Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One of the reasons we homeschool our kids is because we believe in the importance of worldview. Everyone has a worldview (whether he realizes it or not), and everything "out there" is coming from and promoting a particular worldview. It's unavoidable. There is a certain amount of philosophy underlying everything a child is taught, and that philosophy exists a priori; in other words, it is not determined by what one sees, but rather determines how one sees things.

Western society has been trained to see a dichotomy between science and religion because, as the argument goes, science only deals with "facts," while religion deals with metaphysics and philosophy.

Yesterday, my wife took our kids to a museum nearby that had, among other things, a display of live shrimp that live in a tiny, enclosed container. According to the display, the shrimp can live this way for years. Why? Because "there aren't too many of them and they do not pollute their environment." Just science, huh?

Aside from the clunky political statement being made here (about human pollution and supposed overpopulation), to attempt to draw an analogy between the lifestyle of shrimp and that of humans (which is clearly what is intended here) is asinine. First, it commits a basic logical fallacy (the post hoc fallacy, which argues "The day after I stopped huffing paint thinner, I had a heart attack; therefore, huffing paint thinner prevents heart attacks.") Secondly, the analogy reflects a specific, Malthusian, leftist philosophical worldview that directs the way this sort of "science" is done rather than results from it.

If we're going to parallel the survival of shrimp with that of humans, why don't we look at some other factors as well? For instance, in addition to limiting our population and our pollution, shouldn't we also all live underwater? I mean, hey, it's working for the shrimp, right? And shrimp also have protective shells--so we should mandate full body armor for humans, right?

To presume that what works for shrimp longevity also will work for human longevity is not only doctrinaire, it's also unscientific. If a "good environment" is one that leads to survival (as the display implied), then any scientist worth his salt ought to take account of the fact that the average lifespan has more than doubled worldwide over the past 100 or so "overpopulated," increasingly industrial years.

"But we have pollution!" Yes, and thank heavens. As Cal Beisner points out:
Pollution is a by-product of production. For example, air pollution is a by-product of energy production. Energy production enables people to produce more food, machines, clothing, information, medicine, and other good things that contribute positively to people's health and life.
In other words, who knows how long the shrimp would live if there were more of them and they were capable of devising industry? And, of course, there are the paradigm-shattering studies done by the late Julian Simon at the University of Maryland, who while attempting to find evidence in favor of population control actually discovered that dense population tends to result in a stronger economy and a cleaner environment than less populated, less developed nations.

All in all, that's a lot of bad science and philosophy packed into a little display on shrimp. Imagine how much gets packed into teaching on human behavior.

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