Something Damian Penny wrote the other day came back to me just now: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Damian was, of course, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. However, I think the quote is a good one, and it popped into my head when I read about today’s ruling against teaching creationism in schools:
A federal judge on Tuesday banned the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution by Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District, saying the practice violated the constitutional ban on teaching religion in public schools.
[ . . . ]
The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and unscientific and had no place in high school biology classrooms.
Before you jump down my throat, I’m in no way implying that Holocaust denial is comparable to creationism. What I am saying, however, is that there’s a clear difference between fact and invention – as in the case of Holocaust denial – which I think we all recognize fairly easily. What many people fail to recognize, however, is that we must also make a clear distinction between fact and belief.
Evolution is a scientific fact. Creationism (repackaged as “intelligent design” or whatever you rename it) is a belief. It is based on faith, not evidence, and cannot be proven for the simple reason that it cannot be disproven.
Today’s ruling banned the teaching of creationism because it violates the separation of church and state. I think the real reason it ought to be banned from science curricula is because it isn’t science. After all, there is no constitutional ban on teaching Holocaust denial in history class, and yet I’m sure we would all call for the dismissal of any teacher who tried, simply on the grounds that it’s wrong.
I have no objection to the teaching of creationist theory in a course about religion, humanities, or cultural studies. But high school biology teachers who teach creationism as scientific fact are muddling fact and belief. People are entitled to hold a belief, but when teaching science, they need to stick to facts.
And so, to restate Damian’s point, everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, but not his own facts.