Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Georgia: Board Yields on Evolution Stickers

Published: December 20, 2006

A suburban Atlanta school board that put stickers in its high school science books saying evolution was “a theory, not a fact” abandoned its legal battle after four years. The board, from Cobb County, agreed in federal court never to use a similar sticker or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes. The parents who sued agreed to drop all legal action.

"We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States." - Clarence Darrow

Great. The Scopes Monkey Trial was, let's see now. . . 1925 (thanks, Wikipedia!). In 2006, Georgia finally catches up to the Roaring Twenties, but at least it seems that we've gotten over the Civil War, at least for now.

The parent who led the drive to put the stickers on in the first place, a Ms. Marjorie Rogers, said that the stickers were needed because science books discriminate against people who believe men were created by God, not through a slow process of natural selection. "My problem is that only Darwinian evolution is presented. None of the criticism is presented," Ms. Rogers said.

Georgia is 49th in the nation in education, as measured by SAT scores. Without a proper education, how does the Cobb County school district expect students to "critically consider" their own textbooks? Ask a preacher? Of course, a critical lack of education goes a long way toward explaining Ms. Marjorie Rogers.

The basic problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way science uses the term "theory." Cobb County's logic is seriously flawed - evolution is a theory in the same sense as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease.

This is what scientists mean by "theories:" in the scientific hierarchy, theories are higher than fact, because theories explain facts. Facts are simply individual, isolated, verifiable observations or experimental results. Evolution is a theory that makes sense of millions of facts of natural history -- the age of the earth, the succession of fossils in the fossil record, the genetic capabilities of organisms -- and as such it ties things together in an extraordinary way that has been equaled by few theories in biology.

Should evolution be critically examined? Yes. Everything in science should be critically examined. Science is critical examination. If the disclaimer were to urge that all scientific theories should be critically examined with an eye toward the evidence and contrary points of views and so forth, it would have my complete agreement. However, the Cobb County disclaimer singles out evolution as the only theory that should be critically examined in science.

There are counter-arguments to just about everything in science. The mistake of the disclaimer is to single out evolution for special attention and special criticism as if it alone among scientific theories is uniquely weak, uniquely shaky or uniquely suspect. That is definitely not the case.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cobb County school district incurred legal fees of $276,402, and the fees could have gone as much as $100,000 higher had the school system's attorneys not taken on the appeal in U. S. District Circuit Court pro bono.

"It was a big waste of money," David Chastain, a Cobb school parent and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Cobb County, told the AJC. "There are a lot of other things we could have done with the money, like buy more textbooks or fund more programs for students who don't speak English."

The school district spent $14,243 to have the stickers scraped off the books after the judge ordered them removed in 2005. They reportedly paid students and teachers $10 an hour to get the job done and equipped them with sponges and solvents.

For the record, I moved out of Cobb County in 2004.

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