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The Snake in My Secular Paradise

Sweden has its fair share of religious nutjobs. Actually, we probably have less than our fair share. Spokespeople for the main religions struggle to appear as rational and reasonable as possible here because otherwise no one will take them seriously. So far so good – but what would paradise be without a snake?

Recently, a man called Stavros Louca said the following in a newspaper interview (translated by yours truly — all the articles linked in this post are in Swedish):

What is the biggest hoax of our time?
– I would like to say it’s the theory of evolution, there are way too many holes in it to convince me that men come from monkeys. I believe in creation. But that doesn’t mean I’m a creationist and believe that the world was created a few thousand years ago.

Aside from the fact that he doesn’t appear to understand that believing in creation by default makes you a creationist (just not a young earth-creationist), what’s so special about this? He’s just your regular run-of-the-mill religious person who doesn’t have a clue about the theory of evolution.

Well, that, and he’s also a celebrated science teacher.

Stavros Louca is known from the tv show “Klass 9A”, which is a sort of reality show about a bunch of pupils in their last year of elementary school who are the worst of the worst, and the three star teachers who save them. Louca received a prize in 2006 for being an outstanding maths teacher, and apparently worked wonders with the kids in Klass 9A.

Now, after coming out as a creationist, Louca has gotten some quite harsh criticism (by the Swedish Humanist Youth Organisation among others), and was given an opportunity to defend (or at least explain) himself. He pointed to the fact that he teaches maths and physics and never talks about the theory of evolution in class. Well, fine. But what about the fact that a lot of young people look up to him as a role model? As someone who knows what he’s talking about?┬áIt is one thing for a teacher to have his private beliefs that he doesn’t bring into the classroom. I’m fully aware that it is perfectly possible to adequately teach children something you don’t personally believe in. But as far as I’m concerned, the moment you are a celebrity and end up getting interviewed by newspapers, you have additional responsibility.

He also claimed that he didn’t in fact call the theory of evolution a hoax, but merely that he finds it flabberghasting that people can speak of either evolution or God as the truth. Then he said that no one can prove to 100% that the theory is true, and therefore it shouldn’t be presented as the truth.

Oh, wow. You do realise you can’t do that about the theories you teach in physics, either, Mr Louca? As my eminent SkepchickSE colleague charmkvark pointed out: If he thinks it’s so important to criticise evolution because some people don’t believe it’s true, why doesn’t he bring up every nutjob who has their own theory about gravity or the properties of light when teaching physics? You know, for balance? That a famous science teacher apparently has such a poor understanding of how scientific theories work does not bode well for the education of our children…

And here’s the kicker: In his spare time, he goes door-knocking to give people the Good News. Yup, Sweden’s most celebrated maths and physics teacher is an active Jehova’s Witness. Facepalm.

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17 Comments

  1. I don’t see this as a big issue at all. Since, as you said, he doesn’t teach that evolution is a hoax then I feel that he has every right to his opinion.

    I do believe his views are full of teh crazy, but that doesn’t give me the right to demand that he keeps those opinions to himself. Regardless of how famous he is.

    I suppose you can find similarities between this case and Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine propaganda, but still… No. He hasn’t done anything wrong as far as I see.

  2. @blindpew: Well, I don’t think anyone is demanding that he shut up as such. Personally I think the more worrying part isn’t his views on evolution, but that he seems to think science is about “proving” things true, rather than amassing evidence and trying to work out the best theory that fits. I do think that science teachers should be expected to have at least a basic understanding for how science works!

    But mostly the post is just meant to show that Sweden isn’t perfect. ;)

  3. Sounds to me that he’s backpedaling from his original statement. I think he may have been caught by surprise by the controversy he stirred up.

    Any properly educated person knows that total certainty is all but impossible in science, because it is always possible someone might uncover verifiable new data contradicting an established theory. In many cases, it’s pretty unlikely, but possible. (Relativity or evolution, for example.)

  4. This gets into two issues – demarcation of science from pseudoscience and the responsibilities of someone that becomes a public figure. The second concept is a bit easier to be define and clarify – shutting one’s running mouth when not dealing with those areas of knowledge for which one is not informed is what I consider to be the right answer, but that appears to be almost universally impossible once in the limelight. The first one is pretty much a paraphrase of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – “I’ll know it when I see it.” Popper’s falsifiability principle? There are instances of this not being a good test. Accumulation of evidence? Popper rejected this with good reason – evidential support is cheap. The principles of the logical positivists? There are holes there, too. The closest that I’ve seen (and I’m only a dilettante in the field of philosophy of science) would be using the “paradigm shift” criterion outlined by Kuhn. From your descriptions, it looks as if the reactions to Louca’s statements are doing the right thing. They are demonstrating that no one is perfect and they are encouraging inquiry. Aside from wishing for a more enlightened pool of celebrities from which to draw, I would count this as a success.

  5. Earlier in the interview, he was asked about whether he believed in horoscopes. “Not at all. Horoscopes are a hoax.” So right about that, so very, very wrong about biology…

    Loved this quote from the Humanist: “To say that evolution is false because you don’t think humans came from apes, is like saying gravity is false because people on the other side of the Earth aren’t falling off.”

  6. @Narvi: The way you translated that quote is interesting actually. The swedish word “apa” (plural “apor”) means both ape and monkey, but since it sounds closer to ape that’s what people most often translate it to. I used “monkey” in my own translation on purpose, to emphasise how ridiculous his argument is. Presumably Mr Louca himself has no clue about the phylogeny of simians and wouldn’t care what word we use.

  7. Maybe it’s unnecessary to point it out. But fundagelicals are extremely rare in Sweden, and fundagelicals who are science teachers are, well, pretty much Stavros Louca and two of his buddies. In a population of 9 million.

  8. The problem here is the fact that a science teacher doesn’t understand how science works. The fact that he is a quasi-celebrity is beside the point.

    @Felicia – that is fascinating that “apa” can be used for ape or monkey (or bitch, odor, or sail :)). Would you say it more properly translates to “primate”?

    I love etymology!

  9. As my eminent SkepchickSE colleague

    Whoa whoa whoa. There’s a Swedish Skepchick? There’s Mad Art Lab, and Teen Skepchick, and now SkepchickSE? What else am I missing? Just how many shadowy subsidiaries does Amalgamated Skepchick Industries, Ltd. have now?

  10. I used to be a JW. The further I am removed from that situation the more I’m inclined to lean toward JWs being a cult, but a cult that you have absolutely no idea is even remotely cult-ish. Also in my experience they are encouraged to compartmentalize their secular education from their religious education. Learn the theory of evolution (etc.) for your class, but keep in mind that you know the “truth” from the your study of the bible and the “Society’s” publications.

    In my experience JWs are generally more “normal” than most non JWs seem to think. That being said I think they’re just as wrong about science as any other “fundamentalist” religion.

  11. Frankiemouse,
    I used to be a JW, too. This is how I like to describe them: ‘they are not a cult, but they exhibit many cult-like tendencies’. I agree that they are more “normal” than typically portrayed in the media.
    Also, they are good at using logic. They start with a wrong premise and end up at the wrong place, but in between they use logic.

  12. @DataJack: While “apa” doesn’t directly translate into primate (that would be “primat”), that’s effectively what it means. “Apa” isn’t a term used in biology anymore really.

    @jtradke: Swedish Skepchick has been around since Feb 12 when I made my intro post here on Skepchick, where HAVE you BEEN? :D

  13. Great post Felicia! Thanks for the link as well.

    I, of course, agree. The issue isn’t that Stavros is a creationist, the issue is that he tries to explain it in science terms. He should just own the fact that his creationist side is totally illogical and say he doesn’t want to talk about it because it has no relevance to the rest of his job. But he chose another route and because of that I think this discussion is important.

  14. (It’s “Jehovah’s Witness”, FYI)

    That he’s a JW makes absolutely perfect sense. JWs are creationists — they even publish a book titled Life: How Did it Get Here, by Evolution or by Creation? (you can guess which answer it supports).

    However, they aren’t YECs; and so it makes sense that he’s saying he believes in an old earth.

    It also makes sense that he has no issues with physics and the like, because JWs see that as evidence of the grandness of God’s design.

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