Missouri, The 'Stupefy Me' State?

Six Missouri republicans -- "the stupefy me six," let's call them -- are hard at work trying to make Missouri kids stupid. House Bill 1227, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 10, will, if enacted, require "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design," according to the bill's language.

In other words, the bill will require the equal treatment of religious opinion and science, depriving Missouri kids of the knowledge they need to compete in the knowledge economy, and robbing them of a clear understanding of how to tell the difference between real knowledge and someone's truthy opinion.

Freshman representative Rick Brattin (R-District 124) is the sponsor of the bill; its cosponsors are John McCaherty (R-District 90), Charlie Davis (R-District 128), Andrew Koenig (R-District 88), Sue Allen (R-District 92), and Darrell Pollock (R-District 146). It is the fourth antievolution bill of 2012, joining Indiana's Senate Bill 89 and New Hampshire's House Bills 1148 and 1157.

There is so much that is wrong with -- and uncaring about -- this antiscience legislation that it's hard to know where to begin.

First, let's call a spade a spade. It's unAmerican. America was founded, in no small part, on the principles of freedom of and from religion. Our puritan predecessors fled to America to escape a religiously dominated government that was imposing its religious views on them. Now, these Missouri republicans are trying to impose their religious beliefs on all Missouri kids, by teaching intelligent design -- proven to be religion in the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover case -- in science class. Hey, Missouri Republicans: if you want to teach your kids that God created man six thousand years ago just like it says in the Bible, go right ahead. But let's do it in church. That's what we have churches for. We don't require scientists to teach evolution in church, so let's not force science teachers to teach religion in science class.

Second, it's communist-style freedom killing. Our kids deserve intellectual freedom, but the "equal treatment" provision would force public schools and "any introductory science course taught at any public institution of higher education" throughout Missouri to use put ideology ahead of knowledge. "If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught," the bill mandates. That is mandating ideological indoctrination, just what communist governments used to do.

Third, it's economically stupefying. The United States is now in a knowledge-driven global economy. Science is everywhere. American kids have to compete. We can't afford to dumb down our science for ideological reasons. Anything that has to do with biotech, genetics, medicine, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biology, vaccines, ecology, environmental science, public health, biosecurity, agricultural science, pesticide development, even economics and airport computer software, are based on the theory of evolution, which, by the way, has been confirmed by hundreds of thousands of observations over a hundred and fifty years. If you want your kids to make money beyond working for a fast food joint or in hotel services waiting on wealthy foreigners, don't deprive them of the knowledge tools that millions of hungrier kids are learning elsewhere.

Fourth, it's morally stupefying. "If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a textbook," the bill says, "the textbook shall give equal treatment to biological evolution and biological intelligent design." Who are we to force our value systems on every student in the state, no matter their faith or age, to the extent of making sure ideologically motivated propaganda is inescapable, in every textbook, at the expense of students learning the truth? If we love and care for our children, shouldn't we give them every possible advantage we can? Shouldn't we give them every possible freedom? What are we afraid of? Is our faith so weak that it has to be mandated by law?

Fifth, it's thought stupefying. There's a guy that conservatives have been talking about lately named John Locke. But Locke is most famous for developing a system of knowledge that underlies modern science, called empiricism. Locke saw how various religions argued incessantly over who was closer to God, which beliefs were the real faith, and so on. He reasoned that this sort of argument could go on forever. There had to be some way of figuring out who was right. And so he defined what knowledge is, and showed how it is different from - and superior to -- "but faith or opinion." Evolution is knowledge. Intelligent design is "but faith, or opinion, but not knowledge" according to Locke's definitions. Science creates knowledge of the real world that is independent of our opinions and beliefs by making observations, using them to make predictions, testing the predictions, and submitting the results for peer review. The theory of evolution stands up to this test. Intelligent design does not. It is not knowledge. It is "but faith, or opinion." As Isaac Newton said, "A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true." In science class, we should teach our kids how to understand the way things work, not confuse them by teaching faith and calling it science.

Finally, its problem-solving stupefying. This is critically important. The United States has gotten as far as it has in terms of technology and dominance because of science. Because of our understanding that even if you haven't figured something out, you can just keep plugging away, looking for those natural causes and sooner or later you'll find them. Teaching intelligent design in school science classes is teaching a habit of mind that is toxic to that problem-solving method. It teaches you to just throw up your hands and declare that the problem is unsolvable, particularly if that problem is tough or might have consequences for a particular religious belief. It teaches you to value not diversity of ideas, but conformity. If you do that, you're basically giving up on science and on the probability of finding those answers. That is not going to take America where we need to go.

Missouri, your proud heritage and your bright children deserve better than to be forcibly dumbed down. Let's not give up on the future. Let's show them the way things work instead of stupefying them with conformist ideology.

Get Shawn Lawrence Otto's new book: Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, Starred Kirkus Review; Starred Publishers Weekly review. Visit him at http://www.shawnotto.com. Like him on Facebook. Join ScienceDebate.org to get the presidential candidates to debate science.