August 02, 2005

How You Get Your Headline

Johnny's mad. Again. Specifically, he's mad about this.

Bush: Intelligent Design Should Be Taught

That's the headline. Only, if you read the article, that's not what Bush said.

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

So, it would appear that a reporter asked Bush a leading question, Bush answered the question in a fairly inoccuous way, yet the headline drastically skewed what was said. Granted, a headline like:

Bush encourages discussion of different ideas

Just doesn't have that Bush is a Bible-thumping chimpmonkey angle that so thirsts for.

UPDATE: I should point out that I personally believe quite strongly in the theory of evolution, with some personal provisos, and I don't think it's a good idea to inject what is basically religious teaching into a public school environment. That said, I do wish that more of my elementary and high school classes encouraged students to think more critically about subject areas and that we could have had more discussions about competing ideas. The rote memorization of dates and names strikes me, in retrospect, as a complete waste of time. For example, I didn't strike me as all that important who the current leader of China was when I was nine years old, but I remember thinking it was fascinating that China had a form of government that was radically different than our own, and it would have been cool if we could have learned more about that and discussed it amongst ourselves. So, when Bush says something along the lines of

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

I kinda tend to agree with him.

Posted by Ryan at August 2, 2005 02:43 PM | TrackBack

I like this idea that students should be educated about "different schools of thought," like for instance they should be taught legitimate science supported by research and facts alongside bullshit theories about how life is so complex that it must have been created by leprechauns. That way they can decide which theory they like better, and if they decide they don't want to live in a world without leprechauns, they can choose that view. And later on, if they want to take a college-level biology course, when the instructor says "DNA" they can answer "You mean leprechaun juice?" and when the instructor says "evolution" they can put their fingers in their ears and say "la la la la."

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 2, 2005 03:31 PM

Look, flaming, I personally believe in evolution, so I'm not advocating creationism or intelligent design, although I think there's room in evolution to accomodate those concepts. There are some hiccups in the evolutionary theory. The theory of evolution I learned in school is slightly different than the theory as it's promoted today. Point it, evolution is not an exact science, it's constantly being tweaked.

All of which is beside the point of this post, that being that Bush was asked a leading question by a reporter, and his response was used to create a sensationalist headline that didn't quite accurately reflect the article content itself.

Posted by: Ryan at August 2, 2005 03:40 PM

The idea that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside Evolution is ridiculous.

Different ideas? Fine. Completely baseless creationism-with-some-lipstick-and-a-dress-on bullshit? No.

Should religous belief systems be taught in public schools? Yes but only if they are ALL taught. Not just the one that the president subscribes to.

"The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation."

This is utter and complete bullshit. Why? It presupposes the existence of God to explain the existence of God.

The Theory of Evolution isn't a theory like a cop has in trying to figure out how a guy died. A scientific theory is all but fact. Intelligent Design isn't based on science, its based on preconceived notions. Sorry, its crap and I think you know its crap.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to staring at my picture of the Dirty Mushroom to see if it will give me some direction in my life.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at August 2, 2005 03:41 PM

"The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation."

I agree that, on its face, this requires a presupposition about the existence of God. Thing is, scientists themselves routinely bring their presuppositions to their work.

The theory of the Big Bang is a classic example for me. Here you have scientists basically saying that, in the beginning, there was nothing, and then suddenly there was this infinitely tiny spot in all the nothingness that contained within it all the mass that makes up today's universe. Scientists can't explain how this little spot with its amazing mass originated, but it's generally accepted that it just did. That's a HUGE presupposition, yet it's the basis for the Big Bang and the universe that resulted, complete with all its theories, physics and mathematical certainties. How is scientific faith in that infinitesimal spot in space just blinking into existence all that different from people who believe that intelligent design may have played a role in that spot originating?

I mean, if physics states that energy can neither be created or destroyed, where the hell did all that Big Bang energy come from? My ass? I guess that's possible.

Posted by: Ryan at August 2, 2005 03:55 PM

Yeah, evolution is an evolving theory (sorry, I couldn't stop myself.) But I think Johnny pretty much nails Intelligent Design as tarted-up creationism.

The first step to advancing a bullshit proposition is often to bolster its legitimacy by demanding it gets an "equal hearing" with some established, tested theory and then saying "reasonable people can differ" as though science was purely a matter of believing what one wants to believe regardless of a theory's utility in explaining observed data or predicting outcomes.

That is not to say that there isn't plenty of room in evolutionary theory for debate, but intelligent design doesn't meet any of the basic requirements to be an actual theory unto itself. It is at best a critique of current evolutionary theory, and at its worst it's a trojan horse method for injecting fundamentalist Christian doctrine into schools.

I realize it sounds like I'm assuming a contrary position to yours even though you're NOT advocating for intelligent design per se, but the attempt to teach this non-scientific non-theory in public schools is a great irritation to me, and I'll tell you why.

There is not a single college-level life sciences course I can think of that does not require a working knowledge of evolution. My own high school science teacher insisted on skimming over the chapter (yes, it was only ONE chapter) on evolution in our text and included daily disclaimers that it was "only a theory". As a result I had to learn a lot of relevant information on my own. The irony being that, thanks to a religious upbringing I was extremely familiar with the "creation science" viewpoint (that was the eighties name for this trojan horse). So the effect of my teacher's attempt to give creationism an "equal hearing" was essentially to prevent me from learning any actual science, while ensuring that I gave careful consideration to the anti-scientific view that I had already heard.

As for the press trying to play "gotcha" with Bush, isn't he already on record supporting the teaching of intelligent design? It seems like the "different schools of thought" is just spin so he doesn't have to specifically say the words in a press conference. If not, what "different schools of thought" is he referring to?

I'm with Johnny -- if they're going to teach every different point of view on how life on Earth came about, they need to teach kids my leprechaun theory too. It deserves an equal hearing. After all, nobody can prove it's not true!

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 2, 2005 04:25 PM

I don't find the attempt to dismiss "intelligent design" as another version of creationism at all persuasive. I am a creationist and the intelligent design theorists don't, to the best of my knowledge, assume the existence of God. The idea of "intelligent design" is quite compatible with the notion of a very physical alien life form engineering life on earth. Also, I don't find the theory of evolution at all threatening, but it seems to me that an awful lot of advocates of evolutionary theory find any substantial challenge to their theory very threatening. I read this as evidence of their primary interest not being truth but the maintenance of a narrative that excludes the supernatural. The emotionalism and vehemence of their protestations just are not compatible with a cold, calculated search for truth.

Posted by: Daniel Reynolds at August 2, 2005 06:08 PM

The thing about supernatural explanations is that they are exactly that:
adj : not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws; not physical or material; "supernatural forces and occurrences and beings"

Meaning they are outside the scope of scientific inquiry, which deals only in observable phenomena. They are also, conveniently, not subject to debate.

Or logic, in this case. The central thesis of intelligent design crumples at the merest scrape with Occam's Razor: If one accepts the fundamental premise that lifeforms of sufficient complexity cannot arise spontaneously and must therefore have been created by a greater intelligence, where did that greater intelligence come from? What created it?

I don't object to belief in the supernatural per se, I just object to efforts to conflate faith with reason. I think it is dangerous in a modern society to deprive children of the opportunity to learn science, and I think it insults people of faith to assume that their beliefs must be protected from rational inquiry.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 2, 2005 07:11 PM

Just playing Devil's Advocate here, Flaming, but I wanted to throw this out:

The central thesis of "The Big Bang Theory" crumples at the merest scrape with Occam's Razor: If one accepts the fundamental premise that "an infinitesimal spot with near-infinite matter" cannot arise spontaneously and must therefore have been created by "something," where did that "something "come from? What created it?

Scientists stop short of attributing it to the supernatural, but they sure can't seem to come up with a plausible answer, either.

Posted by: Ryan at August 2, 2005 07:26 PM

Actually, there are various competing theories, including one (not so popular these days) that the universe experiences an endless cycle of expansions and contractions. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time discusses various theories in detail and is a pretty good primer on the subject, especially if you enjoy an experience that I liken to the intellectual version of an ice-cream headache. It made my brain hurt in a good way.

There's also some interesting stuff in there about how our concept of the passage of time is based on entropy and would not necessarily apply in a singularity such as the big bang. Some believe that what came before might be unknowable since our knowledge of natural phenomena is based on observations of a post-big bang universe.

The important distinction between a scientific theory such as the big bang or evolution and much religious dogma is that science makes no claim of knowing all the answers to every possible question. It takes on one question at a time. Being okay with not knowing all the answers is pretty crucial in any attempt to understand the world in this way.

There is still more than enough of awe and mystery in a scientific view, which is why I say that faith does not need to be protected from rationality. There are plenty of scientists who hold religious beliefs. But before somebody puts Noah's Ark in a biology text or a history book and teaches it as fact, I wanna see some evidence.

Fossilized animal poop of a New World animal, say, a bison found on top of Mt. Ararat would be a start.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 2, 2005 09:16 PM

I also used to struggle with the concept of the Big Bang. But I came to the conclusion that FlamingBanjo notes above, the cycle is endless. It has always happened and will always continue to happen.

That's a tough concept to wrap a brain around but there it is.

Daniel, here's an excerpt for the Wiki on intelligent design, "However, ID advocate William Dembski in his book "The Design Inference"[1] lists God or an alien life force as two possible options."

It further discusses the three main centers of the debate on Intelligent Design:
1. whether the definition of science is broad enough to allow for theories of human origins which incorporate the acts of an intelligent designer
2. whether the evidence supports such theories
3. whether the teaching of such theories is appropriate in public education.

If an "intelligent designer" isn't just a soft way of saying God then I don't know what is. Scientists dismiss ID and creationism as bunkum for some pretty valid reasons. Read the Wiki for yourself, its pretty interesting.

You are free to believe anything you like and you've chosen creationism. But creationism's been widely and resoundingly debunked by the scientific community, as has ID. I prefer to ground my beliefs in verifiable reality.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at August 3, 2005 11:33 AM

I also used to struggle with the concept of the Big Bang. But I came to the conclusion that FlamingBanjo notes above, the cycle is endless. It has always happened and will always continue to happen.

Fine, but WHAT STARTED IT? What was it that put the mechanism in place? I've read all sorts of theories about the Big Bang, from the in flux theory flamingbanjo cites, to the alternative universe theory and so on. All of which are fine, but they continually neglect to answer the single most obvious question: "How did something spring from nothing?"

I'm not asking for a supernatural explanation. I'm not asking for God to step out from behind the curtain. I'm simply asking what the hell started it all.

So far, science really can't seem to answer that. Maybe someday they will. Until then, is it really so taboo to inject a little bit of God into the machine?

And I certainly don't believe that Noah marched every animal aboard his Ark in twos. That's just silly.

Posted by: Ryan at August 3, 2005 11:41 AM

To answer your question, no it isn't taboo: The big bang has often been used by believers to point to the existence of a Divine Creator. But since there's no evidence to support that it is a belief and not a theory.

As to the "what came before", that's one of the ideas "A Brief History of Time" addresses -- since time as we define it is a function of processes in an expanding, post-big-bang universe, it may be nonsensical to apply it to the state of the universe prior to its expansion. In other words, there is no "before".

Mr. Hawking explains it better.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 3, 2005 12:43 PM

So far, science really can't seem to answer that. Maybe someday they will. Until then, is it really so taboo to inject a little bit of God into the machine?

The problem I have with this is that, as flamingbanjo suggests with his leprechaun thing, it seems to present a false dilemma. If "science really can't explain" something, the alternative isn't necessarily "God". If science can't explain something that just means humans can't prove it with empirical tools; theories arrived at without the benefit of empirical tools are guesses. I don't see the benefit in teaching guesses in school-- or at least not in a class that purports to teach its students how things work (science). If a school wants to discuss the most popular guesses (religions) with students, the school can do that in social studies class. A class like that's useful because it demonstrates how people think. And yes, students should be exposed to different ideas in school, particularly with regard to how people think. But contrary to popular opinion science and religion operate on different principles and it's dangerous to suggest that schools should have license to conflate the two under the banner of intellectual freedom.

Posted by: at August 4, 2005 09:37 AM

That was me, by the way. Obviously, I suppose.

Posted by: Joshua at August 4, 2005 09:39 AM

I liked the leprechaun theory. After all, they do put the pots of gold at the ends of the rainbows.

Posted by: Donna at August 5, 2005 06:20 AM

Leprechauns and pots of gold are just as plausible as a heaven and hell and "Intelligent Designer". And I'd much rather find a leprechaun and a pot of gold than God, because God would make me feel all insignificant and shit. Plus, he's probably got great hair and a nice tan too. And a really nice cherry Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle. Bastard.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at August 5, 2005 01:11 PM
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