You know you must be doing something right when both the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research get on your case! These two outlets of religious-centered non-thinking vehemently attacked my recent post on the inanity of choosing Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate -- which focused on her positions on teaching (she supports “equal time” for Creationism) and censorship (she has attempted to remove “offensive” books from a public library, going so far as threatening a librarian with being fired).

The Discovery Institute blog, Uncommon Descent (how cute!) called me “a worrisome character” because I dared to suggest that education is not about having kids debate “the two sides” of every issue (to begin with, because there often are more than two sides, and straightjacketing the discussion in that way commits the logical fallacy of contrived dualism). Dave Scot, at Uncommon Descent picked up on an analogy I gave about the silliness of the “two views” doctrine and commented: “Massimo doubts that the science establishment can present the evidence for a round earth, like live satellite images, well enough to let children use critical thinking skills to decide if the scientists have made a compelling case.” Ah, so indirect observation now is enough to convince children (or anyone) of a scientific notion, is it? Well, we can observe evolution and natural selection happening under (indeed, inside, in the case of the influenza virus) our very noses, but still 50% of Americans refuse to accept it. Fossils are readily observable by anyone who cares doing so, but of course they are dismissed as the handiwork of the devil. Surely Mr. Scot is aware that some (“adult”) Americans reject images “allegedly” generated by space missions (like the ones to the Moon) as fabrications by a conspiracy-prone government, so why on earth would one trust satellite photos of the round earth? That’s the beauty of faith-based worldviews: they are impervious to mere facts.

Even more amusing is Christine Dao’s commentary on the ICR’s web site, whose title is “Palin slammed for supporting open debate” (if there is anything we have learned recently about Sarah Palin is that she is a vindictive politician who cannot bear dissent, let alone encourage open debate). Ms. Dao deserves to be quoted extensively to be appreciated: “Logic and evaluating evidence are tools used to analyze the world around us, and so far that same logic and evaluation has led many scientists and others to believe that the evidence speaks of a Creator God rather than random chance and natural selection.” Oh really? Which scientists would those be? The faculty of the ICR, who has to swear allegiance to a literalist interpretation of the Bible to be kept in employment? I don’t recall being forced to sign a document committing me to Darwinism when I was hired at Stony Brook University. Maybe it was in the small print.

Again, Dao: “Limiting how the evidence can be interpreted puts educators in the interesting position of not teaching students, but instead conditioning them to recite the ‘correct’ answers without a second thought to other possible explanations.” Except that I advocate the teaching of critical thinking skills, so that students can in fact inoculate themselves -- of their own accord -- against the nonsense propagandized by the Discovery Institute and the ICR. But critical thinking takes time to learn, you don’t just serve up two options without tools for assessment and say “here, you decide.”

More from Dao: “Individuals such as Pigiliucci [sic] have taken their cue from Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Meyers, and other evolutionary supporters in their active condemnation and ridicule of anyone who doesn’t agree with their own platforms.” First of all, if anyone thinks I have much agreement with Richard Dawkins they have not been paying attention (as for P.Z., I have discovered him many years after I started writing about these things, back in 1997). Now, the charge of ridicule is one that needs to be carefully assessed, however. I take the position that most people who believe in creationism are victims of blind religious propaganda and of the failure of our education system (though the roots of creationism are of course much more complex than just that). They, therefore, deserve consideration and help (in the form of good science education). Demagogues like Scot and Dao, on the other hand, are willfully engaging in a concerted effort to undermine the use of reason in our society, an attitude that among many other things has given us eight disastrous years under a “commander in chief” who belittles expert advice while thinking with his gut (which apparently advised him to support “equal teaching”). This same anti-intellectualism may well give us several more years of an even worse version of the same in Sarah Palin. It is people like Scot and Dao, and a fortiori their sponsoring organizations, that deserve to have all the ridicule that thinking people can amass heaped on them.