In order to make progress, one must occasionally confront something head-on, and if that thing is held in high regard by some, the collision may be a messy one. There is a long and ugly history surrounding the search for truth, and many have paid dearly for their endeavors. But without truth, or at least without the relentless search for what is true, where would we be?
For the last several years I’ve pursued my own quest for truth and in the process, I’ve found renewed energy and a clearer, untangled way of thinking. Humans are remarkably susceptible to misinformation. A multitude of innate biases screw up our ability to think rationally and make us superstitious, paranoid and prone to errors in judgment, snap decisions and belief without questioning. We can latch onto positions on all manner of subjects, making up our minds on where we stand on them and then cannot be swayed even when presented with contrary evidence.
Watching The Revisionaries on NetFlix a few nights ago, I was floored by the way the members of the Texas State Board of Education inserted their biases into the standards for textbooks in science and history. The predominant issue was the religious conviction of the Chairman and several members, and their passionate disdain for the fact that life on this planet has evolved and is evolving. There is one prevailing sentiment among those who, for whatever reason, cannot accept what 150 years of observation, experimentation and prediction has demonstrated. That sentiment is that it is necessary to delude the minds of others, in this case the children of Texas, to pass along their own personal delusions to another generation. What they never make clear though, is why. Why do they feel it is so critically important that our children learn to doubt science and mistrust what science demonstrates to be truth? Do they consider the consequences on the future when they confuse and muddy the brains of the next generation?
I’d like to clear up a common misconception around scientific thinking, and critical thinking in general. Due primarily to the influence of religion, the theory of evolution draws fire from those who believe it conflicts with a godly account of creation. Because the First Amendment of our beautiful Constitution prohibits government from infringing upon religious freedom, the public school system cannot insert religious teaching or religious concepts into the curriculum. Therefore, in science class, our children learn science. One of the fields of science is biology, and evolution is the foundation of biology. That should be pretty clear cut, however the religionists will attempt to sneak their godly persuasions in the back door, by innocently suggesting that we teach children “both sides” or include the “other side” of the issue. The problem is, there is no other side. There is no opposing science to evolution because evolution is a scientific fact.
When Galileo proposed that the Earth orbited the Sun, and not the other way around, the Church tried and convicted him of being vehemently suspect of heresy. He spent the remainder of his life under house arrest for trying to educate people on what today everyone understands is a scientific fact. This is the head-on collision that has to occur for progress. No one today would suggest that we teach children that the Sun may orbit the Earth, and let them make up their own minds what they believe.
Belief has no place in education. You may think that you are entitled to your opinion that the millions of species of plant and animal on Earth are here because of magic, but you aren’t. That opinion cannot be supported by evidence, by logic or by rational thought. You can believe that to be the case if you’d like, but you can’t share it with others as a possible candidate for truthfulness because you can’t support it. This is especially true with children, who we lie to from birth and tell them there are magical bunnies who bring colored eggs once a year, and a fat man who keeps Elves in the North Pole and a fairy who gives them a dollar when they lose a tooth. They believe us because we’re adults and they’re kids and when they find out we lied to them for years, it has an impact and that impact isn’t a good one.
Trying to teach children that evolution is just one idea of how the varied species of life we are overrun with on Earth came about is a lie. Trying to teach children that while all the evidence supports that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, maybe it’s only 10,000 years old and asking them to pick which they believe is criminal. That’s not a proper way to think if you wish to come to accurate conclusions about what is true in the world. You must follow the evidence. I can propose that life on Earth began when space aliens deposited DNA molecules in ponds and marshes as an experiment and are observing us now from their home base. If I have no evidence to support it, the idea should die right then and there. You must follow the evidence. We don’t teach that the Earth is spherical, but when you look out at the horizon, it sure looks flat, so maybe it is.
There is something seriously wrong with an educational system that allows non-scientists, who are voted onto a school board with a 20% turnout of eligible voters, to decide what will go into our science textbooks. That’s what scientists are for. Science literacy is crucial to the present and the future of humanity. If you’re willing to remain ignorant and spend your life trying to decide what’s true based on how you feel about it, that’s your choice, but it has no place in education. Existence exists, and we should all learn to deal with it.