Friday, April 20, 2012

The war over evolution continues

The state of Tennessee recently enacted a law that encourages teachers to present to their students “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” The law cites “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as controversial theories warranting a critique.

Incidentally, Tennessee’s governor objected to the law, refused to sign it, but lacked the moral courage to veto it. Politicians who lack the courage to do what is right bode ill for the country; politicians who pander to the ignorant cast a pall over the future.

Here’s my critique:

·         The theory of biological evolution has no know scientific weaknesses and an extensive catalogue of data that supports it.

·         The chemical origins of life are obvious: how else would life have originated? Humans, after all, are chemical-biological entities.

·         Tennessee is not the first jurisdiction to become entangled with the problem of global warming. A couple of years ago, Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister believed that God, not humans, has caused global warming (cf. Ethical Musings: Global warming

Sadly, I know that a scientific critique is not what Tennessee intended. But if God is true, then God is not a deceiver. Indeed, the Bible identifies the devil – the personification of evil – as the deceiver. Christians, like people of all genuine faith and no faith at all, need not fear the truth. Ultimately, humans can do nothing to alter historical fact. Consequently, we do well to search for facts, to organize those facts in ways that make sense of them (theories), and then to test the predictive ability of the theory.

Scientific progress is uncertain. For centuries, the best minds subscribed to a Newtonian physics. Today, the best minds recognize that quantum physics more accurately describes what exists. No amount of theological posturing can change that. Theological posturing, however, can retard scientific progress and handicap children educated in ignorance rather than the pursuit of truth.

This recent law is simply one more reason that I am thankful that I do not live in Tennessee and one more reason why I am less than sanguine about the future competitiveness of the U.S. in a “flat world.”

Tennessee’s law also has the perhaps intended consequence of discriminating against all of the people in that state who hold a different religious view (i.e., a non-Christian view or a liberal Christian view) of how the world or life came into existence. I wonder whether the law will withstand an almost certain constitutional challenge that the law attempts to establish religion.

1 comment:

Chuck Till said...

Thankfully, the U.S. doesn't have to depend on Tennessee for global competitiveness. If some states voluntarily keep themselves in the swamps, other states will seize the opportunity. That is, there's a question of intranational competitiveness as well as international competitiveness.

True, the unprogressive states will be a drag on the nation, but other nations have this problem too. China, for example, has an incredibly large internal migration underway from the west and center to the prosperous east. The Chinese government is trying to push industry away from the coast, but with only limited success. India and Brazil have similar problems where prosperity and readiness to compete at the world level are actually quite localized.

Even in Germany I suspect there are still issues like this between the highly prosperous former West and the not-so-lucky East.