Questionable Motives

March 8, 2010

What are home-schooled kids learning from their biology textbooks?

In this article, the creeping dominance of a christian theology in home-school textbooks is examined with particular emphasis on how the fact of evolution is being intentionally misrepresented:

Christian-based materials dominate a growing home-school education market that encompasses more than 1.5 million students in the U.S. And for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth’s creation is exactly what they want. Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children “religious or moral instruction.” “The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians,” said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program.” Those who don’t, however, often feel isolated and frustrated from trying to find a textbook that fits their beliefs. Two of the best-selling biology textbooks stack the deck against evolution, said some science educators who reviewed sections of the books at the request of The Associated Press. “I feel fairly strongly about this. These books are promulgating lies to kids,” said Jerry Coyne, an ecology and evolution professor at the University of Chicago. The textbook publishers defend their books as well-rounded lessons on evolution and its shortcomings. One of the books doesn’t attempt to mask disdain for Darwin and evolutionary science.

“Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling,” says the introduction to “Biology: Third Edition” from Bob Jones University Press. “This book was not written for them.”

Wow. Since when was any legitimate science supposed to lie and misrepresent information to favour unjustified superstitious beliefs? If the science of something is not testable, falsifiable, predictive, and consistent, then it ain’t science. In this case, it’s theological creationism, which has not been, is not now, nor shall ever be science. What ever such a science textbook as the one that contains that bold face bit in the introduction purports to be, it most definitely is not biology but a very edited, grossly biased, extraordinarily poor facsimile of religiously sanctioned pap. Shame on parents who subject their kids to this kind of intellectual dishonesty masquerading as science and pretend it is a legitimate education. It isn’t.

Coyne and Virginia Tech biology professor Duncan Porter reviewed excerpts from the Apologia and Bob Jones biology textbooks, which are equivalent to ninth- and 10th-grade biology lessons. Porter said he would give the books an F.

“If this is the way kids are home-schooled then they’re being shortchanged, both rationally and in terms of biology,” Coyne said.

Because the article gave Jerry’s URL, he wrote up a redux article and was bombarded with comments so he wrote yet another one called Home-schoolers respond, where Coyne continued to refine his opinion about the home-school biology texts:

Sadly, there’s not much that is useful if you don’t want to force creationism down your kid’s throat.

But, as Lovan noted in his piece, “83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children ‘religious or moral instruction.’”

I weep for those children.  For many of them are simply being brainwashed by their parents.  Yes, that’s what it is—brainwashing.  For a parent to ignore 150 years of solid science, feeding their children lies based on theology, is to deprive those children of the wonder of the universe—a wonder based on truth rather than medieval superstition.  It kills off the part of a child that most needs nurturing: her sense of wonder, and all the possibilities of life that are opened up by that wonder.  How many budding biologists have been stifled by their parents’ willful ignorance of science, and on their insistence that the Bible is the real source of biological information?  Generation after generation of ignorance and religious dogmatism, all perpetuated by religously based home-schooling.

It is interesting to read the articles and follow the thread of comments and see for yourself just how malicious so many moral-teaching home-school parents can be when faced with very legitimate criticism about the weakness of some of the teaching materials by a world-renowned biologist who happens to know a thing or two about what constitutes good teaching material for biology. But again, Coyne raises an excellent point to all those who attacked him:

To those who are constantly whining about the “incivility” of atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, I suggest that you might first have a look at the behavior of some Christians.

It is the stark comparison that determines just how civil are the ‘militant’ atheists.

March 4, 2010

What’s not to love about how Hitchens speaks his mind?

Hitchens On theism:

February 20, 2010

The bible as literature?

Well, it is considered as such in Tennessee and Texas and now in Kentucky:

A Kentucky state Senate committee has approved legislation allowing the Bible to be studied as a literary subject in public schools, a move that means the state will likely follow Tennessee, Texas and a handful of others in bringing the Christian text into the curriculum.

The bill, put forward by three Democratic state senators, orders the Kentucky Board of Education to draw up guidelines for teaching the Bible as a literary work in the context of “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy,” reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Bible courses would be elective.

We will hear the usual well grounded complaints about another self-interested group sneaking religion into public education and the usual counter-charges that the US is – with a bit of re-writing of history – a christian nation and that no amount of complaining will change that fact, but both parties at the extreme end of this debate miss what I think is the important point: students need to have a good working knowledge of the bible to better appreciate not only all the references made to it in our spoken and written language but understand its central role as an very important influence through the history of western civilization.

Like it or not, the bible and all its various liturgical interpretations have deeply affected our history and to forgo this influence is to forgo a proper and informed education whether public or private. My problem with the legislation is far more subtle: the bible as a whole is hardly an outstanding example of excellent literature.

