My recent post Scientific “authority” gave an example of writing which claimed scientific “authority” but was actually religiously motivated – although that was not admitted up-front. I think this is quite common. People will take up a stance, or write articles, in which they are motivated by religious belief – but don’t acknowledge this. Or even attempt to hide it.
A recent short article by Amanda Gefter (How to spot a hidden religious agenda). discusses this problem. She faces it in her job as a book reviews editor at New Scientist: “I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda.” Of course this agenda is often a creationist one. Gefter offers “a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science’s clothing.”
“Red flag number one: the term “scientific materialism”. “Materialism” is most often used in contrast to something else – something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of ID frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.”
“Misguided interpretations of quantum physics are a classic hallmark of pseudoscience, usually of the New Age variety, but some religious groups are now appealing to aspects of quantum weirdness to account for free will. Beware: this is nonsense.
When you come across the terms “Darwinism” or “Darwinists”, take heed. True scientists rarely use these terms, and instead opt for “evolution” and “biologists”, respectively. When evolution is described as a “blind, random, undirected process”, be warned. While genetic mutations may be random, natural selection is not. When cells are described as “astonishingly complex molecular machines”, it is generally by breathless supporters of ID who take the metaphor literally and assume that such a “machine” requires an “engineer”. If an author wishes for “academic freedom”, it is usually ID code for “the acceptance of creationism”.
“Authors with religious motives make shameless appeals to common sense,” and how often do we here science ridiculed by “common sense.” Claims like no monkeys have had human babies as an argument against evolution.
Gefter points out “If common sense were a reliable guide, we wouldn’t need science in the first place.”
She finishes her article with some good advice:
“It is crucial to the public’s intellectual health to know when science really is science. Those with a religious agenda will continue to disguise their true views in their effort to win supporters, so please read between the lines.”