Saturday, February 17, 2007

Silly science Saturday.

Going through today's New York Times, I saw two items that led to the caption of this post. The first takes us, once again, to the Texas legislature. Lest it appear that I'm being unduly harsh to the Lone Star State, though, please note that the mischief here originated in the state of Georgia, with an organization called The Fair Education Foundation, Inc. (see here). What FEF is about is trying to get evolution banned from classrooms because it is based on religion; therefore, teaching it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Others have made similar arguments, claiming that "scientism", "evolutionism" or "Darwinism" constitutes a "religion" because it rests upon unproven dogma that can only be affirmed through an act of faith. FEF, however, argues that the religious underpinnings of evolution are in the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah (see here). FEF doesn't cite any Kabbalistic underpinnings for Darwinian natural selection beyond the fact that rabbinical "sages" who contributed to the Kabbalah tradition, in their exegeses of Torah texts, made calculations of the time elapsed since the beginning of creation that anticipated, and are in striking accord with, estimates by modern cosmologists of time elapsed since the "big bang". By positing that the universe has been around for billions of years, instead of the mere six thousand it is constrained to by the exegesis of Genesis that FEF prefers, the Kabbalists and their cosmologist heirs allow sufficient time for evolution to have produced the flora and fauna we have today.

Incidentally, FEF doesn't stop at seeking to bar the teaching of evolution. They also want to throw out Copernicus (see here). One thing you can say for them is that they have no use for dispensational millenialism, or, if you prefer, pre-millenialism (see here), so they give the back of the hand to Tim LaHaye fans. Unfortunately, they also are Holocaust deniers (see here).

Anyway, Ben Bridges, a member of the Georgia legislature, produced a one page memorandum summarizing FEF's constitutional argument against the teaching of evolution and distributed it to his colleagues. He also sent a copy to Warren Chisum, the second most powerful member of the Texas House of Representatives, who had it copied and distributed to his fellow legislators. When some of them complained about its substance, Mr. Chisum distanced himself from it, saying that the memo "does not reflect my opinion", and also that he regretted having "hurt or offended some groups including some of my dear friends." He also retained a former legislative colleague, Steven Wolens, who is Jewish, to help with damage control.

Making fun of FEF and its ilk has a fish-in-a-barrel quality (though it's sometimes irresistable), and it's hard to give any credence to the notion that such groups pose any serious threat, especially when we consider recent developments in Kansas. However, the other item that got my attention this morning is, I think, a real and insidious threat, having been endorsed by perhaps the pre-eminent figure in American pop culture. It's described in Maureen Dowd's column, which has the irresistable title, "A Giant Doom Magnet". (Unfortunatley, this is on TimesSelect, so you'll have to - if you haven't already - pay to peek. Trust me, it's worth the price just to see Maureen's mug shot in living color, her pixie-esque face framed by auburn tresses, her sparkling ... Damn! My wife might read this.)

The column is about Oprah's latest fave rave: an Australian TV producer named Rhonda Byrne's book, The Secret. If you guessed (you being part of that infinitesimal minority of people who don't watch Oprah) that this is a text that gives you a simple principle by virtue of which you can transform your presently dreary life for the better, bingo. All one need do, saith Ms. Byrne, is to think positive thoughts, and good things will follow. If you're sufficiently into geezerdom, like me, this may strike a mystic chord of memory reaching back to a 1952 opus by The Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, as Dowd notes. If you're a student of modern European intellectual history, it may remind you of this worthy thinker.

According to Ms. Byrne, the converse also holds: negative thoughts beget negative results. Ms. Dowd's title for her column refelects her realization that her negative thoughts about the Bush administration's actions in Iraq serve to amplify the negativity of those actions.

According to Ms. Byrne's acolyte James Arthur Ray, interviewed by Oprah, this is all "very, very scientific." So was phrenology considered, in its time.


Elbo Ruum said...

Darwin would be extraordinarily proud of these sods. Don't they just prove his point?

TenaciousK said...

Nice Claude.

You don't need to pay the Times, though. For this, we have the sydbristow workaround.

Claude Scales said...

Good to know, TK. Still, you don't get gorgeous Maureen's pic.

twiffer said...

anything with a login, first try here. doesn't work as well for pay sites though, generally.

Claude Scales said...

Thanks. Good to know.

vvaqlw: Very veridical ascetic Quakers live well.