Faith in Education

I read about this a few days ago, but J-walk blog reminded me. The Kansas Board of Education, famously lobbied by Pastafarians, just voted to allow intelligent design to be taught in school science lessons. Crazy quote number one:

The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.

That’s total and utter bollocks1, but when you’re a republican Christian you don’t let little things like the truth get in the way of spreading the doctrine. Then, though, comes this:

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

Oh, ok. I can’t seem to find the new definition, sadly. What could it now possibly mean? The search for explanation in any form? Should intelligent falling be in the curriculum? Why the hell not?

I like it when people play with words and think they’re winning the argument. A common creationist strategy is to attack the definition of scientific terms. Aside from being entirely spurious, it’s not even a proper logical technique. If you claim that the word ‘cat’ in fact derives from the Latin for ‘giant space monkey’, it doesn’t stop the fact that cats exist. The concept of a cat is not negated by manipulating the language that refers to it.

I know I’m extremely anti-religion, but this is an entirely separate issue and mustn’t be confused with atheism. It’s the subversion of education, and it affects everybody. It’s simply unacceptable for anything other than the truth to be taught in schools. The ridiculous thing is that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely reasonable for you to decide that an all-powerful being created the universe, given that nobody has any clue. It’s as likely we’re all grains in an elf’s teapot, but that’s beside the point. The proviso is that you revise your opinions as evidence comes in. It was through this process that the world wrenched itself into the modern era, and millions of people were saved by medical advances, and standards of life improved immeasurably for billions. Education should be about provable reality2, not the world as some people would like it to be.

If cigarette companies lobbied education boards to stop teaching children that smoking was bad for them, on the basis that there are alternative viewpoints, would that be reasonable? How can people be expected to survive in a logical world if their education has failed them? If evolution doesn’t happen, why should we bother worrying about bird flu? The virus doesn’t evolve through mutation, so how can it pass to humans? How can it be ok to teach information that is entirely untrue? This isn’t a a matter of interpretation – “Darwinian theory…[has] been challened…by fossil evidence and molecular biology” is simply not the case, unless by ‘challenge’ you mean ‘somebody said it wasn’t true’. How can the world continue to improve if knowledge is stifled? It’s dangerous and ridiculous, and needs to be fixed.

People will say that this is Kansas, an incredibly conservative ultra-religious state in the heart of the US, so of course this kind of thing is going to happen. Most parents there teach their children creationism anyway, surely? And those who disagree can just tell their children the truth, right? No, for three reasons. First of all, parents don’t necessarily understand the issues. If one person is sent to school under the impression that they’re learning the truth, and nobody tells them different because they simply don’t know, that person has been failed. Secondly, education is there to teach the truth, and it’s morally wrong for that not to happen. Thirdly, this is a victory for creationists, and they can use it as a launching post. Mentioning that what you’re lobbying for is now the education policy for an entire state will get the attention of many people, and if they’re not aware of the issues at stake they will take it seriously.

If churches are allowed to fund UK schools and said schools are allowed to have more say over their curriculum, as is suggested in the new education reforms, this could easily spread to individual schools over here. Religious belief is an incredibly powerful motivator, and those who would subvert education will not stop at one victory, or one country. I think that we as reasonable people have to fight this, and should not wait for the battle to come to us.

How can we do this? Explain the scientific method to those who don’t understand science, and think it’s a closed-minded group of nay-sayers out of touch with the real world. Promote the flying spaghetti monster. Write letters to newspapers who, in a desperate need to ‘give both sides of the story’, present intelligent design as the underdog against the big mean world of science. We can fight our corner in small chunks, and that should, eventually, have an effect.

This turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated, and thanks for reading. As you may have guessed, it’s something I feel very strongly about! For more information, Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb are excellent places to start.

  1. don’t take my word for it, see the links at the end for sites devoted to proving my ever-so-eloquent assertion []
  2. provable, in this sense, meaning ‘all evidence points towards this being the case’, which is as close as science can come to being certain []