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“Sir, I don’t believe in evolution” I. Intelligent Design Equal Time? No, just a quick chat on creation with the teacher

This is mainly from the UK perspective.

The classic article on this little local difficulty was Ben Bova’s anti-creationism Omni Magazine, Creationist’s Equal Time, where he wrote something along the lines of: “You can’t show pigs can fly by demonstrating that butterflies have (or was it don’t have?) wings.”

Creationism is extinct: a new species, ID, which accepts the old age of the earth, evolved in the ID 90s and 00s. Well, of course, creationism ( in its various forms*) is not extinct but ID appears to be a more powerful way of attacking evolutionary theory because it looks more scientific. Though even the key proponents admit is it politics and religion not science. Wiki:creationism* has a handy little table with the varieties of creationism. The Wiki deals with the issue broadly, including attitudes in different countries, what the Archbishop of Canterbury said, and so on.

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I like this little story, reported in North Texas Skeptics (.org), under the title, Creation and Evolution at grand canyon:

http://www.evangelical-times.org/etnews/feb04/feb04n02.htm

A debate about the age and geological history of the Grand Canyon has escalated into a national issue in the USA after a creationist book was put on sale in the attraction’s official bookshop.

The book, Grand Canyon: A Different View, by a local trail guide, Tom Vail, claims that years of erosion had nothing to do with the canyon’s creation. Rather, its shape should be attributed to the Old Testament flood — meaning that it is only a few thousand years old.

The book’s presence in the bookshop has created a rumpus between creation-ists and evolutionists.

Geologists estimate that the 217-mile canyon in Arizona was fashioned by the Colorado river some five to six million years ago and contains some of the oldest exposed rocks on Earth.

According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, Mr Vail writes: ‘For years, as a Colorado river guide, I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary timescale of millions of years. Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the canyon, which according to a biblical timescale can’t possibly be more than a few thousand years old’.

The claim has prompted the American Geological Institute and seven scientific bodies to flood the National Park Service with complaints calling for the book to be removed from the shop.

The book has sold out but is being reordered, and its display has been moved from the natural sciences section to ‘inspirational reading’.

Deanne Adams, the Park Service’s chief of interpretation for the Pacific region, told The Los Angeles Times: ‘We struggle. Creationism versus science is a big issue at some places. We like to acknowledge that there are different viewpoints, but we have to stick with the science. That’s our training’.

The Grand Canyon superintendent is seeking advice from the National Park Service headquarters in Washington.

He got religion, so changed his mind. Fair enough.  You would be a bit confused if you re-visited the canyon and heard the before and after talks by the same guide.

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The problem of whether science teachers teaching evolution should engage in debate in class with those  students who don’t believe in evolution, was discussed today in The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

This is the summary of that section of the programme on the website:

Creationism should be discussed in science lessons, according to the professor in charge of education at the Royal Society. He says that with more children coming into class who do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe, creationism should not be treated as taboo. Professor Michael Reiss, of the Royal Society, and Dr Simon Underdown, of Oxford Brookes University, discuss whether creationism has a place in the science classroom.

Prof. Michael Reiss, director of education, Royal Society, blogged in the Guardian on the subject on 11 September 2008: Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design.

He links in his post to a 5 October, 2007 Guardian article by Anthea Lipsett, Experts call for Creationism in classroom, which points out :

…. academics from the Institute of Education in London and Valdosta State University in the US say the theory of evolution should be taught as a significant part of science lessons, with room to discuss creationism.

Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the institute, and Leslie Jones, science educator at Valdosta’s biology department, have written a new book aimed at helping science teachers enter the evolution and creationism debate.

Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism aims to help science teachers who want their students to understand the scientific position on the origins of the universe, while taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of those who do not accept evolution.

Creationism call divides Royal Society

Observer 14 September 2008

The Big Question: Why is creationism on the rise, and does it have a place in education?

Independent 12 September 2008

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I pulled  a 1979 Letts Revise biology text book for O level and CSE off my shelf and found under ‘Other Theories of Evolution’:

1. Lamark [5 line explanation of the theory]

2. Biblical views (added to by theologians)   [That’s not my comment it’s the text….]

(a) The variety of organisms was special created, all at once – Bishop Usher in Victorian times put the date at 4004 B.C. Fossil evidence disproves this.

(b) Man was regarded as the supreme creation, quite separate from and ‘lord’ over all animals. Now, even the Roman Catholic  Encyclical of 1951 recognises the anmal origin of mam

(c) The ‘Creation’ was regarded as the product of a grand ‘Design’ by a ‘Designer’. Science emphasises that chance events largely  shape biological progress. Mutations and meiosis; the first meeting of your parents, and which two of theirgametes fuse to form your first cell – all events with a strong element of chance in them – these have shaped your destiny.

If the Biblical view of design of organisms for special purposes is correct, it is indeed surprising that the ‘Designer’ should have made so many mistakes (extinction) or created ahlf-way houses such as  Archaeopteryx.

A very few Christians (‘fundamentalists’) today belief the account of the origin of species exactly as it appears in the book of Genesis in the bible. However, neo-Darwinian theory is still only a theory and requires further evidence to convince some people.

Perhaps there ought to be a trawl of the text books (UK, that is) to see what is already being offered in on creation, creationism and Intelligent design.  Going by this example from an older biology text book for 14-16 year olds, there was no problem then including creation and creationism though clearly not science.  Perhaps now, with Intelligent design, which looks a bit like science, there is greater reluctance to include it.  I would be interested to learn if ID is mentioned in any up-to-date biology text books and how it is tackled. For example,  any mention of Michael Behe or irreducible complexity? If it’s there it most likely be in A Level and undergraduate books rather than those for 14-16 year olds).  If you’re not familiar with the ID argument, it’s all over the web, but this article in Natural History Mag, Intelligent Design? is a brief, clear explanation giving argument and  scientific counterargument.

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How many secondary school pupils in the UK are standing up in evolution classes to express their belief in creation? 1 in 10 may not ‘believe in evolution’ but  what are they saying in the classroom?

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Having been in that delicate creation-evolution position with a few 15-16 year olds, I feel strongly there should be a protocol to deal with this. The science department might put a rider into the lessons notes, a leaflet even – right at the beginning of the evolution course – explaining that some students might feel uncomfortable being taught the evidence for evolution because they do not ‘ believe in evolution.’  It could say science cannot deal with questions of belief and explain why.

( Question here of whether there ought to be a right of opt out of this part of the course…..should you have to learn about something that undermines the basis of your faith? I don’t see why they should have to. Might effect their exam results but… )

Such a preemption could mollify non-believers in evolution, to an extent, by saying the course examines the evidence for the theory of evolution – rather than say as Richard Dawkins does that the evidence is so strong it makes it a fact –  recommending the student should discuss doubts or anxieties with the religious studies teacher, who will have boned up on evolution.  There aren’t many philosophy teachers in schools.  Ideally they ought to be brought in too.

This whole process should not be see as a problem, but a way to help to enhance the explanation of what science is, and to clarify what belief is.  A brief philosophical explanation of belief (outside the science class…) would highlight the problem. I am not saying a 14-16 year old GCSE student should be expected to wade through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on belief, but a well crafted summary would be valuable.

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What is already being done in schools to help with the evolution-creation issue ?  BBC Bitesize Religious Studies.

National Curriculum for religion Keystage 3.

National Curriculum for religion Keystage 4 is pretty comprehensive in this area.

Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) is part of the National Curriculum. Note this part of the curriculum:

As they explore similarities and differences between people and discuss social and moral dilemmas, they learn to deal with challenges and accommodate diversity in all its forms. The world is full of complex and sometimes conflicting values. Personal wellbeing helps pupils explore this complexity and reflect on and clarify their own values and attitudes. They identify and articulate feelings and emotions, learn to manage new or difficult situations positively and form and maintain effective relationships with a wide range of people.

2.1 Critical reflection

Pupils should be able to:

  • reflect critically on their own and others’ values
  • Lets face it this it the nitty gritty of education.

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    Teaching evolution in schools in an an atmosphere of increasing interest in creationism is made more difficult because of a lack of framework of history or science and history of ideas at secondary level.  If these were taught as separate subjects as part of the national curriculum, to 16 and beyond outside science classes, the evolution part of the biology syllabus would not be such a shock to the system for the 1 in 10 in schools who apparently now don’t ‘belief in evolution’.

    Although there is a trend towards introducing critical thinking,  I think philosophy should be right there from the beginning. Why not begin with the history of philosophy and the history of science apart from science lessons? It is difficult to fit every subject nto the timetable, but it is quite natural for children to think along philosophical lines.  Every reasonably intelligent child begins to ask questions about concepts that are part of philosophy.  A lecture given by Patricia Churchland, Philosphy in an Age of Neuroscience, shows it ought to be explained how much science has encroached on philosophy.

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    Obviously  science teachers don’t want equal time for ID because this undermines the teaching of science as whole.  Slowly, over 5-7 years, students at secondary school learn about the design of experiments, the collection of data, the distinctions between hypothesis and theory – all the rigors of the scientific method – through carrying out practical experiments. They are not going to be taught about Popper’s verisimilude, but they get a understanding of what science is and does. Even if they leave school t 16 they should come away seeing that science is a specific tool for a specific job.

