The teaching of Evolution in US High Schools is in many ways a microcosm of the ‘war’ between Science and Religion. And as the work of Eugenie Scott suggests – it is one fraught with legal and political maneuverings. Science ‘denialism’ will be one of the main themes for many posts on this blog. The intricacies that are involved and many of the arguments that are put forth by the ‘Intelligent Design’ Crowd (a reincarnation of Creation Science  people) are quite similar to other areas where such type of denialism exists. Be it HIV ‘doesnt cause AIDS’ to Climate Change ‘isnt linked’ to Human activities; the same diversionary tricks, and pseudo-scientific manipulation of data seems to occur. One of the most prominent defenders of the scientific consensus around this issue of Evolution, is Dr Eugenie Scott, who has set up National Center of Science Education NCSE , specifically to combat political (and religious) forces that undermine this, by pressurizing local school boards and various PR offensives.
This is a classic case of Science finding itself in the thick of a political storm. Here is a branch of science which is perhaps at odds with the cultural and social ‘values’ of people and hence, many are trying to have it discredited. This has its roots in the days of the Scopes trial where a biology teacher in Tennessee decided to brave the institutions, and began to teach the theory of evolution the classroom. The fuss it generated – and owing to America’s secularly-inclined constitution – resulted in the theory becoming part of the high school curriculum.
Opponents of Evolution, campaigned to have it banned from schools but could not find the requisite legal proficiency to challenge it in the courts. So they devised a new strategy, namely presenting themselves as a branch of Science (known as Creation Science ). But as their ideas began to be scrutinized, they were being exposed as outright psuedo-science. Here is footage of a TV debate  regarding the teaching of Creationism in the Science class called ‘Headlines on Trial’ moderated by Arthur Miller who was a prominent legal figure at the time.
This is Dr. Scott’s first appearance on National TV, and one of the gentlemen sitting on the opposing side is Mr Duane Gish (of the Gish Gallop  fame). It also demonstrates how difficult it is to communicate Science in the media (especially when it becomes a ‘news item’)
The Creationists (who later branded themselves as Intelligent Design Proponents) use a whole host of strategies to advertise their agenda. It begins by simply ignoring the evidence suggesting that ‘no transitional fossils have been found‘  when – not withstanding the obvious problems with the term ‘transitional fossils’ (We are all in some sort of transition to something else arent we?) there is a mountain of such fossils  in existence. (I only added the wikipedia article because it is simple demonstration of this evidence. For those skeptical, they can look up the references at the bottom or even search in journals to find the overwhelming fossil-evidence that has been unearthed). Morever, the ‘fossil record’ is a mere luxury, much more precise evidence is secured from DNA comparisons which overwhelmingly come out in support of the theory of evolution.
Another argument is to claim that there are problems with the theory of Evolution. The Discovery Institute (the most prominent Intelligent Design people in America) tell us that there are disagreements on evolution among Scientists. This is a fairly common claim by creationists and demonstrates quite vividly the deep misunderstandings, they have, of the scientific method. It reeks of people thinking that Science is a about authority figures in lab coats giving us arbitrary truth statements about nature. They are very keen to wheel out people with degrees etc, as if an argument from authority is evidence for a scientific claim – or in their case, a refutation of one.
In reality, Science is a much more fluid and cooperative process. It is about critically evaluating the evidence behind descriptions of natural phenomenon. There are bound to be limits to our understanding, but just because we don’t have infinite knowledge about something DOESNT mean that we have NO knowledge. And if we want to progress scientifically, we need to rid our self from is this fallacy.
Without wanting to belabor the point too much, but there is a mountain of evidence from various different fields ranging from Genetics to Geology and even Cosmology that corresponds to the theory of Evolution. It is the basis of Biology and we cant seriously be expected to make advances in Medicine without an understanding of Evolution. Moreover, its implications on other fields such economics, psychology etc are quite significant as it is beautiful manifestation of how Adaptive Systems work and how complexity occurs from simple beginnings. To my mind withholding this, from students constitutes a grave injustice.
This is where Eugenie Scott’s campaign is vitally important. It is not about bashing or pushing back religion but actually standing up for Civil Rights. Kids essentially will have to unlearn things in College that they learnt in High School, all so that politicial or religious interests can be appeased. This is fundamentally immoral and Dr Scott’s work in helping secure victories against ID (famously in Dover Pensylvania) and others needs to be recognized. This article is not about laying the case for Evolution. There is a 150 year Science that has done a rather good job of it already. But it is about what Science means in our society and especially when it comes into conflict with other interest groups. I’ll finish with a (paraphrased) quote from Eugenie Scott herself (durring an interview she gave to ‘Point of Inquiry‘) which quite succinctly provides the main reason why she is opposed to the study of Creationism in the Science Classroom;
If Intelligent Design was a genuine science, its proponents would present papers to academic journals, be keen to publish their ideas and have them challenged. But no! They do none of that. They just want to jump the queue and have their ideas presented to high school kids without going through the rigourous process that others have to follow.
And if none of this persuades you that Evolution is the most compelling scientific explanation of how we came to be how we are and who we are, then I’m left with no alternative but to deffer to ‘Da Ali G Show’