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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Making Sense of the Veep Candidates

Minnesotans were waiting throughout Friday morning to see if we would once again have a presence on the national ticket of one of the two major parties.  Some of us breathed a sigh of relief when Tim Pawlenty was not named (it would leave us with Carol Molnau as governor and Molnau is credited with the failure of the MnDOT to prevent the I35W bridge collapse.)

 

Sarah Palin Fishing

Sarah Palin Fishing

We, along with the rest of the country, were completely taken by surprise that Sarah Palin of Alaska was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Republican Party.  Palin’s biography has been published and there is a great deal of discussion of her background and the shallowness of her experience in government.  I’m not going to pile on that.  I am also going to leave alone her positions on abortion, stem cell research, abstinence-only education and polar bears.  I think that those things are being covered in enough of the media and blogosphere to make it unnecessary here.

 

No, what I want to approach here is her attitude towards the idea of teaching Intelligent Design along with evolution in science classes.  I also want to mention that our own governor of Minnesota, a frontrunner for the Vice Presidential nomination has a similar position on science education.  This was a surprise to me, even though Pawlenty had appointed Cheri Pierson-Yecke as the Commissioner of Education when he first took office in 2002.  Yecke was the commissioner who had tried to write “Teach the Controversy” into the science standards when they were being reviewed in 2004.  She was narrowly defeated in her efforts.

Many people wonder what the problem is regarding teaching the controversy, and accuse scientists of academic suppression when they don’t let Intelligent Design into school standards.  Simply put, there is no science to Intelligent Design.  Introducing Intelligent Design into the science classroom would be a clear example of a violation of the three-prong Lemon test developed by the Supreme Court in deciding the case of Lemon v. Kurtz.  Intelligent Design is religiously motivated (and transparently so) and has been determined to have no secular value.

Sarah Palin said in an interview that the schools should teach both Intelligent Design and the competing theory of evolution (as if there were only one.)  She actually didn’t specify the Intelligent Design form of Creationism, but she did say  this at a gubernatorial forum in Alaska in 2006 (Anchorage Daily News:)

• PALIN: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. “Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

Intelligent Design isn’t actually based on information (although they spend a great deal of time mis-using Shannon Information Theory,) and so “giving information” on Intelligent Design would be a disservice to education.  Those are the main reasons that I see a problem with Palin’s position.  We really should be teaching kids how science is done, and not bring the “origins” and religion debate into it.  And evolution as we understand it is based on the same methods of science as chemistry, physics and geology. Hypothesize, research, test, analyze, test again and re-analyze.

Tim Pawlenty said recently (August 31 on Meet the Press🙂 

 

Tim Pawlenty Fishing in Polluted Waters

Tim Pawlenty Fishing in Polluted Waters

GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that in my view is a plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in; but more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards, by–at the local school district level. 

I can assure you that this is not the case in Minnesota, and it doesn’t make sense for Pawlenty to claim that local schools are free to set their own standards. He signed the current standards into law (MNSCE’s Judy Budreau:)

 In the past, Governor Pawlenty has been unclear about his position on including Intelligent Design in Minnesota classrooms; his first appointment for Commissioner of Education, Cheri Pierson Yecke was publicly supportive of Intelligent Design/Creationism. Dr. Yecke’s appointment was not confirmed, due at least in part to this stand. To Governor Pawlenty’s credit, he signed into law the current Minnesota Academic Standards for Science, which do not contain provisions for teaching Intelligent Design/Creationism. 
    On the other hand, when several Minnetonka citizens spoke to officials at the Minnesota Department of Education in November and December 2005 to get clarification on whether or not the Minnesota standards allow or encourage teaching ID/Creationism, the reply was always the same: Minnesotans favor local control of school districts and the academic standards allow for this. 

Oh, so even though the local control aspect is in contravention to state law, the governor’s office and the Department of Education are enforcing the policy that they want rather than what is in the law.  This seems to bean example of the Republican strategy of legislating from the Executive Branch (see the Bush Signing Statements.)

Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin were but two of the finalists to be McCain’s running mate, but it was a short list and both of them are in favor of subverting science education.  What is going on here? Well, either McCain is unaware of their positions, or he is aware and doesn’t think that this is a problem.  

In my mind, the approach to Intelligent Design serves as a bellwether for how a person approaches important issues.  The evolution denialists use the same thought processes to establish their positions on origins as do the global warming denialists (I can’t call them skeptics for obvious reasons.)  And McCain’s tacit approval by proxy of this sort of thinking process calls into question his ability to choose people who will be able to advise him on science matters.

It also brings up another problem with McCain and who he would choose for his cabinet.  If critical thinking is unimportant to him in evolution and climate, how important will it be in economic matters?  Will he be willing to examine the effects of tax cuts for the wealthy from an economics standpoint or will he be compelled to follow the Reagan line that the benefits to the wealthiest of such tax cuts will trickle down to the rest of us?  Will he be able to exercise reason in foreign policy, or will he continue to take advice from a neo-con lobbyist such as Randy Scheunemann?

The Republican Governors, one chosen and one nearly chosen, send to me a message that McCain’s own power of discernment, which he needs in order to be president is lacking.  The President of the United States doesn’t do all the deciding on his or her own.  They surround themselves with people we expect to be competent to enact sensible policies.  I don’t trust the people McCain favors, and Palin is only one of many problems with McCain.

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Science has established that homosexuality is based in biology, and is not a “choice”.  Genetics and brain development show that there are definitive differences between homosexual and heterosexual humans. Social science tells us that family stability and a close parent-child relationship are important in any family, and that these are much more important to child health than parental sexual orientation.

Anecdotes and long-term research show that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom. My personal favorite story is of Carlos and Fernando, the flamingo pair that wanted a chick so badly that they kept sneaking eggs away from nests until zoo keepers set up an “adoption”. Back in 2006, the University of Oslo opened an entire exhibit on homosexuality in animals titled Against Nature?.

In other words – science accepts homosexuality as natural. There is no reason based in logic or in fact that tells us we should prevent relationships between two people of the same sex, or that we should prevent same sex couples from raising children (assuming that they are otherwise fit).

There is also no legal reason to prevent homosexual relationships. Strangely, one of my favorite explanations of the lack of danger of homosexuality to our society is from a speech given by John McCain (via Mike’s blog). McCain was explaining judicial activism and the fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals. The legal distinction between practices that do and do not harm others makes sense from a scientific standpoint as well.

So, even if the majority believes that homosexuality is a sin and a personal vice on a par with prostitution and gambling, it is not the function of law to prohibit any of these activities when pursued in private and between consenting adults… The key reason for extending toleration and legal protection to homosexuals is that they are not harming others. So, Bork and Scalia need not worry that the sympathy of liberal judges will soon turn to polygamists, rapists, and pederasts, since the latter all involve harm to others. Even the Prophet Muhammad admitted that polygamy harms women and convinced his son-in-law to avoid the practice in order not to harm Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima.

Why then, is homosexuality so difficult for so many to accept? Today, NPR’s Talk of the Nation asked if gay marriage is a conflict between equal rights and religious freedom. I see it as a direct conflict between science or logic and religion. The concept of equal rights is supported by science (social and biological) as well as most religious beliefs. Treating people differently due to their biological characteristics is generally regarded as immoral – so why are homosexuals the exception? If a church (or restaurant or government agency…) can not legally or morally deny services to a mixed race couple, people with disabilities, etc then how can discrimination toward homosexuals be justified?

ReligiousTolerance.org has a lot of detailed information on the topic. I am particularly struck by the different interpretations of certain Biblical passages. To some, they forbid gay marriage, while others think the passages mean something else entirely.  Some beleive that all homosexuality must be stopped while others take the NIMBY approach. I personally think that erring on the side of compassion makes the most sense, but I admittedly don’t depend on religion for morality.

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What do you think of a president who says this?

If the clip does not play, you will have to go to the YouTube home page to watch it.

By posting this, you can probably tell that I like it. About the only thing that put me off in Obama’s response was when he said that he believes in evolution. The verb believe just doesn’t make sense here. “I believe in gravity” sounds pretty funny, yes?

Some may think this to be calculated pandering. I’d like to think it genuine, if only because I’d give an eerily similar response. Without the “believe in evolution” part but complete with the interruption toward the end and the “amazed at the mystery of this universe.”

As a side note, I’m sure he didn’t intend it, but Senator Obama keeps open the possibility of there being other universes, and perhaps other civilizations by citing “this” universe, not “the” universe. It is a common perspective among scientists who are Christians that science is a way to better understand creation – both its current state and how it came to be. Personally I think science is the BEST way to learn about “this” universe.

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