The Edge Effect

Monday, April 17, 2006

See, It Isn't Just Kansas

You may have heard that the Creationist/Intelligent Design bunch had set their sights on Michigan in the past couple of years. A strictly you-must-teach-IDiocy-in-the-classroom bill was defeated last year. But the anti-evolution forces continue to adapt under pressure. Apparently the legislature and school board are environments that provide pressure favoring obfuscation. Young earth creationism became creation science, which later became intelligent design in order to create less-sectarian language and mask the movements real goals. Now the buzz-word is critical analysis.

This is really insidious since none of us can rightly take a stand against critical analysis. Heck, it's what most of us out here on The Edge do for a living. Michigan House bill 5251 is part of the "teach the controversy" strategy and it seems to be working. If they claim enough times that there is a controversy within the scientific community and that there is evidence against evolution, then people will start believing it. If they frame legislation in terms of critical analysis and proclaim loudly enough that there is evidence against evolution that deserves to be analyzed critically, then voters will believe that scientists are repressing it.

The notion that there is a body of evidence against evolution really gets my pet goat. As most of you are aware of course, there is extremely little (if any) solid evidence in the natural world that argues against evolution. There are plenty of gaps to be filled in - this is the nature of science and it is why we continue to research. And there are plenty of debates about how evolution happens and how humans evolved, but I don't really think elementary and high school biology classes are ready for the intricacies of MtDNA mutation rates and the Out of Africa-Multiregionalism debate.

I might be underestimating school kids, but it doesn't really matter since this bill isn't about how many major migrations of hominids left Africa, the reliability of the mitochondrial clock, or the nature of speciation. No, this bill is about teaching that there is strong evidence against evolution altogether. If they intend to use evidence from the natural world, this leaves only two options - 1) they can fabricate evidence entirely. 2) they can contort logic and twist the evidence to fit their needs. I doubt that most science teachers would be willing to do either of these and the major anti-science organizations like the Discovery Institute know they are being watched too closely to create false data outright. I suspect that 'educational' materials such as the infamous Wedge Document and the many (rapidly changing) public manifestos of the ID movement will be disseminated to school districts who believe them when they claim to represent a major portion of the scientific community.

Michigan House bill 5251 is working its way through the state assembly right now. This kind of stuff made Kansas a laughing stock and continues to tear down the education system that reared me. Michigan has enough problems without letting these folks make our students less informed. If you have a chance, contact your congress critter and let her or him know how you feel. The bill was drafted by a representative from Macomb Township, if you have any friends there, encourage them to make their voices heard on this issue.

Red State Rabble has a roundup of this bill and plenty of history in their archives.