A Sunday Science Sermon


[Before I launch into the statistics, I want to urge you to watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. It’s a beautiful testament to the scientific method. In it, a scientist proves Darwin right on a hypothesis that, when Darwin was alive, earned him ridicule. The proof took 150 years to come to light – and it does so in that video.]

Damned Statistics

The crisis in scientific illiteracy should be a well-known fact to educated Americans, but just in case, a few statistics from the University of Chicago‘s National Opinion Research Center’s 1991-93 International Social Survey Program (ISSP):

  • Percentage Saying “I know God exists and I have no doubts about it”
    • United States: 62.8% – ranks 3rd under the Philippines and Poland. (Britain, by comparison, ranks 13th at 23.8%, and even Israel is less certain about this “knowledge,” at 43%, than the U.S.)
  • Percentage Saying They Definitely Believe “The Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally, word for word”
    • United States: 33.5% – ranks 3rd, again under the Philippines and Poland. (Again, Britain, by comparison, ranks 17th at 8%, and Israel ranks 6th at 26.7%.)
  • Percentage Saying They Definitely Believe in “The Devil”
    • United States: a whopping 44.5% – ranks 1st, this time, right above the Philippines and Poland. (Britain, by comparison, ranks 10th at 12.7%, and Israel ranks 11th at 12.6%.)
  • Percentage Saying They Definitely Believe in “Hell”
    • United States: a whopping 49.6% – ranks 1st, again, right above Northern Ireland and the Philippines. (Britain, with 12.8%, ranks 10th, while Israel ranks 5th at 22.5%.)
  • Percentage Saying They Definitely Believe in “Religious Miracles”
    • United States ranks first, at 45.6%, above Northern Ireland and Ireland. (Britain ranks 13th with 15.3%, and Israel ranks 7th with only 26.4%.)

I frame these statistics in terms of “scientific illiteracy” because it seems clear that a basic understanding of what we mean by “knowing” (as opposed to “having faith”) is lacking among those saying they “know God exists.” Similarly, those who “definitely believe” in the ontological reality of “the Devil,” “Hell,” and “Religious Miracles” betray a lack of understanding of what, in the International Baccalaureate program’s “Theory of Knowledge” class, we call “Justified True Belief.” (How is “definite” belief any different, subjectively, than believing we “know,” since “definite” implies no doubt?). Finally, the fundamentalist belief that every word of the Bible is “literally” true, as I read it, suggests a belief that the contradictory creation myths in that book’s first two pages (Genesis Books 1 and 2) are to be taken as scientific, cosmological explanations on the level of contemporary physics.

The ISSP survey seems to corroborate my “scientific illiteracy” frame by including in its survey questions that measure each respondent’s understanding of basic evolutionary theory:

  • Ranking of 21 Nations on Knowledge Question about Human Evolution:

Evolution Knowledge Rankings

The United States, as you can see, finished dead last out of 21 countries. A 44% grade on this national science test literally shows that America scores an “F” on its report card for science class. (Britain gets a C, and non-monotheistic Japan and then-Soviet satellite E. Germany score a solid B-. Remarkable, when you remember this is a survey of the general populace, and not just the educated elite.)

I know this data is 15 years old, but more recent data from 2005, as I’ve reported before, shows “that the United States ranks next to last in acceptance of evolution theory among [34] nations polled,” and “that the number of Americans who are uncertain about the theory’s validity has increased over the past 20 years.” We beat Turkey in that study, but Bulgaria beat us.

A Testament to Science and Darwin’s Prophecy Hypothesis Come True

Just watch it. Science teachers and Theory of Knowledge teachers, your students should love this:

Two Short Stories: Why I’m Writing This

There’s so much muddying of the scientific waters from proponents of Creationism and Intelligent Design going on in America. Many of our edubloggers are guilty of that. In my book, no responsible progressive will stay silent and cede the battle for scientific literacy to the forces of medievalism out a sense of social niceness. The stakes are too vital. Call me a crusader for knowledge – or just call me a teacher.

Besides that, I had two recent experiences that struck me with enough force to mention them here:

One: The Neglected Healer

My mother-in-law suffered a catastrophic stroke last Sunday morning. My wife and I rushed to the hospital and joined her family in the Intensive Care Unit in what we thought was our final goodbye to that sweet woman. (She survived, thank goodness, though twice the doctors told us her chances were less than 20%.)

After saying the only words I figured this Korean woman, who speaks no English, would understand – “We love you. It’s okay. We love you. It’s okay.” – I stepped back to let the other family members in.

Two of them bent over her and started praying intensely in Korean. I listened to the “hallelujah’s” and “amen’s” with my ears as I watched the I.V. tubes and medical monitors with my eyes.

Right afterward, the surgeon who’d just operated on my mother-in-law’s brain spoke to the entire family. They hung on his every word. When he was finished, I saw no indication of gratitude or thanks to this man who, through the power of science, had just opened my mother-in-law’s skull and saved her life with science’s healing hands.

I don’t mean to attack prayer here. I simply mean to point out that science saved this woman. Her family didn’t take her to a priest for healing. Yet they gave credit to the priest’s paradigm instead of the scientist’s.

I wish I had a Korean translation of cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett‘s beautiful essay, “Thank Goodness,” written after surviving

a nine-hour surgery, in which [his] heart was stopped entirely and [his] body and brain were chilled down to about 45 degrees to prevent brain damage from lack of oxygen until they could get the heart-lung machine pumping

so I could share it with that doctor. (See this post – one of my favorites on this blog – for more on that.)

Two: The Medieval “A” Students

My “Advanced Placement” seniors – 18-year-olds now, ending their K-12 education presumably ready to enter many of America’s “elite” (if you believe the hype) universities – and I recently had a class discussion about what scientists are projecting about the future of our planet. One of the students brought up the prophecies of Nostradamus, and how they’ve been “proven true” – according to something she saw on TV, I think. All the other students in the class chimed in with the same enthusiastic credulity about Nostradamus as the first student. There were no skeptical rebuttals.

I was aghast.

That moment was not uncommon. I’m tempted to say, when it comes to evidence that schools succeed in training students to think critically, that that moment was the norm. (Other teachers, please weigh in here. Is my case different from yours?)

It left me wondering how, after 12 years of daily incarceration and nightly homework, even the students with the highest grades show such an inability to think. The easy answer, as regular readers who know me will predict I’d say, is that the students aren’t thinking about learning all these years, but about making grades.

What answers do you have?

Photo: secular, non-secular, non sequitur by Dean Forbes

Related: All posts tagged “Religion

74 thoughts on “A Sunday Science Sermon”

  1. Interesting story about your mother in-law and the science behind her care. Even when science can’t literally reverse the conditions for death, it still provides a beneficial role. As my father who passed away in January would have testified, the science behind the drugs he took and surgery he underwent was important to his quality of life from the time he was diagnosed to his inevitable death.

    Peter Rocks last blog post..Vicki Davis on Science and Intelligent Design

  2. Clay, Clay, Clay, poor naive Clay… Do you still believe that schools are about education? Please, you are an intelligent human being, so you must understand that schools are about maintaining the status quo. If schools were truly about learning and developing students’ minds, the elite could never hold on to power for longer than a generation or two. This will not do! Those in power will always choose to hold on to power. Schools are built by the establishment, why would they be designed to change the establishment in a meaningful way? Critical thinking and problem solving are buzz words, but we aren’t actually meant to teaching those things. I’m sorry, do I sound pessimistic?… I think on today’s hike I realized that you are correct about leaving “organized education.”

  3. Peter – yes. And before death, all the daily blessings we take for granted in our classrooms (if they’re not madrassas, as so many classrooms, by virtue of their cowed silence, may as well be) – the computers, the heat, the light, the bread – all thanks to scientists. But no Thanksgiving for them.


    You really can’t leave it at that. You know I expect to hear the full scoop, off the record, the next time I talk to you.

    As for the naivete, “You may say I’m a dreamer. . . .”

    I wonder: There are so many overt, self-declared religious schools worldwide. Are there any self-declared secular ones? If not, why not? If so, where?

  4. Guess this controversial issue between religion and science seems to last forever. This post reminds me how I was supposed to write about conversational dialects with Bishop Spong 😛

    I think I have an answer to help you understand the Christians situation in the first story, I go to church. Your relatives probably thought that power of God ‘helped’ the doctors to do the right job, because everything is in God’s hands to them. So instead of thanking the doctors, they probably thought they were supposed to thank god who listened to their prayers and ‘guided’ the doctor to success.

    and for number two, “that the students aren’t thinking about learning all these years, but about making grades.” I think you forgot you were teaching in Korea 😛

  5. What’s wrong with some balance? While the stats you present are alarming (evolution should be taught in every school, IMO), your interpretation seems to suggest that *not* knowing about evolution absolutely results in being a believer in Nostradamus or prayer. And this is not always true. Further, many people both know about / understand evolution AND believe in prayer or a higher being (myself included). Why can’t a person be part of both groups? And further, why can’t both concepts be taught in school?

    There are studies indicating that prayer can aid healing, for example. I know you weren’t attacking the act of prayer, as you state. But isn’t it possible to thank both “God” and the doctor simultaneously for saving your mother-in-law? Speaking only for myself here — I see the two as “working together” and would never thank one without thanking the other; in my mind they are not mutually exclusive. Is this bad? Does it mean I am scientifically illiterate?

    Incidentally, the school I currently teach at does “brand” itself as a secular school. And really — aren’t all the public schools in the states (and France!) self-declared secular? Personally, I think trumpeting: “We are a secular school” is not a good idea. Why? It can be seen as insensitive to people from various backgrounds and cultures where spiritual beliefs are important. (Which is ironic when you consider that I work at a U.N. school, specifically founded on the philosophy of inclusion and diplomacy of people from different nations.)

    I think I’d rather be part of an organization that acknowledges and is sensitive to a wide variety of religious / spiritual beliefs — including none at all — than be part of one that declares, “We have no room for spirituality here! It has nothing to do with what we do!” To be part of the latter… well, that sounds elitist and ignorant of how spiritual beliefs *can* positively impact society — just as much so as those who might trumpet: “We are only Christian / Muslim / Hindu here! It has everything to do with what we do and we have no room for science!”

  6. Clay, what answers do I have? Share the data and the arguments and allow the audience, whoever they be, to make up their own minds.

    I am intrigued by those who discount evolutionary theory and have a firm belief in Intelligent Design and Creationism. I have never mixed in those circles.

    Regarding prayer. I do not mind prayer all that much. I sometimes wonder if it has a scientific outcome/rationale deep in our brains ~ that part of our brain that ‘safeguards’ us… the part of the brain that makes us halt at the edge of the footpath just before that speeding truck would have knocked us over. When we ‘pray’, whatever form it takes, we just may unconsciously tap into that part of our brain. Is it the Ascending Reticular Activating System? Anyone knows more about the brain?

    I think Soojin is quite correct in his analysis of the prayers at your Mother-in-laws bed-side. I have heard similar explanations in other situations.

    Coincidentally, a documentary series called the Enemies of Reason featuring Richard Dawkins opens on the ABC here in Australia tonight. I shall watch it.


    Cheers, John.

    John Larkins last blog post..Keep Twitter Free! [of rules]

  7. Wow! Clay, let me start by thanking you for broaching such big topic on your blog. Having said that why is discussing religion always such a taboo topic. It is one of the things teachers much always be leery about approaching even when we are teaching it. For some reason, people who are religious have no qualms preaching their beliefs to anyone who will listen, but ask for a discussion and suddenly their beliefs are too sacred for discussion.

    I consider myself an atheist Buddhist, because I don’t see Zen so much as a religion, but a way of life and a life long practice. It is a personal journey I have chosen to take. I only mention this because I often feel that I am looked down upon in the school community for being an atheist. It is like some dirty secret.

    @Tim Schools are built by the establishment, why would they be designed to change the establishment in a meaningful way? I totally agree.

    So I guess now, we need to think about how we can educate the largest number of people despite of these obstacles. I think that political thoughts can be lumped into this discussion as well.

    We live in a time where it is easier to be religious, right-wing, and conservative. And acting and saying things outside this framework could get you fired….

    I am curious to see where this discussion goes….

    Intrepidteachers last blog post..Comment Challenge: Day Two

  8. It is not the school’s job to try to get people not to believe in God. In the USA we have rights and those rights include having religious beliefs.

    However chools today have been hijacked by the UNESCO arm of the UN who imposes a secular humanist view on everything in the curriculum that is enforced by the Federal Department of Education. Their purpose is to get students ready for world government and allegiance to the totalitarian socialist state, so there must be no allegiance to God and thus religion must be wiped out.

    The fact that the USA still believes in God is encouraging. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that.

    And I disagree with the comment that NOT acting conservative could get you fired.
    I was a marked person from the time I let on that I did not go along with the Delphi Technique used to brainwash me into the new order of things, and I also refused to sign a similar mission statement. Had I not retired, I WOULD have been fired for being conservative. I was a very dedicated hard working teacher, but you see, in a communist society, if your attitudes are wrong, you are to be denied.

  9. @Adrian, the main thrust of the post is the confusion between “knowledge” and “belief” (or “faith”) so clear in the statistics. Belief in a “higher power” is different from both “knowledge” of it, and more to the point, “knowledge” of that power’s name and the book(s) It is variously alleged to have authored or inspired. That confusion results in Iron Age tribalism that just strikes me as glaringly out of place in the digital 21st century.

    Intellectual (“academic”? “critical”) humility and honesty should keep all of us from claiming “knowledge” of the unknowable – it certainly does me. I can’t assert the non-existence of any divinity when there is no compelling evidence to justify that belief, just as there is no compelling evidence to the contrary.

    The evidence for evolution, though, is compelling. As I say in the post, this crusade is not against religion so much as it is against the detractors of science. The well-funded and devious global campaigns to confuse the world, in the name of Creationism/I.D., about the meaning of “theory” as used by scientists do more than just harm the public’s understanding of evolutionary theory’s overwhelming body of evidence and lack of compelling alternatives; it also poisons the well of science and undercuts the world’s reception of its findings on other crucial issues. Think of global warming, and how often we hear people say “It’s just a theory.”

    “It’s just a theory” is a meme started by Creationists that is now infecting the public mind about any and all pronouncements by science. That’s a fatal slippery slope at exactly the wrong point in history.

    Again, Adrian, I’m not attacking prayer. I’m not sure what sort of “balance” you’re advocating, though. If the scientific evidence is lacking, I don’t believe allowing faith to be taught as science as a proper “balance” – but again, I’m unclear on what you mean.

    And for the record, I’ve had three experiences in my life – “peak moments” – that I don’t hesitate to call, in the strictest sense, “mystical.” I have no doubt they’re in the same psycho-spiritual neighborhood as that of mystics from all times and places on this planet. I could call those experiences of unity with what felt like “the Source” experiences of “God,” but by naming it thus, I would be limiting it in ways that don’t do it justice.

    So “higher power”? Been there, share that belief. I just don’t want to cheapen it by relating to it on a first-name basis. And It didn’t tell me about any books it wrote, by the way :-) (It did make me trust that death was not to be feared, though, and that Goodness is good, and existence is sublime.)

    @Jabiz, it’s a good question and it does seem unfair: proselytizing pre-modern unjustified “truths” is seen as permissible, while openly airing post-modern evidence of their untruth sets off cries of boorishness or worse. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett are changing the rules by refusing to play by the old ones. It’s an interesting moment in the history of modernity: Women have fought for their rights, racial minorities and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual too. Free-thinkers like “the Four Horseman” (Harris and co., above) are carrying the torch further. It’s ironic that rational skepticism is more taboo than trans-sexuality, but there it is.

  10. Clay,
    I understand better now what you mean about the confusion between “knowing” and “belief.” And I understand what you mean about claiming knowledge of the “unknowable” when clearly it is just a belief. I get that. And, I am not someone who would claim to “know” it, based on any evidence. But there are people, I think, who have more compelling evidence than any book inspired by the belief (I’m thinking here of people who have survived near-death experiences, or other “direct” encounters with that higher power — and I do not fall into this category nor does anyone I know personally). I would say those people have compelling evidence, but that it’s of a personal kind and not that which can be shared…

    … unlike the evidence for evolution, which is obvious and public.

    I wasn’t advocating for faith to be taught as a science (interesting concept!). What I meant by balance was simply that we should not discredit faith by saying it’s a load of hogwash because we have no evidence. Yes, the evidence may not be compelling, but faith still plays an important role in the lives of many and therefore deserves to have a place somewhere in any group — including school. In fact, I wasn’t really advocating for faith to be taught at all, but now that I’m thinking about it, maybe it’s not such a bad idea for it to be offered as an “option”?

    I think it’s interesting that you don’t want to “cheapen” the higher power by relating to it on a first-name basis. :) Some might argue that by not naming it, you’re not respecting it. Then there are those who feel that not naming it gives it more power (reminds me of He Who Must Not Be Named in Harry Potter.. haha). I, personally, don’t really care what “it” is named, or not, or whether someone even thinks it exists, period. But I do think the fact that so many believe in “it” means we need to respect and not forget about its “role” in the lives of the believers…. which is why I would wince at any organization that doesn’t at least recognize spiritual beliefs as being important. So, perhaps the “concept” of faith should be taught — but not any particular faith. Not even sure if that is possible…?

