Saturday, January 31, 2004

Evolution and creationism and Business 101

In was on 1/25/2004 that I made reference to evolution in an article about Utilitarianism and modern politics. Now, evolution is in the news (1 2 3). There actually are two articles at CCN.com. The second one there is a brief statement from Jimmy Carter, in which he says he is “embarassed. By this:

Carter slams Georgia's 'evolution' proposal

Friday, January 30, 2004 Posted: 3:46 PM EST (2046 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday he was embarrassed by the Georgia Department of Education proposal to eliminate the word "evolution" from the state's curriculum.

"As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," Carter said in a written statement...

An article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a nicely written article, adds some regional context. I hadn't known that five other states avoid using the “E-word.”

Georgia may shun 'evolution' in schools
Revised curriculum plan outrages science teachers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

...If Georgia approves the revised curriculum, the state will be among six that avoid the word "evolution" in science teaching, according to the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization that advocates for evolution instruction.

Many other states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, have adopted national standards that cover evolution in detail...

The National Movement of Resistance website also has a piece regarding an earlier maneuver, by just one of the Georgia school districts:..

Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible

August 23, 2002

Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible


After an angry debate among parents, Georgia's second-largest school district adopted a policy last night that requires teachers to give a "balanced education" about the origin of life, giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations.

The district, Cobb County, had already come under attack this summer for attaching disclaimers to all science textbooks, saying that evolution "is a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." On Wednesday, a parent and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the disclaimers be removed. Yesterday, they vowed to amend the suit to ask the court to reverse the new policy...

Bloggers are already getting into it. Chuck Tryon, at The Chutry Experiment, has two articles already. In the first, he states:

Do the Evolution, Georgia Edition

Or, as some Georgia educators prefer, "Do biological changes over time."

I'm a little too outraged to comment on this story in detail, but the Georgia Department of Education has decided that the best way to correct the state's educational problems is to no longer require teachers to cover evolution in detail (if they mention it at all) in their science courses. As one proposal would have it, the word evolution would be replaced with the euphemism, "biological changes over time," because, as one educator suggests, evolution conjures up the image of that whole "man-monkey" thing.

At this point, I will indulge in a little self-disclosure, something I normally eschew. When I was in high school, I dated a girl who was a fundamentalist. I was trying to be inclusive, open-minded, politically correct, whatever. This was one of those relationships in which little things kept cropping up that were clues that, “this ain't gonna work.” One such clue was her refusal to hear me say the e-word. She would not listen to any attempt to explain why she should stop and think for two seconds.

A second clue occurred when she invited me to her church. Actually, she invited me often, but I usually turned her down. One weekend, she said, excitedly, that they were going to learn how to interpret the bible. Ok, I thought, that might be interesting. After all, interpretation involves actual thought. So I go to the church, endure the service, then the Sunday school class starts. The guy hands out some booklets. Each page has two columns. On the left, there is a passage from the bible. On the right is somebody's interpretation. After about five minutes, I realized that we were NOT being taught how to interpret the bible. We were being taught what someone else's interpretation was. Big difference.

Some years later, in college, I attended a debate of the evolution-creationism issue. The professor was C. Loring Brace, Ph.D, representing the Anthropology Dept. at the University of Michigan. The other guy was Duane Gish, Ph.D, representing the Institute for Creation Research. As far as I know, there is no lasting record of the debate, but there is a transcript of a similar debate here , and a copy of an article from The Skeptic, here. There are some tidbits about Brace v. Gish here.

If you click on the Gish link, you will see his resumé. A note at the bottom states that it cannot be reproduced on any website, so I will oblige by not including an excerpt. I will wonder, openly, though, why the prohibition? One curiosity in his resumé is that his last academic appointment ended in 1971, and his last real-science paper was published in 1976. What happened to his career? And where was he working in 1976 when he published Orally Active Derivatives of Ara-Cytidine? He graduated phi beta kappa, got a Ph.D. at Berkley, then was a post-doc, then an assistant professor, then an assistant research associate, then a research associate, then...nothing? I assume that his new career was as a spokesperson for the ICR.

(I felt so sorry for the creationists after reading about their pathetic “Institute,” I almost gave them a hand by including a link to their on-line store. But they'd probable sue me for copying something from their website without permission. If you are interested, though, you can get the DVD of Grand Canyon: Monument to the Flood, for only $15.00. Regularly $19.95, that's a savings of $4.95!!!)

The Brace-Gish debate was heavily publicized. At least three church buses parked in front of the auditorium, thus packing the place with Gish's acolytes. (You may have noticed, I am giving up on the prospect of being fair and balanced here.) There were a few notable things about this debate. Gish's people called Brace's people, on the phone, before the debate. They said that Gish would supply the projection equipment, so Brace did not need to worry about that. Brace got on the phone and called a colleague who had debated Gish previously. The colleague informed Brace that Gish does provide a projector, but it only takes the rarely-used medium-format (60mm) film slides, not the 35mm slides that everyone expects to use. This is, basically, a dirty trick. An unsuspecting opponent could show up with a tray of 35mm slides, only to find that he or she will not be able to use them.

Well, turnabout is fair play. Brace talked to his colleague and learned that Gish presents the same arguments, in the same way, every time. Not a good debate strategy. Knowing ahead of time what Gish was going to say, Brace was able to counter Gish's arguments before Gish had even presented them. In my opinion, it made Gish look kind of foolish.

At the end, Gish proposed that the debate be judged by having the audience applaud each speaker, to see who got the most applause. The moderator shut this down immediately. The three busloads of acolytes probably would have drowned out the academics. The academics were too busy gagging to be able to applaud anything.

Is there anything useful to be learned from all of this? Yes. Definitely.  If natural selection kills your legitimate career, just ”create” your own! Learn how on the DVD! Only $15.00! That's a savings of $4.95...