This new evolution debate thing in Kansas is really truly stupid. But here's what really bothers me:
Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, Kansas education officials began four days of trial-like hearings to consider changes to how Kansas students are tested on the origins of life.
Science groups are boycotting the hearings, held by a Board of Education subcommittee, because they view them as being rigged against evolution. The board could revise its science standards in June to include both the theory of evolution and criticism of it.[...]
Intelligent design advocates pointed to the boycott as evidence that evolution's supporters are afraid to debate.
What I dislike is the implication that a public debate about evolution is something that would really do us any good. And I say this as someone who like public debates, and who always calling for real public debates. We should have public debates, real public debates that is, about all kinds of topics, from church and state to civil rights to foreign policy to tax policy, and so on. But we should not have public debates about science. Why? Because most of us don't know anything about it, and aren't in a position to make informed judgments.
Whether Bach was a more competent composer than Gluck is similarly not a worthy topic for public debate. I think I wouldn't really put much stock in the results of a school board discussing whether T.S. Eliot was a better at blank verse than Ezra Pound. Those are things that maybe highly trained experts have sophisticated and nuanced opinions about. As is evolutionary theory.
As I see it, there are two reasons that evolution has developed as a political issue in this country. One is that it doesn't matter. Well, of course, it does matter. A lot actually. But that's not what I mean. Evolutionary theory doesn't cure lung cancer. It doesn't help AIDS patients live longer lives. It doesn't help older men have erections. It doesn't replace lost hair. In short, it doesn't have much of a practical application.
The other reason is that many people think it directly challenges their religion. (Even though in most cases it actually doesn't.) That's why you don't see too many republicans freaking out about string theory or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle being taught to their kids.
If it weren't for the convergence of these two elements -- if evolution weren't both relatively arcane and perceived as a threat to a fundamentalist religious beliefs -- there would be no issue here.
UPDATE: I think this is worth clarifying. If evolution had a practical application, i.e., was saving lives, etc., I think the Christian right would find a way to fit it into its set of beliefs without controversy. As it is now, there's no cost to republican party, in real terms, in trying to get fiction taught alongside science, and the gain for them should be obvious.