December 2, 2010

"It's like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint. You can't touch it."

Some Louisiana citizens think the Louisiana textbook advisory panel isn't doing a good enough job of implementing the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008.
The LSEA instructs educators to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." It also allows teachers and school districts to use "supplemental textbooks," which are just code words for creationist and pro-intelligent design materials.

72 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

"It's like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint. You can't touch it."

Only someone who doesn't understand Darwin, or science, would make that statement. Nothing in science is sacred - it changes all the time - it just requires more understanding than most lunkheads are willing to put into it.

Their loss - science is fun.

MadisonMan said...

objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning

Why is that last item included?

Evolution, Origins of life, global warming -- these are all theories that have definite problems in ever being proven. I don't think the same can be said of human cloning, which I think is pretty straightforward theoretically albeit daunting to put into practice.

I'd feel more confident that the law wasn't influence too much by anti-science -- well, I was going to call them dingbats, but I'm a polite midwesterner, not a Yankee -- ignorance peddlers if human cloning wasn't in the law.

Larry J said...

Nothing in science is sacred - it changes all the time

Except, apparently, AGW/Climate Change/Whatever they're calling it this week. We're told that's settled science which in truth is an oxymoron on the magnitude of "civil war" or "government worker."

As for the theory of evolution, it's the best explaination for describing the change and origin of species over time. Perhaps some day someone will come up with a better mechanism that will surplant or supplement evolution like relativity replaced Newtonian physics, especially at high velocities or in high gravitational fields. Likewise, one day someone might come up with something better than relativity. That's the nature of science. Unfortunately, when science gets mixed with politics, both lose.

Beth said...

Madman, have at it. Dingbats is nicer than anything I would use.

Don't forget, our governor is a biology major, and a Rhodes Scholar. And an exorcist.

Bob_R said...

I agree that the statement is over the top, but too many of Darwin's defenders have reacted to the (often disingenuous to dishonest) arguments against Darwin with rigid, Al-Gore-like statements that are as faith-based as the most fundamentalist Christian. Darwin did great, groundbreaking science that is bringing us medical miracles all the time. But as the previous "evolutionary psychology" discussion demonstrates, Darwin's biology is a primitive, inexact, malleable science.

Joe said...

So how are you supposed to teach "critical thinking skills" without actually teaching that which you will be critical of?

Marshal said...

" It also allows teachers and school districts to use "supplemental textbooks," which are just code words for creationist and pro-intelligent design materials."

It sounds like code for watching An Inconvenient Truth and other propaganda as well. Funny the author expresses no concern for that possibility.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think the statement in the title of this post is absolutely right. There is this bizarre notion that no questions of evolution may ever be spoken of in a classroom. That's just silly. Evolution can, I think, quite easily withstand any questioning. So ask the questions! Expose how strong the theory is by questioning. Don't make it look weak by refusing to engage with critics.

Synova said...

Wow... teachers and schools are *allowed* to use supplemental text books that haven't been approved by the... approvers.

Freedom!

How frightening!

Joe said...

The problem, Synova, is some teacher is going to bring in their Scientology books and teach from those.

Teachers in general aren't exactly brainiacs.

Synova said...

The problem, Joe, is that notions of accountability in the classroom have been pushed so far from the classroom.

Freedom isn't a problem when people actually have freedom. But school is coercive by nature because we've conceived it as an arm of government control of the population. It's our way to force people to do what we want them to do.

Private schools have local control and don't have the problem you suggest because everyone involved freely associates, the school policy is what it is, and someone who doesn't go with that can get a job elsewhere, and students can go elsewhere as well.

The limit to that is public schools themselves because they are so huge and so dominating of the market. So we spend all of our time trying really *really* hard to gain control.

Because it's all about control.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think I'm a fan of almost every comment Synova has ever made on this blog. I don't know if I've written that here before.

Beth said...

What the fundies are complaining about is that teachers aren't deciding to bring in Creationist propaganda now that they're "allowed" to. The next step will be a new law, instructing them to do so, to "teach the controversy" or whatever gets God Made the World in 7 Days in the biology classroom.

Beth said...

Freeman, I'll join you. I don't agree with Synova all the time - we have some core differences in how we see the world - but I am always engaged by her writing and her smart, civil discourse. I enjoy your posts for the same reasons. I don't pretend to be as consistently civil and cool, but I do know that's what I should aspire to.

mariner said...

I'd like to join the group hug for Synova.

Her last comment is especially good.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mariner said...

Beth,

Geaux Saints.

traditionalguy said...

Darwin's joke is on us all. He won the award for destroying the faith of Christians...and no one will give it back without a fight... although no serious thinker believes a word of Darwin's weird science. In the Darwin's version of history complex mammals just arose accidentally from the seeds of amoebas and sea creatures like jellyfish. That is idiotic on its face. The thinkers today who want an acceptable answer sooner or later say a visit from outer space seeded the earth with the DNA codes that are far beyond the ability of all but a super computer to "create".

Quaestor said...

Joe wrote: So how are you supposed to teach "critical thinking skills" without actually teaching that which you will be critical of?

If teaching critical thinking skills is the goal of science education at the elementary and high school level (which I doubt because students at that level are unprepared intellectually to critique any aspect of modern science) then one ought to choose subjects for critical analysis that present at least some degree of challenge, not evolution versus Bronze Age origin myth, it’s too easy, an intellectual slam dunk:

Evidence for evolution – An immense, mountainous pile growing larger almost daily, evidence so compelling that evolution by natural selection is one of the three or four most successful theories of all time.

Evidence for creation mythology - Zip

Predictive power of evolution theory - Pretty damned good (not nearly as precise as quantum mechanics, if the sought for transitional fossil turns up within a million years of the best estimate target date it’s a hole-in-one) M-theory partisans would kill for this kind of predictive power.

Predictive power of creation mythology - Zip

Is evolution falsifiable? - Yes. J.B.S. Haldane was once asked it any evidence could shatter his confidence in evolution. He replied a fossil rabbit in Cambrian deposits would do the trick. However, Haldane died before molecular genetics had even gotten on its feet. If a fossil bunny were to be unearthed in the Burgess Shale tomorrow it would be more likely seen as evidence of time travel than as falsification of evolution, such is the depth and scope of the evidence for evolution.

Is creation mythology falsifiable No. You could search the known universe for that creator guy, search under every rock on every planet and he could still tumble out of your next box of Cheerios.

Now then, this creation vs. evolution thing is as settled as reasonable persons could ask for. May we please move on to more productive subjects? Pretty please?

wv: slywa - the founder of the Guardian Angels, if one assumes he can't spell his own name.

The Crack Emcee said...

Synova's on my high-five list. And you, too, Freeman. I remember getting a bit peeved when you made that Best Looking Conservative Women list, or whatever it was, because I thought it trivialized you (was there ever a Best Looking list for the guys?) when your other contributions, to me, overwhelmed whether anyone liked how you batted your eyes. You ain't Mary Katharine Ham or Dana Loesch, and I, at least, am happy to know there's an alternative I can groove to. You're the kind of women I still feel protective of, would be proud to have on my team, and comfortable to stand beside in battle. You redeem your sex in my eyes.

There are other women online who have earned my respect as well, but you and Synova definitely sit at the top of the heap.

Ben Calvin said...

Funny how in Louisiana the Catholic schools teach a more definitive version of evolution than the public schools.

Michael McNeil said...

Ditto on Synova. And Crack has it right; Quaestor too. Max Casweir put it this way: “If Science be Religion, then it is indeed a religion whose Gospels can be revised with every weekly edition of Nature.”

As for traditionalguy's “no serious thinker believes a word of Darwin's weird science. In the Darwin's version of history complex mammals just arose accidentally from the seeds of amoebas and sea creatures like jellyfish”, that's an absurd caricature of evolution.

Mammals, according to evolutionary theory, backed up by much hard evidence, didn't “spring” accidentally from jellyfish and amoebas, but rather evolved (as a result of natural selection — which is far from “accidental” — acting on the genetic variety that those random events known as mutations introduce) as a variation on the theme pioneered by certain earlier mammal-like reptiles; which in turn evolved from reptile-like amphibians; which in turn derived from lobe-finned lungfish, very similar (see, e.g., Tiktaalik) to the amphibians which followed — and so on, step by relatively small step, each not a major departure at all — but from many cumulative steps, one can travel a long ways.

Quaestor said...

Traditionalguy wrote: Darwin's joke is on us all. He won the award for destroying the faith of Christians...and no one will give it back without a fight... although no serious thinker believes a word of Darwin's weird science…

There is so much that is objectionable in your comment I hardly know where to begin…

I’m an atheist. I find the religious mentality baffling, and always did. I had a religious upbringing. I sat in church, sang hymns, memorized psalms, and attended Sunday school. My mother even enrolled me in vacation bible school one summer. (Wow. That was one helluva summer, I can tell you) I had the whole gamut, the whole enchilada -- if my mind was in any way capable of being indoctrinated then I ought to be a believer now. But it never took. Whatever neuropsychological feedback loop that allows some people to have the religious experience doesn’t function in me. Maybe I’m just damaged. The point is the theory of evolution by natural selection (what the creation junkies call Darwinism) didn’t “destroy” my faith. I didn’t have any to begin with. Evolution is not necessarily fatal to religious belief. There are many people who comfortably live with both, including some very accomplished professionals in the field of evolution science. Dinosaur paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, an intellectual whose stature ranks up there with Owen and Huxley, is also an ordained Pentecostal minister. If you feel threaten by biology then maybe your “faith” is just a shame. Maybe your soul is in danger of hellfire. Unless, of course, your brand of Christianity requires you to accept the bible as the infallible “word of God,” in which case this evolution/creation brouhaha is just the least of your problems.

wv: gurglyst - a professional mouthwash tester.

TMink said...

There are lots of critics of evoloution who are atheists or not inclined toward religion of any kind.

A small sampeling can be found here.

http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof.htm

Trey - who knew you would ask 8)

Revenant said...

Promoting critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories is a great idea. The theory of evolution can stand up to that; creationism can't. We win.

I suspect, though, that "open and objective discussion" is just code for "promoting creationism at the expense of education". That would be bad.

Christy said...

Huh? I thought there exists plenty of debate on how evolution works? Darwin hasn't been santified, any more than Newton has. Evolution is a fact, how it works is all theory, theory still being worked on. How gravity works is still theory too, you know. Feel free to go jump off the nearest bridge to prove your contempt for scientific theory.

I'm cool with the teaching of creationism in school, as long as it's part of a survey course. Native American creation stories should be emphasized, don't you think? They did settle here first. And many of their stories involve existing features of our American landscape. How exciting is that?

Revenant said...

TMink, there is nothing at that link mentioning atheist critiques of evolution. There are a few attempts to equate evolution with atheism, though.

HDHouse said...

You can have an opinion about anything you want. You just can't have your own set of facts.


.....Egad this again........

traditionalguy said...

Quaestor...The religious faith that Darwinian proponents demand, complete with their carefully created list of charade "facts", is remarkable. It is not a you against God contest. It is your need to think for yourself that is at stake here.The Darwinian delusion is not deserving of your loyalty anymore than the Hebrew Scriptures are. Think for yourself.

Quaestor said...

I think this Feynman clip is even more to the point

Joe said...

Synova, I don't disagree with you. Unfortunately, our schools have created an organization where it's next to impossible to get rid of bad teachers or to change any policies. In this environment, dictating teaching material is the only choice.

Like you said, though, this is all about control which is exactly why states haven't even tried to take on schools in a meaningful fashion, especially the teacher's unions. In exchange for granting so much power to the unions, the government retains the power to micromanage the schools.

Quaestor said...

traditionalguy wrote: The Darwinian delusion is not deserving of your loyalty anymore than the Hebrew Scriptures are.

I can confidently assure you that I'm not the one nursing delusions on this subject. Sorry. You need a strong dose of your own prescription. Take liberally and call me when the neurons start firing sequentially.

Ken Pidcock said...

What the fundies are complaining about is that teachers aren't deciding to bring in Creationist propaganda now that they're "allowed" to. The next step will be a new law, instructing them to do so, to "teach the controversy" or whatever gets God Made the World in 7 Days in the biology classroom.

John Derbyshire has predicted that this is exactly what will happen, not by law but by action of local school boards. The consequence will be bankrupting of districts in Dover-type litigation.

Quaestor said...

@ traditionalguy


It’s evident from your posts that you lack even a basic command of the factual observations of the natural world that led Darwin (and many others) to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Personally, I am disinclined to educate you. I have better and more profitable things to do with my time. There are books you can read, online lectures you can listen to.

But don’t take anyone’s word for it, please. Goodness knows the world of science is just chock full of so-called intellectuals who work day and night for years just to deceive you /sarc off.

With a little effort you can see the evidence of evolution for yourself. You can visit museums of natural history and see the fossils evidence. You can visit a Kentucky stud farm and see selection at work, not natural selection admittedly, but nevertheless the results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators. Heck, you can visit your nearest hospital and observe everyone, from doctors to bedpan orderlies, wearing surgical gloves. Ask them why.

Evolution is not a belief, any more than geometry is a belief. When was the last time you heard anyone say “I don’t believe in geometry?” Never, I’ll bet. It’s stupid. Nobody really doubts the principles of Euclid, though few can converse about them formally. Geometry is too basic to our lives to be a matter of belief. Evolution is, just as geometry is. The only reason it isn’t obvious is the timescale. Human lives, human civilizations are just too brief to see evolution in action, at least in the day to day world of large-scale fauna and flora like turtles and tulips. But if you have the inclination and the equipment you can see evolution happen over a matter of days -- hours even – bacteria reproduce so fast that they can evolve before your eyes.

traditionalguy said...

Quaestor...I have a BS in Biology from a leading pre-med college. It was the DNA mysteries unlocked after 1962, or so, and electron microscopes that revealed so much more than was knowable in 1880 and have lead myself and many others to ask ourselves what we really know is a fact of Evolution? There isn't anything. There are variation within species. I see new breeds of dogs all of the time. But there are never any species jumps. There are better adapted members of one species. Like there are better adapted cross country runners if the human sticks to it. There are mules and other procreation anomalies, but not starting their own species. Species do not evolve into other species. What was Darwin thinking? You can remain the non-heretic today if you want, but I will take the heat due to a skeptical scientist.

Revenant said...

Quaestor...I have a BS in Biology from a leading pre-med college.

How strange that a person who is supposedly a bachelor of science in biology (a) can't discuss biology scientifically and (b) is unaware that the theory of evolution has changed since 1880.

Honestly, you cite the discovery of DNA as if it was some earth-shaking thing that shatters Darwin's theory when scientists adjusted the theory to accommodate that discovery half a century ago. Either you're in your 70s, you're fibbing about your bio degree, or you forgot what you learned in class.

But I'll be fair. You have a bio degree. So explain, as a scientist, what it is about DNA that undermines or refutes the modern theory of evolution. For bonus points, state what the theory of evolution is. Not what it was 130 years ago; what it is, today.

James said...

Rev -

It seems he is one of the "skeptics" who uses the "Well, I haven't seen any new species spawned in my lifetime, so it must not be true" line of "argument."

I'm half expecting his next comment to ask why there are still any apes left after they evolved into humans. That's usually how this debate, if you can call it that, goes.

Revenant said...

That's what he usually does, James.

But since this time around he's trying the whole "argument from authority" approach, I want to see if he can speak like an authority.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Well, we'd all like to see more freedom and critical thinking in our schools, wouldn't we?

But in Louisiana, that is not going to be going on. It's a shuck and jive. The entire point is to teach the Bible as science in science class. "Freedom" and "critical thinking" are fig leaves designed to protect creationist teachers from the legal consequences of teaching kids religion in the guise of science.

The propononets of the Louisiana law have said over and over what it is they intended with this law. This is why only certain scientific subjects are targeted for this "critical thinking".

For now. Physics and astronomy's time will come, but for now they are going to teach kids that they ain't kin to no monkey, in science class; that the earth could be 7000 years old, in science class; that there could have been a worldwide flood and all the earth's animals could have fit in a boat, in science class; and give them "science" books filled with long-refuted falsehoods about science and which have "God" crossed out and "intelligent designer" scribbled in in purple crayon.

