The empty-headed cretins at the Louisiana Family Forum are out to dilute science education in the state once again. According to this article in today’s Advocate, LFF is objecting to textbooks proposed for adoption for the 2010-2011 school year for Biology I and II because of an excessive emphasis on evolution. Winston White says the book portrays Darwin and evolutionary theory as “a saint”. (I guess, leaving aside this nonsensical construction that allows for a theory to be personified, Mr. White doesn’t have religion on the brain at all.) Others want the books to include material on the “alternative” of intelligent design.
The wheel turns again and we’re back to fundamentalist Christians decrying the lack of moral values in society and promoting the teaching of ID in science classes as some kind of cure-all. Instead of taking positive steps to improve public education and make it easier for people across socioeconomic strata to get diplomas and degrees and find gainful employment–in other words, instead of being a force for the promotion of the individual and common good, as religious people regularly claim their faith is, LFF and its cronies and followers are trying to weaken science education in a state that really can’t afford further hits to its economic prospects.
So what is this all about, really? Is it about the canonization of a 19th-century naturalist and his groundbreaking work by a robed priesthood of elitist intellectuals who eat babies and poison wells like the Middle Ages caricatures of Jews? Is it about heroic, tragically-repressed religious folk who are fighting a losing battle to save us from ourselves and the decline of Western civilization? If only it were that interesting.
Instead this is about some misguided people who don’t understand what religion and science are, and because they stubbornly insist on clinging dogmatically to a viewpoint that the 21st century has left behind, they wish to indoctrinate young, impressionable minds with their peculiar ideas so that the forces of cultural evolution (ironic, no?) can allow their ideas to survive and be propagated to succeeding generations.
These people fail to grasp the idea that a book which has at least three different accounts of the creation of Man cannot possibly be infallible and the final word on all things knowable. A cottage industry exists of books which explore the large numbers of contradictions present in both the Christian and Hebrew Bibles (here is one and here is another).
This failure to understand that the text on which their religious traditions is based is to be interpreted metaphorically and not literally and that it is the product of numerous (human) authors is compounded by a singular failure to understand the epistemological nature of scientific inquiry. Science moves by examining the natural world, elucidating trends, proposing ideas to explain these trends, and testing these ideas by observation, experimentation, and inference. At any point along the track, we are always free to introduce nonscientific ideas to plug holes in our current understanding (the “god of the gaps”); however, the introduction of the metaphysical into an enterprise that is explicitly restricted to the physical by its nature introduces a huge problem: this is the untestable hypothesis–because it has the potential to explain anything and everything, it effectively explains nothing. This is why there is no place for the Christian god or any other god in the realm of scientific inquiry.
By the same token, you should not try to base your morality on science. Why? Science is descriptive and explanatory. It is not inherently prescriptive nor proscriptive. Science can elucidate, as an example, facts about the status of populations of the Cuban crocodile in its tiny home range (on the Isla de la Juventud and Cuba); it may even be able to predict with some degree of accuracy the likelihood in the future of the complete extirpation of that species. What it cannot do is tell us, the ones with the most control over Crocodylus rhombifer‘s ultimate fate, what we should do about it or why. These are moral and ethical questions, which are specifically not the purview of science.
Why is any of this relevant? Because two things are really lurking behind this insistence that the texts being proposed are inadequate: 1) a fear that if biological evolution is true (it is) then it means that the book that these objectors hold as inerrant is in fact errant; and 2) a fear that if the former is true there is no basis for morality and we will all become degraded, amoral monsters. While I could expound on the bizarre morality suggested by the Bible, it’s not that important and it’s territory that’s been covered before. The point is that of all of the places to seek moral guidance, science never suggested it should be first on the list or even considered at all. So it’s a moot point.
Evolution is a fact. No serious person working in the field of biology doubts it and the field would be so much the poorer without it as an explanatory and predictive framework against which to do science. It doesn’t harm children to recognize this; indeed, to open a child’s eyes to the wonders of the natural world is probably the best gift you could grant to him or her.
And, in truth, I don’t blame the David Matherses or Curt Eberses of the world for buying into these crackpot ideas–they’re confused and possibly scared and probably genuinely ignorant of the truth of these matters. The empty-headed cretins I alluded to earlier are the likes of Gene Mills, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and William Dembski, all of whom have been instructed on numerous occasions about the errors contained in the notions surrounding the so-called “theory” of intelligent design (ideas with fancy-sounding names like “irreducible complexity” and “complex specified information”), and who nevertheless continue to spread these lies and misconceptions and have the gall to pass themselves off as some sort of holy crusaders against a scientific elite that is conspiring to hide the truth. The truth, put simply, is this: these weasels are guilty of the greatest crime there can be in the realm of education: not ignorance but pure intellectual dishonesty. There should be no place for this sort of deceit in Louisiana’s public education system.