February 11, 2006

Becoming the Stupidest Country on Earth

I would greatly prefer to be able to ignore the following kind of story entirely. Unfortunately, as the article notes, "millions of Americans find evolution preposterous. Polls consistently show that roughly half of Americans believe the biblical account instead." There is no way to phrase this politely, so I won't even try: I continue to find it absolutely astonishing that in the midst of life in America today -- a life made infinitely better than in the past by medical advances, by technological miracles, and by countless improvements of all kinds, all of which are the result of applied science, which means the application of reason, facts and logic to every aspect of our lives -- so many Americans are determined to remain pigheadedly ignorant.

And in addition to the zealous efforts of people like Ken Ham to increase the numbers of Americans who live in a state of anything but divine stupidity, these details reveal a very extreme form of psychological child abuse:
Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.

"Boys and girls," Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, "you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"

The children roared their assent.

"Sometimes people will answer, 'No, but you weren't there either,'" Ham told them. "Then you say, 'No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.'" He waved his Bible in the air.

"Who's the only one who's always been there?" Ham asked.

"God!" the boys and girls shouted.

"Who's the only one who knows everything?"


"So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?"

The children answered with a thundering: "God!"

A former high-school biology teacher, Ham travels the nation training children as young as 5 to challenge science orthodoxy. He doesn't engage in the political and legal fights that have erupted over the teaching of evolution. His strategy is more subtle: He aims to give people who trust the biblical account of creation the confidence to defend their views — aggressively.

He urges students to offer creationist critiques of their textbooks, parents to take on science museum docents, professionals to raise the subject with colleagues. If Ham has done his job well, his acolytes will ask enough pointed questions — and set forth enough persuasive arguments — to shake the doctrine of Darwin.

"We're going to arm you with Christian Patriot missiles," Ham, 54, recently told the 1,200 adults gathered at Calvary Temple here in northern New Jersey. It was a Friday night, the kickoff of a heavily advertised weekend conference sponsored by Ham's ministry, Answers in Genesis.

To a burst of applause, Ham exhorted: "Get out and change the world!"
With regard to the issue of child abuse, consider the following passage:
In two 90-minute workshops for children, Ham adopted a much lighter tone, mocking scientists who think birds evolved from dinosaurs ("if that were true, I'd be worried about my Thanksgiving turkey!").

He showed the children a photo of a fossilized hat found in a mine to prove it doesn't take millions of years to create ancient-looking artifacts. He pointed out cave drawings of a creature resembling a brachiosaur to make the case that man lived alongside dinosaurs after God created all the land animals on Day 6.

In a bit that brought the house down, Ham flashed a picture of a chimpanzee. "Did your grandfather look like this?" he demanded.

"Noooooo!" the children called.

"And did your grandmother look like that?" Ham displayed a photo of the same chimp wearing lipstick. The children erupted in giggles. "Noooooo!"

"We are not just an animal," Ham said. He had the children repeat that, their small voices rising in unison: "We are not just an animal. We are made in the image of God."

As the session ended, Nicole Ableson, 34, rounded up her four young children. "This shows your kids that there are other people who are out there who believe what you believe, and who have done the research," she said. "So they don't think 'This is just my parents believing in fairy tales.' "
When you reflect on the number of children who are raised in this kind of atmosphere -- where it is demanded that they obey and believe their parents and other authority figures like Ham, even when those adults are making them assent to the most offensive and crude nonsense -- it is not surprising that when those children become adults, they enthusiastically and willingly believe the most patently obvious lies offered to them by our political leaders. If the last several years have proved nothing else, they ought to have demonstrated that inexpressibly sad fact beyond all dispute. The pressures and the psychological mechanisms involved are the same, whether the individuals are children or adults. (These issues are discussed in more detail in the first part of my series on The Limits of Politics: The Roots of the Politics of Power, which I'll return to next week. As Alice Miller writes: "Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.")

I should note this as well, which shows that the work of Ham and those who believe as he does is having a serious impact:
Bills that would allow or require science teachers to mention alternatives to evolution have been introduced in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. State boards of education in Kansas and Ohio adopted guidelines that single out evolution for critique. The governor of Kentucky used his State of the Commonwealth address to encourage public schools to teach alternative theories of man's origins.
At this rate, the nation that represented one of the greatest achievements of Enlightenment values will, within several decades, become the stupidest country on earth.

The LA Times story has many more details, if you can bear to read them.