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Clueless in Texas

TiktaalikWith the Texas Board of Education narrowly voting yesterday to keep the creationists from adding bogus language to their education standards, the religious conservative frenzy is at a peak. Not only were outrageous (and blatantly untrue) statements made during the school board’s meeting, but creationism-supporting commentators were out in force… and they just keep coming, each one showing just how well they can ignore evidence and misunderstand issues.

The example I ran across today is from Don McDonald, a guest columnist at the Waco Tribune-Herald. His editorial, titled Evolution crowd is censoring science, claims that by disallowing the proposed “strengths and weaknesses” language, the school board is squelching academic freedom and censoring science.

It is heartening to see that in January, the State Board of Education upheld academic freedom when learning evolution by crafting science standards that require students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for evolution, and asking students to consider “the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”

Two things come immediately to mind here. First, as Kenneth Miller enthusiastically and eloquently points out, everything in science should be critically examined. That’s what science is all about. Scientific theories change, live, and die by the examination of new evidence. It’s one of the things that makes the scientific method so wonderfully effective at explaining the natural world.

Second, given that all science should be critically examined, why was the proposed language focusing only on evolution? What about astronomy? What about chemistry? What about geology? The reason, of course, is that the language is specifically focused on evolution because it’s being used as a creationist weapon. There is no reason, other than religious zealotry, to use that kind of language focused solely on evolution.

By supporting these amendments, the board supported developing critical thinking skills among students. Anything less than analysis, evaluation, and free discussion of arguments for and against any theory amounts to censorship, and censorship never serves the advancement of science.

The first sentence is bogus for the reasons I already mentioned. The second sentence is almost perfect. The phrase “free discussion of arguments” is far too open to be of any use. Perhaps the “free discussion of evidence” might be better? McDonald is trying to make the point that any alternative ideas to evolution should be given discussion time, regardless of their scientific merit (ie… creationism). However, allowing discussion time for any alternative ideas will only serve to confuse students as to what real science is, and would completely waste valueable and preciously-limited time for real science education.

Objectors to the proposed language in the science standards commonly express fear of “creationism creeping into the classrooms.” But the amendments say nothing of creationism or intelligent design. They are about exploring and discovering science.

The amendments really don’t say anything specifically about creationism or intelligent design. However, what other purpose could there be to focusing solely on evolution? Given the history of the creationism and intelligent design “movement,” it’s blatantly evident that the goal of the language is to target evolution and attempt to cast doubt on a theory that has been tested and challenged for more than 150 years… yet has held up under such intense scrutiny without scarcely a blemish. Details about evolution have changed over the years due to additional evidence and study, but the basic premise has remained intact since its inception.

The creationist attempts to throw doubt on evolution and to introduce supernatural explanations for life’s progression are becoming more and more transparent and pathetic… yet they continue, nonetheless. The phrases “teach the controversy” and “only a theory” have become dogmatic mantras of the unscientific and uneducated. The same long-since-debunked issues come up repeatedly (bacterial flagellum, blood clotting proteins, etc) as “proof” that evolution is not valid. The same tired rhetoric is used over and over, ad nauseum, in an attempt to disguise the religious intent of creationism and ID supporters.

Yet, with all the effort put forth by these anti-intellectual snake-oil salesmen, one thing is glaringly missing.

Evidence.

They have none. There is no evidence to support intelligent design. There is no evidence to support creationism. Not a single piece of evidence exists. Their sole strategy is to attempt to discredit evolution so that they can claim “God did it” as the “obvious” alternative. That’s all they have and that’s all they will ever have. It’s called the “God of the gaps” argument… if we can’t explain it, it must be God.

If they want to believe that, they are free to do so. They can believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. They can believe that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. They can believe in talking snakes and virgin births and resurrections as devoutly as they want. They can believe that life was created by an “intelligent designer” and raise their hands to the heavens in tribute.

But do not try to pass it off as science.

6 Comments

  1. Rachael Ryan says:

    This level of ignorance is alarming to me. It makes me think that our species has, indeed, not evolved to the level of intelligence that we give ourselves credit for. Very frightening! The suspension of disbelief which is required in bazar religious teachings and the attachment to these arguments against common sense and basic intelligent thinking, I refer to this claim that we did not evolve from the beautiful animal life around us, is staggering to me. What better way for any god to create this less than intelligence species, man.

  2. J. Young says:

    Dug the article. Thanks!

  3. Gerald Skoog says:

    An informative blog. Thanks.

    The call for academic freedom is ill-informed. Academic freedom protects educators from outside interference. It doesn’t allow them to teach without boundaries. In Texas, much interference with this freedom comes from the State Board of Education, which limits sex education, attempts to deny comprehensive treatment of evolution, messes with environmental science, etc.

    A meta-analysis of research recently published notes the importance of critical thinking skills, but shows that the critical thinking skills are best developed when the focus is on such skills. There is little evidence that critical thinking skills develop as a byproduct of instruction such as touted by advocates of teaching all sides of an issue.

    If the evolution-related standards in Texas are emphasized in a scholarly and comprehensive manner, the proponents of the “all sides” position may find the alternatives to evolution depicted with little or no evidence and void of explanatory power. However, it’s probably naive to think such treatment will characterize the instructional material developed.
    The SBOE will burn up much time in 2011 when biology textbooks are considered for adoption. This time could be better spent on considering the “strengths and weaknesses” of science education in Texas and developing policies and practicing to eliminate the weaknesses.

  4. Kimber says:

    It is for this reason that I put my first grader into a private school in Austin. His Episcopalian school is more liberal when it comes to science than the public schools. Ridiculous.

    Evolution is not a theory, it’s a fact. Get used to it.

    Thanks for blogging on this story. Please remember that not all Texans are loopy.

  5. Vanisle says:

    I live in Canada and I am amazed that creationism has such a foothold in the US education system. I think this is just another issue that is dragging the great society of the US down in the world. I know there are plenty of creationists here in Canada and hopefully the Canadian education system doesn’t go down the same dead end path.

    1. Dan says:

      It constantly amazes me, too, Vanisle. It goes right along with the anti-intellectual attitude of a certain group in the US… unfortunately a group that is outspoken and, for some bizarre reason, taken seriously.

      Thanks for visiting Rationality Now!

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