February 16, 2011

Backwards America

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America needs a Plan B, in case God flakes.

President Barack Obama agrees, stressing science’s pivotal role in securing America’s future, and so do the courts, which consistently find the teaching of Creationism in public schools unconstitutional.  But a recent poll found that only 28 percent of public school biology teachers present the theory of evolution as scientific fact — the rest endorse Genesis or teach it alongside other “theories that frankly don’t hold up,” as the President once put it. If Obama cannot prevent Evangelicals and abetting Republican leaders like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin from tunneling under the wall of separation between church and state, then America is going to have bigger problems on its hands than outsmarting the Chinese. When enough people are ill-equipped to distinguish between a good idea and a bad one, democracy is compromised.   And if democracy is compromised, well, I think you get the point.  According to an international education test, American 15-year-olds rank 23rd in the world in science and 31st in math. According to a national assessment, less than half of students are proficient in science. It’s no wonder then why so many people reject the theory of evolution: they just don’t understand it. Take Republican Congressman Jack Kingston on Real Time, for example: “I don’t believe a creature crawled out of the sea and became a human being one day.” Or Sarah Palin in Going Rogue: “I [don’t] believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originate from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea.” Even the flying spaghetti monster on Futurama: “You seriously believe I’m descended from some kind of flightless manicotti?”  Too many Americans have Darwin confused with Pokemon.         To be sure, the stunningly gullible and the helplessly indoctrinated are the victims of a plot. If you want proof of the insincerity of many Biblical literalists, look no further than the so-called Museum of Creation in Kentucky, where there are exhibits of dinosaurs saddled like horses.Evangelicals once denied the existence of dinosaurs, dismissing them as an atheist’s lie or the devil’s hoax, until they realized that little kids tend to like dinosaurs more than they like Jesus.   It’s cool to deliberately mislead children when you’re saving souls, right?  Evangelicals fear their children learning about evolution because they suspect that such knowledge would serve as the gateway drug to critical thinking and eventually –– gasp –– skepticism.   In a fundamental way, they’re right: Even if science cannot prove negatives like the nonexistence of God, it does provide an alternative framework for understanding the universe that doesn’t require divine inspiration. That’s not to say that advocates of science cannot also be religious, or that the two are entirely incompatible. Rather, as Obama told a Christian group back in 2006: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”  He went on to say: “Now, I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons. But if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can’t simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will; I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”  The inconvenient truth is that many Americans aren’t as responsible about their faith as the President is: they can’t distinguish between the logical and the fantastical. And they don’t seem to mind much, either.  It is a troubling trend in America: a cultural aversion to thinking and a celebration of intellectual mediocrity.  In many circles, going with your gut is better than using your brain, ‘common sense’ is code for ‘the first thing that pops into your mind,’ and Sarah Palin is a folk hero. Which may explain why only 12 percent of Americans insist that evolution should be the only theory of life taught in biology class, even though it’s the only theory accepted by reputable scientists, and even though religious education in public schools is unequivocally in conflict with the Constitution.   Of course, this has not stopped the eager-to-please pragmatists from suggesting: “Why not teach both? Or simply: ‘teach the controversy’ surrounding evolution? Surely there’s no harm in presenting both sides.”  Biologist Richard Dawkins has a good retort: “Why not teach the stork theory of reproduction, too?”  It’s one thing to underfund public education, which America does. It’s quite another to subvert education — to mock and distrust it, as many Evangelicals and Republicans do — when evolution is of the most essential tools for understanding, interpreting and interacting with the world. It underlies the scientific method that underlies our common reality.   No student should be coerced into accepting evolution — people have the freedom to believe whatever they want. But everybody should at least have honest and open access to the theory, even if, in the end, they choose to reject it.  Access to education is America’s only hope for salvation, so to speak.

Cody Gault is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Stakes Is High appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Cody Gault