Tennessee makes it safe to teach "alternative" science.

Hypatian wrote:

That hasn't stopped them before, I don't see why it'll stop them next time. They have a whole stable of arguments based on fallacies, misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of specific scientific evidence, misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of the theory of natural selection, and misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of the scientific process in general. When you slap down one argument, they'll trot out another, and get to going in circles until either you give up or they find one argument with which you can't immediately identify the problem, then declare victory.

Argument by exhaustion. Fun fun fun.

That just calls into question why a bunch of people would be so energetically, willfully stupid for no reason. Obviously, there's a reason. Addressing the reason stops the activity.

I somehow got myself through that entire interview, kudos and bravo to Dr. Dawkins for not backhanding her or at very least as she keeps saying "where's the evidence?"[size=10]*[/size] she deserved a full out
IMAGE(http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwru33NE821r803nno1_500.jpg)

[size=10]*[/size] Of course the only 'evidence' she seems to need for creation is the fact that we're here.

Oso wrote:
LarryC wrote:

Oso:

While you're at it, probably best to start training for critical thought at the elementary school level. I fully support your educational idea.

Actually, there are good (scientific) human development reasons for not doing that. Younger brains are more able to accept Boolean logic (true/false, good/bad) than they are more nuanced reasoning.

It is only in late adolescence that some of our abilities to critically evaluate complex data develop. This explains a lot of why college undergraduates have problems with critical thinking. They have been trained in a facts only context. Questions have a right or a wrong answer. Then, at a certain point of higher education, they are asked to do more complex reasoning and it is very frustrating.

So, while I fully agree that why we believe things is as important as what we choose to believe, I don't think that this kind of curriculum works for younger children. We may be asking them to do things they are not wired to do.

Would it be bad to pursue what I think is a more interesting facet to this discussion about education?

I am familiar with the different milestones and both the educational and psychological theories surrounding them. I am not as well-versed as a professional, since I am not a psychiatrist nor a pediatrician, but I have some familiarity.

The more I think about this, the more I think that it's an educational problem at that point in time, and it could be a priorities problem as well. Historical education is along the same lines - the US has vested interests in only teaching children that the US is Good and other nations are Bad, so its education of history in its public schools follows that agenda. Not unique to the US; Japan is even more transparently nationalistic in its approach to history education.

While young children aged 7 to 12 are more likely to only be open to Formal Morality, it doesn't follow that they can only accept Boolean logic. For instance, it's trivial to get a child to assign certain authorities as "trustworthy" and others as "not," and they will evaluate the veracity of a nontrustworthy source on a case-to-case basis. They will be skeptical of a source that is not vetted by their primary information source (generally parents and/or caretakers and teachers).

Instilling a sense of skepticism in young children prepares them for a young adolescence where they can be asked to consider the status of a given piece of information as being both true and false at the same time, as opposed to just being provisionally true or false. Failing to instill skepticism in young children may be why it's so hard to get past this "belief" thing when it comes to science topics.

Nicholaas wrote:
Hypatian wrote:

That hasn't stopped them before, I don't see why it'll stop them next time. They have a whole stable of arguments based on fallacies, misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of specific scientific evidence, misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of the theory of natural selection, and misunderstandings (or misrepresentations) of the scientific process in general. When you slap down one argument, they'll trot out another, and get to going in circles until either you give up or they find one argument with which you can't immediately identify the problem, then declare victory.

Argument by exhaustion. Fun fun fun.

Like Whack-a-Mole, but way less fun.

Hmm. But the idea of whacking Kirk Cameron with a tire iron has its own, considerable appeal.

LarryC wrote:

That just calls into question why a bunch of people would be so energetically, willfully stupid for no reason. Obviously, there's a reason. Addressing the reason stops the activity.

Unfortunately, tribalism, which is essentially what this is, is difficult to address with "reason". These people have aggregated around a distinction between "themselves" and "others". It does not matter to them that it is not a rational reason. They continue to fixate on it--and to gather around the same sorts of arguments not only in the domain of science, but also in the domains of history and politics.

Jefferson's solution (or at least, part of his attempt to deal with similar issues) to this was to work to establish a public university in Virginia, as a place of learning divorced from those religious dogmas he felt threatened the well-being of the republic.

Unfortunately, in the modern US those people who feel most strongly bound to this tribal identity we're discussing [em]remove their children from the public schools[/em], educating them at home using textbooks that contain the very sorts of arguments we're discussing, and present them as [em]fact[/em]. (This is something that troubles me deeply. And I have no reasonable solution to propose for the problem. Any attempt to put the homeschooling cat back into the bag now would be met with cries of "indoctrination!" Which cries, of course, would be true to a degree--just as they were in Jefferson's time. I see a difference between indoctrination by serving up lies and indoctrination by inculcating the principles of reason. But the people I'm talking about would definitely not.)

As for possible root causes--it's difficult to know. I've heard speculation that a lot of it is reactionary to the changing demographics of the United States. The increasing diversity of the population, in ethnic background and in religious background. There's also of course, strong economic pressure (which can feed nationalistic ideas quite a bit.)

If the economy improves, that will hopefully decrease the appeal of these ideologies among those who are driven simply from a desire for things to improve, and therefore clutch to anyone who claims to have the answers. If the people supporting these ideologies continue to agitate for disastrous public policy, that will hopefully drive people away.

However, I do not know if there's any way to draw back into public discourse those who have chosen to embrace this identity. They do not want to find reasonable compromises, they do not want to integrate better into society. They wish to feel like they are part of a minority beset by some imagined shadowy foes.

And there's nothing you can give them that will satisfy them, apparently, other than everything they ask for.

Hypatian:

Well, let's not go too far into this because this was my initial recommendation before, and it got bogged down by more faith vs. science crap.

It seems to me that, as demonstrated by Dawkins and other posters on this site and on this very thread, that the case for a multicultural and unbiased education is being undermined in public schools by what could be and what could not be a partisan push for atheism and/or other faiths, masked as "wanting to teach science." It is my perception that these religious groups are simply reacting in the predictable way when a direct challenge to their faith is being pushed as nondenominational public education.

The way to meet this is to present science as being nothing more than what it claims to be - a process by which to confirm and organize completely empirical data. ToE, if presented as "The Truth" underlined by "God did not create Man," will predictably raise spirited no-compromise opposition from people who take the opposite position as matters of faith. However, presented as one way to interpret the data, they may accept it as such. "Just a theory," as they put it. They can choose to interpret that however they like in their homes, IMO, so long as the core idea is presented - it's more important to get the data to the young minds.

Core concept here is "teach science, not faith." Prior posts of mine on this stance in earlier pages of this thread.

Hypatian wrote:
LarryC wrote:

It is my perception that these religious groups are simply reacting in the predictable way when a direct challenge to their faith is being pushed as nondenominational public education.

Your perception is bullsh*t.

Overly harsh.

LarryC wrote:

It is my perception that these religious groups are simply reacting in the predictable way when a direct challenge to their faith is being pushed as nondenominational public education.

Your perception is bullsh*t. These classes are not being used as a platform to denigrate Christianity at the expense of atheism or anything else. They are being used to teach [em]science[/em]. If a teacher goes too far and starts saying something like "and Christianity is a load of bollocks", guess what? They [em]can[/em] in fact get fired pretty easily.

The people agitating here are doing so not because those who teach the theory of evolution are doing so with some subversive message. They are doing so because it is a cause around which they can gather. It is because they have been convinced that the [em]theory of evolution itself[/em] is a subversive message. They will not be happy until it is no longer taught in schools.

It is not to ensure their own children are not taught evolution (they can take their children [em]out of school[/em] and homeschool them or send them to a private school to do that.) It is to ensure that other children are taught that evolution is questionable.

"Christianity" is under attack in the US only in that there are less "Christians" around than there used to be, and more "others". That's it. As a result, there are more people to complain when people bend the rules. (For example, when there's prayer in public school classes, these days somebody's likely to notice that, object to it, and call in the authorities.)

