For the most part, I have been very impressed by the quality of the posts here. Many of you are far more knowledgeable and articulate than I, and that is just fine with me. I love to learn, and the best way to do that is to play with folks better than you are. I have found this to be true in almost every facet of my life.
I will get to my point in a second, but first permit me a bit of background. I am a semi-retired Real Estate investor trying to devote what time and resources I can to keeping religion out of our school systems. That is my main hot button. I support many of the organizations that work towards this end, and of course, many of them also support other related efforts, and that’s OK with me.
Everywhere I look, I see credentialed scientists devoting time which would be better spent elsewhere, trying to defend reason against the tired, absurdities of promulgated by our adversary. This effort, in my opinion, will not succeed as long as we allow them to dictate the playing field. We can not, and are not winning the battle of public opinion. I would like to propose a change of subject. I would like your feedback on my proposal. It is defiantly not PC, but anyone belonging to this forum probably doesn’t give a damn about that anyway.
One of the prime arguments that creationists of all types present to their audiences is that “evolution is crumbling at the foundations.” You have all seen this, I know, on their web sites, in their books, and in the debates. No one ever seems to mention, and what I propose to you, is that it is not evolution that is crumbling, but Christianity!
Many, if not most of you are already aware of what I am about to say, so I’ll be brief. Throughout most of history, it was accepted by most biblical scholars that the first 5 books of the bible were written by moses, inspired by god. It was also assumed that the gospels were written by those whose names are on them, and that they told the story of a historical figure. I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this.
Today, the overwhelming opinion of biblical scholars is that the first 5 books of the bible had at least four different authors writing in four different time periods. The FACT that genesis had at least two authors is obvious. There are at least two different versions of all the major stories, including creation, the flood, and many other incidents. I wont go into the details (mercifully), but it is known that different sections were written to satisfy later political needs having to do with the jewish state, and cobbled together to make the in-coherent mess we see today.
Just to touch on the new testament, the earliest Christian writings we know of are the letter of paul to whoever. Interesting that they never mention, or give any reference to an actual, historical jesus! No quotations, stories, anecdotes, nothing about the life of jesus chronicled in the gospels. Mark was the first gospel, written probably around 80ce by a person not too familiar with Palestine. Names of cities, lakes, and towns are wrong, or locations misplaced. Mat. And Luke followed, written somewhere between 90-110ce, then john, probably written between 85-125ce.
I don’t want to bore you with any more details, and, as I said, most of you know this stuff anyway. My point is, why don’t we use it? We will never convince the current Christians. To continue the debate on their terms is, in my opinion, an ego trip. I think the best course is to make the efforts of modern biblical scholars more visible by talking about their findings. I wont ever know all that N knows about protein folding. I am not a scientist. It is too late for me to become one, but I can talk about who wrote parts of the bible, in words anyone can understand. I can carry this message to younger people, and make sure that articles in my local paper do not go unchallenged.
Science will, I have no doubt, answer a great many of the questions we still have about our origins, and our history. Biblical scholarship will, I have no doubt, continue to roll back the clouds of biblical origin, and expose, once and for all, the motives of the people who wrote it. And my proposal is to do what we can to help them end the bullshit.
I really think we have to change the subject, and the playing field.
I would really like to know what you folks think about this angle. If you think it has any hope at all. If there are any of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, send me an email and I would be happy to give you a list of recommended reading.
My two bits: there are no doubt some “aha!” moments to be had when conversing with religious zealots regarding their flawed bible, some “gotchas” to be had, but if whomever you are speaking with is not interested in reason it will be a waste of time and air. Many in the “bible-is-literally-true” camp want you to play football with a deflated pigskin—don’t bother. You know it won’t fly.
Those who have hitched their wagons to narrow, literal interpretations of various biblical texts are threatened by any questioning of those texts: take your fingers, place them in your ears and yell “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” and you get an idea of what reason is up against. Perhaps televising a National Debate on Scientists vs. Creationists is in order, but advertisers and “the powers that be” would surely shy from such a program. Personally, I think it would be powerful television, but I’m a heretic, so there’s that.
I think that while many a reasonable, honest thinker is appalled and concerned with the attacks against our Constitution by fundamentalists, those “true believers” may in fact just be a decoy hiding what is really happening in the United States: the further concentration of wealth, the continued placing of costs on the public while profits are privatized, and the manic pathology of corporations in general.
If you do want to play “gotcha” with a fundie, try offering this: If Jesus bodily arose after his three days in the cave, traveling skyward at the fastest known speed (the speed of light—186,000 miles per second) he would not, over two thousand years after his crucifixian, have yet escaped the outer spiral of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which is apprx. 3,000 light years thick here on the outer coil where our solar system sits. This is to say nothing of the helmet he should be wearing to help deflect space debris, meteorites, etc.
Jesus in Space is a hoot, but the real horror-show is down here with the money-freaks. Twas ever thus.
I agree that it is important to try to introduce a non-theist worldview to young people when they are still trying to sort out their belief systems and are questioning what they have been taught by their parents and older generations. This is probably between the ages between around 10 to 21.
This is a natural period of self examination, rebellion, testing of new ideas, limits, etc. and genearally trying to come to preliminary conclusions about what they will believe (and not believe) for the rest of their lives.
Although it probably can’t hurt, I am not sure that the school classroom is the best place to introduce these concepts and ideas. First of all, most kids don’t learn much of anything in Jr. and Sr. High School. Second, the cirriculum is so crowded that there would probably be very little time to do the topics justice. Third, I am afraid that the quality, fidelity and enthusiasm with which the information would be presented would vary widley depending upon the teacher’s personal religious convictions as well as skills.
Perhaps a better way to reach this poplulation with consistent and eagerly absorbed information is through their media of choice. For example, video games, music, movies, etc. It would probably be even more attractive to them if they thought that their parents would not approve.
Someone needs to start an Atheist video game company to serve and exploit this market. Even better if you could get the government to impose a strong warning label and a restictive content code to be affixed to the products and to be displayed prominently at start-up.
Hmmmm, let’s see….......“Dungeons and Biblical Fallicies”, “Grand Theft Auto - Heretic”, etc.
We have a time problem here. It has become quite clear to biologists that, for example, blow flys evolve. But it should be clear to all humanity that flu virus evolves, or why do they get the flu shots? Humans do not live long enough to ‘see’ evolution take place, but biologists are 100% sure. (how many humans watch insects?)
“Public education in America does not teach critical thinking. Why?
In the beginning of the 1900’s current educational systems were designed by foundations set up by industrialists to prepare children for their roles in the industrialized factories, business’ and institutions of an industrialized America.
This education prepared children to live by the bell, move through life as if on conveyor belts and, most importantly, to follow instructions mechanically.
This dark tunnel vision of instruction attempts to create a conforming army of mindless human robots with their soul’s corrupted by a split between the highly compartmentalized, contradictory, conflicting thoughts and ideas of specialized mechanized systems and their life as an organic being on an organic Earth.
The descendants of these industrial corporate barons have attempted to create a robust economy for these mindless human robots. Industrial corporations need a never ending stream of “customer service representatives” , “aggressive telemarketing specialists”, “instant food preparation equipment operators” and “procurement and shipping experts”, in other words mindless “factory” workers or mindless human robots.”
while many a reasonable, honest thinker is appalled and concerned with the attacks against our Constitution
Public school fails to teach the founders philosophy and fail to teach the reasons why America rebeled against ‘big brother’.
a better way to reach this poplulation with consistent and eagerly absorbed information is through their media of choice.
Seems very reasonable. Kids eat up gangsta rap which is totally destructive. Any media that will work must be acceptable to all and come from a totally unexpected direction. (It seems stand up comics do pretty good at poking holes in fallacies)
A study not only of what other people believe but the history of religious development as civilization developed.
This is the key to our future. Myths must be shown to all to be myths.
An admirable mission. Separation of church and state is my main hot button as well, and as a student I do everything in my power to keep religion out of my school. Living the bible belt as a I do it is quite hard to find any support though. There is an almost bizarre phenomenon going on in my school. All of the math teachers (those who teach a rational science) are all evangelical Christians. They are also the sponsors of the after school bible study group and the local chapter of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Now none of that bothers me. I think that people should be able to use a public facility for gatherings of that nature as long as they are not directly sponsored by the school. What does bother me is that they use they use the fact that they sponsor these organizations to get away with plastering their walls with bible quotes and other pieces of religious material (depending on the season of course). I have complained on several occasions, but the same excuse for allowing this breach of the first amendment to continue is always brought up “well it’s part of their organization that they host in their class room” it’s still religion being promoted in a public building isn’t it? Last time I checked the supreme court had ruled on that kind of thing a while ago. Not only that but one teacher (a math teacher) was fired for actually preaching during math class.
Aside from keeping an eye out at my own school I also do volunteer work for American United for Separation of Church and State http://www.au.org.
trying to devote what time and resources I can to keeping religion out of our school systems. That is my main hot button.
While Iisbliss wants High School students to
study not only of what other people believe but the history of religious development as civilization developed.
You could make these points very subtly in fact
Study Hercules myth, see a great man born of a god and virgin.
Study ancient Persia, see the beginnings of Genesis myth
Study ancient Egypt, see all kinds of s*** )
I strongly agree with the later point. In fact the “censorship” inherit in the prior point may well be counterproductive by promoting a sense of persecution among students with fundamentalist leanings. Persecution is a strong emotion often used by religious cults to buttress their versions of “revealed” Truth.
I recently saw Sam Harris give a talk on C-Span. While I agree with most all he said I had a problem with what he called “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. I didn’t see that he had a good answer to that problem.
As the old saying goes: “If you don’t believe in something, you can believe in anything.” The point is that some degree of “Blind Faith” is required while contemplating our place in the universe. Just rejecting religion out of hand (and out of schools) because it is so easily discredited thru rational “skepticism” also rejects out of hand a rational “understanding” of why it came to be in the first place!
As a skeptic myself I have argued with atheists about Man’s potential thru science to eventually understand and thus control time and space as often as I have debated with fundamentalists about who wrote the Torah. Both ends of the spectrum have their own “Blind Faiths”. In the end there are no “Divine” answers, only “Divine” questions.
I also find politics and religion almost interchangeable. Through the study of history one can understood (albeit imperfectly) the politics of the time that brought all religions into being (and vice versa). I voted for Bush last time not because of his faith, but because of Kerry’s lack of it. I knew where Bush was coming from while I had doubts of Kerry’s convictions to even be able to keep elections on track in Iraq.
All civilizations throughout history have developed religion. It is the cultural glue that holds organized societies together. Today politics more often fulfill this role in our society. The Democrats are increasingly being seen as “lost in the wilderness” not because they have rejected Fundamentalism, but because they have difficulty in replacing it with anything of equal moral value. They have in essence “thrown the baby out with the bathwater”.
We need to foster a universal understanding of the evolution of religion just as we have done with biology. This needs to be done not only in our schools, but in the schools of the Muslim world as well. This must be done not in a revolutionary “all religion is false” way, but in an evolutionary “all religion is built upon earlier beliefs” way. To understand that the Quran evolved out of the New (& Old) Testament(s), which had previously evolved out of the Old Testament that originally evolved out of the tales of Gilgamesh does not directly call into question beliefs of moral value but only those of miracles, prophecy and most of the other dangerous baggage of “revealed” religions.
Ancient scribes writing religious tomes where as honest in their beliefs in the context of the history they lived in as modern day politicians are in debating economic policies. Both use “Blind Faiths” to advance their arguements be they Prophecy or Marxism or Miracles or Capitalism.
The questions asked then are still asked now. The only thing that a skeptic can be sure of is that the answers will always change over time. Censorship in our schools of past answers can only limit a rational understanding of our world. As oft repeated: “Those who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it”!
When did the schools stop teaching critical thinking? I’m asking because I sure was taught this in the Baltimore County public schools, how to spot propaganda, how to construct an argument, and if I’d dared just quote back what I was taught in any class, except maybe math, without coming up with my own thoughts and analysis I’d have flunked.
I’m not going to go into the history of this in this post, but the brand of fundamentalism we’re dealing with is a relatively new phenomenon, the opposite of Christianity, and we really need to learn more about this if we’re going to combat it. Since this is emerging from a subculture, and subcultures have their own language—they use the same words we do but with different meanings—most of the time we’re fighting back without any understanding of what they’re talking about and from their point of view we sound like ignorant fools. So I think that someone like Jim Wallace, himself an Evangelical preacher who is taking them on head-on for their terrible theology, is actually a valuable asset from a political point of view. I’m not going to say go buy it, but if you’re in a bookstore, glance through his book, “God’s Politics” and you’ll see what I mean. Like it or not, Christianity isn’t crumbling any more than evolution is, and we need Christian allies like him even if we don’t agree with what he says either.
Separation of church and state, and keeping religion out of the schools. I think one of the best arguments for this is that it’s such a strong element in the Constitution because most of those who settled colonial America were here because they fled for their lives from religions persecution in England and Europe. They really knew what this meant, and the intolerant religious attitude of the Religious Right exactly parallels what they fled from. I have yet to see anyone using this argument.
