Objecting to Science Education 2 (Religious Boogaloo?)

Ok, so we have creationists claiming that evolution is a lie and that their religion’s creation story is an accurate & factual account of the beginnings of life, the universe, and everything. Let’s talk a bit about some of the things that they do with this idea.

“Intellectual freedom” is a phrase found on many bills working their way through many state legislatures right now. Almost without exception, these bills are designed to either bring some form of creationism into classrooms or to muddy up science education by suggesting that evolution is somehow optional. (Evolution’s about as optional to biology as gravity is to physics.) The idea here is that teachers are having their freedom restricted by being expected to teach science in science classes.

I suppose in the strictest sense, that’s true. Teachers would have more freedom if they could teach anything they felt like without having to consider the truth or accuracy of their lessons. But I have trouble getting behind the idea of the freedom for state-sponsored institutions to lie to children.

Other phrases to go alone with “intellectual freedom” are “teach both sides”, “equal time” or “teach the controversy”.

“The controversy” is completely manufactured. While there are plenty of uncertainties in modern biology, and many details of various mechanisms of evolution are still not well understood, there is no doubt that it is happening now, and has in the past. Evolution can’t not happen.

“Both sides” is not only a false dichotomy, but patently ridiculous because if we consider religious traditions to have equal weight to science, we have to consider all of them. Christian creationists would have to be given equal credibility to Hindu creationists. When you add in “equal time”, biology class would become a comparative religion course that focused on creation myths. Somewhere around the time they were hearing about how Zeus saved his siblings from the belly of Cronus kids would either fall asleep or start to seriously question the sanity of the system that thought this was relevant to questions of biology such as “why do people have different colored eyes, hair and skin?” Either way, their ability to understand the science of biology would be severely limited. Which may actually be the point of all this, as there seems to be a serious anti-education sentiment in most creationist groups.

Backing up a little to the subject of false dichotomies, this particular debate is often presented not as a conflict between science and dogma, as I see it, but as a cultural conflict between atheists and Christians. This not only ignores the fact that most people on Earth are neither atheist nor Christian, but suggests implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) that in order to be a Christian one must be a creationist. I’m a little amazed that more Christians don’t take offense at this, it flies in the face of two thousand years of Christians forming new sects because they didn’t want to be told exactly how to interpret scripture or reality.

Look, evolution doesn’t turn people into atheists. Most of the people who originated the theory were Christians, most of the people who have continued to develop it to this day are also Christians. There are also atheists who don’t believe in evolution, and while I’ve never heard of an atheist creationist, I can imagine a couple of ways such a position could be possible and they’re not especially crazy, by human standards.

Evolution is the only scientific theory to explain the diversity of life. This is not because of some grand conspiracy to hide the truth or because close-minded scientists aren’t willing to examine other ideas, it’s because it’s the only explanation that fits the observed facts. And there have been so many facts observed, and they fit so well with evolution, that it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that could seriously overturn it. At most it seems like the theory would be tweaked slightly to account for new data and science marches on. That’s okay, refining ideas to match up with reality is how science works.

If you don’t like that, well I’m not sure what to tell you. I can understand someone feeling like they’re being lied to if they’ve always assumed a thing to be so and someone comes along as says it isn’t. I can even understand being in denial about it, trying to pretend that the world really does work the way you thought it did. It’s okay to feel scared or upset or even betrayed by new information that forces you to re-evaluate the world you thought you knew. But it’s not acceptable to use the law to force others into joining you in your denial.

It’s not okay to lie to children because you don’t like the way the world turned out to be. Especially when this erodes science education on all levels, the United States is falling behind in science professionals compared to the rest of the first world nations, in part because public schools are being intimidated into lax science education. However reality is, it’s that way regardless of what we think and how many of us think it. Nothing in biology makes sense without evolution, it is certainly happening, and telling children it isn’t will not change that. It’ll just make it harder for them to relate to a world that doesn’t work the way they’ve been told it does.

I’m taking a break from this subject for a while, but it will be back.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on February 29, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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