Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Vexing Problem Solved, Free of Charge

Here's a clever idea that came to me while I was responding to a recent post by Echidne.

Suppose that in American public schools, all biology classes were to devote a day or two to exploring creation myths from around the world.

It'd be the sort of compromise that shows America's cultural pluralism at its best. Science would admit that it can't logically prove or disprove the existence of God, and fundamentalist Christianity would admit that there are multitudes of competing religious explanations for life on earth, and would also concede that many Christian sects have no problem with evolution.

Hell, the teachers could even discuss intelligent design for all I'd care, so long as they make it clear that ID theory is just as compatible with Buddhism, and Islam, and Judaism, and Hinduism, as it is with Christianity.

It seems reasonable to me. If fundamentalists want kids to be taught about "Young Earth" theories based on Biblical literalism, they'll also have to let them hear about how Pan Gu took his broad-axe and split open the black egg of the Cosmos; and about how the cow Audhumla was formed from thawing frost, and licked a salty ice block until the hair of Buri, the first man, appeared; and about Oparin's even more fanciful vision of "chemical evolution"; and about the rich pleasures and voluptuous horrors of Echidneism (the one true faith); and all the rest of it.

At the end of the discussion, the teacher can say, "Those are some of the theories about how life got here. Now, for the rest of the semester, we're going to talk about how it works."

There you have it...the problem's solved, and everybody's happy!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll tackle Israel and Palestine...

PS: Just for the record, I was being kinda facetious here. I know this isn't going to happen! But the thing is, we get locked into hopeless struggles all the time by letting opponents choose the terms of debate. The issue here isn't that Lefties want "atheism" taught in schools; the issue is that a certain subset of Christians wants to stop other types of religion from being discussed. If religion ends up in public-school curricula, it's got to be balanced; one form of it can't claim a privileged position over all the others. A comparative discussion of origin myths is education; teaching "Young Earth" Biblical literalism is indoctrination. If you want to win a debate, you need to go beyond simple "either/or" opposition, and start appropriating your opponent's strength. Instead of saying "You can't have this," you say, "You can have this under these conditions," and let your opponents reveal their true agenda by rejecting it. We come across as the bad guys by "stifling faith." So we need to make it plain that neutral discussion protects all faiths, and it's actually the fundies who are trying to limit religious freedoms.


echidne said...

You can be a High Priest anyday, Philalethes!

Tena said...

Silly Philalethes - that's much too sensible and you know fundies won't allow sensible into this discussion.

It reminds me of Pat Schroeder's solution to the flag burning conundrum - make the flag out of a non flammable material. Problem solved.

If only.

Phila said...

Tena...yeah, I know. But I want to see them admit it. I want to see the offer made, and rejected.

Thersites said...

Frankly, the Audhumla cow theory sounds pretty persuasive. So your plan might well backfire, and we'd enter a period of Norse fundamentalism. And I'm not sure that would be an improvement on the current situation.

Anonymous said...

Phila, Phila, Phila...

It's a lovely idea, one that occurred to me long ago, but you know what would happen, sweetie.

Remember how horrified certain Xtians were when they learned that Muslims were using school vouchers to educate their children at, er, Muslim schools? How dare they use their vouchers to send their kids to a non-Xtian school! What if they were having their kids learn how to be terrorists???!!!! OMFG! Funny how school vouchers kind of cooled off after that, huh?

One thing you can always count on: Xtians of this ilk A) will never be satisfied with what they get; B) don't think through what would happen if they get what they say they want; C) and they'll have their real motives exposed when they do get it. Always.


Phila said...

LJ, you're right as always, but see my response to Tena. My "solution" is half wishful thinking, and half irony. Still, it's kinda funny how often reasonable solutions can be impossible, simply by virtue of being reasonable!

Monica_CA said...

Well, the unfortunate fact is that fundies see their worldview as fact (freaky as it is), so applying pluralistic/comparative principles to the teaching of creation is just so much spitting in the face of their beliefs to them.

You would only anger them further.

Why would you ever want to do that?

I remember my science teacher giving us a little speech: "I'm required by the state to inform you all that some people believe god created the earth in 7 days and since these people believe this, they don't believe in evolution. I am now going to teach you the theory of evolution, and any of you that have religious beliefs that may conflict with this theory may leave the class and go to the office where you'll be given an alternate assignment."

One kid was already out of the class (Christian Scientist) before she made the announcement, but no one else left. I wonder how that would play out today?

Thersites said...

Still, it's kinda funny how often reasonable solutions can be impossible, simply by virtue of being reasonable!We're at a terrible disadvantage not only here but in general. We want to be reasonable. They want to be in control. That's the rub.

Anonymous said...

Dang--I wish I were always right. Then I wouldn't have ex #1 and, er, ex #2. And, um, all those mistakes that I didn't turn into bigger mistakes... But that's another story.


Anonymous said...

We're at a terrible disadvantage not only here but in general. We want to be reasonable. They want to be in control. That's the rub.I knew there was a reason why ex #2 (AKA Selfish Control Freak) became a Republican again after we split up. What is it with these people and CONTROL? Argh.

joshowitz5 said...

I posted about this earlier, giving the Navajo Creation Myth as an example (which sounds a heck of alot like alien colonists, BTW). It isn't about evolutionists having an open mind, though that's what creationists try to say.

But you know, I think alot of people are getting a little nuts. My son goes to school, and if he came home saying "teacher says aliens created the world" I would get involved. Not on the entire school level, but on a one-to-one basis between me and the teacher. Politely, reasonably and hopefully we'd come to a solution. Finally, I would teach my son what I believe (evolution 'with a twist') and we'd all be happy.

Schools are supposed to be a support for your shild's education, not the be-all, end-all.

OK, sorry, a bit too much prosletyzing....