I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means

Over the past week I’ve heard several mentions of the breakout of prayer by students at a football game in Marianna, children-praying-in-school-300x300Florida.  The local TV station reported “Just before Friday night’s football game at Marianna High School, students, parents, and even the players went through with reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”  Further, a student is reported as saying “It just shows that with God anything’s possible, nothing can stop us.”  This is all in response to the fact that the local school board had decided that an organized prayer was problematic, something that has been repeatedly upheld by the courts.

Here is what I find odd about all this.  People keep acting as if the students and parents taking it upon themselves to pray is some kind of triumph over some movement to prevent that kind of thing from happening.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  No one has ever suggested that private individuals are not allowed to pray before football games, at graduations, or anything else.  That has never been the issue at hand.  What has been at issue is the idea of prayers organized by public school officials, and this is for a very simple reason.  It is both illegal and inappropriate for the government to endorse any particular religion.  And, of course, that’s what almost all parents, including those in Marianna, Florida, want, even if they are not aware of that fact.  I promise, the last thing any these people who recited the Lord’s Prayer want is for some school official to stand up and lead their children in a prayer a Hindu deity.  They would absolutely freak out.  But, of course, that’s the same kind of respect Hindus want as well.  They don’t want someone in power telling their kids to what god it is appropriate to pray.  And I doubt Protestants want a Catholic official leading students in a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and I can’t help but think that most Southern Baptists would be incredibly uncomfortable if the team coach broke out in Tongues before the big game.  I can come up with these examples all day long.  The only prayers people want their kids praying are prayers to their own god in their own way.  And that’s exactly the reason for not having public school officials lead the children in their charge in prayers in general.

But none of that has anything to do with individuals themselves saying prayers to whatever they want.  On the contrary, that right has been affirmed repeatedly by the courts and defended by that oft-maligned “liberal” group, the ACLU, the same group the report above says claims “it’s against the law for school administrators and teachers to either encourage or discourage [prayer].”  And that is exactly what they say, that school officials cannot encourage or discourage school prayer, but it is that last part that people so often seem to neglect.  There is this strange conviction held by many Christians that they are somehow persecuted, that some secret, nefarious, liberty-hating liberal (funny as that is) cabal within the government is desperate to prevent Christians from worshipping as they wish.  Their evidence of this is that others’ liberties are being protected, namely the liberty to not be coerced into worshipping any particular god at all.  But that is evidence of no such thing, and I am constantly puzzled and dumbfounded as to how anyone who is in control of their mental faculties could ever draw such a conclusion.

A group of Christians praying in public is no victory over anything.  No one is attempting to prevent Christians from practicing their religion.  The only thing at issue has been whether government officials should endorse a particular religion, and this is exemplified here by the idea of teachers leading children, who are told to do as their teachers say, in prayers to entities that may or may not be approved by the children’s parents.  That’s it.  Pray in public all you want.  But when you brag that you’ve somehow overcome prejudice and attempts to revoke your rights because you prayed to Jehovah, you just look foolish and show your own radical misunderstanding of how your own rights are being protected.

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Tolerance of Religion vs Respect for Religion

The question of religious tolerance may very well be the single most divisive issue among secular liberals in the west.  From the proposed French ban on female head-covering to pandering defenses of female circumcision, liberals find themselves divided on the question of when and whether it is appropriate to tolerate the institutionalized intolerance that is often a part of religious conviction.  The debate takes on a special vitriol in the United States where minority religious rights are as close to a sacred value as any secular principle could be.  We hold it as a virtue to protect freedom of worship, even if we cannot agree about what god, if any, is worthy of our worship. But, at the same time, we are made uncomfortable when confronted with the racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, and xenophobic descriptions and prescriptions that lurk in the pages of every major religious text.  We embrace liberal theologies that explain away these uncomfortable details, and we shake our heads with frustration when confronted with fundamentalists who refuse to compromise.

The recent controversy over the proposed plan to build a Muslim community center- which would include a mosque- a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood has given me pause to reconsider the puzzle of religious tolerance.  Let me say from the outset that I have no problem with a mosque being built at or near ground zero.  If the United States protects the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble for the purposes of religious worship and fellowship, then it should protect that right for all citizens, regardless of the content of their beliefs.  Moreover, most of the people who are complaining about this "disrespect" or "insensitivity" really just have a problem with Muslims, not the content of their beliefs (which are, incidentally, much more similar to the beliefs of Christians and Jews than are secular philosophies and various other Eastern and polytheistic religions).  So, lest there be any confusion on the matter, I am not on the same side as Sarah Palin and her ilk.  I don’t think building a house of prayer "hurts hearts."  I don’t think every Muslim is a potential plane hijacker anymore than every Christian is a potential abortion-clinic bomber.  And, if places of worship are going to be built, I think the former site of the Twin Towers is as good a place as any to put one.

All of that being said, I don’t think the imperative to tolerate peaceful assembly or private religious fellowship in any way extends to an imperative to respect religious belief.   If your religion tells you that the world is less than 7,000 years old and you believe it, then I think you are an idiot.  If your religion tells you to disown your gay son and shun your immodest daughter and you do it, then I say you’re an awful person.   I can tolerate your believing things that are nonsense so long as you aren’t breaking the laws we’ve both agreed to obey, but that doesn’t mean I respect what you believe.  Moreover, I think I have a moral obligation to challenge your beliefs when you hold them up in defense of a policy that will affect me and other people in my community.

It’s this distinction between religious tolerance and religious respect that is really at issue in the mosque-at-ground-zero controversy.  The most vocal critics of the mosque are not rabid atheists who are angry about religious zealots killing people.  They are right-wing Christians.  Now, leaving aside the possibility that some of the Christian mosque-building opponents are just plain racists, I think the best explanation for why this group opposes building an Islamic house of worship near the former site of the Twin Towers is that they conflate the imperative to tolerate peaceful religious practice with an obligation to respect the content of other people’s religious belief.  Their thinking seems to be that because Muslim belief (among other things) motivated the 9/11 hijackers, showing tolerance for Muslim belief so close to the site of the attacks is an inappropriate sign of respect for the religion.  If you think about it from their perspective, the twisted logic is not hard to follow.  The Christian right is quite fond of accusing the secular left of intolerance. Whether by charging that the left is "closed-minded" for not teaching creationism as a science, or "ignoring the will of the people" when a federally-appointed judge overturns the church-promoted Proposition 8, Christians in this country are fond of painting themselves as the victims of religious persecution.  So, given that the Christian right conflates legitimate challenges to their beliefs with "intolerance," it kind of makes sense that they might confuse the reasonable mandate to tolerate Muslim religious practice with a legitimate objection to belief in the tenets of Islam.

So, let me make the distinction between religious tolerance and religious respect explicit.  Refusing to teach religious myth as science in public schools is not intolerant.   Allowing homosexual couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples is not intolerant.  Blocking people from building a religious community center on property they have legally acquired is intolerant.  In all three cases, I don’t respect the religious beliefs that motivate the project.  I don’t believe in your God, so what you think He says about the age of the Earth, the sin of sodomy, and the proper way to pray doesn’t matter to me.   In the first two cases, the issue is not private religious belief but the legal definition of the terms "science" and "marriage" which have implications for everyone in the country, regardless of their beliefs.  In the third case, once the legal status of the building property is determined, the issue really is private religious belief.  I am not affected by you praying at your house of worship, but I am affected by you legislating from it.  Perhaps the religious right would appreciate the relative harmlessness of the former if they stopped doing the latter.

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Atheists not Accepted as In-Laws

pew research black americansPew Research has released the results of a new poll centered around the self-assessment of black Americans concerning their place in society here in the US.  While there is much of interest in the object of study here, I would like to highlight something buried in the rest of the analysis.  From the report: 

The survey finds that most Americans also are ready to accept intermarriage in their family if the new spouse is Hispanic or Asian. But there is one new spouse that most Americans would have trouble accepting into their families: someone who does not believe in God. Seven-in-ten people who are affiliated with a religion say they either would not accept such as marriage (27%) or be bothered before coming to accept it (42%).

The percentage of those who say they would not accept such a marriage at all is, to me, more noteworthy than those who would be merely bothered before coming to accept it.  This is, in part, because of the very low percentage of people who reported feeling similarly about different characteristics of potential partners for their children.  As the graphic for the report shows, the highest number for any other characteristic for a potential in-law is a low 6% associated with whites who would not accept a black American as a spouse for their child.  The difference between these numbers is significant. 

One point of interest for me is that differences in belief in God can vary amongst family members themselves.  Within my own family there is a variety of beliefs concerning God ranging from fundamentalist Christianity to something bordering on anti-theism, yet everyone in my family gets along just fine.  This is unsurprising given the shared background and common history of the individuals in question.  With that in mind, then, I find it curious that this is an issue of such importance to so many people.  Certainly, it seems as though the possible differences resulting from the racial distinctions would be more dramatic than one’s views on some god’s existence.  What, then, might the core of the concern be?

The-Atheist-eOne possible answer could be the worry over the immortal soul of one’s children, grandchildren, and even the spouse themselves.  So, if one is a Christian, and one believes that those who have not accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior are doomed to suffer for all eternity in the fiery lakes  of Hell, then an argument could be made that refusal to accept an atheist as an in-law revolves around this issue.  Surely, one would not want their child’s soul endangered by the sustained influence of one who is him or herself damned.  And, of course, this could extend to a concern for any offspring resulting from such a union.  It could even be that there is a desire to refrain from forming any attachments to someone that is believed to be damned so as to avoid any anxiety that would come about from this new concern for that person’s welfare (though this would seem strange given the Christian’s mandate to spread the gospel).

If the above is the case, then I can see a possible explanation for the results of the poll.  However, that does not appear to be the reason as it looks like atheists are simply viewed in a poorer light in general by the public at large.  In polls conducted by the Gallup Organization from 1937 to 2007, it appears clear that atheists are and have been at the bottom of the pile in terms of whom the public would trust with public office.  In fact, according to the polls, “An atheist would seem to have the hardest time getting elected president, as a majority of Americans (53%) say they would not vote for a presidential candidate who was an atheist.”  This suggests that the US simply has a negative view in general of atheists, though it is unclear what the source of that prejudice is.

I know all this is true.  I see it day to day.  That doesn’t stop it from being weird.  It just strikes me as odd that this is the thing about which people are concerned.  It’s perplexing.  After all, no one is committing crimes in the name of atheism, atheists, in fact, being under-represented in our nations prisons.  We don’t have any examples of atheists refusing to let theists hold jobs, patronize their businesses, or ride their buses.  There is no data that suggests that atheists are more likely to be responsible for any of the things the public is likely to consider undesirable, and there is data to suggest that atheists are less likely to fall into such categories.  This prejudice against atheists is just all so strange. 

I don’t know.  Maybe if all you godless heathens stopped eating babies your public image would improve.

via Blag Hag

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Pat Robertson, Haiti, and the Devil

Yesterday, January 13, on his show The 700 Club, Pat Robertson said that Haiti made a “pact with the Devil,” and that such was the root cause of all the country’s woes, including the recent earthquake. 

The video:

 

That’s right.  Pat Robertson believes that the entire country of Haiti got together, called up Ol’ Scratch, and pledged to do his wicked bidding if only he would help them free themselves from the oppression of the French.  Because, of course, anyone who believed in the Devil and knew who he was would also think that he would be a kinder and gentler master than the French, who are not themselves the Prince of Darkness or the Source of Evil.

I have very little to say about this.  I could rant and rave, but the sheer insanity of this, the wild awfulness of accusing an entire country of people of all being in league with Satan, not as a metaphor, but as real and actual, says more in itself than I ever could.  Anyone who continues to listen to this man, and certainly anyone who gives him money, thereby assisting the maniac, should be wholly dismissed and treated as the idiot they clearly are.  They are a lost cause.  I do not mean this as hyperbole.  I genuinely believe that anyone who can, with a straight face, claim than an entire nation of people would knowingly pledge themselves to Satan, and this is why they have been devastated by a natural disaster, is far beyond any hope of rational thinking.  Further, anyone who could hear such a claim and not recognize the lunacy behind it is also beyond all hope.  Thus, any attempt to convince them of the absurdity of their claim is futile.

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Lying for Jesus

First, I guess I should address the fact that I haven’t posted in a while.  It isn’t that I’ve quit on the blog.  This is just one of those cases where life got in the way of plans that were made.  In short, I’ve been busy, but I plan to continue this blog for quite awhile.  That said, I apologize for my lack of posts over the past month or so.

What I want to touch on now is something about which numerous people have already spoken (my “late to the ball” metaphor might serve as a better name for this blog in general), but it’s something on which I want to write regardless.  The issue is the upcoming publicity stunt by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron in which they will hand out copies of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species at the “top 100 U.S. universities.”  You can go here to check out what they’re doing in their own words.  The kicker is that Comfort has written an introduction that will be included in the book.  It is 50 pages long, and it is ridiculous.  A pdf of that introduction is available on the linked site.  Check it out.

For starters, here is a video put out to publicize the event:

 

Let’s consider the first few things said in the video.  Cameron claims, “One by one, we’re being stripped of our God-given liberties.”  Which liberties are these?  Don’t worry, Kirk is going to clue us in.  He says, “Our kids can no longer pray in public.”  Really?  When did this happen?  Of course, it never happened.  It is wholly untrue that kids can’t pray in public, including public schools.  Kids can pray all they want (though teachers cannot coerce children into praying to that teacher’s god).

He continues, “They can no longer freely open a Bible in school.”  Bzzt!  Wrong again.

“The Ten Commandments are no longer allowed to be displayed in public places.”  Where does he come up with this stuff?  Are churches not “public places”?  There is absolutely no such prohibition.  Now, it is true that you can’t display these in places like government buildings, but that’s to avoid the government’s endorsing one god over another.  Moreover, that in no way prevents anyone from displaying the Ten Commandments on their own property where everyone can see them all the day long.

“The Gideons are not even allowed to give away Bibles in schools.”  This is is correct, but, again, this is to avoid having the government, even tacitly, endorse one religion over another.  Honestly, the people who don’t get that this is in their best interest just are not thinking this through.  I can’t even begin to imagine how loud the uproar would be by conservative Christian parents if some Muslim organization were giving away copies of the Qur’an while a teacher was leading his students in prayer to Allah during school hours.  I imagine it would be just a bit less than the outcry by Baptist parents if a teacher were telling her students that they needed to confess their sins to a priest in order to be forgiven, or the reaction of Catholic parents whose children were told that they could bypass their priest altogether and go straight to the source in their confessions.  The reason this stuff isn’t in schools is to protect freedom of worship, not prohibit it, and suggesting otherwise shows one to be either incredibly naive or a deceiver.

It goes downhill from there, but this should suffice for my purposes.  What we have above are three separate lies and one assertion whose words are true but whose implied concern is false, and this is in the first thirty seconds.  That’s quite a bit of untruth from someone supposedly concerned about the moral failings of our society, and it is all done in the name of God.

It gets worse.  Ray Comfort was offered the opportunity to respond to increasing criticism about this endeavor by US News and World Reports. He posited the question “Why are many atheists so angry?…If I am (as Professor Dawkins says) ‘an ignorant fool’, why are so many feeling threatened by what I’ve written? Surely, the Introduction will be ignorance and foolishness, and simply confirm the students’ presuppositions that intelligent design isn’t worthy of even a first look.”

There are many reasons to be concerned about such a thing, and I’ll name a couple before getting to Comfort’s own response to the question.  It is simply the case that a great number of college students are unfamiliar with the material in question and are thus susceptible to being deceived by those claiming to be authority figures.  Those unversed in history or biology will not have the tools or knowledge to see through Comfort’s absurdities and lies and, as such, may very well be swayed by his inaccuracies.  By writing the introduction of the “150th Anniversary Edition,” Comfort puts himself in the role of an expert, an authority on the subject.  He is well aware of this, else why even bother with this charade?  Comfort has the ability to influence children with his introduction, and that is exactly why he undertook this project.  That is why people are concerned.  And, I mean, duh.

Comfort’s responds to his own question is that those opposed to his book should be concerned.  They should be concerned because there’s a direct line from Darwin to Hitler, and “Nazi Germany was the natural outcome of what Darwin called ‘one general law’.”  I kid you not.  Darwin, who, along with his entire family, fought for the abolition of slavery his entire life, who said that mercy, our empathy for our fellow humans, was our best quality, created Hitler and Nazism.  Forget the centuries of Christian writers who were rabidly anti-Semitic.  Forget the role of the Catholic Church itself.  It was all Darwin.  A more absurd lie could not be told.  (Lest there be any confusion, I am in no way suggesting that Christianity was responsible for Nazism.  The rise of Nazi Germany is an incredibly complicated story of which there is no single or simple cause.)

Comfort continues, “The Introduction also defines an atheist as someone who believes that nothing created everything—which is a scientific impossibility.”  So much is wrong with this that it is tough to know where to begin.  First, there are quite a few Christians who believe that evolutionary theory gets it right.  One of the most influential defenders of evolutionary biology right now is Ken Miller, a devout Christian.  His book, Finding Darwin’s God, is a comprehensive explanation of evolutionary theory that also contains a systematic dismantling of the common criticisms of evolution, including intelligent design.  Next, an atheist is not “someone who believes that nothing created everything.”  An atheist is simply someone who lacks a belief in any gods.  That’s it.  One’s views of cosmogeny simply have nothing to do with that whatsoever, and the fact that Comfort wants to redefine the word to something radically different only highlights his intellectual dishonesty.  Further, and this is the real kicker, it just might not be a scientific impossibility that the universe popped into existence out of nothing.  What we’ve discovered is that lots of things about the world are counter-intuitive to us, and this might just be another one.  But, most important of all, none of this has anything to do with evolution at all! Our understanding of the universe has radically changed since Darwin, and it will likely change again.  Likewise, the details of evolutionary biology have changed since the advent of relativity, quantum mechanics, big bang theory, and a host of other things in physics and cosmology.  The point here is that these things are just not dependent upon one another in any significant way.

Comfort makes a number of other enormous mistakes, but I see no need to detail each of them.  There is a larger issue here that needs to be addressed, and that is that Comfort has been made aware of these “mistakes” over and over again. This is hardly the first time these things have been said, even by Comfort, and he has been repeatedly corrected.  Even so, he keeps trotting out the same tired examples.  But the point to this is that these can no longer be seen as mistakes.  As corrections have occurred, that means he is aware of the falsehoods, yet he keeps spreading them.  That makes him a blatant liar.

In the end, I am unclear on what Comfort and Cameron’s goal is.  They are liars, and they know it.  Even so, they hold themselves up as moral leaders and say their hope is to save our children and ourselves.  What moral authority can one hope to hold when that authority is achieved by deception?  None.  This is a message that should be heeded most of all by other Christians.  Why any group would allow moral reprobates such as these to act as if they are the group’s representatives is beyond me.  However, I don’t know that I would agree with ripping out the introduction, as others have suggested.  Instead, I would take the opportunity to discuss these issues with any students who receive the book.  I would advocate holding lectures on the campuses at which the books are being distributed where the points in Comfort’s introduction are taken apart one by one.  That way not only do kids get the book, of which they should have some copy, they also get vaccinated against Comfort’s lies, and, more importantly, they become aware of this kind of tactic, making them less likely to fall for it in the future.  That would actually be something very good that could come out of this whole debacle.

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Traitors in Your Midst

There has recently been a bit of a brouhaha in Illinois at which Hemant Mehta, "The Friendly Atheist", is the center.  Mr. Mehta is a math teacher in public school, Illinois’ District 204’s Neuqua Valley High School, to be exact, as well as a popular blogger.  The controversy started because of a conservative Christian organization, the Illinois Family Institute (italics all their own), whose writer Laurie Higgins, Director of the IFI, decided to let people know that they should avoid the "Bean" in Millennium Park in Illinois on Saturday, August 15 at 1:00 pm because the "Great Nationwide Homosexual Kiss-In" was going to be taking place there.  Lots of people responded to this, and Mr. Mehta was one of them.  On his blog he wrote, “The only thing that could make this kiss-in even better is if it took place just outside Higgins’ house.”  I want to say that, while funny, I don’t know that this was the most appropriate kind of response.  Mr. Mehta insists that the remark was sarcastic, and that “Obviously, I didn’t mean on her property (that’d be illegal). And not purposely in front of her children.”  I guess I’m much more bothered by the suggestion that people should show up on Ms. Higgins’ lawn in a sort of protest than I am that her kids might see some benign public display of affection.  My concern would be that a public school teacher could be seen as exhorting his students to break the law.  While Mr. Mehta later explicitly said that’s not what he intended, as the quote above indicates, I will say that such was not at all clear from the context of his initial post.  (As an aside, it’s weird to me that his response was phrased in such a way as to suggest that her children seeing some homosexual couple kissing would be “worse” than the couple illegally trespassing.  I mean, really?  There’s more I could say about that, but I do not want to get away from my actual point here.)

Mr. Mehta’s response to the IFI’s “warning” about the Kiss-In led Ms. Higgins’ to write an email to the entire administrative staff of Mr. Mehta’s school as well as every area school board member.  Part of that email read as follows:  “He, of course, has a First Amendment right to write whatever he pleases on his blog ‘The Friendly Atheist’ during his free time, but it’s unfortunate that a role model for students would write some of the things he writes.”  While the entire content of the letter is not available, Ms. Higgins did not stop with that email.  She wrote this article on the IFI website further condemning Mr. Mehta.  There she has published at least one response she received to her email:

Making District 204 leaders aware of Mr. Mehta’s comment was all I intended to do regarding this issue, that is, until I received an angry email from attorney and school board member, Mark Metzger. His email contained the following not-so-veiled threat of a lawsuit:

"Have you considered the possibility that if your actions caused Mr. Mehta to suffer consequences in his employment, you’d be subjecting yourself and/or your organization to liability? That’s potentially unwise to your organization’s self-sufficiency, surviival (sic) and mission."

In addition, he suggested I was setting "a poor example for families"…

Whatever the total content of the email was, it is clear that at least one school board member recognized that such correspondence could have the result of Mr. Mehta being fired.  And this gets to the heart of the reason I’m addressing this.  In this same article Ms. Higgins writes:

Of course, teachers have a First Amendment right to blog or speak publicly about anything they want. And parents have every right not to have their children in the classroom under the tutelage of someone whose publicly articulated views they find fallacious and deeply troubling. Having a First Amendment right to speak freely does not guarantee public approval or public silence. And the public response may be that parents choose not to have their children in the class of those who espouse views that parents find foolish and destructive.
Parents have a justifiable concern that the personal views of teachers may find their way into the classroom, either through curricular choices or classroom commentary. Those parents who want nothing more than that their children will believe in God may find someone whose mission in life is to persuade young people to reject a belief in God to be a poor role model.

If you read this as a call to action, you are not alone.  Indeed, I cannot imagine who could read this as anything but a call to action for conservative, Christian parents to do something.  But what is that something?  It would appear that she wants these parents to band together to somehow get Mr. Mehta removed from his position as a public school teacher.  What other action could she be suggesting?  Giving her the benefit of the doubt that she is not wishing her readers to do actual violence to Mr. Mehta, I just cannot see what she would want the parents who “have every right not to have their children in the classroom under the tutelage of someone whose publicly articulated views they find fallacious and deeply troubling” to actually do if not that.  In Ms. Higgins’ own article she provided evidence that someone reading similar words would take that call to action to be getting Mr. Mehta fired from his job, so she is clearly aware that that is just how her words will be taken.  Since she continued to use similar words in her article to the public as she did in her letter to the school administration (“He, of course, has a First Amendment right to write whatever he pleases on his blog ‘The Friendly Atheist’ during his free time, but it’s unfortunate that a role model for students would write some of the things he writes.” vs. “Of course, teachers have a First Amendment right to blog or speak publicly about anything they want. … Those parents who want nothing more than that their children will believe in God may find someone whose mission in life is to persuade young people to reject a belief in God to be a poor role model.”), it would be absurd to suggest that she did not understand how her words would be understood.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Mehta responded to this article on his own blog.  In it he writes, “It seems I have a conservative ‘family’ group angry with me because of this website. And they’re trying to attack my character (and my teaching position) as a result.”  The following day Ms. Higgins posted this in the IFI site:

District 204 parents really should spend some time perusing Neuqua Valley math teacher, Hemant Mehta‘s website to determine whether he is the kind of man with whom they want their children to spend a school year. He absolutely has a First Amendment right to promote any feckless, destructive, offensive, and immoral ideas he wants via his blog, but, as I mentioned in my earlier article, parents have the right not to have him as a teacher and a role model for their children. I want to be very clear about what I’m suggesting: I am suggesting that parents who have serious concerns about Mr. Mehta’s potential influence on their children’s beliefs politely insist that their children be placed in another teacher’s class.

One notes the post here gives an explicit claim as to what is being suggested, and this differs from the earlier interpretation of the call to action that I claimed was reasonable.  Here Ms. Higgins says that she simply thinks that parents should “politely insist that their children be placed in another teacher’s class.”  Of course, one must ask how reasonable such a suggestion is.  If it turns out that a significant number of parents continue to insist that their child be taught by someone else, and if the school is under any obligation to respect that demand, there seems to be little way that they could continue to employ Mr. Mehta.  Further, and this needs to be addressed, is it reasonable to believe that Ms. Higgins wants any child taught by someone who promoting “feckless, destructive, offensive, and immoral ideas” in his capacity as a role model?  I would think not.  So, while it might not be the case that Ms. Higgins called for parents to phone the school board demanding Mr. Mehta’s immediate firing, it seems ridiculous to suggest that she wants anything other than that.

Of course, that’s just how Mr. Mehta took the article.  He then wrote, “The Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins is going after me (and my job) again.”  This would appear to be a wholly reasonable thing to say given what Ms. Higgens has actually written.  So, here comes the big issue, Ms. Higgens responded by publishing an open letter to Mr. Mehta on the IFI site.  It begins with the quote from Mr. Mehta above, and then follows with, “I have never in any context suggested that you should be fired or that you should resign. In fact, I don’t believe the school has any legal right to fire you. You should have fact-checked before you posted that inaccurate statement.”

So, for those of you still following along, here’s where the meat of my post comes.  It is patently absurd to insist that you want anything other than the removal of a teacher when you have done everything in your power to make that happen!  Did Ms. Higgins ever explicitly say she wanted him fired?  No.  But the reason for this is clear in her article.  “In fact, I don’t believe the school has any legal right to fire you.”  So, the reason she has not publically called for such a thing is because she does not believe that Mr. Mehta’s actions legally warrant that response by the school.  But, of course, that is what Ms. Higgins desires.  She has made that repeatedly clear, and the fact that she cannot legally get her desire in no way diminishes that.  It is wholly dishonest for her to pretend that anything other than that is what’s going on here.

All that leads me to my big question.  Why is she so deceitful?  How does her lying about what she’s attempting to accomplish promote her values?  And the answer is obvious.  By taking the route she does she hopes to provide an actual reason for Mr. Mehta being removed from his position.  It would not be what he’s written on his blog, because that will not cut it.  But a large movement by area parents who refuse to let their children be taught by Mr. Mehta will have a similar result.  Mr. Mehta will be unable to do his job, will face public ridicule, and, I suspect, the refusal of parents to let their children be taught by someone can be used in some way so as to provide a legal reason to fire Mr. Mehta. 

All that means that what Ms. Higgins has said is bullshit.  Flat out.  She has danced around, deceived, and outright lied about her intentions in order to get what she wants.  I have no doubt that Ms. Higgins holds “truth” to be an important value for families.  And yet, she has no problem abandoning that value when it is convenient for her.  If values can be discarded on a whim, that should suggest that those values are of little importance in the first place.  People like Ms. Higgins should be shunned and her opinions fully disregarded by all sides.  Their organizations should receive no support from anyone, especially not those who actually hold dear the values that Ms. Higgins parodies.  Those who are genuine in their adherence to conservative, Christian values should view Ms. Higgins as the worst kind of enemy, a traitor within their own camp.  And, of course, those who think her values of hatred and misrepresentation of those who differ from her are garbage should see her as nothing less than a genuine threat exemplified by all those who would plunge us into a new Dark Ages.

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“Creation Science” Fair?

Here is something interesting I came across this morning.  It looks like the Creation Museum will be having a science fair next year.  The Creation Museum’s blog posted this entry yesterday:  “Top 10 reasons why you should go to the Creation Museum Science Fair in 2010.” 

Here is the list:

10. You probably don’t have anything else planned for February 27, 2010. (Mark your calendar!)

9. It’s at the Creation Museum!

8. It’s open to homeschoolers, Christian school students, and public school students—as long as you agree with AiG’s Statement of Faith and will conduct a quality experiment, you can apply.

7. Science is fun!

6. It will be a fun day of learning with special programs just for you.

5. You can show off your scientific prowess.

4. You can meet other creationist science-minded students.

3. You can conduct an experiment on a topic of your choice in the life or physical sciences (within certain guidelines).

2. You can meet Answers in Genesis staff scientists.

And finally…

1. Many fabulous prizes will be awarded!

 

Now, here is what is interesting about this.  Point (8) says that to qualify the experiment performed by a student must coincide with AiG’s “Statement of Faith.”  You can check that out yourself, but the take take-home message is that all scientific research must agree literally with the Bible.  Any research that indicates a different conclusion that what is found in Scripture must necessarily be incorrect as Scripture is the final word (Word?) on everything. 

There are a couple of issues here.  The first one is a question as to why one would bother to do research at all if the answer is already known.  It seems that a large part of the reason people conduct research into some subject area is precisely because we don’t know how things are.  When you say you have not only the truth, but you have the Truth, the absolute and full answer, then it seems unclear why you would take the time to do research in the first place.  Now, it may be that someone would suggest that the Bible gives us the big answers, but we still need to work out the details.  That could be where science plays its role.  But that seems problematic from a conceptual standpoint.  Normally, studying the details gives you the big picture.  Suggesting that you have the big picture but not the details seems odd.  But, even worse, it seems just bizarre to think that one would use an independent method of studying the details than the one used to study the big picture.  Of course, if it turned out that this did, in fact, work, then it might just be that what is counter-intuitive here just turns out to be true.  Certainly it is the case elsewhere that what is counter-intuitive is true.  Just look at quantum mechanics.  But it would seem that we are only justified in thinking this is the case when the independent method of getting details (here, science) keeps delivering the same conclusion as the already-possessed Big Picture.  And that is exactly what we don’t see in the case of science vs. Scripture.  Instead, what we repeatedly see is science studying the details and delivering a radically different conclusion that the one found in the Bible.  So, if you believe that you already have the Truth, as the AiG crew certainly does, then it is baffling why you would be at all interested in pursuing a method of studying details that clearly arrives at false conclusions.  Since you already know you are Right, then the only reasonable position is that the scientific method must be fundamentally flawed.  So why hold a science fair?

There is a further issue, and it concerns the morality of holding a “science fair” that demands that the conclusions found must not contradict a position already held.  This is simply not science in any recognizable form.  Science does not presume an outcome and try to make the evidence fit that preconceived conclusion.  In fact, that is the epitome of bad science.  Yet, that is exactly what this supposed science fair is doing.  As such, the organizers and promoters of this event are explicitly lying to the children they’re roping into this sham.  This is because they are telling these kids that it is legitimate to do science in this fashion.  And the argument can’t be made that AiG might be unaware of their mistake.  They are very active in their attempt to push their “alternative” interpretation of science, and, in fact, this is the entire reason for the Creation Museum’s existence.  That awareness means that there can be no excuse in their bamboozling kids into believing they are participating in a genuine science fair and doing real science.  AiG is holding this function with full knowledge that the scientific community sees what they are doing as a perversion of science, something completely antithetical to actual science.  This means that there is no excuse for their labeling of the event as a “science” fair or willfully lying by telling the children participating that what they are doing is in any sense legitimate science.  This deception is clearly harmful in that it sets these children up for failure when they attempt to use the practices and skills that are supposed to be learned in science fairs in the real world.  That puts AiG and the Creation Museum in the unenviable position of not only being liars, but demonstrably being shown to be harming those they have a clear moral obligation to protect:  their own kids.

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