Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical
hermionesviolin

on evolution and public debate

Miranda posted a link to this:
Wording for the first disclaimer (top left) is taken verbatim from the sticker designed by the Cobb County School District ("A community with a passion for learning") in Georgia. Really, I'm not making it up! The other 14 are mildly educational spoofs that demonstrate the real meaning of "theory" and the true motivations of School Board members. Ideally, these stickers will deter people in other districts from using "disclaimers" as a way to undermine the teaching of evolution. Please forward them to anyone who is considering it, or to friends in school districts where disclaimers are likely to be discussed.
The Cobb disclaimer reads as follows:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
My reaction: What's wrong with saying that? Lots of science is theory. Theory with a lot of compelling evidence/argument behind it but theory nonetheless. And shouldn’t everything "be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered"?

I can understand the frustration people have at a movement that seeks to undermine something they think of as scientifically sound, especially since said people don't view the proposed replacement as being scientifically sound at all, but i'm a fan of anything that encourages thoughtful engagement with material, and taken out of context, that's what the Cobb disclaimer appears to do.

A few weeks ago, my father pointed out this article, commenting:
I have always thought it was a good teaching idea to "teach the controversy": what do evolutionary theories explain? what don't they? what do creationist and ID theories explain? what don't they? What does it matter?

It is not unscientific to seriously consider theories you dislike.
He also linked to this post by Eugene Volokh on wisdom and ironies re: evolution and religion. Later, Todd Zywicki proposed a survey which he suspects would
reveal that the left's religious faith in political correctness and its trump over scientific inquiry would prove as powerful for some liberals as traditional religious faith seems to be for some conservatives. And to my mind, equally embarrassing.

As a policy question, there is one difference between religiously-motivated science on the left and the right may or may not be relevant. This is that the right's program is to add new (dubious) ideas to the educational system (i.e., add intelligent design to the teaching of evolutionary theory) whereas the left's goal is to censor and exclude investigation of certain (potentially explanatory) scientific hypotheses from the educational system. As a policy question, my sense is that most people ascribe to something like a "free marketplace of ideas" conceptualization of education, meaning that they would prefer to err on the side of including erroneous ideas if they are also countered by better ideas, rather than the exclusion of potentially true ideas. I personally would have no problem with excluding ID and including EP, but then I think that these investigations should be questions of science, not religion.

Joanne Jacobs recently posted:
The National Education Association's college affiliate has "unanimously rejected a proposal to expand its policy on academic and professional freedom to protect 'intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas' in the nation's classrooms."

The proposal by a Washington state teacher was considered part of "the conservative agenda."
My father wrote:
I remember when that used to be considered "liberal." and how exactly is it "conservative"? (My guess is that the NEA sees it as code for "teaching anti-evolution" but I've always said that the best way to deal with challenges to evolutionary theory is to consider them fairly: confront them with evidence, and let the chips fall where they may. And it can even make for a more interesting class.)
From the comment thread:
"P. Abel" writes:
How excellent for students to be able to clearly & succinctly tell US the strengths and weaknesses of each "idea". Why shouldn't THEY be able to discern between religious belief & scientific theory.
"Ivory" contends:
Not to belabor the point but scientists do not consider intelligent design part of science. It is considered philosophy and has no place in a science classroom because it is inherently untestable. (So while this debate could take place in a philosophy course, in a biology course it would be out of place.)

Science is not like history where different events are open to interpretation based on ones political philosophy or cultural background. The age of the earth has been calculated based on the ratio of different radioactive elements in the rocks of the crust and their rate of radioactive decay over time. No scientist would dispute this evidence. Disagreement is purely on philisophical grounds and has no place in a science course.
My father responds:
Ivory,

I have to disagree a little. I think that anything that tries to explain the universe potentially belongs in a science class. But it has to be evaluated by scientific criteria.

"Evolution" v. "intelligent design" can make for an interesting lesson in "doing science." What exactly does "intelligent design" say? Hmm. A problem because it is largely a criticism of Darwinism. So what could a positive ID thoery say? What would it predict? If Darwinism is correct, what discoveries would you expect to see in the next 10-20 years? If ID is correct? What discoveries would seem to disprove Darwinism? ID? And so on.

Teaching a controversy can make for a more interesting class than just setting out "the truth." Some people say that among scientists there really is no controversy about the basics of Darwinism, and they are largely correct. But a large number--perhaps a majority!--of Americans think the scientists are wrong. That tells me that you have to deal with them.

And there's an irony here. If students passively memorize what the professor says and spit it back on the test a few months later, they will probably forget it afterwards. Their prior beliefs will stay the same. But if they have to analyze them and confront them with evidence, their beliefs may change.
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