Darwin Mr Popular again in Kansas
Intelligent Design voted off school curriculum
The battle for the hearts and minds of American school children took another turn this week. The infamous Kansas school board that voted to banish Darwin from the science curriculum has welcomed him back with open arms, spurning instead the language of intelligent design.
The school board has voted, 6-4, to remove the language of intelligent design from the curriculum: science teachers will no longer have to say that the central ideas of evolution are controversial in scientific circles.
The explanation of the "nature of science" has also been reworded. It is now described as the pursuit of rational explanations for things that happen in the Universe.
"Today the Kansas Board of Education returned its curriculum standards to mainstream science," said board chairman, Dr Bill Wagnon. "This assures that Kansas children are appropriately educated for the 21st century."
But while the change should be seen as significant, it is the fourth shift in policy in Kansas in the last eight years, and is unlikely to be the last. The ID camp is very well organised: a day after the new standards were announced, the Intelligent Design Network presented the school board with a petition protesting the changes. It contained the signatures of almost 4,000 parents.
For anyone new to this long-running debate, here's a re-cap.
In 1987 the supreme court in the US ruled that teaching creationism in science classes was unconstitutional. Since then, creationists have given their backing to an idea called intelligent design (ID). This takes God out of the equation, at least explicitly. Instead of insisting on a six-days-to-make-the-world story, it argues that life is too complex to have evolved without the input of some intelligent designer.
The implication is that this designer is God, although there are those who would argue that it could be very clever aliens, too. We'll not dwell on that, except to direct your attention to the web page of a man called Rael, and his "Raelien" followers. Drawing conclusions is left as an exercise for the reader.
The proponents of the ID "theory" have argued very strongly, and with some successes, that ID should be taught as a counter to the theory of evolution in science classes. The most notable win for the ID camp was in Kansas, while Pennsylvania has been the scene of a hard won victory for the scientists.
California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada, and South Carolina have all also seen either high profile debates or legal wrangling over evolution's place in schools.
School board member Sue Gamble said the changes were important for Kansas if it was "to have an educated populace". But ID supporters say the changes undermine families who reject the morality of materialism.
The new guidelines in Kansas supersede the old ones with immediate effect, and the poor school kids of Kansas will have to adjust to a new set of rules ahead of tests in the next school year. You can read the old and new science standards here. ®
or maybe not so
I rather fear that Greg Nelson has a point, at least where evolution theory is concerned. A definite air of sanctity hangs over popular pronouncements on evolution, the ghost of Objective Truth lurks behind it, taken directly from Christianity. When people say, "evolution is a fact" they invest far more emotional imput than when they say, "conservation of energy is a fact", for example.
It is unfortunate that when Darwin proposed his theory in public it happened in the context of a debate with the Church, a debate in which T.H. Huxley used Darwin as a platform for his own atheism (Darwin was not an atheist). Ever since, evoluton theory has been saddled with this anti-Church association, and atheists have used evolution theory to fight their battles, just as Huxley did.
This is sad, because it is perfectly possible to be sceptical of evolution theory - especially of the overly preachy form in which we generally learn it - without invoking gods of any kind.
To be clear about theory - there are facts, such as things-falling-down, and there is theory, such as the force of gravity, curved space, or graviton particles, offered to explain the fact. In biology, the fact is the diversity of living forms. Darwin's theory is really two theories, one on top of the other. One is that these forms evolved gradually over millions of years - this was already accepted when Darwin came along and did not necessarily contradict a God-driven world. The other is that of "natural selection", by which Darwin meant no active selection whatsoever: what happens happens. His genius lay in seeing that this action, combined with constant random variation, really could account for evolutionary change.
On this point I must bow to the scientists. However, the populist version of evolution theory - "evolutionism" - has invested these theories with an implausible value, even moral worth, which they do not support. Thus the circular reasoning involved in concluding that our existing qualities have 'evolutionary value', and the intellectual dubiousness of sociobiology, not to mention the reification of "natural selection" and notions of evolutionary advance.
Scientific theories get superseded when more information and better understanding make the old ones implausible. No doubt this will eventually happen to Darwinism, but not just yet. Nevertheless, we must maintain scientific detachment and look for weaknesses in the theory, aware that such a stance does NOT imply any support for ID or for any other form of supernatural activity.
Cos we live in a material world...
Life started as a random biochemical chain-reaction (we don't know how), but it has continued for millions of years. One of the more recent developments in this chain reaction is the human type of biochemical formation.
This is fact and therefore there is no place for God or his morality in a scientific world or in the what we teach our children.
Our brains and thus thoughts are just a part of this random biochemistry and its reactions with other equally random human-type biochemical formations.
Our thoughts of what we want for dinner, our work, our love or hate, thoughts about children, partners, enemies are all just random bits of this vast, random, chain-reaction. It isn't possible to create meaning out of them any more than it is possible to create meaning out of random numbers.
The acting out of our (random) thoughts is also just part of this chain reaction. Do I buy chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? Do I eat at McD or BK? Do I have sex or not? Do I gun down my classmates at school or not? Do I instigate genocide or get myself a drink?
Certainly the human-type biochemical chain-reactions often destroy each other (or themselves), slightly before they would naturally terminate, but this doesn't matter - they are just a chance association of atoms with no more value than a rock. Those that are destroyed are obviously not "the fittest" and those that do the destroying are also naturally terminated within a few years anyway.
In fact, the whole bio-chemical chain-reaction we call life will definitely terminate when the universe cools down (subject to the laws of thermodynamics), but probably long before then, as it destroys the local planetary environment which sustains it.
Some parts of the biochemical chain-reaction react strongly against other parts of the chain-reaction who say that the origins of the chain-reaction are not what is currently believed. This was declared heresy and to protect critical thinking, politicians were called upon to suppress it. The State intervened to do so and replaced Science in its rightful place as Supreme Authority and there was great rejoicing.
Actually, given that the whole event was just a random part of the random chain-reaction, it doesn't mean anything. In fact, given that everything we think and do is a result of a random process, absolutely nothing matters.
...which leads to the natural conclusion that its very important for our children to know this.
Dotted tees and crossed eyes
To the anonymous grammar critic: everyone has their favourite grammar peeve. Mine is the use of "less" for countable nouns.
Yes, indeed, writing should express clear meaning but unfortunately language is not as precise as we imagine. The modal system, for example, is very fluid and has modified its meanings in recent years. "May" does indeed express probability, as does "might" (with little or no distinction). The act of requesting is a use that is made of that meaning, and both words can be used that way. Might I suggest you confer with a recent grammar book on the matter?
Words such as "couple", though grammatically singular, can be thought of as referring to two people, just as "family can be singular or plural. I wouldn't get too worried about it if I were you.
Judging by the name, Abdulghani may not (sic) be a native English speaker (apologies if that is not the case), but I would be far, far more concerned with the silliness he/she expresses, very clearly, despite the quality of the language.