you involved in the Dover case at all? Were you involved as a consultant or did you give testimony?
NTSB got involved in the Dover case fairly early because we were contacted by some citizens who had found us on the Web and had known that we have expertize in this area. And they were asking us for advice and we were providing them with information about what is intelligent design and why it’s not scientific and so forth. When the community members decided they wanted to sue. We called up our legal advisory committee and asked if anyone would be willing to help the parents and the community because they didn’t have any money.
And one of my legal advisory committee members happens to work for a large law firm in Pennsylvania. Eric Rothschild at Pepper Hamilton. And he persuaded the pro bono committee of his firm to take this case on. And Pepper Hamilton did a marvelous job. So the legal team was Pepper Hamilton and the ACLU with whom we worked in Pennsylvania before. Vic Volchek is a is an old friend and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington based civil liberties group that we’ve worked with a lot before as well. So the legal team consisted of those three entities.
And NCOIC was a was an adviser to the legal team and we recommended expert witnesses to them, scientists who’d be scientists and theologians who would do a good job, understand and knew this material very well. And we helped to prepare the witnesses and advise the legal team and other ways on matters of science and education.
Jim Underdown in John Jones’s ruling, he was very decisive. He knew it was unexpected that a Bush appointee would be so emphatic in his exposé of intelligent design for what it is.
Well, you know, it’s funny. I have felt for years that, number one, we will go to trial over intelligent design. This happened to be the year that it happened. But we’ve known for years that this case was so as inevitable some place in the country.
And I’ve always felt that when intelligent design has to take its place in the dark, it’s going to lose because there’s an inherent weakness to the phrase intelligent design. And that is that it implies a designer and that agent obviously is God. And so any judge who kind of was listening would have an ear would figure out pretty quickly that intelligent design is just a disguised form of creationism. And we’d win.
And that’s what happened in this case.
Well, that is what happened. But, boy, we won in triplicate.
I mean, not only did we win, but we won decisively with a judge who really, really listened to the testimony of the scientists. If you or your listeners have taken the time to read the decision and you can find it on NSCLC, his website, which is NSCLC Web that or Jim Underdown, a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the intelligent design, creationism versus evolution column wars, these skirmishes all over the country.
Thank you kindly. But if you take the time to read it, you’ll notice that the judge does spend a fair amount of time talking about science, the science of evolution and the nature of science, philosophy of science. And the judge got it. I mean, the judge is interesting because sitting there watching him in the courtroom, you you couldn’t get a reading on him. This is a judge who plays his cards very close to his chest.
What? Everybody was impressed about both sides. I mean, both legal teams. And by the way, the legal teams both conducted this case extremely professionally and with cordiality and with cooperation. And both the creation aside and the good guy side were represented by very professional litigants. It was it was a pleasure to see good law in action, so to speak. But both sides, both on the other side and us, felt that the judge had ruled extremely even handedly during the course of the trial that he would just bend over backwards to let either side, you know, object to the other’s position. And is here out the objections and maybe substandard or not sustained that he won the sustaining or not sustaining of an objection always tended to be in the direction of all the. Give me more information. And, you know, you really can’t argue with that. It’s a very valuable thing for a Jim Underdown.
So he obviously was willing to listen to both sides of the case. So criticism that he was close minded from the get go really can’t stand.
Oh, it’s absurd.
Anybody who reads the transcripts of this trial and they’re also on our Web site will take away even without seeing the judge’s demeanor and how, you know, how we conducted the trial and his interactions with the lawyers and witnesses, even without seeing him just reading the words, you can tell that this is a very fair minded judge who really did open himself to the fullest possible range of information.
Now, of course, I hope I’m not totally prejudice about this, but it certainly does seem to me in having been there for most of the trial and reading reading the transcripts that we just flat have the better case. I mean, we have the better science. Our philosophy of science was much more accurate in terms of what the scientific community believes about how you conduct science. And frankly, they had no science, that they had no theory, their basic. We just had some carping about how evolution doesn’t do the job. Therefore, the intelligent designer wins by default, which is not much of a scientific position. So they are going to lose hands down on the science part. And then we also are witnesses also worked very hard to illustrate and I believe prove the point that intelligent design is truly religious advocacy. It truly is a religious view that’s just masquerading as science. So once we demonstrated that the science was was bogus, all that was left was religion.
And in fact, when the judge did read his decision, he reflected the fact that if it’s not science and it is religion, then you can’t advocate it in the public schools. You were therefore advocating religion.
