A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Because some people are more than uncomfortable with the current established views of such things as evolution and climate change, they cling to the belief that those scientific facts aren’t any more real or settled than, say, the old view that the Earth was the center of the universe or that disease was caused by demons.
Galileo proved that Aristotle was wrong, this school of thinking goes, so why shouldn’t we assume that, say, Darwin was wrong, too?
That was the argument that the Utah State School Board wrangled over, for eight months of review by a committee of experts and, on Thursday, five hours of patiently suffering through a great deal of anti-intellectual dogma before voting to approve a new set of science standards for students in the state’s public elementary and high schools.
The charge against having science standards worthy of the name was led by two members of the board — both on the verge of resigning to move out of state — Alisa Ellis and Lisa Cummins. Both objected to the idea that evolution, which they say makes people too much like animals, or climate change should be considered real facts that should be part of what Utah’s students will be required to learn.
There is, at present, no scientific basis for those concerns. The objections are, as the opponents accuse the standards of being, politically rather than scientifically driven. Or motivated by religious beliefs that, no matter how sincerely held, are not science.
But meet the dissenters where they are. Give them credit for being sincere, no matter how wrong. They and everyone else should understand how scientific knowledge moves forward.
Just about any advance in science — biology, physics, chemistry — you can name was achieved by someone who was thoroughly versed in science the way it had been before.
Issac Newton knew his Aristotle. Albert Einstein knew his Newton. Stephen Hawking knew them all. Charles Darwin knew the Bible well enough that he had once considered becoming a minister, before the natural wonders he beheld on his trip around the world opened his eyes to a whole new way of looking at life on Earth.
If anyone is ever to establish a new explanation, other than those now accepted by science, for how the universe came to be, or how life appeared on Earth, or whether or not all that life is threatened by man’s prolific combustion of fossil fuels, she will only be able to do so, to be taken seriously and to communicate such a breakthrough to the rest of the world, if she starts with a thorough knowledge of science as it is.
The argument that science class should “teach the controversy” is properly addressed by the fact that the new standards do include an emphasis on how science works, through observation, experimentation, questioning and synthesis of new theories and laws.
That true scientific method, not politics or religion or studied ignorance, is what will lead us to the knowledge of the future. If it turns out that it is different than the knowledge of the present, true scientists will stand up and cheer. And hand out a few Nobel Prizes. But there can be no shortcuts. No cheating. No substitute for real science.