Mr. Anger has a point. Consider, for instance, socialism. Socialism is as flawed an economic theory as creationism is a biological theory. It no more deserves to be taught as if it were true than creationism does. Yet, obviously, there are many people who think otherwise, just as there are many people who think that creationism is true, and that it should be taught. If the government is going to teach, then that means these folks will be disappointed. And if they are disappointed, then they would be just as willing to command that the government schools not teach classical liberalism, since in these folks’ minds, classical liberalism is as flawed as creationists believe evolution to be. Government schooling—like all government redistributionary schemes—is subject to the public choice effect.
That’s a good argument against the existence of government schools, not against insisting that schools (whatever their form) teach things that are true as true, and teach things that are false as false. It is certainly true that “government schools already teach—and have long taught—ideas that are far more subversive of liberty and the pursuit of happiness than ID.” But that doesn’t mean that we may throw up our hands and say “well, fine, teachers can tell kids whatever they want.” No, they can’t. A school that teaches kids socialism and never mentions the price problem, for example, is committing exactly the same wrong as a school that teaches kids that evolution isn’t true.
But, again, my point isn’t about the content of the material taught in the classroom. It’s about the real purpose of evolution in the classroom. The real purpose of evolution, like the real purpose of physics or anything else, really, is to inculcate in students the habit of thinking rationally and demanding reasons for believing things. That is far more important than the actual substance of the things a student learns, and forgets, and can look up in an almanac after he graduates. It’s the habit of mind that’s important. Carl Sagan puts it well:
If we teach only the findings and products of science—no matter how useful and even inspiring they may be—without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience? Both then are presented as unsupported assertion. In Russia and China, it used to be easy. Authoritative science was what the authorities taught. The distinction between science and pseudoscience was made for you. No perplexities needed to be muddled through. But when profound political changes occurred and strictures on free thought were loosened, a host of confident or charismatic claims—espeically those that told us what we wanted to hear—gained a vast following. Every notion, however improbable, became authoritative….
It is enormously easier to present in an appealing way the wisdom distilled from centuries of patient and collective interrogation of Nature than to detail the messy distillation apparatus. The method of science, as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem, is far more important than the findings of science.