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Turtles, Turtles, Turtles, All the Way Down

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time tells the story of a cosmologist whose speech is interrupted by a little old lady who informs him that the universe rests on the back of a turtle. Ah, yes, madame, the scientist replies, but what does the turtle rest on? The old lady shoots back: You can’t trick me, young man. It’s nothing but turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down. - George Will

When I was teaching in the ARAMCO schools in Saudi, I was told the story about a plane crash in the early days of oil exploration. On learning of the accident, the oil company asked King Saud if it could go and examine the crash site to see if it could determine its cause. King Saud denied the request, simply stating it was the will of Allah. “We agree,” said the oil company employee. “We just want to see how Allah did it.”

I was reminded of this story while listening to the speaker at last night’s Minnesota Coalition For Intellectual Freedom dinner. Our guest was Lisa Westberg Peters, the author of the children’s book Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story. She related how a number of (suburban) Minneapolis area schools have cancelled her author talks, citing fears of parental reaction to her work. A damn sad state of affairs in Minnesota, a state that has always prided itself on its intellect. Or as Garrison Keillor puts it, “..people (in Minnesota) avoid stupidity when possible, not wanting to be a $10 haircut on a 50 cent head.” (Another sad sign was the turn out of only 38 people at last night’s dinner.)

Personally, I have absolutely no problem with the teaching of either evolution or intelligent design (or the theory of Intelligent Falling, for that matter.) in the public schools, so long as evolution is taught in the science classroom and intelligent design is taught in the comparative religion classes or in social studies units looking at current controversies. The mission of the public school educator is not to create belief in any one system, but to give children the tools to formulate their own beliefs. And in order for this to happen, of course, kids need access to lots of points of views on lots of different issues and a method for analyzing the credibility, reliability, and potential bias of those advancing a view.

Librarians (or at least those with backbones) have long upheld the principles of intellectual freedom, but we need to do a better job teaching the rest of the educational community (including techies) about IF’s sometimes difficult precepts. And that kids who are thinkers, not believers, should be the product of our schools.

Oh, the inscription from Lisa Peters in the copy of her book I bought for my grandson reads, “Paul, Thank God you’ve evolved since your grandfather. – Lisa.”

1 Comment »
An embattled author with a good sense of humor! How refreshing and hopeful, Sara

Comment by Sara — September 29, 2005 @ 8:09 pm

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