Benefits of teaching the "controversy"

Jan 31 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

There's an interesting op-ed on teaching evolution in today's edition of the International Herald Tribune. The opinion piece is written by Michael Balter, and suggests that, "The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history." To support this position, Balter points to a 2005 study by Steven Verhey that was published in the November, 2005 issue of BioScience, that suggested that creationist students were more likely to change their views if the curriculum directly addressed creationist objections to evolution.

Balter has been advocating this position for a while now, and his views have been discussed at The Panda's Thumb before now. Still, the position appears to be at least superficially reasonable, so it's probably worth another quick look.

In theory, I think directly addressing creationist concerns is a good idea. The issues are out in the open, and it is a simple matter to explain why these so-called-concerns are nothing more nor less than total bull. In some cases, the massive misunderstandings of biology that are involved in the creationist "concerns" can provided good jumping-off points for teaching the real biology involved - I've done that from time to time myself.

The problem comes with the question of who decides what is addressed and how. Verhey's approach was possible because it was a university course, and the professors have a great deal of leeway when it comes to establishing the curriculum. It also helped that the person teaching the course was a professional scientist, well-trained in biology. In the American public school system, on the other hand, the curriculum is set at a local level, and political interference from elected school boards is very much a possibility.

If I was confident that Balter's suggested approach would result in science being taught the way that Verhey taught it, I would be happy to support it. As things currently stand, however, I think it's a lot more likely that his approach would result in science being taught the way the Discovery Institute wants to teach it - heavy on the Jonathan Wells, light on the honesty.

89 responses so far

  • Guitar Eddie says:

    "In the American public school system, on the other hand, the curriculum is set at a local level, and political interference from elected school boards is very much a possibility."
    Public schools are way too micromanaged to for teaching Biology via teaching creationist objections to evolution. The minute a teacher started explaining why creationist concerns were BS, he/she would be besieged with angry Fundie parents, and would probably get fired.
    That's the trouble with the public school system's local control doctrine. It tends to allow too many people who are not educators to have input into curriculum. Also the American public is rather ignorant about science to begin with.
    GE

  • Keanus says:

    Guitar Eddie put his finger on a central problem--some whiner would complain loudly and persistently if a biology teacher pointed out that IDC is not science, etc.--but there is more to the problem than that. Bio teachers don't have enough time to cover the basics in HS biology as it is without delving into the comparison of evolution and its harebrained alternatives. In fact many teachers, just to avoid those IDC whiners, even elide right past evolution making a discussion of IDC in comparison moot. That, of course, is the real crime in that many, many students, for whom HS biology is their only biology course, never hear about evolution in that course. It's no wonder that a very large portion of the American population then doubt or reject evolution.

  • Nathan Parker says:

    I agree with Balter's opinion, but keeping the curriculum content balanced enough to bring students to the scientific point of view would be difficult in light of the religious faction's desire to misrepresent science. Nationwide, it would be impossible to provide enough oversight to keep this from happening, considering that creationism is already slipping in.
    I'm leery about tearing down a wall that might be difficult to erect again.

  • MYOB says:

    I agree. Let's teach the controversy. I suggest starting with a debate in sexual education classes between intercourse between two human beings, stork delivery and cabbage patch origination. Followed by physics classes where we can discuss how the moon can travel so fast and not burn up when it's made out of cheese and why if it's so high up cows can jump over it?
    Next let's move to the math classes and discuss why the metric system is inferior to the cubit system.
    Let's teach it!

  • Scott Hatfield says:

    I think, rather than risk playing into the ID bunch's strategy, instead of 'teaching the controversy', we should instead 'address the implications' while making it very clear that there is NO scientific controversy. You have to address the misleading conceptual arguments anyway if the students are really to understand evolution.

  • Only students who are going to major in the biological sciences really need to be familiar with evolution theory, because the theory is used in cladistic taxonomy and because terms and concepts from the theory are widely used in scientific biological literature. And no one needs to believe evolution theory, because people can use the theory even while believing that only part of it or none of it is actually true. As an engineer, I know that engineers use concepts that are not believable at an intuitional level, e.g., (1)imaginary numbers and complex-plane vectors are used in the analysis of AC circuits, and (2) in the Joukowski transformation of conformal mapping, rotating cylinders are used to determine the aerodynamics of fixed-wing airfoils.

  • Brian X says:

    Guitar Eddie:
    Well, that comes from the fact that the country's always been rather decentralized -- more so in the past, but communities of all political stripes tend to take the concept of home rule very seriously. In any case, centralizing educational policy could be either a great idea (in a pro-science administration) or a total disaster (as it would be under the current administration).
    Larry:
    That's like Rick Santorum's position that the National Weather Service's job is only to report on weather hazards, and that it doesn't need to do public weather reports. Considering it still has to do the forecasting work to know when the hazards are coming... well, let's just say I'm sure it was a big factor in Santorum's defeat at the polls last year. You need the theoretical foundation to understand the principles involved in biology.
    But you've surely had that explained to you on many an occasion...

  • Nathan Parker says:

    Only students who are going to major in the biological sciences really need to be familiar with evolution theory,

    Surely you're not serious? Perhaps we shouldn't tell students about physics unless we know they're going to be physicists. Students cannot know whether they're interested in a subjects unless we tell them about it. Plus, all students will eventually be voters (unfortunately), so they must be able to make intelligent decisions about governmental policies.

    imaginary numbers and complex-plane vectors are used in the analysis of AC circuits, and (2) in the Joukowski transformation of conformal mapping, rotating cylinders are used to determine the aerodynamics of fixed-wing airfoils.

    But these are mere tools to represent what most would consider to be physical reality. The rotating cylinder for an airfoil represents the circulation around the aifoil that produces lift.

  • QrazyQat says:

    While in theory a history of science course is a good thing (and when I was in school science class included that, not just in biology), there are pretty severe time constraints now. However, the history of post-Darwin evoltionary science does not include creationism or ID, since they just aren't science. The only teaching of flat-earthism stops after we figured out that it wasn't scientifically valid, even though there are still flat-earthers today.
    There is plenty of controversy in evolutionary thought post-Darwin, though, and that could be taught, but none of it includes creationism or ID. And I don't see there being time for it in high schools. Even in advanced biology (40 years ago) we just had time for detailed DNA, RNA, cell divsion and the like.

  • I appreciate this interesting discussion of my piece. There is no doubt that my suggestions raise practical difficulties in American schools, and these would need to be overcome. But as I argue, simply keeping creationism out of the schools is not doing the job, as the poll numbers make clear and as most here are keenly aware. We need a strategy to change these numbers. I have offered mine, others should offer theirs. But I am sure that we agree the status quo is not acceptable, and that is what we will continue to have if creationism is not engaged with directly.

  • Ichthyic says:

    But as I argue, simply keeping creationism out of the schools is not doing the job, as the poll numbers make clear and as most here are keenly aware.
    but as has been pointed out to you MANY FRIGGEN TIMES, your conclusion as to WHY evolution is still not being accepted is incorrect, thus your suggestion that teaching creationism alongside science is based on faulty reasoning and conclusions, and is exactly why NSF, NAAS, and every major scientific organization in the country strongly disagrees with this approach at the secondary level.
    now as a comparative/historical religio/philosophy course at the collegiate level, there could be arguments made for the value of such an approach, and several have tried it already (Allen McNeill comes to mind).
    but, it's not like these aren't the EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS that shot your idea down the last time it was discussed.
    your either brain dead or have a very specific agenda. Are you writing a book to sell by any chance?

  • "but, it's not like these aren't the EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS that shot your idea down the last time it was discussed."
    Well, you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. Why all the hysteria? My idea has not exactly been shot down. It has been published in the Los Angeles Times, with hundreds of thousands of readers, and now in the International Herald Tribune, which is read all over the world. So the debate goes on. As for my agenda, it is very simple: Find a way to increase acceptance of the theory of evolution.

  • Mike Dunford says:

    There is no doubt that my suggestions raise practical difficulties in American schools, and these would need to be overcome. But as I argue, simply keeping creationism out of the schools is not doing the job, as the poll numbers make clear and as most here are keenly aware. We need a strategy to change these numbers. I have offered mine, others should offer theirs.

    I am far from happy with the current situation, but I think that your suggested strategy is more likely to hurt the situation than to help it. The Discovery Institute et al. have been pushing for "Teach the Controversy" for some time now. They have sample curricula prepared already, and materials for use with such lessons. Given the way the educational system operates in the US, I think that any move toward a "teach the controversy" would result in the "controversy" being taught the Discovery Institute way much more often than it would result in a presentation of real science.
    As far as the "I've presented my idea" argument goes, it seems to be strangely similar to the argument that the White House is using to support their "surge" plan for Iraq, and it fails for the same reason - I don't need to have a plan of my own to be able to see that, as bad as the status quo is, your suggestion is worse.

  • Mike, your Iraq analogy is apt in this situation. Like it or not, the Democrats have to come up with an alternative strategy, even if it is Bush's fault. The voters expect them to, because it is all of America's mess now. Likewise, if you don't like my idea, which is fine, you still have to come up with your own or live with stay the course. Where are the ideas from the pro-evolution side? I haven't heard them.
    As for the Discovery Institute's strategy, are evolutionary ideas so weak and scientists so ineffective that they can't stand up to it and turn it to their advantage, as I have argued? That's pretty pathetic if true.

  • QrazyQat says:

    When I wrote my first comment I didn't include anything on Michael Balter specifically, but having seen his comments here, especially the one just above, I have to say that he's writing like a DI troll. Sorry, Michael, if this isn't what you are trying to be, or what you want to be, but you are using the exact same BS arguments, especially that last paragraph. Shame on you.

  • Sadly, we are starting to see the same tactic here as was used ad infinitum when we debated this on The Panda's Thumb in late 2005. Anyone who does not agree about how to counter ID is an ID troll, a dupe of the creationists, etc etc etc. Sorry, but that is not an argument. I stand entirely by that last paragraph, because it is intended to counter the argument put forward by so many evolutionists that somehow the DI would win any debates over this issue, they are just so clever, so devious that they actually prepare lesson plans and materials as Mike said! What is wrong with scientists doing the same and working with local educators to help with their discussions of creationism in the classroom. Maybe instead of students role-playing Richard Dawkins, a few scientists could show up as guest speakers and play Richard Dawkins themselves.

  • Darth Robo says:

    "As for the Discovery Institute's strategy, are evolutionary ideas so weak and scientists so ineffective that they can't stand up to it and turn it to their advantage, as I have argued? That's pretty pathetic if true."
    For someone who claims to be on the scientists side, you sound an awful lot like an ID'er. The problem with a 'controversy' is that it can go on and on and on. It's not that evolutionary ideas are 'so weak and scientists so ineffective', but rather that the people who promote creationism don't give a **** about evidence contrary to their position. And they will always appeal to the public's sense of 'fairness' that their opinions should ALWAYS be allowed to be heard. Then they complain that the science world dismisses them out of hand because they believe that man and dinosaur lived peacefully together eating veggies.
    In case you hadn't noticed, science has shown this to be wrong for more than a hundred years. The science isn't weak, it's just the creationists don't care and demand 'fair' treatment. Well 'fair' treatment is peer reviewed science, and until they come up with any then no-one has to take them seriously. ID was shown IN COURT to be scientifically baseless religious apologetics intended to circumvent the law os separation of church and state, but it also showed that many people are willing to take any means possible to get around it. 'Teach the controversy' in any format would be taken advantage of by creationists in many areas. Do YOU think it's a good idea to spend valuable time in science class discussing whether the T-Rex lived with people 6000 years ago and ate daisies?

  • Darth Robo says:

    "Anyone who does not agree about how to counter ID is an ID troll, a dupe of the creationists, etc etc etc."
    No, people usually (quite rightly) get called a troll when making a criticism of scientists when they are themselves ignorant of the science and the scientific method.

  • "Do YOU think it's a good idea to spend valuable time in science class discussing whether the T-Rex lived with people 6000 years ago and ate daisies?"
    Yes, it would be an excellent idea, if the majority of students come into the class believing that. The majority of students nationwide in the USA come into class as creationists. That is the beauty of Verhey's study, it shows that minds can be changed--and it shows how to do it, by engaging with students' prior beliefs rather than ignoring or belittling them.

  • "when they are themselves ignorant of the science and the scientific method"
    Well, that leaves me out. Do a search of my articles in Science, just over the last two years say, and tell us all if I am ignorant about science.

  • btw, I've only got today to debate this here, because tomorrow I will be covering the IPCC final report here in Paris. So let me say this: Attacking me personally won't get my piece in today's IHT unprinted or deleted from its Web site. Engage with my arguments and not with my alleged motivation, because you will have a hard time proving I am a closet creationist. I've got a pretty thick stack of science writing clips to counter that accusation.

  • hoary puccoon says:

    Michael Balter--
    I realize you're getting a hard time here, but please don't be naive about what we're up against in America. The creationists' tools of the trade are misquotations, outright lies, vicious insinuations about anyone who opposes them, and emotional appeals based on bizarre logic, in which evolution is blamed for every ill in society. Reasoned responses on the part of evolutionary theorists are simply shouted down. THAT's the controversy the creationists (whether IDers or YECers) want to teach. Sure, if we could teach kids all the challenges to the theory of natural selection-- and why they have failed-- we would be able to show them why evolution is so firmly established in scientific thinking. But the chances of this happening in present-day America are just about nil. And a lot of us are very, very angry about having our children's education hijacked by what, in my opinion, are a bunch of bunko artists whose only real interest is milking sincere Christians for every dime they can get.
    I'm sorry, Michael, if you caught a lot of anger here that you don't deserve. I hope this helps explain where it's coming from.

  • hoary puccoon, thanks for your kind words, although I got pretty thick skinned after the tar and feathering I got on The Panda's Thumb in 2005. I think that the places to start with my proposed strategy is where it would be most likely to work and be accepted, say major urban areas like New York City or Los Angeles (and where perhaps some high school teachers are already doing it.) Success in places like that would make it easier to put into practice in Dover or Kansas later on, because the school board elections in both places make clear that there are parents who want to see creationism countered. The court victory in Dover was important but will end up being Pyrrhic if creationist views continue to dominate so completely in American life. It is not enough to be defensive against creationist intrusions, evolutionists need a more aggressive, proactive strategy.

  • N.Wells says:

    I wrote an article back in the early '80s in Journal of Geological Education arguing for using Creationism to teach about evolution, and talking about how I did that in my Historical Geology classes. The "creation scientists" had set up this whole alternate scientific reality in great detail, but the arguments had many obvious weaknessnesses that could be found with just a little thought and research, and the reasons why what they were doing was not science, and was in fact doomed to failure from the outset, were relatively easy to grasp.
    The problem with doing the same with Intelligent Design arguments are that the portion of the material that is not warmed-over creationism is so much more obscure. The creation-scientists generally presented arguments as clearly as they could in hopes of convincing people to their way of thinking. In contrast, the ID folks tend to shoot for obscurantism, muddying the waters over really minor issues to the point where their supporters can spout off impressive sounding word salad that takes forever to unpack and refute. It's designed to leave the audience confused about everything, rather than convinced about ID, so that they'll conclude that there seem to be legitimate points on both sides and so we ought to teach the controversy. With the creationist arguments you can spend an hour on a few chosen arguments and your audience will come away better informed about a few important aspects of geology and biology. With ID, you spend four hours on the arguments and the audience is likely to come away more confused about philosophy than when you started. Perhaps this is more a comment on my shortcomings as a teacher, but I've concluded that I don't think teaching about ID is pedagogically very useful prior to college, and even there it is too much a waste of time.

  • N. Wells, countering ID is not necessarily easy, but it can be done. Ken Miller in "Finding Darwin's God" demolished ID arguments in clear and simple language, without giving up his belief in God, and Jerry Coyne has written some terrific and clear stuff in the same vein. Verhey had pretty naive first year biology students read The Blind Watchmaker, not an easy book, and Aristotle, and yet they were right out of high school (like, um, HS ends in June and first year university starts in September, so we are talking three months here. Verhey pointed that out himself in the Panda Thumb discussion of his study.) Some people here may forget how smart they were in high school, but don't underestimate the ability of kids to absorb very sophisticated things. The UK guidance I talk about in my article is intended for 14 year olds.

  • As for the Discovery Institute's strategy, are evolutionary ideas so weak and scientists so ineffective that they can't stand up to it and turn it to their advantage, as I have argued? That's pretty pathetic if true.
    It's comments like these that demonstrate that Balter hasn't a clue about the present situation. It's sort of like saying, "If AFDave's 'arguments' are really so bad, why can't you convince him that the earth is old and evolution happened?"
    He's got one thing fixated in his mind, the fact that "keeping creationism out of public schools" hasn't won the nation for science. That's like saying that putting fluoride in the water hasn't eliminated tooth decay. A non-sequitur.
    Well, is the situation in Canada and in Europe better because creationism/ID was discussed by teachers there? Especially, by American-type teachers there? Neither one, of course.
    Now if Balter could actually discuss what situations effected which outcomes, then he might even be able to make a case in favor of his idea. However, he's now more or less falling for the old fallacy, that "something has to be done, teaching evolution in comparison to ID is something, therefore it has to be done."
    Who knows, maybe he's even right. The point is, he certainly doesn't know that.
    The fact is that he's playing an old ID canard right here on "Questionable Authority," the tired nonsense that if evolution really had such great evidence in favor of it, then there should be no trouble teaching it alongside pseudoscience. There's an important fact about kids, Balter, which is that they weren't born understanding science. If they were, it'd be a cinch.
    When he has to resort to such lame arguments you know that he's run out of good arguments for his "proposal" (which isn't a real proposal, as it takes no account of the realities of American education). Go off and get some more arguments from the DI, Balter, and maybe then we'll be convinced.
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • For those who don't know the glories of the aforementioned AFDave and his irrefutable arguments, here's near where he starts off:
    http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bin/ikonboard/ikonboard.cgi?act=SP;f=14;t=3131;p=32499

  • JohnK says:

    Everyone has agreed forever that a philosophy/religion/socialstudies/history class on the topic is a perfectly fine thing. The problems is getting into the science -- where there is a world of pedagological difference between 14 yr.olds and 18 year olds. And, not only is the British religious ed curriculum focused more toward religion and history, it is national. In the US, states would give general guidelines but local districts still have huge leeway in implimentation.
    As someone who's also been thinking about strategies for some time, I shout Hear! Hear! to N. Wells for his point. Imagine the prospects for bamboozlement by the fog of ID's mathematico-philosophical rambling under the guidance of local ideologues. Bits of the BlindWatchmaker and Aristotle won't be the only readings, ala Verhey. "Complex specified information"? Even Haldane's Dilemma? To 14 year olds? The result will be that while they may be convinced to accept a possible compatiblity of relig.&evo., they would take away "scientists disagree on these incomprehensible issues". Taking a page from Exxon and the tobacco industry, the IDer's have intelligently designed this fog of complexity->uncertainty, hence their "Teach the controversy" approach.

  • "Go off and get some more arguments from the DI, Balter"
    Yes, continuing to call me a dupe of the DI really raises the level of the discussion, doesn't it?
    What I was responding to were Mike's remarks way above that if ID and evolution were debated in the schools that somehow ID would have the upper hand. That seems to me a highly debatable, if not entirely defeatist, attitude. And Verhey's study, again, provides evidence that this is not the way it goes if it is handled properly. The idea is to put this strategy in the hands of science teachers, not to allow the DI to take over the classroom, and that is very clear in everything I have written about this.

  • continuing from the post above JohnK's:
    And it goes for thousands of posts (including another thread of roughly the same length as this 160+ page thread), one of the greatest demonstrations of all times how it is impossible to change the mind of someone who has God's directive to defeat the heathens, and who has no respect for evidence and its rules.
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • entlord says:

    Unless things have changed since I taught public high school, each teacher begins each year with a syllabus marking out all the topics to be covered (and maybe learned by some students) over the course of 170 or so days, including teacher workdays, snow days, hurricane and earthquake and firedrills and unscheduled programs, etc. While each teacher starts out optimistically, it soon becomes a re-run of "Lifeboat" with some "less essential things" thrown to one side or given short shrift.
    My best suggestion is to give ID the place it deserves in Biology, the same place as astrology has in astronomy, the stork has in sex education, YE in Geology, suggestions that Andrew Johnson arranged Lincoln's assassination in History or that King James really wrote the later Shakespearean plays in Literature. In other words, a nod as an alternate theory whose time has come and gone or never arrived, and then move on. Most students who argue really don't care except for the attention engendered or they realize it slows down the class. Four days on ID really means less time on other topics which reduces the amount of material the teacher has to draw from to create his midterm or final.

  • "Go off and get some more arguments from the DI, Balter"
    Yes, continuing to call me a dupe of the DI really raises the level of the discussion, doesn't it?

    I never once called you a dupe of the DI. I know you're better than that, so you're better than to use one of their favorite arguments, and I meant to appeal to that better sense. There's a huge difference between noting that you've adopted a truly wretched "argument" and any suggestion that you're a dupe of the DI.
    I made any number of points, and you just blew them off to make this false charge. Real sporting of you.
    What I was responding to were Mike's remarks way above that if ID and evolution were debated in the schools that somehow ID would have the upper hand. That seems to me a highly debatable, if not entirely defeatist, attitude.
    Yes, and you didn't actually deal with what he wrote, either. He was pointing to the fear that indeed we could not actually control how the two squared off in this most creationist of the highly-developed economies. He may be wrong. If so, then counter it with some arguments, and evidence if you have it, rather than with an old ID talking point.
    And Verhey's study, again, provides evidence that this is not the way it goes if it is handled properly. (italics added).
    There's the rub, in the last part of your sentence.
    The idea is to put this strategy in the hands of science teachers, not to allow the DI to take over the classroom, and that is very clear in everything I have written about this.
    Did I ever suggest otherwise? You're simply not dealing with the gritty details involved in putting "this strategy in the hands of science teachers". Untrue assertions that you're being called a dupe of the DI is not going to change this fact.
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • JohnK says:

    MB:The idea is to put this strategy in the hands of science teachers, not to allow the DI to take over the classroom
    But the problem is that if the curriculum is about the scientific controversy, the local district has the right to insist that the DI effectively take over half the class time, no?
    And I completely disagree the Miller's
    FDG is "clear and simple" at the points where the biological rubber really meets the IDiot's road - for highschool kids. BTW Miller had to but the details of the evolution of pathways on his website because the publisher cut them out.

  • Darth Robo says:

    "Do a search of my articles in Science, just over the last two years say, and tell us all if I am ignorant about science."
    Behe is a qualified biochemist. What of it?
    "because you will have a hard time proving I am a closet creationist."
    Well I never thought you were, but you did use a few daft IDist style arguments.
    "N. Wells, countering ID is not necessarily easy, but it can be done."
    The point is, it shouldn't HAVE to be countered at all. And you're sounding like we should teach evolution in a way that should get us more 'converts'. But that isn't what science is about and would only add to the old creationist argument that evolution is 'religion'. Science classes are not for converting people from any one religion and since we live in free countries, people can believe in whatever they wish. My science classes dealt with this by just teaching plain science. Sure, there may have been the odd religious question about how God fits into anywhere in science and we were told basically why it was untestable and a subject best left for religious class. We were NOT taught that science contradicts God (because it doesn't) and we weren't taught not to believe in religion. This brief couple of minutes was all that was needed to explain why the two are totally separate subjects and from there, we were taught good ol' plain science.
    If we should make time for Xian creationism to explain why they're wrong about the age of the universe, then we should also make time for hindu creationism (that believe the universe is TRILLIONS of years old) and every other religion's different ideas - pointless. And the ID'ers will take advantage of any situation that arises to 'teach the controversy'. We don't have to convert anyone - just teach good science from the get-go.

  • When we debated this issue on The Panda's Thumb in 2005, there were differing opinions about how much we should care what people think re science and religion. Some took the position that they did not care what people thought as long as creationism was kept out of the classroom. Others thought that it was important to foster scientific thinking, for a variety of reasons, including political ones. I sympathized with the latter viewpoint, and stressed the importance of finding some way to counter the unrelenting power of creationist thought in American life, as indicated by the amazing poll figures I cite in my piece: 45% of adults basically accept the Biblical view of creation. Nothing that scientists have tried to do has changed that, so I am looking for something that would work. Engaging the creationist views of students entering the classroom has been shown to work. People here should read Craig Nelson's commentary on the Verhey study in the November 2005 BioScience, and his commentary in the April 2006 issue when Verhey made some corrections to his paper that did not change the conclusions. Nelson did not think this strategy was suitable for high school, but I think it could be adapted for that situation and quite easily.

  • Nathan Parker says:

    Balter wrote:

    As for the Discovery Institute's strategy, are evolutionary ideas so weak and scientists so ineffective that they can't stand up to it and turn it to their advantage, as I have argued? That's pretty pathetic if true.

    The ideas are as strong and effective as the educators choose to present them. That will depend on political willpower, which is weak.
    As for alternative ideas, evolution, and science in general, needs to be marketed. Most people will not make decisions based on the evidence, they'll base their decisions on what they perceive everyone else believes or what they consider to be mainstream. This is what motivates the creationist lie "Even scientists no longer believe in Darwinism anymore", which implies that you're the only one who didn't get the memo.
    Why can't science eat its own dogfood and use the science of psychology to sell science to the general population?

  • Others thought that it was important to foster scientific thinking, for a variety of reasons, including political ones. I sympathized with the latter viewpoint, and stressed the importance of finding some way to counter the unrelenting power of creationist thought in American life, as indicated by the amazing poll figures I cite
    I've sat in classes where creationism/ID was discussed, but it was more on the line of entlord's experience. The reason ID/C was even discussed was that students might have objections, so there was a quick NOMA-like shuffling away of the whole matter. The teachers don't want to deal with it, they want to get on to the science.
    I am guessing that the most tolerable way of contrasting evolution to ID would be to discuss it in a historical context, such as the matter of Paley and Darwin's response to Paley (and really the "Origin" counters those "arguments" quite directly, if not by name). I know that others have mentioned that the historical approach might work best, I'm simply adding that ID could be shot down in quite a reasonable manner by dealing with the strongest historical "argument" which still manages to be the strongest "argument" today.
    I do think such an approach has some merit. I believe that telling teachers to (directly) wade into the morass of obfuscating claims that the IDists put out there is unlikely to be productive, for it is true that high school students aren't stupid, and they can pick up talking points to obscure the issues until one reaches exhaustion. The advantage of taking on Paley is that he's relatively reasonable (if not scientific), makes claims that can be turned into falsifiable claims, and he isn't trying to say that his version of ID makes no predictions (the CSC tries to make the observation of complexity into a "prediction" for the "design hypothesis", and fails completely, especially in the matter of entailment).
    I don't know if this would work, given the politics of America at this time, but I suspect that it's the closest we could come to Balter's vision. And I really do think that Balter's claims have merit in the ideal sense. Compare Paley, Darwin, and Newton (say), and point out how Darwin followed the Newtonian methods of fitting the evidence to an explanatory model, while Paley fit the data to his own model (he had some excuse in that we didn't have the Darwin/Wallace model in his time).
    Then let the students bring in modern ID claims, if they must. You could demonstrate how the "model" doesn't really differ from Paley's, just adds a lot of obscuring philosophical objections, while avoiding the judgment of the evidence (which Paley did not, or at least not entirely). Focus on what "real design" predictions would be (unrestricted borrowing of good ideas, novelty, plus rational and mathematical clues in most of human designs).
    I have mentioned on PT that bringing up ID could result in a challenge to the rubbishing of bad religious ideas that differ from science. I think that dealing with Paley rather than Dembski and Behe might avoid such a challenge, and show a good-faith effort on our part not to turn science class into an anti-religion class. If they still wanted to sue on the grounds that ID is religious in nature, I'd relish the irony and the end to their science pretensions.
    Those are my suggestions off the top of my head. This seems to me the best way to implement Balter's wishes, if they are worth turning into policy. Take them or don't, it doesn't matter much to me at this point.
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • David vun Kannon says:

    I don't think that inculcating the core knowledge about our world should be sidetracked by a desire to answer one group. Should we also teach the controversy about the value of pi in math class?
    There may be a place to teach the history of ideas to high schoolers, it's an excellent subject for young and questioning minds. But that place is not a distraction in the core subject. It is in a separate track of life skills and critical thinking.

  • Drekab says:

    "And you're sounding like we should teach evolution in a way that should get us more 'converts'. But that isn't what science is about..."
    Until I read that I was in total support of Balter, but I suppose your right, the science speaks for itself, we shouldn't have proselytize.
    But, I'm still going to point out that since our education system is locally governed rather than broadly, it should make it easier not harder. You don't need to worry about what some far off school system is doing without your guidance. And I think the odds of schools using DI teaching material are a little bit overblown given the recent court cases. If the controversy is taught at all, there are plenty of parents who want to make sure that their schools science programs lean towards real science.
    So, my suggestion. If you have the interest, an impressive sounding title, an engaging speaking style, and enough of a grasp of the arguments that you can explain why they're silly to a fourteen year old, go ahead and volunteer, I'm sure plenty of science teachers would welcome a guest lecturer for a day. If it seems to have done more good than harm, do it some more.
    Also, every time time I see Xian, I read Zion, which I'm pretty sure is very different, but thats my problem...

  • Also, every time time I see Xian, I read Zion, which I'm pretty sure is very different, but thats my problem...
    "Xian" uses "X" for the Greek letter "chi" (they look the same, but are pronounced differently--"chi" as hard "ch"), much as Xmas does. The "chi" has often been used as a symbol for "Christ", hence there is no inherent disrespect in replacing the word "Christ" in words incorporating "Christ" with the "chi", the "X".
    So just as "Xmas" is pronounced like "Christmas", "Xian" is pronounced like "Christian". It's only a written abbreviation, really, even if some people do say "X-mas".
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • Drekab says:

    Thanks Glen,
    That was really helpful. I understood it to mean Christian, but I never got the Greek reference before. I won't describe the silly way I justified Xmas before, let's just say "tmas" would've made more sense to me.

  • Okay, everyone, I have to go prepare for the global warming event in Paris tomorrow, so that's it for me. Many thanks for your interest in my article, whether you agreed with it or not.

  • Blake Stacey says:

    Glen D. makes a reasonable point:

    I am guessing that the most tolerable way of contrasting evolution to ID would be to discuss it in a historical context, such as the matter of Paley and Darwin's response to Paley (and really the "Origin" counters those "arguments" quite directly, if not by name). I know that others have mentioned that the historical approach might work best, I'm simply adding that ID could be shot down in quite a reasonable manner by dealing with the strongest historical "argument" which still manages to be the strongest "argument" today.

    I, for one, learned about evolution in a historical way: James Burke's documentaries, Isaac Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery and so forth. (Off the top of my head, the only book I read early on which didn't take a historical tack was, ironically, Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe. Instead of saying who discovered what and for which reasons, Gonick portrayed the development of life itself. Complementary approaches are good.) The best way to "teach the controversy" is to explain how the "controversy" was settled over a century ago.
    The people then had just the same foibles that we have now. Darwin didn't put anything in the drinking water to make people understand what he was saying. Somehow, the facts themselves persuaded him and his contemporaries. That's all we have to rely on today, as well: facts.
    Show the students how the science happened. We understand people better than we understand population genetics or punctuated equilibrium, so if we wish to speak and be understood, we present science in human terms.

  • Nathan Parker says:

    Drekab wrote:

    Until I read that I was in total support of Balter, but I suppose your right, the science speaks for itself, we shouldn't have proselytize.

    This is exactly why we have so many creationists, because scientists think that the science speaks for itself. This belief, which is strongly disconfirmed by the evidence, is as irrational as anything that creationists believe.
    Scientists seem completely clueless on how to deal with the non-scientific public, in spite of the fine example set by such organizations as the Discovery Institute.
    In spite of the legal victories, the war is still being lost in the minds of the general population and there's really no effective action currently being contemplated.

  • Blake Stacey says:

    The science can't speak for itself. It has to be given a voice. It must be presented engagingly and tuned to the audience — because it's all we really have to offer!

  • "The science can't speak for itself. It has to be given a voice. It must be presented engagingly and tuned to the audience

  • tgibbs says:

    I love this idea. I would certainly have enjoyed this as a student, and I agree that it is probably the best way to confront creationism.
    There's just one problem--I think that it would end up giving evolution too much time. As fundamental as evolution is to biology, there is a lot more to cover, and limited time. I remember being annoyed as a high school student that my chemistry teacher refused to go into the details of why the electron orbitals have those funny shapes, and essentially told me that I had to take his (and the textbook's) word for it. This was, after all, absolutely fundamental to chemistry--how could he gloss over it like that? Of course, now that I know a bit more about quantum mechanics, and have a more realistic idea of how long it would take to teach it at a fundamental level, his choice makes a lot more sense.

  • Blake Stacey says:

    See, I think a competent textbook writer and a competent teacher can address every major creationist "argument" in the course of presenting the historical development of our modern understanding of evolution. Irreducible complexity, gaps in the fossil record, etc., etc. You're not taking time out from other important things if you organize your presentation historically: Smith found this, Lyell discovered thus-and-so, Hutton said the following, Malthus pointed out. . . .
    Naturally, like I said, this presumes competence on the part of many people involved. I'd like to think that presumption is not completely invalid.

  • Ichthyic says:

    Well, you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. Why all the hysteria? My idea has not exactly been shot down. It has been published in the Los Angeles Times, with hundreds of thousands of readers, and now in the International Herald Tribune, which is read all over the world. So the debate goes on. As for my agenda, it is very simple: Find a way to increase acceptance of the theory of evolution.
    it's that very attitude that feeds your bloated ego and blinds you to the facts.
    Ann Coulter has made millions selling a book of fabrications and ignorance as well.
    does that justify her position?
    hardly.
    newspapers publish controversy to sell papers.
    duh.

  • hoary puccoon says:

    I love the idea of teaching the Paley-Darwin controversy. It shows why evolution is not just accepted on faith, as the creationists claim. Two other historical controversies would be useful in showing what a trial-by-fire evolutionary theory has gone through. The first is Lord Kelvin's claim that the earth could only be a few hundred thousand years old, because the sun would burn out, unless it had some "undiscovered" source of energy. Of course, the undiscovered source was atomic energy. Lord Kelvin lived long enough to find his theory refuted and Darwin's confirmed.
    The second controversy was over the continuous nature of inherited differences. Darwin could see the objection that small, advantageous differences would be swamped in later generations, and was deeply troubled by that. In that case, Darwin was proved wrong about the actual mechanism of inheritance. (He never knew what a gene was.) But the actual mechanism of inheritance as we understand it today confirmed Darwin's theory of evolution far more solidly than he ever dreamed.
    I don't know where, if anywhere, the history of scientific ideas would fit in a high school curriculum, but they should certainly be taught in college and more widely known by the public at large. One of the creationists' most dishonest claims is that modern scientists are simply protecting the "Darwinian orthodoxy" as if nothing had changed in the 148 years since the Origin of Species. I think we should ignore the bogus creationist "controversy" (largely between their position and what they claim are outmoded ideas-- presumably, from their actions, the outmoded ideas include decency, fairness and honesty.)But letting people know what the real controversies are, and how much hard work had to go into our present understanding would give people far more insight into why scientists get so impatient with the fly-weight creationist "challenges" to evolution.

  • Ichthyic says:

    ... the only thing that needs be done to increase acceptance of evolutionary theory is to have it taught better at the secondary school level to begin with.
    right now, it's patchy at best, though NSF has been funding programs to try and remedy the situation.
    todays kids are tommorrow's parents; teach them right the first time, and they will carry that on.
    fail to teach them, or reinforce their ignorance by giving credence to creationism, and you continue the cycle.
    as was discussed before, religion is not science, and that is the only thing that need be mentioned in a science class when the issue arises.
    again, michael, this is why every major scientific organization in the country disagrees with addressing creationism in a science class at the secondary level.
    the fact that your editorials get published has nothing to do with their validity.
    or would you think that every editorial that gets published has equal validity?
    really, you're insane to think such.

  • Ichthyic says:

    Where are the ideas from the pro-evolution side? I haven't heard them.
    oh, that's such a lie.
    you've heard them, that's for sure, you just don't choose to listen, because you correctly think you can generate more controversy with your current approach.
    you border on being a pure charlatan. remarkable for someone who has been a science writer for far more important publications than the LA times.

  • Nathan Parker says:

    ... the only thing that needs be done to increase acceptance of evolutionary theory is to have it taught better at the secondary school level to begin with.

    This might help, but even subjects well-taught are not retained by the students if they don't incorporate them into their worldview. Many students take physics but still are typically unable to apply such fundamentals Newton's Laws in the real world. Students learn these in school, but leave them behind when they walk out the door of the classroom because they don't care about the subject.
    Until you can make them care, you can teach them anything you want, but it won't much affect the way they look at the world.

  • Ichthyic says:

    Until you can make them care, you can teach them anything you want, but it won't much affect the way they look at the world.
    ...nothing changed my way of viewing the world more than learning about the fantastic success the scientific method has had in explaining and predicting actual observations of that world.
    had nothing to do with addressing religio-socio preconceptions.
    if those who are taught the value of the scientific method, still cannot see it for themselves, how is that any issue for a teacher to address?
    answer: it's simply not.
    no amount of of psuedo-instruction in philosophy or religion would change that either.

  • Nathan Parker says:

    ..nothing changed my way of viewing the world more than learning about the fantastic success the scientific method has had in explaining and predicting actual observations of that world.

    What worked for you isn't relevant. You were fertile soil or you wouldn't be here. What is relevant is the large number of people who really aren't that interested in science.

    no amount of of psuedo-instruction in philosophy or religion would change that either.

    Agreed. The smart strategy is to circumvent the intellect for those people. Get them to accept science via mass marketing techniques, just like the creationists do so effectively. Although they will never be scientists, they at least might cease to be obstacles.

  • Paula says:

    Michael:
    Approaching the issue as if it was a matter of selling an idea could help to obtain less depressing figures but it sends the wrong message. Mainly that the aim of science is to promote a particular position instead of to find accurate explanations of reality.
    Bringing creationism into the classroom, as you suggests wouldn't really be an issue if the debate were clearly set between religion and science. The problem is that creationists want to set the debate as if it were between two competing scientific models. Asking science teachers to accept this false premise, even if it is just to expose the impostor, is not just unfair but also wrong.

  • Ichthyic says:

    Get them to accept science via mass marketing techniques, just like the creationists do so effectively.
    but now we're on to a totally different topic than the value of exploring creationism in a secondary science classroom.
    so are we done with that now?
    if so, yes, i couldn't possibly agree with you more, as distasteful as it seems on the surface.
    have you looked to see if NSF is funding research into ways of "marketing" science?
    I know PBS has been doing some online promotion; check out some of their websites on evolution, for example, that go along with the series on it they produced a while back.
    it would be nice if our own government could provide a better public example on good science than Chimpy McGrin does (counter to his own damned science advisor, btw); that would go a long way towards helping the "media" end of things.
    billboards featuring pictures of tiktalik, along with a link to a government funded website talking about the evidences for evolution would be a good thing.
    heck, just very public government support for ANY good science would be hella welcome these days.
    still does not negate my point of the value of good teaching of theory to begin with.
    more "bill nye" type shows would be welcome, too.
    science IS cool.

  • Kent Northcote says:

    You know, the concept of 'teaching the controversy' can be addressed with respect to the wisdom of teaching previous controversies. Why don't we just teach 'flat earth theory' alongside the standard earth science curriculum? How about the controversy of 'young earth theory' versus accurate geologic dating. Every culture has it's own set of creation myths, each as invalid as the next. Giving credence to the myths of a particular Middle Eastern tribe that happened to be adopted by a culture that by geologic happenstance has managed to gain worldwide influence has as much cognitive integrity as believing that card tricks are miraculous. If a particular western african tribe that posits the creation of the universe from the excrement of a certain type of ant had been more successful than western europeans our debates would revolve around, well ant poop. The debate about creationism belongs in a class alongside other creation myths.

  • I gather (from another blog) that being concerned about how people are treated makes one a "concern troll".
    Very well, I'm a concern troll. Record me as a proud concern troll.
    I don't like the way Michael Balter has been treated here. I can see why his suggestion might not work in the context of science classes in American secondary schools, even though it works fine (in my experience) when something at least faintly like it happens in philosophy of religion classes in Australian universities: we discuss Hume, Paley, Darwin, Dawkins, the alleged problem of "fine-tuning" of the physical constants, etc.
    Just where and when it might work, and how purely it can be done, seems like a reasonable topic for discussion. I'm a bit sceptical myself, but Michael is essentially on our side. Whether we agree with him or not, can't we show him some respect?

  • Ichthyic says:

    one, being genuinely concerned about conduct is not concern trolling; that term specifically refers to false concern specifically in order to garner a set response from the rest of the posters.
    so, you need not concern yourself that you are a concern troll.
    as to balter's treatment, you need to understand the history of his proposal, and his total ignorance of anything contrary to his opinion on the subject before you can really grasp why there is a highly negative reaction when it gets brought up yet again, because some media outlet decided to publish an editorial.
    really, it's not a kneejerk reaction on the part of those criticizing him here; it's based on a long history of him refusing to acknowledge why his reasoning is faulty on this issue, and HIS kneejerk rejection of any evidence contrary to his position.
    given his history as a science writer of some ability, one has to question his motives for his current approach, and one does get tired of his constant evasion of the real issues behind why his proposal simply won't work at the secondary school level.
    bottom line, the vehemence can't be taken out of context, and respect is earned, not freely given.
    Michael has not earned respect for his position on this topic, simply because he refuses to acknowledge the flaws in his arguments.

  • I must say that I find Ichthyic's logic perplexing. Some people here have responded sympathetically to at least some aspects of my proposal, and I have responded to what I see as the most important arguments against it. So I don't consider my proposals to be refuted, nor is it reasonable to say that I am refusing to acknowledge flaws in my argument when in fact what we have is a disagreement. Ichthyic also questions my motives--what does he think they are? Spell it out, otherwise it looks and smells like a personal attack rather than a real engagement with my ideas--something that I could just as easily say that Ichthyic is refusing to do.

  • Ichthyic says:

    I have wondered what your motives are, given that none of the major science education organizations agree that the best approach to better educating secondary level students is to broach the subject of religion and creationism in a science class.
    If it were me, I would jump at the chance to investigate all criticism of any proposal i make, recognizing that I, as an individual, of course do not have access to all knowledge that might pertain to its validity.
    if it were me, I would be writing volumes about exactly why this strategem would be effective, specifically at the level i proposed its usage, and go at length into possible flaws and limitations.
    you however, do not approach your proposal in the same fashion in these threads.
    this is what makes me question your motivations, your actual honesty in thinking this is in fact a valid proposal rather than just a publicity stunt on your part.
    You, regardless of what you just said, have NOT addressed the majority of the concerns raised, either in this thread nor any other.
    so you are essentially falsely representing yourself by saying that you have.
    it's not just disagreement, it's pure evasion on your part.
    as to what your motivations are, my speculation is simply that you want to generate controversy to garner more publicity for yourself. mere speculation, true, but the pattern fits with those who sponsor such ideas, then try to publish a book on the heels of the controversy generated. Dembski comes to mind, along with many others.
    really, you can't show me ANY reputable scientific organization that supports your suggested approach for secondary level classes (we've already discussed what limited value it has at the collegiate level), and since you apparently feel so strongly about its potential, perhaps you could answer why none of them, in your opinion, agree with you? Are they ALL just missing your point? what's that sound like to you?
    In fact, I asked you this before (in the original PT thread, IIRC):
    why do you think all major scientific organizations boycotted the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt hearings? they explained why in detail, and their explanation is entirely relevant to why they also think your approach to be invalid.
    Moreover, this thread, the threads on PT (both), and every other thread where your proposal has been raised is literally filled with unanswered (by yourself) criticisms of your proposal, and yet you have the gall to maintain you have addressed them and dismissed them all fairly.
    I have responded to what I see as the most important arguments against it
    laughable. that's hardly important to the validity of your argument now, is it? In fact, my point is and has been that your reasoning of what is important to your argument is
    flawed to begin with, so how is it that you feel you can fairly address criticism by self determination of what YOU think is important?
    I do hope others watching your attempts to address criticism will start to gather why the vehemence arises.
    Spell it out, otherwise it looks and smells like a personal attack rather than a real engagement with my ideas--something that I could just as easily say that Ichthyic is refusing to do.

    projection as to my motives on your part will get you nowhere.
    btw, that's a typical creationist tactic; deflect the basis of the attack to one of a personal nature, and avoid addressing any real crticism of your own behavior or arguments.
    in fact, i do attack you based on your behavior, not just your proposal, simply because you constantly, and falsely, state that criticisms of it are fairly adressed by you.
    so put up or shut up, michael. there are any number of criticisms raised in this thread that are entirely valid, whether you think them important or not.
    shall i make a list of them for you to address one at a time, or shall you selectively choose, as usual, to only address the ones you feel don't actually counter your proposal?
    It's late here, so if you want a list, I'm happy to do that for you tommorrow (fri) evening, or feel free to actually attempt to do so yourself if you are truly serious about the validity of your proposal. It's certainly what I would expect from someone who was serious about it.
    really, I ask you:
    will you fairly address all criticism of your proposal found in these threads? or will you simply dismiss them as "unimportant" or "irrelevant", and then proceed to keep publishing editorials as if they don't exist?
    I could give a flying frack what you think about me, or my vehemence towards yourself.
    If you truly think your proposal has merit, you have far more work to do to convince me, let alone anybody that could possibly influence policy.

  • QrazyQat says:

    Anyone who does not agree about how to counter ID is an ID troll...
    The comment of yours that led me to write that you had written it exactly in the manner, style, and substance of an ID troll was in fact written exactly in the manner, style, and substance of an ID troll which is why I said that you had written it exactly in the manner, style, and substance of an ID troll. I don't know your other writing, and haven't commented on it; I don't know your other views and didn;t comment on them. I didn't comment on your character, since I know nothing of it; all I did was read your commnet and since it was indeed written exactly in the manner, style, and substance of an ID troll I said so. If you don't like that, just don't write exactly in the manner, style, and substance of an ID troll.
    And don't shoot the messenger.

  • truth machine says:

    Well, you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. Why all the hysteria? My idea has not exactly been shot down. It has been published in the Los Angeles Times, with hundreds of thousands of readers, and now in the International Herald Tribune, which is read all over the world.
    What does getting something published have to do with whether it was shot down? It's hard to be more fallacious or intellectually dishonest than that. All sorts of blatant nonsense, that has been repeatedly refuted, gets published by those with the power to do so.

  • truth machine says:

    I gather (from another blog) that being concerned about how people are treated makes one a "concern troll".
    No, a concern troll is someone who offers faux advice to his adversaries; for instance, a Republican who "warns" Democrats that they'll never win an election unless they move to the right.
    Michael is essentially on our side. Whether we agree with him or not, can't we show him some respect?
    Perhaps you should be more concerned with the fact that he has attacked the scientific community in both of his ID editorials. He has set himself up as a contrarian, so it's rather silly to say that he's "on our side" when he's put himself on the other side of the issue he has chosen to raise.
    Regardless of motivation, his editorial is not a constructive contribution. Not only is it offensive to "our side", accusing scientists of not wanting to be challenged, not being persuasive enough, etc., but it rests upon strawmen, false dichotomies, and other fallacies. I think the most respectful thing to do is to quietly ignore it.

  • Surveys tell us that some 30% or so of biology teachers are themselves antievolutionists of one sort or another. Any ideas on how to make sure that they "teach the controversy" properly and not just take the new latitude as carte blanche to teach antievolution arguments credulously? Do we resign ourselves to lots of lawsuits to sort things out on the local level? Or simply accept that in a substantial proportion of communities the antievolutionists will get to do exactly as they have wished?

  • truth machine says:

    The court victory in Dover was important but will end up being Pyrrhic if creationist views continue to dominate so completely in American life.
    I do wish that people wouldn't misuse the phrase "Pyrrhic victory" -- which is not simply a pointless or ineffective victory, but rather one of devastating cost to the "victor".
    In any case, the victory in Dover wasn't pointless or ineffective, irrespective of the dominance of creationist views, which is rather non sequitur, as the goal of the plaintiffs in Dover was not to eliminate or even reduce creationist views. And if Balter thinks that adding discussions of ID to high school science classes will end the dominance of creationist views, he is severely delusional, and has no understanding of the sociology of religion in America. Here's a clue: http://www.startribune.com/614/story/652306.html
    Scientists didn't create creationism, they aren't responsible for creationism, and they can't end creationism -- not by themselves. The notion that, because creationism is widespread in the U.S., scientists are insufficiently persuasive about evolution or are taking the wrong approach toward the curriculum is absurdly fallacious and offensive, much like blaming Western medicine for the common cold and suggesting psychic healing or voodoo as a more effective alternative.

  • It is really hard to know where to begin here because there have been a number of personal attacks on me in the most recent posts, most of them from Ichthyic but a few others too. Ichthyic's speculations about my motivations, that I am publicity seeking or hoping to do a book in the wake of the controversy I have generated, do not indicate to me that he is a fair and reasonable debater but someone who has let his anger get away from him.
    I have spent all the time here I think it is worth. My arguments are in the pieces I have written, they have gotten a good airing, and I am going to leave it at that. I appreciate the kind words and sympathetic ears of those who have extended them. Ten years from now, if Ichthyic and some others here continue the same attitude, they will still be fighting the creationists, who will be just as strong as they are now or stronger. But their self-righteousness will no doubt have remained at the same level.
    I will respond to one of Ichthyic's repeated challenges, however. The fact that the scientific organizations he cites do not agree with my approach is not in and of itself an argument that I am wrong. This is an obvious argument from authority and it has the effect of stifling debate.
    The only thing I would add in signing off is to ask everyone here to imagine that they were a high school biology teacher, if they are not already. Imagine the opportunities you would have to teach young students how to think scientifically. Not to accept the theory of evolution because scientists say it is right, but to think the evidence through critically. One thing you might want to do is to study pedagogical theory, how people learn, and how people change their minds. That is what Steve Verhey did before he embarked on his experiment. He studied theories of engaging prior beliefs, and the references to his sources are in his BioScience piece. A lot of what I have heard here amounts to uninformed speculations about how students learn, and that is a shame.

  • Darth Robo says:

    In other words, you're going to ignore everyone else's arguments and refuse to address them and claim everyone's just making this personal. Again.

  • I forgot to mention in my remarks on engaging prior beliefs that Craig Nelson, in two commentaries he wrote for BioScience about Verhey's study, emphasized this point. Craig definitely did not think that it was applicable to high schools, but as I have argued I think it could be adapted to that situation IF the underlying pedagogical theory was accepted and IF there was a will to do it. Again, those who argue against me have come up with NO strategy for changing the current sad situation, absolutely none whatsoever.

  • The accusation that I have not engaged the arguments here is false on the face of it. I invite any HONEST person to read through all of the posts and draw their own conclusions on this score. Engaging arguments does not mean dancing like a puppet to the strings that a few here want to pull.
    bye.

  • I think that a critical assumption made by those proposing that "teach the controversy" could be made to work is that the school personnel are on the same page. It is manifestly documented that this is not universally true, and that the proportion of the population that would use the opportunity to make the opposing argument is substantial -- about 30%.
    I still haven't heard any suggestions on how the proposed action will deal with the facts of the situation as I have laid them out.

  • Scott Hatfield says:

    Dr. Elsberry, I'm an NCSE member and I want to thank you for the work you do.
    Let me ask you how would you feel about the following approach:
    "Evolution really happened, and is happening right now, and one of the things that causes evolution is natural selection. There is no scientific controversy about that! But, as some of you have probably heard, many Americans reject evolution. Others may accept some parts of evolution, but reject others because of what they feel is implied by Darwin's theory. Let's see if we can understand why some people feel this way, so we can better understand the actual science."
    This is the approach I try to cultivate in the classroom, and I would be interested in your comments, and anyone else's.....SH

  • Scott Hatfield says:

    I agree strongly with Blake Stacey's recommendation that we provide the evidence for evolution through a historical narrative. I find the opening episode ("Darwin's Dangerous Idea") of PBS's 'Evolution' series excellent for this purpose. If you use the DVD version and carefully plan which chapters to present, pace the material and note where you might want to stop the story to provide context, you can do wonders.
    Bravo, Blake. One of the problems that textbooks have to deal with is how much of the historical background to provide and where to provide it. I don't like texts that largely omit the history, or only consider it in context with one aspect of the theory, as in acknowledging Malthus's contributions.
    I know sociologists of science are pretty critical of a narrative approach, one great discovery leading to another, because that isn't the way that real science is supposedly done, and it's a triumphalist 'take' imposed ad hoc on the facts, blah blah blah yada, yada, yada. That kind of attention to nuance isn't appropriate in a high school source. I say, we have a great story in Darwin's physical and intellectual adventures, and we would be foolish not to use the story to promote evolution education. . . .SH

  • QrazyQat says:

    Imagine the opportunities you would have to teach young students how to think scientifically.
    Teaching them non-science (not failed science, or shoddy science, but politically motivated non-science) is just like teaching them flat-earthism or geocentrism. OTOH, evolutionary theory has lots of examples within it. This is one of the biggest reasons people find the Balter suggestion obnoxious (the other is that he's just ignoring everyone else and repeating his nonsense). The canard that evolutionary science doesn't contain criticisms within it, throughout its history and ongoing, and that the way to teach such reasoning and critiquing is to teach ID, is straight out of the Discovery Institute playbook. It's bullshit. Long-discredited, and very obvious BS, which makes anyone suggesting it either ignorant or worse.

  • Ichthyic says:

    Ten years from now, if Ichthyic and some others here continue the same attitude, they will still be fighting the creationists, who will be just as strong as they are now or stronger.
    ten years from now, when you finally acknowledge the back-assward nature of your efforts, and how you could have far better spent your time assisting the promotion of the current efforts of NSF and NAAS (you know, actual science organizations you supposedly support, being a science writer and all), maybe you will apologzie for all the time you waster bantying about a dead idea that nobody who knows what the hell they are talking about supports.
    You can spin this as a personal attack if you wish, but it certainly is clear that you deserve it.
    as i said, I am going through ALL of the threads your proposal is discussed on, and will be posting a list of the dozens of major criticisms you either handwaived away or completely ignored.
    plus, for your own edification, I will provide links to recent efforts by the NSF and NAAS to improve not just education in the area of evolutionary theory at the secondary level, but science in general.
    you won't have to say a word.
    just STFU and read.
    I've already started, and will post it both here and on the PT thread late tommorrow afternoon or evening.
    At this point, I really could care less what you think, but maybe the summary of your evasions, along with a concise list of all the major criticisms, might at least show the lurkers why your proposal is such a waste of time and effort, when that effort could be far better applied simply helping provide necessary teaching materials and resources to secondary level teachers to begin with.
    really, as a science writer, you should be ashamed of the time you have wasted with this, and you should have been putting your talents to far better use.

  • Ichthyic says:

    I will respond to one of Ichthyic's repeated challenges, however. The fact that the scientific organizations he cites do not agree with my approach is not in and of itself an argument that I am wrong. This is an obvious argument from authority and it has the effect of stifling debate.
    i'll just respond to this point for now.
    the point of it was not an appeal to authority, the point of it was to show your ignorance of the work that HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE AND IS BEING DONE to improve the state of science education at the secodary level, and NONE of it includes evaluating the role teaching non-science in a science class would have.
    there are reasons for that which you have completely, utterly, ignored (or are just plain ignorant of).
    if you had really spent serious time researching the real valdity of your proposal, you would have much more that Verhey (which isn't even applicable to the background group you want to apply him to) to fall back on.
    You would be able to address my very question as to why neither NSF nor NAAS thinks the idea of teaching non-science in a science classroom is a good one.
    heck, you could have spent 10 minutes googling up the research in this area, and have the answers to my questions.
    It should clearly show everybody that you simply are NOT serious about this proposal, or else you have simply lost your mind.

  • Scott Hatfield says:

    Icthyic, this high school teacher is in favor of debunking bad ideas that prevent people from critically accepting the evidence of evolution on its own merits. To do that, though, you need to provide the context.
    Sometimes the context is a religious context (Biblical literalism, doctrines such as the Fall). Other times, as Mayr has memorably demonstrated, the context is the legacy of venerable but discredited philosophical notions, such as the essentialism behind typological thinking. One can provide the context and explain why such ideas don't belong in science without being combative.
    A skilled teacher should be able to bring this context into the discussion without violating the Establishment Clause. I do agree with you that Mr. Balter's proposal is flawed, but I also have to point out that some NAAS-sponsored curricular standards (such as Project 2061) do talk up the importance of placing science within a social context. I forget the exact language, but that sort of thing is in there, and I would personally feel constrained if any professional organization ruled the provision of any contextual information as out of bounds simply because, strictly speaking, it isn't science......SH

  • Ichthyic says:

    I forget the exact language, but that sort of thing is in there, and I would personally feel constrained if any professional organization ruled the provision of any contextual information as out of bounds simply because, strictly speaking, it isn't science......SH

    when I'm done with that list, I'd love to gander at that work with you Scott.

  • Scott Hatfield says:

    Ichthyic, here's a link to get started....
    http://www.project2061.org/publications/sfaa/online/sfaatoc.htm

  • I have clipped and posted a post from Steve Verhey on The Panda's Thumb, where these issues are also under discussion, and this is going to be my last post on the subject. I will not be responding point by point to Ichthyic's critique of my proposal because I think that Verhey's post here deals with all of the SUBSTANTIAL issues that have been raised and that my own posts provide my basic arguments against the thrust of them. I will add, however, in response to continued assertions by some that I am echoing the rhetoric of the Discovery Institute: I think that the theory of evolution is correct because I believe it has been adequately tested scientifically and passed muster. I think that is the reason why most people posting here accept it as well. However, there are a few whose rhetoric, I am sure without intending to but nevertheless clearly to me, cause them to fit the DI's stereotype of Darwinians that they are fanatically and have adopted Darwinism as their own secular religion. Yes, you heard me right: Some Darwinians act in such a way as to add considerable credibility to that claim and that characterization. You do your "cause" no good as a result, and your refusal to face up to why creationism is the majority view in America and to consider realistic strategies to counter it is not based on science but on your own need to have something to believe in.
    Posted by Steve Verhey on February 4, 2007 1:29 AM (e)
    I�ve only taken a few minutes to skim all these comments, which I�m seeing for the first time, but here are a couple of quick comments of my own. Please forgive my tone. Reading all the comments at once makes one edgy.
    1. The university where I carried out my experiment is not (with all due respect to the students) selective. Given the large fraction of high-school students who attend college nowadays, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that my students resembled high school seniors.
    2. The seminar was part of the first-quarter intro biology class that is required for all biology majors; it was not optional. Students were randomly assigned to the various sections of the class, including mine. I compared grades, amount of college experience, and other characteristics, and students in my sections were similar in all ways to students in the other sections.
    3. I don�t understand (and I�m not interested in knowing) the need for some discussants to abuse Michael Balter. Please stop it. And leave me alone, too.
    4. It is true that during the last (and much more unpleasant) PT discussion I said that I didn�t think using my approach with high school students was necessarily a good idea, but not because I didn�t think the students could handle it. As you know, there are a fair number of creationist teachers out there, and parents can be exceedingly bloody-minded. This complicates things.
    5. I am not impressed with the claim that all US scientific establishments are opposed to the approach I used, even when employed in college. My approach worked, and I have collected additional data to provide much stronger statistical support. On the other hand, the Teach Only Science approach has been tried for years and has failed. It is not based on sound pedagogy. It is tired dogma, and IMO it�s time for a paradigm shift.
    6. If we were talking about a medical trial, the experiment would have been stopped by now, and my approach offered to all the patients. To do otherwise would be unethical.
    7. Why does it sound like I have a chip on my shoulder? Because I got fired by my university, where no one understood what I was doing, after my paper came out. I�m grateful for this because I�ve gone to a much better place, but it was annoying at the time and some of the discussants here remind me of my former colleagues.

  • Since I don't know how many people here routinely follow The Panda's Thumb, I am reposting a very interesting comment from SteveF over on the other thread. Again, although the paper he posts concerned a college setting, the BASIC PEDAGOGICAL PRINCIPLES could be adapted to the high school setting IF evolutionists got their blinders off and got serious about changing the status quo.
    Comment #159470
    Posted by SteveF on February 4, 2007 5:26 AM (e)
    The following paper might be of some interest to Mike, Michael and Steve:
    Kalinowski, S.T. (2006) Can random mutation mimic design?: A guided inquiry laboratory for undergraduate students. Genetics, 174,
    Abstract: Complex biological structures, such as the human eye, have been interpreted as evidence for a creator for over three centuries. This raises the question of whether random mutation can create such adaptations. In this article, we present an inquiry-based laboratory experiment that explores this question rising paper airplanes as a model organism. The main task for students in this investigation is to figure out how to simulate paper air-plane evolution (including reproduction, inheritance, mutation, and selection). In addition, the lab requires students to practice analytic thinking and to carefully delineate the implications of their results.
    From the discussion:
    Given the controversy in contemporary society surrounding evolution (ALTERS and NELSON 2002; SCOTT 2004), some instructors may think it best to remove the design component from this lab. This would not be difficult to do; the focal question of the lab could be rephrased as �Can random mutations create complex adaptations?� and the design element of the lab could be neatly excised. Below we describe why we have not done this. Before we begin that discussion, we would like to emphasize that we have deliberately constructed the lab so that it is not an investigation of whether species have originated via evolution or design. The lab may refute a criticism of natural selection made by advocates of design, but it does not attempt to evaluate the design hypothesis (see LAWSON 1999 for a lab that does). We discuss evidence for and against evolution and design in the lecture, but have been careful to not put our TAs in the position of leading such a sensitive discussion.
    We have chosen to include the design element in the lab because it motivates the lab and because it helps to teach five important lessons:
    1. Including the design aspect of the lab gives students an opportunity to read an excerpt from Paley�s Natural Theology. As with Darwin, we believe Paley�s argument is historically significant, his writing excellent, and his logic impressive.
    2. Reading Paley gives students an opportunity to analyze his argument�which gives students practice with a foundational element of scientific thinking.
    3. Having students design a paper airplane that flies as far as possible teaches students that there are many possible combinations of wing size and location. We believe students have a poor understanding of combinatorics, so this is an important mathematics lesson.
    4. Including the design element also gives students the opportunity to clearly delineate the implications of their results, an important scientific thinking skill.
    5. Finally, the design question gives students practice discussing a controversial topic with respect for students who have other views, and this may be as valuable a skill to practice as any other component of the lab.
    Comment #159471
    Posted by SteveF on February 4, 2007 5:31 AM (e)
    Oh, and the paper can be found here:
    http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/full/174/3/1�
    PS; whilst I�m sceptical of Michael�s approach here, The Goddess and the Bull is a great book; highly recommended.

  • I've brought up problems with Balter's recommendations, as have many others. The issues with teachers is perhaps the greatest objection to any blanket adoption of contrasting evolution to ID, even Paley's ID.
    But one thing I've never liked is people telling us what one approach ought to be taken to combat ID, for it seems that provocateurs and accommodationists both have their places.
    Likewise with teaching methods. I doubt that showing how ID fell before evolution is going to be implemented in most Kansas counties in the near future, for instance, while in New York state it may be possible to teach the superiority of the scientific method over religious apologetics. It all comes down to our "pathetic level of detail", really, and one policy is not likely to be best everywhere.
    Anyhow, I think some ought to be more open to trying out something different, presumably on a small-scale at first, then supporting policies where certain teaching methods might work, while trying to actually get some evolution into schools where a "new approach" isn't possible for lack of there having been an "old approach." And it seems to me that Balter really ought to deal more closely with some of the difficulties than he has in the writings of his that we've encountered.
    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  • truth machine says:

    Imagine the opportunities you would have to teach young students how to think scientifically. Not to accept the theory of evolution because scientists say it is right, but to think the evidence through critically.
    Here's the same old arrogant, offensive strawman. No one is demanding that students accept the theory of evolution just because scientists saying it is right, or objecting to teaching students to think the evidence through critically. But it isn't necessary to teach ID in order to do so, any more than it is necessary to have students read from The Watchtower. Those who do believe that the theory of evolution is the best available explanation of biodiversity did not arrive at that belief via Discovery Institute materials, and they are not simply the most gullible members of our society, believing whatever scientists tell them, so the claim that "the Teach Only Science approach has been tried for years and has failed", that "it is not based on sound pedagogy", that "it is tired dogma", and "it's time for a paradigm shift" is rubbish, with a heavy whiff of crackpottery.
    However, there are a few whose rhetoric, I am sure without intending to but nevertheless clearly to me, cause them to fit the DI's stereotype of Darwinians that they are fanatically and have adopted Darwinism as their own secular religion. Yes, you heard me right: Some Darwinians act in such a way as to add considerable credibility to that claim and that characterization. You do your "cause" no good as a result
    Even if Balter had sound ideas, he is so arrogant and so offensive to the people he wishes to persuade that he's a rather poor messenger.
    your refusal to face up to why creationism is the majority view in America and to consider realistic strategies to counter it is not based on science but on your own need to have something to believe in
    This is oh so ironic, coming from someone who displays no understanding of why creationism is the majority view in America, and a quasi-religious adherence to his "strategy" as a cure. His insulting rhetoric doesn't even make any sense -- how would would embracing "Darwinism" as a secular religion result in a refusal to face up to the cause of belief in creationism? He's just flailing about with ad hominems, refusing to address the concrete reasons people give for their views of his proposals, none of which are because "Darwinism" is the truth and the way. The only claims on that score are skeptical ones, such as QrazyQat's "There is plenty of controversy in evolutionary thought post-Darwin, though, and that could be taught", which he followed with "but none of it includes creationism or ID" -- which gets us back to Balter's false dichotomy strawman: teach ToE as gospel or teach ID and Icons of Evolution in public high schools.

  • "coming from someone who displays no understanding of why creationism is the majority view in America"
    Frankly, no one here has offered a serious analysis of this question, so I would have to see what truth machine has to offer before agreeing that he understands it better than I do.
    I've made some other comments over on The Panda's Thumb, a little hard to keep discussing on both sites but I will do the best I can with the time I have.

  • MarkP says:

    the Teach Only Science approach has been tried for years and has failed
    When the norm is science, including evolution, taught fully and without apology, then we can talk about the Teach Only Science approach being tried. We are nowhere close to that now, and since the surveys show a strong correlation of disbelief in evolution and ignorance of it, the optimal strategy doesn't need to be any more complicated than that. It sure as hell doesn't need to be polluted by political agendas masquerading as science.

  • truth machine says:

    "coming from someone who displays no understanding of why creationism is the majority view in America"
    Frankly, no one here has offered a serious analysis of this question, so I would have to see what truth machine has to offer before agreeing that he understands it better than I do.
    You complained about people failing to face up to why creationism is the majority view in America, but say no serious analysis of the question has been offered. What is it, then, that people aren't facing up to, and can you know that they aren't? Your claim seems to be that creationism is the majority view in America because ID isn't being discussed in high school science classes. Frankly, no "serious analysis" is required to dispense with such prima facie silliness. There's a wealth of data on the sociology of religion, as well as plenty of personal observation readily available to anyone willing to look. I already provided one clue about how the issue extends well beyond the content of high school science classes. From that article,
    "The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools has indeed become such that if it had been done by an enemy, it would be considered an act of war," Kennedy said in a recent commentary.
    Do you suppose that evangelicals will stop pulling their children from school if their religious views are discussed in a framework designed to dismiss them? Here's an alternative treatment offered in that article:
    Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan civil liberties group, said public education leaders should work harder to convince parents they aren't against religion by encouraging nonsectarian teaching about the Bible and the formation of student religious clubs.
    We've got civil libertarians, political strategists, and "Neville Chamberlain" scientists talking about a "big tent" that protects the superstitious from criticism of their superstitions and even treats superstition as an alternative "way of knowing", but there's no need to worry about that because, if we just expose high school students to debates between creationists and evolutionary biologists, creationism will wither away, despite the powerful social, psychological, and political forces behind it. Despite those forces, you lay the responsibility for creationism at the feet of scientists, who you say don't want to be challenged, their failure you say to be persuasive enough, their failed, you say, pedagogical paradigm. A "serious analysis" that supports these charges is lacking.

  • Sorry, but truth machine's characterizations of my views on this are so distorted that they are laughable. The question of why creationism is so strong in America is very different from the question of why science has been largely ineffective in countering it, as should be obvious to everyone. This is just not a serious contribution to the discussion.
    We can meet here again when I publish the next piece I am planning on this subject.

  • truth machine says:

    Sorry, but truth machine's characterizations of my views on this are so distorted that they are laughable.
    What's laughable is this garbage you spew. I asked "What is it, then, that people aren't facing up to, and can you know that they aren't?" But instead of answering, you act like an ass. The only explanation you have have offered for why creationism is the majority view in America is because ID isn't being discussed in high school science classes. You claim in your editorial that scientists have failed pedogogically, and your evidence for that is that there are so many creationists. You say that the the question of why creationism is so strong in America is very different from the question of why science has been largely ineffective in countering it, but the very notion that scientists could effectively counter it links the questions. If creationism is so strong in America for reasons other than a failed pedagogical paradigm, then its strength cannot serve as evidence of a failed pedagogical paradigm. This is simple logic, and is a point I have made previously, but you refuse to address it.
    This is just not a serious contribution to the discussion.
    Your post certainly is not.
    We can meet here again when I publish the next piece I am planning on this subject.
    When we can expect the same false charges and evasions and another waste of time.