And he went out of his way, in fact, to scold the Christian activists for masquerading their religion in the close of science. He didn’t just in a gingerly way rule that you had the merits of your case, but he at one point, I think, even called the Christian advocates of intelligent design liars using the word liars.
No judge wants to be faced with a witness who lies under oath. And during the depositions and the cross examinations, it was it was clearly revealed that some of these witnesses, the school board’s side of things, simply were playing fast and loose with the truth. And the judge just came down on that like a ton of bricks.
But again, thinking about the case as a whole. One reason why we on our side of this issue are so happy with that decision is that it was so clear that these school board members did have a religious motive for passing this policy that the judge could have ruled on that very narrow ground alone and just skipped all the science. But he didn’t. He really reflected all of the testimony that we presented. On the other side, too. I mean, remember, this was this was a very fair opportunity for intelligent design to put its best scientific foot forward, so to speak, and convince a very open minded judge who was happy to hear as much evidence as you could possibly later learn that intelligent design was a valid scientific alternative to evolution and therefore deserved a place. And therefore there was a secular reason for teaching it, and therefore it should be taught. And intelligent design just did not make the sale. And in my opinion, it’s because there’s no there. There are you can’t get a silk purse out of a here and there. There is no content to intelligent design to be convincing.
I’ve been wondering if such a decisive ruling like John Jones’s was so decisive, if it might give evolutionists and science advocates a false sense of security.
Well, the good news is that we’ve learned. I remember a number of years ago when the district court in McClain versus Arkansas back in 1982 issued a very similar decision to Judge Jones’s.
But this time on creation side, the McClaine, I have to write an article comparing MacLane with Kitzmiller because the parallels are just eerie. Both of them were full trials. McClain was a trial about creation science and whether it was legal Kitzmiller as a full trial about intelligent design and whether it’s legal to teach it. And it goes on and on. But the creation of the creation science folks just failed abjectly in McLean. I mean, they got beaten so badly that the state didn’t even appeal. And so it remained a district court decision rather than going up to the Supreme Court, which is kind of too bad because it was a great case with a lot of good data and a good court case record just like this. Miller Moore parallel. But when the McLaine case came out and hit the papers, I remember Stephen Jay Gould published in that editorial saying, well, we can forget about the creationists now. They’re dead in the water and in so many words. And I remember saying, Steve, that’s not true. We didn’t hear. Yes, we won in McLaine. But these guys aren’t going to go away. They’re just going to go and find another school district and try again with a different fact situation. The same thing’s going to happen with Kitzmiller Jim Underdown.
In fact, doesn’t such a decisive ruling maybe fuel the fire even more? Doesn’t a ruling like this just seem to prove to Christian activists that they’re being dismissed from the scientific community, from the classrooms, by an unelected elite or something, you know, by by science and their allies, activist judges?
That’s what you’re hearing.
If you’re read any of the religious right press, the Christian right press and of course, the intelligent design and other creationists are rending their garments and castigating the judge for being an activist judge, which is really quite funny when you consider this is a pretty darn conservative guy, Jim Underdown appointed by Bush Bush appointee and a churchgoer. I mean, we couldn’t ask for a better judge if we’d gone to central casting.
I know that your your point is correct. This is exactly what they’re saying. And there’s a couple of answers to that. Number one, let’s be really clear about what we’re talking about. We’re actually talking about a narrow issue, and that is what do you teach in high school science class?
We’re not talking about what should everybody know about and what is the best way to develop critical thinkers, or is my religious ox being gored or your religious ox being gored? We’re talking about what do you teach in high school science class? And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude, well, you teach science. So what a high school teacher does say in biology. Let’s take a look at the whole field of biology and say, OK, for high school students, the most important things for them to learn is this, this and this. And now let’s see, how can they translate this information into something that’s understandable by high school kids who don’t have any background? Well, I guess we have to leave out that that. But what we’ll do is we’ll build a curriculum around these principles.
This, this, this and this. Now what the intelligent design people and the creation science proponents before them want us to do is say, OK. In addition to teaching the consensus view of science in a biology class, we want you to teach something that hasn’t been accepted yet by scientists. We want you to bring in something that’s outside of the general scientific canon because we think it’s really a good idea to give the students all views.
And that has a tremendous amount of attractions unless you really think it through, because in essence, what they are doing is something that’s very, very unfair. They’re really cutting to the head of the line here. You know, they’re saying take our ideas and teach it in high school. Even though the scientific community hasn’t accepted it yet, and even though we haven’t done an adequate job of presenting these views to the scientific community and working them through and really trying to earn our way, so to speak, by convincing the professional scientists, my answer to that is to say, well, once you convince the professional scientists, then you may indeed trickle down into high school, just like all other new ideas.
But how can intelligent design theorists convince the professional scientists if they are right when they say they’re excluded from science? That science won’t even give them a fair hearing.
You know, there’s a number of professional scientists within the Intelligent Design Group. There’s Michael Behe. There’s got Minnick. There’s Jonathan Wells. A number of people who do have scientific credentials. They belong or should belong to professional scientific organizations like I belong to the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Mike probably belongs to the American Society for Cell Biology because he’s a cell biologist or he’s a biochemist. What do you do when you’re trying to build a scientific theory? What you do when you’re trying to convince your colleagues that you’ve got something that they should pay attention to and this idea should become something that they use in their work, is you first you go to scientific conferences. So you go to the cell biology conferences or you go to the physical anthropology conferences and you’ll give a paper.
You give a poster. New ideas can be presented at these conferences. Basically, if you’re a member and you can write a coherent abstract, you have a right to present papers. You present a paper, you get some people interested in your idea. They start doing research in your area. Maybe the next year, a couple of years later, you have a symposium on there. So what are the results of your research? Is this really a going concern? Are you actually answering questions about biology? You you start building a scientific theory. First of all, among your colleagues and it’s a back and forth process because building a new theory takes time. You’re gonna make mistakes. You have to rethink things. You have to do new tests and experiments. This is the normal way you do it. The intelligent design people are not doing this. They’re not going to the conferences. They’re not establishing new working groups. They’re not submitting refereed papers to refereed journal.
You’re saying Discovery Institute doesn’t engage in that kind of scientific research?
There’s no evidence of this. I was told on a talk show the other day by Intelligent Design Guy that that was another guest that Jonathan Wells has been to, the developmental biology. That’s the embryologists, the Developmental Biology Association that gave a paper. Good for him. This is exactly what he ought to do. I happen to know that the paper was a theoretical one that wasn’t based on any kind of data or experimental research. But, hey, you know, this is a step. This is what they should be doing.
And you’re open to them doing that. You’re telling me that you don’t reject out of hand these claims. You’re open to the evidence. You just haven’t seen any evidence yet.
Well, what’s happened is the intelligent design people. Throughout books like Michael B, he’s Darwin’s Black Box. In the mid 1990s, Damski is book The Design in France. These were thrown out of the scientific community, the scientific community said, huh? Well, that’s kind of interesting. Although, Mike, here’s where you misunderstand natural selection. Here’s where you’ve got to rethink it. You’ve got to consider this principle, that principle, acceptation, et cetera, and go back and rework your ideas. This is the way normally we treat a new scientific idea. You look for the weaknesses and you you put the burden on the presenter of the idea to improve and rethink and retest and so forth.
Right. You thrash it out and let the best ideas come to the top.
It’s an iterative back and forth process.
Of course, what happened was that Mike said, no, no, I’m right. And he just keeps keeps repeating the same old ideas. So, yes. Now the scientific community is ignoring him because he’s never dealt with these profound weaknesses of his view. And, of course, of course, ultimately, intelligent design is going to fail as science because at heart, it is a it is a negative argument. Most people think that intelligent design is just kind of an airy oh, God had something to do with it. Can’t we teach kids that? But actually, intelligent design make some very, very specific claims about science. And their major scientific claim is that you can detect design by an intelligent agent. Well, spelled his name with with three letters. The first is G. And I’ll spot you the end. But you can you can detect those structures that are created by the intelligent agents from other complex structures because of the characteristic of irreducible complexity. I mean, that’s basically all intelligent design. It’s the idea that really complex things can’t be explained through natural cause.
They have to be explained by the intelligent agent. Now, what you’re actually saying is evolution can’t do the job, therefore the designer wins. That’s not much of a that’s a pretty slender reed debase, a whole scientific theory. But that’s basically what intelligent design is. It’s not just a general gee, you know, God did something sometime, somewhere, which is sort of often how the ideas people presented to the general public. It is a specific scientific view that’s just flat wrong. Which is why it fails as science and why it shouldn’t be taught in high school.
I want to remind our listeners that Eugenie Scott’s book, Evolution and Creationism, which is the text book on this subject, is available at a discount on our website point of inquiry dot work. Dr. Scott, I want to ask you, since the Dover case is just one case of many, is there going to be a real impact of this decision or is it just one in a progression of many such decisions that you think we’re going to be seeing in the future?
Dover is a very important case because it was the first time that intelligent design was challenged in the courts. And it’s particularly significant that this was a full trial. It was not decided on summary judgment or just the paperwork, so to speak. There were witnesses and depositions and cross examinations and the whole nine yards.
Do you think that a slow down the idee movement at all?
I think so. I think it will slow down the idea of movement because they know that any time a school district or a state legislator tries to pass legislation or policies requiring the teaching of intelligent design, that the court record of Kitzmiller vs. Dover is going to be shoved under their noses and they’re going to have to cope with this huge amount of scientific testimony and a very well-written judge’s decision that says this is not science, belong in the classroom. It is religion. It doesn’t belong in the classroom. So I think it’s going to slow down the intelligent design push, but it won’t stop it completely.
Two things are going to happen. One. One thing that’s going to happen is that the intelligent design proponents will be looking for another school district with a different set of facts and a smarter school board. They won’t make the kind of religious statements that the Dover board did. And they’ll try to get another trial trying to to argue that it’s it’s fair and good pedagogy to teach both views and so forth. The second thing that’s going to happen is what the Discovery Institute has been promoting for the last several years, which is to not propose that intelligent design be explicitly taught, but to propose that the the evidence against evolution be taught what they call the teach the controversy approach. And by teach the controversy, they don’t mean what we started off talking about earlier this hour. They they don’t mean have students think critically and wrestle with the legitimate arguments with them. Evolutionary biology, but pretend to students. The scientists are arguing about whether evolution took place.
There’s a controversy not about mechanism, but about whether or not evolution is even real.
Exactly. And of course, that would be grossly mis educating students. They would they’ll be in for a real surprise when they go to college to find out that evolution is taught. Matter of factly. And every good university in this country, including, by the way, places like Brigham Young and Notre Dame and Baylor and Texas Christian and the other religiously oriented institutions.
Interesting, considering what you just said. I wonder if you have an opinion as to whether or not the courts are even the best place to fight this battle. What I’m getting at is that the creationists, you know, maybe they’ll be mobilized even more from this loss. They can, you know, rile up their base even more effectively. And, you know, they take the fight to the local level through school boards, through getting their elected officials to advocate for their positions. Do you think that there are other places that this battle needs to be fought as well at NCOIC?
We always work behind the scenes as long as possible, and we are completely uninterested in bringing lawsuits. I mean, for one thing, we don’t have any money. We don’t bring losses. We act as advisers occasionally when called. But to us, a lawsuit means you failed this. The ultimate solution to the problem of a.. Evolutionism in this country is for there to be, number one, a better understanding of the nature of science, science’s strengths and weaknesses, if you will. What science is good for and what science is not is good for. And we also need much more theological literacy in this country.
Because it’s only a minority of Christians that have a problem with evolution. Catholics teach evolution routinely in their parochial schools. I had a member of NCSA in Texas who sent his kids to the Lutheran school so that she’d get evolution because he knew she wasn’t going to get it in the public school.
So before you fight the battle in the courts, you’re advocating for generally good science education. But it’s not unconstitutional to be a bad science teacher.
That’s why we need the courts. We need the courts to defend the science classroom from religious advocacy. But the ultimate solution is to get everybody to understand what science is. Understand what evolution is. But also we need to have much more dialog within the Christian community, among those Christians who accept evolution and those who reject evolution, because this is not an issue of science versus religion. This is an issue of some religious views, some theological views versus everybody else. And that’s why I talk about the need for theological literacy as well as scientific literacy.
People really think very dichotomous, Lee. They think, well, either you’re an atheistic evolutionist or you’re a good guy, Christian creationist. And gee, I think I’m going to lose something really big if I give up my faith. So obviously, I can’t, quote, believe in evolution. And that’s just that that’s a false dichotomy. It’s just empirically wrong, because there are many people of faith who accept evolution. And many scientists who are people of faith.
Right. Well, there are those of us who are religious skeptics who say that that might just mean that, you know, you could teach evolution and be a believer in Orthodox religious claims and might just show that people can be inconsistent. But I definitely see where you’re going with that as we finish up your time with us here on point of inquiry, I just want to ask you, what can our listeners do if they want to get involved and help defend science and science education in America?
