Please Stop Quoting Leviticus

I’m probably going to be too busy to do this regularly, but for old times’ sake here’s another.  I’m not trying to take any position on the gay marriage fight in this post; that would take a much longer post, and everybody’s made up their mind on that already.

Is there anything sillier, or more painful to watch, than an amateur trying to show up an expert by citing cherry-picked information from the expert’s own subject of expertise?  For example, creationists trying to “disprove” evolution by pointing to some trivial anomaly in the body of research.  Much of the time it isn’t even a real anomaly, and reflects only the creationist’s ignorance of how evolution is supposed to work.  My favorite: “If people evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?”  The creationist smiles smugly; every educated person listening to or reading him winces, sighs, and decides it simply isn’t worth the effort of even beginning to correct this rube. Continue reading

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The Darkened Ages

“You see this boat, children?  Do you know who used to row boats like that?  Slaves.  All slaves.  They were chained to their oars, and they were whipped to make them work, and if the ship sank they went down with it.  Isn’t that horrible?”

I manage to hold back my sigh and grimace.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t much matter if these sixth-graders swallow a grossly incorrect tidbit of information about ancient history.  Certainly it would be both foolish and wrong to interrupt her in front of the class and undermine her authority by explaining that she’s thinking of Turkish galleys from nearly two thousand years later than the Greek trireme she is pointing to.  I wait until the end of class, while the students are chattering, to go up and quietly tell her that those rowers, far from being slaves, were the core voting bloc of the world’s first democracy.  That rowing a trireme was highly skilled labor, and they took pride in it, and the fact that their work was turning their little city-state into an empire.  That their importance in both war and peace had won them the franchise; that we vote today because they rowed back then.  That they did go down with the ship a lot–but it didn’t stop them from signing up in droves, because the back-breaking work made them the thriving middle class of the Greek world.  She nods and thanks me; I don’t know how much she’s taken in.  By and by, the end-of-day bell rings. Continue reading