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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fighting Intolerance in Tennessee

The contraversy in Tennessee over whether to pass House Bill 368 is beginning to heat up. The bill would encourage...


"The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to 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."


What could be wrong with that? A whole host of things if the reaction by some people is any indication. Robin D. Zimmer Ph.D. weighs in and spells out why such a bill is a good idea..


"Those who oppose the bill seem to be focused on the teaching of evolution as a non-controversial fact. But are there controversies associated with theories such as full Darwinian macroevolution? Sure there are. Michael Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University, recently published a book entitled: The Edge of Evolution, the Search for the Limits of Darwinism. In it he notes that plasmodium bacteria, which cause malaria, have developed resistance to new drugs. This is indeed a form of evolutionary change through adaptation. But why is it that these bugs have not evolved significantly in other ways? Why is it that malaria is still confined to the tropics and has not evolved to thrive in more temperate regions? He then argues that there are limitations or boundaries to classic Darwinian evolution. Dr. Behe is not alone in questioning apparent boundaries.


I am not writing to argue for or against macroevolution or any other scientific theory. But the bottom line is that critical thinking and analysis fosters good science. For high schoolers, their love of science and acumen for it will not come from memorizing and repeating textbook prose, but rather by diving into the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as evolution."


Zimmer is exactly right. Why not present arguments from both sides? What could it hurt? It would only enable the students to sharpen their skills in critical examination of competeing theories. This segues neatly into a cute comment on the recent Myth of Horse Evolution thread from GS...

"The split between any two of those species may be farther back than previously thought, but that doesn't kill the principle behind the theory. Real scientists work hard to sort that shit out and advance our understanding. Of course, if creationist observers insist on limiting their evidence to fossils-only, it kind of looks like they have a case to make."




Although not rightfully defined as "Creationism" there are Intelligent Design theorists who are having papers reviewed all the time. Such as the "work of Douglas Axe who published articles in 2000 and 2004 in the Journal of Molecular Biology, Michael Behe and David Snoke who published in 2004 in Protein Science, and Axe again in 2010 in BIO-Complexity, a peer reviewed journal for testing ID claims. From my reading, all these papers cast doubt on natural selection acting on random mutations as a source of new information." Link


Here's an even more extensive list with various links that includes not only peer-reviewed papers but entire peer-reviewed books on the topic of Intelligent Design. And given the past treatment of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, one can clearly see the prevailing prejudices that currently exist in academia at this time. It's really no wonder that there aren't even more such papers in the public domain. In short, we can see this issue is far from settled and a little debate can be a healthy thing for young learners in Tennessee and elsewhere.


UPDATE: Whoever had 19 in the office pool as to how many days it would take for some rigid Darwinist to make a comparison to the psuedo-history of the Scopes Trial with House Bill 368, you're the winner.


"Even John Washington Butler would be disturbed by this bill. He was the Tennessee state representative who, in 1925, introduced the Butler Act, which criminalized the teaching of evolution or any other principle than the creation story given in the Bible. That act led to the arrest of biology teacher John Scopes and what became known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial,'' one of the more infamous moments in Tennessee's history."


Such is one's lifeview when they allow their perceptions to be affected by a biased and error-filled Hollywood movie like Inherit the Wind (pictured above). Does anyone want to give odds on how long it will be before the obligatory Taliban comparisons are foolishly spouted off?

8 comments:

GentleSkeptic said...

Yay! My comment is cute!

GentleSkeptic said...

Also, QUOTE-MINED! I've been quote-mined by a creationist! My cred is solid now!

OH you made my day!

JD Curtis said...

Do you think you were taken out of context?

Justin Vacula said...

JD, you're missing the point and allowing the distortions to cloud the real issues. Evolution is a settled science. Evolution happened. Period. Why should non-scientific theories be taught in science classrooms? Just because some people create controversy or disagree with evolution doesn't mean that there is an authentic controversy or one that should be presented in the scientific classroom as a viable idea.

The usage of "critical thinking" by these people is a bastardization of the term. Critical thinking leads one to accept evolution, not present other alternatives that are flawed and treat them as viable competitors.

Should we also "teach the controversy" and promote "critical thinking" about the age of the earth, God's wrath behind earthquakes, etc? Critical thinking can and should be fostered by pointing out why the evidence for evolution holds up and why the competing ideas are pseudoscience.

JD Curtis said...

Evolution is a settled science. Evolution happened. Period

Who is being open-minded here?

Why should non-scientific theories be taught in science classrooms? Just because some people create controversy or disagree with evolution doesn't mean that there is an authentic controversy or one that should be presented in the scientific classroom as a viable idea

Would you exclude even having such discussions among students as to whether such debates are or are not "viable"?

Critical thinking leads one to accept evolution, not present other alternatives that are flawed and treat them as viable competitors

This is simply your opinion. What about scientists that are somewhat well-versed in mathematics that don't buy in to the idea that certain complex processes can arise out of mere chance alone?

Should we also "teach the controversy" and promote "critical thinking" about the age of the earth, God's wrath behind earthquakes, etc?

Yes, albeit in different courses. The age of the Earth in geology and God's wrath in philosophy/religious studies.

photogr said...

While reading this the song "Blinded by Science" by Thomas Dolby came to mind.

Ross said...

This article backs up what JD says about Inherit The Wind misrepresenting what happened in the Scopes trial.

http://www.khouse.org/articles/2000/283/

JD Curtis said...

I cheked out that link Ross. It's great! Thanks.