Pageant Theory

Posted on June 25, 2011

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Should evolution be taught in schools?  It looks like someone who was searching for the answer decided to ask all the Miss USA contestants:

I don’t really know why they spring these types of questions on pageant contestants, but it offers us an array of misunderstandings to ponder.  One thing that stood out to me was the consistent misinterpretation of the word “theory”.  None of them used it in the scientific sense.  Each one that said “theory” appeared to be using the popular definition of theory, as in a guess or an unproven assumption, and then reasoned from that false start.  Here are a few example:

 Miss Washington: “as little theories and what not, I probably want to stay away from those … facts not theories should be taught.”

Gravitation is a theory. It’s a fact that something falls when you drop it, but the theory of gravity seeks to explain how and why. Removing scientific theories from the classroom would leave us no way of understanding disease (germ theory), chemistry and the nature of matter (atomic theory), or to make sense of many of the other facts which ancient people also observed but couldn’t explain.

 Miss Virginia: “we all need to know about different theories so that we can figure out what we want to believe is true.”

These aren’t guesses you can choose from, and truth has nothing to do with whether or not you believe it or understand it.  A scientific theory may encompass all of the facts and concepts in a given field, so there usually aren’t different theories for a given phenomenon and there’s only one developed theory in biology which explains the apparent relationship between species.

Miss Nebraska : “…in public schools, you have to give all credited theories equal amount of time, so I think creation and evolution should both be able to be taught.”

Sorry, but there is no Theory of Creation.  Whether or not Intelligent Design is a theory remains debatable, but that isn’t “creation”.  It doesn’t use Genesis, and it hasn’t earned any scientific credit so far.  Miss Nebraska is way off when she suggests that creation is a competing scientific theory.  It’s an idea that many people in America believe, but unless it can lead to the development of concepts and the discovery of new facts that help understand how life works, it’s not a competing scientific theory in the field of biology.

Miss Mississippi: “evolution should be taught as what it is, a theory, so I don’t think it should be taught as fact”

Good news, Keely, the Theory of Evolution is taught as a theory!  The idea that different species arose from previous forms and have evolved over time may be taught as a fact, but how these facts are explained is and always will be a theory.  A theory can not become a fact or a scientific law because it’s made out of facts, laws, and the concepts explaining them.

Miss Oregon: “every theory should get a shout out”

Every theory should be examined and tested by scientists, but if a theory has been found to be invalid and disproven, it shouldn’t be taught to children.  This isn’t a matter of censorship, it’s just common sense.  Kids aren’t taught the hollow-earth hypothesis, a flat earth, or a geocentric model of the universe because these ideas have no factual support and have not gained acceptance among the experts in relevant fields.  Should we be spending classroom time teaching them as if they are all equally viable and letting the kids decide?  How far should we apply this time-consuming and confusing new standard of education?  The sensible-sounding idea of putting everything on the table to let kids decide may seem appealing at first, but it’s logical conclusion is a chaotic, post-modern meltdown where each and every individual’s hand-picked “facts” are no more or less valid than another’s.

Miss Pennsylvania: “explore all philosophies… other theories should be taught as well”

Um… philosophy?  Again, they seem to be suggesting evolution is a wild guess about what may have happened in the past.  Evolution is about how life works.  It’s the unifying theory of biology.  It’s not a philosophy and it’s not a religion.  It’s simply the scientific theory used to explain the biological data. It also makes predictions, and plenty of observations have confirmed these predictions.  It’s not some abstract philosophy or untestable speculation about alternate universes; it’s a scientific tool that is used in labs every day for disease research and other important work that benefits all of us.

Many of these contestants are basically saying that scientists aren’t qualified to judge and develop scientific theories, while simultaneously revealing their complete ignorance of the nature of science and associated terminology.  I think evolution should be taught because it’s vital to understanding biology, but perhaps teachers should first spend a little more time explaining how science works.  I’m surprised at how often I find people attempting to overturn 150 years of biological study without first taking the time to gain even a rudimentary understanding of science itself.

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Further reading:

Before you say “evolution is just a theory“, please read this: [ go ]

Wikipedia entry for Scientific Theory [ go ]

A good article listing all the Miss USA contestants statements on evolution and demonstrating that these views are generally representative of the American public’s opinions on the subject [ go ]

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