For pure entertainment value it’s hard to beat the op-ed articles over at WingNutDaily. Particularly just about anything written by Joseph Farah in his Between The Lines column. This week he’s asking the question: Who are the real fundamentalist, extremist zealots? According to Joseph the answer is “Evolutionists!”
Joseph opens his article by talking about a Roseville, CA parent by the name of Larry Caldwell who felt that the Joint Union High School District’s science textbooks “failed to point out any of the weaknesses of the theory of evolution – teaching it instead as a matter of fact.” So Larry decided to petition the school district to change this policy claiming that he wasn’t so much interested in injecting religious views of creationism into the schools as much as providing “objectivity and balance when it comes to teaching about Charles Darwin and his theory.” The school board offered up a compromise where the textbooks would remain unchanged, but they would encourage teachers to provide “scientific information that challenges the theory of evolution” as well as set up resource centers in the school libraries to provide “other points of view.” Additionally letters would be sent out to parents stating that “a growing minority of scientists question the ability of Darwin’s theory to provide an adequate scientific explanation for the origin and diversity of life on Earth.” The compromise was not to be, however, as the school board rejected the plan in the end. Joseph’s reaction to this is entirely predictable:
The plan seemed eminently reasonable and accommodating to all viewpoints – which is why the real intolerant, fundamentalist, extremist, Taliban-like, religious zealots shot it down.
By a 3-2 vote, the school board decided there would be no dissent permitted on an article of faith like evolution.
I literally laughed out loud when I read that. Let’s break Joseph’s description of the school board down adjective by adjective:
- Intolerant: Is the school board being intolerant by not going with the compromise plan? Actually, yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The compromise plan is an awful lot of jumping through hoops over an issue that is questionable at best. When designing the curriculum for any subject, and particularly for science, school boards have to go with what is commonly accepted as being the “facts” for the topics being covered. When knowledge of a subject advances enough that the “facts” change then the curriculum should be updated accordingly, but it would be folly to try and offer dissenting viewpoints to every topic without regard to the merit of those viewpoints. If the school board were to engage in this sort of thing with every topic that has some dissent on it they’re quickly going to be spending more time providing alternative viewpoints than teaching anything at all. What happens, for example, when the Holocaust Deniers decide they want their viewpoints on the problems with the history course that’s being taught taken into consideration? Certainly teachers should allow some time for discussion of the material presented and that would be a good time to touch on dissenting viewpoints, but the curriculum has to focus on what is the current accepted standard and the current accepted standard happens to be Evolution.
- Fundamentalist: Common use of this word is almost always in relation to religious movements and Joseph is aware of this which is why he makes the common claim that Evolution is an “article of faith,” which is patently not true. Just the same, the word can be used to describe rigid thinking and adherence to principle as well as intolerance toward other views. Again I would argue that a certain amount of fundamentalist thinking may be necessary to craft an effective curriculum. At least in regards to sticking to the currently accepted standards of knowledge for various topics and fields. The irony of a Fundamentalist complaining about a school board using fundamentalist thinking is very amusing.
- Extremist: I’d really like someone to explain to me how insisting on sticking to a well established and widely accepted educational standard is in any way an extremist position to take. Clearly Joseph doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.
- Taliban-like: Another laugh-out-loud moment for me. Last I checked the newspapers I haven’t heard of any students being severely beaten for daring to state their disagreement with the Theory of Evolution. No trials for blasphemy for the crime of disparaging Darwin’s good name have taken place anywhere that I’m aware of. Nor, for that matter, are there heavily armed Educational Enforcement Officers walking through the school halls ensuring at gunpoint that students are complying with the tenets of Darwinian Evolution. This sort of appeal-to-emotion rhetoric may score well with readers of WingNutDaily, but it’s neither accurate or intellectually honest and makes Joseph sound like a moron.
- Religious Zealots: If I wanted to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt I’d suggest that he appears to once again be confused on the meaning of the words he’s using, but the more likely probability is that this is just an extension of that whole appeal-to-emotion method of debate he seems to be fond of. He’s certainly smart enough to realize that if he’s going to charge the school board with being religious zealots he has to identify how this is so considering the obvious rejection of religious concepts involved in the school board’s decision not to offer “alternative viewpoints” to the Theory of Evolution. He’s already laid the ground work for this with the claim that Evolution is an article of faith so we’ll be talking about this more as we go on.
So let’s see, out of the five adjectives he used to describe the school board we have a grand total of two that might actually apply in some way to the people he’s describing and those two aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Already Joseph has demonstrated that he won’t be using well-reasoned debate in making his case, but rather healthy amounts of specious logic and the ever popular straw-man fallacy.
Oh, I know what you are going to say: “The majority on the school board wasn’t religious. They were fighting the religious views of others that are creeping into the schools. There’s no place in public schools for teaching religion.”
“These supplemental materials are religious in nature,” explained parent Pam Herman. “They don’t belong in our science curriculum.”
Let me contradict that statement. When people accept the theory of evolution as an article of faith and teach it as a matter of fact and permit no dissent whatsoever from their doctrine, let me tell you: Those are religious people pushing religious views.
Joseph never bothers to tell us what the supplemental materials are composed of so we don’t have any way to judge whether or not Pam Herman is correct in her assertion that they are religious in nature, but as far as I’m aware the only other theory that’s being promoted as a viable alternative to the Theory of Evolution is the “Theory of Intelligent Design” in which case Pam would be quite correct with her statement. We’ve talked about Intelligent Design on more than one occasion here at SEB and it’s quite clear that all ID really is is Creationism dressed up in scientific-sounding terms with direct references to God yanked out of it.
Joseph goes on to state that he will contradict Pam’s claim, but rather than discuss what the supplemental materials contain and why they should be considered acceptable for use in a school he instead tries to obfuscate the issue by relying on the fallacy of the undistributed middle. In other words, rather than try to show how the supplemental materials are not religious in nature, that they are in fact scientific and thusly perfectly acceptable in a science curriculum which is what you would expect in a contradiction, Joseph attempts to paint the school board members as pushing a different religious agenda of their own. He provides no basis for his assertion that the people on the board accept Evolution “as an article of faith” nor does he establish that the members will permit no dissent. It’s entirely possible that the members of the board accept the Theory of Evolution for reasons other than mere faith and it’s also possible that the members may accept dissenting viewpoints for inclusion into the science curriculum if they can be shown to be valid scientific theories. This sets things up nicely for the straw man fallacies which are to follow:
I’m not sure which religious views they hold. They may be atheists. They may be agnostics. They may be pagans. They may be secular humanists. I don’t know which particular dogma they follow. It isn’t important. But rest assured they are only disguising their narrow religious views in the language of science.
If their particular religious views are unimportant then why does Joseph even bother to mention them in the first place? You’ll note that he carefully lists only those religious viewpoints that are unpopular with the Fundamentalist Christian audience he’s addressing while conveniently ignoring the fact that there are plenty of Christians around that accept the Theory of Evolution as fact. It’s more than likely that the school board he’s berating is largely composed of Christians, but acknowledging this wouldn’t serve his argument too well. After all atheists, agnostics, pagans and secular humanists together form the ultimate Axis of Evil as far as most Fundies are concerned. So while he doesn’t come right out and accuse anyone of actually holding one of these viewpoints, he’s clever enough to raise the possibility that they might. I’m willing to bet Joseph had included “Satanists” in an earlier draft, but he realized that might be a bit too over-the-top. Again the irony of his assertion that the board members are only “disguising their narrow religious views in the language of science” is pretty funny when you consider the source of the statement.
The theory of evolution is now being treated like Holy Writ. That’s not science, it’s religion.
It’s a nice assertion and would certainly be true if it were an accurate summary of the situation, but Joseph doesn’t bother to provide anything that would support the idea that this is the case here.
If something in science suddenly becomes so sacrosanct that you can’t question it, then it ceases to be science. It’s actually a contradiction of the principles of science and the scientific method, which requires testing, evidence, proof.
This is probably the only statement Joseph makes that is largely true and accurate in this entire article. Indeed, he won’t find an honest scientist who would disagree on this point. It demonstrates that Joseph isn’t ignorant of what science is or how it’s supposed to work which leaves one to wonder how he can make all of the other distorted and misleading claims throughout the rest of his column? Prior to this we could afford to give him the benefit of the doubt about his knowledge of what constitutes proper science, but now we have to question his honesty and the motivations behind the assertions he’s making.
And that’s what is happening all over the country – not just in Roseville, Calif. There’s a new wave of sweeping intolerance and rigid conformity being required of teachers and students.
Another assertion with nothing to support it. He makes it sound like there’s a drive to remove references to theories other than Evolution from classrooms across the country as though these “alternative viewpoints” have always had a place in the science curriculums of every school as opposed to the reality that these “alternative viewpoints” are trying to weasel their way in where they don’t belong.
It seems to me when authorities are unwilling to accept any criticism of their doctrine, there is probably good reason. In the case of evolution, that reason is the theory itself is little more than speculation unsupported by evidence.
Yet another patently untrue statement. Either Joseph is amazingly ignorant about the Theory of Evolution and the evidence which supports it or he is intentionally lying at this point. It is the preponderance of evidence and the fact that the Theory works when making predictions about what we should expect to find that is the reason it is commonly regarded as fact by the majority of scientists in the field. There are whole fields of science and modern medicine for which the Theory of Evolution is the foundation and it is considered the cornerstone of modern biology. It’s considered fact because it works and is still the best explanation available.
I will once again challenge anyone to provide me with a SINGLE scientific breakthrough or field of study that is in any way founded on the Theory of Intelligent Design. Show me an example of a prediction this so-called theory makes and any supporting evidence there might be for it. You’ll excuse me if I don’t hold my breath in anticipation as I have serious doubts this challenge will be answered.
I’ve been through the indoctrination camps in high school and in college. I remain thoroughly convinced that evolution is nothing more than a religious tenet of secular humanism – unsupported by facts and unsupportable by facts. I am hardly alone.
A lot of people live in denial of facts they feel threaten their beliefs, Joseph, that hardly makes you an authority on the issue of Evolution. The fact that there are others with the same problem doesn’t prove anything other than you have company in your delusions. If you are going to convince anyone you’re going to need to provide a viable alternative theory that has at least as much evidence in support of it as what Evolution has, but you haven’t provided any such thing. Instead you continue to offer distortions and logical fallacies to try and hide the fact that you have nothing better to offer up in Evolution’s stead.
Evolutionists are incapable of selling their ideas in an open marketplace. Instead, they resort to Soviet-style coercion and censorship to impose their views on others. Remember, it was the communists who made a special point of teaching that God played no role in the creation of the universe and mankind. Evolution became their god, and history is repeating itself in America’s classrooms today.
First Taliban-like and now Soviet-style! Joseph certainly has a gift for milking the straw man fallacy like a true pro. Not only is there nothing “Soviet-like” about this situation, but as far as I know the Soviets didn’t worship Evolution as a God. Nor is Evolution presented as anything God-like in American classrooms. But don’t let reality get in the way of your skillful use of hyperbole.
The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s as good reason as any not to teach what we don’t know as fact to kids forced to attend government schools. There are many good arguments against government education, but the fact that so many turn into state-sponsored propaganda mills and miseducation camps is the best reason of all.
This whole paragraph is just funny. It almost refutes itself.
Some of the very brightest people in the world today disbelieve in the theory of evolution. Some of the very brightest people throughout history have believed the world was created – men like Sir Isaac Newton, Copernicus and Maury. Why is it so vital to the new gods of scientific correctness that every schoolkid in America be taught only – I repeat, only – their theories of the universe and the origins of man?
And he finishes up with the ever popular argumentum ad verecundiam or appeal to authority fallacy. The fact that some of the brightest people in the world disbelieve in the Theory of Evolution, both today and throughout history, is only really relevant if those people are likely to hold an informed opinion on the issue. Being intelligent, or “bright,” is no guarantee that your conclusions and beliefs will be correct. Let’s take the aforementioned Sir Isaac Newton for example:
There is no disputing that Sir Isaac Newton was one of the most influential scientists who has ever drawn breath and his impact on the fields of astronomy, physics, and mathematics is nothing short of revolutionary. What is lesser known is the fact that he was also an alchemist of the Hermetic tradition—that is, he believed that the body of knowledge of alchemy originated in the ancient past and was given to mankind by supernatural agents—and he devoted a good portion of his time and energy to experiments dealing with alchemy. By the time of his death he had written over a million words on the subject and although none of his experiments in alchemy are known to have been successful he maintained a belief in the reality of alchemy to the very end. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a scientist of any significant standing who is likely to express much of belief in the validity of alchemy as a science. Newton was clearly of superior intellect in many ways, but that didn’t prevent him from being completely wrong about the validity of alchemy.
The fact that Newton, Copernicus, Maury and many other great thinkers throughout history accepted the idea that he world was created by a God or other supernatural agent doesn’t in itself prove anything other than some great thinkers have believed this particular idea to be true. Just as many other great thinkers over the years have believed the opposite. For every Sir Isaac Newton that Joseph can name I can probably counter with an Albert Einstein.
Joseph’s last question might be reasonable if any of the “alternative theories” on the origins of the Universe and mankind happened to be as equally valid as what is currently being taught in schools, but the problem of course is that they aren’t as equally valid. Despite his insistence to the contrary, there is plenty of evidence in support of the Theory of Evolution that has been documented over the years as the theory has progressed. Joseph’s denial of this fact is necessary so he can pull Evolution down to the same level as the “alternative” theories he’d like to see taught in schools which really don’t have a single shred of evidence in support of them. His whole argument is based on trying to show that Evolution has no more weight behind it than any other viewpoint as opposed to trying to prove that the “alternative” theories have any basis at all outside of faith or are in any way scientifically valid. Joseph knows that’s not possible so he resorts to logical fallacies and trying to associate the opposition with unpopular groups in an effort to cover-up the shortcomings of the viewpoint he wishes to promote.