The Education System: Part 1 – Evolution

Our meeting topic this week is the education system. This is a topic that was brought up in several meetings last quarter, so we’ve dedicated an entire conversation to it. Education is a very broad topic, so there are a lot of different facets that can be covered and several directions this conversation can go. As such, I thought it might be a good idea to break up this topic into a few different posts.

First up, evolution.

There is a common theory that Charles Darwin hesitated publishing his book On the Origin of Species because he feared the religious backlash. This might not be the case. He was busy writing other books and he talked about his theory of evolution openly without causing any outrage. However, the publication did result in international debate and has fundamentally altered biology and science in general.

Legal History

You’ve probably learned about evolution through Natural Selection in a high school biology class at some point, but even today that type of education is occasionally challenged by religious fundamentalists. Here is a very brief overview of the legal cases regarding the teaching of evolution (and creationism) in the United States.

  • Scopes Trial (1925) – Tennessee made it illegal to teach evolution. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.
  • Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) – Supreme Court case that ruled that bans on teaching evolution were unconstitutional.
  • Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) – Supreme Court case that prohibited the teaching of creationism in schools.
  • Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) – A Pennsylvania District court case that ruled that Intelligent Design was not allowed to be taught in schools because of its religious connotations.

ArsTechnica has a great rundown of the history of the debate on creationism, from a few different perspectives. It gives a pretty thorough list of different factions and what they support (Young Earth Creationism, Day Age Creationism, Intelligent Design, etc.)

Current Standing

This is still a hotly debated topic, despite the overwhelming (and growing) evidence for evolution.

Just a few weeks ago, there was a debate between creationist Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, and science educator and TV personality Bill Nye. You can watch the full debate on Youtube.

If you are not aware, Texas is often a battleground for this debate because of the approval process for textbooks. Because of the size of Texas school districts, publishers basically get the books approved in Texas, and just use the same book in the rest of the country. And for this reason, their school boards elections are a bigger deal than most. The State Board of Education typically has a large bloc of Creationist members that offer recommendations to publishers to undermine the teaching of evolution.

However, recently the major textbook publishers ignored these recommendations and the Board approved them anyway (because they need textbooks), so there is some hope that this front of the debate will be less important in the future.

About 33% of adults in the US still reject the idea of humans evolving over time, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey. This is actually consistent with their findings in 2009.

So that’s more or less where things stand today. I’m sortof taking for granted that anyone reading this will already accept the theory of evolution. But I find it interesting how contentious this issue is even with the amount of evidence in favor of evolution, just because religion is involved. The only other topic that might cause as much controversy when mixing with education is probably politics.

Which will be covered in Part 2.


February 20 – Common Arguments

Our meeting this week covers the common arguments for and against god.

I think listing arguments against god might be a bit like preaching to the choir (so to speak) so instead I’ll focus on arguments for god and you can examine them for yourself.

The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God

Ten Arguments for the Existence of God

Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Only Six Options

Of the ones mentioned, the arguments that I find most interesting are the argument from morality and the personal experience argument. I don’t find them compelling or logically sound, but worth talking about.

Looking through those lists, it strikes me as mostly about reconciling existing beliefs. In my experience, people believe in a god or religion because they want to. They might use some sort of logic to justify it, but the belief comes first. It’s said that you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. That’s probably the most difficult argument to counter since it isn’t an argument at all.

As always, everyone is welcome and we hope to see you there.

February 13 – Sex and Sexuality

This week’s meeting topic is sex and sexuality. Religion seems to have a lot to say about sex, so what effect does that have on society?

Possible topics of discussion include: gender issues, safe sex, polyamory, pornography, the sex-positive movement, media stereotypes, and religious influences.

One of the speakers AgASA has hosted in the past is Greta Christina and she has a great talk about Atheism and Sexuality.

Here is the obligatory wikipedia page with a huge list of rules regarding sex under various religions. That page also has a link to something called “sex magic” so now I’ve got that in my browser history.