At NCOIC, we have, in cooperation with the American Institute of Biological Sciences, have established a series of listserv in just about every state. Information is sent out to people within each of the states that list serve to inform them about what’s going on with the creationism and evolution controversy and puts them in touch with other people in their state and communities who are also concerned about this issue. And so if any of your listeners are interested in this, they should go to our Web site and click on the information link there at the bottom of the front page.
That’s in CSC Web, dawg.
Correct. Go to W-W w that NSCLC Web dot org and click on the information button and we can put you in touch with your state’s listserv. And obviously you can also we’d be happy to have you join NCSA clearly. And we also have a weekly creation and evolution update that’s very informative. And we’ll help keep you abreast of developments around the country. And you can sign up for that on our front page as well, Jim Underdown.
You’re also contributing to Cyclopes Creation Watch Web site, correct?
I am trying, but unfortunately, I have been quite derelict in my duties there. It’s been it’s been a busy few months.
I can imagine well, one of the problems our in quotes movement science advocates face is that there’s too much to do and not enough of us to do it. Thank you, Dr. Scott, for being on the show.
You certainly are welcome.
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Each week on point of inquiry, we bring you a segment we call from the pages of where we highlight one of the publications that come out of the Center for Inquiry this week. It’s from the pages of Free Inquiry magazine. I’d like to let you know that you can get a copy of Free Inquiry Magazine, a magazine celebrating reason and humanity by calling one 800, four, five, eight, 13, 66 and mentioning point of inquiry. This issue of free inquiry features an editorial by Ibn Work, the acclaimed scholar of Islam and dissident Muslim himself. An essay entitled Apostasy is a Human Right. Hector Avalos has a feature article entitled Twisting Scripture When Translators Distort the Bible. In addition, there are commentaries, an op ed by Paul Kurtz, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Nat Hentoff and Garrett Ludeman. So I invite you to avail yourself of this opportunity to get a free copy of free Enquirer magazine by calling 800 four or five eight 13, 66. Free Inquiry Magazine is the only magazine of its kind devoted to really digging in to these issues at the intersection of religion, ethics and culture.
Point of inquiry contributor and Skeptical Inquirer managing editor Ben Radford is now going to bring us a segment entitled Media Mythmakers, offering criticism and insight into how the media sometimes deceives the public.
This past year was a rough one for much of the world, especially those hit by natural disasters over the past few months. As I’ve listened to American victims of natural disasters, I’ve noticed a peculiar entitlement in their comments and indignant that they should somehow be subject to the tragedies and hardships the rest of the world indoors. Tragedies occur all the time across the globe in just the last six months. Millions of people have been devastated by earthquakes in Pakistan, floods in India and landslides in Guatemala. Many Americans didn’t hear about these disasters because we had problems of our own. Yet we seem to forget that hurricanes don’t just appear at our national borders. Often, cities and countries around the Caribbean have been flooded out and blown away by hurricanes long before Americans feel a drop. I feel badly for the hurricane victims. I donated money to help, and I’m glad I did. Citizens should rightly expect assistance from their government, but any help is not a basic human right, especially after disasters of this magnitude. As the crises mounted in the facades crumbled, the mighty American power was laid bare as a soggy paper tiger. There was a lot of criticism of how the American government and especially FEMA responded to the disaster. But I think the government generally did the best it could. Sure, there was incompetence, especially by Bush appointed FEMA director Michael Brown. But the disaster victims expected too much, too soon. Much of the pain the victims felt was caused by the Gulf between their expectations and what emergency services could realistically provide. The famous and distinctly American can do attitude has misled people into thinking that America can quickly and easily solve its problems. But America is not nearly as efficient, powerful and capable as we tell ourselves and the rest of the world. It’s natural to focus on our own tragedies. But there’s a big world outside our borders and regularly suffers disasters. Most Americans will never know. Perhaps some IPOs reflect that what they have lost in the course of a few terrible days is more than many people around the world will have in their entire lives. Americans complain the victims had to live at the Hilton and Marriott four months after the disaster. People complained about not being able to get through to insurance companies. They complained about long lines to file for federal assistance, and then they complained that their FEMA checks were late. You know what? American hurricane victims should be thankful that our government is rich enough to send the money and provide them with food, shelter and clothing. If they lived in most of the other two hundred and forty two countries around the world, they get little or nothing at all. Hurricane victims around the world don’t get a check from FEMA