    (Basically, I’m rarely in favor of the all-or-nothing philosophy.)

    Adriennes last blog post..Commenting Self-Audit

  11. Just to be picky: the existence of a moth with a 12-inch proboscis that can suck the nectar from a flower with a 12-inch style does nothing to “prove” Darwin (or Intelligent Design, for that matter), though it’s easy to see how both sides could claim it as a victory. We have to always be vigilant with the assumptions we draw from the facts we observe, much like the caution we have to take when interpreting causality from a set of statistics placed side-by-side.

    What concerns me in these debates is that the “science” side will become too confident in its “knowledge” and end up crossing the very line it intends to uphold: the line dividing knowledge from belief. We (all of us) place far too much on the “knowledge” side of that line, and to me, that’s the most dangerous deception.

  12. @Clay
    Certainly a thought provoking post. I am confused by the constant push that faith and science must always be at odds with each other? Must they? Or is it uniquely American to draw a line in the sand and divide humanity between the cliques of faith and science?

    The core questions of who we are, why we are here, and where did it all come from cannot be answered by science. As a believer I have no problem accepting the conclusions of science, medicine, etc. I’d readily agree that biblical fundamentalism and literalism do nothing to forward religion or science. A minimal understanding of Church history shows Biblical literalism to be a local and relatively recent American phenomenon.

    A brief look at the history of science makes the method possible only because of a world view that accepts the reality of matter. Why did this method flourish in the West? Is there something intrinsic in the Christian world view about the fact that the world is real and worth studying that promotes science?

    Part of the difficulty is lumping all Christians into a fundamentalist literalist boat and declaring them ignorant. Not all Christians fit this description.

    It is often easy to trash religion as an origin for certain social evils but science without a conscience doesn’t have a remarkable track record. One might remember that most of the eugenic Nazi holocaust inducing efforts were supposedly predicated upon science. Godless dictatorships of Stalin, Polpot, Mao and others don’t exactly promote the world without God is a better place agenda. But then again I would never put every hard core science lover into this boat. But we see the dangers of extremism on both sides.

    As the head of a religious school we firmly encourage our students to think critically through every issue and claim the Church makes. If it is true then we should not be afraid of open dialogue and criticism. One could conceivably argue that there is no such thing as objective truth in religion but then again that in itself would be a dogmatic truth claim for the religion of secularism or relativism.

    An interesting situation we are all in. Personally I don’t believe the two need to be squared off against each other when both are correctly understood.

    Charlie A. Roys last blog post..Cell Phones in the Classroom?

  13. I agree with Eric.

    Since neither position is abled to be proven or disproven, both remain theoretical and thus are equally able of being the belief of any individual.

    In this country we hold dear the right to personal belief and the only places I know of that seek to wipe out all religion are totalitarian regimes that seek to make the ‘state’ the only place to turn one’s allegiance.

    When you look up ‘what is TOK’ you will be taken to a Marxist website.


  14. I have, for some years now, had to accept that the students in my classes are more concerned with getting a passing grade than in learning critical thinking. Despite my best efforts to encourage them to discover answers for themselves and to find solutions to challenges through problem solving, the majority of my students will quickly give up and beg me to tell them the “right” answer. Too many of my students will completely disengage in learning when they perceive that an activity requires the use of independent thought. It’s much easier for students to fail my class and take the “condensed” version of it through our credit recovery program.

    I’m not certain that the religious beliefs of my students cause their inability to think for themselves. I feel it is safe to say that it greatly contributes to the problem. Most of them are more likely to attribute their personal successes to God’s will than to their own efforts. They are also more likely to blame outside forces that they believe cannot be controlled for their misfortunes and failures. Many of the students I teach are struggling to deal with addictions, abuse and neglect. Many also live in gang infested communities with relatives who are underemployed and barely making ends meet. Most will admit that they believe in God, but few will admit that they attend church or pray regularly. The behavior they exhibit at school certainly doesn’t suggest that they fear the wrath of God and the possibility of eternal damnation. It’s as if they pretend to practice a faith that they don’t fully understand, but for what reason? Is it that they have not developed an internal locus of control? Does living such chaotic lives force them to find order anywhere they can?

    Both Christian fundamentalists and Baptists have a strong presence in our community, and that presence is evident at the school where I teach. Faculty and staff regularly encourage students to turn to God for guidance and strength. They share their stories about their personal relationships with God. They wear t-shirts and buttons and jewelry that proclaim the glory of God. And I’m reminded, time and again, at meetings that “God is with us” and “God will help us do the right thing for our students.” We don’t, however, teach a course in comparative religion where students might actually learn about the many gods that exist and the many ways in which faith can manifest itself.

    It is evident to me that my students have no deep understanding of the word of the Christian God as related in the Bible. Most have a scant recollection of the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, and Jesus, but that’s the extent of their knowledge of the Good Book. In my attempts to teach them the history of universal literary themes and symbolism, I find that I, a nonbeliever, am often the first person to introduce them to the stories of Job, Jonah, Abraham, David, the Good Samaritan, and a host of other Biblical characters. It makes sense to me that their knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology is lacking since they don’t believe in these ancient gods. It makes no sense for these children to have faith in a God who’s words they’ve barely heard. How does this happen?

    All of this leaves me with these thoughts. If we allow children to have faith in a God they know little about, than we encourage them to abandon reason for faith. If we encourage them to abandon reason, then we teach them that they don’t have to learn to think for themselves. If we encourage them to invest all of their faith in an invisible entity, then we deny them the chance to learn to have faith in their own abilities. If they have no faith in their own ability to change the world around them, then they will have little chance to escape the chaos in which they live.

    If adults are going to encourage children to embrace spirituality, then they need to do so responsibly. I’ve begun to believe that too many children have faith in God for the wrong reasons. I believe that misguided faith confounds children more than it enlightens them. It gives them a false sense of comfort and security. I agree with Clay, that this is not a time when we should “cede the battle for scientific literacy to the forces of medievalism out a sense of social niceness.”

  15. It is a fact that when you know people care about you, you heal faster.

    Anyone who’s been home alone sick knows it’s a lot worse than if you have for example, a partner to fetch your soup or just to be there.

    So perhaps it’s the human element and the praying is just one activity that demonstrates caring and caring HAS shown to advance healing.

    How is this different than the new age ‘power of positive thinking’?

  16. @Peter
    Here are a couple links: This article references one of the “best known” (?) studies on the topic, done in 1999 (it is referenced in several other places online, though I don’t have access to the actual journal it was published in, Archives in Internal Medicine). Another one discusses the 1988 study done at San Fran general. You can find the abstract to that study here. (See the related articles links on the right, too.)

    And more general info from a 2005 newsletter of The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and a NYT article from 2004 which sums up several studies.

    I should note that *all* of the studies are controversial and hotly debated (even the ones that show some evidence that prayer can aid healing), and for good reason. :) And, we shouldn’t be looking at any *one* particular study, should we? We should look at a body of research, then draw our own conclusions. The way I see it, a person could find reasonable evidence to support a viewpoint in either direction over this issue.

    Adriennes last blog post..Commenting Self-Audit

  17. Teacher says:

    It is a fact that when you know people care about you, you heal faster.

    I’ve never seen a study but I would assume this to be true. In general, I would think that feeling happier can help. That only makes sense.

    However, we are talking about the attempt to petition (what one believes to exist supernaturally) for intervention that will result in the improvement of the patient’s health. That is entirely different than studying depressed versus happy patients.

    Don’t confuse the act of prayer with the loving interaction of the patient and loved ones.

    Peter Rocks last blog post..Vicki Davis on Science and Intelligent Design

  18. Lucia says, All of this leaves me with these thoughts. If we allow children to have faith in a God they know little about, than we encourage them to abandon reason for faith. If we encourage them to abandon reason, then we teach them that they don’t have to learn to think for themselves. If we encourage them to invest all of their faith in an invisible entity, then we deny them the chance to learn to have faith in their own abilities. If they have no faith in their own ability to change the world around them, then they will have little chance to escape the chaos in which they live.

    I love what has been said. Personally, I do not attend church. My spirituality is a personal reflective journey towards being the best person I can be. Many believe you are absolved by attending church (please do not attack me here, that is not true of everyone). I believe in a higher power – it is in all of us.

    All of that aside, students are lacking in critical thinking. As a science teacher, I see how woefully inadequate the students are in this skill and have blogged about it here. Given the current state of world problems, it is needed more than ever just to survive in the world. This skill needs to be cultivated by all teachers but many topics (not just religion/evolution) in the un-schooliness nature Clay would like to see can definitely cause problems within our institutions (recently for me: climate change). Here it is hard to get students to stop remembering information for grades and to start to actually THINK.

    Louise Maines last blog post..Action research: Writing skills

  19. Tangentially, I wish Americans would cut it out with the “God-and-science-can’t-mix” crap. Science cannot disprove God, and God does not necessarily disprove science. God and science can co-exist. I wish more of us would take the position that science is humanity’s way of expressing God’s works, and that the creation story is true, but in the matter of Animal Farm — as an allegory.

    I hate people. Really, I do.

    Benjamin Baxters last blog post..FoxNews on Lincoln-Douglass Debates

  20. Benjamin,

    You brought up two relationships between science and religious belief –

    1) Science and religious belief “mixing”.
    2) Science and religious belief “co-existing”.

    To me it is clear that #1 is impossible and dangerous to even try. This is what the ID movement is all about.

    To me it is clear that #2 is possible so long as #1 isn’t being pushed.

    See the difference?

    Peter Rocks last blog post..Vicki Davis on Science and Intelligent Design

  21. To most Americans — as the above statistics show — God is much more important and reliable than science. To most Americans, what they know of science is from the evening newscasts from their local news station: namely, science proves that some foodstuff will kill them, only to prove a year later that it’ll save them.

    God is immutable, reliable and trustworthy, unlike the demon science. For practical reasons, it is clear to me that #1 is possible so long as #2 isn’t being pushed, either.

    Benjamin Baxters last blog post..FoxNews on Lincoln-Douglass Debates

  22. I agree. But above all, freedom of speech and thought need to prevail (although under Goals 2000 it did not and I doubt it will under IB either)

  23. We’re digressing again, but until Clay intervenes I’ll keep at it.

    What is religion but a form of freedom of speech, thought and assembly? If you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, we could even throw “press” on that list. It’s shallow to support religion against science, and equally shallow vice versa.

    Benjamin Baxters last blog post..FoxNews on Lincoln-Douglass Debates

  24. @Benjamin,

    That is one of the most provincial arguments I’ve ever heard.

    News flash: other parts of the world have other creation beliefs, so you’ll credit them all equally, right? If not, please explain to me how that’s not provincial and culturally ethnocentric.

    Which God does science express the power of, by the way? If you’re an educator who is going to make that claim (and who believes it yourself), you should be able to explain it clearly. So which God do you mean? Allah? Brahman? Jehovah? The Trinity?

    Sorry, the rest of you, for the slight incivility here. Benjamin is almost trollish on this blog sometimes with his categorical and way-too-easy pronouncements – and his tone.

  25. “God’s reliability is directly proportional to how faith you have in Him.”

    This is what I mean by “mixing”. You are making a claim that is not verifiable. And of course, fellow believers will back you up and nod their heads in agreement because they wish it to be true. But that’s the difference between religious belief and science. Prove the reliability of something scientifically, and fellow scientists will all nod their head in agreement – not because they wish to promote their beliefs, but because the measurable evidence says so. Because to argue otherwise would be foolish in the face of the measurable results.

    What is the evidence for “reliability” in God? Can you answer this question without going in circles? “God is more reliable the more you believe in Him.” is totally avoiding the question.

    Peter Rocks last blog post..Vicki Davis on Science and Intelligent Design

  26. Comments like ‘if we allow’ by Lucia concern me. You should not ‘allow’ nor ‘disallow’ the thoughts of children when it comes to faith, science, whatever.

    This is why I recommend home schooling.
    I think Benjamin’s posts are quite reasonable.

  27. @Benjamin, I’m not asking you to leave, but to avoid unhelpful comments like “I hate people” (who think differently, implicitly) and “[points of view I disagree with are] crap.” Up your game. Or leave. Your choice.

    I’m going out for the day. It’s my birthday. But before I do,

    @Eric: the “proof” I alluded to was, as I stated in the intro to the post, proof of “a hypothesis” – the existence of this moth, based on the evidence of that flower and the theoretical framework that informed the inference that such a moth must exist. How is the discovery of that moth not proof the hypothesis was true?

    Gotta run.

  28. Teacher,

    Would you be less concerned if I’d said, “If we admit that it’s acceptable for children to have faith in a God they know little about, than we encourage them to abandon reason for faith.”?

