Monday, July 27, 2009

Of Dinosaurs and Human Rights

Walking with Dinosaurs, an animatronic show aired at the Rexall Place in Edmonton over the weekend, showing kids in vivid 3-D what life with dinosaurs would have been like. Paula Simons in the Edmonton Journal has a write-up. She writes:

What is it about dinosaurs we find so fascinating? What enthralls toddlers and paleontologists alike, what keeps us reading dinosaur books, watching dinosaur movies, packing arenas to walk with dinosaurs?

It starts, I think, with their sheer size, their massive scope and scale. Millions of years after they exited the world stage, they still fill us with a mix of terror and sheer wonder. We never shared this planet with them. But how easy to imagine them chasing us down and gobbling us up.

Yet at the same time, our fear is mixed with affection and fascination. How else to explain Barney, or Dino from The Flintstones, or Little Foot from The Land Before Time or Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs? Children love the idea of dinosaurs they can tame, friendly guardians big and strong enough to protect them from the anxieties of their world. It helps, of course, that so many dinos have such deliciously wacky body shapes. Those spikes, those plates, those armoured tails, those long, long necks! They were born to be cartoons.

How timely is this show? She continues:
In a province where polls say only 37 per cent of us believe in evolution, it's a bold artistic statement.

How crazy, how desperately sad, that we need a touring arena show to teach our kids what our public school system won't--or can't.

Any time I write about evolution, I hear from frustrated science teachers and biology profs who tell me they must censor themselves when they discuss evolution, to avoid hurt feelings and moral indignation.

Bill 44, which just amended Alberta's human rights legislation to give parents a legal right to advance written notice whenever religious issues are addressed in the classroom, will only make that chill worse. Now teachers who dare to discuss Darwin's "radical" 150-year-old truths must worry about possible human rights complaints from parents who see evolution as an assault on their religious beliefs.

The day Bill 44 was introduced, Ed Stelmach specifically said the new law would allow parents to pull their kids from classes on evolution. His government later backed away from those words, a tough task, since the premier made the statement in a room full of reporters with tape recorders and TV cameras -- a news conference leaves more fossil remains than a herd of brachiosauruses.

Like so many bills in the U.S., it is produced by legislators who know nothing of the fossil record and nothing of biology. It is depressing that flat-earth Christianity has seeped into Canada. There is a slightly more chilling aspect to this story, here, though that is indigenous to Canada: the Human Rights Commissions. Recently, Mark Steyn, a Canadian who writes for Maclean's, a Canadian equivalent to The Atlantic Monthly, as well as National Review was charged by the HRC for "hate speech" for a piece he wrote on Islam. Steyn is less than enthusiastic about Canada's complete embrace of the religion and he said so. The NR editorial can be found here. Fortunately, Steyn was cleared by the commission, but it reminded everyone involved how tenuous free speech actually is.

Should parents have the right to pull their kids from evolution classes? Absolutely. They should also have the right to let their kids fail the state exams when questions about evolution come up, as they should. Is it possible, though, that some parents might decide that to subject any kids to evolution might constitute a "human rights" violation? Were such to occur, I have no doubt how state legislators would respond.

Now playing: Yellow Magic Orchestra - Cue
via FoxyTunes


  1. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Hey James - great post but take heart, Alberta (my home for all my life) is widely regarded as the least progressive, most backward province in Canada when it comes to these sorts of things. Our former Premier advocated a shoot, shovel and shut up strategy to ranchers when the mad cow stuff happened, our finance minister recently spouted off that one parent should always be at home to raise their children and we only just recently recognized homosexuals as people - although we had to include the non-sense outlined in Paula's article to do it. I’d like to think the rest of Canada has their collective heads screwed on right.

  2. I think that Canada generally has a better handle on things than most of the continental U.S. A few years ago, I thought that most of the anti-evolution bias was restricted to the southeast U.S. but recent years have convinced me that it is pretty much all over.