Christopher Hitchens has an interesting new article out, reacting to the “muddled” Texas School Board decision which held that “all sides” of scientific theories should be taught. Hitchens writes:

I find myself somewhat drawn in by the quixotic idea that we should “teach the argument.” 

But he goes on to say that doing so would

set a precedent for the sharing of the astronomy period with the teaching of astrology, or indeed of equal time as between chemistry and alchemy. Less boring perhaps, but also much less scientific and less educational.

Hitchens’ reasoning here has two key problems.

The first is that the teachers wouldn’t have to teach astrology as true; they could just talk about astrology, and explain why most all scientists reject it. That would be highly educational for the students — instead of just learning the content of current scientific theories, they would learn how scientists go about rejecting theories, and  would gain a better understanding of how theory change happens.

Second, the sophisticated proponents of the “teach the controversy” line of thought aren’t supporting “equal time” at all. They can happily admit that most of the time in the classroom should be spent on learning standard scientific theories; the question is whether any time at all should be devoted to astrology, or alchemy, or intelligent design.  The Dover trial, after all, was about a 60 second mention of intelligent design in a biology classroom. The debate isn’t about whether intelligent design should get equal time; the debate is about whether intelligent design should get 60 seconds.