Monday, December 13, 2004

Well, it was bound to happen here. There have been plenty of allusions by those on the right that the left leaning individuals in this country are helping our "enemies". Now, however, at least one member of the legislature from here in Missouri has equated the liberal groups in this country with the September 11th highjackers. From State Representative Cynthia Davis (District 19):
"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."
Davis made that statement to the New York Times in an article on Christian Conservatives growing focus on gaining power in statehouses. In particular Davis was pushing an agenda to remove state support for any sex-ed programs that taught anything other than abstinence only as well as requiring publishers selling biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter on alternative theories to evolution.

There are two issues here of course. Deciding which is more problematic is not so easy. Inflammatory rhetoric such as Davis' is not only out of line, as an elected official she holds a position which may help to legitimize such hateful characterizations. This line of attack has been in use since 9/11, when Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 club, stated that the country had brought the attack upon itself by tolerating gays, abortion and other "liberal" ideas. While it is easy to dismiss Robertson and his ilk who have a significant financial incentive to keep their membership agitated, when public officials espouse such ideas in the service of their work, it raises concerns that are not so easily dismissed.

The second problem is, of course, the effect that such flawed educational programs like the ones proposed by Davis will have on Missouri's future.

Scientific data has pretty much blown the idea that abstinence only works in reducing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. While the basic point is true, if you don't have sex there is no chance of pregnancy or STDs. However, the whole of human history is a testimony to the fact that, well, people have sex. The responsible position is to educate individuals in the realities of sex while instilling a sense of personal respect so that they treat the issue with the seriousness is deserves. Simply giving a kid a condom doesn't solve anything, nor does simply telling them not to have sex.

The idea of introducing "alternative theories" to evolution has been tried on several occasions before here in Missouri. The pro-alternative ideas are mostly couched in the "intelligent design" rhetoric which basically states that life is to complex to occur by chance and that there must have been a hand guiding the development of life. The argument is that it is a theory and so therefore is just as qualified to be used in a biology program. What the "intelligent design" folks overlook is that their theory is not a scientific theory, but a philosophical/religious theory, inappropriate for a biology class. A scientific theory is a theory that explains phenomena, make predictions and can be tested. Evolution only attempts to explain scientifically by what process life has progressed on earth. If science were to develop a %100 error-free explanation of the development of life from the emergence of amino acids to how the brain communicates with itself, none of it would be in conflict with the idea of a creator. Recently a long-time proponent of atheism, British philosopher Antony Flew stated that after decades of study and thought, he believes there is a creator. While such a statement from a prominent atheistic scholar may have brought cheers from the religious, he followed his statement be saying that a creator may exist but he's not working in our live on a day to day basis.

The result of the success of such an anti-science agenda would be the downgrading of Missouri as a source of educated graduates to work in the increasingly technical fields of science and medicine. Theories in science are tools for better understanding. The greatest characteristic of a theory is that if something comes along to disprove it, its dismissed and a better theory is constructed and used until new evidence forces further change.

Change is not something many of these conservative groups desire. They often believe it threatens their very existence. Yet without progress and development we will be left behind. In addition, not using our faculties to the best of our abilities kind of removes the point of having them in the first place.

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