"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bringing Creationsim Into The Science Classroom

This blog post by a Penn State educated Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Rhode Island really intrigued me. Holly Dunsworth, the professor, is proposing teaching about creationism in her biological anthropology class. Before I get into my thoughts, here's a bit of where she is coming from:

See, those of us who teach from an epistemological perspective try our best to convey to students not just what we know but more importantly how we know what we know. This is an eye-opening and empowering way to learn which is why we try to create this experience for students. The only way to do that is to teach about evolution now--how scientists have come to understand it--compared to how people used to explain the natural world, which greatly influenced unscientific beliefs about nature that people still hold today. This epistemological approach means that we strive for a non-dogmatic and non-indoctrinating presentation of the material, upholding prized scientific ideals that aren't shared by many of those who support creationism. 

Dunsworth is suggesting using the whole history of humans' attempts to understand and explain the natural world to show how we got to where we are today in terms of scientific evolutionary theory. Without being insulting to the Bible as religious text, the story of creation can be used to show the evolution of evolutionary science. Here's Dunsworth again:

But given all those scientific theories, creation theory is the most effective way to put evolution in scientific context. It's a perfect foil for evolution, illuminating the scientific nature of evolutionary theory by demonstrating what science is not and what the scientific method cannot address.

This is a large part of what drew me to anthropology classes in college. Science to me is a whole lot more interesting, and valuable, when looked at in a human context. The biological anthropologist is not only interested in understanding what made us who we are, but how we as a society and as a species have come to understand and deal with the gaining of that understanding. History, religion, psychology and genetics all tell a story, and using all of them together makes that story much richer.

I respect the biologist who stands on his science, with genome models and  DNA strands and genetic drift and mutation, to understand the world around him. I also respect the theologian who stands on his religion, with the bible and faith and centuries of tradition and philosophy, to understand the world around him. But I try to follow a path both between and amongst the two. I don't think religion means much if you don't try your best to understand the facts of the world we all inhabit. I think understanding the world as it is brings us closer to appreciating the enormity of God's gift to us. I also believe science is empty if you limit your thinking to what you are capable of seeing and measuring and grasping with our technology and methods as they stand today. Appreciating that there is always more that we don't understand than that which we do is at the very heart of the scientific method at its best.

For me, anthropology helps us to walk that line between thought and belief. It helps us to see as much of the world as we can and to appreciate it in the context of our human experience. I am really happy to see someone like Holly Dunsworth teaching young people. I hope she is the inspiration to them that my professors were to me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

We Are Having The Wrong Argument

It has been a huge mistake, and a missed opportunity, for the Republican Party, and the Right in general, to allow this kerfuffle over who is going to pay for women's contraceptives to become a First Amendment issue. The White House targeted religious affiliated organizations for a reason. They want this fight right now to be over religion and thus over the morality of contraception. I've been going nuts listening to people on "my side" fall right into the trap. It's been easy to do. It is very true that the First Amendment protects churches from government interference, and thus under the First Amendment the mandate that Catholic charities pay for their employees' contraception and abortion is plainly unconstitutional. But by using that argument, we are surrendering our Constitutional government. Even if we win that battle, we lose a big piece of the war over the proper role of the federal government.

There is no authority vested in Congress to force anyone or any business to cover any medical expense, through insurance or otherwise. Article One Section 8 of the United States Constitution  gives the Congress certain powers, and this isn't one of them. When we argue that this part of Obama Care is wrong because it forces religious groups to pay for procedures and medications they disagree with, we are stipulating that it is just fine for the federal government to force any non-religious business to pay for the same thing or anything else, and it is not. It is not wrong because it is a religious organization being forced to buy it and it is not wrong because it is contraception or abortion that is being covered, it's wrong because there is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to tell anyone they must purchase anything for anybody. It's not a religious issue or a women's health issue, it's a freedom issue.

We as conservatives should have seen this and not let the argument go down the path it has taken. If we are going to see an end to the Obama administration, we are going to need to be seen as the pro-freedom party, not the anti-contraception party or the anti-women's health party. It's very unfortunate that the morality of contraception and abortion fits so nicely into Rick Santorum's political personality. I personally disagree with him on a lot of these social issues, but I do very much respect him for saying unequivocally what he believes and sticking with it. I do, however, think that his nomination, if not his continued prominence in the race for the nomination, will all but guarantee a second Obama term.

It's driving me batty that as the federal government is taking control of more and more of our everyday lives, we are being drawn into an argument over whether it's moral to take birth control pills. It's like we are aboard a sinking ship and instead of finding a competent captain to take over, we are complaining that the scrambled eggs on the buffet are cold.  It's a distraction, and a very dangerous one.

Instead of lecturing women on the morality of reproductive rights, we should be pointing out to them that the government that is given responsibility for paying for their reproductive decisions, also has the power to control their reproductive decisions. Nothing is free.