When Ignorance Presents A Teaching Moment

“Today, the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire adherence to religious principles” – James D. Watson

I was approached the other day by an individual whom I’ve known for about a year.  He asked me if I “believed” in evolution, to which I answered that the question is not whether one believes in evolution, but if they understand it. I explained that there is a vast amount of knowledge that validates evolution, and further explained the difference between the vernacular use of the word “theory,” and the definition according to the scientific community.  He looked a little perplexed, and I could tell he was searching for some sort of reply. What he came up with initially made me cringe, “If we came from apes, why are there still apes.

Now, mind you, I am used to getting these types of replies from the tried and true of the church – the adults, whose minds I refer to as being like cement – permanently set and all mixed up.  But my conversation was not with an adult. I was talking to a teenager, and after the initial internal wincing upon hearing his query regarding the coexistence of apes along side of humans, I became angry.  No, not at him – not by a long shot.  I looked at it as a genuine teaching moment. My anger was directed toward his parents and the school for the immense level of fail that has been foisted upon him.

The Gift Of Ignorance…

It both saddens and angers me that so many parents and educators believe that the bible is a gift from God, that it is inerrant in its content and perfectly suitable for teaching from.  They deem it perfectly acceptable to replace perfectly good science with bronze-age fairy tales that have been thoroughly debunked for many generations. It pains me to the very core of my being that creationism is even considered worthy of sharing the same dais as evolution. It angers me that Christian mythology, particularly the creation myth, is given any more credence than the Epic of Gilgamesh, or Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or any other myth or fairy tale.

Creationism doesn’t belong as a comparative to anything even remotely connected to reality, and by passing it off as anything other than the myth that it is should be seen as nothing short of abusive and neglectful toward our children. Parents who teach their kids creationism instead of evolution fail in their duties to properly prepare their children for life outside of the nest, and educators who persist in neglecting their duties by insisting that creationism (in any of its forms) be taught either in place of or along side of evolution should have their professional licenses revoked.

Pot, Meet Kettle…

To add insult to injury, these parents and educators turn around and tell our children that we’re the ones who delusional, and we’re the ones who are being ignorant, and that we’re the ones who are insane, and the we’re the ones who are living a lie, and the we’re the ones who should not be trusted and we are actually “working for” another equally non-existent entity they call “Satan.

They have the audacity to infer that our facts are fiction and their fiction is fact. They tell our children that we have “exchanged the truth for a lie,” when all along they are the ones who are living in a fantasy world filled with talking snakes, talking donkeys, magical trees, zombies walking the earth, a man living in the belly of a fish for three days, the “sun stopping,” and a whole host of other things that have no place in the real world. They are lying to our children, damaging their intellect and denying them much-needed critical thinking skills.

We Have A Responsibility…

As I was explaining to this young man about the basics of evolutionary theory, the thought occurred to me that his parents would quite likely be extremely pissed off at my meddling.  For a brief moment I though that perhaps I should not get involved with breaking down the faith of someone else’s kid, and that by doing so I would be just as guilty as they are in trying to teach creationism to my kids. But it was a very brief moment, and I quickly remembered that, as unbelievers, we have a responsibility to the future of our species to do whatever we can to disseminate the science and eliminate the myth.

In this case, I was approached and was asked for my input.  This is rare, indeed. Especially in the deep South.  Many of you may be wondering if I am suggesting that we start handing out information pamphlets on evolution, or offering invitations to Secular events and Freethought Group meetings. If so, wouldn’t that be an invasion of privacy on the rights of a parent to indoctrinate their kids however they see fit, even if what they are teaching is total, complete bullshit?

Geese And Gander…

Well, yeah, that is exactly what I am suggesting. Getting little cards, pamphlets and fliers that serve in directing youth to information about the science and facts of evolution are not hard to find.  As far as it being an invasion of privacy on the rights of parents, I say, “Tough Shit.”  I don’t really care how much they might jump up and down and shout “How dare you approach MY kid?” For all I care, they can call the police. It’s not illegal to talk to a child.

They wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, anyway.  How many Christian adults believe it is perfectly OK to hand out their tracts to our children? How many times do evangelists single out kids in the mall or at the state fair or a carnival and invite them to their churches and youth events? How many of them like to pass out cute little bibles with instructions on what to read and what to believe about what they have read?  How many stories have you read or heard about that reveal the tactics of youth evangelism, including those done right on the campuses of our public schools?

