Today’s letter-to-the-editor comes from the Post-Journal of Jamestown, New York. That’s in Chautauqua County, which gave its name to a movement of so-called Chautauqua tent meetings, featuring lectures, entertainment, and preachers. According to Wikipedia’s article on Chautauqua: “William Jennings Bryan, with his populist and evangelical message addressing topics such as temperance, was the most popular Chautauqua speaker, until his death in 1925.”
The letter we found is titled A Creator Does Not Stunt Science. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and as we usually do we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. Here we go, with a bit of bold font added for emphasis:
I have enjoyed reading Dr. Ronald Kohl’s ”Star Watch” column for several years now and wanted to comment on his idea that children exposed to the idea of creationism or intelligent design ”will have to make their way in the modern world even though they are equipped with only a regressive, inferior and totally inadequate education.”
We found Kohl’s column here: The October skies. The letter-writer’s quote was taken from this paragraph:
It’s incredibly hard to believe that in 2011, there are still quite a few people who want to teach their children about creationism and ”intelligent” design instead of teaching them about evolution. These children will have to make their way in the modern world even though they are equipped with only a regressive, inferior and totally inadequate education. No wonder American students are slipping further and further behind students from other countries, where scientific truths are taught.
Kohl goes on to criticize a certain “think tank” in Seattle, radical religious right groups in general, and Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal, and then he says:
Today, an educated person capable of critical thinking, who possesses a basic evidence-based understanding of the natural world, realizes that evolution is now an accepted fact, just as we know that the Earth is round, rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.
Well! That’s more than enough to arouse the righteous ire of a full-blown creationist. Having identified the column to which he’s reacting, today’s letter-writer then kicks into high gear:
This quote suggests that belief in a creator would somehow stunt one’s ability to deal with the scientific world.
What? That’s not at all what Kohl’s column suggests. Rather, Kohl clearly says that that learning creationism instead of evolution will have such an effect. The letter-writer’s confusion is immediately apparent and it seems inexplicable. Let’s read on:
An examination of the personal beliefs of some of the giants of scientific discovery would suggest otherwise. Following quotations are from individuals recognized as leaders in the fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics and so on.
What comes next is a festival of quote-mining. We haven’t verified the quotes, which is something that should always be done when reading creationist material, but in this case it doesn’t really matter. The people he purports to quote are Newton, Galileo, Keppler, Pascal, Faraday, Lord Kelvin, Charles Darwin, and lastly Werner von Braun. Whoop-de-doo!
It’s quite a collection. Each of those worthies is quoted as saying something vaguely theistic, but none who lived in the time of or after Darwin is quoted as rejecting his work.
We’d like to continue with the letter, but that’s all there is. It consists only of a grotesque misunderstanding of Kohl’s column, followed by a collection of lovely quotes (accurate or not is immaterial), which show that one can be theistic and also a good scientist. No one ever doubted that such people exist, so what’s been accomplished? The letter-writer has refuted a fantasy claim that Kohl never made and that we’ve never seen from anyone else. So what do we make of it?
The letter-writer is a perfect example of what Kohl’s column said about the consequences of early exposure to creationism instead of evolution. We know nothing about psychology, but we’ve heard that there is an optimal window in youth for the brain to learn languages. When the window closes, we can still learn another language (as long as we’ve at least learned our own), but it will be far more difficult.
Similarly, perhaps in some early formative stage, one’s mental ability for rational thought — at least in the way we link causes and effects — is ready for development. If that facility is not exercised it can become horribly atrophied. Worse, if it’s actively suppressed — by continuous exposure to creationism, for example — that vital ability may become virtually non-existent for the remainder of that person’s life. This is the problem Kohl was writing about, and from which today’s letter-writer seems to be suffering.
So today’s letter is literally a self-contradiction. The letter-writer says that creationism is no problem for clear thinking, yet what he has written indicates that the opposite is true. That’s how it seems to us.
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