I think that science is, in general, a good thing. While it is possible to show that science has done far more harm than some of its more one-eyed supporters claim, the good outweighs the bad. Of course, some foolish commentators think science has no moral status, that it is "the disinterested pursuit of knowledge." Quite how the atom bomb, eugenics and pollution have no moral facet escapes me. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support the interested and morally respectable work of most scientists.
So, an ideology that seeks to prevent scientists from doing their work is a bad thing. If that ideology backs up its claims with violence and intimidation, it is a very bad thing. In fact, here in the UK it is the biggest threat to science. Is it creationism? Of course not. Who has ever heard of creationists engaging in arson, grave robbery and assault. Most of them wouldn't say boo to a goose. Which is odd, because if you listen to the rhetoric of Dawkins, Grayling and their ilk, you might think that creationists are a serious obstacle to science.
In fact, the biggest threat to science are animal rights fanatics. In the last year, they have successfully prevented my university from building a new lab to carry out lifesaving medical research. They are presently engaged in a campaign where all the dons and students of Oxford are fair targets. I'm writing this in Oxford and I can't say the atmosphere of fear is palpable. Oxford students are too laid back for that. But it is a constant subject of concern and has further increased the security here.
Why, then have the so-called guardians of science not used their formidable public profile and powers of polemic against the animal rights crowd? I think there are a number of related reasons. First, it probably is fear. Frankly, I would not invite these guys down on my neck by making public attacks on them (Hang on, this is a public attack. Yikes!). Second, in the case of Dawkins and Grayling, their hatred of religion far outweighs their love of science. As I have said before, they want to encourage creationism so as to use it to beat Christians with. Their rhetoric all points towards a primary concern for atheism and not evolution. Third and most disturbingly, their philosophy is a direct support for animal rights fanatics. I have no doubt Dawkins deplores their activities, although it would be nice if he actually said so from time to time. But he also using fallacious concepts like 'speciesism' to downgrade humanity and provide intellectual ballast who for those who prefer children dying of leukemia to rabbits dying in their sleep. The worst offender is Peter Singer who, whether he likes it or not, is the major philosophical influence of the animal rights movement. He has always been slow to attack their violence and occasionally appears to support it.
Still, next time you are assaulted by someone who things it is worth losing much sleep over creationism, remind them about animal rights. I don't know for sure, but I expect rather more animal rights fanatics sign up to atheism than sit down on pews.
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