11 February 2011


EVOLUTION. This news is just sad. Nicholas Bachalar in On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan reveals that "Teaching creationism in public schools has consistently been ruled unconstitutional in federal courts, but according to a national survey of more than 900 high school biology teachers, it continues to flourish in the nation's classrooms. Researchers found that only 28 percent of biology teachers consistently followed the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology. At the other extreme, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism, and spend at least an hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.

"That leaves what the authors call the 'cautious 60 percent', who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives. In various ways, they compromise ... More high school students take biology than any other science course, and for about a quarter of them it will be the only science course they take. So the influence of these teachers looms large.

".... Students are being cheated out of a rich education .... the 'cautious 60 percent' represent a group of educators who, if they were better trained in science in general and in evolution in particular, would be more confident in their ability to explain controversial topics to their students, to parents, and to school board members."

Creationism and evolution are like oil and water -- they do not mix. The proper place for imparting a belief in creationism is in church or at home, not in a science class. Every student, like every teacher, is free to believe whatever they wish in their private lives, but it is incumbent upon all of us to understand both sides before making a choice. In my view, the number of creationists who have a grasp of scientific principles in general, much less the nuances of evolution in particular, is vanishingly small. In contrast, most evolutionists whom I know grew up with religious teachings and (as adults) learned the shortcomings of religion in explaining the physical, chemical, biological, and cosmological world. Many biology teachers (those in the 'cautious 60 percent', feel caught in the middle between being true to their understanding of biology on the one hand, and feeling their careers threatened by the ideological blackmail imposed by parents (and some school administrators) who confuse religious belief with science. In few other disciplines are teachers threatened so. It would be ludicrous for parents to object to a literature instructor's teaching Shakespeare, or to object to a math instructor's teaching algebra.

I was fortunate to spend five years studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and further fortunate in being a teacher of math and science to high school students. I taught at a small private school where I was give complete autonomy in developing my syllabus, and my students came away with a better understanding of biology, physics, and environmental studies, none of which threatened their particular religious beliefs. That is how evolution must be taught. The scientific method draws upon systematic observation, measurement, experiment, and the formulation, testing and modification of hypotheses. It does not draw upon religious belief or superstition, because superstition is not falsifiable. Science is. Leaps of faith have no place in a biology classroom.

RACISM. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization which wages legal battle against white supremacist groups, hate groups, militias and extremist organizations, reminds us that racism is alive and well in America in Once Again, Racism Rears Up in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Old, evil ways die hard, so I find it doubly interesting that within the SCV there is an "internal civil war between racial extremists and those who want to keep the Southern heritage group a kind of history and genealogy club." A microcosm of this internal struggle is the attempted rewriting of the life of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (see image below, click on any image to enlarge) within the group. Forrest was "a millionaire slave trader before the war, an apparent war criminal who presided over the massacre of surrendering black prisoners at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, during it, and the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan afterward, when the Klan's terrorist violence paved the way for a Jim Crow south." Apologists would like to portray Forrest as having redeemed himself, in the face of abundant evidence that he was a homicidal bully.

The only positive aspect I can see to all this is that if haters are fighting among themselves, perhaps they will have less time and energy for fomenting violence and bigotry among others.

SELF-DISCOVERY. This is too funny not to pass along. It may be a spoof, it may be true. Either way, Journey of Self-Discovery Leads One Man to Realization He Doesn't Care is a Monty Pythonesque commentary on all the woo-woo snake oil salesmen who prey upon the self-focused innocents among us. Isn't it a delicious irony that, contrary to modern usage, the original cynics were Greek philosophers who felt that life's purpose was to live a life of virtue in accordance with Nature? No New Age hoopla required.

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