23 March 2009

Fisking an editorial

Don McDonald has an opinion editorial in the San Angelo Times with the misleading title, “Teach evolution in classroom.” In fact, Dr. McDonald (who does not live in Texas and is not a biologist; he instructs in human resources) he teaches argues quite the opposite, as obvious from his first sentence:

As a doctoral candidate in sociology in the 1990s, I found my dissertation process derailed until I feigned allegiance to Darwinism.

I must admit, it’s a fairly gutsy opening gambit to admit lying to get a doctorate. And then we’re off with a typical stack of creationist objections.

Objectors to the proposed language in the science standards commonly express fear of “Creationism creeping into the classrooms.” But the amendments to the indicators say nothing of creationism, and they do not mention intelligent design.

First, the proposed language implies a debate where none exists. Second, it doesn’t matter much if the exact words “creationism” or “intelligent design” are in there or not. People can interpret generalities in ways that people never intended. Remember, the law is a club, not a scalpel. The law is a blunt instrument that does not make fine distinctions or easily take into account whether consequences are intentional or not.

And since he’s admitted to having little use for evolution, I can’t help but wonder if phrases “creationism” or “intelligent design” were in the proposed standards if Dr. McDonald would be okay with that.

If we tell students that they must have one certain conclusion before peering into a microscope or turning over a rock, is that science?

By McDonald’s argument, if students do experiments that shows that heavy objects fall faster than light ones, we shouldn’t tell them that they’ve likely made a mistake or not measured accurately enough. For some things, there is a solid body of evidence that K-12 students are extremely unlikely to revise or overturn. To say that teachers should ignore that established science and let students’ own conclusions reign supreme is not good teaching practice.

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