Teach the controversy: now with added global warming

Today’s New York Times reports on how religious people and conservatives are adopting the same teach-the-controversy strategy they’ve employed with evolution.  A bill is pending in Kentucky, a similar resolution just passed in South Dakota, and Texas mandates that teachers present “all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.”

What’s next?  Teach the “controversy” about Western medicine? After all, lots of people believe in homeopathy, spiritual healing and the like.  How about vaccination?  And shouldn’t history classes debate the controversy about whether the Holocaust actually took place, or whether the Turks committed genocide against Armenians?

The Times reports that, according to a Pew survey, “white evangelical Protestants were among those least likely to believe that there was ‘solid evidence’ that the Earth was warming because of human activity. Only 23 percent of those surveyed accepted that idea, compared with 36 percent of the American population as a whole.”

A sentence from the resolution of the South Dakota legislature gives you the tenor of the debate:

Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.

But how about those animals?


  1. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    But isn’t that just confirming that the deniers are plants (as in vegetating) intellectually when it comes to thinking and understanding?
    (Sorry plants, didn’t mean to insult you).

  2. Necandum
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Nah man, the animals are doomed to eternal torment. Only plants are 100% sin free*. So it’s obvious God would want heaps of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.

    *On the other hand, considering the Church’s record thus far, not for long.

  3. Matt Penfold
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    But we must all try to remember, it is not religion that is the problem, it is those scientists!

    • ennui
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Only a great comm00nicator can saves teh planet now. Someone like Sagan, but with whiter teeth.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink


  4. Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I’ve read an article recently (here: Neuroscience of Belief) about how the brain reacts to something considered truth or false. The same region that is associated with producing “pleasant” is associated with right, and “unpleasant” with false. Very interesting. It sheds some light on why people still believe these things, and really humbled me a little. Although science is still our best method for finding out things.

  5. Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Once the money of Richard Mellon Scaife becomes involved, everything is subject to “controversy.”

  6. Posted March 4, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    When it comes to teaching, everyone goes nuts. Why? Because it is the 2nd most effective method to proselytizing new members to your cause, whatever it may be. The first, of course, is making babies. 🙂

  7. Jacques
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    It’s not about the *animals*, it’s about the fact that CO2 levels are steadily rising. Too much of anything is a bad thing, even CO2 for plants. But yeah, they’re idiots (or more likely paid stooges).

  8. Posted March 4, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, perhaps letting students tell me that

    (x + y)^ n = x^n +y^n

    is next. After all, many of them think that this is true!

    Oh wait..that is true in commutative rings of prime characteristic “n”. 🙂

    • Steve
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      I cannot find any biblical justification for your heretical number magic and your strident presentation of it has offended me.

  9. Posted March 4, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Well I think it’s time we started teaching the controversy about democracy. In many respects a dictatorship might be the best method of government.

  10. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Why not teach the controversy about junk food being good for you? McDonald’s fries instead of an apple! Deep fried chicken in lard instead of salmon! Down with veggies! Up with chocolate!

  11. Neil
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood–why NOT teach the controversy? When we teach the heliocentric system, we can use the geocentric system as a foil. When teaching evolution, why not use ID or whatever as a straw man, and beat the stuffing out of it. The “controversy” doesn’t threaten evolution.

    • oldfuzz
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Teaching the controversy implies there may be scientific merit to creation stories. I would rather see the subject of creation stories, of which there may be thousands, taught as early human views of the beginnings.

      It would also be beneficial to include a unit on how many of the earliest scientists were religious believers seeking a better understanding of god’s creation. Unfortunately, their discoveries led others deeper into the realm of disproving earlier assertions.

      The controversy is whether creationism has any scientific basis. It does not.

      • Neil
        Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        “Teaching the controversy implies there may be scientific merit to creation stories.”

        That is an assertion. I do not see why it is true. If I teach the pathogenic theory of disease, comparing it to the old miasma “theory” (superstition) does not confer merit to the latter. Similarly. teaching the mechanical theory of heat using the caloric “theory” as a foil does not make the latter respectable. I could go one and on.

        For thousands of years people explained phenomena by superstition. Showing how science lights the way by comparison only enhances science.

        • TreeRooster
          Posted March 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          I like this idea. For one thing it will certainly rob the pseudoscientists of some of their thunder. A lot of the claims in anti-evolution textbooks are along the lines of “here is a fact which supports our belief (in a young earth, or dinosaur/human interaction) which the mainstream is suppressing.” By mentioning that this fact exists and that some people have misinterpreted it, and by presenting a better interpretation, the science book helps ensure that a particular brand of pseudoscience loses another foothold.

          In contrast, there is no need to include a sentence syaing “some people don’t believe this” after a description of a theory and its experimental support. I imgaine that the anti-evolutionists would much prefer such a sentence to an actual treatment of one of their fallacies!

        • Posted March 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          Neil, I believe (hope) you are thinking about this in idealized terms not realistic terms. The “teach the controversy” crowd wants creationism (aka intelligent design) taught in schools and not evolution. The idea of “teach the controversy” is to give carte blanche to creationist (or creationist leaning) K-12 teachers to teach scientifically invalid ideas as if these ideas are valid. The teacher that gets up and teaches the age of the universe using only AiG resources is now protected under a “teach the controversy” umbrella. Of Pandas and People becomes a science textbook under “Teach the Controversy.” The reality is much different than I think you think it is.

        • oldfuzz
          Posted March 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          “Teaching the controversy implies there may be scientific merit to creation stories.”

          With that definition of teach-the-controversy, I agree is does not belong in school; however, the basis for the controversy–which is the refusal of creation story literalists to accept science–does.

          One interesting example is the Hopi creation story which has the creator creating nine worlds–seven for humans, one for the creator and one for the creator’s staff. Each time humans get off track, the good ones are led to a safe place and their world is destroyed. They remain there until a new world is readied for them.

          When the second world is destroyed by ice–probably a mythical idea carried forward from the last ice age, the icification of the planet is achieved by the creator’s nephews, who are assigned the duty of stabilizing earth’s poles. It is doubtful that the Hopi knew the earth had poles and rotated on an axis when the creation story was created, rather it was updated to be consistent with scientific fact.

          It’s a story. It’s Avatar, Harry Potter, the Iliad, the Odyssey, but it’s about how the universe and humans came into being.

          To identify the scientific falsity of creation stories requires teaching the creation stories, not dismissing them which can be used as an example of there being something to hide.

          Let’s get it out in the daylight.

  12. Eric MacDonald
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I have to admit to some bewilderment. Not at the idiocy of the religious. That, clearly, can be taken for granted. But why is climate change denial a religious matter? Stoning killer whales? Well, of course, obviously religious. But climate change?!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Stop looking for logic from the illogical or sanity from the insane. They are ignorant and taught nonsense and are proud of it all.

      • notsonutty
        Posted March 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        And you seem ignorant, and arrogant. The poetic ignorange here screams for some real sane logic.
        There is no such thing a a non-religious person. The question is what sort of religion? You seem to have some vague belief system, yourself – with the cornerstone being hatred of people of other religions.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted March 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          “There is no such thing a a non-religious person.”

          This is an ignorant, close minded or malicious statement.

          Apparently you dislike logic or critical thinking and just spew nonsense. Try you lies with someone else. I don’t buy your bullshit.

          You must be a prime example of the ignorant and proud I spoke about.

          • Foxboy
            Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            If you’d taken a second to think it through, maybe you’d see what he/she was saying.

            First off, what is a religion? It’s a series of structured beliefs on the cause, nature and purpose of the universe.

            Evolution is a series of structured beliefs on cause, nature and purpose of the universe. It wouldn’t be incorrect to view evolution and evolutionists as religious people.

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            No Foxboy, Evolution is NOT a series of structured beliefs at all. It is based on evidence from a dozen different disciplines. It has never been falsified. It is not a belief at all.

            What is religion? It is a collection of myths, fairy tales and lies brought together to control other people. It preys on fear of the unknown. It promises an afterlife based on nothing. It is woo.

            Therefore it is absolutely incorrect to view evolution and evolutionists as religious people. Your statement has no value and therefore no weight due to lack of any truth.

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

              PS: evolution deals with life. It says nothing at all about the universe.

            • Foxboy
              Posted March 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

              See? There’s the key EVIDENCE right in your sentence. There’s “{EVIDENCE} from a dozen different disciplines.” Just like there’s [evidence] for there being an intelligent designer.

              The difference between the two? Simple: They require the person to believe in different things.

              Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is no afterlife, maybe for at least 6000 years most if not all the religions of the world have collectively made a mis-step.

              But what if you’re wrong? What if we Christians are right? What if there is a God we have to account ourselves to? Are you willing to bet an eternity that you’re right?

              Further, if you are right, then it means that, bottom line, there’s no ultimate purpose to anything we do. It means that sooner or later humanity is going go the way of the dodo, and that the fate of our universe is ultimately heat death.

