Monday, December 05, 2005

'To See Ourselves Truly'

"'To the extent that the furor over evolution represents a cultural crisis in America - and only in America - it is a crisis of credulity, not faith, a crisis rooted in neglect and ignorance."
-- Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times, Nov. 19, 2005
Suddenly, we're seeing a lot of Florida newspapers make mention of the Darwin Exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Undoubtedly, this has a lot to do with growing expectations that Florida Republicans are planning a mass pandering to public ignorance by firing up a "debate over the role of religious faith in science class," as Florida Politics, noted two days ago. The fighting ground was prepared late this summer when Jeb Bush appointed "creationist wingnut Cheryl Yecke as the state chancellor of K-12 education," as Florida Blues and others (documented by Mark Lane) have observed.

Apparently in response, a new Florida blog named Florida Citizens for Science was born almost immediately. It's backed by "a group of concerned citizens, businesspeople, parents and educators who are committed to maintaining excellence in public school science classrooms in the state of Florida."

The battle is not yet joined, however. As the Miami Herald reported late last week, state officials have decided to delay "for at least a year" a review of state educational science standards for "how to address humanity's origins."
Education officials were planning to revise the standards next year, but a spokeswoman for state education Commissioner John Winn said Wednesday that delays in updating math and language arts standards have pushed science into 2007 or 2008.

* * *
That delay will postpone the debate over how to teach evolution, creation and intelligent design until after Gov. Jeb Bush's successor is elected next year.

Or, put another way, the attack on science will begin just as Jeb Bush publicly launches his 2008 campaign for president.

What better way to distract the public mind from the real issues of the day? There just isn't much of political pay-off trying to start an argument over "math and language arts" standards.

Michael Ruse, a Canadian biologist now teaching in Florida, professes to be "puzzled" over the ignorance of most Americans when it comes to evolutionary theory. As he wrote this past weekend in the Toronto Globe and Mail:
I cannot understand how anyone over the age of 12 can take seriously and literally the creation stories of Genesis. It is truly beyond me to fathom how someone can spend time and effort actually trying to work out the elephants' living arrangements on the Ark. Yet this is the sort of stuff I deal with daily on my campus.

You think I exaggerate? Survey after survey shows that more than 50 per cent of Americans do not believe in evolution. It is too embarrassing to say out loud how many believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

Puzzled he may be, but he still gets it. The evolution debate in he U.S. is not about science. It's about those politicians who would say to us --

Do not attempt grand plans of reform and progress. Concentrate on personal purity, so you will be among the chosen. Do not concern yourself with plans for universal health care. Stop the plug from being withdrawn from Terri Schiavo. Do not worry about the levees of New Orleans. Fight the good fight against the anti-Christ in Iraq. Care not for the gun-driven murder rate. Support the Second Amendment to the Constitution and the right to bear arms.

How does a Canadian realize this when so many Florida voters seem oblivious to how they are about to be hoodwinked? Ironically, Darwin himself offered the answer.

A couple of weeks ago Verlyn Klinkenborg -- scholar, author, ex-Iowan, gardener, professor, environmentalist, social critic, and member of the New York Times editorial board -- shared an insight from Darwin himself that was inspired by the museum exhibition. Klinkenborg had a chance to see the Darwin Exhibit in preview and came away, he wrote in the Times, "with a reawakened sense of Darwin's characteristic honesty and his extraordinary powers as an observer, qualities that are as much an attribute of the scientist as of the man."
The new exhibition called "Darwin" at the American Museum of Natural History portrays the making of the man and the scientist, and it reminds us how well and how fully evolution explains the life around us. It also captures the way Darwin's theory opened an entirely new window in the human imagination.
Even more than that, it seems, the exhibition provides a keen appreciation for how far-sighted Darwin was in devining the criticisms that would confront his theory, criticisms that still echo today:
The basic objections to evolution - the ones trumpeted by the proponents of so-called intelligent design - are essentially the ones Darwin described in the sixth chapter of ' Origin.' They have been given a new language, and new examples have been adduced. But Darwin did a surprisingly good job of forestalling his critics. He showed that most of the objections to his theory, then as now, were based on a misunderstanding of the evidence or the nature of his argument, or were owing simply to the fact that so much remains to be discovered about the workings of life on Earth.
The exhibit also reminded Kinkenborg about the warm sympathies for humanity that Darwin felt as he realized "how hard it would be for us to see ourselves truly."

How hard... to see ourselves truly. It always is.

No comments: