liberals want creationism taught?
September 3, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

In a recent poll nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
posted by leftcoastbob (85 comments total)
 
This makes the Flying Spaghetti Monster cry.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:18 AM on September 3, 2005


I, personally, am surprised by this poll. Without going into the whole idea of whether creationist theory is right or wrong, it never occurred to me that this many of my fellow-citizens thought that it should be taught in school.
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:21 AM on September 3, 2005


Teaching that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time" would directly contradict the strong evidence of evolution that is also taught. The wise decision would be to make Religious Education mandatory, if it isn't already, and to teach the creationist concept in that context but to keep it out of science class.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2005


This isn't DiscussionFilter. At least pretend to do some research on a front page post.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:27 AM on September 3, 2005


This isn't DiscussionFilter

A good post to MetaFilter is something that meets the following criteria: most people haven't seen it before, there is something interesting about the content on the page, and it might warrant discussion from others.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:29 AM on September 3, 2005




I'm quite surprised by this.
What exactly is there to teach, anyway? The first two chapters of Genesis is creationism in it's entirety.

We're talking 57 lines of english text here. 1540 words.

Besides, I don't know if I want my kids learning about Genesis 2:25:
" And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."
posted by zerokey at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2005


Pretty_Generic, if a post fails to meet the first two criteria, I hardly think that bold-facing the last point is worthwhile. But if starting a useless thread (guaranteed to devolve into atheist vs. religious since there is nothing of value here to discuss except opinion) about how "religiously backward" the US has shown itself to be is MeFi-worthy, my apologies.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:40 AM on September 3, 2005


there is nothing of value here to discuss except opinion

How about logic, rationality and empirical induction?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:41 AM on September 3, 2005


This isn't DiscussionFilter

A good post...might warrant discussion from others.


and because like, we never talked about this one before...
posted by sexymofo at 9:41 AM on September 3, 2005


How about logic, rationality and empirical induction?

Show me signs of that in the original post and I'll concede you that point.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:48 AM on September 3, 2005


Sorry. I had never seen a poll like this before and I was pretty surprised by the results. But you're probably right--this will just degenerate into a creationism is real/ creationism is a crock discussion.

My bad.
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2005


Come on PG... don't you think we've beaten this dead horse? The more lipservice we give this topic, the more credibility it amasses.

At this point, I feel perfectly happy, not to mention justified, in entering any future stupid-ass creatinism/ID FPPs with the goal of derailment or trolling bevets.

Did I mention that pancakes taste extra-good on Saturday mornings?
posted by drpynchon at 9:52 AM on September 3, 2005


Or degrade into a "this country is being overrun by idiots" tirade.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:52 AM on September 3, 2005


The poll found that 42 percent of respondents hold strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

things like that still blow my mind. it must take years of conditioning at church (or a criminally lacking education) in order for this thought to live comfortably inside of a brain.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:54 AM on September 3, 2005


I think if they're going to teach Creationism in the schools, they should also teach Destructionism. They could use the FEMA handbook for a text.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on September 3, 2005


Once again, it appears that America, like so many other countries, is given a pancake of logic, splattered with idiocy. I suppose it'll really do schools a lot of good to teach two contradictory and opposing ideas- one accepted by the scientific world, the other an idea of faith. It sounds like something the antidisestablishmentarianists have dreamed up.

Incidentally, at the risk of sounding pretentious and blase, that is a correct usage of antidisestablishmentarianists. (if spelled slightly wrong)
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:55 AM on September 3, 2005


I think the poll is interesting as well, lcb. Thank you for posting it - I print this stuff out and save it for my grandchildren.

Zerokey raises an important point.
From an educational p.o.v. it would be difficult to teach Genesis as a unit in a classroom. There just isn't much substance to present.
However, I've had very interesting educators teach Genesis creationism in a cultural context, alongside other Creation beliefs from other religions. (Carefully avoiding use of the word "myth"). Of course, this was part of a literature course, not a science class.

Imagine how boring science class would be if it was all biblical. What would your homework be? Please label the days of the week on which God created the birds of the sky? It would fill all of one worksheet, tops.
Evolution, on the other hand, has some pretty serious epistemology to get into.

btw I'm back.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:57 AM on September 3, 2005


This is why I said in a previous thread that the problem with current rightist ideology is that it encourages people to be morons as a matter of principle.

Liberalism and true Conservatism are both flowers of the Enlightenment, and as such based on Reason. The health of our Republic depends on strong representation from both perspectives. Sadly, and catastrophically, we currently have neither. The current right-wing infestation among the halls of power, and before which the organized "official" opposition cowers, is not conservativism, but rightist irrationalism (and, yes, it's a short step from this to an entirely justified Godwin invocation).

Why is this happening? Perhaps because the power elites have "decided" that a few hundred years of Reason are enough: we've got the technologies for control that we need, and now encouraging thought in the populace is more trouble than it's worth. Let's baffle em with bullshit and keep them frearful and ignorant. We'll make our billions, secure our dynasities, and if the World goes to hell as a consequence, tough shit.

Well, it ain't gonna work. The economy, then Iraq, and now Katrina are all telling us that. Are we starting to listen?
posted by mondo dentro at 10:03 AM on September 3, 2005


Show me signs of that in the original post and I'll concede you that point.

There is none, and the absence of it should provoke discussion as exemplified by homunculus's link. The content of the post is shocking because of the absence of rationality displayed therein.

The more lipservice we give this topic, the more credibility it amasses.

I think given the 42% figure, we're a bit too late to sweep this thing under the carpet.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2005


What's that quote from I, Claudius? When he decides to just let the empire go to hell so that the republic will be reestablished sooner?

"Let all the poison that lurks in the mud hatch out."

Go ahead, teach creation as science. Maybe then we'll see a second flowering of the enlightenment out of the smoldering ashes 100 years from now.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2005


I was in this program in Israel many years ago. The focus of it was learning the origins of the Judeo-Christian religions. Along with it, we got to compare and contrast the creation tales of many other major religions as well as break down Genesis. I had a devout rabbi showing, point for point, where the roots of Genesis lay in the Sumerian and Babylonian mythos. It was such a wonderful experience. We were able to take it all apart, bit by bit.

My take on the people who want creationism taught in the classroom is that, a core belief is that the Bible is the Word of God. You cannot take it apart. It is a single monolithic whole. End of discussion.

In my own opinion, what's the purpose of learning a thing if you cannot question a thing?
posted by zerokey at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2005


If you'll recall, PinkStainlessTail, that didn't work in "I, Claudius" either.
posted by kyrademon at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2005


Maybe then we'll see a second flowering of the enlightenment out of the smoldering ashes 100 years from now.

It won't be in America, though.
posted by ook at 10:35 AM on September 3, 2005


In my own opinion, what's the purpose of learning a thing if you cannot question a thing?

It's a question of whether or not the purpose you are interested in is the student's, or that of those teaching them.

"Teaching" unquestioning obedience to a monolithic, un-analyzable belief system is very useful for purposes of control. Of course, this is more indoctrination than teaching.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2005


Well said, mondo dentro.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:38 AM on September 3, 2005


Yes, and people want tax cuts too, but:

"The administration says the American people want tax cuts.  Well, duh.  The American people also want drive-through nickel beer night.  The American people want to lose weight by eating ice cream.  The American people love the Home Shopping Network because it's commercial-free."
--Will Durst

or another way to put it:

The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters. They mirror very accurately his congenital hatred of knowledge, his bitter enmity to the man who knows more than he does, and so gets more out of life . . .

Such organizations, of course, must have leaders; there must be men in them whose ignorance and imbecility are measurably less abject than the ignorance and imbecility of the average. These super-Chandala often attain to a considerable power, especially in democratic states. Their followers trust them and look up to them; sometimes, when the pack is on the loose, it is necessary to conciliate them. But their puissance cannot conceal their incurable inferiority. They belong to the mob as surely as their dupes, and the thing that animates them is precisely the mob's hatred of superiority. Whatever lies above the level of their comprehension is of the devil.

H.L. Menken
Homo Neanderthalensis
June 1925
posted by Relay at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2005


In other news, 20% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. 67% of Americans don't know what DNA is. 90% of Americans don't what radiation is. What's your point? We are an ignorant people.

I say bring it on...if you teach it as a science, then the scientific method applies.

  • 1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  • 2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  • 3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  • 4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

  • In case you haven't noticed, the only part that's figured out is #2.
    posted by rzklkng at 10:48 AM on September 3, 2005


    When asked of this development, Science was unable to respond and quietly wept.
    posted by TwelveTwo at 10:52 AM on September 3, 2005


    I say bring it on...if you teach it as a science, then the scientific method applies.

    I couldn't agree more, rzklkng.

    One thing that gets me so exasperated with my side is that we are doing a shitty job innovating in the culture war. We end up getting into cliched styles of argumentation that don't get us anywhere, and indeed help the other side.

    I say, analyze it as science, and also, since they want to open the door, engage them on theology, as well. The right-wing pseudo-Christian theology is really pretty shitty, and should be examined on its own merits, as theology. I mean, let's talk about what Jesus really said. Let's talk about "literalism" as a viable hermeneutical strategy. Let's teach epistemology to kids: how do we know that something is true? Is it just because some guy with a PhD from Billie-Bob U.--or Harvard--says it is? Or is there more to it? What is the role of reason? What is the role of empiricism? Where do faith and unreason fit in?

    They started the culture war, and we should finish it. Right now, we just seem to be hiding under the bed hoping they'll go away.
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


    rzklkng Hold your horses, first we need to teach the scientific method in schools.
    posted by TwelveTwo at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2005


    If they're going to teach this, then they should do it in a seperate class called 'world religions and beliefs' or something like that. And don't forget, we also need to include the flying spaghetti monster right along side of all this. In a perfect world this would happen. In 'murica science is feared like monsters under the bed. Or the flying spaghetti monster. I wonder how many goat-entrail reading screwheads it takes to screw in a lightbulb. . . Answer, two-thirds of 'murica.
    posted by mk1gti at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2005


    20% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Since we're being populist and all, why not give that idea a go too?
    posted by snarfodox at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2005


    Maybe they misheard and thought they asked if their son involved birth.
    posted by TwelveTwo at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2005


    If you'll recall, PinkStainlessTail, that didn't work in "I, Claudius" either.

    Well, eventually. Sort of.
    posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:12 AM on September 3, 2005


    Oh man, mondo's on a roll. Welcome to my muse list.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:13 AM on September 3, 2005


    mondo: Agreed.

    Personally, I feel that if you are going to argue one side or the other on this topic, you should know the subject well. Too many people on both sides will vehemently argue this without having all of the facts. Even a work of fiction can provide many insights to its own existence.

    And, when it comes to Christianity, most folks leave out the Apocrypha. There are critical texts here that provide for a richer background.

    Just for the sake of reference, here is a fairly comparative timeline of of historical religion.

    Sacred-texts.com contains a vast amount of information and texts on religion, mythology, folklore and esoterica.

    At the very least, it provides for some great reading.
    posted by zerokey at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2005


    I think the real problem here is that the process of informing someone who doesn't have the correct background framework in place is time consuming and a lot of scientists won't bother.

    Arguing with religious people about things that are (however parenthetically) related to their faith can be a remarkably frustrating exercise. It's tempting to simply tell your interlocutor to hit the books and better inform themselves, which they won't do.

    From the other side, I can understand why many fundamentalist christians would be annoyed at the treatment they tend to get from the scientific community. The problem here is that the scientific world assumes that any (scientific) discourse takes place within a very formal structure. Anybody who doesn't understand those rules, or who fails to apply them properly gets exactly the same treatment: disdain. Essentially it's the same thing as going to a chess tournament and trying to use every piece like it was a queen; they'll look at you like you're an idiot and show you the door.

    From my own perspective I've had enormous difficulties trying to explain complexity theory even to some academics (including biologists) who are trying to understand evolutionary processes. Most academics aren't well trained in information theory and find some of the ideas quite confronting.

    We've got a long way to go.
    posted by snarfodox at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2005


    Doesn't the advantage of science and reason over dogma rest in anyone's ability to verify findings and corroborate conclusions? Science and reason have, since Descartes, pretended to be correctives of false teachings. Wouldn't anyone with an inkling of the scientific method be able to determine the plausibility of evolution by going over the findings him or herself? If so, why is it such a big deal that creationism is taught alongside evolution, anyway?

    As long as they teach the scientific method rigorously, I don't mind at all that they present untenable hypotheses, particularly if (like creationism) they have very little bearing on our everyday lives. If someone is inclined to science, he or she will be able to come to an educated decision about evolution and creationism on one's own, by reviewing the findings.

    Otherwise, they can believe in either, for all I care. Creationism might be scientifically untenable, but it is a useful way of looking at the world for people whose ethics rest on the divine origin of human life.

    I recently heard a talk by Robert Solomon in which he recalled a conversation at a restaurant with a poet friend. The table was set with a small pot with a flower in it, which was at that moment bent toward the sun. Solomon's friend said something along the lines of "the flower bows before the magnificence of the sun". Solomon's first impulse was to argue that the flower bends by dint of heliotropism, but in a flash he realized that while his description is useful for our understanding of plant life, his friend's description was also useful, as an expression of the way we relate to the world around us. As such, both are true--or rather: neither are absolutely 'true'. We can move away from "false" and "true" to "useless" and "useful". I think creationism belongs in the latter category.
    posted by ori at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2005


    i'm a liberal, and i think that creationism should be taught in schools. we should teach as many creationist ideas as possible. get some from each populated continent. have the last portion of each term dedicated to learning how storytelling and metaphor is an effective and powerful form of communication. that it is even such i believe is lost on too many. fuck Plato.
    posted by carsonb at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2005


    that sounds kinda harsh. maybe, "fuck Plato, and teach 'em all how it works."
    posted by carsonb at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2005


    Those wacky Americans, what will they not think of next?

    zerokey: love the timeline - thanks for the link
    posted by Sparx at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2005


    If so, why is it such a big deal that creationism is taught alongside evolution, anyway?

    The problem isn't that it's taught. The problem is that it's taught as science, which damages both science and religion. Furthermore, it is, at a deeper level, part of a nefarious "wedge strategy" to weaken the secular Republic we currently have, one supported, in the view of those making the assault, on Godless modernism and "relativism", that is by a conceptual infrastructure of science (broadly conceived) . The first step in this attack is to blur the distinction between science and religion.

    So, it's not as simple or innocuous as you are portraying it.

    But, perhaps this is just a quibble with your excellent post. I agree with your overall sentiment, and love the Solomon anecdote.
    posted by mondo dentro at 12:30 PM on September 3, 2005


    If so, why is it such a big deal that creationism is taught alongside evolution, anyway?

    It's essentially religious indoctrination by public school teachers under color of authority. It's about not exposing kids to reality so they are comfortable in their spoonfed pap. 20% of Bush's votes came from evangelicals (they represented the (R)'s strongest voting bloc, going 80% for them).

    Religiosity is a means of neocon mind control, literally.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:32 PM on September 3, 2005


    Debating creationism isn't something that schools schould have to do. Intelligent design is junk science. We know it's junk science. Teachers are hardly going to have time to discuss the merits of the curriculum and the philosophy behind each idea. Worse, the vast majority won't have sufficient training to get into that conversation in depth even should they want to. I have a friend who trained as a music teacher who is teaching biology and mathematics. It's common.

    I think the people who are saying "yes, bring it in, it'll be shown up as bad science in the class room" are delusional. The vast majority of the time the curriculum gets presented 'as is'.
    posted by snarfodox at 12:32 PM on September 3, 2005


    Based on this poll, I sees 2 possible explanations:
    1. Christianity makes you stupid.
    2. Christianity attracts stupid people who need something easier to understand than science.
    So, what do you figure would be a suitable experiment to determine the comparative validity of these hypotheses?
    posted by boaz at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2005


    boaz, I think its mainly a result of that the fact that ~50% of this country is of below-average intelligence, and people want to believe fairy tales.

    Secular materialism says we are products of billions of years of essentially random mutations, and once we shuffle off that's all she wrote, while Christian Creationism posits we are the handiworks of a divine power who's protecting us from evil in the world, and will grant us an eternal reward for righteous life here on Earth.

    The masses will go for emotionalism over intellectualism every time. cf. Germany in the 30s, or the march to war in 2002-2003.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2005


    I think the people who are saying "yes, bring it in, it'll be shown up as bad science in the class room" are delusional. The vast majority of the time the curriculum gets presented 'as is'.

    I am not delusional, but I otherwise agree with you about the classroom. I did not intend my comments to be viewed as a complete strategy for combating the neo-medievalist movement and their insincere neocon allies.

    I maintain, however, think that at higher levels of education, and in public forums, scientists, secular humanists, progressive religion scholars need to take them on directly in innovative ways--which to me means engaging in some form of intellectual ju-jitsu. A guy like Dawkins (for example) is pretty canonical in his style of attack, and in my view plays right into the ID hands because he talks exactly the way they want him to talk. Others should be engaging them by calling them out and saying, OK, let's talk about science and religion. Let's talk about epistemology. Let's talk about the nature of truth--and shining a light on just how shoddy not just their empiricism is, but their very thought processes.

    The main point is that we are always stuck on defense when we defend science from Big Bad Bible Thumpers. These guys are lightweights even on their own turf. That's why I'm advocating that we attack their religion as well. Let's make them spend some treasure defending their own territory.

    And, yes, I am aware of how dangerous this could be. But in my opinion our cultural backs are to the wall and we have no choice. They have the initiative, and we have to take it back.
    posted by mondo dentro at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2005


    remember, perhaps 50-60% of teachers want to teach creationism in their classes, too.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:49 PM on September 3, 2005


    mondo: I disagree about the wrestling them in their own sty. I've seen enough attempts at this online to know that they love that action.

    Those infected with the mind-virus will hew to the interpretations the other side churns out.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2005


    Regardless of the "bad science" of creationism, if a state school includes Genesis as part of it's curriculum, by all rights it ought to teach every other creation text as well. By focusing exclusively on Judeo-Christian texts, the state is establishing a religion which is Constitutionally prohibited (regardless of any of those obnoxious arguments of "but our principles are founded in Christianity, blah blah").
    If a school wants to include creationism in a science course (rather than in a survey of religion course), that school SHOULD NOT be eligible for state or federal funding. I mean, citizens who don't believe in Genesis shouldn't be forced to finance it's endorsement as scientific truth. Neither should they be subjected to a curriculum that propagates Genesis as a truth that rivals the veracity of evolution. Period.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2005


    Jon-o: ID is sidestepping that by removing all references to the creator of Genesis and substituting a neutral Designer.

    These guys aren't trying to bring Genesis into the classroom (right now), they're just pushing the wedge thing so that impressionable teenagers don't get exposed to unpleasant facts that contradict what their religious parents have exposed them to.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:58 PM on September 3, 2005


    I disagree about the wrestling them in their own sty.

    Well, heywood, I think we just disagree on that--but I love the metaphor, and plan on stealing it from you.

    It all depends on how you do it. For starters, I'm not talking about debating true believers. You're right--that truly is a waste of time. I'm talking about engaging them socially, at the level of symbolism and myth--propaganda if you're a cynic. Science, for example, has plenty of emotional content. Hell, that's why I do it. I am not a scientist because I'm like that emotionally stunted loser Spock--I do it because it connects to my sense of beauty, wonder, and longing.

    But convince me: do you really think the conflict-avoidance approach will work better? Or are you just saying we can't do anything about it, and just have to wait for the fever to break?
    posted by mondo dentro at 12:58 PM on September 3, 2005


    I think that if you want to start teaching creationism as science, then fine, get it into the scientific process.

    Publish your theories in peer reviewed journals, let them get picked apart and scoured over and see where the flaws lie.

    If your idea can put up with that process, then it passes muster.

    After all, that's what Einstein had to do when he published his general theory of relativity, and that took what, 20 - 25 years to get accepted.

    One of the big problems that I have with teaching creationism as science is that its proponents want to bypass that.

    They say, 'here's our idea, teach it in schools NOW!', and that just doesn't cut it.

    It's just so clearly a political dodge to get their theological views into the educational sphere anyway they can.

    So I say, until they can talk about it as science, don't bother anybody with it.
    posted by Relay at 1:04 PM on September 3, 2005


    Publish your theories in peer reviewed journals, let them get picked apart and scoured over and see where the flaws lie.

    But haven't the ID people already tried this, and failed? That's why they just trot out the idea that there's "bias" in science.

    You have to understand that we're dealing with a fundamentally, radically different epistemology, one that has its roots in presuppositionalist apologetics.

    That's why: It's. Not. Science.
    posted by mondo dentro at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2005


    mondo: I just don't see the point, what constitutes success with that approach.

    They already believe the devil can quote scripture better than they.

    I don't have any answers, as Juan Cole said regarding Iraq, sometimes you're just fucked.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:15 PM on September 3, 2005


    ...sometimes you're just fucked.

    That's what I figured. Well, for what it's worth, I think that too--but I can't stop trying to be less fucked. Maybe it's because I have two kids. Maybe I'm just Sisyphus' long lost cousin. I don't know. Take your pick.
    posted by mondo dentro at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2005


    Well, those damned eggheads dropped the ball in Utah last night. Guess Senator Butt(head)ars is gonna have to take it to the people. 3 steps forward, two steps back...
    posted by umberto at 1:22 PM on September 3, 2005


    mondo: there's a macro level and micro level. Things are bad at the macro level, but taking care of one's own is good enough right now.

    One thing this fpp didn't cover is that the % of ID creationism believers has risen (a bit) over the past 10 years. People want to believe this shit, they want this to be the End Times, and they want 'W' to lead the nation to holiness.

    The Iraq failure is/was the first wake up call. 'W' playing guitar on Tuesday while N.O. drowned was the 2nd. The housing bubble+rising interest rates+bankruptcy reform will be the third.

    I think engagement is good, but it has to be in the right spirit. Not of confrontation, but bridging.

    You're one of my favorite writers on the internets so I think you already know this.

    In 5-10 years the reality of the failure of the Bushists is going to be a pretty big cluestick for these people.

    We have to stop being reactive and start laying our own groundwork. What this actually means.. dunno, though.
    posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2005


    OK, let's talk about science and religion. Let's talk about epistemology. Let's talk about the nature of truth--and shining a light on just how shoddy not just their empiricism is, but their very thought processes.

    I'm sorry - that took over 3 seconds to read out loud. Please provide your next soundbite in the approved 2 second format.

    posted by Sparx at 1:50 PM on September 3, 2005


    > which to me means engaging in some form of intellectual ju-jitsu.

    Sometimes you need a certain background to understand a proof. As Richard Feynman once famously remarked: "If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize."

    I don't think you're going to win an intellectual war against an emotional argument, particularly when some of your proofs are incomprehensible to the lay person.

    I think the best course of action is to let some of these policies run their course. Any individual school district that puts intelligent design on the books as a scientific theory is going to be condemned as moronic. I already think of people from Kansas as a little dimmer than the average bulb, and I've never been within a thousand miles of the place. It's a stigma and it's sticky.

    Nobody wants to look like an idiot. If they push it they're going to be dragged into the intellectual deep end and left to drown. I can't see it getting to this point very often. If it does: watch the biology departments within that state's universities flee in an immediate, panicked brain drain lest they be labelled hicks from an intellectual backwater. There are plenty of universities in other states and around the world who will cheerfully welcome the refugees.
    posted by snarfodox at 1:52 PM on September 3, 2005


    I don't think you're going to win an intellectual war against an emotional argument, particularly when some of your proofs are incomprehensible to the lay person.

    So, why can't you use emotional arguments? I'm not a computer, I'm a human. I use all of my faculties, not just logic. You're misunderstanding my position if you think it's akin to explaining a proof. I teach quite a bit of applied math at the graduate level, and even there (especially there) the teaching requires that the "big picture" be conveyed first. It's the emotional, intuitive content that makes the rational understandable, and the skilled scientist knows how to connect and mediate between the two. The idea that the "scientific method" is about logic is, at this point I believe, pretty much discredited*. Skillful scientists are also persuasive rhetoricians. If they weren't, they would never get funded!

    I think the best course of action is to let some of these policies run their course.

    True, but it is not the only component of a good strategy, unless you are a complete fatalist. True, in the long run, these people will fail. But how many will die in that time? Aren't we morally obligated to try to find a solution to the various very real communication problems that you are alluding to? And certainly, those of us who are teaching need to be thinking along these lines. That's our fricking job.

    But, as heywood magroot said, start small. Plant your seeds locally, and let them grow.
    ____________
    *Well, to me anyway. I'd mention Paul Feyerabend here, but then certain people would accuse me of being a Marxist, when I'm really just a garden variety all-American libertarian-lefty.


    posted by mondo dentro at 2:14 PM on September 3, 2005


    mondo dentro> It's the emotional, intuitive content that makes the rational understandable

    When I'm giving a talk about complexity theory my audiences are usually bright, motivated and willing to be exposed to novel ideas. Even then it's a hard task to drag someone through the field who has had no previous exposure to non-linear dynamics, limit points and chaos. Some of it isn't intuitive: simple rule sets producing enormous complexity, massive sensitivity to initial parameters, strange attractors. People think those things are weird.

    In my experience the "life is so complex, it can't be explained by existing theories" people have torturously learned their way through a series of information density problems in the traditional study of biology. They don't want to deal with the idea that there's another field of study that works through those problems that they're going to have to come to grips with. Worse: it involves mathematics. Whenever I get involved in these discussions it gets uncomfortably quiet uncomfortably quickly. For some reason I don't get many invitations to creationist cocktail parties.
    posted by snarfodox at 2:28 PM on September 3, 2005


    For some reason I don't get many invitations to creationist cocktail parties.

    Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

    Seriously, though--I understand what you're saying very well, since I do lots of interdisciplinary work (in dynamical systems), often with less mathematically inclined scientists. But, paradoxically (!) perhaps, my work seems to have given me a very different view of the process than the one you have.

    Lots of time, in trying to build a model or analytical approach with someone averse to what they consider to be overly "reductionist" thinking, I feel that I'm spending a lot of time up front acting like some weird combination of shrink and anthropologist. But I dig that. That's a big part of the craft.

    Only after lots of talking about what their and my terms mean can we get mathematical. In fact, my experience as a mathematical modeler has lead me to feel that once a problem has been "reduced" to math, it's pretty much done (of course, that's an exaggeration--what I mean it's been reduced to a lot of hard labor--usually by a grad student or a postdoc). It's the philosophical part at the beginning of the process that is more difficult and in the end more interesting. And that requires talking, listening, and persuasion.

    Now, as you said, one can't directly apply this to the problem of counterevangelism. It really is, in the end, a case where only those with ears are going to be able to hear. But maybe we can learn to, if not create ears, then unplug blocked ones.
    posted by mondo dentro at 2:48 PM on September 3, 2005


    Every time I read something like this, my first instinct is always, "Fine. Go ahead. My child will be learning the truth from me: Psst, honey, it's a secret, but abstinance is not the only way to prevent pregnancy and the bible is a made up piece of fiction used to pacify the masses."

    I mean if my tax money is being used for school vouchers so that Joshua and Jennifer's kid, Jedidiah, can attend the Sanctified Holy Rock of Grace School to "learn" his ABC's (A is for Abraham, B is for Bethleham, C is for Christ's Holy Church) than what is the difference?

    Next thing you'll be telling me that 72% of American's polled believe that Algebra is unnecessary for later in life and 94% believe that even the President of the United States of America doesn't need a basic grasp of geography.
    posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:50 PM on September 3, 2005


    remember, perhaps 50-60% of teachers want to teach creationism in their classes, too.

    About 50 percent of teachers, if they are representative of the population, also are of below average intelligence. It's not a good idea to bring this junk into the classroom and expect the average science teacher to rescue science.

    Religion is a big part of life. It should be brought into schools as a part of a comparative religious studies program whose balance is not determined by the prevalance of any particular religion in the neighborhood. (It would do no good to teach 99 percent Baptist religion in a 99 percent Baptist neighborhood.) Those studies should make clear that all religions are equally true -- their believers believe things, usually supernatural things, unprovable things, that the rest of us see no evidence for and that almost no one, as is clear from general behavior, would believe if they weren't indoctrinated from birth. Show children that it is equally valid to believe in any god or no god, and that belief in any particular god or no god is no predictor of how good or bad a person is.
    posted by pracowity at 2:54 PM on September 3, 2005


    mondo dentro> But, paradoxically (!) perhaps, my work seems to have given me a very different view of the process than the one you have.

    I'd be inclined to agree with you if we were talking about academics, but I don't think the evangelical creationists are trying to learn anything. They're only interested in picking up the problems at the bleeding edge and running with them to make a political point. They don't want to enter into the discussion. I still hear 'issues' being bandied about that were rolled over by the juggernaut years ago.

    I used to try to be polite. I'd make the effort to teach, no matter what. My conclusion? It doesn't work. Militant ignorance needs to be put to the intellectual sword.
    posted by snarfodox at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2005


    Your mistake, it seems to me snarfodox, is that you keep framing the problem as one of convincing the unconvincible. By definition, that's not possible, so it's not surprising to me that you can't see your way to a solution. But no one is suggesting that. At least, I'm not.

    However, there's convincing and then there's convincing. You can cause a hunk of the right-wing base to waver, be confused, stay home on election day, say a "pox on both their houses", etc.--hell, you will indeed change a few minds. But only if you get in the game and start defending yourself and your values. By necessity, any such effective narrative involves persuasion and will be "emotional" in it's appeal. It's not like explaining a theorem.

    And when I say "persuasion", I mean it in all of the complexity of it's meanings, across all modalities available to you. It's not just about slugging it out with the hard-core fanatics by arguing the logic of their position (though, at times, that's needed). But the unpersuadable make up just a small portion of the entire population. Other, less fanatical people are left to the fanatics' tender mercies when we just walk away because it's too hard to explain our values and beliefs. When thinking of persuasion, think statistical mechanics, not single particle mechanics. Politics is all about shifting the moments of the distribution.
    posted by mondo dentro at 4:01 PM on September 3, 2005


    In my own opinion, what's the purpose of learning a thing if you cannot question a thing?

