Monday, February 15, 2010

Paul Harvey on the NYT's Texas Controversy Article

University of Colorado history professor Paul Harvey gives his thoughts on the recent New York Times article about the Texas schoolbook controversy (his post kindly links to one of my posts).

A taste:

... Shorto covers the strategy of the Houston dentist Don McLeroy and other board members who are seeking "transformational change outside of the public gaze," meaning that the real war will be conducted in private with textbook publishers who have to take these general standards and condense them down into textbook bite-sized chunks.

Their model is based on their previous assault on the state educational science standards -- failing to get in their intelligent design theories, they managed to get textbooks to incorporate language about the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution as a possible "inroads to creationism." In their view, there has been a secularist conspiracy among experts to suppress "truth" in both science and history. Evidently, biology and history professors are united in an alliance to lead schoolchildren down the path of destruction, while the Texas activists seek "an uncovering of truths that have been suppressed." (My blog co-editor Randall Stephen's forthcoming book The Annointed: America's Evangelical Experts discusses the history of this idea, and the creation of an entirely separate evangelical intellectual universe, with great skill).


Tom Van Dyke said...

Unfortunately, Prof. Harvey seems content to get his information from the New York Times. There's much more to the story. I bet Prof. Daniel Dreisbach, Ph.D, J.D., one of the evil conservatives, could kick his ass in a fair fight. Or a cage match.

Hey, I'd pay to see that one.

There's little in your excerpt about history here, Jon, where I believe the Christianist brutes have many good points, so let's move to Harvey's science objection, where I have substantive agreement.

Creationism? I have no sympathy for it, New Earth or Old Earth, that Creation is only thousands and not billions of years old. Even St. Augustine, circa 400 AD, who is a fundamentalist or at least evangelical favorite, cautioned against tying the Bible to scientific truth. It's not that kind of party.

Or even Intelligent Design, which the Roman Catholic-leaning First Things just trashed today.

The ID claim is that certain biological phenomena lie outside the ordinary course of nature. Aside from the fact that such a claim is, in practice, impossible to substantiate, it has the effect of pitting natural theology against science by asserting an incompetence of science.

I'd love to argue this, but not with the Intelligent Design movement's "irreducible complexity" claim, that eyeballs must have some Master Design. Or any of its other claims that I've seen.

I would argue from what science cannot explain---and what it will never be able to explain---namely that human consciousness is a miracle in itself, and further that it can even conceive of a God. Even Jefferson argued this, that man keeps deriving---via reason---God.

Your dog can't. Not even Koko the Gorilla, RIP.

And I would point to the strange birth and properties of the carbon atom, without which life as we know it would be impossible---google Sir Fred Hoyle for the details. Fascinating.

So I have a bigass problem with creationism, but I also have a problem with the educational establishment teaching only materialism over the parents' objections. Mormons believe in a material residence of God around the star or planet Kolob.

It would not be proper for the children of Mormons to be taught by the state that this is impossible. There's a quote from Jefferson I've been meaning to refind along these lines, that something should be taught but not in conflict with various doctrines and dogmas, and his University of Virginia, via Madison, while shunning Christian doctrine on this and that, was going to teach the "proofs of God" as part of what they called in the olden days "ethics."

This is all on my to-do list, so I guess I'll put out a call for help here. I don't want to be caught being a David Barton shooting off my mouth and then getting trashed for all time, but as a theologico-historical detective, I have a few hot leads I could use a partner or two to check out.

A "bleg," they call this. Help me out here, people, one way or the other!

As for the politics of the Texas thing, surely there's some way to accommodate, with good will, the religious diversity of our nation.

I must repeat here, and as the Founding recognized, for Americans and their beliefs in God and his ways---be they about Kolob or natural law as Alexander Hamilton wrote in <a href="><i>The Farmer Refuted</i></a>---God and his ways is a <i>reality</i>, not just a football team we cheer for, BYU vs. Notre Dame.

I think this is what most gets missed in these discussions.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, you wrote,"Mormons believe in a material residence of God around the star or planet Kolob. It would not be proper for the children of Mormons to be taught by the state that this is impossible.

I can't speak for all Mormons, but if the state chose to blackball Kolob as an identifiable part of the universe I wouldn't be concerned. When it comes to science, Mormons are prepared to learn more. Here's an official statement which was offered 100 years ago that explains the Mormon position on science:
"Diversity of opinion does not necessitate intolerance of spirit, nor should it embitter or set rational beings against each other. ... Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense."[See
"Words in Season from the First Presidency", Deseret Evening News, 12/17/1910, sec. 1, p. 3.]

mud_rake said...

Tom- I came here through the Religion Clause blogspot link that you provided there. I'm having a look around just now and may post a comment of more substance after the walk-through. So far, I like the fragrance.

bpabbott said...

Re: "I also have a problem with the educational establishment teaching only materialism over the parents' objections. Mormons believe in a material residence of God around the star or planet Kolob."

Science is part of the required curriculum. It's requirement is not intended for religious or anti-religious purposes. Science is predicated upon evidence. If someone's religion is in conflict with evidence I don't see that as a justification (legal or moral) to avoid the science ... in fact, I see that as a justification to teach it.

The value in science is its ability to reliably describe how natural phenomena work, which will necessarily come in conflict with prior myths and superstitions. I see YEC as an example.

At the same time, if there is vague claim of a star or planet, some where in the cosmos, that qualifies as the throne of God, I think it improper for such to be addressed in the science curriculum. There just isn't enough information to merit a meaningful discussion, and there isn't a justification for doing so ... i.e. I don't see how such beliefs have a significant impact on anyone.

Brad Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Hart said...

Prof. Harvey was one of my grad professors and I can assure you that he doesn't just rely on the New York Times for all his info. He's a super sharp dude. As for a cage match, I think he can handle his own...he's not your typical "softy" professor. I'm guessing the man could throw down.

Good to see Kolob pop up on the Radar. This might interest you, Tom. Here are the lyrics to a popular Mormon hymn entitled "If You Could Hie To Kolob":

Cheesy video, but whatever.

ideapals said...

I think that creationists and evolutionists are both wrong. Here's why: Evolutionists assume that there is nothing that needs to be taken on faith and Creationists dismiss all scientific evidence of evolution. Both of these approaches are wrong. I have more info on ideapals in the intelligent design of evolution group....

I disagree with the combative nature of the discussion of Creationism and Evolution. That is why I created my meme, the Intelligent Design of Evolution. I'd love to hear Dan Dennett's response to this idea

Eric Alan Isaacson said...

Let people take Kolob, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, and the Doctrine of Atonement on faith if they'd like.

However deep our convictions on matters of faith like these may be, they ought not be inserted in the public-school science curriculum.

For they're simply not science.

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