By Joshua Ellis
I happened to be in the middle of reading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' excellent book of essays A Devil's Chaplain this week, when I came across a piece in the Boston Globe detailing recent attempts to remove the theory of Darwinian evolution from textbooks all over America.
"In 2002, [Cobb County, Md.] school board members voted for the label after a petition drive by Marjorie Rogers, a lawyer and devout Christian, who said in trial testimony that she was motivated simply by reading her children's textbook: 'It presented it just blatantly. Evolution is a fact. It did happen. I was outraged.'"
Currently, I'm thinking the best course of action would be to remove science entirely from public school curriculum, because it doesn't seem that Americans want their children to learn how science works. Bits of trivia about prisms and how snowflakes form is all very good and well - isn't it nice how smart my Junior is? - but actually understanding scientific method, or accepting that there might be such a thing as objective truth regardless of whatever medieval notions one might personally ascribe to ... Lord, no, we can't have that.
Americans seem to believe that the word "theory" is a synonym for "some bullshit I made up that might be true or not." This is incorrect. A better word for that might be "religion." For those of you who snoozed out during science class - and I'm guessing there's a lot of you, based on the Globe article - let's go through this yet again.
A scientist observes some natural process, be it the tendency of female monkeys to seek out partners with Day-Glo genitalia or the unaccounted-for behavior of photons in some arcane set of circumstances. He or she makes a hypothesis based on this observation - I think that phenomenon X happens for reason Y. The scientist then experiments - if my hypothesis is correct, then X will happen when I do this other thing involving expensive equipment.
If such is the case, the scientist is well on his or her way to having a workable theory. Unlike religious doctrine or, say, postmodernist literary study, science is extremely rigorous in its process of verifying its results. Einstein didn't just pop out of the shower one day and say: "Ja, I haff it, all matter is merely energy condensed!" and promptly win the Nobel Prize for Best Haircut Ever. His hypothesis was based on observation. Experimentation confirmed his hypothesis. Nobody has ever come forth with anything contradicting it. Therefore, it is a widely accepted theory.
Evolution, on the other hand, is not a theory. It's a fact, one that can be observed if you bother to look in the right places (like fossil records instead of religious texts). Charles Darwin came up with a theory of how evolution works, one that most educated people agree with. But even if they didn't, even if Darwin were totally off-base, it wouldn't discount evolution itself, and neither does the average person's inability to see evolution in action. Just because a child believes the moon is made of green cheese doesn't mean that the moon doesn't exist. Nor is gravity imaginary because you cannot see it.
Most of the people who argue against any given scientific theory have merely skimmed a magazine article or two on it, or have only heard arguments against it. Very seldom do they bother to actually read a book on the subject, or take a look at scientific findings.
But since most people see nothing wrong with holding deep convictions on subjects they know nothing about, they often go out and start campaigning to have the theory - whether it be Darwinian evolution or the big-bang theory - removed from textbooks, on the grounds that they themselves are either too stupid or too lazy to actually educate themselves, so why should anybody else learn anything?
Hell, why stop with evolution? Why not take basic physics out of textbooks as well? After all, basic physics tells us - completely contrary to the Word of God - that it is demonstrably impossible to fit two of every species of life on the planet inside a boat roughly 300 cubits (or 135 meters) long. We're not even getting into the ludicrous notion of a flood that covers the entire planet. And maybe we ought to ban meteorology and geology, too, in case they tell us something we don't like.
In a just world, strangers on the street would point at these people and mock their stupidity. In this one, however, these are precisely the idiots that politicians cater to in stump speeches.
If you want to believe things that aren't true, fine. But please leave the rest of us (who are dealing strictly with what we like to affectionately refer to as "reality") alone, OK? Don't make American schoolchildren any more ignorant than they already are, just because you can't wrap your head around any scientific advances made since the French Revolution.
Future generations will thank you for it. I promise.
JOSHUA ELLIS IS A WRITER, ROCK STAR AND WEB GURU. YOU CAN SAVE YOUR SOUL AT WWW.COLUMN.ZENARCHERY.COM, THE WEBSITE FOR HIS WEEKLY COLUMN ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES.