Skip to comments.Textbooks at center of evolution debate
Posted on 11/01/2003 4:14:09 AM PST by I Am Not A Mod
AUSTIN -- Texas will be under the microscope this week in the fight over teaching evolution in public schools as the State Board of Education votes on adopting biology textbooks that have been at the center of the debate.
The board meets Thursday and Friday and is set to consider proposed changes submitted by 11 publishers. The board's decisions -- which could determine which textbooks publishers offer to dozens of states -- will end a review process that has been marked by months of heated debate over the theory of evolution.
Religious activists and proponents of alternative science urged publishers to revise some of the 10th-grade books and want the board to reject others, saying they contain factual errors regarding the theory of evolution. Mainstream scientists assert that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a cornerstone of modern research and technology.
Board members can only vote to reject books based on factual errors or failure to follow state curriculum as mandated by the Legislature.
"There's a bait and switch going on here because the critics want the textbooks to question whether evolution occurred. And of course they don't because scientists don't question whether evolution occurred," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.
Among those questioning the textbooks are about 60 biologists from around the country who signed a "statement of dissent" about teaching evolution and said both sides of the issue should be taught. Several religious leaders also testified against teaching evolution.
Any changes to the textbooks will have implications across the country.
Texas is the nation's second largest buyer of textbooks, and books sold in the state are often marketed by publishers nationwide. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.
One of the most vocal advocates of changing the textbooks is the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Seattle. Institute officials have argued at board hearings that alternatives to commonly accepted theories of evolution should be included in textbooks to comply with a state requirement that both strengths and weaknesses are presented.
"These things are widely criticized as being problematic. They aren't criticisms we made up; they're criticisms widely held in the scientific community," said Discovery Institute fellow John West.
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said there are no weaknesses in current textbooks' explanation of evolution. Publishers are required to cover evolution in science books.
The institute has referred to a theory dubbed intelligent design -- a belief that life did not evolve randomly but progressed according to a plan or design. No book on the mainstream market presents the intelligent design theory of evolution.
"We know that this is a very contentious issue. We know that, but the sorts of things we were proposing we thought were moderate," West said.
Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious activists, argues that the Discovery Institute's arguments are rooted in religion. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that the teaching of creationism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state.
"It says that the theory of evolution can't explain the diversity of life on this planet and that there must have been a designer," Smoot said. "That is a very valid and commonly held religious perspective, but not one that is upheld by scientific evidence. Therefore it's not one that belongs in science classrooms."
The Discovery Institute has maintained that its arguments have no religious foundation, but Smoot disagrees.
"The concept of intelligent design was crafted specifically to get around legal prohibitions against teaching religion in public schools," she said. "And as long as proponents of intelligent design deny that they're referring to God when they talk about the designer, they hope to be able to pull this off."
At least one publisher has submitted changes in line with the institute's recommendations.
Holt, Rinehart & Winston has submitted a change that directs students to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to the others in the book. Students also are encouraged to research alternative theories on the Internet.
This is one of the anti-Evolutionists' favorite straw men to bash: "Evolution hasn't been proven." But it is based on a misnomer.
What is not well-known outside of science is that scientific theories are NEVER proven. The reason is that since all it takes to refute one is a single counter example, and since there are virtually an unlimited number of potential "test cases" for most theories, it is impossible to exhaustively exclude every one of them.
Therefore, all scientific theories are held tentatively, based upon their ability to withstand attempted falsification: the more attempted falsifications, the more strongly the theory is held to likely be correct.
This is why it is a requirement for a theory to make "useful predictions" in order to be considered "scientific" -- because the theory that makes NO predictions cannot be tested or falsified, even in principle. Similarly, theories that are consistent with ALL possible outcomes are similarly "unfalsifiable" and are thus not "scientific" theories. Examples would be Creationism ("That's just the way God did it!") and it's kissing cousin so-called Intelligent Design Theory (The designer designed it that way!") Neither one can be falsified, even in principle, because they are compatible with virtually ANY possible data.
Science embraces the Theory of Evolution tentatively, just as it embraces the Theory of Gravitation tentatively. And as for that other anti-Evo canard: "Evolution isn't falsifiable!" I respectfully suggest that discovering widespread mammalian fossils in the pre-Cambrian strata is just ONE example of data that would turn the Theory of Evolution on it's head.
Why? If intelligent design fits the data, why not allow it as a hypothesis?
Because it fits all data, so it serves no explanatory purpose. Nothing will ever contradict ID. It can't be falsified. It's scientifically useless. Pleasant concept, however. But it's not science.
The ID people are doing a fantastic job of proving that there is no God. That may not be their goal, but it is what they are doing.
Those of us who do believe in God, have enjoying this debate. It teaches us how religions can be distorted for political gains, by false profits who have a vested interest in deception.
Science is the understanding of how God did it. To the mind of an ID person, they are trying to invalidate everything that God has shown us.
I find that rather sad.
What do you mean it fits all data? I can say my car is designed. That fits all data, but it is a fact. If only because I have the testimony of the car dealer and news organizations. Should science be in the business of disallowing facts or theories, simply because it fits?
What do you mean it serves no explanatory purpose? Design works as an explanation in the car example, why not with life? Does either evolution or ID really offer that much in the form of an explanatory purpose? Neither really advances our understanding of anything useful. Advances in biology, genetics, microbiology, etc, could all have come with either or neither of the two theories. Because advances in both are from observations at a lower level. Does faith in evolution advance my doctor's ability to treat the human body? Not one iota. Does it advance my ability to train my dog? Again, not one iota. Name one useful thing that evolution has added to science that couldn't have been discovered in the absence of the theory.
It can't be falsified. It's scientifically useless.
Can't you really say the same thing about evolution? Even when the evidence contradicts evolution, evolutionists just blindly say, there must be some "natural" explanation. Isn't that the same as the creationist saying, there could be either a "natural" or "supernatural" explanation? Does either really contribute to science? But aren't both equally valid theories on our origins?
Isn't that statement itself a statement of "faith", not data?
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