Science is not democratic

Republican candidate Rick Perry is being compared to George W. Bush, our most recent president from Texas. Here is one place the comparison breaks down. Perry is not campaigning to be the “Education President,” as Bush did. Whatever its merits, Bush was president when the “No child left behind” act became law. Based on Perry’s recent comments, it looks like he is more interested in leaving every child behind.

When a little boy in New Hampshire was prompted by his mother to ask Perry about evolution, Perry replied that it’s just a theory with gaps, and added, “In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution. I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.” Perry, who likes to tell us the importance of following the Constitution, should know that it’s constitutional to teach creationism in a mythology class but not in a science class.

Apparently, Perry’s theory of science teaching is to tell children they are smart enough to figure out what is right and what is made up. Here are other scientific questions to ask small children: When you walk around, does the earth look flat or round? When you look at the sun in the morning and evening, does it look like the sun is moving around the earth or that the earth is moving around the sun at approximately 67,000 mph? Never mind the scientific consensus, you’re smart enough to just know.

Governor Perry is correct in saying that evolution is controversial. But the “controversy” is religious and political, not scientific. Perry and other anti-evolutionists should be asked questions like:

(1) How do scientists describe the theory of evolution by natural selection?

(2) How do scientists distinguish a hypothesis from a theory?

(3) As a scientific theory, how is creationism falsifiable?

An educated person should understand the rudiments of the scientific method. Creationism should no more be taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution by natural selection than should the “stork theory” be taught as an alternative to reproduction. Creationism is an alternative to Zeus or Krishna, not to Darwin.

Only 38% of Americans say they believe in evolution, and far too many politicians are either among the other 62% or pander to them. This, to me, is evidence that democracy works best when we have an informed electorate. I agree with Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” However, science is not and should not become democratic. If 100 million people believe a wrong thing, it is still a wrong thing.

I’m even uncomfortable with the way the poll question was phrased. Evolution is not a belief; it is confirmed through scientific investigation. We don’t take polls asking people if they “believe” in gravity, though the theory of evolution is better understood by scientists than is the theory of gravity.

Some religions may feel threatened by evolution not only because it flatly contradicts a biblical worldview, but also because we now understand that the first creatures who can be called human inherited their DNA from creatures who could not be called human. The first mammals got their DNA from their reptilian ancestors. And so it goes back to the first single-celled organism. I leave it for religious people to decide where a “soul” enters this picture (and whether they want to believe in DNA).

Adults are free to make decisions for themselves, but I’m disturbed by what is happening in our educational system today. Given how the influential Religious Right opposes the teaching of evolution, or any scientific and social view that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible, we are becoming one nation undereducated.

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About Herb Silverman

Herb Silverman is Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America, and founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, South Carolina. He was founder and faculty advisor to the College of Charleston student Atheist/Humanist Alliance. He is a board member of the American Humanist Association as well as a Humanist Celebrant, advisory board member of the Secular Student Alliance, and member of the Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He has served on the boards of the Atheist Alliance and the Humanist Institute. He has written for "On Faith" at the Washington Post and for the Huffington Post. He has spoken at a number of conferences and written articles for many freethought publications. He has appeared in a number of debates on topics like: Can we be moral without God? Does God exist? Is America a Christian nation? He has also debated at the Oxford Union in Oxford, England on the topic: Does American Religion Undermine American Values? Here is information on his recent book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt