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Texas May Block Biology Textbook Because Of Evolution

Evolution

In what seems to be a battle that occurs in Texas and other states in the “Bible Belt” every couple of years, the powerful Texas Board of Education, whose picks for appropriate textbooks has a huge influence on what textbooks are available for purchase by school districts across the nation because of their huge influence on a rather limited market, has holding off approving a Biology textbook, apparently because it treats the Theory of Evolution far too sympathetically:

The Texas Board of Education on Friday delayed final approval of a widely used biology textbook because of concerns raised by one reviewer that it presents evolution as fact rather than theory.

The monthslong textbook review process in Texas has been controversial because a number of people selected this year to evaluate publishers’ submissions do not accept evolution or climate change as scientific truth.

On Friday, the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.

“It’s just a shame that quality textbooks still have to jump through ridiculous hoops that have no basis in science,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the activities of far-right organizations.

Ms. Miller (no relation to the Pearson textbook author) said she nevertheless gave Friday’s vote “two opposable thumbs up” because the board “adopted all of the science books and the publishers made no effort to water down evolution or climate science in those books.”

Three members of the state school board — Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman appointed by Gov. Rick Perry; Martha Dominguez, a Democrat from El Paso; and Sue Melton-Malone, a Republican from Waco — will select experts for the final review panel for the Pearson textbook. The board voted that the experts must have at least a Ph.D. in a “related field of study” and could not have served on the original review panel for the book.

The alleged errors that will be reviewed by the new expert panel were cited by Ide P. Trotter, a chemical engineer and financial adviser who is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the website of the Creation Science Hall of Fame and was on a textbook review panel that evaluated Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s “Biology” last summer. Mr. Trotter raised numerous questions about the book’s sections on evolution.

“I think I did a pretty good review, modestly speaking,” said Mr. Trotter, speaking from his home in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. He said Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s textbook “gives a misleading impression that we have a fairly close understanding of how random processes could lead to us.” He added, “If it were honest, it would say this is how we are looking at it, and these are the complexities that we don’t understand.”

Susan M. Aspey, a spokeswoman for Pearson, said that the publisher “is proud of the work we’ve done with educators and scientists to create effective materials for the state of Texas.”

Ronald Wetherington, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Southern Methodist University who has already looked over Mr. Trotter’s complaints, described them as “non sequiturs and irrelevant.”

“It was simply a morass of pseudoscientific objections,” Dr. Wetherington said.

Bill Nye,, who has done much to popularize science and science education  over the years, is not pleased at all by developments in Texas:

“This textbook business is, to my way of thinking, a very serious matter, because of the economic impact,” Nye said in an email to HuffPost. “Everyone should take a moment and think what it will mean to raise a generation of students who might believe that it is reasonable to think for a moment that the Earth might be 10,000 years old.”

“It’s an outrageous notion,” Nye continued. “It’s not a benign idea. It’s inane or silly. These students will not accept the process of science, which will stifle or suppress innovation.”

How so?

Using a Dallas-based high-tech company as an example, Nye said the suppression of science ultimately would mean that such companies “would not be able to find competent engineers to come up with new ideas and create new products.”

“It’s not a religious issue, as such. It’s the future of the United States’ economy that’s at stake,” Nye said.

As is usually the case in these situations, the objections to the textbook in question seem to be based upon a common, and completely, fallacious argument advanced by opponents of the teaching of evolution and those who desire to inject so-called “Intelligent Design,” which in the end is little more than the Biblical Creation Myth set forth in Genesis in pseudo-scientific clothing and pretend that its’ science. Evolution, these people will claim, is “just a theory,” and therefore should not be taught in a science classroom as anything other than one of many possible explanations for the existence of intelligent left in general, and humanity in particular, on Earth. In their eyes, “Intelligent Design” is just as valid as “theory” as Evolution. To the average American not familiar with science and the scientific method, this is likely a pretty persuasive argument because they are likely judging it based on the lay idea of what a “theory” actually is. Outside of “theory” is often just a possible explanation of what might have happened based on available evidence, kind of like how detectives come up with a theory of how a murder may have occurred based on the available evidence. Since these theories quite often being proven to have been wrong, or at least no more plausible than an alternative theory, the idea that one theory should be taught to the exclusion of all others probably makes sense to them. Add into this the fact that polling continues to show that large numbers of Americans still remain skeptical about Evolution being the explanation for existence of human life, and the “Intelligent Design” crowd often finds itself gaining allies when it makes this argument.

There’s just one problem with that argument. It completely ignores the difference between “scientific theory,” and “theory” in the lay sense of the word:

A scientific theory is not “just a theory”;

‘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. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory.” It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.’,American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Also a scientific law differs from a scientific theory in that a scientific law does not, unlike a scientific theory, propose a mechanism or explanation of the phenomena under consideration. Therefore a scientific theory is a more powerful tool than a scientific law because the law can only be applied in specific cases and does not offer any explanation for what is happening. eg Newton’s law of gravity gives us an equation to calculate the attraction between two bodies but gives no explanation of why the equation works; and as we know Newton’s Law does not actually hold when applied outside the boundary conditions for which it was created, which is where Einstein comes in.

This is all, of course, part of the Scientific Method, something which psuedo-science like “Intelligent Design” cannot withstand because it is ultimately not based on science but upon the deliberate distortion of fossil records combined with the effort to put a scientific veneer on something that is, in the end, quite obviously a myth. That’s why it doesn’t belong in a science classroom and why Evolution, quite obviously does. Apparently they still haven’t learned that lesson in certain parts of the country.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Fortunately the school districts in Texas are no longer required to accept the recommendations of the Texas Board of Education so this probably won’t impact the major metropolitan areas. The bad news is some of the students in the more rural areas will probably not have an adequate education to get into college.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 2

  2. Stonetools says:

    This is what you get when you elect enough Republicans. Elect them for the low taxes, get anti choice laws, science denialism, lack of services, and lax enforcement of safety regulations leading to exploding chemical plants. And for dessert, voting rights suppression.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 43 Thumb down 6

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Didn’t Rick Perry mention a while ago that Texas has a special right to secede? Even if no such right exists, I’m willing to them try.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  4. anjin-san says:

    @ Stonetools

    No millionaires were killed in the chemical plant explosion. In other words, its not important.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  5. Latino_in_Boston says:

    How long do you think this non-sense will continue. Will my grandchildren continue to have people arguing that evolution is a some kind of hoax?

    I have to believe that won’t happen, but then again…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Could I toss in a somewhat contrary interpretation of this so-called-controversy? According to the Gallup poll of June ’12, 46% of Americans believe that “…God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”

    It is the children of that 46% that represent the no-man’s-land of this contest. The ‘creationists’ believe it is their right to determine what their children are taught about science — even if they themselves are obviously uninformed about science.

    If we who presumably know better and believe in science brush aside complaints with a casual ‘you don’t know nothin’ so shut up’, we’re only filling the ranks of the Santorum-style home-schoolers. That, it seems to me, will have an even worse effect on the knowledge outcomes of students who will be studying from those textbooks.

    Seems to me that ‘teaching the controversy’ — the creationists battle cry a few years ago when they thought the ‘creative design’ and the Discovery Institute had shaped the battlefield in their favor — might in fact be the best course in places like rural Texas. Spend a couple of weeks in Jr High and High School courses explaining that evolution would be very very easy to disprove. That one projectile point lodged in one bone of one T-Rex, to pick an example, would shoot Darwin dead. So….. What do dinosaur fossils actually show? Let’s study and find out.

    My .02 worth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  7. rudderpedals says:

    But there’s no actual controversy over the science. What controversy there is is anti-science and anti-reason. Teaching science is hard enough before adding in other stuff that belongs in an honors program’s comparative religions course. The earlier a youth learns to reason for himself the better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  8. CSK says:

    The Center for Science Education did a poll this past July that indicated support for Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was down from 2004.

    Anyway, 21% of the public believes that evolution took place over millions of years, without divine intervention. 37% believe that humans were created by God in the last 10% years. Everyone else was either unsure or thought that evolution had taken place over millions of years, but with God in charge.

    The racial breakdown for belief in YEC was: 49% of blacks, 37% of whites, and 30% for Hispanics. The lower the education level for all groups, the greater the tendency to believe in YEC. 59% of Protestants espouse YEC; only 30% of Roman Catholics.

    The geographic breakdown for adherence to the belief that God created humans within the past 10,000 years is:
    28% northeast
    46% midwest
    46% south
    24% west

    More women than men tended to believe that God created humans within the past 10,000 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. Grewgills says:

    @JohnMcC:
    Unfortunately that is not what they mean by teach the controversy. I have covered this in my bio classes by explaining scientific method and clear definitions of scientific hypotheses and theory at the beginning. When asked about intelligent design, I explain that the first step is to come up with a clear concise and testable hypothesis and challenge them to bring me such a hypothesis for intelligent design. In 15 years of teaching and arguing with people online I have yet to be presented with a hypothesis that would support intelligent design, much less a hypothesis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  10. Mikey says:

    The late Stephen Jay Gould wrote one of the best things I’ve read on the whole “fact vs. theory” debate:

    In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is “only” a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): “Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was.”

    Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  11. Mikey says:

    Oops, forgot the link:

    Evolution as Fact and Theory – Stephen Jay Gould

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Stan says:

    From I Kings 7:23, using “molten sea” as a synonym for cauldron:

    “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and its height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”

    I read this as saying that pi = 3, according to the Bible. I hope the Texas school board doesn’t find out about this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  13. george says:

    If teaching theories bothers them, I hope they remember to get rid of all physics textbooks as well – there’s nothing but theories in them. Some of which are in fact already proven to be wrong (Newtonian mechnics taught in high school for instance).

    My theory is that the creationists are actually plants by foreign governments trying to make sure America falls behind in science. Though I suppose a more benign interpretation is that they’re just what Stalin called “useful idiots”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  14. C. Clavin says:

    The danger here is that, if I’m not mistaken, Texan school books are the default for the rest if the country.
    Teaching fiction outside if English classes disturbs me.
    You wanna teach your own kids nonsense…have at it.
    But the rest of us aren’t interested.
    Imagine the historical account of creationism 4 or 5 decades hence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  15. Matt says:

    I don’t understand why they can’t view evolution as part of “gods plan”.. I mean when some healthy happy good person suffers miserably it’s “god’s plan” but yet evolution isn’t..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  16. stonetools says:

    As someone who ” evolved ” from YEC during my spiritual and philosophical journey, I can tell you that it is not an easy road. The important thing is to assure YEC believers that giving up belief in YEC doesn’t mean giving up their Christian faith altogether. Teaching the controversy is not the answer: nor is setting up a contrast between the “light’ of science and reason and the darkness of faith. What’s important is distinguishing between the domain of science-the investigation of the natural world through objective inquiry-and the investigation of the spiritual world , which exists in a sense even for atheists. The biblical creation accounts belong to the spiritual domain, not the scientific domain.
    Unfortunately, creation scientists reject this approach, so as a political question you have to vote them out of the school boards and higher office. And since they are generally Republicans….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  17. CSK says:

    @stonetools:

    Paul Broun, the Georgia congressman who wants to take Saxby Chambliss’s place in the senate, claims to have scientific proof that the earth is only 9,000 years old, and that creation took six days as we understand days. As far as I know, he’s never offered the proof. He also claimed that embryology was “a lie straight from the pit of hell,” promulgated by Satan to convince us we don’t need a savior.

    I don’t know what’s more alarming: the fact that this guy (like Todd Akin) is on the House Science and Technology Committee or the fact that he’s a medical doctor. I do know that northern Republicans flee when they see him approaching.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  18. JohnMcC says:

    @Grewgills: Thank you for the reply. I do understand that actually using the controversy (as it is a controversy in their minds) to teach science is not what the Discovery Institute and it’s fans mean by ‘teach the controversy’. And when I wrote that little comment, I knew also it would helplessly burden the teacher who tried it. It sounds like you have a perfectly good way of approaching the same goal.

