Friday, February 6, 2009


Monkeying Around with Science

Not content with having tried to convince the world that deficits don’t matter, that global warming is a scam, and that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks of 9/11, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party is now claiming that the precepts of science and logic should be subordinate to religious dogma. Recently in Kansas, the “outrageous” idea that one should use hard evidence and the scientific method to understand the mysteries of the universe has once again been put on trial.

The state motto of Kansas is Ad Astra per Astera or “To the Stars with Difficulty.” However that state's recent attacks on logic and science might prompt one to suggest that they change it to “ Why Bother Thinking at All.” Students of history have long assumed that the argument over the credibility of creationism (or as the current flat earth society types call it “ intelligent design“) had long been settled.

Guess again, despite all evidence to the contrary, Kansas is making a concerted effort to force the teachers of its state schools to abandon reason for the deeply held views of a misguided collection of religious zealots masquerading as “ scientists.” Before you decide which side has more credibility it might be instructive to look at a brief portion of the transcript from the now famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" proceedings in which a grade school teacher was put on trial for teaching scientific concepts on the origin of life. If you recall, Clarence Darrow, a well-known attorney and iconoclast was pitted against William Jennings Bryant, the Boy Orator of the Plains, and a man who had run for President almost as many times as Harold Stassen. Bryant should have known better but like the current day Senator Frist, he decided to put his brain on hold and pander to the ignorance and intolerance of the inhabitants of the Bible Belt.

...MR. DARROW--Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
MR. BRYAN--I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.
MR. DARROW--The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it?
MR. BRYAN--I do.
MR. DARROW--Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
Mr. BRYAN: I do
MR. DARROW--I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
MR. DARROW--Don't you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?
MR. BRYAN--I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that...

As you can see from the exchange, Darrow and Bryan are speaking from two different worlds, perhaps maybe that is the point. As a recent letter to the New York Times eloquently states:

“ Faith and Science live by different rules. Faith requires belief; science requires evidence. In faith, certainty is necessary; in science, it is impossible. Because faith and science live by different rules, one cannot be judged by the criteria of the other... All people are entitled to practice their faith; they are not entitled to distort science in the name of faith."

In short, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola may be inspirational and help one to achieve their spiritual potential, but one would be foolish to use them as a guide to build a suspension bridge or to do open heart surgery.
I know many of you reading this are convinced that it can’t happen here. After all, Maryland, even with Bob Ehrlich in the state house, is still thought of by most as a progressive place where education is a top priority. But don’t be so sure, recently several equally misguided groups have moved to make the teaching of creationism mandatory in the public schools of the District of Columbia and Charles County.

We should never forget that our community has one of the finest educational systems in the state, over the years the schools of the Severna Park district have produced countless doctors, lawyers, engineers and in general, responsible citizens who have gone to excel in the real world. Just for a moment, imagine a situation where instructors in the science and chemistry classes at Jones Elementary or Severna Park Middle are no longer concerned about the periodic table of elements but rather how many animals Noah took aboard the ark. Let us then brace ourselves to the task of ensuring that this day never comes. If and when the leaders of our state educational community should ever decide to surrender to ignorance and superstition, then we as Marylanders will not only have lost control of our children’s future, we will most certainly have, both figuratively and literally, also lost our minds.

No comments: