So I walk into the lab a couple of days ago and there are two co-workers discussing something or other. Sounds interesting, so I butt in as usual. "What am I missing?" I oughtta know better by now, doncha think?
Turns out MH, a long time employee here at the plant, and a rather curmudgeonly lady in her own right, has a granddaughter in a local public school, who's about 14 or so. And this granddaughter came home from school kind of upset - her teacher had been reading from the Bible during class - specifically, from Revelations - and had been talking up the concept of imminent Armageddon.
"In a public school?" I said. "During regular classes, or was it during a Bible study class - like an elective?" I always like to get my facts straight before a good rant. But no, it was during a regular class - no telling what the class was - probably social studies or some shit.
MH proceeded to tell me why, exactly, this upset her. See, she doesn't care if they talk about abstinence or birth control, or the Resurrection or any of that stuff - but don't you dare upset the sensibilities of her granddaughter by telling her the world's gonna end, and that right quickly, too. Awful, you know?
A dull throb was starting in my right temple at this point.
MH volunteered that there were two Jewish girls in the class, who had been relocated after Katrina to our public school system. She said these two girls spent the lecture (however impromptu) with their heads down, looking at their hands.
"Damn," I said. "That must have been awful for them."
"Yeah," said MH, "Cause you know they believe exactly the opposite of Us."
"Actually," I said, "Judaism and Christianity are pretty close when it comes to belief systems - there's a lot in common."
"Not the way these two believe."
OK, and how the fuck would you know? Do they come to school with inverted pentacles tattooed on their foreheads? Do they smear the blood of sacrificed chickens on their cheeks before leaving the house every morning? Do they torture kittens during lunch break?
I have no doubt that MH had some dirt on the two Jewish girls, but there's no question in my mind that the dirt was made ever blacker and smellier because these girls were Jewish to begin with.
I tried to go back to the original subject and got sidetracked onto evolution - just to test the waters, y'know. I really oughtta know better.
"Y'know, I don't remember being taught about Armageddon in school. I 'member reading about it in The Omen, I think, but not in school. Come to think of it, I can't even remember whether they talked about evolution or not."
MH piped up, "Oh, there's not going to be any of that anymore. There's a creator, a designer."
I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. I decided that discretion, in this case, was better than a knock-down drag-out fight in the QC Lab, so I cut and ran like a little bitch. I realized later that what I should have said on the way out was, "No, I don't remember much about how they taught us evolution. But I sure do remember all that stuff in social studies about the separation of church and state."
Too bad - it would have made a great exit line.
When I told Brian about it later, he agreed with my decision to exit-stage-right out of the conversation. "There's no point arguing with a closed mind." (I hope he wasn't talking about mine. If he was, I missed the jab entirely.) He's right, I think, especially if you want to avoid a stress-induced heart attack in your thirties.
There's been a lot of gab about Intelligent Design again recently. So I'd like to point you to the brilliant silliness of Bobby Henderson, who has written the Kansas School Board, among other institutions, to support the public schools' teaching of the doctrines of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (Those of you without a sense of humor about religion may feel free to stop reading now, lest your blood pressure also rise dangerously.)
Here's a snip, but I strongly advise interested parties to visit the site for themselves. They even offer FSM car logos, in which I am seriously considering investing (although I see that they are heavily backordered right now - which is, in my opinion, a good sign).
"...what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.
I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, and unfortunately cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.
You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s."
*snort* "His Noodly Appendage." Kills me every time I read it. Anyway, I've been a fan ever since. Ramen.
Here's another take on Intelligent Design, by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate. Wonderful in its snarkiness, I can't help but rip it wholesale from the website, but here's the link anyway.
Mind the Gaps
Intelligent design as an answer to all life's great conundrums.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005, at 2:15 PM PT
The good people of Dover, Penn., are in court this week fighting for their right to tell high-school students that evolution is an elective, not a requirement. Intelligent design isn't just your great-grandpa's creationism, they contend. Instead, it fills in the myriad "gaps" and "problems" in Darwin's theory of evolution with an unnamed, omnipotent "designer." (Hint: His name rhymes with "Todd.") For this exceedingly pluralistic and tolerant worldview, Dover School Board members have gotten themselves into a world of trouble with parents, the ACLU, and pundits across the land.
But the critics are missing the beauty of this new theory. Because the really great thing about intelligent design is that it takes all the awkward uncertainty out of science. It says, "You know those damn theoretical gaps and conundrums that send microbiology graduate students into dank basement laboratories at 3 a.m.? They don't need to be resolved at all. Go back to bed, sleepy little grad students. God fills those gaps."
Let's face it: The problem with science has always been that each new discovery unleashes thousands of new questions and ambiguities. So really, the more we discover new stuff, the stupider we get. Clearly, that isn't working. ID says we shouldn't bother ourselves with resolving scientific inconsistencies or untangling puzzles. We should recognize that what God really wants is for us just to stop learning.
Think of the applications. Science is, after all, teeming with unresolved conundrums. What if we just recognized, for instance, that we can't make the Standard Model of particle physics work? This theory, which purports to describe all known matter—including subatomic particles, such as quarks and leptons, as well as the forces by which they interact—is plagued by scientists' failure to observe something called "proton decay." Now, if we apply the ID principle to particle physics, no one ever needs to put on a lab coat again. Quarks and leptons? They're made of God. And so are quartz and leprechauns.
There are many thorny medical mysteries doctors can't explain: How can pluripotent stem cells give rise to any type of cell in the body? Why is the genetic marker for Huntington's disease characterized by an excess of trinucleotide repeats? What accounts for the phenomenon of spontaneous remission in some cancers? With intelligent design, we don't ever need to find out. Years from now, we'll all lie in our hospital beds while ID-trained doctors hold our hands and assure us that we are merely dying of God.
We'll all be able to huddle around our radios and listen to Car Talk as a family. After the question is posed, we can all yell out in unison with Click and Clack that the mysterious drut-drut-drut coming from that lady in Vermont's carburetor is … "God!!"
And Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit will be vastly improved when Mariska Hargitay can look ruefully over at Chris Meloni, shake her head over the dead victim's limp frame, and shrug: "Heck if I know what happened. It's a real mystery. I guess we'll have to get a warrant for God." Sigh. "Again." Cut to closing credits.
Replacing every single gap in human knowledge with a theory of divine agency would save us billions of dollars in wasteful public education. In fact, while we're at it, replacing every single Gap store with a God store would save us billions of dollars on flat-front chinos.
My modest proposal would be that, instead of using intelligent design merely to fill in the gaps and inconsistencies of our most intractable scientific puzzles, we roll back what we've already learned about science and plug God into the equation at the outset. Kind of cut out those annoying scientific middlemen. That apple didn't fall onto Sir Isaac Newton's head because of gravity. It was God. God didn't want Newton to study science, and he doesn't want us to, either. And I, for one, am relieved. As Galileo famously said, and Teen Talk Barbie famously paraphrased: "Science is hard."
Doncha remember those times back in what were fondly called the Dark Ages, when if it wasn't God's will, it had to be Satan's? You might remember another piece of that historical puzzle called the Inquisition - where some higher-ups in the Catholic Church spent a few centuries trying to eradicate heretics who didn't believe the same way they did. The steps of logic from one set of beliefs (ID) to the other (God-or-Satan) are not large leaps - they are fairly easily made, especially when, as Galileo says, "Science is hard."
In a world where we want to believe that humans are good, but they certainly don't act like it; in a world where people of all ages suffer and die from diseases that scientists can't yet cure; in a world where catastrophic weather and environmental cataclysms flatten whole societies - well, it's just easier to leave it to God, isn't it? The world is a scary, complicated mess, and it makes greater minds than mine altogether tired to contemplate it for very long.
But here's the rub: we have to try. We have to keep working. Development - whether it's personal, social or scientific - seems to jump around a lot. Two steps forward, one step back. We all want to believe that at some point we can sit on our laurels and say, "Hey, we won the fight for evolution. We won the fight for civil rights in the 60s. We won the fight against illegal wars in the 70s. Didn't we?"
Apparently not - or at least, not completely. The work continues. And it's so comforting and tempting to believe that once you die, you get to rest from all that hard work. Float with God and the angels and be together with the creator. Nice work if you can get it, y'know?
So if you don't believe in reincarnation, and the idea that what you leave undone in this life you will have to deal with in the next, then remember your children - and their children. The work will be theirs.
Either way, as a society and as a culture, we can never stop working for peace and enlightenment. We can take a break every now and then to manage our blood pressure; we can go to birthday parties (Duckie's is this weekend); we can sit in the sun, watch leaves falling and children growing. In themselves, those endeavors are also part of the work. Because if you forget what you're working for, you'll probably stop working.