Kansas, Failing to Cope

Great Seal of Kansas (detail)

It is a Kansas thing:

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that science standards for Kansas public schools promote atheism and violate the religious freedoms of students and parents.

(Associated Press)

There are a number of questions one might wonder about, but perhaps it is time we pause to consider what, exactly, these religious fanatics are doing to their children.

That is to say, we are accustomed to the fundamental argument, and it really does seem a matter of one being unable to tell the difference between unlike things. Thirty years ago groups representing parents, churches, and politicians unleashed a daily spiel about how children were not smart enough to listen to music.

Here’s one: Have you heard Trans Siberian Orchestra? Okay, you know that song they play toward the end of the set, called, “Believe”? It was first recorded in 1990 by Savatage, and describes the epiphany of an unfortunate soul stumbling into the light. But think about that for a minute, one of our best new Christmas songs comes from a band once denounced on a regular basis as being satanic.

Sometimes it seemed a matter of simple jealousy; the “Christian” version of pop music does not seem to carry very far outside its dedicated audience. Those who remember the South Park episode “Faith Plus One”, and the crack about how Christian pop sounded like lust songs about Jesus, need only look back to this time in order to understand where that joke comes from. Brief moments of exposure over the years suggest it hasn’t gotten any better, but if one had to guess without knowing who Stryper was, would “Calling On You” sound like an appeal to salvation or begging for some fumbling teenage intimacy?Stryper

It was a futile effort to keep children away from popular music, but it also made one point clear: These people do not believe their kids are smart enough to listen to pop music.

Over the years, religious advocates have humiliated themselves. Christian censorship advocate Bob Larson demonstrated himself unable to comprehend liner notes, and, furthermore, could be caught rewriting the lyrics to some of the songs he complained about in order to make musicians sound scary.

The psychopathology of the underlying parental fear is open to certain argument, but functionally speaking the argument was clear: I do not trust my child to be smart enough to resist what I find objectionable and scary about the music. It is what it is.

But here is a new proposition: I do not trust my chiled to be smart enough to resist what I find objectionable and scary about science.

David Ferguson of Raw Story explains:

Creationists like COPE claim that to mandate the teaching of evolution to students constitutes an endorsement of atheism as a religion. In filing their lawsuit in Kansas, the group hoped to halt the implementation of the science program.

The new science standards are dangerous, COPE argued, because they lead “impressionable” students “into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate questions like what is the cause and nature of life in the universe — ‘where do we come from?'”

Science teachers must then act as theologians, the group argued, infringing on people of faith’s ideological terrain and inculcating a “materialistic/atheist” world view in children.

Science, the Christian group said, “has not answered these religious questions” and never can.

Right. The kids ain’t smart enough, say the religious folks. Too “impressionable”.

Not smart enough to figure out how things work.

Which is tragic, since the ignorance would appear to be the parents’ and politicians’.

Let us dumb it down a bit, since ideas like “the scientific method” apparently scare some people of faith. Science is the formal operation of one basic question: What happens when I do this?

You know. What does this button do? What is this screw for?

The idea being that when certain actions produce consistent, reiterating results, you’ve just learned something about how the world works.

And virtually every human being performs this function. Indeed, it is at the heart of human development.

If the children are smart enough to call their parents by appropriate titles, they are smart enough to deal with the fundamental questions of science, because this sort of trial and error, stimulus and response, is at the heart of object relations.

They have been doing this their whole lives, and yet here we have some “objective” folks arguing that the kids aren’t smart enough to abide by this basic habit, despite relying on it in order to condition the children to behave properly.

That the idea demonstrates such adults scientifically illiterate is its own irony, but pausing to enjoy that gratification might allow us to miss the underlying trope.

Simon Brown points out that, “learning the facts of that theory is not ‘indoctrination’. It’s called education.”

And that seems pretty straightforward, except then it might occur that one should ask, “Why is everything ‘indoctrination’ to these people?” The answer to that is fairly straightforward. Indoctrination is what they do.

And since that is what they do, perhaps it is also what they see other people doing. This is their own absolutism in motion.

But what, really, do they achieve by such hopes? Over time, the idea of the lucky seed club will germinate here, too, as we might imagine what could take place over the course of a couple of generations in which, say, an entire state reserves genuine scientific education from its students. Consider college application and acceptance; two students otherwise equal on paper, except one has come up in, say, Kansas, where the scientific method is anathema in education, so who gets admitted? And then the job market. Give society time to bring two generations to adulthood, and the differences will be stark.

The reality is that Creationism isn’t going to win this argument any time soon; Brown reminds that nearly thirty years have passed since Edwards v. Aguillard, which saw the apparent difference between science and religion. Still, though, Creationists haven’t given up on this tack. Maybe if they can manage to indoctrinate enough children, someday down the road they can find a way to win the argument in court.

But comprehension of the basic scientific method is one of those spirits that cannot be bottled; they will never erase from humanity the fundamental question that keeps us moving daily on this rock: If this, then that. What happens if I do … this?

There is one requisite point to add: We are not surprised that the news comes from Kansas.

Meanwhile, a generation hears it over and over again: You’re not smart enough to be human. Yeah. The rest of society will have to deal with the effects of that, too.


Associated Press. “Judge dismisses lawsuit over Kansas science standards”. The Kansas City Star. 3 December 2014.

Ferguson, David. “Federal judge slaps down Kansas creationist lawsuit claiming evolution a ‘religious belief'”. Raw Story. 5 December 2014.

Brown, Simon. “Creationist Canard: Judge Tosses Lawsuit That Claims Evolution Is A ‘Religious’ Viewpoint Unfit For Public Schools”. Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 5 December 2014.

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