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Did you know that public schools in Alabama didn’t have to teach the theory of evolution in science classes until last year? For many years prior to that, their science books contained at least one prominent reference to evolution in the form of a disclaimer stating that evolution was “a controversial theory some scientists present.” Considering their bold new “teaching science in science class” initiative, the Alabama State Board of Education met recently to discuss whether or not to keep the current disclaimer draft gracing their books.
You may or may not be surprised (depending on how familiar you are with Alabama) that they chose to keep the disclaimer, which is currently four paragraphs of face-palming nonsense that I can only hope students treat like those FBI warnings that show up before movies or service agreements you have to check before you get the latest iPhone update–basically I’m hoping that children are ignoring their text books.
I read through the disclaimer recently and thought it might be fun/horrifying to talk about how many misconceptions of evolution are contained in it. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to comment below with your own findings.
First, the disclaimer takes a noble stab at the scientific definition of the word “theory,” managing to get closer than you might expect while still managing to bung it all up. For instance, it states “Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world” (that’s good!) “… and assumptions about the natural world” (that’s not so good). Scientific theories do not rely on assumptions, other than unavoidable axioms like “reality exists.” The only other time assumptions play into a theory is if the theory is describing when it would or would not be valid.
So that’s the old “just a theory” misconception, despite the fact that the disclaimer pretends to define a scientific theory separately from the colloquial definition.
Next the disclaimer states that the theory of evolution is controversial. Again, this is not true. It is only politically controversial, not scientifically, and that is only because of a small, loud group of evangelical Christians who do not or cannot understand science.
The disclaimer then states that “Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in a population, it is assumed that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed.” This must be the “assumption” that the writers think this theory is based on, but they’re so, so wrong. Large changes have been observed in nearly every possible kind of setting. They are purposely vague about what constitutes “large,” because they will always draw the line slightly above wherever it is physically possible to show. But for the record, scientists have observed change above the species level, in plants, fruit flies, house flies, beetles, parasites, and worms. And they’ve observed the evidence of change that takes millions of years. It’s literally all around us, and all the Alabama Board of Ed needs to do is take a look.
Finally, the disclaimer boldly states, “There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life.” Considering that the theory of evolution doesn’t even attempt to discuss the origin of life, this is a complete non sequitur. We may as well put a disclaimer on the cover of calculus books stating, “There are many unanswered questions about the final season of Lost.”
So that’s four major misconceptions about the theory of evolution in Alabama’s four-paragraph disclaimer. We should set up a college scholarship fund for any kid who can graduate from an Alabama public high school who can correctly define the theory of evolution. It’ll have to come with relocation funds and possibly a cultural decompression program, but it will be worth it to rescue at least a few young minds from that backwards, ignorant hell hole.