Posted by guest blogger BroKen.
Years ago I saw a Doonesbury cartoon in which a college professor, concerned about the gullibility of his students, proclaimed loudly during his lecture, “BLACK IS WHITE! GOOD IS BAD!” attempting to shock them into thinking for themselves. The students are furiously taking notes. One whispers to another, “Did you get that?” “Yeah, I didn’t know any of this stuff!” comes the reply. The last frame has the professor pounding his head on the podium lamenting, “Teaching is dead!”
I was reminded of that after a conversation with my son, Karl, as I was taking him to his college level zoology class. He was struggling with some of the pontification in the class surrounding the theory of evolution. Personally, I don’t share all his frustration with evolutionary theory, but I am proud of his unwillingness to accept such pontification of the party line without more evidence.
I vividly remember hearing Stephen Jay Gould on a Nova program in the 1980s describe how his undergraduate classes told him that the fossil record demonstrated a gradual change from one species to another. But when he got access to that record in graduate school, he found that gradual change was not demonstrated. The fossil record does NOT show gradual change. On a geological time scale, the changes in living things occur almost instantaneously. Gould was no creationist, but as a good scientist he was willing to follow the evidence regardless of what he had been told.
What really struck me was when Karl told me the title of a chapter in his textbook. “Birds, Reptiles by Another Name.” Of course, taxonomy is not my strong suit. I am vaguely aware of theories that birds descended from dinosaurs which have been classified as reptiles. But that title seems as illogical as Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury professor.
To be fair, I suppose what they mean is that the definition of “reptile” has been stretched out like the firmament so that warm-blooded birds can fly around within it. I’m not so committed to what I learned in school that I can’t accept new findings. If there are good reasons for cold-blooded “reptiles” to swallow up the birds, fine. (But I’m still gonna call Pluto a planet ‘til the day I die!)
Could it be that part of the power of the theory of evolution stems, not just from it’s giving a plausible natural explanation for the origin of life (not really plausible, but if you need a natural explanation, it’s best you’ve got) but also from it’s tendency to blur distinctions? That makes it fit well with post-modern rejections of reason, logic and even truth. I’m told those rejections are quite popular in colleges and universities.
If birds are really reptiles and reptiles are really fish and humans are really apes, then perhaps life really is just dead matter and bad really can be good.
If that is the case and that’s what’s being taught, then if teaching isn’t dead, maybe someone should kill it.