Tuesday, April 05, 2005

If your car doesn’t start try some eye of newt (or a human sacrifice)

Most Americans do not understand science. I really think I don’t need more proof than the fact that the 1-800-ASTROLOGY lines are still in business but just in case that isn’t enough check out our ranking among industrialized countries (I think the only way we would fare better is if we were compared to countries still using the abacus and worshipping tree gods. Think about our per-pupil spending and then let me know why we are doing so poorly.). I don’t want to condemn superstition or entertaining beliefs but if you are throwing salt over your shoulder, burying statues in your lawn to sell your house, or giving people money to lift curses off of your family something, somewhere has gone seriously wrong. So, to all of this why don’t we allow a few religious zealots to teach 4th graders that the earth did not “evolve” but was created just thousands of years ago! We could relate how the devil, being the great trickster he is, buried dinosaur bones to fool us into believing in the evil theory of evolution (I once went out on a date with an absolutely beautiful nurse who told me that she didn’t believe in evolution. She actually pulled out the “dinosaur bones are tricks by the devil line”. Hey, I’m a guy and I can overlook A LOT when it comes to an attractive female but that date ended with a puff of smoke and a me shaped hole in the restaurant wall.). We could then use the bible in all sorts of fun ways to teach children facts about history (That was one hell of a boat Noah!), how to stay safe in a whale’s digestive tract (Just ask Jonah), or even methods of levitation (If you just have enough faith you can sprint across water like Carl Lewis on a track). Why demand scientific rigor, or even simple evidence in our classrooms ?(I’m not saying that religion isn’t useful in relaying moral values but scientifically it’s less than useless.)

I suppose this would make things easier on the people who hold our nation’s future in their hands. Should any of them disagree with a question on an exam they could look up a related verse in the bible, twist it to fit their interpretation of an event, and then say “God says it’s so. Prove me wrong.” (Sound familiar, creationists?). Relating that evolution is “just a theory” and that creationism is a “viable alternative” is not an innocuous act. Children will soon learn that the rigor of the scientific method is interchangeable with belief without proof. This could easily backfire on creationists by inculcating a sense of relativism (The very thing creationists hate but something which inevitably results when one bases “factual” information on a text very open to interpretation). I can see it now, a debate at Harvard between scientists who believe that volcanoes are due to plate tectonics versus fundamentalists who state that there are invisible rock demons who vomit fiery retribution onto the wicked of the earth (Funny how those guys are always invisible. Just like the tooth fairy.).

Of course it could be that we are just “shifting the mystery”. By offering a scientifically based explanation for a miraculous event (spontaneous remission of cancer for example) with no absolute “proof” are we performing the same act as hypothesizing that it was a “miracle of god”? Of course not, the fact is that the scientific hypothesis is based on internally self-consistent and experimentally verifiable theories and laws. For example, if 400 years ago we had happened upon a dead man in the woods with no apparent physical damage one might say that god hated the man and struck him down while another might postulate that he died of a physical ailment. At the time there was no way of determining between the two but does that make the former proposition just as acceptable as the latter?

So what does this mean for society? So we have a few kids who believe that the field of evolutionary biology is akin to phrenology, what is the harm in that? Well, when you are attempting to maintain a functioning society along with a functioning economy it helps to be productive. And guess what folks, calculators aren’t “made by God”, and all of those new medicines, they aren’t miracles. They were all formulated following those rules of science about which we are becoming so cavalier. So, if you’d like to allow creationists equal access perhaps you should also prepare to substitute praying for aspirin, chants for surgery, and maybe when your car breaks down just sprinkle on a little eye of newt. After all it can’t hurt, can it?


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