Evolution Icon Evolution
Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

We Get Poor-Mouthed by the National Center for Science Education

To “poor-mouth” means using claims of poverty to try to manipulate other people. Paleontologist Donald Prothero visited the offices of the National Center for Science Education — our Darwin-lobbying friends whom we love more and more by the day — and came back with a fundraising pitch for the NCSE that made me think of the wonderful Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” skit. In the skit, four well-to-do gents try to outdo each other with increasingly absurd tales of childhood poverty.

Writing at Skepticblog, Oxidental College’s Dr. Prothero complains:

This bête noire of creationism occupies a small, rundown, poorly ventilated commercial space in a rough part of Oakland, surrounded by fundamentalist churches. Their tiny staff is paid a pittance compared to most academic or business salaries, and they occupy cramped cubicles cluttered with piles of work.

We looked up the NCSE’s address on Google Street View. There’s indeed a church across the street and, relaxing in an apartment building entrance around the corner, some presumably “rough” youths — or so a visitor like Prothero might assume if he assumed African-American youths in general are rough. On the other hand, NCSE shares a building with a fancy architectural design firm, so you wonder how “rundown” the commercial property really could be.

It hardly matters, but what did amuse me was Prothero’s attempt to contrast NCSE’s virtuous poverty with the Taj Mahal-like conditions of Discovery Institute’s Seattle office. As he describes it, Discovery occupies a “gleaming headquarters,” “a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff” — a description in which every term is fictional excerpt for “building” and “downtown.” What is the truth?

Alert: The Following Paragraph Contains Poor-Mouthing

Well, since you ask…Even to call DI’s home an office building is not quite accurate. Our neighbor, across a roof space littered with seagull bones, is an informal gym where the sound of enormous barbells and oversized truck tires being dropped on the floor again and again is the nearly constant accompaniment to our work. A visitor from out of town was sitting with us the other day when a particularly loud crash shook the walls. He thought it was an earthquake, the Cascadia Subduction Zone tearing loose at last. He started heading for the exit till I called him back and reassured him.

According to Prothero, “Over and over again” Discovery Institute complains about “how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do,” “the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science.” This too is ludicrous, but canny as fundraising. You want to make people feel that the organization casts a large shadow despite operating on a shoestring budget.

Even sillier is Prothero’s literary allusion-making. He calls his blog post “A Visit to the Creationists’ ‘Mordor'” and there are repeated references to how “creationists” see NCSE as the evolutionary equivalent of Tolkien’s ultimate symbol of lying, power and evil. Well, insofar as the NCSE whispers in the ear of gullible clergy and religious folk, assuring them there’s no conflict between believing in God and believing in Darwin, that’s deceptive all right.

But it’s hard to imagine Sauron, the Dark Lord, pulling an inept blunder like getting mixed up with 9/11 Truther and anti-Semitic conspiracy nut Jim Fetzer, or heavily promoting the leaden Darwinist documentary No Dinosaurs in Heaven. The latter (judging from the trailer) picks on and pummels an African college professor for being pro-intelligent design. I still can’t get over the name of the film’s production company either, Jezebel Productions, named for the villainous Biblical queen, the Colonel Gaddafi of ancient Israel.

No, if you wanted a metaphor from the Lord of the Rings, the NCSE doesn’t remotely resemble Sauron or Mordor. More like the ultimately pathetic Grima Wormtongue, perhaps? Yeah, that’s it.