Sunday, August 28, 2005

UC Lawsuit

Christian Schools Bring Suit Against UC - Los Angeles Times

Amid the growing national debate over the mixing of religion and science in America's classrooms, University of California admissions officials have been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints

Under a policy implemented with little fanfare a year ago, UC admissions authorities have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution, the suit says... "It appears that the UC system is attempting to secularize Christian schools and prevent them from teaching from a world Christian view," said Patrick H. Tyler, a lawyer with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is assisting the plaintiffs.

Excuse me, Christians, I thought you weren't supposed to be conformed to the world and were supposed to be prepared to pay the price for that, rather than going for all the pomp and glory of the world and places for your kids at elite secular colleges. You pay your money and take your choice if your model is the early Church, its martyrs and confessors.

No one's suggesting serious martyrdom anyway--just the recognition that if you send your kids to schools that teach bogus pseudo-science they aren't going to get into top flight universities.

And why, indeed, would you want them to go to Berkeley and risk corruption? Wouldn't it be better for them to live in trailers, work construction and sell Mary Kaye than lose their souls?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Why Don't Women Count?

My Private Idaho - New York Times

[F]ormer C.I.A. Middle East specialist, Reuel Marc Gerecht, said on "Meet the Press," U.S. democracy in 1900 didn't let women vote. If Iraqi democracy resembled that, "we'd all be thrilled," he said. "I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy."

Why aren't my rights critical? If half the male population of a country didn't have the right to vote, hold political office or have equal rights under the law would we call it a democracy?

Maybe we would given our soppy romanticism about 5th century BC Athens as the paradigm of democracy in spite of the fact that 2/3 of the population were slaves or metics who were excluded from political participation and of the remaining third, Athenian citizens, half were women who had no political rights. And of the sixth of the population who were free male citizens the majority were thetes who were too busy laboring or working in their fields to participate in Athenian democracy--or walk in the groves of Academe. What percentage of the population, one wonders, has to be disenfranchised to make a country an oligarchy rather than a democracy?

It isn't just a matter of numbers either. Suppose a country were divided almost equally between two ethnic groups--Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians, Protestant and Catholic Irish or "Arab" and black Sudanese--we would certainly consider it critical to the evolution of democracy that both groups had full political rights. We would never consider it, even if not ideal, acceptable if Bosnians, Irish Catholics or black Sudanese were disenfranchised. We do not consider consider equal treatment for ethnic groups a luxury to be pursued only once the important business of establishing democracy had gone some way forward.

Why are women different?

Let's be honest: the assumption is that, unlike disenfranchised ethnic minorities, women will be supported financially and taken care of even if they don't have full political rights--like suburban housewives in the US and other affluent countries 50 years ago. But this is precisely what will not happen in the Third World where women are routinely beaten, "circumcised" and burned in "kitchen accidents" if their relatives don't kick in an acceptable dowry.

What may be at work at bottom is the assumption of a three-gender system: unisex upper-middle class males and females in affluent countries for whom equal rights are a matter of importance, traditional males and traditional females in the third world and amongst the lower classes in the US. And when it comes to lower class females, particularly women of color, their rights aren't "critical to the development of democracy" and don't count.

We'd certainly oppose wife-beating in the US and be horrified at any proposal to make women's testimony in court weight half of male testimony or punish women for being raped, but hey it's their culture and that's how it works with them. Maybe the bottom line is that women's rights aren't "critical" because women aren't big enough or strong enough to do damage. We want to stop those terrorists and suicide bombers, and all the young lower-class males here and abroad who do violence and endanger us. If affirming their "traditional cultures" including their right to dominate, and beat up on, women keeps them happy and off our backs, that's ok.

I'm still left with the question: why don't I count? why aren't my rights "critical"?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design

Bush Remarks Roil Debate
on Teaching of Evolution - New York Times

In an interview at the White House on Monday with a group of Texas newspaper reporters, Mr. Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design equal treatment with the theory of evolution.

Recalling his days as Texas governor, Mr. Bush said in the interview, according to a transcript, "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught." Asked again by a reporter whether he believed that both sides in the debate between evolution and intelligent design should be taught in the schools, Mr. Bush replied that he did, "so people can understand what the debate is about."...

But critics saw Mr. Bush's comment that "both sides" should be taught as the most troubling aspect of his remarks. "It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious viewpoint," said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. "It's not fair to privilege one religious viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution."

Intelligent Design isn't a sectarian doctrine--it is simply bad science. And it is not merely a superficial mistake about how things work: it is bad science in a deep way. Methodological naturalism is a fruitful research program and one of the fundamental assumptions of the program is that you don't look for explanations in terms of intelligent agency unless all other possibilities are exhausted. When it comes to the origin of species, explanation in terms of natural selection, without intelligent agency do very well and there's every reason to think that the details that remain unexplained will eventually be explained in these terms.

The real mystery though is why Christians balk at swallowing this gnat. Even relatively conservative Christians are comfortable with the idea that other natural phenomena are a consequence of mindless, purposeless natural forces. No one is pushing the idea that floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are a consequence of intelligent agency; no one is claiming that landslides, tornados or volcanic eruptions are punishments for sin or have any other purpose in the grand scheme of things.

Now it may be that the idea that these natural phenomena are not a consequence of intelligent agency and have no purpose in the grand scheme of things undermines religious belief--though it doesn't do anything to my religious belief. If so Christians should be disputing scientifically orthodox explanations in geology, meteorology and vulcanology. But they aren't, and it's hard to see why they dig in their heels when it comes to evolutionary biology. Why? Why is this issue special?

It's quite remarkable that conservative politicians have spun this as a "controversy" and claimed the high ground of open-mindedness. Certainly "intelligent design" is worth looking at--in a class in philosophy of science where the issue of agency explanation should be considered. But that's a separate issue from what should be taught in high school biology. Intuitionists, on sophisticated meta-mathematical grounds, won't accept reducio proofs. But you don't tell this to kids in baby logic, or in calculus: it's a philosophical issue, not an issue within these disciplines. And students in math and logic classes had better learn how to do these proofs, and learn the rationale, how and why they work.

Shit or get off the pot. If you want open-mindedness fund serious classes in philosophy of science and philosophy of religion in high schools, recognizing that you may not get the results you want.