Limits of Indoctrination

Dr. Gary North is a prolific writer, as shown by his huge archive at LRC; and most of those of his articles I've read are very good. He's particularly perceptive about the future of higher education, as this recent example illustrates.

Sometimes he's too long-winded for my taste, and sometimes he seems to me to get it wrong – though the infallible libertarian hasn't yet been born. One example struck me as so bad and bizarre as to warrant this short rebuttal: under Darwinism, Badges and Guns, he took on a target that's much too big for him.

Its theme is, nonetheless, interesting: He thinks that there exist ”Darwinists” eager to use the power of the state to corrupt each rising generation with atheism derived from Darwin's theory of natural selection, but celebrates their abject failure by pointing to some poll results; he shows that by and large, Americans aren't buying it!

Those polls say that in 1982, 44% believed God created humans in our present form (that is, like Genesis describes - without any intermediate steps), whereas 42% believe that today – an insignificant drop in an amazingly large number.

Those believing in evolution held steady at 47% in both years, though the number holding that God had no part in that process rose from 9% to 15%. So, 32% think God guided evolution.

The point North draws from these figures is that despite a century and a half of intense state controlled education in which theism has been almost excluded and evolution presented as close to fact as a theory is allowed to get, Americans aren't convinced; even now, 85% think there is a God who played some part in human development. This point is important and valid, even though I part company with North about which view is correct.

I'll come back to that, but first let me spring to Darwin's defense. He was a painstaking scientist whose conclusions about the nature of evolution conflicted with his personal belief that there is a Creator. His theology was fuzzy, a mixture of Unitarianism and Anglican orthodoxy, but he delayed publishing his explosive findings for several years because he deeply regretted that they would inevitably undercut the religion he valued. Eventually a rival (Wallace) published a paper on similar lines so Darwin saw he could wait no longer, and the firestorm of controversy resulted. It's fair to say that Darwin was a reluctant Darwinist.

His theory of natural selection is and always was a theory, in contrast to the arrogant and insupportable declaration of religious “revelation” such as Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created . . . .” which takes as its premise the conclusion it sets out to reach; a trick that makes it very much easier. Like all theories in science, Darwin's comes from observation, testing, and refining. There was no way he could know how mutations take place, yet he observed that somehow they have taken place, and he proposed that mutants suited for their environment as well as or better than their parents survive and reproduce, while the others do neither. A century later, the “how” was explained in terms of DNA modification resulting from random particle radiation, but the theory of the process is as solid today as it was when he found it; the developmental changes happen by chance, and impersonal cruelty disposes of those less well suited for survival. As well observed in 1970 by Jacques Monot, neither chance nor cruelty can be reconciled with the fable of a benevolent creator.

It is, therefore, amazing to me that (by the poll, above) 32% of Americans still believe that God ”guided” the evolutionary process. I know of no evidence that the “god” they believe exists is supposed to be capricious or cruel, yet those are exactly the attributes he/she/it must have, if their belief were correct. More likely, these 32% are guilty of holding in their minds two wholly contradictory concepts: a benevolent god, controlling a brutal and impersonal process. That speaks volumes to the wreckage that has been made of their intellects.

Then there are the 15% who are in denial – they accept Darwin's theory, yet say God exists but played no part in it. They are also seriously confused; what kind of a “god” is it who does nothing about the development of life? Presumably, he/she/it started the world spinning like a top, then stood back to take no interest in what transpired. That's very hard to reconcile with the idea of a personal god, yet since the universe certainly contains persons, it's also very hard to suppose that if a god does exist, he/she is less than personal. Alternatively it may be that the polls were badly worded, and that this 15% really refers to people who, like me, deny the existence of a supernatural being; in that case, I'm encouraged that it has increased by 67% (from 9% to 15%) in only 40 years.

Lastly come the 46% who say God created humans in our present form, i.e. that Darwin was altogether wrong. This percentage is the most astonishing of all. Sure, theories get modified; that's their nature. Observation and testing refines them, so a theory can never be said to be final or 100% certain. Such intellectual humility is integral to the scientific method. But the evidence for this theory of natural selection is enormous; to deny it root and branch is plain obscurantism, a denial of the human intellect. One might equally well declare the earth to be flat, or the sun to spin around it, or gravity to repel.

