One of my commenters has pointed out to me that the transcript of the O'Reilly segment I discussed yesterday is available online here. So now I can give you the exact quotes from the segment. We consider it in full:
O’REILLY: Top Story Tonight. Spurred on by the ACLU and other so-called freedom groups, a nationwide controversy has erupted over teaching Intelligent Design in public school biology classes. Intelligent Design is the belief that a higher power created the universe. Some Americans want it taught alongside evolution. In the Dover, Pennsylvania school district, teachers wouldn’t even mention Intelligent Design, so today the District Superintendent had to do it. Lawsuits are flyin’. Joining us today is Michael Grant, a Professor of Biology at the University of Colorado.
See, I can’t understand, as a former high school teacher myself, why you can’t just say “Well, some people believe there’s a deity and the deity formed the universe and things progressed from there?” What would be wrong with that, Professor?
This is the standard equivocation about the meaning of the term “Intelligent Design.” O'Reilly is using the term for the minimalist claim that there is some designing intelligence behind the universe. This allows him to paint his opposition as a bunch of crazy atheists. Of course, this minimalist claim has nothing to do with evolution at all.
I'm sure O'Reilly would not approve of telling students, say in a discussion of the geological causes of the recent tsunami, that some people conclude from events like this that the world is not superintended by a loving God.
In the Dover, PA case, ID refers to a specific collection of challenges to modern evolutionary theory. Those challenges should not be discussed (not favorably anyway) because they are wrong. The science teachers in Dover have enough integrity not to lie to their students, and that is why they refused to read the statement in question.
GRANT: Well, my view of what would be wrong with that is it’s not science. And that’s not the place to talk about those kinds of things. The proper place to talk about those kinds of issues is in comparative religion. It’s in the philosophy classes. Biology classes should be science.
Exactly right. After all, many people look at the facts of nature and conclude there is no God. Does O'Reilly want that to be mentioned?
O’REILLY: OK. But science is incomplete in this area of creationism, is it not?
GRANT: Science is always incomplete in all areas.
O’REILLY: Well, I don’t agree with that. Science is not always incomplete and I’ll give you an example. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Alright. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science. So you can state things with certainty in biology or any other science you want. However, if I’m a student in your class and you’re telling me, well, there might have been a meteor or big bang or there might have been this or there might have been that, I’m gonna raise my hand like the wise guy I am and say “Professor, might there be a higher power that contributed to the fact that we’re all here?” and you say - what?
Of course, Grant gave the answer that any scientist would give. Whatever branch of science you are working in has open questions. That, after all, is why people continue to do research.
But O'Reilly's response makes it clear that he was losing his grip on reality. He seems to interpret Grant's statement to mean that science is just an endless mishmash of guesses and hypotheses, with anything like certainty being a hopelessly unattainable goal. Thus, in his mind he can prove Grant wrong by showing that there are certain facts in science.
Now, evolution by natural selection is as much a fact as anything else in science. By O'Reilly's definition, it would indded be “complete science.” But in O'Reilly's mind evolution is a grand theory about the origins of everything. Since there is most definitely uncertainty about that question, O'Reilly feels justified in bringing up God as a plausible hypothesis.
Compared to what is coming, these are the insights of a scientific genius.
GRANT: I say that’s something you need to question, you need to think about, you need to discuss with other people. You need to do that in the proper class. In the biology class we deal with science, with the natural world and what fits our conventional concepts of science.
O’REILLY: But, what if it turns out there is a God and He did create the universe and you die and then you figure that out? Aren’t you gonna feel bad that you didn’t address that in your biology class?
GRANT: Well, to quote a famous quote ...
O’REILLY (overtalks all words): ‘Cause then it would be science, wouldn’t it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would be science, wouldn’t it, sir?
Any thoughts on how to respond to something that stupid? I'm trying to picture Grant preparing himself for the interview, trying to anticpate things O'Reilly might say during the segment. I'll bet he didn't anticipate that one!
GRANT: If it meets the convention standards - whatever it is you’re referring to - meets science, then I certainly would be convinced. And, until and unless that happens, I’m going to go on teaching what I see is current science.
O’REILLY: Alright. See. I think this is a narrow-minded view, with all due respect, that you are holding. But I must point out to our viewers that most academics agree with the professor. Alright. It’s pinheads like me that cause trouble. Now. Cloning of human beings. It’s never been done that we know of. Would you agree with that?
And, sadly, I think a majority of the people agree with O'Reilly.
Basically, the problem is this: Science has been so successful, and religion so unsuccessful, at explaining the world and tending to people's physical needs that science is now the standard against which truth claims about nature are evaluated. Thus, if you want to make an assertion about the natural world and be taken seriously about it, you have to defend your assertion in scientific terms.