    The “allow” wasn’t intended to imply controlling the thoughts of children by keeping them from exploring ideas. On the contrary, I want more thought from my students; I want them to examine and question everything.

  29. I am not comfortable with a school trying to get kids to question their family’s values.

    But then again, when you allow the UN in to control the schools as we have here in the US, you have given control over to a very sinister agenda.

  30. By the way, you are asking them also to have ‘faith’ in the science we know little about as well… so…. the same could be said for that.

  31. Apparently, a Happy Birthday is in order, so: Happy Birthday.

    As to your question: I realize the moth example was presented as justification of Darwin’s hypothesis, not “proof” of evolution. I’m simply pointing out that the justification of that hypothesis does little to further the argument on either side of the evolution/ID debate. That’s also why I prefaced the comment with “just to be picky.” Sorry for being picky. 😉

  32. @clay: Thanks so much for this post. I think it bears repeating that the most important issue raised here is one of intellectual honesty. If we operate under the premise that all ideas have equal value we are not really being honest. For example, Dawkins famously refers to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which no one can really take seriously. But, if we are going to operate rules of equal value then how can anyone really say that this invented belief has any less validity than the Christian deity for example?
    The real difference between evolution by natural selection and special creation or intelligent design are that only one of them has observable evidence supporting it.
    Too often I think people who don’t agree with the Bible literalists support them out of hand by not challenging them. Too often we are accused of not supporting “free speech” or not being willing to engage in dialog.
    There is no room for dialog since these ideas come from two different worlds: one the world where evidence and observation are be basis for understanding and the other the world where belief and tradition are the basis for understanding.
    @Benjamin and Peter: God and Science can coexist as long as we recognize that they are two completely different ways of thinking.

    @Clay: I too am constantly shocked by most students blind faith in what they see on TV, read, get on the internet, and even get from me. This is my greatest disappointment as a teacher in a these elite international schools (again… the hype?). The problem here, I suspect, has a lot to do with the fact that our current students have still not completely caught the digital wave they are riding. Many of them can use the technology they have available, but far fewer use it well, create with it, and think deeply about the media they consume. It’s easy to be lazy when you have thousands of googleable facts at your fingertips and many students don’t differentiate between having information about a subject and understanding it.

  33. Clay says:

    “But no Thanksgiving for [Science].”

    True, but you and I both know that every time we devour a tasty dish of pasta, we give thanks to His science. He knows science. It His research upon the evidence that we now understand how to control global warming.


    Peter Rocks last blog post..on “God” and reason

  34. Because I.D. proponents can claim that “of course a flower with a 12-inch style would have a corresponding moth somewhere with a 12-inch proboscis: that’s in God’s perfect design.”

    Those facts (12-inch style, 12-inch proboscis) do not “mean” anything except within the context of a larger theory. I was just pointing that out.

  35. Well of course the apple falls to the ground. Just because it does doesn’t further the gravity argument. The apple falling is just a part of God’s perfect design.

    At what point does this “defense” start to sound silly?

    Keep in mind that ID is proposed not as a alternative description of evolution, but as a “scientific alternative” *to* evolution. If it’s a scientific alternative but all it ever does is appropriate evolutionary observations by encapsulating them as its own, then that absurdity itself advances the evolution argument.

    Peter Rocks last blog post..on “God” and reason

  36. @Eric
    The problem I have with an ID explanation like that is that the “of course” defense can be used with anything. Just as Darwin said, if the flower exists, then evolution dictates that of course, a moth would exist that could get the nectar.

    What evolution has on its side is actually based on evidence. ID only offers us the “of course” argument. Hardly seems intelligent to me.

  37. Teacher,

    I would not ask a child to have “faith” in anything they didn’t understand. I, instead, teach them to be curious about things they don’t understand, use reasoning skills to examine the evidence, and then to make up their own minds based on what they’ve learned.

    If that leads to children questioning their “family’s values”, then that’s a good thing when those values include elevating drug sales to a reputable occupation, regarding the desire to be come educated as a failing, or promoting the use of violence as a means of settling minor disputes.

  38. I’m not arguing in support of I.D., I’m merely pointing out that this specific example, on its own, isn’t a “proof” for anyone without a larger theory in which to interpret it. An already-admitted picky point, but important to me nonetheless because we can’t afford sloppy logic.

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