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Old 02-12-2009, 12:21 PM   #61
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This week PBS and Nova had a 2 hour show on the 2004 Dover PA case involving teaching Intelligent Design in classrooms there. (Maybe it was a rerun but I hadn't seen it before.)

What I took from the program was that just as some people of faith oppose evolution for no other reason other than they see it as anti-religious -- others unflinchingly support evolution for the same reason.

The whole case was about a 1 minute statement being read to students that basically said "we don't have all the answers and there is some debate about all this." On no, next stop the Dark Ages.

We've kinda figured out photosynthesis and gravity and that's the way those subjects should be taught. But the Origin of Man simply can't be taught with the same true or false certainty. Not honestly anyway.
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:05 PM   #62
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Maybe this is a bit of a tangent (and somewhat long) but I liked it anyway.

Everything I Like About Religion I Learned From an Atheist

Nov, 1999
by Barbara Ehrenreich

One of the most alarming developments in my lifetime has been the increasing identification of patriotism and other so-called traditional values, like family, with religion. Religion is such a tricky thing. We try to teach our kids to avoid cults and sects but then, sooner or later, they get old enough to ask you to explain the difference between a cult and a genuine religion.

Is it that cults have irrational belief systems and engage in peculiar, lurid practices? No. Some religions do that, too. Is it because cults are always trying to take your money? Well, no. Religions have a tendency to do that, as well. So eventually you have to admit to your kids that it's really just a matter of size.

A couple of dozen people committing suicide in preparation for boarding the mother ship somewhere is a cult, while a hundred million people bowing down before a flesh-hating, elderly celibate is considered a world-class religion. A half-dozen Trotskyists meeting over coffee is considered a sect, while a few million gun-toting, Armageddon-ready Baptists is referred to as the Republican Party.

This fusion of patriotism and religion all started when I was a child. When they put the words under God in the Pledge of Allegiance, for a long time I couldn't accept it. When they were saying "one nation under God," I thought they were saying "one Asian under dog." There was also the whole question of why we had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school in the first place. Did they actually think that second-graders would defect to the Soviet Union overnight if we didn't renew that pledge every day?

And then there are all the travesties involving the founding fathers, who are usually portrayed by the Christian right as a bunch of born-again members of the Christian Coalition, even though they were mostly deists. They were exactly what many people today would call "godless atheists"--like John Adams, who described the Judeo-Christian tradition as "the bloodiest religion that ever existed" or Ethan Allen (the revolutionary hero not the furniture store), who wrote the first anti-Christian text published in America.

It's not just a matter of religion infiltrating patriotism, however. There's also the ongoing attempt in the United States to turn patriotism into a religion.

Every year Congress takes up the issue of whether to amend the Constitution to prevent the "desecration" of the American flag. This gets members into all kinds of trouble when they realize that today you can find the American flag on almost anything: T-shirts, bathing suits, even men's underwear. So they seriously discussed, in the august halls of Congress, whether underwear could be a flag and if it were ruled to be a flag in one state, would it then be a flag in all states--and whether it would then, I suppose, have to be saluted. The way it was going, I almost expected them to eventually get to the vexing issue of whether small lapses in personal hygiene committed by guys wearing the flag underwear would qualify as acts of desecration.

Not only have religion and patriotism been merging, but religion has been seeping into public policy in the form of "family values." James Dobson, a leading member of the Christian right (now there's an oxymoron for you, like conservative Marxist or airline schedule), publishes a pro-family newsletter in which I was described a couple of years ago as someone who had "devoted her life to the destruction of the American family." This despite the fact that I raised two perfect children and remain in close contact with dozens of relatives around the country--some of whom are kind of annoying, I admit, but I have never tried to destroy any of them.

I think the reason Dobson believes I must be trying to destroy the family is that I'm a feminist--which shows a typical Christian-right understanding of feminism. For example, a couple of years ago, Christian leader Pat Robertson sent out a mailing to the Iowa members of the Christian Coalition in which he explained feminism for them. He explained that the goals of feminism are to get women to (1) leave their husbands, (2) kill their children, (3) overthrow capitalism, (4) become lesbians, and (5) practice witchcraft. This is a very exhausting agenda. My question then is, if we're so good at witchcraft, why hasn't Pat Robertson turned into a little green frog yet? We'll have to work on our spells.

For the record, feminists have not tried to "destroy the family." We just thought the family was such a good idea that men might want to get involved in it, too.

And these are not partisan issues anymore. The Democrats today have been as big on family values and religion as have the Republicans. For example, President Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform bill in 1996, which effectively ended this nation's obligation to the poorest of the poor. At the time he signed it, Monica Lewinsky was working in the White House and Dick Morris, the presidential aide who pushed hardest for welfare reform, was embroiled in a relationship with a Washington prostitute. But the interesting thing is that the welfare reform bill, among many ingeniously sadistic measures, provides money to bring abstinence education to unmarried poor women. Why waste that abstinence education on the poor? There are so many sites in Washington where it could be very effectively applied.

The reason why the constant linkage of God, family, and flag is particularly upsetting to me has to do with the history of my own family. I am a fourth-generation atheist. My ancestors were not members of the so-called liberal elite--so hated by our current conservative elite. They were miners and railroad workers and farmers and farm workers. Once they had been religious people, many of them Catholics.

The story of how my family became irreligious begins with my great-grandmother, a Montana farmer named Mamie O'Laughlin. When her father was dying, she sent for a priest. The priest didn't want to be bothered and sent back a message saying he would come only if he were paid a fee of $25, a huge sum in those days and way beyond the means of my great grandmother. So her father died without the consolation of the sacrament and that was the end of religion for Mamie O'Laughlin.

A couple of years after her father died, she herself lay dying in childbirth at the age of thirty-one. This time a priest showed up, without being called, to administer last rites to her. But Mamie had never forgiven the church. So when the priest placed the cross on her chest, she sat up and, with her last burst of strength, threw it across the room. Then she lay back and died.

This is what I was told as a child to explain why my family had been atheists going way back, and had become atheists without the benefit of any higher education. But as I learned later, my family members were hardly the only blue-collar atheists in the United States, and certainly not the only ones in Butte, Montana, where my grandparents lived and I was born.

What I learned through my own reading later was that there is a vast and largely forgotten tradition of working-class American atheism, usually called freethought in the nineteenth century. At one time there were dozens of freethought newspapers published throughout the United States. In the Northeast, the freethought newspaper movement was linked to the working men's movement of the early 1800s, which was a progenitor of the trade union movement. In the West it flourished among miners and other low-paid working people who were drawn to the Wobblies and other unions at the early part of this century.

These were poor people whose distrust of priests and ministers was part and parcel of their hatred of bosses and bankers. Their ethos was, put briefly: think for yourself, because those who offer to do your thinking for you are usually planning to get hold of your wallet. This is the family tradition I came out of and which I'm proud to claim as my own.

When I mention this I sometimes get funny looks--like I must be some kind of morally depraved degenerate. This is because the common religionist view is that religion is the only possible source of morality, that there is no point in doing good unless you're going to be rewarded for it in the afterlife.

But that's not how it worked in my family. One bizarre but still meaningful-to-me example is my great-grandfather John Howes. His earliest rebellion against religion--I'm not totally proud to admit--was that he urinated in the holy water before Easter service when he was a boy in Canada and was thus involuntarily ejected from the church. Later he moved to Butte, and the story is told that, after working in the copper mines for many years and saving his money, he finally had enough to achieve his dream of getting out of the mines and buying a small farm. So he hitched up his wagon and started driving out of town. And there he came across--hitchhiking, I guess--an Indian woman, who had no money at all, and her child. So John Howes gave her all his money and turned around and went back to Butte to the mines.

I can't attribute any fancy existential philosophy to my great-granddad, but I think the idea was, if there is no God or no evidence of God and certainly no evidence of a very morally engaged god, then whatever has to be done has to be done by us. This is how I was raised and how my children were raised. I felt very deeply affirmed a few years ago when somebody sent me a story about a certain wise old rabbi who advised that, if you ever really need help, go to an atheist--because an atheist isn't going to wait around for God to get the job done.

And that is the philosophical basis of my own social activism. God, if there is one, has never shown a great interest in stopping wars, ending patriarchy, feeding the hungry, curing the sick, or so many other urgent tasks, which is why we have to do those things ourselves. If there isn't a god to care for us, then we have to care for each other.

As a social activist I have come to know and respect many religious traditions and many religious people. I like the fierce old prophets of the Old Testament, railing against the rich and the mighty. I admire the transcendent philosophy of Buddhism, which, I should point out, is completely nontheistic. And I'm a great fan of that inveterate troublemaker, permanent vagrant, and socialist revolutionary, Jesus Christ.

In fact, sometimes I think it would be great if the United States were a "Christian nation," assuming anyone could remember what Christianity originally meant. Originally, it was not a program for persecuting gays, poor people, abortionists, and teachers of evolution. It was a program for the abolition of militarism and for the radical redistribution of wealth.

It seems to me I've spent a lot of time in the past few years speaking to bona fide Christians about what their religion was originally about. I talked to them about Jesus' encounter with the wealthy young fellow who said, "I've obeyed all the laws; am I going to get into heaven?" and Jesus said, "No, you have to give away everything you have to the poor; then you might have a chance." And so on and so forth.

It's a sad day, I think, for Christianity--or maybe a great day for secular humanism--when a fourth-generation atheist has to remind Christians what their religion really says. As one of my favorite T-shirts pleads, "Jesus Christ, protect me from your followers."

In many ways I've often thought atheists would probably fit in better in this very religious society if we adopted some sort of organized religion--even if it were just that innocuous way of getting through Sunday mornings, like Unitarianism. After all, you can't really hope to get elected to public office if you're openly atheist. Even the Boy Scouts don't want us; that's been made clear. George Bush said he didn't believe an atheist could be a real American. So I know plenty of closet atheists and agnostics who go to church and go along with it and mouth the words just so they can be "part of the community, too," as they put it.

Well I'm happy to be part of the atheist community. Despite all my respect for the liberation theologists and the Buddhist monks and the Christian peace activists and so forth, there's no way I could sign on to one of those religions. And not just because of my own irrepressible skepticism. In my case there's another reason why I have to remain a practicing atheist, and that's family values.

Barbara Ehrenreich is an award-winning essayist, columnist, and one of the most widely read social critics in the United States. This article is adapted from her acceptance speech for the 1998 Humanist of the Year Award, presented by the American Humanist Association.
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Old 02-12-2009, 03:40 PM   #63
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I felt very deeply affirmed a few years ago when somebody sent me a story about a certain wise old rabbi who advised that, if you ever really need help, go to an atheist--because an atheist isn't going to wait around for God to get the job done.
This sounds like a slightly garbled version of a very famous midrash (midrashim are basically Jewish oral lore, and they often have an explicit homiletic purpose, like fables or parables). This midrash concerns a rabbi who was opining to his students on how everything in creation is purposeful. One student objected, "But surely atheism doesn't have a purpose?" The rabbi replied, "Atheism is indeed purposeful, for when you are confronted with someone in need, you should think as if there is no God available to help and you alone can meet the person's needs." This midrash is probably of eighteenth-century Hasidic origin, but has come to be a basic staple of Jewish social justice teaching.
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Old 02-12-2009, 04:48 PM   #64
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This week PBS and Nova had a 2 hour show on the 2004 Dover PA case involving teaching Intelligent Design in classrooms there. (Maybe it was a rerun but I hadn't seen it before.)

What I took from the program was that just as some people of faith oppose evolution for no other reason other than they see it as anti-religious -- others unflinchingly support evolution for the same reason.

The whole case was about a 1 minute statement being read to students that basically said "we don't have all the answers and there is some debate about all this." On no, next stop the Dark Ages.

We've kinda figured out photosynthesis and gravity and that's the way those subjects should be taught. But the Origin of Man simply can't be taught with the same true or false certainty. Not honestly anyway.
You simply cannot maintain this position in light of the genetic evidence; human beings are another species of animal.

