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Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Creationism Ed is to Sex Ed as . . .

. . . apples are to oranges? Really?

Maybe not. As I understand the debate, those parents who argue for open discussion of creationism (I reject its nom de guerre, intelligent design, as a hollow tactical gesture and thus misleading, as I've yet to encounter a non-Christian who argues that ID, as such, has a place in the science curricullum of public schools) base their argument on two general principles:

1. They are entitled to have their personal belief systems, which they hope their children will share, reinforced in school in an appropriate context rather than undermined by a differing account of the origin of life.

2. Creationism, as a competing account of the origin of life, belongs beside evolution in the science curricullum.

Now, as any regular readers know, I reject this position to the extent the "competing scientific account" goes no further than evolution's wrong 'cause it says so in the Bible. Whatever else that may be, it isn't science, and in science as in other areas of learning at a younger age, it's the patterns of thought as much as their objects that are the focus of education. To make such a statement in the context of a science class, and thus at least tacitly suggest that such an account is scientific, is to undermine the enterprise of instructing children in rigorous enquiry in the tradition of the scientific method. I express no opinion as to whether creation may be taught in public classrooms where the general subject matter is history, theology, or philosophy. But while robust, scientific, peer-reviewed critiques of Darwin have their places in science classrooms, when taught in light of those qualities, that's not what most parents are seeking, no matter what they call it. They want their faiths reified, they want to pound the lectern against Darwin without doing the hard work of falsifying evolution by scientific methods, and this is inappropriate for reasons constitutional, epistemological, pedagogical, and philosophical.

But now parallel the above beliefs with a more liberal "faith" regarding the value of sexual education (involving, in particular, honest discussions of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and all legally available methods of birth control):

1. Public schools are where people develop into young citizens, and as such they are entitled to learn of all matters, good and ill, that bear on their citizenship (a premise that Christians appear to agree on; it's implicit in their urgency on the creationism issue).

2. It is a matter of fact that most kids will become sexually active during their teen years, like it or not, and to the extent I cannot prevent this, I at least believe that it's necessary to ensure that to the extent they do this they must do so from a position of information. Even if I am not a parent, this matter, as one affecting public health, is important to me.

3. On such an important matter, I am entitled to have my convictions reinforced in school, as a further gesture toward ensuring that children understand the tremendous importance of this matter and behave responsibly.

The above is very sketchy, very reductive, and intended only to set up the following thought experiment:

While parents seek to have creationism taught in the (science) classroom based upon their claimed right to have their convictions reinforced at school, manifesting their belief that it's not enough to instil principles of faith outside of school but that their children's godliness requires never being exposed to any competing account of life's origin without immediate strident opposition, so do other parents seek to have (full and candid; perhaps encouraging abstinence, but not turning a blind eye to its widespread eschewal by children) sexual education taught in schools for the same reason, to have what they deem important reinforced in the classroom.

And yet many, probably most Christians pursue the former but adamantly oppose the latter. The question is: on what authority? This is an invitation to discussion; I'm open to the possibility that I've committed some sort of logical misstep, but at the moment the two seem clearly similar to me. Especially if, as one reader has suggested, to be non-Christian is to hold with the faith of Secular Humanism. If that is true (I still think it is not), then my progressive views of sex ed are a product of my "faith," and I should be entitled to have sex ed taught in schools for precisely the same reasons parents seek to have creationism taught in schools.


Anonymous binky said...

liberal "faith"

Are you suggesting that the only reasons people support sex-ed is faith? And not, oh say, public health data?

That is, does an opinion stemming from an examination of (convincing) data to generate a general belief mean the same thing as faith without data?

12:41 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

a good catch, but i deliberately put it in quotation marks. i'm willing to grant it equal footing as "faith" for purposes of argument, because i think my point is valid, and a problem for creation-in-the-schools types without it's additional strength as a matter of demonstrable empiric benefits.

i also recognize that there are lots of bunk studies out there the right likes to roll out in refutation of the value of sex ed, and i wanted to eliminate the rhetorical value of introducing those studies to the conversation. even in the absence of rigorous examination, it's enough for me to make my point to contrast some parents' beliefs in creation with other parents' beliefs in the value of sex ed.

by the way, while we're on the topic, this is a hoot.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous binky said...

I'm not so sure. It seems like you are saying faith(religious) is equivalent to science.

But I'm off to a grad seminar and can't ponder until later.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

Not so sure!? Beyond scare quotes and a detailed explanation of why it simplifies the argument to weaken strictly for argument's sake my position in the interest of creating a more level playing field (on which, in my opinion, I win no matter how many points I spot the other side), I'm not sure what else I can do to convince you that my belief in the efficacy of sex education is more than a matter of "faith."

In light of what happens over at your house, I'd think you'd be more understanding of tactical retreats that force an adversary to stick to the subject rather than clouding the field of battle (or play, if you prefer) with all sorts of digressive equivocations and irrelevant disputations.

Although now you've commented twice without addressing the substance of my post, so I suppose in trying to avoid complications from the other side I've provoked them from someone I tend usually to agree with. C'est la guerre.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Shinobi said...

I kindof agree with binky Moon. You are almost equating belief in arming children with information about sex to creationism. Creationism isn't about understanding available information and making informed decisions, it is about justifying ones faith. But sex education IS about making informed decisions that affect one's life and well being.

Also, the two very greatly in degree of importance. If a child has a loose grasp on creationism it is unlikely they will end up pregnant or with HIV. Not so if sex education is neglected.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous rachel said...

the two topics strike me as not unrelated. my sense of the difference is this: proponents demand creationism be presented as a viable alternative to (what they perceive to be) a flawed scientific "theory" (insofar as gravity is also a scientific "theory"). proponents demand sex ed as an alternative to ??? Potentially, education's silence on sex matters could be construed as analogous to education's silence on creationism - does that jive with your logic? in this way, i can see how the premises for inclusion on both counts may be similar. the crucial point, i think, is the extent to which proponents of both fervently believe in the necessity of the respective topic to the composition of a responsible citizen. the crucial distinction is the inability to reasonably link Darwinism to social irresponsibility.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

Geez, can't a guy just establish a heuristic!?

I agree, the two diverge substantially, but I still think they share the commonality I stated (pertaining to the nature and basis of the parents' motives in seeking each (one's is couched, perhaps, in scientific or demographic terms while another's is couched in absolute moral positions regarding young people and sex, perhaps, but while the basis for the position may vary (both between and among the two camps) the result, the way the urgency is conveyed, is very similar)).

Rachel, I believe the parallel you're looking for is that Darwin is to creation as full information sex ed is to abstinence-only sex ed. Each pairing sets up a matter of science, Secular Humanism as MarkPele has styled it in another discussion, versus a matter of something more abstract -- faith, or perhaps just a sense of prescriptive morality.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I actually think the parallel I'm looking for, as per the heuristic you set up, is creationism is to Darwinism as full information sex ed is to no sex ed. (Abstinence only ed is a different matter all together) In both cases, the former, when not adequately covered in school (int he view of the respective proponents) unjustly and recklessly privleges the latter. I think I'm agreeing with you.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous MarkPele said...

You probably figured I would post... I think the real misconception comes from the point of view that the school (as the Supreme Court has identified) is a trust between the parents and the state to educate the children. Thus, it is quite understandable that parents want to assert their viewpoints on the state.

I would argue that the REAL challenge to evolution is this. Creation has as much TRUE scientific backing as Evolution, which is very little. (I define Evolution as MACRO-Evolution, which is the real bone of contention for Young-Earth Creationists) The science class is the realm of observable, repeatable, closed experiments. Ever heard of an observable, repeatable, closed experiment for macro-evolution?? Hmmm. Neither have I.

Thus, I draw this conclusion, that creation should be taught whereever evolution is taught. If creation is relegated to the religion classroom, then evolution should be too, and if evolution is accepted into the science classroom, then creation should be too.

As far as Sex Ed goes, my real concern is the METHOD of instruction. I took Sex Ed in high school, and I found that it was approached very neutrally. That is not always the case. For example, statistics have shown that when Planned Parenthood is allowed to teach sex ed in a minority area, the number of teenage pregnancies goes down, but when they teach sex ed in a majority area, the teenage pregnancies goes up. Although this speaks more to PP, the point is that their sex ed class is not neutral - it is encouraging certain behavior.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Moon said...

the school (as the Supreme Court has identified) is a trust between the parents and the state to educate the children.

Fine, but it's a trust between all parents and their respective children, not just the Christian ones.

Creation has as much TRUE scientific backing as Evolution, which is very little.

I think this invites the straight Creation in the schools discussion I was trying to avoid. I was trying to pose a question about the rhetoric of opposing sides, and suggesting that Christians have no more right to insist that Creation be taught in schools than do areligious parents have to insist upon sex ed, and perhaps less (as urged by readers Shinobi and Binky), and that to insist upon the former but foment against the latter is fundamentally inconsistent and necessarily derives from the presumed privileging of Christianity, thus betraying a patent violation of the Establishment Clause.

as for the introductory proposition, scriptural Creation no scientific backing (and as elsewhere noted, as soon as it does it will cease being an article of faith, which means it would seem to be in the interest of Christians to hope it's never proved), while Macro-Evolution, any way you have it, is supported by reams of data, albeit much of it circumstantial in a degree typically accepted in scientific investigation. And before you rail against circumstantial evidence, a) scripture is not circumstantial evidence as I am using it, as it is wholly a priori by nature, and b) if you want to challenge the reliability of circumstantial evidence you're going to have to reject an awful lot of modern medicine since you'll be stuck arguing that no one can prove it even works.

statistics have shown that when Planned Parenthood is allowed to teach sex ed in a minority area, the number of teenage pregnancies goes down, but when they teach sex ed in a majority area, the teenage pregnancies goes up. Although this speaks more to PP, the point is that their sex ed class is not neutral - it is encouraging certain behavior.

"Statistically," I've seen a lot of people making supposedly "statistical" arguments against Planned Parenthood that don't stand up to scrutiny. MOP, however, has a couple of PoliSci profs who flit about and just love to evaluate the underpinnings of statistical studies. I'd love to see what you've got, and don't care much for studies referenced that aren't either consistent with truly common knowledge or don't come with an accompanying citaiton. I know, terribly Englightenment of me, but still . . .

In any event, I'd also like to tack on another observation. Sex ed is more than just a case where the school invades the parent-child relationship, or otherwise takes up what ought to be a strictly intrafamily matter. Even if one raises his child to be terribly responsible sexually, and said child embarks on sexual exploration with full knowledge of the risks and ways to protect himself, if the child selects from among his peers a partner who has not had the benefit of such discussion at home, the first child's knowledge will be substantially irrelevant. Thus, as Binky notes, it's a public health issue, too.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous MarkPele said...

This isn't the study I was looking for, but some of the comments are interesting - look at the last few points...

Now, of course, the problem with statistics is that they do not show cause and effect (although the global warming proponents sure would want you to believe that!).

To your evolution comment, you must have used the same source as someone else who argued with me. You both don't really understand the scientific method.

1) Observe
2) State Hypothesis
3) Determine test to isolate and demonstrate hypothesis
4) Perform test/ Collect Data
5) Analyze data to determine whether it supports or disproves hypothesis.

So, this is how it works in medicine, physics, etc., but in evolution, "scientists" use the scientific method this way.

1) Collect data
2) Form hypothesis (that fits data)
3) Analyze data to see if it supports hypothesis.

-- When contradictory data appears --

2) Form new hypothesis (that fits new data)
3) Analyze data to see if it supports hypothesis.

This is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons. Here's one:

Data: 0, 0

Hypothesis: y = 0

New Data: 1, 1

Hypothesis: y = x

New Data: 2, 4

Hypothesis: y = x^2

So, I think you get my point. If you give me a pile of data, I can state a hypothesis that fits those data with some optimality. That does not really state anything objective about my hypothesis, except that it fits the data.

Thus, any theory based on an event that happens in the past is going to, by necessity, be a substantial fit to the data, because scientists aren't idiots. You also find that the theory of evolution has changed fundamentally over time due to the prevalence or absence of certain things in the fossil record.

8:51 PM  

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