November 11, 2005
Science Does Not Equal Good Morals
Let there be light.
The bulb definitely went on in Dover, Pa., where voters booted
out a school board dedicated to undermining science education.
The board members had promoted the teaching of "intelligent
design," which is intended to challenge the theory of evolution
and bolster the biblical explanation of man's origins.
It is hoped that
the vote illuminated some of the darker corners of the Republican
Party. GOP masterminds have long tried to exploit the public's
anger at the coarsening of our culture by pushing religion into
the classroom. No less a Republican than President Bush has said
that schools should teach intelligent design.
The problem with
this strategy is that few people fall for it. Situated in south-central
Pennsylvania, Dover is no hotbed of liberalism. Many, if not most,
of the voters who dismissed the school board would describe themselves
as both conservative and Christian. All the folks wanted was to
stop the activists from messing around with their kids' education
-- and to free their town of its growing reputation as the Dogpatch
of the East.
campaigns have been as dishonest as the one over intelligent design.
It's a crafty approach that doesn't mention the word "God"
or "creationism." The Discovery Institute is the bubbling
pot from which intelligent-design advocates learn their scientific-sounding
spiel. The advocates are now taking the intelligent-design dog-and-pony
show around the country. They put on thick glasses with dark rims
and pretend to be promoting a genuine science-based debate.
It's a fraud, but
the political wizards in the Republican Party seem to think that
ruining the education of some kids in the sticks is a small price
to pay for votes -- which they're obviously not getting. I guarantee
that no member of the Republican elite would tolerate crypto-creationism
in his or her child's prep school.
The surprise in Dover
is that displeasure over this pseudo-science has been so widespread.
Here again is a political lesson. Everyone was laboring under
the impression that there was some titanic battle going on between
religious fundamentalists and the forces of modernity -- and that
the sides were evenly divided. But in Dover, even the foes of
intelligent design were stunned by the dimension of their victory.
On to Kansas. There,
the state Board of Education approved a science curriculum that
will vigorously challenge Darwin's theory. A spokesman for the
National Center for Science Education said the new standards could
become a "playbook for creationism." Kansas Gov. Kathleen
Sebelius, a Democrat, condemned the vote as "the latest in
a series of troubling decisions" by the board.
You see her concern.
The schools have to prepare young Kansans for the 21st century
and can't do so if they're not even straight with the 19th. My
guess is that as in Dover, Pa., the parents in Kansas understand
the stakes and will take action.
The stakes, of course,
go beyond securing a solid science education for the children.
It is removing Kansas from the punch line of national jokes. For
example, Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" has a segment
making fun of shallow television news called "All You Need
to Know." This week, Steven Colbert cited the intelligent-design
vote in Kansas and offered this one-liner: "All you need
to know in Kansas? Evidently very little." The response was
We hear many stereotypes
about religious conservatives, but Republican strategists are
among the chief stereotypers. They assume that people of faith
don't think -- that devout people are unable to see complexity
in social issues and can't reconcile science with religion.
poor soundings on the mindset of religious people are adding up.
Republicans made fools of themselves over the Terri Schiavo case.
It turns out that the vast majority of even religious Americans
did not see the matter as a simplistic right-to-life issue.
The Bush administration
assumed that its conservative base was brain-dead on global warming.
But now the National Association of Evangelicals -- 45,000 churches
representing 30 million Americans -- is working on a draft to
demand that Congress put mandatory controls on carbon-dioxide
Bad science does
not equal good morals. The people of Dover, Pa., have risen up
to demand that their intellects be treated with respect. Kansans,
I have a feeling, are going to join them.
2005 Creators Syndicate