Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Why Tenure Exists, Part 1

    Zandar, at Balloon Juice, points out that Missouri's new Creationism-in-the-schools bill, HB 1227, applies not only to K-12 schools but to the state's public colleges and universities as well. According to the bill,

    Notwithstanding any other law, any introductory science course taught at any public institution of higher education in this state, including material concerning physics, chemistry, biology, health, physiology, genetics, astronomy, cosmology, geology, paleontology, anthropology, ecology, climatology, or other science topics,

    will be regulated by the requirements of the law, which means equal time for the "intelligent design" theory.

    If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught. ... If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a textbook, the textbook shall give equal treatment to biological evolution and biological intelligent design.

    Now, this bill will probably never become law. But I find it simultaneously disgusting and amusing that only "introductory" classes are regulated, meaning that University of Missouri faculty would still be free to teach actual science to their majors (who would only be misled in Biology/Geology/Physics 101 but hipped to what's really what in the next class) while all the non-majors filling distribution requirements would get a set of deliberately dishonest courses designed to insulate them from any scientific knowledge that would challenge their faith-based misconceptions.

    That pretty much sums up the religious right approach to science. They want a small group of actual scientists and engineers who know how things really work, and a much larger class of scientific illiterates who are left free to believe anything that makes them feel good about themselves. Scientists are meant to be a special caste, given the privilege of pursuing knowledge at the price of keeping it to themselves.

    What's merely disgusting, and not amusing, is that the proposed law applies not just to biology but to physics, astrophysics, and geology, and outlaws anything but "empirical fact," meaning in practice that which conservative Missouri lawmakers consider to be an empirical fact. Millions of years of fossil records are clearly not "empirical" enough. The Big Bang Theory, and with it the rest of the Standard Model in physics, surely does not make the cut; the Big Bang is just someone's interpretation of some radio hiss, right? String theory, likewise, cannot yet be confirmed. Nor, if we come down to it, would Special Relativity or Hubble's constant make the lawmaker's cut, since like so much of science these ideas are largely demonstrated through mathematics. If you take out the parts of contemporary science that rest on abstruse mathematical proof, you leave pretty large holes in our understanding of the world.

    The only saving grace, of course, is that tenured science professors, even at state universities, could not be forced to to do this, and more importantly could not be fired for teaching their students real science. This is the first and most important reason for academic tenure: to insulate the pursuit and transmission of knowledge from the worst outside pressures. Tenure is the reason that "intelligent design" is NOT taught in public colleges and universities, even in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Tenured college teachers are free from political pressure in a way that high school teachers have never been. Without tenure, the facts about science, about history, about the world we live in, became subject to the whims of the State Legislature, or the Board of Trustees, or the college's biggest donor, rather than being subject to the actual facts.

    Tenure is often imagined as a personal job perk, and it's true that there have been occasions when tenure has been abused at this college or that. But it's not just part of an employment package, like a dental plan or a 401(k), because it is not designed as a reward for an individual but as a privilege for an activity. Tenure is designed to enable and to protect the pursuit of knowledge. It keeps scientists who study climate change from being fired for studying climate change, or for finding out things that some influential person doesn't want to be true. Tenure operates, in effect, as one of the academy's quality control guarantees. It offers a base-line reassurance that the information produced by academic research is on the level, and has not been cooked up in some bigwig's office.

    In order to do this, tenure does offer individual scholars real and valuable privileges. But the core of the privilege is the freedom to do your job right. It does not protect anyone's right to do their job poorly, although that is how it is frequently portrayed. Tenure has sometimes been turned into a cover for shoddy work habits, but that's not in keeping with even the letter, let alone the spirit, of the law; no one's university bylaws allow the tenured to skip their duties. If I decided never to show up for the classes I teach, tenure should not and would not protect me. If, on the other hand, two-thirds of my Board of Trustees became enthusiastic converts to the idea that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and ordered me to give "Oxfordian thinking" equal time in my classroom, tenure would allow me to politely tell them no and go back to teaching reality-based literary history. They couldn't do a thing about it. That's what tenure is for. It keeps the job of spreading knowledge in the hands of people who actually know what they're teaching.

    Of course, if a bill like Missouri's ever became law, the problem would be that many introductory classes, the ones that the Missouri legislature feels free to meddle with, are largely taught by untenured and untenurable "part-time" instructors, who are employed at will. The advanced classes are taught by the tenured faculty, who cannot be punished for teaching actual science, but most of the lower-level classes are given to poorly-paid adjunct teachers who can be fired without even giving a reason. Under HB 1227, those people would have to give equal time to "intelligent design," or to global cooling, or to astrology, as the Missouri State Legislature saw fit, or else be replaced by someone who would. Lots of people who call themselves educational "reformers" talk about the need to have fewer tenured faculty members; this is what they're talking about.


    Obviously, such a bill reflects the worse of anti-intellectualism of this country. 

