In the currently popular discussion of evolution, Kansas has found its way into the middle of what has long been a heated debate. It is in this state, more than any other, that school legislators are attempting to insert what amount to Biblically-based criticisms of Darwinian evolution into the science curriculum. Though this troubles many for a variety of reasons, what troubles me most is that the state, in order to ram their agenda into the classroom, has had the nerve to redefine science to suit their needs.
Traditionally, science has been the realm of the empirically provable. It has been a forum that prides itself on the ability to function efficiently in the public square, a pride fostered by extensive peer reviews of experiments to confirm the accuracy of tests and methods. If it were not for this system, humans could never have made the many scientific discoveries that shape the contours of our time. Whatever your belief, you cannot deny that science practiced as such has done wonders for our world.
What is not science, and what will not produce scientists, is a curriculum based around stories. To this end, I am reminded of James Frazer's "The Golden Bough," which charts the movement of human thought from magic, to religion, to science. The finer points are of no relevance here, but what we can take from Frazer is this simple message: though stories may provide believable accounts of the world's workings, the associations they establish eventually fall flat when they cannot be peer-reviewed.
But for some of our fellow Americans in Kansas, six of whom are lucky enough to be in a position of power to control young minds, this understanding of science just will not do. Instead, they wish to twist into "science" a method that stems not from empirical observations, but from subjective readings of stories that hold only as much truth as society has invested in them.
In the ongoing debate over human origin, both those who believe in
Genesis and those who do not must remember that, at least in Kansas, this is not a debate for or against religion. Rather, it is a debate for or against science education as we know it today. At stake are future physicists, chemists and biologists. Though it is fair to scientifically critique the finer points of evolution, critiquing it in a way which could potentially blur the distinction between objective truth and subjective opinion will put students at a decisive disadvantage to their peers both at home and abroad.
America already falls short of its global partners on science tests. Do we really want to fall behind even further by redefining science?