Evolution is most definitely not crumbling. It’s rapidly being validated by DNA research. Working on research on some obscure proteins which were genetic markers long before before DNA research became as sophisticated as it is now, I was very impressed by the fact that we shared those same genes—with peas. Now it’s becoming very clear that we share at least some genes with virtually every living thing on this planet and the only way that could have happened is via evolution. Every detail of the theory of evolution hasn’t been proven out yet, but so what? It’s a scientific theory, not theology.
Iisbliss’ idea rocks - start demanding a class in comparative religion. Demand that the history of (all) religion be incorporated into history curricula. If the fundies support the movement, then we’ve really done some good. Kids do need an overview of how religion has shaped historical events. (They’ll love the chapter on the Inquisition.) They’ll also get exposed to eastern religions and other modes of thought and mysticism. This would be a good thing.
If the fundies fight the movement, then that will draw their resources away from pushing creationism and ID.
On that front, I’ve had some success ignoring the creationism and ID particulars and talking to people in general terms about science. Saying things like: “Remember, science is just the process of explaining things by what we can see and measure. That’s all it is. We don’t have to be threatened by that. And we don’t expect it to answer all our questions - only those questions that can be seen and measured. If you can come up with a way to measure the intelligence of God, then we can teach ID in the science class.”...thekeez
Your’s is an worthy cause, but a frustrating one - I hope you have the energy and the passion to see it through.
I think the easiest way to undermine religion is to encourage different religions to debate their respective merits with each other. The discussion soon descends into farce. It is interesting that the major religions have long ago stopped doing this in public - they know that any debate will make everyone look silly and expose the lack of foundation to any religious argument.
So maybe teaching more religion in schools (by which I mean teach lots of different religions and debate their beliefs openly) is the way to go. Imagine the scene - 14 year olds catholics having to debate whether the virgin birth was real, a 15 year old muslim trying to defend the likelihood of 70 virgins awaiting him in heaven (sorry for the focus on virgins here, not sure what’s going on with that).
Perhaps the issue is not teaching religion per se, but teaching of one specific religion. If we teach lots of religions, it becomes pretty obvious that they can’t all be right, and it encourages critical questioning of every one of them. Pete, I’d be interested in your view on this point, as someone who has spoent a lot of time thinking about the problem.
I have enjoyed reading your posts here, I wish I could be as articulate as some here, but I just don’t have the skills. I appreciate your views, and your ideas, I just don’t think that what you are suggesting would fly, here or anywhere else. IMHO, the last thing school-age children here need is more exposure to their religious myths. To teach them in a school setting would give them credence, and imply a blessing from the system.
Not that it could be done anyway in the public school system. I feel, and every single science teacher I have ever spoken with agrees, that the best hope we have to educate these kids is to create doubt in their minds, about the things they are “learning” outside of school. How is this going to be served by trying to make their religion look silly compared to another silly religion? No, methinks the best tack is to present the science we know, and let them draw their own conclusions.
I am not throwing stones here, believe me, and I know that “diversity” is a big liberal hot button, but diversity is NOT what is needed here, science is! We cannot teach more superstition and ignorance! Do you think we should teach astrology so we can make it look silly next to astronomy? Of course not! Why the hell, then, would we want to give any religion a platform in the school system?
I do have the passion for this effort, the energy, however is the issue. I know that a lot of my posts here make me look like I am merely sniping, rather than debating. I only have so much energy, and I choose to spend it where it will do the most good, and that is working within my local school system, rather than tilting at windmills on this or any other forum. I would rather be out making sure that every kid who wants one, gets a monthly copy of “Kids Discover,” and that their teacher has everything they need to teach what the need to teach.
I simply am not equipped to carry on a war of words. Others can do that much better than I, so I do what I can do. I respect practicing scientists, such as yourself, probably more than you could possibly imagine. I wish I could do what you do, but I cant, so I do what I can do. Some of us just chop wood and carry water. Thanks for your thoughts.
Ancient scribes writing religious tomes where as honest in their beliefs in the context of the history they lived in as modern day politicians are in debating economic policies. Both use “Blind Faiths” to advance their arguments be they Prophecy or Marxism or Miracles or Capitalism.
There is a significant difference between political and economic beliefs and religious faith. In the former case, the results of political and/or economic policies can directly observed, analyzed and tested whereas there is no objective reality to the latter.
It is true that politics and economics are not “hard sciences” that always yield clear, definitive, and unambiguous results when subjected to scientific methods and analysis. However, they are far more reality-based and verifiable than is religious faith.
I hear you, believe me. And you are probably right.
What I was getting at is that we could teach religion in a different way, the same way as we might teach mythology. I grew up in Ireland, at that time a bastion of religious dogma, where catholicism was taught as fact. But interestingly, Irish mythology was also taught (as psuedo-history) and nobody got worked up about whether it was true or not. It was simply understood to be of cultural relevance, a part of who we were as Irish children.
Could you imagine teaching religion as a ‘cultural study’. Today kids, we’re going to learn about the Jewish people, what they believe in and how it affects how they live their lives. Tomorrow, we’ll study the Jehovas Witnesses, and try to understand why they are always knocking on our front door. Next week, it’s the turn of the Raelians and their aliens. Then we’ll examine atheism and secular philosophy to see what it has to say about the nature of our world.
At the end of the semester, kids would have a whole body of knowledge about different cultures. I think kids would very naturally ask themselves ‘what does the religion I am taught at home say about who I am, and do I like it?’. Just presenting other options would sow seeds of doubt and present an alternative viewpoint to the dogma of sunday school.
Of course, there is a big risk. This idea could be hijacked by the religious right, and christian fundamentalism might take hold. Other religions would be presented in a bad light, to show how they bear false witness and how there supporters are going to burn in hell for all eternity. Realistically, that is probably what would happen in much if the US.
Anyway, I appreciate you raising this issue and posting the original question. It made me think about the issue from a differnt angle. I wish you well in your quest to teach science, but I fear you are in the wrong country. Europe and Asia are now far ahead in this regard.
Rather than comparative religion as a required course of study, it might be more fruitful to teach the Bible as part of literature courses, as well as, where applicable, as part of the history of Western civilization. It would be dishonest to deny or ignore the huge role that the Bible has played in shaping Western civiliation—in both good and bad ways—so banning it altogether from public education makes little sense. It’s just that it shouldn’t be taught as religious doctrine. The Bible should be accorded no more status than Greco-Roman philosophy, which has been at least as important to our culture.
Students do need to be able to understand and trace the origin of ideas, and how those ideas have impacted the course of history, and that can’t be done without studying the Bible. So there is a place for the Bible in public schools. It’s just not the science classroom.
This, I’ve heard, is how it’s done in Europe; a lot of Americans are shocked that secularist Europeans learn the Bible in grade school. I read of a study recently which discovered that a majority of self-described born again Christians haven’t ever read the Bible. Beyond the standard verses supplied to them by their pastors or prayer leaders, a majority of American Christians had no idea what was in the Bible. Thus, if in conversation, a researcher made reference to, say, the parable of Balaam’s donkey, they’d get only blinkered looks of confusion from most evangelicals.
The irony was that although Americans were among the most religious people in the world, they knew less about religion than other people did. Aside from lacking basic knowledge of the Bible, most had no interest or training in biblical archaeology, academic theology, or anything else that might enrich their spiritual life.
The researches were all Christians themselves, so it’s not like this was a bunch of skeptics or anything. I’ll try and track down the study, and if it’s online, I’ll post a link to it. I thought it was both telling and disturbing.
You know, N and GVI, what you are suggesting might be worth considering. I would love to see the full story of Abraham and Sara(h) discussed in a classroom. How would the teacher diferenciate between Abraham and any pimp on a streetcorner? And between Sara and Irma La Douch? Now those are family values! And, as you know, the strory gets worse, with incest, murder, and various other diversions perpatrated by the patriarchs.
Yes, upon further reflection, I think it’s a great idea. I would love to write the textbook. the only problem is, it would never happen, so I just deal with today’s reality.
Pete, I think you’re being obtuse. We’re not saying (or at least I’m not) that Biblical studies should be used to either bolster or undermine particular moral points. Only that it should be taught in a manner consistent with its impact on our civilization, both positive and negative.
The stories of the patriarchs are no worse than those of Aeschylus or Sophocles or Shakespeare. No one thinks that Antigone or Hamlet actually advocate incest and murder, and no one teaches such texts as sources of moral virtue or scientific doctrine. They are taught as literature, as well as, on occasion, part of the background of Greek or Elizabethan history. The Bible should be taught in the same way.
The Bible has been at least as important to our culture as have Greek myths, and should be accorded the same level of respect—no more, and no less. Ridiculing it may be fun in debates with those who can’t be saved, but in an educational setting, ridicule of the Bible is as dishonest as advocacy of it.