6/01/2008

THE MAGIC WORD IS BEAUTY

This is the conclusion of PZ Mwahaha's urbane rumination on how to best promote scientific literacy, especially the understanding of evolution. PZ gave this talk at the end of the 2008 'Integrating Evolution, Development and Genomics' symposia which I attended last weekend. PZ had a lot of interesting things to say, and I hope that he'll 'do the right thing' and eventually put a transcript of all his remarks up for people to consider.

PZ says, in part:

  • Blog about science!
  • Write letters to the editor, and op-eds, about science!
  • Write books about science! *
  • Make movies about science!
  • Support your local science teachers!
  • Don't debate creationists in public, but do discuss things with them. Creationists are not all stupid. Many of them want to reason with you, and you may find many of them reasonable and able to consider a different point of view.
These are all good pieces of advice, but he saved his 'magic trick' on how to communicate ideas in all these forums for the conclusion of his talk. It's worth sharing:



I took this on a Flip video recorder, and the uncompressed audio (other than an inadvertent chuckle from yours truly) is a little low. Turn your speakers up, and see if you don't start nodding your head in agreement.

* Gentle reader, I encourage you to urge PZ to follow his own advice here with some (gentle, remember?) teasing. He needs to write that book!

**And, since I'm urging you to urge him, that no doubt makes me.....wait for it...... PZ's Demiurge.


11 comments:

Stan said...

I see PZ more as a promoter of hatred than of science. If one must accompany the other, then ultimately science will choke on the hatred.

A question. Is science a necessary and sufficient condition for Atheism and the attendant ridicule and personal attacks that Atheism produces? If so, as PZ projects, then science has a very dark side, one to watch very carefully and to afford some fear.

I believe that science is ill served by PZ. Science is only one way to knowledge, and it is no way at all to wisdom. Atheism - PZ's main product - is not science, nor is it scientific in the sense of being provable by science. Since science cannot conclusively prove that there exists nothing beyond material existence, it (science) is limited.

The limitations of science will not be found coming from a source such as PZ. Nor is PZ a source of wisdom. The need to promote science is only a single need within the education community; there are many more, and science is not even a dominant force in the world of human affairs. However, Atheism is.

As Fred said, "In the sciences and their rampaging child, technology, we are as remarkable as we think we are. Yet it is as if all our mind and heart have focused on these, leaving nothing for other endeavors. Among civilizations we are as specialized as Sparta, an idiot-savant.

Today "information" is king, having usurped "wisdom" with the sheer power of ubiquity. Science doesn't need the help so much as rational and critical thinking do. Those and an accurate view of history, how we as a civilization got where we are, the perpetual fallibility of man, and the wisdom that knowledge confers.

muse142 said...

Stan: PZ sure might be a jerk.
But that doesn't make him right, or wrong.

Fred Phelps sure might be a jerk.
Pat Robertson sure might be a jerk.
Richard Dawkins sure might be a jerk.
Rush Limbaugh sure might be a jerk.
Al Franken sure might be a jerk.
But that doesn't make any of them right, or wrong.

Say that PZ's an asshat when he's talking about religion, and I'll agree with you. (I'll say the same thing to you about Pat Robertson, and I'm sure you'll agree.) But say that you're not going to listen to another word he says, lalala I can't hear him anymore, and then I'll ask why we should listen to you, since all you did is point out the man's personal flaws and not mention his position on promoting science?

I'd agree with you about "information" superseding "wisdom" in American culture (George W. Bush is a prime example). But don't let that muck up the scientific method. You can say anything you'd like with statistics, but actually separating good information from bad and applying it in a useful way is the very definition of wisdom. Science can help that.

And very cool post Monkey Trials. I couldn't get the video to work right :(. Good to see some other Pharyngulites around.

muse142 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis N said...

I'll do my best to break down teh st00pidz that hurt me the most.

A question. Is science a necessary and sufficient condition for Atheism and the attendant ridicule and personal attacks that Atheism produces? If so, as PZ projects, then science has a very dark side, one to watch very carefully and to afford some fear.

Clearly this person already distrusts science. First, no, it's not necessary OR sufficient. atheism stands on it's own and has been around since we evolved brains. Second, atheism does not produce ridicule or personal attacks. People do. As an aside, atheism is much less effective at disassociating people into in-groups than religion any way you look at it.

I believe that science is ill served by PZ. Science is only one way to knowledge, and it is no way at all to wisdom. Atheism - PZ's main product - is not science, nor is it scientific in the sense of being provable by science. Since science cannot conclusively prove that there exists nothing beyond material existence, it (science) is limited.

Science is only one (the most effective, also) way to knowledge and wisdom. There's no reason it can't arrive at wisdom. Either way, the unspoken false dichotomy here is that if science fails, you gotta trust in religion. Stan forgets philosophy and art and music and socialization.

I can agree science is limited to material existence. But Stan is assuming without any reason that there IS more to existence. What is this based on? In the end, Stan is saying that science is limited to everything we know and have ever known. I'm ok with that.

science is not even a dominant force in the world of human affairs. However, Atheism is.

This one just hurts the brain. Science is one of the most dominant forces on the planet. I'm not even gonna take the time to address that, it's almost a given. I'm flattered that Stan thinks atheism (why does he capitalize it?) is a dominant force. But I don't see it. What is atheism doing on the world stage?

As Fred said, "In the sciences and their rampaging child, technology, we are as remarkable as we think we are. Yet it is as if all our mind and heart have focused on these, leaving nothing for other endeavors. Among civilizations we are as specialized as Sparta, an idiot-savant.

I don't see this backed up. So we don't produce art, music, literature, or philosophy? Or are you saying we're just less religious? I don't think the whole of our culture is focused on producing new technologies.

Today "information" is king, having usurped "wisdom" with the sheer power of ubiquity. Science doesn't need the help so much as rational and critical thinking do. Those and an accurate view of history, how we as a civilization got where we are, the perpetual fallibility of man, and the wisdom that knowledge confers.

Explain the difference between information and wisdom. If not by science, how else will we learn an accurate view of history, the birth of civilization, and more knowledge? Science is it. Religion does nothing but imagine ideas and never test them.

ptgalt1 said...

Stan wrote:

"Since science cannot conclusively prove that there exists nothing beyond material existence, it (science) is limited."

Religion cannot provide any shred of evidence that there exists anything "beyond material existence" (whatever that's supposed to mean), much less provide us reliable information about such non-thing things. It, too, is limited. Religion also makes all sort of ludicrous truth-claims about material existence: sorcery works, the Universe was created 6,000 years ago, the world is haunted by spirits, angels, demons, djinn, etc., Hanuman carries mountains and Moses parts seas.

Given its track-record when it comes to the things we can observe, why should we grant religion any credence with regard to things we can't, especially when the True Believers all disagree with each other on what lies "beyond material existence?"

David Cognito said...

Stan,

I think your post is borne more out of fear than anything else. You fear science because it encroaches on your belief. PZ is an effective communicator, so he becomes a focus for your fear. It's understandable.

At various times religion has claimed that gods were responsible for earthquakes, tsunami, plagues, that the sun orbited the earth. An astonishing number still believe the earth is ~6000 years old and that all life popped in to existence at the wave of a magic wand.

Science has demolished all of those beliefs and thereby removed gods from the equation. For many, it's enough to start questioning the truth of the religious texts and therefore the existence of gods.

Almost every story I've read (I've read many) from those who have de-programmed their religious beliefs have express great relief of a burden lifted. They have also been able to appreciate the full wonder of the universe without the constraints of the celestial dictator imposed on them as children.

Keep following the science and you may come to recognise the beauty of it.

JM Inc. said...

Science is rational and critical thinking developed to an art. And what is this "wisdom" you're talking about? Where does it come from? Either it, too, comes from rational and critical thinking, or it doesn't (in which case its veracity cannot be relied upon).

Atheism isn't exactly a dominant force in world affairs - unless you want to talk about the fact most religions worship different gods, or drastically different interpretations of ostensibly the same god. If, on the other hand, you're talking about blanket atheism of all sorts of gods, whereas pretty much the premier, and only, major world association representing atheism as a coherent force in international politics is the International Humanist and Ethical Union which has a mere few hundred member organisations and represents no more than a few million, mostly unofficially associated supporters of the Humanistic atheist life stance.

Dennis rightly pointed out that atheism involves vastly less sectarianism than almost any religion, and PZ is certainly not a proponent of hatred. The whole point of atheistic, Humanistic politics is to let people believe whatever they damn-well wish to believe, as long as they don't interfere with one another on inappropriate grounds, something all too common in today's global political climate.

Unfortunately, it's just this sort of insistence - that the world somehow runs on ill-defined other qualities than scientific information, like "wisdom" or "knowledge", which, again, critical thinking demands of us that we ought to interrogate as to what these things consist in, and where they come from, something not even touched upon here - that is one of the main problems with the modern world, and with traditional religious enterprises to begin with. There exists this infatuation with "wisdom" and "knowledge" as though we all knew what they were. We don't.

The truth of the matter, as people like PZ well know, is that science indeed does need defending from exactly this sort of hypocritical sophistry. But then again, if you don't understand the concepts of rationality and critical thinking to begin with, it's difficult to see why science would need defending from anything in the modern world.

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

As an aside, I've been looking at the Flip video camera as a something that's simple to use, quick to bring into action and cheap enough that having it broken or stolen would not be a big deal. One question: is the recording quality we see in the YouTube clips the same as in the original?

Ron Sullivan said...

Thanks for recording and posting this!

It was good almost meeting you the other night. Joe and I spent the rest of Friday and Saturday covering a conference up in Davis, about climate change and urban gardening. As you might imagine, large parts of that were less than cheerful. Getting just a taste of the "Wheee! Isn't this fun?" that motivates us both was a tonic we needed right then. We're both glad we managed to put our shoes back on and hoof it over to Jupiter.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Actually, I think that YouTube, in the process of uploading the video, processes the audio--which in my case was a good thing. On the original Windows Media clip that I made, PZ wasn't all that loud and there's one point where I chuckle at something he said, and I'm WAY louder.

But I just heard the audio on YouTube and now PZ is quite a bit louder and my chuckle quite a bit less so. So it appears that there is a bit of compression at work. Again, that's a good thing.

Stan said...

I made additional comments yesterday, but they never made it through the moderation process. If you guys would care to continue the conversation you can join me at my place . I appreciate your calm demeanors and thoughtful statements. Hope you will come on over.