Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Science Lesson from an Angry Midget

A common theme in our discussions as of late has been the increasing influence of the religious right on our every day lives. Even those who consider themselves to be atheists or agnostics are seeing the influence of Christian fundamentalists creep into places like public schools and town hall meetings. Currently, a panel appointed by the Kansas State Board of Education is holding hearings about new scientific standards for teaching evolution, which would require schools to teach students that evolution is a controversial theory and not scientific fact. Representatives from the American Academy of Sciences and others in the scientific community have declined to participate in these discussions.

The diversity of groups involved in this movement to qualify the teaching of evolution is truly fascinating. The Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, has been heavily involved for quite some time in promoting alternative views to Darwinian evolution. The Discovery Institute feels that science curricula should highlight many of the scientifically-based criticisms of Darwin's theory of evolution. The Institute stops short of endorsing Intelligent Design, which is the religious right's new way of attempting to pass literal interpretation of Genesis as a scientific theory. In fact, the Discovery Institute makes a strong point that it does not endorse intelligent design.

On the same side of the issue, neo-conservatives and the religious right are pushing the same agenda, but for a completely different reason. While many of them would cheer any scientific evidence that would refute Darwin's theory of evolution, it's doubtful that any of them have taken the time to read up on it. For some reason, there are still people who feel that the public schools need to be an extension of their church. The irony about the union of these unlikely bedfellows is that one group wants a more complete scientific representation of Darwin's theories, and the other wants to avoid scientific discussions about the origins of our species entirely.

I have no problem with the constant process of scientific debate and discovery. I believe that evolution did occur, although maybe not in the exact way outlined by Charles Darwin. When one considers the timeline of scientific discovery that Darwin was working in, his theory of evolution is pretty damned impressive. Darwin didn't know anything about DNA, genetics, the human genome, just to name a few. Reasonable people have different ideas about this, and because it's science, that's perfectly acceptable. As long as people have some opinion about what is going on scientifically.

There are numerous scientific theories that used to be taken as truth, that have since been shown to be inadequate to explain certain phenomena or even completely wrong. The wonderful thing about science is that there really isn't a right or wrong answer. Science is a process, and during the process of scientific investigation, we more often than not, find out we were wrong about our assumptions. Being wrong about things is actually parting of the driving force behind science, and most scientists have no problem admitting that they were wrong about something, since it often teaches them something important about what they're examining. Proving our assumptions to be false is how some of the greatest revolutions in scientific thought came to be.

Religion, however, is something completely different. The fundamentalist and Evangelical viewpoint on religion is that every other explanation is wrong. The problem with this approach, particularly when it comes to examining science, is that you never experience progress or learn anything new. Anything short of God physically creating the universe is unacceptable. Evangelicals dismiss anything that doesn't fit into their incredibly narrow worldview. This type of thinking is not adequate to stand up to be taught as science in our public schools.

If you want to teach your kids that David Hasselhoff created the entire world in the privacy of your own home, I don't give a rat's ass. Attempting to disguise your religious beliefs as a scientific theory, in order to get some attention and exert a little influence over your school's curriculum is bogus. Our public schools are not extensions of your political and/or religious agendas. If you want your children to lack critical thinking skills to evaluate theories, scientific or otherwise, I don't care. But, don't screw up everyone else's free and public education in the process.

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