Friday, January 14, 2005

Textbook Disclaimers for Evolution

Back in 2002, the school system in Cobb County, Georgia mandated that a sticker be placed inside the cover of all biology textbooks. The stickers say, “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Last Thursday a federal judge told the school district to remove those stickers. The judge ruled that it was yet another attempt by the state to denigrate the scientifically proven theory of evolution and to promote alternative religious theories of creation.

While the stickers do not specifically mention alternative “theories” to evolution, the judge correctly determined that it clearly was meant to isolate the theory of evolution as somehow undeserving of the same respect mustered by other scientific theories.

He said, “While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, the sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community.”

If you disagree with that statement, just think about this. Why did the school district not order similar disclaimers for all other scientific theories? The sticker says that evolution should be “…approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” But isn’t that good advice for pretty much everything?

Should chemistry students not carefully study and critically consider the atomic theory? Should physics students approach the quantum theory with any less care and critical consideration?
No, evolution was singled out as the only theory that should be approached with caution. And the reason is obvious: Evolution theory tramples on the dogma of fundamentalist Christians. And Georgia is full of them.

So is Alabama, which mandates a similar sticker. That state has no plans to remove its dubious disclaimers, despite this latest ruling against the back-door encroachment of fundamentalism in the public schools.

Now, I’ve written on this topic enough to know that if someone believes in a literal six-day creation of everything in the universe by God, then nothing I say is going to change his mind. That’s not my intent.

I realize that most fundamentalists wouldn’t recognize the real theory of evolution if it crept out of the primal muck and bit them on their collective asses. Let's just say they know just enough about it to be dangerous.

My point is that even if I, myself, believed in creationism or intelligent design, I would still oppose placing such stickers in textbooks or teaching creation in schools as an alternative “theory.”

That’s because I know creationism is not a scientific theory. Evolution is. And even if there remains some controversy over its exact mechanisms, it still is a full-fledged, bona fide scientific theory that has withstood the test of time and scientific scrutiny.

Since students are supposed to learn about science from science textbooks and in science class, then it seems excruciatingly obvious that evolution must be a part of that curriculum, whether it tramples one’s personal religious beliefs or not.

The judge is simply reaffirming this notion, as have many other judges before him.
Of course, there are those who insist that evolution itself is nothing more than a belief. But this notion is truly absurd. Science, by definition, has to be neutral and impartial.

Certainly, some scientists have pet hypotheses that they like to see confirmed by observation or experiment. But if, in the end, the hypothesis doesn’t pass scientific scrutiny, then it has to be either modified or abandoned.

One of Charles Darwin’s contemporary’s, Thomas Huxley, once stated, “The great tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” It’s the nature of science.
The theory of evolution has withstood the tests of 150 years, and it is far stronger now than it was when Darwin proposed it. It certainly deserves its spot in biology textbooks, undiluted by spurious disclaimers.

No comments: