Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Science and the law

RbR and I had an interesting conversation recently concerning the relationship between science and government that I thought I would share with everyone.

It all happened in 1888, when a doctor from Indiana named Edwin J. Goodwin claimed to have been "supernaturally taught the exact measure of the circle, in due confirmation of scriptural promises."

Nine years later, he somehow convinced his representative, Taylor Record, to introduce House Bill #246 in the Indiana House of Representatives. The bill was confusingly written, but it offered the state free use of Goodwin's mathematical findings. He seemed to think that all the current knowledge about circles was wrong: "Since the rule in present use [presumably pi equals 3.14159...] fails to work ..., it should be discarded as wholly wanting and misleading in the practical applications," the bill declared. It then launched into some murky and self-contradictory conclusions about areas and circumferences that have absolutely no basis at all in math.

What happens next gets silly. The bill was first referred to the House Committee on Canals. When they realized that it shouldn't be there, it was referred to the Committee on Education. The committee recommended that it pass -- lawmakers don't have time to read everything -- but the state superintendent of public instruction was a backer of the bill! Well, it's easy for a bill to pass committee. But then it was sent to the full House ... where it passed unanimously (67-0).

The bill was passed to the senate floor where it got wrapped in red tape and sent to the Committee on Temperance. Its committee chairman recommended it pass (again!) but thankfully the newspapers got word of the bill and wrote some predictably sarcastic editorials. Finally, as a local newspaper reported, "Although the bill was not acted on favorably no one who spoke against it intimated that there was anything wrong with the theories it advances. All of the Senators who spoke on the bill admitted that they were ignorant of the merits of the proposition. It was simply regarded as not being a subject for legislation."

You can read more about this here.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, I think this is eerily similar to current events. It's easy to laugh at a moron who introduces legislation that flies in the face of known science, but it's not so funny when public schools are legally allowed to teach such stuff to schoolchildren.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great example of legislative tracking on that Indiana bill!

And thanks for the link to Ohio HB431. Don't be fooled by the rather longwinded explanation for a rather short bill. You should be suspicious any time law makers feel obliged to spend pages telling you why a 3 line bill won't be a disaster.

Note in particular that they say that "encourage" doesn't mean "require" but rather only means "permit." Well, if they meant "permit" why doesn't the bill say "permit?" I'll suggest a possible explanation: The original version of the bill said "require" but a relatively moderate Christian conservative said, "Oh, we'll never get it out of committee with that language. Let's just say 'permit.'" And after a golf outing or prayer session or whatever, they settled on "encourage."

One thing is certain, if this bill passes, it won't be the final word on "origin sciences" from the Ohio legislature. If the Republicans remain in control, new bills will be proposed to "strengthen" the original origins sciences bill. If they Democrats get into power, they'll try (I would hope) to repeal it.

It ain't your father's GOP folks! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

On closer inspection....I believe that bill passed. I noticed that it was presented in the 2001-2002 legislative period. And I believe I heard about this a couple of years ago. I brought it up to my parents (who are academics) and, at first, they didn't believe the bill existed. The way they imagined it, this was just something to let the church crowd out in the small towns de-educate their kids. My dad said something about how if they wanted their kids to get into Ohio U. or Ohio State (let alone Kenyon, Dennison or Orberlin) they had better teach more than bible studies to them.

I countered that the next step would be that Ohio Republicans would require Ohio State and other state universities to amend their admissions requirements to omit basic science - or count Bible study as fulfilling them.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

Ooooh, I just hate the way that bill is written! First, it makes up the name "origins science" to try to set the origins of life apart from the rest of biology, geology, etc.--a religious assumption if I ever saw one!--and then it requires that "origins science" be taught, "objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption."

The catch is that little weasel word, "naturalistic." (They make a meal of in the explanatory section.) Their claim is that there is something called naturalistic "bias" in science. It's the same old, discredited, sophomoric argument that says science is a type of religion, or that atheism requires faith.

In an Orwellian twist, the "irrebuttable assumption" they accuse science of making is the notion that "design conceptions in nature are invalid." The truth, of course, is that science makes no such assumption--in fact, what pisses off the religions zealots is that scientists refuse to accept the irrebuttable assumption of creationism. Don't be taken in by the submissive language that says, "we're just asking you to consider all points of view." Science already does that in spades--it is religion that suppresses other points of view!

I worked with a professor once who said he loved it when religious nuts, pretending to be reasonable, asked him to present evolution and creationism side-by-side as competing theories. He loved it because this gave him the opportunity to utterly demolish creationism and reveal it for the fraud it is.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he would love it so much if his kids went to a school under this law? 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Raised By Republicans said...

One question for Dr. Strangelove. In an earlier post, you suggested strongly that surely there were ways to compromise with the Religious right. You asked if there really were cause for alarm.

This law, HB431 is the law of the land in what used to be a modern, advanced, relatively urbanized and sophisticated state. Still think there is no cause for alarm?

Do you reall think that the people who passed such a law are reasonable people with whom we can reason and come to a mutually respectful compromise?

Anonymous said...

I am the voice that keeps adding the following:

As a Christian, I am offended by those who would make an idol out of the bible, claim that the bible should be read literally (i.e, accept the preacher's interpretation without thinking at all), and then reach such unfortunate conclusions that the evidence of eyes, ears, and reason must be discarded in favor of what they cynically call "faith."

In my view, it is the Devil's work to convince modern man that to believe in God one must first discard reason, science, and common sense. The bible is a collection of writings describing man's interaction with God over the millennia, including quite a bit of myth, legend, misinterpretation, and (yes) the scientific understandings of 500 B.C. If anyone's faith in God is inseparable from the belief that the earth was created in six days, then I am filled with pity. The foolish man, says Jesus, builds his house on sand. Nothing is sandier than scraps of scientific errors contained in ancient writings that advertise their non-journalistic nature with tales of miracles, seven hundred year old men, and stories that harp on magical numbers 3, 7, and 40.

The contest isn't between secularism and religion. It's also between people of faith and those who masquerade in faith to justify prejudice, cruel customs, a desire for social control, and their own ignorance.  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: well spoken! I'm no Christian, but surely the Bible is only one of the many testaments to Christ--and a flawed one at that. The final content was decided by committee; various texts were mistranslated or miscredited, the authors relating as first-hand accounts what they did not personally witness; the stories (esp. the old testament) largely reflected the values of the non-Christian societies in which the writers lived, rather than Christ's teachings; and the writers themselves, untrained in modern principles of journalistic objectivity, often wove myth, opinion, and fact together in their accounts--or simply failed to understand what they saw altogether.
In search for the truth, surely one must not so much search in the Bible so much as reach through the bible... as through a glass darkly?

Dr. Strangelove said...

RxR: yes, I was really just ranting in an alarmist fashion. I just can't help it sometimes. But I should be clear, I did not advocate compromise with the Radical Evangelicals. In fact, I clearly said we must be firm against that kind of demagoguery. But one can discipline a misbhehaving child without yelling at him. Toning down the rhetoric was what I suggested.

Er, do what I say, not what I do? :-)

Anonymous said...

A fair distinction, Dr. Strangelove. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

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