Asking questions in BioLogos and NCSE media

It is apparent that RDFRS materials not only exhibit an Asking Questions recurrence rate exceeding those found in any other counter-creationist or Darwin-skeptic materials, but they do so with a substantial concentration of scornful, negative rhetoricals. Alternatively, BioLogos and NCSE communications most commonly exhibit neutral questions. These are used as expository devices by writers merely to move articles from one subject to another. For instance, BLF contributors ask audiences, “So what’s the issue?”, “What’s up with that?”, “So what’s the bottom line?”, or simply “Why?”, in order to emphasize important concepts and conclusions.126 Though such cases are the most recurrent expression of Asking Question in BioLogos and NCSE media, erotema and hypophora are also occasionally used to criticize Darwin-skeptics within BioLogos articles. Mark H. Mann does so while asserting that the “anti-scientific attitudes among some Christians are grounded in an unbiblical theology that was rejected by theearly church.” After relating these unbiblical ideas to Gnosticism, he then ponders rhetorically:

Are these the kinds of things we find many Christians today affirming about the world, about science, and about divine revelation? Are there Christians who believe that science cannot be trusted because of both the irreparable fallenness of the world and the extent to which nearly all those who practice science have been corrupted by sin (except, of course, for the chosen few who possess special gnosis and who therefore are able to do ‘science’ correctly)? I believe the answer to this, sadly, is yes.127

While also considering antievolutionists, in an article entitled, “Would You Like Fries With That Theory?” Giberson maintains, “Ideas championed by small bands of isolated outsiders should be viewed with suspicion and challenged with a very reasonable question: If these ideas are so compelling, how come so few really knowledgeable scientists accept them?” Cynically he then asks, “And why are their champions outside the scientific community?”128

As with BioLogos media, NCSE cases of Asking Questions appear mostly as a mechanism by which authors draw attention to topics, or shift between connected themes. Accordingly, contributors ask such rhetorical questions as, “What is the solution?” or “The bottom line?”129 These queries also occur within negative appraisals of Darwin-skeptics. For instance, an NCSE press release probes: “The evolution wars are over, right? Scopes was finally vindicated, creationism was booted out of the classroom, and a new president in his inaugural speech issued a clarion call to ‘restore science to its rightful place.’ ” The writer then promptly conveys the answer to audiences: “Wrong. Evolution education is being battered every day in school districts across the U.S. by creationists, whether they’re pushing young-earth creationism, intelligent design, or antievolutionism in the guise of ‘academic freedom.’ ”130 Likewise, rhetorical queries are employed within critiques of governmental decisions or legal actions that could manage to shelter Darwin-skepticism:

  • • “Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?”131
  • • “Is learning about evolution dangerous to kids’ health? One Mississippi legislator thinks so, introducing a bill that would force school districts to slap a warning label on high school biology textbooks.”132
  • • “The Institute for Creation Research claims that its new School of Bible Apologetics is ‘exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’ - but is it?”133

Questions such as these attempt to prompt reflection on Darwin-skeptic activities and draw attention to the academic support enjoyed by the National Center for Science Education. This is exhibited in a 2009 NCSE press release discussing Project Steve, the NCSE’s parody of antievolutionist

Casting doubt and conspiracies 129 attempts to publicize lists of alleged Darwin-skeptic scientists.134 To persuasively demonstrate the diminutive nature of such antievolutionist catalogues, the NCSE’s rival project features an inventory of only those scientists supportive of evolution who bear the given name, or related variation of, Steve/ Stephen. The article then articulates:

Is evolution in crisis? Do reputable scientists disown it? No way, Chuck. Proof positive? The continued growth of Project Steve, the booming list of scientists named Steve (or Stephen, Steven, Stephanie, Stefan, Etienne, Esteban . . .) who support evolution and reject creationism.13

In this way, Asking Questions cases are, on occasion, linked with Source Cues.

Even so, an overarching trend across the census of Evolution Wars media, particularly within antievolutionist and New Atheist communications, is the use of negative rhetoricals to deride opposing individuals and ideas. Such hostile queries are asked not truly for their answers but for their effects, and they punctuate the apparent folly of rivals and their ways of thinking. In doing so they may engender the mental processing of communications, as well as provoking audience interest in the source delivering the messages in which such questions appear. Interestingly, the negative tone of many of these rhetoricals also calls to mind Aristotle’s peroration guidance mentioned at the outset of this chapter. The philosopher’s epigrammatic remarks on the use of rhetorical questions was made in the context of criticizing an opponent, and, in the case of the Evolution Wars, rhetoricals are oftentimes applied in this manner. Additionally, while referencing these sorts of questions, Aristotle noted: “Our case may also be closely compared with our opponent’s; and we may either compare what both of us have said on the same point, or without direct comparison: ‘My opponent said so-and-so, and I said so-and-so on this point for these reasons.’” Alternatively, he explains, an orator may use comparisons sardonically, specifying to audiences, “He said this and I answered that; what would he have done, if he had proved this, and not simply that?”136 Apparent in Aristotle’s instructions, then, are negative rhetoricals used in combination with persuasive comparisons. Many Evolution Wars spokespeople are correspondingly not only wont to employ negative rhetorical questions, but they cohere with The Art of Rhetoric’s guidance by also comparing and contrasting their own position with that of their competitors. It is with the persuasive strategy of direct comparison, described in the next chapter, that both Darwin-skeptics and proevolutionists attempt to further drive home their communicative attacks.

 
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