The conversationalist: Designing intelligent education

Of course, people are entitled to their own beliefs, but those beliefs shouldn’t hurt anyone. While the Republicans have their charm, and the Conservatives have their fiscal strengths, I just can’t allow some of their members to keep on believing that teaching Intelligent Design in schools doesn’t hurt anyone. Recently, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory was heard saying such a thing – and in not such lovely rhetoric, either: “They teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum, but they also could teach the fact to the children that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs.” Encouraging the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms in public schools implicitly casts doubt on a well-established theory, which harms the medical and scientific communities.

Some might argue that evolution does equal harm to the religious community, but evolution doesn’t preclude any belief in God. It’s a “false dichotomy” in the words of Brian Alters, Tomlinson Chair in Science Education and Director of the McGill University Evolution Education Research Centre. “I know a lot of evolutionary biologists that are extremely religious,” he says. Darwin wasn’t even an athiest. Aldous Huxley thought up the term “agnostic” to refer most specifically to him. Pope John Paul II himself sanctioned the marriage of evolution and religion in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Science saying, “There is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation.”

And well, if I may hazard to be so personal, I will tell you that I believe in God myself, but I also believe in HIV/AIDS and in Super Bugs. It’s going to be goddamn difficult to cure these things if we doubt the foundational principle of their solution: the theory of evolution. The difficulty in curing HIV/AIDS is that, once we think we have it figured out, the damn thing goes and evolves on us, leaving much suffering and horror in its path. Only through better understanding of the process of evolution will we figure out how to curb this twentieth century plague.

Then there are the Super Bugs. Most would like to think of the hospital as a safe place to be, especially for patients like a grandmother whose immune system has been working well for over 85 years. We want to feel that the hospital is somewhere to get well. But deep in the hospital drains lives strong and resistant bacteria that have evolved to withstand the whole range of antibiotic treatments that our good medical researchers have developed over the years. And so poor granny gets sick from those highly-evolved resistant bugs in the drains; she’s holding on by a thread, none of the classic antibiotics are working, and the only way we can cure her is through careful study of the process of bacterial mutation, natural selection, and evolution. Meanwhile, 42 per cent of Canadians aren’t convinced about the “theory” of evolution, according to a recent Angus Reid survey. Well, I tell you, granny is sure convinced of evolution.

There may be a heap of good reasons for disagreeing with evolution – religious literalism, a belief in the “specialness” of the human species, narcissism – but none of those reasons can so much as approach the importance of what we could gain medically and scientifically from a general consensus of the truth of evolution.

The conversationalist will appear every other Thursday. That’s right folks, a bi-weekly dose of Rosie Aiello, known to some as Rosa, comin’ atcha from now through April. You can start your own conversations with her at

Until next time, get ready for more columns based on conversations with those who have earned PhDs. Conversation conversation.