Krauss on Kansas

Although I do think Lawrence Krauss's op-ed in today's NY Times, How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate, is a good, strong piece of work, it doesn't go quite far enough. He's specifically targeting a couple of the Kansas state school board members for ridicule. First he slams Steve Abrams:

The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith "doesn't have anything to do with science."

Then he takes on John Bacon:

Another member of the board, who unfortunately survived a primary challenge, is John Bacon. In spite of his name, Mr. Bacon is no friend of science. In a 1999 debate about the removal of evolution and the Big Bang from science standards, Mr. Bacon said he was baffled about the objections of scientists. "I can't understand what they're squealing about," he is quoted as saying. "I wasn't here, and neither were they."

And then he explains how science works, and that their complaints are fallacious.

However, he also waffles and misses the major lesson of the problem of creationism. Abrams and Bacon are advancing these complaints about evolution for religious reasons, but Krauss backs away from that battle.

I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.

Ah, you see, when it's a matter of physics and astronomy, the professor of physics and astronomy resolves the problem of conflict with faith by declaring his domain to be a non-religious question, and therefore those who argue otherwise are not doing so out of faith, but out of ignorance. That's fine, I agree, but I also think the whole of our understanding of the natural world is completely outside the purview of religion—they have an ugly history of always getting it wrong, you know—and that clearly the root cause of Abrams' and Bacon's ignorance is their faith. And that's an observation he'd like to hide away, because it knocks his conclusion all cockeyed.

But when we win minor skirmishes, as we did in Kansas, we must remember that the issue is far deeper than this. We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world. The battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.

I will remind you all that the title of Krauss's piece is "How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate." He's right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula. But he's missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason. He's choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease, and I think his approach is doomed to ineffectuality.

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I find his approach to be more pragmatic. While I definitely agree that our culture needs to value reason above all else, it's just not going to happen for some time. It's going to require quite a shift in thinking, one that can only happen by showing the younger generations why reason is so much more valuable than faith. This will never occur in fundamentalist homes, but it can occur in schools. That's why in this case, fighting the symptom is key to fighting the disease.

How is an approach that demonstrably isn't working "more pragmatic"? As the US, alone among developed nations, slides deeper and deeper into religion-induced ignorance and irrationality, I think it's time to point out that the emperor of "don't confront religion directly" is naked.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

The science community has been telling us for years about the dangers of smoking. Ask just about any parent, and they know that they shouldn't smoke around their children. The problem is, the ones who are addicted to smoking will ignore the advice. And even those who only smoke sometimes aren't really fooling their children. Kids are smart and know what their parents are doing and what they really believe.

The same is true of religion - the fervent believers don't realize what they are doing to their children by exposing them to it, and even the casual believers may not be arming their children with the right tools to avoid being pulled deeper into religious fundamentalism.

End Note: Catholicism is a gateway religion for the scarier sects of Christianity.

"I can separate them," he continued, adding, "My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom."

Well, someone could equally say : "I can separate them... My personal view that 2+2=5 has no room in my work as an accountant" ...

However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.

Yes, that was remarkably parochial.

Krauss is a good proponant for science in that he is eloquent and capible of generating publicity, but I have heard him say that he thinks Dawkins hurts the cause. I am glad for any approach that works, and can see good reasons to have multiple ways of facing the issue, but it is hard to avoid the thought that weening people off of irrational beliefs gradually is just not a strong enough stance. And I am doubly irratated that he buys into the "shove the atheists in the closet" style that (a) continues the implication that it is something to be ashamed of, and (b) denies that non-belief in religion is usually the natural consequence of understanding how to think like a scientist.

He's right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula.

I think even PZ is not going quite far enough here. There are all sorts of raving ignoramuses, but which of them are trying to insert nonsense into the public school curricula, and what nonsense? We could even elect ignoramuses who believe in UFOs and astrology and still not risk making our children scientifically illiterate, because those folks aren't motivated to fight to insert their nonsense into the curriculum. It isn't that the creationists are ignorant or want to insert "nonsense", it's that they are driven by religious ideology and want to force that ideology on the whole world.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

Ask just about any parent, and they know that they shouldn't smoke around their children....The same is true of religion - the fervent believers don't realize what they are doing to their children by exposing them to it

A remarkably poor analogy; the religious don't know they shouldn't expose their children to religion -- they believe quite the opposite.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

Ask just about any parent, and they know that they shouldn't smoke around their children....The same is true of religion - the fervent believers don't realize what they are doing to their children by exposing them to it

A remarkably poor analogy; the religious don't know they shouldn't expose their children to religion -- they believe quite the opposite.

