South Carolina lawmaker dilutes evolution in state science standards

Yes, it’s South Carolina, and yes, it’s a Republican. That spells death for evolution on Darwin Day. As the Charleston Journal and Courier reports, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee has removed from the state science standards, at the behest of REPUBLICAN state senator Mike Fair, any mention of natural selection as a fact. His approach, one the benighted Committee apparently approves, is to “teach both sides and let the kids sort it out.” That, of course, is a tactic of creationists who can’t get their views taught any other way. As the paper notes:

“Natural selection is a direct reference to Darwinism,” Fair said after the meeting. “And the implication of Darwinism. is that it is start to finish.”

Fair argued South Carolina’s students are learning the philosophy of natural selection but teachers are not calling it such. He said the best way for students to learn is for the schools to teach the controversy.

“To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong,” Fair said. “I don’t have a problem with teaching theories. I don’t think it should be taught as fact.”

Ultimately, the committee approved all measures except that clause, which now gets sent back to the committee level for review. State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said after the meeting he was not surprised by the debate that took place.

“This has been going on here in South Carolina for a long a time,” Zais said. “We ought to teach both sides and let students draw their own conclusions.”

Indeed. And while they’re at it, why not teach homeopathy and spiritual healing in health class, and astrology and ESP in psychology class. Let the students draw their own conclusions.

Curiously, one of the people fighting this bill is Robert Dillon from the College of Charleston, the same man who reproved me rudely in public for saying that science and religion are incompatible after a debate he had set up on that very topic (my emphasis below):

Meanwhile, a debate taken up by an advocacy group against the use of the word “critically” when it comes to the standards of natural selection and climate change was largely ignored. College of Charleston biology professor Robert Dillon said in a previous interview the use of “critically” on two pages of the entire packet means more than it appears.

“They’re trying to make evolution appear controversial, they’re trying to make it somehow different,” said Dillon previously. “Well, it is controversial, but the controversy is political or religious, it’s not scientific. It’s this richly symbolic situation.”

I approve Dillon’s battle, but he really should recognize now that the controversy is religious (played out, of course through politics), and that means that, for many of his fellow South Carolinians, evolution and religion are indeed at odds!

mikefair_140212d-615x345

Mike Fair, bent on purging the truth from science class

h/t: Barry

45 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. The Militant One
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    What else would you expect from delusionals?

  3. Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    What I can’t grasp is why the law of the land doesn’t permit the parents of South Carolina kids to sue ignorant, malevolent buggers like REPUBLICAN state senator Mike Fair for destroying their children’s education.

    It’s ludicrous that these blowhards can apparently do as much damage as they want without ever having to face any consequences.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      IANA lawyer, but I think anyone who did try to sue a legally elected representative would be thrown out of court. Senator Fair would say that he is doing exactly what he had been elected to do – try to pass legislation that in his judgment in valuable to his constituency. If the majority of his constituents don’t agree with him they should vote him out of office.

      This is why every vote is important.

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        I think anyone who did try to sue a legally elected representative would be thrown out of court

        Which is exactly what I said.

        • moarscienceplz
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          So you think it would be OK for anyone to sue any elected representative they disagree with?

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            So you think it would be OK for anyone to sue any elected representative they disagree with?

            No.

            • moarscienceplz
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

              Then I can only conclude that you want only those people with whom you agree to be able to sue.
              Good luck with that.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                Well, you can conclude exactly what you want to. You’ve erected the straw man of your choice; have fun attacking it.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      It is conceivable that there are real consequences that may be hard to see and evaluate now. Where are young scientists and engineers from South Carolina going to work? In the old days a lot of federal money went into the south to support hi-tech stuff like NASA, Savannah River, Oak Ridge, etc. In the information age it appears a lot of the new jobs are on the west coast and New England. There may be a sorting out going on right now that may have observable effects only later.

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        It is conceivable that there are real consequences that may be hard to see and evaluate now. Where are young scientists and engineers from South Carolina going to work? In the old days a lot of federal money went into the south to support hi-tech stuff like NASA, Savannah River, Oak Ridge, etc. In the information age it appears a lot of the new jobs are on the west coast and New England. There may be a sorting out going on right now that may have observable effects only later.

        I couldn’t agree with you more, Larry Gay . . . which is one further reason why the folk in SC, who will sooner or later suffer those consequences of his actions, should have some form of redress against people like REPUBLICAN state senator Mike Fair.

        But they don’t, and so Fair himself will never face any adverse consequences for his destructive actions, save (one hopes) getting voted out of office. But that’s equivalent to just taking a murderer’s gun away and telling him not to do it again.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it’s awful. I wish we had real numbers on this but I’m sure creationists would say we were exaggerating.

  4. Rhetoric
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Algebra. Important branch of mathematics, or socialist liberal conspiracy to bring Hitler back to life as a conjoined twin with Mao?

    I am leaning towards important maths, but I better let these 12 year old kids decide for themselves.