However, these people are protected just as strongly by that. A public school teacher who is openly scornful of any particular religion or of religion in general will be sacked [em]very very fast[/em]--for the same reason that a public school teacher who is openly supportive of any particular religion will be. Because we do not allow that sort of thing in public schools, and the parents (most of whom are Christian) are always, [em]always[/em] watching.

Hypatian:

Not to get too far into it here, again, but let's get really, really specific. I don't think any teacher can get away with "Christianity is bollocks," but in the context of teaching the ToE, I think a teacher can get away with something less brazen but much more insidious. "Your ministers are wrong (implied), humans are absolutely descended from animal species."

That is the sort of statement that I think is more difficult for concerned Christian parents to gainsay at the teacher level, so they have to do it at the macro level.

This is only supposition based on how posters here describe their understanding of ToE and the scientific process, and how I've seen teachers in YouTube explain their positions, and the absolute lack of any understanding of science in that godawful Miss America vid concerning ToE. They all talk about whether they "believe" ToE or not. ToE is a scientific theory, belief is completely orthogonal to it.

It's plausible that it's an ethnic problem at the core. Could you elaborate on that?

LarryC wrote:

The way to meet this is to present science as being nothing more than what it claims to be - a process by which to confirm and organize completely empirical data. ToE, if presented as "The Truth" underlined by "God did not create Man," will predictably raise spirited no-compromise opposition from people who take the opposite position as matters of faith. However, presented as one way to interpret the data, they may accept it as such. "Just a theory," as they put it. They can choose to interpret that however they like in their homes, IMO, so long as the core idea is presented - it's more important to get the data to the young minds.

Core concept here is "teach science, not faith." Prior posts of mine on this stance in earlier pages of this thread.

LarryC, let me ask you: what is "the data" when it comes to ToE vs. Creationism and its ilk?

That doesn't strike me as being particularly relevant to the topic. That is not the thrust of that post.

Spoiler:

I have not encountered any scientific data worth the name for the Creationism theories. Feel free to update me on any if you come across such studies.

LarryC wrote:

I have not encountered any scientific data worth the name for the Creationism theories. Feel free to update me on any if you come across such studies.

If there is no scientific data worth the name for the Creationism theories, how can they be called scientific theories? Calling the ToE "Truth" may be unscientific, but so is pretending a theory with scientific data for it is not better science than one with no scientific data for it worth the name.

Given my experience in the public school system, I believe you are mistaken. Let me run down a list of my experiences with religion and with the theory of evolution in school from elementary school through high school:

1) In elementary school, more than once, my entire year attended Christmas music recitals at the nearby Episcopal (Anglican) cathedral.

2) Various world religions were discussed in my history class in junior high. We were, rather appropriately, studying world religion at the time. I particularly remember that Taoism was mentioned.

3) When attending a math competition as part of my junior high school's math team, I was driven with three classmates to the competition by my math teacher. He asked us where we went to church. My friend Avi said "I'm Jewish". I forget what the other person in the car said. I said "I don't go to Church". My math teacher said "Oh, we'll have to fix that."

4) I was accepted into honors classes in high school. The summer before going to high school, I received a required reading list of materials to read in preparation for class. I was somewhat startled to see the Bible on the list. It was never discussed in class.

5) We must have discussed evolution before this point, I think. But I think it was always more or less in the form of "cool fossils!" rather than details. Freshman science was biology. I do not recall the teacher saying anything in particular about religion. Everything was simply about the scientific evidence, the relationships between species, etc. There was no implication that "ha ha, and your pastor's a schmuck!" It was straight up about the science. We also talked about genetics—I can't recall whether that was before or after. Either way, the noteworthy thing here was not the teacher's presentation of the subject, but several long discussions I had with a classmate while waiting for the bus. Her apprehension of the subject was clearly based on something outside the class—whether it was things she had learned from her parents, or in Sunday school, or books, I don't know. In any case, she had some dire misconceptions about what the theory of evolution was about, which I attempted to clear up. I can only hope I made some difference.

I completed high school in 1993, so this was some time ago now. I cannot imagine things have changed so very much. Certainly, there were plenty of noteworthy "religion in public schools" things going on.

Admittedly, this is only anecdotal. However, I believe that given the general public boil in the U.S. on this sort of matter that if there were a systematic treatment of the theory of evolution in the way you describe, there would be a great many complaints. There are a lot of people out there who would like nothing better than to be able to point at a broad trend of establishment of atheism in the schools. Instead, the complaint boiled down to (when I was in school) "we want to teach Creationism alongside evolution! Creationism isn't Christian, it's non-denominational!" and has now become "we want to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution! Intelligent Design isn't religious, it's scientific!"

Do you have any actual evidence that what you suggest might be true, or only speculation?

--

On the "it's an ethnic problem" thing: I'd rather not say that—rather that it's an in-group out-group identification thing. There's a reason I used the words "tribalism" and "nationalism" rather than "racism".

It's about belonging to a group, on the one hand, and identification of the group identity with national identity on the other.

An increasingly diverse population (in all dimensions, not just religious or ethnic) places strain on communities that were once largely homogenous. It breaks up old social structures, or threatens to break them up, and leaves a vacuum for new ones to form. There's room for an "us" vs "them" mentality to get in the gaps. Combine that with an already contentious religious landscape (really, we've had these same kinds of arguments here since the nation was founded), with a big scary threat from far away (9/11), and with an economic down-turn, and you've got a pretty good recipe for increasing tribalism and increasing nationalism.

I don't really believe that the tenor of the nation at its heart has changed. But I believe that these things in concert have given these extremist voices a lot more currency than they used to have. It used to be these sorts of things happened at the local level and were laughed away. Now the same ideas are being expressed at a national level and being taken seriously. The "scary stuff" has increased the power of the extremist core—because people want to belong to something, and want easy answers.

That's more or less the idea I meant to get across there.

--

The real issue, though, is the point about "what would have to be done for them to be satisfied?" And until they have an answer for that other than "teach Intelligent Design (not science) in the science classroom", I don't have a good answer, either. If they were complaining that teachers of science were belittling religious beliefs, there'd be good answers for that.

But they're not complaining about that, presumably because it's not happening. Instad they are complaining that their brand of not-science isn't being taught as science, and I do not believe there can be any reasonable answer to that except "sorry, it's not going to happen".

LarryC wrote:

Hypatian:

Not to get too far into it here, again, but let's get really, really specific. I don't think any teacher can get away with "Christianity is bollocks," but in the context of teaching the ToE, I think a teacher can get away with something less brazen but much more insidious. "Your ministers are wrong (implied), humans are absolutely descended from animal species."

That is the sort of statement that I think is more difficult for concerned Christian parents to gainsay at the teacher level, so they have to do it at the macro level.

This is only supposition based on how posters here describe their understanding of ToE and the scientific process, and how I've seen teachers in YouTube explain their positions, and the absolute lack of any understanding of science in that godawful Miss America vid concerning ToE. They all talk about whether they "believe" ToE or not. ToE is a scientific theory, belief is completely orthogonal to it.

It's plausible that it's an ethnic problem at the core. Could you elaborate on that?

I have gone to public school my whole life and not once did I have a biology bring up religion in any way. I once had a Jewish physics teacher that very briefly talked about Einstein, physics and God/religion but I cannot remember exactly what she said but I remember thinking at the time that her comments were interesting and respectful all around.

LarryC wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
LarryC wrote:

I have not encountered any scientific data worth the name for the Creationism theories. Feel free to update me on any if you come across such studies.

If there is no scientific data worth the name for the Creationism theories, how can they be called scientific theories? Calling the ToE "Truth" may be unscientific, but so is pretending a theory with scientific data for it is not better science than one with no scientific data for it worth the name.

Sure. Totally.

