Archive for March 5th, 2007|Daily archive page

Finding Words

I had promised to fire another broadside in the on-going, online discussion about evolution in schools

Dr. Esler pointed me to the following summary of the history of the struggle to teach evolution as published in the New England Journal of Medicine. I would point him to the far more complete discussion of the issue in Eugenie Scott’s book Evolution vs. Creationism. Of course her book isn’t available for free or online. Fortunately, since it doesn’t contain the word scrotum, it is probably still available at a local library.

If I had more energy, I would point out the fact that all the secular attacks outlined in the article seem to have been responses to people attempting to regulate scientific learning in classrooms. (In the case of the Scopes trial, they were successful for almost 50 years…) I would argue that is the problem. What are often perseved to be secular attacks on religion are simply an attempt to describe the world without recourse to God; to use naturalistic explanations and not supernatural apologetics to define how the universe works.

There was nothing new in the article, but it is a nice summary of the three main battles fought in the American war on science. (A war only really being fought in truly religious countries – countries like America and Turkey.)

Interestingly, I found the summary rather disjointed from the rest of the article. After showing reaction after reaction to efforts by religious groups to remove or derail the teaching of evolution in public schools the author sums up this way.

Of course, the theory of evolution cannot answer all questions about how life emerged or how the human brain developed, nor is evolution even relevant to the question of where the original matter of the universe came from. There is plenty of room for diverse opinions and beliefs on these subjects. Alfred Russell Wallace, for example, who, simultaneously with Darwin, proposed the theory of natural selection as the engine of evolution, believed that the development of the human brain could be explained only by divine intervention. Nobel laureate John C. Eccles, in his treatise on the evolution of the human brain, was unable to account for the unique individual self and concluded: “I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural creation . . . which is implanted into the fetus at some time between conception and birth.” And Stephen Hawking speaks for himself and probably for most physicists when he concludes that if and when scientists are able to construct a unified theory of the universe, humans will still be confronted with the nonscience questions of why we and the universe exist, and “about the nature of God.”

The quest to banish religion from politics and government is ultimately, as the Jesuit priest Robert Drinan notes, “hopelessly unrealistic, because religions are by their nature intended to create cultures, even civilizations.” Religion and government are not inherently incompatible, and they necessarily have formal and informal relationships with each other. Nor are science and religion inherently incompatible. Nevertheless, religion is not science and should not be taught in science class. In the United States, the higher power that prevents this is the First Amendment.

I guess I just have to pass.

If the point is to say government and politics are ridden with religious feeling, more today then say 230 years ago, I would have to agree. Secular beliefs are being pushed farther and farther into the gutter. They are being demonised.

But to point at, say, Iraq and decry the horrible sectarian fighting while proudly proclaiming America to be a ‘Christian Nation’ is, for me, deeply troubling. Wouldn’t an amendment to the constitution be simpler or at least honest? Revoke the first amendment and simply proclaim America Christian. Sixty percent of the American population would probably support the idea. Even the some members of the Jewish population would probably support the issue. I’m pretty sure Debbie Schussel would go along with it.

I really don’t think science answers all the questions. If it did, we wouldn’t need continuing research. I find it interesting that the author of the article seems to a priori define the limits of future research on evolution. I find it interesting that the author manages to mix decent with modification with the concept of the origin of the universe and the big bang. (Did Darwin go there? I think not.)

If the point is to say that science hasn’t answered all questions yet. My response is – well yeah. If the point is to go quote mining, for possible philosophical comments by scientists, there are whole books for that kind of thing. If the point is to say science will never answer the question, I would ask how you can be sure. Did Newton envision rockets to the moon? Would he have said you can’t get there because – well – you just can’t?

But even to point me to the article, is to misunderstand my point. It is to misunderstand what I am fighting for, or perhaps what I am fighting against.

My argument is simply that science is the process for understanding how things work and that is what needs to be taught.

I agree, science does effect both philosophy and religion. We no longer simply postulate that matter is made up of basic elements, we measure them, we refine them, we manipulate them. Most of us no longer follow the idea that the world is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth; both religious beliefs that were changed by science. But religion didn’t change the science, the science forced a re-interpretation of the religious doctrine.

I guess, I can’t stop people from feeling threatened, by feeling that their very beliefs are threatened by science. I would say that, for some – like the flat-earthers, those beliefs are threatened. I question the idea that the solution is to stop science, to stop teaching science, to make strawman arguments (“…nor is evolution even relevant to the question of where the original matter of the universe came from” – I mean, WTF?).

But on the other hand, I do get upset when people, using religious apologetics, nevertheless claim to support science. People who use science and genetics daily but claim it just doesn’t work. I seem to get so upset that I can’t even find the words to properly express my outrage, to express my position.

Since I seem to be having trouble getting my feelings across, I guess I’ll just wait a couple of weeks and let those people most effected speak out. Not the doctors, not patients, the the high school students themselves (Hat Tip: Bug_girl/Skepchick)

2007 National High School Essay Contest

Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution? If you are a high school student in the United States, we want to hear your answer to that question. Send us an essay of not more than 1,000 words by March 31st. There are prizes for students and rewards for participating teachers.

If I’m having trouble finding the correct words, I sure hope these kids won’t.