Monday, May 14, 2007

Arkansas science students wonder: how old is really really old?

Transcript of today's show:

Evolution is not officially banned in Arkansas schools, but it has been unofficially banished for fear of upsetting fundamentalists. Arkansas school teachers are forbidden to use the word ‘evolution’ and the term ‘natural selection’ in the classroom. They are also required to be vague. As one teacher described, “I am instructed NOT to use numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. Instead, I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD.” [source: The Arkansas Times]

Listen to the 1-minute broadcast of this story [mp3]

Sound Off: Science & Faith. Our point/counterpoint regulars Shelley (the voice of science) and Peter (the voice of faith), comment on the story.

The Voice of Science: Shelley Greene, Ph.D., comments:
A subtle yet dangerous prejudice has been creeping into our society, oh, I’d say, since 2001 – the year that among other things endowed us with the presidency of George W. Bush. The creepy crawly prejudice began about then, marked by a despotic intolerance of all things progressive, non-traditional, and discordant with Biblical values. Severe and unyielding positions were indoctrinated throughout the new administration on meaningful issues, each of which touch our daily lives. The creepy crawly prejudice slithered out of Washington and into communities all over America, especially ones with Christian mega-churches and evangelical study groups.

Suddenly, the issues of right to life, stem cell research, gay marriage, and the fate of Terry Schaivo -- to name a few -- became pet political themes around which the emerging conservative Christian voice could find and feel its power. The sciences, too, have become targets of these righteous Christian soldiers and their war of ideas, particularly in the fields of genetics, the environment, and evolution. Evolution itself is nearly a dirty word in some places, Arkansas among them. But wait, have we forgotten that this war of ideas, of religion vs. science, was conclusively addressed in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution as well as in the First Amendment, guaranteeing separation of church and state? Are these inconvenient truths being pushed aside?

The scientific community has no interest in changing nor obliterating the various religious beliefs that we are free to express in this country. We ask that religion offer science the same courtesy. We can all agree to disagree, respect one another’s differences, and teach evolution in science classes and creationism in religion classes. This, I believe, is a practical and honorable truce in the culture wars of ideas and ideology.

The Voice of Faith: Peter Williamson, M.Div., comments:
I believe it is our duty as adults, parents, and teachers, to shape an education that will open young minds to the immense vastness of creativity, spirit, and Creation. We must show them the world in its wonder, and enthusiastically celebrate the miracle that it is. At the same time, we will do well to refrain from excessive emphasis on geological details, that may be nothing more than scientific conjecture. Giving young minds specific and incomprehensible numbers with regard to the planet’s age may confuse them (particularly if their family are Bible-reading Christians), and (if they are not Christian) may fixate their thinking in such a way as to close their mind to the truths contained in Genesis. This is a benign legislation that does no harm to any student, but rather, may prevent harm from befalling them.