November 08, 2004

Teaching Evolution II

Mark Kleiman argues... well, once again, it is still not clear what he is arguing. He says he is not arguing that evolution should not be taught in biology classes:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: [No, I'm not suggesting that we compromise on teach evolution in the schools. I am suggesting that we ought to try to discuss these issues without insulting the deeply-held beliefs of others and scoffing at their strongly-felt, and not obviously groundless, fears. Liberalism teaches me that respecting the dignity of people who are unlike myself is morally appropriate. Elementary political science teaches me that, when those others are in the majority, the morally appropriate course is also the politically prudent one.]

Or does he?

Would a little understanding and compassion toward those who think that, for example, the theory of evolution is a threat to morality be too much to ask?... But try imagining it from the believer's viewpoint. If you've taught your kids that what's in the Bible is true, and that the moral teachings in the Bible are the Word of God, and an authority figure comes along and says that what's in the Bible is false, where does that leave you, and your child?

Moreover, the psychological links between Darwinism and Social Darwinism aren't hard to spot. Herbert Spencer was probably brighter than the average eighth-grader. And the version of evolution I was taught in school was deliberately Copernican in its intention: having learned in astronomy that the Earth isn't at the center, we were now to learn that Mankind isn't at the top, but just a species among other species. There's an important half-truth buried there, but it is only half the truth.

Is it utterly unreasonable to think that teaching children that human beings are naked apes is less conducive to a certain kind of morality than teaching them that human beings are created in the image of God? If children learn that people are animals, why should they feel bad about behaving like animals or about treating other people the way people treat animals? I can imagine a sensitive and sophisticated version of Darwinism that would be highly conducive to pro-social behavior. But how confident can I be that the average eighth-grade teacher will teach that version, instead of the much cruder version that I learned?

But what form is this "understanding and compassion" to take? A Clintonian "We feel your pain" followed by resuming the lesson on evolution?

If we are to soft-pedal and be "sensitive" about the teaching of evolution, do we also need to soft-pedal the teaching of arithmetic? (There is a passage in the Bible stating that the circumference of a circle is three times its diameter.) And political history? (It would have been a great surprise to King Herod, Friend of the Roman People and King of Judaea, had Quirinius, the Emperor Augustus's governor of Syria, or Augustus himself really claimed the power to take a census of the families of Bethlehem.)

And by what right do those who claim that Israel's withdraw from Gaza is contrary to the will of God and that the hipbones of a whale and the light from stars millions of light years away are snares and delusions made by Satan claim the name of "Christian" anyway? It is very hard indeed to imagine Yeshua bin Yusuf thinking that it was vitally important to teach children that the world is 6,000 rather than 4 billion years old. His principal concerns were things like:

King James Bible: Matthew 25: Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me."

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, "Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?"

And the King shall answer and say unto them, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

And:

King James Bible: Luke 18: And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.

Posted by DeLong at November 8, 2004 06:14 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Hey, I'm all for teaching creationism--so long as we can also teach the kids that the world is borne on the back of a giant tortiose (Hindu), that we're all actually space aliens (Borneo atavistic tribes, several American cults), that we were originally clay dolls made by god creatures (Native American myths), and so on.

The Christian right really has no comprehension of the forces they're trying to set loose here. Twenty years from now when whites are a minority and Asians (and Latinos) are running everything, what will all these good Christians think when those groups use the very tools the Christians forced in place to impose their religious views on society through the power of government? Will they REALLY be happy when Taoism, Confucianism, or Falong Gong is being taught in the public schools?

Posted by: Derelict at November 8, 2004 11:58 AM

"The Christian right has no comprehension of the forces they're trying to set loose here. In twenty years ..."

I don't want to wait 20 years. Set the forces loose now.

Posted by: John Thullen at November 8, 2004 12:05 PM

I think one thing that seems to escape the anti-darwinism bunch is that they have bought into social darwinism hook line and sinker. They believe in "nature red in tooth and claw" and the calvinistic notion that the rich are better than the rest becaue of some magical endowment (genetic? the Grace of God?) that others don't have. They are quite willing to let the stranger starve and go naked because the stranger hasn't proclaimed a faith in their version of God's teachings.

They, sir, are no Christians.

Posted by: Carol at November 8, 2004 12:06 PM

I don't understand what he's saying either. It is not intolerant to call intolerance 'intolerance', or to call ignorance 'ignorance'. The whole notion of respect for the ideas of others cannot apply to ideas that explicitly reject that notion.

Of course, it is clearly impolitic to deride the wacky ideas of the religious bigots...but that's another story altogether.

Posted by: Tom Hilton at November 8, 2004 12:23 PM

Liberals are confused. It is not condescending or rude to call the content of bizarre ideas bizarre. Reds are free to believe that the Bible is literally true as an article of faith. One needs faith to persist in believing ideas that science, history and reason reject. That Red Christians are fortunate enough to live in a society where their right to believe such bat shit is cherished is their good fortune. We should not confuse this right with or allow it to be leveraged into a license to impose such bat shit as as secular truth on students in public schools who may or may not share their religious beliefs.

I say this as someone who believes in the Incarntation as an article of faith.

Posted by: Pudentilla at November 8, 2004 12:25 PM

"I think one thing that seems to escape the anti-darwinism bunch is that they have bought into social darwinism hook line and sinker."

And what's even better is that social Darwinism, IIRC, had nothing to do with Darwin himself and a whole lot to do with a pompous freak named Herbert Spencer.

In any case, my standard response to the creationism/intelligent design arguments is "yes, that's all very nice, but it isn't science." And it's not-- science is based on concrete observations and using the actual knowledge we do have to fill in gaps in a logical manner, not indulging in completely unproveable fantasies. It makes people irate, but they simply can't take the argument far enough to claim that we can observe & document the existence of God, so they ultimately have to abandon any discussion of science at all.

Posted by: latts at November 8, 2004 01:20 PM

Kleiman has a point. Avoid unproductive arguments. Evolution is true, but it is not appropriate for average eighth graders. It probably does not need to be taught in high school at all. Why not just teach it to the biology majors in college who need it? HS bio could skip it or soft-pedal it. Then the kids wouldn't have to deal with the creationist nonsense. There's plenty of material in cell bio, genetics, organismal, etc. I have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from UC and I used evolutionary theory very little in my courses, genetics excepted. It was mainly in the background.

Posted by: JRossi at November 8, 2004 01:24 PM

the term fundamentalism came from the fundamentals a series of papers in the late nineteenth century proclaiming belief in the bible.

some of the major writers of these papers saw no conflict betwee the bible and DArwin's theory.
Nor do I bowever I admit there are holes.

The firdt chapter of Genesis tells us WHY and for WHOM god created the Earth. He reaslly didn't bother about how.

As an aside if we have dominion over the Earth surely this means we should not hunt for recreation.

I do approve of using the KJV.

Posted by: Homer Paxton at November 8, 2004 01:24 PM

I thought Republicans wanted to keep school subject simple, and stop polluting them with all this "diversity/I respect your feelings" touchy-feely crap.

Call it creationism, or call it intelligent design, it has no basis in the scientific method, and thus it is not science, and thus it doesn't belong in science class. It is analogous to require a discussion of Darwinism in Sunday School or comparative religion--an interesting concept, but it has nothing to do with doctrine or chapter and verse. Anyone who does not grasp that there is a bright line dividing these concepts has not been taught science adequately. It may be useful for teachers to discuss creationism, ID or criticisms of Darwinism in class, but there certainly should be no mandate for it. Science rejects strict theism out of hand, just as theism rejects strict empiricism out of hand. Only one group is forcing children to have their educations muddled and diluted in the name of pushing dogma.

Posted by: Adam at November 8, 2004 01:51 PM

JRossi--It would be nice if we could "just skip it," but all that does is lead to enforced ignorance for the kids.

And, as Brad points out, what are we to do when the Bible crowd starts screeching about teaching the value of Pi? Do we just not teach mathematics beyond the 6th-grade level?

The point is that if we cave in to these dolts on evolution, there really is no stopping them. We might as well eliminate education beyond middle school since there is almost nothing in the curriculum that does not conflict with Christian teaching.

Posted by: Derelict at November 8, 2004 02:14 PM

JRossi wrote, "I have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from UC and I used evolutionary theory very little in my courses, genetics excepted. It was mainly in the background."

That's just plain wrong. You can't have an informed understanding of biology without the twin notions of evolution and natural selection.

Posted by: liberal at November 8, 2004 02:16 PM

John Thullen

Sorry, but I do worry :) The thought of apologizing for teaching about evolution as the theoretical base of biology is beyond all understanding. What an absurdity to apologize for understanding science as though there were an inquisition in america, and we were Galileo. Oh dear.

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 02:24 PM

John Thullen

Remember, the smile was for you :) The complaint was for the apology for teaching science. The heck I will ever apologize.

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 02:29 PM

Anne, my smiley friend:

I know that my sarcastic manner of presentation can lead to ambiguity but I read through my posts on this thread and the previous Kleiman one and can't find where I apologized for teaching science. I absolutely will not apologize for teaching science and evolution. Though I'm not too sure we aren't Galileo.

Or, have I misunderstood you?

I'll see your 2 smiles and raise you 3. ;)))

Posted by: John Thullen at November 8, 2004 02:55 PM

Tempting as JRossi's suggestion is, Darwin is just too globally important to leave out of high school. No one uses Newtonian physics, either, but the concept itself is worth teaching.

But there's too much dumping here on Kleiman, whom I take to be making the obvious point that Darwinism has a HUGE impact on the traditional Christian worldview. With Darwin, materialism goes "all the way down," as it were. Dan Dennett titled his book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" for a reason.

Christianity can of course be reinterpreted so's not to conflict with Darwin, but most people never get that far in their non-understanding of natural selection. What I take Kleiman to be arguing for is a teaching of Darwinism that acknowledges the apparent problem for traditional religion, and which includes a discussion of the theory's extra-biological implications (and nonimplications). Which of this blog's readers could argue against that?

Posted by: Anderson at November 8, 2004 03:05 PM

The Christian right understands correctly that public schools which teach evolution are a threat to their hold on the minds of their youngsters.
I have no argument with them on this point.
Let's be clear: we are in a battle against ignorance. The front lines of this battle are fought in the public school rooms.
We must hold the line against the teaching of creationism, and against public school vouchers---the latter not for any economic principle ,but because the true goal of vouchers is to destroy the public school system so that our own system of Madrassas can thrive.

It's civic virtue against the "right" of parents to keep their children ignorant. There's no middle ground.

Posted by: marky at November 8, 2004 03:11 PM

The Christian right understands correctly that public schools which teach evolution are a threat to their hold on the minds of their youngsters.
I have no argument with them on this point.
Let's be clear: we are in a battle against ignorance. The front lines of this battle are fought in the public school rooms.
We must hold the line against the teaching of creationism, and against public school vouchers---the latter not for any economic principle ,but because the true goal of vouchers is to destroy the public school system so that our own system of Madrassas can thrive.

It's civic virtue against the "right" of parents to keep their children ignorant. There's no middle ground.

Posted by: marky at November 8, 2004 03:13 PM

sorry for the double-post. I did check preview.
Brad, can't you do something about the time delay for posting?

Posted by: marky at November 8, 2004 03:18 PM

John Thullen

I could not agree with you more. I realized that you might think I was grumbling at you and not the essayist who would apologize away 150 years of biology, so I added the extra smile. I could smile at the essayist as well, after I complain. Remember Bertolt Brecht's Galileo?

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 03:19 PM

sorry for the double-post. I did check preview.
Brad, can't you do something about the time delay for posting?

Posted by: marky at November 8, 2004 03:20 PM

We should only teach evolution in schools, and not shy away from any of its implications, including the fact that there exists evolved differences between races. Those that are afraid of the truth be damned.

Posted by: norman normal at November 8, 2004 03:25 PM

"Social Darwinism" has nothing to do with Charles Darwin and everything to do with the willful misreading of Herbert Spencer. "Survival of the fittest" was the phrase used not by Darwin but by Spencer. This really is not that difficult to teach. Good grief.

Imagine apologizing for the wonder of "Origin of Species."

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 03:28 PM

Brad, I believe Comte surprised liberals like JS Mill by asking why we can’t have different opinions in mathematics if we can have different opinions in politics. Liberalism is a political philosophy that concerns itself with what we ought to do regarding human freedom. Science is build upon hard materialist reasoning and is not concerned with freedom. For religious reactionaries it is the materialism that is the problem not the reasoning. If we can put an object called “God’s intention” into our explanations of the phenomenal world we will be…closer to the truth? The truth of Phillip Johnson’s god? Or will it follow naturally that the universe is providential and we are part of the plan? It is fine to reflect upon God’s intention as many religious scientists do without conflict but it is obscurest to have a special clause “God’s intention” rattling around in your theories about the material world.

Speaking practically, we are in a golden age of biology, evolution is not to just an explanation of history it is used to predict what we will find in related species. If I find a gene in fish and humans it is likely in rats. If not, than that is very interesting. The evolution of whole networks of genes are now being looked at using microarray technology. There goes the irreducible complexity problems the intelligent design folks love to sell.

Mr. Kleiman assumes that nature is red in tooth and claw. He would be right if he limited his view to selfish genes and heredity. But Homo sapiens do not experience the raw savagery of gene flow in populations as outside observers. We and our closest relatives have evolved to be social creatures. We are never nakedly savage in a wild world.

Animals are not unethical or barbarian in their own terms. Bonobos are downright loving and they follow strict codes of conduct enforced by the group. They are moral beings. If you give a common chimp a bit of Colobus monkey meat he is your friend and political ally. Since these codes do not include human emotions like shame, they seem a bit primitive. Kleiman’s fears about exposing small children to the soulless world of Charles Darwin are just plain silly. I think it also distances us from what is so beautiful about nature, through understanding evolution we begin to know we are only different in degree from our common travelers on this planet.

Kleiman seems to be reading from the Discovery Institute’s playbook which advocates hustling creationism into the classroom on the grounds of fairness and balance.

Posted by: bellumregio at November 8, 2004 03:53 PM

John Thullen

:) Deserved always by you.

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 04:36 PM

I think the really ironic thing here is that the most vociferous opponents of evolution theory tend to be the ones that look and act the most like monkeys. Methinks they protest too much.

Posted by: Kuas at November 8, 2004 04:39 PM

> I have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from
> UC and I used evolutionary theory very little
> in my courses, genetics excepted. It was mainly
> in the background.

I have a bachelor's in biochemistry from Yale, and every subject, every week, in one way or another, connected strongly with evolutionary theory. Cell biology, physiology, microbiology, botany, neurobiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, ecology -- all of them.

Evolutionary theory doesn't stand on its own as an edifice isolated from the rest of biology. It isn't proved or disproved by a single experiment. It is proved over and over again by thousands of experiments every year. It is the unifying theory that pulls all of biology together into a coherent whole.

But whether eighth graders are ever going to get this, even without the noise generated the absurd claims of creationism, is another question.

What I find discouraging is the fact that very few people study math or science in any serious way ever. Plenty of my classmates went on to serious and powerful positions in law, government, academia, and business without ever taking ANY math or science beyond the age of 15!

Reality-based thinking is not just unpopular among poorly educated fundamentalists, but also among the well educated and the well connected. If you have spent your entire life only dealing with matters in which charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric always carry the day, you will probably become inclined to believe there isn't any hard verifiable reality out there besides charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric.

Posted by: S. Anderson at November 8, 2004 04:52 PM

States rights.

If all the rationalists move to Vermont, we can have one state where natural selection is taught. It's rather a handy way to understand many systems -- from biology to economics to politics and possibly even cosmology. (I assume the biochemist was joking when he said natural selection should be deferred to college -- why don't we defer division to grad school? Yeah, surely he was just being obscurely clever.)

Meanwhile everyone else can join the dark ages. Osama will welcome you there. It's where he'd rather be too.

Posted by: John Faughnan at November 8, 2004 04:52 PM

There is no passage in the bible that actually states that the circumference of a circle is three times its diameter. What there is, is a passage that implies that the circumference(s) of one particular lot of pillars - presumed to be precisely circular - was (were) three times its (their) diameter(s). That may imply the value of pi, but only if you make certain assumptions about the circularity of the pillars and if you suppose that pi is universal (which the writer of the passage obviously didn't mean to imply, since he mistakenly thought circumferences were independent of diameters).

But an implication, even a faulty implication, is not a direct statement. There is no passage in the bible that states that the circumferences of circles are three times the corresponding diameters, not as a general statement that is.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence at November 8, 2004 05:24 PM

S Anderson

I have a bachelor's in biochemistry from Yale, and every subject, every week, in one way or another, connected strongly with evolutionary theory. Cell biology, physiology, microbiology, botany, neurobiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, ecology -- all of them.

Evolutionary theory doesn't stand on its own as an edifice isolated from the rest of biology. It isn't proved or disproved by a single experiment. It is proved over and over again by thousands of experiments every year. It is the unifying theory that pulls all of biology together into a coherent whole.

But whether eighth graders are ever going to get this, even without the noise generated the absurd claims of creationism, is another question.

What I find discouraging is the fact that very few people study math or science in any serious way ever. Plenty of my classmates went on to serious and powerful positions in law, government, academia, and business without ever taking ANY math or science beyond the age of 15!

Reality-based thinking is not just unpopular among poorly educated fundamentalists, but also among the well educated and the well connected. If you have spent your entire life only dealing with matters in which charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric always carry the day, you will probably become inclined to believe there isn't any hard verifiable reality out there besides charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric.

Wonderful post.

Posted by: anne at November 8, 2004 05:57 PM

My point was not to dispute the merits or usefulness of evolutionary theory to a biologist or even an undergraduate. Of course evolution integrates biology. Call me cynical, but I'm talking about high schoolers here--grabasstic, gum-popping, video-game-addicted American teenagers. Anyone who thinks that a couple of 8 am lectures on natural selection are going to change these kids' world views has got another think comin'. Evolution is too much, too soon for most of them. Maybe they can learn it in AP bio or as college freshmen. Derelict, when the fundamentalists start disputing the value of pi, I'll make my stand.

Posted by: JRossi at November 8, 2004 06:01 PM

The debate between Creationism and the theory of evolution is one over the nature of change. It goes right to the central precepts of thinking: can something come out of nothing? is it likely to? isn't it more likely that something will come out of something else kinda similar? what is the agent of this change and how fast does it move?

I was raised in a non-fundamentalist religious household, and still, I remember having an existential conundrum over evolution. It was an important intellectual process to go through; it made me think a lot harder about what kind of God I believed in. By about twelve years old, I had argued myself into some version of intelligent design, and after that, my god got a lot more Platonic. And no, understanding and accepting the theory of evolution did not make me go jack.

I have some sympathy with your position, JRossi, as there do exist a lot of ways that science could be taught more practically than it is now. Top-down theoretical pedegogy is rarely effective, especially when you're dealing with a hostile crowd. But the theory is so basic to our understanding of how to classify the natural world--into both species families and time periods--that I really don't see how a teacher could simply "avoid" the subject without being fundamentally dishonest about the bases of her or his field.

Posted by: Jackmormon at November 8, 2004 06:29 PM

JRossi wrote, "My point was not to dispute the merits or usefulness of evolutionary theory to a biologist or even an undergraduate. Of course evolution integrates biology. Call me cynical, but I'm talking about high schoolers here--grabasstic, gum-popping, video-game-addicted American teenagers."

Point taken, but why stop at natural selection/evolution? That's an argument for not teaching them anything with deep intellectual content---include chemistry, physics, math beyond arithmetic, literature, deeper aspects of history...So why pick on natural selection?

Posted by: liberal at November 8, 2004 06:44 PM

Is Kleiman's point that since the truth offends people who can't understand it, we should just lie to them? That is a good example of what I like to call the soft bigotry of low expectations. Or is it the low expectations of soft bigotry?

Either way- Republicans still have to take science class and we will NOT grade on a curve...

Posted by: andrew at November 8, 2004 06:48 PM

PLEASE, let's all distinguish between "evolution" and "natural selection".

Posted by: liberal at November 8, 2004 07:00 PM

“Reality-based thinking is not just unpopular among poorly educated fundamentalists, but also among the well educated and the well connected. If you have spent your entire life only dealing with matters in which charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric always carry the day, you will probably become inclined to believe there isn't any hard verifiable reality out there besides charisma, spin, salesmanship, and rhetoric.”

Nihilistic gnosticism, now I understand Bush and postmodernism.

Posted by: bellumregio at November 8, 2004 07:11 PM

To Jackmormon: "Fundamentally dishonest about the bases. . ." C'mon man, this is high school, not the Harvard Department of Zoology. To liberal: You hit the nail right on the head. Teaching HS kids topics of deep intellectual and controversial content is low-yield. That is exactly correct. Wait until college when they're ready for it. Chemistry, physics, and math are different. They are needed for kids to progress to the next stage. Evolutionary theory is different--it is not needed until upper division of undergraduate study in biology. Think of it as the bio equivalent of quantum theory--we don't teach that to HS kids.

Posted by: JRossi at November 8, 2004 07:44 PM

Evolutionary theory cannot lose, going toe-to-toe with creationism. Even the stupidest clod knows that grampa replanted only the fattest corn, and so he’s got a third of Darwin already under his belt.

But since the religious impulse is to follow a path through being-without-conceptual-thought (or consciousness-without-an-object), evolutionists might own-up that they really can have nothing to say about this. (Let’s see, there’s no concept, no measure, it’s not reproducible on demand,...) The danger is that some scientists, in a rather unscientific move, pass it off as a psychological malfunction, despite massive documentary evidence, lauded salutary effects, permeation of art, music, and literature, and what may be increasing population frequency (here I cite Richard Bucke’s old chestnut, “Cosmic Consciousness”.)

Of course, from the religionists, any attempted conceptual thought about this consciousness-without-an-object is going to look a lot like the metaphysics-of-the-day (or -yesteryear.) And arguing with them about THAT silly stuff is virtually useless, but for rhetorical exercise...

So consider, an originary metaphysics, but couched in evolutionism: Evolution continued from protozoa or whatever, up through creatures to humans--the dividing-line there presumably self-consciousness--and then humans developed language, then rational intellect, then science, and then the concept of “evolution.” So, therefore!: evolution led to the discovery of evolution.

Now there we have another circular conception, mixed-up further with notions of consciousness and mirror-imaging. Where have we seen THAT before? And what are the conditions under which a person, finding the need for a moment of unitary being, switches from one circularity to another one?

Therefore, evolutionists might do us all well, to formulate a clear acknowledgment of what they really can NOT know, since their particular area is somewhat the Origin of Things. Saying simply that “science is what’s rational” is not going to be enough, and it is getting dangerous... Because you can see how the swine of the New Rovian Christianistics can hornswoggle the sheep into voting to get ALL of us fleeced.

In essence, I think that science gets ahead of itself. It just doesn’t do all of its homework. In some ways we are still at the beginning of the Enlightenment. “Reality-based thinking is unpopular among the well-educated”, indeed.

Another primary example is science’s almost perfect failure to predict multi-compartment complex systems, especially living, adaptive systems--in any subject, at any level, from local wildlands to the global climate. The lack of admitting to this, and not teaching the back-up principles of induction, gives the opening to all sorts of loonies and bounders to confute the precautionary principle. Take the example of the anti-warming jackasses and scumbags in the White House.

Posted by: Lee A. at November 8, 2004 07:53 PM

Supply and demand is against the teachings of the Bible. God sets mens hearts to buy and sell. Supply and demand has not Biblical.

Start with these premises and then try to teach economics. You could maybe teach basic accounting.

Creationism shackles biology the same way Lysenkoism shackled crop breeding in the Soviet Union. We all know that the Soviets had massive grain shortages in the 60s-70s and American farmers backed by their Darwinist plant breeders were laughing all the way to the bank.

Posted by: bakho at November 8, 2004 09:24 PM

The Bible reports the value of pi to one significant digit, and is correct. It does make numerous other factual errors, however...

Posted by: CD318 at November 8, 2004 10:06 PM

Simply put, when has the collapse-of-morality-owing-to-identity-crises that Kleiman thinks that Christian parents fear ever happened? I've heard a few cases of atheist Nietzscheans committing horrible murders, though not nearly as many as I've heard of Christian fundamentalists committing horrible murders (though, I don't know which has a higher proportion relative to population, given that fundamentalists are also a larger population). Is there some society in which people believed in natural selection, and the society somehow collapsed as a result? I know a few places where society basically collapsed, such as Somalia or Afghanistan post-Soviet and pre-Taliban. Well, they weren't exactly hotbeds of atheism. Well, China went kind of crazy during the 70s cultural revolution. I'm not sure what that has to do with evolutionary biology, though. Surely there must be a LITTLE bit of evidence that someone, somewhere, showed a degraded standard of morality because she read about peppered moths or ambulocetuses?

I should note that I'm basically a moral sentimentalist. Or emotivist. Or expressivist. Or something like that. I don't know much about morality, but I know what I like, and I don't think that reading the ten commandments and accepting that Moses really did go up Mount Sinai and get them from God is what makes someone moral: just ordinary, positively-experienced socialization.

And I think that we should respond to the fact that differences between humans and animals are different by degrees, rather than by fundamental nature, by treating other animals with more respect and sympathy, not by treating our fellow humans more callously and instrumentally. That's not really germane, though.

If people just believe that learning evolutionary biology will somehow make them less moral, and that it is, even if true, a dangerous truth that mustn't be taught, then it is up to THEM to justify that belief. We should not say, "we not only understand your concern, but we're willing to teach your kids bullshit so that you'll be more confident that their morality will not be undermined." We should say, "very well. We understand your concern for your child's moral well being, but we really need some kind of evidence showing that learning the truth really will have such an effect on your child."

That said, I'm actually in favor of vouchers: there should be a rigorous certification process, though: if there's a morning opening prayer, fine, but the students should know how you get from nuclear DNA to finished protein after taking a biology class. If they learn weird stuff on the side, okay, so long as they know the real stuff well.

P.S.: Young-Earth Creationism is actually a MORE coherent theory than Old-Earth Intelligent Design, but that's for another thread, unless someone REALLY wants me to post it.

Posted by: Julian Elson at November 8, 2004 10:09 PM

JRossi:

Would you have us omit from astronomy the speed of light and the Doppler effect, because these concepts frighten young-earth creationists?

After all, there are other aspects of astonomy that could be profitably studied, such as the brightness of the sun, the names of the craters on the moon, and the strange epicycles that the planets follow as they revolve about the Earth's axis. (/sarcasm)

We no more can omit evolution from the life sciences than we can omit the ideal gas law or molecular orbital theory from chemistry, or Homer's Iliad from literature, plate tectonics from geology, or the history of the slave trade from American history. These are foundational components of their respective disciplines. They are not trade secrets to be reserved only for the elites -- the majors, the professionals, etc.! Your advice would be appropriate if our intent was to establish a clerical order. But it ridiculous advice if our goal is to teach science in the public schools.

You are certainly entitled to think that most of biochemistry is understandable without any knowledge of evolution. I would say that such a view is at best shortsighted; at worst, I'd say that you have failed to understand how much of modern biochemistry relies -- at a daily, nuts-and-bolts level -- on evolutionary theory and the tools developed for evolutionary analyses. A simple example: when we are studying a new protein, one of the very first things that we do is look at related proteins in other organisms, to see which amino acids vary, and which are conserved. Such a course of action makes not sense, as JBS Haldane would have tolds us, except in the light of evolution...

Posted by: Alex Merz at November 8, 2004 11:31 PM

Okay, I read Kleiman's whole post (I should've done that before, but anyway...): I think he's largely right, if his message is that we shouldn't be assholes by calling people who are opposed to teaching evolution troglodytes or primitive inbreds. I think it's always a good thing not to be an asshole. If they want to reduce the teaching of evolution in government-run schools, though, we can't compromise on that just because they have an irrational intuition that it will degrade their childrens' morals.

Posted by: Julian Elson at November 8, 2004 11:52 PM

I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding about the mindset/minds behind creationist movement.

I was an undergrad at Caltech and one thing that really shocked me was that there was a surprisingly large (well, at least, given the nature of the place.) contingent of Christian fundamentalists among the student body. Intellectually speaking, these were as brilliant folks as anyone else. It's not that they could not comprehend the logic of natural selection and evolution--heck, they didn't even have any objection to natural selection, at least as a short term phenomenon. What they (at least some of them) did not accept was evolution as a long term phenomenon.

If anything, this seems consistent with the view held by JRossi that evolution really isn't fundamental to understanding of basic science and math--these folks did quite well, although, I did notice that they were invariably engineering rather than science majors. That they could not, as a matter of personal belief, accept evolution did not preclude them from being very skilled engineers.

I don't advocate retreating on evolution--pardon my language, but I think this smacks too much of liberal political correctness, another example of cowardice before unpleasant facts. But I do think that most liberal folks have NO idea who the Christian fundamentalists really are and too often have fanciful caricatures that bear utterly no resemblance to reality.

Posted by: hk at November 9, 2004 12:31 AM

Well don't be coy, hk: tell us more about the real creationists, our misconceptions of them, etc!

Posted by: Julian Elson at November 9, 2004 01:57 AM

" But what form is this "understanding and compassion" to take? A Clintonian "We feel your pain" followed by resuming the lesson on evolution? "

No, the answer is to understand that issue and to offer a solution. Not to deny evolution, but to give them a better understanding of the Bible and its teaching and its relation to the world around us.

Start by teaching them the difference between Lies and Fiction. A novel or film may not be True, it does not describe a real event and yet the reader may be moved by it and learn about the world, about humans, about morality. Similarly, a passage in the Bible need not have to be historically or scientifically true to tell us something important. Indeed, you can point out that Jesus in his parables used fiction for this purposes. Even if a person believes that Jesus told the tale of the Good Samaritan, how many are going to argue that there indeed existed a Samaritan who helped the robbers victim ? I think that most will accept that Jesus invented the story to make a point: That humans should care for their fellow men (and women).

In this vein you can argue that much of the Bible may not be literally true in a historical or scientific sense, but still has an important message.

Will such an approach help ? Not, probably, with the hard core literalist or with those who fear that any kind of thought is a danger to their control over their flock and their children. But it can work with the less radical, who share the concern but are open to argument.

Is it asking to much from a biology teacher to discuss these issues ? They may not have the training for that, true. But any teacher should be aware of and should discuss the political, social or ecological implications of his topic, whether it's pollution in a chemistry class, nuclear weapons in a physics class or the social consequences of economic decisions.

Is it too much to ask of eight graders ? Maybe, may be not. There will always be the uninterested ones. But from my exprience with young people, the right spark can trigger lively discussions on almost any subject.

Posted by: khr at November 9, 2004 01:59 AM

Hk,
I understand perfectly well what Creationists are: they are cowards. They can't stand looking at the world as it really is, and so they have to invent tales that take some of the rough edges off the world. These people don't have to be stupid, but at the heart they are simply afraid.
It is their loss, really. I wish I could be more charitable, but the stakes are too high. The people that believe in bible stories are the same ones who dismiss tales of global warming---again, not necessarily because of a lack of intelligence, but because of a fearful disposition. They simply stick their heads in the sand when the questions get tough.

I just want to say something from a personal level. One of my big objections to even discussing religion and creation stories is that the questions are so simplistic they probably have no relation to the truth at all. For instance, not only do I not believe in God, I don't believe I've ever seen a well-posed question about what God is. I just hate this tail-chasing metaphysics. The real irony is that if you look at the universe as it is, the complexity is so profound, and the surprises so endless, that you are much more satisfied.

For me, I don't know what "God" is, but I know the universe is so amazing as it really is that I don't mind whatever the truth is.

Posted by: marky at November 9, 2004 08:08 AM

"Is it asking too much from a biology teacher to discuss these issues?"

Yes, in a word, not that any open-minded teacher doesn't go off topic to entertain existential questions from time-to-time. But your discussion can and should take place in a comparative religion course, or something similar, which I favor.

Look, after the bell rings, everyone believes what they want about biology or geology. No one is forced into anything. Just as I'm not forced to believe in the Reincarnation at the local Easter Service. But I don't raise my hand during the sermon and quibble with the pastor about the nature of the Easter Bunny.

In my view, we're not really talking about discussing things here. We're talking about taking the test. If the question on the biology test is whether of not the scientific theory (a word neither science teachers nor theologians have explained very well) of evolution is the current working hypothesis with substantial supporting evidence is answered by the student in the negative, what we have here is an "F" student.

If the same question is asked on the comparative religion exam, mixed in with questions about which world religion is the Truth, the answer can be no and the student can still get an "A".

See the difference.

Let me tell you a completely apocryphal story. I once objected in my high school science class to the "theory" of gravity (hey, if you're so certain about it, why do you call it a theory?) on religious grounds and claimed on my test that this bogus theory violated my belief in the Rapture. Not only did I flunk the exam, but the teacher pushed me out a third-story window to illustrate the theory. But I'm still not sure about it.

Same thing happened in comparative religion class. Got pushed out a fourth story window for good measure but I still received a B+ on the exam.

I was lucky in my choice of religion and science teachers, however. There were science teachers who ridiculed true believers as "religious twits" and there were religion teachers who burned my Jewish friends at the stake. Test scores were disappointing, too.

Bad form in both cases.

Posted by: John Thullen at November 9, 2004 08:15 AM

The theory of Evolution is about as much of a "theory" as is the theory of relativity.
I cannot believe that in the 21st century we are still having this discussion. It's absolutely preposterous and ludicrous and all the other ous's.
On our way to school, I have been teaching my 6 year old daugher about evolution and the survival of the fittest. Why do giraffes have long necks??? etc. etc. etc.
I live in Illinois so I pray there is not much chance I will ever have to face idiots who think that its ok to teach a young impressionable children that the world was created in six days.
But if it ever comes to pass, I will teach my child to REJECT creationism. Here's why: Why do you suppose the story of creationsim is so simplistic in the bible? COULD IT BE THAT THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE THE BIBLE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT THEMSELVES??? COULD IT BE THAT THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND MUCH OF ANYTHING AND THOUGHT THE EARTH WAS FLAT?
Look, the truth is that God never intended man not to figure out evolution. He gave us a brain to think and reason and learn. What he probably hoped is that we would realize that while the world took a long time to create, he certainly had a hand in it.
The true problem in all of this is that by discounting Evolution, we are denying our children the right to learn the very basics of science that could spur one of them to be a scientist. We are harming our children's education by allowing a group who stubbornly refuses to admit that the bible, while a great source of wisdom, was written by men who rode donkeys and used oil to light their houses, to dictate what our children should and shouldn't be taught. Let's face it, if they believe in creationism over Evolution (in spite of the fact that we have fossils to prove the latter) then they are just too stupid to be telling anyone anything. And their faith in creationsim isn't going to get them into heaven. It's just not.

Posted by: Susan at November 9, 2004 08:37 AM

Sometimes I think the ultimate solution is to offer an alternative high school diploma--one that certifies that the recipient has taken no math past geometry, no biology or physics or chemistry, no health or sex ed, nothing even vaguely modern. Just reading, writing, 'rithmatic, a lot of home ec and shop and basic business principles.

Make it clear that this diploma is not the same as the academic diploma, and that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of what diploma you've earned is legal, justifiable and expected. If you want your kids to avoid ideas that make you uncomfortable, there will be repercussions down the line and for the rest of their lives.

But give parents the option to give their children an inferior education, so that I might be assured that my son doesn't have to have a watered-down education, or waste time listening to abstinence lectures (from someone other than me) and creation lectures or other such crap. I want the best for my son, and if that means allowing others to give their kids swiss cheese educations, then I'm all for it.

Posted by: jlw at November 9, 2004 10:11 AM

Fascinating thread. Imagine, 150 years after "Origin of Species." We are curious creatures.

Posted by: anne at November 9, 2004 10:47 AM

What I can't figure out is why the teaching of evolution is a problem at all. I am a member of a faith (Catholicism) which has no problem at all with the teaching of evolution, and, indeed, has had no problem with the teaching of evolution for over a century. The official Catholic doctrine is basically that the business of the Church is Faith, and the business of science is Science, and nothing that Science discovers can destroy Faith because it's all God's creation. Whether evolution is taught (or not taught) in science classes is thus of supreme disinterest to the Church -- it litterally does not matter, it's irrelevant to the question of Faith, it is something for scientists to talk and argue about, not something that the Church need be or should be interested in.

Of course, 500 years ago the Church was not so enlightened. But there's something to be said for having that 500+ years of experience at dealing with the dislocations of science, as vs. the mere 150 years or so of most of the evangelical cults, which still have not come to terms with anything more complicated than calling Catholics "Papist statue-worshippers". In the end, the evangelical cults will also have to come to terms with science, or fade to the same irrelevance as failed cults anywhere.

= Badtux the Catholic Penguin

Posted by: BadTux at November 9, 2004 12:30 PM

For anyone interested in the history of the controversy, there is a usenet newsgroup, talk.origins, devoted to the scientific merits of Creationism. It was set up because the serious groups for discussions of biology were subject to the distraction of sincere religious folk who wanted to present simpleminded argumentsfor creationism. For most of the history of the group, the Creationist posters were of this sort.

A few years ago, a different kind of antievolutionis appeared. They had conservative political backgrouonds, were well aware of the science but neverless wanted evolution stamped out as an evil influence on the masses. I wonder if the recent push to change the public school curriculum isn't related to this movement.

talk.origins may have changed in the last year or two. I stopped reading and posting because it became tiresome to be attacked by some of the regulars for insufficient zeal on an unrelated political issue.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at November 9, 2004 07:08 PM

I was at a meeting with MoveOn.org folks a few weeks ago (just before the election) and they were given to making highly caricatured remarks about the folks who were voting for Bush, especially those of the religious right--essentially that these guys were uncorrigible ignoramuses and most are old geezers who'll go away with a passage of time.

As you might guess from my comment above, the religious fundamentalists that I ran into were hardly old or stupid--many of them were, and still are, I presume, young, bright, and articulate people who were primarily different from us (I presume you're all members of the reality-based community) in their willingness to subordinate belief in reality in certain areas to their faith in something basically fanciful--but nevertheless important to them. The survey results by PIPA folks (at University of Maryland) that show not only persistent, but actually growing perception gap between the Red and Blue Americas about the "war on terrorism" seems only to support my suspicion.

I don't know what can/should be done vis-a-vis these folks, but I can tell you that just mocking them, foo-fooing them as inconsequential ignoramuses and pretending that they aren't worthy of serious attention won't work. That's precisely how things got this bad. We have to fight, and keep fighting, for teaching evolution in schools, keeping the wall between the Church and State high, etc--and not retreat into cowardly political correctness as, I think, Kleiman is suggesting.

Posted by: hk at November 10, 2004 01:30 AM

If you connect Klein's previous column with this one, then the whole thing becomes very funny: he's arguing that we shouldn't spare the feelings of Buddhists, Taoist, Muslim etc (the minorities) and the fundies have every right to tell them they are going to be burned in eternal flame. However, to avoid injuring the feelings of a minority of Christians, we should just ditch a scientific truth from the curriculum.

Examining your own beliefs is part of growing up. No wonder so many Fundies are so infatile.

Posted by: Weco at November 10, 2004 02:35 AM

Just want to underscore HK's remarks.

Dispense with all "Bush is stupid" and "right-wing Christians are nuts" memes. That they are these things is irrelevant, because they have gained critical mass and not believing it has happened is no longer feasible. So we must fight street by street and house by house or we will lose the freedom to teach evolution, the freedom to redistribute income (yes, that has secured our freedoms) through Social Security, Medicare, and other extraordinarily successful human achievements, which have enhanced our economic growth, not hindered it.

I'm not going back to the world the now smiley-faced majoritarian but still reptilian Republican Party wants to take us.

I won't stand for it.

Look, I spend more time pleading with my liberal friends than with my conservative friends. My conservative friends, for the most part, are completely forthright and cheerful about their radical goals. My liberal friends are still asking, "how can these people believe this stuff".

I feel like the Kevin McCarthy character in the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". I'm splayed on the hood of your car pounding on the windshield screaming that "they are coming".

Well, baby they are here now and if you go to sleep you'll wake up tomorrow as just another one of the pod people. Whaddya gonna do?

Posted by: John Thullen at November 10, 2004 10:19 AM

Interesting thread, but for the most part very opinionated. Creationism is just one part of an anti-scientific view that is pervading society. I live in a blue state, California, in the bay area, and in a reasonably educated and wealthy part of it, and still it intrudes. From a practical standpoint, trying to counter church teachings on Genesis feels like putting your finger in the dyke, and I would welcome some help here.

My 6th grade daughter is allowed to go to the local methodist church, which she does for mostly social reasons. Yet we have had conversations that go along the theme of "Daddy, I really want to believe that God created us, but I can't disbelieve the history books at school explaining about the cavemen. My friend XXXX says that the schoolbooks are wrong and she won't believe that cavemen existed".

She struggles with this and I think she will end up on the reality side of the fence.

But most of my friends, mostly democrats, are social church goers and do tend to gloss over the inevitable conflicts over teachings with a refrain like: "Well scientists have one story about where we come from and other people believe that God made us". They truly believe they are being fair and balanced and that this is the best way to confront the issue.

Do other folks on this post have kids and how do they overcome the anti-scientism, especially when spouses or family are not on the same side of the fence?

I would have to say that the local public schools seem to stay firmly on the science side of the fence, but I certainly monitor the textbooks, which for the most part have the correct science, but tend to be very revisionist with regards to history (was the North American continent really such a utopia before those nasty europeans arrived?).

Posted by: Alex Tolley at November 10, 2004 02:10 PM

It's interesting that the neocons may want to teach Creationism as a fact, after all it goes hand in hand with their ignoring science when it interferes with ideology.

On the ohter hand aren;t a lot of their social programs based on the notion of survival of the fitest, which is a Darwinain concept. If we role back Social Security to the Hoover days and then do away with health insurance, unions, and other protections offered by government or groups then you are left with individuals fending for themselves, which then becomes Social Darwinism. Remember that the Robber Barrons used to state that since they were rich they were either closer to god or that they were more evolved then the rest of us.

Posted by: Karl Seidenwurm at November 10, 2004 02:12 PM

Alex: Well, I have a 15 year-old son who is a budding humanist, very scientifically oriented, and pretty closed-minded toward religion, it seems, but when they are 15 they clam up, so who knows precisely what's on his mind.

But he has plenty of religious texts and books about mythology (describing religion in mythological terms is in no way an insult to religion, though some fundamentalists hate Joseph Campbell, for example) on hand at home when he's interested. We don't attend church (though my son attended a mildly Christian preschool), but I would suggest if you do, attend a traditional church of just about any sect. They seem to at least have room for a humanistic worldview, as opposed to the more fundamentalist churches.

By the way, I've heard the "cavemen didn't exist"
thing and I've heard the "cavemen existed but only 4000 years ago near the beginning of creation, etc" to which I say, make up your mind. Two opinions about history are not permitted in a strict literalist world. I haven't yet heard the "caves don't exist" meme, but wouldn't be surprised.

I will not stand for anti-scientism, and by the way, a talk with anyone who subscribes to New-Age types of thinking makes you realize that this urge is not limited to fundamentalist Christians.

However, I respect the very human spiritual impulse. But the current crowd is something else altogether.

Karl:

Yes,the political alliance forged in today's Republican Party between the atheistic, libertarian, Ayn Randers and the hard, moral majority, fundamentalist Right is a sight to behold and one that will be written about in the history books. It's a two-headed monster; it must be defeated within the rule of law.

But if it's not, I'm prepared to entertain alternatives.

Posted by: John Thullen at November 10, 2004 05:51 PM

I want to underscore John Thullen's comment re. fanciful beliefs beyond fundamentalist Christians.

Remember the Kennewick Man some years ago and all the controversy that it generated, partly because it contradicted some of the cherished beliefs of local Native American tribes? Science is not PC--it often offends someone. It might be Christian fundamentalits some day, it might be Native Americans another, or it could be industrialists one day, and environmentalists another. But, if we are to be committed to science, we can't be partisan about its implications.

Posted by: hk at November 11, 2004 05:48 PM

2366 Kona Coffee Starbucks Coffee Jamaica Blue Mountain
Coffee
coffee maker gourmet coffee green mountain coffee kenya coffee organic coffee specialty coffee folgers coffee coffee brewers costa rica coffee Tullys Coffee Millstone Coffee coffee grinder
http://www.coffee-delivered.com

You only get one set of teeth. Take care of them with a good
dental plan.
Dental
insurance is
money well spent. I sleep better since I signed up for my new dental insurance
plan.
Get yours at: http://dental-insurance-plan.freeservers.com/

individual
dental
plans
You only get one set of teeth. Take care of them with a good
dental plan.
Dental
insurance is
money well spent. I sleep better since I signed up for my new
dental insurance
plan.
Get yours at:
http://www.dental-plan-source.com
individual dental
plans
You only get one set of teeth. Take care of them with a good
dental plan.
Dental
insurance is
money well spent. I sleep better since I signed up for my new
dental insurance
plan. Get yours at:
http://www.e-dental-insurance-plans.com/
individual dental
plans

Posted by: dental plans at November 24, 2004 04:10 AM
Post a comment









Remember personal info?