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Thursday, July 06, 2006

No wonder there are uproars about textbooks!

A friend writes to say that, according to the Texas Education Code, §28.002, Chapter 112, Subchapter C, §112.43, high school biology students are expected to "(C) evaluate the impact of research on scientific thought, society, and the environment," and "(F) research and describe the history of biology and contributions of scientists."

Fine and dandy. One of the books Texas was proposing to adopt in 2003 was Raver's Biology: Patterns and Processes of Life, which is said to have claimed on p. 99:
Until the 1500s, many Europeans believed Earth was flat and the sky was a large dome somehow suspended above it. Adventurous sailors like Columbus and Magellan, and the work of astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo, caused considerable controversy at the time....

My friend notes, citing material supplied by the Discovery Institute (but generally known):

It is not true that most Europeans in the 1500s believed in a flat Earth, or that Columbus caused controversy for believing that the Earth is round. Europeans inherited the ancient Greeks' knowledge not only of the Earth's shape, but also of its approximate circumference. Novelist Washington Irving's fictional 1828 account of how flat-earthers supposedly opposed Columbus was put forward as actual history by the late nineteenth-century anti-Christian authors John W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who used the flat Earth myth as a way of discrediting Christians who challenged Darwinian evolution. See the book on this subject by University of California historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth (New York: Praeger, 1997). See also James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).


In any event, as I replied to him, Dante was one of the most popular authors of the mediaeval period (the Middle Ages), and the cosmology of his books (which was generally accepted at the time) makes no sense unless you assume that the Earth is a sphere.

In other words, a mediaeval person who thought the Earth was flat would be unfamiliar not only with the science of the day but with the popular literature based on it (in other words, completely culturally ignorant).

Note the weaselly way Raver refers to "many Europeans" who may have believed that the Earth was flat. Well, who were they then? Wild men in the hills of Ireland? Pagan Lithuanians? Unreached circumpolar peoples? I am sure you could find people in those days, deep in the Black Forest perhaps, who did not know what educated opinion held regarding the Earth. But mediaeval Europe was not a democracy, let alone a post-modern environment, and the opinions of the merely ignorant were considered irrelevant.

Taxpayers should not have to pay for these misrepresentations, nor should students have to endure them.

This is another one for the "Why there is an intelligent design controversy" files.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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