the garden path does not lead to eden

If you can’t get to the LA Times article, I will reprint the best parts after my rant.
At first, reading all the hoo-ha these days about creationism, I dismissed the stick-stirring of the right-eous as an annoyance on the educational plain that would soon pass. That’s probably what those poor old women in Salem thought about the witch hunts.
I am always amazed at how readily too many people choose to blind themselves to factual evidence. When it comes to evolution, as in all on-going scientific investigations (which they all pretty much are) we still don’t have all the evidence. But that doesn’t mean it’s all wrong. Scientific investigation into our origins, like most important parts of living (birth, sex, sowing and reaping, having relationships) is messy. All that digging, all those smells, the dirt, the blood, those pieces of our puzzling past still buried, rotting somewhere under tons of stone.
How much “nicer” to follow the fervently religious leaders down that garden path. Unfortunately, it will not lead to Eden — certainly not to any provable truth. But is is cleaner, and more simple, and requires much, much less work for that mass of marvels we call our brains.
I can’t imagine being Al Frisby, the biology teacher in Los Angeles who is trying to teach what science has managed to uncover about the origins of life on this planet. I would never have his patience and tenacity in dealing with a class of uppity adolescents brainwashed by the god-fearing adults in their lives.
Some quotes from the artice in the LA Times: Testing Darwin’s Teachers
“Isn’t it true that mutations only make an animal weaker?” sophomore Chris Willett demands. ” ‘Cause I was watching one time on CNN and they mutated monkeys to see if they could get one to become human and they couldn’t.”
Frisby tries to explain that evolution takes millions of years, but Willett isn’t listening. “I feel a tail growing!” he calls to his friends, drawing laughter.
Unruffled, Frisby puts up a transparency tracing the evolution of the whale, from its ancient origins as a hoofed land animal through two lumbering transitional species and finally into the sea. He’s about to start on the fossil evidence when sophomore Jeff Paul interrupts: “How are you 100% sure that those bones belong to those animals? It could just be some deformed raccoon.”
From the back of the room, sophomore Melissa Brooks chimes in: “Those are real bones that someone actually found? You’re not just making this up?”
“No, I am not just making it up,” Frisby says.
At least half the students in this class of 14 don’t believe him, though, and they’re not about to let him off easy.
Two decades of political and legal maneuvering on evolution has spilled over into public schools, and biology teachers are struggling to respond. Loyal to the accounts they’ve learned in church, students are taking it upon themselves to wedge creationism into the classroom, sometimes with snide comments but also with sophisticated questions — and a fervent faith.
As sophomore Daniel Read put it: “I’m going to say as much about God as I can in school, even if the teachers can’t.”
Such challenges have become so disruptive that some teachers dread the annual unit on evolution — or skip it altogether.
In response, the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science is distributing a 24-page guide to teaching the scientific principles behind evolution, starting in kindergarten. The group also has issued talking points for teachers flustered by demands to present “both sides.”
The annual science teachers convention next week in Anaheim will cover similar ground, with workshops such as “Teaching Evolution in a Climate of Controversy.”
“We’re not going to roll over and take this,” said Alan I. Leshner, the executive publisher of the journal Science. “These teachers are facing phenomenal pressure. They need help.”

Frisby promised to show the class several fossils that document the halting and gradual evolution from apes to humans. Then he reminded them not to expect equal numbers of human and dinosaur remains, because hominids emerged only recently, while dinosaurs ruled the planet for nearly 200 million years.
At that, sophomore Derik Montgomery snapped to attention. “I heard that dinosaurs are only thousands of years old, like 6,000. Not millions,” he said.
“That’s wrong,” Frisby responded briskly. “What can I tell you? You can’t believe everything you read.”
Sprawled out across his chair, Derik muttered: “You can’t believe everything you hear in here, either.”

When I taught, I welcomed challenging discussions with my students. I liked when they asked questions; didn’t mind at all when they brought in factual information that proved me wrong about something I said in class. But this creationist thing is a different challenge. How do you confront the strength of such misguided and simple belief with facts?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I respect the fact that, for many, belief in the tenets of their religion is an important part of their lives. It’s the part that transmits moral values, rules to live by, a sense of security in world caught up in chaos.
But pitting religion against science, faith against facts, we set up a battlefield on which knowledge and wisdom will be the victims. And lost under all the carnage, will be the intellectual curiosity of our children — the intellectual curiosity that results in all of the modern day “miractles” that scientific fact-finding creates.
When it comes to what learning is all about, the Righteous have it all wrong.
(Thanks to b!X’s link for pointing me to the LA Times article.)

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