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I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

23 July 2009

Accomodationist Drivel

The NCSE has a point... their role is to promote the teaching of evolution/natural selection in public schools in the U.S., and it is therefore detrimental to their goals to estrange theistic evolution supporters. The validity of their argument ends there, however. It is not ethical, much less feasible, to deny reality in the hopes that some theistic evolutionist will then support their attempts to keep creationism out of the classroom. Kevin Padian, of NCSE, states that
Creationists—people who deny evolution because it conflicts with their religious precepts—often tell us that whether we accept a naturalistic or a supernatural explanation of the world around us is a philosophical choice: a belief. They're not wrong. That first decision—what kind of “knowledge” is going to be privileged in your mind—is ultimately a question of belief, a leap of faith, a decision about truth, if you care to use the term at all.

Well, Kevin, you have some serious flaws in your underlying assumptions that you have neglected to examine, or even state. A naturalistic world view is not based on faith or belief, but more accurately disbelief. I, and others who adopt that world view, choose to accept the evidence of our own senses (extended by scientific instruments) rather than one that includes supernatural sources as causes for natural phenomena. This isn't a belief, it's pure rationality. There is no reason to assume a supernatural cause for anything that can be explained by natural causes. Only poor logic or underlying assumptions based on faith would cause someone to make such a leap, and neither of those constitute anything resembling evidence. Likewise, the failure of naturalistic explanations doesn't imply that supernatural explanations are valid, it means that the naturalistic explanations currently available aren't valid. It's a bit sad that someone who deals in science, a study founded purely in reality, feels the need to lend credibility to unreal concepts.

Padian continues
And that brings us to the students who never learned much about science, but were brought up with conservative religious views. Will it make sense to them to tell them that “evolution is true,” even if you give them a lot of examples of evolution at work? Will they listen in the first place, particularly if they think that your teaching is going to be hostile to their beliefs?

Well, perhaps it isn't enough to tell someone who hasn't been exposed to the science that evolution is "true" and then simply guide them through the evidence. It is quite likely, from anecdotal experience at least, that they will simply shut their mind if not their ears to the evidence as it is presented, or that they will co-opt it to fit their beliefs where appropriate. Does that mean we shouldn't present the evidence? Some people will refuse to accept evidence of a number of things, even if it is painfully obvious, if said evidence conflicts with dearly held beliefs. Yet, there are those that it may eventually reach. Are we to abandon that attempt because people choose to be willfully ignorant?
Addressing the last point, I would have to say no. There are people who will cling to their beliefs in the teeth of the prevailing evidence, and there may be no reaching them. So be it. A course in logic and reasoning might be a better way of beginning that discussion than the evidence for evolution, but fundies demonstrate a profound inability to identify their own logical fallacies whilst attempting to point out those of other people. Pretending that there is a way to reconcile (insert creation story here) with the science is doing a disservice to those people who might actually want to learn something. I'm not saying we demand that they abandon their belief systems all at once, but I don't agree with the need to coddle them: educational curricula aren't determined democratically.
Then again, what should I have expected from an article/book review that begins thus"

John is the only one of the four evangelists who recounts Jesus' (possibly apocryphal) statement to Pilate that he was in fact a king whose role was “to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Pilate is said to have replied to this, “What is truth?”

What is truth Kevin Padian? Something which you aren't interested in promoting...



  1. Yeah, I'm thoroughly annoyed by the NCSE telling religious people how to reconcile evolution with their faith. Their job is to teach about evolution and let the religious folk perform (or not perform) whatever psychological contortions are necessary to make it all fit--end of story. If there's anything I like almost as little as anti-science fundies writing and lecturing about science, it's the armies of the godless, from Gould to Eldridge to Padian, giving advice on religion. Teach the f*cking evidence and let the pastors sugarcoat it to the faithful.

  2. Gould and Eldridge should have known better... I wonder at times how much of their reconciliation with the religious was out of a desire to snub Dawkins' criticism of Punctuated Equilibrium. I would hope not, but....

  3. That's an interesting idea. I'm specifically thinking of Eldridge's The Monkey Business, a 1980s work criticizing creationism in which he specifically advocates a day-age interpretation of Genesis. (It doesn't help, of course. The Genesis cosmological story has problems that go way beyond the question of how long a day is.) For Gould, I had the notorious Rocks of Ages in mind, in which he introduces the idea of NOMA, the "seperate spheres of knowledge" argument. It's not helped, of course, by the fact that he clearly doesn't believe what he's writing.

    But even Dawkins is guilty of this: in a recent interview with some wackjob from Concerned Women for America, he recommends the Anglican Bishops' theistic evolution gruel as an alternative to creationism. It would really strike me as much more sincere if the people advocating TE were limited to Miller and Collins, who, for whatever reasons, actually believe it. Suggesting that other people adopt beliefs that you do not yourself hold for the sake of getting them to believe in evolution comes across as disengenuuous and mercenary, and I plain don't agree with the tactic. I don't mean to belabor the point, but it's also a baseless argument argument from popularity (Genie Scott likes to do this, too): blah-blah-millions of Americans simultaneouly believe in God and evolution. Somehow, then, this is evidence for the compatibility of faith and science, and not evidence of compartmentalized thinking or widespread ignorance. Yet, millions of Americans thinking that dinosaurs rode on Noah's Ark is, simultaneously, not evidence for that point of view. Diplomacy has its place in these matters, of course, but accomodationism generally strikes me as politics at its worst: neutering your message to appeal to an audience who won't like you any better for it.