for thousands of dollars. They don’t get free food and a temporary trailer. The tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and other countries were not put up in hotels and given government checks. They didn’t have insurance. They didn’t have American bank accounts to help them rebuild. While I feel badly for the victims, let’s put this in perspective. No American hurricane victims starved or froze to death. Some victims complained that weeks after the hurricane, there were still without electricity or clean running water. Yeah, that’s what happens in devastating natural disasters. People are killed. People are left homeless and with electricity. Welcome to how two billion people around the world live. I’ve been to huge slums in the Third World, seen families in Africa and South America living in dirt floor shacks made of cardboard, scraps of wood and plastic sheeting. To these people, the standard of living is not a transition. This is not a temporary situation. This is how they grew up and spent decades of their lives. People talk about learning lessons from these disasters. Maybe the lessons America needs to learn are those of humility and gratitude instead of complaining that the help you’re getting isn’t enough or isn’t coming fast enough. How about being thankful that you live in a country that’s able to help you at all? John Lewis, a Georgia congressman, wrote about the American hurricane victims in a piece for Newsweek. He said, quote, I went to Somalia in 1992 and I saw little babies dying before my eyes. This reminded me of Somalia. But this is America. We’re not a third world country. This is a national disgrace. Lewis took the wrong lesson from his travels. His heartfelt, indignant words betray a uniquely American arrogance, an unspoken assumption that Americans are inherently superior to the rest of the world and deserve better. Is America really so much better than Somalia? If Americans do not deserve this treatment? Do Somalis or Pakistanis or Guatemalans? It wasn’t just American lives that were shattered in our national disasters. It was also the myth of American invulnerability and superiority. Perhaps in the end that’s a good thing because it may lead us to see life in a more global perspective. Ultimately, we’re all citizens of the world and we should begin acting like it. As John Dunne wrote, each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for the. Think about it.
Views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Although we loved that piece, Ben.
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I’m joined again in the studio this week by Paul Kurtz, father of the Secular Humanist Movement, which seeks to emancipate people from ancient prejudices to secularize society and to develop a truly planetary civilization in which every person has equal dignity and value. Paul Kurtz is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As Chair of Psychology at the Council for Secular Humanism and Prometheus Books and is editor in Chief of Free Inquiry Magazine. Paul Kurtz has advanced a critical, humanistic inquiry into the most sacred cows of society for the last 40 years. He’s a fellow of the Triple A-s and has been featured very widely in the media. The author of 45 books. His latest is Affirmations Joyful and Creative Exuberance. In this third part of our three part series entitled Can You Be Good Without God? Paul Kurtz explores with me what secular humanist values are.
Yes, and the central value, I think, is affirmation. You ought to affirm life. Life is good. Don’t escape from it. Worrying about the afterlife. Live this life here and now. It’s intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake. And have you not discovered that unless you can, the secret of life is to achieve happiness, exuberance, creative and joyful wisdom.
Paul, some people say if there is no God, life is meaningless. You’re saying exactly the opposite, that life is meaningful even though there isn’t. Well, there is a God.
Life is not painting full in mice. It seems like a myth perpetrated upon people were afraid to enter into life and really live it fully. No, I think life is meaningful and it’s what you make of it that counts. What is the meaning of life? My students ask me. And I say life has no meaning per say. Life is full of opportunities. The meaning of life is what you give to it. The plan, the projects, the dreams, the aspirations, the achievements, the friends that cherish experiences that you have.
So no absolute meaning, but meanings having to do with our lives as we live.
Yes, each individual is a wonderful being. Each and one individual has dignity. And for you and you have to appreciate that. So I think self appreciation is important. It’s not selfish. And so I begin with this notion of the autonomy of the individual. Look, don’t give in to what others demand. Don’t become a slave. Be independent. Be self-reliance. Had ever said yes. And so it’s the independence of the freedom of the individual to be himself or herself. That’s the first principle. And unless if you don’t discover that, if you’re only willing to obey what other people tell you, the dictates of a religion, unless you’ve wasted your life. Life is wonderful. It’s wonderful. And so many people fly for that recognition in the last two segments.
The last two times you were on the show, Paul, you talked about where values come from and that they don’t come from outside of humanity, but come from within humanity based on our experiences. I want to ask you now, what are specific values that the secular humanist advances that are different ethically from what the religious person advances?
