teaching evolution

August 16, 1999

So, if you haven’t been paying attention, the Kansas Board of Education recently voted to essentially eliminate the teaching of evolution in Kansas schools. They, along with a lot of smaller school districts in the west and south, have decided that evolution is just another opinion — an idea, an unproven concept. Given that it’s not proven (in their minds), students should not be taught it as a science. These evolution deniers claim it is no more scientific than creationism.

Remember that creationism is the idea of how all things came to be, as described in the Bible. Essentially, it is the belief that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago and that this whole work of art took God, the creator, six days. (The seventh day was Sunday and football was on, so God decided to just chill out.)

Here’s where I’m confused: I always thought that evolution was proven long ago. It all started with Darwin and the observations he made regarding natural selection and the survival of the fittest. Now, I believed in evolution, but one look at the Kansas Board of Education and even I have to admit that the concept of survival of the fittest seems to have at least one flaw in it — it doesn’t explain the Kansas Board of Education.

These people are yahoos. Do they have no regard for the children of Kansas, who will be confused every time somebody mentions the big bang theory or, for that matter, dinosaurs? See, there is no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible — lions and lambs, yes; dinosaurs, no.

I have a very good friend who is a born-again Christian and creationist. This is a very good, decent friend, so keep this in mind. Just because your neighbors may believe in something very different from you, that does not mean that they are your enemies. You are, however, allowed to look at them a little askance and say things like, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Anyway, my friend was explaining Creationism to me, and exactly how old the universe is and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, I was trying to refill my glass with scotch. It seems that the more I drank, the more sense she made. But I just could not drink fast enough to keep up with her.

So anyway, I listened and then I asked her to explain the existence of dinosaurs. She informed me that dinosaurs were not mentioned in the Bible — and therefore, they never happened. Just like evolution never happened.

So I said, “Well, what about the dinosaur skeletons that scientists keep finding?” I mean, if you’ve got dinosaur bones, you must have had some dinosaurs.

She smiled at me, and I have to say that it was a patronizing smile — you know, one of those smiles that says, “You fool, you.” She explained to me that the reason there are dinosaur bones is because God just sort of planted them there for us to find. According to my friend, that was the only reasonable explanation.

I can understand that. It’s just like at Easter when your folks would plant colored eggs all over the place and you would find them. If you were young or dumb enough, you thought pretty colored eggs grew out of the ferns in the backyard.

So apparently, there are a lot of us who are either so young or so dumb that we believe that ancient skeletons suggest ancient life when, in fact, they are just the equivalent of the old Easter egg scam, courtesy of God. All those prehistoric plants, it’s all just evidence planted by God to convince those of us dumb enough to fall for it that there was something actually there.

That’s the problem with those who take the bible too literally: if they can’t explain something, then the answer is that God made it inexplicable. Well, this is a democracy and everyone has a right to their opinion — but do they have a right to inflict it on their children? I suppose teaching your children that science proves nothing is better than beating the crap out of them — but only marginally.

In all the coverage, I heard a woman from the Kansas Board of Education. She said something to the effect that they were tired of the experts and that it was time for the parents to be trusted to decide what their children should and shouldn’t learn.

Now there’s one hell of an idea. Actually, it’s one hell of two ideas.

The first is the truly weird notion that the study done by experts isn’t important. These parents have decided, somehow, that experts aren’t really worth the cost of a textbook.

The other bizarre idea here — and I could be in the minority on this one — is the belief that parents are actually the best people to design school curricula. That, folks, is a scary concept. I can only imagine if I had designed my kid’s curriculum — right about now, all my kid would know is every song that BB King ever wrote, along with thorough knowledge of which mushrooms are good and which mushrooms are a little shaky. You can decide what I mean by that last one.

Do you realize how much there is to know about the nature of reality and how quickly what we need to know changes? Our kids need to be taught stuff by people who know it — really know it — and those people are not your typical parents. They are experts and scientists; people who have dedicated their lives to understanding how the world works.

The Creationists are convinced that the teaching of evolution is part of some vast conspiracy to deny the existence of God. Yet — and I’ll bet you don’t know this — more than seventy-five percent of all scientists believe in God. Explain that one, momma.

I was talking to my mother. She thinks what they are doing in Kansas is a disaster. (But then again, my mother is an ex-teacher — and as they would say in Kansas, “What does she know?”) My mother complained that the kids in Kansas will some day go to colleges outside of Kansas and meet other kids who will make them feel like fools. I explained to my mom that given the curriculum now being taught in Kansas public schools, it was no big deal because it is highly unlikely that very many kids from Kansas will get into any colleges outside of Kansas.

I suppose that, for some, we are living in a confusing and scary age. A time when people seek sanctuary in ignorance, seek security in absolutes.

What really gets me in all this is that there are so many people who don’t understand how awe-inspiring scientific truths really are. The idea of evolution is magical. It has such a complex and mystical side to it that it actually leads me closer to the idea of God.

Part of the journey in life, for all of us — both individually and collectively — is the never-ending search for the truth. All noble questions are probably as old as our species itself. This search is one of the things that make our species unique. This search is progressive — each answer we find raises two new questions, but it still gets us closer.

I enjoy studying the theories and the science of where we all come from, and then, on the other hand, when I hear about acts like the one that the Kansas Board of Education is trying to pull, I get kind of nervous about where we are going.

Remember the Scopes Monkey trial? That took place when a teacher in Tennessee was put on trial for teaching evolution. And he lost. So maybe we don’t evolve much, after all.

Let me close by sharing a favorite quote of mine by a European philosopher. When asked why he believed in God, he replied, “Because it is easier. If I believe in God, all I have to do is explain the existence of God. If I don’t believe in God, then I am stuck with the task of explaining the existence of everything else.”

I’m with that, dude.

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