Monday, November 15, 2004


I love Georgia, I really do. This is the second time around for She Who Must Be Obeyed and me, after a five-year sojourn here in the 1980’s, and it’s good to be back. And I gotta tell you, sometimes I’m so proud to live in Cobb County in this Great State of Georgia, I could just crap myself.

It seems we’re always in the news, often for reasons that peg the needle on the Ridiculometer. Here are a couple, just off the top of my head:

A couple of years ago, there was a big stink here having to do with a reproduction of Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware in school textbooks. [This is the very same painting that served as a basis for the design of the New Jersey state quarter back in 1999.] When you look closely at the painting, there appears to be something hanging near Washington’s crotch. And there is - it’s his pocket watch. But owing to the remote possibility that fifth-graders might look at this picture in their American History textbooks and come to the (false) conclusion that they were seeing the Nutsack of the Father of Our Country, the Board of Education arranged for the offending portion of the image to be covered up. This involved hand-retouching thousands of textbooks (with stickers, White-Out, or Magic Marker), and of course ensured that inquisitive students would spend their entire school day looking for Washington’s scrotum. Brilliant.

And, more recently, Cobb County became the center of a mini Media Hurricane, thanks to a grotesque story that involved a local man who got into what must’ve appeared to him to be a minor traffic scrape after leaving a bar with a friend. Mr. Local Man managed to drive home - twelve miles over narrow winding roads - after this little incident, whereupon he parked his pickup truck in the driveway and went straight up to bed. But he overlooked one small problem - his friend had been decapitated in that little incident, and the dead body was still in the front seat of the truck. Needless to say, this was a tad difficult to explain to the nice policeman who showed up at his door the next morning.

Ahhh, Cobb County. It’s not really Moron Central, but you’d never know any different from reading the National Blat.

And, once again, we’re in the news. This time it’s because of yet another lawsuit brought against - you guessed it - the Board of Education, because said board has decreed, in their wisdom, that science textbooks here must bear a sticker advising that “evolution is a theory, not a fact.” And some parents are calling bullshit on ’em for it.

Good for them, I say.

Yes, evolution is a theory. Let’s be sure we’re all straight on just exactly what a theory is. Webster’s defines a theory as “the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.” It’s also “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.” It can also mean “a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation.” Conjecture, that is, or supposition.

Here’s how it works, kiddies. You make observations. You offer a hypothesis to explain the observations. You test the hypothesis by experimentation. If the experimental results support the hypothesis, good for you. What a theory does is tie together a whole bunch of hypotheses at once. And a theory is only as good as how well it explains and predicts the results of the experiments that test these hypotheses. This whole process is called “science.”

Faith, on the other hand, is when you believe something that is either not supported by, or possibly even contradicted by, observation and experiment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with faith - unless it gets confused with science.

So far, the courts have managed to keep wonderful faith-based ideas like “intelligent design” out of public school science classrooms. This pisses off the folks who believe in Creationism as the way to explain the presence of life on Earth. The Cobb Board of Education panders to these people by watering down the instruction of Demon Evolution, most recently by requiring these pernicious little stickers. The implication - and the message the District is imparting to students - is that somehow, evolution is just some nutty piece of conjecture - a “theory, not a fact.” So you can go on believing that the Big Guy created everything in six days. Fiat Lux, and all that. Just like it says in the Bible.

Well, just because something is a theory doesn’t mean it ain’t got Validity Mojo. I don’t see too many people talking about how Germ Theory is “just a theory.” It seems to do a good job explaining what we see in the world around us - how diseases are transmitted, for example - and nobody seems to have a problem with it. And relativity theory is still pretty well respected, even if the observations that it predicts so well are a little more arcane than most people deal with day-to-day.

No, it’s the Theory of Evolution that is always held to a higher standard. Problem is, it still explains real-life observations better than any other scientifically verifiable body of principles.

Note that I said “scientifically verifiable.” “Intelligent design” does at least as good a job explaining those observations. But it’s not scientifically verifiable. It’s a faith-based belief system. And that’s perfectly fine.

Just don’t teach it in my public schools and pretend that it’s science - because it’s not.

It’s religion.

Now, should religion be taught in public schools? This one gets tricky. I believe that comparative or descriptive religion can and should be taught. I think children should know about the world’s major belief systems. What makes a Jew a Jew, a Christian a Christian, a Muslim a Muslim, a Hindu a Hindu. What the major religions have in common, their key guiding principles, their differences, their influence on the development of civilization. The problem is, it’s difficult to teach about some religions without (inadvertently or intentionally) proselytizing for them. And I have little faith (that word again!) that our public school administrators can put a fine enough point on things to ensure that the teachers and students know the difference. All too often, religion in a public setting becomes a “bully pulpit” for the majority faith - in every sense of the word.

Let’s for the moment assume that you can teach comparative religion in public school. Now you have a venue in which to teach “intelligent design” - in Comparative Religion class, not in science. But as soon as you teach it as though it might be true, you’re no longer teaching Comparative Religion. You’re teaching Religion. Say, shouldn’t you be in parochial school?

Take those stupid stickers off, folks. And while you’re at it, that thing midway between your shoulder and hand? That’s your elbow, and that thing you’re sitting on is your ass.

Science. Religion. Ass. Elbow. Be sure you know the differences before you set about to teach our children.

No comments: