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June 17, 2008 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Via The Friendly Atheist and the New York Times, this blog post and this article explain two instances of a very, very unsettling new phenomenon.

A frightening new era of political correctness - about religions - erupts on college campuses, to the dismay of those who value academic discourse, academic freedom, and critical analysis.
posted by kldickson (93 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm more immediately concerned about the frightening new era of editoralizing in FPPs that this post seems to herald. Do we really need you to chew our food?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:46 PM on June 17, 2008 [14 favorites]


Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 PM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Kittens for Breakfast is correct. No editorial needed.

How would you react if a religious person had posted the same links with the phrase "very, very, uplifting new phenomenon"?
posted by tadellin at 12:50 PM on June 17, 2008


Plus, it's not an article. It's an op-ed.
posted by heydanno at 12:52 PM on June 17, 2008


The emphasis is on the shying away from critical analysis, tadellin.
posted by kldickson at 12:52 PM on June 17, 2008


Strangely, I feel neither unsettled nor frightened. I'm a little uplifted actually. Thanks for the afternoon pick-me-up.
posted by genefinder at 12:53 PM on June 17, 2008


And tadelin somehow knew that I would be uplifted.
posted by genefinder at 12:54 PM on June 17, 2008


"Indeed, it seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith."

In another deeply unsettling and frightening new trend, water is being described as "wet."
posted by optovox at 12:55 PM on June 17, 2008 [11 favorites]


As a secular humanist, I've had no problems working in a Catholic institution for, oh, around four years now. I dunno. I'll grant you, it's not frightening, or dismaying, or anything, but we seem to get along ok. The priests are nice guys; sometimes we get together for a light dinner, and we talk about stuff. Religion rarely comes up.
posted by boo_radley at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2008


People on the left who go on about the "new era of political correctness" sound just as idiotic as people on the right who go on about the old one. A straw man is made of straw no matter what direction he leans.
posted by dersins at 12:58 PM on June 17, 2008 [8 favorites]


Most of the people from my generation and younger--I'm 25--are more thoroughly and effectively indoctrinated by the mass media and consumer culture than any other generation has ever been. Those younger than myself often don't even have the benefit of having a relative around who grew up before the rise of mass media, as I did. Is it surprising that after going through thirteen years of "education" and listening daily to shrieking, shouting, singing, clanging advertisement, these students have not developed the strength of character and patience of spirit to stop and think about what they think?

After all, producing thoughtful introspection isn't the goal of most parts of modern society, and it certainly isn't the goal of modern religious indoctrination.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:59 PM on June 17, 2008 [9 favorites]


I saw something like this when I was a university student in the mid-70s. One fellow I knew and sometimes worshipped with sat a lunch with me and told me he didn't need to think about anything, since God had already told him everything he needed to know in the Bible. When I asked him what he was doing at a university, where the whole idea was to learn to think, he couldn't give me a good answer. I was busy learning to question everything and loving it. I found that some tenets of the faith I'd grown up with were outlandish, but by and large, I questioned and found answers that led me to remain in that faith.

To think that questioning something automatically leads to its rejection is silly. Not everyone who follows a faith tradition is a mindless sheep, even if an uncomfortable number of believers choose to live that way...
posted by lhauser at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Also, you did your post backwards.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2008


The editorializing is annoying. Defending the editorializing also happens to be annoying.

But anyway, hey Christians! It's me, roll truck roll. We go to church together. All of that stuff about professors who flunk students for believing in God? It's an urban legend. I just thought you should know.

To me, this really seems like a black-and-white example of how letter grades do nothing for education. I'll bet you $10 Gina had a scholarship that required maintaining a certain GPA. She might have learned something in that class, but instead she got scared for her grades and got her religion involved.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Defending the editorializing also happens to be annoying.


It concerns me how uptight people get about editorializing in FPPs, it is a form of political correctness right here on MeFi - I enjoy FPPs with POV's, this is not Wikipedia, the real world is one giant POV soup - writing that is banal, neutral tone with no personality I often want to take a nap (for which I need instructions). Kldickson's post is perfectly fine.

posted by stbalbach at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2008 [17 favorites]


Hey you kids! Get off of my lord!
posted by srboisvert at 1:07 PM on June 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sorry, this is in no way "new."

It does suck, but it's sucked for some time now. And, speaking as an atheist, I've also seen this behavior from atheists taking religious classes or enrolled in faith-based organizations and schools.
posted by lekvar at 1:09 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


It concerns me how uptight people get about editorializing in FPPs, it is a form of political correctness right here on MeFi

Okay, the definition of "political correctness" is not "when someone objects to something but I think it's okay." Let us make this clear right now.