    But I would be curious to see what business leaders think about this.  If I was thinking about relocating or expanding my operations, I would just scratch Missouri right off my list.  My assumption would be their education system was not up to snuff and I would have a hard time finding qualified workers.

    Excellent point about tenure.  I think it something we definitely need to remind ourselves from time to time - it can easy to forget for those not in academia world full time there are actual forces out there who would try and do something like Oxfordian thinking, and actually have the power to do something about it.

    If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught. ... If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a textbook, the textbook shall give equal treatment to biological evolution and biological intelligent design.

    I cannot help but admire the intelligent design of the wording even though it is likely to backfire on its sponsors.

    What exactly is the current Evolution theory concerning biological origin?  Nevermind.  Until someone either invents a time machine or manages to create life from a beaker of amino acids, any current theories are essentially non-falsifiable.  In other words, they are just hypotheses or worse.  For some they are belief systems no more valid than any other creation myth.

    Sounds to me like under this law evolution can still be taught as an observable scientific / genetic process but as for how it all began, either all theories are required to be taught or none.

    Seems fair for introductory courses and maybe even beyond.  

    The emphasis on the word "origin" is a good loophole indeed. Really, how often do even classes dealing with evolution discuss the very first organism?

    Well, the first organism, and the primordial soup is a murky question that I don't think scientists have firm answers for.

    The big difference, as a facebook friend of mine just reminded me, is that real science makes falsifiable predictions.

    Intelligent Design, etc., are designed to mimic science by retrofitting explanations, however strained, to the observable facts. Such "Biblical scientists" might try to explain away geological evidence of the Earth's age with a Noah's-flood-related narrative. By the standards that the Missouri bill proposes that's good enough because it's "sticking to the facts."

    What "Biblical science" is no good at is predicting new facts, such as results of experiments. (It's not experimental science at all, but a bunch of rationalizations.) It can't predict anything. Real science can.

    The real strength of the Darwinian natural-selection theory isn't that it explains the fossil record. (Creationists can cobble together alternate explanations that sound plausible to lay people.) It's that the natural-selection model successfully predicts how species continue to change. For example, Darwin's theory predicts that if you over-prescribe certain antibiotics, you create new, antibiotic-resistant versions of the old bacteria. That's a pretty important prediction, and it pans out all too well. A family doctor who rejects the Darwinian framework is not going to recognize this problem adequately, and will help speed the evolution of newer, tougher strains of disease.

    (a) But doesn't this law only apply for textbooks discussing biological origins? I suppose Darwin's seminal work was "On the Origin of Species", so there's more than one origin to consider, so maybe the loophole I'm imagining is only in my imagination.

    (b) Can't the teacher use the "equal time" to discuss how intelligent design doesn't follow the scientific method? Would that be upholding the letter of the law, if not the spirit?

    Don't get me wrong, I see the danger of this law, because at least at the high school (or middle school, elementary school) level many teachers at best wouldn't want to rock the boat by violating the spirit of the law (and could get reprimanded by their supervisors for doing so), and at worst would use this law as an excuse to teach intelligent design. I had one high school teacher in Georgia who made it clear what her beliefs were on evolution. Luckily, she taught chemistry and not biology. (Unluckily, she also taught physics, where her knowledge was incomplete.) Other than that, she was actually a good teacher. She even didn't have a problem with me openly disagreeing with her beliefs on evolution. (Yeah, not surprisingly, I was one of those students.)

    No expert here, but...

    I think the title Origin of the Species does not refer to why there is life instead of no life or what sparked the first life. It's not about origins in that sense.

    It has to do with the origin of differentiation, i.e., species. How all these different species came into being from, presumably, fewer forms of life.

    It's about a branching process, not origination from nothing process.

    I didn't explain it as well as you did, but that's what I was attempting to convey when I said "more than one origin". No where in that book did Darwin attempt to discuss the origin of all life. As you say, he was merely interested in examining the origins of species.

    Without doubt there are those on both sides of this argument who have too much faith in their own 'knowns' and too little tolerance for those of the other side.  

    Think back to the Scopes trial.  Do you really think that the people who objected to what Scopes was teaching their children were not aware of the processes of evolution?  These were people who farmed, who bred both plants and animals.  They were also people who had lived together for several generations and could probably name their fourth cousin thrice removed.  Maybe they used a different language for understanding genetics and the principles of inheritance but it is not likely that they would not have objected to their children learning about those.  It was the overreach, the claim to know things that are truly unknowable at our current state of being that turned the whole thing into the Monkey Trial.  

    As for the age of the earth, I had a very wise uncle who quieted one of these disputes by pointing out that no one really knows how long God's days are and maybe it could be millions of our years.  People had to stop to think about that long enough to change the topic.  :-)

    The "overreach" on science's part, however, isn't being done for the sake of being done. Darwin's original point was to explain a set of phenomenon that he had witnessed. (If you've never read On the Origin of Species, I strongly recommend it. It's a relatively easy read, in my opinion, and on-line, no charge!) Everything that most scientists want taught in the classroom will help future scientists to better understand the world, even if a few of the details later turn out to be wrong. It helps to understand why studying how chimpanzees react to drugs is more useful (and more ethically questionable) than knowing how cats or rabbits react to drugs. It helps people in my field (computer science) to come up with novel computing paradigms that are inspired by what evolutionary biologists have discovered.

    And of course, as you say, there's nothing in those subjects that necessarily has to contradict faith. There's a decent book called Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible that takes your uncle's observation to the next level.

    “Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting points and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.” - Albert Einstein

    Along the same lines....

    Interesting how small a total eclipse of the sun looks from the other side. 



    And now we're back to trying to see the forest from the trees.

    This is awesome.


    True science, by definition, cannot overreach.  However, scientists and science teachers often do.  Darwin himself had a true scientists' humility about his theory, much more so than many of his more fervent acolytes.  Personally, I do think you have to factor Darwin's cultural background into this conclusions.  Not at all strange for an upper-class Britain to see survival of the fittest as the essential driving force of nature. :-)

    Thanks for the book recommendation.  I'll check it out.

    Speaking of over-reach: Social Darwinism.

    Do you really think that the people who objected to what Scopes was teaching their children were not aware of the processes of evolution?  These were people who farmed, who bred both plants and animals.  They were also people who had lived together for several generations and could probably name their fourth cousin thrice removed. 

    I would have to say yes. Evolution doesn't take place over even four generations. Put another way, as I understand it, genetics isn't the same as evolution. Genetics has to do with why you're blond, tall, and some other traits. Evolution attempts to show how man evolved into man. Even the most observant farmer isn't in a position to observe evolution in real time. OTOH, he could observe genetic changes almost immediately, e.g., he has his mother's eyes.


    Without doubt there are those on both sides of this argument who have too much faith in their own 'knowns' and too little tolerance for those of the other side.

    I don't think science, as a rule, is shy about admitting what it doesn't know. We regularly hear scientists putting percentages on it, and the unknown veers close to 100%.

    Temperamentally, and in their pronunciamentos, religious folk, especially those pushing this kind of bill, seem VERY certain in their views of how and why it all began. And even, sometimes, in how and why it's all going to end!

    And they have no evidence or guide for their views except...a book.

    Don't hear many working scientists spending any time denying God's existence. I fear all the overreach is on one side despite that side's pretense and just wanting a fair and balanced presentation of "all" theories.

    I think you, too, are conflating science and scientists.  Science is a discipline.  Scientists, its disciples, can be just as susceptible to human vices as virtues as religious ones.  IMO, some 'scientists' needlessly contaminate interesting fields of study by inserting their own (dis)beliefs where they don't belong.  Sometimes I wonder if it is just for the cheap thrill of making other people holler.

    Don't hear many working scientists spending any time denying God's existence.

    Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and so-called Brights everywhere.  Brights, pfft.   That name they chose speaks volumes.

    Is Sam Harris a scientist? Nor was I aware that Hawking was an atheist.

    The MOST famous scientist, Einstein, didn't deny God as I recall.

    But still, Emma, you're talking about a TINY percentage of scientists.

    This is speculation (note bene), but I think if you lined up all the pastors, rabbis, imams and other similarly positioned religious leaders...and did the same with all the scientists in the world...the latter would, on average, be LESS certain they had a handle on The Truth with a Hegelian capital T than the former.

    Okay, I see that Sam Harris is a neuroscientist.

    From Wiki: "

    In his early work, Hawking spoke of "God" in a metaphorical sense, such as in A Brief History of Time: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God."[59] In the same book he suggested the existence of God was unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe.[60] His 2010 book The Grand Design and interviews with the Telegraph and the Channel 4 documentary Genius of Britain, clarify that he does "not believe in a personal God".[61] Hawking writes, "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second." He adds, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing."[62][63]

    His ex-wife, Jane, said during their divorce proceedings that he was an atheist.[64][65] Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."[66] In an interview published in The Guardian newspaper, Hawking regarded the concept of Heaven as a myth, stating that there is "no heaven or afterlife" and that such a notion was a "fairy story for people afraid of the dark."[55][59][67]

    Hawking contrasted religion and science in 2010, saying: "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."[68]

    I think one problem is in how we think or conceive of "God." We have one word, but many meanings for it. It seems that Hawking is an atheist if we think of God in the traditional sense--of a being who started it all and has intervened in history.

    But he may not be an atheist if we think of God as "Ultimate Mind" or as the guiding principle that makes the laws of the universe discoverable by reason. Sort of Einstein's God doesn't play dice with the universe.

    But this, too, is different from "intelligent design," which still posits "a creator" who did things that resulted in the world as we know it. Einstein's God is co-terminus with the guiding principle of science: that the laws of nature are discoverable by human reason and experimentation. If we think of God in THAT way--which is not how advocates for intelligent design or creationism think of it--there is no conflict with science.

