Roger Ebert, Ben Stein, and the culture war

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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135 Responses

  1. Sam M says:

    “What sort of handicap will be placed on kids who are forced to learn – in public school – both evolution and creationism intelligent design? ”

    My vote is for… none?

    Seriously. Even if you believe whole-heartedly that creationism and/or ID are wrong, how much of a handicap is that? Schools teach all sorts of wrong stuf all the time. Besides, kids from Catholic schools learn about creationism all the time. From what I understand, they perfrom as well or better than public school kids in college and, generally in life.

    Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say Wiccans got a lot of political clout somehow and decided that they wanted to force teachers to tell students that volcanoes erupt because a warlock named Charlie threw an eye of newt into crater. Or something. So after teaching what the overwhelming scientific consensus is, the teacher said, “Now, not everyone believes in the overwhelming scientific consensus. For instance, Wiccans believe in this whole eye of newt thing and some guy named Charlie.” Would that doom America’s future as a cradle of geological research? I really don’t think it would.

    And as for that overwhelming scientific consensus…. careful there. At times it can be wrong. Really wrong. And horribly misused. Is it in this case? Like you, I don’t think so. But when a significant and vocal minority in the country thinks so, I don’t think it’s hugely damaging thing to point that out to kids.

    Should that be done in a science class? I would prefer it to be done in a class about world culture or some such. After all, it’s hard to teach culture or politics without taking religion into account. So in a class like that, you could have a section on different views of important questions. Like the origin of man. But if we have to do it in science class, who cares?

    I guess this is of a piece with my broader political views. Who cares? I think I ought to form a party called that. Gay people want to marry? Let them. Doesn’t impact me in any way I can see. Oh, wait, someone says that would be fine if we called it something else? Cool. That would seem to work. Or… people want to talk about warlocks or eyes of newt in science class?OK. That doesn’t seem THAT much more ridiculous than some of the stuff I leanred in college. Who cares?

    I mean this with all sincerity: Who cares? Yes, I know that the people behind this are evil and want to do terrible thing X or Y or Z and this is just a first step. But my kids will be going to public school, at least from 9-12. And I honestly don’t care of someone teaches them about ID in scence class. Or ED in sex ed. because of hearing some things sends them over the edge and they can’t compete in the world economy because someone told them about Adam’s rib and all that, they were probably jackasses to begin with.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Sam M says:

      I don’t know, Sam. The time taken away from actual science and devoted to presenting a misleading and non-scientific theory strikes me as potentially very damaging to kids’ educations. It may not be to all kids. It may not show up right away. But I think as you move away from teaching real science and toward fake science you set bad precedents. Who cares may often as not be a good philosophy, but I think this is not one of those instances.Report

    • Elf M. Sternberg in reply to Sam M says:

      I disagree, Sam. Our schools waste too much of our time, and our output, as a nation, in the high sciences is already a disgrace when compared to the output of South Korea, China, or Scotland– all countries with far more advanced life sciences programs than our own at the moment. Every attempt from the Christianists to deprive yet another child of the opportunity to treat cancer or cure obesity is a moral crime.Report

      • You have confounded science with technology.Report

        • You don’t get technology without science. You don’t get medicine or agriculture without basic research.

          The real killer for me is this: if Intelligent Design is an adequate means of understanding and describing biology, why don’t agricultural and pharmaceutical research houses use it? As I pointed out above, two science breakthroughs have resulted from assuming that evolutionary biology is true. Where are the breakthroughs resulting from assuming Intelligent Design is true? If it’s so useful, money would be invested into it.Report

          • Sir, there is this distinction between the ‘liberal arts’ and the ‘mechanical arts’. A study of biology is part of the former, chemical engineering the latter. The degree to which explicit reference to principles discovered in inquires concerning the former will be necessary for progress in the latter is going to vary as is the degree to which one’s understanding of the latter will be enhanced by study of the former. You do not have to study physics to be an electrician.

            If I understand correctly, knowledge for the production of pharmaceuticals is enhanced by the study of biochemistry, which is an experimental science and a department of physiology. Evolutionary biology is a department of natural history. Not my field, but I will wager an understanding of biochemistry can be had without studying systematics or paleontology. Michael Behe, one of the more prominent critics of evolutionary theory spinning, is an extensively published biochemist.Report

            • greginak in reply to Art Deco says:

              biology is a liberal art????? huh wtf….huh Biology, physics and chemistry are the basic sciences from which all the other sciences flow from.

              yes behe is published, but is any of it on his widely disproven theories of evolution?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to greginak says:

                You are confusing ‘the humanities’ with the ‘liberal arts’. Perhaps the ‘arts and sciences’ might be a better term for that to which I am referring. The medieval trivium and quadrivium consisted of grammer, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy. The contemporary latter-day academic departments covering these disciplines would be classics, philosophy, creative writing, mathematics, computer science, music, and physics.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to greginak says:

                Dr. Behe does not have any ‘theories of evolution’, disproven or no. It is his contention that the various mechanisms evolutionary biologists propose to account for the diversity to life do not function to do the things they are credited with doing.Report

  2. Ballad of Whatshisname says:

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”

    — Max Planck

    I think the same is true of the culture wars.Report

  3. Sam M says:

    “The time taken away from actual science and devoted to presenting a misleading and non-scientific theory strikes me as potentially very damaging to kids’ educations.”

    Do you have any idea what a public school is like these days? They spend countless hours talking about all sorts of drivel of one sort or another. My nieces and nephews are starting into the system right now, and I can tell you that I never hear their parents make a complaint like this: “You know, the day is so crammed full of essential information and learning that my kids can hardly absorb a single additional datum.” In fact, almost all of them have several study halls, during which time they do… nothing.

    I would estimate that teaching a full-blown ID curriculum would take far less time than the students spend on learning about self-esteem, recycling, zero-tolerance and a host of other “non-essential” things.

    But honestly. Is the objection REALLY that there isn’t enough time in the school day? I don’t recall there being a huge backlash of concern about the curricular timetable when someone said, “Hey, we ought to teach some self esteem,” or “Hey, can we find a few minutes to add a discussion of global warming,” or “Geez, history keeps getting LONGER, and it would seem reasonable to add a section about the first Gulf War and Bill Clinton and the rise of China and… and… and…”

    If you think the problem is that teaching this misleading science is taking time away from actual science, don’t take the time away from actual science class. Teach it in another setting.

    The fact that this will not satisfy the creationists surely says something about their true reasons for demanding it be taught. At the same time, the fact that it does not seem to satisfy your objections says something about your reasons for demanding it not be taught.

    Again, I go back to gay marriage. The fact that NEITHER side seems to have any interest at all in civil unions says a lot about both sides.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Sam M says:

      Look my position on this is consistent across the board. If professors in the college of education who are supposed to be teaching curriculum development are teaching gay-rights issues I think it’s just as wrong. Similarly kids doing nothing, or learning about self-esteem issues instead of grammar or history or science strikes me as completely backwards.Report

      • Sam M in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        “If professors in the college of education who are supposed to be teaching curriculum development are teaching gay-rights issues I think it’s just as wrong.”

        OK. I will take you at your word that your animosity towards teaching ID in schools is based not on a particular disdain for ID, but for a strong preference that materials being taught are strictly in line with the subject matter at hand, and that straying from such adherence has a nefarious impact on America’s economic future. I would add that I suspect this is not the basis of most people’s objections, however. For instance, I have never really heard of anyone attempting to make a federal case about whether Jackson Pollock should really count as “art,” or whether dodgeball really counts as “physical education.”

        But fine. If that’s the basis, allow me to ask you this. Let’s say instead of teaching ID in science class, we make a whole new class called “understanding the debate over the origins of the species.” In that class, students would not learn self-esteem or algebra or anything else remotely unassociated with the course matter at hand. It would be all about creationism versus evolution and the various theories attached thereto.

        Would that allay your concerns?

        I am sure someone would object that this is not a serious subject, and that it would take time away from other serious subjects that kids could be learning about. So I am proposing that in order to make time for the course, the school day be extended by five minutes at the end of the day, five minutes at the beginning of the day, five minutes off lunch and five minutes off study hall.

        That’s 20 minutes per day dedicated to this debate, in a class specifically designed to address this debate.

        So it would not take any time away from other courses. And it would not fail the “education classes shouldn’t be about gay rights” test.

        Moreover, at 20 minutes a day, I think you could address the entire controversy in, say, two weeks. After that, this class period could be dedicated to discussing whether Jackson Pollock counts as art, whether oral sex counts as sex, the nature of jihad, the nature of Miley Cyrus. Or whatever other contoversial or noncontroversial point you want to discuss.

        Would that pass the test? Would that be an acceptable forum for discussing ID? It would seem to overcome all of your objections.

        Or would this be similarly nefarious to America’s existence as a superpower?Report

        • greginak in reply to Sam M says:

          How about in biology class kids learn biology.

          its a good think political correctness only applies to L’s or the ID issue would seem a lot like conservative political correctness.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            We can teach Lysenko according to the common Scientific Consensus.Report

            • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              why yes of course it seems reasonable to compare anybody who disagrees with you to Lysenko. seems fair and balanced and not a scurrilous smear in any waaaaay what so ever. I mean yeah of course, any person who advocates science as a method or subject to teach is Lyseko…yupper.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                Are you seriously suggesting that we teach theories other than the commonly accepted ones?

                Are you some kind of Creationist?Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                i think in biology class you teach biology. Evolution is the most or one of most important bases for modern bio. If you don’t know Evo, you don’t know Bio. if there were other competing scientific theories of bio then they should be taught. ID simply has no scientific foundation, it is equivalent to teaching the earth is flat. Would you have people teach that the earth is actually flat in astronomy class?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                If you don’t know who Lysenko is, you don’t know biology.

                The above is said without snark or irony.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Way to go full nihilist. Facts are nothing. Nothing is known. Everything can be equated to the worst, evil ideas, so nothing can be done or asserted without being smeared as Stalinist or Fascist or whatever. I have no counter. Of course that is the point of not asserting anything can be known or done, never having to take a stand about believing in something. I guess I see the advantage in making everything a philosophical argument devoid of subject matter knowledge, its just a hellava lot easier to throw out generic concepts without touching the actual subject.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I am making quite a different assertion.

                You don’t know Astronomy if you don’t know who Ptolemy is.
                You don’t know Physics if you don’t know who Zeno is.
                You don’t know Biology if you don’t know who Lysenko is.

                We stand upon the shoulders of giants.
                Some of them were wrong. Here we stand anyway. If you do not know the history of your science, then you do not know how we got here.

                I cannot stress enough the importance of this.

                If you cannot agree, then I’m going to need you to explain the difference between you and the YECs when it comes to the issue of whether “science” is more then parroting people you trust to tell you the truth.Report

            • Sophie Amrain in reply to Jaybird says:

              Lysenko is not consensus as I am sure you know.Report

          • Sam M in reply to greginak says:

            Yes. Biology class in biology. Math class in math. As I stipulated. And “creationism versus evolution” in “creationism versus evolution” class. You could still object to that class, but not on the grounds that the subject matter has nothing to do with the course title.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Sam M says:

      “Geez, history keeps getting LONGER”

      I mean, seriously. How Dare! Doesn’t history know we’re trying to run a school here not an infomercial.


      sorry to thread jack I just found that to be inexplicably hilarious.Report

    • PresbyterArius in reply to Sam M says:

      Even if one granted the misleading claim that high school education is full of drivel (and I note that you offer no examples of what constitutes “drivel”), it is hard to see how you would improve the situation by adding in yet more obvious drivel to the mix. Creationism and intelligent design lead precisely nowhere. On the other hand, science led to the computers and internet which we are using to conduct this debate. By your argument, we might as well not teach anything, or possibly teach everything. However, there is a reason why we do not and should not teach about such things as phlogiston or creationism as anything other than examples of fallacious reasoning that divert people from subjects that actually serve as the basis for advancing science and technology. That reason is simple: we know that they offer nothing beneficial to the students for their future, and they offer nothing beneficial to the future of our society or economy.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    He refers to advocates of eugenics as liberal. I would not call Hitler liberal.

    There is the uncomfortable issue of eugenics being a major player in the pre-WWII Progressive movement. Oliver Wendell Holmes (spits upon the ground) wrote an opinion in the vile case “Buck vs. Bell” in which his eugenicist beliefs played front and center. Lord have mercy, Helen Keller was fan of eugenics. Hellen Keller!!!

    And, yes, the Nazis were fans of eugenics. And Hitler was no Liberal. Dare I say it, that tag doesn’t apply to pre-WWII progressives either.

    I apologize for this having nothing to do with creationism policy, per se.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

      No this is totally valid.Report

    • historystudent in reply to Jaybird says:

      Others who were proponents of eugenics included Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, John Maynard Keynes, and Linus Pauling.

      I suppose one can say these were not liberals in a sense, but they certainly were not conservatives!Report

      • PresbyterArius in reply to historystudent says:

        One can certainly make a case that Wilson was actually a Dixiecrat who would fit in with the GOP quite comfortably in many ways. Keynes saw himself as conservative, and has been considered by some to be more conservative than Hayek. It probably should be said that the terms conservative and liberal increasingly have no real meaning in American political discourse, except as terms of insult or praise.

        Sanger’s position on eugenics was actually quite complex, although it certainly had some extremely repellent features. It might be noted that it was also fairly mainstream for her day. Linus Pauling’s eugenics were aimed at eradicating diseases, not at racial segregation, which makes them rather different in their implications. It should be said that neither Sanger nor Pauling aimed at positive eugenics, but both took a negative eugenic position. For more on Pauling, you might find the following of interest:

  5. Koz says:

    Ebert wrote, “Arbitrary forced sterilization in our country has been promoted mostly by racists, who curiously found many times more blacks than whites suitable for such treatment.”

    No, no, no, no. I’m not a wholehearted enthusiast of Jonah Goldberg’s book, but it is truly invaluable for assertions such as this. Racist or not, the proponent of eugenics were the liberals of their day, or more precisely, the progressives.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Koz says:

      Either way, comparing progressives of that day with progressives of this day is just silly – as silly as comparing conservatives of those days to conservatives of these days. Ideologies and the tags with which we label them change over time. The liberals of today hardly mirror the progressives of the pre WWII days.Report

      • Koz in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Well that’s a matter of some dispute. In any case let’s note that there’s actually a fair bit of overlap in the matter that Ebert is writing about. The early 20th century eugenics movement was substantially motivated by blind faith in the scientific establishment, which is more or less the subject of Stein’s movie.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Koz says:

          Not really. It was a movement which believed it could use science to its own ends and for its own goals. It’s not really the fault of science that some people use it to back eugenics, or to create atom bombs….Report

          • Koz in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            It’s not the fault of science itself, but those who put too much faith in scientific consensus and the scientific establishment.

            If you haven’t read it already, Michael Crichton has a great postlogue to State of Fear that’s worth checking out. In particular I don’t think “its own goals and ends” means what you think it means.

            Clearly, eugenicists, Nazis, communists until 1935 or so, early 20th century progressives, contemporary global warming proponents and contemporary opponents of ID are not all interchangeable. But one thing they do have in common is the belief that science is their secret decoder ring that gives them unique understanding of the solutions to society’s problems and the justification for carrying them out. I don’t think you can legitimately argue otherwise.Report

            • E.D. Kain in reply to Koz says:

              I’m pretty underwhelmed by this argument. It’s hardly faith in science that leads to eugenics. It’s bad science, if anything. It’s bending science to the will of sentiment that is at the heart of this problem. The main problem with global warming types is their faith in political solutions to the problem. It’s not that they are wrong to look to science for answers on the climate.Report

              • Koz in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Really? I think you need to check your premises a little bit. The science behind eugenics is basic Mendelian genetics which is sound and much less controversial than neo-Darwinism. The problem with eugenics isn’t the science behind it, it’s the ethical mistake denying the essential subjecthood of the human person.Report

              • PresbyterArius in reply to Koz says:

                This ducks the point, which is that the issue is not the science, but the use made of that science. This is why scientific ethics matters so profoundly. It would also be a good idea for you to stop confusing labels with identities. It isn’t good enough to say that X identified him/herself in 1920 as a progressive, while Y identifies as such in 2010, and therefore they have the same causes and beliefs. As for your attempts to lump groups together because of their alleged beliefs in science, this is simply nonsense. To give two examples: Hitler’s Germany explicitly rejected “Jewish” science, such as psychology, while constructing paradigms of Aryan/German science, while Stalin’s Russia constructed a “Soviet” science, of which Lysenkoism is only the most famous example. It goes without saying that such attitudes indicate anything but a belief in real science and the scientific method. I would suggest you need to spend more time educating yourself in history and the history of science in particular, and less time repeating the slogans of those for whom history is the enemy.Report

              • greginak in reply to PresbyterArius says:

                well that is the point. Science is a method of understanding and manipulating the observable world. Ethics and morality are different subjects. Most people when they talk ill of science don’t seem to get the difference. its sort of like blaming a car for your pet pooping on your carpet. if scientists have had ethical failures, its a failure of ethics and morality. to many people seem to have their understanding of science and scientists from sci fi movies.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Lysenkoism is one of those things that seems to be only recognized in hindsight.

                Here. I’m going to mention this damn show again.


                Scroll down to the bottom and listen to “how to cure what ails you”. It will blow your mind. One bad assumption made hundreds of years ago can lead to bad science. And there is no way to tell.Report

      • Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Progressives circa 1910: “Giant corporations are evil and need to be held accountable for their actions especially vis a vis workers. Also, politicians should be more accountable to the people!”

        Progressives circa 2010: “Giant corporations are evil and need to be held accountable for their actions especially vis a vis workers. Also, politicians should be more accountable to the people!”

        The difference is progressives circa 1910 got recalls, ballot propositions, constitutional changes, expanded the franchise, created the open primary, pushed for antitrust laws, and labor laws.

        Progressives of today have secured “health care in our time” (credit to jaybird) and in the process expanded corporate welfare far more than they could’ve ever hoped to expand welfare welfare. They’ve also got nifty websites.

        Exhibit B

        The thing I would say is that the parties have realigned beyond the point of recognition but progressive-liberal-conservative ideologies haven’t moved substantially.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle says:

          Kyle – comparing where a historical movement is similar to its modern equivalent leaves out all the differences.

          The National Review opposed interracial marriage at one point. They no longer do, nor should they be held accountable now for having done so then.Report

          • Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            I don’t think there’s any value in charting the myriad of positions that have or haven’t changed in a hundred years. What is valuable is understanding why those positions were chosen in the first place and frankly the reasoning, the core values upon which preferences were established have not shifted tremendously in that same timeframe.

            If the reasoning is the same and just manifests differently – today maybe it’s trans fats bans instead of tube tying – that would make previously held positions germane.

