Saturday, February 19, 2005

Sticker Shock



A couple of days after the post about Intelligent Design, I came across this column in the February issue of Scientific American.

Sticker Shock
In the beginning was the cautionary advisory

By Steve Mirsky

Brushfires are raging all across America over the teaching of evolution, as various antievolution interests attempt to give religiously based views equal footing in science classes. These fires are fueled by so-called creation scientists, who allege that they have scientific evidence against evolution. (They don’t.) Their co-conspirators, the “intelligent design” crowd, go with the full-blown intellectual surrender strategy – they say that life on earth is so complex that the only way to explain it is through the intercession of an intelligent superbeing. (They don’t mention you-know-who by name as the designer, but you know who you-know-who is, and it isn’t Brahma.)

One little blaze can be found in Cobb County, Ga. As this issue of Scientific American went to press, a federal judge in Atlanta was in the process of deciding whether biology textbooks in the county could continue to sport a warning sticker that read “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

Maybe that last sentence should be stamped into every textbook (and some other books I can think of). And maybe they could rewrite the advisory so that it’s accurate. Perhaps something like, “Variation coupled with natural selection is the most widely accepted theory that explains evolution. Evidence for evolution itself is so overwhelming that those who deny its reality can do so only through nonscientific arguments. They have every right to hold such views. They just can’t teach them as science in this science class.”

But why pick on evolution in the first place when there’s so much to be offended by in virtually any science class? I propose that Cobb County-style stickers be places in numerous other textbooks. Here are some suggestions:

Sticker in Introduction to Cosmology:
“Astronomers estimate the age of the universe to be approximately 13 billion years. If evolution ticks you off because you believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, cosmology should really make smoke come out of your ears. There’s a fire extinguisher next to the telescope.”

Sticker in Geography for Today:
“Some people believe that the earth is flat. An ant probably thinks that the beach ball he’s walking on is flat, too. Anyway, this book says the earth is more like an oblate spheroid. Now go find Moldova on a map.”

Sticker in Earth Sciences:
“You are free to exercise your First Amendment rights in this class and to identify all stratigraphic layers as being 6,000 years old. We are free to flunk you.”

Sticker in Collegiate Chemistry:
“Electrons. They’re like little tiny ball bearings that fly around the atomic nucleus like planets orbit the sun. Except that they’re actually waves. Only what they really are are probability waves. But they do make your MP3 player run, seriously.”

Sticker in Our Solar System:
“Remember they said in chemistry class that electrons fly around the nucleus like planets orbit the sun? Some people think the sun and the other planets go around the earth. You’ll have a much easier time with the math if you just let everybody go around the sun, trust me.”

Sticker in Physics for Freshmen:
“We know that a lot of what’s in this book is wrong, and with any luck they’ll eventually find out that even more of it is wrong. But it’s not so far off, it took some real geniuses to get us this close, and it’s way better than nothing.”

Sticker in Creationism for Dummies:
“Religious beliefs rest on a foundation of faith. Seeking empirical evidence for support of one’s faith-based beliefs therefore could be considered pointless. Or even blasphemous.”

Sticker in Modern Optics:
“CAUTION! Dark ages in mirror may be closer than they appear.”

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