    BTW, I think Harris, Hawking, and Dawkins would agree that there is MUCH more that science doesn't know than what it does know.

    Dear Peter...

    It is not my intent to make a case for God and religion but against unwarranted and unscientific certitude, in this instance about our evolutionary past, especially its origins.  Those of us who are not scientists or science teachers, even if we enjoy keeping up with the latest as best we can, accept or reject what others tell us in much the same way we accept or reject what religionists tell us.  Some of us are more exacting in what we are willing to accept and for me the bar is always higher for scientists.  I remember reading a newpapaer account when scientists en masse tested the Shroud of Turin back in the 70s.  It quoted one scientist who said that while they could not prove it was a fake, he believed it was.  I thought it strange that a scientist would say such a thing and that the newspaper chose to feature it.  In my mind, that was crossing the line from science to faith-based advocacy.   That is ironic given that the Catholic Church makes no claim about the authenticity of  the Shroud.


    Keep in mind that scientists are people. If I'm talking to someone, I'm going to express my beliefs, and as a good scientist I'll try to keep it clear as to what I'm basing that belief on. Is it just a gut instinct? Is it something that preliminary evidence suggests is true, but there's not enough evidence yet to be 100% confident? However, even if it's a gut instinct, I don't see why I can't express those beliefs to other people without being accused of being unscientific. Now, I wouldn't publish "beliefs" in a scientific journal, but we're talking about 1-on-1 conversations here. Sure, one should be more guarded when talking to a reporter, but if (hypothetically) the reporter asked you straight up what you believe to be the case, is it wrong to offer your gut instinct, as long as you indicate it as such? Scientists aren't politicians, after all. We don't like to "claim the 5th" as a matter of course (which isn't to say that doesn't happen sometimes on loaded issues).

    So, I think it's fair to blame the newspaper for featuring that, but not to blame the scientist for saying what he believed, especially since he made it clear that he didn't have proof for that belief.

    Seems to me he was showing humility and being transparent.

    He said he couldn't prove it, but also "believed" it was a fake. He's not asserting its fakeness, but opining.

    Perhaps there were/are good reasons to believe it was a fake which still were insufficient to prove the case.

    Hypotheses all start out this way (I believe). Scientists don't pursue any or all theses even though they are all, strictly speaking, equally unproven at the start.

    They pursue hypotheses where there's some reason to believe, based on all that we know about the universe, that those hypotheses will bear fruit.

    In the case of the shroud, the scientist was saying, I believe, that there was no reason to believe it was authentic based on everything we know about the universe.

    He wasn't using the word "believe" as one does in matters of faith--or asserting a positive disbelief--I don't think. Otherwise, he would have said that its fakeness had been proven, no?

    Something like saying..."It's highly unlikely that..."


    I won't get into the Scopes Monkey Trial, which both "sides" and the media played up for their own purposes. But I reject your implication, Emma, that there's some kind of "overreach" by scientists that's at work in the current controversy. Read the actual bill. It attempts to force people to teach something as science that has no scientific basis.

    And it does this by legally redefining the words "standard science." That's overreach. I don't see any scientists pushing bills to redefine religion.

    The Butler bill, under which Scopes was tried, at least only attempted to ban the teaching of evolution; it didn't mandate that people teach things that are not science and/or not true as if they were science.

    Science and religion operate in two different spheres; science has nothing to say about the existence of God or gods and his/her/their past or future actions. After a few centuries of missteps and embarrassments, the Catholic Church, to its credit, finally understood the need to extend a reciprocal courtesy to practitioners of science. It's time U.S. evangelicals bit that bullet too.


    Sigh.  Internet conversations take so long.  

    Can you really separate the current controversy from the ongoing dispute that started even before the Scopes trial?  It is just the latest in an ongoing saga.

    At the extremes edges on one side you have rigid Bible literalists who fear any doubts raised about its inerrancy and at the other, some smartass boys and girls who get cheap thrills by casting doubts.  (There is a lot of psychology at work at both edges.)  The rest of us end up trying to reconcile the extremes but end up at odds ourselves.  

    Having been punk'd by both sides at different points in my life,  I refuse to continue to just accept whatever either says, general consensus or not.  The internet has been very helpful in sorting things out.  Sometimes now I think I am cursed like the Ancient Mariner:  If something does not stand up to reason or experience, it must be challenged.  

    In this case, I began by admiring the language of the bill in using the phrase 'biological origins'.  It is the tricky sort of word play more often associated with the other side.  It amused me.  Biological origins really are Evolutionists'* weakest point because it is non-falsifiable as the existence of God and it really does not fall into the predictive arena as claimed.  That aspect is purely speculative until and if it can be recreated.  Claiming otherwise really is overreach.

    Seriously, Emma? People who think it's dishonest to dress up religious beliefs and teach them as science are, in your words, "smartass boys and girls who get cheap thrills by casting doubts?"

