Friday, 3 October 2008

Sarah Palin And The Flintstones

I've been worrying about Sarah Palin. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that in her own gun-totin` way she is a lovely woman. I respect her right to name her children after a west country city with a history linked to the slave trade, a branch of mathematics, and a means of following something. These names are (by my reckoning) exotic but I recognise cultural influences in these matters. Equally I respect her right to bare arms and shoot furry things. I admire the way she has risen from a provincial mayor to governor to vice-presidential candidate and is still identified as a 'hockey mom`. All in all she appears to be a nice enough woman. So, what's my problem?

At this point I need to lay my cards on the table. When I was 13 I became a Christian. Over the years I have worked with and for numerous church organisations, writing material that has been used all over the world in Christian contexts. I have worked with most of the best known (British) evangelists, especially the late Rob Frost whom I counted among my best friends. And although, over the years, I have come to realise that the world and indeed the universe is more complex and more uncertain than perhaps my 13 year old self would have accepted, I adhere in principle to a Christian ethos.

Right, back to Sarah Palin. Mrs Palin belongs to the Wasilla Assembly of God church . . . Oh no, sorry, she left there in 2002, coincidently around the time she was trying to break in to state-wide politics. No, she goes to Wasilla Bible Church. . . Oh, hang on a second, apparently she doesn't

"I think that there's a lot of mocking of my personal faith," she said. "And my personal faith is very, very simple. I don't belong to any church. I do have a strong belief in God, and I believe that I'm a heck of a lot better off putting my life in God's hands, and saying hey, you know, guide me. What else do we have but guidance that we would seek from a Creator? That's about as simple as it gets with my faith, and I think that there is a lot of mocking of that.”
Radio interview with Hugh Hewitt


“I don't belong to any church.” Now a cynic might wonder if her apparent sudden disavowal of church has anything to do with being jettisoned into the national and indeed international political limelight. Could it possibly be that someone has whispered in her ear that she needs to tone down the religious stuff? And if so, why? Here's one possible reason.

Sarah Palin, a possible vice-president of the USA, a woman who could be a heartbeat away from running a superpower, believes that men and dinosaurs lived together. A man by the name of Philip Munger talking about an evangelical drive to take over a school board in Mat-Su Borough, Alaska said of Sarah Palin -

"She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'
"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."
Source – David Talbot (salon.com)


The dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them refers to the so-called Taylor Trail on the Paluxy river in Texas, a river bed where there appears to be two types of footprint fossilised in the mud, one set dinosaur, one set apparently human. The site has been thoroughly investigated and the notion of co-existing humans and dinosaurs debunked. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paluxy_River)

Mrs Palin is perfectly entitled to her personal beliefs. She might believe in fairies and unicorns, she may well believe the world is flat and rides on the back of a giant turtle, but what she is surely not entitled to do is give credence to her beliefs by inflicting them on children in the classroom, dressing up her fanciful notions as science. Whether she is a literal seven day, young earth creationist or a proponent of ID, Intelligent Design, she must not be allowed to hide behind the 'teach the controversy` argument where creationism is given equal time as evolutionary theory on the grounds that it's only fair children should hear both sides of the argument. There is no argument. On the me hand you have 150 years of accumulated empirical evidence and on the other you have some faith based wishful thinking.

Why am I banging on about this? Why does it matter? It matters because Sarah Palin could conceivably be in a position to influence the direction scientific education takes in the United States, not just in the classroom but across the wider society as well. And what happens in America trickles across the Atlantic to us here in the UK as we are already seeing in some of our own faith based schools. Someone with such a pitiful grasp of scientific reality could mess things up for years to come. Imagine, stem cell research or an investigation in to the healing power of prayer?

Science is not a matter of opinion or faith, it's a method of impartial investigation that can and has changed the world. Of course you can have faith and be an advocate of science but you cannot have science based on faith because faith presumes causation. Sarah Palin is certainly not unique amongst politicians who have weird or wonderful personal ideologies but she is unique in being a potential rallying point for the right-wing forces intent on dragging the world back to the dark ages. There's not much we can do about it on this side of the Atlantic but if you are reading this in America please think carefully before inflicting on us some one who thinks prehistory was somewhat akin to the Flintstones.