I watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham surrounded by new friends. I actually stumbled across these people in no small part because this debate happened. A friend of my wife’s on Facebook commented that she might attend- which led to my wife suggesting that this might be an event our 9 year old son might enjoy- which resulted in me confirming my attendance on a Facebook events page that is run by a local atheist group. Bill Nye helped me discover that my hometown has a fully developed and thriving atheist community that I was somehow completely oblivious to until a few days ago.
This, I suppose, is a lesson in unintended consequences.
So when I started my morning by recapping what other people thought of the debate with the intention of helping to clarify my own thoughts, I was sympathetic to the opinion of Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast that the debate was a losing proposition from the moment it was brokered. Facts are not something to be debated. We shouldn’t be lending credibility to creation myths by juxtaposing them with science. Bill Nye is the wrong person to be representing the scientific argument because he is not an expert on evolution. This was a common argument before the debate even aired.
On all accounts I think these arguments are wrong.
Academics Don’t Create Policy, But Somehow They Are The Only People Qualified To Talk About Science
Several people have pointed out that the Creation/Evolution debate is a political issue and not a scientific issue. I agree with that assessment. The question I’d like to ask is this: If people who are passionate about science aren’t going to wade into the political debate over what we teach the next generation- who is going to stand between opportunistic legislators and our children? Can we just assume that rationality is always going to rule the public stage in opposition to the court of public opinion?
Bill Nye is right that we need children that understand the scientific method and how proper science is done. We also need the public to be savvy enough to tell the difference between education and indoctrination. The idea that this debate emboldened creationists by giving them a stage is, I think, demonstrably wrong. First, you need to assume that all creationists are Young Earth Creationists (YECs). Then you need to assume that YECs aren’t already aware of Answers In Genesis, the Creation Museum, or Ken Ham. This is akin to going up to your nerdiest friend and telling them about this great new Star Trek series called “The Next Generation”. This debate didn’t bring new attention to Young Earth Creationism to the target audience for Young Earth Creationism. It brought new attention to YEC to exactly the people we need to see it- the large swath of Christian and other religious parents who think of Intelligent Design or Guided Evolution or some other pseudo-scientific concept when they imagine “teaching the controversy“. These people are embarrassed by people like Ken Ham. They know the earth isn’t 6000 years old, and they understand just how impossible it is to square that belief with observable phenomena. These are the people who are going to be moved by this debate. To assume that all people sympathetic to anti-evolutionary ideas are sympathetic to a literal reading of Genesis is a mistake. Many of those people will be moved by just how absurd it is to teach YEC as science. Some of these people might change their view about science education when faced with the prospect of science class becoming a strict literal interpretation of the first book of the Old Testament.
In this regard, I think that Ken Ham is exactly the kind of person those of us who care about science should debate. He is an extremist, a fundamentalist, an outlier even in Christian circles. Too many of us feel that Bill should have avoided giving Ken Ham a platform- when in fact that platform has already started to lay bare the deep divide among creationists. Pat Robertson has already called on Ham to “not make a joke of ourselves.” Inside the bubble of Young Earth Creationism, the idea of a 6000 year old creation and a big boat that held 10,000 animals while the entire world was flooded for a year seems perfectly reasonable. They think that people just need to see the evidence the way they do and everyone will be forced to concede the truth of their beliefs. It is the people outside this bubble that Bill needed to speak to, and I think he did that marvelously.
Bill Nye Is Exactly What We Need
To the degree that I think Ken Ham is exactly the kind of creationist that science educators need to draw attention to, I think people like Bill Nye are exactly the kind of person we need doing it. We need people who are teachers and communicators. We need people who aren’t going to go on tangents about overly dry and technical aspects of evolutionary theory when simple and focused arguments suffice. We need people who aren’t going to waste their whole half hour talking about the philosophy of science when someone tries to make the ridiculous distinction between observational science and historical science. We need the kind of people who say “there are trees older than you think the universe is.” We need people who can make radio waves and the big bang something I can explain to my 9 year old son. We need someone who can Gish Gallop with easily digestible facts that are memorable and funny.
