Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The "Intelligent Design" battle, at the next level

Over at FOXNews.com, Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom director Andrew J. Coulson proposes a solution to the battle over whether evolution or "intelligent design" should be taught in public schools: more privatization of schooling.

We’re fighting because the institution of public schooling forces us to, by permitting only one government-sanctioned explanation of human origins. The only way for one side to have its views reflected in the official curriculum is at the expense of the other side.

...

Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?

Doing so would not be difficult. A combination of tax relief for middle income families and financial assistance for low-income families would give everyone access to the independent education marketplace. A few strokes of the legislative pen could thus bring peace along the entire “education front” of America’s culture war.


While I'm in favor of more choice in education, I don't think it would end the culture wars over ID and evolution. What happens at the next stage, when private school graduates start applying to universities? Consider, for instance, this story (hat tip: John Cole):

Cody Young is an evangelical Christian who attends a religious high school in Southern California. With stellar grades, competitive test scores and an impressive list of extracurricular activities, Mr. Young has mapped a future that includes studying engineering at the University of California and a career in the aerospace industry, his lawyers have said.

But Mr. Young, his teachers and his family fear his beliefs may hurt his chance to attend the university. They say the public university system, which has 10 campuses, discriminates against students from evangelical Christian schools, especially faith-based ones like Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, where Mr. Young is a senior.

Mr. Young, five other Calvary students, the school and the Association of Christian Schools International, which represents 4,000 religious schools, sued the University of California in the summer, accusing it of “viewpoint discrimination” and unfair admission standards that violate the free speech and religious rights of evangelical Christians.

.....

A lawyer for the Association of Christian Schools International, Wendell Bird, said the Calvary concerns surfaced two years ago when the admissions board scrutinized more closely courses that emphasized Christianity. In the last year, the board has rejected courses like Christianity’s Influence in American History, Special Provenance: Christianity and the American Republic, Christianity and Morality in American Literature and a biology course using textbooks from the Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, conservative Christian publishers.

The officials rejected the science courses because the curriculum differed from “empirical historical knowledge generally accepted in the collegiate community,” the suit said. Calvary was told to submit a secular curriculum instead. Courses in other subjects were rejected because they were called too narrow or biased.


With more private schooling, the debate will simply shift to the next level when universities quite rightly refuse to recognize ID-based biology courses as fulfilling science requirements. (One more example here, by the way, of a phenomenon I mentioned recently: religious conservatives -- some, at least -- adopting the victim politics of the cultural left, complete with daffy lawsuits.) I should add, by the way, that the Christian schools' association may have a point with regard to the history courses rejected as too "narrow" or "biased": I'm not sure they're much worse than a lot of the stuff taught in many public schools under the guise of multiculturalism. But when it comes to science, the universities are on solid ground. We will, no doubt, see more such battles in the future.

37 comments:

Mike Porter said...

Cathy,

What if we considered education as important as food, shelter, and clothing? What if we considered education a necessity and let the free market work as it works for food, shelter, and clothing? How about a complete separation of school and state and a free market in education? How did we ever give a government entity, public schools, the responsibility to create good little citizens and citizenesses out of our children?

Colleges won't accept the credentials from religious schools? Maybe the parents should be out there in the free market looking for schools that will provide the credentials necessary to get into college. High schools teaching religion in place of or along side science in science classes? High schools graduating hoards of mindless environmental zealots? How long will these high schools stay in business in a free market? Not very long I suspect. Andrew Coulson seems to have come up with a reasonable plan for the transition from public to private education.

Yes, the culture wars will continue, but at least the government won't be involved with indoctrinating our children with whatever politically correct nonsense is in fashion at any given time. And the religion wars in education will not be political; they will be fought in the free market.

Sincerely,

Mike Porter

Rainsborough said...

A majority of American parents themselves hold mistaken beliefs about biology and geology and basic science. In many instances, they regard the inculcation of proper religious precepts as more important than scientific knowledge or skills in the interpretation of texts.
The existing system doesn't attract the smartest folks to be teachers. But I fear also that those with correct views hired in a competitive market would be even dumber.
In other words, in a market for schooling there's little reason to think that parents would be wise shoppers or that the quality of the product would be high. There is reason to think that parents like Mr. Porter would be smarter shoppers than the many ill-educated parents who are also highly religious, whose children would be harmed the most by diversion from the public schools. So the class differences in American society would be still further intensified, and the education of the lower third, already inferior, would suffer still more.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, allow me to state the reason that education will never, ever be predominantly privatized: most people can't afford to pay private school tuition. The taxes that pay for public schools are one of the many ways that middle- and upper-class taxpayers subsidize everyone else.

Rainsborough said...

But couldn't the government give the poor a voucher to cash in at the school of their choice?

Cathy Young said...

Education could be privatized if taxpayer money was converted to vouchers.

However, then we once again run into the issue of the government/the taxpayers subsidizing education -- and then, once again, we run into the issue of "if the government subsidizes schools, should it impose certain educational standards on what it should subsidize."

Mike:

Colleges won't accept the credentials from religious schools? Maybe the parents should be out there in the free market looking for schools that will provide the credentials necessary to get into college.

Well, it's not that simple. Sometimes, as the story I cited shows, they'll file lawsuits.

I think that for a lot of the people pushing ID in public schools, the real issue is about the marginalization of their beliefs. So in that sense, privatization won't solve the issue.

rainsborough, interesting point about the possibility of growing stratification of education through parental choices.

John Howard said...

How exactly does being taught evolution help anyone? Even if the person is studying to be a biologist or an archeologist or something, it seems to me that there is nothing useful that comes from having been 'taught' evolution. Is someone planning on a career in "evolving"?

Cathy Young said...

John -- I sincerely hope you're joking.

John Howard said...

No, I sincerely can't understand the practical value of being taught evolution. What other sciences are based on it? It all took place millions of years ago, it's like learning history, but less relevant. And it happens so slow and unpredictably, there is no point in planning for it. I can see how people studying genetics and gene mutation need to understand that stuff, but that's gene mutation, not evolution.

Revenant said...

Is someone planning on a career in "evolving"?

That's like saying theology is useless unless you personally plan to be God.

Revenant said...

What other sciences are based on it?

Biology, zoology, medicine, some of molecular biology, and several branches of psychology and psychiatry, for starters. The principles involved are also highly applicable to computer science and mathematics.

It all took place millions of years ago,

Um, no. It took place over the course of the last few billion years, and barring the extinction of all life on Earth will continue billions of years into the future. It is a unending process still taking place in the world around us today.

And it happens so slow and unpredictably, there is no point in planning for it.

I think the problem here is that you honestly don't have any real knowledge of the subject. Evolution happens slowly in that it typically takes many generations to see significant changes. That doesn't mean it takes a long time chronologically. Large mammals take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years to differentiate because we reproduce so slowly. Bacteria, insects, mice -- these things evolve very rapidly, in chronological terms. That's why we're constantly seeing new diseases and new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Furthermore, evolution is not "unpredictable", except inasmuch as chaos makes predicting ANY long-term trend is impossible. Evolution has great predictive value; the obvious example is, again, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

John Howard said...

Theology is only useful for understanding and explaining theological/philosophical principles, in other words, being a theologian. I submit that that all evolution is good for - understanding evolution, that is, understanding that God did not create the world - being an evolutionist. I don't see how anyone taught the literal truth of Genesis would be unprepared to learn science. No one says "I can't do this chemical equation, because I wasn't taught that we evolved from chance with no purpose or design." Teaching evolution, especially as it is taught as supplanting creationism, is just an indoctrination in athiesm and no one would be any worse off if they weren't taught it at all.

John Howard said...

Evolution has great predictive value; the obvious example is, again, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

That was the example I gave of something useful, but there is no need to teach evolution to teach that. That can be taught as genetics and genetic mutation. I don't need to be taught that humans came from apes to believe that bacteria mutate and succeeding generations of bacteria tend to descend from the bacteria with benefitial mutations.

Biology, zoology, medicine, some of molecular biology, and several branches of psychology and psychiatry, for starters.

How so? Pick one and show me specifically how someone that believed in creationism would not be able to understand the issue you say depends on evolution.

The principles involved are also highly applicable to computer science and mathematics.

Really? So I 'd have had even more trouble in calculus if I hadn't been "taught evolution"?

Revenant said...

I submit that that all evolution is good for - understanding evolution, that is, understanding that God did not create the world

The theory of evolution has nothing to do with how the world came to exist.

That was the example I gave of something useful, but there is no need to teach evolution to teach that.

Yes, there is. Because the theory of evolution is what explains it.

Pick one and show me specifically how someone that believed in creationism would not be able to understand the issue you say depends on evolution.

Again, antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The explanation for their resistance is the one offered by the theory of evolution. The creationist explanation is "God made it happen". Of course, many people accept the theory of many areas and irrationally discard it in other areas where it conflicts with their pre-existing religious beliefs -- that's how you get doctors who accept that bacteria evolve, but prefer a magical explanation for how humans got this way.

Really? So I 'd have had even more trouble in calculus if I hadn't been "taught evolution"?

Probability and statistics, not calculus. And I said that the principles involved in evolution were applicable to those fields, not that you needed to understand evolution to do math.

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for the succinct explanation, revenant.

Mark B. said...

One more example - modern geology, my field of expertise, would be utterly incomprehensible without evolution. Stratigraphy is founded upon the study of index and trace fossils and their evolutionary changes throughout the sedimentary secession, and stratigraphy is the bedrock (pun intended) of all of the geosciences.

Mineral and oil exploration and development, civil engineering, earthquake analysis and prediction - all of these are directly or indirectly related to basic stratigraphy, which in turn would not exist without recognizing and interpreting the reality of the evolution of species over geologic spans of time.

Revenant said...

Oh yeah -- I forgot about geology, especially oil exploration. Thanks.

John Howard said...

Creationism doesn't mean that bacteria don't mutate and that the suceeding generations aren't mostly the descendents of the most successful mutations. That can be taught without having to teach that creationism is wrong. Obviously, God created a world that changes, and the changes are obviously going to be incremental and understandable. A static world, or a world where things changed inexplicably and unexpectedly, would make no sense and be pointless. So, oil exploration and stratigraphy and astronomy and biology can be taught without saying that Genesis is wrong. Being related to apes can be taught without saying that Genesis is wrong, but it isn't. That's my beef - we don't do that, we teach that Genesis was a quaint old belief, but evolution is a better theory, and now we know that things weren't created by God. Teaching stratigraphy and oil exploration and genes and biology does not require that we teach that Genesis was wrong, they can all be taught the same way they are taught now, without having to say the universe just exists and there is no role for God in it.
God created Adam as a fully grown man, not as an embryo, and the trees in the Garden were fully grown when they were created. If Adam cut one of them down, he's see the rings of many seasons, seasons that passed only in the mind of God, so that the tree would be beautiful. Adam and Eve didn't have to wait 30 years until the trees grew and bore fruit. So it's totally compatible with Genesis for the universe to appear to have a history of billions of years, because things aren't created with no history, things are created with a full and rational history that, we have faith, must make sense. It wouldn't make sense for there to be no fossils in the rocks, for the rocks to look brand new. The universe God creates has to stand on its own and have historical integrity, there can't be evidence of its fresh creation, like the phone book at the end of "2001" that had no information in it when it was opened. God created a 15 billion year old universe six thousand years ago, just like he created a fully grown man in one day

Cathy Young said...

John: science deals with only one thing, and that's scientific evidence.

No one that I know of teaches students in public schools that this evidence proves the non-existence of God.

As I'm sure you're aware, many mainstream Christian and Jewish denominations accept evolutionary theory and the scientifically proven fact that the earth is billions of years old.

If you want to teach your children that it only seems to be a fact because God deliberately made it look that way, there is home and church for that.

Revenant said...

That's my beef - we don't do that, we teach that Genesis was a quaint old belief, but evolution is a better theory, and now we know that things weren't created by God.

The theory of evolution doesn't teach that God didn't create the life on Earth. It just teaches that the involvement of a god or gods wasn't necessary for that life to come about. The God hypothesis is unnecessary; we can explain things quite sufficiently without resorting to magic. That doesn't mean magic wasn't involved -- only that we've no evidence for it and don't require that it have happened.

So it's totally compatible with Genesis for the universe to appear to have a history of billions of years

It's also totally compatible with the idea that some god created the universe three seconds ago.

Personally, though, whenever I hear the "God did it and made it LOOK like evolution" claim I'm reminded of Steven Wright's joke "last night someone broke into my house and replaced all my furniture with exact duplicates".

Pooh said...

I'd like to second rainsborough's concerns about educational stratification were education completely privatized, either directly or through voucher programs. Free markets tend to be pretty ruthless about seperating 'winners and losers', and for the majority of students, the quality of their education (and thus, their professional opportunities to a significant degree) will be determined in large part by their wealth. (Yes, under any circumstances, the exceptional will almost certainly thrive, but if we as a society care about equitable opportunites, then we have to care about what becomes of the child of average talent.)

Further, as revenant points out, parents are likely to be irrational consumers for education in a free market system.

It seems to me that a false dichotomy has been created between vouchers and the status quo. If those were the only two options, I think the argument for vouchering is pretty strong. However, there are very meaningful changes that can be made in a 'public schooling' regime which could increase the quality of that institution. (Of course, therein lies the sticky wicket for me, as I'm asking for the gov't to spend its educational dollars efficiently. Or at least more efficiently. Maybe I'm asking too much.)

Finally, who will turn the chilren into "good little citezens and citezenesses?" Will the fracturing of education along religious and economic lines really help with building a pluralist society? (Of course that final question presupposes that we still care about such things. I certainly hope we do.)

Oh yeah, and happy Thanksgiving!

mythago said...

adopting the victim politics of the cultural left, complete with daffy lawsuits

'Victim politics' hasn't been the turf of the cultural left in a long time. Lawsuits, painting oneself as 'oppressed,' and so on are tactics the cultural right has turned to because they are no longer able to misuse the apparatus of the State to enforce their positions.

peter hoh said...

I think it's fair to say that "victim politics" was first a tactic of the left, but it's been used by the right for the past 25 years or so.

As for the compatability of religion and evolution, I attend a church where one of the stained-glass windows celebrates creation and science.

The top half of the window is dominated by an image of St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds. It also portrays the forces of nature and the creative hand of God reaching into this world.

The lower half of the window depicts a scientist looking up to the heavens through a telescope. There are smaller images of science, such as a diagram of an insect and a representation of an atom. It also includes the names of prominent scientists -- including Darwin.

From the church's description of this window: "We rejoice in the glory of God as revealed to us throughout the world of Nature as well is in the minds of those who have searched out for us its hidden treasures."

The building was completed in 1952.

Cathy Young said...

I think it's fair to say that "victim politics" was first a tactic of the left, but it's been used by the right for the past 25 years or so.


Yeah -- don't know if it's been as much as 25, but I have certainly seen an upsurge in such tactics on the right in the past decade.

peter hoh said...

Cathy, I was thinking about the Allan Bakke case, in which he charged reverse discrimination. The case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1978.

To a certain extent, I think that Anita Bryant played the victim card when the orange juice boycott (circa 1980) took place.

This is different, I think, than Spiro Agnew lashing out at those who criticized the Nixon administration. But I was a wee lad back then, and I don't trust myself to really remember how that played out.

I remember seeing some sort of Christian pamphlets in the 1980s that portrayed Bible believers as persecuted by the government -- in a near future type setting, but with the idea that the groundwork for this persecution was being laid right then.

Perhaps some of this has to do with the success of ACLU-led challenges to things like prayer at graduation ceremonies. Not long after that, I remember seeing legal groups defending the rights of students who wanted to hold Bible study meetings on school grounds. The general tone was that those students were yet another group of aggrieved, oppressed victims who needed their rights protected.

I'm not sure how to date the rise of the idea that conservatives were victims of a liberal media smear campaign, but my sense is that this arose in the 1990s. Can't put my finger on where I first heard this idea expressed.

Cathy Young said...

Yeah, but I wouldn't classify the Bakke case (in which the plaintiff had strong evidence that he had been discriminated against) and other "reverse discrimination" suits as "victim politics" (any more than I'd characterize all race/sex discrimination lawsuits as "victim politics").

This is more like claims that girls are victimized by the SAT exams because not enough of the questions feature scenarios involving women or reflect "female" interests.

peter hoh said...

Fair enough. I never knew anything other than the broad outlines of the Bakke case. I was trying to find the first instance I could recall of someone other than an aggreived minority pressing a claim in the style of an aggreived minority. Maybe I need a better definition for victim politics.

I'm not really trying to argue -- just trying to define what is, for me, a loosely defined term.

I'm not arguing that members of a majority group don't face injustice. They have every right to make their claim. So, stating that one was treated unjustly because of his/her group status (race, ethnicity, gender) doesn't necessarily rise to victim politics.

I want to assert that the Civil Rights movement doesn't deserve the label of victim politics. But did its success create the template for victim politics?

I'm thinking victim politics has to have two parts: the "poor us, we're under attack" coupled with a what -- flimsy evidence, or is it something else?

Then there's the idea that "my group deserves better than equal treatment" -- discussed on this blog a few days ago. I think it's an idea close to victim politics, but not necessarily the same as victim politics.

Cathy Young said...

Oh yeah -- the "identity politics" discussion.

I think this is definitely an example of IDPOL (to use Daphne Patai's abbreviation).

John Howard said...

No one that I know of teaches students in public schools that this evidence proves the non-existence of God.

I think Revenant's comment shows that we are taught that Genesis was wrong and that God is unnecssary. Of course they don't teach that evolution proves that God doesn't exist, cause that would be impossible. But the effect is the same.

It just teaches that the involvement of a god or gods wasn't necessary for that life to come about.

To believe in God means to believe that God is necessary.

...the scientifically proven fact that the earth is billions of years old.

Of course, but that doesn't have to mean that Genesis is not true. Schools don't have to teach Genesis, but they shouldn't teach (and even you and Revenant shouldn't teach, but you have the right to), that evolution has replaced Genesis and religious belief in general is at odds with science. God made a 15 Billion year old earth and a consistent and explainable physical universe.

It's also totally compatible with the idea that some god created the universe three seconds ago.

Sure, it's a constant creation, Revenant. God creates the world every moment. It's not a joke or some clever way to reconcile God post Darwin, the theology of a constant ongoing creation has been around for a long long time, way before Darwin.

Revenant said...

Yeah -- don't know if it's been as much as 25, but I have certainly seen an upsurge in such tactics on the right in the past decade

Which is, ironically, an example of evolutionary principles in action (applied to memes rather than genes, of course).

Revenant said...

To believe in God means to believe that God is necessary.

You can believe God is necessary without believing God was necessary for the existance of life on Earth. My parents certainly feel that God is absolutely necessary to them, and they think Creationists are embarassments to Christianity.

Aaron said...

You know, John Howards question does interest me. I myself believe in evolution as a plausable mechanism for explaining speciation and nested heirarchy. I myself have written a genetic algorithm to solve an optimization problem before, so I know how it works.

But aside from learning how to organize the animals in a field guide, how can you directly apply evolution in biology? What sort of problems does it allow you to solve?

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