The State of the Union

In my last post I explained the very serious problem that is the United States’ position on abortion. Unfortunately, there were a few other problems with Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address, too.

Just a few minutes into the address the President said, “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.” I see two issues there. One, it really is not up to us. It is actually up to Someone much bigger than “us”, whether you mean any of “us” individually or the collective “us”. Mr. Obama’s comment reminds of something we have probably all heard in commencement addresses, when the speaker tells the graduates, “You can be anything you want to be. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do.” Well, not really. We hear it all the time, but deep down we all know it is just not true. There are some things that, no matter how much we might want to, just will never be. It is at our own peril that we ignore the fact that God is big and we are small, that He is omnipotent and we most definitely are not, that He knows tomorrow and we usually have a hard time figuring out today.

The other problem I see with the “up to us” statement is that we do not know who “us” is. “Us” usually refers to the collective “we.” But “we” have made it clear time after time that we do not want homosexual marriage and we want very strict limitation on abortion. The courts, however, have not seemed to care in the least what matters to “us” in those instances. If by “us” President Obama means the elected officials who were sitting in the House chamber when he delivered that speech, we should all be very afraid.

I confess I do not know what he may have been referring to, but Mr. Obama also said that “we’ve seen…our deficits cut by two-thirds.” Really? What deficits might those be, pray tell? According to the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. national debt was $10 trillion at the end of the George W. Bush administration. It is now over $17 trillion. How might we have added $7 trillion dollars to the debt during Obama’s administration while simultaneously reducing the deficit? According to the Congressional Budget Office numbers, 2013 was the first year of the Obama administration in which the annual national debt increase was not higher than it had been in any previous administration. Even the 2013 increase was lower only than the last year of the Bush administration; it was still higher than the other seven Bush years. And while the total budget deficit did go down for three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013, the 2013 numbers were about half of the 2009 numbers, not one-third. These numbers are not difficult to find, Mr. President; why not just tell us the truth?

Mr. Obama played the clanging cymbal of the minimum wage increase during his address, too. He challenged the members of Congress to support a family on less than $15,000 a year if they are unwilling to raise the minimum wage. I have explained at length in this space before why a minimum wage increase is not the panacea those who support it seem to think it is, so I will not go into that here. Suffice it to say that the minimum wage is supposed to be exactly that–the minimum. No one should stay there indefinitely. Neither was it ever intended to provide for the support of a family.

Mr. Obama also commented that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” With all due respect, Mr. President, sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Paris with James Taylor to sing “You’ve Got a Friend” is probably not what the French people have in mind when they hear us say we “stand united” with them.

Despite all of the above, the most troubling thing about Barack Obama’s address other than his silence on the right to life was this gem: “And no challenge, no challenge, poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.” Really? The National Climactic Data Center does claim that 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since anyone started keeping records in 1880, but there are so many ways to spin this information it is not even funny. Ignore the fact that I do not think climate change is much of a problem at all; even if it is, is it really the greatest threat to future generations? I doubt it, though I suspect ISIS appreciates being overlooked.

It’s important to know what the President has to say. It is equally important, though, to check your facts. All may not be as it seems.

Pro-exploration is not anti-science

I know I really should not be surprised anymore, but for some reason it never ceases to amaze me how many people who claim that they believe in and stand for tolerance demonstrate anything but when someone on the other side of a position to which they hold suggests allowing for more open debate. The latest example is a proposed bill in Virginia that would allow students to explore “scientific controversies.”

Richard Bell, a Republican, represents Virginia’s 20th legislative district, and has introduced a bill calling for an amendment to Virginia’s science education policy. According to the bill, “[Faculty members] shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.” Anyone who claims to value tolerance and open discussion and the free exploration of ideas should welcome such a bill, right? Sadly, no. Evolutionists are already crying foul, claiming that the bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to introduce creationism into the public school.

While the bill includes language stating that these scientific discussions are not to promote or discriminate against any religious beliefs, the bill also states, “[Faculty shall not] prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes.” That means that teachers could freely discuss with students the merits of all scientific controversies–which would, of course, include evolution versus creation.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and the author of the blog Why Evolution is True. He took to his site to explain why the bill is all wrong and why the bill is really just an attack on evolution and “anthropogenic climate change” (that’s a fancy word meaning caused by humans). In the title of his entry Coyne calls the bill the “first antiscience bill of the year.” Tell me, though–how in the world can “encourag[ing] students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes” be anti-science? Is not this critical thinking and exploration of ideas and theories exactly what Coyne and others claim to want in schools and colleges?

Coyne goes on to state that while the bill makes it clear that “creationism and climate denialism” are to be “treated respectfully” because they are “differences of opinion,” “neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are ‘differences of opinion.’ They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely ‘opinions,’ they’re sorely misleading the students.” Coyne says that the only acceptable response to the suggestion of creationism is to tell the offending student that creationism and anthropogenic climate change (he insists on linking the two) are facts, not opinions. Furthermore, he says, “if necessary, one can explain why the opposing opinions aren’t supported by science. But there should be no ‘respect’ implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.”

Interesting… Coyne thinks it is fine to explain the data, theory and so-called facts supporting macroevolution to any student who has the audacity to question it. This seems to be exactly what Bell’s bill has in mind when it states, in Section C, that teachers are tasked with “helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” If evolution and anthropogenic climate change are the scientific facts that Coyne claims they are he should welcome the discussion and encourage it in classrooms. However, apparently he is comfortable only with presenting the support for evolution and anthropogenic climate change, and anyone stupid enough to question or challenge it does not even need to be treated with respect.

Bell, on the other hand, in an article on the Christian News Network, says, “[W]e’re not asking everyone to believe the same thing; we’re asking for teachers to be protected when they allow discussions about different opinions to take place.”

When someone has facts on his side he does not fear the questions or arguments of the other side. If Coyne is so confident that evolution is established scientific fact he should have no problem allowing the kinds of conversations Bell’s bill is encouraging. The reality is that Coyne is hiding fear behind his guise of scientific certainty; quite simply, he does not want students and teachers to be allowed to critique evolution because under examination it tends to crumble. Imagine if there were a group of people who insisted that two plus two was five. I cannot imagine any math teacher or professor, or even any politician, insisting that math teachers not be allowed to consider that argument in the classroom or to evaluate its merits. Any real mathematician would welcome the discussion, because there are so many ways to prove that two plus two is four that it would be a very short and lopsided conversation. The conversation about evolution goes quite differently because, despite Coyne’s assertion, evolution is not a scientific conclusion.

Coyne ends his blog post with this: “Shame on you, Virginia. If they wanted teachers to simply teach accepted science, they wouldn’t need to pass bills like this.” I would, with all due respect, counter with this…

Shame on you, Dr. Coyne. If you were truly interested in real education and in the testing of theories and hypotheses (as scientists are supposed to be) you would support, encourage and welcome the discussions this bill would protect.