  5. Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh, no. Not again.

    b&

    • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, yes, again, and again, and again, and again …

      And when you FINALLY think everybody gets it, someone with an arrogant smile on his face will stand up and ask you “If evolution is true, how come there are still monkeys?” .. and you can almost hear him mutter “check mate athiest!” (obligatory spelling error).

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        If you’re athiest, does that mean you’re atheier than everybody else?

        Hmmm…seems that means that There Can Be Only One….

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          Maybe you’re aatheist – double alpha privative. The real hot shots could be aaatheists (triple a atheists). No? Yeah you’re probably right….it won’t catch on.

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            Does that mean that, when my ’68 VW Camper next breaks down, it’ll be Jerry and / or Richard who’ll show up in the tow truck?

            b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

              Well, only if your dues are paid.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                They are!

                Woo-hoo! I’m’a gonna run my tank dry, just to have an excuse to call them….

                b&

  6. Filippo
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, Dr. Coyne, perhaps you should visit South Carolina again; maybe lecture at the University of South Carolina in the state capital, Columbia, and give the Hon. Mike Fair every opportunity to attend, and possibly stand up and shout, “You lie!”, just as the Hon. Joe Wilson, Republican congressman from SC, shouted at Obama during a State of the Union address.

    One might not want to debate these Philistines, but perhaps it’s desirable to give them every opportunity to embarrass themselves, eh?

  7. Sastra
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Indeed. And while they’re at it, why not teach homeopathy and spiritual healing in health class, and astrology and ESP in psychology class. Let the students draw their own conclusions.

    You think that is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. No, it’s not. Homeopathy and spiritual healing are currently being taught in mainstream medical schools.

    As for astrology and ESP, they’ll do it if and when they can. You underestimate the power and popularity of the so-called intersection of Science & Spirituality. Many audiences wouldn’t realize you’re being sarcastic here.

    I approve Dillon’s battle, but he really should recognize now that the controversy is religious (played out, of course through politics), and that means that, for many of his fellow South Carolinians, evolution and religion are indeed at odds!

    Frankly, I would have expected Dillon to throw a fit over this. Accomodationists are against supernatural explanations being taught in science classes. They are instead trying to carve out an epistemic niche of “compatibility” where people get to believe in whatever supernatural explanations they want — as long as there is no direct conflict which can falsify said explanations.

    Dillon won’t suddenly “recognize” that the controversy is religious because creationists are driven by religion any more than Jerry will suddenly “recognize” that the controversy is NOT religious because there are religious people who don’t see a conflict with religion. Dillon’s point is that the Creationists are doing religion the wrong way: they’re following faith too far.

    And Jerry’s point is that the religious are doing science the wrong way by not following it far enough. As long as the issue is where to draw the line between faith and reason the lines will always go all over the damn place.

    • eric
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      As for astrology and ESP, they’ll do it if and when they can.

      Well, let’s give Fair some credit. He would probably only insist on those things being taught in classrooms if he got a reelection donation for it; creationism is the only kooky idea he’s willing to promote for free.

      Hmmmm…that’s wasn’t so much credit as cynical vilification, was it? Oh well…

      • Sastra
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure if I’m giving Fair more credit — or less — when I disagree and say that it’s more probable that he would ONLY allow the teaching of astrology and ESP IF he somehow became convinced it was “Bible-based” and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, it’s liberal religion and of the devil. His Christianity is not likely to be a pose.

        It’s often a toss-up who the fundamentalists hate more: atheists or religious liberals. Although from our perspective religious-is-religious, from their perspective True Christians are more likely to be seduced by the lure of false gods than by atheism. Oprah is more of a real-life threat than Dawkins.

  8. eric
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong,”

    Of coure it is; natural selection is about differential reproductive rates within a population of replicators. When you’re asking about how the very first replicator came about, it’s not a concept that applies very well.

    • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the latest work in both chemistry and thermodynamics very strongly suggests that the continuum extends all the way back to mud, with no dividing line between “life” and “non-life” and the same selective pressure to more efficiently turn sunlight into heat powering the process at every step of the way.

      That is, start with a wet rock in a star’s habitable zone, and the question isn’t whether life will arise or not but at what stage of evolution that particular biosphere is in.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Richard Olson
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        What is the ‘origin’ of biological life forms (or the planet or universe or existence of anything, for that matter)?

        The accurate answer to this question remains “I don’t know,” no?

        Not opposing the notion there is such a thing as a so-called “controversy” between competing “theories,” and advocating schools ‘teach both sides and let the students draw their own conclusions,’ is simply an inexcusable policy position for a State Superintendent of Education, deep Red South or not.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t know” is a bit too strong of a formulation. We know enough to have very confident, though often fuzzy, ideas about what happened at every step of the way.

          Will we ever know the sequence of the first RNA replicator? Very likely not. But we’re pretty certain that it came long before the first DNA replicator and eventually evolved into it. Stellar and planetary evolution is very, very well known. Cosmic evolution is an hot topic of research, but the Big Bang as a Quantum Mechanical phenomenon that’ll be practically self-evident when we figure out quantum gravity is pretty certain.

          Cheers,

          b&

  9. Curt Nelson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    As JC says, why not teach ESP etc. in addition to psychology?

    It might be a better way to fight these battles. Instead of continuing to explain why evolution is more than a theory, insist that there are actually many more than two sides, so they should all be taught. Why is that tactic not used? It is no more disingenuous than consistently misunderstanding the word theory.

    Maybe Science should come up with a new term to classify natural laws that are supported by overwhelming evidence, instead of “theory.” What trouble that word creates!

  10. Woof
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    “both sides”

    That would be, what, evolution vs turtles-all-the-way-down?

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      First elephants, then turtles.

      • Woof
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Blasphemer!

  11. Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    If the Republican party REALLY wants to teach both sides of the debate and let students draw their own conclusion, how about teaching Karl Marx and Lenin in the civics class?

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Or the genocide of the American Indians in history class.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Well the Wedge Strategy seems to be working out nicely. WTF is philosophy of natural selection?

  13. Paula Rossow
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I love this sentence: “And while they’re at it, why not teach homeopathy and spiritual healing in health class, and astrology and ESP in psychology class.” No doubt those are on someone’s pedagogical agenda, frighteningly.

  14. Zetopan
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Note that there is (or perhaps “was”, I’m unsure which now) a “college” in Washington State that teaches astrology. They claim that astrology is “scientific” (apparently meeting Behe’s idiot criteria).

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Astrology-school-sets-off-controversy-1060562.php

    https://web.archive.org/web/20070927040322/http://www.kepler.edu/catalog/KeplerCatalog2007-2008.pdf

    Of course, teaching all “sides” is also intended to dilute the science classes to nothingness.

  15. Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    No more than two local elections ago (here in Colorado Springs), there was an entire field of such candidates, on all sides of the political spectrum. (for superintendent of schools for the largest district). The Dem was all for teaching the controversy (why should anyone teach the kids *less*? kind of an idea). The libertarians were just simply nuts and/or secretive about their views, as their like usually are out here. Two of three Repugs were clearly religiously motivated moralizing morons employing the wedge. The remaining Repug, who I voted for, had an Air Force background, thought science was for science class, and stressed that resources were too limited and the stakes too high to not advocate for teaching the best consensus in all subjects. One of the few times it made sense to vote for an R around these parts.

  16. Ionian Wonder
    Posted February 13, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I love this website. Evolution answers so much about how we got here and so satisfyingly. Creationists are not very popular here in France; however, we do have generalist doctors who also use homeopathy. I’m so surprised that homeopathy is used as the very example of unenlightened medicine. You can find homeopathic products in any drugstore in France (indeed Europe) and they are fully reimbursed by our social security health plan – obviously because they work. This may not please the pharmaceutical industry, but I’m sorry, in Europe both systems, conventional and homeopathic, exist side by side. Ethnopharmacy represents the wisdom acquired through observation and trial & error in pre-20th-century times. And don’t pharmaceutical companies raid primitive peoples in order to patent their so-called primitive, inefficacious cures?

    I thought scientists were supposed to welcome ideas that don’t necessarily agree with theirs. Scientists are not supposed to have hidden agendas (like making money or just preserving their jobs) but they are only human, after all. Even if we call homeopathy a placebo (I’m happy with that), this is extremely interesting, even startling, is it not? I and probably most people would far rather take a harmless placebo than drugs with nasty side effects, especially since it keeps on working even though I haven’t the foggiest idea how it could. I wouldn’t count on homeopathy to cure everything though – I’m not crazy – but it did spectacularly get rid of 10 years of pharyginitis treated with antibiotics, which no longer worked at the end.

    Please post me – I’m looking forward to your remarks.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      To congenially inquire – in that you are “so surprised that homeopathy is used as the very example of unenlightened medicine” – may I prevail on you to explain how homeopathy works?

    • Sastra
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      If you believe that homeopathy really does work, then why hasn’t scientific investigation been capable of demonstrating its efficacy?

      …Therefore, according to everything we currently understand about biology, chemistry, and physics homeopathy is highly implausible and should not work. And, when we carefully study homeopathic remedies they in fact do not work.

      Even if we call homeopathy a placebo (I’m happy with that)

      You are? Heh.

      I don’t think you understand the technical meaning of “placebo.” I also suspect that you’ve completely failed to understand the nature of science, its methods, and how they are applied.

      It’s nice that you aren’t a Creationist. It’s also nice that you spoke up and supported the point I made at #7. Jerry underestimates the political and popular appeal of pseudoscience like homeopathy. Alternative Medicine is as dangerous to our culture’s understanding of science as Creationism is, because many very nice people have been fooled into thinking it is a legitimate option and an actual scientific controversy.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Excuse me — the second quote is Ionian Wonder’s; the first is from the SBM website. I didn’t separate them and it is confusing.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Just because France pays for homeopathy treatment, that doesn’t mean it works. There could be any number of reasons such things are paid for.


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