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Friday, May 20, 2005

I'll Be a Monkey's Uncle - and Other Lies Made Fact in Kansas

True or False: Evolution is only a theory, not a fact. Therefore, it should not be taught in our schools as equally true as, say, gravity or thermodynamics.

If you answered "True"; then you should RUN - don't walk - to Kansas and snap-up the new science teaching jobs that apparently will require no actual knowledge of science.

For anyone who keeps a guarded eye on the religious right, the story is nothing new. The first step is that they force their dogma onto society until struck down by the courts (whom they then accuse of being "activist" and "legislating from the bench"). Then they push the same idea, with all references to G-O-D removed, as a valid alternative. Since their argument is so flimsy a mouse fart would destroy it, they elect people to key positions to get it implemented. They then have public hearings where they appear to care what anyone who opposes them says. After the hearing closes, they do what they wanted to do before the courts declared it illegal anyway.

The current story in Kansas has to do with the evolution vs. "intelligent design" "controversy. I have to put "controversy" in quotes because to do otherwise might somehow give the idea that there is a legitimate disagreement over this stuff. Let me be blunt - there isn't. The only way you can dispute evolution occurs is if you either: 1) lack the intellectual capacity to understand the evidence; or 2) refuse to deal with reality.

What the whole dispute is built on is a literary interpretation of a scientific term. If you use a literary dictionary, you will find a definition of evolution that says something similar to "an idea upon which action is taken" which is basically saying "a hunch". This is how you use "theory" when you ask a police detective, "Do you have any theory of what happened here?" As a scientific term, it has a much stricter definition.

A scientific theory means something along the lines of "an explanatory concept that has been tested repeatedly until the evidence collected reduces to negligible the chance of it being untrue". In plain English, that means "this has been proven true". Of course, scientists never prove a positive, so they won't say that. That's why this whole fiasco continues to be revisited every few months. (For more info on evolution and the legal dust-up about it, I refer you to Teach Evolution.)

So what? Kansas won't be giving us the next generation of astronauts or gene splicers or anyone who wants to teach science outside of Kansas. Big deal. Yeah, it is. On three levels.

First, no one has a right to enforce ignorance on someone else. If you want to teach your kid that evolution is wrong and make him look stupid for denying reality, that's your choice. Don't be surprised if you have either a very dense kid or one that hates you for trying to make him that way. However, you have no right to try to force my kid to follow that path. If this is simply about trying to give someone the ability to believe in something beyond what they learn at school - then turn off the TV and computer and make your kid read a book on it. Here's a real shocker - have a question and answer session with him. Guess what? You may learn something.

Second, it undermines the entire purpose of education. My kid goes to school so he can learn what is known - not what is unknown and unknowable. We know about evolution. We know about gravity. We know about the laws of motion and thermodynamics. We don't know how the universe was created, what came before it, or why. The only legitimate answer science can give when it bumps into the unknown is: "I don't know. Let's find out." As soon as any other answer is given, it no longer is education in any real sense of the word. Science isn't about mysticism - it's about empirical research and human understanding.

Third, as a Christian, I don't want my kid learning religion from his biology teacher. I don't send him to Sunday School so he can be a molecular biologist - with good reason. Why then would I send him to a scientist to learn religion? Honestly, if you want a religion class in school, have a religion class in school. Just be sure that you are willing to teach ALL religions as being equally valid or you are violating the law. This is why our public schools stay away from religion classes and religious-based private schools embrace them. Let's be clear - your child has a right to attend a public school, but you do not have the right to make that school teach religious dogma.

I am a Christian, but I am also a scientist. Before I turned to studying psychology and politics, my background was in electrical engineering and nuclear physics. In the heritage of Galileo and Copernicus, John Locke and Moses Mendelssohn, Martin Luther and John Wesley - I believe that it is an affront to God to believe that man must set aside his intellect to accept faith. Any place where faith sits athwart reason, reason must win out. This is the advance of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment - that each of us can use our full capacities to understand our place in the universe. We have the power to separate superstition from faith. We should not be timid about doing so.

The real problem with intelligent design, from a Christian standpoint, is that it seeks to limit God to being a proxy for what is unknown by science. To do this, it ignores evidence that has been rigorously tested and found to be solid. Faith simply cannot conflict with reality and lay any ongoing claim to truth. Faith is the belief in things not seen - yes. Faith is not, however, the belief in things proven to be untrue or nonbelief of things that have been proven true. That way lies dogma and the repression that always accompanies it. That is, in fact, the opposite of faith.

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