This post is about Israel but has nothing to do with the Palestine issue

… which makes it a rarity as far as blogs in general go, I guess.

OK so there’s this lesson we here in America ought to take from Israel, and that is that we should fire government officials who are in charge of science education and yet oppose the whole idea of science education. We haven’t had much of this at the federal level lately, but under Bush this was part of this drearily predictable pattern of appointing people to head departments who had the goal of undermining said department.

For example Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao never had a labor job. She was always on the side of management. The Department of Justice was staffed with Liberty “University” grads who wanted to replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. The EPA was stripped of whistleblower protection, which also kind of undermines the point of having an EPA.

But this isn’t about early 2000s America. It’s about Israel in 2010. So I’ll try to get to the point.

Gavriel Avital was Israel’s chief scientist in its Ministry of Education until recently. He was fired for denying evolution and global warming. In other words he was fired for incompetence.

YNet News claims in its headline that he was fired for questioning evolution, which makes it seem as if he were fired for having an open mind. This seems like an injustice since science really depends on scientists having an open mind and being open to having even our most strongly-held beliefs challenged. But then you skim down the article a bit and you get a more accurate representation of his views:

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he said.

There are two logical fallacies in as many sentences here. The first is a strawman, since nobody but ignorant creationists claim that evolution means that humans evolved from monkeys. What it means is that humans and other apes share a common ancestor. So since textbooks don’t “state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys,” it’s safe to presume that he wouldn’t want students to “peruse and grapple with other opinions.” But probably not, I’m guessing.

The other logical fallacy is an argument ad populum. From a scientific perspective (and certainly for someone in charge of science education), it doesn’t matter if there are “many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct.” What matters is the evidence. But creationists don’t like to talk about evidence, so they try to make their weird conspiracy theories seem plausible by focusing on aspects of the discussion other than the evidence.

This is something we ought to learn from. It’s OK to fire someone for incompetence, even when their incompetence results from their religious beliefs. That doesn’t interfere with their freedom to believe whatever they want – it only interferes with their ability to get paid for a job for which they are clearly unqualified.


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