Monday, March 23

Texas, evolution, and schools

Texas is proposing a change to curriculum that would prompt teachers to raise some of the doubts advanced in the scientific community. So the question here is what can be wrong with teaching about what the scientists are arguing about? If the scientific community does not agree about string theory does that mean we don't teach it or ignore the controversy?

In many ways this is beside the point. Those responsible should be the parents. State bureaucrats are not to be ramming any position that parents oppose. Parents want evolution taught. So be it. They want creation taught. So be it. When it comes to education I will back the parents every time.  


Alexius said...

The problem is that scientists aren't arguing about evolution; that's why it's a "theory" and not a "hypothesis"--it is so well-proven that it's become the basis of modern biology. As opposed to string theory, which is more of a hypothesis than a theory; now that is where there is dispute.

Really, though, the entire thing is moot; creationism is not science--it poses no testable hypothesis and has a lot of evidence from many fields against it--and should therefore not be taught in science classrooms. That's what religion class is for.

Lucas said...

On the first point I disagree: scientists are arguing about evolution. And the theory argument flies as far as the Newtonian theory of physics in the face of relativity.

Creation is as much science as evolution. They both are based upon elements of faith (evolution that there is nothing outside of the natural world; creation that there is God) but I also think that both beliefs to lead to conclusions that can be tested. I.e. is the earth billions of years old or only thousands?

But in many ways I agree with you. Any explanation for the origins of life, from going from nothing to something surpasses science. The science class should present ALL points of view but in the end move on and leave the origins debate to religion class.

My question is then: If I agree that Creation origins should be taught in religion class do you think that evolution origins should be taught in religion class too?

Lucas said...

Ah yes, and I also don't want to leave my primary point behind: who's kids are these? The states or the parents. If the parents want to teach something to their kids, who is the state to tell them that they "no"?

This is a parent v. state issue even more than church v. state.

Alexius said...

Which scientists? Actual, academic biologists, or people who are just there to give an appearance of disagreement? Evolution is so not debated that it's the foundation of modern biology; in fact, that is why it is called a theory. You might be familiar with other theories--like the theory of relativity, the kinetic molecular theory, germ theory, and atomic theory. And boy, isn't it brazen of schools to require people to learn about atoms, considering that they're just a theory? Newtonian theory was an early thing that was, just like Darwin's original theory of evolution, flawed but later modified when it did not fit the evidence. This is what science does, unlike creationism; if it doesn't work, it is fixed.

However, in both of those instances the overall gist of the theory was correct; the problem with humans is that we do not live very long and our experience of the world is limited. Given that we move incredibly slowly, we did not notice the effects of relativity until recently and even then mostly indirectly; likewise, as we cannot see DNA with our bare eyes, Darwin could not know the precise ins and outs of evolution. The basics of both are still used today, though; in math class we still learn the Newtonian model for the sake of simplicity, and in biology we still learn "survival of the fittest" even though it's more complicated than that.

Creationism does not rely on evidence, and if it did, all of its practitioners would give up on it. The only arguments for creationism are a.) "it's in the bible so it must be true" and b.) "you can't explain that [yet] so therefore I must be right." Creationism is based on faith; science is based on open-minded observation and skepticism. Multiple disciplines, not just evolution, defy the young earth myth; that relativity that you mentioned being one of them, as how else would we be able to see other galaxies if the light hadn't had time to reach here yet? Unless one were to make the argument that god put all of this evidence here to make it look like the universe began billions of years ago even though it didn't, which is really just odd and rather obtuse.

Science should be taught in all of its permutations, yes; although keep in mind that the decision on what is most likely true in the objective, scientific world should be left to people who have been studying it for years, not to bored sophomores who really don't have the background to be able to make an educated decision (so none of that "teach the controversy."). And as I explained, creationism does not hold up in the scientific realm--when was the last time you saw an academic paper on creationism survive a serious publication?--and therefore should be kept to the realm of faith.

And what, I hope you are not suggesting that science classes should leave all of the origins theory to the religion classes, even the scientific ones? That would be unwise, as we owe it to the next generation to be educated in science and the processes of the universe.

Certainly science should have an aspect in religion classes; shouldn't it be present everywhere? Science is the frame by which we understand the world and if we can weave other things into it, we should. Religious myths in a public system should always be taught as hypothetical so it is important to establish a position from which to view them.

Exactly. Whose kids are they, and why should the state have to bother teaching them about religion? If the parents want to teach something to their kids, what's stopping them? The state does not care what is taught within the confines of the home or the religious community, only do not use my tax money to teach religion to people who want no part of it, and do use it to educate people about things that are relevant to everybody, not just those select few who follow these faiths.

Alexius said...

Oops, sorry about the duplicate phrase; forgot that I used it already in my first post. Been a while since I last looked at this thread.

Lucas said...


(This is the same response as in the general post. I don't know where you live, but if you were nearby I would like nothing better than getting together for coffee. Serious.)

I believe an understanding of the difference of our presuppositions is critical. To ignore them we are not even looking at the same topic. So let's go back to when there was once nothing. At least as far as material existence and the laws that govern them. In the beginnings past that original state of nothing we have fundamental and even irreconcilable differences. I believe that in the beginning there was God. Everything else fits within this rubric. He created science, matter, life, and the laws that govern our material existence. As you said however you believe that "Science is the frame by which we understand the world..." Correct me if I am wrong but I understand this to mean that when you understand the origins of beginnings--the move from nothing to everything--you believe in the appearance of matter and the scientific framework by which our existence is continued. The nonexistence of God and the appearance of matter would be your presupposition.

In short, I believe, in the beginning God. You believe in the beginning matter/scientific laws.

I come back to my question in the previous post: are not both of these points of view religious or determined on faith? We go from nothing to everything. Can that be explained by the confines of "open-minded observation and skepticism"? Indeed, when you stated: "Creationism is based on faith; science is based on open-minded observation and skepticism" I saw it as comparing apples to oranges. Your first statement is about my belief in origins and nothing about my approach to understanding how I study the world; the second is about how you study the world and nothing about what you believe about origins. It is really two different topics mismatched in comparison.

Am I saying that classes that talk about origins should be consider religious? Yes. As I was talking about above I see existence and the correlated presuppositions in the order of "God ---> everything else" you see it as "Matter/science -->everything else". Neither can be proved by objective observation and both must be taken by faith. Yes, evidence that we observe can be marshaled on either side (i.e. God created mature stars, with light already shining even as he created mature man and animals) but the fundamental elements of origins is a matter of belief.

I know I have been bold in characterizing what you think about the origins, so if I am in error please let me know. You don't know how much I value your highly thoughtful comments.

As this relates to public education, I could agree with you Alexius, with the idea that government should not be in the business of teaching faith. Drawing the line of when belief begins separated from universally excepted facts is messy. That is why in actual application I think the better option is to give parents as much as possible the responsibility to teach their kids what they want rather than political, educational, or scientific elite. We know both can error, but when it comes to kids they are wards of the parents not of the state. If a parent is teaching that it was right for the South to leave the Union and the scientist and his peers believe that the North really was in the right to preserve the union, I would back the parents with my tax dollars even though I think there is no sound basis for their opinion. This same tolerance for parental Creation influence in their children's education is all I am asking for. I am not so much debating the validity of creation.

A few quick specific answers:

"Evolution is so not debated that it's the foundation of modern biology; in fact, that is why it is called a theory."

No, macro evolution is still debated in biology such as Michael Behe's irreducible complexity.

"the problem with humans is that we do not live very long and our experience of the world is limited."

Amen. The more I learn the more I am humbled by this reality. It also provides (as you implied) a good caveat to those who might be dogmatic about human ability to interpret what we experience, and (for me) a greater ability to accept paradoxes in light of the presuppositions I believe in. Indeed, the last chapters of Job are a constant source of inspiration to me in this area:

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sones of god shouted for joy?

And I echo with Job (42:2-3) I know that you can do everything...therefore have I uttered what I do not understand."

Alexius said...

(Unfortunately I am a poor speaker in comparison to my writing, otherwise I might; you’re really not missing out by not hearing me stammer. I am glad you appreciate my contributions, as I am glad that you are taking the time to actually formulate a response; I find the activity of debate to be a great exercise, especially when it is something both parties have strong beliefs in.)

No, I don’t claim to know how everything began; that is part of the wonder of it, for me, that all of this should have come from something simple. It is impossible, as I believe your Job quote implies, to know exactly what happened when the universe was created; we can observe it only indirectly through lingering radiation and through mathematics. Is the universe infinite in time, especially considering that time as we know it did not exist before the Big Bang? Did the universe unfurl from a single point or multiple points? Has it happened before? Is it a result of parallel universes bumping into each other? Does it happen the same way every time?

No one can really answer these, and we may not ever be able to. I don’t know if there was an omnipotent deity involved, and the physical mechanics of such a thing would be even further boggling. However, I do not deny the possibility, as there’s really no way to tell. If there is an omnipotent being, though, I do not believe it would be the sort of personal, humanistic god of the Christian faith; it seems to me that attributing those characteristics would cheapen the idea of God below what you would expect of something that was supposed to be infinite and omniscient. Similarly, I feel somehow that the universe being a creation of a man-like creature would cheapen it; it is so much more grand to think of the way life has stolen a few moments in the wrinkle of an explosion, risen from a self-replicating chemical reaction fueled by our sun into something that can contemplate itself, made from the dust of a long-destroyed star, the particles of which some of the few that survived the speculated antimatter-matter destruction shortly after the beginning of the universe. Even a tapeworm is beautiful when you consider the long journey it has taken in order to live inside an animal’s bowels.

Perhaps we are determining, on faith, that what we see is correct. There is always uncertainty; perhaps we are living in our own version of the Matrix and nothing we see is quite how it really is. Ultimately, though, it wouldn’t matter; those rules would be beyond us, and inapplicable to our lives and the way we function. Perhaps there is a god, but then it exists beside the material world; we can believe in God all we want but it doesn’t change how the universe works. In fact, if that is the case then we really should pay more attention to the world and less to what the bible says; after all, by this view, the bible is a second-hand account of the word of God and written by men, while the earth and all of the other inhabitants of the universe are made directly by Him. Therefore, what you can observe in nature—such as evolution and tectonic shift—is more true that what the bible says, given that the people who wrote it may have had an imperfect understanding of the very ground they stood on, and then even if there was an original vision those who translated and edited the manuscripts later certainly didn’t. If there is a god, I prefer to think of it in terms of the whispering of galaxies passing each other and the wordless travel of all matter through time, not in the mere words of a flawed mammal.

I believe that the universe is a grand and wonderful place, all the more wild and fascinating for having been here for no purpose. It is all right with me if someone else thinks it was made for a reason, but it is not what I personally believe and I’m content with that. Ignorance of what goes on in it, however, is a grave affront to the processes by which we came to be, and if someone is going to believe we were created by a god then they should also be fully educated on what the evidence tells us. We cannot understand or detect the workings of an omnipotent being, and so if we choose to believe in one we should do so according to the way the universe functions, not the other way around.

And I think your definition of evidence may be a little different from mine. “God created mature stars, with light already shining even as he created mature man and animals” is a claim, not evidence; unfortunately, there is no way to have evidence for this as by the very nature of the claim we can’t tell how old they are; we have nothing but the words of a rather dubious book to back up the idea of their relative youngness. However, since they have been, in this scenario, created as if they did evolve and change over billions of years and presumably will continue to do so, we must therefore act as if that was the case; spirituality is another matter entirely. Also, scientists really are paranoid about calling anything definite, as shown by the fact that everything that is considered factual is called a “theory” and not a “fact,” as they are really very aware of how tenuous our understanding is and don’t want to be caught saying something completely wrong. We want to be able to change our minds in good conscience, so we base things on how they appear to be, not on a certainty of how they are. It is just that the evidence for all of this has become overwhelming, and while there are gaps in our knowledge they are shrinking. If we cannot see how something appears, or make a mathematical prediction of it, then it is not much use for basing hypotheses on.

I am not saying that a parent should be limited in what they teach their children, but I don’t want to have to pay to teach it to every child who passes through a public school, especially as including creationism in science class is so often a way to undermine science rather than to contribute to our understanding of it. If a parent wants to pass on their faith, they should do it through one of the other avenues available; through their church, through their friends who have get-togethers expressly for that purpose, or even just instructing their children themselves; besides, it is much more personal that way, as spirituality should be. If they want their children to be open to multiple religious options or learn about the cultural significance of various beliefs, then they should do so through a religions class or philosophy course. Science is exclusively the domain of the explainable and physical, and things that can’t be proven are set aside not necessarily because scientists think it’s dumb but because there’s really nothing that they can do with it. (And as far as the North retaking the South: well, personally I think that as far as morality goes, slavery, while it kept the South afloat financially, was worth stopping; however, legally the North wasn’t really justified.)

As far as micro-evolution versus macro-evolution... Well, the thing about micro-evolution is that it tends to lead to macro-evolution, much like a microscopic cell accumulates enough fellows to become a macroscopic organism. Like dogs; they are similar to wolves, yes, and can interbreed with them, but due to centuries of breeding (a forced evolution) nobody in their right mind would say that dogs are the same species as wolves. As with birds of paradise, which are thought to all come from a single crow-like ancestor and then evolved to become many wildly different, colorful animals that have the ability to interbreed but rarely do so due to their difference. Then there are bacteria and viruses, which, since they reproduce so quickly and live for such a short time, are constantly changing so as to combat our body’s defenses. Similarly, the evidence suggests that we evolved to live with parasites in our body; allergies, which are caused by overly-active immunoglobulin E, are strongly correlated with a lack of parasites; the more parasites you have, the less likely you are to have paranoid and workless immunoglobulin E jumping at shadows and attacking harmless substances. Also, there are some intestinal diseases that seem to be caused by a lack of intestinal parasites, and in one experiment almost all of the sample of ill people were cured upon the introduction of roundworms to their systems. It is all really quite fascinating and even if you don’t believe it, I suggest reading about it to better understand how all of our species fit together, such as why sickle-cell anemia is common around the Mediterranean and in Africa, and why the American antelope is so agile even though no animal today can easily catch it.

Lucas said...

In many ways that is part of the added complexity of God. His power is not limited by the grandeur of the universe and the power necessary to make and sustain it, but he is concerned about the intricate details of me and my life too. That make him more great rather than less.

Man is created in the image of God, not God in the image of man. I don't question the fact that it is “more grand to think of the way life has stolen a few moments in the wrinkle of an explosion...” if you are meaning more faith and belief necessary. Indeed, the need for a grand way to think about the origin of life again indicates a belief and perhaps you might be indicating a bigger faith and belief than even those who believe in creation.

In being brief you are probably correct in faulting me for also being dogmatic that this is the only way it could have happened and still be Biblically consistent. Light could have also slowed down for example. That is not the only way the stars might appear to be million of years old but are not. The point is, there are credible scientific explanations for such things. You can't use such examples to universally dismiss the Bible. And back to education, there is value in not hiding these facts from students in classrooms if the parents want them taught.

I agree about a realm called science that focuses on the explainable and physical but often impossible to say where this material science begins and metaphysics begins. I agree that God is beyond or bigger than science since he created it, but is there any reason to place ANY theory for the appearance of matter and life in a science class if it is not explainable and/or physical? Or can we agree perhaps, that nothing that is not explainable or physical including any materialistic explanations of the universe should be included in schools without that decision being made primarily by the parents? Parents or the state when it comes to metaphysical questions. Can we agree on that?

I have heard about the phenomenon of sickle-cell anemia around the Mediterranean. What I read said it had to do with sickle-cells being less vulnerable to malaria. All of this is a great study we all can benefit from but not dependent on accepting macro-evolution.

Alexius said...

No, please do not confuse my ability to imagine with faith. I imagine with metaphors the way the universe is because sometimes it is difficult to comprehend the scale of things at face value; for instance, the concept of 13.7 billion years is beyond most people's comprehension considering that the majority of us have at some point felt like three minutes was forever, let alone a year or 13.7 billion of them. So no, I do not "have faith" in the Big Bang or evolution or plate tectonics, because that implies that I am accepting them without any evidence other than that I think it would be really cool. Now, I think it would be really cool if I had telepathy, too, and I've even had a fair number of experiences that a less skeptical person would take to be evidence of possessing telepathy. However, even though I think it would be really cool, I've had a few somewhat bizarre experiences, and telepathy isn't technically impossible, I don't believe that I am telepathic. That is how skeptical I am, and how little I am swayed by how much I wish something were true; I have a small amount of evidence to suggest that I could be telepathic, but the overwhelming majority of my experiences point to my being just another person alone in their head.

Evolution, in contrast, is much more proven and almost universally accepted, and because of the vast majority of my experiences and the verifiable ones of other people, I believe it--not just because I think it's cool. No, there is not controversy in the scientific community; there is only conflict between the scientific community and people who are either too ignorant to understand what is being debated and people who have a vested interest in the outcomes, or both. Even the Wikipedia page on evolution states it as a theoretical fact--a theory explaining a factual phenomena--which means that while the precise process of evolution is debated, there is no question that such a thing occurred. There is even an article on the creation/evolution debate, which says the same thing and even addresses your "irreducible complexity" argument. And even still, it doesn't matter, because if the precise mechanics of evolution aren't true than there's some other way to explain it, and unless God shows evidence for himself it won't be Genesis.

I am linking these things because I do not see it as my responsibility to educate you. People have written entire books for that purpose, people who sincerely want you to be able to understand--I hear that "Why Evolution is True" is a good one--and yet creationists obstinately continue to sing their old tired song that "God did it" without providing any evidence in favor of their claim, refusing the resources at their command in favor of the biases of those who lead their religious lives and the easy pickings of drilling the absent-minded and the well-intentioned on things that aren't their specialty, and then when they can't answer something, crow triumphantly that "Ha! See! I was right!"

But that's okay. It's okay for people to believe in something different, and it's okay for them to be ignorant of what they're going through so much trouble to believe. Nobody is stopping them, nobody cares what they want to believe, it's not illegal. What they do care about is when those people try to impose their views on everyone else.

The universe is explainable, and your claim that these things aren't explainable is clearly wrong because it has been explained, and even if something hasn't been fully explained yet it may be in the future, or if it can't, that doesn't mean necessarily that God did it, or any other deity. Your saying that it is not explainable and then asking me to agree with you is a weaselish and dishonest thing that does not suit your apparently otherwise reasonable personality. You cannot say that something is unexplainable if it has been explained, and you cannot say something is not physical if it is also materialistic. As I have told you, science does not dabble in the metaphysical, it only dabbles in the physical--and the universe, by virtue of being the universe, is physical (although of course, as I said earlier, you are free to feel that there is a metaphysical aspect as well, but the scientific community will never address it as they can't). Or do you mean, instead of "metaphysical," "mathematical?" Because certainly we do attempt to predict a lot with mathematics, and it has had great results.

So no. We cannot agree. Why should my parents have been able to determine my curriculum? They don't know much about math beyond basic algebra, so should I only learn to that level or should someone who knows what they're talking about be in charge of whether or not I learn the quadratic formula? Suppose someone's parents think that slavery was moral or that woman's suffrage should never have happened; should we tell the young girls in their history classes that there is a controversy over whether or not they should be able to vote when they grow up, or tell the black students that they're genetically inferior because someone has a neo-Nazi as a parent? When we're talking about mineralogy should we include the New Age crystal-healing advice someone's parents thinks should be in the class, or should we stick to what we know and can prove--what the experts have spent their lives, for hundred of years, researching? Or is suddenly the layman the source of information?

Were I to be retroactively in charge of my education, I would insist that I be taught by professionals who are up-to-date on what is current in their field, not by people intent to teach their religious views to me despite the fact that I did not believe them and despite the fact that they can't prove any word they say to me beyond that it was once written in a book.

There is no reason for a parent's children to be taught their beliefs in a public school, no matter how valid they think they are; they are still not everyone's beliefs, still not scientifically sound, and ultimately, it is illegal anyways because according to the constitution no religious belief shall be promoted above the others by government funding. I know that this country has been a little shaky on that principle lately, but if creationism is taught as fact in schools then all religious cosmologies should be taught in schools. You can't pick and choose.

And the sickle-cell anemia phenomenon has everything to do with evolution; it is only a small, modern example of its occurrence. What evidence do you have that "micro-evolution" stops before significant changes occur in a creature?

Alexius said...

Oh, and I apologize, I misspoke in my hurry; when I said "while the precise process of evolution is debated" I actually meant "is remotely capable of being debated." Remember, more than 95% of the scientific community accepts evolution as it is postulated as fact.