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Teaching the Debate

June 9th, 2005 · 6 Comments

You know, I was looking over this Scientific American piece debunking creationist (sorry “ID”) arguments and found myself wondering, how much would creationists really like it if public schools were to genuinely “teach the debate” in public schools? That is, what if after presenting the theory and massive evidence supporting evolution, biology teachers were to note that, opposed to vast majority of scientists who agree that evolution is the best available theory, there are an incredibly tiny coterie of scientists, mostly religious ideologues in the orbit of the Discovery Institute, whose arguments have been throughly rebutted and overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community?

As it stands, students can still maintain a kind of doublethink, learning what they need to in order to pass their bio tests, while sustaining their belief in special creation—maybe even aware there is an ID “debate” of sorts, but not how incredibly outgunned the creationists are. It would, in other words, probably tend to exaggerate the conflict between Darwinian and theistic worldviews, in favor of the former. If curricula were changed to “teach the debate” in an honest way, I rather doubt the creationists would like the result.

Tags: Science



6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gabriel Mihalache // Jun 9, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    As far as I can see, self-taught is the only real way to be taught. It’s personal interest and curiosity that will drive an individual to actually *understand* something.

    As far as school is concerned, especially mandatory public school, you’re just memorizing some text that might as well be meaningless for later rendering and subsequent forgetting.

    If the teacher wants to hear “colorless grean refrigerators fly over the green redness” that’s what he’s going to get.

    Throughout my all of my years in school I had many classmates that “learned” more than I did, got better grades, but now, in practice, they know almost nothing and understand almost nothing. Garbage in-garbage out.

    In other words, it doesn’t really matter what they’ll teach in schools, beyond basic propaganda for the masses (desiring a easily digestible view) because those that are really interested in understanding and doing something in a field will follow their interest.

  • 2 Glen // Jun 9, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    Of course, they don’t want a real debate. They know that in many communities, the high school teachers are Jesus freaks, and they’ll be happy to present the “debate” in a manner so biased that it will appear Creationism has the better of it.

  • 3 Luke Thomas // Jun 9, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Under no circumstance can you ever,EVER have an honest or meaningful debate with someone (or a particular group of “someones”, i.e. creationists in this case) who is intellectually dishonest.

  • 4 Barry // Jun 10, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    And, of course, the *amount* of material and time allocated must be fair. Where ‘fair’ = ‘as much as possible’.

  • 5 Bill Newman // Jun 10, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    One thing I would like to see the ID people — like Paul Johnson in this week’s Forbes… — grant is how hard the designer seems to be trying to make his presence ambiguous. We have some pretty good ideas from pre-Darwin about what a designed, artificial world could look like: e.g., not much older than recorded history, not much bigger than the Middle East, with celestial bodies mocked up on crystal spheres fixed over the possibly-flat surface of the earth. SF writers have also given us plenty of completely artificial worlds, like _Orphans in the Sky_, and any number of artificial creatures, too. Why did a designer make the world and its creatures so natural-looking?

    For that matter, in Johnson’s version, he asserts that as a historian he can see that natural selection couldn’t have done the job in hundreds of millions of years. OK, as a biology undergrad, chemistry Ph. D., and now programmer with some knowledge of genetic algorithms, I would ordinarily dispute that, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument. Then why did the designer let it go so slowly that there is any ambiguity at all? If the designer is pushing the process along, it’s funny to be so patient. Why not bang out one’s chosen target for evolution — marsupials in Australia and all — in a few thousand years? And while a shy designer trying to be inconspicuous is certainly a logical possibility, he has a logical consequence that those who perceive his almost-but-not-quite-erased footprints should cut some slack for those who are having trouble seeing them.

    (Also: “Neither Darwin nor any of this followers…was a historian. None of them…made their calculations chronologically.” Um, PJ, I guess you’re a historian and all, but you seem to be unaware how ignorant you are of the history: even I, on the wrong side of the two cultures, know about the controversy over how Darwin’s estimate for the time needed for evolution couldn’t fit within Lord Kelvin’s bound on the age of the Sun. See Google “kelvin age sun radioactivity,” e.g., http://geowords.com/histbooknetscape/k06.htm)

    (And yay, another creationism thread, so that I can mention that the malaria resistance thing I mentioned in an earlier one (then didn’t clarify before comments were cut off) is explained as a bit of background in _The Economist_ this week, in discussing another set of surprisingly common and concentrated expensive genes. In short, in the most famous case the the cost is well-known, and called “sickle cell anemia.”)

    (God only knows how to make paragraphs in this interface. By my count, there should be 4…)

  • 6 Lakema // Jun 21, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Its an important point that none of this is about having honest debate. While it may be beneficial to let kids hash this out for themselves the same people who are insisting on it now would surely oppose. After all, discussing the lack of scientific merit to ID (aka creationism II) would be evidence of the schools anti-christian bias. I feel strongly that it is important to not give an inch to fanatics because they will never be appeased.