Are We Dumb and Getting Dumber?
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2011 May 06
According to a recent national survey, 13 percent of biology teachers “advocate creationism or intelligent design,” and 60 percent present those theories alongside evolution. And columnist Leonard Pitts is none too pleased. If this kind of thing is allowed to continue, Pitts warns—using a not-so subtle parable—we will lose the ability to distinguish between “science and faith, or conventional wisdom from actual wisdom.” We will devolve, he predicts, into stupidity.
Distinguishing between science and faith is problematic, given that there is more than a little measure of faith in science; especially, materialistic science: faith that nature is a mechanism that can be explained by physical laws, faith that those laws are universal and unchanging, faith that our senses reliably perceive the world as it really is, faith that our minds accurately interpret those perceptions, and faith that the origin, diversity and complexity of nature is the unguided product of chance and necessity.
Similarly, discriminating conventional wisdom from actual wisdom is difficult-to-impossible, given their considerable overlap. The conventional wisdom that “what goes up, must come down,” is congruent with the actual wisdom of Newton’s laws. In the same way, conventional beliefs about things like murder, cruelty and rape accord with the universal conviction of their actual immorality.
The real challenge
Our real challenge is not discerning between such false dichotomies but discerning science from science fiction and truth from falsehood. When a frog-turned-prince tale is dismissed as myth until the timeframe is changed from a bibbidi-bobbidi-boo instant to 150 million years, it signals a discernment deficit. When the timeframe is extended to a few billion years to spin a neutrino-turned-prince tale, it signals a discernment crisis.
On a NOVA special a few years ago, an astrophysicist gushed, “We’re descended from neutrinos!” Then, after a reverential pause, he added, “They’re our parents.” (You can’t make this stuff up!) And this from people that Pitts, and many like him, uphold as the gatekeepers of truth.
The gatekeepers have spun many an imaginative yarn about how the universe came to be and how matter “went live.” But despite the intellectual charm of creative neutrinos, cosmic inflation, multiverses, emergence, abiogenesis, and the like, their ever-inventive tales remain, and will always remain, just that: tales with no more claim to truth than those of a court astrologer.
The idea that “in the beginning were neutrinos” that went bump in the cosmos to form intelligent beings is as fantastic (more so, really) as the Mayan account that “in the beginning were only Tepeu and Gucumatz . . . [who] sat together and thought, and whatever they thought came into being.”
This serves as a reminder that the aim of education is training students how to think, not what to think. Intelligent design and Darwinism are controversial theories that enjoy wide currency in the marketplace of ideas. Teaching one theory to the exclusion of others, and without presenting its weaknesses along with its strengths, is indoctrination, not education.
Students need to know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to articulate their beliefs in the ongoing conversation. To that end, educators have the responsibility to train them in critical thinking, not by giving them a one-sided take on controversial theories, but by presenting them in a balanced manner with a forthright discussion of their explanatory limits.
The gnawing reality for Darwinists is that popular acceptance of their theory is marginal and flat, and that has been the case for some time. Despite the fact that only a minor fraction of teachers actively promote alternatives to Darwinism, nearly 80 percent of Americans believe in some form of intelligent causation. And that percentage has held steady for the better part of 30 years.
Those who believe that Darwinian evolution is established as firmly as the universal law of gravitation are sounding the alarm. Leonard Pitts warns that we risk losing our intelligence; Karl Giberson, that we—or, at least, Christians—risk losing our faith. Continue reading here.ntinue reading here.Continue reading C Continue reading C