“See, fossils! That’s science.” So says Megan Fox, self-identified creationist homeschool mom, Tea Partyer, blogger, and Latest YouTube Sensation.
We’ve taken plenty of museum trips here at ILBYGTH: to the Institute for Creation Research’s museum in San Diego, to the big Creation Museum in Kentucky, and even to a medley of creation and mainstream science museums. Now there is a new option: Take a trip to Chicago’s Field Museum with Megan Fox. In this half-hour video, Fox explains all the problems with mainstream science.
Plenty of commentators have blitzed Mrs. Fox with insults. More interesting will be an attempt for those of us outside the creationist community to find out what this creationist thinks about mainstream science.
I’m no creationist-basher, but Mrs. Fox does seem to have an unpleasantly loud and in-my-face personality. Predictably, bloggers have teed off on her “expose” of mainstream science at the Field Museum. Atheist PZ Myers called Fox “Smug and Stupid.” At Dangerous Minds, she was called a “blithering idiot,” and worse.
I would imagine that many of the intelligent creationists out there wouldn’t have chosen Fox as their ideal spokesperson. But what if we watch her museum tour as a chance to learn more about her creationist vision of science? Historians have worked hard—maybe too hard—to explain the philosophical underpinnings of creationist and Protestant fundamentalist science.
Many agree with George Marsden, who has argued that at heart, fundamentalist science hearkens back to the scientific principles laid down in the 1600s by Francis Bacon. As Marsden wrote in Fundamentalism and American Culture (2006 edition, pg. 59):
the role of the interpreter, according to the same Baconian assumptions, was not to impose hypotheses or theories, but to reach conclusions on the basis of careful classification and generalization alone.
Other historians have agreed. Mark Noll, for example, argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (pg. 197),
Creationists regularly reaffirm the principles of Baconian science: no speculation without direct empirical proof, no deductions from speculative principles, no science without extensive empirical evidence.
Perhaps the most careful student of conservative Protestant encounters with mainstream science, Jon Roberts, argued similarly in his 1988 book Darwinism and the Divine in America (pp. 41-42 of that first edition from the University of Wisconsin Press),
Nonscientists were also enamored of the Baconian method, for they believed that it was the surest route to the certainty they associated with science. Asa Mahan, a prominent philosopher who served as the first president of Oberlin College, presented in 1872 a typical statement of the prevailing view within the American Protestant intellectual community: ‘Science is knowledge systematized. Into a scientific process, nothing but what is absolutely known can enter.’
Is this what Megan Fox is doing? More interestingly, which term fits Fox better: “blithering idiot” or “Baconian loudmouth”?
I think a better term for Fox’s scientific vision is one used by historian Ted Davis. Though the roots of Fox’s attitude toward proper science may have originated in Baconian principles, it seems misleading to suggest that Fox selected a Baconian framework out of thin air. Like most of us, Fox’s ideas of proper science seem to come from a mix of sources, some of them only dimly understood.
Of course, it is not only creationists who practice “folk science.” As Dan Kahan argues, there is not much daylight between creationists and non-creationists when it comes to actual knowledge about evolution. Most of us have only the vaguest grasp on the real meanings and implications of mainstream science. Unlike Mrs. Fox, however, most of us are willing to learn mainstream science when we go to the Field Museum, not try to pit our folk-ish understandings against the efforts of mainstream science educators.