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damian penny

Something Damian Penny wrote the other day came back to me just now: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Damian was, of course, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. However, I think the quote is a good one, and it popped into my head when I read about today’s ruling against teaching creationism in schools:

A federal judge on Tuesday banned the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution by Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District, saying the practice violated the constitutional ban on teaching religion in public schools.

[ . . . ]

The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and unscientific and had no place in high school biology classrooms.

Before you jump down my throat, I’m in no way implying that Holocaust denial is comparable to creationism. What I am saying, however, is that there’s a clear difference between fact and invention – as in the case of Holocaust denial – which I think we all recognize fairly easily. What many people fail to recognize, however, is that we must also make a clear distinction between fact and belief.

Evolution is a scientific fact. Creationism (repackaged as “intelligent design” or whatever you rename it) is a belief. It is based on faith, not evidence, and cannot be proven for the simple reason that it cannot be disproven.

Today’s ruling banned the teaching of creationism because it violates the separation of church and state. I think the real reason it ought to be banned from science curricula is because it isn’t science. After all, there is no constitutional ban on teaching Holocaust denial in history class, and yet I’m sure we would all call for the dismissal of any teacher who tried, simply on the grounds that it’s wrong.

I have no objection to the teaching of creationist theory in a course about religion, humanities, or cultural studies. But high school biology teachers who teach creationism as scientific fact are muddling fact and belief. People are entitled to hold a belief, but when teaching science, they need to stick to facts.

And so, to restate Damian’s point, everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, but not his own facts.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Damian Penny’s blog an awful lot. I even agree with most of the things he writes. But some of his readers and commentators… well, that’s another story altogether. Case in point: the delusion-fest going on right now about how Harper and the Conservatives are going to win the election by focusing endlessly on the same two issues they’ve spent the last couple of years talking about.

The post starts by linking to a very sensible column in the Ottawa Citizen about what Harper needs to do if he wants to improve his chances in this election:

For the past couple of years, the party has focused on highlighting Liberal corruption and opposing same-sex marriage. This strategy has created three problems, all of which remain unresolved and continue to plague Mr. Harper.

One, Canadians know little about what he actually stands for: they only know what he is against. Two, the Liberals and the media defined the Tory leader before he could do so himself, which explains his personal unpopularity and the Tories’ inability to break 30 per cent in polls. And three, the party has not been able to attract new support because it has failed to reach out to new constituencies. Most people who oppose same-sex marriage are already voting Tory. The party has to move beyond that base.

Then, on the news that Harper is doing precisely the opposite, we get comments like these:

It’s an appeal to the social conservative vote, all right, but that’s not just the stereotypical Christian right. It’s also a way to appeal to new immigrants and the various ethnic communities, who need assurance that the Tories won’t ram a secular social change down their throats.

Actually, the idea that the Tories would pick up votes from immigrant communities by bashing gay marriage proved to be a massive failure in the last election. Why Harper keeps harping on it (no pun intended) is a mystery probably best explained by lack of any other coherent policies.

Then there’s this gem:

This IS a brilliant idea! Here’s how it works:

By bringing up SSM and causing the Liberals to use their ‘boogeyman’ tactics, Stephen Harper has deprived the Liberals of their most powerful weapon.

In this phase of the campaign, the parties should be keeping their most powerful arguments for the final stage. By forcing the Liberals to respond now, their most dangerous argument is going to be exhausted before the end of the campaign, and the Liberal message will appear repetitive.

This is a risk, and will cause a bump in the polls for the Liberals, but it is a brilliant strategy which will ultimately help make a Conservative win happen.

Never doubt Stephen Harper’s intelligence.

Oh, that’s a great strategy there. Lead off the election campaign by talking constantly about the thing you want voters to forget??? Sounds like the other person whose intelligence I need to doubt is the author of this comment.

The Conservatives don’t have a chance in hell. But the delusion-fest continues. Read if you dare.


Unequivocal condemnation


Damian Penny said it best in reaction to this: A 19-year-old Israeli soldier opened fire inside a bus Thursday, killing four Israeli Arabs before being killed by an angry mob — the deadliest attack on Arabs in Israel by a Jewish extremist since 1990. Damian claims there’s “no word for it but terrorism”: So, will […]

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Essential reads


If you aren’t reading Imshin, Damian or Lisa regularly, you’re missing out. Do yourselves a favour and surf on over there now. There’s not much to see here anyway; I’m still in too-busy-to-blog mode.

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Around the blogosphere


Too busy to blog at the moment, but never fear: there is so much worthwhile reading out there that you can keep plenty busy. Allison and Imshin pointed me towards Lisa’s story of how she came to Israel. I’m completely hooked. You will be too. So far, she’s got parts one, two, three and four. […]

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It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood…


Today was clear, sunny… and a balmy minus 22 degrees centigrade with a windchill of minus 33. Damian, I sympathize. I really do. But look on the bright side: at least by you, it’s warm enough to snow.

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Linky fun


If you’re not reading Imshin regularly these days, you should be. Here’s an example of why. While you’re at it, you can vote for her or Allison for a BlogAward, even though it’s pretty much a lost cause for anyone in that category. And while you’re at the blog awards site, vote for Meryl Yourish, […]

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Concordia: What they’re saying


Hillel: “A small group of thugs are holding an entire university community hostage and deciding who is allowed to speak and who is not. All people who value democratic principles such as freedom of expression and speech should share our outrage with this intolerable situation.” – co-Presidents Jason Portnoy and Yacov Fruchter, in a press […]

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Blogosphere roundup


I haven’t done this in a while, and I think some of my fave bloggers are feeling neglected. Not that they care about the 2 hits they’ll get from these links, but hey, I think they’re great reads… so you should too 🙂 Lynn is not impressed by Arafat’s mea culpa and neither is Meryl. […]

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Damian Penny for Prime Minister


Damian Penny for Prime Minister! Hey, who else thinks it’s a good idea? Besides, he wants to appoint me to his cabinet as Minister of External Affairs. I’m honoured… and a little frightened. Hey Damian, do I have your permission to dispatch Bill Graham to Denmark?

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