As an atheist, humanist and lover of science, there is almost nothing that annoys me more than when a religious person deigns to explain to me that, in fact, atheism is a religion. I’m constantly baffled that somehow not believing in something is the same thing as believing in it, but I can only rarely ever persuade the other person to see things from my point of view.
Noted creationist Ken Ham makes that mistake in a blog post in which he references the Smithsonian’s acquisition of an exquisite T-Rex fossil. It’s a very big deal for the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. to get this very complete fossil. It’s also, apparently, a nefarious plot to indoctrinate kids with the worst thing in the world: atheism.
For example, recently, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (in Washington, DC), acquired a T. rex skeleton, known as “the Nation’s T. Rex.“¯ This T. rex is very complete. The museum director, Kirk Johnson, believes the new dinosaur skeleton will draw many children to the National Museum of Natural History, saying, “Dinosaurs are the gateway drug to science for kids.”
Of course, secularists know that children love dinosaurs, and they use dinosaurs to indoctrinate kids into evolutionary ideas. “The Nation’s T. Rex” will be a centerpiece for the Smithsonian, a museum funded by our tax dollars. In reality, then, the government is imposing the religion of evolution and millions of years on children visiting the Smithsonian, while also claiming a supposed separation of church and state! Our tax dollars are funding the religion of naturalism (atheism) and its evolutionary story to be exhibited in the Smithsonian in the nation’s capital!
Oh no! The government is promoting naturalism, which is totally a religion and not a feeble attempt to make actual attempts to insert unscientific religious concepts into actual science classes look reasonable. Not at all!
The Natural History Museum, of course, is doing what it’s meant to do. Promoting science and fomenting the wonder that comes along with seeing totally kick-ass fossils. And really, we need much more of that.
The request of creationists seems reasonable enough on the surface. They just want all sides represented on this. (Although what their reaction would be to a non-Abrahamic, or even just non-Christian, tradition horning in on the action is unclear.) The fact that there is a scientific consensus on the matter doesn’t seem to be an issue.
If that was the goal, one might think that kids would come away from their biology class with a clear understanding of both the fact and the fiction. That’s not necessarily so. A recent study of Oklahoma high school students showed that, on the whole, they had more misconceptions about evolution after they took a required biology course than before they took it.
Yates and Marek found that prior to instruction, students possessed 4,812 misconceptions about evolutionary theory; after they completed the Biology I course, they possessed 5,072. Of the 475 students surveyed, only 216 decreased the number of misconceptions they believed, as opposed to 259 who had more of them when they finished the course than before they took it.
“There is little doubt,”¯ they argued, “that teachers may serve as sources of biological evolution-related misconceptions or, at the very least, propagators of existing misconceptions.”
The researchers fully admit that evolution is a complicated subject and not an easy one for high school age people to grasp. However, when about a quarter of your high school biology teachers place “moderate to strong emphasis on creationsim,” I’m not sure what else we can expect. The facts of evolution speak for themselves, but that is lost when a loud, organized group seek to distort those facts.
I’m under no illusion that if people learned about evolution that they’ll automatically become atheists and leave oppressive religions behind. I know too many religious biologists to believe that. But it’s still important that the general citizenry have a basic grasp of the mechanism that made us who we are. It’s a weird and wild world, and everyone deserves the opportunity to appreciate it in all its glory. If that’s what the “religion of naturalism” can bring us, then sign me up.
Photo Credit: John Scalzi via Flickr
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