Thursday, April 8, 2010

Asking About Life, Part 2

The Creationist and Censorious plot thickens in Tennessee, where the board of the Knox County School system maneuvered a delay in voting on the retention of honors biology textbook Asking About Life. Apparently, the board was leaning toward overriding the review committee and voting in favor of dropping the book from the curriculum, and the chair invoked a parliamentary rule to delay the vote for 30 days.

In terms of a creationist debate, the possible removal of a biology textbook is extraordinary in the 21st century. Even in the famous/infamous Kitzmiller v. Dover case (2005), the school board didn't try to remove a book. They sought to add statements questioning the validity of Evolution, and to make a creationist textbook available to students who sought it, but they had enough sense not to add censorship to their list of egregious errors likely to draw judicial disapproval. Even so, the U.S. district court shot them down completely.

Some creationists in Knox County, Tennessee, have far less common sense then those in Dover, Pa. They think they can actually remove a textbook because they feel it challenges their particular view of Christian dogma.

Oddly for this day and age, what is at issue is whether or not the Genesis creation story is a "biblical myth." What a ridiculous argument to have! Of course it is a myth! Whether one takes the term myth to mean a story that is false, or (more technically accurate) a story in which symbolic meanings are more important than factual content, the Genesis story is still a myth from any empirical or scientific perspective. A tale in which "night" and "day" exist before there is a sun, or in which plants grow before there is a sun, or in which the sun and stars are fixed in a "firmament," cannot be accepted as any kind of science. The Genesis story is taken as metaphor even by the majority of self-identified Christians.

At a personal level, of course, individuals have a right to believe what they wish, no matter how counter-scientific such belief may be. But creationists have no right to tell anybody else what science textbooks can say, nor can they insist that public schools avoid teaching science that challenges their particular religious beliefs. Attempting to force Creationism or Intelligent Design into school curricula, or just to weaken the teaching of the science of Evolution, have been adjudicated over and over again. The result has always been the same: public schools teach science, not one or another religious dogma.

Some of the members of the School Board in Knox County have clearly demonstrated their lack of qualifications for that job. They're in charge of public education, and yet are willing to allow their personal religious beliefs to corrupt an educational system that the law requires to be secular. They're in charge of public education, yet don't understand the scientific background of the theory of evolution. They're in charge of public education, and yet are willing to use censorship as a means to promote their personal ideologies. Why are people who've earned an "F" in education running the school?


  1. Yeesh, this debate is just getting weird. And slightly obnoxious. Science is science and religion is religion. If you teach one religious viewpoint you have to teach all of them.

    Off-topic, did you hear the update on the Itawamba High School thing? Apparently Constance was invited to a sham prom, along with a few learning disabled students, a grand total of seven students showed up. A "secret" prom was being held at another location for everyone else. There's talk the school admins were in on it. Combine this with them suspending a transgendered student on his first day for, basically, being transgendered, the school might just earn the title of "Most Bigoted School in America."

  2. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Itawamba situation. The school board is at Ms. McMillen's mercy.

  3. Hmmmmmmmm, which science am I to believe now. I was taught in college ('75) we are heading for another ice age and now "science" is telling me to forget that. If I had gone to college earlier, "science" would have been teaching me the world is flat-Hmmmmmmm.

  4. Anonymous:
    I'm not sure what your point is, or what it has to do with removing biology textbooks in Tennessee in 2010.

    You are quite mistaken if you think that science today has abandoned the idea that an ice age is coming (global warming and an impending ice age are RELATED concepts, NOT mutually exclusive ones)

    You are also quite mistaken about science and the flat earth. I have no doubt that one or another expert held the flat earth view at different times, but in the 500 years that anything like modern science has existed, the flat earth has not been one of its teachings. Even the Ancient Greeks realized that the earth was a sphere suspended in space, and by 240BC Eratosthenes had produced a quite accurate estimate of the size of that sphere.

    Scientific knowledge is updated, expanded, and sometimes revised. That's a good thing.

  5. I believe what Hmmmmmmm is so cynically implying is that scientists (or read: those bleeding-heart, leftist, socialist-communist atheists) are making it all up and the only truth comes from the god-fearing pulpit.