But for most people, God's existence is as much a fact of nature as anything else. Therefore, God should be part of science.
Most people couldn't care less about the day-to-day work of scientists. They neither realize nor care that actually the job of the scientist is to go into the lab or the field and come out with useful results. If you try to point out to them that theories based on the supernatural are not helpful, they give you a funny look. What helpful? It's true, therefore it's scientific.
Had Grant had more than two seconds to respond to O'Reilly's insanity I'm sure he would have pointed this out. That's what he had in mind, I suspect, in talking about conventional standards of science. But to O'Reilly and many of his viewers, talk of “conventional standards” is equivalent to setting up arbitrary rules for the purpose of keeping God out. That view is delusional, but no less common for that.
GRANT: To the best of my knowledge, it has not yet been done. That’s correct.
O’REILLY (overtalks the last 8 words): OK. Now. Do you not talk about cloning of human beings in biology class? Do you not talk about the possibility that may come about in the future?
GRANT: In certain special classes and the bioethics classes, we definitely do talk about that....
O’REILLY (overtalks last 3 words): Yeah. It’s not science, sir!!
GRANT: ...whether it could or should be done. It’s very much science.
O’REILLY: Yeah. It’s not science, is it?
GRANT: There’s an enormous amount of science in it.
O’REILLY: It’s not!
O’REILLY: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! It’s not science. It hasn’t been done.
GRANT: Yes, it is.
O’REILLY: So, by your theory in the creationism deal, you shouldn’t talk about that at all, because it hasn’t been done, it hasn’t been proven, nothing’s happened there!
As is often the case, the transcript does not do justice to what actually took place. Those who watched the segment saw O'Reilly in full ridicule mode here.
More to the point, does anyone know what O'Reilly is talking about here? All Grant said previously was that there are certain conventional standards of science that guide researchers in their work. Where did O'Reilly get the nonsense about cloning not being science (whatever that means) because no one had done it yet? Had Grant said anything that could even be misinterpreted to mean that?
GRANT: That’s not the definition of science and I never said that was the definition of science - that it hasn’t been done and it hasn’t been proven. What I’m saying is that we use conventional information about what our best understanding of the natural world is at this point in time. Of course it can change. I can give you lots of examples of where we have to change. That’s the nature of science. It does not take a biblical or any particular source as unchanging truth. We continually test. We continually monitor. We continually change.
O’REILLY (overtalks last 6 words): I wouldn’t teach the Bible. I - see, I agree that I wouldn’t say “Look, you guys should read Genesis and do the Adam and Eve nuh” - if I were professor of biology, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t do that. But I would say “Look, there are a lot of very brilliant scholars who believe the reason we have incomplete science on evolution is that there is a higher power involved in this and you should consider it as a scientist.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, Professor. And I think the people like the ACLU, who don’t want you to mention it in your biology class, are the Taliban. I think THEY are the ones that are infringing on the rights of all American students by not allowing that to be at least considered. I’ll give you the last word.
O'Reilly has a lot of nerve. When a handful of carzy leftists go to a Bush protest and liken Bush to Hitler, O'Reilly wails about the cheapening of our discourse. On the same show we are discussing above O'Reilly took a PETA representative to task for their recent ad campaign comparing meat consumption to the Nazi holocaust. Too extreme, he said. Yet he thinks nothing of likening the ACLU to the Taliban. Just lovely.
Incidentally, loyal O'Reilly viewers will recognize the line “I'll give you the last word,” as O'Reilly-speak for “I'll let you say one more sentence before cutting you off and telling the world you're an idiot.
GRANT: I think it should be considered in the classes that I mentioned. But you don’t start from the premise that Dembski, who’s one of the leading members of the Intelligent Design group, says. [Reads] “As Christians, we know naturalism is false.” If you start from that premise ...
O’REILLY: Nah. I wouldn’t do that.
GRANT: ... you’ve abandoned science.
O’REILLY: Sure. I mean ..
GRANT: Well, that’s one of your leading Intelligent Design individuals.
O’REILLY: But it’s not me! And I’m sayin’ you guys are all wrong by not allowing a biology class to consider the universe in all the forms that it may take. Professor, we appreciate your point of view. Thanks very much.
As I said yesterday, these chat shows exist for the sole purpose of aggrandizing their hosts. What O'Reilly understands that many of his guests do not understand is that talking to his viewers is like to talking to babies: It doesn't matter what you say. All that matters is the tone you use. You will never be able to nail someone like O'Reilly because he works completely unfettered by any regard for the truth or the facts. All that matters is that he is the one talking most of the time and that his tone is one of complete confidence.
All of cable news and all of talk radio is like this. The only comforting aspect of this I can think of is that O'Reilly is by far the most successful cable host and he only gets about three million viewers a night.