Thursday, February 12, 2009

Celebrating Darwin

Today marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, famous for this theory of evolution. In celebration of Darwin’s birthday, people throughout the globe are celebrating Darwin Day, “a global celebration of science and reason”.

However, as most are aware, not all agree with Darwin’s theories and the teaching of evolution has continued to be a hotly debated issue in schools throughout the United States. According to a recent poll, 40% of Americans discredit evolution and instead cling to a belief in creationism. Scientists claim that there is no merit to these claims, and instead choose to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, which they claim has the scientific backing creationism lacks. As such, issues often arise as to which a teacher is permitted to present in their classroom.

In 2005, US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design (creationism re-designated as to avoid religious connotations) is not science and therefore cannot be taught in public schools. However, last year, Louisiana passed what they term an “academic freedom” law. This law protects the teachers’ freedom of speech by allowing them to “discuss the ‘scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses’ of issues such as evolution.” Recently, bills have been introduced in Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa, and New Mexico; similar bills have already failed in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and South Carolina.

As a pure freedom of speech issue, I wholeheartedly agree with states attempting to protect such rights by allowing for classroom debates of evolution and creationism/intelligent design. Unfortunately, this topic also broaches the topic of the separation of church and state and directly affects how children are being taught and molded. In private schools, it is expected that students will be exposed to the topic of religion. However, as the Pennsylvania Court ruled, religion cannot be taught in public schools, and intelligent design certainly seems to approach religious teaching.

By Louisiana wording their law allowing teachers to “discuss the ‘scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses’ of issues such as evolution”, the state seems to create an ideal solution as long as the subject of God or religion does not come into play. All scientific principles are open for debate in scientific terms, and evolution is certainly not immune from this debate. Such open communication in classrooms would allow for different viewpoints to be expressed and allow for the furthering of a scientific education. In such debates, people could truly celebrate science and reason, which is exactly what Darwin Day is suppose to further. Unfortunately, other states at this point have not agreed with this viewpoint.

For the complete article, click here.

1 comment:

Dave said...

When I was in public school I was taught that light always travels in a straight line. It was not called the "theory of light travel," it was taught as a law of physics. Now we know that is wrong. I'm not talking about the dark ages, or the world-is-flat era; I'm talking about teaching in the last half of the 20th century. Today we have people of science saying man-made global warming is a scientific fact. And there are scientist who disagree. And in the 1970's scientists said is was fact that there was man-made global cooling.

I don't think the theory of evolution is bullet proof. We talk about looking for the missing link between ape and man. But there should also be links between all other species, shouldn't there? If we all evolved from simple organisms, wouldn't that be true? There are hints of this in various fossil records, but it is mostly circumstantial.

But my real disagreement with some of the discussions against teaching intelligent design is that they rely on "separation of church and state." That is a metaphor President Jefferson used in a letter, but it was never intended to explain the First Amendment totally. And, in fact, that is not how Jefferson typically characterized the Constitution. The University of Virginia has Jefferson's writing collected on their website. Many are organized by category. On the page of statements he made about the need for the Bill of Rights, you will find six references to "freedom of religion" but not even one to "separation of church and state."

Our Founders who wrote the First Amendment did see the kind of separation in the words they drafted. John Adams, for example, said, "That [God] would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion;"

Now consider the actions of Jefferson. He was the first president (small "p") of the Washington, D.C. public schools. He required that the main sources for reading practice and discussion would be the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal.

So make the arguments about proper curriculum, not about a Constitution prohibition. The Constitution was not intended to control the states in such matters.