An open letter to Mississippi lawmakers
By Julie Shedd • January 15, 2009
Respectfully, sirs and madams: Are you trying to make Mississippi the state with the least well-educated and most helpless population in this country?
Last week we learned that due to disastrous and disproven abstinence-only education, we have the nation's highest rate of teenage pregnancy. Now we have House Bill 25, which aims to place stickers on science textbooks questioning the validity of evolutionary theory.
Current challenges to evolutionary theory are not based on science. They are based on religious beliefs and the ideas of so-called "think tanks" such as the Discovery Institute, which studies the pseudoscience of "intelligent design." Therefore, they have no place in science classrooms, let along our public school system.
I could go on an infuriated rant, but instead, I'll take apart some of the stickers' claims.
"The word 'theory' has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations."Here we have the first refuge of the ignorant-of-evolutionary-science. In science, "theory" has only one meaning. It denotes a hypothesis which has been tested so often and in such varied ways that it can be relied upon.
Yes, the theory can change if new scientific observations are made. That's the beauty of science. This does not mean that every challenge to a theory can be taken seriously.
"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things."This theory is not controversial; at least, not among those who have a working knowledge of the theory. And if the phrase "some scientists" refers to "the vast majority of reputable, knowledgeable scientists," then sure, "some scientists" are behind it.
"No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory."Incorrect. Mere statements about life's origins should be considered ideas, or at best, hypotheses. As stated above, theories have been tested.
"Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things."Scientific theories are often not complete explanations of everything that ever happened. Yes, there are unanswered questions. There are billions of years of history behind us, after all. At least two of these claims, however, have been reliably disproven.
First of all, the common creationist/"intelligent design" claim that we have no transitional forms. We have thousands of them. Ever hear of Archaeopteryx? Visit a museum. Secondly, the issue of a set of instructions: There is none. Why would there be? Living beings are not transistor radios or IKEA bookshelves; they do not come with instructions.
"Study hard and keep an open mind."That's not easy to do when you're closing it for me.
People who take issue with evolution usually do not have a complete knowledge of how evolution works. (A good layman's overview can be found at http://www.toarchive.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html.)
Mississippi's children will carry this incomplete knowledge with them if this sort of thing is what we teach them. Without understanding evolutionary theory and other scientific concepts, we are set up to remain not only the poorest and most pregnant state, but also the least-educated.
People: Please follow the lead of other states in this matter and do not support this bill. Debate it if you must (preferably in church, which is where the anti-evolution debate belongs), but please, allow your children to learn.