Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design as Science in Public Schools

About a month ago I got a Linked-In notification of a post on the American Physical Society group about a White House petition to ban the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design as Science.  Being an educator who takes science literacy seriously, I happily signed the petition.

The petition was motivated by the relentless push of fundamentalists to teach Creationism and Intelligent Design as part of the Science curriculum in public schools.  I was surprised by the criticisms posted in response to the petition.  Below are the critical comments and my response.

You are trying to ban free speech. This is not an issue of free speech. The petition would only ban the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design AS science in public schools.

Not everything true is science. Science is a method that has been shown to be incredibly successful in understanding and controlling the material world.  Because Creationism and Intelligent Design do not provide falsifiable hypotheses, they are religion not science.  It is disingenuous to teach religion as science.

If science is all one can teach then education is reduced to propaganda.  We should only teach science in a science class.  There are plenty of non-science classes in the public schools.  Nobody is calling for only teaching science, though I think we need way more science education.

Who controls what is science?  Nobody controls science.  It is not a hierarchical system like a church where rules are handed down from authority.  Scientists pose hypotheses and do experiments to test hypotheses.  Once a huge body of evidence explains many things in a simple way, it is elevated to the status of a theory.  Scientists gather theories and distil them into books to help others learn what is known.

I know a number of big science personalities that act as bullies against even other scientists for any idea that is not pure status quo. The status quo is routinely turned on its head as new evidence accumulates.  A scientist may be protecting his or her turf, but the community as a whole moves (sometimes glacially) in the direction that evidence takes it.  Many of the greatest ideas were proposed by young whipper snappers, which have become the basis of many of our most successful theories.

Banning the theory of creationism and ID sounds inconsistent with the scientific method. Scientifically we don't ban theories, we simply conclude that the theory is not supported by experimental results.Scientists are not banning Creationism and Intelligent Design.  The petition specifically bans only the teaching of Creationism and ID as science.

Wow, it is a bit disturbing to know that there are those who think that banning ideas is in harmony with our Constitution. Many have heard that old saying, "The church is a refuge for scoundrels". That truism is even truer for "science". Indeed, before condemning the teaching of "Creationism" in schools, one should feel some obligation to define "science". It most controversial discussions, the subject being discussed is never succinctly defined. Science has a precise and hopefully universally-known definition which is well stated on Wikipedia as follow: Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge"[1]) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[2][3][4] In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist.

It is said history repeat itself. This petition remember me the French revolution and the campaign waged by the radicals to dechristianize France under the same banner, the age of reason and how Maximilien Robespierre delivered his speech in the festival of reason (The Cult of Reason), and also remember me the Stalinists when their leader Stalin said: "There are three things that we do to disabuse the minds of our seminary students. We had to teach them the age of the earth, the geologic origin, and Darwin's teachings". In both cases the radicals used the same tool to eliminate their opposing views, they used the power of government.  Science has determined the age of the earth, describes its geological origin, and understands the evolutionary process.  Each of these areas meets the definition of science.  The fact that some ruthless individuals in the past advocated for science is irrelevant.  Also, the goal of the petition is not to use government to snuff out religion, only to not teach Creationism and ID as science.

I won't be signing. Why get involved in debates about the unprovable? Evolution (of new species) and creationism/ID are all unprovable. I see a magazine cover on the news stands this week with Bill Nye "fighting" for evolution - I guess - he likes to debate the ID folks, but he can't prove anything either. Science never proves anything.  However, there is overwhelming evidence for evolution that has met rigorous scientific testing, so scientists accept it.  It is a false dichotomy to say two propositions are equivalent because they or both not 100% provable.  In these cases, the preponderance of evidence is used to make the choice. 

 I'm afraid if this banning happen we are going to end up with the burning of the books of creationism and ID in Washington, D.C. and the professors who insist to teach creationism and ID are going to be arrested (because it is illegal), just like what happened in Germany in May 1933. I mean the Nazi book burnings.  The petition does not prohibit the teaching of Creationism and ID, only teaching these topics as science in public schools.  It is frankly insulting to equate Nazis with those who defend science education.

Today's great theory is tomorrow's folly! The question whether our reality came about through creation or evolution is characteristically a 19th century question. Today, with our understanding of relativity and our technological advances, no scientist would ask such a question. However, the fact that there is a large body of scientists and creationists still asking and fighting over such a question, is a subject of keen scientific investigation in itself. For that reason, we cannot ban hypotheses. It's a very unscientific thing to do. The fact that lots of people are fighting for Creationism is not a sign that there are legitimate scientific issues that remain unresolved.  Creationism is not science because it offers no testable hypotheses.  The fight is between science and those who do not like where the evidence is leading.

Stating the earth is flat is not fraud in my opinion; it is inaccurate and lacking critical scientific evidence and completeness. Creationism and ID are not amenable to test under the scientific method and therefore not fraud to state in public--you cannot disprove or prove scientifically the existence of God. Why do you jump to conclusions and say it is falsehood. How do you know the context that creationism or ID is presented in every classroom where it is done. Because Creationism and ID are not amenable to scientific tests, it should not be taught as science.  This is not an issue of fraud.  At least the flat earth is a local approximation to a sphere but Creationism and ID do not overlap with anything that is testable.

Facts are debated before the are established. Many theories and dogma that were believed to be fact have been discarded in the past when new information displaced them. Why should Creationism/ID be any different? The truth here is that you are being even more dogmatic than the Creationists/ID whom you are trying to ban. They are not advocating the banning of science or evolution. They just want equal time for their dogma, theory or whatever....truth shall prevail. The scientific method itself is dogma that needs to be scientifically validated from time to time as we learn more about our reality. I learned the scientific method and I learned creation. Today I am in a position to make arguments for or against either of them....they both have "issues". Do you want future generations to be ignorant simply because you fall on one side of the argument? Asserting that "Creationism/ID is not science therefore should not be taught in a science class" Is equally foolish because the scientific method knows nothing sacred. Everything is subject to investigation. I would doubt that Francis Bacon or Karl Popper would agree that there are any subjects which are "out of bounds" for scientific inquiry.  Science is not a dogma, but a way of gathering information that leads to a body of knowledge that is objectively true, in the sense that its elements are testable and reproducible.  Creationism and ID are dogma that cannot be tested.  Competing scientific hypotheses deserve equal time, but Creationism and ID are not science so should not be presented as a competing scientific view.  Popper and Bacon would disagree with you.  Popper proposed that only falsifiable propositions are testable, and religious dogma is not.  Similarly, Bacon espoused the scientific method. Creationism and ID are not suitable candidates for study based on the nature of the claim.

Belief in either ID or Spontaneous Generation origin theory (neither are yet proven and re-producible law) takes a leap of faith. What is unscientific about considering more than one origin theory? It appears that many SG advocates are emotionally invested in their origin theory, and this makes than uncomfortable with comparison beyond what they can demonstrate.  My personal observation of trends is that science is on the verge of proving ID of new life forms, and this makes SG 'experts' more than a little uncomfortable -- to the point of demanding censorship of ID origins theory. If ID presented testable and falsifiable hypotheses, it would be the object of scientific study; and, if the hypotheses were shown to be true, ID would become accepted on the evidence.  SG theory, as you call it, has many testable hypotheses.  For example, how are complex molecules made?  ID people say GOD created them.  What is the testable hypothesis?  None are offered.  Scientists propose that SG requires that early earth conditions should spontaneously yield complex molecules from simple ones.  Miller and Urey  did  the experiment by simulating early earth conditions in a test tube.  They exposed  water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2) (known early earth atmosphere and oceans) to an electric discharge (lightening).  A goo forms on the bottom of the test tube.  An analysis shows that it contains amino acids - the building blocks of life.  There are thousands of similar experiments that test various aspects of SG.  This is science.  ID is not.

There are at least a billion people who pay taxes and believe in Creationism....and you want their children to grow up ignorant of the implications of what they are supposed to believe? About there being two creation stories; have you heard of Einstein's twin brothers analogy? While it has its issues, those issues are not germane to it's analogy of the two creation stories. In my view both the evolution and creation narratives suffer from the concepts brought about by the twin brother analogy. Creationism IS a creation story and evolution, big bang cosmology, etc. IS science.  Teach science as science and Creationism as religion.  People can teach their children whatever they want, but in a science class, we are paying schools to teach science so that we can produce scientists who cure diseases, make our lives comfortable, and give us leisure to pursue our interests.  The money spent on science returns dividends that surpass the investment.  That is why we invest in science.

Parting Comments

People take advantage of what science produces but are uncomfortable when the knowledge gained conflicts with their religious beliefs.  The comments posted here testify to the respect that Science has won; everyone wants their beliefs to be associated with science as proof of their veracity.  Since Science carries so much weight, it is natural for Creationists and IDers to

push there agendas by forcing these topics into science classes.

Science, unlike people, is honest.  It is the best process to create an accurate representation of the material world that allows us to control nature and understand our origins.  The scientific method works best when its practitioners approach it without preconceived notions about how the world should be.  Forcing Creationism and ID into a Science curriculum corrupts the process and at its root is a dishonest act of self interest.

Those of you who think that banning the teaching of creationism is stifling free speech should read the decision of Judge Jones in the famous Dover case. He is a conservative christian appointed by Bush and gave the most impeccably logical arguments of why ID/creationism is not science and should be banned from being taught as science.

It's ironic that so many people use the argument that we can't disprove religion/creationism/ID so leave us alone and let it be taught in schools. This is exactly what makes religion/creationism/ID not science so it should not be taught as such.

The bottom line is that we are wasting precious classroom time teaching non-science that should be dedicated to teaching science; and in the process making students willfully ignorant citizens who will not believe that HIV is real, that vaccines cause autism, and that climate change must be a conspiracy because it snowed in my backyard.

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