    How science (here biology) is taught ought to be part of the debate about dealing with creationism and ID.  This is not mentioned.  The Nuffield Project on the 60s petered out in the 70s.  It proved too difficult to implement because it relied so much on practical work. Though the original idea was to use it for lower ability groups, its use demonstrated it could only be really useful with the higher ability children.   If you drop into science classes nowadays, you will see how tightly it is geared to exams. Textbooks are written to curricula. Hence science  becomes drier and drier, with less time for practical experiments.

    But there is talk, as here by Peter Campbell, Teaching Creation about starting from molecular biology rather than natural selection. (In fact biology text books have been doing this for decades, leaving evolution to much later.)

    In other words, I am questioning whether there is a deep enough scientific literacy at secondary level which allows even science professors of education to be asking that time be taken in science courses to debate evolution over creation.  How is going to happen?  The curriculum is taught at breakneck speed, with all teachers expected to get through each section at the same time.

    September 12, 2008 Posted by | general | , , , , , | Leave a comment

    The Science Network Forum – Enlightenment 2.0 {2}



    My immediate reaction to the talks in Enlightenment 2.0 was there wasn’t quite enough discussion on Enlightenment 1.0 (the cool new way to say The Enlightenment). Presumably the assumption was (many speakers were apologetic about covering the basics in such august company) the other participants knew all about it. However, because the Forum has been publicly broadcast with an wider, general educational aim –so will be watched by many to whom much of this is relatively sketchy, and some totally new to them — it might be worth TSN’s while to fill in some of the the gaps by adding to the website.

    If you like me feel a need to start with the basics of The Original Enlightenment, the {Wiki: enlightenment} is a good way to start checking its main features were. It helpfully gives a list of names associated with the enlightenment and quite a few links.

    This short student guide to The Age of Enlightenment lists Voltaire’s view in a seven point list, which is also a short-cut way of getting to the nub. If you are not proud: SparkNotes on The Enlightenment (1650 – 1800) is also useful.

    The point, if you have watched Enlightenment 2.0, is to figure out what E v 2.0 might be or aim to be. I am not too convinced the talks did this. Some clever chap might have put up a comparison chart.

    I started by looking at what was available on-line on the academics who contributed. People like Dawkins and Dennett are pretty well know public intellectuals, but there are other who are not but who introduced interesting research or ideas.

    I will, later, put up a list of those speakers who I thought were really useful, those less useful, and those plainly there to sell books. One in the useful category is Melvin Konner, who wrote The Tangled Wing, considered a pop classic on nature v nurture, or as someone in a talk termed it, “hard-wired or culture”. This is Konner’s Notes and References (Caveat: The Dangers of Behavioral Biology), a chapter critique / analysis (pdf, be warned) of The Tangled Wing. Two good reviews of The Tangled Wing : here and here.


    Sam Harris stands out in the “I’m here to sell my book” category. Now famous for his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason , that topped the New York Times bestseller list. Or, maybe it is back there now? I wonder if they read him in the UK, us being heathens ‘n all He later wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. He features in the E 2.0 debate a lot. Makes sense to me! One of the themes across several speakers was natural morality vs. religious morality. Harris argues at least once that there is no need for morality derived from religions because natural morality suffices. In the main he seemed to reiterating small sections of his book on two main areas: Islam (and religion – bad things) and meditation (he has become interested in Buddhist meditation, which is vaguely 70s). I haven’t read the book, and am not likely to just yet, but you can be pretty sure any ideas he has have been around in some form or other since the last Enlightenment, apart from the neuroscience, evidement.

    Dawkins (“that’s rubbish”; anti-God book out), Dennett (author of Consciousness Explained; anti-God book now out) and Harris (anti-God books now out) were the three most strident anti-religionists. Many others debated reasonably the ins and out, advantages and disadvantages of religion (and or science) while professing atheism. A small number simply put out their research interests without contextualisation. In the end it was up to the viewer to see how the ideas fitted into any notion of what E 2.0 might be. For example, there was a significant amount of neuroscience and a bit of psychology which was implied we know more about ourselves, but at no point did anyone say because we understand ourselves more clearly this and this is therefore true for E 2.0 over E 1.0

    Professor Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychologist, presented research results in cognitive illusion that reminded me of Daniel M Wegner’s Ironic Process Theory. Not listed on Wegner’s papers on ironic effects (pdfs!) is The Seeds of Our Undoing (1999).

    January 24, 2008 Posted by | Enlightenment, Enlightenment 2.0, epistemology, evolutionary biology, Ironic effects, religion, science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment