The new Church & State newsletter from Americans United for Separation contains a squib about an effort in Pennsylvania schools to put creationism or its latest incarnation, I.D., on curricula alongside science courses, including biology.  A Pittsburg paper did some poling and found that although about 90% claim to believe in evolution, the other 10% include, unfortunately, science teachers.

Or at least one.  A guy named Joe Shomer, who teaches chemistry, claims that the planet was created about 10,000 years ago and that scientific methods (presumably including so-called critical thinking) used to date the earth are flawed and untrustworthy.  One begins to wonder if Shomer went into teaching because his "understanding" of scientific methodology kept him from making it in the real world.  Adherence to dogma tends to be rigid and irrational. 

Unfortunately, this guy is broadcasting his religiosity in the classroom, claiming that inquiring minds among the students want to know, "What do you think," which presumes that Shomer introduced creationist talk into the lesson plan.  He tells them: "The Bible is the source of truth."  Rather than go into my usual tirade here about slavery, father-daughter incest, slaughter of any other tribe that does not believe as you do, talking snakes, women created from ribs, and so forth, I should only observe that when Shomer disses carbon dating, we might respond that it is at least as truthworthy as all the accounts of miracles, a burning bush giving a mythological rabbi ten silly rules always more honored in the breach than by the observance, "God" himself proving top hypocrite, like a cop who speeds past your car because he just got off duty and wants to go home to a beer.

Rob Boston, a fine writer for the A.U. magazine concludes, correctly, that students with science teachers like Mr. Shomer, will rue familiarity with the man and his cockamamie ideas if and when they get to college "and struggle in freshman biology classes."  Can't you just imagine one of the dumber ones contradicting his professor by claiming that our planet is only 10,000 years old and that evolution cannot possibly be a fact, because, I mean, "Why do we still have monkeys?"

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Brandi, it's not credited there, but that image is from "The Onion".  It's satire.

I figured it had to have been satire before but you never can tell with creationists.

Ahhh, the wonderful concept of POE.

I wonder which is the bigger threat to science - religion, or the fractionization of thinking brought about by modern technology, politics, and culture.

This is the curmudgeon in me, but I think the dumbing down of America is more because of willful ignorance, narcissism, and lack of character, than because of religion.  We've always had religion.  But we managed to learn and grow in science even with religion.

I've made a promise to myself that, except for Nexus,  which has a higher proportion of  thoughtful discussions than most sites, I will no longer read comment sections on news sites.  Keeping this promise has made me calmer and less despairing.

Sentient, I wonder; what role does religion play in modern technology, politics and culture? If I believe god exists, even without evidence that is verifiable, replicable, and reliable, if I believe Homo sapiens are (is?) the purpose of god's creation, if I believe human beings have the right of dominion over all that swims, crawls and flies, if I believe the purpose of human life is to sacrifice oneself for others and to submit to some authority, will I be a credible judge of what is good, decent, moral, and mentally healthy? 

Willful ignorance, narcissism and lack of character have also always been with us. Religion compounds the factors. Science has the potential to lift us above these human factors, if for no other reason than many of us are a curious lot. 

Galileo to Turing: the persecution of scientists throughout history

"Turing was famously chemically-castrated after admitting to homosexual acts in the 1950s. He is one of a long line of scientists who have been persecuted for their beliefs or practices."

Rhazes (865-925)

Michael Servetus (1511-1553)


Henry Oldenburg (1619-1677)

Gerhard Domagk (1895-1964)

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

I like your promise to read less news sites. We do need to be calmer and more thoughtful. 

I'm trying to stop reading comments on those sites also Sentient, because I need more calm and less despair.  To the extent I accomplish it, I do receive what I need.

Sciences, Latin, math, chemistry, physics, debate and English, etc., are difficult, not at all easy to learn. With good teachers and persistent parents, children can learn all these subjects, and relatively easily. There were five of us girls who went through elementary and high school together, and we stood out in all these subjects. We had no awards or recognition for our work. When we finished high school, we were offered no scholarships; we each worked for money to earn our ways through colleges. The dumb lads who could not read or write or do any of the tough classes, but who excelled in sports, received accolades from day one in school. They got special recognition by certificates, or convocations in recognition of their sports scores, and all received college scholarships. At our fortieth high school reunion, we five girls sat together and compared our lives. We were all professional women. We eah had interesting and exciting lives. One of the male sports heroes was a garbage collector for 40 years, and the others had unskilled occupations. Even our classmates recognized the contrasts.

I admire skilled tradesmen and mechanics, I recognize the training and study necessary to build a building or sidewalk or bridge or design and repair equipment. I honor them as constructive members of society. I hold them in very high regard. Not so the sports heroes who turned out to be fat old men dreaming of their glory days in sports and having nothing of interest to discuss. It was "When I ...". living in past glory with nothing for which to be proud in the present. 

Of course, not everyone is able to handle the tough stuff, even with good teaching and parental support. There is pride and dignity in doing one's best. The quadriplegic who learned how to be a ham radio operator, or the men and women who took up honorable work as unskilled laborers had a great source of self-respect. The slow learners who became care givers can do an outstanding job loving and caring for others.

The thing that I see lacking in many of our young people is the inability to take on responsibilities, or show initiative, or to do sustained effort, or wanting immediate gratifications. If something is difficult, it is too often avoided.

I'm a tough old school marm, and I was a tough teacher and mother. I look at my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren with great pride because they know how to work, work without whining, and assume responsibility for their tasks. It does help that my daughter's family lives on acreage with farm animals. City kids sometimes don't have opportunity to learn such responsibilities. One of my son's family have high expectation for performance from their boys, and they also have great fun together. I am convinced youngsters need far more than smart-phones or games or entertainment to flourish.

We need buildings, roads, bridges, medical professionals, skilled accountants, engineers, and all kinds of work that requires concentration, thought, perseverance, and skilled action. That is our job as parents and teachers, to train up those who can do the work and be happy with their lives. 

In my experience as a mathematics professor, the main difficulty students encountered was almost always either a failure in logical thinking or an inability to comprehend abstractions.

Such failures are common in the general population as well, but are readily overcome in most cases with clarifying examples. In other words it is not lack of intelligence, but lack of experience that causes difficulty.

I took algebra twice and only brought my grade up the second time a half-point.  It was difficult.  Now, I use its principles every day almost and do so automatically.  Law was the same way.  In the abstract, difficult, but in praxis, not so much.

An aside relating to your comment, James: how much is the problem with understanding math owing to doing equations in a vacuum and not relating it to the real world?  I mean, you can say:

y = mx + b

and know that's the equation for a straight line, where "m" is the slope of the line and "b" is the y-intercept, but in my business, it can also be:

Vout = VpgmGain + Offset

which describes the operation and corrections needed to calibrate a programmable linear amplifier by adjusting the amp's gain and zero offset.  Here, the slope is the Gain and the y-intercept is the zero offset.  Being able to see the PRACTICAL APPLICATION of something which otherwise might be less than engaging has always been a help to me ... and I suspect many others.

Say what?!

The ability to work in abstractions is what gives mathematics its great power and wide applicability, but it can be a major difficulty for students, especially at the beginning of algebra. Most students can learn if they are given enough time and proper help.

Recently I tutored the daughter of a friend, a very bright girl who was having trouble with high school algebra. Her teacher had taught her a method for solving simultaneous equations in two or three variables. She could apply it, but in some cases it led to such long computations she invariably made mistakes in copying from one line to another. I suggested that she look at each set of equations and see if there were not shortcuts to be taken.

She was uncomfortable with that idea and resorted each time to the cumbersome method she thought her teacher wanted, and of course she continued to make mistakes. Her notion was that mathematics consisted of rules to be applied as given by the teacher. To indulge in a creative shortcut was heresy. That's not good teaching, but it never does to criticize the teacher or text when you are tutoring—it creates an unresolvable conflict in the student's mind.


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