Objectivity scares the hell out of people, because facts always trump wishes. I knew that when I started writing for Black Sun Journal 7 years ago. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my ardent promotion of it would lead to me being described in terms of the religious archetype “The Anointed” by someone with a graduate degree in biology! Because I equated the teaching of creationism with child abuse, I’ve raised the hackles of the “parent’s rights” crowd. They see in my words the specter of some sort of vast conspiracy by the state to forcibly educate their children. But I advocate something much narrower: Don’t lie to them. Teach them properly about science and the facts of life. Allow an impartial science panel to set binding curriculum standards. That is all.
Elisheva Hannah Levin is also a homeschooling mom, with a degree in special education. Though a scientist who accepts the theory of evolution, she still hasn’t worked out the importance of consistent standards which would prevent (among other things) the teaching of creationism as science. She sees the importance of scientific truth, but subscribes to a form of Steven Jay Gould’s NOMA, asserting that parents should still have the right to teach their children literalist creation stories. Levin wants to have it both ways.
Now my view is this: this is a free country. If people want to take the Genesis Creation stories (there are two such stories in Genesis) literally, that is their right. And if they want to believe that the world was created as the result of a cosmic battle of gods and goddesses, in which the body of Tiamat the Dragon Goddess was split in half to make the heavens and the earth, that is also their right. And I have no argument with it, so long as I am not asked to believe in Tiamat. And I also respect a person’s right to teach his/her children those beliefs. Again, as long as I may teach my own children my take on B’reshit (which is what Jews call the book of Genesis), and as long as I am free to teach my children science, I have no problem with such people. Mind you, I think they are wrong about it, but it’s a free country. I have no argument with them.
She begins her broadside by attacking my objectivity–quoting Thomas Sowell to mischaracterize my plea for fact-based education as a twisted form of religious zealotry:
(The Vision of the Anointed confers) a special state of grace for those who believe it. Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct, but morally on a higher plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who hold this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence. The benighted are to made “aware,” to have their “consciousness rasied,” and the wistful hope is held out that they will “grow.” Should the benighted prove recalcitrant, however, then their “mean-spiritedness” must be fought and the “real reasons” behind their arguments and actions exposed.
She then claims that my advocacy is worse than Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Compared those who hold the Vision of the Anointed, the Jehovah’s Witness at the door is just a walk in park. The Witness after all can only try to persuade you, and you can tell him to leave and he will do it. At worst, you will have to recycle the Watchtower pamplet.
She then picks at straws, claiming there is “no such thing as consensus science” (call it what you will, there is broad agreement on the basics), that the First Amendment is silent on matters of state support of religious education (hogwash), and that miseducation about science does not cause “malformation of the brain” (call it what you want, but kids who are taught creationism by authority figures grow up with erroneous beliefs–they have been taught not to question scripture, which damages their ability to think critically and be objective).
Then she takes the “Anointed” metaphor into the political realm, denying that society at large has any common objective interests whatsoever:
For example, notice that our Black Sun Messiah asserts: “Society at large has a duty to protect…” (Quote I) and “Society has a profound interest…” (Quote II). We, taking the argument to the rational grounds of give and take of empirical evidence, generally think of society as a group of people who have a multitude of differing interests, and a few common interests. But here, Society, with a capital “S” actually stands for the Anointed, the differentially Righteous, who by the grace of their rectitude and possession of the moral high ground, should have the power to direct our lives. Even more so, Society here stands for the coercive power of the state.
I (like most people) am severely distrustful of government control. I have always had strong libertarian leanings, and ironically used to read Thomas Sowell regularly at Capitalism Magazine. Lately I’ve become less inclined toward that school of thought. What’s changed my mind is that libertarians tend to ignore secondary impacts of their actions, as well as the intangible benefits they receive from society. True individualism requires that we keep ourselves in balance with the larger world, paying the hidden costs of our consumption (externalities), and reimbursing society for hidden benefits we receive.
No one is an island, we are all in this together. Seven billion people live on “Spaceship Earth.” Only the most naive isolationists think their actions do not affect others. If we want to understand and deal with those impacts, first we have to acknowledge they exist, and we are responsible for them. This realization is part of growing up intellectually–and it’s why I became an environmentalist.
Obviously, people will always get away with what they can–out of sight, out of mind. So sometimes it takes the hated government to come in and crash their party. To say “Hey, pay for cleaning up the toxic waste generated to create all those products you love.” To say “You can’t poison the water that other people’s children drink.” And, to come full circle to our educational question: To say “You can’t poison the minds of young children–yours or other people’s.”
Do I like the idea of jackboots coming to arrest some poor confused creationist homeschooling mom? Of course not. But what I like even less is losing a generation of 21st century children to recalcitrant parents who want to teach them bronze age legends as fact. Such children grow up and vote, and they vote for leaders who in turn corrupt science and perpetuate the problem. Teaching children lies is not a private matter. It is of grave concern to all citizens in a democracy.
The only way to break this cycle is through objectivity. The only way to decide what to teach children about science is to limit it to what can be proven. I’ll admit it’s a scary thought to people who are used to getting their way. But accepting unpleasant realities is also a part of growing up. Just because parents are adults doesn’t mean they are psychologically mature, or that they have come to terms with reality. We can’t let their tantrums corrupt a generation.
However we need to do it (and believe me, I’m open to suggestions), we need to establish an impartial objective panel to set the science curriculum for all schools, public, private, and home-based. We need to put parents on notice that they are accountable for their actions. If they want to teach their scripture as literature, by all means do so. But to use scripture to teach children to contradict what we know to be true about life on our planet is mendacious and borders on the criminal.
Levin still argues in this vein that people should have the right to be wrong:
The beliefs that some people teach their children also make me cringe. And it is extremely offensive to me when I am told I am going to hell because I do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But I understand the limits of my power in this situation. I have no positive right not to be offended. As long as I live in a free society, I must defend the rights of others to speech that may offend me deeply. And just as I have no right to force my ideas upon them, they also have not right to force theirs on me. That is what the first amendment right to free speech is about. Roger Williams, the Puritan founder (along with Anne Hutchinson) of the religiously free colony of Rhode Island, did not agree with the other Protestants and Quakers to whom he gave refuge. He thought and said that they were dead wrong. But he steadfastly maintained their right to be wrong. He said: “Those who are at the helm must remember what it is like to be in the hatches.”
The free-speech argument is admittedly strong. Normally I would agree. But again, the parental role is a powerful one, and comes with solemn responsibilities. Would we accept it if a parent repeatedly told their child the sky was red and the earth was flat? I mean it’s free speech, right? What if they wanted to teach their children not just martial arts, but that violence was the best way to resolve disputes and get ahead in life. Free speech, right? Or what if some parents taught their children that it was a fun prank to cry “fire” in a crowded theater. We’d lock up the kids and their parents, I’m sure. So there are already clear limits to parental free-speech. We have truancy laws. Clearly society recognizes an interest in proper children’s education. I advocate that this clear common interest should extend to cover parents who systematically lie to their children about settled questions of science.
This is as simple as it gets. It’s just common sense: Stop lying to your kids.
Excellent post and a perfect summation:
I couldn’t agree more.
Allowing a “double standard” for what children can be taught isn’t tolerated in most educational disciplines, why should evolutionary biology be the one to get singled out. Do children learn alternatives to Newtonian gravity? Are students taught alternatives to Relativity? Do people demand that different elemental tables be given equal classroom time?
Sadly, thanks to the obfuscation caused by religious zealots, creationism is blessed with a unique status in education. This doesn’t make it valid and teaching it is never going to be correct.
The problem is that people think of children as property instead of human beings with their own rights. Yes, children need care until they can take care of themselves, but they have rights too and one of those rights is to a good education. Parents lie to children from the day they are born and yet expect trust. When I was five and realized there was no Santa, I was furious at my mother for purposefully tricking me all of those years. Isn’t it sick to run a five year hoax on someone that you know is vulnerable to being tricked? Yet, somehow people think that it’s perfectly okay. The only difference between teaching kids about santa and God is that people are expected to be stupid enough to buy into the God thing for a longer period of time.
Cristy, yes. Santa and the tooth fairy are “starter gods.” Amazing how people justify them. And we get accused of being the Grinch for objecting.
But kids could have just as much fun if their parents couched these mythic figures as archetypes instead of real “invisible people.” What broader-minded kids they’d raise if they did that.
I took the time to read all the linked articles.
I can’t help but wonder if Elisheva Hannah Levin would support the free speech of homeschooling parents, who choose to teach their children that the Holocaust, (with a capital ‘H’) never happened.
The Holocaust is a lie!
Does believing or professing this make one ‘The Anointed’ or ‘The Benighted?’
Is it still ok to replace facts; and in its place teach an idealogical fiction, Elisheva? After all, it won’t cause brain malformation, (according to your blog.)
Someone is a tad hasty in considering their position, me thinks…
For the record; I don’t support the above bolded statement and I find it offensive. I would be quite content to see a governing authority impose a standard upon any parent who teaches that garbage; regardless of what they believe to be true.
It isn’t unreasonable to expect homeschooling parents to teach science as part of the curriculum.
Louis, thank you. It’s amazing how inconsistent people can be when it comes to protecting their little pet points of view from analysis.
I can imagine Elishiva’s hypothetical response (using her language and substituting a few words):
“Well, I don’t personally agree that the Holocaust is a lie, and I’m deeply offended by the assertion. But it’s a free country, and parents have the right to teach that to their children if that’s what they believe.”
And I think the consequences of miseducation about science could be far worse than miseducation about history.
Lets go a step further, and permit all parents to teach their children hatred of everything not part of their group.
Why not teach children that “izzigs”, the nazi name for jews, are the root of all economic and political evil, and that a group exists called the “elders of zions?”
Why not teach our children to despise the vietnamese gooks who kicked the great american army out of vietnam?
Is this the right of parents, to teach their children every nonsense around?
To not teach them to investigate any claims made by any authority? To teach them that some unholy book contains all the wisdom, even if this “wisdom” flies in the face of clearly visible evidence, by actually falsifying – not the theory by the evidence, but the evidence itself?
Is it not the obligation of parents to despite their own believes teach their children to think for themselves, to think critically, to be equip them, by teaching them to be sceptical of any unquestionable authoritative claims, to come to their own conclusions, and being able to defend them based on available evidence?
Parents who teach their children only their narrow religiously based “truth” that is blind to any contrary evidence, who take claims made in a holy book about the workings of the physical world as fact, are cheating their children of realizing their potential by trapping them into their web of “reality”, not permitting them to develop a view of reality based on their own observations, and the observations of those who took an approach to investigate the world and its underlying modus operandi, not based on religious authority but on testable facts.
Children are not property, children are beings full of potential, whose development this approach, this “freedom” of the parents, which runs counter to the freedom and rights of the children, (and it is by all means an abusive approach, as abusive as withholding medical care) stifles, delays or even destroys.
With her argument of parental freedom being an absolut right – where does this right stop?
Just short of killing them, as the good book advocates, when they raise the hand against their parent?
Black Sun wrote: “But I advocate something much narrower: Donâ€™t lie to them. Teach them properly about science and the facts of life”.
Let us start by showing them that nowhere does the fossil record show a transition from one creature to another.
Let’s explain to them that huge fossils in the sedimentary rocks could only be preserved if they were buried in an instantaneous and catastrophic inundation.
Let us teach kids about the intricacies and wonders of DNA and explain to them that creatures cannot add on to their DNA and develop into something diferent, they can only inherit from their parents.
Let us explain to them that mutations are never progressive. They do not create ‘new’ information.
Then let us teach them a bit of scientific history, like the blatant attempt to prove descent from apes by creating the fraudulent Piltdown Man, and the claim that a pig’s tooth was the intermediate form ‘Nebraska Man’.
That would be a good start.
By all means let’s have the actual facts
And everyone who disagrees with you gets a label? Messiah… The Anointed… the elite intelligentsia… etc.
Mind if I call you a hypocrite, Elisheva?
I like how she decides it is a bad question and doesn’t do much reflecting. That’s gold right there… Fools gold!
I like how she assumes the premise of what I asked, and gets it completely fucking wrong.
I made no mention of what Hitler could, or could not do. I also am well aware of the utter repressive nature of the Nazi Regime…
I equate standards of enforcing homeschooling curriculum, with enforcement of rules of the road, or any other standards that we consent to applying, as a society. It is a social contract we adhere to for the greater good.
The rules of the road don’t apply to me!
Only fringe loonies think removing standards and social contracts, (like licensing for the operation of a vehicle) infringes on their freedom. We set restrictions for a purpose, (one would expect based in reason) for functionality and the derived benefits.
Somehow having a standard, (like a drivers license) is equal to carting people off by the train load for internment and ultimately death?
Wrong Elisheva; completely and totally off the point.
Belief is just as valid as empirical evidence, so it is a parental right to choose which one, (or both) to impart to their children?
Basically, she does condone the right of parents to educating their children that the Holocaust was a hoax, but can’t actually bring herself to say the words.
That is the crux of the problem; parents are replacing history, science, geology and a host of other subjects, to teach what they believe.
You can’t standardize belief because it is entirely subjective. Belief has no place in a standardized educational curriculum.
If you intellectually get the above sentence; you’ll see that religion can be studied.
It is one thing to study an ideology. It is entirely different to practice it.
Studying a political system, does not require you to become a card carrying member, or belief in that system. It also doesn’t mean you can’t study other political structures.
That is the fundamental difference between education and indoctrination.
Are you are fighting for the right of parents to indoctrinate their children and suppress an education, Elisheva? That would make you very uncool in my books; as would dismissing the question as bad, and not giving it much reflection.
@Peter, exactly. Kids inherently trust the authority figures around them (they have no choice). So only the most cynical and delusional would defend taking advantage of that opportunity and indoctrinating young minds. But it seems that’s what it takes for them to prop up their pathetically warped view of life–that their helpless spawn now parrot it back to them like little marionettes. It’s really sick and twisted.
@Tony Bennett, you crack me up. Seriously–this is a joke, right? I can’t tell if you’re a shill for the Discovery Institute, or if you’re making fun of them. It’s so patently absurd that either way it collapses into self-parody.
@Louis, thanks for the deconstruction. Elisheva proves that you can get advanced science degrees without learning a shred of critical thinking skills. I think I’m starting to understand just how devious and self-serving the human brain becomes when faced with information it finds inconvenient. The more things change…
What a waste of perfectly good writing space. At least tony could sing – you can’t even think, all you can do is throw around baseless assertions, forgetting that even at present fossils are created ar every moment, that mutations are happening even in the human population right now, and that the DNA evidence links us all. Read a beautiful book – your inner fish, if you want to learn something.
But a troll from the discovery institute is also a mutation. Maybe over the long run not a successful one, but time will tell.
The idiocy of this statement is obvious to anybody – like me – who ever had anything to do with agriculture and “human selection”.
There is only one little difference, which the discovery institute and its adherents never undertstood, because they never ever READ Darwin.
Darwin made one leap: he realized that the targetted breeding efforts of a farmer, who relies on mutations to further the development of plants and animals, happens in nature in a non targetted form, by allowing those better equipped to procreate in a specific environment to prosper and multiply.
That is the wjole difference. To say that mutations cannot add information is simply showing utter ignorance as to how replication works, and flies in the face of any, absolut any, observable evidence. See the human genome project and all the others for further clues.
Peter wrote: “…forgetting that even at present fossils are created at every moment”.
But they’re not. Creatures die. Their remains are eaten by other creatures or decompose in the water or air. The conditions for fossilisation are an immediate deprivation of oxygen and water – conditions only possible if the creature is suddenly buried. Only then can the process of petrification of these fossilised creratures (or plants) begin.That’s a fact worth telling primary school children, so they understand that something very major must have caused all those trillions of creatures, some of them enormous, to have been fossilised.
P.S. Name me one clear example in the fossil record of any one creature that has been transformed into another due to the alleged process of evolution. Just one will do fine
Peter wrote: “Darwin made one leap: he realized that the targetted breeding efforts of a farmer, who relies on mutations to further the development of plants and animals…”
No. Darwin didn’t use mutations. He used cross-breeding. He MIXED two creatures (or plants) together. Like crossing an Alsatian with a Collie, or a Pekinese with a Corgi.
You can only SELECT from what is there already.
Will humans ever develop a third eye or leg, purple hair or ten fingers on each hand?
No. Because we were DESIGNED without those features.
Take off your evolutionary blinkers and see the hand of design in every creature.
Did the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly just ‘evolve’ over millions of years?
Just read the paleantological literature and you find transitional forms galore.
He did not mix plants, he used genetic material encapsulated in sperm and ovum of two varieties. But where do you think the varieties came from in the first place? From the skyfairy?
As an agrologist – you find an animal with traits different from the rest of the herd, which shows marked improvement in whatever you want to improve. Where does this improvement come from? The skyfairy meddling?
You select this animal, and breed it further, enhancing its chances of survival by human agency and to have more offspring. Same in nature.
Do not imply something I didn’t say – obfuscation and outright lying seems to be the hallmark of the ID/creationist crowd. I said he made a leap by concluding that what the breeder does by selection through human ageny, nature does through selection.
I am sorry man, but I cannot provide you here with a course in genetics, embryology, basic biology, paleaontology, parasitology, bacteriology, physiology, crop production, geology, etc. of which I obviously have forgotten more over fifty years than you seem to have ever learned. There are people out there providing you with the basics that have a lot more knowledge than me in each specific field, and I am just trying to keep up – somewhat.
Your insistence in the creationist nonsense keeps you back and you just fall further behind.
And forget about I would do the same “argument from authority” trick. Those textbooks are based on testable, falsifyable evidence, if so inclined you can do the experiments yourself.\
Your evidence just does not exist. It is based on the writings of some obscure bronce age nomads who needed some story to back up the rights to their land.
I feel sad about anybody stuck between those pages of mostly atrocious writing.,
Get the approbriate textbooks and study, this is the only advice I can give you.
Peter wrote: “Just read the paleantological literature and you find transitional forms galore”.
REPLY: Much as I thought, ask a simple question of an evolutionist to back up his theory and he fails at the first hurdle.
What you find in the palaentological literature is certainly not ‘transitional forms galore’ but, rather, a handful of creatures which are *claimed* to be transitional forms but usually, in fact invariably, on closer inspection turn out to be nothing of the sort.
Come on, in all seriousness, give me one example, you are a scientist! – documented in the fossil record, of how Creature A, little step by little step, transformed itself into Creature B.
You have a real problem, a big problem.
There is no such evidence in the fossil record. hence you bluster
I see you’re not joking after all. But before you go getting all puffed up, you might want to learn to use Google. Type in “fossil examples of evolution” and here’s what you get at the top of the page (a pretty comprehensive site).
And this is just one example of the vast and irrefutable record on this subject. You also might want to read the heavily footnoted Wikipedia article. In the age of the internet, it’s getting harder and harder to hide from the truth (but you clowns sure try).
So go read and learn the facts, and stop advertising your towering stupidity. You’re one comment away from being banned. This is a site for rational discussion. If you can’t even bother to perform the most basic internet search for the evidence you accuse others of not having, you have just turned into a troll.
BTW – I am not a scientist, I am an interested observer of science. I have however studied agrology with emphasize in ecomomy of agriculture, and I have also spent years as a tech in laboritories helping to design and evaluating and documenting experiments in the biophysical/biochemical sciences. I alo was a rockhound who collected and studied paleaontogical specimen for years, collecting my own evidence.
I will not name any species, as from my and other experiences your kind tend to shift always the goalposts of what constitutes a transitional species. This makes arguing with folks like you about any specifics like wrestling with pablum.
Exactly my point.
While I identify with your frustration, the “shoe on the other foot” argument actually struck a chord with me given the significant in-roads being made by evangelicals and/or fundamentalist Christians into public life and public schools, in particular: Academic Freedom Bills; moments of silence; Bible as Literature; Religious Freedom Days; recent christianist Congressional Resolutions (S Res. 483, H Res.888, H Res. 847, etc.); science teachers skipping past evolution to avoid conflict; Christians choosing the teaching profession for the purpose of “reaching lost children”…. (I could go on for some time, as you know.) As a homeschooler myself, I have actually been making the argument lately that secular homeschoolers may be among the few actually getting solid, untainted science education these days. It’s just a hunch; but, I do worry about these “anti-materialist” views making their way into schools. When I hear about “impartial objective panels,” “scientific consensus” and such, however, I get chills. It reminds me of the new creationist double-speak (academic freedom, critical analysis…) — and double-edged swords.
Another quick thought: This movement thrives on “persecution.” Curtailing freedoms, as you seem to be suggesting, would cause this stuff to explode in popularity overnight.
On third arms and proof of transition. Um, Tony, there are people with three arms, and other extra limbs or facial features. Studies in pigs and turtles have found that not all of these variances are due to issues with twinning (embryo fails to seperate completely or merges in womb). As proof of selective breeding adding new traits, my evidence is….miniture horses! European breeds of Miniture horses come from only from selective breeding of larger horse and pony breeds, and their development is historically recorded. You will be able to find similar occurances in other domesticated species. Look at Chihauhas do you honestly think that there are wild Chihauhas running around somewhere?
As to the argument that no one has ever observed one species becoming another (technically not true, see HELA cells), here’s a great comic that just about says it all http://saintgasoline.com/2007/12/01/refuting-creationists-with-only-a-bucket-of-feces/.
The “devil” is in the details. Obviously, any political body can be corrupted. After all, the creationists have now started their own fake science journals so they can get their fake papers published.
So we can be sure they’d like to stack the science panels with their own–ensuring their creationism a place at the science table.
My point is that in order to be credible, science panels would have to stick to provable facts–which would exclude creationist pseudoscience. We’d need a kind of constitution of objectivity.
This is why the “shoe on the other foot” argument doesn’t bother me in the least. Science and secularism are not belief systems. To outlaw them, you’d have to repeal the laws of physics.
It would be nice if our parents would just teach us what is really known and not just about there beliefs. However, I think we have along way to go before that happens. I heard all this stuff about what will happen to us and the world when we reached the year 2000. Now, since none of that happened, the target year is 2012. The year the Mayan calendar ends.
When we have been taught a belief since childhood as fact, it is a programing that is hard to break. I would like to believe there is a better life waiting after this one but, there is no evidence of it from a scientific point. This is the only thing we can go by if we do not except just a belief system. Since this is still a free country, parents do have the right to teach their kids what they themselves believe. It will have to remain that way if we are to remain a free country. Only time and hopefully, clear thinking, will make the difference.
If we’re going to require education without standards, why require education at all? If parents are free to teach their children anything they want, shouldn’t they be free to to teach them nothing? What is the point of compulsory education in the first place?
I have a slogan for the campaign: “Americans for content-free education”
Just because standards are devilishly difficult to agree on in a free society doesn’t mean that we can give up. I am affected by the education your child receives. Your child is not yours alone. Doesn’t anyone read The Prophet any more?
I have not understood anyone to be advocating restrictions on the freedom of parents to teach their beliefs. What I have seen advocated is preventing parents from teaching their beliefs as the only truth, and isolating their children from contradictory views.
If free speech is a primary foundation of a free society, its purpose is to expose every view to the light of public debate, the marketplace of ideas. Some views will found to be powerful and convincing; others will be found to be lacking. If what some parents view as the truth cannot stand up to scrutiny, that is a reflection on the view, not the marketplace. The solution is a better idea, not censorship.
Science, by the way, does not need to be sheltered against competing points of view, either scientific or non-scientific. It should not be understood as Revealed Truth, in the way scripture is presented. Science is a method of inquiry based on particular principles. Using this method of inquiry, people (including “scientists”) have developed a body of knowlege that is generally accepted. That body of knowledge is constantly changing, and the “laws” involved are constantly being refined, or qualified. Anyone can challenge established scientific “truth” by enging in scientific inquiry, but attempting to overturn science by reference to revelation is quixotic in the extreme, and attempting to present revelation AS science is a logical contradiction.
Those of us who advocate standards in the teaching of science might do best to back away from focusing on the result of scientific inquiry as The Truth and emphasize the scientific method in education. Evolution is not a Revealed Truth, it is a product of scientific inquiry; looking at various beliefs, such as creationism, evolution, and intelligent design, through the lens of the scientific method pretty quickly distinguishes which is the result of science and which is not. I would be happier having young people who have never been taught the word evolution but who can apply the scientific method to the study of life, understand how to set up and conduct a scientific experiment, and apply standards of logic and critical thinking to the world around them than the reverse (even while believing that an understanding of evolutionary principles is critical to virtually every area of human inquiry).