Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Republicans Bush, Jindal And Palin Embrace Devolution In Science Education

Global warming, stem-cell research, endangered species, the environment: on topic after topic, science has been a nuisance to the Bush administration, hasn't it?

In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists , comprised of 60 scientists, including 20 Nobel Prize winners, issued a 37-page report stating that the administration distorted scientific fact for the sake of policy and ideology: ""We found a serious pattern of undermining science by the Bush administration, and it crosses disciplines, whether it's global climate change or reproductive health or mercury in the food chain or forestry -- the list goes on and on," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists."

So it was no surprise when President Bush encouraged the teaching of "competing theories" to evolution. Sounds so open-minded, you almost wouldn't know that it was a back-door way of converting public school into Sunday school via "intelligent design" or "creationism."

"Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about," Bush said.

"Debate"? Is there a debate going on that scientists don't know about?

Below I wrote ("For Sarah Palin, Big Oil Trumps Polar Bear's Survival," 8/30/08) that Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, with no scientific background, defied the majority of peer-reviewed scientific journals by doubting that global warming is caused by human behavior. Similarly, President Bush, whose administration is actively hostile to science, declared that there's a "debate" over evolution.

For most scientists, the vast preponderance of empirical evidence points toward evolution as the valid explanation of the origin of the species. That's why, when the Kansas State Board of Education held hearings on the teaching of evolution, most scientists stayed away–in order not to give them legitimacy.

As reported in the New York Times in "Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution" (6/21/05), "In general, they offered two reasons for the decision: that the outcome of the hearings was a foregone conclusion, and that participating in them would only strengthen the idea in some minds that there was a serious debate in science about the power of the theory of evolution.

"We on the science side of things strong-armed the Kansas hearings because we realized this was not a scientific exchange, it was a political show trial," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution. "We are never going to solve it by throwing science at it."

In the New York Times Magazine (8/31/08), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a rising star of the Republican Party, weighed in on evolution:

Q. "Why would someone with so much knowledge of biology sign a bill allowing the biblical story of Creation to be taught in science class?" 

Jindal: "I don’t think that schools should be run by bureaucrats. I think these decisions need to be made by local school boards. In terms of teaching my own kids at home, I do believe there is a Creator. Catholicism doesn’t teach authoritatively on evolution or the origins of life, but we do believe that God is our Creator."

"Bureaucrats," in contemporary Republican lingo, has become a dirty word, like "government," "liberal," "taxes," "nuance," "diplomacy" and "Islam." Jindal feels he has the authority, like Bush and Palin, to defy accepted scientific theory. Part of the way he does it is through disparaging "bureaucrats." The word connotes those who impose arbitrary rule on the rest of us. But is this necessarily what's going on in the realm of education?

Suppose the bureaucrat is a member of a board of education with a scientific background, one who sees the necessity of establishing standards in the teaching of his or her discipline? No, according to Jindal, that's not good enough. The school board, after all, may be composed of good religious folk who want the students to be taught, at least in part, according to their belief in the Creator. Isn't that what democracy and respect for local standards are all about? 

By the way, would Jindal be equally open to a local school board of polytheists explaining the origins of the universe according to a joint committee of gods?

Jindal must be heartened to learn that he has an ally in Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin who, according to the Anchorage Daily News ("Creation Science Enters the Race," 10/27/06), stated during the Alaskan gubernatorial debates, ""Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

The article continued, "Asked for her personal views on evolution, Palin said, "I believe we have a creator."

"She would not say whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact."

How will the U.S. keep up with rising nations such as China and India when we have politicians who engender skepticism about science in its perceived opposition to religion? A recent Times article, "A Teacher On the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash" (8/23/08), focused on this orientation in many students: "...in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith."

How disheartening to realize that the real "debate" is over the same issues taken up in the Scopes trial of 1925. 

It's become acceptable–or perhaps required–for Republican leaders to back religious instruction parading as science in educational curricula. It's also frightening to realize that one of them is contending to be the vice president of the United States.

(Illustration: Scopes trial newspaper cartoon, 1925; Collection of Richard Milner)

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