Friday, November 30, 2007

D'Souza Warps History, Again

In yet another apologetic column pimping his book, we once again see Dinesh D’Souza retreat to the vagaries of history to make his arguments rather than dealing with the reality of the day. The reason he does this is twofold. First, since history educations sorely lack here in the states, he can weave vast tapestries of fiction and not have to worry about most of his audience noticing. They want to believe what he says, and they aren’t educated enough to know better, so they make for an easy sale. Second, he gets to take advantage of the fact that the world has changed dramatically in Europe and America in the last few hundred years, with atheism being far more acceptable today than in even the recent past. It is easy to make one’s case seem reasonable by citing authorities from the past that held the same view, except when it is noted that practically everyone then, genius and idiot alike, thought along those lines. Saying it is reasonable to be a creationist in 2007 because Newton had some creationist leanings in 1695, would be like saying it is reasonable for a college football coach to run the wishbone based on the fact that 20 years ago many respected coaches did so. Human knowledge, be it philosophy, science, or football, progresses. What was acceptable in the past is often not acceptable now.

So when he addresses the conflict between science and religion, one only a blind man could miss, he retreats into history because he knows he can’t win with the current reality. But with the past, one he can massage into any shape he can imagine, or emphasize what were trivialities as if they were major events, and with an ignorant audience, he can take a shot at making it appear they haven’t been in conflict. Watch how he twists and turns to avoid the obvious: that science and religion are, and by their very nature always will be, at odds.

He begins by implying that the impression many of us have about the conflict was the result of a couple of books of “atheist propaganda”, and the subsequent repetition of the arguments made there:

”About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks.”

This is quite a remarkable claim, especially when one notes how arcane and basically unknown most of the arguments he lists are. And the ones that he does correctly list as a common example of religion vs science, he twists into shapes that would make them barely recognizable to those familiar with the events in question. He dismisses the common belief, supported by Biblical quotes, that the earth was flat, by pointing out, correctly, that educated people, such as Aristotle, knew the earth was not flat. This is illogic at its most obvious. That would be like arguing that creationism is not driven by religion because some religious people accept evolutionary theory. He mentions a supposed exchange between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce that, even if true, would not prove the religion vs science case. It is the fact that Bishop Wilberforce, like so many religious leaders since, opposed the science of evolution, that makes the case, not whether Huxley delivered a zinger in a debate.

But it gets even worse. From there he descends into MSU (Making Shit Up), by claiming we scientific types have spread the myth that Darwin’s theory was immediately supported by scientists and resisted by Christians. He rightly notes that there were serious scientific objections to evolution at the time, such as the perceived shorter lifespan of the sun (cleared up with nuclear theory), and the lack of a mechanism for inherited traits (resolved with the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics). This we have all known, and I defy D’Souza to document a single example of a prominent defender of evolution making this argument. He can’t of course: MSU doesn’t allow for documentation. And none of that, even were it true, would change the fact that the Christian world was nearly universally opposed to evolution, and in large part still is! That D’Souza could expect people to believe that Christian opposition to evolution has grown significantly since Darwin is the height of hubris.

From there he fixates on irrelevancies in Galileo’s story, such as whether he really dropped weights off the Tower of Pisa (he didn’t), whether he or Copernicus first proposed heliocentrism (Copernicus did), errors Galileo made in explaining the tides, whether Galileo was funded by the Church (sure, as long as he came to conclusions that met with their approval), and whether he made claims that went beyond the evidence (he did). All correct Dinesh, and all completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that Copernicus had his theory published posthumously in fear of what consequences awaited him FROM THE CHURCH were he to publish while he was still alive, and Galileo’s experience confirmed that fear. The Church may have had legitimate beefs with some of Galileo’s more grandiose claims, but the fact is, as evidenced by its long resistance to evolution, the Church is not ultimately concerned with scientific evidence, but with supporting the faith. That continues today.

Oh, D’Souza actually tries to claim the Bible does not conflict with evolution. Try not to read that claim with a mouthful, and if by chance it doesn’t appear absurd to you, simply read Genesis next to a good biology text and note that they differ in practically every factual statement.

And as the cherry on top of this daiquiri of dissembling is, well, I’ll just let Dinesh bury himself with his own idiocy:

”Galileo Was A Victim of Torture and Abuse: This is perhaps the most recurring motif, and yet it is entirely untrue. Galileo was treated by the church as a celebrity. When summoned by the Inquisition, he was housed in the grand Medici Villa in Rome. He attended receptions with the Pope and leading cardinals. Even after he was found guilty, he was first housed in a magnificent Episcopal palace and then placed under “house arrest” although he was permitted to visit his daughters in a nearby convent and to continue publishing scientific papers. “

That’s right, his cage was a nice cage, so it doesn’t count. I wonder if D’Souza agrees with his conservative Stablemate Michael Medved that slavery wasn’t so bad. One can be forgiven for being staggered at the sheer chutzpa of D’Souza, ignoring all the obvious examples of religion resisting science, from the belief that disease was caused by demons, to resistance to evolution, to the anti-vaccination crowd, to the resistance to birth control. Hell, right below this column on the same damned website is an article about religion standing in the way of science with regard to stem cell research. One can only wonder how much effort D’Souza made to find so many obscure, completely irrelevant, points to make to avoid the obvious reality even a cursory glance at society and history will reveal: science and religion are competing epistemologies, one proceeding by evidence and falsification, the other by authority and faith. They may occasionally reach the same conclusions, but they are, at their core, opposed, and they always will be. As to which is superior, simply observe the parts of the world that place religion above science, vs those that do the opposite. The pattern is clear, at least to everyone except D’Souza and those that don’t understand history enough to see through his MSU.


Harriet said...

Just a thought: consider D'Souza's intended audience.

In my opinion, he is really writing a cheerleading book for the fundies; sort of a "don't let Dawkins get you down" type of thing.

His stuff really isn't intended to win over educated, informed people, though I suppose that Mike Huckabee would like his book. :-)

ScienceAvenger said...

Of course, which is why I think it is important to dissect his cheerleading so that when his ignorant minions trot it out they get trounced.

The general argument is pretty simple: D'Souza hides in history, because he can lie with impunity there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I think I am starting to see evidence of an almost unreasonable hysteria against anything that hints of religious beliefs.

Evidence of this is the statement: "They may occasionally reach the same conclusions, but they are, at their core, opposed, and they always will be."

Some atheists are starting to sound as unreasonable in insisting of the "facts" being something they can NOT prove (God does not exist) as those who insist that every syllable uttered in the Bible is infallible.

While the infallible Bible crowd might be described as being at one end of the spectrum, atheists who attempt to prove that the evidence already proves God does not exist are at the other end of the spectrum and just as unreasonable to many of us who sit somewhere in the center.

I think that someone who describes himself as an agnostic (rather then an atheist) is being more then reasonable as long as they will "reasonably" continue to appraise reality if God seeks to prove that He does exist to them.

Would you accept this "statement of scientific truth"? If God does not exist, it is impossible to scientifically prove this lack of existance. If God does exist He should be able to prove His existance so that it would be unreasonable for a person who is not delusional to continue to insist there is no God?

If you would accept such an above "statement of scientific truth" I guess that would make you an agnostic and not an unreasonable atheist.