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Science Education is not Totalitarianism

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Recently I was called out by Elisheva Hannah Levin, a hypocritical homeschooling mom (supposedly a degreed Biologist). Levin balked at my stance (previous article) in favor of some form of regulation of home school science curricula. Like Dawkins and many others, I consider the teaching of blatantly false creation stories to children in the guise of science to be a particularly pernicious form of child abuse. It should be banned. I responded to Levin by telling her (previous article) to stop supporting parents lying to their kids.

I’ve shied away in the last couple of years from engaging in drawn out comment or blog wars. They usually turn into a dialog of the deaf. But since I’ve heard from so many people lately who feel complacent about the lies being taught to children, I thought it was a cause worth my effort. For my trouble, Levin (who runs a blog called Ragamuffin Studies) has labeled me a fascist and a totalitarian. She conflates my pro-science stance with Nazism and Communism, and accuses me of supporting policies I actually find completely abhorrent. Her flailing intellectual confusion and straw-man attacks would be funny if she wasn’t so serious, and if she hadn’t so thoroughly drunk her own Kool-Aid.

I’m also now banned from commenting on her blog. Nowhere was I abusive, nor did I use foul language, nor did I engage in the kind of ad hominem attacks she leveled at me–disparaging me in her initial post as "The Anointed," then later mocking me as the "Black Sun Messiah." I pointed out that it was inconsistent for her to be a scientist, yet not see the harm in lying to children about scientific questions. I wondered if she wouldn’t be in favor of some kind of objective standards. She responded with an unqualified "no." I asked if there was anything parents shouldn’t be able to say to their kids–like for example denying the Holocaust. She refused to answer the question, instead launching into a long-winded diatribe about how what I’m proposing (standards for science curricula) is just like what happened in Nazi Germany! No, I’m not kidding. Godwin’s law aside, here’s the whole thing:

The Holocaust denial question is not a good question. It requires almost no reflection on my part. The asker assumes that it was because people could speak freely in their own homes that Hitler was able to murder millions of people. That assumption is completely wrong. No, it was because it was illegal for anyone in Germany to teach anything or speak anything that was not "Party approved" that the Shoah happened. Everyone who disagreed understood that they would be sent to camps and killed if they spoke out on behalf of the Jews. Interestingly enough, it was a small number of religious Christians, mostly Protestant, the people that you disdain, who were the most likely to risk their own lives to save the lives of Jews.

It is precisely because of the Shoah that I will continue to defend the freedom of people who disagree with me to do so.

Clearly, you need to do a bit more critcal analysis of history. Maybe some homeschoolers could tutor you in critical thinking about this. My homeschooled fourteen year old saw through your argument immediately. He says: It was Fascist government of Germany that suspended the rights of its citizens, confiscated literature, and outlawed the teaching of religion by parents to children. In fact, they removed all German kids from parental influence through the Nazi Youth Movement and through fear and intimidation by instructing children to inform on their parents. The Nazis did all these same things that you wish to perpetrate against religious people in this country.

Talk about a straw-man, this is a 75-foot-tall bamboo-man. I tried to respond, but the following comment was blocked and deleted. So much for supporting the rights of those who disagree with you, right Elisheva?

So apparently you’re conceding that it’s OK for people to teach their kids that the Holocaust never happened?

I just want to make sure I have that correct. Your slurs on my character are just a fancy grown-up version of schoolyard name-calling. As far as the rest goes? You’re so caught up in the concept of your opinion vs. other people’s opinion that you seem to have totally lost the concept of objective truth and empirical evidence. For a scientist with advanced degrees, your blatant disregard for the importance of objective facts is both frightening and pathetic.

It gets even worse. Earlier, I accused her of "whining about totalitarianism" because her hysterical paragraph about the Hitler youth movement was an overreaction to what I was proposing–objective science standards. Admittedly, I might have muddied the waters a little by talking about poll testing and objective government (previous article), an alternative to laissez-faire democracy I’ve been considering as a thought experiment for many years. But hey, it was the comments section, and I thought I was having an intellectual discussion–sue me.

I was totally unprepared for the utter preposterousness and laughable excess of her next post. She named it for a line from one of my favorite songs–Heresy by Rush–All Those Wasted Years. Levin is so off-base and ignorant of my position on human freedom that she had the audacity to throw a Neil Peart song at me. Hah! Not only do I know every word of that song by heart–Peart is one of my intellectual heroes–but he’s actually taken a position on this very issue in the first line of Armor and Sword.

The snakes and arrows a child is heir to
Are enough to leave a thousand cuts
We build our defenses, a place of safety
And leave the darker places unexplored

Peart is clearly talking about religious indoctrination here. He specifically mentioned Dawkins position on religious child abuse in an article in the Globe and Mail from April 28, 2007.

"All of these well-armed religions start with children," Peart explains, mentioning Richard Dawkins’ bestselling book The God Delusion. "A Christian child, a Muslim child – there’s no such thing. They’re made that way by their parents….Faithless was born out of the same reflection..Faith, for some people, can be a consolation, an answer to the big questions or solace when they’re feeling hurt and lonely. It’s a kind of armour. But bad faith, that’s a kind of sword."

So, Elisheva, it pays to know Peart’s position if you’re going to quote him.

But this illustrates the larger problem with Levin’s thinking: she’s a relativist. She doesn’t care about the truth of parents’ statements, just that they be allowed to make them at any cost. As I’m fond of repeating, "relativism is the ocean in which all bad arguments swim." I’m not going to digress into all the implications of that here. (Go read the Wikipedia article on the subject). But I will say that for objectivity or science to have any meaning, our observations must be followed with appropriate action. If we use our senses and the scientific method to discover fundamental truths, we must incorporate them into our thinking and act on them with conviction. That includes politically. Levin seems to disagree. Though ostensibly a working scientist, she thinks we can just ignore that evolution is both a fact and a theory and allow people to go about their lives and beliefs as they would if it had not been discovered. Something just doesn’t make sense.

Levin is correct that in an ideal society, everyone should have unfettered freedom of expression. I would heartily agree with the statement often attributed to Voltaire "I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." But if I may go out on a limb, I will surmise that he was talking about political speech or reasoned discourse between equals–not false indoctrination of children.

Most people already consider children to be so precious and in need of protection that a separate set of rules apply. They are not our equals, nor are they capable of exercising full intellectual rights we claim in a free society. They just aren’t up to the task. They need special treatment because of their vulnerability and trust of authority figures. So parents have a responsibility to find and convey the best information available, which should reflect the consensus of the best minds of the day. We guard children’s bodies with laws against sexual exploitation–I’m simply saying let’s defend their minds as well.

Cynical creationist "belief tanks" such as Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute know they have lost the battle on the facts. They have also repeatedly lost in court (most recently in Dover, Pennsylvania). Their devious agendas are unchecked by the so-called morality of the religions they claim to represent. And their resulting intellectual dishonesty reduces them to essentially lobbying organizations–cadres of Machiavellian political strategists. So they rely on home schooling dupes like Levin to build a self-perpetuating support network. They count on such electronic echo-chambers of self-righteousness (bolstered by the red-herring of "free speech") to keep their nonsense being drilled into young minds.

Like child pornography or nuclear weapons plans, there are things we must ban no matter how free we wish our society could be. As a clear and present danger to our future, creationist propaganda materials fall squarely into that category.


Comments (19 comments)

Cristy / April 7th, 2008, 3:02 am / #1

The holocaust was not atheistic. Hitler was a Christain and he never banned Christianity! He even said that he was enacting the will of God by killing Jewish people. Nazi SS were required to swear and oath to God and Hitler. Certain protestant pro-fascist churches were given more power while Hitler opposing churches were destroyed. Hitler ran massive campains encouraging women to have more children, reproducing and training your children to be fascists was held in the highest esteem. Abortion (on white, ablebodied Christian women) was considered a crime punishable by death. Atheists were grouped in as “communists” or “antisocials” and sent to death camps right along with the Jews, as were queer people, the Romani, feminists, the mentally ill, people who supported democracy, socialists, intellectuals, and the handicapped. I have always seen the exclusive focus on Jewish suffering (not that it was not horrific and tragic), to be the most prevalent form of holocaust denial. Especially the ignorance of the fact that gay men were not rescued from death camps, they were sent by the Allies to die in prison and they were not given any of the aid or reparations provided to many other groups. Gay people were persecuted because they did not meet Hitlers goal of breeding the “master race”. Childbirth and childrearing were held in high esteem. The Hitler Youth was designed for children who came from nonHitler liked backgrounds, for example, Catholics (such as the current Pope) and other white, nonJewish religious minorities. Hitler Youth was not a general program for all German children. Here’s an idea from those German propaganda children’s books “In an attempt to equal God’s creation of humans, the Devil succeeds only in producing unfortunate creatures, among them, the monkey and the Jew.” Clearly promotes creationism, doesn’t it? Also, propaganda posters encourage “Mothers fight for your children!” Hitler also called to burn books that contained “Jewish intellectualism”.

