jasonbwatson

January 14, 2014

Pro-exploration is not anti-science

I know I really should not be surprised anymore, but for some reason it never ceases to amaze me how many people who claim that they believe in and stand for tolerance demonstrate anything but when someone on the other side of a position to which they hold suggests allowing for more open debate. The latest example is a proposed bill in Virginia that would allow students to explore “scientific controversies.”

Richard Bell, a Republican, represents Virginia’s 20th legislative district, and has introduced a bill calling for an amendment to Virginia’s science education policy. According to the bill, “[Faculty members] shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.” Anyone who claims to value tolerance and open discussion and the free exploration of ideas should welcome such a bill, right? Sadly, no. Evolutionists are already crying foul, claiming that the bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to introduce creationism into the public school.

While the bill includes language stating that these scientific discussions are not to promote or discriminate against any religious beliefs, the bill also states, “[Faculty shall not] prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes.” That means that teachers could freely discuss with students the merits of all scientific controversies–which would, of course, include evolution versus creation.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and the author of the blog Why Evolution is True. He took to his site to explain why the bill is all wrong and why the bill is really just an attack on evolution and “anthropogenic climate change” (that’s a fancy word meaning caused by humans). In the title of his entry Coyne calls the bill the “first antiscience bill of the year.” Tell me, though–how in the world can “encourag[ing] students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes” be anti-science? Is not this critical thinking and exploration of ideas and theories exactly what Coyne and others claim to want in schools and colleges?

Coyne goes on to state that while the bill makes it clear that “creationism and climate denialism” are to be “treated respectfully” because they are “differences of opinion,” “neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are ‘differences of opinion.’ They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely ‘opinions,’ they’re sorely misleading the students.” Coyne says that the only acceptable response to the suggestion of creationism is to tell the offending student that creationism and anthropogenic climate change (he insists on linking the two) are facts, not opinions. Furthermore, he says, “if necessary, one can explain why the opposing opinions aren’t supported by science. But there should be no ‘respect’ implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.”

Interesting… Coyne thinks it is fine to explain the data, theory and so-called facts supporting macroevolution to any student who has the audacity to question it. This seems to be exactly what Bell’s bill has in mind when it states, in Section C, that teachers are tasked with “helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” If evolution and anthropogenic climate change are the scientific facts that Coyne claims they are he should welcome the discussion and encourage it in classrooms. However, apparently he is comfortable only with presenting the support for evolution and anthropogenic climate change, and anyone stupid enough to question or challenge it does not even need to be treated with respect.

Bell, on the other hand, in an article on the Christian News Network, says, “[W]e’re not asking everyone to believe the same thing; we’re asking for teachers to be protected when they allow discussions about different opinions to take place.”

When someone has facts on his side he does not fear the questions or arguments of the other side. If Coyne is so confident that evolution is established scientific fact he should have no problem allowing the kinds of conversations Bell’s bill is encouraging. The reality is that Coyne is hiding fear behind his guise of scientific certainty; quite simply, he does not want students and teachers to be allowed to critique evolution because under examination it tends to crumble. Imagine if there were a group of people who insisted that two plus two was five. I cannot imagine any math teacher or professor, or even any politician, insisting that math teachers not be allowed to consider that argument in the classroom or to evaluate its merits. Any real mathematician would welcome the discussion, because there are so many ways to prove that two plus two is four that it would be a very short and lopsided conversation. The conversation about evolution goes quite differently because, despite Coyne’s assertion, evolution is not a scientific conclusion.

Coyne ends his blog post with this: “Shame on you, Virginia. If they wanted teachers to simply teach accepted science, they wouldn’t need to pass bills like this.” I would, with all due respect, counter with this…

Shame on you, Dr. Coyne. If you were truly interested in real education and in the testing of theories and hypotheses (as scientists are supposed to be) you would support, encourage and welcome the discussions this bill would protect.

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