Go Ye Therefore…

So, this is my challenge to my fellow atheists for 2012.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…  Do as you are able.  If you don’t have a pile of unused cash lying around, you can always print out a one-page summary of evolution (preferably one that does not mock religion) with website addresses for more information, including one that has a good FAQ. Go to Wal-Mart and make 100 copies.  Cost you like five bucks or so.  Find a kid, ask them if they believe that God created the universe.  If they say yes, put a copy in their hands and walk away.  If you are wondering where to get these one-page summaries, well, Google is your friend.

If you have some extra cash, you can purchase pre-printed tracts, such as this one. This will cost a little more, but you can fit a lot more on a well-designed tri-fold pamphlet to hand out.  You can spend fifteen bucks and buy 100 CD-R’s and spend a day downloading copies of Darwin’s book (they are free) and/or any one of a thousand other free resources available on the web and hand a CD to a kid.  You can also just go out and buy copies of actual books to give away.

There is no shortage of information on evolution that is geared toward our youth, and most of it is free for the download.

Freethought Groups?  Darwin Day is coming up in February, so now is a good time to start planning for and promoting an event with handouts, pamphlets, etc., and building up interest in your community by talking to the local youth.

Be Proactive…

There is much to be said for the old axiom, “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.”  Fully grown humans tend to be a tenacious lot, resistant to change, stuck in tradition and willing to blindly go where everyone else has gone before. This is why the church spends so much time and money on youth evangelism.  Get ’em while they’re young, so they say.  Common knowledge states that if a child is not indoctrinated by the time they are eighteen or so, they will likely not become so.

Our children are fair game according to the methods of the evangelist.  Let’s give the church a run for its money and get out there with your photocopies, tracts, books, pamphlets and brochures and get them into the hands of those curious young minds.

  20 comments for “When Ignorance Presents A Teaching Moment

  1. Jeff Sherry
    December 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Right on target Al. I was thinking along similar lines while watching “Nova: What Darwin Never Knew.”

    • Al Stefanelli
      December 23, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks, Jeff!

  2. articulett
    December 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Excellent post:

    So what was the reaction from the teenager?

    On occasion, when asked if I “believe” in evolution, I’ll respond “Do you believe in gravity?”

    Did you have a chance to give the kid a pamphlet?

    • Al Stefanelli
      December 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      I actually spent a little time with him and personally explained the basics of evolutionary theory. Went pretty well. He’s a local, and I am sure I will be seeing him again. Thanks for the props, too!

  3. December 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    YES! I’d love to do this — I’m in Southern California; let’s DO this.

  4. Sandman
    December 24, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Uncle Al is right spot on here folks, so listen and do my US chums.

    Creationism/Literalism is one of the main “tent pegs” of Big Tent relgio-poltical “Christianity” in the USA. Surprising as in fact this is one of the most divisive – literalsm separates evangelcal faiths from the Anglican and Catholics. Anything you can do to combat creationism goes towards tearing down that tent.

    An important tool for you US chums is to point out that creationism is NOT a “Christian” belief – the list of christian sects, including the Catholic and Anglican churches, that have signed up to agreeing with evolution as fact is much longer than the ones who dont. Theres a list on the NCSEs website. Show kids that the can believe in whatever god they like…it has no bearing on whether evolution is real.

    Also explain that evolution is fact, as establshed by genetics studies such as the fused chromosone telomere that shows we shared a common ancestor with modern apes….look it up. Case closed.

    If your pupil starts with the ID nonsense sit them down with the PBS program “The Devil In Dover” – show them that there is no such thing as irreducable complexity, that the ID scam is just creationism with a new name via Judge Jones’ judgement in PDF format etc etc. You can throw in a spin ball and ask em why, if God created man brightest and best, he gave hawks, owls, and octopuses better eyes. Ask them to explain the desgn inherent in the laryngial nerve of a giraffe, or the stomach system of a rabbit that requires it redigests its food at least three times.

