Monthly Archives: May 2009

Texas Creationism Bill is Dead

THE Texas legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on 01 June. That means the death of HB 4224, “Relating to the teaching of science in public schools.”

The bill was sponsored by Wayne Christian. It’s typical of other anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-creationism bills modeled after the misleadingly-named Academic Freedom Act, promoted by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). If passed, it would have restored the pro-creationist “strengths and weaknesses” language to the Texas science education standards.

The bill didn’t even come close to passing. It never left the House committee on Public Education, to which it was sent on 24 March, ten days after being filed. There was no companion bill in the Senate.

With all the chaos we’ve been reporting about science education in Texas, the death of this bill isn’t really big news. But it’s good news, and we’ll take whatever we can get.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Morality, Evolution, and Darwin

THIS is another in a series of posts that began with Debating Creationists: The Big Lie. That dealt with some general myths about the theory of evolution, and it was followed with some essays dealing with specific myths, including: Hitler and Darwin, and Marx, Stalin, and Darwin, and Atheism, Science, and Darwin.

We’ve dealt with the topic of morality and Darwin in bits and pieces in several other posts, including: But They’ll Behave Like Monkeys! Now, however, we’ll try to tie some of it together into one convenient essay. But be warned, this is a large topic, so there are limits on what we can do here.

First, why do the creationists focus so much moral outrage on Darwin and his theory of evolution? Why not Isaac Newton and his laws of motion? Why not chemistry? Biology is no more anti-religion than any other science. By that we mean that none of them is anti-religion. They’re all concerned with observing and explaining the observable world in natural, comprehensible, verifiable ways. No science deals with supernatural affairs; those are the subject of theology. So why is biology — and evolution especially — the subject of so much moral outrage?

We think it’s because Genesis — if read literally — provides an alternative to evolution. But the bible, which creationists claim is God’s full and complete science text, is silent about physics and chemistry, so creationists ignore them. The bible mentions the planets only once (2 Kings 23:5 — criticizing false religions that are concerned with them), so astronomy isn’t a problem for scriptural literalists — well, except for that pesky solar system thing that got Galileo into trouble; but they’ve gotten over that. Oh, there’s the matter of the age of the universe, which creationists don’t like at all. There’s also geology, which reveals an ancient earth, and geography, which teaches that the earth isn’t flat. We expect that creationists will be targeting several sciences after they outlaw evolution. Chemistry seems reasonably safe, however, as does physics.

But the question remains: If the theory of evolution indicates that the creation account in Genesis can’t be read literally, only metaphorically, why is this such a problem for creationists? They’ve managed to accept the solar system by ignoring or re-interpreting the scriptural passages that caused such problems for Galileo. Two of those were:

Ecclesiastes 1:5
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Joshua 10:13
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

Somehow, because the Genesis account of creation is so “clear,” the creationists insist upon its literal veracity, without which they fear they’ll have no moral compass. We can see this in an earlier post: Creationism and Morality, in which we criticized a very primitive claim that “only creationists have a rational, logical, and consistent reason for morality.” And another claim that “God as the Creator has the right to define absolute standards of behavior.”

We pointed out Socrates’ Euthyphro dilemma — “Is what is moral commanded by the gods because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by the gods?”

We also asked how divinely defined standards of good and evil could explain:

… Abraham’s behavior when God announced His intention to exterminate the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham objected and told God that it would be unjust to kill the good along with the rest. And what of Moses’ reaction when God announced His intention to exterminate the Hebrews because of the golden calf incident? Moses argued God out of doing it.

Having demonstrated, at least to our satisfaction, how even scripture teaches that man’s morality is independent of deities, we said:

Claims to the effect that “Without Genesis there is no morality” come up frequently, and it’s always surprising, because basic morality is such a simple thing. Suppose you evolved from some primordial blob without any divine action at all. Okay, you’re on your own, with no bible, just your intelligence to guide you. You’re looking for a place to settle down with your family and your flocks. Assume that the cities you might move to have signs outside their gates, telling you the rules. One says: “Murder is okay with us!” Another says: “Welcome, and we’ll rape your women!” Yet another says: “No private property here. We’ll take all your stuff!” Do you need to consult Genesis before you to decide to avoid those places?

But there’s much more to be said on the topic. Let’s start at the beginning — What is the source of morality? Illustrious philosophers have offered their opinions on this over the centuries. We’re being outrageously presumptuous to attempt even as little as we do here, but this is our humble view:

Regardless of whether we were specially created or evolved, and regardless of any supposed instructions from or even the existence of gods, every sane adult you ask will tell you that: (1) he doesn’t want to be murdered, enslaved, raped, or otherwise assaulted; (2) he doesn’t want his property stolen; (3) he doesn’t want to be told lies or be cheated; (4) he doesn’t want his private behavior or his honest and voluntary dealings with others to be restricted; and (5) he doesn’t want his thoughts regulated. Given mankind’s unanimity on the foregoing, would it not be reasonable to conclude that the desire to be free from those conditions is an objectively verifiable attribute of all humans, and therefore any system of morality should be based thereon?

What we’re trying to say is this — The more we know about ourselves — and everything else, the better able we are to devise a proper moral code. We’re not saying that science is morality; but science gives us knowledge, and knowledge is essential to morality.

Consider a trivial example of an improper morality — A self-proclaimed moralist asserts that we must never eat meat. He’s demanding that we deny something which is fundamental to our nature. Or maybe he claims that gravity is an evil illusion that can be overcome by prayer. Now he’s demanding that we deny something which is fundamental to the nature of the world. Reality denial can never be the foundation of morality.

Which brings us to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. We won’t waste time here arguing the scientific validity of the theory. All the available evidence supports it, and none contradicts it. It explains what we are and where we came from. Denying it is absurd, and attempting to build a moral system on such denial is preposterous.

Note that we’re not claiming to build a moral system on the theory of evolution. That’s not what one does with scientific theories. But we are saying that evolution is real, and a genuine moral system can’t contradict reality. If someone’s proffered system does deny reality, it can’t be moral.

We leave you with this thought — If Abraham could tell God that His intended obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah was unjust, we can certainly tell a creationist that his moralistic claims are worthless

Update: See A Secular Source of Morality.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Slow News Day

WE can’t find any news about the evolution-creationism controversy to report today — not even goofy letters-to-the-editor — so we’ll take this opportunity to remind you of our recent post: Open Letter to Sonia Sotomayor. It’s one of our better efforts.

If you like that one, you might also look at our Open Letter to the Republican Party.

Otherwise, you may take comfort knowing that your Curmudgeon is on duty, headquartered in the secret underground control room of the CITADEL, the Curmudgeonly Institute for Tactics, Advocacy, and Defense of the Enlightenment Legacy — the global nerve center for monitoring events throughout the Creosphere which threaten the values of Western Civilization.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationist Reactions to Don McLeroy’s Fall

BY now you already know the news: Texas Creationist Don McLeroy: Rejected! While rational people everywhere are delighted that Don McLeroy, the creationist dentist, has failed to be confirmed as chairman of the Texas Board of Education (BOE), their reaction is restrained. This is largely a symbolic victory.

McLeroy’s champion, Texas Governor Rick Perry, will be appointing a replacement chairman, and that will probably be one of the other creationists on the BOE. Also, McLeroy will continue to be a member of the board. Therefore, nothing is really changed.

Nevertheless, your Curmudgeon understands what you want to know — How have the creationists been reacting? To satisfy your curiosity, we bring you a small sampling of opinion from that vibrant segment of intellectual universe. In the excerpts that follow, the bold font was added by us.

First, at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids), there is this post s by Casey Luskin: Texas Evolution Lobby Making Power Grabs to Promote Their Censorship Agenda. Casey’s title is crammed with creationist spin-words: “Evolution Lobby,” “Power Grabs,” and “Censorship Agenda.” Here’s an excerpt:

In a move that can only be attributed to political retribution, today Texas evolutionists successfully blocked the reappointment of Dr. Don McLeroy as chair of the TSBOE. Practically speaking, this move will change little, as it is almost guaranteed that a like-minded conservative will be appointed in McLeroy’s place to chair the TSBOE. The travesty here is that, to my knowledge, no one has put forth any legitimate charges that McLeroy was not fair-minded in how he chaired TSBOE meetings. If this move will have little practical impact and Dr. McLeroy is a competent chair, why did the Texas evolution lobby push so hard for this ephemeral and pyrrhic media victory? The answer is simple: it’s political retribution from evolutionists who like to expel people whose politics don’t advance their pro-Darwin-only agenda.

You know how Casey’s rants go. We’ll skip most of the rest and give you his final paragraph:

All this amounts to an attempt to take control of the public school curriculum out of the hands of qualified elected officials and taxpaying and voting parents and put it into the hands of bureaucrats. Once the Texas evolution lobby has total vertical control of the curriculum, they hope to then also control—through indoctrination—the minds of the next generation of voters. Perhaps then Texas evolutionists will feel safe returning power to the people.

Power to the people! There’s a classy, left-wing phrase. Well, why not? Casey is a classy guy. So are all the Discoveroids.

The next one comes from the highly esteemed creationist website of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The article is titled: Texas School Board Chairman McLeroy Loses Leadership Post. Most of the article is a straightforward account of how the voting went. But then they say this:

Though the vote failed to reach the majority requirement, the fact that 19 out of 30 representatives voted in support of McLeroy clearly shows that Texans know what they want in public science education: to follow the evidence where it leads and not be hindered by agendas and ideological philosophies dictated by a handful of “experts.”

That is so twisted we can’t begin to unravel it. We’ll leave it as an exercise for you, dear reader.

Addendum: The creationist chat site, Free Republic, has a thread devoted to the AIG article. It’s right here. The comments are hysterical.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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