Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's sad that it's even an issue....

A federal judge says the University of California can deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.

Rejecting claims of religious discrimination and stifling of free expression, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles said UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the texts - not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking.

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 12, 2008

Evolution is the crux of modern biology.

Science is a process, creating models/stories to help us understand what we observe, to help us predict.

One of the textbooks used by the Creationists, Biology for Christian Schools, published by Bob Jones University Press, asserts:

The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second. To the best of the author’s knowledge, the conclusions drawn from observable facts that are presented in this book agree with the Scriptures. If a mistake has been made (which is probable since this book was prepared by humans) and at any point God’s Word is not put first, the author apologizes.
Too many people confuse faith with beliefs.

Not all Christians cling to beliefs without reason. I know. I'm one of them


Anonymous said...

I am a Christian. But, I know what the state is requiring us to teach so I teach it. It is what is on the State Tests. When the kids ask me, I tell them that there are other views and beliefs and they are welcome to have them. But, the state will test them on what is in the book.
Linda AKA Mystery Teacher

doyle said...

The state of New Jersey requires us to teach science, a fine thing.

To be clear, the California court made the right decision here, and I agree with it.

Evolution holds biology together. It makes sense. The empirical evidence overwhelmingly supports macroevolution, and microevolution can be directly observed.

I may be missing the point of your comment, though, since I don't know which state you're from, so I don't know what you're required to teach.

New Jersey has plenty of problems, true, and the state just instituted an EOC (End of the Course) exam for biology--given, alas, before the end of the course--so I know the pressures of teaching to the test.

Still, teaching evolution in our district is about as controversial as teaching the "Declaration of Independence" in history class.

Clay Burell said...

Alrighty, Doyle, I'll bite.

What does it mean to be a Christian who is also a critical thinker with a free, clear mind?

No antagonism intended. I respect your intelligence, and fail to see much intelligence in what Rhett Butler called "the teachings of childhood."

Maybe we should do a podcast for this discussion. I'll host and edit. I promise to be genteel. ;-)

Hey, do you mind if I nominate your blog to be featured on education.alltop? I enjoy your voice and mind so much.

Do you expect to continue posting with the consistency you've shown over the past couple of months?

(My biggest reservation about home-schooling, with which I'm otherwise very sympathetic, is that it leaves children to the mercy of their parents' understanding of science, which is generally poor among the Creationist/ID bunch.

But we see evidence in this thread that science teachers at schools today likewise confuse faith with science ((and figurative myth with literal explanation)) - so I find it hard to think public-schooled kids have any better chances of learning science than home-schooled ones do any more.)

Some great posts since my last visit. Love the stories. And oh, to think of Doc's party today is a thing I thank you for. I lived in Monterrey for a couple years. Read all the JS I could. Love the man dearly.

doyle said...

"No antagonism intended. I respect your intelligence, and fail to see much intelligence in what Rhett Butler called 'the teachings of childhood.'"

No antagonism taken, and I hope that does not draw the image of a smug smiling face of someone who has the belief/faith that they are right (in more than one sense of the word).

I'm a bit wordy this fine morning, so bear with me.

Real faith requires following where the mind goes (excepting taboo, perhaps better phrased as "going to places where we can reasonably presume will be socially destructive", another discussion for another time, best summed up by Wes Jackson when he suggested we stay out of the nuclei).

And Rhett may be right as rain there--my worldview is constructed a bit based on childhood teachings, and you might not be all that shocked to learn I'm an fallen-by-the-wayside Catholic. Hope that does not disqualify me.

To attempt to try to answer your question, which will certainly have a far different answer should I live long enough:
What does it mean to be a Christian who is also a critical thinker with a free, clear mind?

It means more and less than what you might imagine.

It means you have the faith to let your mind ponder where it will, and when things do not mesh, look at your sources, historical motives, etc.

And maybe questioning (though not necessarily denying)the Resurrection disqualifies me as a Christian in most eyes of those residing in Christendom.

The earliest account of Jesus we have in the Bible was written by Mark. As you know (but many Christians do not), the Gospels are not eyewitess accounts of Christ's travels, but Mark comes the closest chronologically.

The original Mark ends with the women fleeing from the empty tomb--and the ethereal Jesus stories in Mark after this verse were appended later by Church authorities who presumed that the last part of Mark was lost.

I like the original ending. The tomb was empty. No more needs to be said.

So maybe I'd best describe myself as one who pays attention to the stories and words attributed to Jesus; he spoke allegorically, and also, I think, truthfully.

Your point is well taken--if by being Christian in any sense that requires that you hold belief over rational thought, well, then, it's a slam dunk, you cannot be a critical thinker with a clear, free mind.

A lot of ideology attributed to being specifically "Christian" is aptly applied by the dominant Christian culture's behavior, ironically contrary to words attributed to Jesus.

I think a question just as interesting is this:
What does it mean to be an adult who is also a critical thinker with a free, clear mind?

Plenty of folks who call themselves "Christian" are quick to throw me out of the club; plenty of people who think of themselves as superior intellects also want to toss me out of my club.