And that's the point: present the ToE anyway you want, when someone starts arguing something that is part of their faith is also a scientific theory, you have to directly challenge their faith: there's no two ways around it, because *they* have decided a challenge to their scientific theory is also a challenge to their faith.

There's a difference between "your faith is not scientific and therefore wrong" and "your theory is not a scientific one and you are wrong to treat it as such, even though it's also your faith." I think you believe the former is happening, but it's not: it's the latter that is the case and is causing the issue.

CheezePavilion:

Sure. Totally.

Hypatian:

Do you have any actual evidence that what you suggest might be true, or only speculation?

It's primarily speculative. Mostly it's based on what I've seen of Dawkins and the way he's tackling the problem, much of how ToE is viewed here, and... ...well, actually pretty darn near everywhere I see it covered in an American conversation - internet, TV, forums, radio you name it.

The question is always "Do you believe in ToE?" and "Is ToE a fact?"

It's plausible that I'm getting the wrong idea of what "belief" is, but given "belief" is the same word being used by Ms. Wright when taking about her faith, and Dawkins when talking about ToE, and they appear to be understanding each other perfectly... ...I dunno.

Maybe I'm getting the wrong idea, but it looks plausible to me that some Christians may be getting the wrong idea as well. Again, just speculative.

But they're complaining that their brand of not-science isn't being taught as science, and I do not believe there can be any reasonable answer to that except "no."

Of course not. Science is science. What I'm talking about is tactics, not results. There can be no question that bad science cannot be taught in schools; but they cannot be allowed to frame it as a freedom of faith issue. I'd argue that Dawkins pushing the agenda forward just damages the cause, especially when he unconsciously pushes different personal beliefs forward as well.

Confession:

Spoiler:

I just finished Dawkins' interview of Wright on YouTube. My face got red from all the facepalming. Good Lord! Any time anyone spoke it's like... ...the entire interview is like a Cleveland trainwreck forum thread. Why are these yahoos allowed to lead the conversation again?

A more basic approach:

Educate them as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

LarryC wrote:

Of course not. Science is science. What I'm talking about is tactics, not results. There can be no question that bad science cannot be taught in schools; but they cannot be allowed to frame it as a freedom of faith issue. I'd argue that Dawkins pushing the agenda forward just damages the cause, especially when he unconsciously pushes different personal beliefs forward as well.

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of Dawkins, for reasons like that. You don't have to denigrate religion in order to accomplish these things.

On the tactics thing... it's tough.

You've got to understand that this ID stuff is a third wave. First you had the era of the Scopes trial: a science teacher was found guilty of teaching evolution (against the law in Tennessee at the time, and for some time later) in 1925, but the case was overturned on a technicality and public opinion on the subject went firmly in favor of teaching evolution. Later, in 1968 (just one year after Tennessee decided to repeal the law that the teacher in the Scopes trial had violated) the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Arkansas's version of the law as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. In 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required schools to give equal time to creationism whenever evolution was taught.

Their next step was to distance themselves more thoroughly from religion by calling it "Intelligent Design" instead of "Creationism", and setting up pseudo-scientists to support it. It's still not science. (Not even vaguely falsifiable. I've heard claims that "someone" has a method that can determine whether something is designed by someone or not. I have a lot of computer scientists who would love to be able to put that to practical use.)

This new law is different from the previous one in that it doesn't mandate that equal time be spent on ID, it "just gives teachers the option of teaching ID if they want to" (or any other non-science science) "without fear of punishment from the administration". They may also have managed to get the senators who voted on it to hide better the fact that they passed the law for religious reasons (although I doubt it).

It's pretty hard to say how the Supreme Court will rule on it when it inevitably reaches there.

But you can see, they've been doing their homework to try to figure out a way to do this that will get past the previous arguments against similar laws. And you can see that they're still aiming for the same thing they've been aiming for since the 1920s.

LarryC wrote:

A more basic approach:

Educate them as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

This already happens in science classes in public schools. If they go to public schools. If they're not already well-taught to reject anything they hear associated with "science".