The reason why editorializing in FPPs is frowned upon is that the site isn't trying to be a political hack. The big problem with picking a POV in a case like this one is that, holy shit, maybe not everyone thinks this story heralds the downfall of western civilization.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:10 PM on June 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Thanks to freindlyAtheist this is even more scary: https://www.buytalkingjesus.com/?cid=541396
posted by njohnson23 at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's unsettling about this? And I hate to burst your bubble but this isn't by any means a "new" phenomenon. Its not even really a phenomenon. Religious debate in the public square is about as old as our race.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:15 PM on June 17, 2008


Any responsible curriculum for the study of religion in the 21st century must be guided by two basic principles: first, a clear distinction between the study and the practice of religion, and second, an expansive understanding of what religion is and of the manifold roles it plays in life. The aim of critical analysis is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices — though some secular dogmatists wrongly cross that line — but to examine the conditions necessary for their formation and to consider the many functions they serve.

Well said.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:17 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Eh. Tempest. Teacup.
posted by chimaera at 1:17 PM on June 17, 2008


Neither new nor "very, very unsettling." It's a pain in the ass, sure, but people who get all spastic about this have no sense of history.
posted by klangklangston at 1:22 PM on June 17, 2008


I am unconcerned with Pat has this guy often on his show to show how theh most of this but as usual annoyed by J. S., the hit man (Jews for Jesus convert, I believe) who fronts for Pat Robertson's law school (77 club) ...Jay often on Pat's tv show to inform believers how they are fighting the good fight against godless America when it tries to deprive true believers of their god-given rights. The breathless patter from Jay is funny.
posted by Postroad at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2008


I object to people who object to objections over editorializing in FPPs! I'm not fer it I'm agin it!

That said, Taylor's story is unfortunate, but it seems as though he stood his ground successfully.
posted by Mister_A at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


maybe not everyone thinks this story heralds the downfall of western civilization

..but, I don't see that statement or even sentiment in the FPP.

reason why editorializing in FPPs is frowned upon is that the site isn't trying to be a political hack.

True, but I'm not seeing "hacking" going on here. Hacking would be if it was a non-mainstream POV, a viral idea or perspective. The vast majority of people would agree that religion has no place in higher education (as defined by the linked articles). kldickson is simply echoing common sense that most of us, who believe in secularism, would agree with. He added a little dramatic flourish such as "frightening new era" to draw readers attention, a hook, but I think most of us are mature enough to recognize that for what it is.
posted by stbalbach at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't comment on the blog thing as we seem to have broken it.
posted by Mister_A at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2008


Is it surprising that after going through thirteen years of "education" and listening daily to shrieking, shouting, singing, clanging advertisement, these students have not developed the strength of character and patience of spirit to stop and think about what they think?

Actually, it is kind of surprising -- I mean, obviously you have strength of character, as evinced by your post, despite being raised in a similar environment. I think blaming the environment surrounding these folks is not a complete answer, then. Perhaps it is a bit more that if a person would rather not think for themselves, mass media, religion et al make it easier for them to drown out their own thoughts with noise and false certainty.

Nevertheless, there have always been people like this, and always will be, just like every other type of person out there. It is in our reactions to and/or accommodations of people who would rather avoid critical thought that we define how we're all going to get along (or not.)
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on June 17, 2008


Uh, Postroad? Are there some words missing from your comment? I usually wouldn't snark, but I really am curious about what you were trying to say.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Take it to metatalk, you fucks.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


By the way, I'm not saying religious people have no willingness or capacity for critical thought. That a subset of religious people cannot or will not think critically is no more surprising or noteworthy than a non-religious person who cannot or will not. However, religion is one of many areas that presents an attraction to those who do not or will not think critically. There are many others.
posted by davejay at 1:31 PM on June 17, 2008


I had a similar experience in a philosophy class when I was in school except that instead of a Christian, a press release, and a B grade, it involved an Objectivist, some pointing and laughing, and the dropping of the class.

Philosophy 101 is a sieve. There's never been a worthwhile semester of it, anywhere, that didn't involve someone's feelings getting hurt over being forced to examine their own beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are. That some fraction of those folks will complain, and that some fraction thereof will complain vociferously and shop it out to interested activists, isn't really surprising.
posted by cortex at 1:32 PM on June 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


Has the thread-closing, pointless religion v. secularism fight started yet?

No one's brought up the inquisition or Stalin yet, so I guess not. I'll check back later.

Have fun!
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:33 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks, kldickson. Nice reads, the both. (And I agree you shoulda flipped the fp/more inside).
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2008


The vast majority of people would agree that religion has no place in higher education (as defined by the linked articles). kldickson is simply echoing common sense that most of us, who believe in secularism, would agree with.

Most of us would agree with a statement like "this hurricane that destroyed five hundred homes and killed four hundred and twenty-four people is not all that great a thing, actually." That one's a pretty safe call. If you could be sure that most of us concur that secularism = common sense and that this is a defeat for secularism...well...then you wouldn't have a story, would you? Because it's highly unlikely that there would have been a defeat.

I don't think there's anything wrong with putting forth the viewpoint that secularism = common sense and that this is a defeat for secularism. But the place for putting forth any such viewpoint is in the comments section, or on your blog. The articles should speak for themselves.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:36 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.

Let's face it. That game was about climbing tall things and jumping off. (Parkour suicide simulator!)
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2008


How is this phenomenon new? The devout students behaved in exactly the same fashion when I was an undergraduate ('88-'92). Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt has mentioned to me before that his religious students often had the same issues...in the late 1960s. Heck, I've met professors from church-affiliated colleges with exactly the same complaints. The only thing that sounds "new," perhaps, is the willingness to sue.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay, the definition of "political correctness" is not "when someone objects to something but I think it's okay." Let us make this clear right now.

This is a tired derail, but actually 'political correctness' does mean precisely that: Intentionally and self-consciously avoiding or condemning the use of language that for various reasons might offend someone with a particular political perspective or orientation. So yeah, since religious orientation is a hot button political issue these days, what you describe is political correctness, like it or not.

But on topic: Much ado about nothing, all this? Probably. But this anecdote, from the final article, just sucks:

A student had claimed that I had attacked his faith because I had urged him to consider whether Nietzsche’s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes. The administrator insisted that I apologize to the student. (I refused.)

Grow up, toughen up, and stop being such precious little idiots.

WWJD? He damn sure wouldn't go whining to whoever would listen every time some street preacher urged him to consider Xeno's paradox or something like that. Bunch of whiny, escapist babies, utterly incapable of facing the real challenges of life in the modern world head-on: That's what contemporary society and the socially-stunting, co-dependency-fostering practices of shallow faith oriented religious communities are producing. Religious faith should be skeptical and humble, dammit. Faith without doubt is just arrogance.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


Most of us would agree with a statement like "this hurricane that destroyed five hundred homes and killed four hundred and twenty-four people is not all that great a thing, actually." That one's a pretty safe call.

If you're Ted Hagee, you probably wouldn't consider that a safe call.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:40 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a tired derail, but actually 'political correctness' does mean precisely that: Intentionally and self-consciously avoiding or condemning the use of language that for various reasons might offend someone with a particular political perspective or orientation. So yeah, since religious orientation is a hot button political issue these days, what you describe is political correctness, like it or not.

Fail. No. It's not about avoiding/condemning language, save in the sense that everything on the site is language-based; it's about not POVing your fucking posts.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:42 PM on June 17, 2008


If you're Ted Hagee, you probably wouldn't consider that a safe call.

Since we're safely in the comments section, let me reply by POVing like a motherfucker and saying, "Fuck that douchebag."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:44 PM on June 17, 2008


If you're Ted Hagee, you probably wouldn't consider that a safe call.

I fear a world that contains a reproductive combination of Ted Haggard and John Hagee.
posted by gurple at 1:44 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


it's about not POVing your fucking posts.

Sorry kittens for breakfast: My comment concerns the points in the article about religious correctness becoming a new form of political correctness, not the more MetaTalk appropriate topic of whether the FPP editorializes too much. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough about that.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:46 PM on June 17, 2008


Sorry kittens for breakfast: My comment concerns the points in the article about religious correctness becoming a new form of political correctness, not the more MetaTalk appropriate topic of whether the FPP editorializes too much. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough about that.

It's this crazy thing that happens when you suddenly change the subject and continue speaking as if we were still talking about the same thing, saul. People presume you're, you know. Still talking about the same thing.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:47 PM on June 17, 2008


Specifically, this:

"But, in truth, something else is occurring. Once again, right and left have become mirror images of each other; religious correctness is simply the latest version of political correctness."

I took your comment, which on review I see was concerned really only with the post POV, as a more general remark about the abuse of "political correctness" (like some of the other comments).
posted by saulgoodman at 1:50 PM on June 17, 2008


You're all hellbound infidels.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:52 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I took your comment, which on review I see was concerned really only with the post POV, as a more general remark about the abuse of "political correctness" (like some of the other comments).

Gotcha.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:53 PM on June 17, 2008


I guess this post was correct enough for kittens for breakfast....
posted by Rashomon at 1:58 PM on June 17, 2008


posted by Burhanistan You're all hellbound infidels.

Yeah, well, y'know, that's just like uh, your fatwa, man.
posted by optovox at 2:04 PM on June 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


"A student had claimed that I had attacked his faith because I had urged him to consider whether Nietzsche’s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes."

When has this not been happening? Haven't students *always* been upset when professors suggest Nietzsche’s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes? Seriously, I'm asking. I remember this happening when I was in college.... 25 years ago. Anyone else?
posted by Ragma at 2:09 PM on June 17, 2008


Fatwa? Well, OK, but only if it's critically reasoned.
posted by RussHy at 2:10 PM on June 17, 2008


You're all hellbound infidels.
I'm not going anywhere.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2008


How is this phenomenon new? The devout students behaved in exactly the same fashion when I was an undergraduate ('88-'92). Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt has mentioned to me before that his religious students often had the same issues...in the late 1960s. Heck, I've met professors from church-affiliated colleges with exactly the same complaints. The only thing that sounds "new," perhaps, is the willingness to sue.

I may be wrong, but my general impression is that there is more legal clout to back up the students who do this kind of thing nowadays. There seem to be conservative religious organizations actively encouraging and supporting this from the outside. So same issue in the classroom, a new element added to the implications though. Still I'm not particularly alarmed. I think academia can weather it.
posted by Tehanu at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2008


It concerns me how uptight people get about editorializing in FPPs, it is a form of political correctness right here on MeFi

You should have known that editorializing in your FPP (and then micromanaging your thread) is indeed politically correct on MetaFilter, and that such editorializing has effectively doomed this thread. If you don't like the community's rules, go post somewhere else, or at least don't complain when you are called out for breaking the rules.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2008


allkindsoftime writes "What's unsettling about this? And I hate to burst your bubble but this isn't by any means a 'new' phenomenon. Its not even really a phenomenon. Religious debate in the public square is about as old as our race."

My mother teaches high school. She's about to retire and has been teaching for the last 40 years. She told me recently that she's never seen as many outwardly religious students in her lifetime as she sees in her classroom every day for the last few years. It may not be new, as we've seen similar shifts to religion and away from it over history, but it is a current trend that the US is becoming more religious, and more in the fundamentalist/revival direction.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:41 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


This FPP is AgendaFilter and it sucks. Flagged.
posted by dhammond at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


My son just graduated with a minor in philosophy-he would have majored in it if that had been offered at his institution. He is a devout Christian. He did have many discussions with his professors on similar topics but he was never to my knowlege marked down for being a person of faith. It probably helped that he himself read Nietzche and didn't mind actually making and supporting his arguments.

No, you can't prove God in a philosophy class (altho my own secular philosophy class asked us to do just that for the final exam) but you can use the tools of philosophy to defend your faith if so inclined. Kierkegaard would be an excellent place to start the discussion.

Now if a professor wants to assume that no logical person will ever be a person of faith, he is dead wrong and needs to get over himself. Even my atheist professor admitted that to be totally logical it would make more sense for him to be an agnostic instead.
posted by konolia at 2:49 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Haven't students *always* been upset when professors suggest Nietzsche’s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes?

In America, perhaps. However, never during my time at University, either as a student or as an academic, do I recall anyone ever getting their panties in a bunch because somebody introduced an idea they felt was threatening to their religious beliefs.

People who identified politically as being on the right would sometimes get irritated at what they believed was a leftist bias, but by and large, until quite recently, we just didn't take religion that seriously in the UK. However, someone currently in academia tells me that this is starting to change as growing numbers of radical islamicists are starting to flex their muscles -- but I've no way of telling whether this is a couple of isolated incidents or a trend, I'm simply reporting some recent hearsay from a current third year politics student.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:09 PM on June 17, 2008


Millions, if not billions of people claim to believe in some form of nonsense for cultural reasons. Put them in a philosophy class where they're socially permitted to remove the blinders, and in the vast majority of cases they're fully capable of behaving rationally because they're 'pretending.' The people who can't or won't do this are effectively, be it self-imposed or not, crippled, and really shouldn't be in the class. It's like a quadriplegic entering in a triathlon. Instead, there should be a kind of special education for them, they can sit with the SANTA CLAUS: TEACH THE CONTROVERSY folks. Probably not worthy of an accredited degree, but then it's not real philosophy anyway.
posted by mullingitover at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2008


Why is it surprising that fundamentalists have learned to use the framework of political correctness for their own benefit? Essentially, the rise of political correctness established a new set of environmental constraints. The fittest fundamentalists managed to adapt and even flourish in these new conditions, just as predicted by the theory of... oh. How ironic.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:24 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Everything should be subject to critical analysis."

Not according to Robert Pirsig. Many people dismiss Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality as just another attempt to balance experience against reason, and to use the tools of rational analysis in areas where they have no application. Pirsig himself tries to deal with this conundrum by refusing to define his "Quality" and by insisting that a direct, pre-rational experience of "Quality" is the only means of sensing it accurately.

I think anybody who has ever had a truly immersive sensory experience, or a transcendent sexual experience, or a moment of discovery wrapped in a few seconds of disorientation, has a clear perception of the truth Pirsig was trying to communicate and systemize. Analysis is, by and large, the death of direct experience.

But I think the hubris of rationality is to pretend that it is universally valuable, or at least applicable. In modern systems of study, you have to move from philosophy to theology to began exploring the basis of ecumenism, and its tension with fundamentalism and proselytization that every major religion has (yes, even those that decry proselytization, except by "example"). But that doesn't mean that non-rational mechanisms of value reconciliation can't produce laudable results, and healthy human behavior.

Rationalists who doubt the power of faith to produce tolerance, compassion, and ecumenical behavior often see fundamentalism and value rigidity where there actually is none, except that which the rationalists themselves create through inappropriate application of duality. Value transformation, growth, and greater tolerance are as much the provenance of religious faith, as they are of frequently revisionist rational thought.
posted by paulsc at 3:30 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


i don't know what the hell religion or philosophy has with getting your paper from a glorified vocational school
posted by pyramid termite at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2008


has to do with - but what the hell english has to do with getting your paper from a glorified vocational school, i don't know
posted by pyramid termite at 3:39 PM on June 17, 2008


No, you can't prove God in a philosophy class (altho my own secular philosophy class asked us to do just that for the final exam) but you can use the tools of philosophy to defend your faith if so inclined. Kierkegaard would be an excellent place to start the discussion.

I understand you're speaking generally but I thought this would be a good point to provide some background on Mark C Taylor, the author of that NYT op-ed. I imagine Taylor would start the discussion at Kierkegaard, or at least include him in it. Taylor is one of the leading Kierkegaard experts around. In fact, his dissertation on the philosopher earned him the first Doktorgrad in philosophy awarded to a foreigner in the 500 year history of the University of Copenhagen. As the NYT piece makes clear, Taylor should certainly not be misunderstood as an academic seeking to challenge the religious beliefs of his students in order to compel them to abandon them. Rather, his challenges seem directed towards allowing students to consider seriously both their religious belief and modern critical theory and philosophy that might appear hostile towards it, in order perhaps to understand how both can be fit together. Indeed, his own attempts to do so and his ideas on the matter have been the subject of much of his work.
posted by Shakeer at 3:41 PM on June 17, 2008


I highly recommend his recent book on the subject, After God. Relevant too is Erring: A Postmodern A/theology, published in 1987, also by University of Chicago Press.
posted by Shakeer at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2008


She might have learned something in that class, but instead she got scared for her grades and got her religion involved.

Exactly.
posted by ericb at 4:07 PM on June 17, 2008


paulsc writes "Pirsig himself tries to deal with this conundrum by refusing to define his 'Quality' and by insisting that a direct, pre-rational experience of 'Quality' is the only means of sensing it accurately."

Ah, the intersection of two methods of proof: eminent authority and vigorous handwaving.
posted by mullingitover at 5:13 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Students concoct scam to get better grades without doing any work - film at eleven.
posted by GuyZero at 5:15 PM on June 17, 2008


Any responsible curriculum for the study of religion in the 21st century must be guided by two basic principles: first, a clear distinction between the study and the practice of religion, and second, an expansive understanding of what religion is and of the manifold roles it plays in life. The aim of critical analysis is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices — though some secular dogmatists wrongly cross that line — but to examine the conditions necessary for their formation and to consider the many functions they serve.


This was a very interesting bit from the NYT piece. On the one hand, it seems eminently reasonable to require this sort of approach of anyone who wants to study religion -- to really think about religion, that is. On the other hand, this is not the way that science is studied, yet science, and the rhetoric involved in it, plays a huge role in our lives. Moreover, we don't tend to think that colleges are teaching science "wrong" because they don't spend ("waste") time talking about the process by which scientific results are turned into technological developments, which in turn effect various cultural changes. Drawing out this sort of story, we tend to think, is the business of entirely different disciplines; it's not the chemist's job to know this sort of thing, that's covered by history of science (or whatever).

In other words, if the quote above were applied to sciences, we would have the strange situation in which everyone studying science would also be demanded to learn what has come to be called "science studies" (history/anthropology of science, essentially). Actually, there's something to that...
posted by voltairemodern at 5:30 PM on June 17, 2008


I've often thought about this happening with creationism and biologists. On one hand, people shouldn't be punished for their religious beliefs. On the other hand, the majority of authorities in the biological field consider creationism on the same level as a belief in a flat Earth or phlogiston, and really, the evidence is on their side.

So, should an unsupported (or badly supported) belief in creationism hurt a biology student's grades or career prospects? One person might argue that it would be punishing them for their faith, while another person might argue that a creationist biologist is horribly wrong about a core concept in their field - the same way a flat-earth astronomer or a phlogistonic chemist would be. At some level, grades are meant to judge performance in the field. These people would argue that a creationist biologist is very poor at their field and should be rated accordingly.

It's a challenging issue, and I'm not sure how to resolve it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:44 PM on June 17, 2008


Mitrovarr writes "So, should an unsupported (or badly supported) belief in creationism hurt a biology student's grades or career prospects?"

It doesn't have to, if they're able to demonstrate their understanding of the material. My religion might tell me that there is some magic number greater than 2 where 2x > x^2, but if I'm asked to use induction to prove the opposite and I do it, who cares what tripe I believe in my heart of hearts?

Of course when I try to submit papers about my fervent belief in this area to peer reviewed journals for publication, I'll get responses like "I lol'd." However, it's a free country and I can start my own Discovery Institute.
posted by mullingitover at 6:02 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


mullingitover: It doesn't have to, if they're able to demonstrate their understanding of the material. My religion might tell me that there is some magic number greater than 2 where 2x > x^2, but if I'm asked to use induction to prove the opposite and I do it, who cares what tripe I believe in my heart of hearts?

Well, if you were hired to be an engineer with a belief like that, you'd totally screw up whatever project you were given, and your employer might reasonably be upset at the educational facility that effectively certified that you knew what you were doing.

I know this seems unlikely with biologists, but it could actually happen with researchers. A researcher in the field of, say, microbiology is going to have real problems if they don't believe microbes evolve.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:21 PM on June 17, 2008


This is why I stopped going to both church and community college. When they can learn to get along, I may reconsider.
posted by mds35 at 7:33 PM on June 17, 2008


Many people dismiss Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality as just another attempt to balance experience against reason, and to use the tools of rational analysis in areas where they have no application. Pirsig himself tries to deal with this conundrum by refusing to define his "Quality" and by insisting that a direct, pre-rational experience of "Quality" is the only means of sensing it accurately complete and utter fucking pigswill.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:06 PM on June 17, 2008


Well, on the one hand, most biology and chemistry jobs are very technical. As much as the fictional Greg Sanders cut a dashing figure in his lab coat on CSI, there isn't much drama or romance in meticulously following the same protocols a dozen times a day.

On the other hand, a researcher was fired from, I think it was Woods Hole last year because he was an ID advocate. But that was a position in which he was expected to submit grant proposals in support of the Institute's mission. A colleague who became an environmentalist found out the hard way that research institutions really don't like it if you don't chase after the big money.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:55 PM on June 17, 2008


x = 1 + i
posted by ryanrs at 12:09 AM on June 18, 2008


wait, no
posted by ryanrs at 12:12 AM on June 18, 2008


This is a tangent, but: I really think it's long past time to see some science and reason advocacy and outreach groups form to travel across the country from household to household ministering to people (especially in rural areas) in the same fashion that Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do, but teaching instead about science and the scientific method--its history, its pioneers and the sacrifices they made to advance the cause of human understanding--as well as making the case for the practical importance of science-friendly public policy and education to America's economic future.

These science missionaries could handout free copies of seminal scientific works from Newton to Darwin or pamphlets dramatizing critical scientific discoveries; they could offer concrete examples of science's demonstrated power for improving the human condition, and in general, advance the argument that science represents a better alternative to problem-solving than turning blindly to the retail-ministers and Jesus-lifestyle salesmen making their weekly sales pitches for the bargain-bin brand of Christianity they peddle down at the local Super God-Mart.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:55 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a tangent, but: I really think it's long past time to see some science and reason advocacy and outreach groups form to travel across the country from household to household ministering to people (especially in rural areas) in the same fashion that Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do, but teaching instead about science and the scientific method--its history, its pioneers and the sacrifices they made to advance the cause of human understanding--as well as making the case for the practical importance of science-friendly public policy and education to America's economic future.

This is called science class and informal education (museums and nature centers). The fact that you see a need for a new outlet is to me a symptom of how much science education has already been eroded.

These science missionaries could handout free copies of seminal scientific works from Newton to Darwin or pamphlets dramatizing critical scientific discoveries; they could offer concrete examples of science's demonstrated power for improving the human condition, and in general, advance the argument that science represents a better alternative to problem-solving than turning blindly to the retail-ministers and Jesus-lifestyle salesmen making their weekly sales pitches for the bargain-bin brand of Christianity they peddle down at the local Super God-Mart.

Then we offer salvation if they turn from the darkness toward enlightenment? No, you are leaning away from objective education and toward ideology here. Science is not a belief system, nor should it adopt the same methods as evangelists. This just deepens the misconception that science is a belief system and that scientific findings should be considered in the same way as spiritual beliefs. Just because some religious people refuse to think critically does not mean that science is an alternative to religion. It is instead a way of investigating the world. A person can be both scientific in their approach to the world and also religious. They are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Tehanu at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


professor Philip Pecorino “has stated that it is his job to get students to reject a belief...

How does he plan to do that? By providing evidence that the belief doesn't accurately describe or predict events in the physical universe? By proving that the belief relies on contradictory premises?

That assumes a belief is a sort of rational entity.

It assumes that the psychology of belief works this way:

1. Charlie believes X.
2. Mary proves to Charlie that X is impossible.
3. Charlie accepts Mary's proof as valid.
-------------
4. Charlie stops believing X.

Though I think that CAN happen, I don't think it necessarily does. In fact, I think it often doesn't. There's a sort of rationalist (geeky) fantasy that if you can just get people to listen-to and understand the fact, they must necessarily alter their beliefs.

Whereas I think that for many people there's an emotional core to beliefs. This core can be, in some people, profoundly affected by reason. But it isn't so in all people. And I don't think it has anything to do with intelligence. Some beliefs -- even in very smart people -- are impervious to reason.

Charlie can be a normal human being and still -- sometimes in spite of himself -- have this response:

1. Charlie believes X.
2. Mary proves to Charlie that X is impossible.
3. Charlie accepts Mary's proof as valid.
-------------
4. Charlie still believes X.

"Why, in the face of all contradictory evidence, do you still believe?"

"I don't know. I just do. I just feel it to be true."

"Don't you think that's kind of stupid?"

"Yes. I must admit it is."

"Well, then: stop believing."

"How?"

So I think what the professor is doing is (or can be, in some cases) like trying to reason someone into liking asparagus.
posted by grumblebee at 9:47 AM on June 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


A person can be both scientific in their approach to the world and also religious. They are not mutually exclusive.

Sure. The science missionaries could teach that, too, as an alternative to the false-dichotomy being peddled in many faith-based communities. Sometimes people invite the nice Mormon kids who come round every now and then into their homes, offer them some cookies and milk, smile and nod at them a lot, and then part ways politely even though, now that they've heard more about it, they've privately concluded that the whole Book of Mormon thing is the craziest most implausible nonsense they've ever heard (although my wife prefers to shout belligerently at these poor missionary kids about how they're just wasting their time because she doesn't believe in their God and never will--we don't always see eye-to-eye on such things, but I respect her honesty and commitment to her belief system). No harm, no foul. At its worst, this would be no worse than that.

No, you are leaning away from objective education and toward ideology here.

I live in a state where legislation only recently passed even allowing the teaching of the theory of evolution in the classroom (quickly followed by the passage of legislation allowing 'alternative theories' to be taught in the classroom as well). Objective education has little to do with it: If the ideologies of classical rationalism and liberalism aren't promoted more vigorously, there might not be any public institutions left in the not-to-distant future that even embrace the basic cause of providing a sound, objective-fact oriented education (problematic as the ideal of objectivity may be).

Regional-based science education isn't doing its job. And more effective approaches to spreading the modest and incontrovertible message that science has proven at least as valuable to the world as religion (a look at the successes of science as expressed not through faith but through works, to use the terms of art) are and will continue to be crucially important in the future. The idea here is not to indoctrinate but to put science in front of ordinary people, in their communities, in their neighborhoods, where presently there's a fairly serious shortage of good information about science and that vacuum's rapidly being filled by junk science, ideological distortions of science and plain old fashioned superstition.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 AM on June 18, 2008


Sometimes people invite the nice Mormon kids who come round every now and then into their homes, offer them some cookies and milk, smile and nod at them a lot, and then part ways politely even though, now that they've heard more about it, they've privately concluded that the whole Book of Mormon thing is the craziest most implausible nonsense they've ever heard (although my wife prefers to shout belligerently at these poor missionary kids about how they're just wasting their time because she doesn't believe in their God and never will--we don't always see eye-to-eye on such things, but I respect her honesty and commitment to her belief system). No harm, no foul. At its worst, this would be no worse than that.

No, at its worst it would be the exact same thing as that. Which is the problem. Evangelizing is not the same thing as educating. I resent other people thinking they have a divine mandate to teach me about their religion, and I would resent anyone who felt compelled to knock on my door and teach me some science, for the same reason-- they presume I need to hear what they have to say. And I don't. If I really want to know more about something, I'll seek it out. If someone seeks me out to inform me, I'm immediately suspicious. If I go to a museum, that's different-- I came to learn, and I explore that space on my own terms. If I take a course, it's also different. But if I am home and you knock on my door to supposedly bring me some knowledge, whether it's the impending arrival of the apocalypse or the massive amount of evidence that evolution by natural selection is the unifying theory of modern biology, I am tossing you out on your ass and I will immediately think far less of the group of people you claim to represent. Real information does not spread that way, but ideologies do. And generally by people who think they see a truth I don't and feel a need to convert me to their way to thinking. It's inherently insulting and one-sided. This "I will enlighten you" model fails for science because science is a process, not a body of facts or beliefs. It has produced a body of facts and working theories, but it isn't those. It isn't ideas, but rather how to investigate your ideas. And for that to be learned a person needs to be engaged, not just told something's true. You can teach people how to think critically but you can't do it for them.

And that is why our science courses fail-- we teach what to think (and even that poorly) but not nearly enough how to think. We are using an outdated model while the funding and support for science education erodes because science is producing results that challenge religion. In response some religious groups have successfully framed science as a belief system. Adopting the strategies and outward appearance of a belief system strikes me as a kind of gasoline we pour onto this fire we are trying to put out.
posted by Tehanu at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, for one, am all in favour of people taking a philosophy class and then sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALALA, then expecting to get an A.
posted by genghis at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2008


No, at its worst it would be the exact same thing as that. Which is the problem.

Sure, I guess the fact that (like missionary work of the religious persuasion), it might actually work is kind of a problem. For somebody.

If you're arguing that theoretical ideals about the basic differences between science and religion should be allowed to preclude the consideration of certain otherwise very practical approaches to promoting and advancing the causes of better science education and public policy, then you're the one whose position is ideological, IMO.

In response some religious groups have successfully framed science as a belief system. Adopting the strategies and outward appearance of a belief system strikes me as a kind of gasoline we pour onto this fire we are trying to put out.

Political campaign workers, activist groups, water filtration system salesman--all of these people, like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, might show up at your door to offer you their products, ideas, or overpriced water softeners. Do their neighborhood canvassing activities give them the outward appearance of belief systems? If you're not interested in buying what they're selling, you might resent the intrusion, but the fact is, the basic approach still works often enough to make it a worthwhile practice. This is especially true in rural areas, in my experience, where support for good science policy is suffering most.

Besides. This is personal. I want revenge. Go ahead--show up at my door unannounced and insist that I take the latest issue of The Watchtower. I'll listen respectfully and indulge your stunning inversion of the Baptist formulation of the end-times. Next weekend, I'll be over at your house with a copy of Origin of the Species. I'll expect you to sit patiently and listen politely to examples of how it's done more measurable good for the world than any of your favorite books of scripture combined. After that, let's share a plate of cookies.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on June 18, 2008


saulgoodman, science and religion are not in competition with each other.

Pause, while saulgoodman says, "I know! False dichotomies like that are one of the things my missionaries would..."

saulgoodman, science and religion are not in competition with each other.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:59 AM on June 18, 2008


If you're arguing that theoretical ideals about the basic differences between science and religion should be allowed to preclude the consideration of certain otherwise very practical approaches to promoting and advancing the causes of better science education and public policy, then you're the one whose position is ideological, IMO.

They're not theoretical ideals. My position is based on being a science educator and actively engaged in discussions within that community about how to approach science education in a social context where it is dangerously equated to dogmatic belief and very often presented as just another kind of personal opinion. On the flip side, intelligent design is creationism couched in scientific terms to make dogma seem like science. The blurring of the line between objective knowledge and personal belief is the operating strategy of people who seek to undermine science. And it is working, quite well. Adopting the same tactics as religious conversion just reinforces the blurring that certain groups are working so hard to establish. It makes Darwin's ideas seem like just another kind of dogma. They don't use the word "Darwinist" or invoke intellectual freedom on accident.

Scientists should certainly learn to communicate science better to the general public-- that's a very real problem. But the solutions to that do not involve going door to door with it.

Besides. This is personal. I want revenge.

I don't. I want kids to understand how to ask good questions about how the world works, and I want people in general to be scientifically literate.
posted by Tehanu at 12:02 PM on June 18, 2008


The blurring of the line between objective knowledge and personal belief is the operating strategy of people who seek to undermine science. And it is working, quite well.

How is going into people's neighborhoods (or rural community centers, or hell, maybe even the local church, if the pastor's not a science-hater) to give an entertaining and informative presentation on the history and methods of science an operating strategy that blurs the line between objective knowledge and personal belief?

And do you really believe the average creationist or anti-science cultural warrior really consciously adopts such sophisticated strategies as what you describe? I don't think so. We give these guys too much credit as deep-thinkers sometimes. They just do what works, whatever works to maximize their influence over the actions and beliefs of other human beings. And often, what works is pounding the pavement, pressing flesh, and giving people face time. That's what makes those crazy anti-science email campaigns and messages sent along phone-trees so effective: they put a personal touch, a human face on the message (especially when reinforced by pious conversations with members of your church congregation who also got the email and were just as mortified to learn about the latest things those liberals and mad-scientists have been up to).

Scientists should certainly learn to communicate science better to the general public-- that's a very real problem. But the solutions to that do not involve going door to door with it.

How do you know? Did you run a test or look at any data to reach that conclusion? If not, this claim is just dogma.

saulgoodman, science and religion are not in competition with each other.

Maybe not in your neck of the woods (and maybe not in principle), but where I come from they are in practice. Because there are opportunists who knowingly and intentionally use religion as a tactic for creating political divisions for some personal benefit. And there are plenty of people who aren't educated enough in the very basics of scientific knowledge to recognize when this is being done to them. Also, in many communities there's a popular sentiment that science and religion are just necessarily in conflict, and even though many of us regard that view as wrong-headed, the beliefs not only persist but seem to be increasingly more common (even among self-identified pro-science types).

One more Nova special on PBS won't change that. College science lectures aren't going to change it either. Grass roots problems need grass roots solutions.

"Besides. This is personal. I want revenge."

I don't. I want kids to understand how to ask good questions about how the world works, and I want people in general to be scientifically literate.


Sheesh. Lighten up, Tehanu. I was only keeding!

posted by saulgoodman at 1:40 PM on June 18, 2008


Y'all ain't changing jack.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:41 PM on June 18, 2008


And do you really believe the average creationist or anti-science cultural warrior really consciously adopts such sophisticated strategies as what you describe?

The average ID supporter? No. The Discovery Institute? Absolutely.

How do you know? Did you run a test or look at any data to reach that conclusion? If not, this claim is just dogma.

No, it's my opinion, which is all I presented it to be. Personal opinion, however informed, is not the same thing as dogma. Although that opinion is based on both anecdotal evidence and actual survey data [PDF] (specifically this figure [PDF]), yes. People generally want to hear about evolution from scientists and educators, and about science from scientists and medical professionals.

Sheesh. Lighten up, Tehanu. I was only keeding!

An awful lot of people who would say this are not.
posted by Tehanu at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2008


Holy Shitballs

You guys are really defending a professor who failed a student that fully participated and did all of her work but refused to change her religion because of the class? A philosophy class?

We've come a long way from "tolerance"...
posted by jpdoane at 6:48 AM on June 25, 2008


You didn't read the article or the thread very carefully, apparently.
posted by cortex at 7:40 AM on June 25, 2008


The average Mefite comments in as many as 6 unread threads before breakfast.
posted by Tehanu at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Apparently

After rereading both the article and the thread more carefully, I have to wonder if I was still half asleep when I read them previously.

Anyway - I'm sorry for going off
posted by jpdoane at 9:32 AM on June 25, 2008


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