    I wanted to point out that the ‘young earth creationism’ folks have the same parental goals as we here (we band of brothers, we fortunate few), they want to see their children follow them in ways that they can understand and approve of. Bless them for their interest in their children, if not their understanding of science.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  19. JKB says:

    First off, why does this matter anymore? Texas only had influence due to their large lot buying of textbooks, but why are they still buying printed text books? Once things go digital, then the Texas choice doesn’t matter.

    Secondly, do we really want scientists and engineers who only learn what is hand fed to them by some idiot teacher/professor? If they can’t supplement their knowledge with wider and oppositional reading, then they should study the liberal arts.

    When a student has formed the habit of collecting and valuing the ideas of others, rather than his own, the self becomes dwarfed from neglect and buried under the mass of borrowed thought. He may then pass examinations, but he cannot think. Distrust of self has become so deep-rooted that he instinctively looks away from himself to books and friends for ideas; and anything that he produces cannot be good, because it is not a true expression of self.

    In reality, what you need to look at is what the correct answer is on the standardized testing. That is the extent of knowledge that most students will achieve regardless what is in the never opened textbooks.

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  20. Ben says:

    @stonetools:

    the investigation of the spiritual world , which exists in a sense even for atheists.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Could you please clarify what this means?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Stonetools says:

    Don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion here but even many atheists have a sense of morality, conscience, wonder at the universe, and reverence for life. Now that may not be all, but many do. That’s what I mean by atheists having a sense of a spiritual world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  22. T says:

    @Ron Beasley: They dont see college as important, they see it as a place where “libruls go to be indoctrinated with the librul professors and commies in che t-shirts walk around indulging in hedonistic pleasures”

    Conservatives have parochial and private schools to teach their kids whatever they want and parochial universities too. Public schools should all have the same standards.

    You wanna put your kid in private school for 13 years? pony up the cash. If you cant afford it. tough luck, but dont try to turn your 2nd graders science class into some sort of bible study.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  23. Woody says:

    Biology textbooks ostensibly to be used in schools. No teachers input.

    An elected committee – in an extremely red state – with a member with credentials in the Creation Science Hall of Fame (!).

    “Why are Americans falling behind in science? Must be unions! Let’s also slash their pay, increase their hours, and allow anyone to teach! They work for the government!!!1!”

    Since Reagan, this sums up our era rather neatly, I’m afraid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  24. Ron Beasley says:

    @C. Clavin: The textbook publishers have already told Texas to buzz off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. MarkedMan says:

    So next time you see some quirky story about an African country passing a law about witches or an Asian one about ghosts, juxtapose this Texas thing. Is it really so different?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  26. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:

    First off, why does this matter anymore? Texas only had influence due to their large lot buying of textbooks, but why are they still buying printed text books? Once things go digital, then the Texas choice doesn’t matter.

    That is still a ways off.

    Secondly, do we really want scientists and engineers who only learn what is hand fed to them by some idiot teacher/professor?

    What the hell man? Do you really think that little of educators?

    If they can’t supplement their knowledge with wider and oppositional reading, then they should study the liberal arts.

    Liberal arts majors need to do that too, it is part of the critical thinking required to substantively engage with any learning.

    When a student has formed the habit of collecting and valuing the ideas of others, rather than his own, the self becomes dwarfed from neglect and buried under the mass of borrowed thought.

    How exactly do you think people develop the ability to form their own thoughts and ideas?

    He may then pass examinations, but he cannot think. Distrust of self has become so deep-rooted that he instinctively looks away from himself to books and friends for ideas; and anything that he produces cannot be good, because it is not a true expression of self.

    What do you mean by that? Do you have any contact with students or teachers?

    In reality, what you need to look at is what the correct answer is on the standardized testing. That is the extent of knowledge that most students will achieve regardless what is in the never opened textbooks.

    Again, do you have any contact with students or teachers? A student that doesn’t open their text has very little chance of passing any class I, or any professor I know, teaches. If all they can show is the recognition memory necessary to pass a MC test and can’t explain process and relate that to different situations, then they will fail my class and the classes of most of the teachers I know.*

    * I have only taught STEM courses and most of the instructors I know are the same (birds of a feather and all).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. JKB says:

    @Grewgills: How exactly do you think people develop the ability to form their own thoughts and ideas?

    They must recognize what they think on the topic before considering the thoughts of others. They must read widely and think. Then by maintaining a tentative attitude toward knowledge, the student adjusts their thoughts on compelling evidence offered by others as they assimilate the new opinions they encounter.

    In plain fact, at the level these textbooks are, what is not on the test is hardly going to be learned by the average student. Also, the evolution/intelligent design a simple fact topic not an ability topic such as makes up the bulk instruction in subjects such as physics, chemistry, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  28. qtip says:

    @C. Clavin:

    You wanna teach your own kids nonsense…have at it.

    I think this is close to child abuse. I realize that is perhaps a fringe opinion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  29. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:

    They must recognize what they think on the topic before considering the thoughts of others. They must read widely and think. Then by maintaining a tentative attitude toward knowledge, the student adjusts their thoughts on compelling evidence offered by others as they assimilate the new opinions they encounter.

    Until one reads, thus considering the thoughts of others, on cannot have an informed opinion on any complicated topic. The first thing most any student is taught in any science class is the scientific method, which stresses the tentative nature of all knowledge and the importance of evidence based inquiry.

    Also, the evolution/intelligent design a simple fact topic not an ability topic such as makes up the bulk instruction in subjects such as physics, chemistry, etc.

    Evolution is a complex process topic, not a simple fact topic. Among other things, it involves the understanding of the scientific method and what is required of a hypothesis and a theory. When one understands what is required of a hypothesis, it becomes apparent that intelligent design has not met even that minimal requirement.
    By ‘ability topic’ do you mean a topic that requires more math? That would be the primary difference between chemistry and physics v biology at the introductory level. Even introductory bio requires some understanding of chemistry and physics.

    BTW, I’m still wondering why you consider teachers and professors idiots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  30. Ben says:

    @Stonetools:

    Don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion here but even many atheists have a sense of morality, conscience, wonder at the universe, and reverence for life. Now that may not be all, but many do. That’s what I mean by atheists having a sense of a spiritual world.s

    OK, that’s fine. I just don’t consider any of those things to be “spiritual”, in any definition I’ve ever heard of that word. Spirituality usually infers some sort of, if not religious, at least some sort of supernatural connotations, usually involving a soul, or some other non-provable, non-falsifiable thing like that. I don’t think religion or any sort of spirituality is necessary for morality, a conscience, a sense of wonder with the universe, or a reverence for a life. Not trying to start anything either, it’s cool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  31. jukeboxgrad says:

    This is what we have come to expect from the party that said this: “We oppose the teaching of … critical thinking skills.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  32. Grewgills says:

    @Grewgills:
    … much less a theory.

    Can’t believe I missed that

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Tony W says:

    @Stonetools:

    here but even many atheists have a sense of morality, conscience, wonder at the universe, and reverence for life.

    Quite the opposite, in my estimation.

    Religious people exhibit ‘morality’ because there is something in it for them. Eternal salvation, or avoidance of damnation, or 70 virgins.

    Atheists display morality simply because it’s the right thing to do. In other words, the atheist who takes a bullet for you is a far bigger hero than the Christian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  34. grumpy realist says:

    @JohnMcC: I think it was Herschel who retorted, upon being asked what would disprove the theory of evolution: “Rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Tillman says:

    @Tony W:

    Atheists display morality simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    And they came by this idea of “the right thing to do” how, exactly? I find this idea about as elusive as God.

    Never met an atheist who could give a good explanation for it, but they sure seemed pretty condescending up to the point I asked. Kind of like some Christians in their arrogance about how all atheists are going to hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  36. Grewgills says:

    @Tillman:
    In my experience, most atheists that have examined their moral framework, are some form of humanist or existentialist. There is quite a bit written on how these moral frameworks are built. The big atheist ‘evangelists’ (for lack of a better word) also have some thoughtful explanations on that front.
    Try looking into atheism+

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. qtip says:

    @Tillman:

    And they came by this idea of “the right thing to do” how, exactly? I find this idea about as elusive as God.

