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May 07, 2005

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» Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc.: Kansas, U.S., Beg for Ridicule from TechnoPrimitive
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Apropos of my recent post on Tom Friedman's new book, his column Friday looks more closely at the education aspect of Globalization. Dan Gillmor writes on education today as well, wondering about the impact that the resurgence of interest in Kansas ... [Read More]

Comments

Alex Krupp

I have to disagree with you that we are putting children at a disadvantage by not teaching evolution exclusively. Evolution, at the level it was taught in my HS at least, can be entirely summed up in about an hour and a half. The simple fact is that 99% of the advances in society are created by 1% of the population. There are a lot of people driving cars, but how many of them could invent the car? If a kid isn't even plucky enough to spend an hour or two learning about evolution on their own (which they should know by the time the get to HS already, I might add) then what are the chances that they are going to produce anything worthwhile in the sciences anyway? Probably about zero. Now I suppose the issue here is actually teaching creationism along with evolution, but again if the kid can't figure it out then I doubt they are going to contribute much to society anyway.

That being said, I agree with you of course on the issue, but I think it does a disservice to exaggerate it. For example Kos on dailykos said that there was no contradiction between christian dogma and evolution. Hello? One says that the earth was created in six days by god and the other says the world formed over billions of years and people evolved from less complex organisms. I don't see how the two could possibly be more incompatible.

Anyway this doesn't really apply to what you wrote, but as long as I am on my soapbox it is a pet peeve of mine when people believe that we can reach the truth through lies. The problem with society isn't that it's filled with joe sixpack's, but rather that everyone thinks that everyone else is joe sixpack.

/tired of media dumbing down society

pj

According to Wikipedia, there are some scientists who support ID. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design

It seems that the Kansas situation is one where they are arguing for multiple theories to be offered as opposed to just one. Perhaps I'm wrong, but isn't that often done in science and history classes? Are multiple theories or viewpoints presented to students?

Alex Krupp

pj: The way I understand it, all of science itself is a theory. However, within science, evolution is a fact. Thus it might make more sense to teach evolution is science, and intelligent design in a philosophy/theology class.

steve

The religious right also hates cosmology and other areas in science.

Perhaps, as the Republicans move us to their "Handmaid's Tale" world, kids will only have to worry about their BAT scores (Bible Aptitude Test).

Daniel Conover

An important reminder for anyone who must engage in this discussion: Nothing is "just" a theory.

All of science is theory, and theories are never proven. Those who argue against evolution on the grounds that it is "just" a theory count on people with just a passing knowledge of science saying, "well, gee, I guess the man has a point."

When new facts contradict existing theories, those theories tend to fall apart and be replaced by new theories. Sometimes theories themselves evolve as new facts come to light. Darwin, of course, knew nothing about DNA, yet DNA fits nicely into evolution. Rather than weakening evolution, DNA tends to bolster the theory.

Is evolution, as now stated, a perfect theory? Of course not. There are bits of data out there that don't fit the pattern, at least not as we now understand the bits and the pattern. The existence of such evidence says there's more to learn, but anyone who says that such anomalies disprove Darwin is selling something. The weight of the evidence supports the basic ideas of evolution.

But what if evidence rises tomorrow that disproves evolution -- and suggests a brand new theory? Out goes Darwin. Some scientists might be embarrassed by that, but given the right evidence, eventually everyone would get on board. That's the way science works.

Will the sun rise tomorrow? Yes -- but that's just a theory. Granted, it's a pretty sure bet, but rigorous science would hedge on it just a teeny bit. I mean, there's at least some chance that there's a profound law of quantum physics that could turn our idea of time into something that looks like a fluffy pastry overnight, halting the Earth's rotation. Not likely, but hey, we're not God, you know. We don't know everything. Science is all about humility, when you get right down to it.

So, doesn't that leave SOME room for intelligent design?

No.

Intelligent design may be SOMEBODY's theory, but it isn't a scientific theory. To be scientific, it must be testable and disprovable. How would you design an experiment that could disprove the involvement of God in biology? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

This is what so many people struggle to understand: Intelligent design could well be correct... but it cannot be science. Talk about it all you want. Preach on it. Write books. But don't teach it in science class.

Thank you. You may have your soapbox back now.

Simon Pole

I can't help but think Microsoft's recently reversed decision to abandon support of pro-gay rights legislation is related to this -- trying to hedge its bets with this pressing religious culture.

Recently, there was also an English scientist who turned down a trip to Texas to for a university ceremony honouring him. He cited the difficulties faced by vistors to the US. Artist on a wide scale have also stopped touring in the US because of these problems.

American Arts and Sciences are taking it from all sides now.

Bob Smith

Dan-

Love where you're trying to take journalism. Enjoy your blog when you stick to that subject.

Growing increasingly tired of you climbing up on your intellectual high horse and denouncing anything slightly red or religious. Keep your "idiocy" to yourself.

Take it from a fan, your arrogance has become a little thick lately. If you want to express frustration at the effort to get evolution out of textbooks go for it. But don't brand everyone who believes in a higher being an idiot in the process. Tolerance?

Keep fighting for innovative journalism, but don't denounce everyone who believes their God may, just may, be responsible for creating this world. If it's a lie we're living, grant us space to waste our faith.

Dan Gillmor

Bob, sorry you disagree.

I'm not denying a higher being. I'm saying there is pretty much conclusive evidence for evolution, and basically faith supporting intelligent design.

Both may be true. One is backed by serious scientific evidence.

Anna

And only one generates testable hypotheses, as Daniel pointed out.

And Alex?
"if the kid can't figure it out then I doubt they are going to contribute much to society anyway. I agree with you of course on the issue, but I think it does a disservice to exaggerate it. "

Alex, they vote.

Besides, what you're suggesting here - "it doesn't matter if we teach them, since the top N% will be just as well educated if we don't" - is not likely to be correct.

FYI: The Pandas Thumb covers evolution, Chris Mooney covers science of all sorts.

Ted Feuerbach

Trained as a Biologist, I am absolutely and positively sick of this so called debate on Creationism (or ID if you prefer to rename it) vs. Evolution. Scientists shouldn't have to waste their time trying to re-prove the proven to the ignorant.

Creationism (or ID) is pseudo-scientific crap. Period. Bob, if you want to cripple our children's understanding of the Biological Sciences by teaching this to them as fact (or even as theory), then you *are* well and truly an idiot.

"The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best -- that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic."
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1894 - in Evolution and Ethics.

Alex Krupp

Anna: Good point, I forgot about them voting. I'm trying to figure out how I feel about that, but I'm not sure whether it's cynicism, apathy, or just bitterness. And by that of course I mean people who wouldn't know what evolution was without public schools, not those who believe in god.

Daniel Conover

As this discussion proves, again, we've ALL got to figure out ways to respect other people's beliefs. The difficulty is, we've got to do that without yielding the idea that ours is a society founded on reason.

Limited TO reason? No. Informed by spiritual belief? Yes. But for all our talk of religion, it is reason -- good old boring, mundane reason -- that creates the freedom and security to believe as we wish.

Right now, Christians feel that they are under attack. There's a lot of push-back against secular culture. I think about this a lot and I struggle to really understand it.

Bob, I really, truly don't think you're an idiot for believing in God. I also don't think Dan is branding you an idiot for believing in something other than evolution. Personally, I think classical evolution alone does a LOUSY job of explaining adaptation within catastrophic "phase change" environments ... I find it much more likely that something besides random chance mutation is helping to drive the adaptation engine. I don't think that makes me an idiot, either.

The point is, such beliefs may or may not be valid, but whatever they are, they aren't science. The fact that my beliefs aren't scientific doesn't threaten me, because I recognize that science is just one imperfect way of looking at the world. But the people in Kansas are about something entirely different. They think science is a form of religion, and they are trying to strike a blow for God in the public schools.

That, I'm afraid, is just a chowder-headed thing to do. Look, the church has special status in this country: Tax-exempt, protected, respected. American Christians have resources out the yin-yang, and I don't think anybody seriously believes that Christians are incapable of getting their message out, be it from the pulpit or from the Internet or from satellites.

So why this never-ending attack on science in the public sphere? Why this insistence on destroying our tradition of religious freedom as protected for two centuries by the wise doctrine of separating church and state? Why the argument, over and over again, about the religious beliefs of our founding fathers?

Do people really believe that tearing down the wall between government and religion will make either better? Can we not agree that a mutual devotion to reason, respect and justice protects all our freedoms -- including our spiritual freedoms -- best?

Al

Justing thinking out of the box, why can't both ID and Evolution be true? I have about zero knowledge about the specifics of Evolution, but doesn't Evolution seem to focus on the morphing of species into other species and not focus on the origin? I know Darwin's book was the "Origin of Species", but maybe my question should be more along the lines of is there more evidence of species morphing than the original root species?
The politics drive the discussion to one or the other, but I'm not so sure it's really about one or the other.

