December 18, 2006

"This is extremely rare for a teacher to get this blatantly evangelical."

It's hard to believe, really:
Shortly after school began in September, the teacher [David Paszkiewicz] told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments....

In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates....

On the second day of taping, after the discussion veered from Moses’s education to free will, Matthew asked why a loving God would consign humans to hell, according to the recording.

Some of Matthew’s detractors say he set up his teacher by baiting him with religious questions. But Matthew, who was raised in the Ethical Culture Society, a humanist religious and educational group, said all of his comments were in response to something the teacher said....

Frank Viscuso, a Kearny resident, wrote in a letter to The Observer that “when a student is advised by his ‘attorney’ father to bait a teacher with questions about religion, and then records his answers and takes the story to 300 newspapers, that family isn’t ‘offended’ by what was said in the classroom — they’re simply looking for a payout and to make a name for themselves.” He called the teacher one of the town’s best.
What a bizarre story! The poor kid! Why on earth would a public school teacher think he could use the classroom this way?

Note that this happened, not in the deep South, but in New Jersey.

213 comments:

1 – 200 of 213   Newer›   Newest»
Simon said...

I'd probably want to know with greater clarity why the teacher was making these comments. The story concedes that the kid is recorded asking questions such as "why a loving God would consign humans to hell, according to the recording" (which the teacher's quoted statements in the second quoted paragraph are clearly in response to), so it's not clear that this is unprompted proselytization.

On the face of it, I share Viscuso's suspicions: this smells like a sting. If the story is accurate, how very convenient that the kid just happened to be the son of a secular humanist lawyer. I'd want to know if that's true, and if so, has the father previously litigated issues like this? Is he someone actively hostile to religion? The record is replete of examples where the left uses their children as a battering ram for their political causes: in recent memory, Michael Newdow and Cindy Sheehan spring to mind.

knoxgirl said...

how very convenient that the kid just happened to be the son of a secular humanist lawyer

Yes, I was on board til I got to that little factoid.

Dave said...

Well the difference between Sheehan and Newdow and this guy is Sheehan's kid was not a kid but rather an adult who willfully made the decision to serve in a capacity which capacity had the potential to end his life. Equating Sheehan's antics with Newdow's and this kid's father really isn't very instructive. She's not exploiting her kid to her own end. Competent adults can't be exploited by their parents in this manner.

Nick said...

Just from an educational perspective... what does any of that have to do with History, which is what this teacher was supposed to be teaching in the first place?

Simon said...

This, also, from the story: "Matthew [is] a thin, articulate 16-year-old with braces and a passion for politics." I don't think it takes much of a stretch to guess what kind of politics he subscribes to. What we've got here, by the terms of the story, is a teacher who has no previous record of this sort of thing, who suddenly -- out of the blue! -- decides to start evangelizing in class. And by nothing more than sheer coincidence, it just happens to be in the presence of a passionately political secular humanist (who, as even the NYT admits, was asking leading questions), who happens to have a tape recorder and father who could even litigate the matter. How extraordinarily convenient. Instant ACLU cause célèbre - just add outrage.

Come on - you have to admit that this story smells fishy.

Dave said...

"Matthew [is] a thin, articulate 16-year-old"

I've never met a 16 year old from the wealthy suburbs who is neither "thin" nor "articulate."

What I would like to see is an ill-spoken, obese teenager interested in politics. How symapthetic can a thin, articulate person be?

Simon said...

Dave said...
"[Sheehan]'s not exploiting her kid to her own end."

At the risk of going way off-topic, of course Sheehan is exploiting her kid, posthumously, to her own ends. She was actively anti-war long before her son's death, and she has cynically traded on her loss to advance her cause. That's what all this "peace mom" and "absolute moral authority" stuff is about - she is cloaking her cause in the mantle of her son's death. I suppose the principal difference here is that Casey Sheehan would probably be mortified by what his mother has done in his name, while in this case, the kid appears wilfully complicit.

Mike said...

If there were dinosaurs on the ark, where are they now?

SteveR said...

While I think the father/son team was wrong to bait the teacher, from what I can tell from the article, the teacher is most at fault.

First, a teacher can't take the bait, whatever the issue, and students will bait you.

Second, Christians are instructed not to be obstacles to another's salvation. To the extent the teacher believes what he said, he's making things worse.

Three, he's in a public school classroom.

Simon said...

SteveR said...
"Second, Christians are instructed not to be obstacles to another's salvation. To the extent the teacher believes what he said, he's making things worse."

Why do you conclude this?

Meade said...

Mike said...
If there were dinosaurs on the ark, where are they now?

On the Iraq Study Group

Anonymous said...

At the local high school, the team teachers "came out" as lesbians to the Chemistry class. How their sexuality is germane to the topic I don't know.

While espousing silly theology, one could make the argument that at least the bible and some of its theories have historical value. Although it doesn't sound like the teacher presented them in that context.

How free is speech in a classroom?

paul a'barge said...

Ok, so both the teacher and the kid and his parents are not very smart, in the case of the teacher, or very honorable, in the case of the kid and his parents.

Wouldn't it be great if we could fire the teacher and kick the kid out of school for the rest of his life? I'd be jiggy with that.

Note that this happened, not in the deep South, but in New Jersey

Read that 3 times and tell me that it doesn't reek of regional bigotry. Stereotypes, dean Althouse, stereotypes. The world is hardly as well-defined as we think.

Anonymous said...

they’re simply looking for a payout and to make a name for themselves.

That would be my guess too. I was a secular humanist kid in a high school with a very religious culture. It's easy to bait certain religious people, and it's pretty common for young atheists to make a sport of it.

The teacher shouldn't allow himself to be baited, but I doubt that it would truly take a lawsuit and news coverage to correct his behavior.

Incidentally, I was evangelized very often in school, but it would never have occurred to me to sue anyone over it. In fact, I did plenty of evangelizing myself for the other side of things.

Paddy O. said...

I would be offended by this teacher as a Christian. Not because he was evangelizing, though I find a lot of it boorish, but because he's not even teaching good Christianity.

If someone is going to get in trouble for crossing church-state boundaries, I'd at least like for them to have one side right.

Sounds like the kid was baiting, but that the teacher just was way too immature to be in the classroom to begin with.

reader_iam said...

This is a public school teacher, speaking in a public school in a classroom during class.

I don't care if he was baited or not. I don't care what the bait was. I don't even care about the motives of the baiter.

The teacher was absolutely and completely out of line.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

It is true we don't have full transcripts here. But this one excerpt alone, assuming it is an accurate transcript of a tape, is enough.

I'm shocked anyone here could excuse this.

At a bare minimum (and this is not my primary objection), this teacher is simply too stupid to be teaching anything in a public classroom, much less history, for cryin' out loud.

reader_iam said...

I do agree that the kid should have just gone complained before doing all that taping and attempted to resolve the situation that way.

Palladian said...

"If there were dinosaurs on the ark, where are they now?"

Jesus killed them, I suppose.

It's hard to be sympathetic to either party in this case, at least from what's presented in the news. But disregarding that, if the teacher said these things, he probably shouldn't be teaching. Why was he opining about evolution? Does it make a difference if he was expressing his personal views in answer to an inquiry about them, and made sure the students knew that he was expressing personal views?

Eric said...

Well played, Mike.

Stever’s right – this was in a public classroom. Doesn’t matter if the teacher was baited. You just can’t respond like that. If I was egging on my friend to rob a liquor store, and he did, and he used a defense that he never did anything like that before and I baited him, he’d still be culpable. This is awful behavior from a teacher and the guy should be fired, no questions asked.

Paul – stereotypes exists because there usually is a little truth to them (even if the truth is ugly). In this case, you can find overwhelming statistical evidence that the deep south is (relatively) deeply religious. Ergo, vis-à-vis, concordantly it is more likely to have this sort of thing happen.

And I hope someone knows the Ferrell reference.

Sean E said...

Teachers push their personal viewpoints on students all the time, whether it's religion, recylcing on the war in Iraq. Inappropriate, but hardly unusual enough to qualify for a story in the NYT.

Is there any reason the student or his father couldn't have approached the principal quietly and asked that the teacher be spoken to? Contacting newspapers and threatening lawsuits seems a little over the top.

SteveR said...

Telling people they are going to hell, is not effective evangalism, its just not. In that setting he's not folowing Paul "to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak"

Just my opinion based on 49 years in the church.

dick said...

BTW Kearny, NJ is hardly what one would call a wealthy suburb. It is on the fringes and is much like Newark, NJ and is about as blue collar as you can get and is loaded with trucking firms.

This whole story smells from both sides. I think that if the teacher did this he should be fired and I think that the kid and his father in setting up the whole situation really made it worse. I really wonder what affect this had on the rest of the class, but apparently that does not enter into the equation for either side.

The self-righteous religious ones and the equally or more so self-righteous secular humanists are a plague on the existence of the rest of the population and I really wish both sides would just stop it and get off their soap boxes. For the most part nobody is really buying their product and they are annoying in the extreme.

Verify word: nixoj - the first part should be applied to both sides in the article!!

reader_iam said...

If there were dinosaurs on the ark, where are they now?

Heh. Last year, during Sunday school, my then kindergartner asked if Adam and Eve came before or after the dinosaurs, since there were "no people when the dinosaurs roamed the earth."

Ya just gotta expect these things ... .

Fritz said...

This says it all: Matthew wrote: “I care about the future generation and I do not want Mr. Paszkiewicz to continue preaching to and poisoning students.”

What a fraud. It appears even in New Jersey they can smell a weasel in the room.

MadisonMan said...

Is there any reason the student or his father couldn't have approached the principal quietly and asked that the teacher be spoken to? Contacting newspapers and threatening lawsuits seems a little over the top.

Well, the story does say that that's what the 16-yo did: wrote a letter to school officials, and handed over the recordings, back in September. It's not clear to me from the article why the father is now considering a lawsuit in December.

I agree that any teacher that allows himself (or herself) to be baited like this should probably not be teaching in the public schools.

Ann Althouse said...

i_am: "I don't care if he was baited or not. I don't care what the bait was. I don't even care about the motives of the baiter. The teacher was absolutely and completely out of line."

Exactly.

neil said...

Anybody talking about 'bait' is just bending over backwards to excuse the teacher because they agree with his message. Guess what: It's part of a teacher's job description to maintain standards of education when children are trying to disrupt these standards.

I'm fairly amazed at people like simon, and knoxgirl. If your kid came home complaining that s/he never learned anything in one class because the teacher spent the whole time telling jokes, would you reason that it must be the fault of a class clown and rise to the defense of the teacher? Would it be impossible to interfere without being 'actively hostile to humor?'

Anonymous said...

Preaching at? Yes.

Poisoning? Come on! The teacher's speech was off topic, and he should have answered the child's questions outside of class. But poison? Who fears that kind of poison? Only a very frightened person.

Trey

Michael Farris said...

Way back in the 70's Florida high school students were required to take a course called "Americanism vs Communism". The teacher I had for that class spent a lot of class time talking about why Christianity is superior to other religions (an improvement actually on the rest of the course which turned most students into socialist sympathisers).

Certain things should not be part of a public school classroom. I'm happy to put the teachers' sex lives and religious ideas there.

There are many correct weasly responses to students trying to bait a teacher, most of which boil down to:
"I don't think my personal views on that question have much relevance to what we're trying to learn right now."

neil said...

tmink: So, you think it's more important for children to believe that preaching is not poison, than it is for teachers not to preach in class?

I don't believe you are speaking out of a concern for quality public education.

neil said...

By the way, I can imagine other reasons for kids to 'bait' this teacher besides getting him in trouble. I remember being in high school, and I remember the kids who would try to get certain teachers to go off on a tangent at the end of class, so they would forget to assign homework. It sounds like it's easy to get this guy to go off-topic, so I wouldn't be too surprised if Matthew witnessed some other children 'baiting' this teacher for their own reasons.

Mortimer Brezny said...

What I would like to see is an ill-spoken, obese teenager interested in politics. How symapthetic can a thin, articulate person be?

Hi, everybody! I'm Al Sharpton! But you can call me Tubbikins!Where the protest at?

Fritz said...

I enjoy the self righteous secularists demanding silence. It says more about the worry of the secularists, that they might be wrong. Suppose he was a Muslim teacher, the students asked him about the teachings of the Profit Mohammed? Our Constitution guarantees religious Liberty not tolerance. I thought we wanted our children to think for themselves? What this teacher said is harmless in comparison to the lessons taught in our schools about sexual behavior.

reader_iam said...

Fritz: It's not about silence. It's about time and place. And the excerpted statement is not in any way, shape or form phrased as teaching, in the school classroom context. It's prosyletizing.

I'd have the same problem with an answer regarding Islam phrased in the same manner.

I'm not secularist.

37921 said...

Tmink: I say that subrational beliefs such as those expressed by the teacher (dinosaurs on the ark, etc.) are poison.

the pooka said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Foston said...

Good for this kid.

Its a simple matter: teach church in church, Teach school at school.

As for the "fishy part"- he got caught on tape preaching. What more do you want?

No one gets it. What happens when a muslim does this? How bout a jew, or mormon?

That would all be "soooo terrible. OMG I can't believe it"

But when its a Christian - waaaaaay to many people are ok with it.

Just keep church in your church. Don't try and convert students in a public school which they are forced to attend.

His parents might have different beliefs - so be it. Let them have them. Keep to yourself, let your actions reflect your religion.

All the teachers supporters' gloss over the fact that in any other religion, they would consider this inappropriate.

DUH!

the pooka said...

What I would like to see is an ill-spoken, obese teenager interested in politics. How symapthetic can a thin, articulate person be?

Hi, everybody! I'm Rush Limbaugh! But you can call me Deafikins! Where the pharmacy at?

Eric said...

Frtiz - you've just lost all credibility with me after that last comment. How ignorant. You've undermined every point you've ever attempted to make.

Daryl Herbert said...

While espousing silly theology, one could make the argument that at least the bible and some of its theories have historical value.

The secular "hook" used to get the Bible taught in my school was for its literary value.

Excerpts were chosen--stories that are actually alluded to often enough in literature to matter even to secularists--and we read them, and did little book reports. It really was taught in a neutral way, the same as with other religious materials we'd run into in history class.

Daryl Herbert said...

Well, the story does say that that's what the 16-yo did: wrote a letter to school officials, and handed over the recordings, back in September. It's not clear to me from the article why the father is now considering a lawsuit in December.

Possibly because the teacher wasn't fired. Might not even have been disciplined. Might even have been told what Matthew did. Who knows? But the mere fact that he wasn't fired is a simple enough reason.

The thing that irks me is, if he hadn't made these recordings, no one would believe him. It certainly would not have gotten to the NYT. How else is a secularist supposed to enforce his (God-given?) Constitutional Rights? That's why he made the recordings.

Or is he an attention whore communist? If so, the proper way to deal with them is not Pinochet-style (death threats, social isolation, etc.) but simply to follow the Constitution well enough that they have nothing legitimate to complain about, so they just go around babbling about BushCo, his rich friends, 9/11 inside job, vegetarianism, global warming, etc. The worst thing we could possibly do is give lefties some legitimate civil rights violations to complain about.

Daryl Herbert said...

As far as "baiting" the teacher: I'm hoping you would have as much patience and sympathy for a Jesus-hating teacher who was "baited" into spending several class periods giving a long exposition about how bad Christianity is and historical crimes committed by Christians, because some religious kid interrupted her evolution lectures a few times with nutty objections. When you're ready to do that, we can talk about this.

Harry Eagar said...

In high school, my son had a teacher who spent most of his time speaking about his rather vague philosophy.

I took this as an opportunity to teach the only thing I ever learned in school myself, aside from touch typing, which is that whatever you do in life, you are going to have to get along with jerks.

No doubt I'd have felt differently if my son had been planning to be a doctor.

As for the defenders of the teacher, I have never in my life met a Christian evangelist who understood that he is being a jerk, not a saint, to people who don't wish to be evangelized. Anything bad that happens to evangelists, like getting sued by ax-grinding antievangelists, is their own fault.

Elizabeth said...

I'm amazed how quickly this turned to blaming the kid. There's just no such thing as accountability among conservatives. The nefarious liberal made him do it!

Even if the kid did bait the teacher, kids do all sorts of things to turn a class from its subject. Any decent teacher knows how to avoid those tangents.

This teacher had to have already signalled his willingness to use the class as a platform for spreading the gospel for this kid to be aware of his baitibility.

When the kid brought this up to the school board, the evangelizing teacher lied and said he'd never talked about religion in class. Only then did the kid whip out the recordings.

neil said...

When the kid brought this up to the school board, the evangelizing teacher lied and said he'd never talked about religion in class.

See what happens when you don't display the Ten Commandments in public buildings? How was the teacher supposed to know that bearing false witness is a sin?

Dave said...

This type of stuff is like sex. Except it should be kept in church, not the bedroom.

Leave your religion out of my education and I'll leave my education out of your bedroom.

Better yet: kill public education and invest your property taxes in the stock market.

Then you can fund all the private religious schools your foolish heart desires.

But this dude is way out of line.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed how quickly this turned to blaming the kid.

I'm not seeing all that much of that myself, Elizabeth. I thought there was a pretty good split between "a pox on both your houses" and the teacher was wrong comments, but maybe because those resonated with me.

Reader_iam sums it up for me:

I don't care if he was baited or not. I don't care what the bait was. I don't even care about the motives of the baiter.

The teacher was absolutely and completely out of line.

As for the kid, he's undoubtedly a chip off the old block. A Master baiter, as it were.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I didn't make an automatic presumption that this happened in the Deep South (or Utah), so I was not at all surprised when it turned out to be a New Jersey story.

(I was sorely tempted to start this comment out with "Oh, I almost forgot...." But I didn't forget ;-)

Fritz said...

Local Paper letter from the father

Joseph Hovsep said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Hovsep said...

daryl: As far as "baiting" the teacher: I'm hoping you would have as much patience and sympathy for a Jesus-hating teacher who was "baited" into spending several class periods giving a long exposition about how bad Christianity is and historical crimes committed by Christians, because some religious kid interrupted her evolution lectures a few times with nutty objections. When you're ready to do that, we can talk about this.

This liberal, secular, hell-destined agnostic would treat the teacher you described the same way. A public school teacher should not be using his or her position to promote or attack Christianity. There's no reason a biology teacher responding to a student's objections to the theory of evolution would need to attack Christianity or opine on religion at all. Whether the "baiting" is coming from an evangelical Christian student or an evangelical atheist student, the teacher's response should be the same: "This forum is for history/science, not religion. Period." Even where the baiting questions are topical or arguably relevant, there's no reason the teacher's response should reveal his or her personal approval or disapproval of religion.

I'm offended that so many conservative commenters here are defending this teacher, the authority figure who so clearly acted wrongly, and attacking a 16-year old kid who, at worst, asked leading questions to which no public school teacher should have responded in the way this teacher responded. If a student propositions an unsuspecting teacher, is that a defense when the teacher has sex with the student? What happened to the conservative value placed on personal responsibility and ethics?

Elizabeth said...

Internet Ronin: I agree, reader iam nails it.

AlaskaJack said...

It is difficult to judge this situation unless we know exactly what the student's question were. For example, suppose one of his questions was this: "Mr. Paszkiewicz, I have heard that there are certain Christain sects in American history that think that if you reject Jesus you will go to hell. Is this true? And how do they justify such a weird belief?"

Ans. Yes that is true. These groups take the position that "if your reject his gift of salvation..." They say that "He did everything in his power ..."

Until we know exactly what the student's questions were, word for word, it is unfair and unreasonable to make a judgment about the edited responses of the teacher.

Joseph Hovsep said...

alaskajack: Check out the letter written by the student's father that Fritz provided a link to above.

You can also find a cleaned-up version of the recordings here, some more recordings here, and a partial transcripts here and here and here. The Kearny Observer also includes numerous transcripts from Paszkiewicz's classes based on LaClair's recordings.

Synova said...

Not excusing the teacher... he really should have a standard "my opinion on that is not relevant" response to those questions. Asked if he believes in Christ his religion absolutely requires him to publically confess, which must be considered his constitutional right, but it doesn't require him to describe doctrine.

But, and I do mean but, what about anti-religious or political ramblings from teachers in classrooms? This really is the central problem of the concept of State provided education. All education involves indoctrination in ideology, facts without context provide nothing at all. And so what about teachers with an agenda? What about the ones with the holy calling to reduce the population? Is it really okay that kids graduate school with the idea that human beings are a blight on the world? What about the teachers who teach science as an anti-religion?

Is it all okay just so long as what the teacher is preaching isn't technically a "religion?" Students are expected to hold their own against the indoctrination of teachers in the classroom. It's actually expressed as being good for them. Unless it's religion, and then it's a special case, abusive and horrible?

I think that public education involves an implied endorsement to whatever the teachers preach, which is why people get bent out of shape when a teacher mentions God. But it implies that same endorsement to everything else too. Inadequate and stupid History and Civics education (a clear conflict of interest for the State to teach at all) and sex education and environmental awareness eco-religion and anything else. A teacher preaches about the evils of capitalism and there is an endorsement implied, an implied approval and an implied authority, that experts must agree and the message be approved because it happens in a public school.

Same as with religion and just as bad.

The kid and his dad? Everyone has to "tolerate" and endure the annoying prosletizing of their teachers on one subject or another. It's predictable that the student will be seen as a tattler and whiner when the reaction of most other students is going to be annoyance that *they* have to put up with it so why does this kid think he's so special.

Sean said...

I agree that the teacher was out of line, but I'm hardly surprised. When I was at Yale, one of our professors told us that "B.C.E." stood for "before the common error." If Prof. Althouse is suggesting that no professor at her public university would say such a thing, I can only say that I don't believe it.

SteveR said...

Joseph, I'm a conservative who thinks the teacher was wrong and I am a Christian who thinks the teacher was wrong. And I am here.

Paddy O. said...

I'm offended that so many conservative commenters here are defending this teacher,

I'm offended that you didn't read through the comments before you made this claim, as no one is defending the teacher.

Icepick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Synova said...

"After repeatedly avoiding my question, he finally told me that I am not entitled to know what goes on in my son's classroom."

From Fritz' linked letter.

Just wanted to say... Christians hear this all the time. Anyone who wants to object to classroom content hears this all the time. I've heard more than one teacher on internet forums make this statement in all sincerity. I've seen (older) public television programs on education make this same claim.

I don't know why the gentleman wasn't expecting this response.

Icepick said...

Okay, if the teacher was so much of an idiot that the student could bait him into making these kinds of statements in class then the teacher is an incompetent fool who needs to be removed from the classroom just in case stupidity is contagious.

Still, this story sounds all too believable to me. From my own blog (if I may pimp):

But Sixth Grade was where it really all came together for me. I got lucky and landed in Mrs. Noname's class. And there is NO WAY I will mention this name. Mrs. Noname was a trip. She was in her fifties, dedicated to her job, patriotic and religious. And an evil sadistic bitch, too. Every year she would pick one or two students to make an example of. I was lucky to be the Chosen One that year.

...

But so far, all I've done is talk about ostracizing people. That's kind of vague, so let me tell you a couple of stories.

I mentioned she was religious. Very much of the Protestant Christian faith. We had a couple of boys in the class who were the sons of a pair of local ministers. Every two or three weeks, as part of an assignment, they would get up and give sermons. Mind you, this is a public school! It was very clear that you'd better toe the line, or burn in Hell. The religious stuff went on constantly, and it was quite oppressive.

But my favorite story concerns geography lessons. We got lots of geography lessons. We'd learn about rivers and mountain ranges, languages and political systems, where the cities were placed, what types of industry and agriculture were practiced, etc. We focused predominantly on the Eurasian land mass. This was the admonishment were were given: "Someday, some of you boys will be in the Air Force. You may have to drop nuclear weapons on Soviet cities. But your planes won't have enough fuel to get you back to the US, so you'll have to bail out and make your way home on foot, avoiding capture. So you really need to know this stuff!"

We got this and similar stuff on a daily basis. Welcome to Sixth Grade. Now here's your M-16 and your marching orders! Make sure to bayonet the corpses because those Commies are tricky and may pretend to be dead to kill you from behind....

The whole year was like this. Every damn topic was about God and Country, and the need to blow up our enemies.


The student's story may have problems, but it's certainly plausible, and he does have evidence. Advantage: Student, even if he is an evil secular humanist lawyer-spawn.

Sorry for the lack of pithiness, Professor Althouse.

Joseph Hovsep said...

synova: Same as with religion and just as bad.

No, not the same. There are lots of problems with public education, lots of badly-designed cirricula, ill-informed ideology seeping into textbooks, bad teachers, etc. In fact, I personally think 12-13 years of this kind of lame classroom education may be making kids dumber than they would be if they were encouraged to go out and spend most of their time exploring the world rather than sitting in rows 6-7 hours a day pretending to learn science and math and civics.

But religion is different, its too deeply and integrally a part of the individual, and it should be treated as something very much separate from the state in a diverse society, not to be promoted or discouraged by public school teachers.

Fritz said...

Go listen to the Lecture tape. He was talking about populism, how education has changed in history. The topic of faith was about scientific fact that can be reproduced and creationism and evolution which both rely on faith. He engaged his students, even this kid made great arguments, he was complemented. The teacher even wanted the other students to pay attention to Matthew's explanation. He said that they had moved off topic and asked if the students cared. What he was talking about was totally appropriate. He used religious faith, something he is an expert on.

Simon said...

SteveR said...
"Telling people they are going to hell, is not effective evangalism, its just not. In that setting he's not folowing Paul to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak'."

I don't disagree, at face value, but I argue that you are conceding the premise that the teacher was evangelizing. And I'm not so sure that that's correct. The story says that the teacher told the class:

"If you reject [Jesus'] gift of salvation, then you know where you belong ... He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell."

However, by the NYT's own admission:

"On the second day of taping, after the discussion veered from Moses’s education to free will, Matthew asked why a loving God would consign humans to hell, according to the recording."

Clearly, we can't know without the tape, but what is the basis for giving the kid the benefit of the doubt? My supposition is that the quote from the teacher above was not evangelizing, but answering the question that the kid asked. When the cops do this, it's called entrapment.

Anonymous said...

Anybody talking about 'bait' is just bending over backwards to excuse the teacher because they agree with his message.

Just thought I should point out: I'm talking about bait, and I don't agree with the teacher's message. A while back I also adamantly defended the teacher who burned the flag in class as part of a lesson.

I had teachers say all sorts of wacky things in classes. This teacher, however, went well over the line and should have been corrected. My beef is with the idea that this requires a lawsuit.

Simon said...

I wonder what the people attacking the teacher think of this. Naturally, they will condemn this teacher as well, I suppose?

Shanna said...

Note that this happened, not in the deep South, but in New Jersey
Read that 3 times and tell me that it doesn't reek of regional bigotry.

We in the south are used to it.
Anybody talking about 'bait' is just bending over backwards to excuse the teacher because they agree with his message.
Not necessarily. I don’t think the teacher should have acted that way-he said some very stupid things, but the fact that the kid was basically entrapping the teacher is not exactly making me feel sympathetic towards him. Plus, these are high school students not teeny tiny children. They should be able to give a take a bit.

Anonymous said...

I had a teacher tell me that "if" and "when" were verbs. I had a teacher tell me that she was an extraterrestrial who came to Earth on a comet from the Ort Cloud (seriously). I had a teacher tell me that science had proved true the story of Noah's ark. I had a teacher tell me that Christianity and capitalism were the roots of all evil the world. I had a teacher tell me that she liked to put cats in her shirt.

I could go on and on, and each of those statements came from a different teacher. Some teachers say bizarre things. I wouldn't advocate suing or firing them all.

NSC said...

i_am: "I don't care if he was baited or not. I don't care what the bait was. I don't even care about the motives of the baiter. The teacher was absolutely and completely out of line."

Exactly.


I love it when an attorney argues against the entrapment defense - he he.

Shanna said...

"B.C.E." stood for "before the common error."

Ha! I guess they are using BCE (before the common era) not instead of BC and is it AC for the later? It sounds odd to me since I am so used to BC/AD, but the history channel doesn't use those terms anymore.

On topic? Teacher like to push their views on students. Alot.

Anonymous said...

is it AC for the later?

It's BCE for BC and CE for AD.

Joseph Hovsep said...

I've been looking at some of the written transcripts based on the recordings. The class discussions are interesting and engaging and the teacher is obviously a pretty smart guy and appears somewhat sensitive to students' diverse religious perspectives (e.g., he says doesn't want to talk about purgatory because he doesn't believe in it but he knows some students do). I'm sure the kids were genuinely interested and if the teacher was "baited" it was not by LaClair alone. I can see how the teacher got drawn gradually deeper and deeper into the discussion of his faith. The problem is, he uses lots of class time engaging in a debate over what is really Bible study. If it were a class discussion in which students brought up Biblical arguments in discussing the topic at hand (apparently populism), and the teacher remained neutral, then I'd say its fine, but this teacher goes on and on at length about his personal religious views, which is clearly wrong. I wanted to cut and paste a section of the transcript, but the discussion is a back-and-forth between the teacher and lots of students, and its hard to excerpt it without missing a key question-before or answer-before.

http://www.dranger.com/classtranscript.html

SteveR said...

Simon, I guess my basic point is this. There were probably kids in that classroom of uncertain religious status (for lack of a better phrase). Whether it was his intent to evangelize or not, he did not represent Christianity very well and likely turned people off.

Teenagers don't think much about dying and whether they will "go to hell" or not. There are plenty of benefits to being a Christian that come about from day one and can grow and grow.

If you don't see the love of God reflected in some one (in this case the teacher) but instead just see judgement, I just think that's a bad example.

Joseph Hovsep said...

High school kids asking a teacher religious questions to which the teacher responds with a long explanations of his personal religious beliefs is NOT entrapment. Someone with Simon's obviously impressive understanding of the law should not raise such a specious argument.

Fritz said...

I don't think the student was baiting him, mocking seems more like it. The secular progressives do not want people to think or reason about religion. This cherry picked out of context story is garbage and why the community is rallying around this teacher. God is dead, global warming will lead to catasthropy , that is the unquestionable dogma of the left. This is the type of indoctrination he was referring to. You can not draw conclusions from the text, it has to be listened to.

Anonymous said...

If there had been a camera recording the classroom, I bet the teacher wouldn't have played tent evangelist.

Shanna said...

It's BCE for BC and CE for AD.

Ah, right. I had forgotten. It's hard to put aside all that elementary school BC/AD education.

Also, oddly hard to forget? Kingdom/phylum/class/order/family/genus/species. Why can I not forget that, of all things?

Shanna said...

High school kids asking a teacher religious questions to which the teacher responds with a long explanations of his personal religious beliefs is NOT entrapment.

According to the definition: Is it entrapment in the sense that it would be a defense in court? No, I see that you have to be a government official for it to count. But I think it fits one of the other definitions:

1.To catch in or as if in a trap.
2. To lure into danger, difficulty, or a compromising situation.

The kid brought a tape recorder and tried to coax his teacher into making these statements.

The Jerk said...

My supposition is that the quote from the teacher above was not evangelizing, but answering the question that the kid asked. When the cops do this, it's called entrapment.

No, it's called "questioning."

NSC said...

My little joke about entrapment was just that - a joke. I don't think "entrapment" remotely applies here since the teacher was evidently already talking about this stuff when the kid started asking questions and taping him.

Granted I think it was kinda slimey on the kid's part to do it - especially since I figure his dad hatched this little plot for some money and not due to any real offense - but this teacher showed a remarkable ignorance of the way the world works if he thought he could get away with talking about religion in a class. Gay sex, yes (or any kind of sex for that matter); religion, no.

Anonymous said...

The teacher clearly made some over-the-top comments; the question is, were they in answer to a student's question, or were they simple proselytizing? I'm not sufficiently interested to listen to the recordings to find out.

What struck me, in reading the father's letter -- now there's an example of extreme lack of pith -- is the timing of how this all played out.

The offensive lectures took place over the week of Sept 11. On Sept 25, two weeks later, the kid complained. Why did it take two weeks? The very first day my kid comes home from school telling me "my teacher said I'm going to burn in hell," I'll be on the phone to the principal, asking for a meeting.

It is beyond weird that instead of complaining about this problem -- and it is a problem -- right away, the kid and his parents let it marinate for a couple of weeks and then brought it up. And instead of telling the kid to make a note of further idiocies and letting them go unremarked, apparently this kid was coached to prolong the offensive discussions in the hopes of provoking even more outrageous remarks.

This should've been over after the very first day it happened, instead they chose to spin it out into something much larger. It's not a choice I would make.

Anthony said...

I remain far less convinced than our dear host on this one. The article just plain doesn't give enough info on the context of the quotes to make that sort of determination.

And reading some of the transcripts joseph hovsep provided, it seems a lot less innocuous than that article makes it appear. And perfectly in line with what the NY Times and most of its readers want to think about it.

Pogo said...

The teacher was a bonehead, for alot of reasons. Man, this was bag-of-hammers stupid.
Student and his Dad are a coupla boneheads, too, primarily for dropping the lawsuit bomb here. Wusses.

Their cause is a reasonable one; I do not disagree. But look down the road apiece.

Now we can be sure that more and more students will adopt an adversarial approach in class, making recordings (and snippets of recordings) that will end up on the internet, and being second-guessed by me, some idjit in Minnesota.

Who needs it?
And who do you think will see the writing on the wall, and seek a less punitive job? The poor-quality teachers, or the better one?

If it were my classroom, I'd make it an expellable offense to record without written permission. I'm an MD, and have had people secretly tape me in our consultations. Where does it end up? Who "owns" the conversation? Why should I trust anyone who does that?

If you think a conference or classroom won't be fundamentally changed when people cannot speak freely, you're wrong.

Harry Eagar said...

Synova asks: 'what about anti-religious or political ramblings from teachers in classrooms?'

Neither should occur, and as far as I know, the first never does.

Not in any of the public schools my children went to.

Synova said...

synova: Same as with religion and just as bad.

joseph hovsep: No, not the same. There are lots of problems with public education, lots of badly-designed cirricula, ill-informed ideology seeping into textbooks, bad teachers, etc. (...)

But religion is different, its too deeply and integrally a part of the individual, and it should be treated as something very much separate from the state in a diverse society, not to be promoted or discouraged by public school teachers.

Me: No, it's not different. Or it *is* somehow seen as bad if it's "religion" and quite all right if it's "not religion." But that is an error.

Ideology is ideology and it is, if it involves a god or not, worship or not, "deeply and integrally a part of the individual."

Most people who believe in a religion recognize the religious nature of "non-religious" indoctrination and belief and ideology. I can't say how many times someone has made the argument that if it doesn't include a god a person *can't* be religious about it... whatever it is.

Ideology is a belief system that we use to filter and understand the world we live in. A god isn't at all necessary for someone to have a belief system, a world view they hold on faith rather than on facts. Non-deists are only deluding themselves about this.

The indoctrination, the preaching, and the fact that it's inappropriate is the same if the teacher doing it is talking about a god or about poverty. Or about population. The results are a dire, or more so, since we recognize religions with gods in them and ignore religions without gods.

Students at least know when a conversation turns religious when the teacher starts to talk about Jesus. Other ideology isn't so evident and may well be thought to have some basis in objective fact because it is presented as science or objective truth.

Which teacher will convince more students they have reason and rationality on their side... the one who talks about Jesus or the one who promotes the failed predictions of Malthus? Which belief system is more likely to directly impact life choices and votes on government policy?

Synova said...

Synova asks: 'what about anti-religious or political ramblings from teachers in classrooms?'

harry: "Neither should occur, and as far as I know, the first never does."

You're kidding.

Seriously.

Anonymous said...

If it were my classroom, I'd make it an expellable offense to record without written permission.

I'm the reverse; as a teacher, I would have been happy to have video and audio recording all the time. It would have allowed me to show parents exactly what their little darlings did in a given situation. And it would allow me to prove that a kid's false accusation was really false.

knoxgirl said...

Meade I'm LOL at your dinosaur comment

Pogo said...

Re: "...as a teacher, I would have been happy to have video and audio recording... ...show parents exactly what their little darlings did..."

It's the flip side of my point. The 'you're being watched' approach is monstrous; it exemplifies how uncivil our behavior has become, how far we've fallen from the notion of tolerance.

I see schools, like cops, taping things just for their own protection. Little prisons, everywhere; what a pathetic little world we've contructed.

knoxgirl said...

If the teacher actually said those things, of course he's a dolt and should be reprimanded, if not fired. But I think the source of the transcript is suspect.

Freeman compared her "evangelizing" as an atheist to that of the zealously religious. I think in this day and age, that is a very apt comparison. It is as believable to me that the student is on a mission to railroad the teacher as it is to believe that the teacher actually said those things.

I repeat: If the teacher is indeed guilty of preaching in the classroom, he should be reprimanded or fired. But I withold judgment until all the facts are out.

Anonymous said...

Heard the entire audio and followed the transcript at the same time (btw, the transcript has a few mistakes).

The tone of the text come off totally different when quoted as it is in the news article.

It was an ordnary class discussion on freewill.

The only mistake that could be attributed to the teacher is letting the student lead the discussion.

Knowing that the student planned to ask his final question and was recording all of this, and listening the long list of questions that the student had to ask to get the teacher to say what he wanted to record the teacher saying, I can fully understand why the majority is on the teachers side.

The student set up the whole thing, there is nothing to blame the teacher for. The student started digging the teacher about his beliefs and the teacher merely states what he believes.

Is it a punishable act to believe that evolution is a theory that cannot be prooved and to say so when you are asked??

Anonymous said...

Heard the entire audio and followed the transcript at the same time (btw, the transcript has a few mistakes).

The tone of the text come off totally different when quoted as it is in the news article.

It was an ordnary class discussion on freewill.

The only mistake that could be attributed to the teacher is letting the student lead the discussion.

Knowing that the student planned to ask his final question and was recording all of this, and listening the long list of questions that the student had to ask to get the teacher to say what he wanted to record the teacher saying, I can fully understand why the majority is on the teachers side.

The student set up the whole thing, there is nothing to blame the teacher for. The student started digging the teacher about his beliefs and the teacher merely states what he believes.

Is it a punishable act to believe that evolution is a theory that cannot be prooved and to say so when you are asked??

Mortimer Brezny said...

After reading the transcript, I have a few problems with the teacher's presentation. The interesting issues of philosophy of science and historiography of the Bible are not presented in a fashion relevant to what the teacher is supposed to teach the children. The teacher does not present varying viewpoints but instead takes his own position and advocates it. An insufficient number of students are actively involved for it to be a discussion as opposed to a sermon. The teacher is openly disdainful of science and the pursuit of natural knowledge. At one point he calls a student "indoctrinated" because he accepts evolution as contingently true. I do not find the teacher's viewpoint ridiculous, but he should have stuck to teaching History.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"And by nothing more than sheer coincidence, it just happens to be in the presence of a passionately political secular humanist (who, as even the NYT admits, was asking leading questions), who happens to have a tape recorder and father who could even litigate the matter."

Yes, it would have been so much better if this teacher would have had only fragile young minds in his class that he could corrupt with his nonsense. It's totally the fault of the smart kid that challenged him.

The Exalted said...

yea, i'm sure this attorney and his kid schemed to "set up" the proselytizing teacher for "the big pay day"

that makes a lot more sense than some other crazy theory, like, i dont know, maybe that they're now "considering" a lawsuit b/c the teacher lied about it, no action has been taken, and now the kid is public enemy #1 and the family is po'd as hell about it

NSC said...

"It's totally the fault of the smart kid that challenged him."

Is he smart only because he challenged him? Does that mean the kids who either weren't offended by, or, Heaven forbid, actually enjoyed the discussion, are not smart?

And actually, it doesn't appear he challenged him - he seems to have just engaged him and then taped him so that he could get the goods on him. Perhaps if he had engaged him they teacher would have modified his teaching.

Anonymous said...

Neil wrote "tmink: So, you think it's more important for children to believe that preaching is not poison, than it is for teachers not to preach in class?

I don't believe you are speaking out of a concern for quality public education."

First, sorry it took me so long to respond. Second, perhaps I misspoke. Preaching is not appropriate in the classroom under most circumstances I can think of. But what I read that the person (inappropriately) preached was far from poison.

Poisonous speech tends to invoke murder and martyrdom. Or it is despicably racist. The speech I read was appropriate for a house of worship, but not for secular classrooms.

And I do value quality public education. What made it seem as if I do not?

Trey

DNR Mom said...

Just as it should be the US government, not a religion, so should the classroom be a school, not a religion.

Anon Y. Mous said...

Palladian: "But disregarding that, if the teacher said these things, he probably shouldn't be teaching. Why was he opining about evolution?"

He should have kept his religious views to himself, but, why shouldn't he opine on the topic of evolution? The classroom is the perfect place to discuss scientific theories. And that's what the Theory of Evolution is, a theory.

Revenant said...

Suppose he was a Muslim teacher, the students asked him about the teachings of the Profit Mohammed?

If he'd been indoctrinating his students with fundamentalist Islamic ideas you and Simon would be the first to demand that he be fired. But because he was wasting class time on Christian bullshit instead of Muslim bullshit you're lining up to kiss his ass.

I especially love how several of you Christians (such as knoxgirl) initially felt that the teacher's behavior was over the line until you found out the person complaining was a non-Christian. Apparently only Christians are allowed to complain about Christian excesses.

Revenant said...

The classroom is the perfect place to discuss scientific theories.

A history classroom is a lousy place to discuss theories in biology, unless you're simply discussing their impact on history. In any case, the teacher's position makes it obvious that he doesn't understand the theory well enough to hold and intelligent discussion about it -- "dinosaurs on the Ark" indeed!

And that's what the Theory of Evolution is, a theory.

The theory that the earth isn't flat is also just a theory. That doesn't mean we should seriously entertain the idea that it IS flat in our geography classes.

Anon Y. Mous said...

Pogo: "If it were my classroom, I'd make it an expellable offense to record without written permission. I'm an MD, and have had people secretly tape me in our consultations. Where does it end up? Who "owns" the conversation? Why should I trust anyone who does that?

If you think a conference or classroom won't be fundamentally changed when people cannot speak freely, you're wrong."


I disagree. I had a professor who would record all his classes (audio only), and then post the .mp3 on his website for download (access limited, students only). At first, it was a little intimidating to be recorded during discussions, but that wore off over time.

As long as the taping is not surreptitious (a big if), it seems to me that if you are in a professional setting, you shouldn't have a problem with being taped. After all, what do you have to hide?

Anon Y. Mous said...

Revenant: "A history classroom is a lousy place to discuss theories in biology, unless you're simply discussing their impact on history."

Here's a newsflash for you: teachers sometimes get involved in discussions beyond the scope of the class they are teaching. There's nothing wrong with that.

