Cramming God into Schools, Kentucky Style.

In an attempt to win top prize in the “This Can’t End Well” category, kentucky.com posts an article with the following title:

GOP lawmakers question standards for teaching evolution in Kentucky

Basically the Kentucky legislature decided back in 2009 to make sure that their testing standards matched national metrics in order to more easily assess the performance of their students relative to states.  Sounds reasonable enough, and everybody was happy … until they began to realize that in order to keep up with the rest of the country, some of the standards required that their children be indoctrinated in the evil, sinful study of evolution.

Here’s where we see exactly how desperately Kentucky needs science education … with members of the GOP legislature providing unwitting – and terrifying – examples.

Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky’s new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms.

“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview.

Well David … you can hope in one hand, crap in the other, and see which fills up first.  There is a very obvious reason why creationism isn’t presented in a science classroom as a theory.  That’s because it’s not a theory.  It’s not even a testable hypothesis.  It’s an assertion made by those people who both believe in the literal interpretation of the bible and refuse to learn enough about biology to be able to figure out exactly what evolution is.  Here’s some help:

  1. Evolution is defined as “descent with modification. This definition encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations). Evolution helps us to understand the history of life.”
  2. The phenomenon of evolution is a fact.  It is real, demonstrable, repeatable, and independently observable.  Common descent can be shown through the use of phylogenetics, morphological similarities (also observable at the embryonic stage), the fossil record, and geographical distribution of species.  Evolution today – including speciation – can be observed in the wild and even carried out in a laboratory under controlled settings.
  3. Evolution is explained by a theory – specifically, “modern evolutionary synthesis” which encompasses the mechanisms used to explain how the phenomenon of evolution occurs (gradual process of genetic variation and drift with the environment providing the selective pressure).
  4. Item 2 and Item 3 do not contradict each other.  Think of gravity.  That, too, is measurable and observable.  Drop something and you’ll see what I mean.  But, as Stephen Jay Gould once said, “Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

I understand that there’s some dispute over the matter of whether evolution can be considered a fact, theory, both, or neither.  Hell, Richard Dawkins says that it’s so thoroughly supported by science it can’t be anything other than a fact.  I personally tend to take Gould’s approach since I think it makes the most sense in distinguishing between the ideas.  We observe both as verifiable and real, and we have theories to explain them.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what these guys are so worried about …

“I think we are very committed to being able to take Kentucky students and put them on a report card beside students across the nation,” Givens said. “We’re simply saying to the ACT people we don’t want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students’ ability to do critical thinking.”

Given the alternative presented by the GOP legislature, I can’t help but think their solution of presenting creationism as a valid scientific theory would do far more to damage students’ ability to do critical thinking.  When you don’t know the first thing about either concept, the last thing you should do is draft legislation about it.  Oh, but wait … there’s more.

Another committee member, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he had a problem with evolution being an important part of biology standards.

“The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” Waide said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

Let’s take a look at Representative Ben Waide of Madisonville for a moment.  It says he has a “health science” degree from the University of Louisville, which I take from his website to mean he’s a physical therapist … at least now by trade.  In other words, nothing about his education indicates he’s in a strong position to go against the the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community when they can show – and have done so with empirical data for about a century and a half now – that the theory of evolution stands up to scientific scrutiny just fine.

But that’s irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter that when he says “Darwin made it up”, he’s betraying an ignorance of both biology and the scientific method as a whole.  It doesn’t matter that all he has to do is crack open a book that doesn’t have a cross inlaid on the cover to see that all of the evidence of evolution is readily available if he were so inclined to actually learn about it.  What does matter is that he is a Christian, he believes in the literal interpretation of the bible, and he has the power to pass legislation to make sure the next generation of children think the same thing when they get out of school and into the real world.

For the record, creationism shares none of the characteristics of evolutionary theory.  It’s little more than a religious ideology that is reliant upon not only an inability to understand science, but also a steadfast unwillingness to learn that renders any attempt to reason with its supporters virtually pointless.  It is impossible to test, it’s incapable of predicting any future events to demonstrate its validity, and has been so thoroughly refuted by relatively simple discoveries in geology, chemistry, physics, and biology that there is clearly no reason to call it science, much less a scientific “theory”.  It might find some use in a comparative religion, sociology, or political science class, but nothing more.

Thankfully, there are others in Kentucky who share this same point of view:

David Helm, president of the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, declined to comment [on the state education standards], other than the official statement of the national group, which says:

“The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks and curricula … NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public’s misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, ‘creation science,’ and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution.”

Let’s hope that the voices of those who actually know what they’re talking about are heard, and real science remains in their schools.

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This entry was posted in Freedom from Religion, More Tests of Faith, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Religion and Public Life, Religion in the News, Science Marches On and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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