May 15, 2005

Evolution Again in KS

I've been disappointed that Kansas, a state where I have a number of relatives and have visited innumerable times, is again looking at socially-motivated alterations to the science curriculum on evolution.

First of all, I'm annoyed by the elitist condescension coming from certain people who, I believe, see this almost entirely as a cultural issue. That's just as bad as the Creationists that also see it as a cultural issue. There are plenty of people on the pro-evolution side who are there out of a social affinity with a certain cultural and geographical sect of Americans, and not of an enduring respect for objectivity, universality, falsifiability and science. After all, many of these same people accept any lie, exaggeration or ridiculous claim made by environmentalists - even when they are contradictory or flatly deceitful.

However, that's no excuse for Kansas to alter the science curriculum to fit non-scientific views. Yes, it's technically possible that evolution could be proven incorrect, as with any scientific theory. But right now it sure seems to fit with the available evidence, and in science, that's the best we can do.

A common criticism of evolution seems to be that it "doesn't explain everything." This would be a truly damning indictment if only evolutionary theory purported to explain everything. It's not supposed to answer why and it's not supposed to give an overarching theme for the purpose of life. It's supposed to explain the process by which the existing species in the world came about and to address the observable variations and similarities between species.

That's what science is - observable facts, reproducible results and falsifiable hypotheses. Creationism and Intelligent Design are not science. While it may turn out to be true that God or gods had a hand in creating the universe, the Earth and the creatures upon it, but there's currently no evidence to propel that theory above others. In fact, since any criticism of Intelligent Design can be excused with "well that's just God's plan" or the theory of an omnipotent deity, there's no point to the theory. It doesn't give us any useful information about the universe or biology because almost any set of facts could fit with the theorem.

Since it's not truly falsifiable, it's not science. It is not impossible for ID to be correct, but it's still not science. There is a distinction between science and truth. I don't think ID is the truth (why would God not intervene to save the Jews or the Tutsis but choose to intervene to create the ten-thousandth variation on beetles) but it's definitely not science. It doesn't belong in a classroom.

The only change that might make some sense is micromanaging, but it would go something like just inserting a clarification that evolution doesn't explain everything. However, I'd avoid something like this because it sends a political message that doesn't seem appropriate. After all, would we conclude the unit on gravity by reminding students that it "doesn't explain everything?" Would we couch the unit on electromagnetics or the wave-particle nature of light with a reminder that God might have created these things? No.

It seems silly to even suggest it outside the theory of evolution. So while I: a) sympathize with people who want to teach kids certain things, even wrong-headed and demonstrably false things; and b) have little sympathy for the culturally-tinted condescension coming from a number of leftists who don't give a damn about science either when it conflicts with their worldviews, I have to say that it's just not the right place. Religion and philosophy don't belong in a science class.

Maybe it would be entirely appropriate to teach various world-creation theories in a social sciences class of some sort, where it would be in a context of beliefs and cultures instead of facts, hypotheses and falsifiability, but I hope the Kansas education people don't force that on schools. That would just be a political sop to a certain point of view and it would be forcing schools to teach something in order to please a certain segment of the population. It makes more sense, for the time being, to let each school (and ideally, each teacher) to determine such matters.

In the long term, the true solution is to privatize education so that the Creationists can have their own school, and the Muslims and vegans and so forth can get their own schools as well. In this way the Creationists could shelter themselves from inconvenient science and the religious freedom issues would be eliminated.

Before leaving the issue, I want to again emphasize that science is often under attack from people on the left, who would prefer to see themselves as repositories of all learning and erudition. The lack of basic scientific knowledge in subjects like climatology, fetology and history is shocking, given the forthright opinions often espoused by some of these people. You would hope that somebody trying to enforce the extreme provisions of Kyoto, the murderous dictates of Roe v. Wade or the imperatives behind slavery reparations would at least have the corresponding background to discuss the issue intelligently.

However, on the subject of Kansas, I truly hope the education officials decide not to do anything though they almost certainly will. Teaching Intelligent Design in a science class, or even modifying the evolution lesson plan to try and couch it in philosophical or cultural context, is an affront to the idea of science.

I wish they'd spend their time doing something constructive, like say adding an embryology/fetology unit to the science curriculum. Besides being important to parenthood and pre-natal care, it might foster a greater understanding of the unborn and a correspondingly greater respect for the inherent humanity of the million-plus destroyed every year.

I can't imagine the mindset that had evangelicals, almost certainly all pro-life, look at the situation in the country where there are over one million abortions every year and somehow decide that the most pressing issue is trying to prove the Earth is ten thousand years old. Wasted energy on a pointless, doomed experiment in denying basic scientific truths. Of course, unlike the abortion industry, at least when Creationists stick their heads in the sand to ignore science and logic, doing so doesn't (directly) result in deaths.

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