Posts Tagged ‘evolution denial’

The seduction of compatibilism

August 24, 2008

Dr. PZ Myers writes about a New York Times article about a science teacher in Florida with the gumption to teach evolution in the face of religious opposition. It’s a fascinating story, highlighting the teacher’s uncertainty of how to teach evolution without alienating the students, and the obstinance on the part of some of the students when faced directly with the evidence. The article also exposes the horrifying degree to which community groups attempt to undermine science education. Mention is made of a pastor who handed out copies of the Answers in Genesis tract “Evolution Exposed” to graduating seniors; the pamphlets, of course, ended up circulating in biology class.

As I will begin teaching a biology class of my own for the first time in a few weeks (gasp!), this stuff is especially terrifying to me.

The Pharyngula post, however, does not deal exclusively with the obstacles thrown in the paths of science educators. Rather, it ravages what Prof. Richard Dawkins has called the “seduction approach:” avoiding any offense of students’ faith by assuring them that evolution is compatible with religion. It certainly seems like a sensible approach. One of the creationists’ most handy tricks is to convince believers that accepting evolution leads to atheism, and is therefore a one-way ticket to hellfire. The most obvious counter to this tactic, it would seem, is to contradict it: evolution does not lead necessarily to atheism. This counterattack has the added benefit of being demonstrably true, as there are numerous religious believers who have no beef with evolution, including the oft-cited biologist and Roman Catholic Ken Miller, and the Pope himself.

Dr. Myers, like Prof. Dawkins, has no time for the compatibilist approach, and for good reason. He writes of the ubiquitous call to respect people’s beliefs in this country, and how that exemption from criticism of religion allows creationists to poison the well against evolution. He calls this “the dark evil gnawing at the heart of the American public,” and continues:

It’s an effective evil, too, since most people cower before it and fear to declare it the bane of public education. Even many who don’t believe are reluctant to call it out — it will antagonize the believers, they say, they won’t accept the all-important proximate message of science if we alienate them from their precious myths and superstitions. So we continue this game of science proponents edging delicately around the central issue while the advocates of religion feel no constraint at all, and attack reason by hammering our children with unrepentant, unapologetic lunacy.

Because religion is exempt from criticism, creationists are allowed to preach their ascientific rubbish to our children without rebuke, while those trying to teach good science come under fire. Dr. Myers holds, and I emphatically agree, that it’s time for the critical curtain to fall. Religious claims must be subject to the same rigorous scrutiny that we bring to bear on all other ideas, be they scientific, economic, political, etc. Then, and only then, will creationism die its deserved death, as alchemy and geocentrism have already done.

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Another school district’s assault on science

May 13, 2008

The blogs are ablaze with a school district in Maine whose director wants evolution expelled from the curriculum. Matthew Linkletter, director of School Adminstrative District No. 59, has said evolution, along with other “origins” theories such as the Big Bang, have to be believed by faith, that “you can’t show, observe, or prove it.” He also said, “If it’s not scientifically verifiable, then maybe we should leave it out of the science classes. When you make a statement that’s not backed by facts and just represents a world view, then it has no place.”

This has been well covered already, so I’ll let you find other capable coverage elsewhere. For now, I think Linkletter provides an excellent opportunity to put to use The Hovind Scale, a method for quantifying the stupidity of creationist statements.

Here we go:

Hovind Factor = (X + s + i + p) x (m + 1)

Belief in Scripture:
X = 0 – No doctrinal belief required

Now it seems rather obvious that the person making this statement is coming from a literalist religious perspective, but the Hovind Scale is about statements, and Linkletter’s particular statements don’t rest on a particular dogmatic interpretation. Thus, he gets off easy on this one.

Science Illiteracy:
S = 4 – Rejection of basic scientific facts/laws/robust theories and/or denial of any evidence that contradicts scripture

Linkletter has said that evolution is scientifically unverifiable. This, in spite of the fact that the theory of evolution is as well established as the theory of gravity (if not more.) Should we take the theory of gravity out of the classroom too, Mr. Linkletter?

Idiocy scale
i = 8 – unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons

Really, Mr. Linkletter? You really believe that evolution (and the Big Bang, for some reason) are not based on sound observation and experimentation? Despite displaying an obvious and utter lack of understanding of science? That’s pretty stupid.

Paradox
p = 3 – Self contradiction invalidates statement completely, and is left unaddressed.

Linkletter says that evolution can’t be proven. Well watch out for the news flash, because nothing in science is proven! If we have to throw out every unproven scientific theory, we should just chuck ’em all, because not one of them is proven in the slightest. There’s plenty of evidence for the best ones, of course.

Mendacity
m = 4 – Complete, burn-in-Hell, perjury grade, super-lie – for example, one that is strategically designed to mislead authorities or the general public (e.g. as witnessed in the Dover trial and Expelled).

Ah, mendacity: the first and choicest refuge of the scoundrel. Mr. Linkletter deserves the highest mendacity value for several reasons. First, he is in a position of power, and is using that position to attack science. That makes any dishonesty far more egregious than a simple creationist blog (or Venom Fang X video.) Second, he’s pretending to be acting purely in the interest of good science education, despite the self-evident fact that his lack of any expertise in science should disqualify him from making such sweeping recommendations. Finally, he deserves a high value here because of the target of his mendacious attack: Children. Whatever he feels about it, if his attack on science education is successful, it will have the effect of undermining the future of the area’s children. A great deal of humanity’s future (and whether there is much future to speak of) will center on science, and for that reason we must give our students every advantage in gaining a scientific education. Linkletter’s ludicrous motion would leave them far behind the rest of the world.

All right, if we add all that up, we get a Hovind Factor of 75%; just 5% less than Expelled. Not bad, Mr. Linkletter; not bad.

Anyone in the area interested in registering their disgust with Mr. Linkletter can attend the school board meeting on May 19th. I’ll bet it’s a lively time!