    Some of us simply think the purpose of education shouldn't be to make kids stupider. You seem to believe there are two competing extremes here, and the truth lies in somehow splitting the difference. I believe you're extremely wrong.

    As a matter of fact I do think it is dishonest to dress up religious beliefs (or any others) and teach them as science.  My point somewhere in this multi-day dialogue was/is that, for some, Darwinism is just as much a religion as any other.  This thread is evidence of that.  Moving on now.....


    Maybe it would have helped if you'd put forward an example of a scientist overreaching. The fellow who said he "believed" it was a fake is not a good example for all the reasons adduced above.

    Thus far, all you're doing is saying a pox on both houses and you hate extremists of all types...or something.

    There seems to be two types of "religion" being discussed. One is to denote any group of beliefs which are not based on direct evidence of facts, a matter in which one bases one conclusions on some amount of faith in some source of knowledge.  The other denotes a group of beliefs based on faith which involves matters of spirituality, that which is generally beyond the concrete world (usually referred to as the natural world). 

    Science has a lot of beliefs that require a certain amount of faith - such as the faith in the truth to be found in mathematics that will someone to believe in M theory with its strings and eleven dimensions, even though they will admit we may never be able to physically see those strings. 

    The general difference between science and something like a spiritual religion is that science technically is designed to adapt to new evidence emerging from the source(s) of knowledge whereas the spiritual religions tend to have a set source of knowledge (e.g. the Bible) which is unchanging, its truths set regardless of experiences and phenomenon which may emerge over time.

    One reason Zen Buddhism resonates with me is that it focuses one's understanding on one's experiences.  It does not claim to provide all the answers, just one method to discover the answers.

    Prediction is key.

    Some predictions can't (yet) be verified and it's even unclear how they would be vertified or nullified.

    Science has a method called experimentation. Intelligent design has a method called... what? Interpreting the Bible?

    I find this whole issue incredibly depressing...

    Thanks. How could I not have grasped this already. But I hadn't.Dumb,dumb ,dumb.

    Thanks, Flavius. But which part hadn't you grasped?

    It's my impression that most introductory classes are taught by untenured professors (although many, if not most, of them are on the tenure track). Of course, the tenure process being what it is, you'd probably be more likely to receive tenure if you ignored this law, as long as you couldn't get fired for doing so, and even then you'd be more likely to receive tenure if you obeyed the letter of the law while blatantly flaunting its spirit, or so I'd imagine. (I have a fair amount of direct experience with the Physics and Computer Science processes, and a decent amount of indirect experience with the English department process, but I'm completely ignorant of any specifics on Biology departments, and of course schools vary.)

    It's definitely true that a tenure-track person would be expected by her or his peers not to comply with the spirit of the law. Actually, an untenured assistant professor forced to teach Intro under this law would be in a very bad place, liable to face punishment no matter how she taught. But I'm worried more about the people who aren't on the the tenure-track at all.

    The two basic arrangements for intro classes are: 1) massive lectures by a tenure/tenure-track faculty member who leaves the grading and the one-on-one teaching a small horde of grad-student assistants, or 2) manageably-sized class led by a non-tenureable "adjunct" or "part-timer." The folks in category two would be in real trouble.

    I was thinking how this would effect teaching such things as probability distribution - while one may say the results are a function of the probability of a random variable taking certain values, but who is to say that it wasn't divine intervention.  Can one prove it wasn't?

    And are football coaches going to have to say that is just as likely that God helped guide Tebow and the Broncos to their come back wins and into the playoffs, as opposed to just things like practice, team work, and skill.

    I've actually been thinking about writing a piece about how God does help players like Tebow. I imagine you could guess how I'd argue that, but I'm a little leery of offending any of the more religious dagbloggers (which I have no desire to do).

    Well, there is some scientific data indicating that prayer can influence individuals who are recovering from illness.  But so does laughter.  Maybe it is God laughing through us.

    Or maybe this is all just a dream of a butterfly.

    I would be interested in your take on Tebow.  I think that given the way you write, those who would be offended would only be those who are offended by the mere fact there are those who believe differently than themselves.

    It's pretty much the path you're describing, although I was thinking of the phrases "the power of positive thinking" (which can be oversold) and "the placebo effect". If you think God is helping you, then perhaps you'll second guess yourself less, or take chances you might not otherwise take. Of course, those can backfire as well, but I think in a sporting arena, they are more likely to help. Additionally, you might lead a healthier lifestyle—a problem that it seems many pro-athletes struggle with.

    Doubt doesn't have much place on the playing field.  "Believe in the Force, Luke.  Believe in the Force."  Even the not-so religious athletes say that when they walk onto the field, they have to believe they are the best, that they cannot be beat.  Anything that gives an edge in this regard is going to help.

