Today the morning conservative talk-show host Bill Carroll was doing a bit on evolution. Interestingly enough, I counted 8 people in a row who called in against evolution. I tried calling in myself, and instead of getting put in the queue to go on the air, as soon as I made it clear I was pro-evolution, I was told “I’ll pass your message onto him” and got hung up on. Was this because the message queue was too long, or was there a bias against pro-evolution callers? On most subjects, they’ll bump someone up the queue if he’s expressing an opinion that goes against the opinions of most callers, because they know they need to hear from both sides. But apparently (and rather ironically) they didn’t feel this was necessary on this subject.
Anyway, if there’s one thing that really pisses me off, it’s the way call-in shows about evolution are dominated by fundies. Now I know that this is partially because of zealotry; the fundies rush to the phone and speed-dial the instant they know it’s about evolution while I wait until I have a free minute. But it’s also partially because their message is so radio-friendly. Telling people that evolution is a crock is OK on the radio, but telling people that God is a crock will elicit a stream of angry E-mails, phone calls, letters, pulled advertisements, and boycott threats.
Carroll was pushing the standard middle-ground line, which is that evolution is “just a theory” but it should be taught because children “need to know what scientists believe”. Of course, he also emphasized that children “need to know what religions believe” as well, thus painting it as a neat issue of two competing sides, neither of whom is intrinsically superior to the other. And naturally, the children are supposed to decide on their own.
Well I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but that is just flat wrong. Children are not supposed to decide on their own. I don’t know where people got the idea that education was about children choosing for themselves rather than being educated by people who have far more knowledge than they do, but it’s simply idiotic. When you’re an adult, you can choose for yourself. But when you’re in 9th grade science class, you do not have the intellectual tools necessary to do that kind of thing. You do not choose for yourself whether calculus is valid; you are told that it is. You do not choose for yourself whether atoms contain protons and neutrons; you are told that they do (and by the way, for the science philistines out there; the atomic theory of matter is “just a theory” too; have you ever seen a proton?).
This “middle ground” idea is completely insidious and totally dishonest. Do we teach about Louis Pasteur’s germ theory and the Medieval Church’s demonic possession theory as two competing explanations of sickness and disease in health class? No, we teach Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, and guess what: we teach it as a fact. Not because it technically is one, but because children at that age are not ready to understand the distinction between “the only explanation which fits the facts” and “facts”. Hell, many adults don’t understand that distinction either.
In this world, the only people qualified to judge the effectiveness of a new civil engineering idea are qualified panels of civil engineers. The only people qualified to judge the effectiveness of a new neurosurgery technique are qualified panels of neurosurgeons. So why do we think that regular people (never mind children) are qualified to judge the validity of a scientific theory when it happens to be evolution? Do we give children competing theories of subatomic particle physics and ask them to judge for themselves? “Of course not”, a reasonable person would answer; “that’s much too complicated for children to figure out on their own”. And why isn’t biology also too complicated? It is very complicated, and people spend years learning it in university. Christian distortions of biology involve oversimplifying it so that people who do not really understand evolution think they do, and they even think they can poke holes in it. But in the end, they’re not qualified to make that decision, especially when they’re children.
Yes, you heard me right: children should not be given a choice about evolution. They should not be “making up their own minds” about evolution. They should be taught evolution and if they don’t get it, they should fail science class. If they reject science and all of its methods, they should not get a passing grade in science. And by the way, that’s no exaggeration; you must indeed reject the entire scientific method in order to choose creationism over evolution, as Dr. Behe was forced to admit on the stand in the case of Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District when he admitted that in order to classify “intelligent design” as a science, he was forced to redefine “science” so broadly that it now included astrology. And “intelligent design” is supposed to be creationism’s more reasonable cousin!
Of course, religious people will screech that if they must reject science in order to reject evolution (something which the more honest among them will admit openly), they have the right to do so. And that is true. I absolutely agree that free people in a free society have the right to reject science. But they do not have the right to reject science and then get a passing grade in science class anyway.