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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

 

No compromise on science http://www.time.com/time/columnist/jaroff/article/0,9565,783829,00.html

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, November 23, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
There are some issues that I simply don't see a route for reasonable compromise. One of these is in math and science education. There is a disturbing trend by the culture warriors to promote religious belief as scientific fact, within the public domain rather than in their churches where it belongs. See below the fold for an example, on how national park service officials are forced to give lip-service to Creationist accounts of the Grand Canyon's origin, and prevented from discussing the scientific natural history.

Being Purple does not mean that the "median" position of every ssue must be embraced. Sometimes the Blue position, and sometimnes the Red position, is truly the Purple one. When it comes to scientific fact, there is no place for the discussion of religious belief. Likewise in the schools. The proper place to inculcate religious teaching is at home and in the church.

It is true that science is not about fact, it is about thery. The scientific method is about asking questions, then finding evidence to support the answers, and always being open to the possibility of new evidence that could change the conclusions. The goal is to model Reality and Objective Truth, not define it.

Yes, that does mean that Evolution is a theory. But the validity of a theory is measured by how well it fits the evidence - and any competing theory has to fit the same evidence at least equally well for it to lay any claim to being equal. Creationism, usually resting on the laurels of the Bible and a flawed understanding of Thermodynamics (hint: the Earth is not a closed system. See that yellow thing in the sky?), completely fails to meet that standard.

I will proudly state that I do believe in Creation (or rather, Intelligent Design). I don't see much reason to find Creation and Evolution at odds, either (the 6000 year old figure is solely an estimate by Bishop Usher which has no doctrinal authority other than tradition). But in my belief system, all knowledge derives from Allah and the tools of reason we have been given by Him are so we can better appreciate his Glory as reflected in the natural world. Science, the method, is the ultimate use of that gift and therefore an act of worship in and of itself.

Here's the article. I see this as the intellectual equivalent of the destruction of Bamiyan. I think that these people would pave the Canyon if they could. And I am hopeful that the extremist faction that promotes this brand of scientific illiteracy truly is a fringe voice that the majority will rise to silence. Hopeful, but also pessimistic.

UPDATE: Someone rightly asked me to justify my "pave the canyon" comment while in discussion at GNXP. I am NOT saying that this guy's book is equivalent to destroying the Canyon. What I am saying is that these Creatioonist-extremists' selective Biblical interpretation of the Flood origin is an attempt to blunt the threat that the Canyon presents by its very existence to Creationist dogma.

Ask yourself - what does the Canyon's origin really have to do with human origins? Nothing! Except that it provides empirical evidence which Creationist theory cannot account for. Rather than modify the theory to account for the new evidence (as Science does), they must "destroy" the evidence.

Unfortunately for the Creationist-extremists, the Canyon is too big to physically destroy. So, they resort to symbolical destruction, via revisionist co-opting of the evidence to serve their interpretation.

After all, the Flood has nothing to do with Creation either. The Flood is just a Biblical event that they have seized upon in order to lend their symbolic destruction of the Canyon some authority.

UPDATE 2: Another fair question in the discussion at my RedState diary, ie why I am suddenly pro-censorship. I am not. I have no problem with Vail's book being sold or read in libraries or bookstores. However, the bookstore at the Canyon should be for education purposes, to help promote scientific inquiry and natural science. It represents an enormous (I would say, even Divine) opportunity to help spread scientific literacy and stimulate children especially to pursue careers in scientific pursuit.

If Vail wanted to publish a book that said, "heres the Genesis account of creation, heres why evolution doesnt square with the Bible" then that would be one thing. This book is arguing against the scientific fact of the Canyon's age and origin, and implicitly lumps this basic geologic knowledge in with Evolution. He then makes a wildly speculative assumption that the Flood carved the Canyon despite zero evidence even in the Bible itself about gigantic chasms in Arizona. So he not only ignores scientific evidence, he doesn't even present Biblical evidence! It's essentially a fantasy and has no place in an educational setting.

This is why the book's sale is not innocous at the Canyon bookstore. He's welcome to sell the thing anywhere else, give free copies away on hikes, whatever.

Faith-Based Parks?
Creationists meet the Grand Canyon

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004
At a park called Dinosaur Adventure Land, run by creationists near Pensacola, Florida, visitors are informed that man coexisted with dinosaurs. This fantasy accommodates the creationists’ view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Darwin’s theory of evolution is false. Among the park exhibits is one that illustrates another creationist article of faith. It consists of a long trough filled with sand and fitted at one end with a water spigot. Above the trough is a sign reading “That River Didn’t Make That Canyon.” When visitors open the spigot, the water quickly cuts a gully through the sand, supposedly demonstrating how the Grand Canyon was created, practically overnight, by Noah’s flood. That’s nonsense, of course, but what else would you expect at a creationist park? Certainly, one might think, this couldn’t be acceptable at, say, a National Park, right? Think again.

Two-thirds of the way across the continent, some four million people annually visit Grand Canyon National Park, marveling at the awesome view. In National Park Service (NPS) affiliated bookstores, they can find literature informing them that the great chasm runs for 277 miles along the bed of the Colorado River. It descends more than a mile into the earth, and along one stretch, is some 18 miles wide, its walls displaying impressive layers of limestone, sandstone, shale, schist and granite.

And, oh yes, it was formed about 4,500 years ago, a direct consequence of Noah’s Flood. How’s that? Yes, this is the ill-informed premise of “Grand Canyon, a Different View,” a handsomely-illustrated volume also on sale at the bookstores. It includes the writings of creationists and creation scientists and was compiled by Tom Vail, who with his wife operates Canyon Ministries, conducting creationist-view tours of the canyon. “For years,” Vail explains, “as a Colorado River guide, I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time span of millions of years. (Most geologists place the canyon’s age at some six million years). Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the Canyon, which according to a biblical time scale, can’t possibly be more than a few thousand years old.”

Vail’s book attracted little notice when it first appeared in the NPS stores in 2003, until a critical review by Wilfred Elders, a respected University of California geologist, brought it to light and took apart its pseudoscientific claims. That led David Shaver, who heads the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service, to send a memo to headquarters urging that the book be removed from the NPS stores. “It is not based on science,” he wrote, “ but on a specific religious doctrine…and should not have been approved for in NPS affiliated book stores.”

The presidents of The American Geological Institute and six of its member societies also weighed in, expressing their dismay to the Park Service. Noting that the Grand Canyon “provides a remarkable and unique opportunity to educate the public about Earth science,” the scientists urged that, “in fairness to the millions of park visitors, we must clearly distinguish religious from scientific knowledge.”

But when Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Vail’s book at canyon bookstores, he was overruled by NPS headquarters, which announced that a high-level policy review of the matter would be launched and a decision made by February, 2004. So far, no official decision has been announced.

Even worse, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization that includes many Park employees, papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that no review has ever taken place. Indeed, PEER claims that the Bush Administration has already decided it will stand by its approval for the book and that hundreds more have been ordered. “Now that the book has become quite popular,” explained an NPS flack to a Baptist news agency, “we don’t want to remove it.”

Even more troubling, PEER charges that Grand Canyon National Park no longer offers an official estimate of the age of the canyon, and that the NPS has blocked publication of guidance intended for park rangers that reminds them there is no scientific basis for creationism. The group has been increasingly concerned about what it calls the Park Service’s “Faith-Based Parks” and the agency’s seeming indifference to the separation of church and state Among other moves, for example, NPS has allowed the placing of bronze plaques bearing Psalm verses at Grand Canyon overlooks. PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch is indignant, “If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it.”

Is this religious bias, as some creationists charge? Hardly. It’s more than likely that the majority of scientists, environmentalists and others protesting the NPS stand are themselves intelligent, rational Christians who are convinced by overwhelming evidence that the Grand Canyon is no Johnny-Come-Lately. The creationists have demonstrated again that they are scientifically illiterate, and out of step with the 21st century.

Leon Jaroff was the founding managing editor of DISCOVER, the newsmagazine of science, and was a longtime correspondent, writer and editor for TIME and LIFE.


Discussion

I agree with Mr. Jaroff. Creationism has no place in the science curriculum of our children, nor in official literature from our national parks. Creation science clearly belongs in the category of theology, something we don't teach in our public schools.

But perhaps we should reconsider this total divorce between religion and public education. Most on the left would accept the study of comparative relions in the schools. But perhaps we should also consider theology as an elective option for high school students. The key would be to offer alternatives to account for the different belief systems of individuals. There are problems with this of course---we quite rightly fear religious tyranny in educaton as much as in politics---but this may be one way to accomodate the concerns of religious conservatives about our public education systems while still retaining an academic atmosphere.

 

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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.