Some Views on the Modern Educational System and the Value of Naturalistic Evolution

My co-author, DB, wrote:

And yet, along with Skinner and many others, our education system has been heavily influenced by these atheistic ideas. As Mynym pointed out, at the end of his comment, our schools have become battle zones, where parents can’t be assured that their children will return home safely or, if they do, educated. Our education system, as well as our society, is despotically run by material science, the government and corporate agendas (who, by the way, are in the sack with each other), which have little to do with learning, values, ethics or morality.

Indeed! John Dewey was a psychologist who ended up being very influential in the American educational system. Unfortunately my field bears a lot of the responsibility for both advancements and ills with the modern educational system. Based on my experience with patients, the special educational system, eventually largely developed out of the work of Dewey, and other psychologists, has show much success. However, the general educational principles advanced by psychologists have variously resulted in both negative and positive effects on our culture and the learning of children.

Dewey purported,

“while honoring the important role that religious institutions and practices played in human life, rejected belief in any static ideal, such as a theistic God. Dewey felt that only scientific method could reliably further human good.” (1)

And as DB continues,

Material science wants students who have been been fully indoctrinated into a belief system which denies anything greater than man and, of course, science: the scientist cries, “Where will the tax supported funding come from if someone blows the whistle on our weak theories and science adventures?”

Research on the ‘focus of research’ (meta-research?), has basically shown that it follows the funding. Not only that, but the research outcomes tend to support the viewpoints of the funding source. This oftentimes, has an unconscious basis in human psychology, and needs to be considered in the “critical thinking,” that the commenter Carl Sachs has noted as very important. This pertains to biology, evolution, psychology, and medicine. Although I am not against “basic science,” the ‘where the rubber hits the road’ aspect of research (applied science), ultimately bears more importance in my mind. I pay taxes, and I think I do demand my tax dollars produce some potential real world benefits to human beings as DB has stated in a different way before. So, I continue to be interested, in a critical sense, in the applied value that naturalistic evolution has shown to society. In other words, how have folks living their lives on a day-to-day basis benefited from the highly speculative, and largely less than correlation research, on naturalistic evolution?

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14 Responses

  1. John Dewey was not the creator of the Dewey Decimal System. The system was created by a different Dewey, Melvil Dewey, who was no relation tot the philosopher, so far as I know.

    As it turns out, I’m very familiar with Dewey’s work. I’ve read several of his books, and one of my research projects is a comparison of Nietzsche and Dewey. So if you’re interested in talking about how Dewey sees the inter-relations between evolution, education, and democracy, I’m all for it!

  2. John Dewey was not the creator of the Dewey Decimal System. The system was created by a different Dewey, Melvil Dewey, who was no relation tot the philosopher, so far as I know.

    Crap, you are right. So much for my education! Sorry. I’m going to correct it in the post if you don’t mind.

    As it turns out, I’m very familiar with Dewey’s work. I’ve read several of his books, and one of my research projects is a comparison of Nietzsche and Dewey. So if you’re interested in talking about how Dewey sees the inter-relations between evolution, education, and democracy, I’m all for it!

    Please feel free Carl. I’m always interested in what you have to say. You can either respond here, or in private email.

  3. Thank you, Country Shrink.

    Dewey is basically a philosopher who thinks in terms of change, movement, transformations — of evolution both natural and cultural — and a philosopher who is constantly finding ways of re-framing absolute dichotomies in terms of relative distinctions. He aims at dissolving traditional metaphysical problems — such as mind vs matter, freedom vs. determinism, humanity vs nature.

    Clearly Dewey is not friendly to anyone who wants absolutes or static realities in his or her metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, or politics. On the other hand, Dewey does think that the absence of static absolutes does not mean that “anything goes.” There are criteria by which we can make thoughtful, informed choices about what to believe and what to do.

    So Dewey is most interesting to me in his attempt to carve out a viable middle ground between absolutism and relativism. To my mind he largely succeeded. (Yeah, I’m a fan.)

    With respect to the conversations going on at this blog, it’s worth pointing out that in his A Common Faith, Dewey makes a case for what could be called “religious naturalism.” He argues against both militant atheists who deny any place for religious sentiments and affections in human life, and against religious thinkers who insist on identifying the object of religious devotion with the supernatural world. On his view, religious attitudes have a legitimate role to play in human life, and that those attitudes can and he thinks should be disentangled from supernaturalism.

