Saturday, April 11

Presuppositions about origins and public education

Alexius has produced some great comments about evolution and creation in the comments of this post (read it all). Below is the comment in full and then my response.

Which scientists? Actual, academic biologists, or people who are just there to give an appearance of disagreement? Evolution is so not debated that it's the foundation of modern biology; in fact, that is why it is called a theory. You might be familiar with other theories--like the theory of relativity, the kinetic molecular theory, germ theory, and atomic theory. And boy, isn't it brazen of schools to require people to learn about atoms, considering that they're just a theory? Newtonian theory was an early thing that was, just like Darwin's original theory of evolution, flawed but later modified when it did not fit the evidence. This is what science does, unlike creationism; if it doesn't work, it is fixed.

However, in both of those instances the overall gist of the theory was correct; the problem with humans is that we do not live very long and our experience of the world is limited. Given that we move incredibly slowly, we did not notice the effects of relativity until recently and even then mostly indirectly; likewise, as we cannot see DNA with our bare eyes, Darwin could not know the precise ins and outs of evolution. The basics of both are still used today, though; in math class we still learn the Newtonian model for the sake of simplicity, and in biology we still learn "survival of the fittest" even though it's more complicated than that.

Creationism does not rely on evidence, and if it did, all of its practitioners would give up on it. The only arguments for creationism are a.) "it's in the bible so it must be true" and b.) "you can't explain that [yet] so therefore I must be right." Creationism is based on faith; science is based on open-minded observation and skepticism. Multiple disciplines, not just evolution, defy the young earth myth; that relativity that you mentioned being one of them, as how else would we be able to see other galaxies if the light hadn't had time to reach here yet? Unless one were to make the argument that god put all of this evidence here to make it look like the universe began billions of years ago even though it didn't, which is really just odd and rather obtuse.

Science should be taught in all of its permutations, yes; although keep in mind that the decision on what is most likely true in the objective, scientific world should be left to people who have been studying it for years, not to bored sophomores who really don't have the background to be able to make an educated decision (so none of that "teach the controversy."). And as I explained, creationism does not hold up in the scientific realm--when was the last time you saw an academic paper on creationism survive a serious publication?--and therefore should be kept to the realm of faith.

And what, I hope you are not suggesting that science classes should leave all of the origins theory to the religion classes, even the scientific ones? That would be unwise, as we owe it to the next generation to be educated in science and the processes of the universe.

Certainly science should have an aspect in religion classes; shouldn't it be present everywhere? Science is the frame by which we understand the world and if we can weave other things into it, we should. Religious myths in a public system should always be taught as hypothetical so it is important to establish a position from which to view them.

Exactly. Whose kids are they, and why should the state have to bother teaching them about religion? If the parents want to teach something to their kids, what's stopping them? The state does not care what is taught within the confines of the home or the religious community, only do not use my tax money to teach religion to people who want no part of it, and do use it to educate people about things that are relevant to everybody, not just those select few who follow these faiths.

I believe an understanding of the difference of our presuppositions is critical. To ignore them we are not even looking at the same topic. So let's go back to when there was once nothing. At least as far as material existence and the laws that govern them. In the beginnings past that original state of nothing we have fundamental and even irreconcilable differences. I believe that in the beginning there was God. Everything else fits within this rubric. He created science, matter, life, and the laws that govern our material existence. As you said however you believe that "Science is the frame by which we understand the world..." Correct me if I am wrong but I understand this to mean that when you understand the origins of beginnings--the move from nothing to everything--you believe in the appearance of matter and the scientific framework by which our existence is continued. The nonexistence of God and the appearance of matter would be your presupposition.

In short, I believe, in the beginning God. You believe in the beginning matter/scientific laws.

I come back to my question
in the previous post: are not both of these points of view religious or determined on faith? We go from nothing to everything. Can that be explained by the confines of "open-minded observation and skepticism"? Indeed, when you stated: "Creationism is based on faith; science is based on open-minded observation and skepticism" I saw it as comparing apples to oranges. Your first statement is about my belief in origins and nothing about my approach to understanding how I study the world; the second is about how you study the world and nothing about what you believe about origins. It is really two different topics mismatched in comparison.

Am I saying that classes that talk about origins should be consider religious? Yes. As I was talking about above I see existence and the corrolated presuppositions in the order of "God ---> everything else" you see it as "Matter/science -->everything else". Neither can be proved by objective observation and both must be taken by faith. Yes, evidence that we observe can be marshaled on either side (i.e. God created mature stars, with light already shining even as he created mature man and animals) but the fundamental elements of origins is a matter of belief.

I know I have been bold in characterizing what you think about the origins, so if I am in error please let me know. You don't know how much I value your highly thoughtful comments.

As this relates to public education, I could agree with you Alexius, with the idea that government should not be in the business of teaching faith. Drawing the line of when belief begins separated from universally excepted facts is messy. That is why in actual application I think the better option is to give parents as much as possible the responsibility to teach their kids what they want rather than political, educational, or scientific elite. We know both can error, but when it comes to kids they are wards of the parents not of the state. If a parent is teaching that it was right for the South to leave the Union and the scientist and his peers believe that the North really was in the right to preserve the union, I would back the parents with my tax dollars even though I think there is no sound basis for their opinion. This same tolerence for parental Creation influence in their children's education is all I am asking for. I am not so much debating the validity of creation.

A few quick specific answers:

"Evolution is so not debated that it's the foundation of modern biology; in fact, that is why it is called a theory."

No, macro evolution is still debated in biology such as Michael Behe's irreducible complexity.

"the problem with humans is that we do not live very long and our experience of the world is limited."

Amen. The more I learn the more I am humbled by this reality. It also provides (as you implied) a good caveat to those who might be dogmatic about human ability to interpert what we experience, and (for me) a greater ability to accept paradoxes in light of the presuppositions I believe in. Indeed, the last chapters of Job are a constant source of inspiration to me in this area:

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determiend its measurements--surely you know! Or stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sones of god shouted for joy?

And I echo with Job (42:2-3) I know that you can do everything...therefore have I uttered what I do not understand."