"Why are you afraid to answer the question?"
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Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 12:33:32 AM EST
Anderson Cooper on CNN this week had a program titled, "God, Faith and Hard Science." PZ Myers of the blog Pharyngula highlights the exchange in the program between Robert Boston of the Americans United For Separation of Church and State and Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council.
As Cooper commented at the end of the exchange, it was a "fascinating discussion."

But was Boston effective as he challenged Yoest? Is this a good way to publically engage leaders of the Christian Right?

The transcript:

COOPER: Well, the battle over what children should be taught in school has been raging for nearly a century now. The question is, is there room for compromise?

Joining us to talk about it is Robert Boston of the Americans United For Separation of Church and State, and Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council.

Appreciate both of you being with us.

Robert, let me start with you.

Polls show that nearly half the American believes that people didn't evolve from lower life-forms, but were created, in our present form, by God. If so many people think that, shouldn't we at least be discussing it in a science class?

ROBERT BOSTON, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Well, I think we need to look really not at what polls show, but what the scientific evidence shows.

We wouldn't want to teach something in the public schools that was factually incorrect, simply because some people believed it was so. So, we really have to look at the science. If you look at the scientific community, you don't see this great disparity in polls. You see most of the scientists backing the theory of evolution.

COOPER: Charmaine, what about that? Why should a science class be forced to -- to teach something which mainstream science says is simply not true?

CHARMAINE YOEST, VICE PRESIDENT FOR COMMUNICATIONS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, you know, mainstream science, throughout history, has been challenged by questions. And that's how we make advances in science, is being open to all different perspectives.

And that's all that we're calling for, is saying that, you know, have we gotten to a place in our culture where science has such an orthodoxy around Darwinian theory that we can't even question it, that we can't even look at some of the gaps in the theory, and ask, how can we do better and how can answer some of these questions?

That's all we're asking for, is an openness of dialogue and looking at all of the research.

COOPER: Robert, President Bush has suggested that this theory of intelligent design should be taught in public school classrooms. The idea is that kids should be able to make up their own minds; they should get different points of view.

Robert, what is wrong with that?

BOSTON: I disagree.

I think that there is a mechanism in science that allows for these views to be aired through peer-review journals. And the intelligent-design advocates...

YOEST: Well, sure.

BOSTON: ... have not been able to public any research that indicates...

YOEST: That's just not true.

BOSTON: ... their point of view.

Let me finish, Charmaine.

And one of the important things we need to remember, too, is that some of the ideas that groups would like to bring into our schools have been completely discredited, for example, the idea that the Earth is 10,000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. Scientifically, that's untenable.

Yet, that is what the creationists believe. And that is what, ultimately, I think they would like to bring into our classrooms.


COOPER: Charmaine, I mean, do you -- do you believe that dinosaurs walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? And, if so, is that the -- the basis of your argument?

YOEST: What we are looking at here is saying, there are legitimate scientific questions on the table. And it is not true that -- that there is a complete cohesiveness among scientists.

So, we're really, really seeing an amazing censorship of anything that questions Darwinism. And you see this kind of thing where, immediately, the minute you question Darwinism, people like Rob come up and say, oh, no, you're going to talk about God.

Well, you know, I think our children have more robust intelligence and -- and questioning to be able to cope with looking at all the different theories that are out there. I think it's -- I just have to ask, what is he so scared of?

COOPER: Robert, do you believe this is really about -- a debate about science, or is it a debate about religion?

BOSTON: Of course it's about religion.

And notice how she did not answer your question about the age of the Earth and dinosaurs and humans coexisting. I would guess that, if you took a survey of the members of the Family Research Council, you would find, overwhelmingly, they believe that the Earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs died because they were too big to fit on Noah's Ark, or that they existed alongside human beings, other pseudoscientific ideas that has been debunked time and time again.

YOEST: Hey -- hey, Rob...

BOSTON: Why would we want to bring this into the classroom, when there's absolutely no scientific evidence?


BOSTON: Charmaine, answer the question, yes or no. Age of the Earth?


YOEST: You are trying to confuse the issue of conflating...

BOSTON: Age of the Earth, answer the question.


YOEST: I am trying to answer the question.

BOSTON: How old is it?

YOEST: I'm trying to answer the question.

BOSTON: How old is it, Charmaine?


YOEST: I can't get a word in -- that you're trying to conflate creationism with intelligent design.

BOSTON: That's because you want...

YOEST: I'm saying that you should look at...

BOSTON: ... you want creationism in the classroom. Answer the question.

YOEST: I didn't say -- I didn't say that.

BOSTON: Ten thousand years or six billion?

YOEST: The only thing I have talked about is intelligent design.

BOSTON: Why are you afraid to answer the question?

YOEST: Why are you afraid of the fact that 90 percent of the American people do believe in God?

BOSTON: I know exactly what you want to do. You want to teach your book of Genesis as if it's some kind of literal, scientific truth, instead of maybe possibly metaphor or lots of other history. You want to bring it into science. It's not going to fly.

COOPER: Do you want your children -- Charmaine, do you want your children to be exposed to a belief which the scientific community has disproven? I'm not saying that they have disproven all of this. But, in certain cases, I mean, some things clearly...

YOEST: Sure.

COOPER: ... have been disproven.

YOEST: Sure.

COOPER: Things which have been clearly scientifically disproven, do you still want them taught?

YOEST: Well, absolutely. That would -- that would come in, in a history of science, in a philosophy of science.

That's why I'm saying, there's different kinds of classes. So, we're talking about kind of a broad array of things. Your kids need to know what opinions are out there and -- and -- and see what the evidence is, consider the evidence.


COOPER: So, for other subjects in a science class that people disagree on, but that have been disproven, the kids should be taught those as well?

YOEST: Sure.

COOPER: They should -- they should -- they should know that there are other people who disagree on... YOEST: Absolutely.

COOPER: ... just about every scientific issue?

YOEST: I'm not afraid of my kids knowing about any controversy that is out there, as long as you put the evidence on the table and consider what -- what the debate is. That's what education is all about, is having a vigorous debate.

COOPER: Charmaine Yoest, appreciate it, and Robert Boston as well.

BOSTON: Thank you.

COOPER: Fascinating discussion.

the Family Research Council, you can visit their blog at http://www.frcblog.com/

by Carlos on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 12:38:28 AM EST

is the man.

by Max Blumenthal on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 02:23:55 AM EST
Among other things, Yoest's position on "teaching the controversy" seems to imply that the Family Research Council advocates teaching Holocaust denial and Geocentrism in public schools.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 08:14:48 AM EST

when Yoest tried to evade the point with her own question about fear, she revealed what constitutes a key default position for fundamentalism:
Why are you afraid of the fact that 90 percent of the American people do believe in God?

While I think Boston was well within his right to brush aside this non sequitur - and certainly some kind of debate points were scored by his pressing the issue home - I think it might have better served the cause of light if someone had been present in the room to explain why Yoest's question was completely out of order.  Because there are millions of people out there who do not perceive that Yoest's question actually was beside the point.

I remember a conversation I had with a fellow worker which startled me when this same default position turned up.

Our familiarity had reached a point where  she had noticed my positive attitude toward  religion, and she brought up the Bible.  I felt comfortable enough with her to bring up a favorite gold mining metaphor, telling her that I thought maybe 80% of the Old Testament was dross, but 20% was pure gold.

She immediately came back with, "So you're an atheist, then?"

I was shocked at her inference, and I made an attempt to assure her that it was quite possible to believe in God and revelation without trying to pretend that the entire Bible is pure revelation from God.

Whether Boston has an ounce of faith or not I do not know.  But that was a good spot to get the frame in, and it wasn't mentioned.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 11:52:06 AM EST

Boston could have responded to Yoest by saying: Ok, so let's examine how many of the people who believe in God, actually believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago. Surely no more than 30-40% I would guess.

by Carlos on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 01:27:56 PM EST
Only 58% of Americans say they are "absolutely sure" God exists.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 03:24:06 PM EST

Well, I mean it kind of struck me funny that you thought it significant to whittle it down to "absolutely sure."

Absolute certainty doesn't leave any room for inspiration.  Or even faith.  If there's no room for doubt, there's no room for faith, in my opinion.  This whole matter is so different from predicting an eclipse.

If your whole point is just that - religion is not science - then we are in complete agreement.  But my point was, leave a little room for inspiration.

Did the Harris poll reveal the percentage of the other 42% of Americans who say they are "absolutely sure" God does not exist?

That group would have to be greater than 32% to establish that 90% of Americans are not open to the possibility.

But I grant you that Yoest is probably using a "favorite" poll, if that's what you're implying.


God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 06:25:11 PM EST

No, I got that wrong, obviously.

The absolutely sure NOT would only have to be greater than 10%.

As long as we're clear that's not the same thing as absolutely NOT sure.  :  )

So yep, Yoest's 90% is at least questionable.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 06:31:31 PM EST

Your suggestion is excellent, because if he had responded that way he was STILL on track to press home his point about her fear to answer - and to even greater effect, in my opinion.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 06:45:00 PM EST

that most people know very few if any of the Ten Commandments. Polls show that very few people can name who represents them in Congress, and when it comes to the state legislature... no math need be done.

The simple fact is that we do not do education by plebicite. By Yoests reasoning, we should not teach about Congress because most people cannot name their member of Congress.

On the other hand, whether or not most people believe in God (which God would that be, btw?), has nothing to do with whether intelligent design should be taught. A federal court has already found that ID was an idea invented by Phil Johnson explicitly to evade a Supreme Court prohibition on the teaching of creationism. The simple fact is that unless the religious right stacks the federal judiciary with theocrats, ID will not be taught in the public schools unless the school district wants to spend a million dollars to defend a losing lawsuit.

Teaching the controversy is not something they seriously want, because to do so, would be to show what a gang of charlatans they really are.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 07:03:50 PM EST

Surely the FRC must have a policy position on the subject.

Or else the FRC is wishy-washy.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 11:01:24 PM EST

But a lot of organizational spokespeople have to go out and wing it. I have had to do that myself on more than one occasion, speaking for organizations that did not necessarily have a clear policy on various matters, or if they did, I didn't know what it was.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 11:29:00 PM EST

We have to regularly address an abysmal lack of understanding or knowledge of science.  The dominionists are actually winning on that account.

In fear of fundamentalist backlash, many secondary and primary teachers will not even mention evolution.  Many also are fundamentalist themselves, so they plant seeds of falsehood and denial before the kids grow up or learn to think for themselves.  I've seen so many knee-jerk reactions against evolution that it is pathetic- and frightening.  Many of these people don't have a clue as to what they're talking about, yet they've been programmed to deny evolution at the first mention.  (I've been told to my face by one individual who said "I refuse to accept that I descended from monkeys!")  Even after my explanation, that person STILL stuck to their brainwashing, and I think because of fear and ethnocentrism.

Introductory science classes that have ANYTHING to do with biology often start with a lecture about evolution- and how it does NOT compete with religion (using various arguments).  Even then, these people often speak up afterwards, and we get called atheists and worse.  I've also seen numbers of students (in the big introductory classes) walk out when evolution is mentioned.

Add to that the jackleg preachers who rant and rave (and curse us) because we don't "teach the Bible" and education becomes an exercise in patience and even frustration.

Part of the solution is things like what was put on last year by my department- teaching the teachers about science and evolution- with a specific focus on science not being "anti-religion".

We also need to get out into the churches with the message that science is not anti-religion.  Yes, science DOES disprove some of the literal interpretations of the Bible (as well as of other "sacred texts"). Being able to speak in the churches may be difficult as the places where this message needs to be heard probably would not allow it to be spoken, however.

If we could put together an interesting primetime science show that showed how evolution is truth and that it is NOT anti-religion (and mass media could be kept from distorting or watering down the message), we could go far.  There have been a number of really far-out anti-evolution shows over the years, but nothing that I remember that speaks the truth clearly and openly.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 03:16:48 PM EST

First of all, Fred, Y isn't advocating not teaching something because it is not clearly understood but teaching more than is objectively credible.

But in all of this I rarely hear anyone advocating that we teach children such things as what a theory is, why some theories are more credible than others, what processes of reasoning underly various conclusions, etc.

None of this is all that complex or abstract.  My wife teaches first/second grade and they learn about inferences and 'guesses' etc. without a problem.

I don't want creationism taught in public schools, but I've found the most effective way to deal with such people is to agree that evolution is a theory as is creationism as is the belief that the world sprung from the forehead of Zeus.  Now let's examine the data that's available and see which theories are well supported.

And in all this we need to rigorously examine our own selves for irrational fearfulness.

by Don Niederfrank on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 10:10:34 PM EST

Here is what Y said:

BOSTON: ... you want creationism in the classroom. Answer the question.

YOEST: I didn't say -- I didn't say that.

BOSTON: Ten thousand years or six billion?

YOEST: The only thing I have talked about is intelligent design.

BOSTON: Why are you afraid to answer the question?

YOEST: Why are you afraid of the fact that 90 percent of the American people do believe in God?

So yes indeed, once we get into making policy acording to what alleged majorities do or do not believe; or alleged measures of popular opinion, we argue exactly as the FRC rep has done. If 90 percent of the people believe in God, therefore its justified to teach creationism or its phony alternative, ID. By thas standard, Don, whatever polling data prove or disprove become the criteria.

We hear this kind of reasoning from the religious right all the time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 10:29:38 PM EST

The basic starting point for me is to explain the scientific definitions and distinctions between the concepts of "theory" and "hypothesis". It disturbs me how many people don't remember or never learned this critical piece of information!

In the concrete sciences, theories are those ideas which can be proved true by evidence. Anybody who has taken plane geometry has had to write "proofs" of the theories that underlie geometry. Those proofs can be demonstrated (AB=BC=AC in an equilateral triangle) physically as well as in writing.

Hypotheses, on the other hand, are ideas which are based on observed data but that have not yet been proven or disproven. Darwin really didn't propose a theory of evolution; he hypothesized that evolution happened based on the data he collected; later generations of scientists confirmed his observations and added to them until the Theory of Evolution came to be the preeminent explanation of biodiversity and how we humans came to be.

Genesis just doesn't cut it as a scientific theory any way you look at it, starting with the tremendous disparities between chapters 1 and 2. There is no way to qualify the creation accounts in the Bible as scientific theory; creationism fails on every count.

However, as a spiritual metaphor, creationism does have legs. I personally prefer chapter 1 - but I'm a woman who believes that men and women are equally created in God's image spiritually.

by RevRuthUCC on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 12:34:00 AM EST

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