Thursday, May 29, 2008

Evolution vs. Creationism—A Question of Freedom?

Perhaps it’s my liberal nature, but I really can’t relate to stories like this at all. From the May 14th Education Week:

In another twist in the decades-long battle over evolution’s status in public school science classrooms, state legislators are arguing that teachers have a right to raise doubts about that essential scientific theory as a matter of free speech.

Similarly worded bills that attempt to protect the right of educators and students to present critiques of evolution on the basis of “academic freedom” have emerged in at least five states.

Those measures do not call for teaching “intelligent design” or biblically based creationism. Instead, they generally describe evolution as controversial and seek to bar school administrators from interfering with teachers who describe what they see as flaws in the theory.

Science moves forward when students and researchers are allowed to critically examine theories and the evidence that supports or does not support them,” said state Rep. John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican and the sponsor of one such bill. His proposal, he said, “will encourage educators to promote a healthy scientific debate.”
The problems that I could see happening here are legion.

  1. If the question of how to teach this topic is to be left up to the individual discretion of the teacher, the way that paragraph three implies, you blown the door open to extreme points of view on either end of the spectrum. “The Lord God created the earth in six days about 10,000 years ago” would have to stand next to “Since the existence of God can not be scientifically proven, He must therefore not exist, and those who believe otherwise are delusional.” An open forum is an open forum, and it sure looks like that’s what they’re going for here.

  2. I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t spend too much time in the science classroom on this whole contrived debate. What lessons are being pushed aside to make time in the curriculum for evolution v. creationism?

  3. The sciences are the area that I’m by far the weakest at, but it feels like this debate really isn’t a debate at all—it’s observable, repeatable experimentation versus faith, and matters of faith should be left to the church. Science class shouldn’t be at the expense of religious belief, but the converse is also true that belief shouldn’t be at the expense of science class.

Later on a Florida pol who proposed a similar bill in his state says that he, “wants our teachers teaching students how to think, not what to think.” It’s a nice sound bite, but take it to the logical conclusion—do facts have any place in the science classroom, or should it all be discovery as you teach the kids “how” to think?

This is an issue that won’t go away.

On a similar note, the Templeton Foundation has been doing a fascinating series of interviews on the place of God in a world of science. They've talked with people from all different walks of life, and the end product is pretty remarkable. Highest recommendations!

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