Sunday, September 11, 2005

Teach the controversy?

I just read about parents wishing to ensure that their children learn about alleged gaps and weaknesses in evolutionary theory in their biology classes. Some parents claim their children have a First Amendment right to hear what they want them to hear, in the classroom.

Codswallop! The children attend school for the purpose of learning things, and in science class, that means learning scientific principles and theories. Unless they’re spending 12 hours a day, seven days a week in class, it cannot be expected that they will be presented with detailed analysis of all ideas concerning the subject matter—the material must, of necessity, be selected. Should the selected material comprise the most important aspects of the subject, or should the limited time be spent discussing the cockeyed views of a tiny minority of workers who have not published any research results in any scientific, peer-reviewed literature?

Are there controversies in evolutionary theory? Absolutely! But they concern details of the mechanisms, not whether evolution has actually occurred. Many of the controversies common in creationist arguments are matters that were solved long ago, misunderstandings of evolution or of science on the part of creationists, or even bald-faced lies. For example, textbooks no longer use Haeckel’s drawings of embryonic development that exaggerate similarities (most use photographs, in which similaries, while not as geat as presented by Haeckel, nevertheless are apparent; “evolution” does not mean the assembly of body parts, totally at random, to produce a complex organism, and “theory” is not just somebody’s hunch; and transitional forms are abundant in the fossil record.

So, some parents are calling for time to be spent teaching their children about long-solved controversies as if they were ongoing, teaching them things about evolution and science that are based on misunderstanding the subjects, and teaching them things that are known to be false. Curiously, these parents are only concerned that such things be taught about evolution, and not about other scientific subjects, like gravity, causes of disease, or atomic theory. Are these parents also concerned that their children be taught “all sides” of sex education and contraception?

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