    For me, I find the golden rule covers most situations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  38. Tony W says:

    @Tillman: The right thing to do? Easy – what makes life better for everyone, not just me. That doesn’t mean I make that choice every time – but it does mean that I don’t sanctimoniously pretend I do while digging the log out of my own eye.

    As George Costanza (Seinfeld) once yelled: “We’re trying to have a society here”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. DrDaveT says:

    @Stan:

    I read this as saying that pi = 3

    Pi is equal to three, to one significant figure. Cut the author some slack; he was clearly rounding off. The nice even multiples of 5 are a giveaway.

    (Alternatively, it was 10 cubits from outer rim to outer rim, and 30 cubits around the interior diameter. That would make the walls of the cauldron about 8″ thick, which sounds reasonable for a container that big.)

    Of the 6,742,009 reasons not to believe the Bible to be literally true and inerrant, this is not in the top 1,000,000.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. DrDaveT says:

    As a former philosophy grad student, I am always bemused by the ease with which untutored humanists* wave away the incredible difficulty of the question of “what is virtue?”. Sorry, guys — it’s not that easy, and the sad historical fact is that you have inherited your notions of virtue — including that Golden Rule — from various religions. Constructing a convincing ethics** from the ground up is a rock that some of the greatest minds of all time have foundered on.

    *Untutored theists fall into different traps.

    **”Convincing” here means that people would generally be able to figure out what they’re supposed to do, that they will recognize their obligation to do it, and that the theory applies to everyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Two things
    1.

    *Untutored theists fall into different traps.

    Same trap different rationalization

    2. I don’t know that ‘virtue’ in the classic sense is the goal of modern humanists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. DrDaveT says:

    @Grewgills:

    I don’t know that ‘virtue’ in the classic sense is the goal of modern humanists.

    Fair enough. I was trying to keep the comment short, but was basically talking about the basic question “Are people obligated to behave in certain ways, and if so what are they?”. My point was just that theists who think they know because the Bible/Quran/Buddha told them aren’t really any more naive than atheists who think they know because it’s obvious.

    (Cue 3000 years of philosophical musings…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Anyone with an unexamined life will be ethically and otherwise naive. It is much easier to live an unexamined life if you fall in with society’s dominant religious view. You simply accept what the book says, or more commonly with what someone said the book says and go on about dealing with the day to day without much further thought to the matter. Those of us who are not satisfied with that, theist or atheist, dig deeper.
    In my experience most atheists don’t simply think it’s obvious, in answer to any deep moral or ethical question. Most that I know have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with their personal ethic and where that fits in with society. After considerable struggle they generally fall in with some form of existentialism or humanism. There is quite a growing and vibrant community centered around that struggle. If you haven’t read about Atheism+ you should.

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Grewgills:
    Thanks for the tip. A quick look at the Atheism+ forums seems long on values and short on rationales, though. I don’t quibble with the values, but I do ask where they came from. Any group telling people how they should behave needs to be able to answer the question “Why should I?”, in some depth.

    This isn’t really the forum for a long debate of the feasibility of ethics, but I’ll note as my parting shot that Existentialism (or at least the traditional versions of it) fail the test of universality. Sartre can conclude what Sartre ought to do, but not what anyone else ought to do. And nobody can argue that Sartre is wrong about what Sartre ought to do.

    That said, I wasn’t aiming my comments at anyone who has actually tried to work through the issues here. I was aiming them at the many who (with good cause) want to dismiss all religion as superstition — but at the same time want to hang on to traditional ethical teachings without having to re-evaluate whether they have a leg to stand on. Or, worse yet, make some sort of normative evolutionary argument in which ethics is founded on what’s most likely to lead to perpetuation of the species. (Don’t laugh; I’ve seen it.)

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  45. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Or, worse yet, make some sort of normative evolutionary argument in which ethics is founded on what’s most likely to lead to perpetuation of the species.

    I flirted with that idea until my first college bio course gave me a slightly better understanding of evolution.

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