Joe Buck

Actually, I think that intelligent design could be put in the form of a testable, falsifiable theory, but its adherents don't want to do that, because it would immediately explode.

Think about it. Assume that there is an intelligent designer. Now this isn't some human designer, it is an omnipotent being. This being would not make stupid design mistakes. Therefore intelligent design should predict that the bodies of living things follow elegant design principles, with no mistakes or waste. Of course, there could be a few things we think are mistakes, because of our limited understanding, but we wouldn't find botch after botch. Right?

By constrast, evolution would predict lots of oddities and irregularities, including botches, as long as those botches tend not to kill the animal before it reproduces, or limit its reproduction rate.

So what do we see when we look around? Our eyes have a blind spot because the strange and inefficient way the optic nerve is connected to the retina. We have appendices (good for nothing but appendicitis) and bad backs, the latter because we walk upright but evolved from animals that don't. There's a truly bizarre nerve in all mammals that connects the larynx to the brain by way of the heart, which if you think is bad design for a human, is wildly bad for a giraffe. But if it holds up long enough for the animal to reproduce, evolution will leave it.

The only intelligent designer that can't immediately be discredited is a theoretical intelligent designer who creates false evidence. Maybe we've only been alive for ten minutes, with false memories of a history before that. Maybe you, the reader, are the only one alive, and your brain is in a jar, or maybe the Matrix.

So, my modest proposal is to allow the "intelligent design" people into schools, but under the condition that they express their ideas in scientific form, and that they agree that their ideas be subject to ruthless criticism and debunking, the same kind any scientist who proposes a new idea gets.

Joe Buck

Al, there have been interesting attempts by theologians to reconcile Christianity and evolution; you might want to read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I was raised Catholic, so at one point I was very interested in his ideas (as were a number of the theologians at Catholic University of America before Ratzinger, um, Benedict cracked down). While the Church rejected Teilhard (who was a Jesuit, by the way), Pope John Paul II basically acknowledged that it looked like evolution was factual and he had no issue with it, at least with certain caveats to keep a role for God.

Daniel Conover

Al: Could both possibly be true? You bet.

But ID still isn't science and does not have a place in a scientific textbook.

Those who want to change that should donate their money to fund researchers who could design experiments to look for alternative mechanisms for genetic adaptation. By devoting themselves to arguing over who can say what to public school children, they betray their real agenda. This is not about science, but thought control. It's about power.

I agree that politics tend to drive the discussion to one or the other, and I would say that this is exactly what we need to change.

Ted Feuerbach

A quote from Al:
"I have about zero knowledge about the specifics of Evolution, but doesn't Evolution seem to focus on the morphing of species into other species and not focus on the origin? I know Darwin's book was the "Origin of Species", but maybe my question should be more along the lines of is there more evidence of species morphing than the original root species?

Yes Al, both are taken into consideration in his works. "Origin of Species" was sort of a first draft. Thomas Henry Huxley, the President of the Royal Society from 1881 to 1885, supported Darwin. While Huxley debated in favor of "Origin of Species", he disagreed with some of the details. He and Darwin worked some of this out. The "Origin of Species" is full of scientific observation to support the theory. It has been debated (in scientific circles) for over 135 years. But the basic theory still stands, almost intact. The details are clarified as new evidence comes available, such as DNA analysis.

Read it Darwin here:
http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/d#a485

Read Huxley here:
http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/h#a595

Then read thousands of books (well, OK, browse them) done after that to drill down with new scientific evidence that both support and clarify, due to new scientific evidence, what Darwin proposed about 150 years ago.

Itchy

Until you are ready to abandon the "idiocy" of collectivized, command-and-control public schools in favor of a free market scheme for educating our children, employing vouchers based on the "incredibly well supported theory" of free-market economics, you can't seriously cast yourself as a crusader for stripping (in this case humanist) theocratic ideology from the education of our children.

Bob Smith

FOLLOW UP...

I am not advocating teaching evolution or creationism. I have my individual belief and am completely satisfied with it. I do not seek to impose it on others or argue their belief. I think exposure to both theories is helpful. Individuals can make up their minds. I have great "faith" in people.

What I am pointing to is the irony of those of you who are calling the religious "idiots." Express your frustration with what you believe is their foolish belief system, but tolerate the differences. The people who despise vocal religious leaders for failing to tolerate Hollywood producers, gays and lesbians, and anything blue seem to now be the people failing to tolerate the religious.

Your frustration is understandable. Your broad denouncement of anything or anyone religious is not. Take issue with the issue not the people.

I would also humbly suggest to so easily dismiss anything not scientifically proven seems to me a mistake since discovery and theory are so fluid. While you may not have religious faith, you might be surprised at how many things you have faith in but you could not prove if required.

Great discussion... have enjoyed reading the opinions on both sides. Good points.

Jim M

It's not calling "the religious" idiots. It is calling a small subset of religious people who deny science and are trying to get religion taught as science idiots.

Most religions, including most of Christianity, doesn't have a problem with science, including evolution. A few do, and they are trying to push their views on all children. That is idiocy, IMO.

Now the two basic problems with ID are that
1. the proponents don't actually have a theory, they just bash evolution; they refuse to actually present a theory.
2. ID is simply a ruse to teach creationism. This is pretty obvious to people who've been engaged in combatting creationists for years, but you don't have to take their word for it. Even the ID proponents say (not for public consumption, that this is so. They presented this in the internal "Wedge Document", which found it's way into public forums.

Check out Talk Design for more info on ID. It's a site run by the same people who do the Talk Origins Archive on creationism. Note that many of these people are religious folks, BTW. The canard that someone who accepts science such as evolution cannot be relgious or that they can't be Christian is one of the most dishinest lies that IDers and creationists put forth. Here's a direct link to their article about the Wedge strategy.

Daniel Conover

Bob:

Forgive me, but I have a pointed follow-up question of my my own. When I read your comment...

"I am not advocating teaching evolution or creationism. I have my individual belief and am completely satisfied with it. I do not seek to impose it on others or argue their belief. I think exposure to both theories is helpful. Individuals can make up their minds." ...

Am I to take it that you think it is helpful that students be exposed to intelligent design/creationism in their science classes?

You say that you're not advocating the teaching of evolution or creationism. But I think it is important to this discussion that you clarify what you are advocating. Would you support the Kansas initiative? Or are you satisfied to let science be science and religion be religion?

I know this is a bit like interrogation, but I really want to know.

Ran Talbott

"why can't both ID and Evolution be true?"

Because the proponents of ID tend to define it in a way that makes them mutually exclusive.

You're quite right about Darwin's theory only explaining how things happened _after_ "life" got started. And I'm sure you'll find many scientists who support evolution who also believe that life (might have) started as the result of divine intervention or an experiment by space aliens.

But you won't find many of them among those pushing the teaching of ID, because they recognize that it's not "scientific theory": it's "speculation", or even "faith". Most of the ones engaged in the political battle are really trying to establish a state religion by wrapping their religious beliefs in a cloak of pseudo-science.

Al

Beyond the biological aspect, I understand that many quantum physicists and the like are actually quite spiritual.

I did a quick search and found this (http://www.ssq.net/Media/newsweek.html).

Bob Rosenberg

Dan, the above is going require me to be a bit longer than I hoped. Please pardon me for prolixity.

FIRST: Doesn't anybody else around here use a dictionary?

"theory: the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another".
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=theory&x=0&y=0

There are 40 other entries under "theory" -- the above is Number 1.

SECOND: Those who demand of science "absolute scientific proof", I refer to Feynman.

In his book, Six Easy Pieces (1), Dr. Richard P. Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist tells us that, “The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations -- to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.”
(1) Six Easy Pieces, Richard P. Feynman. Perseus Books. Chapter 1. Page 2.

THIRD: "...the right guess.” Well, I suppose the scientists made "...the right guess” at Trinity Site in New Mexico. The experiment went just about exactly as they hoped it would. I personally believe these discussions should *all* be held at Trinity Site.

I raise the subject of Trinity Site simply because, as we all know, Relativity is "only" a theory! So, I guess Relativity ranks right down there next to Evolution.

FOURTH: I just got back from watching "The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy". Do the mice know about this discussion?

FINALLY: If anyone wants to discuss this further with me, let's do it on any Friday evening. I'll be in synagogue. We can chat at the oneg shabbat.

Owen

The polarized ends of this debate are not the believers in God vs. the scientist. Instead, at one end are the Bible literalists who see in that hodgepodge of literature, myth, politics, history and dogma an absolute and indisputable timeline for creation. At the opposite end are the scientific absolutists who deny the possibility of God or of a divine order underlying the rules of nature. Both extremes do a disservice to the complexities of existence, and we all suffer when law caves in to either exclusively.

For many of us who are both believers in God and in science, there is no contradiction involved in evolution. The use of symbolism and metaphor in the Bible are far more defensible than a literalist view. Science can indeed be a tool for better understanding His purpose and design. After all, who are we to restrict the vehicles God uses to accomplish His purpose?

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