              Does evolution say anything about the universe? Yes, a lot of things, actually. For one, if we did evolve from goo, then where did this goo come from? What caused it to go from so-called “simple single-cell organisms” to more complex beings such as ourselves?
              Evolution says that nonliving chemicals turned into living things. That conflicts with the fact that life must come from the living.

            • oldfuzz
              Posted March 7, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

              “What is religion?”

              The narrow answers to this question cause more of the conflict than the facts. Religion in its basic meaning is the linking or binding of human life to the whole through a meaning system which in some cases includes a creation story.

              Many of today’s organized religions allow, some even encourage, diverse views of the meaning of human life.

              As for stories and myths, they’re great whenever they encourage one to think about how they are living their life, terrible when they encourage supremicist views.

              Are there any human who are living a healthy life without stories?

    • Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Because God is Good therefore God will not let climate change work itself out in the terrible ways that climate scientists are predicting – or else God will do that, but it will be For The Best. Either way, it is holy to drive a Ford Explorer and climate scientists should stfu.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      I think there is a lot of what is termed “identity politics” going on. If your perceived enemy takes a stance then you must argue against it, reagardless of the actual topic, regardless of any common sense that might otherwise have led you to that very conclusion on your own. It reminds me of debate class, or collegiate debate tournaments, where the position is assigned. Here it is assigned by default as soon as a leader or group of the imageined “left wing” states their opinion. Automatically the conservatives must find some arcane line of reasoning to rebut with.

    • Akira MacKenzie
      Posted March 5, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      Because the American Right have successfully woven Christian fundamentalism, hyper-nationalism, militarism, and mindless devotion to unfettered capitalism into a single, self-contained ideology:

      “Only a godless, peacenik, Obama-lovin’ liberal believes in evil-ution and global warming! They want to use Darwinism to destroy Christianity while using all this environmentalist BS to ruin the free market! It’s a recipe for the Communist take-over of America!”

  13. Jack van Beverningk
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Mr. Coyne, may I suggest that you read your own posts? (preferably out loud)

    (If you do, I’m sure you will catch the three glaring typos in this short post)

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      I noticed you fixed two of them.
      #3 was:

      “And shouldn’t history classes should debate …”


      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        Yes, thank you. I wrote this post very quickly and headed out. Appreciate the corrections.

  14. Stephen P
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    As far as the Turkish genocide against the Armenians is concerned, it might actually be a big improvement to at least teach the controversy. I’d never heard of it at all until more than ten years after I’d left school.

  15. Britt
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Why stop at evolution and global warming? How about those Hubble space images? Teach the controversy over whether they are real or the work of some kid who’s good at Photoshop.

    I would have expected global warming to fall right into the apocalyptic views of most fundies, but I suppose they see it as a competing apocalyptic vision based on science rather than god. And since there is no evil empire to associate with global warming, it doesn’t fit into their black and white view of how things work.

    • notsonutty
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Why do you assume so much?
      Like, are the 64% of the American people who aren’t sure about global warming all fundamentalists? I doubt it.
      Further, of the Christians, Jews and Muslims I know, they don’t see all the world as “black and white” (racist terminology?). Nor do they seem stupid, ignorant, nuts, backward, insane, nor lacking logical capacity. Nor are they all right-wingers, or conservatives. And most of them are a lot nicer than many of the commentators on this site.

  16. Grendels Dad
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s time to break the hegemony of that icky sperm and egg theory of where babies come from too! As a fully licensed and accredited storkologist, as well as a Fellow at the Cabbage Patch Institute, I feel uniquely qualified to receive a fat paycheck teaching this controversy.

  17. Jon
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    One obvious difference, though: with global warming there is a controversy to teach. See


    for starters.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      with global warming there is a controversy to teach.

      No, there isn’t, and that is the point. The science come down on this long ago. Around 2006-2007, if my old and by now senile memory is to be trusted that far back. That was when the latest IPCC review revealed that the observations and models were solid enough to satisfy climatologists.

      [Aah, to be that young again! Funny, it feels but like yester-year. And get of my lawn!]

      You can find about as many “climatologists” that oppose climate science as you can find “biologists” opposing evolution. This is but further evidence that AGW denial is an essentially religious position, i.e. religious thinking more than knee-jerk conservatism is behind denial.

      Btw, that was a crackpot site, not a reference.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      A list of argument and counter-argument about evolution is no proof of controversy. Creationsists have a counter-argument for every argument of evolutionary biologists. So too with climate change.

  18. Greg Peterson
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    “The Rev. Jim Ball, senior director for climate programs at the Evangelical Environmental Network, a group with members who accept the science of global warming, said that many of the deniers feel that ‘it is hubris to think that human beings could disrupt something that God created.'”

    I take it that RevBall is pro-choice, then, since humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” having been “knit together in (their) mother’s wombs,” and it would just be hubris, HUBRIS I tells ya, to say a mere human could disrupt something God created like that.

    • notsonutty
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      “…Evangelical Environmental Network, a group with members who accept the science of global warming…”
      Thank you. Proved my point.

  19. TheHiddenImam
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I say we extend this “teach the controversy” stuff even further. Let’s teach ALL religions as part of Mythology classes and discuss whether or not Moses, Jesus, Buddha, etc. existed. Then we’ll see how much controversy they’re willing to teach 🙂

  20. ckitching
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing. I’m seeing the exact same argument patterns from virtually all these groups. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the creationists, climate denialists, anti-vaxers, or homeopaths saying it, the message is the same.

    1) [Something] was found out to be a hoax/fraud, therefore, the entire field of [hated science] is a fraud.

    2) [Favoured woo] isn’t being taken seriously because there’s a massive conspiracy to ruin anyone who dares speak out against [hated science].

    3) [Local phenomenon] proves that [hated science] is wrong. How could [local phenomenon] and [hated science] both be true!

    4) Follow the money! There is so much money in [hated science] that these people are just protecting their government gravy train. On the contrary, people promote [favoured woo] out of the goodness of their heart!

    5) They laughed at Galileo, too, and he turned out to be right!

    6) [Hated science] is promoted by hateful atheistic scientists who want to destroy religion and institute a world government.

    7) For centuries people have relied on [favoured woo], and these evil people/government want to take it away from you!

    If it wasn’t so sad, it’d be funny. I rarely see someone oppose these sciences without completely falling into one of these categories.

  21. MadScientist
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Who cares about animals so long as the potatoheads in the state legislature aren’t harmed by CO2.

  22. The Thin Guy
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Having viewed products of our current education system, I’d be happy if our schools taught anything. Teach both what evolution explains and doesn’t explain. What doesn’t evolution explain? Massive gaps in the fossil record and the origin of life. Giraffes appear with no animals with necks of intermediate lengths preceding them. Life begins from what? There have been many Frankensteins but no monsters. Certainly there are things about which there is no controversy but some accepts facts become tomorrow’s jokes such as Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, the ether, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the greatest fraud in the history of science Global Luke Warming.

  23. Joseph L
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    As a lowly chemist who has worked for the government a many years, I say why not?
    Let’s face it, the controversy isn’t the temperature (although the folks in Russia and the Eastern US would disagree), but it is the cause of the change.
    In the 1970’s, we had global cooling. There was a scare amongst the scientific community that we were heading into another ice age within the next century. Now, we have global warming. Funny, if you follow the climate history graphs, we are still following the patterns that occurred prior to a ice age.
    As far as CO2 is concerned, you have been listening to the media to much or worse, the profiteer Al Gore. CO2 levels are following temperature increases not the other way around. Funny because this is how it has always been. There is more CO2 in the air due to the release of CO2 for water. As majority of the earth surface is water, CO2 can be constantly released. Think of a soda. A warm soda is flatter than a cold soda because the CO2 has been released. The worlds oceans are the same.
    The other problem they have is that while we were studying Earth’s temperature increase and claiming it was man-made, we (us government types) released that the temperature on Mars was increasing (or rather had increased since we’ve been observing temperature) at approximately the same rate (0.5C since 1970). This does cause problems with man-made global warming since its hard to blame us for that one.

    • Curious
      Posted March 8, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I am interested in learning more about your perspective and presented info. Would you post some links you feel would enhance understanding?
      I look forward to reading more about it all. Thanks so much.

  24. Zoea
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Pat Buchanan may be planning an election bid in South Dakota. In this gem he expounds on the hoax of the 21st century and on evolution. http://vdare.com/buchanan/100301_global_warming.htm

  25. Stephen
    Posted March 7, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Nice to see your article strike back at those people who want to “Teach the ‘controversy'” by employing three logical fallacies. Fairly impressive. It’s too bad I’ve seen this more and more the case of how people argue with global warming critics. They start using our tactics, like citing articles, questioning stats, and understanding that science doesn’t work on the basis of consensus. And how do we fight back? We argue like school kids using bad logic, and call them names like, “deniers” Congratulation, with this article you’re on your way to being one of them.

  26. McCthulhu
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Therein lies a big problem with Democracy. Teh Stupid™ think it means you also get to vote on reality. It’s only a short matter of time until the climate refugees start showing up at the borders, then we can feed the deniers to them and solve many problems at once.

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