I follow Dr. Steve Matheson’s blog Quintessence of Dust very closely, because as I have read what he posts I have found that he has a high level of integrity, and also provides an extremely high density of information in carefully chosen words. Recently he has been posting on the topic of just how one refers to false statements from people who ought to know better.
I appreciate the attention he has been giving this issue, because non-specialists have no choice but to trust the integrity of credentialed scientists, at least in the basic data they present. Interpretation is always a different matter.
Today he has a post On folk science and lies: Back to the basics, in which he digs further into this topic. It’s partially a response to this post by a colleague of his at Calvin College, Kevin Corcoran. Both posts are well worth reading. I provide the second link for those who may not follow all the links, but might I recommend you read this second post when you get to it’s link in Steve’s post? He provides a nice break point so that you can read the second post in context.
I made the following comment, which I’m reposting here, again for the benefit of those who won’t follow the links:
I think you are doing a good job with a difficult topic. The problem is in determining the nature of a statement and the intent of the author. Perhaps that should lead us to call statements “false” rather than “lies.”
I still have a concern here, however. Remember I come at this from a different direction. I’m a Bible teacher and writer at the popular level. I try to communicate things that I study from more serious scholars. At one time I thought I could basically trust information from RtB, even where I might disagree with conclusions.
What I hear from people in the classes and seminars I offer is that they are getting their information from Christian sources, and specifically from Christian sources who claim strong scientific credentials. These same sources are directly or indirectly accusing the vast majority of the scientific community of a conspiracy to deceive. Because of the claim to be Christian and scientifically credentialed, these non-specialists accept their claims.
Hugh Ross falls into that category of trust. I can name any number of people with whom I work who will accept his statements or statements of his associates simply because of his reputation. What responsibility does that place on him? Is there a point where a qualified Christian expert (such as you, Steve), should call him on what he is doing?
It’s not so much the word “lie,” though I continue to have difficulty understanding how a biologist could say certain things that have been quoted here on your blog unintentionally. At a minimum they seem to me to involve negligence.
I take blog posts here, or books by Christian authors whose integrity I have no reason to doubt, and quote the counter-statements. Not being a specialist (it’s not written in Greek or Hebrew!), it’s hard for me to judge.
But from my non-expert’s point of view, that’s what makes the issue of integrity so extremely important. Integrity doesn’t mean always being right, but it does mean being careful, presenting the truth as best one knows it, and acknowledging errors when they are pointed out.
As I have been on the wrong end of some very unChristlike comments, and unfortunately I’ve been guilty of some myself, I’m very conscious of that issue as well. If we can be very, very clear as to what is reliable and what is not without going any further than necessary in making personal accusations, that would be ideal.
I very much appreciate your efforts in this area. If you determine you’ve deviated from the path you set for yourself, you have also clearly demonstrated a willingness to be corrected and to acknowledge errors. All of that gives evidence of your personal and professional integrity.
I remain uncomfortable with this topic, but I regard it as of great importance. I’ll be interested in any comments made here or there.