            As for NR, if it held those views because the then editors were unabashed racists and they’re all gone, then no. If they held those views because the editorial board wasn’t racist but prefers glacial progress on social issues as a cultural preference and the views of the editors today are similar, it’s absolutely relevant. It allows us to contrast an outlook on life or worldview in a different circumstance to bring potential flaws into relief that might otherwise have been obscured by our proximity to the context of today.Report

    • greginak in reply to Koz says:

      Well conservatives back in the day were defenders and promotes of slavery, and for active genocide of Indians. So does that mean conservatives believe that now?Report

  6. Kyle says:

    Tangentally, I meant to throw out two Gerson pieces that were pretty interesting reflections on religion in society.

    On Uganda :

    The Protestant principle — “Here I stand, I can do no other” — implied a limit on both religious and political authority. No one can ultimately coerce the conscience, and no one should try. It took long centuries for this radical idea of religious and moral autonomy to work itself out in the political realm. But it found expression in the American founding. We refused to be a “Christian nation” precisely because the founders held a broadly Christian view of human beings, who are subject to God and their conscience, not to the state. Pluralism is not a temporary or tragic compromise; it is the proper way to treat men and women created free and autonomous in God’s image.

    On Brit Hume/Tiger Woods:

    Hume’s critics hold a strange view of pluralism. For religion to be tolerated, it must be privatized — not, apparently, just in governmental settings but also on television networks. We must have not only a secular state but also a secular public discourse. And so tolerance, conveniently, is defined as shutting up people with whom secularists disagree. Many commentators have been offering Woods advice in his travails. But religious advice, apparently and uniquely, should be forbidden. In a discussion of sex, morality and betrayed vows, wouldn’t religious issues naturally arise? How is our public discourse improved by narrowing it — removing references to the most essential element in countless lives?

    True tolerance consists in engaging deep disagreements respectfully — through persuasion — not in banning certain categories of argument and belief from public debate.

    I should say that nominally I’m more Gerson critic than fan but hey interesting thoughts can come from anywhere, right.Report

  7. Ricardo says:

    And now for something completely different: the original article at the top of all these comments (radical, huh… kidding – good discussion though).
    If anyone wants to understand the culture war manifesto Ben Stein is playing to, look up “Wedge Strategy”. “Expelled…” is another bang by the culture war hammer on that wedge. Maybe Sam M doesn’t care that kids think science is adopting magic into it (at least the version of it acceptable by fundamentalism and mostly Protestant Christians), but I think – and I may be going on on a long limb here – that science is just a tiny bit important for this country to continue being a techno big shots (oh, and NOT a 3rd world country – important note). Who cares? Ben cares. People who would rather blow up other people care. They also care that everyone believe their supernaturalism, and they’ve got their “wedge strategy” to do it. The countries who agree and think science = supernatural are not exactly economic dynamos. The world these wedge strategists (of all types) would rather leave us in cares more about supernatural orthodoxy in science, and in anything else for that matter (like what you can and cannot read); more than living (or just not starving).
    Yes, Ben doesn’t mention all this pro-supernaturalism stuff. He uses quotes as if proof (opinions = evidence in his world), laughs at actual research (something alien to his ID cohorts) on early life, shows how statistics can be used to prove magic did it, and pretends Hitler agreed with Darwin (or anyone his fundie backers don’t like). And those who quote Stein’s disinfotainment often do so to “prove” some really strange disinfo like: Richard Dawkins believes ID in that aliens seeded this planet with life (no kidding – listen to so-called Christian talk radio long enough, you’ll actually hear that insane misquote about a hypothetical the prodocers got from Dawkins to talk about).
    What am I saying? When it comes to science, read more science, and not political or religious takes on science. Do enough of that and you might shake your head too when Ben Stein says that scientists are in some great conspiratorial cabal. The best thing we can do in this little battle of their culture war is laugh. After all, they use these little wars to prove their identity and prop up their frail self-esteem. They hate it when you laugh at their wars But be able to tell why you’re laughing.Report

  8. Sam M says:

    “Maybe Sam M doesn’t care that kids think science is adopting magic into it (at least the version of it acceptable by fundamentalism and mostly Protestant Christians), but I think – and I may be going on on a long limb here – that science is just a tiny bit important for this country to continue being a techno big shots”

    Or maybe I think that your faith in the power educators have to indoctrinate kids is completely overstated.

    I had teachers in high school, same as you. Know what we did? Laughed at them. Particularly the sex-ed teachers tasked with telling us about rubbers. Ha! That was hilarious.

    If you believe the people who really, really care about the issue, though, everything is at stake. EVERYTHING. So if the kids get the condom talk, kids will throw their bibles into a fire and start humping like something out of Caligula. Or if you don’t give the condom talk, you might as well preemptively prescribe salve for genital warts to everyone under the age of 20.

    Know what we did when the people in college trotted out the statistics about who’s an alcoholic and who wasn’t? We laughed at them, too.

    Look. I suppose you can take seriously the idea that there is going to be some kid somewhere who really like computers and digs writing his own code and all that stuff. But one day he’s going to encounter a guy in ninth grade whatever class who say, hey, buddy, some people belive that God took a rib out of Adam and made, like, a chick out of it. And that after hearing that message, the kid will turn against science, start dragging women around by the hair, grow an Amish beard and start sacrificing goats to the god of hell fire.

    I thin the kid will ignore it, just like he ignores 80 percent of everything else he hears.

    Look, if indoctrinating kids is that easy, why don’t we have:

    1. A really low teen birth rate?

    2. Really high levels of interest in politics and history?

    3. Widespread love of the arts?

    Because by your telling, all you need to do is mention somehting to the kids and they buy it?

    I didn’t say it. YOU DID. Look. All you need to tell the kids is that magic is a part of science and PRESTO! Everyone’s a little Jerry Falwell.

    So much so that, according to ED, it will imperil America’s position as an economic superpower.


    • 62across in reply to Sam M says:

      You might want to re-read both ED’s original post and Ricardo’s response, because I don’t think you’ll find either one of the claiming that the intent of promoting ID in the schools is to successfully indoctrinate children to fundamentalism. They are both saying that ID is a front in the culture war and as I’m sure you know, the culture war ain’t about the kiddies, it’s about the adults.Report

      • Sam M in reply to 62across says:

        They are the ones who brought up the kiddies. They said that teaching ID in public schools will be such a powerful force that it will impact our ability to do science and, ultimately, ruin our position as an economic superpower.

        I just wonder what kind of super teachers they envision us getting for the creationism class. because the teachers who tell kids to stay absinent or use a condom or just say no really don’t seem to be very effective at all.Report

  9. Sam M says:

    By the way:

    “that science is just a tiny bit important for this country to continue being a techno big shots ”

    So are you suggestig that it would be impossible for a believer in creationism to be a scientist? A computer programmer? I am talking about a true believer. A biblical literalist.

    Can such a person program a video game?Report

    • Ricardo in reply to Sam M says:

      Hyperbole is fun, isn’t it. I can say teaching supernaturalism as science kinda screws things ups, and you can claim that I claimed creationist superteacher makes the kiddies cavemen (OK, that’s my hyperbole back atcha).
      Jus simma down naw! Maybe you’re not familiar with rationalism, because that’s exactly what I’m talkin’ bout. ID gladly admits that their proponents are against science’s stifling “naturalism”, meaning they want science and the kiddies to get it on with supernaturalism (biblical that is, God did it stuff). Say many, many teachers sweet on Pat Robertson are given the green light to teach that supernatural things happened instead of natural things, things we can research and figure out. Yes, we can throw away our test tubes and fossils whenever we hit a cause or effect (including the structure of DNA) that can be explained biblically. It’s unlikely in the extreme, but say that cultural change gets acceptable per the worldview desired by the Discovery Institute’s (actually promoted by their related Center for Culture and something something dark) Wedge Strategy (they brought up the kiddies, actually). Also unlikely, but let’s say PhD’s produce papers explaining protein structures in living cell’s and conclude that it must have a supernatural source – a great step forward in science (not). This has actually happened, BTW. They halt efforts to discover what NATURALLY makes proteins do this or that, ’cause God did it (scientifically speaking). At least at their university. While our country has conferences on “God did it”, and we don’t need to know how. Other countries produce more advances, more knowledge, and better colleges in the end (for those former-kiddies), countries who don’t have Discovery Institutes to change our culture to a “Christian worldview” that researches supernatural science (which, as you can maybe guess, will get us nowhere).
      Now, in the real world, I’ll betcha most American scientists will discard the supernatural stuff pretty quickly since it produces nothing useful, and look for, and find, how come bacteria got flagella, and how DNA got started – perhaps producing genetic engineering wonders better than Harry Potter or Christ (well, I think Christ will always have an edge, but that’s me). Pat Robertson’s kids, yes, can lean to fix computers, but ya know, I wouldn’t have much faith in them finding out what really happened during the Cambrian and how DNA reflects that – or evolutionary relationships which account for disease and vacine susceptability. I don’t think ID can ruin our econimic position that much, but it can stub the toe of our scientific sensibility – if the Discovery Institute and Center for Ethics and Culture (something dark) gets its Wedge Strategy wish. And I’m glad Judge Jones agreed something like that would happen if they won in Dover PA.
      Get it? No? Damn – you mean I’ve got to post to this site AGAIN?Report

  10. greginak says:

    To Jay from above-

    Okay if your point is to recognize the mistakes and misuse of science in the past then I completely agree. Hell I would say the history of science, in all its glory and failure, should be taught in high school. ( kids should learn stats also, but that’s a different issue). Science or tech isn’t about wisdom or morality, they are tools to understand and manipulate the physical world.

    But that is different point from whether thinly veiled religion with no scientific support should be taught in biology.Report

  11. Kyle R. Cupp says:

    Though currently a Texan, I’ve no problem with other states messing with Texas over this textbook matter. Please…please mess with Texas!Report

  12. Sam M says:

    greg says:

    “I would say the history of science, in all its glory and failure, should be taught in high school. … But that is different point from whether thinly veiled religion with no scientific support should be taught in biology.”

    Is it a different point? That is, what would this histroy of science look like in the case of a class that discusses the origins of the species? Or any issue that has ever been vested with cultural or spiritual significance?

    For instance, say I in a biology class discussing something like marine biology and whales. One important aspect of this topic is that many religions have imbued certain whale parts with spiritual significance. So this part cures some disease, while that part is an aphrodisiac, while that part let’s you see god, or whatever. And these beliefs led, in part, to overwhaling.

    But of course, the idea that whale parts let you see god or improve your love life is a bunch of mumbo jumbo. So… if we teach that aspect of whaling in a marine biology class… should someone sue the school district?

    There are any number of these things at issue in any number of science classes. My physics teacher told us what Aristotle thought of momentum, or some such, prior to teaching us what modern science taught us about momentum. And I hardly think he was trying to get us to run around in togas. And even if he was, it didn’t work.

    So again, if history of science is OK, how do you offer that without at least mentioning “thinly veiled religion with no scientific support”? If the history of science was full of people who were right about everything, it wouldn’t be called history of science. It would just be called science.

    And extrapolate this out: Wouldn’t it make even MORE sense to talk about the history of thought about whale parts in, say, Japan, where some peoples still believe some of these things? If I am in theAmerican Southwest and I am teaching a botany class, when I get to the part about peyote, wouldn;t it kind of make sense to mention that, hey, you know what kids? There are a lot of people around here who think this stuff let’s them commune with god! No, actually, science tells us something else is happening, but that’s what some of the people around here believe.

    So seeing that we live in America, where, for whatever reason, a substantal minority of people question the scientific consensus, doesn’t that bear mentioning?

    I mean, OK, maybe you think not. But we have gone beyond that. We have a situation in which people who do mention it get FIRED.

    That seems weird to me.

    I really don’t think that a botany teacher who tells students that some people think smoking herbs lets them see god would get fired. Because even though there is no scientific basis for that belief, it is interesting enough to deserve mention, no? I mean, if I was taking a class on how to fix a fuel injector, and the professor was aware that a certain tribe on a remote Pacific Island used fuel injectors in a strang evision quest ceremony, I would pretty much expect him to bring it up.Report

  13. RickK says:

    We don’t teach “ID” in science class for the same reason we don’t teach Deepak Chopra’s energy fields, or the physics of transcendental meditative levitation, or the effect of astrological arrangements on human emotions. We don’t teach pseudoscience as science.

    And we DO teach evolution because it is the most important process in life – in the origin and development and variety of life on Earth. Teaching biology without teaching evolution is like teaching English Lit and limiting it only to works by living authors.

    It’s really quite simple.

    Sure, people can mention ID, Genesis, and the creation myths of a hundred different cultures as “what some people think” when introducing evolution. Nobody gets fired for that! Similarly, nobody gets fired for introducing a class on meteorology by discussing Zeus and his lightning bolts. But once the quaint ancient myths are over, the science teachers must get down to the business of teaching science.Report

  14. Sam M says:


    I believe you might be wrong. Not about evolution, but about the law. You say:

    “Sure, people can mention ID, Genesis, and the creation myths of a hundred different cultures as ‘what some people think’ when introducing evolution.”

    I am not so sure. From the ACLU’s website:

    “In 2005, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued the Dover Area School District (York County) alleging that a statement telling biology students that intelligent design (ID) was an alternative to evolution promoted a particular religious view and thereby violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

    So no. You cannot, actually, tell people that ID is an alternative to evolution in a science class. I believe it’s still possible to discuss it in a comparative religion class. But again, this seems ridiculous. I believe you are correct insofar as I believe someone teaching meteorology ought to be able to mention Zeus. But this ruling would seem to call you analysis into question.

    Keep in mind that the ruling does not say, “you can’t give ID equal time with evolution,” or “you can’t teach ID instead of evolution.

    According to the ACLU, the teacher can’t even TELL PEOPLE that ID is an alternative.

    I am not sure how telling people ID is an alternative makes us less competitive economically. Or is dangerous in any other way. And in point of fact, I would think it would be any teacher’s responsibility to bring up this very point, seeing that we live in the USA, where, for whatever reason, a substantial and vocal and politically powerful minority believes in ID.

    If it turned out that 30 percent or 20 percent or even just 5 percent of Americans believe that gravity (insert ludicrous, religion-based assertion about gravity here) I would certainly think it relevant enough for my physics teacher to bring that up when we got to the part about gravity. If 20 percent of people of Swedish descent were skeptical about the claims of modern trigonometry, just as a point of interest, I would think that worthy of mention in trig class.

    And if there were a century-long political battle raging over what Swedish people think about trigonometry, I would think it REALLY deserved mention.

    But according to the ACLU, the biology teacher can’t tell people that some people think ID is an alternative to evolution.

    SO I come back to my political position: I believe in evolution. I have kids going to school. WHO CARES IF THE TEACHER MENTIONS INTELLIGENT DESIGN? My god. Who cares if they spend two weeks talking about it? Is that REALLY going to doom America to a generation of economic stupor because completely irreligious nations (like China and India?) have taken up the mantle of true science?Report

  15. Sam M says:

    Alternatively, who cares if we DON’T mention creationism? I have this argument with my family, many of whom are very religious. We generally send the young kids to Catholic elementary schools, then shift to public in high school. And my family gets really tense about it. “What about that whole evolution thing?”

    First of all, it’s correct on the merits. But second of all… WHO CARES? Tell Johnny about it yourself. Besides, even if they did bring it up in biology class, he’d be too busy snapping bra straps and trying to score some beer that he wouldn’t hear it anyway. And honestly, is NOT hearing it going to turn him into a godless cretin?

    No, it’s not. Just like hearing about it is not going to turn us all into economic bottom feeders.

    Relax, people. It’s tenth graders.Report

  16. Tim Kowal says:

    I read one of your posts earlier this week talking about how you can be changed on issues (a rare quality). I believe you should seriously consider changing your view that evolution is “real science” and that intelligent design is “fake science.” After I was chastised by atheists for publishing an article on the subject while editor-in-chief of the Chapman Law Review, I spent a long time thinking and re-thinking this controversy. The conclusion that now seems inescapable to me is this: Natural selection and intelligent design rise or fall on the same principle—they are both metaphysics, an attempt to explain things that can only be explained by positing a theory of the our entire reality. Intelligent design is a metaphysics that purports to address the necessary network of precommitments needed to engage in scientific inquiry. To attack such a metaphysics on the erroneous assumption that it intrudes on science’s territory is not to think too little of the metaphysics, but to think too much of science. While natural selection posits there is nothing guiding evolution, intelligent design posits there might be something. Whether you choose nothing or something is immaterial, because simply by asking the question you have stepped out of the realm of science and into the realm of metaphysics. And all of a sudden we find we all have our pick axes swinging at the wall of separation.

    Science cannot account for the metaphysical ideas that justify and sustain it, including those contained in natural selection—i.e., the idea that we were directed not by God but instead by nothing. When scienceists insist that they and they alone should be permitted to fill in the gaps of this metaphysical construct with the ideas that they deem appropriate, they run smack into the very problem they started with: the positing of “truth” by arbitrary fiat. And when a critical mass of such folks, particularly when organized around a set of metaphysical principles handed down by a leader given special reverence (e.g., Ayn Rand), get together in an effort to proselytize their views, there is a word for that: religion.

    Does this mean that science itself is a religion? No. Not anymore than language is a religion. But like language, science requires its practitioners to bring a metaphysics to the table. That is because science does not provide its own justification for concepts necessary to make it work, like induction, causation, and order. To even the religious among us these days, science is the gold standard of truth. Labcoats are preferred to armchairs. No one wants to hear about metaphysics—the physics part sounds good, but this “meta” must mean less good, no?—like “semi” or “pseudo”?

    To the contrary, the prefix means “more comprehensive; transcending,” as in, physics presupposes metaphysics. Without metaphysics, there can be no physics. Metaphysics gives us the tools we need to do science. Scientific method? Metaphysics. Induction? Metaphysics. Causation? Metaphysics. Unified theory of everything? You get the idea. Strictly speaking, natural selection is not a scientific theory. It is a metaphysical theory presupposed by scientists in order to do evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is great. We have profited tremendously from it. But we cannot fail to recognize the boundaries this brand of science, or try to re-label its metaphysical origin as science simply because we have grown so fond of it.

    This leads to the question of why knowledge got to be so cloistered. Why did metaphysics become branded as “religious,” and thus become such an unsavory—indeed, illegal—topic in our schools? Does one think of Plato and Aristotle as “religious” instructors? Certainly not. There was a time when metaphysics could be freely discussed without so-called scientists ginning up insults about flying spaghetti monsters and Hegelian moon-monkeys and slimy custard men. But I get it. Scientists like power and control as much as anyone. You don’t get those Ph.D’s by correspondence, after all. So if you can reduce the scope of all respectable inquiry into the bounds under the jurisdiction of your Ph.D, then you’ve made the one-eyed man’s journey to the land of the blind.

    In this light, Ben Stein’s references to images of totalitarianism are not hard to explain. Once a group uses bullying tactics and governmental force to win one debate, it’s hard to anticipate whether or why they’d ever stop. And as government grows larger and larger, it becomes no alternative to say “exercise metaphysics in your own private sphere.” What private sphere? Where the average person’s wage comes from public employment, health care from government insurance, and schooling from government instructors, one is going to need a map and some goggles to find much of anything private.

    This all gets to what folks such as those at the Discovery Institute have their alarm bells ringing about. Whatever you think about intelligent design, it is right to be bothered that science now thinks it can start injecting into classrooms such non-scientific fields as teleology and metaphysics. The notion that teachers could indoctrinate students about a “purposeless” universe guided by nothing is just as objectionable as if they were teaching a purposeful universe guided by something. They are two sides of the same coin. The problem is we are dealing with a metaphysical “coin”: either way, preference is given to one side or the other in a science classroom when science proper has nothing to say about it. Present both sides in a confined discussion about metaphysics, or, if that makes scienceniks too nervous, forget the whole thing. (Incidentally, I don’t see why more than a single lecture at the beginning of a biology class would be needed to give the basic contours of the debate. It certainly doesn’t need to occupy an entire semester. My high school class spent most of its time learning about cell innards and how plants eat sunshine and occasionally poking around inside some dead thing. Not a lot of time left for zany discussions about how a purely naturalistic view of reality requires positing a “multiverse” with an infinite number of daughter universes of which ours is but one. Science fiction and Star Trek were for after school.)

    God should not be injected into science classrooms, but neither should science teachers extend the proper borders of their field. Science has moved beyond focusing on method and has traced its way back up to where it splits off from the rest of philosophy at the juncture of metaphysics and epistemology. Ironically, the intelligent design proponents who are holding ground at that crossroads defend not only metaphysics and religion, but science as well, refusing to let method- and certainty-oriented science trod upon the more nuanced and transcendental branches of the knowledge tree.

    So, I urge you, E.D., do reconsider whether folks like Ben Stein truly deserve your ire.Report

  17. greginak says:

    Tim, i respect the time you put into your post, but you are way off. Do you believe in ID? If you don’t it sounds like you have swallosed a lot of their stuff.

    Sceince is not metaphysics, it does not discuss the exsistence or non-exstinece of God. Science is a method of understanding the objectivly observiavle universe.

    “natural selection is not a scientific theory.” this a complete bag full of Fail. Evolution and all the various sub theories are exactly science. What the hell are you talking about? If you want an extensive discussion of evolution read deeply on this site

    • Tim Kowal in reply to greginak says:

      I do not mean to suggest that “science” is metaphysics. Of course, it is based on metaphysical presuppositions—that reality is ordered, on the verifiability of causal relationships, on the reliability of induction, etc. These cannot be proved empirically, and thus are out of the realm of science. Thus, metaphysics is at the root of human knowledge, and science is an off-shoot that provides a reliable method of discovering, verifying, and organizing a certain subset of knowledge pertaining to natural reality.

      Natural selection, however, is based on an important metaphysical claim—i.e., that the origin of species (and, as scienceists have since extrapolated, the origin of well nigh everything) owes to nothing but naturalistic causes. However persuasive you find that claim to be, it is qualitatively not subject to empirical verification, and thus is metaphysical in nature.

      Now, the science that is done in furtherance of this metaphysical claim is indeed science. No doubt about that. But that does not mean that the metaphysical claims underlying natural selection are “science,” any more than the metaphysical claims underlying the rest of science (e.g., order, causation, induction) are science.Report

      • greginak in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        the beauty of philosophy and language is you can “prove” anything, that doesn’t make is correct.

        Natural selection is a process by which organisms best adapted to current conditions survive to pass on their genes. For what i understand of ID thought, most of them don’t even argue against the concept of natural selection. I am not sure how you understand the term “natural selection” but it sounds like you have inferring far more and deeper implications to it. NA is not a grand philosophical concept, it is a natural process that has been observed many, many times.

        You really do need to read up on what evolution is and isn’t before making such grand claims.Report

  18. steve says:

    TK-That is so wrong. Just this one sentence.

    “—i.e., the idea that we were directed not by God but instead by nothing”

    That presumes we were directed or needed to be directed. Your proof?


    • Tim Kowal in reply to steve says:

      There is no need to look further than the name of the theory itself: “natural selection” presupposes that there is some principle by which evolution is directed and species are created. It presupposes a form of order. As David Hume demonstrated, we have no empirical basis for doing so. We have only metaphysical bases—which he suggested be cast into the flames.Report

      • greginak in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        OMG Tim- You suggest that the name of theory implies all sort of philosophical assumptions. get real, that is not particularly the way people use language.

        in any case. the term “natural selection” nor does the overarching theory of evolution imply a director or a form of order. you are trying to apply abstract philosophical concepts to physical sciences where they don’t fit.Report

        • Tim Kowal in reply to greginak says:

          If we cannot agree that natural selection assumes a theory of order of the universe—namely, that such order is explained solely by empirical causes—then I’m afraid you and I will get no further.Report

          • greginak in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            Natural selection



            A process in nature in which organisms possessing certain genotypic characteristics that make them better adjusted to an environment tend to survive, reproduce, increase in number or frequency, and therefore, are able to transmit and perpetuate their essential genotypic qualities to succeeding generations.


            It is the process by which heritable traits that increase an organism’s chances of survival and reproduction are favoured than less beneficial traits. Originally proposed by Charles Darwin, natural selection is the process that results in the evolution of organism.

            Natural selection presumes no more order then every other proven, observed aspect of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology,etc. if you are arguing against the concept of science then that is a different discussion. To paraphrase a great philosopher- you keep using that phrase, i don’t think it means what you think it means.Report

  19. Susan says:

    What’s going on in Texas is worse than just trying to put intelligent design into science classrooms. They’re also working on a new history curriculum that will get rid of “excessive” emphasis on multiculturalism and leaders like Martin Luther King, and will give more respectful attention to conservative heroes like — I am not making this up — Joseph McCarthy.

    And because the Texas school system heavily influences decisions by textbook publishers, who tend to make their products salable to the largest markets, you can bet this will be showing up in the classrooms of all 50 states — unless educators decide to start doing something about it. I’ve been riding this hobby horse for awhile now: self-publication is easier than ever, thanks to online programs like It’s time for some educators to start writing and publishing their own teaching materials, rather than being at the mercy of national publishing houses that have to emphasize the bottom line.Report

  20. Sam M says:


    Careful what you wish for. For every school district that creates textbooks of which you approve, another will adopt self-styled textbooks you dislike.

    The idea that the texbook publishers are woefully politicized reminds me of the idea that academia and the media and pop culture and everything else is woefully politicized. Everyone believes it. But they all believe that the system is biased against THEM.

    They can’t all be right.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Sam M says:

      I would be surprised if a content analysis of history textbooks would reveal that everyone’s oxen are being gored to the same degree. Just whose work is the counterpart to Howard Zinn’s?Report

  21. Socrates says:

    “According to the ACLU, the teacher can’t even TELL PEOPLE that ID is an alternative.”

    Well, that’s because ID is NOT an alternative to natural selection. It is the stealthy promotion of the Christian religion – and everyone, even the proponents, knows this.

    It has no credibility in the scientific community and no supporting evidence. Therefore it is not an alternative.Report

    • Sam M in reply to Socrates says:

      Nobody said it was a credible or better alternative.

      Look. In history class, I think it makes a LOT of sense to note that some people think the Civil War was about states’ rights. Even though I disagree with that idea (more or less) it’s a hugely important aspect of American culture that some people think it. Similarly, it is HUGELY significant that huge swaths of humanity, for centuries, thought the world was flat. When discussing geology and geophysics, does the fact that this alternate analysis existed deserve mention?

      Gooolllleeeee. I am glad I am not going to a school run by one of you guys.Report

    • Sam M in reply to Socrates says:

      It’s also important to note that I was responding to a commenter’s statement that it’s fine for teachers to bring up evolution in a science class.

      No. It’s not. At least according to the ACLU. Whether you think that’s a good idea or not, the fact remains that you can’t bring it up. And facts are good things to have handy in discussions.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Sam M says:

        Yeah, and sensible people do not give a rat’s ass about the ACLU unless they can persuade a federal judge to implement one of their asinine proposals. The notion that the federal constitution forbids discussion of Michael Behe’s criticisms of evolutionary biology cannot be taken seriously and the incorporation of same in judicial decrees is another indicator, as if we needed one, that the judiciary has lost its mind or lost all shame.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Socrates says:

      Well, as long as you and Roger Ebert are in the business of impugning people’s motives, can I state flatly that the scientistic discourse is an exercise in self-aggrandizement on the part of vocational twits, and that you’re all about as stealthy as a steam calliope? (Or might we stop trying to get inside the heads of people with whom we are wholly unacquainted?).Report

  22. Bob Cheeks says:

    What, exactly, is the empirical evidence that ‘proves’ the theory of evolution?
    Evolution, like ‘global warming’ appears to be another one of those “political sciences” beloved of libruls.
    Maybe the Na’vi will save us!Report

  23. Andy Smith says:

    I wonder if those of you who think ID is a viable alternative to anything ever fly on an airplane, use a computer, or avail yourself of modern medicine. Because evolutionary theory (which includes more than just neo-Darwinism, btw) is a product of the same scientific method that gave us all these forms of technology. If you don’t believe in evolution, to be consistent, you should not believe that an airplane will fly, or that those sentences you see on the screen are read by other people, or that drug your doctor gives you won’t poison you. People who reject evolutionary theory are cherry-picking, happy to enjoy the results of science when they are pleasing or useful to them, but wanting to reject them when they threaten cherished views.

    As far as science being ultimately based on metaphysical assumptions, that’s correct, but some assumptions are clearly more useful than others. One of the bedrock assumptions of science is that sensory observations which we share with others are part of reality. There is no ultimate proof of this, it’s just a very good working hypothesis. Long before the development of formal science, our ancestors were using the same assumption to survive–indeed, most other organisms function in the same way.. If you want to reject this metaphysical assumption, you will have to reject the notion that there are other people out there with whom you can communicate, in other words, you can’t even take part in this debate. You certainly have to reject ID, because that, too, is based on the notion that there is a reality composed of other people, animals, objects, etc. .

    On the other hand, once you accept this assumption, science inevitably follows. Strip away all the sophisticated technology that extends the power of our senses, and the abstract theories that apply logical reasoning to our sense data, and science is just the systematic application of the same process of sharing sensory data that most other organisms use to survive.

    Science can be criticized for being blind to any form of information beyond the sensory, which is where belief in the spiritual begins, but I’m not aware of any non-sensory observations that challenge evolutionary theory. There is a great deal of evidence for a state of consciousness not observable by scientific methods, but none of this that I know of is inconsistent with evolution.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Andy Smith says:

      It’s more that I question the motives of people who scream “WE NEED TO TEACH EVOLUTION IN SCHOOL!!!” who cannot tell me the difference between Darwin and Lamarck and who respond with a blank look when I ask them to summarize punctuated equilibrium.

      It’s not that I think that Young Earth Creationism ought to be taught in the schools, heaven forbid! It’s that at least 50% of the population (probably closer to 80%, truth be told) will gain no benefit from much more than training in their desired field and knowledge for outside of it is extraneous to their lives and to any interaction with anyone else.

      When “science” means “parroting the teacher until the test is past” (no pun intended), is content really a life or death situation?Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        this can be read as “don’t bother to teach the wogs stuff they won’t need to know in their station of life.”

        so what if most people won’t use a particular part of what they learn in school. Is education only only about getting a job?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          Yeah, yeah. Just keep parroting the overwhelming consensus and call it “science”.Report

          • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            well gee when for decades the very high percentage of scientists who study evolution find the theory works and keep finding more evidence for the theory then that does seem like a ….positive sign. What about overwhelming consneus isn’t science?

            Now is the part where you note that other people have done bad things in the past which means some vague contrarian point is true now.

            umm are you suggesting content doesn’t matter?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              “Now is the part where you note that other people have done bad things in the past which means some vague contrarian point is true now.”

              You have no grasp of my point.

              My point is that the scientific consensus has been catastrophically wrong in the past and that it is better to teach the scientific method along with what we currently know rather than to teach children to parrot what we currently know and teach them to be disdainful of previously abandoned overwhemling scientific consensus along with those who may still hold them.

              If I had to choose between teaching content and method, I’d pick method first every single time, without exception.

              Science is a method. It is not parroting consensus.

              The method can withstand people who are wrong, after all. It can come up with newer and better explanations.

              If, however, people are only taught to parrot overwhelming scientific consensus, they will never come up with newer and better explanations.

              If you are not going to focus on the method but instead focus on screaming “evolution” with the same tone and pitch as the young earth creationists scream “genesis”, then I cannot blame the YECs for seeing this as nothing more than a battle between world views and fighting it accordingly.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                well i didn’t see that point anywhere. Yes of course teach the scientific method, that should be Science 101 and taught in grade school. yes yes and again yes. Where have i ever said kids should be taught just to repeat what they are told?

                Of course scientists have been wrong, their people. as i said up thread, teach the history of science, flaws, warts and successes.

                But my point regarding evolution, is that there is no actual scientific debate regarding the power of and success of the theory of evolution. there are a total of one scientific theory regarding the development of life on earth. That should be taught. The ID proposition is based on religion, some Christians don’t want it taught so they have developed a sort of sciency sounding theory to push it into schools.

                Why should a religious theory without any science behind it be taught it science class? Beats me. That is what i am against. There are plenty of scientific debates where there are multiple competing theories or even a compelling explanation is lacking. Fine, teach that we don’t know this or there a handful of theories. Don’t teach kids to parrot what they are told, teach them to think. But teaching thinly veiled religion/pseudo-science in science class is IMHO wrong. Why teach religion in science class? Should we teach kids that the earth is flat? We should teach them people used to think the earth was flat and that about 2000 years ago early scientists figured about the earth was round and how they did it. But if somebody comes up with a theory that the world is currently flat with no evidence, but rights a nifty book, should we be teaching their is some controversy?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to greginak says:

                Well, I am in over my head in discussions of the philosophy of science. Why not look here,


                scroll down to his comments on a recent paper by one Richard Lenski, and tell me how Dr. Behe’s remarks are ‘based on religion’, or whatever, and explain how a teacher who printed this commentary off, passed it out to his students, and had fifteen minutes of class discussion on it would be violating the federal constitution.Report

              • Sam M in reply to greginak says:

                “But if somebody comes up with a theory that the world is currently flat with no evidence, but rights a nifty book, should we be teaching their is some controversy?”

                Yes. If a thiurd of Americans believe it. Yes. It’s worth mention.

                Just keep in mind, when I was in chemistry class, the teacher mentioned all those people who tried to turn lead into gold!

                In physics, we learned about the religious nuts who threw Galileo in jail

                Guess what? Both of those groups of people were wrong. But because of important cultural forces in our society, we learned about them anyway.

                We learned that all kinds of people were wrong about all kinds of things. Because it turns out that in the history of humanity, LOTS of people were wrong about lots of things.

                Here’s a question for those of you saying that we must not even MENTION ID in class: Which other theories are so wrong that even mentioning them in class should result in a federal lawsuit?

                Just wondering if anyone can mention even one other such theory.Report

              • Sam M in reply to greginak says:


                Just to be clear:

                Do you think the ACLU and the Supreme Court were right or wrong when they declared it illegal to mention ID in biology class?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                well i didn’t see that point anywhere

                Of course you don’t.

                You are the one person in the thread who said (unironically!) “that may be the complaint among ID folks. However that does not change the overwhelming consensus among biologists. having a complaint does not make it reasonable or serious.”

                I am arguing that if we do not teach the process, it doesn’t particularly matter what the content is.

                There are nine planets! There are eight planets! Pluto will always be a planet in our hearts! It doesn’t frigging matter!

                If we do not teach *WHY* there is an important distinction between “planets” and “dwarf planets” and teach children to figure out for themselves whether Pluto is one or the other, it doesn’t matter whether we tell them that there are eight planets or that there are nine.

                If we only teach them to parrot the teacher, it does not matter because Pluto’s planetary status will never have an impact upon their day-to-day lives nor the lives of those with whom they interact due to their trade. It ceases to be science and transubstantiates into trivia.

                Even if there is an overwhelming consensus of scientists who say “dwarf planet”… as opposed to when the adults in the room were the children in the room being told that there were nine because the overwhelming consensus of scientists said “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                or maybe i didn’t see that point because you didn’t make is clearly…who knows, beats me.

                i’ve clearly said teach the method and the history, but the content does actaully matter. there is one scientific explanation for the development of life. come up with another scienctific explanation and that should also be taught.

                you are putting words in my mouth ( well hands in this case is guess) that i want kids to just parrot what they are taught. again just to be repetitive-teach method and history..yes and yes. Now tell me, why should we teach ID in biolgoy when it has no scientific basis and is a religious theory being pushed under the guise of science?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                “Now tell me, why should we teach ID in biolgoy when it has no scientific basis and is a religious theory being pushed under the guise of science?”

                I have never argued that we ought teach ID in biolgoy. Nor would I.

                I do, however, think that we ought not prevent a school district from doing so if the school district were inclined to do so. There is more potential harm from forcing everybody to follow the same curriculae if the curriculae happens to be wrong (e.g., Lysenko) than the potential harm from allowing local districts to include ID.

                If we can sneak in something sneaky like “philosophy of science” and “the scientific method” and “scientific thinking”, the kids who are most inclined to become scientists will shrug off whatever ID thoughts they were forced to parrot like an old moth-eaten robe and the kids who are most inclined to become assistant widget tighteners can forget Biology just like they forgot being forced to read Julius Caesar.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Andy Smith says:

      I wonder if those of you who think ID is a viable alternative to anything ever fly on an airplane, use a computer, or avail yourself of modern medicine. Because evolutionary theory (which includes more than just neo-Darwinism, btw) is a product of the same scientific method that gave us all these forms of technology. If you don’t believe in evolution, to be consistent, you should not believe that an airplane will fly

      I have ridden in an airplane, used a computer, had invasive surgery, and purchased from a pharmacy. I can also distinguish between historical science, experimental science, and engineering.

      (It also occurs to me that research programmes conducted with methodological rigor can still be failed research programs).Report

    • Socrates in reply to Andy Smith says:

      This is a really good point.

      You really have to respect science’s record – it’s amazing.Report

  24. M.Z. says:

    Taking my education as representative*, roughly one week is spent in schools teaching evolution. So in the grand scheme, the big difference between the edumacated (misspelling intentional) and the unedumacated is one week of school. To put this in more perspective, I don’t recall spending a day going over Relativity Theory, but I do remember going over the Bohr model. I think we might have touched Relativity briefly or tangentially in my college physics class. In fairness, it is covered extensively in a later class that is taken pretty much exclusively by physics majors. For whatever reason there isn’t a similar furor by nonspecialists over the teaching of relativity. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to the opinion that evolution shouldn’t be taught in high school for the simple reason that there is not enough time devoted to teach it properly. An alternative solution would be of course to devote more time to teaching evolution, but there doesn’t seem to be the willingness to do this within the teaching community.

    * Problems doing so include that I went to high school in small university town. My biology teacher who taught me evolution was married to one of the biologists at the university. Yes, we covered genetics and DNA modeling extensively, but that isn’t teaching evolution.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to M.Z. says:

      I had about nine years worth of science instruction in primary and secondary school. Perhaps a quarter of the time was devoted to the biological sciences. I do think more than a week’s worth of it was devoted to references to evolution. If I recall correctly, it functioned more as a frame or filing system. Been a while, though.Report

    • greginak in reply to M.Z. says:

      whatever. evolution is one of basic, if not the key, elements of modern biology. can’t see why that would be important.

      (muses ruefully over why anybody has trouble figuring out why education is not that great in America)Report

      • Art Deco in reply to greginak says:

        Somehow I think the biological sciences would survive quite nicely an admission that speciation and the origins of life are processes they do not understand.Report

      • M.Z. in reply to greginak says:

        If modern biology isn’t all that important for nonspecialists then teaching evolution would not be all that important.Report

        • M.Z. in reply to M.Z. says:

          To elaborate. If the vast, vast majority of our engineers can survive without relativity, a foundation of modern physics, then we shouldn’t be confounded that others can survive.Report

          • greginak in reply to M.Z. says:

            well most people don’t use history, american lit, most math, chemistry or physics in their professions either. so therefore why bother teaching any of that. looks like there will be plenty of time for gym class and study hall.

            I would suggest that high school is more then just vo tech. Education has a value in and of itself.Report

            • Art Deco in reply to greginak says:

              Actually, we could benefit from greater focus in American education: elementary schooling given over to English grammar, arithmetic, elementary algebra, and the fundamentals of American history and geography; interim secondary schools devoted to the specialized study of one or another subset of the arts and sciences; and high schools devoted to vocational and technical subjects.

              Decision to spend time on x is a decision not to spend time on some other subject. My own schooling was almost devoid of instruction in geography; it was simply not taught anywhere I attended. On the other hand, I could have taken three years of biology had I so chosen. Some things appear to be quite dispensible to some people some of the time.Report

            • M.Z. in reply to greginak says:

              Since I was bored, I checked a nearby research university’s degree requirements for biological sciences majors. Evolution was a major area in a freshman level core class. Fewer than 10% of the 300-level courses mentioned evolution in their description, and from casual observation, few of those appeared to have evolution as core content, keeping in mind that one could have emphasis in evolution as part of this major. Perhaps that makes this research university’s biology program little more than vo-tech.

              As for what American education needs, I’m not in the mood to write a 20,000-word essay. More and more, I have become less concerned with what it needs than what reforms we could realistically execute. Call me naive, but I don’t see more theoretical biology (as opposed to applied biology) being the panacea or silver bullet.Report

  25. Andy Smith says:

    Jay, you make a good point about teaching the method–but the method is most easily taught using actual examples. Evolution is a great example, because it’s a phenomenon no one would ever appreciate if not for the science behind it. When evolutionists defend their theory, they are forced to bring in the method, and that, it seems to me, is how the method becomes alive–through actual examples that validate the process of evolution.

    Art Deco, yes, there are different kinds of science, but they all rest on application of the scientific method. There would be no engineering without experimental science, and historical science applies the same basic method as experimental science does. I repeat, it is hypocritical to believe the fruits of the method in one situation and not in another.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Andy Smith says:

      No, historical science is observational. Verification of evolutionary scenarios cannot be had with the same degree of certainty one has in aeronautics.Report

      • North in reply to Art Deco says:

        Whereas ID, the supposed alternative, is intrinsically unverifiable in of it’s very nature and thus not science at all with no place in a science classroom. At least the evolutionary scenario’s have predictive power that can and has been tested, see evolutionary and molecular biology.Report

        • Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

          North, old palsy, what does ‘evolution’ mean? I really don’t know. Is it when a creature ‘adapts’ to his environment and, say, grows hands instead of flippers? Or is it when an entirely new creature arises?
          I can see adaptation, I thinks, but to ‘evolve’ into an entirely new creature, I think, lacks evidentiary certainty for sure.
          Evolution as I probably mistakenly understand it does not negate either a philosophical “open” existence or the idea of a triune God…but, hey, I am a bit of a librul or is that libertarian?Report

          • North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

            Well I’m no scientist Bob, I majored in Business in my edumecation house, but evolution and its natural selection etc family as I understand it talks about small to moderate changes in the short term that can lead to entirely new species in the long term. How many changes would we have to make to a human before we’d consider the human something else? In alien movies and fiction it seems to be anything from some ridges on the nose up to a tail or more. But when we talk about that we’re sneaking into philosophy I guess.

            Obviously one can find this hard to swallow but the Theory of Evolution has done its homework over the centuries. It identified observable measurable phenomena; it posited an explanation for why those phenomena are they way they are; it obtained evidence from the past (the fossil record and biology) that supports its explanation; it made predictions based on its model; it tested those predictions and they occurred pretty much as it posited they would; it made corrections and then re-predicted; the new test results matched pretty well. Then we took the functioning scientific theory of evolution, threw it into a car frame and put it to work for us and tada we now have molecular biology, enhanced antibiotics, gene therapy, evolutionary computer modeling etc etc etc… Based on this we call evolution science because it’s done what science does. Intelligent design isn’t a theory, it’s not even a hypothesis. It’s a criticism and frankly it’s a pretty shoddy one. The proponents of ID just poke holes into Evolution as best they can and then pour in ID in a sort of god of the gaps manner. Intelligent Design has no testable hypotheses; it has no predictive power; it has no applications. It isn’t science, it is just creationism tarted up to try and resemble science and as such it has no place in a science classroom besides maybe a passing mention as a historic curiosity.

            Your librul understanding is correct as I understand it; evolution has nothing to say for or against the existence of the Triune God, or the Hebrew God or Ramah or even the entire Greek Fraternity. Anyone saying otherwise is just an atheist being a brat and is trying to shove science into a place it doesn’t have any business being. Science is an empirical thing, you can’t push it into issues of the transcendent and expect it to work, and it just sputters and pokes at the edges of morality or faith.
            It is possible that some omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent benevolent creator set reality spinning and wrote the base laws of physics and set in motion the principles that govern evolution. No matter how far back science has pushed our understanding of the history of existence the transcendent remains hovering just beyond it. But just as science can’t invade the realm of the transcendent faith cannot invade the empirical. You can try to pray the oncoming bullet away but physics in its’ cold computations will still shatter your body so you’d be better employing some physics yourself and get your ass out of the way and behind some cover. Science is useless in the transcendent but faith is impotent in the empirical. When people of faith try and shove their religion into the arenas of science they look like idiots. They cheapen their faith and make it much more likely that the masses will dismiss it wholesale and thus miss out on the subtler value that their faiths may hold. Prayer may ease the soul but when the fever spikes it’s time to reach for some antibiotics with whatever hand isn’t clutching the rosary.Report

            • Koz in reply to North says:

              “Obviously one can find this hard to swallow but the Theory of Evolution has done its homework over the centuries. It identified observable measurable phenomena; it posited an explanation for why those phenomena are they way they are; it obtained evidence from the past (the fossil record and biology) that supports its explanation; it made predictions based on its model; it tested those predictions and they occurred pretty much as it posited they would; it made corrections and then re-predicted; the new test results matched pretty well. Then we took the functioning scientific theory of evolution, threw it into a car frame and put it to work for us and tada we now have molecular biology, enhanced antibiotics, gene therapy, evolutionary computer modeling etc etc etc…”

              No, no, no please God no. The support for evolution in the fossil record and so on is a very thing. Just as often it has worked in the opposite way, with a bunch of handwaving about this or that happening in evolutionary time.

              Much much more important than that, is the fact that molecular biology, antibiotics and so on in no way depend on evolution as we are talking about it here.Report

              • North in reply to Koz says:

                Natural Selection and all the other derivatives of Darwins theory of evolution have accomplished verifiable science Koz, and they have been used in multiple practical applications in the modern world whether you like it or not.
                If ID was even a credible criticism of evolution it would have at least begun on that path. But it hasn’t because it has nothing to say on the subject except to point out holes in evolutionary theory and then stick some hypothetical creator figure into said holes.Report

      • Andy Smith in reply to Art Deco says:

        All science is observational. I think the point you’re trying to make, AD, is that evolutionary theory does not rest on any controlled observations, where we intentionally manipulate some aspect of the world and see what happens. But even that is not entirely true. Someone in this or the newer ED thread mentioned genetic algorithms, which grew out of evolutionary theory, and drug design,where molecules that bind to a specific receptor or have some molecular function are selected for. .There are also computers based on the selection of specific DNA sequences. And of course, long before any of that, there was artificial breeding, which demonstrated that specific characteristics in animals could be selected for over generations.

        Much of evolutionary theory can’t be tested experimentally, true. We can’t, for example, experimentally test whether over a sufficiently long period of time, vertebrates could have evolved from invertebrates, or the latter from single cells. We can form plausible hypotheses, and sometimes test them partially by computer simulation, but we can’t–yet– reproduce evolution in a test tube.

        But–again, others here have pointed out–evolutionary theory does make testable predictions. For example, our knowledge of DNA sequences led us to predict that the degree of homology, or identity, of certain stretches of DNA in different organisms would be related to their evolutionary origins, and many of these predictions have been born out. The entire field of isotope dating also involves predictions that have been born out. The wonder is not that evolutionary theory has not made more predictions, but that it has been able to make any at all concerning events so far in the past.

        For those who want it, there is always room for the religious or spiritual at the origins. How did it all begin? Could something be created out of nothing ? But to insert a God or higher intelligence into the process of evolution is surely a category error.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Andy Smith says:

          It is a historical science, not an experimental science. Nor is it like economics where statistical method can be readily applied to observational studies.

          If I understand correctly, plant and animal breeding manipulates the frequency with which traits appear within a given species, which is a different process than generating new species.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Andy Smith says:

      When evolutionists defend their theory, they are forced to bring in the method, and that, it seems to me, is how the method becomes alive–through actual examples that validate the process of evolution.

      Which is why I become skeptical of “evolutionists” (why would you willingly choose that word???) when they argue for evolution without knowing who Lamarck was or what punctuated equilibrium is.

      When they do the one without being able to do the other, it tells me that something else *ENTIRELY* is going on here. It ain’t science.Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        Poeple who study evo for a a professon or out of interest could very well tell you who lamarck was. Do you not believe what anybody says about anything because they do not have a complete knowledge of all the history. This sounds like people have to meet your tests before you believe they are serious about their thoughts. if they don’t meet your test then i MUST be something else.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          I imagine that people who explain why teaching evolution to children is important might want to be able to tell me who Lamarck was too.

          If they shout about the importance of knowing a thing without knowing the thing, it makes me wonder what the real issue is.

          What is the real issue, Greginak?

          “This sounds like people have to meet your tests before you believe they are serious about their thoughts.”

          Imagine meeting someone who argues that traditional marriage needs to be protected and then it comes that he has three divorces and meets with a male, erm, companion every other weekend.

          Imagine meeting someone who argues that the Bible is the most important book ever written who cannot name the four Gospels.

          Now imagine meeting someone who argues the importance of knowing evolution who cannot explain punctuated equilibrium.

          What is the real issue, Greginak?Report

          • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            The real issue???

            Well I think science is a wonderful thing and evolution is an elegant and powerful theory. I think science is a thing that should be taught to kids in school. Many ID folks have admitted that ID is just an attempt to get creationism into schools. I don’t think religious indoctrination belongs in biology class.

            OBTW I imagine most kids don’t spend much time on Lamarck in HS, probably about a paragraph, so they could learn and understand evo w/o out knowing about him. Where have I ever said Lamarck or punctuated equilibrium aren’t important? They are important.

            What’s the “real issue” for you?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              The real issue for me is that the evolution debate strikes me as having everything to do with ideology and nothing to do with science qua science.

              It strikes me as having little to do with anything but forcing children to parrot the current hot “consensus” and uses language similar to language used to venerate Lysenko.

              It seems to be a transparent culture war issue rather than having anything, at all, to do with why science is important.

              Which brings us to the indistinguishability of the YECs and those who cry out against ID even being mentioned, lest children be indoctrinated… people who, likewise, cannot explain Lamarck’s theories nor summarize punctuated equilibrium (who, of course, explain that they have no need of such deep knowledge of the subject because they are assistant widget tighteners).Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                I just don’t see equating ID/YEC with evo in terms of biology, which is what it sounds like you are doing. ID/YEC are not scientific theories nor do they have any scientific proof suggesting they should be included in a biology class. So why does that make it a culture war issue for those of us who think biology should be taught in biology class? Have comparative religion class or current events class or some such, but I think you drawing false equivalence. As an analogy, should a the proposition that the earth is actually flat get time in astronomy class? Not that people used to believe it when teaching the history of thought, but that it actually is flat.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                I just don’t see equating ID/YEC with evo in terms of biology, which is what it sounds like you are doing.

                I am not the one doing this. It is the people yelling that the children need to mindlessly parrot evolutionary theory without understanding it that are doing so. Those who teach that science is rote fact repeated for multiple choice tests.Report

              • Sam M in reply to greginak says:


                JB can speak for himself, but I simply find the points made against teaching ID smell a bit of… sidestepping. For instance, I would, in fact, object vehemently if my local school district proposed teaching ID INSTEAD OF evolution. I would even object if the school district proposed giving it equal time. Or spending three weeks on it.

                But the fact that people object to even MENTIONING intelligent design speaks to a different set of concerns. Really… a letter sent home that says ID is an alternative “explanation” accepted by many in the community is tantamount to religious indoctrination? Spending five minutes on the subject will return us to the economic Stone Age? I guess I could buy this argument if the same people were consistently harping on school districts about marginal misuses of time, and purity with regard to course title and course materials. By I don’t see any evidence of that at all. No evidence whatsover that anyone has gone to a school board to object that the science teacher in charge of explaining the solar system mentioned in passing that a lot of different cultures used to have different calendars than we do now, and based those calendars on all sorts of non-scientific hocus-pocus. And insisting that we fire the teacher who mentioned, say, the Mayan calendar to his students. Or that spending five minutes, or even one minute, on discussion of the Mayan calendar will be SO EFFECTIVE in convincing students of its merits that our economy will be destroyed as hordes of young people begin showing up for work on the wrong day, or something.Report

              • greginak in reply to Sam M says:

                Sam-What I think both you and Jay are missing is a rationale for why to teach ID. ID does not have a scientific basis, it is a way of dressing up creationism to make it palatable to teach in biology class. Why teach it? There are plenty of creationists who proudly say that they want to get their religious ideas into school and want evo out.

                Jay- Who is saying, just make kids parrot evo? I’m not nor have I seen anybody here say that. Teach kids about Piltdown Man or people seeing canals on Mars. There are plenty of controversies and mistakes made by scientists people should know. That isn’t the issue as I see it. There is no scientific controversy about evo, there is a religious controversy. Teach the religious part in a comparative religion course and teach science, warts and all, in science class.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                I am *NOT* arguing that ID be taught! ID is a distraction from real science! It is *NOT* science! It is metaphysics and ought be uttered in the same breath with the same contempt as that which is held for James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy!!!

                That we ought teach ID is second-to-last when it comes to things I think we ought do!

                You fail to grasp my argument.Report

              • Sam M in reply to greginak says:

                I keep saying: I agree with you about ID. I don’t think it is true. I believe in evolution. And I agree that many of the people insisting that we teach it have an overt (or even covert) religious or ideological reason for doing so. All I am saying is that the other side is just as ideological. Do you really believe that MENTIONING ID will make us uncompetitive economically? And doesn’t it strike you as odd that there isn’t nearly this much political resistance to any of the other bajillion forces that take time away from science education in the classroom? And do you really think a science classroom is the same as a science LAB? That it’s all a discussion about joules and atoms, and that culture, history and religion have no place, even in an introductiry discussion of the materials?

                What I mean is, point blank: should a teacher be fired for mentioning the Mayan calendar when beginning a discussion about the solar system? Should a biology teacher be jailed for mentioning that certain cultures attach spiritual significance to certain animals? Should a forestry or botany teacher be forbidden from even mentioning the mystical value some people attach to forests?

                I am not suggesting that the teacher would say, “trees have mystical values,” but might say, “You know, a lot of what I am going to tell you about here involves the rate at which this tree grows, how long it lives, and all that. But before I begin, as a point of interest, it’s worth noting that the ancient Whatever tribe used to cut holes in them because they thought it would allow them to see the afterlife. So if you go to a virgin forest and find one of these trees, you can often find the scars of these holes.”

                “Oh, and by the way, a third of the people you know still believe in this. Like, you know, the last president of the United States. And the debate about whether it’s true or not has been at the center of a gargantuan political and cultural controversy for the past 100 years, including some of this nations most famous court cases.”

                “I am not saying I believe that you can see the afterlife by cutting a hole in the tree and looking into it. In fact, modern science has looked into it and found that theory lacking. But a lot of people believe it.”

                “You knowm just as a point of interest. Like last week when we were talking about platics and I pointed out that the school’s new football helmets are made out of a new polymer developed at the local chemical factory. I understand that discussing football helmets is not a truly scientific discussion. But we all live in the real world, and I figured this might be of interest since the plastic is made here locally.”

                “Please don’t try to have me fired for mentioning some non-scientific things that might be of interest.”Report

  26. Koz says:

    “This ducks the point, which is that the issue is not the science, but the use made of that science. This is why scientific ethics matters so profoundly.”

    Well, yes, that was (most of) my point, which leads me to wonder what thread you’re reading.

    Erik argued in the prior post that the early 20th century enthusiasm for eugenics was based on faulty science. That is simply not historically tenable. As you pointed out, it was more a faulty application of good science.

    In the original linked blogpost, Roger Ebert (and maybe you) tried to argue that the proponents of eugenics couldn’t be “liberal” because they were also racist. Again, that mentality is simply ignorant of the historical record.

    Finally, I “lumped those groups together” precisely because they belong together, in exactly the way I mentioned the first time. They all claim or claimed justification from science. Sometimes the science was legit, sometimes it wasn’t, but the justification was the same. Btw, the “scientific” part of communism doesn’t have much to do with Lysenko. From Marx onward, Marxism was an attempt to apply principles of science to the social and economic relations between people. In fact, Marxism is a synonym for “scientific socialism”.

    Really, I wonder what exactly you’re trying to get at. I don’t think you’ve clarified your intended point inside your own head.Report