Friday, November 18, 2005

Conservative Columnists Turning Against the Christian Right

When conservatives George Will and Charles Krauthammer have op-eds in the same week critical of some Republicans, you know the tide is shifting. Both are dismayed by the hijacking of the Republican party by fundamentalists who want our public schools to teach "Intelligent Design" as part of the science curriculum. Here are their words:

Krauthammer:

Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an "unguided process" with no "discernible direction or goal." This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an "unguided process" by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose. What is chemistry if not an "unguided process" of molecular interactions without "purpose"? Or are we to teach children that God is behind every hydrogen atom in electrolysis?

He may be, of course. But that discussion is the province of religion, not science. The relentless attempt to confuse the two by teaching warmed-over creationism as science can only bring ridicule to religion, gratuitously discrediting a great human endeavor and our deepest source of wisdom precisely about those questions -- arguably, the most important questions in life -- that lie beyond the material.

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.

(Source. Hat tip: respondingtojblogs.)


Will:

The storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party should particularly ponder the vote last week in Dover, Pa., where all eight members of the school board seeking reelection were defeated. This expressed the community's wholesome exasperation with the board's campaign to insinuate religion, in the guise of "intelligent design" theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a required proclamation that evolution "is not a fact."

But it is. And President Bush's straddle on that subject -- "both sides" should be taught -- although intended to be anodyne*, probably was inflammatory, emboldening social conservatives. Dover's insurrection occurred as Kansas's Board of Education, which is controlled by the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people, voted 6 to 4 to redefine science. The board, opening the way for teaching the supernatural, deleted from the definition of science these words: "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena."

"It does me no injury," said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education. The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to conscript government into sectarian crusades.
(Source)



* "anodyne," a word I'd never heard before, means "serving to assuage pain."



(It appears that I will continue to debate, although I'll try to remain as civil as possible. :) )

29 comments:

Esther said...

I don't understand why religous fundamentalists feel the need to impose their beliefs on other people.

America is a free country - if you don't believe in evolution, send your kid to private school, if you disagree with birth control, don't us it and if you are opposed to gay marriage, don't have one.

Eric said...

Esther - I've asked that same question on my blog, and I've yet to hear an explanation that wasn't rooted in a religous tautology. The most frequent answer I've heard to your question is that your 'sin' affects others. The fallacy of this argument is that it's one religon's belief that sin affects others. Deriving laws based on that belief flies in the face of the establishment clause. (and it's obvious from the Jefferson quote that at least one of the framers of the constitution didn't subscribe to the shared sin concept as a basis for law.)

R10B said...

As I understand it, the KS board wants to allow critiques of the Theory of Evolution to be discussed. They need not quote religious fundamentalists to do so.

As to the fossil record, In Natural History magazine Stephen J. Gould noted: "the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life's history, yet to preserve our favorite account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study."

And regarding the foundational "primordial soup" Information theorist Hubert Yockey argued that chemical evolutionary research raises the question:

"Research on the origin of life seems to be unique in that the conclusion has already been authoritatively accepted … . What remains to be done is to find the scenarios which describe the detailed mechanisms and processes by which this happened. One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written."

I found these two quotes in under 2 minutes on Wilkipedia. Why shield our kids from this in their science class? I suppose they should be taught, to paraphrase Sir Galahad, just a little truth.

Jewish Atheist said...

As I understand it, the KS board wants to allow critiques of the Theory of Evolution to be discussed. They need not quote religious fundamentalists to do so.

You understand incorrectly. They want to teach "Intelligent Design." Criticizing scientific theories is part of science. Pulling an alternate, non-scientific, story out of a religious text is not.

As to the fossil record, In Natural History magazine Stephen J. Gould noted: "the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life's history, yet to preserve our favorite account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study."

I have no problem with discussing the fact that we have few fossils to study. That isn't the same as saying, "Because there are few fossils, an intelligent designer did it." That is not a scientific explanation.

And regarding the foundational "primordial soup"

This is not part of evolution. Evolution started after the first form of life existed, since before that there was nothing to evolve.

Why shield our kids from this in their science class?

We shouldn't. We should absolutely teach that we don't have a complete understanding of the process of evolution. We should teach that the theory evolution encompasses different ideas and that there are some disputes between (to use two popular figures) Gould's and Dawkins's views of how evolution happened. However, implying that it's reasonable to believe that these gaps in knowledge demonstrate that evolution may be false flies in the face of all of biology.

Jewish Atheist said...

Gould's and Dawkins's views of how evolution happened

I'm sorry, that should read happens.

Eric said...

1. Finding quotes on the internet is easy. Here's one:

"Gould was considered by many outsiders to be one of the pre-eminent theoreticians in his field. However, most evolutionary biologists disagreed with the way that Gould presented his views; they feel that Gould gave the public, as well as scientists in other fields, a very distorted picture of evolutionary theory. Few evolutionary biologists question his motives, insight, or his new ideas. However, many hold that his claims to have overthrown standard views of neo-Darwinism were exaggerated to the point of falsehood, and that his claims of replacing adaptation as a key component of natural selection were erroneous." (wikipedia entry)

My point is that maybe we should leave the science curriculum (including the definition of science) in the hands of the science teachers, and not in the political process.

R10B said...

However, many hold that [Gould's] claims to have overthrown standard views of neo-Darwinism were exaggerated to the point of falsehood...

True. I didn't mean to imply that Gould killed Darwin. I am just constructing an elementary case against ignoring contrary opinions. Education shouldn't contain a v-chip. Science classes should honestly represent what science is (to date) merely assuming and leave the door open for critical thinking and unanswered questions. The questioning mind is the engine of discovery. >:-o

And yes, keep politics out of it since it provides primarily negative examples of critical thinking.

I've enjoyed this conversation. Though I'm neither Jewish nor Atheist I'll keep this blog in my list of good reads. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am delighted/relieved to see that all conservatives are not religious wackos...and they're FINALLY speaking out. The country would be better off if some of this type were elected to public office.

Sadie Lou said...

The most frequent answer I've heard to your question is that your 'sin' affects others. The fallacy of this argument is that it's one religon's belief that sin affects others.

Can you define, for me, the so called "religious sins" that have no bearing on the moral attributes of non Christians? In other words--what do Christians whine about that have nothing to do with the rest of society?

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou, I think Esther's point is that (for example) nobody's trying to force you to marry another woman, so why should you want to prevent non-Christian women from marrying each other?

Jewish Atheist said...

(and by "you," I don't necessarily mean you, Sadie Lou. I mean those Christians who are trying to impose their idea of "religious sins" on others.)

Sadie Lou said...

Actually, I was quoting Eric--I should have been more specific. As to your point though, you're right. I have no idea why Christians try to prevent gay marriage. I have speculated, I think on this very blog somewhere in one of my first comments to you--as to why some Christians DO get frustrated over gay marriage.
My answer was that "marriage"(by definition) is between a man and a woman and an istitution/agreement that God arranged. If you look up marriage in any kind of refrence book--you'll get what I mean.
Society and government has taken marriage and has designed laws and benefits to go along with it--which was wrong.
Now, in order for a long term gay partnership to recieve the same benefits as married couples--they have to get married, which Christians find offensive to the institution since God is against homosexuality. I find that attitude a little self righteous since many Christian marriages are in violation of God's commandments, anyways--either through infidelity, divorce, whatever...
Again,
This is what I think gets some Christians riled up.
For me, I see how we, as a society, should not have attatched so many benefits and laws to the whole institution of marriage without understanding that certain people groups would most likely be excluded.
*whew*

Jewish Atheist said...

Interesting, Sadie Lou. Thanks.

R10B said...

For what it's worth this is taken directly from the Kansas Science Education Standards which were just approved:

"Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory. These curriculum standards reflect the Board’s objective of: 1) to help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist on this topic, 2) to enhance critical thinking and the understanding of the scientific method by encouraging students to study different and opposing scientific evidence, and 3) to ensure that science education in our state is “secular, neutral, and non-ideological.”

And further...

"We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement."

At the risk of being pidgeon-holed I must say I don't think that's too outrageous. One needs to read all sorts of hidden-evangelical-agenda things into that to account for all the vitrol.

dbackdad said...

Learned two new words today, "tautological" and "anodyne". You guys are better than It Pays to Enrich your Word Power in Reader's Digest. People like Will and Buckley seem to use arcane words to prove they are smart (perhaps to counter the idiocy of their ideas). :-)

asher said...

I don't understand why you have a problem with teaching kids all the theories of evolution and the fact that Gould changed his ideas frequently (spontaneous regeneration comes to mind)along with the idea that evolution is a very interesting theory with no basis in science, and cannot be proven ALONG WITH the theory of Intellegent Design which seems to fill in the gaps that evolution theory has created. Now that's fair. Otherwise, secularists are forcing their view of the world on everyone who attends public school.

By the way, when I attended yeshiva they taught us evolution in biology class and said, "This is the theory....you can accept it or not. However, it will be on the test."

Also, when it comes to tautology you can't get a better example that evolution...hey, cats developed whiskers cause they have them.

JDHURF said...

asher I must address your post for it is alarming. You claim that the theory of evolution has no basis in science, I would ask, incredulously, what in the world leads you to believe this? For evolution exists because of science and the scientific method. The fact that it is referred to as a “scientific theory” illustrates its scientific bearing. A plethora of scientific fields back up and support evolution. The theory of evolution is not a baseless theory for which there is absolutely no evidence to support it. There are volumes upon volumes of scientific research and testing that support evolution through sciences such as biology, paleontology, archeology, geophysics, geology, theoretical psychology, genetics, planetary science, and phylogeny to simply name a few. In all honesty the widely held theory of evolution impacts virtually every aspect of science. Then to claim that the theory of evolution is only supported and influenced by secularists is out of line and wildly unsubstantiated. There are many individuals within the scientific community that still hold religious beliefs and agree with the theory of evolution; to say that evolution and secularism coincide exclusively is wrong and biased. As far as what your yeshiva class has to say about evolution is hardly relevant to evolution being false or not, a sectarian class relying upon religious ideology hardly gets a say in scientific theory.
“Also, when it comes to tautology you can't get a better example that evolution...hey, cats developed whiskers because they have them.”
Where ever you get this idea I don’t know. Evolution does not, has not, and never will claim this statement. Evolution, by definition of the theory, would say cats have whiskers not because they have them but because growing whiskers via natural selection because they had survival value, not only that but evolution will then study the origins and history of the whisker and find out how and why the whisker was adapted by a species and what specific survival value it provided.
I could provide evidence for evolution but it would encompass entirely too much space and this post is too long already, go to my blog and I shall provide the evidence either through a post or email. I apologize for the length.

Random said...

jdhurf,

Beat me to it, and said it better for that matter! Incidentally, with regard to -

"Then to claim that the theory of evolution is only supported and influenced by secularists is out of line and wildly unsubstantiated."

it's not just scientists with religious beliefs that support evolution but most major churches too - see the statement from the Vatican I posted last time this came up here ("Was man created before or after the animals?") for example.

Jewish Atheist said...

R10B:

While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement."

They're being dishonest, R10B. The rule changes are specifically designed to allow the teaching of Intelligent Design as if it were science. (They allude to this when they refer to ID as a "scientific disagreement" in your quote. ID is NOT a *scientific* disagreement.) If you don't believe me, ask yourself why they voted to change the definition of science. (From Krauthammer's article: "In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase 'natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us,' thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science."




asher:

I don't understand why you have a problem with teaching kids all the theories of evolution and the fact that Gould changed his ideas frequently (spontaneous regeneration comes to mind)along with the idea that evolution is a very interesting theory with no basis in science, and cannot be proven ALONG WITH the theory of Intellegent Design which seems to fill in the gaps that evolution theory has created.

Intelligent design is NOT a scientific theory. ID is theology. Scientific theories must a) be based on evidence -- not a supposed lack of evidence like the so-called gaps in evolutionary theory -- and b) be falsifiable. For the same reasons that intelligent design isn't a scientific theory, for example, atheism isn't a scientific theory. I believe atheism is correct, but I would never try to get it taught in science class because it's not a scientific theory.

Also, when it comes to tautology you can't get a better example that evolution...hey, cats developed whiskers cause they have them.

Asher, I specifically addressed the cat's whiskers the last time you brought them up. I pointed you towards some explanations that went far beyond "they have them because they have them." (In short, whiskers are simply a specialized kind of hair which evolved from scale-like features. Animals with longer whiskers (or pre-whiskers) survived better because the whiskers act as sensory organs, helping animals find food, etc.)

asher said...

Well so long as you all agree that evolution is science cause:
a. everyone agrees it is
b. both secular and religious people agree
c. there are volumes on how it impact on every other science.

Talk about tautology.

There are volumes of books on UFO abductions, holocaust denial, end of the world theories and angels. Not one of you commented on Gould's changing theories (well it's science...when more information is needed we just change the theory, ask Einstein)It's always convinient to change the theory when you realize it's not working out.

If ID is not science what problem do you have with it being taught with evolution? Call it "comparitive theories class" or something. Surely a scientific idea that is so strong and so solid should be able to withstand the onslaught of superstitious nonsence like ID. If you don't see this as an agenda please consult your dictionary.

By the way, in yeshiva we didn't have a test on ID. It was called Bible. (chumash)

Jewish Atheist said...

Not one of you commented on Gould's changing theories (well it's science...when more information is needed we just change the theory, ask Einstein)It's always convinient to change the theory when you realize it's not working out.

You make it sound like Gould changed his mind about whether evolution happened. Really, he just changed his mind about certain specifics of his theory of punctuated equilibria. Here's what he has to say about it:

“Punctuated equilibrium, catastrophic theories of mass extinction, hopeful monsters, and a variety of hypotheses about rapid rates of change in continuous sequences, not about unintelligible abrupt appearances, are part of scientific debate and bear no relationship to the nonscientific notion of abrupt appearance, despite pernicious and willful attempts by many creationists to distort such claims by misquote and halfquote to their alien purposes. Punctuated equilibrium, in particular, is a claim that evolutionary trends have a geometry that resembles a climb up a staircase rather than a slide up an inclined plane. It is, in other words, an alternate theory about the nature of intermediate stages in evolutionary trends not, as creationists have claimed, a denial of these stages. As a term, ‘creation science’ is an oxymoron, a self-contradictory and meaningless phrase, a whitewash for a specific, particular, and minority religious view in America—Biblical literalism.”


If ID is not science what problem do you have with it being taught with evolution? Call it "comparitive theories class" or something. Surely a scientific idea that is so strong and so solid should be able to withstand the onslaught of superstitious nonsence like ID. If you don't see this as an agenda please consult your dictionary.

Gould again:

“‘Creation science’ has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?”

Esther said...

I wonder why some people of faith are threatened by the idea of evolution. Why can't science and faith co-exist for some? And more importantly, why must some people must impose their theology everyone else?

Sadie Lou I don't have to remind you that not all marriages occur in churches. I was married in a civil ceremony. As far as I was concerned, God didn't even attend. (Although I'm sure some of my in-laws would disagree.)

If the State of New Jersey and the United States of America recognizes my marriage and confers benefits to me and my husband as a married couple, why shouldn't they recongize a marriage between two men or two women? The benefits of marriage that gay people seek are private secular civil benefits, such as the right to obtain health care coverage, the right to file joint tax returns, the right to visit your partner in the hospital.

Jewish Atheist - I have a question for your as a lapsed member of Modern Orthodoxy. I live in a town which is a mecca for the Modern Orthodox and I'm increasingly seeing black hats and wigs too. (Time to move?) As a lapsed secular Jew, I'm facinated by insularity of the Orthodox communities. I'm sure much of the insularity is an attempt to prevent their kids from leaving the faith, as you did. My question is how many of your friends growing up have left Modern Orthodoxy and where did they go? How often do you think this occurs? Do you think that insular groups have a higher retention rate than others?

Random said...

Esther,

I think you may have misunderstood slightly what Sadie was saying - as I read it, she was saying that the state shouldn't be marrying anybody, whether straight or gay, as marriage is a religious sacrament. Which is a position perfectly respectful of equality, even if you don't particularly like it.

Sadie did then acknowledge that the state getting into the marriage business would force it to address issues of equality that the churches do not need to examine.

Esther said...

Random - What would happen if the fundamentalists began arguing that the state should get out of the marriage business altogether? Would that be a wise political move for say, Pat Robertson, to call on the government to stop issuing marriage licenses and stop recognizing civil marriages? I'm all in favor of it.

Esther said...

I should clarify. I'm in favor of it because it would be bad for the republicans.

David said...

Why can't science and faith co-exist for some?

Many atheists, like our dear host, think they can't. I think they can and do.

Jack's Shack said...

I should clarify. I'm in favor of it because it would be bad for the republicans. Oy, so many problems with that, but I'll leave it alone and stay on topic.

There is no reason why faith and science cannot be integrated. For example who says that the story of creation utilized standard 24 hour days. Why couldn't the days encompass thousands of years.

R10B said...

This idea of the gov't getting out of the marriage biz (and other such matters) would be a great topic on it's own rather than hiding under a Evolution/ID heading. Who want's to take the party to their house? Or are you interested JA?

JDHURF said...

I would like to address asher’s post yet again. You are mistaken when you claim that the only three reasons “we” agree that evolution is science is because of a, b and c. A) Everyone agrees with it (not everyone agrees with it, obviously you do not). B) Both secular and religious people agree with it (this is important and influential but hardly necessary or requisite for a science). C) There are volumes on how it affects every other science (when I said volumes I was referring to the large quantities concerning evidence, it is evidence that supports any given scientific theory and with out evidence there is no scientific theory).
You are correct I did not address your Gould example, for it was remarkably irrelevant. Gould is a staunch supporter for evolution, the fact that he has changed his personal ideas theories of evolution hardly illustrates evolution being wrong, quite the contrary actually. This is the utmost beauty of science it is subject to change and improvement. The wonder of science is that it is not dogmatic and will change and allow room for the truth when come upon. Here is a quote from Carl Sagan: “There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny”. The theory of evolution has never been proven wrong and most likely never will; it is as susceptible to disproof as the theory of gravity and just as unlikely to be disproved.
-“There are volumes of books on UFO abductions, holocaust denial, end of the world theories and angels.” – Yes this is true, however, there is no evidence; and as I elucidated for you I was not speaking of volumes defined as merely books, I was speaking of volumes as a large number of evidence; definition of volume b) a large amount. In this case, I was referring to the large amount of evidence, not a volume of books, although there is a great deal of these also. I hope I helped clarify this, for you obviously misunderstood my pervious post.
-“If ID is not science what problem do you have with it being taught with evolution?” – This quote is so absurd it hardly deserves attention. You answer your own question within your question; we do not want ID to be taught with evolution because it is not science, unscientific theories do not belong in the science classroom.
As you say, surely a scientific theory as strong as evolution and as solid should be able to withstand the onslaught of superstitious nonsense like ID. I whole-heartedly agree with you on this point, evolution can, will, and has stood up to the onslaught of superstitious nonsense and supernatural critiques.
-“By the way, when I attended yeshiva they taught us evolution in biology class and said, ‘This is the theory....you can accept it or not. However, it will be on the test.’”- It is this quote that impelled me to mention that a sectarian class relying upon religious ideology hardly gets a say in scientific theory. Therefore, this quote doesn’t make sense to me:-“By the way, in yeshiva we didn't have a test on ID. It was called Bible.” What in the world is your point?