Friday, June 20, 2008

Is Intelligent design taught in school - an intelligent idea?

A friend of mine and I were talking about THIS bill which was just introduced in to the Louisiana State Legislature. In a nut shell it is mandating that intelligent design be taught as part of the science curriculum in public schools.

To be very honest, I am not sure what type of materials the school board would use to teach intelligent design, nor exactly what basis they would place the teaching on, given that I would assume THE BIBLE should not be used as a reference book.

To this end I sent an email to my friend Stephen who is a Physics teacher in a charter School here in New Orleans and asked him for his opinion. I wanted to know how he would feel, if forced to teach intelligent design. I assume once again that intelligent design might be taught by the biology teacher under the topic of Human Genome using Sanford’s book. The premise of his book states:

" The conclusion is that we were created perfect, have been headed downhill ever since and the human race cannot be a thousand generation old yet. Solutions are not in better technology but a relationship with God who will take us out of this decaying creation at the proper time."

Well Stephen took a very proactive approach and wrote the following letter to Governor Jindal:

Governor Jindal-
I write to you today in reference to SB 733, a misguided attempt to suggest specific alterations to the teaching of Science in Louisiana schools. Legislation of this type is an inappropriate tool for improving education, if that were indeed its true intention. Since that is how it has been presented, it is worthy of being confronted on just such a level. I believe that my position on the subject is an informed one, and I hope that you have the time to consider it fully.

I am a Physics teacher at Lusher Charter School here in New Orleans, though I have taught at Catholic schools in the 12 preceding years. During that time, I have been awarded two national teaching awards, and spoken to groups on the subject of science teaching. Like all good teachers of science, I labor to demonstrate to my students how a theory is constructed from evidence, and the principle that any theory may be discarded if contradictory evidence is discovered. As most well educated individuals understand, these principles are foundational to science.

History has no shortage of scientific theories which have been discarded. New facts sometimes come to light, and a new, more comprehensive theory must be developed to incorporate all available evidence. The study of this process in science classes reveals the true strength of the scientific method and encourages students to be critical thinkers. For that reason, it is an intrinsic part of a well-rounded science education. On its surface, SB 733 may appear to promote teaching about this process, but the specific topics named represent inappropriate choices.
For example, SB 733 suggests critical analysis of evolution. One can only assume that additional materials to provide for critical discussion of evolution would rely heavily on the recent challenges to the theory of evolution posed by William Dembski and others. These challenges involved computational methods that are complex enough to be debated among experts – hence, a genuine scientific debate that has been dubbed “Intelligent Design” by the popular media. However, the evidence that was used to support Dembski’s conjecture is beyond the mathematical abilities of secondary students, as is the evidence that refutes his claim. Primary and secondary students do not have the capacity to think critically about different experts’ evaluation of the statistical probability of the random assembly of amino acids. As a result, the debate is inaccessible as a topic for a secondary science class. This fact points directly to the inappropriate nature of this type of legislation.

Despite language that clearly shows an understanding of good scientific education pedagogy, SB 733 suggests a course of action that is pedagogically suspect. This is not surprising, as Senators Nevers, Crowe, Riser, and Thompson are not and never have been science educators. Decisions about the proper context within which to teach inquiry content standards are best left to the professionals that have successfully taught them, not those elected by popular majority. For this reason, as an educator, I urge you to veto this bill should it reach your desk.

Stephen Collins

I have been led to believe that you are a man of faith, and may be one of the many who are sometimes troubled by the ideas of science. If this is indeed the case, consider the words of Guy Consulmagno, who has this to say about the official position of the Catholic church on matters of science: "[the Vatican] wants to make a strong statement that truth doesn't contradict truth; that if you have faith, you're never going to be afraid of what science comes up with.", (Quoted in issue 2624 of New Scientist magazine, 06 October 2007, page 12).

I would be interested in people’s comments or thoughts about intelligent design as part of a public school curriculum.


James H said...

I have no problem with it. In fact I have become more aware that epeople in their ignorance confuse concepts that are a part of Intelligient Design and make them Identical with 7 day creationism, Young Earth theory etc.

At least expose kids to what the proper theory is and what it entails and what it does not.

I must say I am tad perplexed over this deabte. I had a pretty decent Science Biology Teacher. Evolution was touched on of course but it not take up a huge amount of time. WHichj makes since because there is a lot to get into in a psace of 9 months.

IT seems to me that this would be purely supplemtal material.

In my private school years ago something akin to Intelligent Design and some problems with Evolution was touched on. THat did not prevent my class that was compromised of 22 students from producing a Doctor, two nurses, a Pharmacist, 2 teachers, a Lawyer, as well as very well educated people among the others

Anonymous said...

"Like all good teachers of science, I labor to demonstrate to my students how a theory is constructed from evidence, and the principle that any theory may be discarded if contradictory evidence is discovered."

He's asking Bobby to discard his believe in the Creator and discredit the "evidence" of the Bible. Good luck.

"secondary students do not have the capacity to think critically about different experts' evaluation of the statistical probability of the random assembly of amino acids"

Quite frankly, the evidence that supports Evolution is beyond most high school students and biology experts for that matter. How many scientists can read a genome?

The "evidence" (and those are enormous quotes) that supports ID is actually far more esoteric than that for evolution. That approach to the argument might be a good addition to Stephen's letter.

If the legislation passes and Louisianian is that start of the complete retardation of the United States, I would rather evolution being confined to Collage and teaching only the "basics" of biology in High School. For that matter, I want all mention of virtual particals removed from the classroom.

Raspootin said...

james H: I am not really sure how intelligent design is taught in a class room setting. However, if you are intelligent I don't think being taught intelligent design would hold you back from exceling in any field, be that in Science or non sciense related occupations.

IH: I think that all theories have a place in the class room as an educational process on what current society and trends. I do not think that theories that are not based on fact or scientific reasearch should be taught in a science class.

The theories of ID, creationism, whatever should be taught in a philosophy setting. They do exist and therefore should be explored. I think in college we went over some of this stuff in a Basic Ethics class.

Raspootin said...

I think what Stephen was getting at is that if a child can not rationalize Evolution and it is taught "intelligent design" it is prejudicing that child's thought process where at a later date he is introduced to the theories of evolution and is then not open minded to the methodology.

Yes we all know that the basis of any evolution is death. Something has to repeatedly die over thousands, millions of years for it to actually evolve. To that end unless we can find some sort of fossilized creature that absolutely pin points evolution it will be hard to imperically prove.

Don't intelligent design guys teach the world is 6,000 years old too? Wonder how they get around that one in a class room setting.

Not trying to put words in your mouth Stephen if that is not what you are saying - so feel free to correct me.

The Rev said...

I almost find the argument for removing it quite pointless. Most people can be taught evolution but will elect for their religious views. People are going to believe no matter what--ask someone who has tried to talk reason into a Nazi. While I am completely open to talk regarding ID, evolution, and creationism, I feel that no matter how objective the class may depict itself as being, the prejudices from home and church are going to there regardless. Kind of a losing battle no matter what gets taught if you ask me, but hey, I'm a cynic, remember?