A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A number of news items have recently come out which raise the question about the future of education and inquiry in this country. Some science museums/IMAX theaters in the south have refused to play films which mention the role of evolution out of fear of evangelical reactions. A bill is being considered in Florida that would allow students to sue college professors if their views are not represented in the course, such as creationism.

Medical evidence by doctors which examined Terri Shiavo showed she had no cerebral cortex. Yet the language of the right suggested this evidence was ignored in their efforts to rally their supporters. In medicine, the sciences, and in the universities of this country the possibility of empirical evidence and the results of the best inquiries we have in the subject in question can be stopped if there is a religious group which has decided to target it.

Let's say that the purpose of religion is to search out what features of existence have a salvific quality to it such that we ought to turn ourselves to this if we are to be transformed to the best possible. If so then the knowledge of the world derived from the sciences could prove to be valuable for the religious quest. But today much of religion has pitted itself against the sciences. Thus these conflicts which are affecting our schools and other areas of life.

And many evangelical groups have applaued the voters of Kansas 71% of whom passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Such amendments in other states have been used to end any form of domestic partnerships, usually starting with employees who work for the state. This is the public face of religion...it's an uphill battle for those of us who think that religion can have something positive contribute to the greater society.


At 12:10 PM , Blogger Alan said...

I absolutely agree with you. When was the last time we heard anything about what evangelicals actually stand *for*? All we ever hear is what they stand against: Recent news stories I've seen: 1) They're against interfaith participation in a national day of prayer, 2) They're against a "day of silence" illustrating the bullying of LGBT kids in schools, 3) they're against "Take your daughter to work day", 3) they're against teaching evolution, 4) they're against stem-cell research, 5) they're against... Well, just about everything as far as I can tell.

I can never tell what these people are actually *for*. (Well, I guess that isn't completely accurate...they seem to be for persecution.) I'm sure they would say that they're for spreading the truth, but honestly, I can't remember the last time I heard one of these evangelicals even mention Jesus.

Sorry off on a rant, I guess. I'm just a little annoyed because I live in Michigan and they're scheming to steal my husband's health care benefits.

At 3:40 PM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

1)How surprising is it that parents object to paying government employees to teach their children something the parents consider false?

2)'Salvific' is a cool word.

At 3:58 PM , Blogger Chris T. said...


Public education is not supposed to be about teaching only those things which no one is bothered by. We teach the truth about war crimes committed by various totalitarian states, which may not sit well with members of movements sympathetic to those governments, we teach health classes even though Christian Scientists oppose using medical care, and yes, we teach evolution, even though some Christians fall prey to the heresy of biblical idolatry, believing that the Creation story must be read literally by all Christians. None of the findings of these fields are 100% beyond dispute, but they represent the best approximations of the truth humans have been able to attain.

If you want only programs you like to be funded, you have to allow pacifists to opt out of funding the military, murderers and tax evaders to opt out of paying judges' salaries, Democrats from paying for the President's travel budget, etc. Government can't function that way—so rather than asking for special treatment for a few theocrats, why not just sit back and pay your taxes like Jesus told you to?

At 8:30 PM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

Chris T;

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

It's not that I only want programs I like to be funded; That's true of all of us, and those of us who vote wote accordingly.

It's that I don't expect programs opposed by a majority to be funded. If we have local control of schools then we're going to have, surprise, local control of schools.

At 11:53 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

Is there not a nice happy compromise, where the sciences of biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy are taught in science classes, and matters of religious belief taught in a class designed for equipping people to analyse and understand beliefs for themselves?

Preserve that, and all will be well. If people decide creationism simply doesn't jive with reality, well, all to the good. As long as both sides have the decency to leave the other alone in the class/subject where it belongs, we'll be fine.

At 12:50 PM , Blogger Chris T. said...


I'm still worried about this idea. If what you envision had been the case in the 1960s, schools would have remained segregated despite court orders because most taxpayers wouldn't support integrated schools.

At some point we have to recognize that we live in a republic, not a democracy, and that the safeguards put in place to take care of minorities, whether racial, gender-based, or ideologically-oriented, have a significant positive influence on our country. Mob rule does not produce good people or good institutions, and there is a certain kind of wisdom in not adapting school programs to what the majority wants or believes.

At 5:20 PM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

Chris T:

there is a certain kind of wisdom in not adapting school programs to what the majority wants or believes

There's something to what you say. How would you impose your preferred curriculum against the wishes of the voters? Remember, you have to do it in a way that won't allow others to do the same in reverse. If you set up a mechanism to override local schoolboards, how will you keep that mechanism from being used by the bad guys to do the same thing later?


Is there not a nice happy compromise...?

I'm thinking probably not. Both sides are too eager to use the issue to fire up the base. There may be compromise in the sense that nobody gets what they want, but I don't expect much niceness, present company excepted.

At 9:29 AM , Blogger coffee goddess said...

I thought that school was about offering a challenging experience to raise and prepare students to become articulate adults capable of problem solving.

If we are censoring their education by limiting what is taught to only that which a vocal majority deems appropriate, then we are removing the aspect of challenge. In essence, the learning process becomes no longer one of education, but one of indoctrination (and that vocal majority becomes even bigger as a result).

I think we do our children far bigger a favour by teaching them in such manner that applies to all society and not part of it.

The process of education continues in the home. Why would secular thoughts and ideas be a threat unless discussion of what is being taught at school is not happening at home? What a wonderful opportunity for dialogue!

At 10:07 AM , Blogger Chris T. said...

I'm not sure who the "bad guys" are, but in any case, we ought to give at least *some* benefit of the doubt to what legitimate academic fields find, and we ought also to keep in mind the methodologies used in those fields. If there are criticisms of the methodologies, the place for those to be worked out is academe, not school boards, where the members typically have no clue about scientific methodology.

So it is in my opinion criminal to teach creationism in a biology classroom setting since the claims of creationism are not falsifiable, a key point for any scientific theory. Such claims could be taught in a world religions course or even a special course on various origins myths.

The problem is, creationists don't seem to want even that kind of free and open environment for intellectual discussion. They want the Biblical creation story taught in science classes (an inappropriate intrusion, since that would be the only "theory" expounded in class that is not falsifiable), they do not want evolution taught anywhere, and they do not want the creation myths of other religions taught, either.

Certainly there is the potential for abuse here. Until the late 1990s, psychologists were doing bad science and coming to the conclusion that homosexuality was a mental disorder. But I don't think one should throw the entire system out the window because there is that potential for abuse.

At 1:55 PM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

Chris T:

I am worried about the potential for abuse. Suppose you do manage to build a mechanism to override the wishes of the parents. In spite of them and their local elected officials, their children are taught what you (and I; I'm no creationist, nor Biblical literalist either), and all the best and wisest educators think best. What happens when someone else gets control of this mechanism? These are the hypothetical "bad guys" I'm talking about. What will they require our grandchildren to be taught in twenty years?

Local control of schools won't give everyone the best possible education. But local control also makes it much harder for anyone to impose some national curriculum, if for good now maybe for ill later. Is it worth the trade off? Reasonable people can disagree. But if people disagree how will we decide what to do? I guess we'll vote on it.

I've enjoyed the discussion, and I'll continue to follow it. But I think I'm starting to repeat myself, so I probably won't post further.

At 2:40 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I don't think it's a question of local control or setting any new mechanisms up. The courts have already ruled that teaching creationism gives gov't endorsement of a particular kind of religion.

But my concern is the conditions which have been created, particular in religious communities, where they find the sciences a threat. And secondly their insistence that all of us must live in a world shielded from things they find to be a threat.

Which means robbing American students the possibility of understanding biology and the central organizing principle of it. I worry that there won't be places, where exposure to ideas which animate the sciences can be had in our society.

The dilemma is how can we come to understand our religious faith in a manner which welcomes dialogue with the sciences and mutual understanding. How we can move to the point of valuing free inquiry in greater areas of our public life. And how can we move to be a society that would rather be challenged by facts than legislate against them.

I think the church could play a key role in this or at least ought to, given the idea that this is God's world and that by knowing more about the world we live in we discern more about the character and work of God.

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