Ah, well, I can go hide by the pond reading Jacques Ellul and Wendell Berry, maybe some Alan Watts. I think in the end I am struggling to find some sort of context for the "awe", the edge of not knowing (and empirically unknowable) and my childhood context happened to offer up the words of a man whose words have been distorted, but when taken in context, resonate.

(I would be thrilled to be nominated to any club that would have me. As far as keeping up the blog, that's my aim, but the real test will be come September, when I start to juggle 5 balls again. If you're looking for consistency in posting, I'll try--if you're looking for consistency in thoughts, well, if I had consistent, cogent thoughts I'd have no need to blog.)

Clay Burell said...

Boy howdy, Doyle, it's 7 a.m. Sunday morning and the sand is still in my eyes. Not sure I should be answering before a shower and cup of mud.

But here goes anyway. A partial, short reply.

Original Christianity, before Constantine, the Council of Nicaea and its Creed (which Catholics and Protestants all profess in its most anti-scientific outlines: the Resurrection, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, "Salvation" through Faith, etc), had all sorts of sects that didn't swallow all the irrationalism of that creed.

When those sects lost out in the debates at that Council, and all their Christian texts were declared "heretical" and destroyed by the now government-enforced Church, to be a Christian from then on meant putting more emphasis on Jesus' death and "resurrection" than on his teachings while alive (if he ever lived, and the jury is out on that one, as I suspect you know).

But whether he lived at all, or was just a legendary figure to whom were attributed all sorts of archetypal Pagan stories and motifs common from Egypt, Asia Minor and Greece (as Tom Harpur most exhaustively catalogues in The Pagan Christ), the teachings and life attributed to him, again, meant very different things to many different "Christian" sects for the first 300 years after his death. And many of those sects - that of Valentinus being most respectable to me - had no need for miracles and the irrational. But they were persecuted and banned.

Because Valentinus' sect took the Gospels (not just Matthew, Mark, and Luke - they rejected John's identification of Jesus as "God") in a direction that smacks of Buddhism, the only world religion not too insulting to rational thought in my book, I've occasionally called myself a "Valentinian Christian" in delicate situations, but wouldn't do so again - because it suggests I support saying one superstitious group has a more valid claim to knowing the unknowable than all its rivals, and that causes division, and also undercuts, as far as I can see, the primacy I believe we should give to the scientific method and reason for making truth-claims.

And philosophers, anyway - bucketsful of them - have written similarly resonant things as all our religious figures, without demanding unquestioning acceptance of their authority. So why privilege religious figures when secular ones have articulated many of the same insights without the hubris?

I'm with you on keeping "awe" alive. I guess I think science does this admirably, since it above all disciplines leaves the "unknowable" intact and revered, and actually protects it from charlatans who would cheapen it with false "answers."

Oops. I promised "short." I still haven't had my coffee. Maybe I should apologize, but instead I'll just hope I made some sort of sense.

Have you read any Elaine Pagels, by the way? Her Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas was a world-changer for me. Actually brought me closer to Jesus than I'd been in decades. Thomas's gospel denies the exclusive divinity that John's claimed for Jesus, but was declared heretical after Nicaea. It's so amazing that we are the first generation to read those heretical texts in 1800 years.

Sorry for the length. Hope you're well.

doyle said...

A fine reply, and on the mark.

So maybe my my weakest argument is my only argument, and one that makes me consider adopting the Valentinus Christian label. We (or maybe just me) need some sort of cultural context for the edge of knowing. The Gospels, colored as they are by all kinds of prejudice, and, of course, the disaster of the Nicene Council, mesh with my view, which appears to be evolving into some sort of Buddhist world view--not formally, of course, but Jesus had more than his share of koans.

Maybe I am attracted to his words because of the power given to him by misguided religiosity, and because of his (relative) lack of hubris. If you follow his words to their logical conclusion, Buddhism makes sense.

I have not yet read Elaine Pagels, but I will now.

I never met a heretical text I could resist. Had I not realized how much Christendom varies from, say, following the words of Jesus, I may have dropped the whole thing decades ago.

Sometimes I am hanging on by my fingertips. Not a good sign.

Be well.

Clay Burell said...

First, I was unclear here:

Because Valentinus' sect took the Gospels (not just Matthew, Mark, and Luke - they rejected John's identification of Jesus as "God")

I should have said, "Not just Mattew, Mark, and Luke - they rejected John etc - but also the many"gnostic" gospels that were equally important before banned by the Council of Nicaea: The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, and many more) - etc.

I love the line, "I've never met a heretical text I could resist." Reminds me of William Blake's "The Church crucifies Jesus head-downwards," and of my own favorite saying long ago in my search that "If you want to find the purest Christians, your best bet is to explore the heretics."

(Did you know the word "heresy" means, at its Latin root, "choice"? And do you see how astounding it is that "choice" is damned by dogma and orthodoxy, when it's the imperative of critical thinking: to "choose" to believe whatever the strongest evidence supports? That bit of etymology just blows me away.)

Anyway, back to work. I really enjoy your writing. (Except where you compared me to Gatto, who seems very uncritical in his ideology and religion. :( )