воскресенье, 22 марта 2009 г.

Creationists can't fail Earth Science: Oklahoma

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that says that a student can receive a passing grade in an Earth Science class if they say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the Earth an hour ago, and then planted false memories into every single living creature on Earth to make it seem like they've been around longer.

Of course, that's not the intent of the bill. The intent is that a student can say the Earth is 6000 years old and still get a passing grade. The bill itself says that a student cannot be graded down if they say that what they are being taught interferes with their religious beliefs.

Specifically, the bill states:

A school district shall treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student's voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.

It's the "otherwise permissible subject" phrase that's sticky. That can easily be interpreted as meaning tests, besides just normal classroom discussion.

For a long time, I have been disquieted by the fact that many people want to give patently ridiculous ideas as much standing as reality. One problem with this is that once you open the door to fantasy, any and all flavors of it can walk on through, as in the example above. But it also elevates fantasy to the same level as reality, and that is simply wrong.

I taught a few classes back when I was a grad student. If someone had answered a question on a test saying the Earth was 6000 years old, I would have marked it as incorrect. That's because - and sit down for this breaking news - that answer is wrong. The student could complain, they could take it to the dean, the president, the Supreme Court for all I care - I wouldn't have backed down. Wrong is wrong.

I don't care what your religious belief is, there are some things that are simple facts. An object with mass has gravity. A lump of lithium dropped into water will create heat and hydrogen gas. An accelerating charged particle will emit radiation. These are facts. It doesn't matter what you believe: reality is that which, when you go to sleep, doesn't go away.

What I find most ironic about this legislation - and there is a rich, rich field of irony to choose from - is that it was passed by conservatives, people who no doubt would rail against political correctness and relativism (for example, the bill's primary author, Sally Kern, has spoken clearly about her being against "the gay lifestyle" - she even compares being gay to cancer), yet this is exactly what this legislation is all about. The problem here is that they are trying to legislate relativistic reality. And that's simply wrong.

And it's not like they have to go far to see what a disaster this bill will create: Texas is already in a peck o' trouble for passing a similar law.

This bill still has to pass Oklahoma's state Senate before it becomes a law. If that happens, Oklahoma will have taken a long stride back into the Dark Ages. I'll be honest: if I were an employer, or a University recruiter, and the bill becomes law, I would look very skeptically at any application that came to my desk from a student who graduated in Oklahoma. That makes me sad, but that is the reality Oklahoma is aiming toward.

For more about this horrid bill, check out Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. Also, evidently this bill will also allow the straightforward teaching of religion in school. Mainstream Baptist has something to say about that.

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