If you can’t make it to our meeting, but are in the Sacramento area, Sac City College is concluding their week long Sex Positive City.

“The main event — Thursday Night Threesome — an evening of Sex Positive fun and education with Laci Green, Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Jaye Cee Whitehead, Ph.D. The event will be MC’d by local comedian Keith Lowell Jensen.”

Their site also has a good list of resources for sex-positive information as well as links to Sacramento women’s centers and LGBT resources. We also have the LGBTQIA Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center here on campus.

This discussion topic, like every other this quarter, was decided in our first meeting. If you have an idea for a meeting you’d like to discuss, be sure to come to the first meeting Spring quarter or visit our facebook page early in the quarter.

February 6 Meeting – Drugs

Our meeting topic this week is drugs. There are lots of ways this discussion could go, but here are some ideas that might be worth considering no matter where you fall in this debate.

Click here for the facebook event page.

Portugal decriminalized most drugs more than a decade ago and there are interesting results of that decision.

LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is a group of retired law enforcement officers that advocate decriminalizing and legalizing drugs. You can see a lot of their arguments summed up in this video:

And for those of your that prefer your arguments boiled down to talking points, there is a wikipedia article with arguments for and against pretty much any subject.

This discussion topic, like every other this quarter, was decided in our first meeting. If you have an idea for a meeting you’d like to discuss, be sure to come to the first meeting Spring quarter or visit our facebook page early in the quarter.

Chris Highland Event

Note your calender! February 28th in Young 198 from 6pm-9pm Chris Highland will give a speech with questions titled Wallbuilders or Bridgebuilders: Spiritual and Secular in Service! Please come out and enjoy the event and discuss the conjunction of secular and religious goals.

Chris Highland is a teacher, writer and social worker in the SF Bay Area. He earned a Bachelor degree in Philosophy and Religion from Seattle Pacific University before receiving his Master of Divinity through the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

While a seminary student, Chris helped organize the first Interfaith Student Group through Davis Community Church and Newman Center. On a number of occasions he met with Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders at Hillel and taught a course on World Religions.

His work in Davis led to many years as an Interfaith Chaplain in Marin County where he served as the first Interfaith Chaplain in the Marin County Jail (available to 10,000 inmates a year) before becoming the Street Chaplain with houseless people. He also served as a Parish Associate with a Presbyterian Church, taught courses on Sacred Scriptures of the World in congregations and was a field ministry supervisor for seminary students.

Chris left his Christian ordination in 2001, continuing his chaplaincy work until 2005. For three years he lived in a tiny cabin on an island in the Northwest where he built forest trails, worked on an organic farm and helped operate a drop-in center for youth. He returned to the Bay Area to teach at Dominican University before becoming the Director of the County Emergency Winter Shelter. He is now the Manager of Tam House, cooperative housing for low-income seniors, teaches chaplaincy courses for Cherry Hill Seminary and writes.

He is a member of The Clergy Project, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Secular Students Speakers’ Bureau.

Chris is the author of ten books including Meditations of John Muir, My Address is a River and Life After Faith. His primary website is

. His wife Carol is a Presbyterian Minister and works as the Executive Director of the Marin Interfaith Council, actively networking with diverse faith groups and Freethinkers. They live in San Rafael.

First meeting of the 2012-13 school year! And the Fall Quarter Schedule.

Meetings for fall quarter will be on Tuesdays in Wellman 6 from 6:10pm-8pm.

The first meeting is tonight, October 2nd. There will be pizza!

Here is what we have planned for this quarter:

10/2/12: What is AgASA?

10/9/12: What is atheism?

Special Event! 10/12/12: Matt McCormick (details to come)

10/16/12: How to run an atheist club

Special Event!: 10/20/12: Preview Day @ Freeborne hall, 11:30-2:30

10/23/12: Is offense actionable?

10/30/12: Sexism and atheism

11/6/12: Sexism continued

11/13/12: Activism

11/20/12: Fallacy

11/27/12: Quarterly De-Stress Potluck!

Hope to see you all there!