Taking Aim at Evolution
Paul DeanDr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2006 Mar 06
Yet another wrinkle in the evolution debate has developed. And this is no small wrinkle. It has Copernican size implications. More on that a little later.
"Whether S.C. high school students should be encouraged to question the theory of evolution will be the focus of a meeting of the state's education reform panel," according to the AP. "The discussion is not about inserting intelligent design into the state's biology curriculum, the lawmaker who started the debate said. 'The issue is...whether or not to have critical analysis injected into the curriculum,' said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, a member of the Education Oversight Committee.'"
Or course, critical analysis is part of any good education in any endeavor. Those on both side of this issue would no doubt agree. The problem lies in that those who are opposed to Sen. Fair deny with their actions what they espouse with their lips. Fear drives them. Read on.
"Some scientists and educators say critical analysis already is inherently part of the science curriculum. They say this is an effort by 'anti-evolutionists' to cast unreasonable doubt on what they call the basis for understanding biology. 'What they mean is that you're going to single evolution out for criticism," said Jerry Hilbish, a University of South Carolina biology professor. "There are no legitimate, scientifically sound criticisms of evolution. The only criticisms they are going to come up with are things that are misrepresentations; they are fabrications. And others are simple outright lies about what the scientific status is.'"
Now let's break those statements down a bit. All scientists acknowledge that there are significant gaps in evolutionary theory. It is the height of arrogance and fear to speak with rhetoric concerning casting unreasonable doubt on the basis for understanding biology. The fact of the matter is that there are scientifically sound criticisms of evolution and those who deny such are being disingenuous.
But, what is the fuss? What are they really up in arms about?
"State-approved science standards dictate what teachers include in their lesson plans. Within each standard are a set of 'indicators,' which are sentences that describe abilities students should have at the end of a class...In the biology section, the state says students should be able to explain the basis for evolution: the theory that life-forms have adapted over billions of years. Fair says the wording should be changed to indicate that students will be able to 'critically analyze' the theory."
There you have it. Those committed to a particular worldview and scientific paradigm are afraid of critical analysis, the very foundation upon which science rests. The scientists are afraid of the scientific method as it will force them to come up with new models to explain the gaps in their current model.
"State Education Department spokesman Jim Foster says that's already how students are taught. 'Science teachers already teach students to critically analyze because that's the foundation of modern science,' he said. 'Examine, question, test, analyze: That's what scientists do.'"
Of course, he is right in saying that is what scientists do. Then why the unwillingness to do science?
"Jo Anne Anderson, executive director of the oversight committee, said one limitation of the science standards is that studying the history of science has been largely removed from the curriculum. As a result, she said, students are not exposed to the principle that knowledge changes over time. 'Our young people need to understand that good science is constantly disproving the status quo,' she said."
And there's the answer. Gene Edward Veith makes a connection between an ancient debate and the current one (World Magazine, "Textbook Case"). There was a time when scientists thought the sun and the planets revolved around the earth. This Ptolemaic scientific paradigm explained what scientists observed. Then Copernicus came along and noted that moons revolved around other planets and posited that the planets that we can observe may actually revolve around the sun. For scientists to embrace such a notion would necessitate a massive paradigm shift on their part. Because they could not explain the gaps in their present theory, new models would have to be constructed. The problem lies in the fact that they were unwilling to change at that time and Copernicus was condemned as a heretic and imprisoned. Of course, the Copernican revolution could not be stopped as truth ultimate prevails.
Scientific historian, Thomas Kuhn, is famous for noting this inability and unwillingness to discard old paradigms for new ones. Those who are willing to push the envelope are termed paradigm pioneers. A paradigm shift occurs when the evidence is so overwhelming that new models must be constructed. And of course that shift results in a scientific revolution.
We are in need of a Copernican revolution when it comes to this debate. It is high time that those who question the status quo are not relegated to the status of scientific heretic and figuratively imprisoned. To outlaw critical analysis, and indeed intelligent design, is nothing short of Ptolemaic ignorance and quite frankly, bad science.
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