The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Breakdown of Anti-Science Legislation in the States

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2013

Tonight I stumbled across an excellent blog post from the Skeptical Raptor on the most recent spate of anti-science bills (i.e., anti-evolution, anti-climate science, etc) that have cropped up all over state legislatures in the United States so far in 2013.  Rather than rehash what is an already well-researched and written post, I shall simply reblog it below:

Antievolution legislation update–five states kill anti-science bills

antiscience9ll

It’s a new year for the individual US state legislatures, and after a relatively unsuccessful 2012 in passing anti-science laws (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill), the conservative Republicans are back trying to remove real science teaching from our kids. The anti-science legislation comes in the form of either teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But the goal is, and will probably always be, to teach creationism.

Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magic, rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic principles of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is ”a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically prohibits any government entity from establishing a religion (which courts have ruled to include teaching religion in schools). Decades worth of Supreme Court rulings have found that teaching creationism in schools is equivalent to teaching religion. As recently as 2005, in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, a Federal Court continued the tradition of considering creationism as religion, and ruled against a school district, costing the Dover Area School District nearly $1 million in legal fees. That money probably could have been used to teach their students better science.

Despite these legal rulings, eight states have introduced antievolution or anti-science bills since the beginning of the year…

Click here to read the rest of Skeptical Raptor’s post

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Is Secularism Making a Comeback?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 22, 2013

As I’ve written before, it seems that there is a growing secular and non-religious demographic in the United States that is starting to speak up.  This topic is the subject of a recent opinion piece that I read on the Washington Post’s Guest Voices blog, and I found the analysis by the author, Jacques Berlinerblau, to be worth noting…

Is secularism making a comeback?

By Jacques Berlinerblau

 When it comes to not making optimistic, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements about American secularism I have almost unparalleled street cred. For years I have rued and bemoaned and lamented the fate of this poor mangled –ism.

But in the past few months there have been some positive and unexpected developments both here and abroad as well.The first is far less obvious than it might seem. By far, the best thing that has happened to American secularism in about half a century was that the reactionary 2012 iteration of the Republican party, while not McGovernized, was pretty thoroughly thrashed. To the long list of those in this country who were perplexed and repulsed by this aberrant version of the GOP (e.g., Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women) let us add secular Americans. …

… I want to stress that Republicans, historically, have not been anti-secular nor should the same be said about many of their core convictions. The shift occurred with the synergies that developed between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the  late 1970s. In fits and starts the relation between the Christian Right and the Republicans has grown for three decades. Did it crest in 2012? Will a humbled GOP shuck the divisive God-botherers in its midst? That is the question that secularists are eagerly—nay, gleefully—posing. …

Indeed, I can be counted among those secularists who are hoping quite strongly that the Republican party can finally free itself from the stranglehold of the religious right.  Unfortunately, the religious right is dug so deeply into the GOP that they will not go quietly nor easily; methinks the Republican party is in for a long and nasty internal fight.

However, there is a note of caution to be heard…

… I am a pessimist by nature so let me raise a few caveats about the political potency of the nones. The first is that their Election Day turnout was somewhat underwhelming (they were 12 percent of the electorate though they are nearly 20 percent of the population). They actually gave less of their ballot to Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008 (70 percent down from 75 percent).

Most crucially, they are not an organized, disciplined, well-funded political juggernaut like the Christian Right, but a category on a demographer’s clipboard. The Democrats will need to organize and mobilize them (and perhaps this is why Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast gave them a shout out when he referred to “those of no faith that they can name”).

This is why I want to note, buzzkillingly, that 2012 was more a victory for secularism than a victory by secularism. But a victory nonetheless! Moreover, secularists can’t help but wonder if the pope’s recent resignation signals, at the very least, a set back for the global anti-secular platform.

So, long story short, the “nones” should be happy to celebrate this victory, but we should not be so naive as to think that progress on those secular issues important to us will simply march along all by itself.  The moment that we take our eye off the political ball, I think the religious right – which is more well-funded and organized than the secular movement – will swoop in and attempt to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.

Rather than rest on our laurels, this moment should serve to motivate us to become more involved in secular issues.  We need to make sure to defend church-state separation, stand up for strong science education, and seek to curb the influence of sectarian religious groups upon our government.  My suggestion is that you take some time to learn more about groups like the Secular Coalition for America and consider signing up with them.  Get involved, get active, and we can make a more secular nation a reality! :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Speak Up for Science: Stop Sequestration!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs.  As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit.  To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.

So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:

Petition

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.

Click here to sign the petition!

Posted in education, politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tell Congress to Support the Darwin Day Resolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 5, 2013

I am pleased to pass on the news that there is a resolution pending before the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution in favor of Darwin Day!  There is more information available on how to get in touch with your Representative and Senator from the Freedom From Religion Foundation below…

Ask Congress to adopt Darwin Day

February 5, 2013

Continuing the tradition of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution designating Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, Feb. 12, 2013, as Darwin Day. The resolution “recogniz[es] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

Holt was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I hope we can hold hearings, where people can hear about Darwin and science and the jobs it creates, the lives it saves, everything.”

Holt’s resolution touts “the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution,” “the monumental amount of scientific evidence” that supports the theory, and notes that evolution’s “validity … is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics.”

The resolution chastises science-deniers: “the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change” and “the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems.”

Our country faces a crisis of ignorance. To the shame of the United States’ international standing, about half of Americans reject evolution. Globally the United States ranks just above Turkey in public acceptance of evolution. How can we compete in a global, technologically advanced community when a majority of U.S. citizens deny basic reality and embrace creationism?

The voices of science and secularism must be heard. Ask the U.S. House to hold Darwin Day hearings.

Take Action Today!

Contact your U.S. Representative to support the resolution and ask for hearings.  To find out who your representative is, type in your zip code on this website http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ to find your representative. Click on their name to contact them.

If you already know who your representative is, find their contact information on this alphabetical list http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Call, email, fax, write, or Facebook them. Do whatever it takes to be heard!

Contact the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where the bill was referred, to ask for a hearing.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) http://science.house.gov/contact-us/email-us 2321 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Phone: 202-225-6371 Fax: 202-226-0113

Thank Darwin Day Sponsors

Take a moment to thank Rep. Holt. Rep. Holt, a nuclear physicist by training, self-identifies as a Quaker and deserves our gratitude for his efforts. Do feel free to identify yourself as a nonbeliever, atheist, etc., so he knows the secular bloc has clout (and good manners)!

Letters: 1214 Longworth HOB Washington DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-5801 Fax: (202) 225-6025 Webform: https://forms.house.gov/holt/webforms/issue_subscribe.htm (Representative Holt will only accept email from residents of New Jersey.)

While you’re at it, thank Holt’s cosponsors (especially if they represent you). They are:

Rep. Michael Honda (CA-17) Rep. Edward Markey (MA-5) Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2) Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) (If your representative’s name isn’t on this list, ask why not!)

Contact your Senator

Ask your Senator to introduce a Darwin Day resolution, while you’re at it!

Find and contact your U.S. Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Write a letter to the editor

Supporting Darwin Day would make an excellent and timely topic of a letter to the editor to your local or favorite publication. Don’t forget social media and online news comment sections to help spread the word.

Thank you for your activism. Freedom depends on freethinkers, and Darwin Day deserves your support!

Posted in politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“The Revisionaries” PBS Documentary on Texas Textbooks

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2013

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga over the years that is the Texas Board of Education and their textbook adoption process, then you no doubt understand that there has been a far-right conservative faction of people who have attempted to push their ideology (including creationism) into Texas public schools.  Now the recent history of this saga has been chronicled in a PBS documentary titled “The Revisionaries”.  I encourage you to take the time to share and watch this important documentary, which you can do online here until February 27th:

The Revisionaries

“Somebody has got to stand up to experts!” — Don McLeRoy, former Texas BoEd member

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Non-Religious on the Rise… In Congress!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2013

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’ve touched on the topic of a rising secular and non-religious demographic in the United States; in fact, now 1-in-5 Americans label themselves as non-religious.  I also wrote about Kyrsten Sinema, a newly elected Congresswoman who has openly identified herself as atheist.  Well, it seems that there is now a convergence between these two things emerging, because this new Congress now contains the highest number of openly non-religious members in history!

