Daily Archives: January 30, 2004

Update: Non-Evolution

Not much time today, but I wanted to acknowledge a mistake. In the “Comments” section of the Inherit the Wind post, Phaedrus of No Fear of Freedom called my attention to the fact that I had slightly misread the article–the new curriculum is a proposal, not a done deal. The NYT picked up the story today when Superindent Cox decided to respond to the AJC article, noting that the proposal had caused a “furor”, and that opponents of the change have 90 days in which to respond. Let’s begin with the “furor”:

ATLANTA, Jan. 29 — A proposed set of guidelines for middle and high school science classes in Georgia has caused a furor after state education officials removed the word “evolution” and scaled back ideas about the age of Earth and the natural selection of species.Educators across the state said that the document, which was released on the Internet this month, was a veiled effort to bolster creationism and that it would leave the state’s public school graduates at a disadvantage.

“They’ve taken away a major component of biology and acted as if it doesn’t exist,” said David Bechler, who heads the biology department at Valdosta State University. “By doing this, we’re leaving the public shortchanged of the knowledge they should have.

And, as the AJC article said yesterday, biology is what is known in academic circles as a “gateway” course, meaning that a student has to show mastery of it before she can move on to more advanced science courses like physics and chemistry.

In her press conference today, Cox seems to be less concerned with the hole she’s willing to put Georgia’s students into than with pushing her religious agenda. The NYT report on the press conference ends, fittingly enough, with a breath-taking Orwellianism in which she equates her determination to see creationism taught in schools with Galileo’s fight to force the Catholic Church to acknowledge scientific reality:

Georgia’s schools superintendent, Kathy Cox, held a news conference near the Capitol on Thursday, a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about the proposed changes.A handful of states already omit the word “evolution” from their teaching guidelines, and Ms. Cox called it “a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction.” She added that people often associate it with “that monkeys-to-man sort of thing.”

Still, Ms. Cox, who was elected to the post in 2002, said the concept would be taught, as well as “emerging models of change” that challenge Darwin’s theories. “Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory,” she said

Sorry, Kathy, but just saying that a faith-based theory is the same as a science-based theory just because neither was readily accepted doesn’t make it true. But try to explain to a radcon that assertion isn’t fact and “everybody does it” isn’t a defense.

Unfortunately some of the changes go beyond presenting a competing “theory” and slam-bang into the realm of altering well-documented fact.

Much of the state’s 800-page curriculum was adopted verbatim from the “Standards for Excellence in Education,” an academic framework produced by the Council for Basic Education, a nonprofit group. But when it came to science, the Georgia Education Department omitted large chunks of material, including references to Earth’s age and the concept that all organisms on Earth are related through common ancestry. “Evolution” was replaced with “changes over time,” and in another phrase that referred to the “long history of the Earth,” the authors removed the word “long.” Many proponents of creationism say Earth is at most several thousand years old, based on a literal reading of the Bible.Sarah L. Pallas, an associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, said, “The point of these benchmarks is to prepare the American work force to be scientifically competitive.” She said, “By removing the benchmarks that deal with evolutionary life, we don’t have a chance of catching up to the rest of the world.”

As Darrow said in Dayton, TN almost 80 years ago, in order to insist that the earth is only a few thousand years old (4,000 according to Bishop Usher, who counted the ages of Biblical prophets backwards to reach his number), the sciences of astronomy, paleontology, geology, botany, and archeology, among others, would have to be thrown out; so would physics and chemistry since they provide the proofs for the findings of the others. “Long” is a short word, but removing it is a very big deal and proves that the creationists have a lot more on their minds than discrediting Darwin: they ultimately want to discredit all science that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

What the changes proposed by Cox and the Scopes Trial do NOT have in common is intent: John Scopes was put on trial as a publicity stunt, but these people are serious. Ironically, the most chilling statement and the most hopeful statement of the press conference were the same statement:

The guidelines, which were adopted by a panel of 25 educators, will be officially adopted in 90 days, and Ms. Cox said the public could still influence the final document. “If the teachers and parents across the state say this isn’t what we want,” she said, “then we’ll change it.

“Chilling” because it appears that the radcons are fostering an era when “good science” is going to be defined by polling the electorate; “hopeful” because the backlash is significant and will have to be taken account of before the curriculum can be officially sanctioned and enforced. But even though it may work–this time–in favor of scientific learning, leaving scientific decisions up to a public that is largely science-illiterate is a really bad, not to say dangerous, idea and a truly lousy way to advance our knowledge of the world around us.