Science Education is not Totalitarianism
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.