Back now, as promised, to Gary North's important point about state indoctrination. Whether evolution is close to true truth or not, it's a fact that the state has tried to teach it, and the poll shows that the state has failed in that task. North is delighted at the failure for two reasons: he likes neither the state, nor Darwin. I'm pleased too, but join him just in disliking the state.

One modification: The state did not endorse Darwin's theory from its get-go. The Scopes trial took place in 1925, when at least in Tennessee it was illegal to teach it; the boot was on the other foot. The state was promoting theism for the first three quarters of a century of its school system, and one form of atheism only for the second. That goes some way towards decreasing the surprise of the poll results above.

Nonetheless, they stand as a most encouraging sign that there is a limit to how far the state can impose a change from traditional beliefs, even over seven generations of indoctrination. When (at first) the state tried to thrust theism down children's throats, it failed to prevent at least a strong awareness of Darwinism, and now since 1925 after it changed sides to favor evolution, it has failed to eliminate theism. Quite an encouraging record of failure.

There seems no doubt that in the early 19th Century, Americans were (1) theists, and mostly what today we'd call Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, and (2) highly distrustful of government, while (very foolishly) supposing that some of it was necessary. That was the target, which the government school indoctrination system set out to shoot down and create in its place a nation of submissive morons. Clearly it has succeeded with regard to the second – but not, apparently, with regard to the first. North's 85%-unconvinced figure takes a deal of explaining. How come the divergence in result?

Here's my suggestion: Democratic government is perceived as a way of getting something for nothing, or at someone else's expense. Voters get what they want, more or less, but if they positively want something not to happen, usually it doesn't. (Of course, a vast amount of unwanted harm results from the process, but all of that was off their radar when they voted.) Now, over the course of a couple of centuries, American voters have ushered in “free” schooling and “free” retirement insurance and are about to endorse fully “free” health care, because they prefer to get things they want without paying for them. At the same time, however, voters did NOT want to be told what religion to believe; so nobody voted for that.

Thus, voters stayed more or less with the religion of their family culture and did not let the influence of government affect it; any indoctrination at school on that subject was shrugged off and ignored. Their increasingly favorable disposition towards and submission to government, however, came from its effectiveness in seeming to provide goodies for nothing. A situation now in the process, of course, of drastic change: The piper is about to be paid.

Government schools have taught above all else that government is good and necessary, and since that coincides with the provision of those goodies, that lesson has been absorbed. To the extent (again, only since around 1925) that they also taught atheism, that lesson has not. And to the extent that it taught evolution, that has been accepted by more than half – with many in the remaining half illogically retaining a conflicting belief in God, as above. We may therefore summarize what has taken place as follows:

  1. Government schools helped massively increase faith in government
  2. They substantially persuaded students to acknowledge evolution, but
  3. They had very little effect on religious belief, while
  4. Doing nothing to reconcile #3 with #2.

Possibly it's that 4th item which is most worrying, for it's illogical. Education is about leading a student out, into greater understanding; it is meant to help him learn how to think. Yet clearly the conflict between the 2nd and 3rd means that these schools have at best ignored that task.

One piece of encouragement can be drawn from this reasoning, if I'm right: the extent to which Americans have swallowed state propaganda relates only to what they wanted to learn—i.e., that government is a source of goodies for nothing. Now that the government bubble is bursting, and it's becoming obvious that it's no longer able to deliver on that amazing promise, it's therefore reasonable to expect that their misplaced faith in it will vanish shortly afterwards.

Lastly, I must anticipate a possible misapplication of this to the Freedom Academy, which sets out to de-program victims of the “cult of the omnipotent state.” If cultural and religious beliefs are resistant to indoctrination, and since the Academy certainly encourages students to ditch all and every superstitious belief, might it not founder on the same rock?

I think not, and my reason is that the Academy does not indoctrinate at all. On the contrary, it leads the student to think rationally for himself; it teaches not what to think, but how to think. Certainly, it directs attention to some of the consequences of rational thought, including abandonment of the myths of government and religion; but on the latter it expressly says that the difficulty of reconciling faith with reason is something the “religious student will have to work out for himself.”

True learning is never absorbed any other way.

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