Kentucky Moves Forward

So our dear friend Devon is here for the week, meaning Miss Pink and I get to spend a little bit of vacation time … traveling a little, seeing the sights of Portland that we normally pass by as we run errands, and do the rounds of all the cool restaurants.

It also means I have even less time to write every night.  I know.  First World problems.

The latest episode in America’s war against scientific ignorance comes to you from the great state of Kentucky, where religious groups are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the implementation of new scholastic standards that emphasize the teaching of evolution and anthropogenic climate change, calling them “atheistic” and “fascist”.

Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister, is one of the opponents who spoke to the board about why the standards should not be adopted, according to The Courier-Journal. “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

Statements like this from Pastor Singleton perfectly showcase the reason why we are in desperate need of strong, comprehensive primary and secondary school-level education in the physical sciences.  For a grown man to go on record saying that evolution is a “religion” means that something has gone horribly wrong with our educational system.

For him to suggest that requiring students to learn and understand what the entire scientific community has established as fact constitutes an infringement on his religion should tell everyone exactly the kind of psychological damage religious dogma can inflict on the human mind.  Any religion that so vehemently denies basic scientific fact whenever it makes its followers uncomfortable does not deserve followers in the first place, especially in the 21st century.

Another opponent, Dena Stewart-Gore, suggested that the standards will make religious students feel ostracized. “The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, per the The Courier-Journal.

Here, we have the classic line that the teaching of evolution leads to social Darwinism, communism, socialism, atheism, and all of the other “-isms” that we’re supposed to be afraid of.  Clearly the new standards wouldn’t “discard” anyone, but appropriately educate them in subjects that had previously been considered controversial purely on the basis that the church – and their wealth of scientific knowledge and expertise – didn’t agree with them.

“We are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”

… aaaaand we’re off the road and into the weeds.  Thanks, Dena.  I know a lot of people don’t have the same level of passion and outrageous ignorance this lady has, but it’s because of attitudes like this that we’re forced into having these discussions in the first place.  Science is a tool, and it is devoid of any value system other than demanding honesty and integrity from its practitioners in acquiring and reporting findings.  It is true that it’s based on a belief system – one that says that the gathering of objective empirical data enables us to create models that can help us understand and predict natural phenomena.  But this system has a proven track record over the course of centuries.  Our entire way of life is testament to its success, and I think it deserves a little more respect from people who apparently can’t be bothered to understand it in the first place.

That said, it looks like the new standards are one step away from being adopted:

The Kentucky Board of Education adopted the standards in June and held hearings to get public feedback on the standards last week before they were presented to the state legislature for official approval.

So, with any luck, there won’t be enough of a public backlash on the part of the scientifically illiterate to stop its progression to the state legislature.

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13 Responses to Kentucky Moves Forward

  1. Elyse says:

    But I’ve heard only good things about the Dark Ages …

  2. Creativerealms says:

    Demonize your opponents, if the little guy thinks evolution is the same as communism and leads to genocide then it makes Christianity look all the better. As long as what you say sounds true and appeals the emotions of the masses the sheep will believe it.

    One thing science has in common with religion (And by default every human tool) is that it can be used in good ways and in bad ways. It can be used to further human development or hinder it, to make society better or make it worse. It depends on who is in charge and how they plan on using it.

  3. Dan Adler says:

    I have to admit, here, that while I believe that climate change is real, and it’s happening right now, I don’t believe it’s anthropogenic. I don’t believe that human society has CAUSED climate change. Climactic changes have happened many times throughout history (recorded or otherwise). I do, however, believe that human “civilization” is making the current climactic changes more drastic (and dangerous) than they might otherwise have been.

    • I don’t think you’ll get any disagreement from the scientific community over the fact that the earth has experienced (and is experiencing) climatic cycles over the course of its 4 billion year life span … but there is very strong consensus among numerous reputable organizations that we’re at the root of why these changes have been occurring so quickly and significantly over the last 150 years (i.e. industrialization). I don’t immediately recall whether we were on a global warming or cooling trend as of roughly 1800 or so (looks like maybe we were slowly coming off a local minimum?), but the slope and magnitude of warming since then has been identified as having been caused by our interference.

      • Dan Adler says:

        I think, if I remember right, we’re moving into a warming trend (or have moved into). The last serious cooling trend was during the 19th century (1816: the so-called “Year without a Summer”). There was also the “Medieval Warm Period” (from 920-1250) and the “Little Ice Age” (I kinda like that name) from 1350 through about 1850 (including that “Year without a summer” that I mentioned earlier).

        Yes, I do believe that we (“Civilization”) are helping this current warming trend along (making it progress faster and farther than it might otherwise have done). I’ve always believed that. Would it have happened without us? Absolutely. But it wouldn’t be this severe (yet).

  4. Richard says:

    It’s nonsensical statements like these that convince me the opponents of evolution and climate change can’t possibly be talking from a place anywhere near where we’re talking from. The only hypothesis I can hold in my head that allows me to be remotely sympathetic to these people is that they are actually mainly concerned about social and cultural change in their communities, rather than the broader context of how to educate children for a 21st century that won’t look anything like the 20th. They’ll fight with any rhetorical weapons at their disposal to resist that change. Use of populist words and phrases like “rich man’s religion” and “elitist” seem to me to be at the crux: it doesn’t matter to them whether evolution is true or false if they believe that teaching it will erase their community’s way of life. (And they may not be wrong.)

    • It’s extremely difficult to reason with a person whose rhetorical basis is a combination of fear and ignorance. I wonder, given the sheer magnitude of scientific illiteracy suggested in the aforementioned comments, what way of life some of these people have and why we need to show any respect for (at least elements of) that way by letting their children grow up into that same ignorance their parents demonstrate in the public forum.

      Sam Harris gave a talk a while back in which he proposed that this entire argument points back to the issue of death. After all, if we can show that the literal creation is false, and that God isn’t necessary to explain the creation of life or the origins of the universe, then the bible might also be wrong about where we go when we die … and that our dear loved ones may not be waiting for us in heaven with Jesus but simply dead and gone … and utterly forgotten once those who remember them die as well. That’s an unpleasant thought for anyone, but especially for those people or communities who cling to that idea and all of the other philosophical trappings that come along with it as a mechanism of both coping and avoidance. I can find some sympathy for them somewhere in all this … but, like you, I can’t find enough to put their feelings above the need to equip these kids for a future that will scarcely resemble the past.

      • Richard says:

        Oh, I never meant to imply that we should let them teach non-science in their science classes. Quite the opposite. In fact, I would argue science and reason go hand in hand with social progress (although I would say that, that’s an Enlightenment premise). But without some understanding of where the people who hold these views are coming from, it’s going to be hard to bring them round.

        I thought about this after I posted the above comment and I realize that it may mean we actually need to stay on message, and make it clear that we teach actual science in science class. But I also think that in *addition* we need to collectively make it clear that a secular future is really not that threatening — both that you can be a scientist and a Christian (Newton?), but also that atheists really are not inherently dreadful people and have eyes, hands, dimensions, bleed when pricked etc. We need both approaches and they need to be concurrent and, I would argue, linked.

        • “I never meant to imply that we should let them teach non-science in their science classes.”

          Haha, believe me, that’s not what I thought. I think I just ended up violently agreeing with you on some points and reiterated / clarified some of our common ground in that respect. I agree with your additional comments about what amounts to the PR problem of atheism / secularism / agnosticism as they relate to public life, especially in how it relates to parts of the country in which religion is thoroughly intertwined with society. In fact, that’s one of the problems I have with groups like American Atheists, who tend to put forth messages like, “Christianity is a myth! Join us!” Because telling someone their beliefs are stupid will change minds and recruit new members … somehow [/s]. They make the real job much harder because now Christians and other believers see atheists as an enemy to be fought, not a growing demographic they would benefit from understanding.

          I need to write more, but I have to run off for now. I generally agree with your comments on Harris and the other four horsemen too … but I think they do provide a good starting point for “newly minted” atheists, if only to get them thinking about what value systems and beliefs they hold in the absence of their recently discarded religion. More later.

      • Richard says:

        I’m a bit talky tonight but I would also add that if Sam Harris is proposing to confront conservative Christians with stories about how they’re all whiny little babies who can’t handle the truth, it isn’t going to go over well. Nor do I even think it’s accurate. Religions are complete, densely packed worldviews which are inseparable from the cosmologies from which they spring. If the Christian cosmology is wrong, then yes, you might well worry about whether you’ll see your friends and family in the afterlife — but also about whether your gay kid really can learn to be straight and not embarrass you in public, or whether bad things really do happen to good people (Job is, or should be, one of the most troubling books of the Bible to the faithful), or what is in fact keeping your neighbor from stealing all your shit besides the gun you keep under your pillow. Everything crashes down together and you need to find new explanations for it all. I’m oversimplifying horribly, but my point is that I think it’s worse than Harris says, although I also think he’s kind of a wanker about it all anyway.

        • if Sam Harris is proposing to confront conservative Christians with stories about how they’re all whiny little babies who can’t handle the truth, it isn’t going to go over well.

          I don’t think Harris suggests this, at least not in the video I had in mind (Silverman of American Atheists, on the other hand …). Sam’s point during this particular talk was fairly limited in scope since it only focused on death, but I think he was using it as a way to introduce the audience to his experiences in meditation and how it can be used to focus on the present moment. I agree, though, that in the context of any religion as a comprehensive worldview, having some of the most fundamental claims it makes about reality thoroughly debunked by relatively basic scientific inquiry can be pretty thoroughly devastating to those who take its holy books literally. It’s not just about what happens when you die, but about how you live as well.

          It’s late, and I have to leave it there for now, but at some point I’m going to write a little on the Aslan vs. Harris debate I saw recently. I actually think both had some good points here and there but as with most debates they talked over each other’s heads most of the time.

    • … and I still need to respond to your post about the future of Christianity as well as others. People are actually commenting on my posts a little more frequently now, and it’s a little difficult to make sure I keep up with them all.

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