Level Playing Field: Merit Matters for Sports & Science

Anti-evolutionists often make political inroads by relying on America’s sense of fair play in addition to our scientific illiteracy. The average American responds favorably to the loaded suggestion that all ideas are equally valid and asks, “why shouldn’t science class treat all ideas equally?” Our challenge as supporters of science education is to teach the average American that science is not a “fair” process, but one that is based on merit, and that not all ideas are equally valid. Realizing that many Americans are familiar with another merit based school program, sports, I have developed the following analogy.

Science doesn’t treat all ideas equally for the same reason why football doesn’t treat all players equally. You don’t give your inexperienced freshman quarterback the same amount of playing time that you give the three-year starter who has taken you to two championships. Playing time and class-room time are both based on merit. Not all players and not all ideas have the same merit. Some ideas, like evolution, are equivalent to a three-year starting quarterback with two championship rings and whose father won the Heisman Trophy and three Super Bowls. Other ideas, like “intelligent” design creationism, are equivalent to an out-of-shape eight-grader who thinks football is played on an Xbox.

Advocates of “intelligent” design creationism have an idea, one that is not developed scientifically. It is like the weak freshman who wants to be a quarterback but who needs to work hard to compete for a spot on the team and the starting position. Unfortunately, this quarterback does not think that he needs to practice. He does not think that he needs to work at becoming a quarterback. He thinks that he is already good enough be the quarterback. Why shouldn’t he get as much playing time as the other quarterbacks? The fact that the coach doesn’t think that he belongs on the team doesn’t inspire him to work hard and earn playing time. To the contrary, it inspires his parents to bypass the obviously indoctrinated coach, and go over his head to the principal or school board.

A quarterback controversy is good for the team, after all. If all quarterbacks are not given the same amount of playing time then fans will not be able to decide who to cheer for. Clearly random parents who have never played football have a better understanding of the game than a coach who has been indoctrinated into it. As outsiders they are clearly capable of besting the insiders when it comes to coaching decisions. It is so obvious; isn’t it?

However, knowledgeable sports fans will understand why it is necessary to stick with an established quarterback, rewarding hard work and merit over egotism and self-importance. Knowledgeable parents, educators, and politicians should similarly understand why it is necessary to stick with established scientific ideas in classrooms.