    A world without certainty is the fundamental fear behind all fundamentalists -- and I mean anyone who follows any unprovable belief system, whatever its source. Unfortunately, most people simply want to wake up in the morning, be told what to do and think, then happily go to bed at night knowing someday they will be rewarded in heaven. Uncertainty causes panic attacks.

    A marvelous universe full of mysteries to explore and discover, a world you have to eternally study to comprehend is an absolute terror to them.

  6. 2nd Anonymous,

    I agree with you there, if human beings had all the answers from the beginning, we may have offed ourselves from boredom.

  7. No need for boredom in universe full of mysteries! What gives anybody the right to take that away from students?

  8. Exactly! Lifelong learning isn't scary, it's fun! It's like your whole life is pulling a Christmas cracker open over and over again!

    I find settling for whatever convinient at the time far more unsettling, life isn't stagnant.

    I have an urge to blog about education(namely education for a life vs. education so you can accumulate material wealth) but I've been on the computer too much this weekend, my hands are cramped up. Perhaps another day.

  9. It will not be long before this issue is brought back up in West Bend, especially with David Wiegand and Randy Marquardt on the board now. Those two are anti-science and anti-intellectual. Scary that they are now helping to run our academic institutions.

    Meghan, I wholeheartedly agree with you. For a long time I used to be a fundamentalist creationist and that viewpoint stifled my interest in science and kept me from pursuing a major in geology/biology. Now that I have left fundamentalism I feel bitter toward what it has stolen from me and am frantically trying to regain the little I can with the life left to me and what I am learning is exhilirating.

  10. Good luck with your blog, WBFreethinker. I am very curious to see what the new board members do with creationism in West Bend. Where they just making noise during the election process, or will they actually try to implement something? Court precedents being what they are, there is virtually zero room for any practical attempt. Not that realism has much to do with the decision to try or not to try.

  11. The authors are idiots to mention the Bible in a biology text. I think the Knoxville school system should have science texts that deal with science, not faith. If you want to call that banning or censorship, so be it. I call it having texts that deal with the subject matter - now that IS common sense.

    In regard to the comment, "Hmmmmmmmm, which science am I to believe now," I will quote from my college biology text, "There is no absolute truth in science - only varying degrees of uncertainty."

    Biology. Second Edition. 1989. Raven PH, Johnson GB. pg. 5.

    Based on a scientific approach, microevolution is a theory and macroevolution is an hypothesis and neither are fact.

    The Bible deals with faith. If you want to blog that the Bible is a myth, do it on a stupid blogosphere, not a science text.

  12. Anon:
    The school system DOES "have science texts that deal with science, not faith." Whether or not basic science conflicts with a particular religious faith is no concern of the authors, the publishers, or the school district, and certainly is no grounds for censoring the book. The book mentions Creationism because Creationists make an issue out of it, not scientists.

    You are quite right that science offers no absolute truths. But how is that relevant? How does that justify not teaching children science, or justify putting one or another article of religious faith in its place?

    The scientific knowledge underlying Evolution is far more solid than you seem prepared to admit, including support for both micro- and macro-evolution. As you use the term FACT, gravity is a mere theory, that the earth goes around the sun is a mere theory, or the notion that microscopic organisms cause some diseases is just a theory. Perhaps, then, we should avoid teaching students what they need to know to put a satellite in orbit or how to invent antibiotics?

    Science produces reliable results. You know that every time you use a computer or cellphone or flip on a light switch. For all their anti-scientific bluster, Creationists know better than to put science to the test too dramatically. As Richard Dawkins has said, those who think gravity is just a theory are invited to step out of a tenth story window. I recommend strongly AGAINST trying it.

  13. Everything is a theory, when you think about it.

    Like Socrates said(I believe, I could be wrong) "I know that I know nothing."

  14. It's so pathetic in TN right now. I'm at the high school where the whole 'myth' issue arose. Here's a great article branching off of it:

  15. Thank you for the link; I like the article. Feel free to post here or by email with updates to the situation in Farragut High. **IF** the board chooses to suppress the textbook, I hope there are parents with students at the school who are willing to call the ACLU!