Many otherwise smart people have claimed that this debate was worthless and they avoided it because neither speaker had the authority to talk about evolution. Public opinion isn’t decided by experts. Policy isn’t made by experts. Hell, High School Biology class isn’t taught by experts. This wasn’t an academic debate and if it was it would have swayed virtually nobody involved in the future of science education. To be blunt, one of the problems in the divide over public science education is that it seems to be difficult for people to grasp the basics of evolutionary theory. Policy will be shaped by ignorance and incredulity if we fail to take interest in education. If the Bible denied that there are integers above 20,000, we wouldn’t insist that only those with a degree in theoretical mathematics argue with theologians. We would send in Warren Buffet and the Manager at TGI Friday’s to compare their purchasing power. When we want people to understand how simply wrong a proposition is, we need people who can speak in terms laypersons can not just grasp but easily internalize. Bill Nye is a brilliant science educator, and he was the perfect person to take on a science obfuscator.
The public is not going to get energized nor swayed by academic debates on the minutiae of evolution. They are going to be easily confused until some charlatan shows up to reassure them.
I think it is insulting to assume that all Christians are going to be moved by a literal six-day creation argument, and I think it’s ignorant to assume that there were no viewers who had positions that could be influenced by a clear and concise argument that science is the best way do science. Many people approached the prospect of this debate with a hyper-simplistic view of those who don’t accept biological evolution whole cloth. It is precisely this kind of superiority complex and lack of understanding that is going to stoke the fires of people who wish to sneak religion into science.
We are so busy thinking about the possibility that Christians are naive and easily duped that we fail to see that, more likely than not, the unintended consequence of this debate is a popular rebuke of literal six-day creation among the larger Christian community- the people who vote, who sit on Parent/Teacher Associations, who choose curriculum guidelines.
I found a community as an unintended consequence of a well marketed, elegantly argued, and entertaining debate about evolution- and I think that it will have the opposite consequence for Young Earth Creationists. Showing reasonable people what God in science class might really mean will make the fringe increasingly isolated.
Two years ago at about this time, I had a roundup of my blogging year. The blog was 7 months old, I was just making the transition from being a “longtime commenter” to being my own blogger, and the whole enterprise was fresh and exciting.
In seven months I had written 40 posts, had 215 comments, my busiest day was 69 pageviews and the blogging world was my oyster.
By this time last year I had published 83 total posts, had 1183 comments (well, half that- since that counts my comments, and I almost always respond), my busiest day was 270 pageviews.
In a whole year I had mustered 43 posts.
This year, I managed just 21 posts, had 193 comments (again, half that), and had a post go semi-viral netting me my best-ever day of 477 pageviews.
In short, 2012 was a blogging flop for me. I had little motivation to write and I went from having almost 100 regular visits a day down to a pretty steady 20 visits the past few months.
What The Hell Happened?
Here’s the thing: I don’t know exactly what happened. There are a few contenders for my bout of “Creative Depression”- as Glendon Mellow called it in the great post he had recently about his struggles with it. The best way to explain why I have been largely absent from blogging is to do the opposite of what I did two years ago when I posted that first “Year In Review”. The best way to explain it is to avoid stats and figures- the best way to explain it is to get personal.
So here is my “Year In Review”- the one that really matters. Here is a list of ups and downs in 2012- things that distracted me, enthralled me, or annoyed me. This is the year that was…….
- I welcomed my second daughter (and fifth child) into the world. Geneva Belle Blanche Waye was born
on January 6th, 2012. Having kids never gets old. It gets expensive, but it never gets old.
- I lost my job in February. Not the best timing, I must confess. The good news is that I found another job pretty quickly at a place I had worked before. Being unemployed gets old fast…..
- During the break between jobs, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be the guest blogger at Le Cafe Witteveen for my friend Jeremy. What an amazing experience, and proof positive that I can be a regular blogger- so long as I am motivated by my duty to a friend.
- My laptop got FUBAR’d. This is what happens when you let your 12 year old son complete the trifecta of clicking happily on any link he sees, leaving the laptop in places my 4 year old son can reach it (and proceed to rip 1/2 the keys off), and then stress the charging port until it doesn’t charge any longer. I had to switch to my “emergency laptop” running XP, with 1GB RAM, no webcam, and no mic. I’m not entirely sure if we are spoiled by technology in 2012 or if we just patiently suffered through horrible technology in 2005.
- I turned my Facebook into an atheist networking bonanza. Thanks to Dan Finke (If you don’t know who he is, you should) I was able to become “friends” with a bunch of people who identify as atheists.
- The atheist community forecast was upgraded (or downgraded) from a tempest in a teapot to a shitstorm in a shallow pool.
- I joined Twitter (yay!!!!)- then proceeded to cause a major rift in my family by tweeting my anger about the way Islam treats women (boo…)
- My brother got married and I did not go to the wedding (For an explanation, see #7).
- I became obsessed with atheist moral theory.
- I wrote a popular post about Tone Trolling
- I co-founded (and then completely ignored- sorry about that!) a skeptics group in my hometown.
- I got deeper into the Scouting movement, becoming the leader of my son’s Cub pack. (They don’t officially allow atheists, but, hey….)
So those are some of the important and/or annoying and/or enraging moments of this past year for me. Not all of them are responsible for my lack of blogging, and ultimately it is myself that I have to blame.
My next post is going to tease you (yes, you) about what to expect from me in the New Year. I’m going to have some blogging resolutions, and some totally unspecific/ mysterious announcements of things that are in the works for me over the next year.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 8 so far )
Ontario will sometime today have a final reading for some of the most comprehensive anti-bully legislation in
history. Bill 13, known as the Accepting Schools Act, aims to amend the Education Act in our province to define and address bullying in schools.
Bill 13 does an admirable job of defining the concept of bullying. Section 1(1)(ii)(b) even explicitly addresses the concept of power imbalance.
1. (1) Subsection 1 (1) of the Education Act is amended by adding the following definition:
This definition goes a long way toward explaining how privilege plays a part in bullying- the difference between “punching up” and “punching down”.
Ontario may be the first jurisdiction in North America to enshrine programs to address equity and inclusiveness in education that explicitly includes a comprehensive spectrum of sexual identity- including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning. In those exact words.
During the public consultation process, it was brought to the attention of the government that extra-curricular and social groups helped to foster an environment of tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness for marginalized groups- and that students have had problems at their schools attempting to organize clubs and social groups that include LGBTTIQ issues. To this end the government included in the legislation provisions to give interested students the right to start Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) within their school. It also closed a loophole in previous drafts that would have allowed schools to refuse to allow students to name these groups “”gay-straight alliances”.
Bullies To Province: “Only We Get To Define A Group By Narrow Criteria”
So by now I have given away the punchline- you already know who stands opposed to the new anti-bullying legislation. Just to give a little more context though, let me tell you a little more about education in Ontario….
Ontario has a Constitutionally protected publicly funded Catholic school board. This protection is, funny enough, the result of an agreement at the time of Confederation that was designed to acknowledge the privilege of being a Protestant in the province and to give some bit of cultural real estate to a marginalized group. It was enshrined in Section 93 of the British North America Act in 1867- it was protected by section 29 of the Charter in 1982. Since 1867, of course, the naturally privileged Protestant schools in Ontario have all disappeared in favor of secular education while the Constitutionally protected Catholic minority has been allowed to keep their schools religious
focus. Now, the minority that has benefited so greatly by laws designed to level the privilege playing field is shouting at the top of their lungs to avoid giving another minority protection under the law. “This is not something that needs to be protected under the law”, they say. “There is no good that will come from laws focusing on protecting one minority more than all the other disadvantaged groups”, they argue.
Perhaps they are right. There is reason to believe that well-intentioned laws have unintended negative consequences- we have precedent. One need look no further than the protections we afforded to the Catholic church regarding denominational education back in 1867.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that Bill 13 doesn’t focus solely on LGBTTIQ bullying. It points to them by name- as a group that has struggled most with acceptance within the school system. Bill 13 addresses a problem unique to this group when looking to organize extra-curricular groups sanctioned by the school board. It does these things, for sure, yet it still addresses the power of privilege and the roadmap to making headway in the fight against bullying. Why does it focus on LGBTTIQ rights when so many other underprivileged groups also suffer at the hands of bullies? Because the rot of ignorance and ambivalence extends beyond the hormone-swelled students and into the faculty and administration. It is necessary to spell this out for even the adults in the system.
When I went to high school, I was not at the bottom of the pecking order- but I certainly wasn’t near the top. I was called a “fag” for two whole school years because I stood up to a homophobic asshat of a teacher. Oh, and I was in Drama. Also, the Tennis Team-so I was pretty much “asking for it”.
