Subject: Why Not Teach Creationism/ID? Date: 26 November 2004 Message-ID: email@example.com
I mentioned on another thread that most people can get by fine without ever being taught evolutionary biology just as most folks can get by fine without being taught cosmology, and asked why should we teach evolution but not creationism or the evidence against evolution? Here, fat from a decadent Thanksgiving feast and rested from the subsequent obligatory nap, I answer my own question at length thanks to the leisure afforded me by a four day weekend. BTW and in the spirit of the season, I send out my thanks to all the contributors on Talk Origins from whom I've learned so much.
Most folks can also get by fine in life without 'believing in' the Holocaust. You can learn a trade, get married, have kids, raise them, retire, and enjoy leisure, all without acknowledging it at all. Would it materially change the life of most people if they were taught in K-12 schools that the Holocaust might be a hoax?
There's a group of folks who advocate exactly this in spite of the evidence. They're called Holocaust Deniers or Holohoaxers. They point out that witnesses could be lying or exaggerating, they point out that most of the living survivors still around were pretty young at the time and they could be suffering from imperfect memories of a simple internment camp or false memory syndrome and so forth. They suggest documents have been faked or taken out of context. They point out other possible uses for the installations/ruins of the 'alleged' concentration camps. They quote mine credible historians so as to make them appear to doubt the Holocaust, when in fact those academics fully accept it. They say that even if a few Jews were killed, so were a bunch of Germans and Poles and Gypsies and so on. They subtly play on prejudice by suggesting it's in the interests of the "Zionists to play it up for all the world's sympathy they can get" and go on to claim that Jews "control broadcasting, publishing, and academia" so it would be easy for them to do so. They correctly point out that the victors write the history books.
So are you cool with your kids being taught that the Holocaust could be a hoax just as easily as legitimate, that historians are unsure if it even really happened, and that the Nazis might have been overly demonized by a global conspiracy to promote Jewish-Israeli interests? How about if the issue is being forced on your local school board by a group of well funded individuals from outside your state networking with the local mosque who've all made a previous commitment to a fundamentalist Islamic sect ... but who swear they're not motivated by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? You wouldn't question their motives I'm sure and anyway, motives aren't the issue, this is about "the truth" right?
It wouldn't really hurt kids to hear this alternative would it? And just because spooky neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups have advanced these arguments in the past that doesn't automatically make them wrong, eh? Besides, there are degreed historians who have written extensively about the Holohoax who have no clear affiliation with such hate groups. Why not present both sides and let the kids decide which to believe? Or at least let a few textbooks donated by Saudi Arabia which point out possible weaknesses in the Holocaust theory be used along with the conventional material, OK?
Or maybe just a sticker to keep the Muslim Holocaust deniers happy explaining that the Holocaust cannot be confirmed with certainty and is "only a possibility" should be placed on World History books? Is the "Holocaust only" lobby so nervous that their case will fall apart if examined closely that they can't even handle it being challenged? Do you mind hiring teachers who advocate this alternative and/or devoting expensive classroom educational resources to doing so? And as long as we're at it, how about pointing out to those students that some folks question the involvement of Islamic terrorists in 9-11, and suggest instead that was all part of the conspiracy as well?
How about it?
No analogy is perfect of course and one of the flaws in this one is the comparison between the evidence for common descent and the evidence for the Holocaust doesn't do common descent justice. There's overwhelmingly convincing evidence that Jews were specifically victimized and targeted as a group for massive industrial genocide by a ruthlessly efficient and deadly Nazi machine. But faking the Holocaust would be a hell of a lot easier than faking common descent in terms of manufacturing evidence. All of the evidence for the Holocaust is manmade thus placing itself at least technically within human capacity to fabricate, whereas evolutionary biology relies on massive widespread bodies of interlocking evidence ranging across many subdisciplines in science that can be found in the natural world by anyone who cares to take the time to look, and it can be found in quantities and in contexts which would be impossible to manufacture. And common descent is the unifying concept in biology, there is no corresponding level of central importance in history for Holocaust denial (although an appreciation of Israel and its origins is a useful prerequisite for understanding a big part of the current unrest in the Middle East). So 'faking' the Holocaust would be a piece of cake in comparison to fabricating the evidence for common descent.
Because folks disagree, because some parents are prejudiced or misinformed, because some are irrational, because at times some are just plain whacked, and because issues involving children and politics evoke some of our deepest emotions, we're always going to have debate over how to teach kids and what to teach them. We're going to have multiple explanations and claims for all kinds of phenomena coming from every ideological and pseudoscientific corner. We're going to have folks who want to teach kids all kinds of things.
How do we weed out the important from the unimportant, the credible from the nonsense? The advanced from the basic? Some explanations, such as geocentrism, are really terrible. Some don't stand up to analytical scrutiny, such as astrology. Some claims turn out to be hoaxes or mistakes like cold fusion. Some explanations which are controversial but legitimate, such as string theory, are very complex and cannot even be understood until the basics are taught. How to decide what to teach and when to teach it?
Well, we've developed an admittedly imperfect but nonetheless workable screening process to keep every idea under the sun from being taught in basic k-12 core courses as fact or even reasonable alternatives. The lesson plans have to be structured logically; you can't teach algebra before you teach arithmetic. The material has to be widely accepted by the relevant professionals; it's best to teach material which has withstood the test of time. In science or history the lessons have to be backed by evidence or make sense, and the material needs to underscore the basics because we are talking about K-12 curricula.
ID comes up short on all these criteria. IDC makes no valid testable predictions, it is not widely accepted, and far from withstanding the test of time IDC has failed miserably and was rejected long ago. Furthermore what little has been presented as candidate lesson plans underscoring IDC as advocated by the Discovery Institute rests entirely on criticisms of evolutionary biology (many of which are hardly credible and are in fact well known Young Earth Creationist crap), Irreducible Complexity, or mathematics involving algorithms and topology, none of which can be taught effectively to students in K-12 schools without substantial prerequisite course work in basic skills.
Precisely because IDC fails all these criteria, the IDCists try end run those safeguards and steamroll over those protocols by appealing directly to grass roots organizations. The IDCists lobby - just as the holohoaxers lobby - mostly to religious groups, cultural prejudice and bigotry, and ignorance by presenting highly dubious [mis]information to the public as equally valid alongside the mainstream conventional explanations. Their goal is openly stated: to bring intense political pressure on local school boards, elected officials, and textbook publishers to teach these fringe ideas as equally valid regardless of if they've met the above criteria that all other curricula must meet.
To allow that to happen is to do our children and ultimately our culture an educational disservice. It's dishonest, it's unethical, it opens up an expensive can of worms because every self proclaimed victim of conspiracy and persecution with a whacky idea clamors for teaching time, it's inaccurate, it's counterproductive to our interests as a species, and I hope most importantly for theists and atheists alike, from a moral perspective alone it reeks.
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