When I was 16 years old and decided that I could no longer accept the religion of my upbringing, one of the issues that came to the forefront for me was evolution. I had been taught that the Genesis account of creation was literally true and that evolution was a hoax. By the time I was 16, I could no longer believe this. And this realization made me angry. Really angry.
I was interested in science at that point in my life, and I resented the way religion could be such a force for ignorance. One member of my family accused me of being bitter and resentful, like that was a bad thing or something. But the reality is that when religions that use faith as an excuse for promoting ignorance, there is something fundamentally wrong going on. Fundamentalist Christianity made me angry at 16, and for good reason.
What I know now, which I didn't know at age 16, was that faith itself does not require taking an intellectually indefensible stance on the subject of evolution. I had to escape from all that brainwashing of my youth to realize this.
Which brings me to the subject of a headline from yesterday's New York Times reads "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash".
The article describes how a biology teacher in Florida has been trying to teach evolution to students who have been, effectively, brainwashed by evangelical churches into rejecting the science of evolution. The teacher has a difficult task; his job is not to bully his students into submission, because otherwise, he will "lose" them.
But I think that what bothers me about this headline is that the battle here is actually not between faith and science at all, but rather between ignorance and science. One can be a person of faith without being an idiot.
The article mentions that many of this teacher's students have been enlisted as soldiers in the army of the ignorant before they've even set foot in class. For example,
Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignment.There is something funny about high school students going into the classroom without the intention of learning what the teacher has to teach them. But it gets worse. One local pastor has been deliberately trying to undermine science education by passing out a copy of an anti-evolution book to every graduating senior the previous year. This book has now been circulating among students.
The problem is also exacerbated by the fact that there are teachers in public schools who themselves are part of the problem and who actually teach their students not to believe in evolution. For example, one coworker of the teacher featured in the Times article
tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, “I think God did it.”"I think God did it?" Wow, this is the God of Gaps rearing its ugly head, and this is the sort of thing that gives religion a bad name. But it really has nothing to do with religion per se. The fact is that being a person of faith has nothing to do with thinking this way. One can believe in science and also be a person of faith.