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2007.02.07

Comments

Polly

"We're the only industrialized nation in the world that argues about the validity of evolution."

When I was in journalism school in the late 1990s, I did an ethics paper on the local coverage of the Kansas school board's attempt to eliminate the teaching of evolution in the classroom. And there were two non-Americans in the class (one was from South Africa, the other was from the Caribbean), and they had NO IDEA that evolution was in any way controversial in the United States--they asked what it was people wanted taught instead, and when they found out, they both burst out laughing.

I don't know what it is about our culture that evolution has become such a target among certain religious groups, but it was interesting to realize that this is not the case in other countries.

Lisa

Polly, I recently ran across a weblog where someone freaked out in the comments and was all "You may have descended from monkeys, but I was created in the image of my Lord and God!"

I wonder about American culture too -- was it that so many founding/pioneering influences were religious isolationists? Is it that the growing gap between the wealthy and/or well-educated and the struggling/poorly educated is precisely wide enough for a working understanding of the scientific method to slip into?

What I always find amazing about the evolution kerfluffle: you're trying to defend a scientific theory that's been untenable for decades! It's like teaching about "miasma" in place of disease vectors!

Then again, as past posts on evolution here have noted, it's not like the people who are opposed to science have a working grasp of the scientific theory. They're better versed in logical fallacies.

drunken monkey

Frankly, I wonder what the current anti-intellectual and anti-science climate -- fueled by the evangelical Christian right movements -- is going to end up doing to scientific and technological development in the United States. As Polly points out, the position of several school boards on evolution makes the U.S. a literal laughing stock in other parts of the world. Other nations are leaping ahead in areas like stem cell research and climate change science. Accusations from scientists who charge that they can't do or report their research properly under the current administration aren't going to do much to attract top-notch grad student and scientists. I think there's a great risk that the United States will find itself falling behind very quickly in areas where it once was a leader. Maybe the country needs another space race.

Lisa

I am hoping that the demand for green technology will be our next space race.

But yeah, it is really richly ironic that this pro-business, pro-corporate administration has done so much to put American industries at a long-term competitive disadvantage.

Roger

Lisa, interesting point there. Even apart from the religious pandering, that "pro-corporate" attitude is ironically stripping (and I'd argue already has significantly stripped) the technological and intellectual development of America all by itself. "Corporate success" these days is so often equated with "short term stock market gains" that American business is more than happy to ship their manufacturing, their engineering, and even now their R&D overseas in order to "reduce the overhead". When they're not busy simply slashing R&D budgets in the name of cost savings that is. That hemorrhaging of skilled positions - and the knowledge and creativity those positions require - is going to cost us dearly in the not too distant future.

The problem, as noted here, is that the vocal facet of the Christian establishment in the US is all too willing - even eager - for that to happen. An unenlighted populace is easier to control, and easier to bend to your ways. These nuts, left to their devices, are going to drag us back into the dark ages. But I for one don't see much future in sending our daughters to work in the local Christian laundry, and our sons to fight in the next Crusades. That's not progress; that's not betterment of the human condition; that's slavery behind a pleasant mask.

I try to console myself by realizing that trends like this are cyclical. We go through phases of wanton freedom, through paranoiad fear of everything not USA, through periods of religious fervor and back again. I try to hold out some hope that people, in aggregate, are smarter than that. (And then they go and try to prove my cynical leanings right with things like their electoral choices. sigh.) I can at least hope. And if I'm wrong... move.

Chiara

I can tell you that everyone I've chatted to in NZ thinks we're CRAZY about three things: evolution/creationism, climate change, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage. (Oh wait, that's four). Some of the stickier conversations I've been in usually involve someone throwing their hands up and going "Why do you LISTEN to them? Why do you LET THEM DO THAT?" (And this was before I had to report the Kerouack anti-birth-control thing--not a fun lunchtime convo, I assure you). In some ways it's very depressing that we're seen as so ridiculous; on the other hand it's nice to be reassured that positions that are seen in some areas as complete left-wing fringe-speak are actually, in other places in the world, solidly, boringly mainstream.

