The Bog:
sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Courting Creationism?
In a series of posts, Nathan Newman argues that progressives should execute a "strategic retreat" on the whole creationism-in-the-high-school-science- classroom issue and stop using the courts to keep it out (as in the Cobb County sticker case). He worries that a liberal reliance on judicial decisions (for this and other issues) has fueled a powerful fundamentalist backlash and kept secularists from making a convincing case to the public. Matt Y. backs him up in part, while Kevin Drum and PZ Myers of Pharyngula are rather more doubtful.

I usually agree with Nathan, but I'm really not sure about this. I don't have any real background in either politics or law, and this sort of tactical maneuvering goes right over my head. Subtle is in my vocabulary, but that's about as far as it goes. I don't grasp why we shouldn't use what is, after all, a legitimate branch of government to do the job it's supposed to do (we can argue about the merits of individual cases), When you consider that we're facing a longlasting and ever-more-organized opponent which, in one of its current incarnations, seeks nothing less than the destruction of "scientific materialism" (read: Enlightenment science) and its replacement with the "theistic understanding" of Intelligent Design, it seems downright silly.

But perhaps there's something to this after all. Susan Jacoby (author of the interesting and informative Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism) has an op-ed in today's New York Times claiming that a judical victory for evolution really did trigger an disasterous backlash. Thing is, the court case in question was the 1925 Scopes case, the "monkey trial" dramatized in Inherit the Wind - and, she argues, the backlash is still going. It's a piece that provides some useful information missing from Matt and Nathan's posts.

Matt makes the optimistic claim that simply giving creationists what they want takes the wind out of their sails while mobilizing liberals - a sort of political survival of the fittest:
When Kansas, not exactly a hotbed of blue state liberalism, took the constitutionally permissable, but substantively wrongheaded, step of simply stripping evolution from the curriculum and replacing it with nothing, evolution advocates mobilized, won seats at the next election, and got the rule reversed. That not only restored decent policy on the question at hand, but also got some serious wingnuts out of office.

However, as Jacoby points out, that reversal may be about to get reversed right back:
Kansas, where evolution opponents regained control of the state board of education in November, is likely to be the first battleground. Proposals to modify the state's recommended science curriculum with alternatives to Darwinian evolution will be an issue at statewide public hearings scheduled in February.

Education has more than its share of pendulum swings, but this is more like ping-pong - and not conducive to providing students with a quality education.

Drawing on recent polls showing that 55% of Americans don't believe in evolution, Nathan takes this as evidence that the current strategy has failed, that "[m]any secularists have become so fixated on a tactical goal--getting evolution into the classroom--that they have ignored the larger goal of actually convincing the population of its truth." It would seem that the things are a little more complicated. Jacoby points out that in the wake of the Scopes trial, political pressure from fundamentalists virtually drove the teaching of evolution underground (at the secondary level) through both formal and self-censorship. Indeed, she says, this chilling effect has lasted into the present day: "[r]ecent surveys of high school biology teachers have found that avoidance of evolution is common among instructors throughout the nation." In a sense, we haven't entirely suceeded even in getting evolution in the classroom - or at least out of the back of the book (although textbooks are getting better in this regard).

Alternately, one could argue that all this only emphasizes the need to convince people, in order to bring about a welcome pedagogical thaw. Regardless of the judicial role, pro-science folks can agree that we need to work more on this aspect. It's one that Intelligent Design Creationism had largely mastered, as Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross show in the introduction to Creationism's Trojan Horse. So what do we do? Seriously. I'm open to suggestions - and I finally got the comments working again. I would guess that instead of "actually convincing the population of the truth" we might want to focus on convincing people that science class is for teaching science, that evolution belongs there and - so far - suggested alternatives don't (not very catchy, though). What d'you think?

posted by Dan S. on 9:25 PM | | link

what is a bog?
Definitions, definitions
1. ". . . one of North America's most distinctive kinds of wetlands . . . characterized by spongy peat deposits, acidic waters, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of spagnum moss." *
2. A relentless, hard-driving mix of political commentary, recipes, idle ramblings, and so on.

More about bogs here.

why "the bog"?
Something about the blog format made me think of spagnum moss slowly growing, forming layer after layer of peat deposits many feet thick, sometimes preserving (in Europe) ancient bodies . . . Also, it rhymes.

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Songs currently stuck in my head
despite all my best efforts

"My Happy Ending," by {yech} Avril Lavigne:
"Let's talk this over,
It's not like we're dead . . "

and "Laiska" by Varttina:
Laiska luotu laulmann
oikosormi soittamaan
yskin oita viettelen
unetonna laulelen

Toppling off the bedside book-pile:
Classroom Management for Middle-Grades Teachers , C.M. Charles & Marilyn G. Charles
Teaching U.S. History as Mystery, David Gerwin & Jack Zevin
Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska, William W. Fitzhugh & Aron Crowell
Arctic Crossing: A Journey Through the Northwest Passage and Inuit Culture, Jonathan Waterman
Northern Tales: Stories from the Native People of the Arctic and Subarctic Regions, Howard Norman (ed.)
Life in the Cold, Peter J. Marchand
Wandering Through Winter, Edwin Way Teale
The Winter Vegetarian, Darra Goldstein

Teas of the week:
Tea of Good Tidings: Winter Fruit Blend,
The Republic of Tea
Russian Caravan,
Jacksons of Piccailly

on the web:
Land of links:
The American Prospect
Common Dreams
FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
The Nation
The Progressive
Washington Monthly

Organic Consumers Association
Eat Wild (pasture-based farming)
NOFA: Northeast Organic Farming Association
Consumer Supported Agriculture
Edible Wild Kitchen


Blogging away:
Vassar blogs
And yes, we've been co-ed since '69...
E's Den
Useless! Worthless! Insipid!

Other blogs
Alas, A Blog
Atrios' Eschaton
Body and Soul
Daily Kos
Digby's Hullabaloo
Dispatches From the Culture Wars
Echidne of the Snakes
Feminist Blogs
Interesting Times
Late Night Thoughts asleep?
Long story; short pier
Making Light
Mouse Words
One Good Thing
The Panda's Thumb
Respectful of Otters
The Sideshow
Sisyphus Shrugged
Matthew Yglesias

old peat (archives):
December 22, 2002
December 29, 2002
January 12, 2003
January 19, 2003
February 2, 2003
February 16, 2003
February 23, 2003
March 2, 2003
March 9, 2003
March 16, 2003
March 23, 2003
March 30, 2003
April 6, 2003
June 8, 2003
October 5, 2003
January 16, 2005
October 22, 2006
November 5, 2006
November 12, 2006
November 19, 2006
November 26, 2006
September 16, 2012
December 23, 2012

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