What’s the Matter With South Carolina?

I go for a walk, and watch some soccer, only to find out that Thursday, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee passed ‘standards‘ that force students to “summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” I have to hand it to the creationists: pushing this during the summer, when university faculties are off doing science, is probably the right time to do something like this. Too bad it will make the kids of South Carolina ignorant and stupid. Teaching the basics of evolutionary biology is hard enough with college students. Somehow I don’t think the proponents of these ‘standards’ are interested in examining the selective strength of codon bias (and the proponents are too ignorant to know about this or any other outstanding question in evolutionary biology anyway).

Of course, there are the usual mindless claims about “materialism”:

Opponents of the new standards want to protect “philosophical materialism,” the South Carolina senator [Michael Fair] contends. He describes this mindset as a “religion” that runs rampant on college campuses.
“Biology departments in the universities around our state are absolutely controlled by people who are afraid, for some reason or another, to look into and encourage students to look at all aspects of the question of evolution,” Fair says. He believes the newly established biology standards will help change this situation….
Senator Fair believes the new biology standards for South Carolina high schools will help create an atmosphere where science education can flourish without materialist ideology. Also, he says it is his hope that these guidelines will be a precursor to allowing alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as intelligent design, to be taught in the state’s schools.

Actually, we want to protect scientific materialism. And we’re not afraid at all of the “question of evolution”: it happened (and is still happening), and it occurs by natural selection and genetic drift. To the extent we’re ‘dodging’ the ‘question’ of evolution, it’s because you’re boring us. The question is resolved. Now, can we please teach the kids biology? Or instead, we could just start teaching ‘non-materialist’ physics and chemistry too?
And for those keeping score at home, Sen. Mike Fair is a Republican. Not that anyone thought otherwise…

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2 Responses to What’s the Matter With South Carolina?

  1. julia says:

    Many anti-ID people here in SC don’t seem to be concerned about that.
    There was in the last few months a movement to change a number of the biology standards to insert “critically analyze” language, and there was indeed considerable strongly-fought opposition. That particular battle was won, as the language was not inserted in all those standards.
    The language in the one standard you mention was created earlier, if I’m correctly understanding it, with the intent of it being a sort of compromise, with many educationalists believing the phrase “scientists use data” would restrict the discussion to matters of disagreement by evolutionary biologists on the details of evolution: the sort of disagreements that reputable scientists have constantly as they work.
    My personal concern is that this language will lead to students being told that the likes of Behe and Dembski are reputable scientists. That would lead to students being told the standard ID distortions on thermodynamics, information theory, irreducible complexity, etc., and then required to reproduce the nonsense on tests or in reports.
    Exactly what we can do at this point, I’m not sure. Perhaps it will be possible to produce sample lessons of the kind envisioned by any anti-ID people who are unconcerned by the language of this standard, and provide the lessons to state biology teachers. And/or provide simple responses to the ID arguments, and make sure students get them. And/or search out the first biology teacher who uses this standard to teach ID notions, and sue.

  2. Michael Schmidt says:

    Yeah, it could be worse. “Use data from a variety of sources to investigate and (critically) analyze aspects of evolutionary theory” leaves biology teachers a lot of room to meet the standards without introducing ID, especially if you use “critically” in a more philosophical “critical thinking” sense. Sounds to me like the Senator is trying to spin what was mostly a loss into something of a win in addressing a specific audience…,

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