Monday, May 30, 2005

Carefully Disguised Bullshit 

At first glance, this article by a high school science teacher on how he teaches evolution to students seems a good thing. He gives them both (scientific) sides, pro and con, shows where areguments have been made against evolution, etc., etc. He says that, by the end of the class, the students had no idea what his position was personally. He seems to hint, though, that he's an intelligent design fan (i.e. "evolution" light), which makes me question why he's teaching science in the first place.

It also demonstrates how the apparent "benign" appearance of the ID argument is actually quite dangerous. A quote from the teacher:
I push them to behave like competent jurors - not just to swallow what some authority figure tells them to believe - not even me - but rather to critically analyze, with an open mind, the evidence set before them.
Okay, fine. Can we have this same degree of freedom in teaching religion and theology?

Because, it seems to me, all of religion is based on its followers just swallowing what some authority figure tells them to, without question. I have no problem with that -- if they keep it in their own churches and their personal lives. But as soon as they try to change my world with their dogma, I draw the line. As soon as they try to insert their unfounded beliefs into the study of science, I say enough.

'Cause you know what? You can put all the evidence in favor of evolution in one bucket, and all the evidence in favor of creationism in another bucket, and you'll end up with one pretty full bucket and one totally empty one. You can believe, and guess and imagine all you want, but the simple fact is, there is absolutely not a single, solitary shred of evidence in favor of the universe having been created instantly by some invisible gaseous anthropomorphic being, whether it was 6,000 years ago or 15 billion. The only evidence, in fact, is that the universe is here -- but that's like looking at a roll of scotch tape and stating, with certainty, that it was fabricated out of gummi bears and pig snot by a sixteen foot tall pixie named Edna on a planet orbiting a star in the Eta Carinae system. You can say it all you want -- but until you can show me the chain of evidence from point A to B, you don't even have a theory. You have a fairy tale.

In contrast, a scientist would examine the scotch tape. He might notice that the label includes a mention of the 3M Company. He would track down the company, find the people there who maybe made the tape. Perhaps observe the assembly line -- the same assembly line that manufactures only the gloss finish transparent tape in the half inch roll. And then he'd compare samples from that assembly line to his tape at home. Then, and only then, might he put forward the theory that his roll of tape was created on assembly line A, sub-group W, building 17, southern fabrication plant, etc., etc. But he won't state that with absolute certainty, perhaps having heard that gloss finish production was moved some time in the last year.

You get the point. Charles Darwin didn't just wake up one morning and say, "Hm. Men and apes have two arms and two legs, and kind of look alike. Therefore, men must have descended from apes." Nope. He spent a lot of time studying a lot of species, testing a lot of ideas, working his way toward a possibility.

Contrast with: men think. Therefore, everything was created by a thinking man in the sky. No testing necessary.

Funny story: I went to a Catholic university (despite being a heathen) because they had a good film school. But... everybody had to take two theology classes. I approached my first one with dread, thinking that they'd just lock us in a room and beat us until we converted. It was called History of the New Testament, and it was taught by a nun. Visions of penguins and wooden rulers danced in my head.

Cut to: First day of class. The nun walks in, dressed in civvies, and she's a 40-ish MILF,. (Well, for the straight guys in the class, but I can appreciate a MILF even if I gravitate toward the DILFs.)

Anyway... she walks into class, goes up to the lectern, says hello, and then says the following sentence, which made me realize forever that Jesuits aren't really a religious order; they're partiers with collars (she was a member of the Jesuit girl gang). She said, "Some people think that every word in the bible was personally written by god. Well, that's just ridiculous..."

In that instant, you could tell who went to Catholic school and who didn't. The parochial kids all inhaled waiting for the lightning to strike. The rest of us just looked at each other with collective relief, realizing, "Damn. They're not going to stick us in the rack until we convert."

For the rest of the year, she showed how which documents wound up in the New Testament were determined by people and politics, and if there were any sort of divine intervention, it was a very convoluted process. Yes, she did cop to the "if you have faith, you'll see how god worked it this way" excuse, but she didn't hold back from the "it could just as easily have been Matthew, Mark, Luke and Timothy" story.

Funny thing is, the religious kids didn't lose faith by her lessons, and the atheist kids didn't see the light because of it -- even though, ultimately, her argument was toward the "god had nothing to do with it" side.

Which makes me wonder why the super-religious, born-again, rightwing loon-nut fundies are so insecure about their religion. After all, if they really really have the truth on their side, it doesn't matter what some biology teacher says about evolution, right? If god can get involved enough to edit the bible, he should be able to make sure kids aren't fooled by lies.

Right? Right?

I want the fundies to put their money where their mouths are. If they really believe, let them stay the hell out of science classes -- and we'll stay out of religion classes.


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