Over at The League, in a thread about evolution, Pierre Corneille said the following:

Speaking for myself, sometimes I actually kind of get a little chip-on-shoulder-y with the pro-teaching-evolution-in-school crowd because I detect sometimes a certain arrogance that annoys.

When deciding where I want my wife and I to land, I sometimes say “I don’t want to live in a place where I am the only vote on the school board in favor of teaching evolution.” I actually stand by the content of that comment, but it means something different to me now than it meant when I first made it. Now, more than anything, I understand it as a matter of culture. Namely, that I don’t want to live in a place that is not only highly religious, but sufficiently unified in their religiosity that they feel comfortable inserting that religion into the school curriculum. It’s not so much about the curriculum of science class per se (that can be taught at home), but rather the unified religiosity and the effects it is likely to have on culture that extend far beyond the classroom.

St George slays a dragonAt some point, it dawned on me… do you know why I believe evolution? It’s because that’s what I was taught. I went to school five days a week, in an environment that taught it, and went to Sunday School only once a week in an environment that didn’t deny it. When I was a teenager, I started having serious questions about the veracity of the literal interpretation of the Bible. When I brought these concerns to my father, he basically said that I shouldn’t turn myself into a pretzel trying to verify what are often Very Important Stories and not necessarily a meticulous recording of events. And that the important parts of the Bible are not the recording of events at all.

That’s the sort of environment I was raised in. The results on my thinking of evolution are, by and large, a product of that raising. Because I am not a science-fiend. Science was easily my least favorite subject in school. I could spout off the answers to the questions, I could do the math parts really well, but I didn’t have the passion for it. At all. Unlike reading class, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t care. It was much, much easier for me to put my faith in what science people told me was true.

Now, I can list off a bunch of reasons as to why it is more practical to believe the White Coats over the White Robes, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that I was never really challenged on this front. To some extent, I believe the White Coats because that’s who I was told to believe and the White Robes were saying unrelated things that strained credibility. If I could lend credibility to the other things – the ones I went to my father about – then it would actually be a little bit tougher for me to say “Oh, yes, their views on the metaphysical being of humanity and existence are quite true, but their views on the origins of mankind and the planet are just nonsensical.” Not that it can’t be done, but it’s foolish to pretend that I came about my views objectively and intelligently while they didn’t when, for the most part, we are both just believing what we were told by the people we believe. People often reject what they are told to believe, but the same dynamics are there regardless “The White Robes were lying about this, therefore anybody and especially the White Coats are more credible on the whole creationism vs. evolution thing.”

The primary difference not necessarily being that one Cares About Science while the other Hates Science, but rather it revolves back to believing the people on your side of the line in the sand on other issues translating into belief of evolution.

Now, I speak mostly of people who are like myself in this regard. Who knows, I may be the only person in the entire universe who believes in evolution for relatively superficial reasons. But, I kind of doubt it. I’ve seen debates between creationists and evolution supporters wherein the former absolutely crushed the latter. The creationist was able to talk about micro-evolution and macro-evolution and something about the Grand Canyon that I forget and a whole host of reasons as to why they believe evolution – by which they really mean macro-evolution – is bunk. Meanwhile, the latter focuses scornfully on “That man in the sky” and “Republicans are stupid.”

Not that those arguments sway me to the creationist side. They don’t. Because, ultimately, I believe the White Coats. Mostly on faith and the reasoning of how they say they came about their views versus, ultimately, how I believe the other side came about theirs. Comparative credibility, when I am not really an objective party in any real sense.

I don’t mean to get all relativist here. I do genuinely believe in evolution and I don’t think the sides are really created equal here. What I am more leading to is this comment that I made, preceding Pierre’s:

I do want evolution taught in schools, and would vote on that basis, but a whole lot of very functional people – people in the medical profession, even – believe in creationism. It’s not the indicator of intelligence or competence that people make it out to be.

In addition to the above revelation, this is a product of being raised in the South as much as anything. Or any religious area, really. You meet and get to know a lot of really wicked-smart people that believe things that you believe completely and utterly defy common sense and credibility. And when you stop and think about it – if you stop and think about it – it really doesn’t make sense to really put people in one side or the other in the Smart Box and the Stupid Box. Republicans disproportionately believe in Creationism, and oppose AGW, but outside of that are not on average any more ignorant of SCIENCE! than are Democrats. It’s more about what I would consider to be blind spots than blindness.

It’s because of this that I am increasingly less patient with comments suggesting that creationists cannot be competent doctors, engineers, or so on. A part of my job description at an old job was to edit my boss’s religious tract. It was some 300 pages long, including quite a bit on evolution, wherein he came down pretty hard against. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever known. He was a mechanical engineer, but if he’d chosen surgery or medicine instead, I would trust him with the care of my baby daughter. And I have virtually zero affection for the guy.

I still don’t understand it, to be perfectly honest. How smart people can believe these things that just seem so unbelievable to me. But ultimately, I have to consider that they got their views from a place not all that dissimilar from where I got mine, albeit from the opposite end. And as much as I am inclined to blame that on passivity, research on global warming has indicated that education mostly serves to harden views rather than lead everyone to the “right” one.


Category: Church, School

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

6 Responses to White Coats vs White Robes

  1. Kevin says:

    I get irritated with both sides. When I was about 11 or so, I got into trouble with my fairly conservative mother because I believed in evolution and she didn’t. I’ve never understood how “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” conflicts with the Big Bang theory, and the days of Genesis can easily be understood as geologic ages rather than 24-hour periods and, with a certain amount of poetic license, as a description of the creative process that is accurate in spirit even if not technically correct. What infuriates me about the evolution crowd is the haughty way they dismiss anyone who dares to question their findings. Evolution, unlike most other scientific theories, cannot be tested. We can’t go back in time 5 billion years to see how life developed. So to say that evolution represents the scientific process is true but arguably misleading. Given the complexity of proteins, which are the building blocks of life, I am not entirely convinced that evolution occurred without any divine intervention. Of course, I am now an Episcopalian and the notion of a divinely-assisted evolutionary process is consistent with that, but a part of me does sympathize with the creationists. As a parent, I sure as hell don’t want creationism taught in school, though. I come from a family of creationists and am more familiar with the thought police than I would like to be.

    • mike shupp says:

      Yeah, we can’t go back in time 5 billion years in time and see how life developed. So frigging what? We also can’t go back 5 billion years and see how the solar system developed, or how our own world was put together. Does this make planetary astronomy a guessing game? We can’t go back in time 13.7 billion years and see if there was actually a Big Bang. So should we throw out cosmology? And you know, it’s not clear anyone ever really accurately measured the energy output from an H-bomb explosion and really accurately weighed the bomb beforehand and its pieces afterwards to see if e=mc2 is the complete truth or not. Maybe physicists are only pretending to know about this kind of thing. And also, you know, in the history books, what we think we know about the beginnings of the Romans is only based on stories that the Romans liked to tell. They could all be wrong!

      And so on and so on and so on. We aren’t gods. We don’t get definitive certain answers about anything ever. What we can do is make guesses (“theories”), make predictions based on those theories, pitch out the guesses that lead to bad predictions, etc. And over a period of time, we trust that this gets us closer to real understanding of phenomena. And this is “science” — as scientists and philosophers use the term.

      A suggestion: Go read some Karl Popper. Better yet, walk into a first rate college bookstore and buy a copy of everything assigned in the philosophy of science courses. Read them, and THEN start studying evolutionary biology. That’s the fast way to come up to speed on this stuff.

  2. trumwill says:

    I feel really quite fortunate to have been raised in a household where such things were not in question. The belief in evolution being expected. And so on. And on the church side, Clancy was raised Catholic, and I was raised Episcopalian, and I think that accounts a lot for our different views on organized religion (namely, that mine allowed me a greater degree of mental exploration).

    Speaking of which, happy to hear that you’ve come over! We need more ex-Catholics!

    What are your thoughts on Intelligent Design alongside evolution? Do you consider that the equivalent of Creationism or a split-the-middle? I have many conflicting thoughts, that will probably go into a separate post.

  3. mike shupp says:

    My 2 cents. Why waste your precious waking hours studying Intelligent Design? I suppose, if you just want to demonstrate that you’re Open Minded and that you’ve Been Looking Into These Issues, yeah, you can read some ID texts. If you actually want to do serious work in evolutionary biology, you’ll work on biology. Period. You don’t need ID to do biology, and in fact it just gets in the way.

    Here’s an analogy: ID is to evolution as Toynbee is to history. Lots of people enjoy Toynbee. Many educated people take him quite seriously. But you’ll note very few of them are working historical scholars. And as time passes on, the discipline of history moves on and Toynbee’s fame — and Toynbee’s view of history — becomes less and less important. I suspect the appeal of ID will fade in time as well.

    My suggestion: read Toynbee instead of ID. He might be just as wrong, but he operated at a much higher intellectual level. Even if he’s wrong — even if he’s completely wrong — I think you can get quite a lot of value out of Toynbee.

    Better yet, read Spengler.
    —————–

    That’s one of my 2 cents, the polite one. For the other: which version of ID appeals to you? The Christian-centered ID taught in America, the Allah-centric version Moslem fundamentalists learn, or the Hindu-flavored version that’s popular in India? Or do you prefer to think that science ought to be universally accepted, even by atheists and agnostics? Surely, you’ll recall that all reputable German scientists have repudiated the stench of Jewish physics!

    Personally I think it’s a bad idea to try to work a Creator into scientific explanations. If you want to suggest there’s a God who’s sort of beyond the universe we deal with, Who set things up so we can do science without immediate reference to Him and try to make sense of what we observe … that’s not my personal belief, but I won’t argue. But on a smaller level than All Of Cosmos. I think the best way to do science is to look for explanations that work without invoking God, or stand-ins for Him. And that means doing biology without ID.
    —————————————————–

    Again, I’ve wound up trying to be reasonable and polite, and it’s thrown me off course. Let me try again: Likely you’ve encountered the notion that using antibiotics too freely might be a bad idea because if you don’t kill off germs completely, some of them develop resistance? Most people have — you may even have heard your wife scream about it a few times. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t believe in evolution believe that germs can evolve an immunity to antibiotics. And things like swine flu and diseases that come from chickens get loose every few years and travel around the world, and you have to get a new immunization shot each time because those diseases keep changing from year to year — Jehovah’s Witnesses have heard that too, although if memory serves they don’t immunized, they just get bloody flu over and over. Anyhow!

    And just about everyone accepts that people can change animals some over time — that King Charles’ Setters changed their appearance in a couple of centuries, that sparrows from Europe became larger birds when introduced to North America, that Manx cats probably had tail once upon a time, that some types of horses and cattle have basically died out because livestock breeders combined strains to make quarter horses and Texas longhorns and Black Angus and Guernsey cattle, and no doubt many others. And usually, you can get people to agree that animals probably change some even when stockbreeders aren’t involved, that the Manx cat lost its tail without help from modern school boys for example.

    And mutants. Everybody knows about mutants.

    And genetics, in a crude fashion. Just about everyone gets some teaching in school about DNA and A-C-T-G groups and the double helix, not that they remember it all and go on to do lab work, but they get the gist of it and children sometimes look like parents and sometimes don’t and the nature of blood types and why the CSI people on television go about looking for traces of blood and strands of hair and the like.

    And on and on and on. The point I’m making is that what the hell is all this if not evolution? and that by and large, the great majority of the populace has come to terms with evolutionary principles — they just don’t know they’ve done so. Yeah, it’d be nice if they’d go the full monty and agree that, well okay, if you scientist fellers say human beings came out of monkeys somehow, I’ll take your word for it. They won’t, but what the hey, Americans are about as well tutored as Europeans on most issues of biology, and generally discuss matters of ecology and the environment with decent sense.

    So what’s the point of ID? Not to add to our understanding of biology, but to keep us wed to the idea of God. Nothing else — and as far as I can tell, everyone who looks seriously into ID concludes it’s a scheme for sneaking God into biology. An easy demo: suppose I study biology and conclude that life’s too complex to have evolved on earth in a short period, it must have come from someplace else, and it must have been purposely designed to meet conditions on earth. And having thought some more. I’ve concluded the most likely designers were a species of intelligent beings coming from the star Tau Ceti. Tau Ceti’s a 10 billion year old G8 star about 10 light years; it’s generally considered a place where extraterrestrial life might have appeared, etc. etc. It meets the requirements for a potential Valhall for the race of gods who might have created humanity. Granted, it’s a possibility rather than a certainty, but shouldn’t we teach all young biology students that the wonder of human existence may well have been devised by a race of extraterrestrials, far older than us and probably dead now, who dwelt about Tau Ceti? I mean… just to be scientific, shouldn’t we make sure our children appreciate what the Tau Cetians may have done for us.

    You get the point, I trust. The people pushing ID really aren’t interested in opening our eyes to other species of intelligent beings not unlike our own elsewhere in the galaxy. They want us to consider, to think likely, to accept uncritically a Designer who is more than human, more than meat, unbound by time and normal limits.

    From my viewpoint, they’re selling God, just like any missionary among the pagans. Except the missionaries are usually honest about their beliefs and try to persuade the natives by giving medical and other services. The folks at Discovery Institute lie about what they’re doing and make a good living off the contributions of the gullible. There’s a name for such people– I’m confident it will occur to you.

    And now … it’s past my bedtime!

  4. Φ says:

    When deciding where I want my wife and I to land, I sometimes say “I don’t want to live in a place where I am the only vote on the school board in favor of teaching evolution.

    To the extent that “evolution” is a proxy for liberalism, you needn’t worry. You will have to look long and hard to find a public school district where anything recongnizably conservative makes its way into the curriculum.

    But speaking as someone who would just as soon keep a non-aggression pact with evolutionists, I was actually surprised, once my children started going to public school, how little evolution ciomes up. In fact, in a school district replete with liberal indoctrination (about which I will blog about soon), evolution has NEVER come up in the elementary grades. I assume it is taught in high school biology as it should be, but I don’t actually know.

    My impression is that the Left has Moved On . . .

    • trumwill says:

      I fall into the category that believes that most of the debate is overblown. In the debate that spawned this post, I was in the “evolution doesn’t matter as much as a lot of people think it does.”

      Which isn’t exactly true, because it goes back to the origins of our life and existence. But a lot of people on the pro-evolution side act as though if you don’t know evolution then your actual science knowledge is much, much more limited beyond knowing (or believing) that particular thing.

      I honestly don’t remember much about being taught evolution until middle school or high school. And then, it wasn’t taught in the sense of “this proves your god is false” (which they would have had trouble doing in our conservative environs and in a school district that had to be pretty responsive to parents).

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