Friday, December 20, 2013

We won!..... Right?

It is almost 2014.  Almost a decade has passed since Dover vs. Kitzmiller told us that Intelligent Design is not science and can't be taught in public schools.  It's been many decades since the Scopes trial.  We have iPhones and gay rights are finally progressing. In short: We've arrived. So it's tempting, even reasonable, to assume that we teach human evolution in public schools.  The battles have been fought and won.  Right?

Nope.  A comprehensive review reveals that many states still have very weak standards for the teaching of evolution, and only FOUR include human evolution as part of the curriculum. (Massachusetts is not one of them. My kids, however, get a thorough treatment of the topic.)


Let that sink in.  A reasonable person who has read the right books can tell you that there are millions of years worth of fossil evidence pointing to a natural origin for humankind.  And yet, kids in 46 states don't often hear about it from their science teachers.  This is certainly caused by, and causative of, the fact that a majority of Americans reject the premise of human evolution.  If you're never exposed to the evidence, it's quite easy to reject it.

The problem here isn't that most people don't believe something.  The problem is that the process of science is misunderstood by a majority of people you bump into every day.  People who vote, and who otherwise impact the world in a multitude of ways.  Your neighbor, statistically speaking, probably can't distinguish science from belief.

The other problem-- and to me, the bigger problem-- is that ignoring the natural history of humans enables us to further disconnect from the natural world.  How much easier is it to exploit the resources, cut the forests, and pollute habitats when we don't recognize our connection to them?  And, how can one understand the human condition without understanding the forces that shaped us?  Our biology and psychology lag far behind the environment we have created.  We need to move, a lot.  We need meaningful social interaction.  We need open spaces.  These are the conditions that our minds and bodies were shaped in, the necessities that we need like the air we breathe.  How much easier it is to understand this through the lens of human evolution!

History will look back on us-- as much of the world already does-- and wonder how it took us so long to adopt the basic principles of the Enlightenment.

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