Apr 19 2013

Jindal – Teach the Controversy

“Bottom line, at the end of the day, we want our kids to be exposed to the best facts. Let’s teach them about the big bang theory, let’s teach them about evolution…”

Not a bad sentiment so far. I don’t think I would have used the term, “best facts.” It’s a bit awkward, and more importantly science is not just about facts, it’s about how we know what we know, and the interaction of facts and data with hypotheses and theories.

This is not quibbling. A public figure with responsibilities toward public science education should have a thorough and nuanced understanding of science education.

The above statement was recently made by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. To demonstrate the importance of understanding the true nature of science education,  let’s take a look at his following statements:

“… I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about ‘intelligent design.

“I think teach them the best science. Give them the tools so they can make up their own mind, not only in science, but as they learn about other controversial issues, such as global warming or climate change. What’re we scared of?”

It sounds like Jindal is trying to walk a fine line, defending science while also catering to his conservative constituency. He may even believe those statements, which is probably worse.

The problem, of course, is that you cannot simultaneous advocate teaching the “best science” and teaching creationism and intelligent design (ID). Creationism/ID is not even science. They are, at best, blatant and pathetic pseudosciences, but I would argue they do not meet the minimal criteria to even be considered genuine science.

Science is a set of methods for testing hypotheses, building theories, and making controlled observations of reality. Creationism/ID violates basic principles of the philosophy of science by specifically advocating the inclusion of supernatural explanations, which are not compatible with scientific methods.

Creationism/ID is often expressed in a manner which is not testable, specifically to avoid being falsified by available information. For example, genetic and molecular evidence displays a clear evolutionary pattern, and not one that is compatible with the notion of creation. To avoid the unavoidable conclusion from this evidence creationists often claim that we cannot know how God (or the intelligent designer) would have created life, and so any pattern that we see can be compatible with such a mysterious creator/designer. In other words – creationism/ID is unfalsifiable by evidence, and therefore is not science.

Even if we give creationism/ID all the benefit of doubt and take it at face value (that it is a sincere scientific endeavor), the evidence overwhelmingly shows that creationism/ID is horrible pseudoscience. Their arguments are fallacious, they distort and cherry pick the evidence, they use vague and shifting definitions, they deny evidence that supports evolution, and they display gross intellectual dishonesty by continuing to use arguments that have been thoroughly refuted.

In fact they do not even possess a positive scientific program, building a coherent scientific theory of creation based upon logic and evidence. Their activity is almost exclusively confined to sniping at evolutionary theory. It is a clear denialist strategy, not a genuine scientific endeavor.

Jindal should have a serious problem with any public school that wants to teach rank pseudoscience as if it were legitimate, and presenting a false equivalency between such a pseudoscience and genuine accepted science.

Jindal’s final statement is essentially the intellectual cop-out of “teach the controversy.” Saying, “What’re we scared of?” is also a straw man and a diversion. Scientists are not afraid of the controversy – there simply is no controversy. The vast majority of the scientific community (97%) accept evolution as true. That is quite a consensus. Further, the level of certainty is as high as it is for any scientific theory. Evolution has withstood over 150 years of scientific scrutiny. There is simply no legitimate scientific controversy over the basic fact of evolution.

There is no way to teach students that there is a controversy, or that creationism/ID is a legitimate alternate scientific theory, without teaching them bad science. Doing so would undermine the principles and process of science that are far more important to teach than any individual facts.

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