Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shook on Myths

John Shook has entered the "myth" fray only to declare it much ado about nothing:

Must a biology textbook also mention every other nonscientific origin story just to label it myth too? Does Myers think that history textbooks must launch criticisms against the pseudo-historical myths in the Old Testament, or that astronomy textbooks must launch criticisms against the pseudo-cosmological myths in Hindu scriptures? Classrooms are becoming more diverse, after all....

The best way to prevent religion from getting into the classroom is to prevent it from getting into the classroom. [emphasis in original]
This is so distressingly naive. No, it is not necessary to spend time in biology class enumerating every creation myth and categorizing them as such, and not only because it would be tedious. It is not necessary because of the countless dozens of creation myths people have put forward over time, only a few are being forcefully shoved into public view and promoted as alternatives to the prevailing scientific understanding.

To the extent it is happening, identifiable people are pursuing the forceful shoving on behalf of only a few traditional accounts of life's origins. The pursuit is deliberate and unsubtle. Perhaps John Shook has heard of Expelled, the film that is representative-enough of the spirit, tone, and techniques of this well-funded, aggressive, seemingly tireless anti-science movement? Maybe he has heard mention of the Discovery Institute? If not, he should tune in to present-day reality.

Moreover, let's play through Shook's desired scenario in which a biology curriculum abstains from all mention of competing non-scientific accounts. Imagine this predictable classroom exchange:

Student: Why aren't we talking about Genesis?
Teacher: This is biology class, not religion class.
Student: Are you saying the Bible is false?
Teacher: Oh goodness, no. I am saying we don't discuss religion in science class.
Student: Religion? Who said anything about religion? I'm talking about Genesis, the word of god. Genesis is the truth of how the world and all life began. Aren't we going to be learning the truth in this class?

It's clear enough where this is heading. Either here, or one or a few reactions before, any self-respecting huckster, public relations operative, communications professional, "framing" expert, or marketing hack could give a dozen verbal workarounds by which to spring the teacher from the trap and exit the conversation in a way that, in that moment, offends no one, accommodates every religious conviction, poses no risks to any personal relationships with Jesus.

And yet ... let's get real. Whatever felicitous words are exchanged, any moderately clever true believer will see through the rhetorical occlusions and recognize the clear implication of the curriculum's pattern of inclusions and exclusions, namely, that science has standards that their beliefs don't meet. Whether or not the scare-word myth is used, the student will realize that biological science pointedly excludes their deeply-held convictions about the origins of species.

Whereupon we will be where we are now: engaged in a debate in which some will organize and agitate to shove their religious nostrums into science classes -- and, on the available evidence, too many people who should know better will blame the conflict on science advocates.

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