You know what though? I was an “artsy geek”, and I wasn’t entirely alone. I had teachers who befriended me- and helped to make a difference in my life. So did the “MtG geeks”, who had a Staff Advisor who was into D&D as a teen. So did the “Mathletics/Chess Club/Brainer geeks”, who had staff who had been there themselves. Who did the gay kids have? Sure, they fit into other groups. Groups that probably still marginalized them, and staff who probably didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to them. Hell, I was in the Drama Club- that seeming safe haven for homosexuality. We had (that I know of) two closeted gay guys, one bi-curious (at least openly) guy, another who was lifestyle-queer(but swore he was totally straight) and a bunch of girls who made out with each other at parties. Pretty gay, right? Well the one guy who was closeted got called “Princess” by many of the members, and the other one quit after one year when it was apparent that we were just as hostile as the sports clubs. The bi-curious guy was one of my best friends- and I am ashamed to say that I occasionally chastised him for being a bit too “homo” in public. The other guy prided himself on being called gay- at least outwardly. I will tell you that our group was probably the most “gay friendly” you could get in high school. I will also tell you that I wouldn’t trade my hetero-privileged life for theirs. It was still a shitty time for them.
So to me, Bill 13 is very important legislation. Will it end bullying? Nope. Will it make high school easy? No. Will it give bullied kids a real avenue to address the daily torture they face? Yes. Will it give some much needed shelter to the queer community from the privilege of a hetero-centered and homophobic school system? Yes…and it should.
The public hearings on Bill 13 were a three-ring circus. There were accusations that Gay-Straight Alliances were “sex clubs”. People testified that schools would have forced GSA’s even if no students were interested- it was mandated.
Why would people be so ridiculously misinformed about this legislation? I’ll give you a guess…..
O.K., still not sure? Here’s a hint.
It’s a group. A group who has the word “Family” in their name. Are you surprised?
Go check out their site. It’s a real prize.
You Know How To Terrorize A Kid? Make Up Shit That Could Plausibly Be True- Tell Everyone, Repeat. How Do You Attack Anti-Bully Legislation? Do The Same…..
Here is a couple of tips for those who want to kill this bill.
- If you are going to write to your Liberal or NDP MPP to tell them how unbelievably horrible this legislation is, you might start by not using the epically ridiculous form e-mail offered by the Family Coalition Party. You know that MPP that you are writing? Yeah. About that. He/She has read the bill. She knows what it does and doesn’t say and do. Why does she know this? Because she read the fucking bill! Hell, she might have actually assisted in drafting it. Don’t piss on someone’s leg and tell them it’s raining.
- If you are going to testify before committee-and I’m dead serious here- read the bill! Know what it says. Know what it doesn’t say. Point out something clever, like the fact that a Staff Advisor may be required to oversee a GSA against their religious principles. Don’t make shit up. Don’t tell them that it is a sex club. Or that kids are going to be forced to join GSAs. Or that “gay kids don’t get bullied any more than other groups”. That’s patently false.
- If you are an opposition MPP, don’t write a letter telling people a whole gaggle of bald-faced lies and logically disjointed arguments in an effort to sway opinion. It makes you look even more ignorant when you are expected to know better.
- If you are the opposition Conservatives- for the love of all that is sacred in this universe- do not introduce a competing bill that has multiple clauses stating “this legislation means absolutely fuck all”. The point of legislation is to legislate something. As near as I can tell, Bill 14 only actually legislates “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week”. Everything else is just polite suggestions. For those who have better things to do with their lives than read Conservative toothless platitudes, let me sum it up in my revised preamble, then just click the link above and scroll to sections 303.1 (2), 303.2(5), and 303.2(7).
Bullying, particularly in schools, has become an increasing problem in Canada. Victims of bullying have suffered mental anguish, bodily injury and even death at the hands of their tormentors. We as a society must at least feign concern, or else people might say we are heartless.
Bullying is a problem we don’t really want to solve. It can leave children with painful emotional and mental scarring and a lifelong struggle with self-esteem- but it also teaches some good life lessons. Like what to expect under a Conservative Government.
