Feb 14 2012

Valentine’s Day Massacre: Indiana’s Drones and the Temple of Dumb

Why are we even discussing whether religion and science should be taught on the same footing in a classroom? It is 2012, and we have touched the moon, made smallpox extinct, created the internet and routinely chose to hurl ourselves through the air in metal cylinders powered by dead monsters.

And somehow despite all this technology that science has created to make our lives better in every single possible way, you still have people like the members of the Indiana Senate who tried (and will probably try again) to get a bill that allows for the teaching of creationism in schools.

It’s such a faulty premise that something that has been repeatedly proven to be true has to be taught alongside the notion that the world was created as it is by magic. It beggars belief that we are even discussing this in this time period with what we know. At its heart it is an attempt to shoehorn Jesus into children and hammer home the idea that religion also has answers that should be treated as equally valid to science. After all, it’s rather embarrassing to claim divine knowledge and be so ignorant about the functioning of the world. Science just makes religion look bad by exposing the depths of wilful ignorance that it encourages.

The teaching of Creationism irrespective of its source does not align at all with reality and therefore with science. They are stories, nothing more and nothing less than that. Teaching them in a classroom as fact doesn’t harm you. It harms your children by creating a group of people who do not question things properly and who simply blindly accept the fact that magic exists. 

As a United Methodist pastor, I am part of a Christian tradition that looks to Scripture, church tradition, critical thinking and relevant experience to reflect on God and make decisions about life in relationship to our Scriptures. Within this framework, there is plenty of room for science, including the science of evolution. What can be measured and tested and studied through scientific methods informs my theology, and my theology informs how I understand the results of that scientific method. I am not an expert on other faith traditions, but I imagine that many of them could make similar claims.

Brenda Freije doesn’t get the point in the best way. Her attitude is that reconciliation between science and wishful thinking is possible. She chooses to treat the account in Genesis as a guideline or story, stating that there is tremendous wisdom in the bible as its defence. There is tremendous wisdom in Harry Potter (honour, courage, intelligence, hard work, bravery, friendship, sacrifice, doing what’s right, love, responsibility and universality) but I wouldn’t want it to be read in schools in lieu of actual science. To me the bible has some really terrible things in it. So does Harry Potter, but the terrible things in Harry Potter are done by people who are clearly villains while a lot of the terrible things done in the bible are due to the direct action of men who are considered “good” and by the deity who claims to be good. Her vision of Christianity is a very mellow and mild one that simply ignores a lot of the text of the book.

Rather than stating that science is right because it is based on experiment and proof and that the biblical account is based on allegory, she goes for the “we don’t know what’s right” argument. The truths in the Bible have been repeatedly proven empirically wrong and the only way to deal with that is by claiming that there is mystical truth that only comes from belief and study. 

Science and religion ask different questions and apply different methods of study. This doesn’t make them incompatible. It does make them distinct. Claims about God as the creator of life are claims of faith. Claims that there is no divine power behind the created order are claims of a different kind of faith. It is the role of parents and our communities of faith to teach about these claims and to help our children think critically about the science they are learning. 

Science asks questions, religion makes up answers. Science does study and experiment and test while religion does not. The claim that there is no divine power in the universe is based on the observable fact that there is no divine power in the universe. To date not one person who claims to believe in the divine has been capable of providing evidence that the divine exists. The day proof is provided; we will accept a god exists. But till now there is none.

Next we have Donald Lacy, a United Methodist Pastor.

First, and likely the most difficult, has to do with what understanding(s) of creationism is to be presented to students. I suggest the place to begin for our great state is to seek out scholarly representatives of those that can trace their beginning to Father Abraham: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Perhaps the Senate itself could do this. But what branches of each should come together? Christianity alone has numerous denominational groupings. Potential chaos? Is consensus possible? 

Firstly, the USA has a establishment clause banning the promotion of religion in a classroom. It doesn’t matter what god you believe in, you cannot flog it in a classroom. And none of the Abrahamic faiths have a grasp on how old the earth is by a factor of nearly the entire existence of the earth. Islam has been around for less than 2000 years. The world has been around for 4.5 billion years. This isn’t philosophy where all views are equal. This is science, and it’s not a democracy. It’s a meritocracy. If your view has evidence then your view stands. If your evidence is flawed then your view falls. And the evidence for all abrahamic faith is faulty at its very core. It doesn’t matter how much you agree about it if you are agreeing about the existence of unicorns. 

Second, if some agreement can be reached on what is to be taught as creationism and implemented, we must look into the future. Who or what has the authority, responsibility and accountability to decide the validity of such teaching by providing objective testing? We may very well have a menacing wall that only partially comes down. Will each proponent insist on his/her way? Again, is consensus possible? 

Secondly, creationism shouldn’t be taught. Not until they can provide empirical evidence. Because so far there has been no empirical research out of the movement let alone any
thing that substantiates their proof. We hear about research but close examination shows it to be laughable and unacceptable at the level at which a 12 year old child would do science. We cannot and should not teach anything this faulty. 

Third, we must at least mention Buddhism and Hinduism. Our state definitely has devotees. In the late 1950s, we had a brilliant Christian professor at Butler School of Religion (Christian Theological Seminary) whose name was Joseph Smith. I relished every minute of his comparative history of religions and wrote essays on both religions. Often, after classes, I was ready to convert or find a way to incorporate them into Methodism. Well, dear friends, is consensus possible?

Thirdly, Hinduism’s creation mythos is clearly entrenched in magic. And hindus themselves tend to not believe in their own creation mythos relying heavily on science because that explains the world better. The Buddhist mythos varies wildly depending on the influence of Hinduism but it was originally a atheistic/agnostic belief system with the flaw being that it believed in a series of personal laws that apply to behaviour. Neither of these religions have enforced creationist mythos to the same level as the nonsense portrayed by the Abrahamic faiths. Encouraging them to be just like you just adds to the whole problem. And their creation mythos is completely alien to Abrahamic Faith.

Fourth, the crossing of lines between church, synagogue, mosque and state is probable. Aligning creationism with science may simply seem politically practical. Simply? Really now, it gets at the heart of who and what we are. We Christians should seriously propose a major interfaith event — inviting Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists to a spacious classroom for prayers. The governor, legislature, Supreme Court and state superintendent of public instruction should join us. 

Fourthly, Why? This seems like a giant waste of time and money. The USA has a tonne of problems regarding education without dragging magic into the mix. And it does not get at the heart of who we are as human beings.

We are the product of 3 billion years or so of evolution. We are a product of death, destruction and pain since the wheel of evolution is based on the deaths of others. Those who live to breed were lucky or were the best. We are the product of that. We have evolved to use tools and to solve problems using tools. And those two skills have allowed us as humans to break the normal cycle of evolution and become a force of nature unto ourselves. Our tools and brain have allowed us to create a society where we are not subject to the normal pressures of evolution. We have come from a history of incredible cruelty, brutality and strife to create a society that doesn’t need to be those things. We have the luxury as people to explore ideas such as kinship, universality and knowledge. At the heart of it, a human being is a powerful brain coupled with artifice mixed in with the right measures of cunning, dexterity and brute force to have become the most powerful and most self aware species that we are currently aware of. And it is these abilities and the appropriate application of them that allow us to get along with each other and become more.

To claim that we are the magic offspring of some mythical entity is to insult our true nature, and to forget what we truly are.

And finally we get to Greg Manship. An instructor in ethics at the University of Indianapolis.

Creationism aligns with science because both seek to bring understanding to the origins and fundamentals of the material world as we know it. Both science and faith help us to understand ourselves as human beings living with other human and nonhuman beings in a finite, material world within an infinite universe.

Creationism is not science, it is faith. It tries to ally with science because every time it has raised its ugly head it’s been defeated by empirical evidence which is what science is based on. It is trying to pass itself off as science in the same way that chiropractors and homeopaths try to pass themselves off as doctors. It does so in order to get acceptance into schools and so that it can replace genuine education with “Jesus”.

By faith, we understand the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures to reveal God as creator of the sun and the moon as “great lights . . . to mark day and night.” By science, we understand the nature of the sun’s light to be a massive release of visible and invisible electromagnetic energy, and the nature of the moon’s light to be the reflection of the sun’s light. 

Why has this man been hired to teach at a university? This man blatantly doesn’t even grasp how stars are formed. In this idiot’s world the sun and moon’s existence are to mark day and night as the world’s largest clocks. That god created the goddamn sun (a ball of nuclear fire that is a million times larger than the earth) solely for us to be able to tell when morning begins. Does God not intend for us to live in the Arctic or Antarctic where the sun often doesn’t set for months and where night can last an entire winter? No! Because that is clearly moronic because the “Ancient Hebrew Text” assumes the sun exists solely for human benefit.

On the other hand, by science we understand that the Higgs boson is a hypothetical subatomic particle that is the theoretical cause for mass and matter, which constitutes material reality as we know it. And by faith (defined by the author of the Book of Hebrews as “confidence in what we hope for . . . evidence of what we cannot see”) we understand that despite the lack of evidence so far, with more experimentation and explanation, the Higgs boson (which the media have labeled the “God particle”) will be found, thus completing our understanding of the material world (according to the Standard Model of particle physics). 

I will raise my hand here. I do not understand the science behind particle physics. I understand it is science, but my education diverged from physics down the route of biology which is closer to chemistry than it is to particle physics. To me it is a mysterious world of strange names and I feel like the average physicist when confronted by the strange names of medicine. However? I understand that there is a logical position on why physicists make the statements they do. I understand that they test their hypothesis and are not making assumptions or guesses but are working towards understanding the world slowly and painfully.

I will not however assume that a bunch of 3000 year old Jews knew anything about the Higgs Boson just because a single line in a book, nor apply the term faith to what is effectively an educated guess or a prediction. The Higgs Boson is a prediction; mathematics and logic postulate the existence of the Higgs Boson in much the same way that Mendeleev predicted the existence of Noble Gases and even left space out for undiscover
ed elements in his periodic table. These were not based on faith but logic and actual hard science. A biological example would be the Darwin Orchid, where Darwin predicted it was pollinated by a moth whose tongue was of unprecedented length. 21 years after his death the moth was discovered vindicating his theory based on the fact that the plant had honey whose sole purpose is the attraction of insects, but it was honey placed deep within the flower which had a long flower that needed a long tongue. So since Darwin noticed no hummingbirds that would have the necessary tongue and bill to drink, he postulated it must be a night living moth since he hadn’t seen the creature and humming birds are diurnal. His education in entomology and biology allowed him to make the postulation. It wasn’t a leap of faith but a calculated jump made using knowledge and understanding.

There is no faith without science, for even Jesus challenged Thomas to gather empirical evidence by touching Jesus’ resurrected body. And there is no science without faith, for even scientists have faith and believe in the possibilities of what they have not yet seen with their own eyes. We fail our students and we fool ourselves when we “believe” we have “proof” of the “incompatibility” between science and faith. 

And finally it’s the assumption that faith in science and in religion is equivalent to each other. Faith is the absence of science, and the faith of a scientist in possibilities that are yet to come is not based on faith but by the theoretical application of a new discovery or an existing piece of technology. We do not live our lives based on that technological future and we apply logic and common sense to it as we develop a greater understanding that religion simply does not.

What fails the American student is the introduction of non-real things to education. We are not discussing creationism, we are discussing magic. We are discussing a belief in a hypothetical entity possessing the ability to break the known laws of the universe at whim in order to create an entire universe solely for the benefit of around 7 billion people who have to worship it in order for an unknown benefit that is poorly defined. Creationism is not science; it is superstition attempting to masquerade as science in order to flog more superstition. It is entirely incompatible with science as science requires proof.

If creationism is allowed to enter our schools, then science should be allowed to enter your church. After all, if we are trying to be fair and balanced we should be fair and balanced in all aspects. All in favour say aye! 

1 comment

  1. 1
    Corvus illustris

    Why has this man been hired to teach at a university? [one Greg Manship]

    Please be calm, Avicenna. Just about anything with a blackboard and chairs can call itself a (private) university or college in the US; the Internetz has even made it possible to dispense with those appurtenances. This entity is probably better than many such; it is owned by the United Methodist Church, and Mr Manship teaches “ethics” there. Attempts to install creationism in the public schools in the guise of science will be beaten back by the courts; the Indiana politicians know this (one hopes), and are putting on a performance for the rustics (one hopes).

    Of course, the story about the Indiana legislature attempting to legislate the value of the irrational constant pi to be 22/7–or was it 3.14?–is not entirely apocryphal …

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