Yesterday, some strange stuff went down in Texas. It may not be a surprising development, especially if you have been following Phil Plait’s articles at Bad Astronomy, but it is still… strange. I don’t usually discuss creationism on Astroengine.com as I’ve always considered much of the wrangling to be an evolution/intelligent design “debate” (debate? Really? Which century are we in again?). To be honest, I’m glad I work and write in a field that can sidestep a lot of creationist bunkum. But hold up there, it’s not that simple. It would appear that some individuals in the Texan educational board have taken it upon themselves to give schools “the option” to teach, in astronomy classes, an ‘alternative’ to Big Bang theory. OK, that’s cool, what alternative scientific theory can be put forward?
That’s the problem, there isn’t a scientific alternative. Big Bang theory is solid, and with the help of WMAP we know the Big Bang occurred 13.73 billion years ago (+/-120 million years). Unfortunately, one member of the Texas Educational Board wants the state’s science classes to teach creationism alongside cosmology, meaning students will have one of the most confusing and damaging cosmology lessons I can possibly imagine.
Guess what kids, the Universe is somewhere between 6,000 to 13,730,000,000 years old. Yes, it’s looking like creationism will be taught alongside cosmology…
Imagine the scene: A classroom full of children, excited to be taught the wonders of the cosmos. The teacher walks in and talks about what the children will learn during their first foray into a Universe filled with science and wonder. However, there’s a certain uneasiness in the way the science teacher runs through the curriculum, she’s approaching a part of the course every fibre of her being is telling her is wrong. But, to keep the status quo, she ploughs on, to discuss Big Bang theory… plus an ‘alternative’ theory dictated by a much publicised vote that was passed in her state back in 2009.
“So, the Big Bang is a robust scientific theory that gathers evidence from a wide variety of sources,” she says boldly. “The Big Bang explains the red-shift of distant galaxies, it explains the faint echo of microwave radiation observed throughout the Universe…” she tails off, wondering whether she could get away with skipping over the next part. Unfortunately, her job dictates that she must teach it, even though she holds a degree in astrophysics and she knows what she is teaching isn’t right, if she doesn’t include it in the classroom, she will be reprimanded. The syllabus is the syllabus, she’s a teacher and she must communicate it to her students.
“Although we know the Big Bang occurred 13.73 billion years ago, there’s another theory that must be considered…” feeling sad and frustrated to be in this situation, she pushes on even though she doesn’t want to, “…according to the theory of creation, all this scientific evidence was actually put there by a supreme being, God, masking the fact that the Universe, according to Genesis, was created 6,000 years ago…” she said with sadness.
The teacher then leafs through the textbook in front of her, noting the new section, just after “Big Bang Theory”. That new section is called “The Theory of Creation”. She stands in silence as her class watches, oblivious to the emotional agony their teacher was feeling. The real tragedy, however, is with the children, who will learn that creationism is an accepted scientific method, telling them that their Universe might just be a few thousand years old…
Although the above is pure fiction, it is the first thing that came across my mind when I was considering the ramifications of the recent Texas education board vote. If a crazy creationist amendment to the science curriculum is passed, how can science teachers deliver any kind of quality in their classes? Science is the backbone of the nation, once we start skewing what science really is, we are in for a world of hurt, for generations. I have absolutely no argument with religious opinion, but when I hear that a creationist standpoint is being forced upon a scientific subject, I feel the frustration and concern many biologists must feel when creationists argue their own brand of ‘Intelligent Design’ is being used as an ‘alternative’ theory to evolution.
The funniest thing I see being argued time and time again is “evolution is just a theory.” Well, it is a scientific theory that has undergone rigorous scientific study. Evolution, quite literally, is a fact of life. As for “the Big Bang is just a theory” argument, once again, it is a scientific theory supported by a vast number of scientific studies. The Big Bang is a fact of Universal physics. We know the Universe began as a singularity. We have no clue what was before the Big Bang, we have no idea what caused it (although, through science we might eventually understand these unknowns a little better). But one thing is for sure, it happened 13.73 billion years ago (and that’s not in dog years either) – science has proven that.
Creationism is a religious adaptation of the physical world. It has the same scientific clout as the Bible (i.e. none). Creationism is not a scientific theory, it is religious philosophy. Religion is a belief, it requires no evidence. Science is fact, it requires evidence.
Keep creationism in the religious education classes, it has no right to be in any science class. Unfortunately, it looks like this episode is the start of things to come (it also looks like Florida is entertaining creationist dogma), let’s just hope the world doesn’t sit by and let hundreds of years of scientific endeavour become eroded by a fanatical few. It is also worth noting that many people who are religious despise creationist ideals, so we are dealing with a small group of anti-science crackpots who obviously have a very loose grasp of reality. It’s just a shame a few of these people are in positions of authority, able to influence the future of school children who wont be given the chance to know better.
For more detail about the Texas education vote, check out “Texas: From saved to doomed in just 6 hours!” over at Bad Astronomy.