Posts Tagged ‘war on science’

Covert ops in the war on science

December 5, 2008

I stumbled upon this on Richard Dawkins’ website: a collection of Evolution Outreach Projects by Colin Purrington of Swarthmore College. These are a must-see.

A lot of it is cute little stickers and temporary tattoos of Darwin, but at the heart of the effort is a push to get evolution taught to young children. Purrington advocates what every education expert should already know: children are perfectly capable of understanding evolution, and the only reason they do not learn about it is indoctrination in their early years and the delay into high school of the introduction of the concept. As Purrington says:

The notion that young kids cannot understand evolution is a myth perpetuated by those who don’t want kids to understand evolution.

I’ll be starting a unit on evolution soon in my high school biology class, and I’ll certainly be using some of these materials. (I should be right in time for Darwin Day!) Check it out; it’s wonderful, and the author’s self-effacing humor is quite charming.


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.

Michigan academic freedom bill

June 17, 2008

The news of the passage in the House of Louisiana’s anti-evolution bill blinded me for the moment to another potential threat, this one impending in Michigan’s legislature. From the National Center for Science Education: Senate Bill 1361, and its identical counterpart House Bill 6027, both promise to require schools to “create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” Sounds good to me, on the face of it. What’s the problem?

Here’s the problem: public school classrooms rarely present their students with controversial scientific issues. Such controversies are usually far beyond the scope of public school classes, which generally focus on the basics. Add to this the fact that Michigan’s education standards no doubt already include critical thinking, and the bills begin to seem superfluous. Why propose them at all?

You already know the answer: to allow educators to “teach the controversy” on evolution. Of course there is no controversy, but groups like the Discovery Institute work very hard to convince the credulous that there is. Interestingly, the DI is also behind most of these academic freedom bills. Coincidence?

If these bills pass, there is only one possible outcome. Some witless teacher will present intelligent design as legitimate science, some parents will sue the school district, and we’ll have Dover all over again. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tax dollars will be poured down the sink. If the DI really cares about education, you’d think they would stop subjecting financially strapped school districts to protracted litigation.

But the DI doesn’t really care about science education. Neither does the Louisiana Family Forum, or any of the other religious right organizations pushing intelligent design creationism. They care about creating a nation where their own narrow religious views are sponsored by the state, where science is crammed into a little box from which it can’t threaten their small-minded notions of life and the universe.

I almost feel for them. As much support as they have in the US, they’re losing, and they will continue to lose. Reality is against them.

Mendacity Monday: Ben Stein (I’m sorry)

June 16, 2008

Yes, apologies are in order: you will be exposed to Ben Stein this week. I don’t know what to say; just square your shoulders and prepare for the onslaught of stupidity.

I had thought of going after Answers in Genesis again this week, in retaliation for that organization’s assault on our highways, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t stultifyingly boring. Case in point was this paper from Answers Research Journal, which takes some legitimate observations of chromosome variation in cattle and says, “See? God did it!”

No, it’s Ben Stein’s turn this week, and to exemplify his wackiness I’ve got this video of an interview by Pat Robertson (another pillar of integrity.)

Ye who watches the above: prepare for a headache.


New, improved Hovind Scale Calculator

May 22, 2008

This is unspeakably awesome. A fellow (fellowess?) named alltruism has built an online Hovind Factor Calculator. Verily, ’tis a weapon that ’twill strike fear into the hearts of the foes of science.

It’s great. A large indicator updates the HF value automatically as you adjust the figures. I have not praise enough.

Why fight for evolution?

May 15, 2008

Today’s post may ramble a bit. Fairly warned ye be.

I had never intended to start an evolution/creation blog, but that seems to be the direction the blog has taken for the present. That’s fine with me; I’m certain that exciting happenings in science will tug at my fancy. For now, it’s evolution, and as I regard victory in the war on evolution as vital for our continued survival, I’m happy to give it center stage for a time.

That may have seemed like idle hyperbole. Certainly it’s important to protect evolutionary theory from the ideological attacks on it, in this country (the US) and in all others. If we fail, the US stands to fall behind the rest of the world in scientific competency. Not only that, but if the soldiers of religious wingnuttery are able to censor science, what’s to prevent their influence from entering other areas of public life? What’s to stop them from outlawing homosexuality, or undermining religious freedoms? All these are nontrivial concerns, but none of them threaten our survival as a species.

I fight so hard for evolution not only for the theory itself, but for its necessary implications. The fact that humans share a common ancestor with all other life makes one long-held notion virtually untenable: that humans are somehow above and separate from the rest of life. Evolution makes it uncomfortably difficult to believe that humans were made “in God’s own image.” We are a part of the life of this world, we came to be in the same way as anything else, and we are subject to the same laws of nature as anything else. It is unspeakably vital that we all grasp this fact, and soon.

Again, the urgency with which I advocate this idea may seem strange. What harm is there in some people’s believing that humans are somehow exalted over other organisms? The danger is in the actions such a belief permits. If humans are exalted over all other life, than we are free to do what we will with all other life. In fact, “civilized” humans have done whatever they would with all other life for thousands of years, and the results are all around us. Fisheries are collapsing, vast areas of forest are destroyed daily, the products of agriculture and industry are driving global temperatures up, and estimates hold that dozens of species are driven extinct every day. This is a direct result of the idea that the world was made for us, and that we were made to make what we would of the world.

Accepting the more humble origin of humanity does not utterly banish this notion, but it does make it difficult to maintain. If we are simply a natural outgrowth of the processes that shaped this planet, it is hardly possible to justify our treating it as our personal property.

I fight, because fighting for evolution means fighting for humanity.