It feels good to see the IDist crackpots beaten back a little bit in their bid to control the Kansas school board, and I think it is necessary to keep up the pressure and prevent them from getting a better grip on public school education. However, Paul Nelson actually has a point with his little parable. It’s not the point he thinks he’s making, but it’s important to keep in mind anyway, and I’m going to dash some cold water on any sense of triumphalism on the pro-science side.
Once upon a time, there were a whole bunch of people who thought that what really mattered in thinking hard about design and evolution were state science standards. And school board elections.
Along came a 15 year old kid who loved science, read a lot, thought for herself, and generally saw the adults around her as missing the point. “As if,” she said to the cat sleeping at her feet.
Then she smiled and went back to her web browsing.
Elections and courts are stop-gaps. They are ways to temporarily block trends from becoming entrenched in our social institutions, but as I tell everyone, all we have to do is lose one and we’re screwed. We are on the losing side as long as our response consists of throwing up more and more sandbags in the face of a rising flood—we need to get to the source of our problems and work there, and if we put all our efforts into these legalisms and desperately close elections, we’re being distracted from the work that’s really essential.
This is a culture war. It’s not being waged in courtrooms and ballot boxes, but in people’s homes and churches and schools, it’s going on in newsletters and editorial pages and web sites—it’s going on in your neighborhood right now, and it’s going on in every small town in Kansas despite the results of their latest election. Nothing has changed except that now creationists will redouble their efforts in the unobtrusive channels at the roots of culture.
Creationists may be scientifically illiterate and dogged with superstition, but they are sociologically cunning, and more closely tuned to community activism than we scientifically savvy folks typically are.
So the part that Nelson is right about is that, in the long term, the elections don’t matter. What counts are the thoughts of 15 year old kids right now, and how their minds are being shaped, and I guarantee you that there are damn few of them who even knew there was a school board election going on. What are they reading? What are they being taught in school? What are their parents telling them, and what will they tell their kids 10-20 years from now? How will they vote when they’re franchised in a few years?
The part that Nelson misses, though, is that these kids may love science, but he is part of an organization actively conspiring to corrupt and mislead them. The Discovery Institute and Nelson himself sow lies and call them ‘science,’ and if the poor girl in his parable is browsing their pseudoscientific fluff while thinking she’s getting a nourishing dollop of good education, she’s in trouble. She’s going to suffer if she tries to take that early love of science to a higher level in college and grad school someday.
Of course, that matters too. The parable is actually making the chilling point that the school board elections don’t matter, because they have other channels to abuse and limit and warp children’s minds. And they are going to use them.