When I do biology it is in an evolutionary context, it is the practical method and it explains the most, that is entirely divorced from any anti-theism.
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Old 02-12-2009, 04:53 PM   #65
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Cases in point
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With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin this week, people around the world are celebrating his role as the father of evolutionary theory. Events and press releases are geared, in part, to combat false claims made by some who would discredit the theory.

One frequently cited "hole" in the theory: Creationists claim there are no transitional fossils, aka missing links. Biologists and paleontologists, among others, know this claim is false.
As key evidence for evolution and species' gradual change over time, transitional creatures should resemble intermediate species, having skeletal and other body features in common with two distinct groups of animals, such as reptiles and mammals, or fish and amphibians.

These animals sound wild, but the fossil record - which is far from complete - is full of them nonetheless, as documented by Occidental College geologist Donald Prothero in his book "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters" (Columbia University Press, 2007). Prothero discussed those fossils last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, along with transitional fossils that were announced since the book was published, including the "fishibian" and the "frogamander."

At least hundreds, possibly thousands, of transitional fossils have been found so far by researchers. The exact count is unclear because some lineages of organisms are continuously evolving.

Here is a short list of transitional fossils documented by Prothero and that add to the mountain of evidence for Charles Darwin's theory. A lot of us relate most to fossils of life closely related to humans, so the list focuses on mammals and other vertebrates, including dinosaurs.

Mammals, including us

-It is now clear that the evolutionary tree for early and modern humans looks more like a bush than the line represented in cartoons. All the hominid fossils found to date form a complex nexus of specimens, Prothero says, but Sahelanthropus tchadensis, found in 2001 and 2002, threw everyone for a loop because it walked upright 7 million years ago on two feet but is quite chimp-like in its skull size, teeth, brow ridges and face. It could be a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, but many paleoanthropologists will remain unsure until more fossils are found. Previously, the earliest ancestor of our Homo genus found in the fossil record dated back 6 million years.

-Most fossil giraffes have short necks and today's have long necks, but anatomist Nikos Solounias of the New York Institute of Technology's New York College of Osteopathic Medicine is preparing a description of a giraffe fossil, Bohlinia, with a neck that is intermediate in length.

-Manatees, also called sea cows, are marine mammals that have flippers and a down-turned snout for grazing in warm shallow waters. In 2001, scientists discovered the fossil of a "walking manatee," Pezosiren portelli, which had feet rather than flippers and walked on land during the Eocene epoch (54.8 million years ago to 33.7 million years ago) in what is now Jamaica. Along with skull features like manatees (such as horizontal tooth replacement, like a conveyor belt), it also had heavy ribs for ballast, showing that it also had an aquatic lifestyle, like hippos.

-Scientists know that mastodons, mammoths and elephants all share a common ancestor, but it gets hard to tell apart some of the earliest members of this group, called proboscideans, going back to fossils from the Oligocene epoch (33.7 million years ago to 23.8 million years ago). The primitive members of this group can be traced back to what Prothero calls "the ultimate transitional fossil," Moeritherium, from the late Eocene of Egypt. It looked more like a small hippo than an elephant and probably lacked a long trunk, but it had short upper and lower tusks, the teeth of a primitive mastodon and ear features found only in other proboscideans.

-The Dimetrodon was a big predatory reptile with a tail and a large sail or fin-back. It is often mistaken for a dinosaur, but it's actually part of our mammalian lineage and more closely related to mammals than reptiles, which is seen in its specialized teeth for stabbing meat and skull features that only mammals and their ancestors had. It probably moved around like a lizard and had a jawbone made of multiple bones, like a reptile.

Dinosaurs and birds

-The classic fossil of Archaeopteryx, sometimes called the first bird, has a wishbone (fully fused clavicle) which is only found in modern birds and some dinosaurs. But it also shows impressions from feathers on its body, as seen on many of the theropod dinosaurs from which it evolved. Its body, capable of flight or gliding, also had many of dinosaur features - teeth (no birds alive today have teeth), a long bony tail (tails on modern birds are entirely feathers, not bony), long hind legs and toes, and a specialized hand with long bony fingers (unlike modern bird wings in which the fingers are fused into a single element), Prothero said.