    In school, I remember asking numerous questions in physics and chemistry that the teacher just sluffed off as "the way things are"; there was a premium on how much content they could teach and their ability to go outside of it was very limited.

    So, it wouldn't be a far stretch from the kind of education I got in a good public school.
    posted by dflemingdotorg at 4:03 PM on September 3, 2005


    Religion is a big part of life. It should be brought into schools as a part of a comparative religious studies program whose balance is not determined by the prevalance of any particular religion in the neighborhood.

    Fine. When? Teachers only get so many days in the school year to teach their subjects. Kids can't read worth a shit these days; they write even worse. Math skills are down the tubes--and that's with calculators. Homework has to be cajoled out of students in the form of "media projects." Other "essential" programs like home-ec and government (aka "civics") have been cut across the nation. Non-essential, but non-trivial programs like music and the arts have suffered severe cut-backs. Foriegn language skills are optional. So where in the curriculum for essential skills do we fit religious studies?
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:53 PM on September 3, 2005


    Heywood Mogroot wrote: the fact that ~50% of this country is of below-average intelligence,

    Uh, if 'average' in that phrase is 'median', then that percentage would be 50% by definition.

    Every time this discussion of teaching creationism in schools as anything other than religious studies comes up, I am reminded of this Onion article.

    mondo dentro - I think if we all had your patience, perspicacity and persistence, we'd be ever so much better off as a world.

    Is it some sort of sign when the third spell check suggestion for 'creationism' is 'cretinism'?
    posted by birdsquared at 5:21 PM on September 3, 2005


    Religion is a big part of life. It should be brought into schools as a part of a comparative religious studies program whose balance is not determined by the prevalance of any particular religion in the neighborhood. (It would do no good to teach 99 percent Baptist religion in a 99 percent Baptist neighborhood.) Those studies should make clear that all religions are equally true -- their believers believe things, usually supernatural things, unprovable things, that the rest of us see no evidence for and that almost no one, as is clear from general behavior, would believe if they weren't indoctrinated from birth. Show children that it is equally valid to believe in any god or no god, and that belief in any particular god or no god is no predictor of how good or bad a person is.
    posted by pracowity at 2:54 PM PST on September 3 [!]



    Amen.

    It's definitely something that's lacking: a study of theology from an academic perspective. It will not appease the people currently pushing for schools to allow christian prayer in the classrooms, but everyone will be better off for it. Religion is very important from a historical perspective, and teaching it can offer insights that are currently being missed.

    So yes, creationism as a trojan horse for real knowledge isn't a bad idea at all.
    posted by mullingitover at 5:38 PM on September 3, 2005


    In a recent poll nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

    If my math is correct, this leaves one third of Americans who say that students should be indoctrinated with evolutionism. Why should the minority be allowed to dictate public policy?
    posted by bevets at 6:49 PM on September 3, 2005


    Oh, so if 80% of children don't want to go to math class, they should get to skip it?
    You're a trip, bevets.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:40 PM on September 3, 2005


    bevets: "If my math is correct, this leaves one third of Americans who say that students should be indoctrinated with evolutionism."

    "Evolutionism" is not a religious belief, and therefore is not subject to religious-style catechistic indoctrination. Though I'm really not surprised that you don't understand that, bevets, since clearly your entire education has consisted of repetitive authoritative indoctrination practices.

    Evolution is a natural outgrowth of many branches of scientific investigation - including, but not limited to, biology, chemistry, physics, archaeology and statistical analysis - uncovering factual evidence which has uncovered the processes of Nature. It's not a "belief" structure in any way.
    posted by zoogleplex at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2005


    1 in 5 Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. I'm moving man, before this shit gets any worse.
    posted by snsranch at 7:48 PM on September 3, 2005


    bevets> Why should the minority be allowed to dictate public policy?

    Because schools aren't supposed to make kids dumber.
    posted by snarfodox at 11:30 PM on September 3, 2005


    Civil_Disobedient: Fine. When? Teachers only get so many days in the school year to teach their subjects.

    Lengthen the school day and lengthen the school year, not just for this subject, but for everything. Kids are not in school long enough, they are at home (or elsewhere) in situations that do not help them to learn. Make sure they are in the school, if not actually in class, something like 8 to 5 every weekday. Maybe arrange so that homework becomes "do it in school or you cannot go home" work.
    posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on September 4, 2005


    If my math is correct, this leaves one third of Americans who say that students should be indoctrinated with evolutionism. Why should the minority be allowed to dictate public policy?

    zoogleplex

    "Evolutionism" is not a religious belief, and therefore is not subject to religious-style catechistic indoctrination. Though I'm really not surprised that you don't understand that, bevets, since clearly your entire education has consisted of repetitive authoritative indoctrination practices.

    Evolution is a natural outgrowth of many branches of scientific investigation - including, but not limited to, biology, chemistry, physics, archaeology and statistical analysis - uncovering factual evidence which has uncovered the processes of Nature. It's not a "belief" structure in any way.


    Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination. ~ Daniel Dennett

    This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record, this is a fight about different worldviews. ~ Michael Ruse

    It is probably because I do have an intensely religious nature – using this term in a secular sense, as one might apply it to other nonbelievers like Thomas Henry Huxley -- that I was attracted toward evolution. Speaking in an entirely secular manner, I do not believe that people come to evolution by chance. From Herbert Spencer (1892) to Edward O. Wilson (1978), it has functioned as a kind of Weltanschauung, a world picture which gives meaning to life. It is something that acts as a foundation for the big questions which we humans face. ~ Michael Ruse

    It is not just that we are on a speck of dust whirling around in the void but that we ourselves are no more than transformed apes. If such a realization is not to affect our views of epistemology and ethics, I do not know what is. As I said in the Preface, I find it inconceivable that it is irrelevant to the foundations of philosophy whether we are the end result of a slow natural evolutionary process, or made miraculously in God’s own image on a Friday, some 6,000 years ago. ~ Michael Ruse

    Consider the role science now plays in education. Scientific "facts" are taught at a very early age and in the very same manner in which religious "facts" were taught only a century ago. There is no attempt to waken the critical abilities of the pupil so that he may be able to see things in perspective. At the universities the situation is even worse, for indoctrination is here carried out in a much more systematic manner. Criticism is not entirely absent. Society, for example, and its institutions, are criticized most severely and often most unfairly and this already at the elementary school level. But science is excepted from the criticism. In society at large the judgment of the scientist is received with the same reverence as the judgment of bishops and cardinals was accepted not too long ago. The move towards "demythologization," for example, is largely motivated by the wish to avoid any clash between Christianity and scientific ideas. If such a clash occurs, then science is certainly right and Christianity wrong. Pursue this investigation further and you will see that science has now become as oppressive as the ideologies it had once to fight. Do not be misled by the fact that today hardly anyone gets killed for joining a scientific heresy. This has nothing to do with science. It has something to do with the general quality of our civilization. Heretics in science are still made to suffer from the most severe sanctions this relatively tolerant civilization has to offer. ~ Paul Feyerabend
    posted by bevets at 2:09 AM on September 4, 2005


    The BevetsBot again.

    If we all did that, Bevets, there would be nothing here but quote and counterquote. But here's an old one for you:
    The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on.” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
    Shall we teach the Theory of Turtles All the Way Down in school? Open those kids' minds a little bit? Remythologize science education?
    posted by pracowity at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2005


    There's a reason bevets talks ovewhelmingly in quotation: when he speaks his own mind, it sounds like this.
    posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:37 AM on September 4, 2005


    None of those quotes that bevets brought out does anything to change my definition, and simply serves to display the real fear of people who object to evolution:

    "we ourselves are no more than transformed apes."

    As if this is somehow less interesting, and dare I say miraculous, than God just wishing us into existence? Such fear, such bigotry... "I can't possibly have come from some damn dirty ape animal!!" Is the fact that we have grown so different from and greater than our cousin the chimpanzee not heartening and impressive?

    There is no philosophy in science. There is lots of philosophy applied to the findings of science after the fact, and of course each scientist himself can be working within a philosopy of his own, but the checks and balances of the scientific process, the peer review, the many years of study, the concerted attacks on any theory to test its rigorousness, result in a net discarding of inaccuracy and trivia, and growth of verifiable - by anyone - facts and evidence.

    Religious people simply cannot conceive of that, because their ego and experience do not give them any sort of mental tools to grasp it. Thus the very learned-sounding quotes above - very impressive to someone educated within religious catechistic indoctrination, and with limited ability to process actual logic.

    Quotes like those above "sound" identical to those of scientific intellectuals, and therefore to someone without useful critical thinking tools - as is clearly evidenced in bevets's website writing, thanks P_G - they are grandly impressive and seem equivalent.

    However of course the actual substance of the words on one side is dogmatic indoctrination-based ego, where the substance on the other side is several hundred years of self-correcting scientific research by literally millions of highly-trained scientists, contributing to the body of human knowledge.

    Quote all you want, bevets, and I'm sure those quotes sound very impressive to you, but they are not science, they are not refutation of science, and they hold no worthwhile argument against the practice and application of science. They simply are people stroking their - and your - egos.
    posted by zoogleplex at 1:41 PM on September 4, 2005


    > 20% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

    Wait, so...80% of Americans are wrong?
    posted by spincycle at 6:43 PM on September 4, 2005


    > remember, perhaps 50-60% of teachers want to teach creationism in their classes, too.

    Heywood, Care to provide a reference for that?

    I don't buy it for a second. This reminds me of an argument an ID proponent (the cable guy, if you can believe that) gave me the other day: he argued that about half of professional biologists disagree with evolution. It's a made up number, and simply doesn't reflect reality - either for biologists or, as you suggest, teachers.

    Science teachers -- and I am one, and know many more as colleagues and friends -- do NOT, generally, want to teach about creationism. Those that do either a) want to teach about it as a means of teaching about what is and what is not science, or b) want it taught, but not in a science class.
    posted by spincycle at 6:50 PM on September 4, 2005


    Keep your hands off me, you damn, dirty apes!

    Just sayin'
    posted by Sparx at 2:05 AM on September 5, 2005


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