Politicizing Science Education: A plague on both your houses

Documentary educational television would have us believe that the single greatest scientific achievement of the past millennium was Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many religious fundamentalists have serious issues with this assertion. Many legitimate scientists with both secular and religious perspectives do as well. Darwin himself recognized serious shortcomings with evolution. A new sort of “scientist,” the evolutionary biologist, has come on the scene. These folks are specifically dedicated to supporting and proving a theory. Previously science did not work that way. Scientists used to look for evidence of disproof, only accepting theories that prove unassailable.

On the other side we have unscientific religious fundamentalists. These folks are willing to describe their search for proof of their scriptures as basic science. They study scripture and seek evidence to support what it says.

Both sides’ methods are troublingly reminiscent of case law: by carefully selecting your precedents or evidence one can prove anything. Mathematicians and philosophers long ago concluded that “proving” a general hypotheses about the real world is a logical impossibility. That is, no one can find every possible exception to any assertion about the real world.

Science uses some generally accepted shortcuts, such as goodness of fit and predictive power, to practically address this impossibility. The more specific and predictive a hypothesis proves to be, the closer it comes to being a scientific law. Newton’s Laws are great examples. Nevertheless, Einstein found exceptions to them. If concepts are a bit weaker, they’re called theories–but “theory” is still a very strong term in science. Scientists have always called vague or more general ideas “hypotheses,” “paradigms,” “ideas,” or even “notions,” and “fantasies.”

Creationism and evolution are both effectively un-provable. Neither side can frame a hypothesis that is specific or predictive. Instead, they answer things after a new piece of evidence is discovered. Science should proceed from general principles to specific, testable predictions. While there is a place for observational science, it is generally at the post-doctoral level for good reasons. Thousands of hours spent making observations is tedious and often uninformative or ambiguous. Students are disserved when science at and below the undergraduate level becomes a treasure hunt or a courtroom drama. Both the creationist and the evolutionary paradigm have no place in a pre-collegiate classroom.

Moving to the graduate level and beyond, there are very troubling aspects about life that evolutionary mathematics hasn’t been able to answer. This rightly leaves many mathematicians and physical scientists very uncomfortable. Some biological systems appear to be engineered. If you take a single cog out of a clock, the clock ceases to function. The same holds true of cells and their organelles as we now understand them (albeit poorly). The only interlinked systems we fully understand are man-made: mechanical, computational, chemical, mathematical and perhaps linguistic and musical. All of these require information—and none do anything useful (or even interesting) without that data. The most complex non-information-driven systems so far discovered are chemical crystallizations. Even there, the most complex inorganic ones are far less intricate than even the simplest biological ones.

As far as science truly understands things, stable, complex, sequenced, interdependent systems only arise from design. Furthermore, from a purely mathematical or engineering standpoint design always (necessarily) implies intelligence. Whether that intelligence is artificial, alien, from a higher dimension or deity is semantic. There is no clear mechanism or even any general ideas by which creative intelligence (or life as a whole) initially comes into being. Thus, the ultimate origin of intelligence—and therefore the information underlying life—is something of a problematic chicken-and-egg scenario.

All this in no way means I want to teach origins theories to a bunch of impressionable, snot-nosed kids in high school, middle school, grade school, Kindergarten or even Sunday school. If students in my AP Biology or AP Chemistry classes bring it up and want to discuss it I let them; however, I strictly limit my facilitator role to asking questions, refereeing, and making them find answers to their own questions.

On the one hand, the scientific establishment (basically university presidents and other powerful members of academia) ignore dissent against evolution on democratic or demographic grounds, stating that a large percentage of the scientific community supports evolutionary theory. Then they turn around and perversely answer the lack of popular support for evolution in society as irrelevant (basically because we are just the ignorant masses). They really can’t have it both ways. As with the issue of courts protecting rights, we’re either operating democratically (as a republic), or else the voice of the majority is irrelevant. Personally I have to favor the latter response: in matters of factuality, majorities are irrelevant.

Nevertheless, lest anyone imagine this debate represents the scientific fringe, here is a huge list of scientists who in some way disagree with Darwin’s ideas.

Further reading:

Quotes and sites from scientists:

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Categories: Education, Religion, Science

6 replies

  1. There is no debate about evolution. The idea that there is a “debate” that we need to teach “both sides of the issue” is bunk, it is just a creationist tactic for shoving religion into public schools. Its like saying that there is an debate about the Holocaust happening, and we need to teach both sides of the issue to make sure we are fair.

    Creationism and evolution are unprovable? Nonsense. Evolution is the founding theory of biology, hundreds of thousands of scientific papers have been published exploring various aspects of evolution and no other theory has emerged so far. Creationism on the other hand has been proven false centuries ago. The idea that the earth is 6,000 years old is false, geology, astronomy, biology and meteorology have proven this assertion to be silly.

    Is it possible that there is God? Sure, and his existence can never be proven or disproved by science (since science does not deal with the supernatural). Could he have created everything? Yes, certainly a single cell is a wonder of complexity. But the stuff about Adam riding a dinosaur six thousand years ago is silly. Regardless science is about observations, not speculation about supernatural beings.

    You seem to not understand how science works. Evolution is being attacked all the time, scientists love nothing more than to demolish a popular theory. New mechanisms of evolution are constantly proposed and shut down, every aspect of the theory is being tested against experimental evidence, and alot of modifications have been made since Darwin. The idea that the scientific community lobbies for or protects evolution is nonsense. But creationism is not real opposition, and the Bible is not experimental evidence.

    Also despite creationist propaganda, evolution does not deal with the origins of life, it is about genetic change over time, not how life first emerged.

    • Zazu, your reply leaves me deeply frustrated. I am trying to understand and respect you as a fellow blogger. Instead I feel like a teacher whose students aren’t paying attention. I feel you are being intentionally rude and inflammatory.

      Did you actually read what I posted? It’s not propaganda. Did you just quit reading my post because it makes you uncomfortable? Where did you come up with “Adam riding a dinosaur six thousand years ago”? It’s not only silly; it’s B.S. and WAY off topic.

      I’ve taught AP sciences and had students receive 5s (perfect scores in biology and chemistry). All the points I made, and my scholarship in general, are valid and sound. You are parroting establishment sound bites rather than honestly treating my ideas. Enumerate and criticize what I wrote–or use it as a springboard–don’t fabricate Adam on a dinosaur or other tripe!

      It is you, sir, who seems to not understand how science works–unless by “works” you imply science is basically a flawed political game wherein misdirection, sound bites and suppression are permissible tactics.

  2. Zazu, I am rushing to leave right now. I very strongly disagree with a number of your assertions. You may not want to concede this, but things are by no means settled concerning speciation AKA macro-evolution. On the other hand, I will gladly concede that life adapts. I promise to systematically address your posts with ample historical references.

    • Things are settled with speciation as in we know it happens. How it does so is open to vigorous scientific debate (gradualism vs punctuated equilibrium etc), the fact that it does occur is not really questioned by anyone but creationists who continually misrepresent scientific debate as proof their pet theory is true.

      Micro evolution vs macro evolution exists mostly in school text books, scientists understand that the two cannot really be separated and you cannot have one without the other. The basic (school level) definition of a species is a group that is no longer able to mate with original population (a group cannot reproduce with main population hence becomes a different species).

      If a population of flies starts mating two weeks later than the neighboring group, speciation will occur since mating will stop. If one single enzyme on the surface of the sperm or the egg gets slightly changed, mating may not be any longer possible between the mutant and original form. This can be caused by the tiniest micro evolution event, maybe a single point mutation of a single base pair in your DNA (out of billions). If a group suddenly changes its number of chromosome (maybe a completely unnecessary chromosome with no genetic information get dumped), it will no longer be able to mate with original species because spindle fibers cannot handle an odd number of chromosomes (this is why humans and chimps cannot be crossed despite the sad suspicion that somebody probably tried).

      So if you believe in micro evolution, macro evolution kind of comes with it.


  1. Politicizing Science Redux | ConstitutionClub.org

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