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Friday, July 21, 2006

Do theists have a harder time with objectivity than others?

Recently, I was interviewed at Canada's BookExpo for "You Better Believe It!", an episode of Beyond the Book, a book TV program hosted by the affable but penetrating Chris Keneally. The program airs at various times in various places.

Here are a couple of questions and my responses:

KENEALLY: When we met before the discussion, you told me about the dilemma you face, and we discussed the dilemma you face of being a journalist and a Christian, more specifically a Roman Catholic. Can you tell us what that means, and how does objectivity, or not, fit into that?

O'LEARY: Well, I'm not sure I have more of a dilemma than anybody else. Everyone works from a perspective, whether you're a materialist, Buddhist, a Christian, a village atheist, you work from a perspective. But anytime you work from any perspective you always have to remember that the people who read what you write may be operating from a different perspective.

So the challenge I have is to make sure that when I use words I make clear how I'm using them so that people are not taking away a message that I never sent.

It's the basic problem that everybody has with e-mail, right? You bang off the e-mail, and then you read in the sent mail, and you realize that the person who gets this is going to have a completely different idea of what you were trying to say, and perhaps not even a very favorable one, from what you actually intended to say.

Now, fortunately, books take a lot longer to write than e-mails, so it's not as big an issue as it could be. ... I re-read my work and ask, does this word mean to everyone what it means to me?

KENNEALLY: The other thing that you are very fervent about is independence. You mentioned that that's important to you. You're a blogger as well, and I believe that being an independent blogger is a critical element in the work you are doing. Tell us about that.

O'LEARY: Well, first off, most bloggers value independence. I didn't invent the idea. The beauty of a blog is you can do it all yourself, so if you want to say something and anybody wants to hear you, you can just blog it, say it, and then get all the angry e-mails later.

But actually the main thing that concerned me with respect to independence was that I found by experience that many major media operate according to formulas, and sometimes the formulas don't fit.

KENNEALLY: Give us an example.

O'LEARY: Well, for example, the intelligent design controversy has grown very considerably over the last ten years and has now hit the Catholic church.

KENNEALLY: Maybe you can tell us, just for those who might not recognize that, intelligent design stands for what exactly?

O'LEARY: Oh, the idea that universe shows evidence of design as well as law and chance.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean you have to believe in God. Plato didn't believe in God, and he thought that the universe showed evidence of design. However, if design is real, then it's a factor in the universe.

Now, the Pope basically started talking recently, including in his inaugural sermon at his first mass, about that human beings are not merely random products of evolution, which is as much as saying that he plans to get involved in the intelligent design controversy on the side of design.

Now, the American media in particular responded in a very interesting way. They started quoting this obscure Vatican astronomer who was criticizing him, apparently not realizing that this person, while he has interesting ideas, and I'm glad that he was given a chance to air them, in fact has virtually no influence at the Vatican.

So that's the sort of thing I mean, that because I had studied up the issue for a while I knew who's opinion would actually be important and who would be allowed to have a say, but basically just was not a voting member so to speak.

So the advantage of being independent, like I blog and I can say what I want, is that I can present things as I know them to be from my own research. I'm not going to have an editor saying, well, you can't say that because our audience isn't going to understand it. My own response is I'm going to try and make it as simple as possible because I think they should understand it, because they're not going to have a good grasp of what's happening here if they don't.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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