Why Teach Evolution?

One of the issues that won’t go away around these parts is evolution. The attempts by fundamentalists, led by Mike Fair, to inject religion into science class was one of the sparks that led to this blog a long time ago.

There was a nicely-written op ed piece in the New York Times a couple of days ago laying out three broad reasons for the teaching of evolution. The entire piece is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, “The Republican War on Science,” the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration’s policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

Moreover, since the science classroom is where a contempt for evidence is often first encountered, it is also arguably where it first begins to be cultivated. A society where ideology is a substitute for evidence can go badly awry. (This is not to suggest that science is never distorted by the ideological left; it sometimes is, and the results are no better.)

But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It’s that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don’t have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.

Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore. To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.

Olivia Judson, New York Times.

Here we go again. Senator Mike Fair is at at once more.

According to the Greenville News, Fair introduced a bill yesterday to insert Intelligent Design into the state science curriculum. Again. He’s the one who’s on record as calling evolution “foolish.”

In its early days, this blog focused on this intelligent design trojan horse these people were trying to slip behind the gates of our public schools. It still stands out for me as about the best example you can find bringing together in one issue most of the things that are wrong with South Carolina politics: Disingenuous, dumb, academically unsupportable, close-minded, dishonest, and rooted in fundamentalist religion.

Looks like the folks over at South Carolinians for Science Education are ready.

Rodney Comment

I’m elevating this comment from Rodney on a previous entry. — NVB

If we put together the events of 2005 concerning the state Science Standards with this recent election of Maguire, it fits well into the overall creationist agenda. Mrs. Maguire was instrumental in fighting against our science standards. I was there when they spoke out about evolution, bringing up “Of Pandas and People” and every known criticism of Biology.

They lost that day. The SBE voted to approve the science standards. The SBE vote was the balance against the Education Oversight Committee who was pretty snowed over by Mike Fair and Bob Walker. Now, they aren’t the balance. The 9-7 majority that elected Kristen will most likely be the majority that tries to disapprove the 2 Biology books in question. That will only be the start. This is becoming Dover again real fast. It’s no coincidence that the same day the board elects the lead creationist to the chair is the same day they vote to approve ALL text books EXCEPT the 2 Biology books in question.

Make no mistake, there are creationist on our SBE that are trying to push their fundy ideologies onto our school system. Go to the SBE meeting on January 9th. Show support for science education and rational thought however you can. SCSE is planning to bring people to the meeting.

In case you had any doubt after my recent survey of SC legislators on their view of evolution, a recent Gallup Poll confirms the link between party and head-in-sand attitudes about evolution.

According to Gallup:

The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.

Independents and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the theory of evolution. But even among non-Republicans there appears to be a significant minority who doubt that evolution adequately explains where humans came from.

The results of the survey, which are seriously depressing for a country that calls itself enlightened, can be read here.

Update: John over at A Lie a Day has noticed this one too.

Following the earlier Republican debate in which candidates were asked if they “believed in evolution,” I wondered how our state legislators would respond to that question. So I asked. A little more than a week after that email went out to all Senators and Representatives, only six responded.

Here’s the exchange:

[Me]: Hi. I write a blog on political issues in SC and am doing a survey of SC legislators (the results of which will be published) on the question asked in the recent Republican presidential debate, which is: Do you believe in evolution? I would appreciate your taking the time to respond yes or no. If you feel the need to expand beyond a simple yes or no, please feel free to do that as well. Thanks in advance for your time.

Representative Bill Cotty: Yes, and well as in God. Despite being Presbyterian, I don’t believe I was predestined to answer this survey, but instead opted to do so by free will.

Representative Mike Mulvaney: I “believe” (if that is the right word) in evolution. Much of it is unassailable from a scientific perspective. However, I also recognize that there are significant holes in the theory: gaps in fossil records, for example. A most compelling weakness from a scientific standpoint regards the development of the eye, which I understand even Darwin himself had a hard time reconciling with his theory of natural selection. From a philosophical standpoint, I also see some weakness in evolution’s ability (or better, inability) to adequately explain altruistic behavior.Personally, I have never believed that evolution and a role for God are mutually exclusive (and indeed I believe there is a school of thought on this referred to as “deism”). It seems to me that God can be, is, and was involved in creation — especially as regards Man and his immortal soul — but that in no way rules out natural selection as one of his tools. I hope that answers your question at least to some extent. I would be glad to talk about it more if you like.

Senator Larry Martin: I’m not sure how smart it is to respond to a survey about evolution to an email address named, “not very bright”. However, my view on the subject you asked about is rather straightforward. I believe in the creation of the world by God who spoke the world and all of His creation into existence. To the extent that the theory of evolution contradicts this article of faith, I disagree with it. Thanks for being in touch.

[Me]: Sen. Martin, thanks for your response. Can you further explain, for me, though, how you believe that “the theory of evolution contradicts [your] article of faith?” Many thanks.

Senator Larry Martin: It is my recollection that the theory of evolution teaches that man evolved from lower life forms over the span of millions of years. I believe that man was created by God in God’s image. Hope this helps.

Senator Kevin Bryant: Thanks you for including me in your survey. My answer is No. Why: Genesis 1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Have a good weekend!

Representative Garry Smith: I believe that evolution cannot and does not explain the complesxities of man. It is a good theory for the explanation of adaptation, however. To take this theory beyond adaptation to evolution is inappropriate.

