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Feb 18 2008

Florida to consider actually educating public school students

I was thumbing through the internet this afternoon when I happened across an editorial at Tallahassee.com urging support for evolution studies in Florida public schools. I’m constantly losing track of which states prefer that their school children become the laughingstocks of the modern world by teaching them mystical fairy tales in science class, but apparently Florida is one of’em. On Tuesday the FLA board of education — which, if it’s like most boards of education, is little more than a cabal of aspiring politicians with scant interest in actual knowledge — will consider whether to include evolution in future curricula. They will do this amid a flurry of county-level “resolutions” against the indisputable 150-year-old thesis.

“Suddenly,” writes the editorialist, “regular citizens are experts in entropy and in what constitutes scientific ‘theory.’”

I chuckle when s/he points out that none of science’s modern godbag critics are “too worried about gravity, despite incomplete knowledge of how that works.”

Anyway, in the sidebar of the web page upon which this editorial appears is a remark by one “jenakle” who suggests that the board of education “just add Belief as a course…not as an elective, but a needed course.” Because this will presumably promote “tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.”

My response is “hyhyhyu7u7u7u8,” which is what is produced when all I can do is slam my forehead repeatedly into my keyboard. Belief! Pah. I’ve had it up to here with “belief.” “Belief” is a set of unfounded, emotional fantasies informed by millennia of culturally codified oppression and incoherent interpretations of natural phenomena, and is by its very nature antithetical to acceptance and understanding. This ‘egalitarian’ notion that science should be ‘balanced out’ with mythical literary debris dreamed up by ancient barbarians has got to go. Good luck, Florida.

35 comments

  1. KCK

    It always amazes me when I read about Florida being so back asswards. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and I never experienced any school-taught creationism. Of course, it was always the “THEORY” of evolution, but we were only taught that theory. We had to read Genesis in AP English senior year but my teacher reminded us repeatedly that we were “only reading it as literature!!!”. I guess I grew up in a way more progressive part of the state than many.

    Congratulations on your horsey companion! May you blaze many an exciting trail together!

  2. Pinko Punko

    I realize bumper stickers are to be shunned, but:

    This ‘egalitarian’ notion that science should be ‘balanced out’ with mythical literary debris dreamed up by ancient barbarians has got to go. Good luck, Florida.

    The above is on a bumper sticker in my mind. Actually, it is streaming on one of those Amber alert freeway message boards.

  3. B

    What do they mean by “Belief” though? We have compulsory Religion studies in Swedish schools where we learn about the beliefs of ALL major and several minor religions, including older ones. I think that is why we are such a secular society. When you’ve heard ten or twenty different creation myths it’s easier to take the whole deal with a grain of salt.

  4. Twisty

    Comparative literature isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the same thing as “belief studies.” In the US, “belief” is defined as “my version of the truth, which is truer than all the other versions.”

  5. B

    Hmm.

    Ok, we also get to visit places like mosques or synagogues, talk to Hare Krishna people and learn about where an how Christianity diverged from Judaism and Islam diverged from Christianity. There are also parts that are more like “the worldview of a roman” or “animism in different hunter gatherer cultures”.

    It is however a subject of it’s own and has nothing to do with science.

    I believe about 70% of all Swedes would define themself as non-christians. I also believe that the average Swede knows more about the Bible and the history of Christianity than the average US citizen.

    So, if done correctly, belief studies mightn’t be so bad but it probably all depend on how they shape the curriculum.

  6. Carol

    If they want to teach religious stuff, then call it religion, but don’t pretend religion is science. sheesh. Of course then the argument about what religion to teach would raise it’s head. Aht he fun that could be had with that. Naturally it wouldn’t occur to any of the godbags that ALL religions, or at least the big ones, could be discussed…

  7. Lauren O

    Can’t they just give a one-sentence preface to evolution lessons and say, “Some people believe God created everything and there was no evolution, but since that’s not provable or disprovable, we won’t be covering it in science class”? Wouldn’t that be a nice compromise? I can’t understand why Christians get so worked up about evolution. There’s totally room for them to believe in both evolution and God. It is not a Big Deal, but they make it one.

