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« A Man and His Measure | Main | Masculinity, War & SUVs »

December 11, 2005


Great post.

One quote from the last article I don't get: "I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist," said Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category."

Since when did the APA decide that 100% of people are racist? I have trouble accepting the accuracy of his statement.

One analogy I wonder about is alcoholism, because it's not an either/or proposition. This looks like the "nature vs. nurture" debate, and any reasonable person would be forced to admit that nurturing promotes and even causes some of these tendencies. But are some people hard-wired so that they are more susceptible to extremism in these areas? Could social conditioning alone have pushed him so far? Lots of people are indoctrinated to hatred in roughly similar ways, and while that might turn everyone "racist," surely some people in that group would be much more violently so than others.

I think what the psychiatrist means is that we all have group identities and pre-conceptions about others, to a large or lesser extent. Probably true. But read what another doctor says in the next paragraph.

"....there is a difference between ordinary prejudice and pathological bias -- the same distinction that psychiatrists make between sadness and depression. All people experience sadness, anxiety and fear, but extreme, disabling forms of these emotions are called disorders."

What is also interesting is that existing social norms dictate which biases we are more comfortable in expressing publicly.

"...While people with ordinary prejudice try very hard to conceal their biases, Solomon said, her homophobic patient had no embarrassment about his attitude toward gays."

As a more recent reader of your blog, I haven’t seen many of your older pieces and just caught this through your re-post on the blogger’s carnival. I like this one!

I was amazed when I heard the news of Zach Rubio and the backward reasons for which he was suspended. It is really crazy and sad that educators can behave this way!!

Regarding religion in our schools, I am really pleased with the recent Pennsylvania ruling against teaching of intelligent design before evolution in their school districts. This strong decision by Judge Jones overruled the Dover policy requiring students to hear a statement about intelligent design before a ninth-grade biology lesson on evolution. I see no room for lessons on God, religion or the likes in science classes and hope similar verdicts comes around for Georgia and Kansas. Having said this, after a recent conversation with a friend she was wondering whether the “theory of God” could be stated in science classes for young children (maybe 1st, 2nd or 3rd graders). My friend suggested that when young kids are caught about formation of the solar system and the big bang theory, an alternative theory of God could be introduced. As a scientist, I do see a problem in introducing God as a “theory” vs. a “hypothesis” and, I know religious groups see a contraction between referring to God as a theory and the concept of “faith in God”.
I am not at all religious and only when I am deep in nature and its beauty (like scuba diving or hiking) do I think about “God” or some higher form. And yet I found it difficult to express to my friend (who is more “religious” than I) that religion and God has no place in the science classroom even at a young age. Do you have any thoughts on this? I would like my family to keep personal discussions and choices of God and religion in the home or among friends. Learning about different religions and their historical contexts is fine in schools as long as it is outside the science classes.

I am very clear that God or "theory" of God has no place whatsoever in the science class. Those who argue otherwise, are mixing up issues either because of foolishness or because they have a cynical agenda. Scientists are not in the business of speculating about theories for which they have no empirical evidence and cannot design an experiment to either prove or disprove it. To invoke God, the supernatural or magic, goes wholly against the grain of what scientific thinking is. Introducing hazy and unverifiable concepts based on "faith" is opening up a can of worms. Whose faith is more "scientific"? Why would one person's definition of faith or God be more relevant than another's, since we cannot check the validity of either? Also to argue that science cannot answer everything, so God or Intelligent Designer must be invoked, is a red herring. When did scientists ever claim that they have all the answers? Science is about enquiry and investigation. There are vast numbers of questions which remain unanswered in the realm of physics, chemistry, biology. Should scientists then bring in God every time they are faced with a physical reality that they cannot explain? Why stop at evolution? Why not the nature of the universe, the structure of atom or the immune system whose mysteries have not yet been solved? If a scientist, instead of saying, "We don't know the answer yet", starts saying "Only God knows", we have put an end to scientific enquiry. Until scientists have a mathematical equation to prove or disprove the existence of God, they should not be required to mention or explain the phenomenon. Until then, such concepts and debates need to remain where they belong - in philosophy / religion classes or within churches, mosques and temples - and only for those who seek such knowledge, rather than corrupt young, unsuspecting minds by teaching faith as science.

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