Sorry to all informed people who sat through that long rant, it is more intended for people like Elishiva.

GentlePath / April 7th, 2008, 7:25 am / #2

One of the first homeschooling field trips I went on was fossil hunting. We’d just moved, just started homeschooling, and had found this local group. This mom comes up to me and starts whispering that I might want to be careful and watch my children because there was this OTHER mom over there who was telling the kids all kinds of nonsense, like the earth is more than 6,000 years old. Can you believe it?

I looked at her like she was nuts, and said, “Well of course. What kind of moron believes the earth is less than 6,000 years old?” I was young and honestly had never heard of such stupid shit. I thought the first woman was making a joke.

Ha ha. The next day I got a phone call suggesting that I find another group. The Christian group started vetting new members, quizzing them on their beliefs. We started a new group with all the non-creation science people and religious misfits that the Christians didn’t want to associate with.

Willful ignorance is difficult to fight, whether it’s in homeschool, private school, or public school.

thorsten / April 7th, 2008, 9:11 am / #3

Are you aware that these Google ads appear on your blog?

“Creation Or Evolution?
Is evolution just a theory? You can prove creation. Order free booklet.
(link left out)”

“Do You Believe in God?
Jesus Christ Loves You. Here is a Prayer That Can Change Your Life
(link left out)”

Rose / Intergalactic Hussy / April 7th, 2008, 9:57 am / #4

Thanks, Cristy, for what you said. Sometimes it need to be uttered again for some people.

Its annoying that some people use such bad arguments. Some just don’t actually understand what “science” means.

heather / April 7th, 2008, 2:44 pm / #5

I followed your link to that site. In a bit of an admitted ad hominem, on the evidence of her blog, she seems like a pushy and controlling parent.

Her pride that her daughter instantly came up with the same ideas as she did,regarding your supposed failings, speaks volumes for the level of indoctrination that passes for even “scientific” homeschooling.

What sort of “neuroscientist” knows enough about history to teach it properly? Not this one, it appears.

This is what makes me uneasy about much home-schooling. People’s mistaken ideas about evolution, etc are just passed on, hammered in with much more emotional force than a mere teacher can bring to bear. So kids have no basis from which to question the lies that they are taught.

Distorting an old saying about lawyers, a person who home-schools their kids is often employing a fool as a teacher.

A Division by Zer0 » Blog Archive » Liars / April 7th, 2008, 4:53 pm / #6

[…] Thus, witness the my recent exchange with one such liar with whom I tried to engage in a conversation after I read a recent post from the Black Sun journal. Initially I left a simple comment and didn’t expect to respond any more. However after taking a second look and seeing that I’ve been labeled as an Objectivist (of all things)I decided to leave a second one. […]

BlackSun / April 7th, 2008, 5:05 pm / #7

@Heather, Rose, Cristy, thanks for taking the time to follow up and comment on this. Even though sometimes this kind of thing seems a little futile since the people involved are not interested in truth or accuracy, I can’t help but think that it will put them on some kind of notice. We live in a time for atheism and critical thought very similar to when racism used to be socially acceptable. The only thing that changed that situation was challenging the lies. Maybe Elisheva will think twice next time.

Then again, maybe not. Division By Zero was commenting on her blog, and she deleted his comments also. She accused him of being an “alias” of mine, when he clearly has his own independent site.

These people have no dignity and no shame, and they don’t know what to do with truth when it hits them right in the face.

@Gentle Path, great story.

@Thorsten, those ads are contextual, and they even come up even on Planet Atheism. Click on them if you want, you’ll cost the advertisers a dime. I can’t do it because it’s a TOS violation. But other people can.