US-Congress

It’s not just for religious fundamentalists anymore :)

This Politico story has more details:

Non-believers on rise in Congress

By CHARLES MAHTESIAN | 1/5/13 2:34 PM EST

The number of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion is on the rise, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

In the 96th Congress (1979-80), not a single member of the House or Senate said they didn’t belong to any particular faith, didn’t know or refused to disclose their religion. But in the new 113th Congress, 10 members fall under that category.

That’s twice as many as in the 111th Congress (2009-10).

Pew notes there’s still a great disparity between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion. …

… The numbers here caught my eye, not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it. … [emphasis added]

Exactly.  I, and many others, have long suspected that there are a good number of closeted “nones” in our Congress, but up until now they’ve been cautious about self-identifying as non-religious for fear of electoral backlash.  However, it seems that, slowly but surely, those days are drawing to a close :)

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Creationism Evolves Again: “Truth in Education”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 24, 2012

As I’ve blogged before, creationists are quite adept at evolving their strategies for attempting to replace the science of evolution in public school science classes with their religious beliefs.  One of the latest mutations are so-called “academic freedom” bills, but now there seems to be a new phrase and strategy emerging – “truth in education” – which we all need to be on the lookout for in our local legislatures and school boards.  My skeptical colleague Steven Novella has an excellent takedown here…

Truth in Education

by Steven Novella, Dec 10 2012

We have yet another propaganda slogan and strategy by creationists to sneak their religious beliefs into public science classrooms – “truth in education.” This one comes from state senator Dennis Kruse from Indiana. He had previously introduced a bill (in 2011) that would have required the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution. The bill died a quick death, largely because the Supreme Court has already declared such laws unconstitutional (in the 1987 Edwards vs Aguillard case).

Kruse’s approach has since “evolved.” It seems that after his failed and naive attempt to introduce a creation science bill, he has been connected with the Discovery Institute and is now up to speed on the latest approach to anti-evolution strategies.

Creationist attempts to hamper science education when it comes to evolution go back to the beginning of evolutionary theory itself. By the turn of the 19th century evolution was an accepted scientific fact, and opposition to its teaching was forming among certain fundamentalist sects. The first big confrontation between the teaching of evolution and creationist ideology came in the form of the The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, or the Scopes Monkey Trial. This resulted from the first creationist strategy to limit the teaching of evolution in public schools – they simply banned it. This strategy was killed when such laws were found unconstitutional in 1968 (Epperson v. Arkansas).

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a nice list of the ten major legal precedents that have smacked down creationist attempts to limit the teaching of evolution. Each time the creationists simply have morphed their strategy, but the intent has never wavered. …

Read the rest of Steve’s Skeptiblog post here

 

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Good News From Louisiana: New Orleans Bans Creationism

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2012

If you’ve followed the creationism issue at all, you know that Louisiana is a hotbed of this fringe pseudoscience.  However, in a more than welcome move, the city of New Orleans sent a clear message that they would not tolerate such nonsense being taught in their public schools.  Here’s more on the good news from the National Center for Science Education :)

The Orleans Parish School Board “OK’d policies that prohibit the teaching of creationism or so-called ‘intelligent design’ in its half-dozen direct-run schools, or the purchasing of textbooks that promulgate those perspectives,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (December 18, 2012). As specified in the documents for the board’s December 18, 2012, meeting, the new policies provide (PDF, pp. 100 and 101), in part, that no “science textbook [shall] be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories” and that “[no] teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.” [emphasis added]

Ouch.  There you have it, in no uncertain terms: creationists and their pseudoscience need not apply for New Orleans public school science classes.

One more positive thing about this development is that student activist Zack Kopplin, who has been fighting the creationists in Louisiana, appears to have had some influence in these developments:

… the only speaker on the textbook policy at the meeting was Zack Kopplin: “‘Creationism certainly is not science,’ he said, warning that students not only will not meet higher education standards, but they ‘won’t find New Orleans jobs in the Bio District.’”

Kopplin, the young activist who organized the effort to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act (and who received NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award in 2011), told NCSE, “Between this and the New Orleans City Council’s rejection of the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act, the city of New Orleans has fully rejected creationism.” (The New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution in May 2011 endorsing the repeal effort.) Kopplin added, “It might also be enough to prompt the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to lift their boycott of New Orleans,” which began in 2009, owing to what SICB’s president described (PDF) as “the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula.”

I would like to encourage supporters of science and reason to contact the Orleans Parish School Board and thank them for promoting good science education, and please pass this news along so that we can reinforce this good governance!

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The State of Louisiana Comes Lurching into the 20th Century!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 5, 2012

My friend and skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has passed along some welcome news: the Louisiana private school voucher program has been found to be unconstitutional!  Whoo-hoo!!!  :)[**Aside: If you recall, the state of Louisiana has been a hotbed of creationist activity over the years; more on that here and here.  And yes, that fact is important.  Read on...]

This is news partly because the program was being used to funnel public school money to private religious schools which specialized in indoctrinating children into fundamentalist forms of Christianity which taught, among other things, creationism as “science”.  In addition, let us also not forget that this was the award-winning 21st century educational plan which would teach that the Loch Ness Monster was real as a way of supporting creationism.  Phil has some more interesting information on these developments:

Louisiana $11 Million Creationism Give Away 

News from the State of Louisiana today!

“A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition…”

This is huge.  They were going to spend $11 Million to teach creationism.

“Louisiana is preparing to spend over $11 million to send 1,365 students to 20 private schools that teach creationism instead of science as part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s new voucher program.”

This $11 Million is to come out of the public schools.  According to a report from “American Legislative Exchange Council” Louisiana ranks 49 out of 51 (They also ranked the District of Columbia).  I guess they want to race to the bottom.

The governor is not happy about the ruling.

“Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who had championed the program, called the ruling “wrong-headed” and “a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education.” “

A great education?  These children are not being educated.  They are being thrown back to the bronze age.  We might as well teach them that 2+2 equals “fish”.

“While State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled the voucher program unconstitutional, he did not issue an immediate injunction to stop it. The 5,000 students currently receiving vouchers will be able to continue attending their private schools pending an appeal, state officials said.”

What?  The state creates a blatantly illegal program and a judge rules against it but yet it continues.  It looks like they are still going to spend that $11 Million on creationism.  I feel like we live in some kind of bizzaro world.

This is all promoted by a guy that wants to be the next President of the United States Bobby Jindal.

So… the program will continue for the immediate future (probably until the end of the current academic year), which will no doubt give Jindal and his political allies time to come up with another cockamamie scheme that will bilk the taxpayers and direct their money towards religious zealots who have no interest in teaching their kids (or anybody else’s kids) science.

I agree with Phil.  The irony here is that Jindal and his religious right allies go on and on about “giving the kids a great education” but it’s apparent they wouldn’t know good science education if it bit them squarely in the ass.  Remember folks, these are the same people who want to give public tax money to schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Just chew on that for a bit, folks…

In conclusion, I think it is appropriate to end this post with the following clip from Bill Maher’s movie Religulous.  In it he is interviewing a U.S. Senator (Mark Pryor from Arkansas) who is trying to justify creationism.  When challenged by Maher, the Senator responds with the following, quite telling, line: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate…”

Yup, he really said that.  Watch for yourself (the dialog leading up to the line starts at 4:00):

Wow.

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How Secularism Should Move Forward in the United States

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 26, 2012

I have posted before on the emergence of a more secular demographic within the United States and what appears to be a concurrent decline in religious fundamentalism.  However, I listened to a recent Point of Inquiry podcast which got me to look at the question in a different manner, and there appears to be much more work advancing a secular worldview to be done.  I especially agree with the idea that atheists should be attempting to find common ground with moderate religious believers and building broader political coalitions, as opposed to alienating those believers simply because we have differences on belief(s) in God.  I encourage you to give it a listen…

Jacques Berlinerblau – How to Be Secular

November 12, 2012

Host: Chris Mooney

On this show, we often debate the state of American secularism—covering topics like the rise of the so-called “nones,” or the unending battle to rescue the country from the pernicious influence of Christian right.

Our guest this week, Jacques Berlinerblau, has a provocative thesis about all this. He says that American secularism has clearly and distinctly lost major ground. And to recover from that loss, well… he’s got some suggestions that might not go down well—but it’s important to hear them.

Even if, you know, you’re not quite ready for a political allegiance with religious moderates.

Jacques Berlinerblau is author of the new book How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. He’s an associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, where he directs the Program for Jewish Civilization.

Posted in politics, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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