Sunday, February 26, 2006

Alabama Legislature Disproves Notion that Evolution Equals Intellectual Progress

Once again Plato's critique of democracy proves to be right on. As an American historian I am not an expert on Platonic philosophy but I believe Plato's bottom line on democracy roughly translates: the votes of ignorant individuals does not yield wisdom for the masses. With an electorate that reads on about the level of an average 13 year old, the solons in Montgomery are once again trying to insinuate creationism and Intelligent Design into the science and history curricula. The proposed law creates a specific "right" of teachers to introduce competing theories on the origins and progression of life on earth. The law would insure that a teacher presenting ideas outside the approved Course of Study could not be punished in any way. The bill is being referred to as the Academic Freedom Act. Of course there is not a law or a court ruling that denies a teacher the rights proposed in this new law. Instead the proponents of the law are opening the door for Christian fundamentalists to introduce what they call "Creation Science," an oxymoronic misnomer. If "Creation Science" does not make the cut, they are prepared to substitute an old point of view they now call Intelligent Design.

Creation Science is not science. Even if the story of creation in Genesis were true, it would still not be science. Science examines the natural world, the creation story is about the supernatural. Not being omniscient, I cannot prove that there are absolutely no supernatural events in history and there might even be a god of some sort that is active in history. But, by definition, one cannot apply scientific scrutiny to supernatural phenomena. Beyond the definitional problems, the "science" presented in creationist publications is reflective of a complete lack of understanding of the scientific method and indicates a breath-taking ignorance of the the very scientific principles they employ to justify their "science." The truth is that these people know that what they are marketing is not real science but the implications of evolution to a person with a fundamentalist world-view make overt dissimulation acceptable, ie the end justifies the means. They think they are saving our souls so what matters a curriculum informed by outright lies and ignorance.

These fundamentalist intruders into professional education demonstrate even less sophistication (contrary to their self-perceptions) when they resort to Intelligent Design when Creation-Science is plowed under by any child with half a brain. Basically, ID asserts that life and the universe are so complex and complicated that these apparent realities could not possibly have occurred through scientific processes; therefore, there must be an Intelligent Design(er) behind the process. Initially, we can smile at the irony of a group who in the former case are trying to institute a science that disproves evolution and in this case argue that science cannot address the issue. The proponents of Intelligent Design, aside from their show of scientific ignorance, also let us in on their lack of information regarding European history, religious history (of the West) and a total failure to gain purchase on even the simplest basics of logic or philosophy. In the early modern age of Europe there developed within the Roman Catholic church an intellectual movement later termed scolasticism. A few Catholic intellectuals slowly became convinced that the dawning modern world view which included logical thinking and rudimentary science could not be overwhelmed or stopped in its tracks by Holy Mother Church. They argued that TRUTH was TRUTH and that it should be the same whether revealed by their god, the church or by logic and science. So they set out to demonstrate that the truths of Christianity could be proven logically and would ultimately support the revealed truths of the Bible and Church doctrine--of course, the Church did not require logic to be true but science should still lead to the same truths. So the scholastics used their acknowledged intellects to prove god, the trinity and all the other myths on which most Christian doctrine is based. They certainly did arrive at the same "truths," but they used deductive reasoning which soon enough came under attack with the rise of science and inductive reasoning. Their "truths" could not withstand even the crudest challenges from early modern scientific thinkers. But, in the process of subjecting irrational truths to rational critique, they paved the way for a a full scale assault on almost every Church statement on the natural world and science. The Church fought back against Copernicus, Galileo-- even the ever Catholic Newton-- and it lost in a major way every battle. Those losses were frightening enough to the former repository of all truth but more importantly, one could easily segue into questioning non-scientific statements by the Church. If it was wrong about the earth being the center of the universe, mightn't it be wrong about sin and salvation?

If the fundamentalists succeed in forcing Intelligent Design on science teachers and historians who include the history of science and religion in their courses, they are unleashing inevitable attacks on some of the fundamentalists' most cherished beliefs. Attacks on issues of faith that ought not be allowed in the public schools. As a teacher, I should not have the right to challenge a child's religious beliefs but IF I am forced to explain Intelligent Design, it will take less than a class period to show even 14 year olds how illogical and absurd issues of faith are IF they are subjected to rational criticism. For God's sake!!--that is THE reason those issues are based on faith. Faith can be absurd. It can be irrational. Those are not put downs, they are descriptive of metaphysics on all levels and certainly on religious matters. Matters of faith do not belong in the science lab. If my students want to believe in a young earth, a 6 day creation, a virgin birth and a physical resurrection, they should be free to have those beliefs, however irrational, without the interference of their science or history teachers.

The Alabama legislature is peopled by products of Alabama schools for the most part. Most of their teachers were probably against Darwinian evolution---and probably completely uninformed themselves about how it works. Now these sons of the South presume to know what should be taught in our science classes. Plato, where the hell are you?


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