LarryC wrote:

A more basic approach:

Educate them as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

Should science education stop at basic approaches?

That really goes against your tribalism theory, though. If this is a longstanding issue, then it must have longstanding causes, right? We need to understand their position in order to attack their concerns head-on and with as much force as possible, at the point of weakest resistance. If it's not because they feel that their faith is threatened, an alternative is that this is fueled by good-old-fashioned evangelist fervor.

This already happens in science classes in public schools. If they go to public schools. If they're not already well-taught to reject anything they hear associated with "science."

Not to belabor the point overmuch, but if I never hear the phrase "The ToE is a fact!" ever again, it won't be too soon. That sort of talking just gives me the heebiejeebies.

BTW, thanks for the history recap. I'd been reading up on the history of this thing. It's totally crazy.

CheezePavilion wrote:
LarryC wrote:

A more basic approach:

Educate them as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

Should science education stop at basic approaches?

It should start at the basics, and return to them often. It's not uncommon that a study fails because it forgets fundamentals about what constitutes facts and observations, and it's not uncommon for theoretical or specialized field scientists themselves to forget the platform on which their knowledge stands.

But then, that's neither here nor there on the topic.

LarryC wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
LarryC wrote:

A more basic approach:

Educate them as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

Should science education stop at basic approaches?

It should start at the basics, and return to them often. It's not uncommon that a study fails because it forgets fundamentals about what constitutes facts and observations, and it's not uncommon for theoretical or specialized field scientists themselves to forget the platform on which their knowledge stands.

But then, that's neither here nor there on the topic.

True--I agree with all that, but none of it has to do with why the problem in the ToE vs. Creationism issue is not that the ToE is being taught in a way that attacks them for their faith, it has to do with people regarding one of their faith beliefs as a scientific theory and then claiming their faith is being attacked when they are told their theory is not a scientific one.

LarryC wrote:

That really goes against your tribalism theory, though. If this is a longstanding issue, then it must have longstanding causes, right?

No, because the tribalism (perhaps "xenophobia" would be a better blanket term) thing is about why it's becoming such a big deal [em]right now[/em]. Not just in the case of this law, but in the surge of rhetoric from this same facet of American society across the board.

LarryC wrote:

If this is a longstanding issue, then it must have longstanding causes, right? We need to understand their position in order to attack their concerns head-on and with as much force as possible, at the point of weakest resistance. If it's not because they feel that their faith is threatened, an alternative is that this is fueled by good-old-fashioned evangelist fervor.

Thanks, Larry. Your dramatic insights into a long-standing cultural issue here in the United States will surely be very helpful.

LarryC wrote:
This already happens in science classes in public schools. If they go to public schools. If they're not already well-taught to reject anything they hear associated with "science."

Not to belabor the point overmuch, but if I never hear the phrase "The ToE is a fact!" ever again, it won't be too soon. That sort of talking just gives me the heebiejeebies.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you go up against people who argue by exhaustion. You start taking shortcuts. They're not good shortcuts, but you start using them because explaining exactly what a scientific theory is and how the theory of evolution has been studied so exhaustively that the only thing likely to overthrow it is an earthshaking new way of understanding it (that nevertheless only gives different answers in very special cases), etc. etc... takes way too long when you're forced to do it five times in every single conversation.

So you start saying "this is so well established that it is nearly indistinguishable from fact" (which they then pick apart as "oh, so you're saying it's not actually a fact? It's not true?") to saying "f*ck it, it's a fact. Okay? As far as [em]you'll[/em] ever understand what truth is, [em]this[/em] is true."

And you're especially inclined to do this as it becomes more and more apparent over time that the incredibly simple and certain statements of the opposition are easily understood and accepted by people, while the intricate explanations of the true nature of science make peoples' eyes glaze over.

Why does it make their eyes glaze over? That, I really don't know.

It's a tremendous mess.

Sophistry is poisonous.

So, in terms of the public debate, we're dealing with people who don't understand the limits of either science or religion.

Shouldn't the weapons used against this kind of willful ignorance be a combination of good science (independent verification) and the establishment clause? Thus, nothing can go into a science textbook that doesn't pass the rigor of the scientific method. That should exclude bad science such as Young Earth Theory. Also, things cannot go into textbooks on purely religious grounds: i.e, creationism as a theory or "teach the controversy". In order to make it into a biology textbook, it has to be biology, religious doctrine doesn't belong in science class. (This is something that I think we all can agree on. Certainly Science textbooks contain many things that are compatible w/ religious doctrine, but the reason they are in the textbooks is Scientific in nature.)

So, if we attack things like the Tennessee law on two fronts: keep religious doctrine out of textbooks via the establishment clause and keep bad science out of textbooks via the working of science.

The Tennessee Law should fail on both fronts. We don't have to fight the creationism vs. evolution war. We just have to fight the science vs. dogma war and then practice good science.

The tricky thing here is that the Tennessee law is an attempt to say "No science teacher can be punished for teaching bad science."

This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming. This bill also requires such persons and entities to endeavor to:
(1) Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues; and
(2) Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.

So what happens with this? Let's assume that it isn't obvious enough to get struck down. After all, on the face of it it all seems pretty reasonable—except for that little note about evolution and global warming that makes it obvious what the bill is meant to do.

I guess what it comes down to at that point is: who decides what "an objective manner" is, what the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" are? If a teacher is teaching blatantly non-scientific stuff (like Intelligent Design, for example) and gets fired, who gets to decide if the firing was appropriate or not? If they're not fired, and a parent brings a lawsuit against someone/thing, who do they bring it against? etc.

Looking at the actual full text of the bill, it seems like pretty much everybody is prevented from interfering:

(d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught

And regarding what it covers:

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

I think this is going to come down to: the only way that a teacher can be punished is if they are shown [em]in a court of law[/em] to not be teaching science. And of course, they're going to trot out their experts from the Discovery Institute to claim that "of course it's science!"

The idea of "what counts as science?" being decided in a court room strikes me as really really scary. Not because I don't believe that judges can generally understand what science is, but because I absolutely don't think such things belong in the courts.

I think this is going to come down to: the only way that a teacher can be punished is if they are shown in a court of law to not be teaching science. And of course, they're going to trot out their experts from the Discovery Institute to claim that "of course it's science!"

The idea of "what counts as science?" being decided in a court room strikes me as really really scary. Not because I don't believe that judges can generally understand what science is, but because I absolutely don't think such things belong in the courts.

I don't like the "what counts as science?" being decided by non-scientists either. However, the legal precedents are encouraging. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Intelligent design was struck down as violating the establishment clause. Even when the "Intelligent designer" was not identified or connected to a specific religion, there is no reason to believe in Intelligent design (as a theory, not in some kind of prime mover or creator) without first assuming religious backstory. So, there isn't a record (that I'm aware of) of "controversies" that have court-backed scientific standing.

Anyway, as much as I loathe the Tennessee law, it is a step forward. Unlike Scopes, they are no longer trying to outlaw teaching things that contradict their dogma. They aren't even trying to mandate an official dogma in textbooks. This last gasp of fundamentalism is just trying to keep teachers from being fired for teaching *any* kind of bad science. It is a terrible law, but when the other side is trying to shield themselves by legalizing incompetence, that usually is a sign that your side is winning.

Oso wrote:

I don't like the "what counts as science?" being decided by non-scientists either. However, the legal precedents are encouraging. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Intelligent design was struck down as violating the establishment clause. Even when the "Intelligent designer" was not identified or connected to a specific religion, there is no reason to believe in Intelligent design (as a theory, not in some kind of prime mover or creator) without first assuming religious backstory. So, there isn't a record (that I'm aware of) of "controversies" that have court-backed scientific standing.

Judge Jones' final ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is one of the best re-caps of the entire controversy over creationism/intelligent design put to paper and it explains why it's absolute religious garbage that deserves no place in public schools.

Larry, if you really want to get to understand this conflict Judge Jones' ruling is a good place to start. I also highly recommend the book Monkey Girl by Edward Humes as it includes interviews and reports from the school board meetings where the ill-fated policy was cooked up. You'll quickly see that education policy decisions were being made based solely on religion and that there's pro-creationism groups in America who will quickly swoop in to support these local idiots with books, teaching materials, so-called "experts", legal help, and just about anything else they can provide in the hopes of getting the legal precedent established that creationism or one of its variants is OK.

OG_slinger wrote:
Oso wrote:

I don't like the "what counts as science?" being decided by non-scientists either. However, the legal precedents are encouraging. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Intelligent design was struck down as violating the establishment clause. Even when the "Intelligent designer" was not identified or connected to a specific religion, there is no reason to believe in Intelligent design (as a theory, not in some kind of prime mover or creator) without first assuming religious backstory. So, there isn't a record (that I'm aware of) of "controversies" that have court-backed scientific standing.

Judge Jones' final ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is one of the best re-caps of the entire controversy over creationism/intelligent design put to paper and it explains why it's absolute religious garbage that deserves no place in public schools.

Larry, if you really want to get to understand this conflict Judge Jones' ruling is a good place to start. I also highly recommend the book Monkey Girl by Edward Humes as it includes interviews and reports from the school board meetings where the ill-fated policy was cooked up. You'll quickly see that education policy decisions were being made based solely on religion and that there's pro-creationism groups in America who will quickly swoop in to support these local idiots with books, teaching materials, so-called "experts", legal help, and just about anything else they can provide in the hopes of getting the legal precedent established that creationism or one of its variants is OK.

I'm only a few pages in so far but it's interesting to read the history and see how many different ways they have tried and failed to get their religious beliefs taught in school. It's really infuriating that they don't stop.

My public high school taught alternative theories in our honors biology class. It went like this:

1) Study of Evolution
1.9) 1/2 day discussion on origin of life on Earth, including lightning-->RNA and external sources (migrant microbes via meteor, alien "seeding," supernatural intervention), which were in turn discussed as differing and expanding the question to the origin of life in the universe.

LarryC wrote:

That just calls into question why a bunch of people would be so energetically, willfully stupid for no reason. Obviously, there's a reason. Addressing the reason stops the activity.

(The following is a sort of remix Rob Bell's "trampoline" metaphor from Velvet Elvis, which I'm sure came from somewhere else before that.)

When one builds their belief system as a sort of stack of "facts," the structure requires that each tenet be solid and secure, lest it fail to support all the other beliefs piled above it. As such, someone who stands on that stack of bricks must defend each tenet as if it were vital to the whole structure, because it is. This is, however, a natural way of understanding religious beliefs, as it follows the linear manner in which the tenets are presented (via through school, sermon, or book). But when one of the first tenets, "The Bible (as I understand it) is true," is called into question, the believer must defend that tenet or risk the entire structure toppling.

A more resilient model for structuring faith is to build one's understanding such that each individual tenet works in harmony with the others, rather than directly depending on the others. This allows individual tenets of Christianity (or any belief system) to remain squishy and more loosely understood (which has the side benefit of not ending up treating an infinite God as if it could be fully captured within human reason). It allows the believer to be wrong, and to readjust without toppling.

There are levels of theology at which it is necessary for a theological tenet to rely on other tenets, but with the latter structure, a shakiness at the top can be adjusted for by reforming or replacing underlying beliefs.

Edit: I believe "2)" was about cellular reproduction, but that might have come before evolution.

In the months following the decision, Jones received death threats and he and his family were given around-the-clock federal protection.

God bless America.

That is a hopeful judgement, though. I must confess I hadn't looked in detail at the Dover case except to note the fact of the judgement. Things might be more settled if the school board members hadn't been immediately ousted and the case rendered moot without being addressed by a higher court (although it's unclear to me whether the ID folks had planned to appeal).

This in particular (quoted from the decision in the Wikipedia article) is good:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (page 64)