Friday, August 8, 2014

Programming Children?

A recent article on the Discovery News site kinda seemed more than a bit off kilter.  I know, something from the DI that wasn't quite right, really?  Normally I don't send people to their site, but if you want to read it, here it is: "More Studies Show Children Are Wired for Religious Belief: A Brief Literature Review", by that less-than-stalwart fellow, casey luskin.  I've written about little casey before and haven't been too impressed.  Well, this time casey is joining his brother in arms, David 'I'm Jewish so Intelligent Design isn't about Religion' Klinghoffer and trying to make a couple of cases, first the children naturally are inclined to believe in the idea of God, and second that scientists, those evil bastards, are trying to inoculate children against God.

They reference a Wall Street Journal article: "See Jane Evolve: Picture Books Explain Darwin".  My guess is they are more than a little annoyed with the article's author, Alison Gopnik , especially for closing with this line

"The secret may be to reach children with the right theory before the wrong one is too firmly in place."  
As usual casey and davey are taking the article as an attack on ID, which . . . it is -- but not for the reasons they seem to think.  If you take a step back and actually think you would realize that any teacher will tell you that teaching something is always easier when you don't need to un-teach something previously learned.  People tend to get an idea in their head and the first thing you have to do is get them to remove that idea before they can fully understand a new one.  Or at a minimum get them to set aside that idea so they can at least examine the new one with limited prejudice. One of my favorite examples is discrimination.  How many people have dis . . . no, let's just say it more plainly, how many bigots have no actual experience in dealing with the people they are bigoted against?  Remember the term 'prejudice' means pre-judging!  By the time someone who typifies the Archie-Bunker-like mentality gets some experience with whoever they are bigoted against, it's usually a bit late.  Oh they can learn, but it takes something extremely critical to make it happen.  I remember a presentation by Dr. Morris Massey called "What You Are Is Where You Were When"
used the term a 'significant emotional event' to show it's possible even for the worst of bigots to learn, but it does take something significant to get through years of bigotry.

Children are not born bigoted, it's a learned behavior and one rarely seen in nurseries and child day care centers for young children.  I don't think children are born looking for a deity either.  I think they are born curious and like to seek answers.  The idea of a deity hits them from many directions.  It's the answer they receive from many adults for nearly any question that's tough to answer.  From the simple 'God only knows' to weekly sermons from authority figures.  Kids get bombarded with the message about one deity or another from birth.  The reason, at least to me, is that it's easy.  It's far easier to let 'God' be the answer than digging deeper and determining a better answer or even harder is explaining something to a child that you may not understand yourself.  Even with the best of intentions, adults try and soften difficult things for children..  Think of a traumatic event in any kids life, maybe the death of a Grandparent.  Even if they choose to dig deeper, the odds are they will never know why Gramdma passed away.  But to comfort a child we say things like 'She's in a better place.'  Funerals are most often religious services, as are Weddings, Baptisms, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Confirmations,and Upanayana (Hindu rite of passage) ceremonies.

So by the time a child gets to school they have a bunch of ideas already in their head and one of them is about the idea of a deity.  Even children raised as Atheists, aren't immune to this.  Think of the exposure to TV, movies, music, and their friends.  I had two friends growing up in NYC, Issac and his little brother Jay, and while I wasn't Jewish I was curious about their religion.  One of the most popular figures in pop culture today is American Idol winner Carrie Underwood whose first hit single was "Jesus Take the Wheel".  I was raised Catholic and I can assure you, from Baptism through school you get hit with religion on an almost daily basis, especially during times of emotional upheaval (significant emotional events, remember?). 

Is it any wonder that the earlier you reach children with real, although simplified, explanations, the easier it will be for them to understand the more complex realities later?  Do you remember John Freshwater?  The Ohio teacher who was fired for a number of reasons, including failing to teach the science he was supposed to be teaching.  If you read the reports and transcripts of his various hearings (Panda's Thumb probably has the best links to all that material), you might have noticed that not only did teachers in subsequent grades have to re-teach basic science and biology to his former students, but his 'teaching' actually made their job harder.  That's what the article is about.  Of course casey and davey doesn't see it that way, they see it as an attack in their pet religious notion, Intelligent Design..

What caught my eye in casey's article was this line:
"What was intriguing was not just how evolutionary scientists are scrambling to indoctrinate children against perceiving intelligent design in nature, but also how children have an innate tendency to recognize that design and, furthermore, to believe in a personal creator"  
First of all, there is nothing wrong with children perceiving design in nature.  Please note the word 'perceiving'.  How many things have we built that end up mimicking nature whether by intent or as a result of the evolution of manufactured items.  Another recent article "One rule to unite the evolution of birds and airplanes" reminded me that there is nothing wrong with looking at the design in nature.  Little casey and his buddies keep forgetting that the perception of design in nature and their idea of 'Intelligent Design' are two separate things.  There is a great deal of nature that has the appearance of being designed.  It's there in front of us and cannot and should not be ignored.   But does the appearance of design in nature automatically mean intelligence?  Of course not!  That's what casey and his buddies would like you to believe because it's the only arrow in their quiver.  Aside from it being a tautological argument that's been shown time and time again to be meaningless.  It's also been clearly identified as a religious belief, not a scientific theory.  However if you teach Creationism or Intelligent Design, you are making it tougher on teachers later in life to teach actual science. 

That's why casey and david are annoyed.  The article states pretty clearly that if we introduce simplified concepts of evolution earlier, then by the time kids get older and start learning real biology, they grasp the concepts much more easily and a more intuitively.  Casey simply cannot stand the idea that actual science might get in before he's finished doing all he can to make sure they've had first crack at molding children's minds.

One last thing to mention, which is 'indoctrination' teaching science or teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design?  Well according to Merriam-Webster, to indoctrinate is to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.  Does science class consider alternative ideas?  All the time!  However, as we've stated many times.  Creationism/Intelligent Design is not an alternative scientific theory to the Theory of Evolution and thereby calling the teaching science 'indoctrination' is just another word game, like re-defining 'theory' or the idea of a 'belief'.  Many science textbooks mentioned Creationism in a historical context when teaching Biology.  But as an idea that should be taught at any age . . . not as if it were really science!

However, can you say teaching Creationism/Intelligent is anything but indoctrination?  Remember the original Wedge Strategy document, the one where materialistic view of science were going to be replaced by more theistic understanding?   Here's a little snapshot of their goals, check out number 2 under 'Governing Goals'.
If you can't read that poor image quality, it says
"To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding of nature and human beings are created by God". 
And we aren't just talking science, look at the second of the 5-year goals.  Doesn't sound like a whole lot of consideration for other ideas there at all, does it?

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