    Just try to show that creatonism is a cultish belief as silly as the Scientology belief in Xenu or the Mormons believing god lives on the planet Kobol and the garden of Eden was in Missouri. Its just daft at best, and a deliberate bare faced wlfully ignorant lie at worst.

    The next step of course is to never ever vote for any candidate, from local school boards all the way to Senator and Governor, who says they dont agree with evolution. Get active and see the changes made…..sit on your arse and your country will continue to sit next to Turkey on the “aint they dumb” scale.

    Have a merry christmas my US chums and happy holidays to all over there.

    Seasonal greetngs and all the best Uncle Al, and my warmest to you and yours. Keep on hammerng chief….

    • sunnydale75
      December 27, 2011 at 12:51 am

      THAT was inspirational.


    • Lurker111
      December 31, 2011 at 10:48 am

      I once had a conversation with a gay acquaintance and told him, “At this point in history, if you’re gay and you don’t vote, you’re a moron. If you’re gay and you vote Republican, you’re an idiot.” I think I can safely generalize that to, “If you’re rational …”

  5. John Morales
    December 24, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Motorcycles came from bicycles.

    (Why are there still bicycles?)

  6. Otrame
    December 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

    How about a bumper sticker:

    Don’t “believe” in Evolution? Then I wont vote for you.

  7. Lewis Thomason
    December 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    What a great idea about giving out tracts. Where is the evolutionary “Chick”

  8. December 25, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Or to borrow an analogy from Dawkins, if twigs come from branches, how come there are…

  9. gwen
    December 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Awesome idea Al! I never thought about giving the ‘kettle’ a little of its own medicine back!

  10. Alexander
    December 27, 2011 at 9:39 am

    What he came up with initially made me cringe, ”If we came from apes, why are there still apes.”

    I’ve been presented with this argument in person once (from a young earth creationist, no less); my response was “That is a very weak argument and easily refuted. I wonder if you can see the clearly see the weakness phrased this way: if god made man from dirt[/mud/clay], why is there still dirt?” From there, I was able to turn this into a wonderful teaching moment about the fallacy and convert their understanding of the flawed second argument (there is still a need for dirt) into a real understanding of evolution and environmental niches.

  11. December 27, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Excellent post, Al. I think your statement: “as unbelievers, we have a responsibility to the future of our species to do whatever we can to disseminate the science and eliminate the myth” is very relevant indeed. I shall bear this in mind next time someone asks me why atheists are so strident about their “beliefs”.

  12. Cyberguy
    December 30, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Thanks for linking to my pamphlet! I am humbled that my efforts at supporting other atheists are proving effective.

    I have a few other hand-outs that explain rational-thinking basics in an easy to understand way. You can find them them on my atheist resources site: http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~edmin/Pamphlets

    Hope they are useful to you.

    • Al Stefanelli
      January 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for the link, Stephen. I am going to make use of it!

  13. John
    December 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Fantastic idea. I’ve also considered having pamphlets tailored for each of the various sects
    that occasionally show up on my doorstep- I accept their literature if they agree to read mine
    sort of thing. I too, have found new inspiration – Thanks, Al – love your blog.

  14. rapiddominance
    January 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm


    Been away for a while and I’m trying to catch up on your work. I asked a question about the historical origins of the christian myth and I’m hoping you found it worthwhile to discuss. That was about 3 weeks ago, I suppose.

    Well, I ran across THIS and thought it worthwhile to comment on.
    I’m assuming that as the author you will get this (even though the general readership is diminished).

    I think this pamphlet idea is a good one. Some parents won’t like it (EVER), BUT whether its on the streets, billboards, commercials, etc. our reality is that adults try to sell kids on ideas and merchandise ALL THE TIME. You probably ought not to approach kids in the restroom or other private, intimate settings, but the very nature of your world view is that the idea has to spread; and I’ll also add that if you are genuinely acting out of concern and compassion for your target audience that you should go about this with your head up.

    Also, this is a great way for atheists to get involved in promoting their ideas who aren’t as skilled, or comfortable, with public speaking. And its a subtle “coming out” as well; an avenue for the more shy atheist to open up his or her own identity. Therapeutic in many ways, for atheist and community alike.

    Try to go about this, however, with more class than your rivals sometimes do.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Al Stefanelli
      January 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Rapid. I wish I had more time. We need a thirty-seven hour day. Lol

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