Pharyngula

Missouri screws up

I don’t know whether it’s by design or fortuitous incompetence, but creationists are masters of the fuzzy statement that opens the doors to all kinds of new opportunities for ignorance. Missouri, for instance, just passed a law giving themselves the freedom to pray (a freedom they already had, which is not in peril) and at the same time, just had to toss in this lovely and dangerous clause: no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.

Raise your hand if you think you can spot the potential problem there.

Missouri has just passed a law declaring that students can opt out of any part of the curriculum that they find objectionable to their faith, and we all know what that means: evolution and climate change are all now optional. And you know that that’s what this clause will be used for, to shut down big chunks of science that contradict religious idiocy.

And look at this. This is why I can’t tell sometimes if creationists are just incredibly stupid or incredibly cunning.

Mike Hoey, a supporter of the amendment and executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, thinks that Rosenau is “overanalyzing” the language in the amendment. “I don’t think this will affect science in the classroom in any significant way,” he says. “I think the vast majority of students will want to participate in all units of their science classes.” The amendment makes no mention of providing an alternative curriculum, Hoey adds. So any student who opts out of a biology lesson, he says, “will need to face the consequences” of missing those lessons.

Right. So putting that ‘objectionable’ material on the exams and making grades dependent on learning it will not be considered a way to compel students to perform or participate in work that goes against their religious beliefs? Nonsense. Hoey is being disingenuous here. Of course it will affect how science is taught. There are students who will, even in the absence of deep religious belief, use this clause to exempt themselves from difficult bits of their classwork.

Not only will it affect science teaching, its proponents intend for it to cripple instruction in evolution and any other science that crosses their benighted worldview. Hoey is either a liar or so brainless his eyes probably roll back into his cranium every time he looks up.

Comments

  1. #1 Nyetwerke
    Saint Joseph, Missouri
    August 17, 2012

    I read about this at Dr Phil Plait’s site and now see it here and I must go to pains to separate myself from the ill-conceived concepts that the ignoramuses around me display. In a turn of ruling, I suggested that the teaching of the controversy be indeed taught in the scientific method so that the theological error would be embarrassingly clear, if the majority of the citizens here can indeed be embarrassed by anything they do. If the teaching of the error in what is said to be “contentious” content (evolution and anthropocentric global warming) then it should be no problem to teach the error in the means to which the perceived contentious content is arrived at. In the scientific method, it would not be a questioning of faith but rather a questioning of the reasoning and evidence for validity of the arrival that evolution and other “controversial” topics are somehow not being “properly” viewed. It would soon be shown for the theological method to be vacuous and, as when Michael Behe testified on behalf of Intelligent Design in Judge Jones’ court in 2006, an “act of breathtaking inanity” on his part and the entire Intelligent Design community.

  2. #2 anonymous, embarrassed Missourian
    August 17, 2012

    I live in the St. Louis area. Before the election, a promoter of this initiative was interviewed on the boob-tube and said that some people feared that it would give Mooslims the right to pray and express their beliefs in public too, but don’t worry, that wouldn’t happen. SPLUT! Good luck getting that interpretation past the federal courts, boyo.

  3. #3 Donald A. Miller, Sr., USA Retired
    Joplin, Mo.
    August 17, 2012

    The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    August 17, 2012

    @Nyetwerke: The kindest description I can come up with for your post is “wishful thinking”. You seem to be arguing that we should teach creationism for the purpose of demonstrating that it is theologically unsound. That would be a reasonable thing to include in a class about religion. But even if it were taught in a religion class, let alone a science class, the amendment in question ensures that the students who most need to see it will claim a religious exemption to opt out of seeing it. (Or the parents will claim such an exemption on their behalf.) Your proposal does not address this problem.

    Not that I have a better solution. This amendment is likely to result in not just evolution, but climate change, geology, astronomy, and even set theory (which I have recently learned is also a target for fundamentalist ire) to not be taught in Missouri schools because students will be able to opt out of these topics without penalty.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    August 17, 2012

    Hoey (what a great name, given his job description) is right in a way:

    In Columbia schools, students already have the right to opt out of any assignments that conflict with their religious views. The most commonly challenged subject is evolution in biology classes, said Mike Szydlowski, district science coordinator.

    However, he said, often the problem is that families have an incorrect perception of what the district is teaching about evolution.

    “They hear evolution, and they have an impression oftentimes that we’re teaching about how humans were created or how humans evolved,” Szydlowski said.

    Instead, the curriculum focuses on “how plants and animals and organisms have changed over time,” he said. Typically, once families understand what’s being taught, they realize it’s not “challenging their beliefs at all,” he said.

    http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2012/aug/11/school-officials-say-prayer-law-wont-change/

    Missouri is already way past screwing up.

  6. #6 Another embarrassed Missourian
    Kansas City, MO
    August 17, 2012

    I was so sad to see that this amendment not only passed it but that the yes vote was almost 83%. I feel sorry for all the teachers that are going to have to deal with the problems this will create. Personally I think they just like to get these types of questions on the ballot because it encourages evangelical Christians to go to the polls. There has already been speculation that voters for this amendment also helped one of the republican senate candidates (Todd Akin) win the primary. Akin made a strong appeal to evangelical Christians in his TV ads. This is the same guy that thinks we should do away with federal funding for school lunch programs. I guess he thinks everyone should home school their children, just like he does.

  7. #7 Richard Simons
    August 17, 2012

    The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”.

    Parroting a quote does not make it true, even if it were relevant (the theory of evolution has nothing to say about the presence or otherwise of God or gods).

  8. #8 Phoenix Woman
    August 17, 2012

    It’s as if they want to guarantee that no Missouri kid can pursue a career in science (yes, that includes medicine), as no self-respecting college would accept science grades coming from a Missouri high school unless the student got a signed and notarized affidavit from his or her teacher stating that he or she didn’t skip out on the evolution parts of class.

  9. #9 the first embarrassed Missourian
    August 17, 2012

    I don’t think major changes to the law or state constitution should be allowed to be voted on in the primary election. Turnout is always much lower in the primary, which means that the most fervent political extremists have a disproportionate influence. (And sadly, more people will come out specially to vote FOR theocracy than will get off their butts to vote AGAINST it.)

  10. #10 Angelea Jolly
    Chicago
    August 17, 2012

    Teacher – this chemistry test violates by belief in alchemy.

  11. #11 Anotherplayaguy
    Northern CA
    August 18, 2012

    The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”.

    Let’s not forget that the Fools were the only ones who spoke the truth to power in the good old days.

    And what exactly does “saying in his heart” mean? More Biblical nonsense.

  12. #12 Sparky
    August 18, 2012

    Time for Missouri to secede. (shakes head)

  13. #13 BxSha
    New York, NY
    August 18, 2012

    LOL! And I thought Texas was stupid. Missouri needs to secede too.

  14. #14 Rugby
    London, UK
    August 18, 2012

    @Nyetwerke The thing is, there is no controversy outside of the insane parts of the Bible Belt. There’s precisely nothing controversial about the [scientific] theory of evolution, or anthropogenic climate change. They’re both scientific fact. Your misunderstanding (I’m assuming willful, at this point) and that of the entire “Intelligent Design community” (as you put it), is to not realise that when scientific theories are discussed, they categorically do not mean the same as when someone says “I have a theory about this topic”.

    A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. It isn’t just an idea someone had, it’s an explanation of the way an aspect of the world works assembled based on rigorous application of the scientific method The fact that you and others in the US even think there is some kind of controversy around it merely betrays your ignorance and wilful misunderstanding of the realities of the world around you. To assert that Intelligent Design is anything other than an idea someone had to try and couch creationism in a scientific-sounding manner, and is in fact on the same level as Darwinian evolution, is utterly ludicrous; there’s no way to assemble test hypotheses about “God did it” against experimental data, therefore it cannot and does not stand up to examination under the same criteria as evolution (or any other scientific theory, for that matter). It’s a fundamental (and fundamentalist) attack on the epistemology of science, the very foundation of how we know what we know about the world. Evolution is a reality, as is Newtonian physics, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or the laws of Thermodynamics. None of these contradict the idea of the Christian God, let alone any other kind of supreme being, just your narrow, literalist belief in an all-powerful father figure based on a 100-year-old Revivalist insanity that ran counter to 2000 years of Christian theology. This isn’t about Science versus Religion, this is about narrow-minded idiocy versus the reail world; there’s no genuine conflict between scientific knowledge and religious faith, they cover two entirely different realms of epistemology and human experience.

    So stop arguing there’s a controversy where none exists save in the minds of fundamentalist Christians who’d rather their children grew up not understanding the basic realities of the world (which, by the way, you need to to compete on an academic or social footing in the world or to go to university). With education policy based around religious lunacy and basic misrepresentations of, well, just about everything, is it any wonder the US lags behind every single developed country when it comes to the sciences, mathematics, and basic literacy? If you want to teach your children your theology, send them to church. Don’t force them to learn in a manner that puts them and all others at an enormous disadvantage purely because you believe the world is 6000 years old against every single piece of evidence.

  15. #15 Mo
    August 18, 2012

    Can Catholics duck out of class if creationism is being taught?

    Not that I every had any respect for the Catholic League and its ilk, but the fact that they don’t count “Christians don’t believe in evolution” as anti-Catholic makes me actively angry.

  16. #16 Anon
    South Africa
    August 18, 2012

    I think the cartoon shows the bigger problem here.

    Teaching evolution shouldn’t be the biggest conern, as it seems to have become in these comments (@Rugby even Darwin falsified evidence to prove his theory, and as far as I know Einstein’s theory of relativity is under fire at present). Besides has anyone leaving comments here needed to use evolution in any of their graduate studies or line of work? I am busy with my Masters degree and as a South African we don’t cover evolution in our science at school level. Not because of religious conflict, but because there are more important things to learn about at that age.

    As a Christian and as someone who believes the theory of evolution has its merrits, I think you should be more worried about those making these laws than worrying about whether scholars know about evolution. The bigger picture is being missed here.

  17. #17 ironbark
    Australia
    August 18, 2012

    I would like to now see the law tested by a student in a faith based school who refuses to attend religion classes based on his belief in evolution. Or better still sues a faith based school for failing to teach evolution and thereby has failed to provide and adequate education for public exams.

  18. #18 Greg M
    St Louis MO
    August 18, 2012

    Not to defend the idiots in my state but the wording on the ballot was so vague as to be useless. If you did not know the wording before hand there was nothing to indicate anything about the classroom situation.

  19. #19 Nightjar
    August 18, 2012

    Anon,

    Besides has anyone leaving comments here needed to use evolution in any of their graduate studies or line of work?

    Are you kidding?

    Biologists, biochemists, virologists, epidemiologists, physicians and medical researchers, veterinarians, everyone working in the pharmaceutical industry, anthropologists, palaeontologists, some programmers, oil geologists, animal and plant breeders… Just off the top of my head, I’m sure I’m missing a lot.

    but because there are more important things to learn about at that age.

    I learned about evolution in school. It was covered twice IIRC, the second time more thoroughly. I do not feel like that kept me from learning and being taught about all the other important things the way you’re implying.

    I mean, do you really think everyone who went to school in a country where evolution is covered at school level has gaps in their education and didn’t learn about those more important things as well as you did? Really?

  20. #20 Don Druid
    August 18, 2012

    You’re quite right about grades/compulsion, and “Mike Hoey, a supporter of the amendment and executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference” knows you’re right.

    This is an old legislative trick. The legislators allow Hoey to ‘explain’ what the legislation means to the public. Hoey is not, himself, a legislator.

    So, the courts will not (and cannot) treat Hoey’s statement as legislative intent unless a legislator indicates agreement.

    Hoey can and will lie outright about what the law means, knowing that the courts may easily rule otherwise if a teacher flunks a student who claims a religious defense for not doing his or her work.

