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Friday
Mar081996

Evolution forces creation of silly obstacles

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Tennessee’s legislators are right when they say teachers who present the theory of evolution as fact should be fired.

While I agree with their bill, I disagree with their reasoning. The legislators, it seems, would rather have instructors teach the Biblical story of creation in place of the scientific theory of human origins. More than just an obvious violation of the separation of church and state, this also excludes and trivializes the differing beliefs of others. Not a good thing.

Although I disagree with their motives, I think the bill is good common sense. Teaching the theory of evolution as fact is wrong. The theory of evolution is not fact. It’s a theory. This is why it’s often called the theory of evolution. Granted, it’s a scientifically sound theory and in many ways, a convincing theory with piles of evidence to back it up. But nonetheless, it’s still a theory and it should be presented that way. Any science teacher should know that, at least any worth his or her sodium chloride. (They should also know that sodium chloride is salt.)

Lawmakers crafted their bill to conceal its true religious intent. There’s no mention of creationism. But you can tell that’s what they’re driving at. Otherwise, it would have made as much sense to propose legislation to discipline instructors for other obviously incorrect teachings, such as:

• Firing math teachers who say one plus one equals three.

• Castigating home-ec teachers who instruct that frozen meat should be thawed at room temperature until it turns green and furry.

• Disemboweling industrial arts teachers who advocate duct tape instead of welding for joining metal.

These measures are unnecessary. So is Tennessee’s evolution bill.

I have no problem with the teaching of the Biblical creationism story in school along with evolution. It only seems fair to get all sides of the story. But there are more than two sides. Other major religions have stories about the beginning of time and the appearance of humans. To avoid showing bias to other religions, all such stories should get equal time in school. Would Tennessee lawmakers allow that? I doubt it.

Students trying to come to grips with the often confusing theory of evolution may be swayed by the Biblical story of creation simply because it’s easier to understand. But some may wonder why evolution is the only concept taught in schools being challenged with a competing religious explanation. Why don’t they provide easily understood, alternative explanations for other difficult concepts? Where are Biblical stories, struggling students may ask, to explain away geometry’s Pythagorean theorem or quantum mechanical hypotheses?

Alabama also recently proposed discrediting the theory of evolution by adding this disclaimer to certain textbooks:

“This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.”

Yes, that’s correct. But again, do they need to tell us that something called the theory of evolution is a theory? And to be completely fair, shouldn’t similar disclaimers appear in books discussing the religious story of creationism, since it is equally unprovable?

Do we need to include disclaimers for everything for which we don’t have 100 percent certainty or ideas for which we don’t have 100 percent agreement? If lawmakers approve this textbook disclaimer by a narrow margin does that mean the disclaimer would have to have another disclaimer? “Not every legislator voted to include this disclaimer in this book,” the disclaimer disclaimer would read. “Many of them thought it was a boneheaded idea from the start.”

The textbook disclaimer could have the exact opposite of the intended effect. Do disclaimers before TV shows about scenes of “graphic nudity and violence” drive viewers away? In a recent study, many people — especially teen-age boys — showed more interest in seeing a show when it was promoted as seductive and/or savage than as wholesome family viewing. 

It’s almost as if the disclaimer itself — rather than the temptation of sex and violence — causes people to prick up their ears and become interested.

I believe that a disclaimer in textbooks will work the same way. While it’s meant to drive students away from accepting the theory of evolution, the forbidden lure of the disclaimer will actually win new converts for the scientific proposition.

Of course, it’s just a theory.

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