  8. Larry Hosken

    Wow, grading that class would be easy; the grades might be the only thing that all the students could agree on. “I believe I deserve an A.” “I believe that I also deserve an A.” “Me too!”

  9. dairon

    I would be 110% for teaching all religions in high school, using the same perspective as one might for a college course; that is, as anthropology, philosophy, or etc. I.e., not as “The Truth,” something that, if you try to spout off in any religious studies classroom, will get you shut down pretty damn quickly. Having majored in Religious Studies in college (and loved it!), I can tell you that nothing takes the sacred stupidity out of a believer so quickly as learning where their beliefs actually came from. Show a fundie that his entire worldview and way of life started as a guy who wanted to marry a bunch of women and kill them…and then watch him cry like a baby. *cackle cackle*

    Seriously, though, it’s like sex ed. If all people get is a black and white picture of sex/not sex, most will pick known biological impetus of (horribly unsafe) sex by default. If people get nothing but Xtn/not Xtn, they will probably pick the known (Xtn) over the unknown. Give them a huge picture of all the options, and they will probably either 1. pick their own religion for cultural reasons, 2. pick another religion which seems reasonable or appeals to them, or 3. decide against the whole thing. At any rate, studying them comparatively tends to take all the steam out of fundamentalism.

    We have been letting the P define us in unnecessary polarities for far too long! Screw this whole Xtn-versus-evolution thing! Screw it! Away with it all! Knowledge is power! Knowledge to the people! Knowledge of all things, to all of them!! Knowledge to all!!

    *Strikes Mel-Gibson-esque pose* They may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM!!

    Um…yeah. That. Anyway…*hands soapbox back* Thanks for letting me vent on one of my pet idealisms.

  10. dairon

    Larry, you remind me of a prof who taught Buddhism, saying to the class, “Some of you may think that you can be clever and, on the final exam prompt, ‘What is Zen?’, respond by drawing a circle or some such to represent emptiness. Rest assured that, if you do such a thing, your grade will be precisely commensurate with what you have drawn for me.”

  11. thebewilderness

    I thought the Federal District Court settled the question of God Vs Darwin in Dover PA in 2006. The Dover Board of Education has yet to recover from the humiliation the national attention brought them.

  12. elanor

    Twisty, did you see this post http://pandagon.blogsome.com/2008/02/12/6725/ about an enlightened man, who doesn’t want women to have plastic surgeries?
    I thought you may enjoy it.

  13. SpinatTeig

    Unfortunately, gravity is indeed subject to debate.

    see http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39512

    excerpt:
    “KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling. “

  14. kristi

    I have a lot of sympathy for the sane residents of Florida. I live in Kansas, so I know what it feels like! Everything here is steeped in Belief and Faith, and it’s taken for granted that those things are much more admirable than science and reason. It has gotten worse with GWB in office. Now the contempt for reason seems very intense. But it appears that the wheels might be falling off the Kansas GOP clown car, so maybe things will turn around. There are a lot of liberals here working on it.

  15. metric

    People prefer absurdity to reason. Sad but true.

  16. Dr. Steph

    “I’m constantly losing track of which states prefer that their school children become the laughingstocks of the modern world by teaching them mystical fairy tales in science class”

    As a non-American looking in, this is exactly what I’m thinking.

    Make sure these people don’t get into medicine or bridge building please? Do visit your country occasionally and don’t want to require services provided by those who learned mystical fairy tales about the world.

    And I’m glad you’re writing again.

  17. Feminist Avatar

    I generally agree with not confusing religion with science, but I think we should also deal with science and scientific beliefs with a deal of scepticism. The reason its called the ‘theory’ of evolution is because that is what it is- it is the best theory that we can come up with to fit the evidence. Does that mean it is the final say scientists will have? Doubt it. Scientific knowledge has being growing (evolving if you will) for hundreds of years. We hope we are moving towards a more accurate representation of the world, but there are plenty of examples of when scientists get it wrong.

    Furthemore, it’s fundamentally dangerous to accept ‘science’ uncritically as theories are created by humans. Evolution was used for a very long time to justify the subordination of woman on the grounds that she evolved differently from man. It was used to promote ‘male’ characteristics such as physical height and strength as better than ‘female’ characteristics such as having extra body fat. It was used to justify keeping women out of the public sphere and in the home. You might argue that is a bad ‘reading’ of the evidence, but ultimately all our explanations, however benign, require a leap of faith between a description of what we see and an explanation of what happened. It might seem like common-sense or logic, but these are themselves culturally defined terms.

  18. Hattie

    Everyone should read *Origin of Species.* It’s a great book.

  19. orlando

    One problem that often comes up in discussion of this topic is the misuse or misunderstanding of the word ‘theory’. In colloquial use a theory is a speculation; an untested suggestion someone has come up with to explain a phenomenon. In science this is called a hypothesis, and a hypothesis only gets elevated to the status of theory after it has withstood much rigorous testing. Once something is a theory it will almost certainly not turn out to be false, though it almost certainly will be subject to much revision and modification, as information and understanding improves. So, FA, the instances you describe are not the theory itself, but hypotheses that arose from the theory, that have since been discredited. Science is built on scepticism.

  20. Puffin

    “Belief” is a set of unfounded, emotional fantasies informed by millennia of culturally codified oppression and incoherent interpretations of natural phenomena, and is by its very nature antithetical to acceptance and understanding. This ‘egalitarian’ notion that science should be ‘balanced out’ with mythical literary debris dreamed up by ancient barbarians has got to go.

    The history of evolution-as-science is an interesting one, particularly as it pertains to public education in the U.S. Belief played/s a major role, and not just on the side calling to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Civic Biology, the “scientific” book that was, in part, the impetus for the Scopes Monkey trial, contains lots of “beliefs” dressed up as science that we would balk at today – using evolution theory to bolster the creation of “master races” being chief among them. That was science then, though who could deny today that “The Races of Man” is an unfounded, emotional fantasy informed by millennia of culturally codified oppression and incoherent interpretations of natural phenomena, and is by its very nature antithetical to acceptance and understanding? But see, it was science then.

    I actually agree with you that teaching “belief studies” in public schools is ridiculous and I don’t deny that evolution has its rightful place in public education textbooks. But I think science can be just as much about an arbitrary version of truth as religion is. Nothing’s untainted by patriarchy.

  21. Twisty

    “Nothing’s untainted by patriarchy.”

    I should just print this at the top of the page and retire.

  22. Feminist Avatar

    Just to be controversial, the scientific method has never been ‘proven’. What we count as evidence and what we ignore, how we relate evidence and conclusions, what we mean by objective, and how we understand causality are all socially agreed categories. They are not natural or innate or even very old. The scientific method has only really gained strength since the Enlightenment in the c.1780s. Our system of logic is socially constructed and is not even valid across all cultures.

    Also in regard to theory/hypothesis issue, many things that we no longer consider to be true were testable and provable. Until the eighteenth century, we believed that men and women were the same sex, differentiated only by a differing balance of heat within the body. This understanding of the body lasted for over 1500 years. It was proven by experiments; it could explain pretty much any biological phenomenon you could imagine; and it was used to create effective medicines for medical conditions. It also fitted in with a larger theory of how the world was constructed (one which we still use as the basis of chemistry). Then one day somebody had a brainwave and decided there were two sexes and hey presto we have being using that model for two hundred years. Interestingly, this new model came just at the time that patriarchy was being effectively challenged and it created a new biological basis for the subordination of women- wasn’t that handy.

    There is no ‘truth’.

  23. goblinbee

    “Florida to consider actually educating public school students”

    You could be writing copy for The Onion!

  24. Flash

    I noted the follow-up report:

    ‘A sharply divided State Board of Education decreed today that evolution is a “scientific theory,” not necessarily a fact, that Florida schoolchildren should be exposed to — in the hope that they will be curious and explore science thoroughly.’

    Ignoramuses can’t get it into their thick heads what’s meant by “scientific theory”. We have the same problem with religious numpties in the UK. I refer them to Stephen Jay Gould:

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html

  25. ivieee

    Feminist Avatar, I have to call “non-gender specific bovine effluvia” on:

    “Until the eighteenth century, we believed that men and women were the same sex, differentiated only by a differing balance of heat within the body. This understanding of the body lasted for over 1500 years.”

    Sorry everybody if I’m engaging a “mythical creature that lives under bridges known to throw stones.”

  26. Feminist Avatar

    Ivieee: why? It’s quite well-documented and agreed upon amongst historians (which is what I am). I can give you a reading list if you like? I am not saying that they thought men and women were equal. They used the fact that women had less heat to categorise them as weaker, more irrational and thus inferior to men. It was just a different model for understanding the body, but it nonetheless was an effective one that provided a good, testable and explanatory model for physiology. (I will give you that there is some controversy about when this shift happened, as some historians date it from the first challenges to this model in the seventeenth century, while others prefer to think about when it was commonly accepted by the general public which was during the 18th cent.)

  27. Shell Goddamnit

    I don’t understand how they used “the fact that women had less heat” to do anything at all…and how that fact could be “testable and provable” when, to the best of my knowledge, it is simply not true; not now, when we have these so very accurate measuring instruments; and certainly, not testable and provable 1500 years ago. Calling things fact upon the basis of little or no evidence doesn’t make it science, testable, provable, or a perfectly good model with explanatory power, as far as I’m concerned. Please to explain?

    Not, mind you, that I think modern “science” is infallible – by no means. Replicability, however, is a pretty good test; better than most of the other ways of telling fact from dream that I know of, anyway. I hate to toss it out and replace it with…well, what? There’s not even a candidate, is there?

  28. Feminist Avatar

    They are using a different scientific system to our own. So what counts as evidence, and what doesn’t, is different to what we count. So you are right that we could never believe this to be true, because we are using an entirely different model for looking at the world.

    A different example: a man who worked with and was associated with bears dies. The next day a bear walks into the town where he lived. This is unusual as bears are wary of people and towns. Western science would call this a coincidence. If you were Cree, you would say that the bear either was, or was sent by, the dead man. Western science would say ‘where is the evidence’ or ‘where is the causal link’? The Cree would say ‘the bear is the evidence’. The Cree are not wrong; they just count different things as evidence.

    Similarly, in the past, they had a different understanding of how the body worked. They had evidence to prove it. We might not count it as evidence today, but they did. Based on the model they designed, they were able to predict things and those things were repeatable (testable). For example, their model explained why women menstuated and why they didn’t when they were pregnant. It explained why men were generally physically bigger and stronger and it also explained why some women were stronger than some men. They could use their understanding of the body to make medicines and those medicines worked, just like ours do. Their model gave answers to all their questions (or answers to as many questions as our model can answer). They were not crazy or even illogical; they just used different evidence from us. (Also I don’t think they ever measured physcial heat; heat was an element. They only had four elements: earth, air, water and fire. Today we still use elements as the basis of the world but we have a lot more of them, such as iron, mercury, radon etc).

    The problem for Western Science, in my view, is that we do not know whether our system of doing things is ultimately the ‘right’ way (or for some people whether there is ultimately going to be a ‘right’ way). Because in the future, somebody might come along and say what you count as evidence isn’t really evidence at all and what you think causes something, doesn’t cause it at all. And we’ll say ‘but its testable and repeatable’; and they’ll say ‘so is our system’.

    We could actually critique evolution in this way. Western Science says we have archaeological evidence of people at different states of development. It seems that there is an obvious evolution between the different types of bodies found. Someone else (possibly a Christian but perhaps a future scientist) might come along and say actually these were just all very similar but entirely different species that have now died out. That they look similar and are differently evolved from each other is just a big coincidence. The bit where we link them together is ultimately a leap of faith that we call the scientific method. Western science thinks its the best way to do things, but there is no guarantee that it is.

