Perry tackles science in N.H.

ABC News has a video up today showing Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry answering a question from a young boy in New Hampshire. “How old do you think the Earth is?” the kid said. Given Perry’s larger worldview, it seems like a reasonable question. The Texas governor replied, “I don’t have any idea; I know it’s pretty old. So, it goes back a long, long way.”

We can hope Perry doesn’t think 6,000 years is “pretty old.”

At this point, the boy’s mother pushed him to ask Perry about evolution. The candidate explained:

“Your mom is asking about evolution. You know, that’s a theory that’s out there; it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

This is important for a couple of reasons. First, Perry may have no idea what goes on in Texas’ public schools, but if they’re teaching “both creationism and evolution,” they’re violating the law. It’s not even a gray area — the Supreme Court has already struck down a law that called for “balanced treatment for creation-science and evolution-science in public school instruction,” concluding that the law violated the separation of church and state. Teaching religion in science class is illegal under the First Amendment.

It’s not exactly a secret that plenty of school districts ignore the law, but that’s not really the point here. Rather, this is a governor arguing publicly that his entire state is ignoring the law. That should, in theory, be a problem for him. (Follow up question for Perry: what other laws do you ignore in Texas?)

Also, Perry’s explanation reinforces the underlying problem: Texas, he claims, teaches both science and pseudo-science and leaves it to students to “figure out which one is right.” On a fundamental level, this is a failure of what education is even supposed to be. Reality is not multiple choice. Public school curricula are not supposed to present fact and fiction, only to leave it ambiguous which is which. It’s a recipe for prolonged ignorance and stunted growth.

In other words, over the course of about 45 seconds, Perry admitted on camera that his state is flouting the law and he’s comfortable with promoting ignorance in science classes.

Postscript: As for the notion that evolutionary biology is somehow dubious because of “gaps,” Perry should probably wake up and smell the 21st century. As the National Academy of Sciences has explained, “The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence supporting the idea is so strong.”

Other scientific theories that are “out there” include gravity, electromagnetism, plate tectonics, and general relativity. Does Perry also want science classes to teach the opposite of all of these and hope kids are “smart enough to figure out which one is right”?