August 25, 2007
Some intelligence on "intelligent design"

All things considered, I'd have to say that this counts as pretty good news. For now, anyway.

Should "intelligent design" - the cousin of creationism - be taught in science classes in Texas alongside evolution?

A solid majority of the State Board of Education, which will rewrite the science curriculum for public schools next year, is against the idea, even though several members say they are creationists and have serious doubts about Charles Darwin's theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

Interviews with 11 of the 15 members of the board - including seven Republicans and four Democrats - found little support for requiring that intelligent design be taught in biology and other science classes. Only one board member said she was open to the idea of placing the theory into the curriculum standards.

"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community - and intelligent design does not."

Mr. McLeroy, R-College Station, noted that the current curriculum requires that evolution be taught in high school biology classes, and he has no desire to change that standard.

"When it comes to evolution, I am totally content with the current standard," he said, adding that his dissatisfaction with current biology textbooks is that they don't cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

While I'd certainly prefer to have SBOE members who had actual knowledge of scientific matters - it's clear that the member from Beaumont, who spoke about humans and monkeys, hasn't the first clue of what evolution is all about - at least the ones we have seem to understand the distinction between what they believe, and what is appropriate for a classroom. That's good to hear.

Not everyone is sanguine about this, of course:

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates strict separation of church and state, said she doubted board members had given up their advocacy of intelligent design.

"Don McLeroy and the other ideologues who now control the state board have said repeatedly in the past that they want public school science classes to teach creationism and other religion-based concepts," Ms. Miller said. "So we have no doubt that they'll find a way to try, either by playing politics with the curriculum standards or censoring new science textbooks later on."

Which gets back to what I said before - it would be vastly preferable to have SBOE members who had genuine knowledge in these matters, rather than having to depend on their goodwill. But again, we could be in worse shape than this, so let's be glad for that. It's in 2011, when the textbooks come up for review again, that we'll really have to be on the watch for attempts to weaken the curricula.

I should note that it would also be nice if we had more reporters who understood what evolution is all about. Consider this paragraph:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than by undirected processes like natural selection and random mutation - key components of the theory of evolution.

Evolution is both a fact and a theory. Calling "intelligent design" a "theory" is inaccurate, since in scientific terms the word "theory" has specific properties, such as predictive value and falsifiability, neither of which are true for ID. Unfortunately, you wouldn't know that from reading this story. Quite the reverse, in fact - after all, if both evolution and ID are "theories", why shouldn't they both be taught? Balancing that out with a "Some critics say" paragraph isn't good enough. We need better understanding all around.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 25, 2007 to Technology, science, and math

Calling "intelligent design" a "theory" is inaccurate, since in scientific terms the word "theory" has specific properties, such as predictive value and falsifiability, neither of which are true for ID.

Actually it's more fundamentally simple than that. Calling ID science is wrong because there is no science of ID. None whatsoever. You'll not find one single peer-reviewed research article in support of ID in any legitimate scientific journal published in any language anywhere on the planet. Not a single one. Simply put, there's just no science there.

Theory or no theory, there's simply just no science there to teach. Nothing. Not one sentence of legitimate science related to ID that could be put into a text book. Not one.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on August 26, 2007 1:07 AM

Science TEKS are going to be re-vamped next year. That's the first thing we'll have to be vigilant about. Also, science textbooks may be adopted in 2011, but the process starts three years prior.

All science textbooks may not be rolled out (adopted and implemented) in 2011. Because of budget cutbacks, we may have some new science textbooks in 2011, then others in 12 and 13.

Posted by: martha on August 26, 2007 5:50 PM

Science by its very nature reveals observable, testable reality. It is the best way to know the knowable, to prove the provable.

By its very nature, Faith is impossible to prove.

Science and Science Education should not be in the hands of anyone who does not understand nor support Science, for example, a person with a dark age political agenda or profit agenda to undermine especially climate crisis and evolution. We need Science and Scientists to help save us so that we continue to exist.

In his little book, Science and Human Values,13 Jacob Bronowski gives a masterful presentation of the moral preconditions of science. The fundamental moral premise, says Bronowski, is "the habit of truth": the collective decision by the body of science that "We ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so." This habit, this decision, gives a moral tone to the entire scientific enterprise. Bronowski continues:

By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice or to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science. Individually, scientists no doubt have human weaknesses. . . But in a world in which state and dogma seem always either to threaten or to cajole, the body of scientists is trained to avoid and organized to resist every form of persuasion but the fact. A scientist who breaks this rule, as Lysenko has done, is ignored. . . 14

The values of science derive neither from the virtues of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable conditions for its practice.

And this is but the beginning. For if truth claims are to be freely tested by the community of scientists, then this community must encourage and protect independence and originality, and it must tolerate dissent.

Science and scholarship are engaged in a constant struggle to replace persuasion with demonstration -- the distinction is crucial to understanding the discipline and morality of science.
Persuasion, a psychological activity, is the arena in which propagandists, advertisers, politicians and preachers perform their stunts. To the "persuader," the "conclusion" (i.e. what he is trying to get others to believe: "the message," "the gospel," "the sale") is not open to question. His task is to find the means to get the persuadee (i.e., voter, buyer, "sucker") to believe the message. Whatever psychological means accomplishes this goal (apart from "side effects") is fair game. (When the "persuader" and the "persuadee" are one and the same, this is called "rationalization").

Demonstration (or "argumentation" or "proof"), a logical activity, is the objective of the scholar and scientist. Therein, hard evidence and valid methodology is sought, and the conclusion is unknown or in doubt. However discomforting the resulting conclusions might be, "demonstration" has evolved as the best "proven" means of arriving at the truth -- or more precisely, at whatever assurance of truth the evidence will allow. "Demonstration" is exemplified in scientific method (in particular, through freedom of inquiry, replicability of experimentation, publicly attainable data, etc.), in legal rules of evidence, and in the rules of inference of formal logic.

A scientist or a scholar is an individual who has determined, as much as possible, to be (psychologically) persuaded only by (logical) demonstration. Being human, every scientist falls more or less short of the mark.

The temptation to resort to persuasion to the detriment of demonstration is universal in mankind. But the ability to resist this temptation is variable. Thus science has been devised to ensure the highest humanly attainable degree of non-subjective demonstration. Much of the strength and endurance of science derives from in its social nature, and the severe sanctions that are entailed therein. Thus the scientist who claims a discovery must tell his colleagues how he arrived at his knowledge, and then offer it for independent validation, at any suitable time and place, by his peers. If this validation fails, the "discovery" is determined to be bogus. If the failure is due to carelessness, the investigator is subject to ridicule. (This was apparently the case with Fleishman and Pons' claim to have discovered "cold fusion.") If it is due to fraud (i.e., "cooking the data"), as was the case with Lysenko and Dawson (the "discoverer" of Piltdown Man), the investigator is liable to be exposed, whereupon he loses his reputation and credibility -- which is to say, his profession. Due to its social nature, the institution of scientific inquiry is more than the sum of all scientists that participate therein.

To reiterate: the activity of science fosters such moral virtues as tolerance, mutual respect, discipline, modesty, impartiality, non-manipulation, and, above all, what Bronowski calls "the habit of truth." That is to say, in the pursuit of his or her profession, the scientist forgoes "easy" gratification through a steadfast allegiance to "truth," and the implicit willingness to acknowledge a failure to find the truth -- both of these, abstract moral principles. The scientist endures such morally virtuous sacrifice and constraint, because the discipline requires it, and the cost of violation is severe: lying and cheating in the laboratory are fruitless iniquities, since, by the nature of the enterprise, they are likely to be uncovered.

Yet, to be sure, scientists are capable of morally atrocious behavior. They performed experiments at Auschwitz, and they serve today as apologists for the tobacco and pesticide industries. Scientists are human, and thus vulnerable to all the usual temptations which flesh is heir to.
Still, for the scientist and scholar who chooses to pursue a moral life, the insight and discipline acquired from scientific training and practice, offers a significant "boost" to that pursuit.
The "virtues of science" can even lead to saintly behavior. Consider the case of Andrei Sakharov. Without question, Sakharov carried his allegiance to truth, and the habit of yielding to principle, beyond his laboratory. In this passage from his great 1968 testament, "Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom," note how the extension of scientific method to politics and social activism, conveys essential moral qualities and implications:

We regard as 'scientific' a method based on deep analysis of facts, theories, and views, presupposing unprejudiced, unfearing open discussion and conclusions. The complexity and diversity of all the phenomena of modern life, the great possibilities and dangers linked with the scientific-technical revolution and with a number of social tendencies demand precisely such an approach...15

Out of his respect for the truth and the institution of scientific inquiry, Sakharov would never hide evidence, whatever the apparent personal advantage. By analogy, he would not compromise a moral truth, even to save himself. When duty called, that was reason enough. It is this step, from the laboratory to practical life, that characterizes the saintly scientist. Saintly behavior is manifest when intellectual discipline of the laboratory, the willingness to accept evidence and follow the clear logical implications of perceived and discovered truth, is applied to personal life, even at the cost of personal sacrifice, and even when one has clear opportunities to "get away" with a distortion or denial of the truth and a compromise of one's principles.

Posted by: Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, which Al Gore says is still possible on August 30, 2007 9:26 PM