  4. Thanks Carl.

    Carl wrote:

    With respect to the conversations going on at this blog, it’s worth pointing out that in his A Common Faith, Dewey makes a case for what could be called “religious naturalism.” He argues against both militant atheists who deny any place for religious sentiments and affections in human life, and against religious thinkers who insist on identifying the object of religious devotion with the supernatural world. On his view, religious attitudes have a legitimate role to play in human life, and that those attitudes can and he thinks should be disentangled from supernaturalism.

    For me, I don’t care what one psychologist/philosopher thought. If there is no Higher basis for morality, I’m not interested. Maybe that says something about me as a person. But, if I’m honest, I have no use for morality without God. Yeah, I’d try not to get caught and be pragmatic, but those are the only things that would be important to me without the existence of God and my relationship with Him. So, I don’t know what to tell you other than society ought to really be glad I believe in God. I’m sorry that’s the case, but I know myself fairly well. I suppose that means that you, and other atheists, are ‘better people’ than I am. I don’t have a problem with that possibility. I don’t find the ‘possible’ entailments of atheism or the arguments of philosophers to be compelling on these issues. And I for one, find real-world associations to be quite compelling.

  5. “For me, I don’t care what one psychologist/philosopher thought. If there is no Higher basis for morality, I’m not interested. Maybe that says something about me as a person. But, if I’m honest, I have no use for morality without God.

    DITTO! As a former teacher, I saw the negative affects of the John Deweys and BF Skinners on students, teachers and the education system, and I’m not impressed with Dewey, because, after helping to create a disaster, he then sought to make it better, somehow, with his suspect, at best, humanistic approach to the issue. If man is involved in the process, any process, which he will be, then any wise person, among us, will consider the source and proceed to with caution and skepticism.

    Humans, when it comes to technological advances, are amazing, but, when it comes to the ethics and morality, we are a mess, and mainly because of our vanity!

  6. I suppose that means that you, and other atheists, are ‘better people’ than I am.

    I don’t know about “better” . . . I would say that we have different motivations for morality than you do, but I’d be extremely reluctant to draw any conclusions, from that difference alone, about who is better than whom.

    Where I, and other atheists, get defensive and angry is when it is assumed, or argued, that because we don’t have the motivations of theists, it follows that we’re being inconsistent by being moral, that we lack a proper justification for morality, etc.

    So long as we keep a clear eye on the distinction between justification and motivation, and allow for a diversity of motivations for morality, some theistic and some atheistic, we’ll all get along just fine in this life. (And even if a Christian thinks that “getting along fine in this life” is not itself what is of fundamental or ultimate importance, that’s fine by me, too!)

  7. Carl wrote:

    Where I, and other atheists, get defensive and angry is when it is assumed, or argued, that because we don’t have the motivations of theists, it follows that we’re being inconsistent by being moral, that we lack a proper justification for morality, etc.

    I think you actually do not have much of a choice here. The alternative is horrific.

    So long as we keep a clear eye on the distinction between justification and motivation, and allow for a diversity of motivations for morality, some theistic and some atheistic, we’ll all get along just fine in this life. (And even if a Christian thinks that “getting along fine in this life” is not itself what is of fundamental or ultimate importance, that’s fine by me, too!)

    One of my best friends in ‘this life,’ is an atheist. Although, I should probably be more hesitant in classifying him that way as he seems to be more of a deist of late. I think Christians really ought to focus on the real-world association between morality and atheism, instead of getting caught up in philosophical angles like I often do. A lot of times, this real world association shows many atheist to “be more moral than the average Christian” if such a conception of humans is possible. A Christian really ought to be focused on loving others. I struggle with this myself at times (too often, I’m certain). I consider you to be an ‘Internet’ friend, although we disagree on theology and science.

  8. I’m not clear on what it is you think I don’t have a choice about.

    I would say, and perhaps this is what you implied, that it is a misunderstanding of our situation as human beings to think that we are faced with a choice between being moral and being amoral.

    The question, “why be moral?” is not one that has a good answer. I don’t think, in other words, that it’s correct to describe our situation as somehow beginning on the outside of morality, and then having to somehow reason our way to get inside the moral point of view. Rather, I think that the space of reasons and the space of ethics are co-extensive; to be responsive to reasons in general is to be brought up within a way of viewing the world, and that is also and at the same time an ethics.

    Conversely, if someone’s upbringing has been so deficient as to render them deaf and blind to the reality of the suffering of other people, then abstract reasoning is powerless to compensate for that lack.

  9. I’m not clear on what it is you think I don’t have a choice about.

    I would say, and perhaps this is what you implied, that it is a misunderstanding of our situation as human beings to think that we are faced with a choice between being moral and being amoral.

    No, I don’t think this is something that a person can reason themselves into or out of (aspects of morality that is).

    to be responsive to reasons in general is to be brought up within a way of viewing the world, and that is also and at the same time an ethics.

    Yes, that is an integral part of the formation of moral reasoning in people. However, at times, I have also seen it work in the opposite (I’m not going to be like my parents!). So, as I think it through more, the notion of logical entailment of different notions of theism and atheism, seems to be irrelevant to the individual.

    Conversely, if someone’s upbringing has been so deficient as to render them deaf and blind to the reality of the suffering of other people, then abstract reasoning is powerless to compensate for that lack.

    Yes, undoubtedly so. As a shrink, the notion of ‘how to build a conscience,’ may be one of the most difficult challenges I face. So far, I find that everyone has a conscience, but it may be louder or softer in a person’s mind based on their life’s experiences and choices. This is a real-world association. Logic and entailment are irrelevant here.

  10. So far, I find that everyone has a conscience, but it may be louder or softer in a person’s mind based on their life’s experiences and choices. This is a real-world association. Logic and entailment are irrelevant here.

    I agree; this is a psychological situation, not an epistemological one.

  11. “I continue to be interested, in a critical sense, in the applied value that naturalistic evolution has shown to society.”

    Of course, genetics is fundamental to evolution. And it’s now very clear that understanding genetics (from flu virus to human genetic diseases) will be increasingly important for human welfare.

    Last night on the History Channel – there are 1500 different genetic strains of “corn” in storage. Virtually all corn grown in the US is “hybrid” corn – composed from 2 different strains by choosing one for the “male” and the other for the “female” corn plants and then using the resulting hybrid corn as “seed corn”.

    “Plant evolution” and “animal evolution” has been performed by humans for a few thousand years. How is that fundamentally different from “natural evolution” over hundreds of millions of years? Nature selected “better” plants and animals to reproduce just like humans.

  12. I think you will fine, onein6billion, that critics of evolutionary theory like to distinguish between “microevolution” and “macroevolution.” This distinction allows them to concede that selection (both natural and artificial) works at the “microevolutionary” level, without thinking that variation and selection are also sufficient to explain “macroevolutionary” patterns.

    The distinction is also made by mainstream evolutionary theorists (MET), but there the distinction is drawn differently that it is by critics of MET. In MET, all genetic changes in a population below the species level are ‘microevolutionary’ changes and everything at the species level or higher is ‘macroevolutionary.’ For this reason, MET considers speciation — the emergence of a new species — to be an instance of macroevolution. And since speciation events have been empirically documented, MET considers macroevolution in general to have been empirically documented.

    By contrast, critics of MET will say that these speciation events don’t “count” since the organisms are still bacteria, or mosquitoes, or fish, etc. This objection carries no weight with MET because according to MET, only populations of individual organisms are real. A species is defined in terms of barriers to reproduction with other populations. There are no “kinds” or “types” — none at all.

    (This is also why MET poses a threat to certain traditions within ethical theory — because MET implies that there is no such thing as “human nature” or “essence.”)

  13. Last night on the History Channel – there are 1500 different genetic strains of “corn” in storage. Virtually all corn grown in the US is “hybrid” corn – composed from 2 different strains by choosing one for the “male” and the other for the “female” corn plants and then using the resulting hybrid corn as “seed corn”.

    “Plant evolution” and “animal evolution” has been performed by humans for a few thousand years. How is that fundamentally different from “natural evolution” over hundreds of millions of years? Nature selected “better” plants and animals to reproduce just like humans.

    Why then, with this reasoning, couldn’t it have been a benevolent creator, or designer, instead of “nature,” that instilled in us, through our minds and intellect, the knowledge that would be needed to produce better crops?

  14. “Why then, with this reasoning, couldn’t it have been a benevolent creator, or designer, instead of “nature,” that instilled in us, through our minds and intellect, the knowledge that would be needed to produce better crops?”

    It certainly could be such a supernatural being. But that’s not “science”. That’s “outside of science”. That’s “religious faith” or “philosophy”. Maybe “intelligent design” fits this. Maybe not. But it’s irrelevant to science.

    So evolution is “good science” and something that is “outside of science” should not be taught in a high school classroom.

    “In other words, how have folks living their lives on a day-to-day basis benefited from the highly speculative, and largely less than correlation research, on naturalistic evolution?”

    And now you have been shown a very few of the countless ways.

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