Although I do think Lawrence Krauss’s op-ed in today’s NY Times, How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate, is a good, strong piece of work, it doesn’t go quite far enough. He’s specifically targeting a couple of the Kansas state school board members for ridicule. First he slams Steve Abrams:
The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”
Then he takes on John Bacon:
Another member of the board, who unfortunately survived a primary challenge, is John Bacon. In spite of his name, Mr. Bacon is no friend of science. In a 1999 debate about the removal of evolution and the Big Bang from science standards, Mr. Bacon said he was baffled about the objections of scientists. “I can’t understand what they’re squealing about,” he is quoted as saying. “I wasn’t here, and neither were they.”
And then he explains how science works, and that their complaints are fallacious.
However, he also waffles and misses the major lesson of the problem of creationism. Abrams and Bacon are advancing these complaints about evolution for religious reasons, but Krauss backs away from that battle.
I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.
Ah, you see, when it’s a matter of physics and astronomy, the professor of physics and astronomy resolves the problem of conflict with faith by declaring his domain to be a non-religious question, and therefore those who argue otherwise are not doing so out of faith, but out of ignorance. That’s fine, I agree, but I also think the whole of our understanding of the natural world is completely outside the purview of religion—they have an ugly history of always getting it wrong, you know—and that clearly the root cause of Abrams’ and Bacon’s ignorance is their faith. And that’s an observation he’d like to hide away, because it knocks his conclusion all cockeyed.
But when we win minor skirmishes, as we did in Kansas, we must remember that the issue is far deeper than this. We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world. The battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.
I will remind you all that the title of Krauss’s piece is “How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate.” He’s right that one way is to elect school board officials who are raving ignoramuses who advocate the insertion of nonsense into public school curricula. But he’s missing an even more pernicious and common way to make children scientifically illiterate: raise them in a household that values faith above reason. He’s choosing to fight the symptom rather than the disease, and I think his approach is doomed to ineffectuality.