Texas is reviewing its science standards, specifically with the desire to remove them altogether. Skepchick has a great discussion of exactly what this means, but here’s the short version:
Now: what you can do:
Just to drive home the point that we need to actually educate our children, not just indoctrinate them, here is a recent BBC documentary (in 6 10-minute segments) about a 13-year old girl, Deborah, who lives on her parents’ farm with some of her 10 brothers and sisters (the ones who haven’t yet left home to spread the Good News.
Deborah and her siblings have been home schooled and rarely leave the compound. When she does, it’s to give tracts out to her peers while they’re waiting for the bus. Her oldest brother has moved out and is working toward a chef’s degree. Deborah leaves home to go visit him in the fourth segment.
The whole thing is worth a watch, even though it’s long. My favorite part (besides the general creepiness and the “omg, it’s my sisters!”-ness of it) is that her brother is specifically turned off by flirting women. I can’t wait for the follow up documentary after that one hits.
I’ve been collecting emails since the success of the last Fun Quotes post. Without further ado:
A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes.
-James Kern Feibleman, philosopher and psychiatrist (1904-1987)
This is definitely something I’ve believed in for awhile. It’s just nice to hear someone with authority say it (in this case, the authority of having been learned and being dead).
When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.
-Thomas Carlyle, historian and essayist (1795-1881)
I know that I can feel acorn-like about my affect on the world. Me driving or biking to work: does it really make a difference? I suppose I just have to have better faith that I am one of a thousand acorns.
When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.
-Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the U.S. (1809-1865)
Now there’s something to shut up the “Founding Fathers wanted it to be a Christian Nation” people…even if Lincoln isn’t a founding father per se, he is still on our money.
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
-Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)
Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination as a zebra. Apparently it does not occur to nature whether or not a creature is within our range of vision, and the suspicion arises that even the zebra was not designed for our benefit.
-Rudolf Arnheim, psychologist and author (1904-2007)
And finally, a note to creationists. Have you all any quotes to share?
I may actually agree with the state representatives of Tennessee in the following, though probably not for the same reasons:
A proposal that would allow the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum for the academic study of the Bible in public schools has passed the House.
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Maddox was approved 93-3 Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last week.
The bill would require school districts that elect to teach the course to do so with an approved textbook in a manner consistent with the state and federal constitutions.
The legislation prohibits the use of any religious test or association when assigning teachers for Bible courses.
There is quite a range of how “academic study,” “approved textbook” and teacher selection might be interpreted and implemented. I, personally, would positively delight in teaching the range of academic approaches to the Bible today, especially if I could use a primo text like Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. The techniques and theories used by even the most devout biblical scholars would challenge many assumptions held by your average Bible Belt Christian. For example, I think that most scholars could agree that the assignment of authorship of the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is extra-biblical, and that New Testament wasn’t assembled until over 200 years after the death of Christ.
“Academic study” would imply that students would be introduced to competing claims, including ideas accepted by many mainstream Christians that the so-called five books of Moses actually had multiple authors, that Paul didn’t write some of the letters ascribed to him, and that there is overwhelming evidence that whoever wrote Luke and Matthew plagiarized off of the gospel with Mark’s name on it. Such impartial, non-sectarian academic study would truly encourage critical thinking and create an environment for more nuanced approaches to religious claims.
I’m not so naive as to think this is how things would play out. After all, 16% of US science teachers are creationists, and
Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in US schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey reveals.
US courts have repeatedly decreed that creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science, and have no place in school science classrooms. But no matter what courts and school boards decree, it is up to teachers to put the curriculum into practice.
So much for trusting teachers to teach the approved curriculum. Instead of proper academic study, the high school students Tennessee will get Sunday School six days a week. There go my dreams of an enlightened, not quite so fundamentalist Christianity rising up from the heart of Clinton country.
Some students at the Vancouver Film School put together this beautiful film project that presents creationism in modern science/business language and the birth of our solar system and the evolution of life in archaic, religious language and imagery. I could say it’s provocative and thought-inducing, but I won’t. It’s just plain fun, dammit. Here we see a serpent-infected apple to the left (watch out, Eve v0.1!), and a stained glass representation of the dinosaurs being wiped out by an asteroid to the right:
If you have time, watch the two films separately, then side-by-side. Otherwise, jump straight to the “duelity” link to get all done at once, O impatient child of the MTV generation.
When I was in high school, I idolized Carl Sagan. After watching Cosmos on PBS, my imagination would be fired up with visions of black holes and humid primeval forests. He filled me with wonder at the vastness of the universe and the natural miracle that is life and intelligence. I hesitate to make comparisons between science and religion because they tend to muddle things more than they clarify, but if science in the last half of the 20th century had a prophet or evangelizer, it was Carl Sagan. He shed light on the mysteries of life and made the heavens accessible to the layperson.
I remember wanting to follow in his footsteps as a popularizer of science. In my senior year of high school, I participated in the Academic Decathlon. My speech was on the life cycle of stars, and I remember the smiles on the judges’ faces as I made references to silly putty and phoenixes. If I remember right, that 10-minute science lecture won the highest score in the speech category for our district.
Then, at the height of my teen angst and insecurity, I converted to Mormonism, and my rationality was clouded by self-censorship of anything that challenged LDS doctrine. Believing that death did not enter the world until after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, I became a young-earth creationist. Two years devoted to spreading the word of God left me little time to question these assumptions.
Fortunately, I returned to UC Irvine and began taking the science for non-majors sequence. This was a great series because it taught the history of science in addition to the current understanding of physics, geology and other sciences. I took cosmology from physicist and SF author Gregory Benford. Episodes of Cosmos began flooding back into my mind as we traced the human understanding of the universe moved from the Ptolemaic, Copernican, Newtonian, to the Einsteinian models and beyond.
In my geophysics class taught by Virginia Trimble, I learned how difficult it was to break through the notion of a young, static earth to the ancient, dynamic one we have today. It was only after overwhelming evidence from multiple disciplines deep into the 20th century did geologists accept the theory of plate tectonics. (What’s more, I got to write a piece of science-focused fiction as an assignment.)
I credit these professors, atheist friends, websites like Talk Origins and the seeds planted in my early years by teachers like Carl Sagan for dismantling my Medieval view of the universe and for restoring my faith in the scientific method and the scientific community. They restored my sense of wonder at nature that had been long obscured and diverted by my religious fundamentalism.
I should note that I’m not referring to my beliefs in God and Christ and Mormonism in this short narrative. Their disintegration is another story. I know from personal experience that you can be a liberal theist, full of questions about your religion and full of awe at the mystery of the universe. And I can empathize with those who struggle with the seemingly impossible task of overcoming dissonance between religious dogma and prevailing scientific theories.
I hope I can be a skeptic in the mode of Carl Sagan. He shared the astonishment and awe of the natural world in a way that most believers did not find threatening, and in so doing helped raise a generation of supporters of science. At the same time, he had no patience for superstition and pseudo-science. I hope that I can reach open-minded theists as much as freethinkers, and that together we can beat back the forces that would extinguish or at least diminish our yearning and awe of a strange and coldly beautiful universe.
I’ve got a butt-load of reading to do tonight (hoping to fit in some Spe Salvi on top of everything else), so post-writing time is limited. For the time being, I’ll point you all to this fascinating Wikipedia article on Creationism. It (and its Wikipedia neighbors) bring up a few points that are often missed in the whole cultural controversy between evolution v. creation (there is no such controversy among scientists). Here’s a few I found interesting:
- Fundamentalist Christianity seems to be unique in its broad, sustained and intense opposition to biological evolution and natural selection. While Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism have their own creation myths, they seem to have theologies or hermeneutics that allow for Darwin to have a seat somewhere within (though not necessarily in a very comfortable chair).
- The root article lists at least six different types of Christian creationism, including Gap Creationism (preserving the literal truth of Genesis by inserting a time ‘gap’ somewhere), Progressive Creationism (i.e. evolution with not-so-random mutations), Theistic Evolution (suspiciously like ID) and our old friend, Young Earth Creationism.
- The U.S. is unique in this controversy. According to one poll, some two-thirds of the members of one of the world’s most advanced scientific powers believe that humans were created by God presto! some time within the past 10,000 years.
- Young Earth Creationism was the prevailing view in the West before the 18th century. (And before Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus, everyone thought the sun and the planets revolved around the earth.)
All of these creationisms represent some attempt by believers to accommodate Christian belief and modern science (yes, even that last one), though some definitely lead to more cognitive dissonance than others. Having felt that dissonance acutely at one point in my life, my heart goes out to those who suffer like I once did.
Twice a year, when my NPR station has its fundraising drives, I switch over to the local socialist network, to remind myself that I’m really not that liberal…Also, whenever I’m at my parents’ or my sisters’, I read their right-wing magazines & newspapers. Both of these, I feel, help remind me that not everyone thinks the way I do. We generally surround ourselves with people (and news sources and blogs) that think the way we do, so the following opinion may be skewed, but I do try to branch out.
The last few weeks, while here at MoF we’ve been (rightly) dissing Creationism, I’ve been hearing an awful lot of off-hand remarks about evolution in my other news sources. Wired (not a conservative bastion, admittedly) blithely tells me that “400 million years ago…plants…evolved” when they moved from the ocean to the land. NPR mentioned evolution in an offhand manner recently, too, but I don’t have the exact quote. Neither of these were stories about evolution or Darwin. Which made me think: creationists must hate regular media…
I have to admit that I’m more familiar with the politics than the science behind intelligent design. It seems that it is being pushed almost exclusively by Christian conservatives, and the controversy is primarily cultural, rather than scientific. I plan to watch this episode over the next few days. If you’ve seen it, please share your impressions with us.
By the way, I’m going to promote Rich’s summary of the ID movement from the comments to this post. He calls it “Telling lies for Jesus.” Any reactions to this?
John Scalzi, SF author and blogger extraordinaire (famous for Bacon Taped to Cat and the recipe for Schadenfreude Pie that we baked to celebrate the 2006 Democratic victory), gives us a guided tour of the infamous Creation Museum:
Here’s how to understand the Creation Museum:
Imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we’re not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we’re talking colossal load of horsehit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.
It gets a little more technical than this, but is definitely worth reading. I do plan on getting a little more religion-friendly than I’ve been in the past few months, but the young earth creationists give even many believers in the U.S. a bad name. And when Biblical literalists begin to influence education and science policy as they do in the current presidential administration, the kid gloves come off. This has moved way out of the realm of private belief and into the public arena, and inasmuch as Creationism tries seriously to pass itself off as science, it deserves to be publicly ridiculed.
And Scalzi does a fine job of it.