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09 May 2005 @ 10:58 am
 
Crossposted from dailyKos.com:

Children of the Corn
by Hunter



The hearings in Topeka, scheduled to last several days, are focusing on two proposals. The first recommends that students continue to be taught the theory of evolution because it is key to understanding biology. The other proposes that Kansas alter the definition of science, not limiting it to theories based on natural explanations. [...]
"Part of our overall goal is to remove the bias against religion that is in our schools," said William Harris, a chemist who was the first witness to speak Thursday on behalf of changing the state's curriculum. "This is a scientific controversy that has powerful religious implications."

Ok, here we go.

My problem with this debate is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice.

There are plenty of individuals in the world -- people of deep faith, regular churchgoers, etc. -- who see no conflict between faith and science. It requires significantly less imagination, if you are of both a scientific and a religious bent, to imagine the universe being set into motion through a single, unimaginably powerful spark of existence -- a singularity of time and space that gave birth to all that followed -- than it is to imagine the earth, heavens, animals, plants, elements, galaxies, fossil records, tectonic processes, quantum effects, etc., etc., etc., each being laid out one-by-one like props on a television set, all waiting to be set into motion at once when an unseen director cries action on the two poor unknowing saps gorging themselves at the buffet table. Science, as it turns out, requires that you believe in a much more powerful and ingenious God than the God of fundamentalist Topeka, Kansas.

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But this debate continues to exist among the more fundamentalist flocks precisely for the same reason that race-based bigotries find root primarily among the less educated, and why the simple charms of gun-toting cowboy diplomacy find their adherents primarily among those who have, themselves, a deep mistrust of any foreign culture that has not personally sat down at their dinner table en masse to try the potato salad. Fear, and a deep seated, self-assured, prideful ignorance, a stubborn pettiness that David Brooks finds deeply American and the rest of us simply find vaguely embarrassing. Some people freely admit what they don't know; others hang on like a pitbull on a slab of meat, for fear that if that one instance of confident, willful belief be allowed to slip away, no other would ever appear.

We all are exposed to concepts which, though they may be true, we cannot possibly expect to fully grasp; I cannot fully comprehend the true size of a galaxy, or imagine in my head the cumulative effects of a million years history of a particular genus. Anyone who says they can is simply a liar; the human brain doesn't have references by which to judge such things. But it would be a profound conceit to proclaim that because I cannot understand it, it cannot be true. I understand that; there are those who do not.

So, to get back to the central point, there is no underlying religious requirement for claiming that man and dinosaurs walked the earth together, or that matter is bound together by "God's love" rather than quantum realm effects. There is no part of the Bible that says "woe unto him that owns a protractor", or "thou shalt not believe in surface tension". If you are a Bible literalist, and accept God's first task to Adam as the naming of the animals, than truly Darwin was doing God's work in the most literal possible fashion.

But if you are a creationist, or a believer in the identical but more pompously named intelligent design, your views on acceptable and unacceptable science will not coincidentally be delineated precisely along rather personal lines:


If I understand it, it's science.

If I don't understand it, God did it.

(In Kansas, then, we can imagine that those will be the only two boxes on each multiple-choice test question. And woe to the teacher that questions a ninth-grader's notions of God.)
Of course, there are grey areas:


If I understand it from my own experience (e.g. gravity, electricity), it's true.

If I don't understand it (dinosaurs, molecules), God did that part separately.

If I really don't understand it (evolution, quantum effects), you're wrong, AND God made your test results look like that just to screw with you.

If I really don't understand it, but you have evidence for it that I do understand, you're wrong, and God did the evidence, and shut up.

So for a creationist, God and magic are roughly indistinguishable. The boundary lines between God and science, however, are always exactly laid at the limiting lines of the practitioner's own education. Fancy that.
(Personally I have a hard time understanding the mindset of those Americans who don't believe in dinosaurs, but do believe in France, having seen neither of them, but that's just me, I suppose.)

There are a great many people in the world who are frightened by that which they do not understand. And, among those, there are a great many who, when confronted with something they do not understand, would rather walk on hot coals (sometimes literally) than simply admit it and move on. But that doesn't mean that the rest of society needs to cater expressly to them, as some sort of least-common-denominator agreement that science can only move forward by the unanimous consent of the most absolutely, positively least interested among us.

It's a fiction. The whole "creationism" debate is, at heart, a fiction. It's not about religion, it's about education, and institutionalizing mental laziness and anti-intellectual prejudices as valid counterarguments to intellectual knowledge, so that the most conceited, uninterested and shallow among us don't have to think too hard or feel too challenged by intricacies of either their theology or their science.

If you have a hard time understanding the vertigo-inducing span of millennia between the time of the first primitive, microscopic life and now, don't blame me for it, and don't blame God for it. Blame yourself if you must, but don't react by attempting to institutionalize your own personal boundaries of knowledge as being equally valid to the entire history of mankind's accumulated knowledge. Bluntly, get over yourself. The entire outcome of this event -- no matter what the school board decides -- will be exactly one thing: a(nother) raft of publicity making Kansas look stupid.

In closing: if this argument sounds elitist, well, there's simply nothing that I can do about that. The notion that any given hundred years of tedious research by thousands of individuals should be given equal footing with sketch I drew in my garage is simply stupid, and no amount of crying oppression! will make it less so. Doesn't work for math. Doesn't work for riding a bicycle, for that matter.

That it works in religion is less a testament to God's wisdom than to the emptiness of man's own understanding of Him.
 
 
 
Scottsunspiral on May 9th, 2005 02:42 pm (UTC)
That really sums it up.
Maureen Lycaonmaureenlycaon on May 9th, 2005 04:35 pm (UTC)
My problem with this debate is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice.

*collapses into giggles* Oh, man, that is so perfect.