Sheila

You know, I was just thinking about this last night, having finally drilled down in my book pile far enough to get to "Reading Lolita in Tehran." As the author is recounting how the revolutionaries took over, it just comes across as a terrifying mixture of completely unthinkable -- chaining bookstores closed? seriously? in real life, outside dystopian fiction? -- and a horribly, horribly plausible future here. There is a solid chunk of our society that would LOVE to force women to wear loose, shapeless clothing -- to disappear, basically -- and bar the sale of books that challenge their worldview. I don't think it could happen in Australia or England or France. I think it could happen here. Probably won't. But could.

Polly

Yeah, Sheila, my old book group read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, which is also about the Iranian Revolution, and it led to an interesting and somewhat unnerving conversation about how change like that sort of creeps up on you, and how difficult it is to realize what's going on when you're in the middle of it.

I tend to hope that people will clue into the fact that if they ever want their kids to pursue a career in anything even vaguely related to the life sciences, they are doing them a tremendous disservice by not teaching them evolution. I grew up in a part of the country that is dominated by conservative Christians, and when my mom went to grad school in the late 1980s to get her master's in environmental science, there were students in that program who didn't realize that, yes, evolution is extremely well accepted in scientific circles. The program was a real eye-opener for them, and my mom (who is herself Christian) kind of wondered what that meant for the future of their faith.

Lisa

There is a solid chunk of our society that would LOVE to force women to wear loose, shapeless clothing -- to disappear, basically -- and bar the sale of books that challenge their worldview.

Oh, no kidding. Google "Prarie Muffins" some time. I am always, always amazed at how easily some religious sects get women to be such rigorous enforcers of their own oppression.

*

Polly, I don't think these radical right-wing Christianists want their children to work in any field that could introduce problematic analytic skills. There's a reason why Patrick Henry College concentrates on the humanities -- no need to teach the scientific method, which insists on challenging assumptions and verifying results independently. By funneling people into policy-track careers, it's possible to influence fields like life sciences and climate research without being required to know a damn thing about them.

Also, whenever I read sites written by radical right-wing Christianists, I've noted that they tend to push their kids (mostly boys) toward service-oriented occupations -- construction, accounting, restaurant services, etc. This way, the kids can go into business for themselves in fields where there is always some demand. It's a canny strategy on one level, but I question how well it'll work as the income gulfs in America grow -- high-tech or life-science jobs are paying more than service-sector positions, you know?

Roger

...high-tech or life-science jobs are paying more than service-sector positions, you know?

High-tech and life-sciences jobs are also in danger of disappearing, and have been losing income strength for years, due to that radical Christian pressure, political pressure (who knew the president could mandate that global warming doesn't exist?), the current isolationism of the US and the negative effect that has on intellectual sharing, and the outsourcing of expensive job skills to cheaper nations. But there will always be a place for restaurant workers, construction workers, and basically any job that requires hands-on human presence. So it may well be a canny strategy after all, but it sure paints a bleak picture for our future job landscape. Who knows, other nations may be outsourcing their manufacturing to us before long.

Ellen

Prairie Muffins....I have a weird fascination with that whole online world. It's such a weird mix - most of the women who run the blogs and websites in that arena seem very smart, strong, and articulate, almost feminist. But then they use that voice to advise women to leave the voting up to their husbands. I just can't wrap my public-school-poisoned, pants-wearing mind around it.

Lisa

Who knows, other nations may be outsourcing their manufacturing to us before long.

Well, we are facing the prospect of a less literate work force.

Ex-Monkey Ben

These comments are so interesting in their... fervor.

The history of eugenics is a funny thing.

I'm not sure Hedges' thesis really bears out, but it is certainly alarming.

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