November 11, 2005
Bad Science Does Not Equal Good Morals
By Froma Harrop
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.
Few disinformation 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 thunderous laughter.
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.
The Republicans' 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 emissions.
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.
Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate