March 10, 2006

Creationism in science class... in England.

It's required:
Pupils in England will be required to discuss creationist theories as part of a new GCSE biology course being introduced in September.

The move has alarmed scientists who fear it could open the door for the promotion of creationist ideas like "intelligent design" and give them scientific respectability at a time when they are being promoted by fundamentalist Christians and Muslims....

The new biology syllabus in England does not require the teaching of creationist views alongside Darwin's theory of evolution, but it opens the way for classroom discussions in science lessons and pupils will be assessed on work they do on this topic.

The schools standards minister, Jacqui Smith, said in a parliamentary answer that pupils were encouraged to explore different views, theories and beliefs in many different subjects, including science.

"Creationism is one of many differing beliefs which pupils might discuss and consider, perhaps when they learn about another aspect of science: 'ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place... and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted'," she said.
I wonder if in the end the religionists will be happy. The science teachers, most of whom won't like having this imposed on them, will be pressing students to use the tools of science to question the assertions made by religion. Won't this teach them not to believe? Students who hold to the belief in creationism will be shredded in any classroom debate that is framed in scientific terms. Smith imagines a sweet atmosphere of mutual understanding, but what is going to cause that to happen?

20 comments:

ShadyCharacter said...

As to the shredding, that depends on what position Islam takes on creationism, doesn't it. That's a prickly pear no English school teacher has the guts to touch!

Dave said...

"a sweet atmosphere of mutual understanding"?

That will never happen, especially with religion.

SteveR said...

There's no orthodoxy to creationism, once you let it in the religionists will turn on eachother. At least with "science" there's a way to resolve right and wrong, however imperfect.

Drew said...

Creationists often use holes in Darwin's theory of evolution to argue their point. However, a fundamental tenant of the scientific method is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Likewise this point can be used to argue the creationist view; however, the debate belongs in a philosophy class, not a science class.

CB said...

It is fascinating how traditionalist religious movements, which are basically a right-wing phenomenon, have co-opted the language and methods of Postmodernism, an extreme left-wing philosophy. Who would have thought that Christians would be defending their beliefs using the ideas of Foucault, Derrida, and even Nietzsche.

Jamie said...

As one who has been educated with science classes in both sectarian and state supported schools and universities, i would not be so bold as to say creationism/intelligent design can be easily shredded by the "obvious" science of evolution.

Macroevolution stands on flimsier ground than most folks are willing to admit while creationism isn't some pie-in-thesky theory to placate the ignorant masses.

If it weren't for Sputnik and the fear the Soviets were advancing in science ell beyond what American kids were learning, evolution wouldn't be taught in our schools at all even today.

Jamie said...

Let me really put my neck in the noose.

AlaskaJack said...

"the debate belongs in a philosophy class"

I'd be more than a little worried about this. If neo-Darwinism is to remain intact and coherent in the classroom, the last thing a high school biology teacher needs is some bright student engaging him in a philosophical argument about the origin of life and the truth of materialism.

The better approach, I think, is that taken by the Dover court: prohibit all criticism of neo-Darwinism in public education. As the plaintiffs successfully argued in Dover, such criticism creates nothing but confusion and doubt and interferes with teaching the dominate understanding of biology.

Simon said...

"science teachers, most of whom won't like having this imposed on them, will be pressing students to use the tools of science to question the assertions made by religion. Won't this teach them not to believe?"

Faith that can't survive its first encounter with empiricism is scarcely worth having at all.

In any instance, I don't think any teacher in England was much impressed with the national curriculum when it was introduced, and one imagines that they will continue to chafe equally under any and all intrusions on what one imagines most teachers who cut thir teeth pre-NC would regard as their turf.

Jack said...

Won't this teach them not to believe? Students who hold to the belief in creationism will be shredded in any classroom debate that is framed in scientific terms.

I suspect that you might have a different opinion if you actually listened to such a debate. I rejected Darwinism because of its lack of empirical grounding before I became a Christian. After I converted it, I assumed that Creationism had even less grounding, so I didn't bother to investigate for several years. When I got roped into attending a Creation conference, I was initially sceptical but ultimately pleasantly surprised at the force of the arguments.

In general, isn't it the scientists who are afraid of the debate? At least in the linked article, that seems to be the case. Their critiques Creationism it always turn on the Science/Religion distinction which is philosophical not empirical. When confronted with Creationists that point to direct observation of rapid sediment formation (at Mt. St. Helen, for instance) or radio-isotope experiments conducted by standard commercial laboratories that support recent formation of granites, they simply impugn the quality of the research without actually investigating.

Drew said...

When I got roped into attending a Creation conference, I was initially sceptical but ultimately pleasantly surprised at the force of the arguments.

As a non-religious scientist, I agree with this statement. There are many compelling arguments used by creationists, many of which are valid! However, most of these arguments focus on evidence which contradict the evolutionary theory. There is "a leap of faith" required to draw the hypothesis that creationism is implied by that evidence. In fact, there is no evidence which supports the creationist theory, just evidence that contradict the leading opposing theory. I suspect that further discovery will adjust the evolutionary model to be more compliant with this contradictory evidence.

Simon said...

I wonder what would be the result of randomly surveying a thousand people who support creationism / ID / whatever compared to a thousand people who support evolution. Specifically, I wonder what percentage of each group has actually read the text they claim to be authoritative - that is, in the former case, the Bible, and in the latter case, The Origins of the Species. Like Roe, Darwin has become more a symbol , a cipher, than an actual text. I think I have met all of three people who say they have read Species, none of whom support evolution. You wonder, equally, how many people who castigate marxism have read marx.

John(classic) said...

My tentative conclusion is somewhat in agreement:

1. There is a great deal of credible evidence for evolution. However, the fact that the "holes", mostly pointed out by Darwin himself, have not been filled in in the subsequent 100+ years and have instead grwon larger, and that there is at least one new hole (rate of mutation+genetic change) strongly suggests that evolution is not correct as a full explanation. Something else went on.

2. Intelligent design is very good at pointing out the holes in evolution, but not so good at advancing evidence of intelligent design.

So, I think evolution is wrong if advanced as the only, or even principal solution to how we got here, but I am not convinced as to what the other complementary explanation is.

My own pet theory is "space poop" or more elegantl;y, exogenesis. Every few years some householder complains because a block of dirty ice fell through his ceiling or squashed his car. Investigation usually shows that it is frozen toilet vent/overflow from an airliner.


So I conjecture that these arcturans were traveling along in their space ship, long voyage, small toilet, one flushed, it drifted through sapce, landed on earth, and whammo we had the Cambrian explosion.

The theory has gotten increasing support as the transport and landing mechanisms seem more plausible from investigation. I should say the "general" theory of exogensis. We are still missing the arcturans, the toilet, and the space poop.

SteveR said...

Jack: The principles of Geology developed over the last 350 years provide for many exceptions to the idea that geologic processes take place slowly over many years. The fact that creationists latch onto a few factual outliers to support their beliefs does not pose a threat to any competent scientist. Were years of dilligent research conducted which indicate that the 40,000 feet of sedimentary rocks in the Anadarko Basin of Oklahoma (for instance) which contain prolific amounts of petroleum could have been formed in the aftermath of one flood event then we can talk. As of now years and years of dilligent research says it took place 100s of millions of years ago in a variety of processes taking place in ancient rivers to oceans that were very similar to things we observed today along the Mississippi River Delta. the west coast of Australia, etc, etc.

Likewise, if thousands of igneous rock samples from the ocean floor basalts, the Canadian Shield and places like that are subject to radioisotope dating at hundreds of labs and those data indicate that the foundations of isotope geology and the subsequent theories of the age of the earth and plate tectonics are based on flawed data, we can have a scientific debate.

No matter what happens I'll be a scientist and Christian because there's no conflict for me.

Eli Blake said...

And so the debate rages from Wichita to Winchester.

The problem I have is that creationism is scientifically lazy. Proponents of Intelligent Design or other such theories simply propose that their dogma be taught as fact, but they never actually run any scientific experiments or use information gathered by observation in a way that is designed to test it. Evolution in contrast is tested every day by at least four methods: 1. the discovery of new fossils, 2. the observation of ongoing adaptations in nature, 3. controlled genetic experimentation, and 4. DNA sequencing.

In fact, some time ago I even proposed a rigorous scientific experiment, possible now that we have access to genetic sequencing and genomic maps, that could be used to test the hypothesis of I.D. I wrote to a couple of creationists about it, and never got a response-- which tells me that they aren't even serious about doing any research to support it, they just want us to accept their untested hypothesis as stated.

John(classic) said...

"Evolution in contrast is tested every day by at least four methods:"

But...at least so far it has failed most of the points that Darwin himself put up as objections to his theory that need to be answered. The efforts to explain them seem increasingly strained. A more reasonable hypothesis is that something else is also going on besides evolution.

For instance, Darwin assumed that the Cambrian (and other) dramatic shifts in life forms would be explained because we would find missing fossils that bridged the gap. Some argue that we have,(microfossils of lichen that suddenyly became animals, etc.) but not very convincingly.

ATMX said...

I question why schools should be teach/indoctrinate anything regarding the origin of life or the universe. There simply is no relevance of the question to the ability of students to function in the world. I would rather schools and teachers devote the time to more useful topics.

Twill said...

If I recall correctly, they still teach the pudding and Dalton models of the atom in science classes. They taught a model of light that featured a little wheeled vehicle (to represent the properties of refraction). So, why not teach, compare and contrast the intermediate forms of the scientific theories related to evolution?

And why not say the scientific truth?
(1)to the best of our current knowledge, here is what we think happened (is happening).
(2)Some people say that it happens/ed solely because of random chance.
(3)Some people think that there is/was intervention of some sort to cause this to happen.
(4) We have no proof that there was intervention, and no proof that there was not intervention.
(5)We don't really care which way it is, but these are the mechanisms that show how evolution occurs, and this is what we mean by evolution when we say this.
(6)Science is about physical hows, not theological whys.
(7) If you have a reason to believe that there is a God making daily decisions about how atoms collide with each other, then evolution is just a way of looking at His/Her/Its work.
(8)If you believe it's random, that's great too.
(9) We don't care, because that metaphysical viewpoint doesn't change the mechanics of how life works. Which is what you are going to learn in this class.
(10) Now open your books to the page on mitosis.

Roger Sweeny said...

Of course, creationism/intelligent design should be considered in science class.

A great problem arises, however, because there is no well-developed theory of creationism or intelligent design.

So, Jack, what do you believe? When did the universe begin? When did life on earth begin? When did humans begin?

Do you say (about) 13 billion years ago, 4 1/2 billion years ago, 150,000 years ago? Or do you say 7000 years ago, 7000 years ago, 7000 years ago? Or something else?

amba said...

I kind of agree with Twill. I don't see why scientists should be afraid of discussing intelligent design. As long as there is little or no persuasive evidence for it, they ought to be able to make short work of it. But if we adults are pondering it, and the definition of evidence, and of science, why shouldn't kids be? It would be a good way of teaching what science is and isn't.

xieczm - Karol Wojtyla casting out a demon.