teaching the controversy where none exists

May 6, 2009 — 2 Comments

Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill tells us that it will be beneficial for students to have some intense discussions about things like redshift and cosmic microwave background radiation, two main pieces of the Big Bang cosmological model that have been observed for many decades. She also wants us to note that the age of the observable universe is “estimated to be between 12 and 14 billion years which leaves a little room for discussion as to how many billions.” (The answer is two by the way.)

And she should know how to teach astronomy. After all, she was a high school biology teacher who taught at her local church’s Sunday School on the side. And she fervently believes in creationism, parroting the “teach the controversy doctrine” on her website. You know, the controversy in which over 99% of biologists say that evolution is pretty much a fact and all we need to do it to keep studying it in depth? I wonder what her students were actually learning in the classroom…

teach the controversy

The same “controversy” applies to concepts of redshift and CMBR. Astronomers see them every time one of their instruments is pointed to the sky. We know they’re there. What is there to debate? That they don’t exist? That they were measured improperly? What does she propose to debate about? The variation in our estimate of the age of the visible universe is approximately 120 million years. Not billions as she claims.

Maybe we should ask her colleague, Don McLeroy, the man who thinks it’s perfectly rational to assume that Earth is just 6,000 years old because that’s what he was told in church and who’s website declares that it’s his duty to spread creationism to students, what he thinks about this age of the universe business since he would also be imminently qualified to pronounce judgment on cosmology as a former dentist. Of course he got way too aggressive in pushing his pseudoscientific agendas and his confirmation to another term was declared to be dead in the water so he would be of little help to Cargill, but they certainly seem to share the belief that if we try to push religion out of science class, it’s their duty to politick it in anyway.

Probably the most important question in all this is why a biology teacher who can’t grasp evolution and a fiery zealot who’s only brush with science was dentistry, are dictating science education curriculums? Why doesn’t the testimony from experts or public glares of disapproval phase them when they’re shown to be wrong? Oh, and in case you were wondering, the guidelines for “intense debate” over the very basics of astronomy given by Cargill passed with an 11 to 3 vote tally. I wonder what they’re going to debate next. Maybe encourage “very intense discussions” about the shape of the Earth or heliocentrism? And when will they learn that science is not up for voting and facts are facts no matter what you think of them?

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