Mickey Mouse bridges the culture war when teaching evolution to evangelical students

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36 Responses to “Mickey Mouse bridges the culture war when teaching evolution to evangelical students”

  1. SomeGuy says:

    I think using Mickey Mouse to teach the concept of Evolution to the bible crowd is appropriate. After all, Mickey is a fictional character too.

  2. boyhowdy says:

    Kudos for creative solutions, I guess – though teaching in full-blown metaphors, rather than in actual fact, is a tricky line, and lays no true foundation for the scientific method, really.

    More problematically, however, is what Mickey’s change over time best illustrates is neoteny, which wikipedia aptly describes as follows: “Neoteny, also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles.”

    Notably, neoteny plays a role in evolution — the “cuter” or more juvenile a baby looks, the more the community is “moved” to take care of it. But it isn’t evolution, per se; as such, the best we can call this is a creative work-around which will introduce students to the idea that some things evolve via the Lamarkian model, as did Mickey himself, due to pressure on the organism.

  3. Keneke says:

    > If the teacher’s intent was to introduce Evolution into a hostile environment, the analogy he has chosen is thoroughly inappropriate. It is entirely possible to demonstrate that the introduction of Mickey Mouse is a closer analogue to Creationism

    You’re taking the metaphor too far. It’s just a foot in the door of the theory, that’s all.

  4. notfeelingit says:

    Perhaps Mr. Campbell (and BoingBoing) would care to give credit where credit is due: Stephen Jay Gould wrote about the evolution of Mickey Mouse in an essay called “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse” in Natural History magazine (collected in The Panda’s Thumb).

  5. Bambootiger says:

    Mickey mouse did not evolve. That is a lie. His origin was by design and each change was also by design through the intervention of an intelligence. I don’t believe that we should teach design of life as a science, but neither should evolution be taught to those too young to critically analyze what an authority figure states as fact without substantive evidence.

    When I was in school myself I always wondered why we can’t just say that scientifically we can not demonstrate how life originated. While “survival of the fittest” explains how an organism survives, it does not explain how it arrived. There are over a hundred million fossils in museums around the world, but there is not a single evident genetic line of descent of a single organism which would prove evolution. We can show, for example, the fossils for a snail over a long period of time and the variable traits can be described as different species, but it still began as a snail, and continued to be a snail. From a Bible point of view this merely illustrates “variation within a kind”, while a proponent of evolution would probably say it is “microevolution”. However “micro” is such only if it is a part of something else. The Biblical word “kind” is “genus”, however it is not the way the word is used today, but corresponds more with “family”. In all the fossils ever found there is still nothing which illustrates an evolutionary bridge from one family to another. Basically at this point in time evolution is just speculation, and if it is taught it should be at the college level, and not to kids who can not critically question what they are taught by a stranger in an authority position. Let’s be honest and just teach kids that “we don’t know”. Then we can teach what science truly does know, and what that knowledge is based on, instead evolution speculation stated dogmatically as fact.

  6. Yoder says:

    @32 – Sweet! Thanks for providing my evening reading material, TedJohnson.

  7. S2 says:

    Agreed that the lede is misleading: “managed to slip” implies that Campbell’s course is not part of the established curriculum; that he has done something daring/foolish/risky and we should wait for the update of his being slapped down.

    But the Mouse is just a pedagogical tool that Campbell has chosen to try out in his first semester of teaching an evolution section whose standards he helped devise. Yes, as disappointing as it might be to some, dumb ol’ Florida has actually decided that evolution is “the organizing principle of life science,” and now requires its instruction in public schools.

    This could have been a post about some wonderful things happening in Florida classrooms (and in the minds of Florida kids and teachers), but then we’d be short on our MDR of Daily Mirror crudites….

    The linked page was just an excerpt; check out the longer version of Amy Harmon’s article at NYT.com

  8. error404 says:

    good god, the US really is circling the U bend ready to get flushed.

  9. Caroline says:

    Error404, I can’t tell if that’s a reaction to the whole article, or if you’re upset at what you see as this guy dumbing down evolution. If it’s the latter, please read the whole article — Campbell is fighting the good fight against some pretty tough odds.

  10. spazzm says:

    They have to sneak science into the classroom?

    Maybe Error404 is on to something.

  11. insomma says:

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention that this is STILL an issue. I just looked up these ’10 questions to ask your biology teacher’ mentioned because I hadn’t heard of them. Terrifying. I was at least relieved to see 10 answers also readily available in the same search.

    I don’t envy this teacher…

  12. BWChicago says:

    Well, at least he DID. I’m betting he’ll be sued by this time tomorrow.

  13. tenstrings says:

    If the teacher’s intent was to introduce Evolution into a hostile environment, the analogy he has chosen is thoroughly inappropriate. It is entirely possible to demonstrate that the introduction of Mickey Mouse is a closer analogue to Creationism, and to a lesser extent Intelligent design as there is clear evidence for a creator, and that the mouse characature was intelligently designed.

    Even worse is the discussion of the tail length modification. At best this can be used as an argument for microevolution which sits comfortably with Creationist thought, moreso ID.

    Unless someone wants to go to the desperate length of proposing a “Big Inksplash” and “Adisneygenesis” I’d suggest that this method of arguing for Evolution is binned quick-smart. The alternative is having Evolution described as a Mickey Mouse theory.

    J

  14. Bugs says:

    I can see him being open to subversion by the ID crowd, arguaing that mickey was selected by intelligent agents, so evolution obviously can’t work.

    Insomnia – I hadn’t seen those questions before either. I’m going to spend the rest of the day unreasonably angry that anyone would inflict such weaselly false logic and implicit errenous assumptions on a child’s mind.

    Seriously, what functional human being could sit down and think “I’m going to write misleading propaganga aimed at children“? I’m genuinely disgusted. [/rant]

    There was some movement to start a similar thing here in the UK but, ironically for a country with a state religion, it got stamped on pretty hard. I believe schools are required to mention that some people belive in creationism, but in my experience it’s very much a lip-service thing. My (church-funded and nominally religious) high school included it as a 15-second aside in a five hour set of lessons.

  15. zizzybaloobah says:

    Despite all the changes, he’s still a mouse — not the best argument for evolution IMHO.

  16. rrsafety says:

    The lead paragraph here that Cory wrote is VERY misleading and it seems that some of the commentors took the bait without even reading the story.

    The article specifically says:
    “In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, public schools to teach evolution, calling it “the organizing principle of life science.” ”

    Florida specifically REQUIRES the teaching of evolution. Specifically. Requires.

    This teachers makes some excellent points, such as:

    “”Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics…
    But it is not antireligion. Science and religion just ask different questions…Faith is not based on science,” Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith.”

    As the Vatican says, “The Bible is not a science text book and should not be treated as such”.

  17. HollywoodBob says:

    Here’s a thought, just stop pandering to the religious idiots. If students want to think that the Biblical account of genesis is right, then flunk their asses. It’s just that simple, if they don’t want to learn and understand the curriculum, they FAIL! Let little Johnny Jeebus Freak get tossed off the football team because he’d rather believe in his bible than learn facts about how the world works. I’m so sick of schools having to deal with this nonsense. School boards should never have allowed this bullshit to even become a subject of discussion. If the parent’s don’t want their kids to learn about evolution, then send them to a parochial school of your choosing. If you can’t afford to, tough, deal with it!

  18. NotSoFast says:

    Ergo, according to the inanimate matter modifies itself until is spontaneously draws lines supposition proposed by an animate entity, the drawing was morphed by nothing with no intelligent input . . . does a silly syllogism substitute for science?

  19. rebdav says:

    Having faith based evolution education(evolution as a faith) is just as stupid as trying to force creationism on these kids. Many of those teaching and espousing the big bang and evolution as is understood today creates and orthodoxy not unlike the one Galileo faced from the church in a large part due to the confrontation with creationism. I am not afraid of evolution or creation education, I am afraid of state and scientific culture sponsored orthodoxy education. Evolution as we teach it seems the right answer right now, but phlogistin sounded good at the time until we discovered the mechanism of fire was in many ways similar but upside-down from what we had been teaching.

  20. Yoder says:

    @ 7, 21, et al. – Using Mickey as an example sort of parallels the way Darwin opened The Origin of Species with a long section on selective breeding of domestic animals. It’s not an airtight analogy, but it seems like it got the class to let down their guard a little, which is a fine accomplishment.

    @ 13, 15 – Scientific fact is certainly incompatible with many popular theological positions, but I’d argue that those positions are also bad theology. Anyone who calls him/herself a “Christian” and then hangs all their faith on a section of the Bible that doesn’t bear directly on the life and teachings of Christ doesn’t understand Christianity very well.

    @ 12 – Amen. I’d love to sit on one of Campbell’s classes. Just reading the article, I was getting excited, thinking about stealing some of his tricks for my own future teaching.

    @ 24 – If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. (Generally, you don’t go out of your way to cite sources in high school biology lectures, and presumably the NYT reporter didn’t make the connection.)

  21. Christopher Lotito says:

    Interestingly enough, the entire approach used here demonstrates the scientific method of test and revision as well as the evolutionary principles of “find what works and go with it” all in all circumventing obstacles rather than beating a path straight through (as much fun as that can be).

    To be honest, I don’t think it matters what any of us say here, David Campbell is clearly doing this out of concern for the education of his students and I think we can all respect that (I do).

    BBTV, I would love to see a video of this guy teaching, it’s always a pleasure to see this level of ingenuity.

    On a side note, maybe someone can address this: Why is it that conservative groups don’t want evolution taught as a way to educate students about the challenges they face in the evangelizing world? Anyone who plans to educate the public about God and religion must know they’ll be facing and addressing evolutionist claims for at least the next hundred years, best to know the adversary and how to counteract his arguments I’d think.

  22. Not a Doktor says:

    I’ve used this type of anology, but with cars for arguments.

  23. Modusoperandi says:

    HollywoodBob “School boards should never have allowed this bullshit to even become a subject of discussion.”
    Um…school boards are elected. Elected school boards will contain people from the surrounding area. There’s no test to ensure that they’re competent or have any education in training whatsoever.
    This means that an area that believes X will most likely have a school board that believes X. This is what bankrupted Dover (and will continue to break budgets).

  24. Yoder says:

    @ 25 – I’m sympathetic to that point of view, and I certainly agree that teachers should grade students on the same standards regardless of (students’) religious feelings. But it doesn’t solve the underlying problem to just say, “you fail!” when a kid balks at learning basic biology. Ultimately, we want him or her to understand why evolution is so important, and see that it doesn’t have to conflict with his or her faith.

  25. Pete M says:

    I appreciate that Campbell is facing serious difficulties presenting evolution to kids steeped in evangelical dogma, and I have a lot of respect for his ingenuity in trying to convey a difficult concept like “fitness” (though I must admit to sharing Tenstrings’ concern that the particular analogy is too easily construed as supportive of ID). However, I have a real problem with the following:

    “Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics…
    But it is not antireligion. Science and religion just ask different questions…Faith is not based on science,” Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith.”

    This is the old “religion’s domain is the moral and science’s domain is the empirical” line. But it isn’t true that all religions stick to this. The Catholics, as mentioned above by RRSafety, are actually pretty good about it. But evangelicals in the US make empirical claims based on their interpretation of Biblical text. Many of these claims clearly and strongly conflict with our best science, such as the claims about the origin of man. In such cases science is antireligion, and instead of mouthing apologist slogans about the supposed compatibility of religion and science we must firmly – not rudely, but firmly – point out the falsity of the religious view and its inadequacy to explain the enormous amount of observational and experimental evidence that supports evolution. I think these kids deserve at least that much.

  26. rrsafety says:

    #12, this has nothing to do with “Conservatives”. It has to do with Fundamentalist Christians – some of whom are liberal.

    It is a religious issues, not a political one.

  27. Phinehas says:

    “Mickey evolved.”

    You mean Mickey is the result of purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind? Huh?

  28. ill lich says:

    I suppose it’s an admirable attempt to get evolution into the classroom, or at least into kid’s minds, but the analogy is plain wrong– there is an “intelligence” (ouch) at work in the molding of Mickey, it’s not random mutation, and there really aren’t environmental changes to influence Mickey’s appearance. This is the kind of thing that plays right into the Intelligent Design world view, like their “pocket watch analogy” (which is also an incorrect way to stipulate how evolution works, but of course is still convincing to the slow-witted).

  29. Aloisius says:

    The only solution is to teach the fundamentals of science and proof to second graders. Hit them young and implant the idea before their parent’s dogma takes effect. Maybe start teaching the basis of biology in second grade.

  30. Modusoperandi says:

    rebdav “Having faith based evolution education(evolution as a faith) is just as stupid as trying to force creationism on these kids.”
    “Faith based evolution education”? Seriously? You know that it’s evidence-based, right? That’s the opposite of faith-based.

    “Many of those teaching and espousing the big bang and evolution as is understood today creates and orthodoxy not unlike the one Galileo faced from the church in a large part due to the confrontation with creationism.”
    …except that it’s an “orthodoxy” that changes as science advances.

    “I am not afraid of evolution or creation education, I am afraid of state and scientific culture sponsored orthodoxy education.”
    I’m not afraid of the former, but the latter (at least in science class rather than, say, comparative religion) scares the hell out of me. Science class is evidence-based not faith-based. Even an open and weak hypothesis like abiogenesis is based on how things work, rather than filling in the gaps with majik.

    “Evolution as we teach it seems the right answer right now, but phlogistin sounded good at the time until we discovered the mechanism of fire was in many ways similar but upside-down from what we had been teaching.”
    Ah, yes…”Scientists have been wrong before”…and if new data changes a theory (or leads to a different theory entirely), the teaching will change along with it. Science is close (but never right) while creationism has never been right.

    Christopher Lotito “To be honest, I don’t think it matters what any of us say here, David Campbell is clearly doing this out of concern for the education of his students and I think we can all respect that (I do).”
    Kudos to him for trying. Now, if he can only convince the 12-16% of science teachers that are Young Earth Creationists

    “Why is it that conservative groups don’t want evolution taught as a way to educate students about the challenges they face in the evangelizing world?”
    1. The Bible is God’s Word
    2. God is never wrong
    3. Gen1 says “Darwinism” is wrong
    Simple, innit?

    “Anyone who plans to educate the public about God and religion must know they’ll be facing and addressing evolutionist claims for at least the next hundred years…”
    Pah! We’re in the “End Times”. No need for planning when the Rapture is right around the corner.

    Pete M “This is the old “religion’s domain is the moral and science’s domain is the empirical” line. But it isn’t true that all religions stick to this.”
    Science doesn’t either. Big Bang and abiogenesis go back to “In the beginning..” and evo-psych is pushing in to “why” we are the way we are. God’s gaps keep getting smaller.

    “I think these kids deserve at least that much.”
    They deserve more. Like a birfday party wiff clowns and a pony. Holding the line in science class is a poor second place to a pony.

  31. snagglepuss says:

    ……At least Cambell is introducing the idea that “organisms” can CHANGE….that they’re not cast in immutable biological stone from the get-go, as many Creationists claim…..

    When a confused kid understands that change is normal and natural, even UNAVOIDABLE, then they won’t be so afraid of it – and that is VERY much the First Step when dealing with these control-freak evangelists.

  32. buddy66 says:

    #10 NotSoFast:

    ”Ergo, according to the inanimate matter modifies itself until is spontaneously draws lines supposition proposed by an animate entity, the drawing was morphed by nothing with no intelligent input . . .”

    WTF! I’ll settle for a legible sentence.

  33. TedJohnson says:

    @24 I made the same connection. Here is the entire Stephen Jay Gould essay (PDF) with great illustrations and a graph linking Mickey’s evolving cuteness to an innate human attraction to juvenile features.

    Gould, citing Konrad Lorenz, wrote that…

    …features of juvenility trigger “innate releasing mechanisms” for affection and
    nurturing in adult humans. When we see a living creature with babyish features, we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness. The
    adaptive value of this response can scarcely be questioned, for we must nurture our babies. Lorenz, by the way, lists among his releasers
    the very features of babyhood that Disney affixed progressively to Mickey: “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule,
    large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements.”

  34. ill lich says:

    #22 “The only solution is to teach the fundamentals of science and proof to second graders. Hit them young and implant the idea before their parent’s dogma takes effect. Maybe start teaching the basis of biology in second grade.”

    This might be the best end-run solution I’ve heard– make sure kids understand early on how science actually operates (hypothesis, double blind tests, evaluation of data, re-evaluation of hypothesis, etc.) so that in the future kids don’t blindly accept inherently untestable Biblical theories (of course there are those who insist that evolution is untestable as it’s main mechanism takes millions of years to act).

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