The Indiana Senate forces “alternatives” to evolution into classrooms

Saturday, February 4th, 2012 Politics

According to Ars Technica (last Thursday), “Yesterday, after almost no debate, the Indiana State Senate approved a bill that would allow its schools to teach the origin stories of various religions when a class touches on the origin of life. It now moves on to the state’s House, where one of its cosponsors is currently the Speaker of the House.” The Ars article goes on to quote the bill’s sponsor, Senator Dennis Kruse, who (in an interview) called evolution a “‘Johnny-come-lately’ theory.”

Which is the usual fundamentalist position, right? Except that the discussion on the Ars article ran to 23 pages of debate over the bill and over ancillary questions viz. reason vs. faith. You would expect to find a more rationalist bias on a technologist’s website (even allowing for paid political “trolling” etc.) After skimming most of the commentary (which got extremely epistemological as one would expect) I had to weigh in (insert cartoon about how “someone is wrong on the Internet!”)

The entire idea of science is so profoundly “humanistic” in the best sense—it’s humans doing what we’re best at, which is (unlike every other species) using reason to solve problems and advance ourselves. Reason is what allows us to ignore our instincts and our senses; to create and understand art and fiction; to refrain from killing; to sympathize and empathize. Reason is what forces us to give up on heliocentriic, pre-Coopernican or strict Newtonian views of the universe: it seems like the sun is moving, but it can’t be because that doesn’t make sense; it seems like time is a constant, but it’s not. This is the essence of the human spirit; the element that takes us above the animals and allows for civilization and learning and the protection of the weak and the eradication of hunger and disease and all of it.

To look at “the human soul” and insist that it’s got some kind of undetectable, immeasurable characteristic, the existence of which violates at least a century of progress by its implications, is the opposite of reason. It’s Santa Claus and the tooth fairy; it’s locking Galileo in a tower; it’s burning witches at the stake. Humanity is so close to outgrowing its most dangerous child-like characteristics; isn’t it past due for this one to go away as well? Can we at least stop killing and punishing each other over it?

UPDATE: According to a new Ars article, Indiana is “backing away” from the bill. So things aren’t as black as they seem (or can seem when you’re staring incredulously at 23 pages of “debate” over creationism in 2012).