Those of you who know me may find this title somewhat surprising. The reason it is the title is because this phrase is finding its way into legislation in many US states. Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, just to name a few. This post isn’t about evolution, it’s about these laws.
So what’s up with this? And why is this important, yet not important at the same time?
First of all, to anyone who has been studying the subject, “Strengths and weaknesses of evolution” is a code phrase for the religious right to try to defeat a scientific principle that they find offensive.
You’ll note that none of these laws discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Newton’s Laws of Motion (and how they don’t work at high mass, high energy, or high speeds). They don’t discuss the strengths and weaknesses of loop quantum gravity, which is a highly controversial subject in theoretical physics. Nope, this language is only applied to evolutionary theory, which is the least controversial of the three mentioned. Although, some of these laws include similar restrictions on global warming and human cloning, which are additional bugaboos for the religious right.
These laws are critical wedges for the creationist movement. These laws allow them to influence and perhaps change how evolution is taught in American schools. (Please note that those states that have similar laws (Louisiana for example) are among the lowest ranking in education scores.)
What’s truly fascinating, is that in dozens of e-mails I have sent out, not a single congress-person can identify a ‘weakness’ of evolution for me or explain why good teachers wouldn’t bring it up anyway. If you live in a state with this kind of bill, then I encourage you to ask this question frequently and loudly to every congress-person in the state, the governor, and all the news outlets (papers, TV, blogs, etc.). I predict that you will never get an answer or even a response. If you do, by a miracle, get a response, it will be a lame attempt at attacking a strawman of science. It will be false. If you need help, let me know and I’ll be happy to explain why.
Now, why are these laws totally useless?
The good biology teachers will teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. They will say that science might not know exactly how much of evolution is selection and how much is gene transfer and how much is gene flow. Part of a good science education is critical thinking. Students should be able to see the weaknesses in hypotheses and theories, that’s where the research is.
On the other hand, there is no weakness of evolution that would cause it to be a non-functional science. None, in 150 years of looking, creationists have yet to find even one. Oh they say things, but if you understand science and evolution and what the creationists (ID proponents) say, there is no relation between what they say and what reality is (see strawman).
On the other hand, creationist teachers will do whatever they want in-spite of the law. You see, teaching about God in public school is illegal, but creationist teachers don’t care about the law (in-spite of Romans 13:1-2). They will lie and disobey the law to do what they want to. So for them, the law is useless to.
What it will do is give them an out. Unfortunately, federal law trumps state law, so if they teach creationism, then they can still get in a lot of trouble.
Yes, these laws are wrong. They are poor teaching. The purpose of the laws is illegal, even if the law itself is not. They are a waste of time.
My personal inclination is to let them get passed, then hammer the heck out of anyone who tries to hide behind it in a court. But that takes time and lots of money. Probably best to try to stop these before they become law. So ask your congress person to identify a weakness in evolution and laugh at their response, because it will show appalling ignorance of reality.