Scientific Idea of This Year and Most Years

On Friday my mail included the print editions of two magazines. Time and Scientific American. The two have a similar theme in presenting a person or idea which has been importnat. As I noted last week Time has named Barack Obama as Person of the Year. The cover of Scientific American features Charles Darwin. The issue is a Special Issue on what they call “the Most Powerful Idea In Science.”

The articles on evolution featured on the cover demonstrate “How Darwin’s Theory Survives, Thrives, and Reshapes the World.” Most of the issue concentrates on the scientific evidence for evolution and its consequences but matters of public policy are included. The issue includes an article on Creationists’ Latest Tricks. The article has been posted on line as The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom.

The article reviews attempts in some states to restrict teaching of evolution by misrepresenting evolutionary science. The article condemns bills such as one in Louisiana (which I previously discussed here) because:

it tacitly encourages teachers and local school districts to miseducate students about evolution, whether by teaching creationism as a scientifically credible alternative or merely by misrepresenting evolution as scientifically controversial. Vast areas of evolutionary science are for all intents and purposes scientifically settled; textbooks  and curricula used in the public schools present precisely such basic, uncomplicated, uncontroversial material. Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis is—to be blunt—a lie.

Moreover, it is a dangerous lie, because Dobzhansky was right to say that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution: without evolution, it would be impossible to explain why the living world is the way it is rather than otherwise. Students who are not given the chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution will not achieve a basic level of scientific literacy. And scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological and environmental concerns.

Although the science of evolution is under attack by many who now dominate the Republican Party, the importance of the idea cannot  be denied. It is appropriate that the response to the extremism and anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party was the election of a president, and Person of the Year, who respects the importance of science.

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