Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Flypaper For The Darwinist Peanut Gallery

I guess I'm an idiot. I think this is a good article (quoted in full here, I also quote it in full below). Poor, uneducated, foolish, superstitious me. I eagerly await tedious non-sequitors from Darwinist commenters. Commenters who haven't bothered to read any of the primary ID works.

Science Classes Should Educate, Not Indoctrinate
By Rebecca Keller
Science Text Publisher
Saturday, September 3, 2005

On Sunday, Aug. 28, the Albuquerque Journal paraphrased me as saying, “Scientists err by being unwilling to consider the possibility that some sort of transcendent being is responsible.”

The Journal acknowledges that this misrepresented my actual words. In fact, it is opposite to what I really think. I don’t believe that looking for a transcendent being, or God, or little green men is in the purview of good science.

However, being willing to consider a design inference, if the data point in that direction, is good science regardless of the philosophical or religious implications.

No scientist should ever be so committed to an ideology, whether that ideology is religious or philosophical in nature, that it blinds him to possible interpretations of scientific data. That happened in Galileo’s time and it is happening today whenever people close their eyes and plug their ears to design inferences in biology.

Living things are incredibly complex. Even on the microscopic scale each cell is literally packed with interacting networks of molecular machines. It looks designed. If it looks designed, how can it be unscientific to wonder if that design is real?

It is understandable that people are concerned about the metaphysical implications; if there is design then there must be a designer.

But the basic trouble, and the underlying reason this controversy never ends, is that evolution is a creation story; it has huge metaphysical implications no matter how it is taught. How is it less religious or less controversial to teach evolution as it is now, pretending that we somehow know that there is no design?

The only way to be religiously neutral on a subject such as evolution is to acknowledge what we know and what we don’t know. Virtually all of our students come into class knowing that evolution is controversial. Pretending it’s not, passing off students’ questions with patronizing non-answers, or pretending “science” really knows that there is no design in biology is certainly not good educational practice.

The current NM State Science Standards were crafted in part to deal with exactly this issue. The Science Standards are divided into three strands: Strand I, Scientific Thinking and Practice, Strand II, Science Content, and Strand III, Science and Society.

If we are going to teach students about biological origins we need to help them understand all the issues behind origins science, including evolution. Why is it controversial? What worldview assumptions are behind it? Do we really know that life was generated only by random processes of mutation and natural selection? What evidence supports it, what evidence is against it?

Strands I and III give guidance in how to deal with such questions. For the record, our science standards were given national recognition as some of the best standards in the nation.

Rio Rancho Science Policy 401 kicked off the latest local brouhaha but what is really happening in Rio Rancho and across the country? Is it a sneaky effort by creationists to get a Trojan horse into the classroom? Is it a conspiracy by the fundamentalist right to take over the country?

No. What’s really happening in Rio Rancho is that because the theory of evolution is being taught without the possibility of criticism or objective dialog, people recognize that it amounts to “religion” being passed off as science.

The Rio Rancho policy is intended to ensure that the state standards are followed. By following Strands I and III of the state standards, the teaching of evolution as religion is minimized. In particular, science teachers should encourage questions and critical thinking about the controversial aspects of evolution.

Not only should students learn that reasonable people disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data, they should learn that scientists disagree, too. In fact, disagreeing about how data should be interpreted is what scientists do. That is science. The history of science illustrates that disagreements in science are the very thing that fuels scientific discovery.

Evolution as a secular creation story is already being preached from the classroom pulpit. Teaching the controversy helps keep religion, of any flavor, out of the classroom.

This is good science education and this is what is being proposed in Rio Rancho and across the country.

Rebecca Keller, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of New Mexico, is president of Gravitas Publications of Albuquerque and writes elementary and middle-school science textbooks.

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Rebecca Keller, Ph.D.
Gravitas Publications, Inc.


Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Star Wars, who is more the idiot: the troll or the sucker who takes the bait? I labor under the conceit that if someone finds the correct way to emphasize that religion does not require evolution to be wrong, and that science rejects "intelligent design", evolution deniers will understand why "ID" is not science and may not constitutionally be taught as an alternative to evolution.

Science is concerned with testable hypotheses. Period. Even William Dembski acknowledges that "intelligent design" cannot be put in the boat as natural laws -- but the rest of hard science, which is the context that creationists wish to teach "ID", is about natural laws and their consequences.

For example, evolution suggests that, given fossils from two sufficiently separated points in time, we will find additional related but morphologically different fossils from before, between and after those fossils. We can look for such fossils, and it turns out that we find them -- in the case of whale evolution, the confirmed prediction was much more accurate than coincidence would allow. (Like any good theory, evolution makes other testable predictions, and those have also been borne out.)

Depending on the variety of ED you look at, it usually proposes either that someone came along and planted all the pro-evolution evidence as a test of humanity's faith, or that something identical to evolution happened but that it was directed by an outside force for which we have no additional scrutable evidence. Neither of those are testable by investigation; perhaps you would summarize some testable hypotheses from the "primary" Evolution Denial works?

"Specified complexity" is not a valid example: Its application to ED presupposes that information means intelligent design. "Irreducable complexity" is not a valid example: Its application to ED presupposes that mechanisms must be assembled discretely rather than adapted.

To answer Keller's first question: If a thing looks designed, it is not unscientific to wonder if it was designed. However, it is unscientific to theorize that it was designed without having any way to test that hypothesis, and it is a vicious betrayal of science to teach that kind of unsupported hypothesis as a scientific theory.

In the very next paragraph she touches on why her proposed teachings are unscientific, but misnames the problem as "metaphysical" rather than "epistemological". If she wants to introduce classes on different ways to reason about the world, she should argue that on its merits. That is not the domain of science, and that is why it is inappropriate to teach evolution denial in science classes.

Later on she is more honest about her agenda: She wants to combine into one debate the actor (if any) behind how we got to our current state and the process. It is a sad comment on the modern state of religious propaganda that so many people are unable or unwilling to make that distinction. Being honest about what the world tells us does mean that some parts of many religious books could not be interpreted literally, but many other parts are already interpreted metaphorically.

Her second question is loaded and not a valid one when it comes to teaching science. Scientific inquiry is orthogonal to issues of religion and controversy, since (some cults excepted) neither of those are predictive in this world. Some scientists will be religious; some will not; but both should be able to test the same hypotheses. Some hypotheses and some tests will be controversial; but the tests can be repeated to resolve the question beyond reasonable doubt. is an article from the NYT; Dr. Richard Lenski's quote at the end about the distinction between science and religion summarizes my viewpoint nicely.

"Like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised." -- Woodrow Wilson, 1922

Matteo said...

Boy, that didn't take long. ;-)

Thanks for the literate response (and I liked the Star Wars reference, although it seems to indicate that I'm a troll, since you must be the sucker who takes the bait; so, in Darwinist fashion we start with an insult, but no matter). I don't agree with it, but thanks. And no, I don't intend to debate it here.

Rather, I intend to keep this blog as a nexus of "religious propaganda", just one pinpoint of light amongst the constellation of "Evolution Denial". As I said in my post, I am superstitious and credulous. Trying to reason with one such as me is a waste of your time.

As I've said in many other venues, I'd appreciate it, if just once, a Darwinist would show personal familiarity with the primary ID works and be specific in arguing against what is found there. I tire of seeing generic cans of "Anti-Creationist" Whup-Ass being opened. They are simply beside the point.

Anonymous said...

My initial comment was meant only as a wry comment that neither side in this debate is perfect; following Ben Kenobi, I meant to suggest that the second case (the sucker who takes the bait) is more culpable.

Since you do not wish to debate the issues, I will refrain from further discussion on them. Conversely, in the absence of a single example of why I should take "the primary ID works" seriously, I do not intend to familiarize myself with them; but may be an example of a group of Darwinian evolution advocates who have studied them to your satisfcation.

Matteo said...

The reason you should take the ID works seriously is that more and more people, such as myself, are finding them convincing. It does no good to put forth arguments that fail to address the very strong ones given in the books. In fact, it damages your cause, because, as far as I can tell, having been studying the whole debate very intensely over the last decade, the Darwinists simply don't have any real answers to the arguments. The material on and doesn't do it for me. Who knows, maybe it wouldn't do it for you either, if you'd actually condescend to read the primary ID works.

However, a continuing tactic of putting forth generic arguments about "religious propaganda" is a losing one, because in the eyes of those who have seen and appreciated the ID arguments (which are scientific, not religious) as fully layed out in the works, it is simply to forfeit the game. And transparently so. Why do you think the ID movement is gaining momentum? I find the old Noah's Ark, Six Day Creationism to be as ludicrous and foolish as you do. But not ID. There are good reasons for this, and they are strongly argued for in works such as "Darwin's Black Box", "The Design Revolution", "Darwin On Trial", et al. If I'm to be convinced otherwise, I need to hear from folks who actually have a personal knowledge of what is in the books, and who address the arguments directly. Nothing else will do. An attitude that says essentially, "You're stupid and I don't have to read what's in your stupid books because they're stupid," just loses with me and the growing number of others who are trying hard but failing to see the clothes that the Darwinist Emperor is supposedly wearing. They used to look like a resplendent gown to me (really, they did), but now all I see is a naked old man.

However, it is your choice, and I thank you for the civil and wry tone of your comments here.