Mar 23 2009

Academic Freedom in Texas

Texas remains a battleground state in the clash between creationists and scientists over science education standards. This week the Texas Board of Education will vote on whether or not to replace the “strengths and weaknesses” language that existed in the state’s science standards for the last 20 years, but was removed this Winter by a narrow 1-vote margin.

The battle represents the latest strategy of creationists to either hamper the teaching of evolution or introduce creationist ideas into the science classroom under the banner of “academic freedom.” The basic concept is that teachers, students, and school systems should have the academic freedom to: teach both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, use outside (unapproved) material in teaching their classes, and believe whatever they wish without penalty.

Academic Freedom

The academic freedom strategy is getting some traction. Americans are generally for freedom, and the bills and language used to promote their agenda with “academic freedom” may appear innocuous on the surface. This strategy is specifically designed to skirt the constitutional barriers to teaching creationism in public schools, and has yet to be tested on constitutional grounds.

The claims of creationists (and for practical purposes I will use the term “creationist” to refer to anyone denying evolution to a significant degree, from young-earth creationists to intelligent design proponents who accept common descent) is that “Darwinists” are dogmatic, they wish to censor critical discussion of evolution and shield it from criticism. They are, of course, completely wrong.

There are two major flaws with the academic freedom claim. The first is that it ignores the need for quality control in academia. School systems at every level have the right and responsibility to ensure quality education. This means that the teaching of science should acurately reflect the consensus of scientific opinion, should be based upon legitimate scientific methods, evidence, and thinking, and should teach how to think scientifically and critically. Schools have a right to demand that teachers teach approved curricula and that they do not teach their personal beliefs as science.

The second major flaw in the academic freedom concept is that it is unnecessary. It is already part of teaching science to teach the strengths and weakness of theories, reflect genuine controversies, and discuss alternative theories when legitimate ones exist. Science educators do not want to pretend that controversies do not exist, or to shield evolution or any other theory from legitimate criticism. That is a completely false charge – and it is the major premise of the academic freedom movement.

Promoters of academic freedom tend to be creationists who want to introduce false criticisms and controversies into science classroom – arguments that have not passed scientific muster or have been long rejected on logical or factual grounds. Having lost the scientific battle they wish to change the venue to the political arena and use politics to have their bad arguments introduced into science class. Their agenda is entirely transparent.

Christian’s Bill

Representative Wayne Christian has introduced bill HB 4224 in Texas, which will do two things. It will replace the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the Texas science standards, and Christian also decided to up the ante a bit. He also would include language that protects students and teachers who profess belief that is not in accord with accepted science.

Here is the specific change to the “strengths and weaknesses” language that was made a few months ago:

Old Language: “Analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information…”

New Language: “Analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing.”

Creationists argue that the new language would enforce teaching only the positives of evolution and would ban teaching any weaknesses. That is absurd, and reflects a misunderstanding of science. “Analyze and evaluate” requires addressing any evidence for or against a theory, and also any competing theories. What creationists don’t get is that there are no legitimate alternatives to evolution, and the arguments they put forward as weaknesses are psudoscientific rubbish.

However, they make the same claim back at scientists, saying that the “strengths and weaknesses” language, that has been in the Texas science standards for 20 years, has not resulted in the introduction of religious beliefs into the science classroom or hurt science education. I do not know of any data from Texas itself, but surveys show that as many as 25% of high school science teachers devote class time to teaching creationism. Only 40% think that creationism has no place in science class – which means that perhaps the number would be as high as 60% if science standards and the law did not prohibit it. In other words – standards matter.

The second proposition of the bill – protecting students and teachers from being penalized for their beliefs – is a more complex issue. It all depends on how such a provision is construed and enforced. Christian claims that:

“They can be lazy if they want to . . . but teachers are still in charge of the grading system,”

That is cold comfort if teachers are also protected, meaning that teachers could decide that if a student gives a creationist answer on a test they may be graded as correct. Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science says:

“Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that’s what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A. That’s how bad this bill is written.”

I have not seen the language of the bill itself (if anyone can find a link to the text, please put it in the comments). The details matter, in my opinion. I think such a provision is unnecessary, like the strengths and weaknesses language, and so such a bill would either be redundant or harmful, but not helpful.

I do think that students should be graded on what they know, not what they believe. So, for example, they should be required to demonstrate that they understand the course material on evolution. They do not have to state, however, that they in fact “believe” in evolution. But this is the way science class works now. I don’t remember ever being quizzed as to my beliefs.

Schafersman’s fear, shared by many scientists, is that the language will be applied in such a way that a student could give the answer “Godidit” to any science question and the teacher would be forced to give them an A. Or, a teacher could teach their personal religious beliefs as science and be protected from any mechanism of quality control. If the law does not do this – then what does it do? Why is it necessary?

There have been individual science teachers (at the college level, I am not aware of any at the high school level) who used “belief” as a measure of understanding – if a student truly understands the science then they will accept the conclusions, they argue. The consensus, however, appears to be against these few exceptions. I think the scientific and educational communities should be clear on this point – teachers impart knowledge and understanding, they don’t demand belief.

Conclusion

Clearly we are seeing the battleground on evolution and creationism over the next decade or so – “academic freedom” and its many incarnations. Once again the creationists are using false arguments to push their transparently religious agenda. Our job is to point this out clearly to the public, while highlighting the risks to quality science education.

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48 responses so far

48 Responses to “Academic Freedom in Texas”

  1. DevilsAdvocateon 23 Mar 2009 at 8:47 am

    By: Christian H.B. No. 4224

    A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to the teaching of science in public schools.

    BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

    SECTION 1. Subchapter A, Chapter 28, Education Code, is amended by adding Section 28.0027 to read as follows:

    Sec. 28.0027. STUDY OF SCIENCE.

    (a) As part of the essential knowledge and skills of the science curriculum under Section 28.002(a)(1)(C), the State Board of Education by rule shall establish elements relating to instruction on the scientific hypotheses and theories for grades 6-12.

    (b) Instructional elements for scientific processes: the student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information;

    (c) Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or
    she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses;

    (d) No governmental entity shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students to understand, analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations,
    including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

    SECTION 2. This Act applies beginning with the 2009-2010 school year.

    SECTION 3. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

  2. Steven Novellaon 23 Mar 2009 at 9:01 am

    Thanks – that’s basically what has been discussed. He is replacing the exact “strengths and weaknesses” language. I think that Schafersman is correct in that the language of the bill is very ambiguous – “shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes”. What does that mean, exactly? Does that apply to test answers?

  3. Watcheron 23 Mar 2009 at 9:13 am

    I think such a provision is unnecessary, like the strengths and weaknesses language, and so such a bill would either be redundant or harmful, but not helpful.

    Unfortunately, that the nature of our society now-a-days. In order to “protect” our way of life, we have to make it a law.

  4. deciuson 23 Mar 2009 at 11:04 am

    Steve, good post.
    (You may want to correct “What creationists must don’t get”.)

  5. Michael Hutzleron 23 Mar 2009 at 11:10 am

    Couple this with the ICR trying to get the ability to grant master’s degrees without any requirement for accreditation, and they have the capacity to flood the schools with unqualified, but credentialed Creationist teachers.

    Texas House Bill 2800, sponsored by Leo Berman, would exempt ICR and other not-for-profits from regulation of degree programs.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,509719,00.html

  6. RickKon 23 Mar 2009 at 11:18 am

    We’ve just been through a decade of weakening oversight of financial institutions, and the result is runaway activity and frauds that collapsed into depression.

    So the lesson we take from that is to weaken oversight and standards in education as well.

    What does an “education depression” look like?

  7. John Piereton 23 Mar 2009 at 12:03 pm

    “What does an “education depression” look like?”

    I’m afraid we already know.

  8. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 1:47 pm

    The students are to be graded on what they understand about what they teacher has presented. If the teacher presents the theory as the antithesis of any theory that involves purpose, then to the student brought up to believe nature is purposeful, the teachings are an attack on those beliefs. If the teacher presents the theory in a way that allows the question of purpose to be decided by the student, the student will be more likely to understand that evolution does occur and how, at least to the extent that the how doesn’t involve a purposeful why. Because in fact we don’t yet know why.

    Promoting what is in effect a non-creative skepticism, which is mostly what I see here, is non-productive and non-progressive.
    A wag once wrote that “Skepticism sees nothing until it has already been discovered.”  Try not to demonstrate the extent to which that is true.

  9. Steven Novellaon 23 Mar 2009 at 2:41 pm

    artfulD – What? Sounds like a huge non sequitur. Give me an example of “non-creative skepticism”, or how my approach in any way differs from a straightforward scientific approach.

    Also, within science there is no known mechanism for purpose nor evidence of purpose in nature. People can “believe” what they want outside the realm of science, but until there is a scientific reason to even hypothesize purpose in nature, there is no reason to introduce it into science class.

  10. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Steven:
    You just gave the example: “Also, within science there is no known mechanism for purpose nor evidence of purpose in nature.”

    There IS evidence of purpose, the most obvious being there would be no life without the purpose that life brought with it.

    The creative task that skeptics might want to tackle is to take the ball away from the creationist’s court by encouraging those who study the true, or at least truer, nature of that purpose. (Biologist Lynn Margulis being an outstanding example.)

    Don’t be so quick, for example, to ignore the possibility that life has brought its own purpose and intelligence to bear on its own evolution.

  11. HHCon 23 Mar 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Texas is the only state takes our freedom of speech to an extreme. The state allows a protester to burn the U.S. flag as part of symbolic speech. Do Texan creationists wish to burn Darwin in effigy, too?

  12. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 3:14 pm

    And actually I didn’t advocate introducing purpose into a science class. I advocated that we stop introducing non-purposefulness into science classes as a counter to creationism.

  13. Steven Novellaon 23 Mar 2009 at 3:55 pm

    artfulD – that is different than what you were saying above. If you are talking about processes by which life may influence the direction of its own evolution, such effects may exist in nature. I don’t think that is what most people mean of when they talk of “purpose”. Defining terms unambiguously is a necessary first step.

    If we define purpose in evolution as some force which guides the direction of evolution toward a predetermined end – there is no evidence or mechanism for this.

    Also – by saying that there is no mechanism or mechanism for X, that is not being closed-minded or counterproductive. It is simply stating the current state of science, which is always tentative and subject to revision. So you still have not made your central point.

  14. deciuson 23 Mar 2009 at 3:57 pm

    There IS evidence of purpose, the most obvious being there would be no life without the purpose that life brought with it.

    All I see, here, is evidence of Petitio Principii.

  15. HHCon 23 Mar 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Creationists are trying to use Texas House Bill 4224 as leverage to force the state board of education to put back the language about strengths and weaknesses. They actually state that if the Texas State Board of Education reverses the language next week then the creationist bill 4224 is not needed. Don’t believe this one for a minute. The Creationists want to take back the power they had in the old language with the board. Next, Creationism has its sites on the Texas House and Senate using Christian as its spokesperson. Ultimately, Creationists will get want they want throughout Texas, if the house and senate don’t kill the bill.

  16. RickKon 23 Mar 2009 at 4:24 pm

    artfulD,

    Then why specify this only in science? Why are we not discussing the strengths and weaknesses of our views of history? Strengths and weaknesses of the abacus for basic math? Should we be teaching the strengths and weaknesses of the current astronomy curriculum given the debates raised by creationist astrophysicist Jason Lisle? How about scientific versus flood geology?

    This legislation is pointed directly at, and only at, evolutionary theory because ANY discussion of common descent is seen as an attack on fundamental Christianity. You’re trying to draw a distinction between “teaching the science” and “teaching the belief”, but as the Minister of Science in Canada just demonstrated, even ASKING if someone accepts evolution is seen by some as a religious challenge.

    So the “strengths and weaknesses” language, as with everything else in America, must apply to EVERYONE and EVERY TOPIC evenly and fairly, or not at all. If the legislation doesn’t allow ALL of these, it can’t allow ANY of them:

    “Some people refute the theory of evolution…”
    “Some historians refute the accepted account of the Holocaust…”
    “Some scientists refute the accepted views of geology …”
    “Some people refute the concept of a secular U.S. government…”
    “Some scientists refute the germ theory of disease…”
    ….

    The list is endless.

    Educational standards are what we use to filter out the nonsense. If we DON’T filter the nonsense, we’re basically denying our children the benefit of collected, accepted wisdom. There is always some nut somewhere, often with a Ph.D, who will refute ANY piece of accepted science. We do our children a great disservice if we teach every alternative ever articulated by anyone and leave it to the student to decide which to accept.

    Of course, that’s not what the framers of this legislation are suggesting. They have their sights set firmly on evolutionary theory. Though if we allow them to artificially weaken evolution, I’m sure they’ll get around to the Big Bang, the age of the Earth, and Flood Geology soon enough.

  17. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Steven writes: “If we define purpose in evolution as some force which guides the direction of evolution toward a predetermined end – there is no evidence or mechanism for this.”

    But you have narrowed the definition to fit your argument. Purpose is not restricted to that which successfully attains its goal. Purpose involves acting with intent to reach at least a short term goal. That these short term choices effect the long term chain of events is a given.

    The question could be, and I think should be, do the choices that life forms make in achieving the initial purpose of supplementing loss or depletion of energy have an effect on their evolution? I don’t see how the answer can be anything but yes, and how there cannot then be a further question as to how that plays out. How are instincts formed for example, and clearly passed forward?

    Clearly there are purposes here whose long term effects have yet to be examined. I’m sure you know this already, even if you are reluctant to label the forces in play as purposeful. I ask that you at least recognize that many reputable scientist do see purpose as a definable factor here.

  18. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 4:39 pm

    RickK, I don’t argue that the legislative proposal is an improvement. I just think there are better ways to show that it isn’t.

  19. Steven Novellaon 23 Mar 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I don’t think I narrowed the definition, I am just using in the proper context. I think you have broadened the definition to the point that it has lost meaning.

    The key for this context is this – at what hierarchical level is purpose acting. Yes, individual life forms have purpose, and their choices affect how evolution plays out, even if in a very small way. Evolution is a higher order process that describes what happens in the aggregate of many many individuals over long periods of time. At that level there is no discernible purpose, and that was the context of our discussion.

    Also this is not the same as saying that scientists should not conduct research into purpose in evolution, or that it is categorically ruled out, which is the real fallacy of your position. I am just saying that at present there is no evidence for purpose at the hierarchical level at which evolution operates. If someone can make a case for it or find evidence – great.

    My point is – it is not counterproductive to accurately characterize the current state of scientific evidence. Nor should we have to pussy-foot around peoples unscientific beliefs or sensibilities – we just need to keep science education within the realm of science.

  20. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 6:24 pm

    OK, we’ve at least progressed to the question of the context where purpose does or does not have relevance. I think it DOES have relevance at the level of the higher order where you clearly think it doesn’t. You say it’s not discernible, but those such as Lynn Margulis, for example, say that it is. Why not explore why she says so – after all this is the person who has offered us the endosymbiotic hypothesis, which is gaining acceptance as we speak.

    Now I would agree that purpose shouldn’t be taught in high school science classes. And I am consistently arguing this is because we don’t know exactly what its effect has been on our evolution.
    It should thus also not be taught that it has no effect. It’s not pussyfooting to not teach what you don’t know.
    There’s no evidence that evolution is consistent with a pre-determined and successfully achieved plan. Teach that instead. That’s consistent with science. Non-existence of purpose anywhere along the line is not.

    I can see that I won’t change your mind, but is it possible that Margulis could? Possible that this is now something already discovered that can be taken seriously? Possible that she and others like her have given a meaning to purpose that we in the aggregate didn’t know it had?

  21. tmac57on 23 Mar 2009 at 6:58 pm

    “Nature is purposeful” Hmmmm . As as Skeptic of things supernatural, I choose for this context to view Nature as: the external world in its entirety. And as for ‘purpose’ I like : something set up as an object or end to be attained.
    So is Nature trying to do something? Or are things in Nature trying to do things, such as gain energy (eat?) reproduce , organize.
    Some of this discussion seems to take on a mystical connotation (inference?) While I am appropriately in awe of the complexity of the universe, I still like to keep my feet on the ground , and regard Nature as natural,and not some purposeful entity until evidence to the contrary.

  22. artfulDon 23 Mar 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Read this by Carl Sagan’s son – Sagan, as you likely don’t know, was the quintessential creative skeptic.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/A1MWAQCQ1G3CL3/ref=cm_blog_dp_artist_blog

  23. cheeseburgeron 23 Mar 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Hello, I was actually wondering if it is in anyway illegal to hold a lecture about creationism (pro) in a public school after hours, seeing that my tax dollars pay for the electricity bills. Anyway, today as I was driving I past up a sign that read: “Evolution vs Creationism” and some geologist, Don Patton, is supposed to be giving the lecture. Being the skeptic I am and also being in Texas, I quickly drove home and googled him and well apparently he is a total creationist. Is there anything I can do about this?

  24. weingon 23 Mar 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I, too, am inferring woo. We are adept at finding patterns in nature which may or may not be valid and rationalizations for literally anything. Margulis finds it impossible to conceive that a few terrorists could pull off the events of 9/11, but has no problem conceiving a purpose for our own government to orchestrate those tragic events.

  25. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 12:30 am

    I see the usual suspects have found additional purpose for deliberate ignorance.

  26. TheBlackCaton 24 Mar 2009 at 12:44 am

    Sagan, as you likely don’t know, was the quintessential creative skeptic.

    Are you kidding? Show of hands here: how many people have read “The Demon-Haunted World”?

  27. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 1:26 am

    Of course I was kidding. That was directed at suspect tmac57 who wouldn’t agree there was any such thing as a creative skeptic. And it was Carl Sagan whose views on purpose in nature influenced both his son Dorion and former wife, Lynn Margulis – who apparently has Weing confused as to the difference between biology and politics.

  28. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 1:44 am

    But then again are there any right wingers that DO know the difference between biology and politics?

  29. weingon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:06 am

    My inference. No one is immune to the human condition. No one is infallible. No one knows everything. And, as the great Reagan once said. “Trust, but verify.”

  30. weingon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:08 am

    The Demon Haunted World is one of the best books I’ve read.

  31. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:19 am

    Aren’t you having second thoughts about a guy dumb enough to marry a conspiracy theorist?

  32. Thenewyorkdolleyon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:36 am

    “I see the usual suspects have found additional purpose for deliberate ignorance.”

    Typical.

  33. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:43 am

    Another of the moths, purpose driven to the flame.

  34. Thenewyorkdolleyon 24 Mar 2009 at 2:55 am

    “Another of the moths, purpose driven to the flame.”

    Re-typical.

  35. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 3:21 am

    Fail.

  36. massimoon 24 Mar 2009 at 4:14 am

    ArtfulID raises an interesting point, even if it comes from a strange place where he/she is trying to impose some notion of purpose. I have frequently thought about the “edge” of the sciences. Surely, some kind of “vision” or half formed idea, based partially on empirical data, or at least informal observed phenomena, with a will to test a new theory with current scientific methodology, is required before said testing takes place. An idea.

    This creative place in the sciences is frequently left for others to articulate, usually as isolated instances of pure genius. naturally, the hits are more interesting than the misses, and gives a certain view of science: that there are two camps, visionaries and dogmatists.

    It is interesting to see accounts of practicing scientists who struggle to form a theory and have to discard a favored one in light of the evidence of their experiments.

    I think the media does a diservice by publishing headlines that concern recent science from the perspective of a certain result. “Acupunture cures local mans pain” (regional), or “Acupuncture, Gateway to Chinese Medicine” (cultural). right or wrong, it usually leaves out the process, the doubts and uncetainties. and subsequent probing to test these doubts, that can result in a well designed study.

    It’s interesting to look at the history leading up to the scientific method. Its psuedo-scientific predecesors somehow, though frequetly employing magical reasoning, hit upon, and cobbled together, enough accident to…..what?. Not exactly unreason becoming reason, but how did an alchemist become a chemist?

    Though some people want to characterize it as old dogma, part of Darwins charm is that he fantasized such a bold, new, paradigmatic theory, all based on consistent observation. A creative guy that Darwin. not an old priestly dogmatist.

  37. weingon 24 Mar 2009 at 8:57 am

    “Aren’t you having second thoughts about a guy dumb enough to marry a conspiracy theorist?”
    I am sure he married her for other reasons. Anyway, nobody’s perfect. We all have our flaws. I don’t worship anyone. No one is immune to the human condition.

  38. tmac57on 24 Mar 2009 at 11:20 am

    “Are you kidding? Show of hands here: how many people have read “The Demon-Haunted World”?”
    Hand up.

  39. Steven Novellaon 24 Mar 2009 at 12:34 pm

    arfulD – the link you provided to the Dorion Sagan article is a good example of the teleological logical fallacy – it is assuming “purpose” because something has an effect that restores equilibrium. Frankly, I found it meaningless. In fact, if he wishes to draw a correlation between the “apparent purpose” of inanimate objects and life, the correlation should go the other way – not to conclude that nature has purpose but that people do not. This is the line of reasoning used by those who believe that we lack free will – our brains are just efficiently creating entropy, or returning to equilibrium.

    But that aside (that’s a separate discussion) I am not convinced that he provides any rationale for concluding their is purpose in nature – unless the argument reduces to mere semantics.

    Second – your point about “creative” vs counterproductive skepticism is also not compelling. This is the tired old criticism that skeptics are used to hearing. How many times do we have to write about the tentative nature of science, etc. Seriously, it’s BS.

    Science is BOTH a creative and destructive force. We need to find new ideas, and always be willing to change our minds. But at the same time science requires that we eliminate ideas that are wrong. Some ideas in science are better than others.

  40. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Steven, thanks for at least looking into the reference, although I had rather you looked into the biological discoveries of Margulis and her colleagues. In any case, what I would hope someone would get out of Dorion’s essay would be a realization that purpose was something to be served as well as a means to describe a mindset, or brain-set, of you will. It’s not a tangible entity, nor does it have to be representative of a teleological will – in other words the purposes served by nature don’t have to be those of any godlike entities.
    I certainly didn’t see the conclusion there that nature had purpose and people didn’t. My own position is that the only willfully directed purposes in nature come from life forms, whether people on earth, or bugs in the Alpha Centauri system somewhere.
    Nor do I see that determinism has anything to do with understanding the concept of purpose – which by the way is a human concept that is then of course misunderstood by its conceptors. There doesn’t have to be a first cause to understand the concept or give it meaning.
    There is a randomness in nature which does not defeat the purposefulness of its operative forces. Physicists understand this, dislike them as you may. They are supposedly operating at the highest level of abstraction because of such understanding. But I see no reason why the rest of us shouldn’t want to share this understanding.
    You profess some knowledge of philosophy as well as the science it gave birth to. Put on your philosophical hat and take another look at what we humans were trying to accomplish by conceiving of purpose, and the limitations in our understanding of the material world at the time we did so. New knowledge gives new definition to concepts in use since antiquity. The concept of “life” has an ever changing meaning and understanding. You will perhaps find that the concept of purpose arose as a correlation to that of life and should, in my view, be allowed by the descendants of its conceptors to grow accordingly.
    Is this, as you alluded to, an argument that is merely one of semantics? If it is, there’s nothing mere about such an argument.
    You can’t be an adherent of the logical process and dismiss the importance of semantics in the bargain. The cognitive structure of meaning – doesn’t that get to the core of what your blog is all about?

    And if some ideas in science are better than others, who gets to make that decision? Because one of the best ideas ever floated came from Darwin’s voyages, and yet what it may be worth is still a matter of dispute. But there should be no dispute about the need for that great concept to grow, and it can’t grow without our continuing to study the purposes that it serves and that serve it in turn.

    But try doing that with an antiquated version of the concept of purpose and you might as well still pray for rain.

  41. RickKon 24 Mar 2009 at 5:13 pm

    @cheeseburger

    Go to the lecture. Arm yourself with the complete list of creationist claims from talkorigins. Ask lots of critical questions.

    Fight the good fight!

  42. weingon 24 Mar 2009 at 9:56 pm

    “And if some ideas in science are better than others, who gets to make that decision?”
    Who indeed? Wouldn’t it be the scientist who uses the idea to design a study that leads to furthering of knowledge? If an idea doesn’t lend itself to studying, then it is not as good. You mentioned endosymbiosis above. That was postulated over a hundred years ago. It became testable after DNA was first found to be the genetic material and then logical when its presence was discovered in mitochondria and chloroplasts.

  43. artfulDon 24 Mar 2009 at 11:30 pm

    The sciece that Margulis is doing involves purposive behavior of organisms that have an effect on their evolution. Dr. Novella seems to feel such work will be of no consequence – that science based on looking for such elements of purpose in evolution is BS.

    But yes, he doesn’t really get to decide that her ideas are not better than his in this area. At least not as a reason to publicly dismiss them as unworkable or unpromising.

    As to her endosymbiotic hypothesis, no-one has claimed she’s the first to have one. She’s ostensibly the first to develop it as a viable theory. And are you really trying to demonstrated that she’s not a prominent scientist in her field? Good luck with that.

  44. King of Ferretson 24 Mar 2009 at 11:51 pm

    If the no discrimination thing gets passed here, I’m so calling myself a 42ist and claiming that all questions can be answered with 42. That should be an entertaining way to protest this idiocy.

  45. Timmysonon 25 Mar 2009 at 4:31 pm
  46. Timmysonon 25 Mar 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Calvin wins in Texas?

    Sorry about the double post, apparently I can’t post an image.

  47. tmac57on 31 Mar 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Just got an update on the results of the State Board of Education vote, and it is not pretty. Here is the link to National Center for Science Education post on it called “Science setback for Texas schools” http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/science-setback-texas-schools-004708

  48. [...] science bloggers have been writing about the clash between creationists and scientists in forming the Texas state science standards for [...]

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