One of the most regrettable things about contemporary conservatism – aside from forgetting Edmund Burke’s notion of humanity as stewards of the natural world – is the unwillingness to acknowledge basic scientific realities. Sometimes, this is because of ideological conflicts; acknowledging the immense danger posed by climate change basically means admitting that government regulation is required. Sometimes, it is because of religious beliefs at odds with the basic knowledge we now have about the universe. It is simply embarrassing that there are still people in developed countries who do not understand evolution, or who believe the Earth to be a few thousand years old.
Also regrettably, it seems that the recent surprise Republican vice presidential choice Sarah Palin is among those who profess doubt about the existence of biological evolution. She is of the ‘teach the controversy’ school of thought, in which schoolchildren should supposedly be presented with multiple theories and charged with choosing for themselves. Thankfully, this approach provides rich opportunities for satire. One site sells ‘Teach the Controversy’ shirts showing Atlantis, the devil burying dinosaur bones, aliens building the Egyptian pyramids, and so forth. Most famously, the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster phenomenon began as a mocking response to this approach:
I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.
Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.
Being tolerant of people with religious beliefs does not mean treating those beliefs with special deference, or refraining from mocking the more absurd ones among them. Indeed, it is only through the vigorous consideration of the relative merits and explanatory capabilities of different viewpoints that we can further refine our understanding of the world. The sad thing is that there are some people who never get a fair shot at it because those in power choose to give them a deeply inadequate initiation into the teaching of science.