The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Kentucky Legislator Ignorant of U.S. Constitution

Kentucky State Sen. David Givens. He thinks that classrooms in Kentucky should have to teach Creationism as science, alongside Natural Selection. He clearly failed Constitutional scholarship.

An article caught my attention today, written by Linda B. Blackford for The article, entitled, “GOP lawmakers question standards for teaching evolution in Kentucky,” [1] contained some choice quotes that exposed the bald motivations of legislators opposing the teaching of Natural Selection (the only established unifying principle of all biology). These quotes also exposed the ignorance of state lawmakers to the U.S. Constitution, its requirement of the separation of church and state (the state cannot impose religious doctrine on the people, nor can religion dictate the actions of the state), and the rich tradition of Supreme Court rulings that follow from this founding principle of the first amendment.

For instance, this quote from Senator David Givens (R-Greensburg), is a pretty good summary of both problems,

“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview. [1]

Creationism has been ruled in several Supreme Court cases (e.g. Epperson v. Arkansas [2], Edwards v. Aguillard [3], and Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District [4]) to be merely a repackaging of Christian creation doctrine and thus equal to a religious teaching. There is no scientific evidence for the tenets of Creationism, while there is over 150 years of evidence for Natural Selection as the only means by which biological diversity can be explained, predicted, and modified. The scientific community rejects things that are not scientific, and Creationism (which appeals fundamentally to the supernatural to explain biology) cannot be tested (you cannot disprove God) and therefore is not science. So for two reasons – U.S. Constitutional law (separation of church and state) and the definition of “science” – science classrooms cannot be a place for the instruction of Creationist thought.

And then there is Representative Ben Waide (R-Madisonville), who uttered this GEM of a statement:

“The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” Waide said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.” [1]

Kentucky State Rep. Ben Waide. He thinks that scientific theories are the same as opinions and that Charles Darwin made the whole thing up.

So many problems here. First, evolution (that organisms are related to one another through both the biological and geological record) is a FACT. How one explains evolution – the relation of organisms to one another – is the purpose of Natural Selection. Natural Selection is a scientific theory, more powerful than a mere fact because scientific theories EXPLAIN facts while incorporating them and hypotheses to explain them, so that predictions can be made and the predictions can be tested to evaluate whether they are true or false.

Also, Charles Darwin did not “make up” evolution; Wade is confusing the term theory (“scientific theory”) with “opinion” – the two are not the same at all. Darwin observed what others before him had already observed in both the geological and biological record: earth is not fixed, neither in its geology (mountains rise up from the earth and shorelines can move in earthquakes) nor its biology (so many species were found in the fossil record that no longer walked the earth that biology could not be fixed). He observed that it was the pressure of the environment – geological or biological barriers, predators, food supplies, etc. that selected animals who were best adapted to those circumstances while those poorly adapted fared worse and either faded away or went extinct. That is Natural Selection – an observation, codified by Darwin and independently by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace at about the same time. Both made observations of the natural world in separate parts of the world; by observing how environment shaped form and function and survival, both formulated the explanation that Natural Selection leads to speciation and unites the diversity of life on earth.

That is FAR from “making it up.”

And as for his total fabrication that the “theory of evolution [sic]” has never stood up to scientific scrutiny, I suggest that Rep. Waide go and get an education in science so he understands the words that are coming out of his mouth. The only ideas that survive in science are those that withstand the test of scientific experimentation. All useless ideas are cast aside or marginalized by the community. Useful ideas allow us to make progress; useless ones waste our time, reverse the progress of science, or do damage to our body of knowledge. Without the Theory of Natural Selection, there would have been no hunt for the source of all heredity (DNA, predicted by Darwin and his contemporaries but which eluded discovery for almost a century); there would be no understanding of how disease learns to resist treatment, and how treatment must be adapted to the disease; there would be no modern medicine, no “genetic algorithms” that power parts of the information sector and the world wide web.

Kentucky has a problem. Like most States in the union, Kentucky has people in power who want to change the culture by rewriting the Constitution and redefining science, the only tool that lets us make sense of the natural world. These folks struggle not to win a scientific argument, but to convince their constituents that there is a better parallel world where Christian doctrine is better than all other religious (and un-religious) views. To do this, they will twist the very fabric of reality with their words, hoping that their appeal to the religious values of their constituents will win over their constituents’ interest in health and knowledge of the natural world. They try to put religion in opposition to science, mixing two things that are not miscible.

The faithful of Kentucky should not put their faith in these false prophets, whose ignorance is their only light and whose poisoned words are their only weapon. The faithful of Kentucky should look to luminaries like Francis Collins, co-leader of the project to map the human genome and a devout Protestant, or Ken Miller, a biologist and devout Catholic. These are the guides to how one unites science and religion in the person, without contaminating either of those two spheres of thought. They see no conflict between the laws of the natural world, including Natural Selection, and a rich spiritual life devoted to God. These noisemakers in the Kentucky legislature – these false prophets of educational and spiritual doom – are as dim candles when compared to the lamps of thought in Collins and Miller (to name just two).

I pull one final quote from the same article I cited at the beginning, this one from Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky biology department and member of the committee that drafted the educational science standards for Kentucky:

“The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research,” he said. “There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.” [1]

As a physicist, Cassone has my full support on this one.