Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Times Gets it Right

Also weighing in on the Cobb County affair is The New York Times. In today's paper they offer up these worthy sentiments:

Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution.

Congratulations to the Times for seeing the latest creationist efforts in thier proper historical context.

After reminding their readers that the sticker at issue read as follows:

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.

they provided the following insightful analysis:

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word “theory,” whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution “one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have” and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

The third sentence, urging that evolution be studied carefully and critically, seems like a fine idea. The only problem is, it singles out evolution as the only subject so shaky it needs critical judgment. Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

Well said.


At 4:00 PM, Blogger Rev said...

I agree that the argument against the disclaimer sticker was dead on. However, well reasoned arguments are fraught with the problem that someone has to hear them with an open mind. Creationists use the term "theory" out of its scientific definition, substituting the layperson's usual understanding of what a "theory" is. This disingenuous approach shows that well reasoned arguments are not going to win the fight.
Perhaps the best defense is an exceedingly aggressive offense. I propose that those in favor of Darwinian evolution should in fact invite the Intelligent Design camp's ideas into the classroom, but only if it were done in a completely scientific and skeptical spirit.

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