"The theory that the earth isn't flat is also just a theory."

No, it's no longer just a theory. It has been proven. Big difference.

downtownlad said...

The teacher never said "I happen to believe this, but you might disagree". He said the following:

"If you reject that, you belong in hell."

Wow. That's a nice thing to tell a class of impressionable sixth graders.

I don't see how you can spin that. But looks like many people are trying.

Synova said...

Revenant,

I don't believe that anyone ever for even the smallest moment in time entertained the notion that the complaining student was a Christian. The idea that the teacher was initially condemned until Christian sorts here realized that the student was a Non-Christian is without any basis at all. It's not his non-Christian status it's his "associated with activist anti-Christian lawyer" status and appearance of bad faith.

I read part of the father's oh so reasonable letter, about how they never wanted anything bad to happen to the teacher and that he's a great teacher and that all they wanted was... I donno. You really think that the teacher wasn't told never to let it happen again? If nothing else in an administrative knee-jerk CYA? So what did they want, really? A public statement and apology or some corrective discipline that could be reported to them? A thousand lines in his best handwriting, "I will not mention anything in my class about religion for fear it can be used against me and the school?"

I didn't see a complaint that the teacher continued after the recordings were presented, but maybe I missed that.

A couple people here are saying the teacher should burn in hell for his unpardonable sin but the *father* said nothing but about how the teacher was a great teacher, wonderful, and he didn't want bad stuff to happen, hadn't wanted to sue, hadn't wanted anything... except for whatever it was they didn't get.

So who's lying?

Synova said...

And criticism of the boy and his father is NOT approval for the teacher.

Why is it so necessary that people pick one side to be for and one side to be against? It's the same stupid assumption that "forces" liberals to excuse human rights horror in the middle east because they can't bear to seem to be in agreement with Bush about anything.

Elizabeth said...

Perhaps if he had engaged him they teacher would have modified his teaching.

Whenever this answer is given to complaints about liberal bias in the classroom, it is greeted with howls of derision. The very idea! Kids can't challenge their teachers--they'll get an F! We need state legislation to make sure what goes on in the classroom is fair and balanced! Put Horowitz on it!

AlanDownunder said...

I get it. Effectively complaining about trashing the Constitution is worse than effectively trashing it.

NSC said...

I get it. Effectively complaining about trashing the Constitution is worse than effectively trashing it.

Jeeeze, a little perspective is in order here. I don't think the Constitution was trashed here - or even a little bit wrinkled.

Seven Machos said...

I'm late to the conversation here. I think this teacher should have been much more circumspect in what he said. However, I don't really know what the offense is.

People get all crazy when they hear religion and public school mixed together. But the teacher did not breach the Establishment Clause. Where was any act of organization of any kind under the auspices of the State?

And have you looked a high school history textbook lately? I'm telling you: this debate was very refreshing compared to the bland nonlearning that goes on in those books.

I am reminded of Bobby Knight at Indiana more than anything. This teacher needs a job at a religious school.

One more thing: upthread, someone says that biology has no place in history class. You, sir, are an idiot. The more you read and understand about the world, the more you will see that all the liberal arts and sciences run together, and that the divisions are merely imposed as department headings.

Revenant said...

The idea that the teacher was initially condemned until Christian sorts here realized that the student was a Non-Christian is without any basis at all.

Knoxgirl said, in response to the observation that the father was a secular humanist lawyer:

Yes, I was on board til I got to that little factoid.

Simply put, she agreed that the student acted correctly -- until she found out he was from a non-Christian family. As this thread has amply demonstrated, that "little factoid" has caused the usual paranoid delusions about Christians being persecuted by non-Christians.

It's not his non-Christian status it's his "associated with activist anti-Christian lawyer" status and appearance of bad faith.

The father is a lawyer and a member of the Ethical Culture Society. You pulled the "activist anti-Christian lawyer" thing out of your ass. Which actually serves to support my point -- that many of you Christians expect non-Christians to just shut up and take whatever bullshit you want to dish out.

The claim that the student "acted in bad faith" is equally nonsensical. If you'd bothered reading the article you'd know that past students of this teacher acknowledge that he's been getting away with this sort of thing for years. There is, in contrast, absolutely NO evidence that the student's motives were anything other than what he says they were -- forcing the teacher to stop his illegal and unethical proselytizing.

NSC said...

. . .that many of you Christians expect non-Christians to just shut up and take whatever bullshit you want to dish out.

Oh Lord yes, us Christians are just forcing you non-Christians to take all our bullshit - rightttttt.

Aside from some of our nuttier Christians trying to ban Harry Potter books, I can't think of a thing we have forced on you in quite a while. On the other hand, you guys are trying to sue and bully America into total secularism. Eh, that's the reality of the PC world and I can live with it, but don't whine about us pushing you around. It ain't happening.

Kirby Olson said...

As a teacher I think it's fun to get out the nonsense that everybody's teaching.

As a Christian I think it's fun to get out the nonsense that people teach in terms of Christianity.

I've heard of great books courses where Al Franken is the only thing taught.

I've heard of Christian denominations where hell is the only thing on anyone's mind.

It's fun.

But I think these are very marginal problems. The big problem remains Marxism.

Anonymous said...

There is, in contrast, absolutely NO evidence that the student's motives were anything other than what he says they were -- forcing the teacher to stop his illegal and unethical proselytizing.

If that's true, then why are the boy and his father still on about it? Presumably the man has already stopped his proselytizing since his meeting in the principal's office. I can't find references to any incidents that have occurred since that meeting.

Shanna said...

If he'd been indoctrinating his students with fundamentalist Islamic ideas you and Simon would be the first to demand that he be fired.

This wasn’t addressed to me, but a lot of students are legitimately interested in religions that are not their own. I think having a teacher who could explain the Islamic viewpoint would have been welcome. Obviously there is a point where it could go too far.

Knoxgirl said, in response to the observation that the father was a secular humanist lawyer:Yes, I was on board til I got to that little factoid.
Simply put, she agreed that the student acted correctly -- until she found out he was from a non-Christian family.


Or perhaps the little factoid in question was the fact that he was a LAWYER.

Wow. That's a nice thing to tell a class of impressionable sixth graders.

Sixth graders? I thought the “kid” was 16?

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a nice thing to tell a class of impressionable sixth graders.

Easy mistake to make, dtl, but the history class was the boy's sixth period class. I thought the same thing at first (6th grade) myself, but then realized that couldn't be right. These kids are sophomores in high school. The boy in particular is 16 years old, hardly the impressionable age! I'd say from direct experience that 16 is about as impervious to suggestion as it gets.

Freeman: why are the boy and his father still on about it?

Having slogged through the father's letter, it appears that they're peeved because the teacher did not 1) apologize and 2) correct his mis-statements. The school administration has said they don't want to give this matter any more attention, and so have asked the teacher to drop it. The father and son are not happy with that.

The thing that gets me is that they're claiming that the boy's First Amendment and civil rights were violated. I'm not seeing it. The teacher was talking about his own religious beliefs. He didn't threaten to fail anyone who was a non-believer. Yes, the teacher was wrong to go into such depth on the subject, but frankly I'm not seeing any grounds to sue. Where's the harm? The kid had to listen -- actually engaged his teacher in -- discussion of religious beliefs. The quotes we've seen from the teacher are extreme, and I would say, don't accurately reflect what the vast majority of Christians believe. So what? Tell the guy to knock it off and move on. Don't broadcast your "damage" to 300 newspapers. Mountain, molehill, etc.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a nice thing to tell a class of impressionable sixth graders.

Easy mistake to make, dtl, but the history class was the boy's sixth period class. I thought the same thing at first (6th grade) myself, but then realized that couldn't be right. These kids are sophomores in high school. The boy in particular is 16 years old, hardly the impressionable age! I'd say from direct experience that 16 is about as impervious to suggestion as it gets.

Freeman: why are the boy and his father still on about it?

Having slogged through the father's letter, it appears that they're peeved because the teacher did not 1) apologize and 2) correct his mis-statements. The school administration has said they don't want to give this matter any more attention, and so have asked the teacher to drop it. The father and son are not happy with that.

The thing that gets me is that they're claiming that the boy's First Amendment and civil rights were violated. I'm not seeing it. The teacher was talking about his own religious beliefs. He didn't threaten to fail anyone who was a non-believer. Yes, the teacher was wrong to go into such depth on the subject, but frankly I'm not seeing any grounds to sue. Where's the harm? The kid had to listen -- actually engaged his teacher in -- discussion of religious beliefs. The quotes we've seen from the teacher are extreme, and I would say, don't accurately reflect what the vast majority of Christians believe. So what? Tell the guy to knock it off and move on. Don't broadcast your "damage" to 300 newspapers. Mountain, molehill, etc.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the duplicate. Blogger told me I had the word verification wrong so I re-submitted... please delete it. I wish new Blogger would let us delete our own comments the way the old Blogger would. Such is life under beta releases.

MadisonMan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MadisonMan said...

I wish new Blogger would let us delete our own comments the way the old Blogger would.


I still see trashcans next to my posts, and I can still delete them.

Mortimer Brezny said...

He should have kept his religious views to himself, but, why shouldn't he opine on the topic of evolution? The classroom is the perfect place to discuss scientific theories. And that's what the Theory of Evolution is, a theory.

That is untrue. This teacher was not a biologist. Nor was he formally discussing philosophy of science, using evolution as a test case. He was attacking scientific knowledge per se. Evolution was but one target.

He attacked the Big Bang by noting that an explosion cannot create order. Explosions certainly do create order -- the smoke pushes out at an observable rate, the ash falls in a particular pattern, the object is converted to fire and gas in a predictable way. In fact, we have specialists at the FBI and local police departments who study the order created by explosions to determine who built a bomb and with what materials. Apparently, this teacher has never seen an episode of CSI.

He then claimed knowledge of the Big Bang cannot be scientific because we cannot observe it like a pot of boiling water. There are plenty of things that must be observed through inferential testing and their after-effects, that doesn't mean the observation is no good. We usually cannot directly observe the transmission of a disease; that doesn't mean we should contend the black plague is just as likely to be caused by demon spirits as by vermin.

His attack on evolution was that it starts with the presumption that natural selection is driving everything. This is a mis-use of the word "presumption". A theory in the scientific sense is something that appears to be true because it has the most explanatory power of the available theories and has not been disproven despite repeated tests over a period of many years. It is not the same as a theory in the plain language sense of "Oh, my theory is JFK was shot by Marilyn Monroe's Martian secret admirer who beamed down from the Mothership to get even." So the teacher was using a logical fallacy, equivocation -- using one meaning of theory as if it were another to suggest that the theory of evolution is mere question-begging.

That's calculated sophistry.

More insulting is the teacher's inability to reconcile natural selection with the Old Testament, which commands man to be fruitful and multiply and license him to farm the earth and domesticate the animals. Is this so hard an intellectual move to make for a reasonably intelligent person of faith?

Certainly not. The Catholic Church sees no conflict between scientific knowledge and divine revelation. Now, I don't think that this teacher should be sermonizing Catholic Social Thought, but I do think his religious perspective isn't a particularly intelligent or scholarly one. This is not the person I want discussing philosophy of religion with my kids. I want someone who knows philsophy of religion better than this.

The teacher is doing the kids a disservice merely by making science seem as unsophisticated as arithmetic. It ain't. I would find just as objectionable a biology teacher disparaging History by pointing out historians are all racist, sexist liars, so no history can be trusted. That isn't a fair-minded approach toward history or historiography. That isn't how you teach kids. It's just bad teaching.

If a history teacher is going to probe the philosophical foundations of science and touch upon religion in the process, then he should assign The History of Western Philosophy as a text and debate it. He didn't do that. He delivered a sermon.

Revenant said...

Aside from some of our nuttier Christians trying to ban Harry Potter books, I can't think of a thing we have forced on you in quite a while.

The fact that you'd make that comment in a thread about a history teacher forcing students to listen to his religious rants indicates that you don't devote any significant thought to the subject. I am therefore unsurprised that you "can't think of" any other examples.

On the other hand, you guys are trying to sue and bully America into total secularism.

I assume you're addressing the voices in your head, because I've never sued anybody and don't belong to any organization which has.

Anonymous said...

Madisonman, I've switched my blog over to the new Blogger Beta, and I have to log in under my Google ID. Unless you've done the same, you're still on the old Blogger.

Take my advice and stay there, the new Blogger Beta doesn't offer any advantages that I've noticed, and it makes me log in every single freakin' day, even though I have cookies enabled. Not to mention not allowing us to delete our own comments anymore. Of course it's too late to go back now...

(end threadjack)

Revenant said...

If that's true, then why are the boy and his father still on about it?

The whole community is "still on about it", so that's a silly question to ask. Why not ask the good Christians issuing death threats why they're "still on about it"?

Presumably the man has already stopped his proselytizing since his meeting in the principal's office.

Given that he's shown no remorse and received no apparently significant punishment for his gross misbehavior and repeated lying (he denied the allegations until the tapes appeared), it would hardly be unreasonable for LaClair to believe the problem had not been resolved. It isn't enough for the teacher to simply stop preaching while under surveillance -- he has *continue* not preaching once the heat has died down. The attitude of the school and the community strongly suggests the problem will resurface as soon as LaClair's not in the class anymore.

Shanna said...

He then claimed knowledge of the Big Bang cannot be scientific because we cannot observe it like a pot of boiling water.

Well, I’m not a scientist but there is a general expectation that good science can be recreated. Obviously, we can’t recreate the whole big bang, but I would like to see somebody try on a smaller scale. Maybe they have, I don’t know. I haven’t studied it all that much.

The dinosaurs on the ark thing is hysterical, though. We have the measurements of the ark and the measurements of the dinosaurs. Do they match? Just out of curiosity.

On a tangent a bit, but in societies where there was no written language, science can say somethings but alot of what they do is educated guessing. They could be completely and utterly wrong about all of it.

The Exalted said...

in total agreement with revenant

Seven Machos said...

An alien who reads Genesis up to the end of the story of Noah's ark and then hears the story of the big bang and evolution and a meteor hitting earth wiping out a lot of life would conclude that it is basically the same story.

I am not super-religious myself but religious people tend to impress me and secularists tend to amuse me to no end. The best you secularists can do is come up with a lame story that mimics the first book of the Bible for how the universe was created.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Well, I’m not a scientist but there is a general expectation that good science can be recreated. Obviously, we can’t recreate the whole big bang, but I would like to see somebody try on a smaller scale.

What do you think we use the super-computers and particle accelerators for? We can render stuff invisible and teleport things nowadays, too. No, I'm not making that up. And you know we cloned animals, right?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Well, I’m not a scientist but there is a general expectation that good science can be recreated.

The natural process isn't the science. The science is the explanation of the natural process. The question is whether the explanation sufficiently corresponds to reality. To test that, you have to test the necessary implications and/or consequences of the hypothesis. Which gets back to my mention of particle accelerators and super-computers and being able to teleport and render invisible things. Obviously science isn't 100% correct at any point in time -- that's the point. I don't think any scientist would tell you we know everything, or that we even necessarily have the capacity to know everything or solve all problems. Or even recognize them all. I think the problem is that the teacher seems to be insisting that where there is any doubt we should have faith in God; whereas faith in God's providence is something totally unrelated to doubt that empirical reality is necessarily 100% knowable. This is just a bad teacher.

knoxgirl said...

It kills me that 've been accused twice on this thread of being a Christian.

I'm not, you presumptuous dumbasses. I am agnostic at best.

Mortimer Brezny said...

whereas faith in God's providence is something totally unrelated to doubt that empirical reality is necessarily 100% knowable.

Rather, what I mean is that one can rationally entertain both God's providence (supernatural) and doubt man's ability to obtain total knowledge of natural world (natural). There need not be any conflict bewteen the two categories of thought. This is what I mean by "totally unrelated"; I don't mean they are mutually exclusive in the sense that one must choose one or the other (what this teacher believes).

The Exalted said...

Seven Machos said...
An alien who reads Genesis up to the end of the story of Noah's ark and then hears the story of the big bang and evolution and a meteor hitting earth wiping out a lot of life would conclude that it is basically the same story.


presumably, an alien intellectually capable of traveling through space would not agree with you.

Elizabeth said...

The 10-year-old in me sees the flaw in the dinosaurs on the ark theory. T-Rex woulda ate everyone! Duh. End of life as we know it.

Anonymous said...

If that's true, then why are the boy and his father still on about it?

The whole community is "still on about it", so that's a silly question to ask.


No, it isn't. You were the one who claimed that the boy and his father wanted nothing more than for the evangelizing to stop. It has. Yet the boy and his father continue. They want apologies and punishments. That is certainly more than simply wanting the teacher to stop.

Sidenote: I agree with Joan about Blogger Beta.

Shanna said...

What do you think we use the super-computers and particle accelerators for? We can render stuff invisible and teleport things nowadays, too. No, I'm not making that up. And you know we cloned animals, right?

Don't be a jerk, of course I know we cloned animals. I don't have much chance to play with particle accelerators in my regular life so I don't know if they have recreated Big Bang in any way. Maybe if you'd read the sentence after you quoted "Maybe they have, I don’t know. I haven’t studied it all that much." you would see that I was actually saying I find that INTERESTING and would like to see more about it. I'm not anti-science at all.

Seven Machos said...

People who defend the stories of the Old Testament as true accounts are idiots. But people who purport to find flaws in the accounts and thus find them untrue are even bigger idiots.

Is the story of Huck Finn true? No. What about Rigoberta Menchu? Did she exist? No. Romeo and Juliet. No.

Does that make the stories any less powerful or meaningful? No. It makes them even more powerful and meaningful in many ways.

So you have made the great, fantastic, brilliant discovery that much of the Bible is allegorical. Great, man. Totally awesome. You are the smartest. No Jews, Catholics, and Protestants ever figured it out until you.

I think secular people should find better uses of their time.

Shanna said...

Mortimer, I think my last post was a little bit ruder than I intended it and I can't delete it, but I read your other posts, which did not strike me as jerky, so sorry.

I don't think the teacher was right, but the Big Bang theory I think is difficult to prove in any real way. General evolution is more easy to show scientifically, but how on earth can you prove the beginning of the world?

Seven Machos said...

"How on earth can you prove anything?"

David Hume.

Shanna said...

[quote]People who defend the stories of the Old Testament as true accounts are idiots. [/quote]
I agree up to a point. Some of the stories in the Old Testament are probably true, or at least close to true. In the same way that some urban legends/fairy tales/legends may be based on something that really happened and have gotten a bit distorted over the years as they were passed down through the generations.

But I saw this thing about a british troup who was doing battle in the middle east or near Israel and they used a bible passage about a battle Jonathan was in to find a secret way around the geography and won the battle.

Mortimer Brezny said...

You're an idiot, David Hume.

--Immanuel Kant

Shanna,

But no scientist claims they can "prove" the beginning of the Universe -- it is not a matter of binary logic. They claim they have an working explanation of how the world came to be the way it is insofar as the physical laws of the Universe will permit.

Obviously, the speed of light is constant and only permits us to "look into the past" with scientific instruments to a certain degree. But, again, I answered this with the CSI comment: you actually can reconstruct an explosion based on the pattern of distribution of the debris, chemical analysis of the debris, etc. It is not ludicrous to assert that explosions "create order".

Shanna said...

They claim they have an working explanation of how the world came to be the way it is insofar as the physical laws of the Universe will permit.

That's fine, I'm just saying I don't think that sort of thing can be proved beyond a shadow of doubt. And too many things in science can change when we obtain new knowledge and information about the way the world works. We just don't know. I do find the stuff about particle accelerators fascinating. Can you recommend any books that go into more details for a novice?

Seven Machos said...

Shanna -- First of all, the Old Testament is big and it encompasses a lot of different kinds of writing. Some of it is absolutely factual. Did Israel fight its enemies? Yes. Did Israel have the code of law in Leviticus? Sure. (Those laws aren't facts. But never mind.)

The narrative stories are just stories. It doesn't matter if they are handed down from God or not. Are they based on fact and things that actually happened? What
story isn't? What story possibly couldn't be?

The Odyssey is a great story but no one is arguing that it is a true account, or that it isn't a true account People simply appreciate it as a great story that we can learn a lot from. I don't understand why everyone can't view the Bible in this way.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Can you recommend any books that go into more details for a novice?

Sure. Try Michiko Kaku's Hyperspace.

Seven Machos said...

Mortimer -- I wasn't responding to any one post or person.

Shanna said...

The Odyssey is a great story but no one is arguing that it is a true account, or that it isn't a true account

Sure. I think the reason why "everyone" can't read the bible that way is because it's tied to a religion. Few people worship or believe in the gods of the Odyssey anymore.

I love it when we learn that things from these fantastical texts are true. You mentioned the Odyssey, but alot of people argued that Troy never existed until they actually found it.

Mike said...

Shanna, The Big Bang model is about as successful as you get in science. Observation and theory match exquisitely. It is very fair to call it "proven".

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- The Big Bang is the furthest thing that you could possibly reach in science and still call "science."

The nonexistence of spontaneous generation among maggots is something "it is very fair to call" "proven."

That one part water occurs when two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen are mixed together is something "it is very fair to call" "proven."

That as Althouse's posts get longer and longer, guys like Mike will drop in and make the most outlandish, sweeping statements: "is very fair to call" "proven."

The Exalted said...

seven,

you think the big bang theory has the same scientific value as huck finn?

you're not making sense.

Mike said...

Seven - I have a degree in physics and teach same at the University of Wisconsin. While I am not a professional astrophysicist, I minored in it in college. I read advanced cosmology textbooks recreationally ( I love the stuff).