Gomps / April 8th, 2008, 5:52 am / #8

Just throwing you a bone for the Rush. Peart has always been an inspiration to me. His well thought out writings backed by thorough readings of subject matter further prove his nickname “The Professor” are fitting.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend » Why Dont You Blog? / April 9th, 2008, 4:15 pm / #9

[…] There are blogs for which the phrase “deeply unpleasant” might have been coined. Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch are among them. I’m making a pre-emptive reference to Godwin’s Law (hat tip: Black Sun Journal) and suggesting that you only have to replace the references to “Muslims” with “Jews” to be mentally transported straight back to 1930s Germany. […]

Liquid Egg Product / April 9th, 2008, 5:23 pm / #10

Cristy: The exact religious beliefs of Hitler are in question. People bring out evidence supporting/refuting his belief in Christianity. Some accounts say he believed in astrology and dealt with the occult. Who’s right?

To say that Hitler was certainly Christian or atheist ends up being more inflammatory than anything and any serious debate rapidly degrades at that point.

My guess is that the guy was disposed to use spirituality how he thought fit rather than being a serious disciple of any religion. But who knows for sure?

K / April 11th, 2008, 7:02 pm / #11

Look on the bright side. I’m homeschooling for EDUCATIONAL reasons. We live in Florida, after all. We ain’t all cretins! LOL

BlackSun / April 12th, 2008, 9:24 am / #12

K, well then thanks (hopefully) for being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

It’s funny though, how many times I’ve had to explain and reiterate that I’m not against homeschooling, just improper science education.

It doesn’t matter where kids learn, it’s about what they learn.

I am the Law » Why Dont You Blog? / April 12th, 2008, 3:08 pm / #13

[…] Godwin’s Law, mentioned in Black Sun Journal “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” […]

Erithal / April 14th, 2008, 10:30 pm / #14

Wow. Stumbled in, thought it was worth leaving some graffiti on your board. (I noticed that the opposing blog is no longer open for comments. That’s a sign of a loser, in my book.)

IMHO, It boils down to this:

Fact: Evolution is the dominant scientific theory in Biology.

To not teach your children Evolution means you are not teaching Biology.

Why?

Because Evolution best explains the fossil record (as radiocarbon and uranium dated), the existing species of life, and the ongoing processes of biological change; Evolution is necessary for a student to understand modern biology.

Period.

You can’t teach Physics without Gravity;
You can’t teach Chemistry without Atomic Theory;
You can’t teach Biology without Evolution.

End of story.

PS– The whole rights-based argument is hooey. I’m just pissed that another future citizen is going to be scientifically illiterate… we need every ounce of brainpower if we want to tackle the world’s problems.

Erithal / April 14th, 2008, 10:38 pm / #15

My mistake; the opposing blog is open. I posted the same thread there.

(I wonder if it will get through?)

valhar2000 / April 22nd, 2008, 4:28 am / #16

Blacksun, she may appear to be a relativist, but that is belied by the fact that she clearly and unequivocally thinks you are wrong and she is right, so much so that her flagrant logicla fallacies are insignificant comapred to the wrongness of your argument.

It is quite obvious that her primary motivation is not defence of free speech or intelectual relativism, it is to obtain social validation from her neighbours.

BlackSun / April 22nd, 2008, 1:09 pm / #17

she may appear to be a relativist, but that is belied by the fact that she clearly and unequivocally thinks you are wrong and she is right,

Valhar, well said. And thus the self-refuting nature of relativism is laid bare.

Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi / May 8th, 2008, 12:49 am / #18

By no standards of any logical reasoning, the quest for scientific education is tantamount to becoming a party to advocate totalitarianism. Unfortunately the uneducated people in the Muslim world may suffer to think or may be inclined to make a linkage of acquiring the scientific means of education with that of sponsoring the ideology of absolutism or the totalitarianism. This notion of unrationalised, biased and illogical thinking requires to be prevented with or to be refrained from those uneducated elements in the poverty and illiteracy-stricken Muslim world

What is science, again? - the Jewmanist / March 26th, 2009, 11:37 am / #19

[…] was reading an interesting article at Black Sun Journal, which inspired me to ask “what is science, again?” In this article, BlackSun has a […]

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