  29. Shell Goddamnit

    “The problem for Western Science, in my view, is that we do not know whether our system of doing things is ultimately the ‘right’ way (or for some people whether there is ultimately going to be a ‘right’ way). Because in the future, somebody might come along and say what you count as evidence isn’t really evidence at all and what you think causes something, doesn’t cause it at all. And we’ll say ‘but its testable and repeatable’; and they’ll say ’so is our system’”

    Yes, but are both systems testable & repeatable? in which case, we need to think about other ways to determine something akin to truth. Dammit, if Joe Muslim and Polly Prebyterian and Sara Sceptic all come up with the same thing, we can at least knock religion out of the running as the sole backing for a particular theory. YES??? And if Sara and Polly have – er – differences, and they remain despite all care, what does that mean? I would doubt both of their findings. If we don’t have some kind of testable & repeatable, how would we chose?

    I *refuse* to accept the edicts of religion in these cases. What are our choices, then? If we differ, how do we determine?

    I mean, saying that the Goddess decides…well, it doesn’t work for me, either. So then what?

  30. Feminist Avatar

    Ultimately, who decides what is true is usually the group or person with the most social power. In America, you have a problem where the Christian right are similarly powerful to western scientists, leading to huge conflict about what is right or wrong. In other societies, where there is less division, there is a more broadly shared consensus about what is true.

    Part of the goal, therefore, should not be to say who is right or wrong, but to reach a consensus that does not infringe on the rights of others. We make truth as a people; it is not ‘out there’ to be found or determined. As feminists, we want to make a ‘truth’ that has no place for patriarchy and oppression.

    At the end of the day, even is there is a real truth written into the core of the earth (which not everybody thinks there is), it is a bit arrogant of us to assume that we got it right and everybody else, for the rest of time and across cultures, is wrong. Furthermore, just because we all agree on something still doesn’t make it true. We used to all agree that the sun went round the earth… it was testable because the sun came up in the same place every morning and set in the same place.

  31. Mar Iguana

    “…it is a bit arrogant of us to assume that we got it right and everybody else, for the rest of time and across cultures, is wrong.”

    Feminist Avatar, Huzzah!

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet, Scene v

  32. Puffin

    I *heart* Feminist Avatar.

  33. Feminist Avatar

    Aw shucks! Now I’m embarrassed.

  34. ElizaN

    “This ‘egalitarian’ notion that science should be ‘balanced out’ with mythical literary debris dreamed up by ancient barbarians has got to go.”

    When I was in high school, it was. Tenth grade. First period we went to biology class where we learned science, and second period we went to world literature, where in the first quarter we read the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Ovid, and Herodotus. Ah, the good old days.

  35. jenakle

    Ever google your name just to see what’s what?

    I’d completely forgotten about this, and it’s aged, but thought I’d expand on my original comment anyways.

    I’m not religious, I despise the forced southern baptist mentality 1/2 my family holds dear, and thoroughly enjoyed the religious literature chapter in a college lit course as it was the first– FIRST–time I’d been exposed to open discussions of diverse religion. It’s a damned shame it took until college to follow the history of religion in literature, not that everyone was open to discussing faith and beliefs as anything but “fact,” but it did open the door for me to do a little more reading on my own, and I found Taoism to be very refreshing, among other things.

    I still don’t align myself to any one faith, but do have an odd sense of spirituality and …hope? for humanity. I’d like to see more tolerance and ..not debates, but just conversations of religion without it being an “I’m right, you’re wrong, and you’re going to hell for your feelings” (or “you’re stupid for believing in a big white guy in the clouds”) kind of argument. I think if we fostered communication about touchy subjects early, it wouldn’t still be a taboo “bar subject” among an even a relatively small group of friends. Not to be confused with a balancing act of Science, rather, a dove feather of ..love?

    I dunno, sounds stupid when I look around at most my fellow Floridians, where black men rally against same-sex marriage at the capital steps and single mothers can still be spit upon for having never married in the first place.

    Point? I personally find religion pointless, but can understand how some find comfort in giving over their worries to a higher power. That’s their choice, and I’m all about having the right to your own thoughts. However, your beliefs should be yours, not to be forced down the throats of the unwilling, though I’m not against talking about differences in our lives over a Beam & Coke. Science? Has these weird things called facts and evidence, open to change over the course of time with shared knowledge and new discoveries. Maybe faith should follow the same rules, and be taught exclusively as Literature, Fiction section.

    -jenakle

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