Sure, there are a few parts of the bible that are beautiful and moving, like withing Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, some Proverbs and Psalms, but I think these pale in comparison to other riches offered elsewhere and of which our children learn next to nothing. As literature, the bible is a poor example but absolutely vital in understanding world history. It is the context in which the bible is to be studied that forms its historical importance and gives us reason to place it properly within public education curriculum and not its religious content. That belongs in theology class. My preference, then, is for its inclusion in comparative religions.

Some unthinking christian parents may assume that instruction in the religious teachings of the bible has a place in public education, in which case I expect these same parents will offer no resistance and actively support public funding for the teaching of content from other competing religions. I suspect I will be disappointed. To those who do think, I urge you to support courses in comparative religions and have faith that your son or daughter will come to make up his or her mind about whatever religious belief reveals itself to be the most sound theology. The risk, of course, is that young people may reject the whole kit and caboodle as nonsense and superstition, but if we want our kids to exercise critical thinking and come to own their beliefs honestly, then we are going to have to trust them to do so at some point. Why not arm them with the best information we can and let them apply their ability to compare and contrast in school; after all, isn’t that what learning is all about?

January 26, 2010

Christianity according to Dawkins: a haven for apologetic hypocrisy?

We know what caused the catastrophe in Haiti. It was the bumping and grinding of the Caribbean Plate rubbing up against the North American Plate: a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, un-premeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery.

The religious mind, however, restlessly seeks human meaning in the blind happenings of nature. As with the Indonesian tsunami, which was blamed on loose sexual morals in tourist bars; as with Hurricane Katrina, which was attributed to divine revenge on the entire city of New Orleans for harboring a lesbian comedian, and as with other disasters going back to the famous Lisbon earthquake and beyond, so Haiti’s tragedy must be payback for human sin. The Rev. Pat Robertson sees the hand of God in the earthquake, wreaking terrible retribution for a pact that the long-dead ancestors of today’s Haitians made with the devil, to help rid them of their French masters.

Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.

What hypocrisy.

Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable ‘mystery’, or who ‘see God’ in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God ‘suffering on the cross’ in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.

Read the rest of Dawkins’ On Faith article here.

January 17, 2010

What is a REAL Christian?

Many christian commentators have distanced their religious belief from that of Pat Robertson with a very strange assertion: Pat Robertson, although definitely a christian, isn’t quite a real christian. His malicious and vindictive comments about the poor people of Haiti deserving their latest calamity don’t sit well with many of his believing brethren.  And they shouldn’t. There is something rotten at the core of a religious belief system that allows for a Pat Robertson to be one of its more popular spokespersons. But rather than treat his vile commentary as a clarion call to re-examine the disturbing belief set that champions such a despicable viewpoint as an equally legitimate interpretation of scripture as their own, many of the faithful wave a hand and too easily and without cause dismiss Robertson’s views only as his own.

This is dishonest.

Most christians assume that Robertson’s views are not god’s, that they don’t reflect real christian values. But on what basis? How are we to know the difference between this assumed real christianity that so many commentators assure us is the prevalent one, and the self-serving belief set like Robertson’s that promotes intolerance and takes such uncritical delight in the god-sanctioned suffering of others?

From where I sit, Robertson IS a real christian. It seems to me that this evangelical mouthpiece of the christian god speaks knowledgeably about scripture and his views successfully combine the vicious Old Testament god with the New Testament teachings of Jesus. His theocracy is as consistent as I think anyone can make of the incoherence we find in the complete bible and his interpretations as valid as anyone’s.

And that’s a problem christians everywhere need to address: what justifies the argument that one theological interpretation is not as valid as another, that a Robertson interpretation is any more or less valid than a Pope Benedict XVI or a Rowan Williams or a public commentator anywhere?

The unfortunate answer is: we can’t. Christian theology based on scripture alone allows us no means to differentiate.

And here we get into a christian burr patch: if morality is what we use to judge the validity of the interpretation, and we accept that it is from scripture where we get our morality, then we have closed the circle of our thinking and have to accept Robertson’s callous interpretation as moral and valid based solely on scripture. If we are repelled by that conclusion (as we should be), then it becomes evident and obvious that some other source of morality must be at play here, a morality that is not derived from scripture but applied to it.

We know the meaning of Robertson’s words to be spiteful and mean and morally wrong. But he is also a real christian, let us not forget,  and uses scripture like a sword to defend and promote his faith of a petty and jealous god while claiming to do so with god’s moral sanction based on his understanding of the bible. It is duplicitous and dishonest for other christians, therefore, to categorize Robertson’s cynical pronouncements as nonrepresentational of real christians while allowing the claim that we get our morality from scripture to stand unchallenged.

Christian believers cannot have it both ways: either Robertson is a real christian who quite properly derives his morality from the bible or he is a man who holds vile and vindictive viewpoints and uses christianity to promote them, meaning that our interpretations of biblical scripture is not the source but the expression of our morality.

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