Evolution as Design

The world is flat; astronauts did not go to the moon; and the Earth is 10,000 years old.

A recent poll reported that very few people in the US accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on Earth. According to the National Center for Science Education, in a 24-country poll, 41% of the respondents identified themselves as “evolutionists” and 28% as “creationists”, and 31% indicating they don’t know what to believe. In the US, 28% were “evolutionists”, with the “creationist” view held by 40%. The evolution view was most popular in Sweden, with the U.S. ranking 18.

According to Edward O. Wilson, creation myths were Darwinian in nature in that just about all cultures devised myths for survival.  It gives members of society an explanation for human existence.  Wilson goes on to say:

Tribal conflict, where believers on the inside were pitted against infidels on the outside, was a principal driving force that shaped biological human nature. The truth of each myth lived in the heart, not in the rational mind. By itself, mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity. But the reverse order is possible. The discovery of the origin and meaning of humanity might explain the origin and meaning of myths, hence the core of organized religion.  Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 194-198). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Darwinian evolution and creation science (including intelligent design) are two world views, and Wilson asks if these worldviews can be reconciled?  His answer is no.  As he puts it:

Their opposition defines the difference between science and religion, between trust in empiricism and belief in the supernatural.  Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 199-200). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Wilson explains that from the 1859 theory of natural selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, science has provided in part the following:

There is a real creation story of humanity, and one only, and it is not a myth. It is being worked out and tested, and enriched and strengthened, step by step. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 224-225). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Science teachers, who work to offer a bridge between the world of science, and the world of youth have to give experiences in an environment that is open and not dogmatic.  Students come to school with scientific perceptions that have been built up and learned over time. Students arriving in 9th grade biology have constructed ideas about origins, inheritance, genes, cells, traits, and the relationship between natural selection and the environment. Because these ideas overlap with their religious beliefs and their family’s political beliefs, there is often a conflict for them about evolution, and other controversial ideas in science. The important notion is that students enter courses in science with beliefs about evolution, climate change, and global warming, and each of these ideas has become politicized by various advocacy groups, and of course, the press.

Building on students prior knowledge is one of the guiding principles that teachers and researchers have discovered as crucial to deep learning.  Work in the field of the learning sciences has shown that one of the best ways for students to learn is in classrooms where teachers build on their prior knowledge.  In the context of teaching evolutionary theory, students views on evolution are probably not very different from the adult population’s acceptance of the theory of evolution as a valid explanation of the origin of life.  Research by Ron Anderson suggests that it is a mistake to ignore students’ world views which may conflict with the scientific worldview of the origin of life.  As I’ve suggested here, it flies in the face of constructivist learning and the learning sciences.

Science and religion are two differing world views.  But because we have created a curriculum that compartmentalized knowledge and study, science teachers are put in a precarious position.  Although we have experimented with interdisciplinary curriculum and study, science is taught in science class, and religion is taught in social science courses.  Although I agree with Wilson that science and religion cannot be reconciled, it’s not a valid pedagogical strategy to ignore the interactions in student’s minds about origins.

Unfortunately, for more than a century, the teaching of evolution has been politicized.  The famous Scopes Trial is the embodiment of the cultural war that succeeds to this day.  In the 1970s creation science made its way into schools, only to be rebuffed by the courts.  Intelligent design is a form of creationism, and especially promoted by the Discovery Institute.  Politicians and state and local school board members have worked in concert with the Discovery Institute to pass laws either suggesting that I.D. be taught alongside evolution, or that “controversial” scientific theories such as evolution, global warming, and cloning be scrutinized under the banner of “academic freedom bills.”

 

Click on Darwin Two Pound Coin to go to Evolution as Design

Evolution by Design is a new eBook exploring how the teaching of evolution has become a rallying cry for conservatives and religious fundamentalists who think that creationism or intelligent design should be considered along and be given equal time as evolution.  Creationism and intelligent design have been rejected by one court decision after another, but the forces behind this movement are still lurking.

They have made stealth appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee classrooms.   Over the past four years, these two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present scientific information about the full range of scientific views about biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propaganda organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum. Foiled by the courts to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the ”academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that were passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think? Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

Evolution by Design is comprised of four chapters

  • The Law of Evolution: The title of this section comes from a statement made by James Watson in which he said, “Lets not beat around the bush–the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a “theory “in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. EVOLUTION IS A LAW (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the Law of Gravity, the Laws of Motion, or Avogadro’s Law.”
  • Evolution in the States:  Over the past decade the evolution wars have been played out in a number of states, including: Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana.  We take a look at these events.
  • Intelligent Design.  I.D. is creationism in disguise, and has been used as a wedge to get into the science curriculum as an alternative to Darwinian evolution.  We ask what Darwin would think, and why a judge ruled that I.D. is not science.
  • Teaching Evolution: Teaching evolution in church, teaching science “critically,” and issues that teachers face in the classroom.

A Kindle edition of Evolution as Design is available on Amazon, and is free through August 14, 2012.

Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms

Over the past four years, two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.  Protecting teachers?  Have these legislators heard of VAM?  No protection of teachers here.

What is really going on?

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propagada organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum.  Foiled by the courts to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the  “academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that have been passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick  language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.  Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think?  Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science refers to the Louisiana Science Education Act as a “stealth creationism bill, that actually evolved from another bill, “The LA Academic Freedom Act,” which descended from the original bill that was created by the Discovery Institute.  The Tennessee Act also descended from the Discovery Institute’s bill.

Discovery Institute Dispersal Tree: Academic Freedom for Science Teachers!

The Discovery Institute disperses its ideas by making them public on its website .  If you are a state legislator, all you have to do is go here to copy or download the Discovery Institute’s Free Speech Campaign bill.  Now you are all set to fill in the blanks with the name of you state, and bingo, you can present your academic freedom bill in your state house.  This has actually been done in five states, with Louisiana and Tennessee getting the job done.  One more thing.  Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana signed their bill, the Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee wimped out! Continue reading “Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms”

Is There An Assault on Science?

Is There An Assault on Science?

Yesterday, I wrote a brief post introducing a new book by Shawn Otto entitled Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.  For the past four years, Otto has co-led Sciencedebate.org, a grassroots organization that has tried to influence the 2008 and the 2012 presidential elections.  The goal is to sponsor nonpartisan debates among candidates for the office of President of the United States.  The basis for Sciencedebate.org is reflected in this quote from their website:

By bringing candidates together with scientists, the media and the public in a safe and nonpartisan debate setting, science can be restored as an electoral value, a foundation of American democracy,  and a non-partisan basis for sound and effective policymaking, helping to “unstick” the United States from decades of paralysis on the largest policy challenges facing the country.

Otto believes that America has a “science problem” and the problem is how science is discussed (or not discussed) in the media, in the Congress, and in his case, in presidential debates.  His book is a good primer on science in American society, and I think provides people with a view that ought to be considered.

Otto points out that many important public policies challenges revolve around science, but he wonders if those in the position of decision making understand science, or understand how science-related decisions should be made.  He says this:

In an age when most major public policy challenges revolve around science, less than 2 percent of congresspersons have professional backgrounds in it.  The membership of the 112th Congress, which ran from January 2011 to January 2013, included one physicist, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist.

In contrast, how many representatives and senators do you suppose have law degrees—and whom many suspect avoided college science classes like the plague?  Two hundred twenty-two.  It’s little wonder we have more rhetoric than fact in our national policymaking.  Lawyers are trained to create a compelling narrative to wind an argument, but as any trial lawyer will tell you, that argument uses facts selectively and only for the purposes of winning the argument, not for establishing the truth.

We witness arguments in Congress, on TV, on the Internet, and in presidential debates on science-related issues, and it makes you wonder about the literacy of those who have chosen to run for America’s highest office.  But, it’s really not as simple as that.  Scientific knowledge develops within a social context, and Otto notes the importance of discussing issues that connect science to society.  Medical breakthroughs, medical research, environmental sustainability, global warming, alternative energy, health care, cancer research, the teaching of evolution, bioengineering, and space exploration are some of the science areas that directly relate to policy making and the laws that Congress makes.

Otto believes that science is often assaulted when debates on policy making that require scientific knowledge are held.  Using a technique that the media loves (the split screen), all issues that are discussed have two sides—the left or the right; the Republican or the Democratic.   Although making public policy is not the same as how a theory is developed in science, it’s probably important that scientific knowledge be used in a way that represents science in making important decisions.  Years ago, the tobacco industry used the technique of arguing two sides of the smoking issue, but selectively used its own research, or denied what science research had shown about smoking, or simply raised doubt about the “science” of tobacco research in order to “win” the argument, not seek the truth about smoking.

We see similar tactics being used when climate change and global warming are debated.  Of course, the issue that has impacted science education is the teaching of evolution. The same tactic that “big tobacco” used continues to be used. Over the years, there have been attempts to show that there is another side of the theory of evolution—creation science or intelligent design.   We’ve used the courts to settle scientific and health issues, such as abortion, teaching evolution, and so forth.

Otto claims that a narrowness in thinking emerges when science related issues that lead to policy making are on the table.  Science research that could impinge of policy making is sometimes prevented from being shared, or is altered. For example, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s chief scientist on climate change, has had some of his work censored and modified by White House (Bush) staff.  An Editorial in the Washington Post on Politics and Science discussed this case, and pointed out that a NASA spokesperson, appointed by the White House, interfered in the work of scientists at NASA:

Mr. Deutsch (A NASA media spokesperson) prevented reporters from interviewing James E. Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, telling colleagues he was doing so because his job was to “make the president look good.” Mr. Deutsch  also instructed another NASA scientist to add the word “theory” after every written mention of the Big Bang, on the grounds that the accepted scientific explanation of the origins of the universe “is an opinion” and that NASA should not discount the possibility of “intelligent design by a creator.”

In science education, teachers have had to deal with topics in the science curriculum that are viewed as controversial including the teaching of evolution, discussions of birth control, theories of the origins of the universe, such as the Big Bang, global warming and climate change.  School boards, parents, and politicians have gotten involved in trying to pass rules restricting what and how “controversial” topics are taught, and have lately used the pedagogy of “critical thinking” to make sure that “all” sides of each controversial topic are discussed.  Although the teaching of evolution, or I should say creation science/intelligent design was settled by Federal Judge John Jones in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania case when the judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, and had no place in a science class.  The judge had this to say in his ruling:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

In my own view, case like the Dover intelligent design issue, the Kansas science standards controversy, attempts by legislators and state school boards in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana to legislate the content of the science curriculum to satisfy their own (often religious beliefs) opinions is an assault on the integrity of the teaching profession to make professional decisions on curriculum and pedagogy.

There is an assault on science and science education, and as I’ll discuss further in the days ahead, there is an assault on public education.

 

Science and Religion, The FaradaySchools.com

Part of an image shown on the Faraday Website

A recent poll reported that very few people in the US accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on Earth.  According to the National Center for Science Education, in a 24-country poll, 41% of the respondents identified themselves as “evolutionists” and 28% as “creationists”, and 31% indicating they don’t know what to believe.  In the US, 28% were “evolutionists”, with the “creationist” view held by 40%.

However, in a Gallup poll in 2010, 38% believed that humans developed from less advanced form of life over millions of years, but God guided the process, 16% believed that humans developed from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process, and 40% accepted that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

Given these numbers, I found myself part of an online discussion of science and religion this past week.  Here are some details.

The National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) hosts a discussion site and this week, a discussion on the nature of science was started when Prof. Keith Taber from the U.K. announced that a new website to support learning about the Nature of Science was live, and was entitled Faraday Schools. According to Taber, the site is about learning about science and religion.

Taber claims that science education takes a rather narrow view on the issue of science and religion, and in his opinion, this site would avoid such a single narrow view.

Northing could be further from the truth.  The Faraday site is intelligent design and creationism wrapped in a well-designed website with videos, animations, images, and text.

Check out the website (http://faradayschools.com/) and see for yourself what they have developed.  For one, the images are suggestive—there is the image of the face of Charles Darwin on the body of a monkey.  When you study the list of topics, and the “articles” that are referenced, your breath might be taken away.

Taber’s comments on the NARST list stimulated a bit of discussion.  And still is going on today.

One science educator (Dr. Norm Thomson, Professor of Science Education at the University of Georgia) had this to say about Prof. Taber’s comments:

Hello Keith, I do have a problem with your statement to Shari (Prof. Shari Britner) that “However, the idea that science excludes God is not part of a consensus view on the nature of science among the scientific community.” Science neither excludes nor includes “God” and that is the nature of science. And that is why scientists do not look for a deity to answer the questions posed in science. And, I think that from my experience with traditional cultures in Africa that to include the “Abrahamic” views of a God is Western arrogance. Why do we constantly refer to “God” in singularity versus plurality? I have not seen the new website to which you are referring but I have never seen a scientific paper that (1) has shown evidence for an external reality, (2) has proposed a means by which to measure it, and (3) I have never read a paper in the journals of Science or Nature that supports a the position that there is a “consensus view” of “scientists” which again is getting confused with “science”. I hold the position that the argument being posed by you is bordering on the approach used by those who support intelligent design. So I hold a narrow view of what science is and that is different than what individual scientists view and that is why there is a consensus of what science is, versus a plurality of views about one or many deities. So, if there is any mention of “God” that other myths of cultures should also be included. Norm Thomson

After reading this comment, I wrote this:

Norm,

I have spent a good deal of time studying the Faraday website.  It is a very well designed creationist/intelligent design curriculum claiming to represent the nature of science.    The content of the site is not different than the curriculum materials developed by the creation science advocates of the 1970s, and makes use of the slogans of the intelligent designers.

It is well worth looking at the site what.  It’s well done, but my suspicion is that most middle and high school students would see through the scheme and wonder why this “stuff” is being taught in a science course.  To be sure there is science in the pages of this website, but is primarily there to set up the real reason for the faraday curriculum—creation science–which a limited Western world view.

Norm replied with this comment:

Well, thank you for the link and now I astounded that there is even a discussion going on with respect to this website and its position. It looks like something that the Discovery Institute would propose. It goes back to the 19th Century for science and the year O for religion. I am now pondering why someone would even bring this site up for some view of science. And, I am disappointed that the position of this site reads as what I would expect from Fundamentalists who put words in the mouths of Darwin, etc. If anything, what we have learned about evolution since he offered his perspective would probably settle once and for all what his position might be and maybe even have persuaded Emma to have a different view.

It seems to me that the Dover decision took care of the US view on this matter most recently and in this country to bring this website into a classroom would be a violation of the First Amendment. And, I am surprised that our British colleagues have a concern about science being “dominated by atheists” whereas we know the impact religion had with respect to other science positions for so many years.

I would hope our astute students would see the deceit being proposed and it now bothers me to have read Keith Taber’s position on this. When I taught in East Africa with the British curriculum there was a clear distinction between science and religious education and as my headmaster who graduated from Cambridge said, there is a reason why the English language has different words for different phenomena.I am not ready to accept a field of “scireligion”.

According to Dr. Taber, the intention of the FaradaySchools.com curriculum “is to develop balanced materials which can be used in schools, including teaching about the relationship between science and religion (currently part of the school curriculum in England), as well as the nature of science (a key part of Secondary school science here.”

If you analyze the Table of Contents for each grade (7-12–http://faradayschools.com/),  and look for a balance between topic titles that seem to lean toward science (The Big Bang, Ideas and evidence, the Red Shift VS those that lean toward religion (Dear Darwin, because of you…, God and Miracles, Ways to interpret Genesis, God and Gaps, Galileo and how he understood the Bible, A physicist’s view of Genesis, there is a huge imbalance—toward religion.  Further, the religious ideas are rather narrow and are based on Genesis.

You might consider this post a warm-up of what is to come in the 2012 Republican primary for president.  Already, we have candidates that would totally support the Faraday website.

Intelligent Design: The Right Sound Bite

One of the candidates who recently announced her candidacy for President said in a speech that “intelligent design” should be taught in science because all sides of an issue in science should be taught.

Evolution or Intelligent Design at work?
Now that the race is on to see who will challenge our President for his job, one of the areas that distinguishes one side from the other is the nature of science. Typically the strategy is to initiate an assault on science by raising doubts about the research that supports a scientific theory. This strategy began with the tobacco industries blatant charges that the research that was linking the habit of smoking contributed–indeed caused diseases, especially cancer was junk science, and the results were flawed and should never be used to establish policy about the use of tobacco products.

The same strategy has been used to try and discredit the research that supports the theory of global warming.

To science teachers, however, the issue that takes center stage is whenever evolution, creationism, or intelligent design are discussed. So, here we go again when scientifically challenged politicians and wannabes try and make comments about why intelligent design should be discussed alongside evolution in the science classroom. They make the assumption is that these ideas have equal scientific basis and as such should be held up for students to vote on.

For the next year and a half we will listen to sound bites on TV and be led to believe that science proceeds by vote and that the research around some scientific ideas should be scrutinized very critically. These ideas include evolution, global warming, the big bang. Left off the list of ideas that need to be scrutinized include: gravity, atomic theory, plate tectonics, electromagnetism, mitosis, and cell theory.

Politicians in some states have actually put forth ideas such as the following that impinge on the intellectual freedom (and intellect) of science teachers:

After a teacher has taught the content related to scientific theories contained in textbooks and instructional materials included on the approved lists required under KRS 156.433 and 156.435, a teacher may use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

The media has played an important role in demeaning the way teaching proceeds in that they have promoted the “split-screen” implosion of thinking.  Here from a book on how the media distorts many issues is this quote:

One of the key reasons for distortion in the media reports on climate change is perceived need for “balance” in journalism (substitute science teaching for journalism, and you have the logic behind these efforts to discuss pro’s and con’s of a theory). In reporting political, legal, or other advocacy-dominated stories, it is appropriate for journalists to report both sides of an issue. Got the democratic view? Better get the Republican. In science, the situation is radically different. There are rarely just two polar-opposite sides, but rather a spectrum of potential outcomes, which are often accompanied by a history of scientific assessment of the relative-credibility of each possibility.