Monday, November 19, 2012

Republicans aren’t that dumb about science

The message of To Kill a Mockingbird is that you won’t understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. I’m a non-religious Republican. That means while I agree with things like “evolution”, I’ve walked a mile in shoes of religious people who don’t.

The first thing I’ve found is the “strawman fallacy”. Democrats misrepresent the Republican position, caricaturizing it into something silly. The Republican position isn’t an outright denial of science, but something more subtle.

From talking to the religious, I find their concern is that schools teach students to have “faith” in evolution, setting it up as a state-sponsored religion competing with their Christian “faith”.

They are correct. Schools fail at teaching evolution. Students leave school without really understanding how mutation and natural selection work. They don’t understand the evidence, like radioisotope dating of fossils. Their view of evolution is vaguely Lamarckian. Or, in pop culture terms, the view of most students is like what was portrayed in X-Men, that humans are becoming “more evolved”, a phrase that has no meaning in Darwinism.

In other words, what Republicans are concerned about is not that schools are teaching the science of Darwinism, but that they fail at teaching the science, and teach a religion of Darwinism instead.

Democrats call this a success. Their first priority is to have students believe in evolution, and they pursue this with vigor. Understanding evolution is a secondary priority. Indeed, they rarely understand Darwinism themselves.

These religious Republicans propose the wrong solution, teaching “creationism” or “intelligent design”. But they are right that there is a problem. The solution is to spend more effort teaching the evidence, so that the majority of students can recognize how Lamarck and the X-Men get evolution wrong. We should care less whether students “believe” this evidence, and care more that they “understand” it.

I urge you to try to understand the issue from the Republican perspective, rather than blindly echoing the Democrat strawman version.