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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Columnist roundup: Right on? Right out to lunch? Left behind? ...

Yesterday was the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday (we celebrate six weeks earlier than the Americans because winter comes earlier here), so I was closing up the garden instead of blogging. But I'm back now, and here are two interesting columnist takes on the ID controversy:

Weighing in from the left, Kurt Andersen opines in New York Magazine:

For several decades the philosophical ground has been softened up by the relativism and political correctness of the secular left, which succeeded in undermining the very idea of objective reality and of calling a spade a spade—so now, in the resulting marsh, fantasies like intelligent design (or Scientology or feng shui or 9/11 as a CIA plot) take root and spread like weeds. Liberals pioneered squishy-minded indulgence of their key constituencies' unfortunate new ideas, like reparations and criminalized hate speech; now it’s the right's turn.

Well, if it is really true that the secular left and liberals were promoting ideas they knew to be untrue or unjust in order to cater to their constituencies, they have indeed made a bargain with Mr. Pitchfork. It doesn't follow that everyone else has. Indeed, Andersen's longish rant against all things ID (and against religion) is itself a symptom of what is really wrong with the left today: self-pity, self-righteousness, and being completely out of touch. And you can't be both out of touch and in power for very long.

To listen to Andersen, he belongs to the tiny minority of the population that are "freaks" because they "believe wholeheartedly in science and the First Amendment." Of the ID people, he writes,

The ID people, Im afraid, remind me of Holocaust deniers. They’re not evil, but they are distorting and ignoring a century and a half of overwhelming empirical evidence to make it easier for people to believe in a historical miracle, just as Holocaust deniers distort and ignore half a century of overwhelming empirical evidence to make it easier for people to disbelieve a historical crime. Both are enemies of truth.

Andersen needs to get out there are read some works by ID theorists so that next time he writes about them, he has something substantial to say.

Meanwhile, in the Detroit News, Orthodox Jewish writer Lynn Meredith Schreiber argues, in the context of the intelligentdesign controversy, that society shouldn't be so uptight if teachers talk about God in school:

What has bothered me most ... is the way that my "open-minded" liberal peers write off anything that religion has to say. To be open-minded in America means open in one direction.

I grew up in public schools, where I learned that not everyone was like me. I sang Christmas carols but didn't yearn to convert. I endured weeks of sex education in fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth grades, but I wasn't having sex at 13. I knew who I was; learning that other people were different did not change that. If anything, it enriched my world view without chipping away at the traditions I hold so dear.

The point of public school, in fact, is learning to see different perspectives. We ended racial segregation in this country decades ago, but it looks like we are holding fast to intellectual segregation under the guise of "open-mindedness."

Would it be so bad if kids learned that evolution wasn't the only possibility for how this wonderful, complex world was created? Religious parents who send their kids to public schools already tolerate the teaching of evolution. Can't secular parents tolerate the reverse?

Schreiber has correctly identified the double standard that is really fuelling the intelligent design controversy at the popular level. Naturalism or materialism is effectively the religion of the school system - but not that of the taxpaying, child-producing public. That's why no court decision, no administrative crackdown, and no bloviating from boffins is going to settle it.

Quite apart from the ID controversy, trying assiduously to keep all talk of God and religion out of school tends to produce curricula that clash with what students actually see, hear, and know — always a bad idea, if you want them to take school seriously. That said, if teachers started to talk about God* in school, as they did when I was young, I doubt the boards could afford all the lawsuits from enraged secularists. No wonder private education is growing. It's a personal response to classic democratic gridlock.

*Back in the mid-Sixties in London and Toronto, Ontario, our teachers didn't preach, but they saw nothing wrong with talking about questions and controversies that we could hear our parents discussing. By doing so, the teachers often introduced new ideas and modeled more tolerant attitudes—not everyone was getting that at home, believe me, not by a long shot.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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