Bullies suffer as well, since bullying may be indicative of deeper psychological and emotional problems. Children who bully more frequently experience psychological problems later in life, such as aggressive tendencies and occasional symptoms of depression. Childhood bullies often display the same types of behaviour as adults and are found to be more likely to harass co-workers or commit spousal, child or senior abuse. So why are you picking on the poor bullies? They are only carrying out the natural social order. It is in this spirit that we introduce this anti-bully legislation. As a Government, we must send an ambiguous but public message that bullying can go on as usual, but we kind of don’t really like it. School officials must have tools in place, other than themselves, that they can use to consider, then disregard if they find cumbersome or inconvenient.
We need anti-bullying legislation that is going to take steps to fix a problem that has been- and will continue to be- with us since we came down from the trees. No one is saying that Bill 13 is going to end bullying. It is going to put the burden on teachers and administrators to act and intervene. It is going to make it illegal to brush it aside as the natural order. It is going to allow students to be proactive in reaching out to fellow students who need a safety net. It is going to allow students to do something about the ignorance and misinformation that exists around a certain flavour of being different.
Bill 13 may be the warning shot in the battle to remove public funding of the Catholic School Board in Ontario- but it won’t be the Province that does them in. It will be themselves. It will be a group that benefited from a gift of synthetic privilege that can’t see the reason for helping their own marginalized students. It will be a Church that wants to be the piglet that insists on being fed well without ever having to walk to the trough.
In Ontario, from now on at least, schools will be places that aren’t endemically homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic. It will be there, for sure, but the ignorance and hatred will be swimming against a current of tolerance. I couldn’t be happier.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Many of my readers know that I have children. Some may not. In a comment thread over at Lousy Canuck, it was mentioned by more than one commenter that there was a dearth of atheists blogging about parenting and the intersection of parenthood and skepticism. At that moment it struck me- why do I never blog about fatherhood or the challenges and rewards of parenting?
I mean… in my life outside the internet, I am regularly accused of spending an inordinate amount of time talking about my kids. I excuse myself of it by explaining how very much of my time is actually spent with my kids- and how I might have very little to add to any conversation if you held “off limits” the majority of my waking hours for the last 12 or so years. Yet if you came to this blog and read every post without ever clicking the “about” tab, you likely would have no idea that I am the father of five (yep, you read that right, FIVE) kids.
I assumed that since many of my readers don’t have kids, and no other bloggers were really talking about parenting, that it was a subject that was of little importance in the skeptical community. I assumed that on a scale of relevance for the average atheist, children were ranked slightly higher than baseball scores but merely a fraction of LOL Kittens. It turns out that some people actually want to discuss parenting and children with like minded atheists. Huh. Who knew?
Now that I think about it, virtually every blog I frequent has some co- or sub-theme to atheism that I find less than interesting to me.
For example, Jeremy over at Cafe Witteveen (the first stop on my daily blog rounds) has many interests outside of atheism that I find fascinating- photography and cooking are a few examples. On the other hand, I tend to skip over Caturday posts and feel ambivalent about Wednesdog.
Likewise, when I visit Jason over at Lousy Canuck I enjoy his posts about old school Nintendo games and physics- but tend to avoid posts about Ubuntu or how to hack source code. At Dan’s blog, Camels With Hammers, I love all things philosophy and Star Wars but skip over some of his questionable music suggestions.
Anyway, you get the picture.
I have been running a pretty shallow blog for almost two years now. I never took the time to consider that maybe a blog is a place to do more than rant about how wrong someone else is on the internet. (Don’t worry, I’m still gonna do that) I’ve spent the last two years writing opinion pieces at the expense of really injecting myself into my blog.
So, as of today, that all changes. My blog is going to be anchored to atheism, devoted to skeptic and rational thought, and be about how I apply skepticism and atheism where the rubber meets the road.
I’m still ironing out the details. Do I use the names of my kids? (probably not) Do I change certain details to maintain some sense of privacy? (likely)
Expect posts that speak directly to my experience raising kids who are engaged, educated, and empathetic. Expect me to relate some anecdotes about raising my kids that tie into certain atheist related issues in the blogosphere. Expect me to talk frankly about the challenges of parenting as well as the infinite rewards.
I hope that this is going to lead to new readers- people who want to share their own experiences with parenting, people who want to learn from my mistakes, and people who want to point out those mistakes I’m not aware I’m making. I hope that this will get me back on track with a regular posting schedule- since now the most important thing that keeps me from regular blogging will be a topic of conversation.
I hope you are going to stay tuned.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )