27 January 2009

More aftermath of votes of Texas science standards

The Houston Chronicle follows up on the amendments that Texas state board of education members added to the draft science standards.

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

Not all opinions are worthy of respect. At some level, science strives for "visible certainty," to quote Galileo, and that means that some things are just wrong. They're just not supported by any evidence.

She scoffed at claims that social conservatives on the 15-member board were just trying to find another way to expose students to creationism — the belief that life, Earth and the universe were created by a supreme being.

“This isn’t about religion. I don’t know how many times we have to say it before people accept it,” she said. “It’s about science. We want to stick to the science.”

You know, I might -- might -- be willing to give Barbara Cargill (pictured, with current Texas governor Rick Perry) personally the benefit of the doubt, because I don't have at my fingertips statements from her about her religious views. Although she does have a science camp that is described as an outreach project of The Woodlands United Methodist Church which had (the web page doesn't seem to be active any more) links to animations of the seven days of creation. And Cargill was one of the board members suggesting a Bible studies curriculum. While Cargill may be totally about the science, I hope that she appreciates how someone might get the wrong impression that her actions are highly informed by her religious beliefs.

Cargill aside, several other board members have made it very clear that they are Biblical literalists and fundamentalist Christians.

The Chronicle also gets letters about the recent State Board of Education decision, and not surprisingly, there are cranky creationists with many of the usual arguments. (science is as inflexible as religion, they have something to hide, etc., etc.) But there's one surprise -- for its goofiness.

Amphibians and reptiles have three-chambered hearts, and birds and mammals have four-chambered hearts. The gradualism part of the theory requires that the change from three-chambered to four-chambered hearts came about by a long series of micromutations. Our students should be permitted to ask: “Where is the evidence of a three and one-half chambered heart?”

This reminds me of an old kid's riddle. "If it takes 10 minutes to dig two holes, how long does it take to dig three and a half holes?" The punchline: "You can't dig half a hole."

And right after looking at this, one of the next articles I read in my newsfeed mentions the "textbook" Explore Evolution, saying:

In one particularly egregious case he discussed, a claim in Explore Evolution about the evolution of the four-chambered heart "is supported by citing a single article ... which does not mention heart development, but does discuss developmental (non-neo-Darwinian) sources of evolutionary novelty. The next paragraph refers to it as a 'critique of neo-Darwinism.' And this after giving an explicit warning against the logical fallacy of equivocation."

I can't help but wonder if there's a connection...

Coverage in New Scientist can be found here. Cargill will surely dislike the headline, "Creationism defeated in Texas."

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Express News has an article featuring much sane commentary from people teaching in unabashedly religious schools:

The theory of evolution is “the cornerstone of teaching biology,” he said. Without it, it would be “like teaching chemistry without teaching atomic theory.”

But that doesn't mean there's no room for talking about intelligent design and creationism, which, (Rob) Friedrich (co-chair of science department at The Episcopal School of Texas) argues, are not scientific theories.

If students have a genuine religious objection to evolution, Friedrich said he takes the time to talk it out.

“I have no problem with that,” he said. “But I impress on them that it is a religious conflict, not a scientific conflict.”

Another instructor nails what's always been one of my biggest gripes with ideas like intelligent design: it stops research dead.

“We don't tell folks evolution is wrong,” (Pat Cunningham, the principal of Central Catholic High School) said. “We say there are some things that are more difficult to explain. The importance is to let science grow.

A blog post on the subject contains some humour:

Some were rather silly in an attempt to inject "humility and tentativeness" into science standards. I'm still giggling over that one. Wouldn't want the science standards to think they were better than the math standards, eh?

In all seriousness, I realize she just wants to take scientists down a peg what with their elitist insistence on evidence and falsifiability and such.

Funny, but I like Conan O'Brien's bon mot even better:

Members of the Texas public school board are debating just how evolution should be treated in science class. For instance, should they call it "the theory of evolution" or "the lie that makes God cry"?

1 comment:

Matthew Foster said...

"We want the kids to stick to the science"...
I'm a public school teacher, and what irritates me is how many teachers do not know the science. They know their religion better than the science.