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Health & science > Politics and Prejudices

Bringing back the Dark Ages

 

Published 9/27/2006

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Last week, Dick DeVos, the man who is spending millions of dollars a month attempting to sucker you into voting for him for governor, escaped.

Escaped his handlers, that is, who want to filter every word their man says through three speechwriters and two public relations consultants. But Amway Dick gave a telephone interview with the Associated Press on the subject of education and he said he wanted "intelligent design" taught in schools.

With that, he showed that he was clearly qualified to be governor. Governor, that is, of Tennessee, in 1925, the year of the Scopes trial. Tennessee lawmakers had just made it illegal to teach evolution, which they interpreted as meaning that man was descended from monkeys. Instead they made monkeys of themselves and their defender, political gasbag Williams Jennings Bryan, who finished the trial and promptly dropped dead. (You might have seen Inherit the Wind.)

Well, guess what. The people of this nation apparently never learn a thing, and are at this silliness again with less excuse. When I was a teenager in 1966, I might easily have believed it if the Hindu god Shiva had called me up and told me that the world would be a smoking radioactive cinder today. But what if he had tried to tell me we would be doing Vietnam all over again, except in a worse and stupider way, four decades later? That'd been pretty hard to swallow — especially if the Shiv had told me that in 1968 or later.

And had the ol' Destroyer hinted that our political leaders would still be arguing about evolution today, in the year of our miscalculation 2006, well, I would have shot indignantly out of nirvana like a lightning bolt.

How could anybody, even a god with a blue neck, talk about insulting the collective intelligence of Our Politicians? Well, I now see why Shivvie, in his infinite wisdom, didn't confide in me; I don't do long-term depression well.

Our man from Amway is far from alone in his lack of belief in evolution, and a couple of legislators actually have done more damage recently along these lines. Earlier this year, the Michigan Legislature finally and responsibly acted to toughen up guidelines for high school graduation.

Ours were way too lax. Even the legislators realized that without better preparation, fewer of our students will be able get into college, much less get the good, high-tech jobs of the future. (You may have noticed Oldsmobile is no longer hiring unskilled assembly line workers, no?)

Final curriculum standards were to be approved last week — but the State Board of Education held up the science ones, putting off final approval till Oct. 10. Why? Because the board was terrorized by two Republican lawmakers who want the words "may or may not" inserted in language that talks about whether evolution explains the fossil record, etc.

The state board should have told them to go take a walk where the sun doesn't evolve, or something. But Kathleen Straus, the board's president, told me they felt they were required to get input from the Legislature.

So she, and most of the board, voted to put off adopting the standards. However, Straus made it clear that when they reconvene, she won't vote for opening the door to "intelligent design." Neither, it seems, will a majority of the eight-member board, which Democrats currently control, 5-3.

That's a relief, if true, but it is still dismaying and disgusting that the State Board of Education feels the need to pander to a bunch of anti-intellectuals who would sneak fundamentalist, know-nothing religion into the curriculum.

This should really bother those who care about money, or our state's economic future. High-tech firms are not going to come to Michigan if they think there is any chance we are going to teach funny, crackpot science in schools.

If I were building a bridge, it wouldn't matter to me in the least if my engineer believed the universe was held up by a divine Allis-Chalmers combine, to which he prayed fervently at night. That is, I wouldn't care as long as I knew that he had been properly trained in how to calculate the physical stresses and make my bridge sturdy and sound, and acted on his day job as though the conventional laws of physics and metallurgy applied.

But if I thought there was a chance he might have been allowed to study Allis-Chalmersism instead of calculus in school ... no way, baby.

Intelligent design is neither intelligent nor a science. It is merely a way to try to dignify some irrational religious theories. It should be noted that there are plenty of believing Christians who accept evolution as the way God made the world. There is exactly as much scientific evidence in favor of teaching "intelligent design" as there is in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Actually, last time I looked on His Noodly Web site, several hundred scientists had weighed in on behalf of Pastafarianism, saying teaching about the Spaghetti Monster makes as much or more sense than intelligent design. Which reminds me ... has anyone seen any sign that Dick DeVos has a sense of humor?

 

Want to get involved with a worthy cause? Then you might look into helping out a new nonprofit group, Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures. They want to help the public learn just how promising this work could be. That's important, because the same religious-nut yahoos who want to teach creationism are doing everything in their power to prevent progress.

President George W. Bush recently vetoed a bill that would have provided federal money for embryonic stem cell research. He thinks that means killing babies. In reality, all scientists want to use are the discarded clumps of cells that are the leftovers at fertility clinics. What happens to them if they aren't used for research? They get flushed down the drain, which Georgie evidently thinks is more pleasing to God. What's worse is that Michigan's laws are even more restrictive than the federal standard. We need to fix this.

State Rep. Andy Meisner (D-Ferndale) has been leading the charge to do the Lord's work and change our medieval laws, but he has been stymied by the inquisition. If people, including Republicans who aren't fundamentalist reformed alcoholics knew more about it, the vast majority would be marching on Lansing to force the politicians to not only allow it, but pour funding into it.

Want a small example of what this research could mean? Last week scientists in Toronto (a city in Canada, a civilized country) announced they had used human embryonic stem cells to completely restore the sight of laboratory rats that suffered from a disease like macular degeneration. An American scientist working on the project said clinical trials on people might happen soon.

Other perfectly sober scientists think diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and even paralysis might be overcome by developing embryonic stem cell technology. Besides the effects on people, can you imagine the effect on Michigan's economy if we were to become a major center where, say, people came to have their sight restored?

You can contact the center for stem cell research at 248-948-5555, or stemcellresearchformichigan.com. Or you could just hope for a miracle if you ever get sick, and send your spare money to Dick DeVos instead.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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