Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Evolution Lawsuit in Georgia Last year the school board of Cobb County, Georgia voted to place warning labels about evolution in their biology textbooks. Those warning label's read:

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.

Now, according to this short article from SFGate.com, a judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of six Cobb County parents challenging the constitutionality of the labels. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Other school districts, not to mention the entire state of Alabama, already use such labels. If the lawsuit is successful, it is likely to encourage other suits of the same nature.

There are two main things I find objectionable about this label. The first is the childish distinction it draws between “theory” and “fact”. In everyday usage, the word “theory” is often used to suggest something that is little better than a guess, but that is not generally what scientists have in mind. To them a theory is something that explains a large collection of facts. Scientists will talk about Einstein's theory of relativity or the germ theory of disease, but both of these have been established to a level of certainty that justifies calling them facts as well. Evolution is in a similar situation. Sure, it's a theory. But it's a theory supported by so much data that it is mere stubbornness not to call it a fact. The school board is clearly trying to imply that evolution should be treated as less secure than other parts of science.

This leads to the second problem: Why is evolution being singled out for consideration? Is the implication that students should not critically analyze scientific theories other than evolution?

Of course, everyone knows the reason evolution is being singled out. It is because evolution is considered threatening to people's religious beliefs in ways that other theories are not threatening. The school board is trying to sow doubt about evolution to prop up people's religious beliefs. The only real question is whether they have been sufficiently subtle about it to pass constitutional muster.


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