The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
I don't favor one set of organized prejudices over another....   .....Prof. Mike Cohen, circa 1965.

Commentary of the Day - October 10, 1999:

Creationists lose a round:

The Irascible Professor congratulates the New Mexico state board of education for their courage in upholding the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public schools of the state.  For years fundamentalist Christian activists have been waging a guerilla war to remove evolutionary theory from the schools on the grounds that it conflicts with the biblical story of creation.  These activists hold to a narrow, literal interpretation of the creation story presented in Genesis.  They have been successful in taking over state boards of education in Kansas and Kentucky, where they have removed mention of evolution from state science teaching standards.  In Kansas local school boards can choose to remove all discussion of evolutionary theory and earth history from their science classes.  In their place school districts can choose to teach "intelligent design" theories that are thinly disguised versions of the biblical story of  creation.

The Irascible Professor freely admits that there are limits to what science can tell us about the origins of the universe.  However, there is a substantial body of scientific evidence that supports the notion that both the universe and the earth are old, more than 4,000,000,000 years old.  Likewise, there is substantial evidence to support the basic features of the theory of evolution.  Many scientists, and others, with deep religious faith have no difficulty reconciling the scientific evidence with their religious beliefs.  Such reconciliation certainly is not new.  For centuries people believed that the earth was the center of the universe.  Literal biblical interpretation supported those beliefs; however, as the astronomical evidence grew it became clear that the data required a much different interpretation.  Namely, that the earth moves in a nearly circular orbit around the sun.  While there was great resistance to this changing paradigm, eventually the scientific evidence and the success of gravitational theory won the day.

The evidence that the earth is much older than the approximately 10,000 years claimed by the fundamentalist creationists is at least as good as that which led to the heliocentric description of our solar system.  Likewise, there is strong scientific evidence to support the basic ideas of evolutionary theory.  Frequently, creationists use the argument that evolution is only a theory to support their contention that alternatives must be presented.  However, scientific theories have important constraints.  While they can never be proven in an absolute sense, they must be logically consistent and they must be supported by the evidence.  In addition, scientific theories are always tentative in the sense that they can be revised if new evidence requires.

Creation stories, on the other hand, don't even rise to the level of theory.  They are stories that often are logically inconsistent, and for which no supporting evidence exists.  While there may well be value in a pluralistic society such as our in discussing such stories in classes on comparative religion, it makes little sense to present them as alternative explanations in science classes.


The Irascible Professor invites your comments.
©1999 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.