TMBG Pushes Atheist Propaganda

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I am a big fan of They Might Be Giants, and have been since the early 90s. They are excellent songwriters and performers. And I also really dig their kids albums, Here Come The ABCs and Here Come The 123s. I recommend them to many parents.

Unfortunately, I have some reservations about their new album, Here Comes Science. The first track is called "Science Is Real," and they express the notion that science is real, while "angels" are not. Now, it may be that they mean "real" as in "provable through the scientific method," but this is an album for kids, and kids hear "real" and think "not fake," and vice versa. It's a pretty clear message kids will receive: the Big Bang and evolution are true, and angels don't exist.

The chorus goes, "I like those stories about angels, unicorns, and elves / Now, I like those stories as much as anyone else / But when I'm seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract / The facts are with science, the facts are with science." Later, they add, "a scientific theory isn't just a hunch or guess / it's more like a question that's been put through a lot of tests / and when a theory emerges consistent with the facts / the proof is with science, the truth is with science."

It's simply false to say that any "proof" or "truth" is with science. We all know this; even John and John of TMBG know this themselves: later in the album they contradict their song (a remake of an older work) "Why Does The Sun Shine?" In the original, "the sun is a mass of incandescent gas." In the very next song, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?," they quip, "the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma, the sun's not simply made out of gas ... forget that song, they got it wrong, that thesis has been rendered invalid." Very clever, but it clearly demonstrates that simply having a good and useful theory that matches the facts doesn't give us proof or truth.

The reason for this is that science is necessarily incomplete. If science could be complete, we wouldn't need it: science is a way to investigate things in the physical world, that aren't self-evident, that cannot be discovered through reason alone. The only way science could be complete is if we had all knowledge, so we could account for all possibilities, and in such a case, we would have no need for investigation. And in that case we'd have no need for science in the first place.

I ordinarily wouldn't quibble too much on this whole point except that they exclude angels as science, and therefore, as truth: it's not "real" because it's not science. It is utterly irrational and unscientific to say that because angels are apparently outside of science, they therefore do not exist. You may believe that -- and that's fine -- but you can't use science to get you to that belief.

I do believe angels exist. And there's simply no science, or even a broadly accepted philosophy of science, that says they don't.

The sad thing is that I like the song otherwise. It's a catchy tune. But I wouldn't allow TMBG to use it to push their atheist propaganda on my kids.

As to the rest of the album, there's a few other tracks I have problems with. Above, I mentioned the Big Bang and evolution. I did not intend to imply that I don't generally believe in either theory. I do. However, my belief in both are very scientific: that is, they are filled with doubt. We have lots of holes in both theories, and while they are extremely useful and explain a lot of what happened and may be mostly right, there's also gaps in our knowledge. I don't consider these to be truth, I consider them to be useful and probably correct.

So I also can't recommend the song "My Brother the Ape." Lest you think I am being a fundamentalist stickinthemud, I also recently panned a Focus on the Family audio program for kids, about evolution: I understood it to be saying that man did not evolve from a common ancestor as the ape. Both views -- asserting we did, and we did not -- are unsustainable based on our current level of knowledge.

There's also a song on the album called "Electric Car." "Electric car, on roads so dark, to change the end, rewrite the start ... How can you deny an electric car? Won't you take a ride with me? Not diesel, steam, or gasoline! ... Happiness resides in an electric car. ..." They push the whole we-need-to-be-green-to-save-the-planet nonsense that -- frankly -- is about as scientific as angels are. And the song's actually pretty creepy.

Finally, they have a song called "How Many Planets?," which falsely pushes the idea that an arbitrary group of scientists have the authority to define the word "planet" for everyone else, by excluding Pluto.* This song I can recommend to kids, as it's a great way to teach them to question not only authority, but the validity of claims of authority themselves. (Although the song is a bit weak regardless of its message.)

I like the rest of the album (in addition to "Why Does the Sun Shine?," they include the previously released remake by the same composers, "What is a Shooting Star?," and the classic "The Bloodmobile;" and I really like "I Am a Paleontologist" and "Meet the Elements"). The good thing is that these days, you can always uncheck a song and it won't show up on your iPods.

* As a side note, I've met a lot of homeschoolers and evangelicals who question the exclusion of Pluto. This has nothing to do with any theology implications, so why the apparent high degree of questioning in this particular group? Some people might think the connection is because such people are generally conservative and dislike change, or embrace tradition. That's part of it, but I think it's deeper, strengthened by a deep-seated, centuries-long tendency toward independence and questioning authority. Whether it was rejection of the authority of the Catholic Church in the Reformation, or of the Anglican Church leading to colonizing the New World, or of the British Crown's right to arbitrarily tax, or of the U.S. government's right to control our lives in myriad ways ... many of us in this tradition tend to reject authority -- why do you think there's so many different Protestant denominations? -- and the ones who question authority the most are often the ones most likely to engage in homeschooling.

Not that all such people are Protestants; the tradition runs strong through much of the culture of the United States today. I've known various agnostic homeschoolers who have the same outlook. We see this pattern over, and over, in this country. Protestants and their philosophical and cultural cousins don't tend to go along to get along. They would rather be left alone to get along.

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"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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