Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Going ape

The grass is greening, the robins are returning, this year’s crop of baseball scandals are breaking out, and the nation’s thoughts turn inevitably to… how and whether to teach evolution in our classrooms.

NPR’s Greg Allen reports on the controversy in Kansas (What IS the matter with Kansas, anyway?) where opponents of science masquerade as advocates of “intelligent design”.

“Science errs by refusing to look beyond natural phenomena to other explanations,” complains William Harris.  Indeed.  That would be because it is science, a discipline which studies and seeks to explain natural phenomena scientifically.  And a public school parent explains that she is “providing her children with religious instruction and doesn’t want to have to correct ideas they learn in science class.”  In other words, literally, my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.

The formidable Renee Montagne tries to resolve the issue by presenting:  a scientist who is also a Christian!  D.C.-based NPR had to look as far as the Smithsonian to find this prize specimen-- astronomer Owen Gingerich. (There are, of course, legions of religious folks who have no problem with the idea that living things evolve.)

Montagne tries to get Gingerich to agree that the big problem with evolution is that “it doesn’t explain everything.” Aspects of the theory remain under investigation, he says, (again, this is the nature of science) but “that’s not grounds for dismissing it.”

So Montagne goes for her trump card. She asks the astronomer, “When you look up at the stars, do you imagine an Intelligent Being, a personage, if you will, being up there in the heavens alongside those stars?”

His answer is respectful, literate and persuading.  It amounts to, “In a word, no.”  But the question sets me thinking.  Suddenly I see a way to save the Hubble telescope, condemned to death by the Bush budget:  we’ll tell them that we’ll aim it into deep space to see if we can capture god as he roams his heavens like Bigfoot. Perfect. Get me Heraldo.

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry.  Although there are legitimate scientific debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism of evolution.  It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of the public schools.
--National Center for Science Education


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