Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Will it be a hearty cry of “Yabba Dabba Doo!” at this week’s BESE meeting? By Walter Pierce

Science once again goes on trial tomorrow in Baton Rouge when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education votes on whether to approve proposed biology textbooks for public high schools.

The books — mainstream, peer-reviewed, up-to-date and from major publishers — are under fire by the religious right because they don’t cover intelligent design, a pseudo-scientific version of creationism whose adherents argue that because organisms are so complex, there must have been a supernatural entity that created them, or at least set in motion their evolution.

This fight is important to Joe Neigel, a biology professor at UL whom I interviewed for this week’s cover story. Neigel’s interest is partly academic, but it’s also professional: If we allow standard biology education in high schools to be sullied by this wackadoo pseudo-science called intelligent design, we create college freshmen who don’t understand how completely, utterly, thoroughly and rigorously the theory of evolution has been studied, tested and verified in the century and a half since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published.

In mainstream biology circles evolution is impregnable, unassailable.

But to creationists it is a threat, and they employ many tactics in assailing it, including attacking Darwin’s original theory while ignoring the decades of research and findings that have not only verified it but added to it.

Because the federal courts have repeatedly thwarted them, creationists created intelligent design as their Trojan Horse.

“A lot of these ID people attack Darwin as if we’re all still reading Darwin, as if that’s our source material. But the truth is, Darwin was wrong about a lot of things; he wasn’t aware of a lot of things,” Neigel told me last week when I was researching the story. “The science of genetics and molecular biology has both validated evolution as a unifying principle in biology, but it also shows us that evolution pretty much has to happen.”

Except in Louisiana when it comes to intellectual matters.

A small consolation for our sorry-ass discomfort with science can be found in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear last week announced that a group planning a $150 million theme park called Ark Encounter can apply for and will likely receive more than $35 million in state tax incentives. The centerpiece of the for-profit attraction will be a life-sized replica of Noah’s Arc complete with dinosaurs. (Now that creationists can no longer deny the existence of dinosaurs — the fossil record is just too extensive and detailed — they’ve taken to insisting that T-Rex must have coexisted with humans, since the world and everything in it was created over the course of six days about 6,000 years ago.)

Kentucky is also home to the Creation Museum, another Flintstones attraction that draws thousands annually.

In Louisiana’s fight between reason and superstition, Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown himself to be a coward of the first order. He has an undergraduate degree in biology from Brown University, where intelligent design and creationism get absolutely no quarter, yet he eagerly signed the Louisiana Science Education Act — a back door for getting intelligent design into the biology curriculum under the guise of “academic freedom” — and has expressed public support for ID being taught alongside evolution.

Jindal is brilliant and cynical.

I don’t doubt Jindal believes intelligent design is little more than creationism festooned with the trappings of science. I suspect he scoffs at ID and those who peddle it when he’s not in earshot of reporters or cameras. But he’s playing to the base, as they say — to the many thousands of Louisiana residents who believe the earth is about 6,000 years old and/or believe the science of evolution is somehow elitist, liberal.

Many Christians accept Darwinian theory as a compelling explanation for human origin, and the Vatican has even declared that faith and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

Those who attack the science of evolution don’t seem to have much faith in their faith.

“I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from [students] because of political correctness,” Jindal told the news program Face the Nation in 2008 after signing the Science Education Act.

Standing up for evolution isn’t political correctness. It’s just correct.

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