Saturday, June 07, 2008



The New York Times has an editorial that almost nails it perfectly. Except for an unfortunate implication that only young-Earth creationists can be included in the term "creationists," a misnomer that the Discovery Institute endlessly attempts to exploit, the editorial expertly dissects the situation looming in Texas:

When it comes to science, creationists tend to struggle with reality. They believe, after all, that evolution by means of natural selection is false and that Earth is only a few thousand years old. They also believe that students who are taught a creationist view of biology — or who are taught to disregard the Darwinist view — are not being disadvantaged.

The editorial correctly identifies the likely intention of the board's creationist members to railroad through (see the tactics used in the recent last-minute rewrite of English standards) some actual changes in the state's textbooks and/or practices, to implement the heretofore toothless mention of the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, thrown as a sop to creationists at the last rewrite of the science standards.

The chairman of the Texas board, a dentist named Don McLeroy, advocates the "strengths and weaknesses" approach, as does a near majority of the board. The system accommodates what Dr. McLeroy calls two systems of science, creationist and "naturalist."

The trouble is, a creationist system of science is not science at all. It is faith. All science is "naturalist" to the extent that it tries to understand the laws of nature and the character of the universe on their own terms, without reference to a divine creator. Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education.

Scientists are always probing the strengths and weakness of their hypotheses. That is the very nature of the enterprise. But evolution is no longer a hypothesis. It is a theory rigorously supported by abundant evidence. The weaknesses that creationists hope to teach as a way of refuting evolution are themselves antiquated, long since filed away as solved.

One last point:

The religious faith underlying creationism has a place, in church and social studies courses. Science belongs in science classrooms.
While it may seem strange that ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty have "a place" in church or in public discourse of any sort, the only possible definition of "freedom" that means spit includes the freedom to be wrong, especially spectacularly so.

Hi Catshark,

Long time no write. The "strengths and weaknesses" / "academic freedom" strategy has spurred me to reengage the creationism issue. It's a pleasure to see you fighting the good fight.

Best wishes,
it may seem strange that ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty have "a place" in church or in public discourse of any sort

At first glance, this appears to be correct. You know, however, that religions and other forms of superstition have had significant influences on human cultures and societies. An important way to undermine their continued influence is to examine them critically in appropriate classes, such as social studies, literature, etc. Critical education of this sort would be invaluable. Of course, such education usually does not occur until the college level in the USA.
@ the chaplin: even then, it's a toss-up as to whether or not such critical thinking skills will ever be taught, or absorbed by the students. We need to start 'em younger.
Hi Jim. It's has been too long and I've let your great sites slip too low in my radar of late ... something I'm going to correct. Thanks for saying that I'm carrying on the good fight ... it sounds so much better than that I'm stuck in a rut. ;-)


But still, even in a "critical" examination, you will need (in government-funded schools) to let the creationists make the very best case they can. One way or another, you'll wind up teaching that ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty are valid viewpoints to be held.
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