Thus the point about:

The problem is, the ones who are addicted to smoking will ignore the advice.

Richard Dawkins, PZ, and others are like the early adopters in the anti-smoking campaign. They are pointing out the dangers, but those that are addicted either don't believe it or don't care.

And I know plenty of casual believers who don't want their children to swallow the creationists crap, but still are using the church as some type of crutch - either to help teach morality or to ease fears about death.

"I can't understand what they're squealing about," he is quoted as saying. "I wasn't here, and neither were they."

I love this new creationist spin phrase!
NOBODY I have met yet has "been there" during biblical times either. They hold up the bible like it cannot be questioned for content, but it is no more valid than Greek mythology, and definately not as entertaining.

Thus the point about:

That's a misuse of the word "thus", as that word implies logic, reason, inference, and so on.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

In battling ignorance it seems likely faith is necessarily part of the collateral damage when it's not the target.

Oh, but God was there in Biblical times, and he wrote a book about it, so see, your point is all hooey.

Honestly: I've heard that response.

It's not a new spin phrase. In the PBS Evolution series, there was a scene in the last episode on creationism where Ken Ham leads a group in chanting their rebuttal to scientific claims about the past: "WERE YOU THERE?"

In battling ignorance it seems likely faith is necessarily part of the collateral damage when it's not the target.

That's like shooting at a sniper in the mountains of Afghanistan but accidentally hitting and killing Osama bin Laden, and bemoaning the "collateral damage".

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

"He's right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula. But he's missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason. He's choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease, and I think his approach is doomed to ineffectuality"

I juts cannot understand how can you claim to KNOW the disease putting it all down to "religion at home". Probably you yourself was raised in a religious home. I bet more than half of evolutionary biologists were, its not like evolutionary sciencie is passed down in the blood.

In general the man is pointing to the right direction, let's not make science to be about "a war against religion". This is why politicians can always rely on attacking evolution to cluster support for the religious and right wing policies they stand for (including the war issues, oh so unclear and mushy to anyone but republicans).
This is truly much closer to being the disease.

By Alexander Vargas (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

"He's right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula. But he's missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason. He's choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease, and I think his approach is doomed to ineffectuality"

I juts cannot understand how can you claim to KNOW the disease putting it all down to "religion at home". Probably you yourself was raised in a religious home. I bet more than half of evolutionary biologists were, its not like evolutionary sciencie is passed down in the blood.

In general the man is pointing to the right direction, let's not make science to be about "a war against religion". This is why politicians can always rely on attacking evolution to cluster support for the religious and right wing policies they stand for (including the war issues, oh so unclear and mushy to anyone but republicans).
This is truly much closer to being the disease.

By Alexander Vargas (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

Probably you yourself was raised in a religious home.

Anecdotes fall to statistics.

let's not make science to be about "a war against religion".

It's not "science" that is opposed to religion, it's people who want a rational society.

This is why politicians can always rely on attacking evolution to cluster support for the religious and right wing policies they stand for (including the war issues, oh so unclear and mushy to anyone but republicans).

No, politicians can rely on that because the religious dogmatists think the evilutionists doing the work of satan, but nice try at blame shifting.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

troll machine said:

In battling ignorance it seems likely faith is necessarily part of the collateral damage when it's not the target.
That's like shooting at a sniper in the mountains of Afghanistan but accidentally hitting and killing Osama bin Laden, and bemoaning the "collateral damage".

...and my analogy was bad?

--- extended post deleted - don't feed the trolls ---

Anecdotes fall to statistics.

To expand on this: the vast majority of people raised in religious households are religious; it's irrelevant to point to those who aren't, and particularly irrelevant to talk about what fraction of evolutionary biologists had religious upbringings, as that is a fraction of a fraction -- perhaps it would help to draw a Venn diagram. Because of the bell curve some escape, but it would be far better if there were no need to escape.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

.and my analogy was bad?

Yes, yours was bad and mine is good -- excellent in fact -- and calling me a troll is ad hominem and no substitute for counterargument. If you find someone who says "I want to stop believing in God and indoctrinating my children because I know how bad it is for them, but I just can't", do let us know.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

[quote]He's right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula. But he's missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason.[/quote]

Ah, but I would submit that this (valuing faith above reason) is the very definition of ignorance.

And to spell out my analogy: PZ wrote

"the root cause of Abrams' and Bacon's ignorance is their faith". Likewise, ObL is the root cause for troops to be shooting at snipers in Afghanistan. At some point you have to deal with the root cause -- it's not "collateral", it's central.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

Ah, but I would submit that this (valuing faith above reason) is the very definition of ignorance.

No, the definition of ignorance is "lack of knowledge". Cause is empirical, definition is analytical. And, you have just made clear, faith isn't the only cause of ignorance.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

I have a compromise for those who want "intelligent (creationism) design" discussed in science class:

If they want teachers to explain that there is a "theory" that rebuts the theory of evolution, then Priests and Ministers, (etc.) will have to do the same. They must include the theory of evolution during their sermons and explain that there is a theory that rebuts G-d.

ROFL!!!

Catholicism is a gateway religion for the scarier sects of Christianity

I think it in and of itself is as scary as any Protestant church once one gets away from creationism discussions.

"I juts cannot understand how can you claim to KNOW the disease putting it all down to "religion at home". Probably you yourself was raised in a religious home."

PZ did not say, "an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a religious home",
PZ did say, "an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason."

However, if your definition of religion is to value faith above reason, then I retract my observation.

if your definition of religion is to value faith above reason

Don't they all do this at the end of the day?

GH- that is my understanding of it

If you find someone who says "I want to stop believing in God and indoctrinating my children because I know how bad it is for them, but I just can't", do let us know.

Me! Me! Do I win a prize? No? ...

Trust me, not indoctrinating the children can be very difficult, depending on the culture. If I were to completely stop taking my children to church, I'd hear holy hell from my spouse, my parents, my grandparents, my in-laws, and everyone I know at the church, for starters. Even if I were to separate entirely from all religious members of my family, they'd still have rights involving my children that would probably involve indoctrination (church on Christmas, talking about God, etc.). I'm resigned to gritting my teeth and hoping that they treat it the same as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in later years, and pick up on the skepticism and critical thinking I'm trying to instill in them as useful tools to judge the whole God thing.

Religion is a social disease, and not an easy one to cure.

That's like shooting at a sniper in the mountains of Afghanistan but accidentally hitting and killing Osama bin Laden, and bemoaning the "collateral damage".

I'm not bemonaing the collateral damage, merely pointing out that it's not necessarily the target but may be a necessary casualty. I'm actually delighted by this, if true.

Carlie,
Wow! So how did you survive unscathed? Do the people you mentioned in your post realize that you do not think like they do?

With a lot of scarring, and no, they don't. Sad, but true.

I'm not bemonaing the collateral damage, merely pointing out that it's not necessarily the target

As PZ wrote, "He's choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease", and Carlie's tragic story makes that all the more clear. Religion is a pox on human culture -- and for those who would blather about its achievements, any good that religion has done could have been done without it.

By truth machine (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

P.Z. said:

But he's missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason. He's choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease, and I think his approach is doomed to ineffectuality.

Right! Right! That's the point.

Thomas Jefferson claimed it was the view of just and true religions, also -- such as these opening lines from the preamble of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Jefferson in 1779, passed into law unamended in 1786, and still the law in Virginia:

Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time . . .

Let's be clear, at least about the ideal that should be: In Christianity, to denigrate reason is to denigrate faith in God who created reason, and to denigrate the methods of God -- and isn't that tantamount to blasphemy if not blasphemy itself? (Watch -- someone at Telic Thoughts will point out that blasphemy is no crime under the secular laws of the U.S., as if that somehow excuses it for them; once they get in the rut of hypocrisy, they find it difficult to climb out.)

And they have the gall to complain about a guy who simply asks that they stick to the facts?

Also, see this: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/08/01/jefferson-on-religious-freed…

It's not a new spin phrase. In the PBS Evolution series, there was a scene in the last episode on creationism where Ken Ham leads a group in chanting their rebuttal to scientific claims about the past: "WERE YOU THERE?"

To which my response is, "No, but we have good photographs of shortly afterward, and we have the x-ray stuff from COBE that is as good as a photograph."

Just as I think any parent who lends their child to Michael Jackson for the evening is accessory to child abuse, so is any parent who lends their child to Ken Ham. It's a different form of abuse, but no less sinister.

I don't think Ham appreciates how powerful is the evidence in favor of evolution, or the Big Bang. In any case, they certainly want to poison the well against their children considering the evidence.