Saturday, February 24, 2007

Monkey Girl - The Cause of my Evolving Migraine

First off, let me start by saying that *I am biased* in regard to my opinions surrounding the issues in this debate. Furthermore, I don’t think there is anyone involved in this debate who is not biased. Humes may have thought that an unbiased account would be the proper way to go about writing this book, but in the end, his bias is blatantly obvious, and my personal opinion is that he had very specific views about the controversial issues surrounding this debate before he even started writing. I believe it is *perfectly* acceptable to write in regard to your own personal views of the issues, but let’s just be honest about that fact upfront.

I am going to comment on portions of the book as I read them. I realize that this is not the best way to post a review because I may voice concerns about a particular issue that Humes addresses in greater detail later in the book, but, nevertheless, I’m going to post about portions of the book that bother me as I come upon them. If that approach bothers you, don’t read the posts. Thanks.

Right from the start it seems that Humes is going to place ID squarely in the realm of religious thought and zealous fanaticism.

ID = creationism, biblical literalism, fundamentalism, fanaticism. Goodness so many -isms!

The first paragraph sets up his objective quite nicely:

The Reverend Jim Grove is a wiry and intense man, his eyes burning and birdlike as he takes the measure of each person entering the ninth-floor federal courtroom in downtown Harrisburg. He is among the first people whom visitors encounter as they arrive to watch the trial billed in the media as the second coming of the legendary Scope Monkey Trial. “Yes,” Grove says, “it’s a monkey trial all right. And the evolutionist are the monkey.” He does not smile when he says this. [ my emphasis]
Not doubting for a second that Humes portrayal of Rev. Jim is accurate, it is just frustrating that this is the the person that Humes chooses to classify as the norm when considering people who support ID or creation science. Then he rolls right on to describing some creation scientists and a Texan preacher by the name of Dave Reagan in the same fanatical way. I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt, and I’ve never met people who display such fanaticism. I’m absolutely sure they exist, but I certainly do not believe they are the norm.

From the start, Humes equates ID with creation science, and that conclusion can only be made due to a person’s speculation about what they think is really at the surface of this debate. If we consider the science alone, ID in no way resembles creation science except that both concepts accept the notion that there is something responsible for the design we see in nature.

Then we move on to the Dover school board members, and as Bill Buckingham was the board chairman during the Dover circus act, Humes paints a very dire picture of poor Bill. He is described as “bullheaded and indefatigable”. Two quotes allotted to him are “I had more luck than brains”, and “I’d rather take a beating than back down”. He was “primed” for a religious experience after being “born again” due to witnessing the deaths of two children during his job as a cop. He had changed churches and accepted the fundamentalist** belief that the Bible is the “literal inspired word of God.” [Oh the horror!] Due to injury he becomes “unemployable” and addicted to OxyContin. Evidently his grammar sucks as well, because Humes quotes him as saying “I wasn’t afraid of nothing”.

Sheesh....dire painting of Bill’s picture. But on to the other characters of the book...

The science department at Dover is praised extensively and Humes mentions that though the teachers referred to evolution primarily as “changes over time” and the principles of common descent were taught, the teachers avoided getting into the evolution of man. Though, it is interesting that the science teacher he lauds in his tale had wanted a mural hung in the hall that was “given as a gift” by a student to the science department. It depicted various stages of evolution from primate to human, and evidently someone hauled it off and burned it (or so the story goes). Not particularly a big deal that the science teacher would have liked to see it hung, but it seems to me that there may have been the remote chance that the science teachers might have added more friction to the debate than Humes lets on. The fault seems to be placed entirely on the school board members. At any rate, it is obvious that there is no one either in the science department or on the BOE who is considering these issues as adults. It appears that from the start there is bickering back and forth and philosophical and religious issues surfacing at every turn. Humes implies that problems surfacing in Dover have been caused by the board members and their alluded to ignorance of science, and that those in the science department are merely trying to defend their position (which is of course correct beyond question).

We also are told that there are those involved in this Dover fiasco who would have liked to “crush evolution and wipe it from the blackboards”. There is also an underlying suggestion that many of these type of fanatical creationists are part of a larger group who want to put laws in place that advocate a “no-hold-barred advocacy of Christianity by government fiat”.

I know how the description of the “facts” can be twisted and spun to favor ones own bias. I watched the media and pro-evo. groups tear our Kansas board members apart and put a spin on anything they did or said to make them look like fanatical loons. I contacted a few of the board members on occasion to see if what was said about them was true, because if it was, I thought they should definitely be committed to a local psychiatric ward. But, after speaking with them, it was blatantly obvious that their words and actions had been stretched & spun beyond belief.

Regardless of what Humes portrays in this book, we have fanatics preaching from both sides of this debate. Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, et. al. scream to the rafters that religion is turning our nation into religious zombie idiots, and on the other side we have the over zealous preachers screaming that everyone who doesn’t believe their particular version of scripture will be going to hell. AND SCIENCE IS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE. It’s seriously out of control, and people need to take a deep breath and consider whether they are actually working with those on the other side in an effort to understand each other and fix the problems or if we are pushing the problems to a point where communication is no longer an option.

In the first three chapters of Humes book, he describes the problems that we find on one side of this debate. He is silent as to ~why~ these people have reached the point of appearing fanatical and doesn’t bother to mention that there are people from the other side raging war like words against those who hold religious beliefs dear. I have to wonder if those who support evolution ever stop and really listen to the concerns from the other side rather than simply wave them off and start right in with the name calling. I watch PZ’s blog fairly regularly and it is a rare occurrence to see someone, who supports his scientific assumptions, stand up to him and tell him that he is causing his opposition to fight even harder. What is wrong with scientists that they simply ignore this type of behavior? As for the other side, do those who support ID ever voice their concerns when they think that someone from their side of the debate has gone too far in their actions toward their opposition? I have, but I can tell you (without my bias talking) that the Darwinist, anti-ID blogs and websites are much worse in how they treat people. At times they act subhuman. Yes, we can all get caught up in this type of behavior and I have at times said things I shouldn't, but that should not be the norm.

I also think that Christians need to be leary of anyone who is trying to turn the nation into a “Christian Nation” in the political sense. I don’t want to get into that in this particular post, but Christianity was never about ruling government and that type of agenda will lead to serious problems, IMO.

Humes also seems to blame this controversy for dumbing down science. He writes:
As the school board continued to focus on and question all things evolutionary, he [Rehm/physics teacher] found himself cutting back on certain class activities designed to get kids turned on to science. No one had ever criticized or questioned these lessons-quite the contrary, his students seemed to love them - but he started second-guessing himself. Such was the “chilling effect” of the board’s stated concerns about evolution, he’d later say - a legal term for pressure-induced self-censorship that he had never used or thought about before.
Sad. Know what? If the “scientific community” would actually consider addressing these issues with concern for parents, students, and teachers instead of using their “my way or the highway” arrogant attitudes, I truly believe that students would find these issues fascinating and the discussions would actually enhance their excitement about science.

We are horrifically *failing* at how we are handling this controvery, and I don’t see scientists actually trying to work on this problem. Sure, they gather together and try to figure out where they’ve gone wrong in getting the public to accept their interpretation of the issues surrounding the controversy. But, they never sit back and say, what could I do to understand these concerns better and ~make some concessions~ somewhere (the very first place to start would be to portray ID honestly).

I believe the Dover board did a pretty good job of making concessions toward the scientific community. It seems, from what the media and Humes tells us, that these folks were pretty solid, die-hard creationist and biblical literalists. But, in the end, did they vote to have creation science taught in the schools? No. Did they demand to have ID taught in the schools? No. So, what was all the rumpus about?

Let me tell you...

The board wanted a short paragraph read in the science classrooms...curious as to the wording? Here it is...

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered,. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. At theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the Origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses up on preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
This paragraph (which takes about 1 minutes to read) was to be read to the class before the introduction of evolution. Yup, this little paragraph that the board approved sent a group of parents into such a frenzy that they sued the school district. Unbelievable isn’t it? Especially since the statement is completely accurate, though the board didn’t advocate teaching ANYTHING in regard to creation science or ID in the the public school science classes.

Now, Humes would have us believe that the board would have liked to do much more than present that small paragraph, but that they knew the science teachers wouldn’t support or agree to it. So, guess what? They compromised....but that apparently wasn’t good enough. It is shocking to me that people would sue over something like this. I have heard murmurs from the pro-Darwin crowd that a lawsuit might be attempted by disgruntled parents here in Kansas who are upset about the latest turn of events regarding our science standards. I will go on the record as saying that, in my opinion, a lawsuit in regard to this matter is a mistake. Lawsuits in regard to these issues get seriously ugly and there is no point in stoking the fire further. Education is needed coming from both sides of this debate, and meaningful communication and concession needs to be considered.

Humes approach is like so many of the other books, blogs, and articles regarding the issues of this debate. Those from both ends of the issue point out the fanatics preaching warnings to their groupies about the views from the other side. But, guess what? The majority of US citizens fall in the middle somewhere and would like nothing better than to get to a point where these issues can be discussed in an open, honest, fair way without censorship, name calling, fear tactics, etc. surfacing at every turn. Why can’t someone write a book looking for a way to solve this crappy situation we’ve found ourselves in? I mean, do people actually believe that eventually one side will prevail and the opposing view will be buried until the end of time? Sheesh, this is the way wars are started, and it seems that this culture war is getting worse all the time.

There is a real need to stop making assumptions about religious and philosophical issues surrounding this debate and start *listening* to each other and considering the actual science being presented. At times, I read that those in the “scientific community” are trying to figure out how to approach this growing “problem” with “creationism”, assuming that if they teach the community “how science is done”, and learn how to communicate better with the public that this “problem” will go away. The general idea is that if they can teach the poor ignorant masses, the public will reject those “old fashioned” religious ideas and science will benefit greatly. That approach is probably going to fail.

Tell ya what...the first thing that the “scientific community” needs to do is to ~present ID accurately~. Let that be your starting point, and if you feel you are already presenting it accurately, check with someone from the ID side to be ~sure~ that you are. Communicate! Work together...act like adults.

Okay, I got a few things off my chest, so I’m feeling better for the time being. Now, on to the next chapter! I must forge ahead irregardless of that evolving migraine.

**Readers should be aware that there is a difference between “fundamentalism” and “traditional Christianity”. The first has a particular outlook on end time prophecy that is relatively a new concept in the Christian church. I am a traditional Christian who believes in a “literal interpretation of scripture”, but as I learned early on in life, there are various interpretations of that phrase.