February 24, 2005

Keep the ruby slippers - Proposed Revisions to Kansas Science Standards

I’ve just been reading some of the Proposed Revisions to Kansas Science Standards suggested by the Kansas "Intelligent Design" network. The level of obfuscation and subterfuge is mind-boggling, and scary.

And on a purely humanistic scale, extraordinarily disappointing. The tactics used in these kinds of strategies are unworthy of anyone, certainly of those who believe they are struggling for a greater good. They display a jaded valuation of ends over means and demonstrate convincingly that no longer can self-delusion stand as an excuse for playing fast and loose with science. The changes to curricular standards suggested by the Kansas IDnet reflect an intentional manipulation of the language, not mere misunderstanding.

Below are their proposed revisions to the Introduction.

a. Add the word "informed" to the mission statement
b. Use an evidence based rather than a naturalistic definition of science. (Nature of Science)
c. Permit teachers to discuss evidence for and against evolution in a neutral way. (Teaching With Tolerance and Respect.)
d. Incorporate advice provided by Congress in adopting the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
e. Acknowledge the fact that science has answered some important questions, but not all of them. (Unifying Concepts... .Patterns of Cumulative Change)

a) It is explained that the word informed is to be added to the following section: "Kansas science education contributes to the preparation of all students as lifelong learners who can use science to make informed and reasoned decisions that contribute to their local, state, national and international communities." The explanation for this addition is that it helps students to realize that they are being denied crucial information as to questions of origins due to the unfair commitment of biology to only natural explanations. Because of this students may come to reasoned, but incorrect conclusions about origins.

It is further argued that this "viewpoint discrimination" (and isn’t that an exquisite euphemism?) presents Constitutional problems. The antidote for these scientific and legal troubles is to the present all the available information objectively and "without religious or naturalistic bias and assumption."

This would appear to be a meager, harmless bit of rhetoric. A mere two words (explained by multiple paragraphs of special pleading), from the addition of which will ID proponents are prepared to claim legitimacy in questioning the foundations of scientific methodology.

b) From the cynical corruption of the word evidence above, it can be seen that the tired ID caricature of "naturalism" in science is again the target here. To be stricken from the standards is the phrase "Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."

This is to be replaced with "Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."

Natural explanations are okay, if you like that kind of thing, but heck, why limit ourselves? Who says evidence has to be empirical? Who says you scientists get to define what science is, thereby calling into question those non-natural explanations that many of us favor and know for certain would be universally accepted if not for your obstinance? (Oh, but by the way, I still expect my medicines to work, the planes to fly, and that nuclear reactor down the road to refrain from blowing up, okay?)

In the explanation section for this subheading it is reported that, "The current definition of science is intended to reflect a concept called methodological naturalism, which irrefutably assumes that cause-and-effect laws (as of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for all phenomena and that teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid. Although called a "method of science," the effect of its use is to limit inquiry (and permissible explanations) and thus to promote the philosophy of Naturalism."

There is just enough that is correct here, and just enough cagey wordplay ("irrefutably," "adequate to account for all phenomena," "permissible explanations," "philosophy of Naturalism") for us to conclude that ID spokespersons are indeed altering their public pronouncements so that they seem more scientifically palatable, while maintaining their familiar and intentional mischaracterization of science.

c) From the Teaching With Tolerance and Respect section the following lines are stricken "If a student should raise a question in a natural science class that the teacher determines to be outside the domain of science class, the teacher should treat the question with respect. The teacher should explain why the question is outside the domain of natural sciences and encourage the student to discuss the question further with his or her family and other appropriate sources."

The given reason? "The parameters defining "the domain of science" are ambiguous and scientifically controversial, and thus teachers cannot be expected to be able to accurately identify such questions." This is, of course, entirely self-interested flapdoodle. There is no relevant controversy about the domain of science except in the minds of those who wish to force their God into science and science class.

I wonder how happy about this creationists will be when their kids come home and tell them the teacher spent the day’s class discussing Druids? The rank and file will likely scream, but I suspect ID leaders will be contented to know they are taking a step toward the eventual goal ("...Christianity is more than able to hold its own once it is seen as a live option." Dembski, 2005).

e) An addition to the Patterns of Cumulative Change section ("Accumulated changes through time, some gradual and some sporadic, account for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural systems. The general idea is that the present arises from materials and forms of the past.") of the Introduction reads "Although science proposes theories to explain changes, the actual causes of many changes are currently unknown (e.g. the origin of the universe, the origin of fundamental laws, the origin of life and the genetic code, the origin of major body plans during the Cambrian explosion, etc.)."

The explanation for this is that "We should not lead students into believing that science is all-knowing and has the answers to all questions." I'd like to see a show of hands for those who've ever said this or heard anyone say it seriously. This utter poppycock is a strategy designed for one purpose, to make room for "explanations" like Irreducible Complexity and Specified Complexity and any others that allow inference to supernatural agency. It is a reminder to remember the gaps, and the rhetorical flexibility they provide.

And like the rest of this document, it is a contemptuous attempt to use science education standards for philosophical gain. A bid to combat the foolishly imagined "materialist" influence of naturalism in scientific methodology.

These attacks used to be more honest, if less refined. The ability of ID proponents to cynically smooth and couch their language appears to be growing. One can only wonder if it is at the expense of their theological integrity.


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