Saturday, November 06, 2004

And the day and the night were the sixth day

Those of you who like your schools free of state-led attempts to win souls for Jesus might want to avoid Grantsburg, Wis. The school board there, which oversees 1,000 students in the northwest part of the state, has voted to add the teaching of creationism to the biology curriculum. The superintendent tried to justify the decision, saying a science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory."

The sentiment is correct, but creationism isn't really a scientific theory; it's a religious belief. Scientific theories must be based on repeatable observations or experiments. Most importantly, there must be a possibility that some hypothetical observation or experiment could produce results that would prove the theory false. Since there's no way to disprove the idea that God created man, creationism is an article of faith, not a scientific theory. That doesn't make the idea any less important, but that does mean it belongs in a religion class, not a science class. Many people's deep religious faith often renders them incapable of recognizing or accepting the distinction between religion and science.

Unfortunately, many people also have the mistaken belief that religion and science are mutually exclusive. They're not. Just because something is labeled "scientific theory," that doesn't necessarily make it true. And just because something is labeled "religious belief," that doesn't necessarily reduce its chances of being true. God very well could have created the world and all we see and know, but since we can't prove or disprove that idea through observation or experimentation, it's religion, not science. Humans very well could have evolved from apes, but since there remains the possibility that future observations could disprove that idea, it's a scientific theory. And of course, there's always the chance that God created humans through evolution, which would be a religious belief that incorporates scientific theory.

Back to my original point, though: Schools shouldn't be blurring the lines between religion and science to push a political or social agenda. Creationism should be taught in schools, but that instruction is more appropriate in religion or social studies classes. We should also be careful about overreacting to the teaching of evolution. The Kansas state school board removed evolution from the science curriculum a few years ago before reversing itself, and several other boards recently have also pushed to add creationism to their biology curricula.

As a longtime Alabama resident, I still remember another bit of overreaction: the little disclaimer sticker on the inside front of biology books warning that evolution was a "controversial theory" that still hadn't been proved. Of course, when you opened the book, it prominently mentioned the word evolution several times, usually preceded by the words theory of. Theories, as anyone who pays a shred of attention in science class will learn, cannot be proved. State school board members were so proud of that sticker, but unless their goal was to waste some tax money, I'm still not sure what good it did to add another warning brought to us by the Department of Redundancy Department.

No matter whether you think man's origins lie in creationism or evolution or something in between, don't sell your children short. They're smarter than you think.


Blogger Laer said...

Unfortunately, many biology teachers present evolution as a truth, not a theory. This deprives all students of the opportunity for a spirited analysis of the topic, and puts many students in an uncomfortable position of having their faith challenged -- and often, not being given the opportunity to defend their faith.

When evolution is presented as fact, teachers are ignoring the many legitimate quesions raised by creationists: mathematical impossibilty, greater complexity than early evolutionists knew existed, inability of "survival of the fittest" to explain evolution of the eye, absence of "missing link" species, creation bursts like during the Jurasic period, etc.

Until biology teachers teach evolution correctly, creationism needs to be in the science classroom, not the religion classroom as you suggest, in order to force the teaching of evolution as a theory.


1:34 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Thanks for the comment, Laer. I agree that many biology teachers don't address some of the scientific evidence that might raise questions about the validity of the theory of evolution in its present form. I think the solution to that problem, though, is for publishers to incorporate that scientific evidence into textbooks and for instructors to present that evidence in class as part of their teaching of evolution.

Perhaps my experience differed from most people's, but I recall our class discussion of evolution, which lasted for several days, being one of the most compelling parts of that school year and addressing most of the evidence on the subject, pro and con. School administrators can easily force the teaching of evolution as a theory without putting creationism in the science classroom. All it takes is a good teacher who presents the facts and is open to class discussion.

3:24 AM  

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