Some months ago I noted that our post-truth, anti-science assaults on public reason might be reasonably traced to the Challenger disaster (I think other near-contemporaneous events like the political turnaround on the SSC might also be relevant but in a different way). Today my wife asked me if I’d heard about the latest shocking news from Ohio: that the state’s House has passed a bill (awaiting Senate vote) that would require that science teachers accept wrong answers from students if the wrong answer is based on religious convictions. (Nov 24 edit…one of my students noticed that the article linked from ABCnews4 has been edited from the original [without that being noted] to minimize the radical nature of the bill … thanks to the Wayback Machine, the original can be found here)
Of course this once again attacks the argument made by the ACLU and Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Trial: that the state has no right to infringe on the rights of an individual teacher (if you want a good book on the Scopes Trial, look no further than Edward Larson’s masterpiece, Summer for the Gods). Further, it surely muddles the separation of church and state. More to the point, it exacerbates our crumbling infrastructure of public reasoning. We desperately need our public conversation to be grounded in best-available scientific knowledge and we need for everyone to accept that our public decision-making should hinge upon claims that we can analyze empirically, that is, with respect to actual data gleaned from the natural world.
Following my wife’s suggestion, I look forward to the day when students across Ohio answer scientific questions on global warming, evolution, and even inertial physics with recourse to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
(Image, from Wikipedia, courtesy of Niklas Jansson – Android Arts, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48906232)