monkey business at usa today

Why did USA Today run an absolutely ridiculous anti-evolution op-ed in today’s edition? (I suspect it has something to do with the personal beliefs of a major shareholder, but I haven’t been able to find any evidence of it yet.) Here, in case you didn’t see it, is a clip from the piece, which was penned by Utah State Senator D. Chris Buttars (Republican):

Teaching evolution is really about the determined drive by activists to eliminate any reference to an intelligent power in the universe. That said, could it be that the reason they can’t find the missing link is that human evolution didn’t happen at all?

That’s right, evolution is just a conspiracy to keep people from the truth that there’s an “intelligent power in the universe.” What fucking shit. Can you believe that this ran in a national newspaper, even one with a reputation for playing to the lowest common denominator, like USA Today?

Why stop with evolution though? Doesn’t understanding how the sun works diminish the glory of God? Why not just get rid of science, and the scientific method altogether? (Making an exception, of course, for Viagra and other discoveries that promise to either grow hair or make weiners hard.)

OK, it’s late and I’m both tired and pissed… For a more reasoned response to the USA Today op-ed, check out what John Cole has to say… And, if you want, send a letter to the Editor of USA Today and ask why it is that they felt it necessary to print a letter that had absolutely no foundation in reality… Or, better yet, ask them to consider printing your op-ed on the unicorns that live inside the earth.

And, maybe it’s just a weird coincidence, but this ad showing monkeys dressed like men and women is what popped up when I sent my letter to the editor just now.

I need sleep.

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32 Comments

  1. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Mark-
    Why are you so angry about this issue? I agree that the fossil record shows smaller and less developed fossils further back in time. One clearly viable theory is that they evolved (even possibly with the aid of an intelligent designer). Another viable theory is that God created different species at different times. Neither is provable until we invent time travel or are able to ask God directly.

    I read the article; why don’t you respond to the actual points of his argument instead of denigrating the idea that he would even take the position?

  2. Tony Buttons
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s hard for me to take the argument seriously when it starts off by positioning the teaching of evolution as part of “the campaign to eliminate God from the public forum.”

  3. be OH be
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Shanster,
    I’m curious, what exactly do you understand the phrase “viable theory” to mean?

  4. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I can’t say that the esteemed Senator Buttars is the best speaker for a reasonable approach. He was probably just forced into writing it by one of his wives.

  5. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    BOB-
    I meant viable as supportable and not disproven. I wasn’t using it in any real technical sense of viable. If there’s another meaning, maybe I should use workable.

    If there’s no God, evolution is the apparent answer to how we got here. If there is a God, evolution is still one possible way that we got here.

  6. be OH be
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    workable?

    How is that “theory” workable?

    What work can you do to prove it?

    It’s not a theory. It’s a belief. Don’t confuse the two.

    Using terms like “viable” “workable” and “theory” seem to be cheap attempts to put creationism on equal scientific footing as more established and researched theories about the origin of complex life forms.

  7. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Would “you” like “me” to “prove” creation “a priori” or “a posteriori”? Would you like eyewitness accounts? Are you a strict empiricist who has rejected all a priori arguments, or is the non-existence of God the only a priori position which you support?

    Use of the word belief in opposition to the word theory coupled with clever quotation marks does not in any way affect the truth of either proposition.

  8. be OH be
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Believe what you want to believe.
    I just don’t like the idea of science class in a public school being used to promote unscientific ideas.

    I really don’t feel like dragging this out any more so you can go ahead and notch a win for your side if you like.

  9. chris
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Amen!

  10. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Yeah! We win! Victory through attrition (is that the right word?) (ambivalence?)!

    I don’t like the science class in a public school being used to promote anti-religious ideas. Let’s just teach the controversy and let people decide for themselves. Take all the appropriate time to present the fossil record, Darwin’s Origins, adaptation, mutation, etc. but give a day/class period to recognize that science can only go so far, and that none of the empirical data negate the possibility of a creator.

  11. chris
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I am a baptized and confirmed member of the Lutheran Church and as the Anglican Episopalian church has an ecumenical relationship with the Lutheran church, a member of that church as well.

    I have yet to meet a member of either of these communities who neither disbelieves in the theory of evolution nor considers it sacrilegious to believe. Maybe you want to change your sentence to read, “…to promote a small minority of the catholic community and christian fundamentalist ideas.”.

    Shanster, either you believe in it or you don’t. I thought a while back you said you did but felt compelled to support the right’s movement to remove it from public schools?

  12. Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Shanster, none of the empirical data suggests the possibility of a creator.

    Nor does such an assertion constitute ‘A priori’ knowledge, as it is by no means an agreed-upon assumption. To me, your suggestion would be an effort to prove a double negative, ie, “We don’t know that we can’t say that this other idea might not be true,” which is straining the limits of credibility.

    I have always felt that mandatory comparative religion classes would be the best solution to the problem. Include all major world religions, their history, their beliefs, and the results of conflicts between them. This is, in my opinion, the only classroom environment where something supernatural could be discussed, without the information being taken out of context.

    As a side note, I’m curious: Does it bother you more that natural selection suggests your ancestors were tree-swinging primates, OR that we, as modern homosapiens, are not yet a ‘finished product’, and will continue to evolve*?

    *(assuming, of course, the robots let us)

  13. chris
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I know Brett. This guy acts as if he has never consumed an FDA approved pharmaceutical.

  14. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, Chris, I can’t quite make out what you are saying, too many double negatives for me to be sure.

    I don’t feel compelled to support the removal of the teaching of evolution. I continue to ask for the ADDED teaching of ID/creationism/the controversy in some balanced way.

    I think you were saying that in the church you attend there is no one who believes in theistic evolution. Is that right?

  15. Shanster
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    brett-
    Thanks for taking up the argument, does that mean I don’t get the point? If your suggestion of a mandatory comparative religion class is taken up, I might be satisfied, at least for high school.

    My positive assertion would be that we can neither prove nor disprove any assertion about the supernatural origin of the universe, the earth, or different species (except body thetans – that’s crazy talk). Also, empirically (a posteriori), I agree there is no way to prove creationism, it was a historical event which cannot be proven that way. The a priori (reason) arguments, as you probably know, are plenty.

  16. be OH be
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I guess instead of forfeiting the game I should have tagged one of my teammates into the ring.

    I too really like the comparative religion class idea (wow, did we all just agree on something?). I’ve got nothing against kids learning about religion. I just think it should be handled more as a philosophy/literature course and not as science.

  17. Alicia
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I share your pain.

    15 years ago this would have been printed in the Onion, not USA today.

  18. chris
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Shanster,

    I am typing very slowly. The christians that I know believe in evolution. The evolution that they believe in is that as defined by Darwin. Their acceptence of Darwinian evolution does not preclude their belief in a monotheistic JudeoChristian God.

    If I am not mistaken, Darwin himself did not find his theory in conflict with his belief in God.

    OK?

    The FDA approved pharmaceutical statement has to do with preclinical Stage I studies in animals. Meaning, researchers and their regulators believe that animals have enough in common w/ humans to establish whether the drug in question, when harmful to animals, will then be harmful to humans.

    Most medical research professional base this commonality on evolution. Then again, I also believe that chiropracty and accupuncturee are valid medical treatments.

  19. Posted August 10, 2005 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Playing “Devil’s Advocate” for a minute (why not?)…

    Shanster: You say that “body thetans” are crazy talk. I’m not now nor do I ever plan on being a member of the Church of Scientology. I don’t even know very much about them. But what about body thetans makes it more disprovable than demons, angels or an intelligent creator? Because the books aren’t as old?

    Should I assume that Scientology would not be welcome by you in a mandatory comparative religion class? Why not? Are there any other religions that you would exclude? Hare Krishna perhaps? Buddhism? Judaism?

    How would you feel if you found out that the child of a Buddhist you know had decided to convert to Christianity thanks to his now mandatory comparative religion class? Happy? Sympathetic? Righteous?

    How would you feel if your child came home from school one day and declared that they learned all about Krishna that day in school, they feel that it is the correct answer and your child now planned on switching to that religion upon completing High School? Angry? Frustrated? Understanding?

    If the public schools are opened to one religion they will need to be opened to them all. Personally, I feel that a comparative religion class could be a good thing, but I don’t feel it should be mandatory. Some parents may not be thrilled with having their children’s faith manipulated by people they don’t know.

  20. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’ll take up a couple of points again with Shanster as well.

    Since there are no empirical proofs either for or against supernatural origins, doesn’t it follow that speculation on the subject has no place in an empirical discipline like biology? And doesn’t that make the teaching of evolution non-religious, rather than anti-religious? If not, does that mean that religious speculation should also be introduced into other disciplines, like chemistry or math?

    It makes wonderful sense to teach comparative religion in schools, since religions are an important part of human culture and history. Many parents, unfortunately, are decidedly anti-ecumenical, and will raise hell if all religions are presented as equal to their kids. It’s probably a good idea, anyway; maybe it would work better if it were taught to older kids.

  21. mark
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I suspect that by “comparative religion” the evangelicals and dominionists would have something in mind like a class where other religions are compared to Christianity and found lacking. I doubt that they would agree to a curriculum that gave all the world’s religions equal time and treated them equally. I’d like to think otherwise, but I don’t think there’s a compromise here. At first I thought that it was possible, but now I’m pretty sure that religion has to just stay out of public schools. Like I said before, and as Collin just reiterated, once you open up those floodgates there’s no telling what’s coming through.

  22. Shanster
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Chris-
    Thanks for typing slowly, it helps.

    It seems the consensus is pretty pessimistic on the comparative religion issue, especially making it mandatory. My dominionist friends (I don’t think I’m one) would probably never go for it. That would take us back to Chris’ suggestion that the controversy be taught in history class. I’ve seen several good primers on biology and evolution, which are intended for kids, including one from DK, which dedicate a few pages to creation beliefs and Legal/social issues, and they seem completely fair to me.

    Skinner-
    Good point. I’m not sure I should have said NO empirical proofs, but basically that’s right. There’s still a conflict in the interpretation of the empirical data, based on our a priori reasoning. If we look at a miracle, I am fully willing to accept that a divine being actually performed it. Someone who comes into the situation with the assumption that there is no God will find some other explanation.

    Body Thetans-
    I sincerely apologize for referring to your existence as crazy talk. It was meant as a joke, but it was completely insensitive and it was wrong. I’m just going to get on my unicorn and ride down into the hollow earth.

  23. Jim
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Many of those who think that high school students are capable of evaluating the whole of modern biology and its pseudo-scientific alternatives and making an informed determination about the origins of the universe are the same people who think that students should not be educated about sex and their own bodies, so that they can make an informed decision about whether to have sex, and if so, what precautions they can take to avoid pregnancy and disease. Cognitive dissonance, or just hypocrisy?

    Assaults on teaching evolution are so dangerous because they are part of a larger assault on science–whether the issue is global warming, pollution, human sexuality, stem cell research, strategic defense, economics, or whatever. A couple of years ago I would have said that this was a reflection of a tendency of Bush and the neocons to disregard or distort facts that conflicted with their big ideas, but now I wouldn’t even give them that much credit. Bush seems only interested in consolidating and exercising power, and shows no sign of being committed to anything larger than himself.

  24. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Shanster — I think it’s fair to say that there are no empirical proofs of the supernatural; that’s different from saying there’s no evidence. The scientific method is limited to observation and analysis of the physical. The bias of religious or anti-religious belief is always a problem; Francis Bacon warned about that back when he was pioneering the methodology. The ideal is to stick scrupulously to the nuts and bolts.

    A religious believer can also be leery of miracles — witness the Vatican’s healthy suspicion of stigmata (usually hoaxing or illness) and such dubious medieval holdovers as the regular liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood in Naples. Even those who believe in miracles have to admit that they’re rare!

    Comparative religion in public schools is probably unworkable. Hey, maybe religion should be kept in the private sector, and the government kept out of it. You’d think Republicans would like that idea, wouldn’t you?

  25. Shanster
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    That’s a great idea, Doug; maybe we should make an amendment to the constitution to keep the government out of religion.

    Is anyone out there a Biology teacher? I taught Geography in a parochial school; kids often asked about the age of the earth as it was defined in the book compared to their beliefs. I informed them some of the possibilities: flaws in dating (not really great variance, but nothing seems to support 10kyears), different interpretation of ‘day’ in Genesis, and a couple other ideas with sensitivity to their family’s interpretation. I would think a good bio teacher would be able to do the same, and not just say “ah, yer parents are feeding you a line of bull. The bible’s wrong.”

  26. Posted August 11, 2005 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Shanster: While you are down there say hi to “Lucifer”. I would like to point out that for centuries the major religions believed that the earth was flat and the sun and all the planets revolved around us. Doesn’t exactly establish a winning track record in regards to being correct, does it? You should hop over to Wikipedia and check out the hell Galileo was put through by the church. Heck, here’s a link for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei#Church_controversy

  27. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Shanster — I’ve heard of several cases of teachers avoiding (or being told to avoid) the subject of evolution in the classroom; I haven’t heard of any teachers telling kids “The Bible is wrong.” Your example is fine; but aren’t the guidelines different for public and parochial schools?

    We have such a nice amendment separating church and state. Maybe it isn’t clear enough; maybe we need another one forbidding any political party from branding itself as the Jesus Party. By the way, can you imagine a good old-fashioned Republican like Nixon or Goldwater writing an editorial against evolution?

    Collin — The Flat Earth Society is still going: see http://www.flatearthsociety.org. Opinions differ on everything, don’t they?

  28. Posted August 11, 2005 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Doug: Yeah, I knew that, but they aren’t backed by religion anymore, are they?

  29. chris
    Posted August 11, 2005 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Shanster,

    I have an undergrad degree in Biology w/ a focus on molecular biology. I have approximately 8 years of post grad molecular immunology scientific research under my belt. I completed the required evolutional biology course for an accredited Baccalaureate degree at a Jesuit University.

    The professor instructing the course acknowledged that there were students in the class whose religious tenents required they disavowed the theory of evolution. Regardless, they were required to show that they both studied and comprehended the course work. He never once suggested that the bible was wrong. It was a nonissue, if you wanted the degree you took the course. I hated the damn class though it was scaffolding for other theories in biology that were later, in my research, very useful to me.

    Conversely, I was required to take 2 religion courses. One was comparative religion, the other an elective, the Hx and origins of the Catholic church. Here’s the irony, I apparently did so well in this latter class that I was invited by the Dept. chair (the course instructor) to apply to their graduate program! I must say I was totally nonplussed. And you can make damn sure well that he did not know I was a Protestant.

  30. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 12, 2005 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Collin — The flat earthers thump their Bibles with gusto, but I don’t know of any religion that endorses them. But if we replace scientific peer review with public popularity and politicians’ editorials, then maybe flat-earthism will be back in the schools. After all, “opinions differ” on whether the world is round.

  31. Ricardo el Alab
    Posted August 12, 2005 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Of course it is round! Round like a pancake. And flat, too.

  32. Shanster
    Posted August 15, 2005 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone else read the Time magagzine article about this issue? I found it fair and balanced, so does that mean that y’all on the other side of the aisle found it otherwise?
    2 interesting points:
    1. Irreducible complexity. While I agree that there is a designer, I’m not sure if this idea is a credible argument.
    2. The article alludes to the idea that many scientists won’t give creationists a seat at the table, seemingly treating them with shunning, rather than debate (probably realizing that the debate is rooted in philosophy, and ends up going in circles). Have the IDers tried to gain that seat? Have they pursued peer-review journals?

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