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« Congratulations To ESA | Main | Did Jordan Take A Bullet For The Team? »

The Core Of The Issue

In the midst of deconstructing Michael Behe's latest channeling of Bishop Paley, Ron Bailey agrees with moi about the Intelligent Design controversy (not surprisingly), and identifies the real problem:

It is not the role of public schools to confirm the religious beliefs of their students. Parents who want their children to benefit from the latest findings of science would reasonably be irked if evolutionary biology were expunged from the public school curriculum. There is another way around this conundrum. Get rid of public schools. Give parents vouchers and let them choose the schools to which to send their children. Fundamentalists can send their kids to schools that teach that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Science geeks can send their kids to technoschools that teach them how to splice genes to make purple mice. This proposal lowers political and social conflict, and eventually those made fitter in the struggle for life by better education will win.

My comment was:

if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I think it is), then is it a legitimate subject for public schools? As I've said previously, this is largely a symptom of a much larger problem--the fact that we have public schools, in which the "public" will always be at loggerheads about what subjects should be taught and how. But given the utility of learning science (something that I employ every day, whenever I troubleshoot my computer network, or figure out what kinds of foods are good or bad for me), I think that it is an important subject to which everyone should be exposed. But if I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific explanation for how life on earth developed, not a "fact" or "the truth."

The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent Truth, and that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels. And with that, I come full circle in once again agreeing with Hugh that the media does a disservice to the debate when it doesn't respect the beliefs of those who feel that their children are being indoctrinated away from their faith.

We will never resolve this conflict as long as so many continue to insist on a "one-size-fits-all" school system.

[Update a few minutes later]

Along those lines, here's a pretty scary story (though not a new one, to anyone who's been paying attention), or at least it should be for parents with kids in public schools:

According to benchmarks for middle school education, the top objective for the district's math teachers is to teach "respect for human differences." The objective is for students to "live out the system-wide core value of 'respect for human differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors."

Priority No. 2 is where the basics come in, which is "problem solving and representation — students will build new mathematical knowledge as they use a variety of techniques to investigate and represent solutions to problems."

..."The 'antiracist' and, actually, 'anti-American' curriculum permeates the school environment," Lillian Benson, whose children, ages 8 and 11, attend the district's schools, told in an e-mail.

"My children do not know Christopher Columbus, except that he was a racist who caused the death of many innocents or the founders of the nation. They have hardly heard of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln even though we live in the area that began it all. What they do know about is the wonders of Ghana, Mexico and China," she said.

Another parent, Julie Agarkov says it's ridiculous that people living in the community pay top dollar so their kids can attend good public schools, yet she still pays to send her son to the Boston area's Russian School of Mathematics "to ensure that he gets a good math education."

Bold face on "math teachers" is mine.

The piece has some good quotes from Joanne Jacobs as well.
A few years ago, when a friend had a child, and was soliciting opinions on whether to send him to a public school, my advice was not to, because he'd not only end up homeschooling him anyway, to teach him the things that he wasn't learning, but he'd also have to waste additional time unteaching him much of the pernicious nonsense he would have accumulated by wasting his several hours a day at school.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 14, 2005 07:16 AM
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I agree this is the firmest ground the pro-voucher community can stand on. The problem is they insist on pleading with politicians to solve the dilemma. If the left has taught us anything it is that the courts and ironically the tort system that must push this along. It will take multiple law suits filed against individual local school systems en mass to elicit a response from legislators.

If the school system insists on teaching social lessons, and or scientific theories in direct conflict with a family’s religious views, that schools curriculum in itself creates a hostile environment which becomes an impediment to the education of the families’ children. It leaves the parents in a moral and financial cliff’s edge. To follow their moral beliefs they must remove their children from a school system from which they are still required to fund via their tax dollars.

Only the threat of multiple law suits against a majority of local school systems in a majority of states will move the powers to fix the problem. The squeaky wheel still gets the grease.
America...I love this country!!!

Posted by JJS at February 14, 2005 08:07 AM

I remember the two main things about World War II that my kids were taught -- in a rural Texas school snubbed by the intellegentsia as 'red neck'. They learned about the poor Japanese children locked up in California by racist Americans, and they learned about the poor Japanese children A-bombed out of the blue by militarist Americans. I did supplement and edit those 'lessons', but my 10-yr-old perceptively lamented to my wife, "Mom, I know Dad's right, but if I give those answers in class, my teacher will flunk me." So we taught him how to fake it when he had to, and be troublesome when he could get away with it. Good lessons to be gained, for sure.

Posted by Jim O at February 14, 2005 08:11 AM

Given how poorly many public schools are run, I can't help but wonder why anyone would think that multiculturalism would be taught any better than mathematics? I suspect in practice, bad schools can actually make the problem worse, for example, by permitting and perhaps even unintentionally encouraging the formation of ethnic gangs and subsequent racial conflict.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at February 14, 2005 08:30 AM

If I understood your recent post correctly, you stated: "But if I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific explaination for how life on earth developed, not a fact or the truth."
Hopefully you were kidding as it is difficult to believe that anyone of your apparent knowledge, intelligence and background would ever make such an uninformed(I'm being diplomatic) statement.
Of course as you must know evolution is a scientific fact and is never presented as anything other than that in textbooks. The theory of evolution is an explaination of this fact.
Now saying science is a belief system puts it rhetorically on the same level as shamanism. I'm sure you see a distinction between the two or do you give magical belief systems the same credence as science?
From your posts, you seem to drink the right wing Koolade without question. Please think. Please question authority and stand against all lying and misrepresentation not just that of the left wing. It's the duty of all true Americans.

Posted by Steve Mickler at February 14, 2005 10:27 AM

Now Steve let’s not be melodramatic. Evolution is a theory. A fact is backed up by irrefutable evidence. Evolution while being an excellent hypothesis is in fact still full of holes. That is to say it cannot withstand scrutiny without more evidence to substantiate it. Any more certainty in its truth would need to be built on yet another belief system. I think we have plenty of those flying around.
Are you referring to Natural Selection? This I believe can stand the test, however only in its most basic conclusions i.e. Deer with a bull’s-eye pattern on its chest would be eliminated in such numbers in North America that their genes for such a pattern would not easily survive into proceeding generations.

Posted by JJS at February 14, 2005 11:06 AM

Sorry for the melodrama, but you are taking a position that is unusual for someone who has an interest in space travel and which is not consistent with science. You persist in misunderstanding the difference between scientific fact and the theories which explain those facts. Evolution is a scientific fact. The theory of natural selection is an explaination of this fact. The fact that the fossil and other lines of evidence show that life on earth evolved is not in dispute in the literature and is scientifically accepted. Science is a system, but I am uncomfortable with characterising science as a belief system since it produces more than beliefs and its principles are used in designs that produce actual tangible objects such as rockets. I am outside my element in philosophic stuff but I think religious belief systems produce no testable hypotheses or tangible technology and seem rather different qualitatively from science.
I'd also think that you would take issue with both right and left wing falsehoods and conceits. I think the extremes tend to be off the mark and that pragmatism is better but like I said this isn't really my best subject.

On a different note, I felt badly that I didn't tell you in my comment on Hubble that I found your opinion that the robotic option was only offered to buy time till the repair was cancelled very insightful. I had been puzzled as to why this option would be put on the table, particularly by O'Keefe, and didn't think of that.


Posted by Steve Mickler at February 14, 2005 01:06 PM

Sorry for the melodrama, but you are taking a position that is unusual for someone who has an interest in space travel and which is not consistent with science. You persist in misunderstanding the difference between scientific fact and the theories which explain those facts. Evolution is a scientific fact. The theory of natural selection is an explaination of this fact.

My position is quite consistent with science--it is yours that is not. You're making a common category error here (I'd suggest that you follow the links to my previous postings on the subject.

Evolution is not a scientific fact (and neither is gravity). The fossil record is a scientific fact, as is the phenomena that things fall when one drops them, and that the moon goes around the earth. Evolution is the theory that explains the former, and gravity is the theory that explains the latter two (which was a breakthrough, because before Newton, few if any had associated them).

Neither is Truth, in any absolute sense of the word. Both are simply theories that best explain the facts from a scientific perspective.

And there's nothing inconsistent about that statement and an interest in space travel.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 14, 2005 01:35 PM

Well said Rand,

My wife (being from Russia) thinks the American grade school system is purposely designed to create dummies that will continue supporting the career politicians. I find it hard to argue with her. These should be easy problems to solve and I wonder what prevents us?

Posted by ken anthony at February 14, 2005 07:14 PM

After reading this article...

Which says the 'No child left behind act' is 360 pages, I begin to think that perhaps these solutions are part of the problem?

Why does the federal govt. get involved in handing out education funds? Why isn't this a state or local issue. Other than setting national standards (with a list of states not meeting those standard embarrassment enough to goad them into fixing the problems) why are the Feds involved at all?

Educating children is not about money and never has been. While there certainly is a correlation between funds and achievement there are enough exceptions to show it's a loose correlation.

Posted by ken anthony at February 14, 2005 07:46 PM

To those who insist that evolution is a fact (re:Steve Mickler), there is an old proverb that says that the way of a fool is wise in his own eyes. Perhaps they are merely victims of the public education system that errantly teaches what constitutes a fact versus what is a theory.
To corroborate Rand's stance that science is a belief system, hearken back to the time when scientists "knew" that the earth was the center of the universe, or that nothing else can be invented (this was back in the late 19th century). Heck, I even had a physics professor tell me that there was no such thing as monopoles, which have recently been discovered.
I am currently investigating the impact that thought has on physiology. That has traditionally been the domain of religion but the science side of it has shown to hold a level of validity. Still, it all remains in the category of theory, rather than fact, as I suspect it always will.

Posted by RAK at February 15, 2005 07:48 AM

Evolution is a fact in the same sense that the 'Round Earth' theory is a fact. Yes, science doesn't provide absolute truth, but some things are established beyond reasonable doubt, and the chance they are wrong is so small that anyone but a pedant can call them 'facts'. That species have evolved over geologic time is one such thing.

Posted by Paul Dietz at February 15, 2005 09:13 AM

Agreed, but the argument about whether evolution is a fact or a theory is useless and confusing to people who don't find anything silly with the statement "It is only a theory." It is better to say that evolution is an extremely well established theory with vast amounts of evidence in many fields and that there are no competing scientific theories. In a school, I would carefully describe the difference between a scientific hypothesis and theory and briefly note some of the well established theories that are the basis of most of our technology.

Posted by VR at February 15, 2005 12:45 PM

So gravity isn't a scientific fact?
Try jumping off something high and I think you'll find that the Public School's assertion that it is a scientific fact has at least a chance of being true and a certain pragmatic appeal.
Evolution is a SCIENTIFIC fact. Bacteria preceeded dinosaurs. Even if the Deity has carefully arranged the fossil and geologic record to fool us(the only other possibility) science would have no way of determining this and would still regard it as a fact. If you are asserting that things have been arranged to fool us then I respectfully submit that either you are brilliant and every scientist wrong or maybe you are the fool.

Posted by Steve Mickler at February 17, 2005 10:29 AM

So gravity isn't a scientific fact?

No. Gravity is a theory.

Try jumping off something high...

That would prove nothing except the fact that when you jump off things, you (seemingly) invariably fall (though even in modern physics there's a non-zero, though infinitesimally low probability that you won't).

Gravity is an explanation for this fact. It isn't the fact itself.

If you are asserting that things have been arranged to fool us then I respectfully submit that either you are brilliant and every scientist wrong or maybe you are the fool.

I have never asserted anything of the kind. I am a firm believer in both gravity (Newtonian and Einsteinian) and evolution. I just don't miscategorize them as "facts."

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 17, 2005 10:35 AM

As I recall, the whole point of theories is that there really is no way create an experiment that conclusively proves or disproves the fundamental basis of the theory. Also as I recall, a theory is a hypothesis that is firm enough that parts can be individually tested and verified.

We can test the hypothesis that if we jump off the bridge, we will fall down. We can test the hypothesis that if we fire a cannonball out of an upward pointing cannon, the cannonball will fall down after traveling a certain distance. These are testable hypotheses, and repeated tests have proven them to be statisically indistinguishuable from facts.

However, until we figure out some way to turn off gravity, we cannot test the full extent of Newton's hypothesis about gravity. It makes sense, and it certainly explains a lot of interesting phenomena, but it is not testable in its entirety. That is why it is a theory, and not a fact. Newton's laws of motion are, if I recall correctly, facts--we have been able to thoroughly test every aspect of them, and the test results have always supported the laws. We have not been able to test every aspect of the theory of gravity, and that is why it is called the theory of gravity instead of the law of gravity.

Evolution is a fact--over time, species will change. Witness an all-breed dog show--all of these dogs can interbreed with one another, and will produce viable offspring. The fact that some are five feet tall on all fours and weigh three hundred pounds, and some are about eight inches tall when they sit and are rather shorter when they stand (Yorkies, anyone?) should be proof enough that selective breeding can change a species. This is evolution.
However, we cannot at this time conduct any sort of valid experiment that would prove beyond all doubt that Charles Darwin was correction in naming natural selection as the method by which evolution takes place. All the evidence points to it, yes--but the theory is not proven, and is not yet a law. Until it has become the Law of Evolution (which it has not), then yes, we must give equal respect to the two competing theories--that God created this world with all the species and all the plants in seven days at about 4000 BC, or that it was a slow, gradual process taking place over billions of years.
After all, in the end, they are both theories. And who are we to say that some being capable of constructing entire planets in seven days, who are we to say that they could not or would not have also added a few fake fossils in the meantime, just as a joke, if nothing else? Arrogant I may be, but I'm not that arrogant.

Posted by william lindsay at February 19, 2005 12:37 AM

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