Schools and Evolution

Indiana Representative Dennis Kruse, a Republican from Auburn (the northernmost region of the state, be it noted) apparently intends in 2013 to take another legislative crack at, as he apparently sees it, leveling the playing field for teaching about the origin of life from perspectives other than that of evolution.

It’s news, or some journalists are trying to make it news, because our Governor-elect has been a notable culture warrior, if only in rhetoric, on radio and then in Congress. But that’s not how he ran for Governor. It’s thus thought that the Kruse bill landing on his desk will be some kind of defining moment. I think that’s a stretch.

There’s a lot to be said that I won’t try to say about whether “creation science” or “intelligent design” are science in any sense, let alone good science. All I’ll say is that there is no single scientific method, as I understand it – which does not, however, mean that just any ole’ notion can claim the mantle of “science.”

My thoughts are rather from the perspective of an attorney who is a traditional Christian (i.e., a Christian whose tradition reaches back to New Testament times) and who is zealous for religious freedom and for good education.

Religiously, I believe about creation what the Nicene Creed affirms about it. The early chapters of Genesis have been variously interpreted throughout history, long before Charles Darwin was a gleam in his father’s eye. My impression is that none of the Apostolic or AnteNicene Fathers were much concerned with wresting anything like modern science from the texts.

Scientifically, I think I’m a lawyer who should hold his scientific ignorance or truth pretty close to the vest. I used to say I went days at a time not thinking about evolution or its adversaries. It’s up to “weeks at a time” now.

As a citizen in the modern world, I think evolution has proven a very fruitful scientific theory, of which fruits I and every other reader am a beneficiary. (I’m told that alchemy also was a very fruitful scientific theory inasmuch as it got everyone on the same page for a while, and lots of things were discovered about how not to turn lead into gold – and other stuff, too.) If evolution is suddenly overthrown or gradually undermined by better scientific theories, it nevertheless will have had an illustrious run, and not just for its having been misappropriated for social and cosmological purposes.

Educationally, I think public schools should teach mainstream science. Evolution is mainstream science. I don’t think public school teachers should try to characterize or rebut “creation science” or “intelligent design.” I’ve seen what can happen when really good science teachers – teachers who adhere to some kind of Christian tradition that accepts evolution – try to do that. What I saw were crude caricatures (placing “creation science” down by geocentrism and flat earth on a spectrum, for instance) or religiously manipulative (essentially, “you can be a Christian and a scientist, too; all you have to do is give up fundamentalism and adopt more reasonable religious views”).

I don’t want public schools doing that sort of thing. Let them brush off questions, which are certain to come, with the truthful characterization that “X is not mainstream science. Our job here is to teach mainstream science so that you know about it and can consider careers in science. It probably isn’t possible for us to give fair treatment to theories that are not, or perhaps merely are not yet, mainstream science, and we risk offending people’s religious sensibilities especially if we try to critically engage theories that may be cherished by people partly for religious reasons. Let’s move on now.”

If parents of private school pupils want their children to have the option of careers in science, they should teach mainstream science as rigorously as do the public schools. If they want to teach non-mainstream science, they can do so unhindered by me, but I’d advise them to distinguish it from mainstream and tell the kids, in essence, “we believe because of A, B & C that X is true and evolution is bunk, but evolution is mainstream, and if you want to do fruitful science, you’ll adopt it for your working theory even if you disbelieve it ultimately. When evolution stops being fruitful, people will finally give X the respect it deserves. Meanwhile, we’re studying evolution assiduously. Can we move on now?” If they don’t take some such approach, they shouldn’t expect to boast any Nobel Laureates in the sciences among their graduates.

Legally, I believe I’ll wait to see what Kruse has up his sleeve and then, time permitting, I may have something to say.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I’m very busy professionally and avocationally at present, so blogging time is precious.

I’ve found a couple of items thought-provoking. From Crisis Magazine, A Voice for the Faithful Catholic Laity, a sober assessment of where faithful Christians now stand:

And here is my point: none of this is a reason for despair. Indeed, knowledge of the dead-end that politics so obviously has become should be liberating for conservatives. It is far beyond time for conservative Americans—and Christians in particular—to put aside the distractions of mass politics for the tactile realities involved in building a decent life. We still need to vote and otherwise get involved, of course, but we need to remember what we are doing: hoping to prevent or mitigate the damage being done to us, not “taking back” a state apparatus that has long been used to reshape our society in unwholesome ways. We must come to recognize that the federal government, to its very core, has become hostile to our very way of life, not a violent oppressor, but nonetheless our adversary as we seek to raise our children, educating them in our faith, our morals, and our traditions. We must build neighborhoods, parishes and other religious and secular communities in which spiritual, intellectual and fundamentally moral lives are possible.

Bruce Frohnen, How Little We Have Lost (H/T James Matthew Wilson)

Kelly Vlahos at the American Conservative notes that it was not a good night for Islamophobia. Some of the most virulent hate-mongers lost or barely eked out victories that should have been easy.

I have long thought, and continue to think, that the GOP has never quite recovered from the end of the Cold War. Left anti-Communism had largely disappeared, leaving the GOP to claim almost 100% credit for Communism’s collapse. They’ve been looking for a new Evil Empire ever since, by opposition to which to define themselves. They really need to figure out something helpful to support, not just enemies to demonize.

Daniel McCarthy at the American Conservative notes that Third Parties were not spoilers in this election. Obama took more than 50% in every state he won.

And I continue to reflect on a novice blogger’s second post, on the real reason Romney won the youth and minority votes. The barbarian “Movement Conservatives” may not get it at all, but there are wholesome impulses there that conservatives should understand and which might be redirected to more productive politics than Obama’s.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.