You?

Seven Machos said...

Exalted: I never said that and you are an embarrassing rube to try to put those words in mouth when it is so clear what I said. Without question, though, since you have broached the issue: Huck Finn is ridculously more valuable than the big bang theory.

I hate sparring with you, Exalted, because you are usually so stupid that it is no fun.

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- I could be a retarded ditch digger with a fifth-grade education and a giant plate where my frontal lobe should be. It doesn't matter. The big bang theory is not proven. It can't be because it is not an observable phenomenon.

Thanks for playing, though. Good luck with that highfalutin college degree of yours. I hope it takes you far.

Mike said...

Your reference to spontaneous generation suggests you don’t understand what the big bang theory says and, more importantly, what it does not say. In particular, it makes no statement at all about what started the event. This is often phrased as “the big bang theory says nothing at all about what "banged"". As it currently exists, the big bang theory starts its description of unfolding events at about 10-35 sec. What happened before that is not treated. The events that unfolded after that, and predictions as to what observable evidence resulted, are understood and corraborated in great detail. With the COBE and WMAP noise power spectrum measurements of the microwave background radiation, it's a proven as you can get for anybody with an open mind and the necessary background in the underlying physics.

You really think that a ditch diggers insights on the big bang theory are as useful as a physicist?

I have been a poster here for quite awhile, not a nut who comes in at the end to make crazy statements. I have, generally had a lot of respect for you. What the hell side of the bed did you get out of this morning?

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- I'm sorry to be crabby. You seem like a nice guy. But you are being ridiculously elitist by suggesting that your education and general awesomeness allow you to grasp some scientific thing that the hoi polloi cannot grasp.

I'm not saying the Big Bang isn't true or didn't happen. I am contesting your sweeping assertion that the Big Bang is proven. It simply isn't proven and it will never be proven because it is not observable. You merely believe that it happened. The fact that you may be right does not not mean that your belief is proven.

Mike said...

I am not being elitist. I'm being a scientist. And the Big Bang theory is considered proven (pending, as is always the case, new data) by the relevant scientific community.

This thing about it not being "observable" is wrong. There is a great deal of observable evidence.

Seven Machos said...

the Big Bang theory is considered proven (pending, as is always the case, new data) by the relevant scientific community.

1. An ill tip: When you wish to show that you are not an elitist, DO NOT, under any circumstances, use the passive voice as if to indicate that institutional rightness is on your side. The Big Bang Theory is not considered proven. You consider the proof for the Big Bang theory to be sufficient.

2. The scientific community is a bullshit term. Avoid it.

3. (pending, as is always the case, new data). You have absolutely blown it here. Pending new data, all those ridiculous charts that navigators used when everybody thought the world was flat were proven. Here be dragons, Mike.

4. And what a low standard for proof. Pending new data, it is proven that it is 100 degrees outside where I live and that Britney Spears is outside my door right now in a skimpy little outfit with chocolate and strawberries.

Mike said...

Are you a creationist, or something?

Shanna said...

I am not being elitist. I'm being a scientist. And the Big Bang theory is considered proven (pending, as is always the case, new data)

That "pending new data" bit is the part that gets me. You can say that scientists today believe that the available evidence strongly suggests this. But science has been wrong throughout history so many times that their assertions about what happened from 10-35 seconds at the beginning of the world can only ever be "pending new data".

Mortimer Brezny said...

Huck Finn is ridculously more valuable than the big bang theory.

Ok, why have this conversation with someone who is spouting half-baked Richard Rorty?

If Huck Finn is more valuable than the Big Bang theory (and the practical applications of it [or the smaller t truths derived from it]), then anything is more valuable than anything else simply because it fits our vision of what is good. And it utopian visions of the good trump all, then Nazism is arguably the best political philosophy ever.

I'm not starting down that road. I would suggest not arguing with 7M, because that's the only place he's taking his radical skeptic/moral relativist argument, which, by the way, has nothing to do with science.

Mortimer Brezny said...

But science has been wrong throughout history so many times that

This is the problem with your argument. You keep trying to fit science into a right/wrong paradigm. The point is scientific knowledge and the explanatory power of theories is not binary. Science proceeds by accumulating truths bit by bit. Where you see "science being wrong again and again," what is actually happening is the accumulation of knowledge.

Haven't you ever heard of trial and error? Or "practice makes perfect"? I mean, by your logic, an acomplished concert pianist is a failure because he didn't hit every note "right" during every single practice session before the big show. Science is not random, and it is not "right" by accident, but by a process that over time tends to generate results that prove correct.

Mike said...

Shanna - Everything is always "pending new data". It's just being honest to say so. But don't confuse this statement with Seven's dragons. The big bang theory explains the existing data, which over the last decade has become extensive, very, very well.

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- I have no idea how the universe got started. Neither do you. Your theory is as good as any. But it certainly isn't proven.

Mike said...

Seven - The Big Bang theory does NOT postulate how the universe got started. Once you realize this, I think you'll have less of a problem with it.

Seven Machos said...

3:37 PM, December 19, 2006

Mortimer Brezny plays the Hitler Card, and in an argument suggesting that the Big Bang is more valuable than a 19th Century novel.

Way to go, dude. Awesome.

Also, for the record, I am no moral relativist. It is not clear to me how my suggestion that Huck Finn has more value than a theory about the origin of the universe makes me a "radical skeptic" and a "relativist."

And Mort: "right" is not remotely the same thing as "proven." Think about that. Ponder it. Then come back and call me a Nazi scum.

Mortimer Brezny said...

They claim they have an working explanation of how the world came to be the way it is insofar as the physical laws of the Universe will permit.

I would like to note that this does not mean "The Big Bang Theory explains how the Universe got started." I intentionally used the term world, not Universe. You can scroll up and check.

Mortimer Brezny said...

It is not clear to me how my suggestion that Huck Finn has more value than a theory about the origin of the universe makes me a "radical skeptic" and a "relativist."

What do you mean by "theory" above? And why do you think Huck Finn more valuable than any practical applications of the Big Bang Theory that science has given us?

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- I knew you would come back with that.

the big bang noun.
the large explosion that many scientists believe created the universe.


Source: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/.

I guess you are just super-smart and I'm an idiot. So are the people who make the Cambridge dictionary. Now that I realize this, what a great mind you have and how you just think better, I have less of a problem with it.

Shanna said...

Haven't you ever heard of trial and error? Or "practice makes perfect"? I mean, by your logic, an acomplished concert pianist is a failure because he didn't hit every note "right" during every single practice session before the big show.

Of course that is not my logic. An accomplisheed concert pianist who had just played a piece with numerous wrong notes would
a) know they were in fact wrong notes. Scientist often try to convince everybody that their wrong notes are proven fact.
b) The notes have already been determined, so you can define which notes are correct from the beginning.
c) music and science are different animals (music and math are similar though)

Scientists learn a great deal from mistakes, but that does not mean they were not mistakes. They were wrong, and as they learned more they realized it.

I'm not saying the Big Bang is wrong, just that scientists should stop getting angry at people who dare to point out that it is a theory and fairly difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Seven Machos said...

Gosh, Mort. What do I mean by "theory"? I haven't been expounding on that at all in these recent posts. I also note that you call the Big Bang a "theory."

And why do you think the Big Bang theory is more valuable than Huck Finn, which at once gave birth to the American dream and exposed the American racial predicament and relates brilliantly to the universal human condition and, according to Hemingway, is the "one book" from which "all modern American literature" came?

Mortimer Brezny said...

a) know they were in fact wrong notes. Scientist often try to convince everybody that their wrong notes are proven fact.
b) The notes have already been determined, so you can define which notes are correct from the beginning.


1. That's only if we're dealing with a previously made composition. It's my hypo and I didn't say we were. So you're question-begging, just like the teacher was.

2. The "notes" in science is the methodology of the experiment. That can be "right" in the sense that its good methodology without the hypothesis being proven true; indeed, the point of an experiment isn't to prove an experiment true -- it's to produce results, whether they combust or verify a hypothesis. Either result gives us information. Either a path of inquiry has been eliminated or a truth has been confirmed, so we have added to our store of knowledge. There is no "wrong"; likewise, a concert pianist who is composing his own piece for performance at the big show may hit notes that don't fit, so he may modify his composition numerous times before he settles on what is actually played before an audience.

3. Science is just trying to measure what is out there. The natural world is "predetermined" in the sense that it already exists and is out there. And if it is constantly changing, science aims to measure and mark the change, too.

4. Scientists generally go out and say things are fact when ignorant people make claims that were disproven hundreds of years ago. I mean, if you're going to say something that contradicts the science behind the television you're watching and the potato chips you're stuffing in your mouth, why shouldn't someone just say you're flat-out wrong?

Mortimer Brezny said...

I also note that you call the Big Bang a "theory."

Sure, but we seem not to be using the same sense of the word. I don't disagree that there is plenty of observable evidence supporting the Big Bang left unexplained by alternate theories. Nor do I disagree that the Big Bang is the best available explanation. Nor do I disagree that rejecting the Big Bang theory in favor of Huck Finn is silly.

Seven Machos said...

I personally believe that Mort is stoned out of his mind and shall have no more truck with him.

Mortimer Brezny said...

And why do you think the Big Bang theory is more valuable than Huck Finn

I never said I did. But I will note that you haven't answered the question.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I personally believe that Mort is stoned out of his mind and shall have no more truck with him.

No one cares what you believe.

Shanna said...

Either a path of inquiry has been eliminated or a truth has been confirmed, so we have added to our store of knowledge. There is no "wrong"
and
Scientists generally go out and say things are fact when ignorant people make claims that were disproven hundreds of years ago… why shouldn't someone just say you're flat-out wrong?

OK, so there is no wrong when you are questioning science, but when a scientist questions you they should say you are wrong? Is that what you are trying to say here? Because I don't think you're being internally consistent.

As for your comments about music, when you started talking about “wrong” notes, I assumed naturally that you were talking about an established piece, not a new composition. It makes no sense to talk about a composition in terms of “wrong” notes. I don’t think science and art are the same thing at all, which I suppose is where we must differ.

Nor do I disagree that rejecting the Big Bang theory in favor of Huck Finn is silly.

This this is not a scientific question, this is a value question. It is perfectly reasonable for one person to say that they personally value a piece of literature over a scientific theory that does not affect their lives in any practical way.

Mike said...

Seven - The big bang model does not postulate how the universe started, regardless of what some sloppy definition in a dictionary says.

Mike said...

Shanna - You asked for reading material. The wikipedia entry for big bang theory looks pretty good.

Mortimer Brezny said...

It is perfectly reasonable for one person to say that they personally value a piece of literature over a scientific theory that does not affect their lives in any practical way.

Sure. But let's reduce everything to what anyone values: the Nazis valued extermination of the Jews over everything else. Such a pluralistic view is morally repugnant to me. And I don't see how that is relevant to the discussion I am having.

It makes no sense to talk about a composition in terms of “wrong” notes.

Actually, this was MY point, which is why I put the wrong in quotations.

And I never said art = science. That is a simplistic reduction. My point is that you don't call the midpoint of a process of creating something with a distant endpoint wrong simply because it hasn't reached its endpoint. And art and science are similar in this respect, which was the relevant purpose of the analogy.

OK, so there is no wrong when you are questioning science, but when a scientist questions you they should say you are wrong?

I don't think I said anything like that at all. You have a really annoying tendency to reduce things in a way that obliterates their actual meaning.

My point was that experiments are judged on their method, not on their results, because experiments are just a process of gaining more information. If the hypothesis is incorrect, good. Now you know it's wrong. That ends that. If the hypothesis is confirmed, good. Now you can pursue that line of thought and find additional truths.

What I mean by an ignorant person is (1) someone who asserts a hypothesis that has already been disproven (for example, this person attacks a hypothesis that was proven true and is the basis for contemporary technology that we all use); and (2) insists on arguing it without doing any research. No scientist whose methodology is sound would do that. In the case that such a scientist exists, fine, condemn her as ignorant, too.

I don't see how that's inconsistent, especially since I have explicitly endorsed judging science on its laws and its theories, but have criticized those who judge it for the phenomenon that some of its hypotheses at some point along the process of inquiry are incorrect.

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- The first sentence of the wikipedia entry: "In physical cosmology, the Big Bang is the scientific theory that the universe emerged from a tremendously dense and hot state about 13.7 billion years ago."

I guess in smart-scientist world, "emerge" is entirely different from "start."

Mortimer Brezny said...

I guess in smart-scientist world, "emerge" is entirely different from "start."

Actually....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence

Mike said...

Stop being so nasty, Seven.

Emerge is different than start. The big bang model describes how the universe evolved from about 10-35 sec after "the event" to the present day. We do not have the physics to understand what happened earlier. Therefore, in a very real sense, we do not know, and the model does not claim to explain, how the universe started.

Also from the wikipedia entry "currently there are very few researchers who doubt the Big Bang occurred". That's what I meant when I said that the model was "proven".

Mortimer Brezny said...

We do not have the physics to understand what happened earlier.

Hasn't the light from anything prior also passed out of our range of viewing? That's what I was alluding to by "They claim they have an working explanation of how the world came to be the way it is insofar as the physical laws of the Universe will permit."

Seven Machos said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seven Machos said...

Lack of doubt by "researchers"...equals "proven."

Hence, since the Catholic Church is filled with absolutely brilliant people who have no doubt that Jesus emerged from a virgin womb and is the Son of God, the Virgin Birth has been proven.

Okay. Gotcha. Check. QED.

Mike said...

"Hasn't the light from anything prior also passed out of our range of viewing?"

It doesn't work that way. The earliest light we can see is the microwave background radiation, which dates to about 400,000 after the event. The reason we can't see anything earlier isn't because it's over the "horizon" but because before that time the universe was opaque. It became transparent at 400,000 years and those photons, redshifted to the microwave portion of the spectrum due to the expansion of the universe, are viewable by us in every direction we look.

Seven Machos said...

The universe was opaque because of all the monads blocking the view and the four elements -- earth, air, fire and water -- tended to obscure a lot the spectrum.

This has been proven.

Mike said...

Semantics, Seven.

I am a scientist, so I look to science to prove things, not religion. You clearly don't. Fine. But in the scientific community (I don't understand why that's a bullshit term, by the way)there is little doubt that the description of the evolution of the universe given by the big bang model is correct.

Mike said...

"The universe was opaque because of all the monads blocking the view and the four elements -- earth, air, fire and water -- tended to obscure a lot the spectrum.

This has been proven.
"

Incredible.

Seven Machos said...

Mike -- My point -- the subtlety of which seems to have escaped you -- is that at any point in time, scientists have cosmological theories. These theories go against the theories that came before them and may, in fact, be closer to the truth than previous theories. One hundred years hence, there are radically different theories which go against the ones previously en vogue. Any passing reflection on the history of science reflects this simple truism.

Here, I point out that the people who wrote about the Garden of Eden almost certainly were at the fore of the scientific vanguard of their day. I also point out that the creation story and the Big Bang are remarkably similar and compatible.

There is a body of knowledge that is proven. It is knowledge of observable phenomena. That's it. Everything else is, to use your word, a "model," and models aren't fact, or truth, or "proven," no matter how much you and your super-smart scientist friends want to believe differently.

The people who believed in monads and the four elements were just as certain as you are, and they were wrong. You?

Mike said...

No, Seven, you aren't too subtle for me.

You expend a lot of energy arguing the obvious: sometimes theories are supplanted by new theories. However, the fact that theories in the past have been wrong provides no basis for arguing that any particular, current theory must someday be proven wrong.

"I also point out that the creation story and the Big Bang are remarkably similar and compatible."

Compatible? Conceivably. Similar? Hardly. While you'll consider this suggestion elitist, I suggest that you actually learn something about the big bang model (which is the proper term) before you make such sweeping pronouncements on it. You have a lot of misconceptions.

Good night.

Seven Machos said...

Right. Things that happened in the past are not likely to happen in the future. "Models" that we can't possibly know the truth about are "proven."

Yes, indeed. The big bang is indisputable, because scientists at the University of Wisconsin say so.

Seven Machos said...

And another thing:

"The universe emerged from a tremendously dense and hot state...The universe has expanded from a state in which all the matter and energy in the universe was at an immense temperature and density." -- wikipedia.

Genesis 1:1-2. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Hugely different. Crazy different. No one could possibly posit similarity between these two theories.

For my nect trick, I point out how obviously the theory of evolution and the order in which God created "the moving creature that hath life."

I'm not advocating Genesis here. I am merely pointing out how non-groundbreaking current theories are.

The Exalted said...

"The universe emerged from a tremendously dense and hot state...The universe has expanded from a state in which all the matter and energy in the universe was at an immense temperature and density." -- wikipedia.

Genesis 1:1-2. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Hugely different. Crazy different. No one could possibly posit similarity between these two theories.


sorry seven, i guess i'm just too stupid to see the similarities!!

1) an entire universe exploding from a near inconcievably dense ball of matter and 2) "the spirit of god moved upon the face of the waters."

i guess the "spirit of god" and "face of the waters" is supposed to be similar to the expansion of the universe from...an incredibly dense and hot ball! wow, its so similar!! you must have scored over 1000 on your SATs!

Seven Machos said...

Yes, Exalted. You are too stupid to see the similarities. There is fundamentally no question about that.

Good night, dumb ass.

Anonymous said...

Mike's point is that the observable phenomena we have so far catalogued behave in ways consistent with the Big Bang theory.

My question is, and I believe this is the core of Seven Machos' objection, also: could there not possibly be another theory which explains these behaviors as well or even better? The fact that the observable phenomena are consistent with the Big Bang theory does not mean that they can not also be consistent with some other, possibly more correct, theory. One of my old physics profs, Alan Guth, proposes the inflationary universe theory, which supplements the Big Bang and "fills in the gaps" -- that is, corrects the problems with the Big Bang.

Which begs the question, if the Big Bang theory produces gaps that need filling, perhaps it's not such a great theory after all. Or perhaps Guth is an idiot, but I doubt that. He was a boring lecturer, but that doesn't reflect on his intellect. I rather think it shows he had much more interesting things he'd rather be doing, much like all of his students.

hdhouse said...

knoxgirl said...
how very convenient that the kid just happened to be the son of a secular humanist lawyer

Yes, I was on board til I got to that little factoid.


i love a woman who takes a stand.

anyway, has anyone asked in what history book this moronic "teacher" came up with his lesson plan contents. Isn't the real story that a college turned out an idiot with a credential to teach when it is clear his grasp of history, let alone common sense, leads me to believe he isn't smart enough to unzip before he pees.

All you lawyers on this board are a hoot. sting? my ass. idiocy? most certainly. a college begging for de-accredidation? 100%. can't you all see what the root issue is?

hdhouse said...

Seven Machos said...
"Here, I point out that the people who wrote about the Garden of Eden almost certainly were at the fore of the scientific vanguard of their day. I also point out that the creation story and the Big Bang are remarkably similar and compatible."

Mike et al, don't waste your time with this idiot. He is the Rush Limbaugh of scientific thought. Take that paragraph(please!)quoted above.

1 A lot of use believe that the bible was divinely inspired. Be that as it may, the Garden of Eden was highly populated so what "men" are you talking about? There was only 1 first hand "man". Everything else is hearsay.

2. if you think that big bang and creationism are on the same level, please think again. I mean think. don't just mouth words jammed up your ass by creationists. big band is a theory in progress but it can be explained to anyone anywhere and anytime. please go explain your creationism to the majority of the world's population as an "alternative way of explaining scientific fact". they will either laugh at you or behead you. go explain the big bang and they may be the wiser for it.

but i'm sure you fail to see the difference.

Joseph Hovsep said...

The later part of this comment thread is ridiculously heated and personal for the discussion of science. We all go over the top and take things too personally sometimes, myself included, but c'mon, can't you see how much you undermine your own credibility when your arguments rely on repeatedly calling people with whom you disagree stupid, stoned, elitist dumbasses?

Its possible to have a very interesting discussion despite (or because of?) starkly conflicting perspectives without polluting the atmosphere with this nonsense (see, e.g., Mike, Joan, Shanna).

Shanna said...

I wasn't on here last night, but I did want Mike to know that I enjoyed his explanation of the "light" question (even if I can't for the life of me think of a good short way to refer to that post).

Mike said...

Thank you, Shanna.

Joan - You had Alan Guth as a professor? I envy you. Sorry to hear he was boring. Guth advanced the field tremendously by resolving significant questions about the original big bang model. His inflationary big bang model is the currently accepted model. And yes, there are still question that remain with the current model, so it is very likely that future refinements will be made. It is unlikely that the current model will be discarded. A good analogy is Einstein’s general relativity. It is an improvement over Newton’s gravitational theory, but it didn’t prove Newton wrong.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I had Guth as a lecturer for freshman physics. It was very early in his career at MIT and he was paying his dues. I'm sure if he lectures now, it would be much more interesting.

I think you're getting into semantics when you talk about refinements to a theory vs a new theory that would replace the old one. At what point are the refinements sufficient in quantity and content so that we can assert that the old theory is dead? Newton was wrong. Not about everything, sure, and his theories are a good place to start to understand the way the world hangs together, but if you stopped with Newton, you'd be in error. If we accept your statement that "the Big Bang theory is proven," that would be an error, also, because the theory is undergoing continuous scrutiny and refinement.

We can explain a lot of the "how" questions, but we're no where near explaining "why". That's the gap that science won't ever be able to fill, and where faith comfortably rests.

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