Well, I think we share many of these values with others. But Central, I think is this notion of living a significant life in Whicher is creative joy and satisfaction in your own terms and in relationship to others. So it’s the fullness of life that I think is the basic value and not the escape from life. What worries me. I deplore so many people waste life in quest of elusive myths that are perpetrated by theologians and ideologues so that it’s a recognition that look this precious thing, life. That’s the first film. There are other values, of course, as well. And I think we can enumerate them. Creativity, achievement, appreciation of the needs of others, love in relationship to others, empathy, cooperation. There’s so many values, all human values.
The values you’re enumerating hardly sound controversial. Who would disagree with valuing creativity as part of the good life?
Well, humanism is human. And the war against what it means to be human is what I deplore historically. Yes. If you’re a human being that you discover these things, if you’re allowed to do so with freedom and autonomy and independence and take responsibility for your own life.
So when your cultural competitors rally against secular humanism, what are the values that alarm them? Surely they’re not saying down with creativity.
I think many of them are emphasized faith, authority, custom, tradition, dogma, obedience, and the many of the great religious talk about obedience to this ancient dogma. And I say I focus on independence, creativity, discovery, exploration, adventure. All of these defy what it means to be human, being a human person, to enter to the world, to exalt in the world, to change it and to find it good.
Paul, you just celebrated your 80th birthday. I know I’ll get scolded for mentioning that. But in your celebration here at the Center for Inquiry were read comments from many of the world’s leading thinkers and intellectuals, thought leaders celebrating your life, a nonreligious, emphatically non-religious life, a life that’s advanced for 40 plus years, a secular ethic. In our remaining time, I want to ask you some specifics. I want you to enumerate specifics about your secular ethic.
What are the things that I cherish that I find here, that I enjoy, that I find worthwhile? Well, I think scientific knowledge and. Truth, discovery and investigation, I think moral deeds at cooperation, loving others and sharing works of art, music and poetry and to take it back to the ethical realm specifically.
All. That’s an ethical statement. We’re all good. All of those are good. So this life for so many and they’re worth is rising and going after in their own terms.
In their own territory. Yes. And that’s my point. What’s the secret of life? Life itself. And what’s the key point to prize? So must many aspects of human experience. It’s a it’s a realization. It’s fulfillment. It’s the living of life itself without fear and torment and anxiety and worry, without squandering it. And that’s that’s why I’m saying to every person, look, don’t escape from freedom or autonomy. Seize your life and live it fully. Exalt lustily. My theme song is Freude Up Beethoven’s Ninth. Joy. Ninth. Joy. Joy. Joy. Yes. Can we discover joy? Why are so many people miserable? That puzzles me. Yeah, I’m puzzled too.
I don’t hazard a guess on air, but yeah, it is. It is a puzzle. Why so many people who think they found the secret to life salvation are miserable. They’re miserable. They’re sad sack.
So I’m talking about the ethics of joy, joy free herself as an individual to exalt and to live life bursting at the seams. Also, Joy, because other people are happy finding joy in other people prospering. I am happy if someone I know is happy. I am sad of some of this is themselves the. So I. I do what I can not only to find good on my own terms, but to, if you will, distribute goods to others. So we have an obligation to other human beings and other sentient beings than older humans, but animals and so on on the planet Earth. Your conclusion only.
Caused me to have a thousand more questions, we’ll have to have you back on the show to explore what you’ve called planetary ethics, because in your conclusion just now, you talked about distributing goods.
Yes, I think that the what is true of the 21st century is we recognize that beyond nation states, beyond that this ethnicities, beyond race or creed, we’re all part of the earth, the planet Earth, and we have an obligation and duty to preserve that planet and to develop a world civilization which everyone can participate.
Paul, thanks for joining me on the show this week. I want to remind our listeners that you can purchase a copy of Paul Curtseys book, Affirmations, Joyful and Creative Exuberance on our Web site Point of Inquiry. Dawn.
Thank you very much. Thank you, D.J., for raising a thousand questions.
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Thanks for listening, did this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for my discussion with Dr. Joe Nichols, Cyclopes senior research fellow. He’s an expert in investigating paranormal claims. And he’s going to talk about specific cases he’s dealt with regarding ghosts and haunted houses. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site at point of inquiry dot org.
Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed by Michael Quailing.
Contributors include Tom Flynn, Paul Kurtz, Benjamin Radford, Joe Niccolò and Sarah Jordan. I’m your host, DJ Grothe.