Education

Second Attack of Evolution Education in Missouri.

A week ago, we had an awesome article by Lance, from Grounded Parents, about Missouri’s anti-evolution legislation. This week, we’re lucky enough to have his follow-up article, which he generously let us borrow from his personal site.

Last week, I wrote about the first bill submitted in the Missouri House of Representatives this session that attacks evolution. I had hope that it would be the only bill this session.

Those hopes have failed.

I just found out from the National Center for Science Education that a second bill has been submitted: HB 1587. This bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Koenig (R-99), was the only co-sponsor for Rep. Rick Brattin‘s (R-55) HB 1472, which would require school districts to warn parents in advance of any Evolution curriculum and give the parents a chance to opt out of that instruction. This new bill takes a different tack: Strengths and Weaknesses.

Since directly teaching Creationism in the guise of “Intelligent Design” was correctly banned in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in 2005, teaching the so-called “Strengths and Weaknesses” of Evolution has been the favored approach of the Creationists (ironically, even if nothing else evolves, creationism does). Seemingly, the notion is that enough students will be convinced by the “weaknesses” of Evolution that it is untenable that they will jump to the available alternative: Biblical Creationism.

This approach has three fatal flaws:

  1. Biblical Creationism isn’t the only alternative: Even if Evolution were to be overthrown tomorrow by new evidence (by, say, the discovery of rabbit fossils in the Precambrian era), this wouldn’t mean that Biblical Creationism would win. Not only could there be many other scientific and non-religious explanations that would replace Evolution, but also there are many other non-Biblical Creation stories. If we throw out the science, why do Adam and Eve get the victory and not Pangu hatching from an egg?
  2. What weaknesses? While science hasn’t led us to every possible detail about our planet’s evolutionary history, we have a very solid understanding of the broad strokes and the mechanism behind it. Many lines of evidence come together to support the conclusions of Evolutionary Biology. What actually tends to get presented as the “weaknesses” of evolution are really just Creationist talking points, claims that have been debunked and refuted for decades, but that live on the imagination of people who want them to be true.
  3. Why evolution? If the sponsors of these bills were really in support of critical thinking, as they claim, they wouldn’t focus bills like this only on topics that are found to be controversial by a certain group of of the electorate. If they want children to learn how to think critically, then the requirement should be to have curriculum on a topic that is no longer considered controversial in the public arena. Here are some examples, the details of which could be left to the school districts and teachers:
    • Have teachers explain the thinking behind alchemy and work the students through the thought process that led to its rejection.
    • Present the pre-Plate Tectonics state of the art and show what evidence and logic led to the overthrow of the old idea.
    • Teach the heliocentric model and the geocentric model and use the methods of science to guide the students to understand why one is a better answer than the other.

    What we definitely should not be doing is misleading children into thinking that a particular is a controversial issue in the scientific arena by presenting disreputable notions as equally valid as confirmed and corroborated data. We should not focus on a science that is the target of attacks motivated by non-scientific concerns, and we should not leave the students in the dark about what the evidence actually shows.

Rep. Brattin was able to get only one co-sponsor for HB 1472, but Rep. Koenig has six co-sponsors for his bill. I hope that this idea goes no further.

As I did for Rep. Brattin’s bill, I have written an email to the sponsor, the co-sponsor, and my Representative (who, fortunately, is on the side of good science). Here is the letter:

I am a Missouri resident, taxpayer, and constituent of Redacted‘s DistrictRedacted. I am writing in response to the filing of House Bill 1587 to ask you to reconsider your sponsorship and co-sponsorship of this bill.

House Bill 1587 singles out Evolutionary Science as a topic from which the students of Missouri need special protection. This bill treats evolution as different from other science in that it alone has strengths and weaknesses. If students are told that evolution, and only evolution, should be considered suspect, they are given an inaccurate impression of both science and the nature of Evolution.

While science hasn’t led us to every possible detail about our planet’s evolutionary history, we have a very solid understanding of the broad strokes and the mechanism behind it. Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. Many lines of evidence come together to support the conclusions of Evolutionary theory, including biogeography, paleontology, embryology, morphology, genetics, and molecular chemistry. Evolution has been under continual attack, examination, and reconsideration since it was proposed 150 years ago, and it has survived all of the challenges. To single out Evolution for special treatment is to undervalue the power and importance of Evolution in explaining how life came to be as we know it.

If the goal of this bill is to foster critical thinking in Missouri students, then it shouldn’t be focused on a topic that is uncontroversial in the world of science but is mistakenly thought to be controversial by a certain group of of the electorate. If you want children to learn how to think critically, then the requirement should be to have curriculum on a topic that is no longer considered controversial in the public arena. Here are some examples, the details of which could be left to the school districts and teachers:

  • Have teachers explain the thinking behind alchemy and work the students through the thought process that led to its rejection.
  • Present the pre-Plate Tectonics state of the art and show what evidence and logic led to the overthrow of the old idea.
  • Present the heliocentric model and the geocentric model and use the methods of science to guide the students to understand why one is a better answer than the other.

What we definitely should not be doing is misleading children into thinking that a particular is a controversial issue in the scientific arena by presenting disreputable notions as equally valid as confirmed and corroborated data. We should not leave the students in the dark about what the evidence actually shows.

Further, biotechnology is an important and growing industry for Missouri. By leaving Missouri children with an inaccurate understanding of this important science, Missouri would be sabotaging its ability to compete and innovate in the scientific and economic spheres. Without scientific advancement, America’s pre-eminence in technology, business, communications, the military, and every other field cannot be maintained. Sacrificing Missouri’s future by misleading our students is a horrible bargain.

It’s not fair to science, and it’s not fair to the students.

Please reconsider your sponsorship of these bills.

If you live in Missouri, please consider sending a similar letter to your elected representatives. And wherever you are, please support National Center for Science Education in their fight against bad science education.

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Tori Parker

Tori Parker

Tori is a high school English teacher from Ohio (insert cheerleader kick here)! She is emphatic! She is skeptical! She is nifty! Her boyfriend says that they can get a potbellied pig someday and name him Bacon. She has a little boy whose pseudonym is SC, although he has recently asked that his name be changed to Henry. When asked for a comment to add on this bio, he asked, "Why do we sound like a bad '70's cop show?" So there's that.

3 Comments

  1. January 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm —

    A bill to get parents to opt out of evolution ? Which I guess means evolution is as corrupting and hazardous to our eternal souls as sex ed. Maybe biology teachers could get around that by adding abstinence to their curriculum. Abstinence based biology could really stop evolution in it’s fat dinosaur tracks.

  2. January 30, 2014 at 7:52 pm —

    So what is next an opt out policy for learning about gravitation?

  3. January 30, 2014 at 11:54 pm —

    We all know that gravitation’s just a gateway to big government.

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