The story of a South African science teacher getting reprimanded for teaching science, specifically evolution, has cause quite a stir. Apart from the many comments and related posts on News24 it was even noticed over in America. Naturally, it wound up in a local community paper, giving the views of various locals, where they asked whether schools should teach fact or faith. If you’re ever asking whether you should or shouldn’t teach facts then you’re probably in a lot of trouble.
Below is my letter to the Claremont/Rondebosch People’s Post, published on Tuesday 20 March 2012.
Children must be taught facts. The controversy about evolution is not a scientific controversy, it is a controversy where certain groups of people do not want to accept reality.
Evolution is the idea that unites all aspects of biology and, furthermore, unites biology with geography and history. It is the only idea that explains all that we observe in the natural world. This makes it essential learning for anyone who wants to understand how life came to be what it is and why organisms are the way they are.
What about it’s relevance to the average person? Education is firstly teaching a child how to think and how to make good decisions. Even if the subject content proves irrelevant, the methods they learn, how to weigh evidence, how to think logically and how to go about finding an answer will always be valuable. That said, evolution does matter.
Understanding evolution means understanding how life changes. It will let you know why you need to always finish a course of medicine. Not seeing the relevance to that is what has led to drug-resistant strains of TB, a major killer in South Africa. Surely an idea that improves one’s health and the health of the rest of the population is worth knowing?
Aside from the practical benefits I would say that the wonder that knowing how the world truly is is reason enough to learn.
People are entitled to their faith but that entitlement ends when it contradicts facts, supported by evidence and not just wishful thinking.
To quote South African blogger Tauriq Moosa, “How the world is often doesn’t correspond to how we wish it to be.”
There are many faiths but there is only one reality and the only reliable way to understand that reality is by following the evidence, whether it goes against faith or not.