That was the point and purpose of the legislation. Some of the commenters here who support it have the same purpose in their minds.

Beth said...

"Freedom" and "critical thinking" are fig leaves designed to protect creationist teachers from the legal consequences of teaching kids religion in the guise of science.

I don't see teachers crying out to be able to teach religion in their biology classrooms; it's not the educators arguing for this, it's the boards filled with elected community leaders, who are Focus on the Family nitwits.

Quaestor said...

traditionalguy wrote: I have a BS in Biology from a leading pre-med college.

Sorry. Unimpressed. Are you attempting an argument from authority now?

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Beth:

; it's not the educators arguing for this, it's the boards filled with elected community leaders, who are Focus on the Family nitwits.

They couldn't do it without the collusion of creationist classroom teachers. Most people in this country are at least sympathetic to creationism, but in Louisiana out-and-proud creationism is common even among teachers.

Even on the Left Coast I had creationist teachers in middle school and high school.

traditionalguy said...

Quaestor... I make no claim to authority. I am helping you to understand that educated folks can see beyond the smoke and mirrors of evolution teaching. That doesn't mean we preach creation by Yahweh. It means that evolution is not an honest field of learning. We need to keep questing for the vision that proves to explain reality and not settle for hundreds of millions of years to hide a failed hypothesis behind.

Freeman Hunt said...

Thanks, Beth and Crack. Back at you (as I hope you already know).

Freeman Hunt said...

We studied the theory of evolution in my tenth grade biology class. It was an honors class and had quite a few Biblical fundamentalists in it. One young man asked the teacher if he could present what he thought to be strong arguments against evolution. She said no, there would absolutely be no discussion of anything like that because it was wrong.

Those fundamentalists did not leave that class thinking evolution was a theory with strong evidence behind it.

It would have been very easy to allow that young man a few minutes to state his case and then extra time to present the evolution argument against each of his points. Most probably would have learned more in that class than in any other.

But no. Instead we make science look like dogma.

Additionally, I would point out that Intelligent Design material is not the same as Creationist material. The latter is the literal six days stuff; the former isn't. Just a technical point that is, I think, important.

Revenant said...

I am helping you to understand that educated folks can see beyond the smoke and mirrors of evolution teaching.

But you've given us no reason to believe that you're an educated person. You've shown no knowledge of either biology or the theory of evolution, and you've offered nothing in support of your argument.

The closest you've come to making an actual argument against the theory of evolution was your claim that the it teaches that "complex mammals just arose accidentally from the seeds of amoebas and sea creatures like jellyfish". Which, quite honestly, just made me feel embarrassed for you.

Revenant said...

One young man asked the teacher if he could present what he thought to be strong arguments against evolution. She said no, there would absolutely be no discussion of anything like that because it was wrong. Those fundamentalists did not leave that class thinking evolution was a theory with strong evidence behind it.

What's worse, the physics teacher absolutely refused to allocate time for students to present the evidence against the heliocentric theory of planetary motion. I tell you, those students didn't leave that physics class thinking there was strong evidence that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Revenant said...

Additionally, I would point out that Intelligent Design material is not the same as Creationist material.

It isn't the same as Young Earth creationist material. It absolutely is creationist material, as is anything which teaches that an intelligent force created us.

Neither theory has any scientific validity. That doesn't make those beliefs false, but it does mean that they have no place in science.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Freeman Hunt:

One young man asked the teacher if he could present what he thought to be strong arguments against evolution. She said no, there would absolutely be no discussion of anything like that because it was wrong.

Equal time for all! Astrology and flat-earth devotees and phlogiston chemists. Yes, we can let a thousand flowers bloom and every student use up class time on whatever bees are in their bonnets--but for some reason your fairmindedness is limited to apologetics for the Bronze Age myths sacred to our majority religion.

I haven't noticed that American students come out of high school with TOO MUCH knowledge about ANY of the current sciences.

It would have been very easy to allow that young man a few minutes to state his case and then extra time to present the evolution argument against each of his points.

The "Gish gallop" is the creationist tactic of unleashing a torrent of false and misleading statements which take a few minutes to utter but can take hours to properly answer. Creationists invariably rely on a stock set of bogus "facts" like Mt St Helens rock testing out to be millions of years old when it wasn't (quoted by Christine O'Donnell recently). A high-school teacher is unlikely to have the specialized education necessary to counter these, a teacher would specifically have to prepare for creationists objections and their debunkings.

Here's a thought experiment: in your equal-time classroom a kid says the earth can't be round. We'd fall off the bottom and he's been to Australia and never had to stand on his head. Can you explain exactly what's wrong with his statement so clearly and succinctly that no one in the class is going to be confused by it?

And if he says evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, are you really going to try to walk the students through why it doesn't, when most of them have never SEEN the word "entropy" and most high-school teacher have the faintest notion of what entropy is?

And if the kid has 50 objections cribbed from a creationist website you are going to answer ALL of them, in class?

And you're going to do this for EVERY subject, of course, because there is no religious motivation for questioning evolution, oh no, you are going to spend just as much class time on objections to and weaknesses of Newton's laws of motion, right?

Instead we make science look like dogma.

No, we don't. The day science textbooks say that you go to hell for disbelieving what is written therein, THEN it will look like dogma.

Science textbooks look like EXPERT KNOWLEDGE, which is what they ARE. Not infallible, but if you want to argue against them you need to put in the effort to LEARN them first.

Additionally, I would point out that Intelligent Design material is not the same as Creationist material. The latter is the literal six days stuff; the former isn't. Just a technical point that is, I think, important.

Very important for trying to sneak religion into science class past an establishment clause challenege. It's "wink wink nudge nudge" creationism.

There is no one in the ID movement who believes in an "intelligent designer"--ask them. They believe in the God of Abraham.

As one of the DI fellows, William Dembksi, put it when he thought only Christians were listening, "Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." The ID movement consists solely of young-earth and old-earth creationists who are careful not to criticze each other publicly.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Revenant: You beat me to it.

@Freeman: Sorry to go Walter Sobchak on you. Scientists and science educators have heard these arguments many times before by people who look you in the face and lie about what they believe. They go into court saying one thing, as though the Internet doesn't exist and no one will find out what they've been saying in church on the same subject.

The Louisiana law is infuriating to anyone who is responsible for teaching young people science. We already have to compete with electronic distractions, athletics, political correctness, and then you have people trying to make us teach false science to accomodate their notions of God while pretending to different motives.

Revenant said...

@Revenant: You beat me to it.

Thanks.

Honestly, though, the heliocentric theory (or, more precisely, the theory that the Earth revolves around the solar system's center of mass, which is located within the Sun) is a good parallel for the theory of evolution. It is non-obvious, it contradicts our everyday experience, you need to study a lot and look at mountains of data to prove to yourself that it makes sense, it contradicts the Bible and thousands of years of religious teaching (and earlier scientific teaching, for that matter), etc, etc.

And, in the end, you still can't PROVE that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Motion is relative. It could very well be that everything is revolving around the Earth using a complex system of rules we haven't worked out that only make it LOOK like the Earth revolves around the Sun, just as it could be true that the life on Earth arose due to some unknown process that just happens to look exactly like what you'd expect from the scientific theory of evolution.

All we can say for certain is that the theory of evolution, and the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, match the available evidence, have excellent predictive value, and are the simplest and most elegant explanations for the evidence available to us. Which is the best you'll ever get from science.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Revenant:

Know what I think is the most counterintuitive theory ever? Atoms.

Supposedly electrons, protons, and neutrons are absolutely identical in every way. Every single one. Has there ever been anything in human experience like it? How can we possibly know that?

Of course, the answer is, we assume it, and when we do all of physics and chemistry makes sense, and it doesn't if we don't.

Freeman Hunt said...

What's worse, the physics teacher absolutely refused to allocate time for students to present the evidence against the heliocentric theory of planetary motion.

You think that if a student said he believed in the heliocentric theory of planetary motion, a physics teacher wouldn't ask him why? I know that both my my physics teachers would have asked. Then they would have shown the person why it was wrong.

And it would have been an excellent demonstration of how science is about evidence.

My biology teacher would have been quite capable of answering this young man's objections to evolution. And yet she didn't.

Freeman Hunt said...

All we can say for certain is that the theory of evolution, and the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, match the available evidence, have excellent predictive value, and are the simplest and most elegant explanations for the evidence available to us. Which is the best you'll ever get from science.

Exactly. And that's exactly the sort of thing that should be explained in class. This concept is illustrated much more clearly if you allow other theories to be contrasted with the one that seems to best explain the available evidence.

Revenant said...

You think that if a student said he believed in the heliocentric theory of planetary motion, a physics teacher wouldn't ask him why?

He might ask why, listen, say "you've got your facts wrong" and move on. If the student persisted he could assign them extra reading on the subject. Doing more than that would be foolish.

The problem is that expressing ignorance takes seconds, while rebutting an ignorant statement takes hours, days, or years. Look at traditionalguy, for example -- making the idiotic statement that biologists think humans evolved from jellyfish took him all of five seconds. Actually explaining the current scientific beliefs about the sequence of human evolution, with supporting evidence, takes a bookshelf's worth of books. Meanwhile, while you're working through that, another thousand ignorant statements have been made.

Evolution is based on evidence and reason, while creationism in all its forms is based on faith. You generally can't reason people out of their faith; they have to lose faith on their own.

Revenant said...

Let me add that all of the above assumes that the teacher's primary concern is explaining the theory of evolution. Most teachers' primary concern is conveying the course material to the students so that they can pass the tests and graduate. Explaining to some kid that, no, the Earth isn't flat and black people aren't just burnt white people doesn't serve either of those goals. If the kid graduates ignorant that's bad for society, but it doesn't affect the teacher or the school.

Tibore said...

I need to visit this blog more often, because I'm ending up a day late to threads like this where there's much to say. Like, for example, responding to this:

" There are variation within species. I see new breeds of dogs all of the time. But there are never any species jumps."

WTF? Evolution is a progression of such changes accumulating over long periods of time. Admitting to phylogenesis (i.e. accpeting variation within a species) but denying long term changes snowballing into much larger differences is nothing more than blindness. Change is same mechanism in both cases; macroevolution is simply the grand accumulation of such microevolutionary changes over time. Accepting one while denying the other is just insane. Willing blindness, in fact.

Fact: Macroevolution does occur, and the evidence for it is overwhelming.

(to be continued, since this post is getting painfully long...)

Tibore said...

(... cont'd)

Here is just a handful - repeat, HANDFUL, i.e small sampling - of studies establishing the existence of macroevolution:

General:
1. M Nei and J Zhang, Evolution: molecular origin of species. Science 282: 1428-1429, Nov. 20, 1998. Primary article is: CT Ting, SC Tsaur, ML We, and CE Wu, A rapidly evolving homeobox at the site of a hybrid sterility gene. Science 282: 1501-1504, Nov. 20, 1998. As the title implies, has found the genes that actually change during reproductive isolation.

2. M Turelli, The causes of Haldane's rule. Science 282: 889-891, Oct.30, 1998. Haldane's rule describes a phase every population goes thru during speciation: production of inviable and sterile hybrids. Haldane's rule states "When in the F1 [first generation] offspring of two different animal races one sex is absent, rare, or sterile, that sex is the heterozygous [heterogemetic; XY, XO, or ZW] sex."Two leading explanations are fast-male and dominance. Both get supported. X-linked incompatibilities would affect heterozygous gender more because only one gene."

3. Barton, N. H., J. S. Jones and J. Mallet. 1988. No barriers to speciation. Nature. 336:13-14.

4. Baum, D. 1992. Phylogenetic species concepts. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 7:1-3.

5. Rice, W. R. 1985. Disruptive selection on habitat preference and the evolution of reproductive isolation: an exploratory experiment. Evolution. 39:645-646.

6. Ringo, J., D. Wood, R. Rockwell, and H. Dowse. 1989. An experiment testing two hypotheses of speciation. The American Naturalist. 126:642-661.

7. Schluter, D. and L. M. Nagel. 1995. Parallel speciation by natural selection. American Naturalist. 146:292-301.

8. Callaghan, C. A. 1987. Instances of observed speciation. The American Biology Teacher. 49:3436.

9. Cracraft, J. 1989. Speciation and its ontology: the empirical consequences of alternative species concepts for understanding patterns and processes of differentiation. In Otte, E. and J. A. Endler [eds.] Speciation and its consequences. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. pp. 28-59.

Revenant said...

This concept is illustrated much more clearly if you allow other theories to be contrasted with the one that seems to best explain the available evidence.

Well, sure. You could compare and contrast punctuated equilibrium vs quantum evolution vs the idea of gradualism.

But if you meant "offer one or more forms of creationism, such as Intelligent Design, as opposing theories" then there are two problems:

(1): They aren't scientific theories.

(2): They have no supporting evidence.

You can cover Intelligent Design in class in less than a minute: "some people claim that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved, or that it was clearly designed by an intelligent being. We can't rule out a designer, but we can say that there's no evidence of one, and that if the life on Earth was designed the designer doesn't appear to have done a very good job". There; you've said everything there is to say about Intelligent Design, and can get back to teaching Biology like you're being paid to do.

Freeman Hunt said...

He might ask why, listen, say "you've got your facts wrong" and move on. If the student persisted he could assign them extra reading on the subject. Doing more than that would be foolish.

I could not disagree more. We're talking about high school science, not college. The most important thing for the students to get a handle on is how the scientific method works and what types of questions can and cannot be answered by science. This issue, among others, would be perfect for teaching that in context. Plus, by using something the students on both sides of the issue care about, they'll be much more likely to retain whatever they learn.

Tibore said...

(... cont'd)

Speciation in Insects:
1. G Kilias, SN Alahiotis, and M Pelecanos. A multifactorial genetic investigation of speciation theory using drosophila melanogaster Evolution 34:730-737, 1980. Got new species of fruit flies in the lab after 5 years on different diets and temperatures. Also confirmation of natural selection in the process. Lots of references to other studies that saw speciation.
2. JM Thoday, Disruptive selection. Proc. Royal Soc. London B. 182: 109-143, 1972.
Lots of references in this one to other speciation.
3. KF Koopman, Natural selection for reproductive isolation between Drosophila pseudobscura and Drosophila persimilis. Evolution 4: 135-148, 1950. Using artificial mixed poulations of D. pseudoobscura and D. persimilis, it has been possible to show,over a period of several generations, a very rapid increase in the amount of reproductive isolation between the species as a result of natural selection.
4. LE Hurd and RM Eisenberg, Divergent selection for geotactic response and evolution of reproductive isolation in sympatric and allopatric populations of houseflies. American Naturalist 109: 353-358, 1975.
5. Coyne, Jerry A. Orr, H. Allen. Patterns of speciation in Drosophila. Evolution. V43. P362(20) March, 1989.
6. Dobzhansky and Pavlovsky, 1957 An incipient species of Drosophila, Nature 23: 289- 292.
7. Ahearn, J. N. 1980. Evolution of behavioral reproductive isolation in a laboratory stock of Drosophila silvestris. Experientia. 36:63-64.
8. 10. Breeuwer, J. A. J. and J. H. Werren. 1990. Microorganisms associated with chromosome destruction and reproductive isolation between two insect species. Nature. 346:558-560.
9. Powell, J. R. 1978. The founder-flush speciation theory: an experimental approach. Evolution. 32:465-474.
10. Dodd, D. M. B. and J. R. Powell. 1985. Founder-flush speciation: an update of experimental results with Drosophila. Evolution 39:1388-1392. 37. Dobzhansky, T. 1951. Genetics and the origin of species (3rd edition). Columbia University Press, New York.
11. Dobzhansky, T. and O. Pavlovsky. 1971. Experimentally created incipient species of Drosophila. Nature. 230:289-292.
12. Dobzhansky, T. 1972. Species of Drosophila: new excitement in an old field. Science. 177:664-669.
13. Dodd, D. M. B. 1989. Reproductive isolation as a consequence of adaptive divergence in Drosophila melanogaster. Evolution 43:1308-1311.
14. de Oliveira, A. K. and A. R. Cordeiro. 1980. Adaptation of Drosophila willistoni experimental populations to extreme pH medium. II. Development of incipient reproductive isolation. Heredity. 44:123-130.15. 29. Rice, W. R. and G. W. Salt. 1988. Speciation via disruptive selection on habitat preference: experimental evidence. The American Naturalist. 131:911-917.
30. Rice, W. R. and G. W. Salt. 1990. The evolution of reproductive isolation as a correlated character under sympatric conditions: experimental evidence. Evolution. 44:1140-1152.
31. del Solar, E. 1966. Sexual isolation caused by selection for positive and negative phototaxis and geotaxis in Drosophila pseudoobscura. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US). 56:484-487.
32. Weinberg, J. R., V. R. Starczak and P. Jora. 1992. Evidence for rapid speciation following a founder event in the laboratory. Evolution. 46:1214-1220.
33. V Morell, Earth's unbounded beetlemania explained. Science 281:501-503, July 24, 1998. Evolution explains the 330,000 odd beetlespecies. Exploitation of newly evolved flowering plants.
34. B Wuethrich, Speciation: Mexican pairs show geography's role. Science 285: 1190, Aug. 20, 1999. Discusses allopatric speciation. Debate with ecological speciation on which is most prevalent.

(... cont'd)

Tibore said...

Have I pissed anyone off yet? Probably... yet, that's my point. I'm a little aggravated myself at such attitudes denying established knowledge myself. If this is merely a small sampling, just how much evidence for macroevolution do people think is out there? So is it overkill to post so many references? Only if you're ignorant of the sheer volume of knowledge that's been generated about macroevolution.

The point is that there are documented differences over time between life forms on this planet. And when those differences are stacked up and studied, evolution best describes the process for how they formed by a very long shot. Is there room for argument about specific mechanisms within the theory? Of course! That happens all the time. Doesn't mean that the overall thrust of it is incorrect.

And science works by being ruthless about what explanations stand and what fail. If someone comes up with a better explanation for observations, that takes hold. This is why heliocentrism gradually took hold, and why Kepler abandoned the notion of perfect orbital circles for ellipses: The observations gave him no choice. Ditto evolution: If alternate explanations can be offered that better explain the differences over time we see, then as long as it's makes testable predictions and holds up in the face of generated knowledge, then it will become the dominant theory. Otherwise, evolution is the best explanation for what we're seeing.

So that's the challenge: Come up with something better. Merely complaining about macroevolution fromm the "I can't see it" standpoint is crybabyish in the extreme. Don't like that characterization? Then argue the evidence.

Tibore said...

Freeman: Not to defend the shutting down of the alternate view in that situation you're describing, but: Could the reason for such have less to do with being dogmatic and more to do with limited time? I've known a couple of instructors in my life, one of them at the college level, and both have despaired of actually getting the course material out in the timeframe demanded of them.

Again, this is not a defense of that instructor. I agree with you: It's a perfect teachable moment, and should have been utilized. Still, though, could simple timeframes have been the reason?

Freeman Hunt said...

could simple timeframes have been the reason?

No, not in the specific case I related. We spent many many days listening to student presentations on other topics.

It would have been so easy.

This idea that the ignorance is quick and the explanation is long is just wrong. I used to argue this all the time in school, and it never took long. You don't pick at nits, you go to basic assumptions. Also, in the case of a teacher, the point isn't to stick it to the student and show how wrong he is. It's to show him how science works.

Young Earth Creationism is at odds with the fossil record. The fossil record makes up evidence we have of early life. One can hang on to his Young Earth Creationism if he is willing to say that the fossil record is, somehow, a trick. That would be one conclusion. If he's willing to do that, then, okay fine; he's truly a Young Earth Creationist and understands the cost of his belief. Or perhaps he concludes that the fossil record is solid and/or that a trick is unlikely, and so maybe there is another, less literal interpretation he'd rather take to the religious account.

This boy would almost certainly have brought up the Genesis account as counter evidence to evolution. Then the teacher could have explained that different Chrisitians have interpreted that account in a number of ways, but that such interpretations are outside the scope of science. He would be better off talking to his parents or church leaders about his Biblical studies. I think that a great number of high school students don't know what constitutes scientific evidence, so explaining that writings are not scientific evidence would be very important.

Tibore said...

Ok. I just thought it might be a possibility, given the timeframe so many teachers work under. But that's why I asked: You know what the entire story is.

------

And switching topics: Young Earth Creationists can say what they want about the fossil record, but
1. Most of them don't even know what the cumulation of fossil studies shows. Heck, I don't know the sum, but at least I'm not so arrogant that I think the nitpickery of small details outweighs the mass of evidence already accumulated. Yet, that's exactly the mistake I've seen people make; I've seen/heard/read point issues like opinions regarding Archaeopteryx ("It's a hoax"... "It's 100% reptile"... "It's 100% bird"...). But I've not seen legitimate acknowledgement of the totality of the converging lines of evidence in fossil studies.

2. People calling evolution "Darwinism" would be like people calling modern gravitational theory "Newtonianism", "Keplerism", or even "Gallileoism". All of those figures from the past had contirbuted towards knowledge (Kepler, in particular demonstrating it's effect cosmologically, and Newton finally describing it mathematically), but the field has far, far surpassed any and all of their work. General Relativity nowadays is far more pertinent to how physicists view gravity than anything any of those individuals cited. Likewise, modern frameworks for studying evolution have long surpassed Darwin's observations about adaptation. For example, molecular genetics didn't even exist when Darwin first made his observations.

3. Paleontology is only one of the fields that contribute towards evolutionary theory. There's also biogeography, comparative anatomy, and molecular biology, that last being quite a profound influence on the field.

I can go on, but my point is that I'm continually flabbergasted by how people think masses of observations, connections between lines of evidence, and conclusions supported by such masses can be overturned by pinpricks that half the time aren't even correctly understood within the context of what's known (example by what I mean about that: 9/11 truthers consistently voice the objection that jet fuel fires cannot melt steel and cause buildings like the Twin Towers to collapse... ignoring the fact that no steel melted). That's why so many of those counterarguments don't rise to the level of contradicting the theory. They wouldn't be put forth if the arguers actually knew the topic.

Blech... I'll stop here. I'm starting to rant. Anyway, those YAC's can say what they want, but it doesn't make 'em right.

Tibore said...

Whoops... YEC's, not YAC's. Brain fart there...

Revenant said...

This idea that the ignorance is quick and the explanation is long is just wrong.

Ironically, that statement works well as a supporting example of how I'm right. As you'll see below, demonstrating that the above statement is wrong takes a lot longer than it took you to make the claim.

Young Earth Creationism is at odds with the fossil record. The fossil record makes up evidence we have of early life.

Two points:

First, your teacher had, presumably, already said that the fossil record supports the theory that life on Earth evolved over billions of years. If the fundamentalists weren't convinced by that the first time around, what rational reason is there to think they'll consider it a valid rejoinder the second time around?

Secondly, you said the kid in your class wanted a chance to present his arguments against the theory of evolution -- not that he wanted to present evidence in favor of creationism. Only the dimmest creationists try to offer evidence in support of their beliefs, because it is (as you noted) glaringly obvious that such evidence is lacking. What creationists try to do, instead -- and this thread offers several examples -- is convince people that the theory of evolution is bunk, that it is just another faith-based belief system. They don't NEED to offer any support for the idea that God created the world because (a) their target audience already believes that and (b) if there's no scientific explanation for life on Earth then religion is the only game in town.

Then the teacher could have explained that different Chrisitians have interpreted that account in a number of ways

Do you think they didn't already know that? I grew up around a lot of ignorant fundamentalists, but every last one knew there were lots of people who didn't believe in the story of Genesis. They think those people are wrong. Telling someone "people who are wrong think that you are wrong" doesn't work as an argument.

All this is moot, because a teacher would have to be crazy to risk the approach you're suggesting -- claiming, in effect, that science has proven the Bible isn't really true, and following that up by promoting the idea that the Bible can be interpreted multiple ways. Good way to get reamed out by the school board, that. Cut to two months later, Althouse has linked the news story and half the conservatives here are bleating about how "they'd never criticize Muslims like that".

A typical example of "strong arguments against evolution" follows in the next comment (it was too long for this one).

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

Sample anti-evolution argument:

Scientists have found lots of examples of change within a species, but never an example of one species becoming another. The leading evolution scientists today -- none of whom are Christians -- use a fallacy called "bait and switch" to argue that because we see natural selection causing small changes today, we must have a common ancestor. But just because natural selection happens today doesn't mean that humans evolved from monkeys. Scientists will tell you that the fossil record is evidence, too. Not true. Their measurements aren't accurate -- even scientists admit they can be off by millions of years. But what they don't tell you is that there are huge gaps in every fossil record. Even if you believe that the fossils of our supposed "ancestors" are as old as they claim, their own dating system says that there are gaps of hundreds of thousands of years between the fossils of our supposed ancestors. They take a skeleton of a monkey, like "Lucy", and a skeleton of a human, and tell you that the monkey became the human. But the fossils that should show that happening are all missing. There is no half-monkey, half-human skeleton -- not one. Scientists have never seen life appear from nonliving matter. They've never seen a single-celled organism become multi-celled. In fact, they've never witnessed any of the key events that their theory depends on. They took a bunch of fossils, guessed how old they were, assumed there had to be other fossils in between, and claimed it was a scientific theory.

Now, that took me a couple of minutes to write. It contains roughly a dozen howlers. Good luck refuting them without devoting at least a couple of hours to it. You can dismiss them, you can say "that's wrong", but actually proving that (for example) transitional fossils exist takes a long time and a whole lot of citation. At the end of which the person you're talking to shakes his head and denies that it is a transitional fossil.

Revenant said...

Argh, I see I accidentally deleted both of my double posts instead of just one...

I don't have the energy to re-type. Check out "Answers in Genesis" for good examples of the creationist "argument by denial" approach.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think there is a unavoidable disconnect here between having all of the specifics of the situation and not.

I know, for a fact, that it wouldn't take forever to explain to this kid what tossing out evolution entails because I did explain it to him later. He may not have decided to agree with me, but I did lay out what I thought to the be the cost of holding to either belief, literal young earth creationism or evolution (created or not by God).

The teacher, if she's good, can set it up constructively. You don't let the student just vomit up every silly anti-evolution aside he's ever heard. You limit him to pick his three strongest points (or one point or five, whatever there's time for). Address it. Demonstrate how science works! Don't turn it into, "We already know all of this for a fact, so just accept it, no questioning." That's not how you form a scientific mind.