Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Teaching the Controversy"

Okay, there are a few different things I've been wanting to make posts about; I've just been very busy. One of them...I'll try to get to tonight or tomorrow. But there's something I've been wondering that will make for a very brief post, so I may as well squeeze that one in now.

I was reminded of this idea by a post on Austin Atheist Anonymous, but it's something I'd actually wondered for a long time. I'm sure someone else has brought this up somewhere, but if so I haven't seen it--I'd be surprised if it hasn't come up at some point, because it seems like a pretty obvious concern to me. The thing is, there are all those creationist folk insisting that we ought to "teach the controversy", yammering that "Intelligent Design" deserves equal time in teaching with evolution.

My question is, what is there to teach?

Seriously. Leaving aside the matters that the scientific evidence is solidly in favor of evolution, and that "Intelligent Design" is nothing more than an untestable assertion to begin with--if schools did teach "Intelligent Design", what would they teach? Evolution has a whole lot of meat to it. There are all sorts of fascinating processes to discuss and details to explore. It's easily possible to teach a class entirely on evolution and only scratch the surface of all its implications, all the ways it's been manifest, and all we've learned from it.

But for Intelligent Design, it doesn't seem there's much more to it than "Maybe everything was made by an intelligent being." Once you've said that...what more is there to teach, really? Where are all the implications, the processes, the wonderful details that evolution provides so plentifully? What else is there to say?

I'm guessing an ID-ist might answer that one would teach all the evidence for Intelligent Design, and all the evidence that weighs in against evolution. Setting aside, again, the fact that all this "evidence" is either completely spurious or can easily be shown to have been misinterpreted, that still doesn't measure up to evolution. A class about evolution wouldn't even have to touch on the evidence at all. It could, and probably should, so the students understand why they're being taught what they're being taught...but there's lots and lots more to say about evolution. Evolution is a fantastically rich subject. If all you've got to say about Intelligent Design is why you believe it, then...well, it seems like a bit of an intellectual dead end, doesn't it?

Oh, but there is more to say about Intelligent Design, isn't there? I mean, look, we have the whole account in Genesis. We have all these details about how the Earth was created, in what order, and--oops. Wait. No we don't. Because, uh, Intelligent Design isn't about God, right? We can't specify the Designer. So teaching the Genesis account of creation should be right out. At least, that's what the ID-ists claim, that Intelligent Design is purely a scientific theory, that religion has nothing to do with it. We may doubt their sincerity on this issue. But if we take them at their word, this means we can't teach religious accounts of creation. And so, without any particular account of creation to teach...what's left? (Of course, it's pretty clear the ID-ists aren't sincere, and that if they did succeed in getting a vague sort of "Intelligent Design" into the classroom their next step would be to turn it to more specifically Christian concepts. But that's a point beyond the scope of the present discussion.)

Okay, I guess maybe there's a little more one could say about Intelligent Design. We could talk about the specific ways in which different things have been specifically designed for human use. But, well, isn't that just speculation as to the mind of the Designer? In fact, don't we have to make some assumptions about the Designer in the first place to talk about this? Like, for example, the idea that he would be designing things for humanity in particular in the first place? Hey, J.B.S. Haldane famously said that his studies had shown him that the Creator, if He exists, has "an inordinate fondness for beetles"--maybe we'd be better off looking at ways in which everything has been specifically designed for the convenience of beetles, rather than of man. If we're assuming the Designer is interested in the well-being of humanity, doesn't that get into specifying the attributes of the Designer? And isn't that something we're not supposed to be doing? Even setting that aside, though, after all, it seems that this sort of discussion would ultimately boil down to just a list of things in nature that are handy for humanity--that doesn't seem likely to have much potential for real scientific depth and value.

So. Even if Intelligent Design did have as much evidence behind it as evolution (which, to put it mildly, it doesn't), it's hard to see how any attempt to give it equal time in teaching would work out. The fact is, there's just nothing there to teach. Once you've stated the premise of Intelligent Design...there's nothing left to discuss.

Unless, of course, you want to start leaving aside the pretense that it's not about religion, and explicitly bring the Christian God into it. But that would make it a little hard (well, harder than it already is) to pretend it's really a scientific theory, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Playing Hookey

Okay, one reason not to post as infrequently as I've been posting: because then when I do want to post, I keep forgetting my password. Granted, there are better reasons to post more frequently, but that's one reason, anyway.

So, the last few weeks have been very busy for me. Last Wednesday saw the first exam in the class I'm teaching, and writing and preparing for the exam took a lot of time...then Thursday and Friday I was a little sick, and over the weekend, um, well, I had something else I wanted to do. More on that in a moment.

One thing I haven't done since my last post, though? Been to church.

No, I haven't decided to cut ties and finally come out with my atheism. I should, but I'm still not quite ready for that yet. But...well, while I'd intended to carry on with business as usual and keep up appearances, I obviously don't have the motivation to attend church that I used to.

So, yeah, my church attendance has slipped lately. Which in one way is a good thing, in that I guess it's easing me into finally facing up to it and stopping entirely. Still, some people have noticed my absence--although actually, not as many as I'd expected. Maybe that's because I was one of the most faithful attendees; I was there nearly every Sunday (albeit not always on time), while many other ward members were frequently out of town or absent for other reasons. So it's not really that I've been at church less often than other members; it's that I've been at church less often than I'd used to be. Still, not a big deal; one or two people have asked me where I've been, but it's not that hard a question to dodge.

It's been a gradual process, really; my church attendance has been getting a little more and more infrequent in the time since my deconversion. It started with not feeling the need to go out of my way to make it to church when I'm out of town. See, I don't travel a lot--I don't have a lot of money for it--but, okay, I do splurge on the occasional trip, specifically to two conventions I like to try to make it to: the San Diego Comic-Con and Gen Con. Now, previous years at those conventions I'd either tried to make it home in time for church on Sunday, or found a meeting house local to the convention so I could attend church there. You know what? No more. I didn't make it to the Comic-Con this year--just couldn't afford it--but I did get to Gen Con, and for the first time I actually attended the convention on Sunday. That was a pleasant change.

That was in early August, though, and since then it's been getting progressively easier to find reasons to miss church. Even reasons as simple as "Okay, I had a busy week, and...whoops; I overslept on Sunday morning. Oh well." (And the new bishop certainly hasn't made it any harder for me to miss church--but that's a matter for another post.) I don't think I've been to church since September 17.

Actually, I wouldn't have been at church on the 8th anyway. That was the weekend of General Conference, when in lieu of regular meetings members listen to the overall leaders of the church speak. Their talks are broadcast by satellite to certain meeting houses all over the world, as well as to some cable channels in some areas. However, they were also available over the internet, and I usually just listened to them there. This time, of course, I didn't bother. (I never did really feel like I was getting much out of those talks, even when I did believe the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles were genuine prophets. I guess they just never struck me as genuine prophets who had much interesting to say.) Oh, there's one session that's not broadcast except to meeting houses, that members can't watch at home--that would be the Saturday evening priesthood session. Having forgotten that was General Conference weekend, though, I'd scheduled a role-playing game for that day; I guess I'll go without knowing what was said at the priesthood meeting. I can live with that.

This last weekend, though, was a regular church meeting, and I didn't miss it because I overslept--if there's one thing I didn't do this last weekend, it was oversleep. No; I told people at church I was going to be out of town this weekend, which--was maybe true depending on how broad one's definition of "town" was. I was technically going to be in a different city, but still in the same metropolitan area.

See, I have...well, rather a lot of hobbies. One of them is drawing comics. I have my own webcomic; I'd give the URL here, but, alas, anonymity and self-promotion don't exactly go together. (You almost certainly haven't heard of it; it's not well known, although I've been drawing it (intermittently) for just over six years.) Now, there's an annual event I'd long kind of wanted to take part in--24 Hour Comics Day. The idea is that participants make an effort to create an entire twenty-four-page comic from scratch--including the art, the writing, even coming up with the concept--in twenty-four hours.

Last year, I had another commitment on 24 Hour Comic Day. (Nothing prevents someone, of course, from trying a 24-hour comic on just some other arbitrary day...but it just didn't seem quite the same.) The year before...I don't really remember what happened; either I had a commitment then too or I just didn't hear about it in time.

This year, though, 24 Hour Comic Day was on October 7--a day I had nothing else in particular to do. (Okay, I did have a lot of things I needed to get done--including grading the exams from my class--but nothing I specifically had to do that day.) So it looked like I could participate after all.

Now, while one could certainly just sit at home and draw a 24-hour comic by oneself--and many people no doubt did just that--certain comic stores hosted 24 Hour Comic Day events, letting artists come in and do their comics there (and supplying food and drink for them, too, which was a nice bonus). It seemed to me that would be a lot more fun; I'd much rather be there in a room full of other people drawing comics than just sitting at home at my own desk. The thing is, there's a bit of leeway in exactly which 24 hours constitute 24 Hour Comics Day--it's not necessarily 12 a.m. October 7 to 12 a.m. October 8. The idea is just that part of the twenty-four hours ought to lie on October 7. And the local store that was hosting 24 Hour Comic Day near me (well, relatively near; it was still a couple of hours away by public transportation) was doing it from noon October 7 to noon October 8. So participating in 24 Hour Comics Day would mean missing church.

Before this, when I still considered myself a faithful member...I don't know. It's possible I still would have skipped church for 24 Hour Comics Day; it's something I did really want to take a stab at. It's at least as possible, though, that I would have decided I ought to go to church, and reluctantly sacrificed the opportunity to participate, or at least to participate at that store. Either way, I certainly would have agonized over the decision, and felt guilty if I decided to skip church, and regretful if I decided to skip the event.

Now, though? Easy decision. Screw church.

(I actually managed to finish a full twenty-four-page comic, too...and surprised myself by not having to fall back on short-cuts like lots of one- or two-panel pages. I didn't produce a great work of art, but the comic I came up with is, if I do say so myself, not bad.)

One thing I was a bit apprehensive about is that I mentioned 24 Hour Comics Day in my LiveJournal--and while nobody in my ward reads my LiveJournal, my mother does. I was worried she might put two and two together and realize I skipped church for it, and that I might be getting a haranguing phone call. I wouldn't be too surprised if it didn't happen--my mother surprisingly often does not put two and two together (and annoyingly often somehow manages to put two and two together and end up with 6½+2i)--but I didn't particularly like the possibility. As it turns out, though, there's been no such phone call, so either she didn't put the pieces together and realize I skipped church for 24 Hour Comics Day or she's more understanding than I assumed she'd be and considers that a viable excuse. (Come to think of it, I didn't hear from her about going to Gen Con on Sunday instead of attending church, either, so I guess the same possibilities apply there.)

As I said, I'm still not quite ready to be open about my atheism and stop attending church altogether. This coming Sunday, I'm going to be there. Still, though, at least I've gotten to the point where I can have higher priorities.