Skip to comments.Teaching Science (Another Derbyshire Classic!)
Posted on 08/30/2005 9:31:31 AM PDT by RightWingAtheist
Catching up on back news this past few days I was out of the country for the first two weeks of August I caught President Bush's endorsement of teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," President Bush told a reporter August 2, "so people can understand what the debate is all about."
This is Bush at his muddle-headed worst, conferring all the authority of the presidency on the teaching of pseudoscience in science classes. Why stop with Intelligent Design (the theory that life on earth has developed by a series of supernatural miracles performed by the God of the Christian Bible, for which it is pointless to seek any naturalistic explanation)? Why not teach the little ones astrology? Lysenkoism? Orgonomy? Dianetics? Reflexology? Dowsing and radiesthesia? Forteanism? Velikovskianism? Lawsonomy? Secrets of the Great Pyramid? ESP and psychokinesis? Atlantis and Lemuria? The hollow-earth theory? Does the president have any idea, does he have any idea, how many varieties of pseudoscientific flapdoodle there are in the world? If you are going to teach one, why not teach the rest? Shouldn't all sides be "properly taught"? To give our kids, you know, a rounded picture? Has the president scrutinized Velikovsky's theories? Can he refute them? Can you?
And every buncombe theory every one of those species of twaddle that I listed has, or at some point had, as many adherents as Intelligent Design. The hollow-earth theory was taken up by the Nazis and taught, as the Hohlweltlehre, in German schools. It still has a following in Germany today. Velikovsky's theories he believed that Jupiter gave birth to a giant comet which, after passing close to earth and causing the miracles of the Book of Exodus, settled down as the planet Venus were immensely popular in the 1950s and generated heated controversy, with angry accusations by the Velikovskians that they were being shut out by closed-minded orthodox astronomers determined to protect their turf, etc., etc. Lysenkoism was state doctrine in Stalin's Russia and was taught at the most prestigious universities. Expressing skepticism about it could get you shot. (Likewise with the bizarre linguistic theories of Stalin's protégé N.Y. Marr, who believed that every word in every human language derived from one of four basic elements, pronounced "sal," "ber," "yon," and "rosh." I tell you, the house of pseudoscience has many, many mansions.) Dianetics was rebranded as Scientology and is now a great force in the land try criticizing it, and you'll find out.
Nor is any of these theories lacking in a certain appeal, as Martin Gardner, from whose book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science I compiled that list, is charitable enough to point out. Of Lawsonomy "The earth is a huge organism operating by Suction and Pressure..." Gardner says generously: "This makes more sense than one might think." Pseudoscience is in fact a fascinating study, though as sociology, not as science. Gardner's book, now 50 years old, is still an excellent introduction, and great fun to read.
What, then, should we teach our kids in high-school science classes? The answer seems to me very obvious. We should teach them consensus science, and we should teach it conservatively. Consensus science is the science that most scientists believe ought to be taught. "Conservatively" means eschewing theories that are speculative, unproven, require higher math, or even just are new, in favor of what is well settled in the consensus. It means teaching science unskeptically, as settled fact.
Consider physics, for example. It became known, in the early years of the last century, that Newton's physics breaks down at very large or very tiny scales of distance, time, and speed. New theories were cooked up to explain the discrepancies: the special and general theories of relativity, quantum theory and its offspring. By the 1930s these new theories were widely accepted, though some of the fine details remained (and some still remain!) to be worked out.
Then, in the late 1950s, along came your humble correspondent, to study physics to advanced level at a good English secondary school. What did they teach us? Newtonian mechanics! I didn't take a class in relativity theory until my third year at university, age 21. I never have formally studied quantum mechanics, though I flatter myself I understand it well enough.
My schoolmasters did the right thing. Newton's mechanics is the foundation of all physics. "But it's wrong!" you may protest. Well, so it is; but it is right enough to form that essential foundation; right enough that you cannot understand the nature of its wrongness until you have mastered it. (Along with some college-level math.) Furthermore, it is consensus science. By that I mean, if you were to poll 10,000 productive working physicists and ask them what ought to be taught in our high schools, I imagine that upwards of 9,900 of them would say: "Well, you have to get Newtonian mechanics into their heads..." No doubt you'd find the odd Velikovskian or adherent of the Hohlweltlehre, but Newtonism would be the consensus. Intelligent high-school seniors should, I think, be encouraged to read popular books about relativity and quantum mechanics. Perhaps, nowadays I couldn't say, I am out of touch teachers have even figured out how to make some of that higher stuff accessible to young minds, and are teaching it. If so, that's great. The foundation, though, must be consensus science, conservatively taught.
I think intelligent teenagers should also be given some acquaintance with pseudoscience, just so that they might learn to spot it when they see it. A copy of that excellent magazine Skeptical Inquirer ought to be available in any good high school library, along with books like Gardner's. I am not sure that either pseudoscience or its refutation has any place in the science classroom, though. These things properly belong in social studies, if anywhere outside the library.
And what should we teach our kids in biology classes, concerning the development of living things on earth? We should teach them Darwinism, on exactly the same arguments. There is no doubt this is consensus science. When the Intelligent Design people flourished a list of 400 scientists who were skeptical of the theory of evolution, the National Center for Science Education launched "Project Steve," in which they asked for affirmation of the contrary view, but only from scientists named Steve. (Which they estimate to be about one percent of all U.S. scientists.) The Steve-O-Meter stands at 577 as of this July 8, implying around 57,000 scientists on the orthodox side. That's consensus science. When the I.D. support roster has 57,000 names on it, drop me a line.
And Darwinism ought to be taught conservatively, without skepticism or equivocation, which will only confuse young minds. Darwinism is the essential foundation for all of modern biology and genomics, and offers a convincing explanation for all the phenomena we can observe in the life sciences. It may be that, as we get to finer levels of detail, we shall find gaps and discrepancies in Darwinism that need new theories to explain them. This is a normal thing in science, and new theories will be worked out to plug the gaps, as happened with Newtonism a hundred years ago. If this happens, nobody no responsible scientist will be running round tearing his hair, howling "Darwinism is a theory in crisis!" any more than the publication of Einstein's great papers a hundred years ago caused physicists to make bonfires of the Principia. The new theories, once tested and validated, will be welcomed and incorporated, as Einstein's and Planck's were. And very likely our high schools will just go on teaching Darwinism, as mine taught me Newtonism fifty years after Einstein's revolution. They will be right to do so, in my opinion, just as my schoolmasters were right.
If you are afraid that your children, being confronted with science in school, will turn into atheists and materialists, you have a wide variety of options available to you in this free nation. Most obviously, you should take your kids to church regularly, encourage them to pray, say grace before meals, and respond to those knotty questions that children sometimes ask with answers from your own faith. Or you could homeschool them, or send them to a religious school, and make sure they are not exposed to the science you fear so much.
You really shouldn't be afraid of science, though. Plenty of fine scientists have been religious. The hero of my last book, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 19th century, was a very devout man, as I took pains to make clear. The same can be said of many Darwinists. I am currently researching the life of the Victorian writer Charles Kingsley, who was a keen naturalist, an early and enthusiastic supporter of Darwin, and also a passionate Christian, who preached the last of his many fine sermons from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey. (The last words of that sermon were: "Come as thou seest best, but in whatsoever way thou comest, even so come, Lord Jesus." I suppose this man would be considered impious by the Intelligent Design merchants.)
A great deal of nonsense is being talked in this zone recently. Science is science, and ought to be taught in our public schools conservatively, from the professional consensus, as settled fact. Religion is quite a different thing. It is not entirely unconnected with science. Many scientists have believed that in their inquiries, they were engaging with God's thoughts. Faraday certainly thought so; probably Newton did, too; possibly Einstein did. This has even been a strong motivation for scientific research, and it is probable that in a world with no religion, we should have much less science than we have. Those are matters psychological and motivational, though. They don't they can't inform the content of scientific theories, because those theories are naturalistic by definition. Whether miracles happen in the world is a thing you must decide for yourself, based on your own faith, study, and life experiences. To admit miracles into a scientific theory, however, turns it into pseudoscience at once; and while pseudoscience can be fun, it is not science. Nor is it religion, except in the widest and loosest possible sense of that word, a sense that includes every kind of supernatural baloney that any clever crackpot can come up with a sense I personally will not accept.
The guy is basically crying because a politician (Bush) has a better grasp of science issues than he does.
"Nor is it religion, except in the widest and loosest possible sense of that word, a sense that includes every kind of supernatural baloney that any clever crackpot can come up with a sense I personally will not accept."
LOL - I won't personally accept evolution.
It's a statement of faith that science is "settled fact." I have a book at home about the history of cosmology. It relates how a series of theories about the origin of the universe were each once considered "settled fact," only to have each blown out of the water by new information.
He makes a pretty good point.
Then why is the big-bang theory taught in science classrooms?
This is a strawman definition of ID. Probably most, but certainly not all, of the proponents of ID fit into this definition. This largely invalidates his otherwise excellent arguments against ID, as they do not address what ID proponents actually say, but rather his slanted viewpoint of what they say.
That science can't explain the miraculous only speaks to the limits of science.
Big difference. Newtonian mechanics works and is therefore basically true under certain conditions. Darwinian evolution is totally unproven in every sense and case.
Very good article, Thanks for the post.
Nor does he state what evolutionists believe. Hows is Macro-evolution science? It is historical science at best, explaining the past based on what one sees, and HOW one interprets it. When I see fossils, I think "Must have been a very quick event to cover and preserve that many animals that quickly". Fossils are evidence of quick burial, hence my interpretation as evidence of a global flood.
Really? In what way? Please be specific.
I won't accept that I'm growing old. My lack of acceptance has as much effect upon my senescance as yours does on the science of biology.
Because it makes the loudest noise.
Science - a method of learning about the physical universe by applying the principles of the scientific method, which includes making empirical observations, proposing hypotheses to explain those observations, and testing those hypotheses in valid and reliable ways; also refers to the organized body of knowledge that results from scientific study
Question: How do they empirically test macro-evolution (esp. abiogensis->man, but also dinosaur->bird, land mammal->sea mammal, etc.)
Answer: They can't; is it truly science, then?
And that limitation is fine by me.
Almost every week a new song and dance. Pitiful.
> How do they empirically test macro-evolution
By looking at the fossil record, for one. Does the evidence suggest, say, that repitles evolved over several important but individually each useful steps into birds? You bet.
"Darwinian evolution is totally unproven in every sense and case."
Wow. A bit of overbreadth. I believe even die-hard creationist accept what they call "micro-evolution."
For example, no one disputes that Shetland ponies evolved from regular horses after a ship wreck left them stranded. The relative scarcity of food made smaller size an advantage (they were more "fit"), so the smaller horses lived to have babies. The trait was reinforced over a couple of hundred years until what-we-now-call the Shetland pony was created.
Other examples abound, of course, that's just the one I recall.
That's a good one! I needed a good chuckle...oh wait...you're serious, aren't you?
Rather than refute you, I will just ask you to read and ponder Junior's tag-line.
What type of life is there on Earth. How are they classified. Why are they classified as such. What are their components and structure. etc...
The author is clearly aware that many people will not like evolution and will want to dismiss it.
That is why he makes the case that it is the consensus of scientists that matters.
The consensus of scientists is that much of evolution is a fact.
Pseudoscience seldom crept in to as high a level in any other natural sciences discipline. Astrology or orgone field never entered in to legitimate institutions of science in astonomy or biology in the manner the above mentioned did in evolutionary biology.
Or bad science, peppered moths and the like.
The slipshod nature of so much evolutionay teaching, and use of it to promote sociopolitical belief or agenda, has contributed to a widespread skepticism of the field.
Answer: Theories of evolution make, or imply, certain predictions (or post-dictions, as the case may be) about what one would expect to have happened. Analysis of the fossil evidence, or of the genetic relationships of existing creatures, can than be used to confirm or disprove those predictions. Doing science does not always require a laboratory experiment. For example, evolutionary theory suggested the concept of common descent. Subsequently DNA analysis of modern creatures has shown to be consistent with that common descent, a fact unknown when those predictions were made. This does not prove those theories, but it does support them.
Very good article. Thanks for the post.
That's natural selection.
So science, which always applauds a healthy skepticism in combination with the scientific method, is to be taught unskeptically as essentially a materialist religion.
Tell me Derbyshire, which of the two theories, phyletic evolution (advanced by Dawkins), or punctuated evolution (advanced by Stephen Jay Gould), is "settled", "consensus" science? They cannot both be true.
Not really. This is stated alot but it isn;t so.
Medelian inheritance is much more important.
In terms of the foundation it is Mendelian inheritance and chemistry.
If there was some edict or a parrallel universe where some sort of ID theory was universally held, the same results of the structure of DNA, structure of proteins, genome sequences, similarities and relationships between genes and genomes of species would all the be the same and the same work would be done.
Darwinism provides a framework to discuss and analyze and put things in perspective. It is not the foundation though.
Genetics is required for a biology degree. A class on evolution is not, for example.
That consensus includes ID proponents like Behe, Dembski, and Denton. They accept the fact of evolution pretty much as it is taught in schools.
Where they differ is in the mechanism of variation, where they posit some non-ramdom mechanism.
This small detail is generally overlooked on these threads.
You didn't read the article, did you? Or at least you completely misunderstood the author's references to Relativity and Quantum physics, which modified Newton's physics. Yet he was originally taught Newton, and I would hope today's kids are taught Newton as well.
Newton is basically correct, and is valid and useful for many computations in engineering. But it's not possible to teach how Newton is wrong, until a student understands it.
Likewise it is not possible to teach fine details of how Darwin was "wrong", until a student understands how Darwin was basically correct.
That's actually a classic example of gobbledygook.
Bush is a great politician. But he was stupid enough to stick his neck into this one (maybe he thought the uproar would detract from this Cindy business, and he expended some political capital in the effort).
And yes, the evolutionists on this forum are still conservative. Thank you for your concern.
It's people like this and atheistic fools like you that want us to believe life on his planet evolved by random chance. Believing that is is the equivalent of believing a tornado could sweep across a junkyard an assemble a 747.
For example for one to reject intelligent design one must believe a bacterial flagellum -- a motorized system the size of a virus somehow came into existence by random chance when mankind doesn't possess the intelligence to create it.
Dr. Michael Behe, who could outdebate you or this clown with 99% of his brain tied behind his back:
An example of an irreducibly complex cellular system is the bacterial flagellum: a rotary propeller, powered by a flow of acid, that bacteria use to swim. The flagellum requires a number of parts before it works - a rotor, stator and motor. Furthermore, genetic studies have shown that about 40 different kinds of proteins are needed to produce a working flagellum.
The intracellular transport system is also quite complex. Plant and animal cells are divided into many discrete compartments; supplies, including enzymes and proteins, have to be shipped between these compartments. Some supplies are packaged into molecular trucks, and each truck has a key that will fit only the lock of its particular cellular destination. Other proteins act as loading docks, opening the truck and letting the contents into the destination compartment.
Many other examples could be cited. The bottom line is that the cell - the very basis of life - is staggeringly complex. But doesn't science already have answers, or partial answers, for how these systems originated? No. As James Shapiro, a biochemist at the University of Chicago, wrote, "There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations."
A few scientists have suggested non-Darwinian theories to account for the cell, but I don's find them persuasive. Instead, I think that the complex systems were designed - purposely arranged by an intelligent agent.
Whenever we see interactive systems (such as a mouse trap) in the everyday world, we assume that they are the products of intelligent activity. We should extend the reasoning to cellular systems. We know of no other mechanism, including Darwin's, which produces such complexity. Only intelligence does.
People like you have to believe the symmetry of solar eclipse is a result of random chance. The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, yet the exact distance from the moon to form a perfect eclipse. If you think that happened by accidernt, you and the author of this tripe are morons.
Thanks for the ping!
Sounds reasonable. Except that Derb does have a clue about how and by whom science is taught in the American high school. Assuming that he/she is typical, we may assume that he.she was not among the top students in his/her biology class. I think we may also assume that all he/she really understand about this issue is the obiter dicta of his college teacher, likely some wet-behind-the-ears TA. The actual content of evolution will not come from the teacher but from the textbook. That hardly rises to the same level as discussion in" Scientific American." Leading me to the conclusion: How in the world do they expect the issue to be engaged meaningfully? And finally consider WHo the students are. How are THEY to be raised to a level of understanding necessary to partoicupate in this dialogue?
The fundies' version of "intelligent design" has no place in public schools. However, the basic concept that intelligent design may have played a PART in evolution is well worth considering. We're doing quite a bit of it ourselves right now, and are already capable of doing a lot more if we got a mind to. Absent the concept of intelligent design, a couple of thousand years from now, scientists may be struggling to devise theories whereby evolution alone resulted in the appearance of of those incredibly handy strains of bacteria which produce human insulin (how about this: maybe a human got infected with one of these little bugs, and then somehow some human pancreas genes accidentally got into the bacteria, and then the human pooped, and out went the bacteria into the world). And bioengineering experts today would only need a few million dollars at most, to cook up single celled organisms which would thrive on Mars, and over time, evolve there into more complex organisms. By all means, let's teach "intelligent design" in public school science classes, but make sure it's taught with the message that the students are themselves capable of becoming intelligent designers.
Major Premise: If Bacterial mutation yields resistant strains due to natural selection, simple organisms evolved to man by the same mechanism
Minor Premise: Bacterial mutation DOES yield resistant strains due to natural selection
Conclusion: simple organisms evolved to man by natural selection
The argument has a valid stucture and conclusion, but the Major premise is untrue, and fatally flawed.
If it were true, we would find "tons" of transitional fossil remains, but we have not. Hence Mr. Gould developed the "Puntuated Equilibrium" theory, which is not testable.
this thread is rapidly turning into a Festival of Ignorance. Is it "Internet Day" at the saw mill or something?
Okay let me clarify - the consensus of scientists is that mutation and natural selection are the mechanisms of evolution.
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