[Me]: Rep. Smith, thank you for responding. Can you explain what you mean by: “To take this theory beyond adaptation to evolution is inappropriate.”

Representative Garry Smith: I mean: You are not an accident. You were created, not evolved. The ability of creatures to adapt to their environment is one that this theory can easily explain, but creation it cannot. Life is too complex for that. Even the simplest forms such as the amoeba are too complicated for such a huge leap in this theory.

Senator Lewis Vaughn: NO NO

Update (5/16/07) Representative Ted Vick: No. I believe in creationism.

Update (5/21/07) Representative Phillip Lowe: Evolution? Of course! How else could Jesus become Santa. There is but one true God and the creator of the universe.

Update (5/22/07):

[Me]: Rep. Lowe, can you explain your response? I’m not clever enough to understand what you mean by that. Thanks.

Rep. Phillip Lowe: It was satirical to say Jesus evolved into Santa Clause through our distorted world. Our creator is the God of Abraham. The one who is and will always be.
He sent his son to die for us all. Believe, and you shall live forever. Evolution is really genetic adaptation.

(Update 5/28/07)

Rep. Ted M. Vick: I believe God created the Heaven and the Earth. I believe He is the sole creator, maker and sustainer of all we see and don’t see. I believe He and He alone has dominion of Heaven and Earth.

[Me]: Rep. Vick, thank you for responding. I wasn’t asking, though, specifically about your religious views so much as whether you believed that evolutionary theory is valid. Do you have thoughts on that? Thanks.

(Update 5/31/07)

Rep. Ted Vick: I believe some aspects of evolution have validity, such as survival of the fittest.  However, I do not believe humans evolved from monkeys or other animals.


For those who started reading because of this blog’s early focus on the intelligent design/evolution issue, a heads up: The Simpson’s episode tonight is described by TV Guide as: “Springfield is embroiled in a public debate about the theories of evolution and creationism.” You can see a preview here. (Scroll down toward bottom, click java link.)

Anybody want to place bets on whether Homer and Mike Fair are on the same side?

One of the tricks less than candid politicians tend to use is what I call “legislative slight of hand.” This is the anti-democratic trick where they seem to be doing one obvious and widely accepted thing, but in fact are deviously sweeping in the less obvious and less accepted in the process. This game is one of which our legislature is particularly fond.

I’ve written extensively about Senator Fair claiming he’s not trying to put religion into the science classroom by requiring teachers to “teach the controversy” surrounding evolution. He is, he says, merely trying to get the students to critically analyze the theory of evolution. Who can argue with that? Critical analysis is something this world needs more of, right Except, of course, that’s not at all what he’s really doing.

Another recent example of this legislative game can be found in the property rights legislation that recently passed the House. There the sponsors claimed they were simply countering a US Supreme Court decision called Kelo v. City of New London. By way of reminder, in Kelo the Court upheld some pretty harsh use of the government’s eminent domain power (taking some folks’ private property against their will to sell to other folks). Seeming un-American, Kelo was roundly condemned when it was decided, and it’s hard to find any politician who will publicly defend it. Probably for pretty good reason.

OK, so knowing that the Kelo decision is widely hated, what sort of legislation is proposed here in South Carolina? Something that will prohibit these examples of extreme, broad government overreaching? Stopping a city from grabbing Grandma’s nice old white clapboard house and giving it to some greedy developer to tear down and build tacky Mungos in its place? Well, no, not exactly.

What was passed by the House is a law that requires local government to pay property owners when virtually any local legislation affects the value of the property. Zoning suddenly becomes prohibitively expensive. Ditto environmental protections. In this state, the legislative reaction to Kelo became, quite by design, a proposal for the greatest expansion of private property rights at the expense of the public good that can be imagined.

You have to take advantage of your moment in this life, right?

OK…. Believe it or not, that was all introduction to what this entry is about.

For those of you still with me, here’s where this is going: The proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in South Carolina is more of this slight-of-hand trickery. Everybody’s against gay marriage, right? So, the politicians think, let’s broadly describe this amendment as banning gay marriage, but let’s have some fun and do a lot more that nobody’s paying any attention to. Won’t that be fun?

The problem at this point is that I have seen nobody discuss the specific language of the amendment and what it will do. The South Carolina Equality Coaltion, a group apparently formed specifically to fight the amendment, touches on a few of the possible ramifications. Even the Coaltion (the group calls itself “SCEC” — Is it just me or are gay groups way too enthusiastic about letters and acronyms?), however, seems to underestimate the reach of the amendment.

So it’s time that somebody looks at the language of this amendment, sentence by sentence, to figure out what it would do. (Cue that music from Westerns that plays as the hero on the horse rides into town. No? OK, then cue the Village People.)

The proposed amednment reads:

A marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This State and its political subdivisions shall not create a legal status, right or claim respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. This State and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right or claim created by another jurisdiction respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. Nothing in this section shall impair any right or benefit extended by the State or its political subdivisions other than a right or benefit arising from a domestic union that is not valid or recognized in this State. This section shall not prohibit or limit parties, other than the State or its political subdivisions, from entering into contracts or other legal instruments.

So, loyal readers (yeah, both of you), what exactly does this amendment do? It bars gay marriage, whether entered into here or elsewhere. That’s the easy (and nondevious) part. What else?

My analysis in the next entry.


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