    A belief in God can in many cases lead to a healthier lifestyle.  For successful athletes from their youth through college and then the pros, are faced with a lot of temptations.  Like the general population, there are definitely some who have addictive personalities.  So it is not surprising that some go off the rails once the drugs and alcohol get thrown into the mix (not that drugs and alcohol are the only elements of an unhealthy lifestyle).  The power of addiction is clearly shown in those athletes we watch "throw it all away" for some drug.

    The whole 12 step program is based on the notion of a power greater than oneself.  As someone who has worked with it, I would say that is more complicated (nuanced) then just letting God control things.  And it is definitely not about God removing the "problem," - more along the lines of God helps those who help themselves.  So there is something in it about a discipline and commitment to be the best one can be (another overused phrase), which is something that is going to help an athlete when he or she is alone in the weight room or doing wind sprints.

    I would add there is a lot of folks who will talk about what they learn on the field (and in the preparation for their work on the field) that will help them in real life.  But this can have negative consequences as well as positive.

    One of my favorite movie line quotes is from Ulysses' Gaze, when the old man tell the Harvey Keitel character: "In the beginning God created the journey.  Then he created doubt and nostalgia."

    An over-confidence in the God-is-behind-me, I-fear-no-evil line of thinking.  If anything it can lead to guilt when one does doubt.  People can get to that point where they believe that if they are truly faithful, truly have Jesus in their heart, etc., then they should not doubt.  Undying faith and all that.  Yet there are painful experiences, suffering, things some would call "evil" out there in the world. 

    I attended the funeral service yesterday of someone who died much too early from cancer.  He actually was a coach and a teacher, one who was deeply devout Christian (but wasn't preachy in the least), who led that healthy lifestyle, was optimistic, good-natured, the good husband, father, neighbor (yes they do exist). And then just like that, God took him (if one believes it is all part of God's plan).  When bad things happen to good people.

    It seems wrong to compare that with the question - how did God let Brady and the Patriots embarrass Tebow and the Broncos?  Didn't Tebow pray hard enough?  Or was there something for the faithful to learn from it? 

    But who are "players like Tebow"?

    My wife, who pays no attention to the sport, brought up Tebow last night and said, "Don't ALL NFL players believe in God and thank God for all their wins? Don't we frequently see other players drop to their knee after a good play?"

    She had a point.

    What is a Tebow-like player? Someone who prays? Lots of losers in that category. Quarterbacks who manage to win without a good arm? What of Joe Theisman? Surely there are others who were just great leaders.

    And speaking of "leadership," what of Joe Montana, John Elway, Sweetness, and every other player who's asked to step up and act as a leader to the younger guys.


    Good question.

    a) I know almost nothing about professional football.

    b) My working definition of a "Tebow-like player" would be someone who is sincere enough in their beliefs to reap the benefits I mentioned above: increased confidence, healthier lifestyle

    A parson's son muses about Tebow:

    Learning From Tebow | Via Meadia doesn’t usually have much to say about sports, and about the prospects of the various teams in the NFL we do not, in fact, take any view.  But a recent poll showing that 43 percent of Americans (and 52 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29) believe that God is helping Mr. Tebow win cries out for comment.

    Theologically, this is a tricky question.  On the one hand, a serious monotheist has to accept that everything that happens is God’s will at some level.  From that perspective it is hard to argue that Mr. Tebow is winning games against God’s will. (Continued)


    This seems to me to sum it up theologically:

    A truly advanced Christian would be as thankful for the interceptions and failed plays as well as he was for the touchdowns.  All presumably are manifestations of the divine will, and the faithful should strive to be grateful in and out of season.

    And this is also worth stating:

    But Mr. Tebow is a young athlete not an old monk, and Via Meadia is inclined to be indulgent. A man who bears witness that true manhood consists in acknowledging your dependence on a higher power and that even rich and famous athletes need to regulate their conduct by something other than their own wishes and whims is someone to respect.

    But this all does remind me when a quarterback (i think it was Huard) for Washington Huskies college football team said he saw the hand of God touch the winning touchdown pass (which just went over the hands of the opposing team's player).  In the Northwest, that didn't go over so well. 

    But doesn't this also mean that God's picking winners and losers?

    Why is he so unhappy with the losing teams and players?

    Doesn't make a lick of sense.

    Well, if I may play devil's God's advocate here, it's not that He's unhappy with the losing teams or players. It's that He's working in mysterious ways. You see, by missing that throw, player X learns more about himself, which leads to him helping out in a soup kitchen. By team Y losing, all of its fans realize there's more to life than just sports and really begin to look out for their fellow man.

    (I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek there, but I think that's close to the answer you'd get from a believer who's thought through the problem.)

    It's not a bad answer at all.

    Not clear, though, how God necessarily enters into the explanation.

    But definitely the attitude one should take.

    For some I would say it comes along the lines of "God helps those who help themselves"  and also the notion of potential. The example that springs to mind is the baseball pitcher facing loaded bases, a three-two count and the best hitter on the team.  He gets one more strike his team gets the win. A base hit at best the game is tied and a chance for the runner from second base to get the winning run. 

    The pitcher as they would say has to "dig down deep inside," find that something special, to pitch the best pitch he can possibly throw.  God enters the picture by giving the helping hand to the tap into that potential for his best pitch.  That potential is there because of all of the hard work and healthy choices the pitcher has made leading up to this moment (God would have also helped the pitcher with finding the perseverance to push himself during the practice and training rather than giving up). 

    It has nothing to do with the batter.  In fact the batter may be going through the same process - God helping him tap into his greatest potential.  And then the pitch is made and the outcome is what it is.  Realized potential versus realized potential.  Maybe both realized potentials divinely assisted through faith.  But the outcome is irrelevant to assistance provided.

    Maybe an example to better think about - a mountain climber coming down a glacier has to make a leap across a wide crevice.  The same assistance is provided as the climber tries to tap into his or her greatest potential in order to make the leap.  God's assistance in this has nothing to do with how God feels about the crevice.  It isn't that God wants the crevice to "lose." 


    I'm inclined to leave it at that, too.

    Other comments above touch upon the matter but I would like to emphasize that the expression "intelligent design" is code for "planned by God."

    When the actual meaning of the phrase is placed side by side with a scientific theory, it clearly is not competing with it as an alternative interpretation of phenomena. It is easy enough, for instance, to accept the idea that species evolved and claim the process is all part of a divine plan.

    If the goal of the law was to actually permit equal time for opposing views, then a teacher would be compelled to compare ideas of universal order and laws of nature to ideas about disorder and chaos as fundamental elements of reality. Talk about your unintended consequences. The next thing you know, Missouri will accidentally draft a law that requires all legislators to meditate for two hours a day.


    "Now, students, how many of you have heard the term "Intelligent Design?  About half? Fine. Would anyone like to explain it  to the class?  Bubba? Please stand and tell the class."

    "The bible says there ain't no such thing as evolution cause God made everything. He come down and made the world in seven days. Evolution ain't right."

    "Thank you, Bubba. I don't have much to add to that. We will have a quiz on this next Monday. Does anyone feel they need extra instruction on this, if so I'm holding a special class on Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., you'll still have time to go to the last 10 minutes of the pep rally. O.K? "

    Doc, I think the subject is extremely important and I have to deal with this social conservative crap in my own family. It's subversive and dangerous.

    I was simply thinking in my own mind, if I were a teacher, which I'm not, how I would subvert the reality of having this stuff forced upon me. 

    Just to add some context: the results from a recent Gallup to the following question

    Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE 1-3/3-1: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]?

    38%   Man developed, with God guiding

    16%   Man developed, but God had no part in process

    40%   God created man in present form

    6%     Other*/No Opinion

    (* I suppose this would include those who believe we were created in a test tube by life forms on another planet and brought here to this planet as part of some scientific experiment (hence the probing)).

    That 38% actually lumps two different beliefs together. One of the triumphs of the Creationists has been to sell the phrase "intelligent design" in such a way that it sounds like middle ground.

    A lot of that 38% believe in something that's basically "theistic evolution." It's one of the triumphs of the creation-science movement that everyone's heard the phrase "intelligent design" but no one's heard the phrase "theistic evolution." Theistic evolution is basically the belief that evolution works through normal natural selection, and always has, but that Divine Providence is behind it somehow in the same way that the believer presumes Divine Providence is everything. It's a view of the world that sees God's will as powerful and effective but operating entirely through the laws of natural science. This viewpoint is a religious claim, but not a scientific one. It accepts natural science as real.

    Intelligent design claims that evolution by natural selection could not have produced the species that we see around us, and especially could not have produced humanity. Therefore, it claims that there had to be an intelligent designer who intervened in order to create homo sapiens. It is a claim that natural processes do not explain the world around us, and is fundamentally unscientific and indeed anti-scientific.

    Lots of people (a good chunk of 38%) basically accept science, but also want to believe in God. If a pollster offers them the choice of saying "God had some role in evolution," they are going to take that option. But that option covers two very different beliefs.

    And as for that 40% ... hoo boy.



    This example is misleading, Herr Doktor. Tenure may protect professors from being told what to teach by the Board of Trustees, but it does not protect colleges that accept state money from government guidelines.

    If this ridiculous bill were to become law, colleges would have to comply or lose their funding. They might not be able to fire a professor who refused to teach intelligent design, but that's not what it's about. The school would likely put pressure on the department to find or hire someone (presumably untenured) to teach it. The ability of a department to resist such pressure would rest in its independent authority to make hiring and tenure decisions--not in the tenure protections for individual professors.

    But perhaps more to the point, this bill will never obtain force of law. Even if it somehow passed, it would never survive the courts.

    And that gets to the problem with most tenure defenses--they cite protection from unrealistic threats. We no longer live in a world where college trustees have the power to determine a college's academic direction. Hiring authority is largely internal to departments. To the extent that professors require protection these days, it is from their colleagues, not from administrators or trustees.

    Now protection from one's colleagues may be a good enough reason to maintain the tenure system, but let's at least call it what it is and weigh the costs and benefits accordingly rather than raise the specter of a radical takeover by Christian nuts.

    @EmmaZahn, I put this down below to avoid the narrowing of paragraphs, but I've thought some more about what bothered me about your comments, and a big part of it is the choice of the word "Darwinism" as an epithet. At face value, I don't understand the difference between "Darwinism" and "being a scientist who believes that evolution explains how species differentiate". However, in thinking about it and what else you've read here, I think you're using that word to mean a particular belief in the origin of first life on this planet, or abiogenesis. Indeed, Darwin did write:

    It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.

    However, this was in a letter to a friend (J. D. Hooker), and not something he ever published, as far as I know. I mention this because if this is what you mean by "Darwinism", you should probably use a different term, such as abiogenesis.

    Now, assuming that is what you meant, I'd say that at the high school level this topic is rarely, if ever, taught. At the college level, it's also rarely mentioned in introductory classes, and even at the research level, it's almost always (if not exactly always) put in terms of a hypothesis at best. I.e., it is almost universally recognized that we don't know how life arose on this planet, although there are many competing hypotheses (what lay people might call theories, except that in the scientific sense they're hypotheses, not theories). What might irk some is that among many scientists the one hypothesis rarely considered is that God started it. There are multiple reasons for this, but foremost amongst them is that such a hypothesis doesn't yield any meaningful means of testing it. That doesn't disprove it, of course.

    it is almost universally recognized that we don't know how life arose on this planet, although there are many competing hypotheses (what lay people might call theories, except that in the scientific sense they're hypotheses, not theories). What might irk some is that among many scientists the one hypothesis rarely considered is that God started it. There are multiple reasons for this, but foremost amongst them is that such a hypothesis doesn't yield any meaningful means of testing it. That doesn't disprove it, of course.

    I think this is key. Scientists necessarily come up with many ideas or hypotheses about all kinds of things like the origin of life on this planet. Emma seems to be saying that when they state these ideas or hypotheses...or feel strongly about them...they've entered into the realm of "belief" and are no different from the pastor who preaches on Genesis because these hypotheses have yet to be proven or tested.

    But why restrict scientists from talking about what they think is true? If they could only talk about what they've tested and proven to be true, how would they ever venture into new territory? And why keep the public out of the discussion? As long as you make the distinction between what you think is true or may be true and what you know to be true, you're on dry ground.

    We go from the unknown, but suspected or hypothesized, to the better known through testing. This is the necessary progression of ideas. I imagine there are some hypotheses which scientists don't even know how they would test, even if they could test them. Einstein's theory predicted many things that were only observed and confirmed decades later. I don't know if he posited the necessary conditions for testing these predictions or not.

    But I do believe that hypotheses, generally, stand on a foundation of tested theory. That is, based on what we know we know, it makes some sense to think that this unknown X looks or acts like this. In some cases, a hypothesis requires rethinking what we "know" we know, so there's also that. But hypotheses aren't just fanciful shots in the dark. I don't believe scientists spend time trying to substantiate hypotheses for which there is no reason to believe they are or could be true.

    I "believe" this is what the scientist was saying when he said he didn't believe the Shroud was real. And he was careful to say he didn't know this to be the case.

    Sorry to be so long replying.  I made a few other attempts but gave up.    It is like that saying that goes around business offices from time to time:  

    "I know you understand what you think I said.  I am just not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

    In my mind, we are really too far apart on the subject to have a fruitful discussion in this media.  That and other things are demanding my attention just now.  

    A couple of links to share:

    Darwinism is an actual school of philosophy with its own internal as well as external disputes.  Enjoy.

    If you have not already, watch NOVA | Becoming Human to see how much myth is spun out of very few facts -- very few.



    OK, fair enough. I respect your voice on enough other topics to risk creating any ill-will.

    FWIW, I recognize that meaning of Darwinism, but for me that usage has as much meaning as Quantum Physics. That's not to say it has no meaning, but for my "ears" it didn't fit what I was inferring you were trying to say.

    As for TV shows, NOVA's not bad, but I always take those as hypotheticals that try to fill in the gaps, just as A&E's biographies, etc. They're designed for lay-people, not experts.

    They're designed for lay-people, not experts.

    But they and others like them are what stir up lay people for or against concepts, ideas and issues about which they may or may not have ever given any thought to and may never think of again.  People take things in almost by osmosis, accepting rather than learning and thinking about almost everything, never really knowing.  ​It happens to the best of us.  How many of us have the means to really explore most topics first hand.  Those experts you speak of can be just as easily deceived as the most disinterested lay person IF s/he does not challenge what s/he thinks s/he knows. 

    Latest Comments