Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Creationism/I.D. Wars Move to Texas

The forced resignation of Christine Comer shows that future struggles over what's appropriate to teach students about the life sciences won't be just taking place at the local school board level; she was the Texas Education Agency’s director of science (see "Official Leaves Post as Texas Prepares to Debate Science Education Standards" by Ralph Blumenthal, NYT, 03 December 2007) . It also shows that advocates of scientific illiteracy will use whatever means necessary to prevail. Let's not make the mistake of thinking about the teaching of Intelligent Design or Creationism alongside Evolution as a free speech issue; for one thing, if that were really what I.D. advocates were after, Christine Comer would still have her job. In any case, this is about setting education policy at the State level; it has no more to do with free speech than advocating that we must teach students to consider that the Earth being flat or round is a matter still being debated by legitimate authorities, or that angels, not physics and applied mathematics, keep airplanes from falling out of the sky. Citizens, or their churches, or their media, can offer any explanation for things that they want. There is no law barring anyone from saying that 1 +1 could equal 3, but teaching it to children in schools would not be tolerated, because we know that things don't work that way, and applying such an idea in practice would lead to a LOT of things not working. The same applies to Creationism or Intelligent Design.
Does this mean we don't want our children to think, or to question established wisdom, or to put forth and test their own hypotheses about the way things work? Of course not. The reason current theories about life, more often than not, allow us to make predictions, and to convert current knowledge into useful practice, is that they've been developed within a framework of the scientific method, which means making careful observations, developing hypotheses, testing them with more careful observations, and rejecting what is inconsistent, what doesn't work, what doesn't make sense. Because none of these theories are perfect, this process continues. Beyond evolutionary theory itself, this is what we want students to learn about science; there is still much that we don't know, and we want those that are curious and interested to continue to make new observations, ask new questions, and find new answers.
Accepting Creationism and Intelligent Design implicitly involves a rejection of openminded inquiry, no matter how their advocates try to dress up their arguments with the trappings of science, like "journal articles" and I.D. "museums", and pretend their ideas don't simply come out of received faith and received scripture. Christine Comer's forced resignation demonstrates clearly that anti-Evolution advocates have no faith at all that they can ever prevail in a rational scientific debate, based on evidence and reason. Early indoctrination of children, and hardball political manipulations like the one that just took place in Texas, are the only weapons they have, and they know it.

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