  21. #21 John Fine
    Woodland GA
    August 18, 2012

    Well, What MO does and does not is up to the people and legislators of that state. I am sure they will have some growing pains with this law but let’s hope they have enough brains to figure all that out. As far as the story of creation and evolution, I am afraid they’re both correct. We did have a creator of some sort and this creation evolved to what we have now. (Although what we have now is nothing to brag about) and yes science has proven this. So I say you all kiss and make up because we are as one. “Be the change you want to see in the world”

  22. #22 Nightjar
    August 18, 2012

    We did have a creator of some sort and this creation evolved to what we have now. (Although what we have now is nothing to brag about) and yes science has proven this

    Science has proven the existence of “a creator of some sort”? When did that happen?

  23. #23 Andrea
    US
    August 18, 2012

    SET THEORY?! Why in the world is set theory a scary concept?

    Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to set the value for Pi at just 3, instead of 3.14 (or 3.14159…)

  24. #24 Richard Simons
    August 19, 2012

    as a South African we don’t cover evolution in our science at school level. Not because of religious conflict, but because there are more important things to learn about at that age.

    I spent several years in a university in a neighbouring country. The impression I got of the South African system was that it was strong on rote learning but weak on synthesis and getting people to think for themselves. Evolution is the central idea that makes sense of all biology. Without it, much of biology is little more than an exercise in memory.

  25. #25 JH
    August 19, 2012

    To MO’s credit – they HAVE not (yet) tried to legislate Pi as being 3 — unlike Alabama and Kansas.

  26. #26 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    August 19, 2012

    even Darwin falsified evidence to prove his theory,

    No. You’re probably confusing him with Ernst Haeckel, who… filled in a few of the drawings in his tables by… logical extrapolation. Darwin did no such thing.

    and as far as I know Einstein’s theory of relativity is under fire at present

    You misunderstand. The theory of relativity has always been known to be somewhat incomplete, simply because it doesn’t take quantum physics into account, so people have long been looking for an even more overarching theory that gets rid of this problem; but to call it “under fire” is an enormous exaggeration. Together with quantum electrodynamics, relativity is the theory that agrees most closely with the observations – to eighteen significant digits.

    …but… what does relativity have to do with evolution??? ~:-|

    Besides has anyone leaving comments here needed to use evolution in any of their graduate studies or line of work?

    What Nightjar the biochemist said. I’m doing a postdoc in paleobiology, specifically the origin of the modern amphibians…

    I am busy with my Masters degree and as a South African we don’t cover evolution in our science at school level. Not because of religious conflict, but because there are more important things to learn about at that age.

    The theory of evolution by mutation, selection and drift is the fundamental, unifying concept of biology. Without it, nothing in biology makes sense – that sounds like I must be exaggerating, but, trust me, I’m not. As Richard Simons said: without the theory of evolution, biology is just a long list of facts that you can only learn by rote – not a science that predicts and explains facts. Life doesn’t make sense without the theory of evolution.

    We did have a creator of some sort

    Show me. I’m not from MO, but show me. :-)

    SET THEORY?! Why in the world is set theory a scary concept?

    Because it proves that there are different kinds of infinity that aren’t all the same size. (For instance, there are more real numbers than there are integers, even though both are infinite.) They maintain that only God is infinite – that nothing can be infinite like him, let alone larger than him.

    If that sounds stupid, that’s because it is.

  27. #27 Mark
    Chicago
    August 19, 2012

    MO just created a lawsuit, because it’s far worse than just evolution or climate change.

    Next up will be geology, anthropology, all of biology and astronomy, all of which contradict religious teachings. The more fundie the student’s background, the more likely those other subjects will contradict their ‘beliefs’.

  28. #28 Paul
    Derby, England
    August 19, 2012

    Am I being paranoid to break out in a cold sweat, thinking that people of this persuasion, will quite possibly be in charge of the world’s biggest arsenal, in less than six months?

  29. #29 kerusha
    South Africa
    August 19, 2012

    Don’t know where Anon gets his facts from. I came thru the SA schooling system – evolution is taught to our scholars.

    As a Hindu, it was up to me to reconcile religious teachings with scientific ones.

    As it should be for scholars of all religions. For everything you’re taught…
    Learning about Christianity or Judaism or the theory of evolution doesn’t mean u have to believe it!

    Politicians need to stop seeing basic education merely as a method of brainwashing the next generation.

  30. #30 Bob D
    New Hampshire
    August 20, 2012

    Is Todd Akin a product of Missouri education?
    Why I ask this question is left as an exercise for the reader. (Sorry, but finding out what he has to say about rape will be a hoot, unless it numbs your brain beyond being able to react,.)

  31. #31 Spectator
    August 20, 2012

    “set theory”

    Because it’s only a theory.

    Communists have a lotta theories, so theories are communist. Therefore, set theory is Communist, also gay. >

  32. #32 oicur12
    August 20, 2012

    Dear Misery,
    My Faith in Cthulhu finds your kirriculum of spilling and grahammer and beleaf in authorty Objectionable to my Faith an I am opt out of it. Cthulhu rejects your linear mode of human thinking and schedules and organizatioun and thinking thins have to take 12 years. Plz send me my diploma now affer I sues you.
    Thx
    oicur12

  33. #33 gülnur
    istanbul
    August 21, 2012

    gelinlik gelinlik
    kuyumcu kuyumcu

  34. #34 Fredeliot
    August 24, 2012

    Perhaps we are going from a democracy to an ilithiocracy – rule by idiots.

  35. #35 Maple
    Canada
    August 24, 2012

    Since grades are based on completing a curriculum, students who opt out have not completed all parts of that curriculum, and therefore would not be able to obtain 100% of the grade. Opting out would, It would seem, mean reducing your grade automatically, if evolution is worth 20% of the curriculum, then the student would only be able to obtain a maximum grade of 80%.

  36. #36 KD Jones
    August 24, 2012

    Thankfully the MO issue is now moot, but some of the responses to it still itch…
    Anon – ” As a Christian and as someone who believes the theory of evolution has its merrits, I think you should be more worried about those making these laws than worrying about whether scholars know about evolution. The bigger picture is being missed here.”
    …Please, really? Not understanding this at all. What are its merits? My honest guess is something akin to increasing understanding of canine pedigrees, because that’s just about the level to which it can be approached before it becomes a threat to whatever creation belief you’re willing to claim while still trying to sound friendly toward a discipline of such stunted importance. That is, if you were to seriously consider the repercussions – which you’ve made clear isn’t that important to you.
    …And no, the bigger picture wasn’t being missed, though I can see how it might be so in your eyes. In mine it’s like this: those making these laws will either die happily ignorant of how they’ve twisted their children and the world, or die proud of it, or possibly choke on whatever they’ve gagged up – BUT – the children and minions they’ve poisoned will go on to compound their damage far and wide. And support more of this sort of thing.
    John Fine – “As far as the story of creation and evolution, I am afraid they’re both correct. We did have a creator of some sort and this creation evolved to what we have now. (Although what we have now is nothing to brag about) and yes science has proven this. So I say you all kiss and make up because we are as one. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’”
    …What do you mean by this? When and where did “science” “prove” this? Why would this creator, who must also have created the evolutionary process leave such a mess of genetic errors, disease, vestigial organs, extinctions and such behind? And “as one” means what? If it means “be civil,” OK. If it means “these contentious issues don’t matter that much and it’s all just fine,” we are NOT one, to any possible value of one. And finally, what “change you want to see” is missing here?
    …Honestly, the attempt to sound reasonable by either not quite standing on anything or straddling some invisible object is nearly (but not quite) as troubling as its angry twin, hellfire and bible thumping.

  37. #37 KD Jones
    August 25, 2012

    Oops. That probably should have been “its angry inclusive subset of associated triplet members.” Or something equally fiddly.

  38. #38 Nyetwerke
    Saint Joseph, Missouri
    August 27, 2012

    @Rugby, I think the content of my post, when in consideration of the quotes, is meaning that if religious zealots want equal time in serious, empirical matters, then it can be taught that way and be shown to invalid because they don’t withstand scrutiny. It has been my stance all along that the scientific method is self regulating, hence the “controversies” are only on the side of those who don’t or won’t or can’t understand the scientific method. I don’t know how you can misunderstand my statements.

  39. #39 former Missourian
    August 29, 2012

    The best part: Attending a Catholic Schools in Missouri, we were always taught and expected to know about evolution in the strictest scientific terms. To make it Catholic friendly, they always just started with the phrase “evolution was part of god’s plan” viola!

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