They are so scared of science, they use lies, out-of-context or outdated "quotes" from their handy-dandy "quote book," or simply are dead wrong.
Smart mice, not-so-smart people
on why evolutionary theory matters
By Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.
SPECIAL TO MSNBC
There was good news for mice and bad news for humans over the past several weeks. A team of biologists announced they had used genetic engineering to create a smarter strain of mouse, a feat that opens the door to boosting human intelligence. But in Kansas, school officials voted to remove evolution from the state's required science curriculum, not a smart move.
JOE Z. TSIEN at Princeton University and his team created genetically enhanced mice that showed themselves to be smarter than normal mice by performing better on a set of standard tasks, such as recognizing new objects or finding ways to get out of a bucket of water.
Unfortunately, the kind of genetic engineering that proved successful in mice is not ready for deployment in humans. Tweaking human genes involving memory would not necessarily lead to the kind of increase in intellectual performance that Tsien's mice exhibited. Most of us need a more varied form of smarts than knowing how to escape from a bucket. Moreover, risks to the health of mice brought on through unanticipated changes that this new kind of genetic engineering may cause would not be acceptable in a human baby. I say it is unfortunate that we are only on the threshold of knowing how to enhance human intelligence because some sort of enhancement is in order for some of those living in the state of Kansas.
While biologists were using their knowledge of evolution and genetics to engineer a smarter mouse, the state school authorities in Kansas decided that kids there no longer need to be tested about their knowledge of evolution. This is really stupid.
Ever since Charles Darwin put forward his theory that the world around us is the result of slow change caused by natural selection acting over many eons, a few of those who hold to literal accounts of creation as presented in the Bible have been on the attack. Some have taken the implausible view that creationism is somehow an alternative scientific account to the theory of evolution that has evolved over the past century and a half since Darwin. Whatever creationism is, it is not science. Indeed, it is an insult to religious belief to hold that the creation account presented in the Bible is somehow susceptible to the same sorts of tests and challenges that fallible human reasoning is.
The work that led directly to the creation of a smarter mouse is based solidly in evolutionary theory. It is not possible to map the genome, clone animals, breed new species of grapes or soybeans, or undertake gene therapy on a baby without relying on the validity of evolutionary theory. This is not to say that evolution is the last word about how we and mice and the rest of nature all got here. It is entirely possible to fervently believe in the literal truth of the Bible and to nonetheless understand that human beings have created a view of the world which can be believed whenever one is thinking like a scientist.
The residents of Kansas need to get smart. If mice can be made smarter by rearranging their genes, then kids in our high schools and colleges need to know how and why scientists are able to do this.
If we are going to cope with the genetic revolution that looms before us, every American needs to be taught about evolution and genetics, but not because it is the only way to view the mysteries of the world around us. If we fail, mice smart enough to know the science behind their creation may well displace us in the classroom.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
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