Recently a (very amusing) comment was posted on the video page for Natural Selection, which deserves a comprehensive response. Catherine Borgard writes:
I loved this and I would really like to use a version of it in my high school biology class; however, I can float the whole thing until the mention of god is a jerk off or jerking off? I don’t suppose you have a slightly modified version that will only have half the town after me instead of the entire community burning a cross on my front lawn? Just curious from a mildly religious conservative community of nutty. . .
Thanks for your comment on the Natural Selection video. The problematic line you mentioned is: “If there is a personal god, then he’s been jerkin’ off,” and I’m aware that the line will not be appropriate for some classroom settings, but I still stand behind it, and I’m sorry I don’t have a “radio friendly” version! Teachers will have to use their own discretion as to which videos are appropriate for which age groups and demographics, and at the very least my intention was to provoke debate.
If you look on the video page and scroll down to the annotated lyrics, you’ll see I’ve made a note on that lyric: “A somewhat crude way of expressing the fact that there is no reliable evidence for the existence of a personal God, hence ‘he’ can hardly be said to ‘do’ anything of interest.” In this context “jerkin’ off” is just used as a slang term for “wasting time” or “being inactive” as in “stop jerkin’ off and get some work done”. It just happens to be a nice rhyme for “personal god” so I decided to use it.
Inappropriate or not, this line is meant to delve into the debate as to whether Darwin’s theory, which in principle explains the origins and details of every living thing, both in terms of behaviour and anatomy, leaves anything interesting for god to “do”. Personally I think not, but everyone gets to make their own decision based on their understanding of Darwin’s theory.
By way of further discussion, here’s a lecture from a philosopher (Eliot Sober) who believes Darwin’s theory is not, in principle, a logical refutation of the existence of god, personal or otherwise. And here’s another lecture, this time from a philosopher (Dan Dennett) who believes Darwin’s theory doesn’t leave anything interesting for god to do, hence belief in god becomes pointless and illogical once you understand the theory. Whichever way each of your students leans, I hope they will all agree it’s an interesting debate to have.
I’m posting this response as a blog since I’m sure you won’t be the first or the last teacher to raise this concern. If you deem the Natural Selection video inappropriate (as is your prerogative) I recommend the videos for Worst Comes to Worst or DNA or I’m A African as more universally age-appropraite.
All the best,