Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Expunged!

Scientific American gives a nicely thoughtful review here of Ben Stein's Expelled!: No Intelligence Allowed, the creationist celluloid delusion that will be entering a smattering of theaters on the 18th unless Jesus returns first.

As I've said before, it's on the question of evolution that I have the least patience with evangelicals, because it shows evangelicals at their most nakedly and willfully ignorant. But this movie in particular shows the absurdity from its very premise: Ben Stein goes around to various evolutionists and scientists (who, by the way, were lied to in order to obtain their footage, as P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins have chronicled) and the repeated upshot is: If these scientists are so interested in theories, why are they so unfairly biased against the theory of intelligent design?

The most obvious question to ask such people is, "What fucking evidence do you fucking have for a single fucking element of your alleged fucking theory?" (Sorry. I told you this made me impatient.) Over and over again, in this movie (to judge from the reviews) and on innumerable websites and other writings, the pattern goes something like this:

a. evolution teaches that process x works in some specific way;
b. but here's an example of this process failing, and science can't explain it!
c. Therefore, God exists and Genesis is scientifically accurate.

I trust you can see the huge-ass leap being made here. But the creationist articles and stories (and the Creationism Museum) all tend to end with

d. Also, evolution is immoral, and that's why we have moral chaos like the Holocaust.

This is another easily dismantled argument. (if God provides morality, how come entire countries with no God--such as Buddhist Japan--are actually lower in crime than average? And if the only reason people are good is because God will punish us if we don't behave, then doesn't that mean that human beings really DON'T have any inherent value?) But it exhausts me to do so, because as I've shown in other posts, the answers aren't even the point.

What evangelicals really want in the evolution "debate" is to be able to nakedly assert the superiority of the Bible over against the knowledge we've actually amassed over the last several centuries--which is why the obvious compromise (to admit that evolution makes sense, but to assert that God set evolution in motion), which should technically satisfy evangelicals, is dropped as anathema. This isn't about science. This is a power play to try to get the rest of the world to worship the Bible the same way evangelicals do.

Of course, evangelicals don't see it this way--it's not like a conspiracy. What's happening from the evangelical perspective is that everyone seems to be adopting a scientific worldview that the evangelical finds morally uncomfortable. They shouldn't be troubled by it, but an evolution-based ethic, while not exactly hard to derive (we're all from the same stuff, we're not all that different from each other, therefore the Golden Rule is a sensible way to run things), it's still more subtle than the Bible-says-x system that evangelicals are accustomed to.

To put it another way, evolution's sin is not that it is obviously immoral. Its problem is that it introduces gray areas into our understanding of human life, and the evangelical, with her belief that humans are morally corrupt, can only assume that this gray area will be exploited to the worst possible effect. (That in many ways our life has improved--women's rights expanding everywhere, mostly no more slavery anywhere, greatly improved health and life expectancy, etc.--has little argumentative effect on people who are determined to worry.) If they had a little more faith in human decency, they'd be able to stop worrying so much--but of course, if they had faith in human decency, they'd stop being evangelicals.

I don't really have a solution to this, obviously. But I do think that the way to start is to quietly and patiently defuse the phantom fear that is animating the evangelicals' desperately wrongheaded assertions. But you can start with the facts, too. Maybe if they become rightly embarrassed about claims about a 6,000-year-old earth, an actual worldwide flood, and all the rest of the myths they helplessly literalize, we can at least have this conversation less often in public, and it'll retreat to the ghetto of the coffee-and-donuts narthex from whence it should never have escaped in the first place. Yeesh.

Sorry if this was angry. I really do have a hard time being patient with this stuff because it's all so embarrassingly weak and so obviously wrong. I want evangelicals to be worthy intellectual adversaries and proud participants in our cultural conversation. Evolution-didn't-happen is just amateur hour. Jesus deserves better from his alleged friends.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous patrick said...

just saw Expelled; the fact that Ben Stein isn't trying to win any popularity contests helps to validate his message... i gather that his goal is to promote free thought, especially more thinking about worldviews that drive American academia

4/23/2008 5:31 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Is it safe to suggest that you, patrick, are a creationist? Because I can't see his argument--the leap from c.) to d.) in particular that I noted in the blog post--convincing anyone who really WAS interested in free thought.

And I think that's the main thing that frosts me. It would be one thing if he had some kind of reasonable point that wasn't getting heard--as if creationism were the equivalent of the electric car or the vaccine theory of autism; something that's not in favor but which deserves to be looked at scienfitically.

But what Stein has to sell is a completely unscientific counter-theory. Instead of doing what scientists say ("We're not sure how Process X works, so we'll have to experiment some more") Ben Stein says "We're not sure how Process X works, so God must have done it by magic, P.S. The Holocaust." It's the opposite of science; it's playing a completely different game whose very premises are deeply wrongheaded and absurdly flawed.

If he were really interested in actual truth, wherever it leads, he wouldn't have had to lie about all of the alleged "victims" of Darwinism. He wouldn't have had to trick Dawkins and Myers into appearing on camera. The producers wouldn't have barred P.Z. Myers from coming to the screening. And so on. That all sounds, not just like propaganda, but propaganda that's not sustainable in the public sphere; an idea that's too weak to stand up without help.

There's a case--a weak one, but a case nonetheless--to be made that the science of evolution has potential to cause us moral harm. That I can sort of understand. But to say that the science itself is flawed, and to claim that creationists (who believe, after all, in unproveable magic) are actually respectable researchers with important results that are being hushed up...well, that's just crazy talk.

Find a way to prove creationism (like, sudden jumps in our genomic history, or human bones in the Jurassic period, or radioactive decay that proves a young earth), and work on THAT, for God's sake! Until then, you're just lying to yourself and hoping no one notices. It's a travesty of science, and it's irresponsible and ignorant to pretend otherwise.

4/23/2008 8:07 AM  

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