-Sinornis was a bird that also has long bony fingers and teeth, like those seen in dinosaurs and not seen in modern birds.

-Yinlong is a small bipedal dinosaur which shares features with two groups of dinosaurs known to many kids - ceratopsians, the beaked dinosaurs like Triceratops, and pachycephalosaurs, known for having a thick dome of bone in their skulls protecting their brains. Yinlong has the thick rostral bone that is otherwise unique to ceratopsians dinosaurs, and the thick skull roof found in the pachycephalosaurs.

-Anchisaurus is a primitive sauropod dinosaur that has a lot of lizard-like features. It was only 8 feet long (the classic sauropods later on could be more than 100-feet long), had a short neck (sauropods are known for their long necks, while lizards are not), and delicate limbs and feet, unlike dinosaurs. Its spine was like that of a sauropod. The early sauropods were bipedal, while the latter were stood on all fours. Anchisaurus was probably capable of both stances, Prothero wrote.

Fish, frogs, turtles

-Tiktaalik, aka the fishibian or the fishapod, is a large scaled fish that shows a perfect transition between fins and feet, aquatic and land animals. It had fish-like scales, as well as fish-like fin rays and jaw and mouth elements, but it had a shortened skull roof and mobile neck to catch prey, an ear that could hear in both land and water, and a wrist joint that is like those seen in land animals.
Last year, scientists announced the discovery of Gerobatrachus hottorni, aka the frogamander. Technically, it's a toothed amphibian, but it shows the common origins of frogs and salamanders, scientists say, with a wide skull and large ear drum (like frogs) and two fused ankle bones as seen in salamanders.

-A creature on the way to becoming a turtle, Odontochelys semistestacea, swam around in China's coastal waters 200 million years ago. It had a belly shell but its back was basically bare of armor. Odontochelys had an elongated, pointed snout. Most modern turtles have short snouts. In addition, the roof of its mouth, along with the upper and lower jaws, was equipped with teeth, which the researchers said is a primitive feature for turtles whose mugs are now tipped with beaks but contain no teeth.
Fossils Reveal Truth About Darwin's Theory
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Old 02-12-2009, 09:18 PM   #66
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You simply cannot maintain this position in light of the genetic evidence; human beings are another species of animal.

When I do biology it is in an evolutionary context, it is the practical method and it explains the most, that is entirely divorced from any anti-theism.
Man is indeed a species of animal. But I also believe we are spiritual beings. Which explains for me--better than biology or natural selection--why man alone among the tens of millions of species; became a self-conscious, morally aware "animal" possessing the gifts of free will and rational intellect.
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:01 PM   #67
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^ OK, but I don't see how that amounts to justification for teaching the possibility of an 'Intelligent Designer' in science class.
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:57 PM   #68
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^ OK, but I don't see how that amounts to justification for teaching the possibility of an 'Intelligent Designer' in science class.
Truthfully, I wouldn't want ID "taught" in science class either. But merely mentioning its existence or that there may be more than just one conclusion to be reached from current scientific knowledge shouldn't be cause for First Amendment hysterics or the chest-beating of scientism either.
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Old 02-13-2009, 12:30 AM   #69
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that there may be more than just one conclusion to be reached from current scientific knowledge
Like what? Our current scientific knowledge says the same thing Darwin does.

I saw that PBS special when it first aired and I caught about half of it the other night.
The ironic thing about it all, to me, was that the Federal Judge was appointed by Bush, who stated he supported the teaching of intelligent design. He also got that Cigarette ad banned with the cartoon advertisement, which certainly one would assume this guy was in most contexts, a 'conservative' judge. Basically the case was an ass kicking and apparently this Judge got deaths threats from 'God's patrol'. Classy.

You want to dumb down our kids even more? Teach them this junk "science".

You want to enlighten your child's spirituality and strengthen their faith? Take them to church, show them the 'good book' as it's being enacted by folks who lead by example.

Just as the Judge in this case implied, God and Darwin can co-exist. They have to, Darwin, or some version of it (projecting into the future) will still be seen as empirical fact.
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Old 02-13-2009, 02:39 AM   #70
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Man is indeed a species of animal. But I also believe we are spiritual beings. Which explains for me--better than biology or natural selection--why man alone among the tens of millions of species; became a self-conscious, morally aware "animal" possessing the gifts of free will and rational intellect.
And when you put us on such a pedestal you are ignoring other species, such as neanderthals which shared common genes (such as FOXP2 which is involved in speech) and demonstrable culture.

The origination of intelligence is an important question, you are not providing any answer for this by pinning it on God. It is a non-answer, it can't explain the why or how questions and it doesn't give any justification for our moral awareness.

The concept of free will and rational intellect also demand definition, for instance free will (and what it means) is not a given in the universe and rational intellect is very prone to mistakes.
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Old 02-13-2009, 02:43 AM   #71
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Truthfully, I wouldn't want ID "taught" in science class either. But merely mentioning its existence or that there may be more than just one conclusion to be reached from current scientific knowledge shouldn't be cause for First Amendment hysterics or the chest-beating of scientism either.
But it doesn't follow from the scientific evidence, the major elements of the design hypothesis (bacterial flagella and clotting factors) have been explained in a more parsimonious evolutionary framework

The reason that people argue for intelligent design creationism is because explicitly religious creationism has been overruled repeatedly. Teach the controversy and academic freedom are the latest round, and at this point creationists are merely trying to undercut educational standards and upset the teaching of evolution enough to render it useless.
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Old 02-13-2009, 01:43 PM   #72
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The reason that people argue for intelligent design creationism is because explicitly religious creationism has been overruled repeatedly. Teach the controversy and academic freedom are the latest round, and at this point creationists are merely trying to undercut educational standards and upset the teaching of evolution enough to render it useless.
No, we just resent when textbooks, films or teachers go beyond scientific evidence and teach as fact metaphysical claims that evolution renders the idea of a Creator expendable.
Just as public school teachers cannot advocate religion, neither should they be allowed to advocate athesim.
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Old 02-13-2009, 02:50 PM   #73
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How is teaching evolution without mention of intelligent design an advocacy of atheism?
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Old 02-13-2009, 06:34 PM   #74
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No, we just resent when textbooks, films or teachers go beyond scientific evidence and teach as fact metaphysical claims that evolution renders the idea of a Creator expendable.
Just as public school teachers cannot advocate religion, neither should they be allowed to advocate athesim.
The methodological naturalism of science is not the same as atheism, I have never been in a class where a teacher says that science proves that there is no God.

You are right when you point out that this naturalism leads on to metaphysical implications.
- The fact that man is another ape is not a heavily debated issue in modern science, making man from that common chimp ancestor is simple because all the parts are there, ready to be modified. If you want to point to a hard biological problem look at the origin of multicellularity or the first life forms.

- That our minds are the products of interactions going on in our brains. The nature of consciousness is starting to be revealed in a scientific fashion and I think that has consequences. It gets be very hard to maintain a dualistic soul of any importance in a material mind.

- A universe which operates without a controlling or creative intelligence (which is seemingly the most likely situation, although if you can produce some persuasive evidence to the contrary I might be swayed).

I perceive your point as teaching science is teaching atheism, it may well be that an atheistic position is perfectly compatible with the scientific evidence, but if your faith is utterly destroyed by learning how the world actually works then it is an indictment of your theology rather than your teacher.
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Old 02-14-2009, 04:05 PM   #75
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Perhaps Einstein can settle this one.

If E = MC2 then Belief = Evidence multiplied by Awareness squared.

Like energy and mass, religion and science are two forms of the same thing. And awareness like light is the conversion factor. Both religion and science fulfill a human spiritual need for knowledge.

So more apt than pondering potential incompatibility is to contemplate at what point does belief become suspension of disbelief and the resulting limitations on knowledge.

Actions in the classroom that limit knowledge are incompatible with education.
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