Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Their hearts are in the right places*...
...but it's still a bad idea.

This news just came in from the Wisconsin legislature, and the science blogs are all abuzz over it.
Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a plan Tuesday that would ban public schools from teaching intelligent design as science, saying "pseudo-science" should have no place in the classroom. The proposal is the first of its kind in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and comes as a debate over how to teach the origins of human life rages in local school districts.... The measure would force material included in science curriculums to describe only natural processes. The material also would need to follow the definitions of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

In other words, they only want science taught in the science classes. I'm all for that, but this is the wrong way to go about it.

Creationism is a religious belief that has no place in a science curriculum. Intelligent Design is a marketing campaign to sneak creationism into the classroom by disguising it as science. It's really nothing more than a new name for Creation Science, the failed effort to to do the exact same thing during the seventies and eighties. Because creationism under any name is just religion and never science, and engaging in religious indoctrination in public schools is illegal, it's supporters need to engage in this kind of suberterfuge in order to try and force their religion on other peoples' kids.

Unfortunately for them, the marketing campaign alone has never been enough to fool the science community into supporting their claims, so they have resorted to legislation and litigation to force their way into the classroom. This is one place where conservatives love politicians and trial lawyers telling us what to believe.

For decades, history and literature teachers have had to contend with legislators and interest groups attempting to dictate what to teach, how to teach it, what kind of emphasis to put on which details, what readings to use, which counter-arguments are allowed and which are not, what can be portrayed as "good," and what must always be condemned. Textbooks and curricula are subject to change after every election. The result is a controversy-averse education that gives kids a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a lot of nothing. Science teaches in places like Kansas have only begun to get a taste of this kind of abuse.

It would be nice if we could pass a law telling them to knock it off, but it won't work and is almost certain to make things worse. The legislature is the wrong place to write a curriculum. Laws like this invite retaliation and make the content of education another political spoil to share out after each election to the detriment of the students.

My two favorite science bloggers are on opposite sides on this one. Ed Brayton thinks it's a great idea and points out the usual hypocrisy from William Dembski and the Discovery Institute. PZ Myers thinks it's a horrible idea for the same reasons I just gave. He is obviously a very wise man (so is Brayton, I just don't agree with him on this one).

Afarensis points out that the passage of this bill could provide major propaganda material for the creationism crowd. The religious right likes to portray themselves as persecuted minority. The creationism crowd carry this narrative forward by speaking of and evolutionary dogma ruthlessly maintained by a Darwinist mafia that allows no dissent. Actually passing a law that specifically bans their beliefs plays right into this narrative and will be called up for years as evidence of how intolerant the Darwinists are and how afraid of ID they are. It's already too late to stop this narrative; just proposing the bill will be enough to set of their persecution alarms.

I predict that by the end of the week at least one of bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, or Rush Limbaugh will have made an issue of this (so will the World Net Daily crowd, but who really cares?).

* Just to the left of their esophaguses. Esophagi? Whatever.

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