Tuesday 10 May 2005

Knowing what science is.

Rob links to the latest chapter in Kansas's long-ongoing nonsense:

The Kansas state school board has begun four days of hearings into how children in state schools are taught about the origins of life.

Religious conservatives are pressing for a change to state guidelines that would play down Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

They argue that the teaching of evolution shows a bias against religion.

Which it does, quite rightly. Let's be clear here: all those sophisticated modern Christians who claim that there's no clash between religion and science because the two address fundamentally different matters are bullshitting because they've lost the fight. Suggest to a Christian in, say, 1100 that their religion didn't even attempt to explain the origins of life, and they'd look at you as if you were mad, then probably burn you for heresy. Christianity, like most religions, certainly did explain the origins of life, until one Charles Darwin came along and blew that part of the Bible out of the water with the world's first superior explanation of genesis. Christianity has had to change — to evolve, in fact — in order to survive: hence the modern Christian insistence that the origins of life aren't anything to do with their religion and the Book of Genesis is all figurative anyway. It was that or atheism. Genesis was not written to be taken figuratively, though it may be interpreted that way. Of course, Christianity's ability to evolve is one of its great strengths. But we all know how evolution works: while some chimpanzees turned into us, the rest are still chimpanzees. No Bush jokes, please.

Some Christians have refused to surrender what they see, probably correctly, as a key part of their territory. They have remained true to the traditions of Christianity, have opted not to lie to themselves or anyone else about the threat posed by Darwinism, and are fighting it. They're wrong, but good for them anyway. For unfathomable reasons, they're particularly prevalent in Kansas. Such are the wonders of the federal system.

One of their catchphrases is "It's only a theory." And, much derided though this is by "knowledgable" folk, it is absolutely correct. Darwinism is only a theory, as are all scientific theories. It is a theory that has been repeatedly backed up by experimental evidence and has yet to be superceded by a better theory — probably because it never will be. But you never know. Newtonian mechanics was one of the greatest sets of scientific theories ever developed, and it was eventually replaced by something better. Which isn't to say that Newton was wrong, of course: he just wasn't quite right enough. But I digress. The point is that science is an ongoing process, and all scientific theories are supposed to prove their strength by outcompeting other theories, scientific or otherwise. And that brings me to Kansas's real problem:

Science organisations have boycotted the hearings in protest.

Idiots. How do they hope to win a fight they refuse to take part in? And why do they think they have the right to whinge — as they inevitably will — about losing the fight after they've forfeited it?

The BBC, unsurprisingly, don't pass up the chance to sneer at Americans:

The hearings are complete with opposing attorneys and a long witness list, although the witnesses are all allied against the teaching of evolution.

Of course all the witnesses are against evolution: the pro-evolution side have refused to turn up. So, even though there are plenty of people in Kansas who believe in evolution — possibly even a majority — who knows? — the hearings will look like a Georgian Bible class. And that, of course, is the picture of Kansas that the rest of the world sees.

National and state science organisations are boycotting the hearings saying that they are rigged against evolution.

Well, they certainly are now. How ironic that the hearings have been rigged against science by the scientists.

Instead of testifying at the hearings, science groups are holding daily news conferences.

This is preposterous. Imagine you're falsely accused of theft. Which do you think would be more effective: turning up to court and presenting evidence of your innocence, or refusing to enter the court but talking to some journalists instead? Even if you are totally innocent, that's stupidly self-defeating behaviour.

Once upon a time, really not long ago, almost everyone on the planet believed that man was created by some sort of deity. Today, hundreds of millions of people believe that man evolved from bacteria. The reason for this change is that Darwin tried to persuade other people of the validity of his theory, and that those he persuaded, in turn, tried to persuade yet more people. If Darwin and his peers had refused to argue with the proponents of intelligent design, evolution would be an obscure footnote in the history of heretical ideas. Evolution is a brilliant theory, one of history's greatest, but it can't beat the competition by itself; it needs human beings to fight its corner. These "scientists" who refuse to argue with those who disagree with them are a disgrace to science, and deserve to lose.


This is good:

Six years ago, when conservatives previously held a majority of seats on the Kansas board of education, they established guidelines encouraging schools to give equal time to the theory of linguistic creationism, which claims that English was created directly by God five hundred years ago at the start of the Great Vowel Shift so that the King James Bible could be translated into it.


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