Putting the DUH in Fun-duh-mental

It appears that ignorance is once again on the march. NPR’s Morning Edition reported Tuesday morning on the latest battle between creationists and sensible people over whether to teach evolution in the schools, this time in Atlanta, Georgia. The school board there, bowing to pressure from local religious nuts, has decided to put a sticker in all their science books warning students that evolution is “not a fact, but a theory”.

Wait, it gets better. At a standing-room-only school board meeting where the policy was adopted, concerned parent Marjorie Rogers told NPR that “I’m excited that so many people have, I think, had their thinking challenged… and I think it has promoted people not taking something just because it’s written in a science book as fact, and questioning it, and looking into things a little more deeply.”

Good thinking there, lady — promoting creationism sure is a great way to teach kids not to believe something because someone wrote it in a book!

Besides the stupidity of one clueless woman, though, it’s dispiriting that this whole debate keeps coming up over and over. The school board in Cobb County yielded to the creationists’ demands on the premise that by doing so they were just fostering the free exchange of ideas. That’s patently ludicrous. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas, but for an idea to merit discussion in a science class, it only needs to pass one simple test. Just ask this to the person who propounds the idea:

  • Is there any fact or set of facts that, if proven incontrovertibly true, could persuade you that your idea is incorrect?

If they answer “no”, then they’re not talking about science, they’re talking about faith, and should be directed to the Religious Studies classroom down the hall. And that’s why creationism isn’t just “another idea” to be discussed in science class — creationists take their theory as Revealed Truth, and explain away any embarrassing facts that seem to get in the way.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what the Web site of the Institute for Creation Research, one of the leading “Bible science” think-tanks, has to say on the subject:

“But for all of our scientific interests, training, and efforts, each member of the scientific faculty is also a born-again Christian who is fully committed to the word of God as inerrant and infallible, containing all we need to know to have eternal life and to develop a fully Christian worldview. In the field of origins science, we are confident that while it doesn’t give us all the details, what it does say is absolutely correct and forms the basic framework for every endeavor, including scientific research. Using the Bible and its true history as our guide provides the glasses through which we look, and the scheme within which we interpret scientific data in just the same way an evolutionist uses evolution as his guide.”

(emphasis mine)

This is what the creationists don’t see. They claim to be scientists, but they reject one of the first principles of science — that data trumps theory — right off the bat. They’re a bit like the ancient physician Galen in that respect. Galen was a pioneer in attempting to understand how the human body worked. Unfortunately, he lived in a time when the idea of actually opening a human body and looking around to see what was in there was considered beyond the pale. So, Galen did what he could — he examined pigs and apes and simply assumed that what he found in them would be what one would find in a human body. The result was a deeply flawed picture of how the body worked that was held up for literally hundreds of years as the last word in medicine, all because Galen had a first principle — that the body of a pig was perfectly analogous to the body of a human being — that society would not permit to be challenged. The creationists are the same way; their first principle is the inerrancy of the Bible as a literal description of the process of creation. So long as they hold to that article of faith, their ideas belong in cathedrals, not classrooms.