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Multiple lenses to understand creationism

February 7, 2015


So I’ve published 124 posts since I started this blog in the end of September 2013. I’ve made all sorts of arguments–evidentiary, constitutional, philosophical–and I figured it might be helpful to review and summarize. To be a bit selfish, this post is mostly to help me clarify my own thinking.

For starters, I have two overarching goals for my writing. First, a la Jamelle Bouie, I want us all to acknowledge the deep subjectivity of our beliefs on this topic. I want scientists especially to recognize and admit to the aesthetic and intrinsic reasons we care. And second, I want to spark a debate about this topic among scientists and journalists.

To these ends, I’ve focused my writing on these categories:

  1. Evidence: Journalists and scientists argue that believing in creationism and its variants is an intellectual shortcoming that affects other areas of your life (just one example here). Is that conclusion true? I’ve argued that it’s not, and used both indirect evidence from cognitive psychology and direct proof, almost entirely from the research of Dan KahanThis sentence–approved by Dr. Kahan himself–exemplifies why I think journalists like Mark Joseph Stern are just flat out wrong: “It is a brutal fact that creationists are just as capable of scientific thinking as anyone else.”
  2. Science Education: What are the goals of science education? Why should everyone be forced to learn evolution? How do we balance the tradeoffs between educating for future scientists and non-scientists? My fairly deep reading in this field (at least 50 peer reviewed papers plus a few books)  suggests that at the very least we should be cautious and not answer too strongly. Some of the leading experts in science education and public science literacy would argue that learning evolution may not be necessary for everyone.
  3. Political Theory: How much freedom should individuals have and how much can society override that freedom? What does religious freedom mean in a diverse, pluralistic democracy? How do you balance the tension between societal and parental interests in public education? As with science education, I think we should tread carefully here because the answer is not obvious.
  4. Fairness and Hypocrisy: Society increasingly adopts the no-harm principle. We believe people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as their actions don’t cause harm. That standard should be applied equally to everyone. So, given the empirical evidence, it should be perfectly okay to be a creationist. The fact that it’s not is profoundly unfair and hypocritical.

I have pretty strong opinions about the first and last category. I believe know there is no evidence to support the empirical claims we make about creationists. Therefore, we are definitely being unfair and hypocritical. I am more circumspect about the other two categories. I personally don’t think evolution should be mandatory and believe parents should be given very broad latitude in raising their kids. But I get why others disagree. I just hope we recognize there can be reasonable disagreement on these points.

Along the way I’ve touched on electoral politics and diversity, made countless sports analogies, and celebrated Jamaican food. Mmmmm…Jamaican food.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    February 14, 2015 12:34 pm

    I think you should group points 1 and 4 as they are related.

    I think 2 and 3 are separate categories so I’m glad you named them. I would rename 3 to say something like Professional Freedom of Speech or Professional Freedom of Thought or Job Security and Professional Freedom. I’m assuming that 3 is really referring to the fact that some academicians have been fired for espousing certain views whether in private or public. So I think it’s specific to that. If however, there are other cases or you mean something wider (with practical examples of a broader sense beyond firings), then maybe it makes sense. I get why you wrote political theory as it relates to the political economy in a sense. For simple readers like me, it threw me off slightly and I realised later it specifically relates to freedom of belief and thought and speech couched within job security.

    • February 14, 2015 6:07 pm

      Hmm…interesting. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about people getting fired. I was saying that it’s possible to make these claims: “I believe creationism is not science and evolution is. But I still think some schools should be allowed to teach creationism as science.” The point there is that you can have libertarian beliefs about how much control local communities should have over their children’s education regardless of what you think about the science. But I see what you’re saying. Thanks for highlighting this interpretation. I will try to clarify.

  2. Victor permalink
    February 14, 2015 12:35 pm

    Oh by the way, excellent post. It really helps readers understand the gist, motivation, and intent with your posts and how to categorise them. (Someone earlier asked a question about the relevance of one post.) This is great!

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