Oct 08 2013

Kansas Citizens Sue to Reject Science

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 7 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including Kansas. These science standards were developed by The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, and are a comprehensive and coordinated k-12 science curriculum.

This is an excellent attempt to provide a consistent high standard across the 50 states. The states each adopt their own science standards, with most not doing a great job. This is one area where it is probably not necessary to reinvent the wheel 50 times – science is generally a consensus-building exercise, and at the k-12 level students should be learning basic science that is all well-established. I think it is a great idea to have a consortium of scientific organizations create standards that states can then adopt, without having to duplicate the work themselves.

It is also heartening that Kansas is one of the first seven states to adopt the standards. Frankly, they can use it.

Now for the bad news – a group of Kansas parents have sued the board of education for adopting these standards. Here is the complaint:

The Plaintiffs, consisting of students, parents and Kansas resident taxpayers, and a representative organization, complain that the adoption by the Defendant State Board of Education on June 11, 2013 of Next Generation Science Standards, dated April 2013 (the Standards; http://www.nextgenscience.org/) and the related Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas, (2012;
(http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165#), incorporated therein by reference (the Framework” with the Framework and Standards referred to herein as the “F&S”) will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious¬†worldview (the “Worldview”) in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech¬†Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

This is an old gambit on the part of creationists. On the one hand, creationists collectively have been very creative in coming up with new ways to twist logic and reality, to deny the science of evolution, and, when necessary, science in general. This is why deconstructing creationist arguments is an excellent exercise in critical thinking.

On the other hand, creationists then use their arguments over and over again, no matter how many times they have been demolished (even by legal precedent). Of course, if they abandoned rejected arguments, they would have nothing to say.

The notion that science is a religion because it promotes a non-theistic world view is absurd. Worse, this argument has already been picked clean by philosophers. There is no meat left on these bones.

Science does not require non-theism. It does not even require naturalism. Science merely proceeds as if the world is naturalistic, that there is cause and effect and nothing magical that violates cause and effect. This is called methodological naturalism – science is a set of methods that work within a naturalistic framework of cause and effect.

Science is officially agnostic, however, toward any deeper philosophical conclusions about whether or not anything supernatural actual exists. It simply relegates such questions outside the sphere of science.

This does not mean that philosophers cannot rely on empirical evidence and scientific notions to argue for a naturalistic universe. That is my personal belief – the simplest explanation for why we cannot know about anything supernatural, and why science works within the assumption of naturalism, is because naturalism is actually true. But science does not require that belief.

Science only requires that its methods follow the assumption of naturalism. This is not an arbitrary choice. It is an absolute necessity. The methods of science simply do not work without the “as if” naturalistic assumption.

What I have just outlined is also not philosophically controversial. It is long settled. You can’t have supernaturalism in your science.

None of this, however, has stopped creationists from bringing up the argument, over and over again, that science (or evolution, or whatever science they don’t like) is a non-theistic religion. They will try this gambit any chance they get, and it will always be rejected. Religion is a set of beliefs. Science is a set of methods that does not require any specific belief, only a necessary starting point that you don’t have to actually believe in.

I predict the federal district court where the complaint was filed will quickly see through the nonsense and reject the claim.

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