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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Choosing Ignorance

One of my favorite openings for one of my posts was written in July, 2007. That post, titled "Monument to BS Works Out Pretty Much the Way You'd Expect," was a post about the opening of the Creation Museum.

Just outside of Cincinnati -- in Petersburg, Kentucky -- stands a 60,000 square foot, $27 million monument to gullibility, fanaticism, and the ability to believe the stupidest damned things despite all evidence to the contrary. Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum features exhibits showing humans co-existing with dinosaurs, offers 'proof' that there was once a global flood, and warns us not to judge Cain for marrying his sister.

Yeah, it's that nuts.

Why revisit a museum that has an exhibit of a triceratops wearing a saddle and tells people that dinosaurs were packed into a 450X75X45 ark? Because today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. The good news is that more people believe in evolution than this stuff, the bad news is that neither belief holds a majority. According to Gallup, fully 25% of Americans believe that creationism offers a better explanation of all the species that populate the planet than evolution. Put more simply, a quarter of Americans believe that it's all explained by magic, as opposed to a complex scientific system that actually works in the real world -- evolutionary biology is an applied science. It's like disbelieving in math, despite the fact that people use it constantly to come to working answers. If it works, if it generates results, it's obviously true.

But math doesn't contradict some holy book. But let's pretend for a moment that it does. Supporters of creationism -- including its more scientific sounding version, "intelligent design" or ID -- argue that both evolution and creationism should be taught in schools and the kids should decide for themselves which makes more sense. But both aren't equally true. Assume for a moment that the number 7 were taboo in a popular religion. Would you support teaching kids that the answer to a math problem could be 7 or -- if you don't believe in 7 -- rounded up to 8 or down to 6 and be equally correct? Would you accept your kid being taught that 3+4=6 or 7 or 8 -- depending on which felt truer to them? Or would that be stupid beyond words? Would you fly on a plane that was designed with this taboo-influenced math?

Yet this is exactly what people want to do with science classes. Teach them evolution, teach them ID, and let the kids decide. In the court decision Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005, teaching creationism or creationism dressed up in its ID clothing was ruled unconstitutional. It was, after all, teaching religion in schools. "[W]e conclude that the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child," Judge John E. Jones III found and ID was out of the schools in Dover, Pennsylvania. Schools would have to teach that 7 exists.

Since then, creationists have tried to pass anti-evolution laws which they can then take to another court and get a decision more pleasing to Republican Jesus. Since the beginning of this year, laws have been introduced in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico, and Iowa. Nearly every one of these post-Dover laws cites "academic freedom."

That's right, if you can't teach complete BS to kids who don't know any better, then you're being oppressed. For example, the Mississippi bill, AKA the "Academic Freedom Act," contains in its language this sentence:

This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind.

Here's the thing, this isn't some sort of competition. No matter how many people you manage to convince that creationism is true, creationism remains untrue. Reality isn't a democracy, where facts you don't like can be replaced with new "facts" supported only by public opinion. There will never be a level playing field between the two concepts, because evolution will forever have the unfair advantage of not being a load of crap. There was a time when pretty much everyone agreed the Sun orbited the Earth and, at that time, all that meant was that pretty much everyone was wrong. And, proving that there's nothing so backward and stupid that people won't believe it, there are some who still don't believe in a sun-centered solar system -- because it contradicts the Bible.

There is a choice to be made here, but it's not between two equally valid theories. It's in choosing just how ignorant you're willing to be. When it comes to schools and education, we shouldn't be expecting children to make that choice -- it is, after all, schools and education. 7 is not equal to 6 or 8 and ID is not just as valid as evolution. There is no compromise, there is no middle ground; one is true, one is false.

When it comes to gullibility, fanaticism, and the ability to believe the stupidest damned things despite all evidence to the contrary, creationists have cornered the market. Let them keep their Flintstone museum, with dinosaurs and humans living side by side, but let them keep it out of schools. We shouldn't be in the business of teaching ignorance.