Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Idiotic Design


For those of you who have not been exposed to George Bush’s latest less-than-brilliant idea, here’s the scoop: he’s apparently all for teaching the theory of intelligent design in public schools along with the theory of evolution. In science class.

But before I argue heatedly against this (as you know I will), let me supply
the background first, for folks who aren’t quite as obsessive about the news as I am. The theory of intelligent design says that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by positing an intelligent designer” – like, maybe, God.

The scientific community does not acknowledge it as a true scientific theory at all, because it cannot be proven or disproven by scientific means. Support for this non-theory is growing quickly among the religious right. I’m sure Bush’s statement will only help that.

I first ran into the concept of intelligent design (ID for short) at Slate, and of course it was several months ago and I can’t find the link to the unbelievably dense article I slogged through to get terribly confused. Sorry. Because the article was pretty complex and made my head hurt, I suppose I assumed that the concept itself wouldn’t be easy enough to really sell to right-wing culture.

Damn, but when I’m wrong, I’m really ^&$*ing wrong.

What’s strange is that I don’t even remember being taught about evolution in school. I watched a lot of educational TV, so maybe that’s where I picked up the concept, and I certainly knew that there was a conflict between the ideas of creationism and evolution (probably got there through literature, via Inherit the Wind). But when I was in high school our AP biology professor was something of a nut (used to jump around on his desk to illustrate the flight pattern of bees, throw pickled animal parts around the room to freak out the jocks, stuff like that). He was a lot more interested in teaching us crazy shit like, say, the circulatory system of a frog, or the life cycle of the white pine – you know, science stuff.

Mr. Profeta would take one look at a textbook that bothered to mention how it all got started and throw it out as irrelevant.

Because it is irrelevant. The whole discussion is stupid and ridiculous and polarizing and a freaking waste of time and money (see – look at me, wasting time and money discussing it. Perfect example.) You believe there’s a God? Great. You believe He created everything? Wonderful. Does it make a difference how you live your life? How you conduct an experiment? How you treat other human beings? IT SHOULDN’T. Whether or not God exists does not justify murder, intolerance, ignorance or neglect - of anyone, whether they believe in your version of God or not.

Religion does not equal ethics. Religion does not equal science. Religion is simply a framework and a guide for how you live. It helps communicate social mores and strictures and can be a really powerful, positive force when its members do not allow the framework to be more important than the people and lives inside it.

Being a righteous (fill in the blank) does not, nor will it ever, give you the right to push your beliefs on others. That used to be one of the big gold stars about America, didn’t it? Church and state were separated for a reason. Public schools are public institutions, therefore should not teach subjects that are better off at home or in Sunday school. Because if you’re going to spout Christian propaganda in schools, you’d better be spouting some Buddhist stuff, too, or I’m gonna be pissed, write a bunch of useless letters to the Editor, and home-school my child. Or I'll try to get on the School Board and really do some damage. (Nor should Bible study be an available elective – I might could back a comparative religions class, but how much do you think I trust the state to set one up that presents the facts? Nnnnnnnnot so much.)

Don’t waste our students’ time on this nonsense. You want to talk about problems with evolutionary theory? Go right ahead. But do it with the scientific theory (flawed as it is) behind you, if you’re going to do it in science class. Otherwise, wait ‘til you get to church.

One of Bush’s arguments for the teaching of ID in schools is to expose kids to different ideas. Hmmmm… anyone want to jump on that action? No? OK, well, I suppose I’ll have to, given that it’s my blog.

Hey, George! Yeah, you in the suit! Put that liquor drink down and listen to me, you grinning bastard. Who decides what these ideas are, George? Once you open the door to ID, you ignore established scientific facts for what is basically wishful thinking. (I know, ignoring or otherwise covering up facts is a hallmark of your career, but still…) So are you going to expose my daughter to other ideas, too, like the one that says “global warming doesn’t exist” and “there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” and “there were links between Iraq and 9/11”? No thanks. I’ll be the one to propagandize my child, thanks very much. You stay the hell out of it.

RB and I had a conversation a few years ago about a related subject, and it’s stuck with me. Her son was coming home from school understandably concerned about evolution and creationism. Being the smart, insightful kid that he is, he saw that the two don’t necessarily jive. Here’s why I think this kid is being raised right – he asked the question. He asked his mom. He said, “Mom, in church they say that God created the heavens and the earth in seven days, and then created Adam and Eve. In school they told us we used to be monkeys. What’s right?”

She wasn’t sure how to respond to him. My suggestion was that they were both right. If you’re raised as a Southern Baptist, you can, in all honesty, believe the truth of both paradigms, without stretching much. It’s not that big of a deal, unless you take the Old Testament completely literally, word for word. And if you do, you’re ignoring the New Testament (as well as buying into a lot of violent destructivist mythology that I think really deserves an MA rating in most cases.)

Not sure where their conversation went after that. But RB’s son felt safe enough in his faith and in his mom to ask her about it, to dig around a little bit, to make his own decisions, and that’s exactly as it should be.

School is tough enough on kids. Kids are tough enough on each other without dragging religion into the mess, doncha think? If my follows my faith or her dad’s faith or create her own spiritual (or non-spiritual) painting of the origin of species, I just want her to feel comfortable and safe enough to do it.

I wanted to think this was only happening in Texas. Then I heard Dear Leader come out for it yesterday. And then I heard some misguided moron talking about it on the radio, and I think he was talking about my beloved state of North Carolina. Blood pressure rose uncontrollably. Vile invectives shot to the tip of my tongue and teetered there unspoken (in my neighborhood you can get arrested for disturbing the peace, especially if you’re raving to disembodied voices pumped through gas station speakers.) I thought about what it might be like for Duckie to go to school someday and confess to a schoolmate that her mom is a Buddhist and she doesn’t really go to church except when she goes to see Grandma & Grandpa. I thought about the flack she might take for that. And I will be damned (probably literally) if I’ll stand by and watch in silence while my tax dollars go towards fostering such an environment. Ppppth.


Come on, folks. I can't be the only one who has an opinion on this. I just know some of y'all don't have your own blogs and want to speak up about this. If you want to disagree, that's totally cool; it's your right. Just don't be silent.

9 comments:

Chad said...

So what you're saying is of course we can teach competing theories, but only theories that are approved. It's far more important that children are never exposed to an idea that may make them uncomfortable than that they actually learn how to think in school. Personally I think intelligent design is probably a load of crap, but that doesn't mean that there may not be some value in examining it as a theory, if for no other reason than as an example of poor scientific reasoning. I guess open-mindedness is only for when you want your opinions considered.

andi said...

Dear Chad,

You have a good point - maybe ID does have a place in a course syllabus as such an example of what a theory isn't.

However, there's also a debate right now about how to teach history - do you teach just the known facts, or do you also teach historical paradigms that led to the evaluation of those facts (revisionist history, etc.)?

In high school I had the benefit of some pretty advanced classes. In an outstanding Humanities class, a couple of the students were actively involved in debating larger philosophical issues. Most of the class slept through these debates.

The idea of Intelligent Design might have a place in a Humanities class like that, where you are doing things to learn to think, as you put it. Maybe there's a place for a Scientific Humanities class - but in the public school system, I don't see it happening anytime soon.

My concern is that ID will be included as part of a science class that is not open to question. My concern is that it will not be taught in such a mindful way as you describe above.

There have been a lot of ideas I was not comfortable with as a student, and I certainly don't expect my daughter to be comfortable with everything, either. I don't think that's the issue. My problem with ID's place in schools is that it will be presented along with the theory of evolution, without the indepth examination that might allow students to make their own judgements about its validity or worth. Depends on how you teach it, I suppose.

Thanks for your input. Come back any time.

Chad said...

The "Theory of Evolution" is exactly why Intelligent Design or other alternative theories need to be taught in a science class. Evolution is a theory with many holes currently. Intelligent Design purports to fill those holes. As I stated previously I think it is a bunch of garbage, but it deserves comparison. This same argument can be extended to "revisionist histories". History tends to be a consensus arrived at by a culture. When there is information that is known the revises those issues it should be examined. The problem with revisionist history is integrating the new facts into a cultural tradition. Here is a short term example - It is generally accepted that George Bush stated we had to attack Iraq because there was an imminent threat that Iraq was going to attack us. The historical record shows that to be absolutely incorrect on two accounts. 1. George Bush never said that. He said we must not allow them to become an imminent threat. 2. Iraq had been attacking US forces on almost a daily basis for years. That in fact was one of the driving reasons behind Bill Clinton defining Regime Change as the national policy towards Iraq in 1998. These issues don't easily integrate with the accepted truth so they are ignored, and thus history or the popularly accepted version of it is born. Part of the problem with education in this country is the fact that America is a highly religous country, much more so than almost any country in Europe, and the dominant religous culture is Judeo-Christian, but there is an active attempt to remove all that cultural identity. This causes friction. If there were an open attempt to deal with these issues in school the friction would be reduced and that would in no way constitute an endorsement of religion. If this causes some people to feel uncomfortable I'm sorry, but open discussions of homosexual sex as an acceptable lifestyle make huge segments of the population uncomfortable and that is considered completely appropriate for school.

Chad said...

forgot a sentence in my previous post. I meant:

"If this causes some people to feel uncomfortable I'm sorry, but open discussions of homosexual sex as an acceptable lifestyle make huge segments of the population uncomfortable and that is considered completely appropriate for school."

to read:

If this causes some people to feel uncomfortable I'm sorry, but open discussions of many things such as homosexual sex as an acceptable lifestyle make huge segments of the population uncomfortable, rightly or wrongly it is a fact, and that is considered completely appropriate for school.


Personally I feel it is appropriate for discussion at higher grade levels. Again this is one of those areas where the dominant culture is marginalized or ignored and friction results.

andi said...

Dear Chad,

Then we can agree on a bottom line - ID in a school syllabus would be better implemented on a higher grade level.

You make some other interesting points that I'm not sure I agree with, but for once duty calls.

Might have to write a separate entry about it later - have a great weekend, and of course, feel free to stop by anytime.

~Andi

Chad said...

An interesting book put out by two reporters from the Economist you might want to read is "The Right Nation". I am kind of slow, as a quick read of my blog shows, so a lot of it went over my head, but you should do ok.

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