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How to Raise an Ideological Warrior

When I was a kid, the theory of evolution was an accepted fact.

Given my role as a parenting pundit and grumpy crank, I knew I’d eventually begin delivering statements that start with “when I was a kid…” Still, I never thought I’d be wistful about a time when we all agreed that humans came from monkeys.

But times have changed. Back then, evolution was as accepted as the Earth’s rotation on its axis. The Scopes Monkey trial was 60 years in the rear-view. Hard Darwinian science had trumped the skeptics and the nincompoops. I doubted evolution no more than I doubted that my heart pumped blood through my body. My son, on the other hand, came down the birth canal into a brave new world, where school boards debate spurious intelligent design curricula, where 66 percent of Americans surveyed by USA Today believe that God created the world in seven days, and where the President of the United States thinks evolution is just one theory. This summer saw the opening of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, a $27 million high-tech “educational” institution determined to teach our children that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. Now the Scopes Monkey Trial is 90 years in the rear-view, and in some parts of America, it’s like Clarence Darrow never existed. There’s little chance that Elijah, being raised by secular liberals in Southern California, will learn to believe that people walked with dinosaurs. But such questions weren’t even possible when I was in school. Powerful people and institutions are attempting to chip away at rational science. A parent can no longer assume that his children won’t encounter anti-evolutionary propaganda. While I’m skeptical about religion, I’m not opposed to faith and spirituality. Elijah goes to a Jewish preschool, after all. But the other side preaches a dangerous ideology. When faith gets in the way of facts, I get angry. Doesn’t my obstinacy challenge my desire to have my son think for himself? Am I being as ideologically rigid as people who preach intelligent design? Perhaps. But I think the question is a little bit off. I’m not worried about my son becoming a Wall Streeter or, worse, a Republican. The generation gap of Family Ties no longer exists. People who ask me about what I’ll do when my son turns into Alex P. Keaton—a character I revered as a kid—are stuck in an old way of thinking. This isn’t about an ideological struggle between democratic socialism and unfettered free-market economics. And though I’d argue that there’s a deep sexist component to religious fundamentalism, it’s not really about race or gender issues either. It’s about keeping alive the spirit of discovery, and also preserving essential notions of truth and freedom of thought.
I don’t want Elijah to be a jerk about his beliefs, but he should be intolerant toward faith-based reasoning simply because it’s wrong. So I’ve made it a point to provide him with early counter-tools: a bunch of books about dinosaurs, a comic book about the beginnings of life, and the HD-DVD collection of Planet Earth from the BBC. These range from awe-inspiring to irritating. For instance, our planet itself narrates the comic book, which is just a little too Whole Earth Catalog for me. Still, it’s useful. I deploy these tools much as a gentle, patient creationist father would talk to his son about how God created the world in seven days. “You can see here in this book,” I say, “that there was a great rain on Earth that lasted millions of years.” “And then there were bacteria,” he says. “Right.” “And they turned into jellyfish which turned into lizards and fish and insects and then they grew legs and went onto land and some of them became dinosaurs and some of them became mammals and then there were monkeys or primates and they became people! Is that right?” Indoctrination at work. At four years old, Elijah not only knows some basic scientific truths about the world, but he also thinks evolution is cool. It would only be more awesome to him if it somehow involved light sabers. New Yorker contributor George Packer, who unlike myself isn’t prone to hyperbole, wrote about a recent visit to the Creation Museum that he felt like “a dissident surrounded by the lies of a totalitarian state.” This frightened me. I’m trying to teach my son to question authority, even if he starts with me. He needs to recognize “the lies of a totalitarian state” when those lies are being widely propagated to a willing, paid public. If he doesn’t feel like a dissident in the face of such propaganda, then I haven’t done my job.

* * *


We asked David Klinghoffer of the anti-evolution Discovery Institute "What does DI want to teach Jewish-American children about Intelligent Design?"

* UPDATE: Jason Rosenhouse, host of Evolution Blog, weighs in with The Chutzpah of Intelligent Design.

* UPDATE: Computer scientist and civil liberties advocate Jeffrey Shallit of the University of Waterloo blogs this exchange, here.

Want to blog this exchange between an urban hipster parent and the Discovery Institute? Submit a blog post to Jewcy here.


On Faithhacker, Tamar Fox reported on politicians in Georgia and Texas who tried to discredit evolution by claiming it was dreamed up by the Pharisees. Laurel Snyder looked at why Orthodox Jews, unlike many equally observant Christians, have made peace with evolution. As part of his year living according to the rules of the Bible, A.J. Jacobs visited Kentucky’s Creation Museum.

On the Daily Shvitz, Josh Strawn reported on an NYC businessman who is suing a Seed writer for $15 million for calling him a “crackpot” in two reviews of his book challenging the theory of evolution, and Francois Blumenfeld-Kouchner panned the Darwin exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum.

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