Ed Brayton posted Entry 1980 on February 8, 2006 10:19 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1975

There is a bill in the Wisconsin state legislature that would ban the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public school science classrooms there. I have a brief analysis available at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Update: I’ve also got the full text of the bill, which reads as follows:

SECTION 1. 118.018 of the statutes is created to read:

118.018 Science instruction. The school board shall ensure that any material presented as science within the school curriculum complies with all of the following:

(1) The material is testable as a scientific hypothesis and describes only natural processes.

(2) The material is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

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Comment #78275

Posted by Ron Zeno on February 8, 2006 12:17 PM (e)

If that is the entire text, then I think it is a very good compromise between the issues of politics, education and science that it is addressing.

I’m assuming that the bill applies only to public schools of high school level or below, so “describes only natural processes” is fine at those levels.

Likewise, deferring to the NAS is good as well.

Politically, I think it could play out well. It just might force politicians to chose between siding with science and education, or demonstrating that they have hidden religious agendas that they prioritize over the education of our children.

Anyone have arguments against the bill, besides creationists, that have read the full text?

Comment #78277

Posted by AD on February 8, 2006 12:27 PM (e)

Likewise, if that is the text, I think it works on several levels:

1) It codifies what something “scientific” is, with regard to teaching standards in that state.

2) It provides a demonstrable level of proof that ALL theories must be able to stand up to, not just evolution. By not singling out anything, you rule out all pseudo-science, and keep all science honest, which is a very smart move.

3) It shields any school district who adopts it from major legal payments in the event of a lawsuit - likely it would be the state that would fight the battles, preventing a “reverse Dover”, if you will. More so, however, it’s drawing on the Dover precedent and pre-empting any idiots who would cripple a rural Wisconsin district.

Personally, I think it’s brilliant.

Comment #78280

Posted by improvius on February 8, 2006 12:32 PM (e)

They DI is upset, but why, exactly? What are they objecting to? By protesting the wording of this bill, they are forced to acknowledge that ID isn’t science.

Comment #78285

Posted by steve s on February 8, 2006 12:51 PM (e)

William Dembski on the Wisconsin bill:

“I take this as a clear sign that we are winning.”

and

“Dover certainly wasn’t ID’s Waterloo. Wisconsin may well be evolution’s Waterloo.”

LOL.

Comment #78289

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on February 8, 2006 1:13 PM (e)

The text of the bill doesn’t sound bad, but I still am opposed to legislating the nature of science (or the contents of science education). Quite simply, if today we accept the principle of political control over what is science and what isn’t, we’ll have to do the same tomorrow, and the results may be disastrous.

I think science is ahead right now, though perhaps just barely so. Despite numerous attempts, the Courts, over a wide range of cases and political opinions, have sided with the empirical principle that scientists as a community decide what science is. This particular piece of legislation happens to say the same thing, by referring to the National Academy (though of course its members were elected solely based on their practical accomplishments as scientists, which may not always and necessarily go along with philosophical, political or pedagogical thoughtfulness), but nothing would prevent the next from choosing as the appropriate reference, say, the Vatican Academy (which still would be OK, by the way), or the Raelian Academy (if there is one), or the Discovery Institute. The ultimate decision will just depend on political equilibria in State legislatures, and wrestling control back at that point would be impossible. Scary.

Besides, laws invite get-arounds which comply with their letter, but violate their spirit. In this case, for instance, the Wisconsin law would seem to make it acceptable for a creationist teacher to teach Creationism/ID simply by prefacing the lecture with a disclaimer, such as “The following is not considered science, but based on their interpretation of the evidence, many believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. The evidence is …”. It would then be much harder then to redress the situation.

My answer to the Wisconsin legislators would be: Thanks, but no thanks.

Comment #78293

Posted by Ken Marshall on February 8, 2006 1:19 PM (e)

I agree with Andrea. The establishment clause is all the defense that science needs from the intrusion of religious teaching in public schools. The proposed law adds no real weight to that defense and only creates the appearance of a need for legislative protection for science.

Comment #78294

Posted by Glen Davidson on February 8, 2006 1:19 PM (e)

I don’t know, I wonder if it could be used against a teacher bringing up String Theory as a scientific hypothesis not presently testable. It still is probably worth the time and energy of at least some physicists, and it might be all right to acquaint students with the broad outlines of String Theory (no, it shouldn’t be taught extensively in high school physics). Very tricky these government mandates, and I wonder if they’re the best way to go.

Mostly we’ve been allowing the standard bureaucratic and political processes to generally hit upon accepted and acceptable science for presentation to the students. Obviously we have to fight against religion masquerading as science, but we have political options to use against religious intrusion first, and failing that, we can use the First Amendment (probably will be able to in the foreseeable future, too). I hate to curtail the relative independence of school boards afforded by this sytem.

I don’t really want the NAS being the arbiter of science in the realm of education, plus I have the feeling that point number 2 opens up a whole number of interpretation problems for the courts. Even point number 1 can be problematic, since “testing” can become very abstract, dependent upon computer programs, dependent upon useful but not wholly verifiable concepts, and subject to the interpretations of practitioners of science.

Religion has been the only major force in favor of substituting pseudoscience for science in the schools, and we have weapons against religious intrusions. Until we find these to be insufficient, I wouldn’t give the arbitration of what science is over to the courts. The one thing that many IDists perversely got right after the Dover verdict is that it isn’t really for the courts to decide what is science (in this case by interpreting “testing” plus what “consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences” actually means), rather it should be a more open process (the IDists provoked a court challenge because they failed in the proper venue).

I would favor this bill if I thought that it was addressing the real problem at this particular time. Suppose that homeopathy and astrology were being adopted into science teachings, along with other secular (astrology can be secular, I’d argue) pseudosciences, then I likely would support the bill.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #78300

Posted by AD on February 8, 2006 1:34 PM (e)

Andrea,

If someone drafted a set of scientific standards that were a violation of the establishment clause, you’d have Ohio! Or Kansas.

It’s already happening, and more so, that is precisely the sort of thing that is struck down for Establishment clause reasons. I, personally, have no issues with someone defining it properly. It’s one more hurdle that the anti-establishment-clause people have to leap over now. It also gives a much stronger hammer to anyone who needs to bring it down on teachers teaching creationism illictly. I feel that if someone comes back around 20 years down the road and changes the standards to IDist propaganda, it will just be shot down again in court.

This is, of course, providing we have a functioning, independent judiciary that actually protects our rights. But, in fairness, if that vanishes, I’ll probably leave the country. I don’t want to live anywhere I can be prosecuted for not being of a particular religion.

Comment #78302

Posted by ninewands on February 8, 2006 1:44 PM (e)

To encourage a challenge to this bill if it should become law, Dembski has made a public offer of $1,000.00 to the first Wisconsin teacher who sues after being fired for teaching ID.

I wonder if that offer could be taken into a Wisconsin courtroom and offered in evidence as an admission that ID is not “scientific” as that word is defined by the NAS … especially in the aftermath of the Dover trial … intriguing thought, if you ask my NSHO.

Comment #78304

Posted by PvM on February 8, 2006 1:53 PM (e)

This is interesting, Bill promises $1000 to any teacher who, if the bill gets enacted, will teach ID as a science and takes it to court. In other words, once again ID activists insist on placing the issue “is ID science” in front of the courts, despite the disastrous showing during the Dover Kitzmiller trial.

ID activists must be working overtime to shake the shroud of scientific vacuity… Will they succeed? As long as ID is based on an argument from ignorance, it seems unlikely that ID can become scientifically relevant.

Comment #78314

Posted by Bob O'H on February 8, 2006 2:07 PM (e)

I can see why we should be cautious about defining science like this, but it’s worth remembering that other states have already tried to re-define science, in a more DI-friendly manner. And if states are to have any control over their standards, then they have to legislate this control at some level. At least they’re doing it clearly, and with explicit reference to the relevant authority.

Oh, and w.r.t Dembski’s $1000 offer, does the US have laws about inciting people to break the law?

Bob

Comment #78334

Posted by Moses on February 8, 2006 3:08 PM (e)

Oh, and w.r.t Dembski’s $1000 offer, does the US have laws about inciting people to break the law?

Yes, quite a lot of them, too. Incitement. Conspiracy. But not all laws are criminal statutes to which these types of criminal sanctions could apply.

In other words, just because you break the law doesn’t mean you’ve committed a criminal offense.

Comment #78337

Posted by jmitch on February 8, 2006 3:18 PM (e)

I think this is an overall good thing -from the point of view of “checks and balances” the legislature is checking the power of state school boards (are they appointed by the governor in Wisconsin?). They won’t be able to redefine science to further an ID agenda (as in Kansas).
In addition the Wisconsin legislature is drawing a line in the sand- pseudoscience cross this line at your peril…. I also like that it gives good teachers more ammunition to defy local school boards who may try to “pull a Dover”

Comment #78345

Posted by Ed Darrell on February 8, 2006 3:35 PM (e)

For years I’ve taken some pride in pointing out that since 1925, more than 100 times state legislatures have tried to censor evolution and science, but not once has any scientist proposed to ban creationism or intelligent design.

I agree with Andrea that this bill goes too far.

Our present definitions of science may be somewhat fuzzy, but they are still useful. To cut this short, since Andrea already covers the issue better than I, I think we have to ask: Which definition of science works best, the one offered by the decisions in McLean v. Arkansas, Edwards v. Aguillard, Epperson v. Arkansas, tort law and the Dover case, or the Wisconsin law?

I think we come out ahead with case law. The common law definition of science is strict enough to rule out creationism and intelligent design unless there is solid evidence for it, but flexible enough to allow in new ideas. I don’t think the Wisconsin legislature can improve on the federal common law definition of science.

Comment #78352

Posted by improvius on February 8, 2006 3:58 PM (e)

If someone drafted a set of scientific standards that were a violation of the establishment clause, you’d have Ohio! Or Kansas.

I can appreciate the concerns voiced here about this law. But maybe the goal is to prevent rogue school boards from wasting taxpayer money on religiously-motivated curriculum changes. From this perspective, such legislation would have saved the Dover taxpayers from quite a bit of trouble and debt.

Comment #78357

Posted by Saber on February 8, 2006 4:16 PM (e)

I fully support this bill, as it is not really legislating what the definition of science is, but rather is giving the authority to the NAS over any lay school board member to determine what is science. In addition, it only allows scientific material to be discussed in the scientific context. That which is not scientific, such as creation, can still be discussed in schools (English class etc.), just not in the biology, physics, and chemistry class rooms.

Comment #78360

Posted by UnMark on February 8, 2006 4:24 PM (e)

I’m rather glad to see my state going the opposite direction to Ohio and Kansas. However, I rather think that a more appropriate response would be to drop this legislation, but instead, drastically improve the very vague science curricula standards. Still, I think that the intent of this law is good, but I, along with several others, see too many problems. In addition to the concerns raised here, I fear a potential response will be that some blowhard social studies teacher will decide to teach ID as a current events topic (complete with “criticisms of evolution”), confusing the students, thereby completely undermining the science department.

But I always did see the glass as twice as big as it needs to be….

Comment #78365

Posted by Ron Zeno on February 8, 2006 4:51 PM (e)

Wisconsin needs this bill, and much much more. They recieved an F (29%) with a 0/3 on evolution in the Fordham report. (http://tinyurl.com/9qjhx)

Comment #78367

Posted by Mike Z on February 8, 2006 5:13 PM (e)

Hello
I apologize for the off-topic post, but the Univ of Colorado at Boulder is hosting an academic conference on Darwinian evolution (starring Rob Pennock, among others) and I am wondering if this venue is appropriate for spreading official announcements and call for papers about such things.
If not, could someone please direct me to a more appropriate site where PT readers might see the advertisement?
Thank you

Comment #78381

Posted by Roger R on February 8, 2006 6:02 PM (e)

Does Anybody see any 1st Amendment (Free Speech) problems with this legislation? Restricting speech based on the positions of a private third party seems troubling. Could a state limit teaching in political science classes to those positions approved by the RNC?

On a more practical level, using “testing” as a criteria for a largely historical science could end up biting the sponsors in the you-know-what. How can you test for an historical claim of common descent?

Comment #78396

Posted by Mike Elzinga on February 8, 2006 7:00 PM (e)

I too am a little uneasy about such a bill although I am thoroughly in sympathy with its intent. Just this alone will invite retribution and more endless haggling from the ID crowd.

Going back to a point I made on another thread, I think the scientific and educational communities (particularly at the university level) need to be much clearer about prerequisites for courses in biology and biology related curricula. The Advanced Placement courses in high schools are supposed to set standards for many courses, biology included, but I am not sure these go far enough.

In the engineering schools there is ABET and there are detailed prerequisites for many courses in math and physics. Sure science and technology advance and new requirements may have to be implemented from time to time. But education in evolution has been held back for decades because of these wars with fundamentalists. Maybe it is time for the scientific community to do a major push on standards, and for the various scientific organizations to clarify the requirements for a career in science as well as what the general public needs. There is an emerging crisis in science education.

Comment #78399

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on February 8, 2006 7:09 PM (e)

I like the bill. Whether it passes or not, the IDiots will have to fight it. And I like that. Drag them into as many hearings as possible. Force them to say, in public, whether or not ID is science. If it *is*, make them put up or shut up.. If it’s NOT, then what are they bitching about?

And whether the bill passes or not, I like seeing IDers being forced to respond to *us* for a change, instead of us continually playing fire-truck to run around and stamp out all the fires that the IDers set.

Let THEM do the running around, for a change. Let’s see how many fires ole Howie is willing to foot the fire-fighting bill for.

And let’s force all the spineless state reps to vote one way or the other.

Comment #78405

Posted by RavenT on February 8, 2006 7:30 PM (e)

Ed, would thinking of it in the same way that the state licenses health-care professionals be a reasonable analogy? It’s kind of a floor function, in that you can’t legislate someone into being a good practitioner (or teacher, for that matter), but you can set a standard below which anyone holding a license can be expected not to fall. Similarly, anyone claiming to teach science would have to at least meet the standard described in the text. It wouldn’t make them a good teacher of science, but they would be adhering to a minimal description of science, at least.

Comment #78427

Posted by UnMark on February 8, 2006 9:21 PM (e)

I went to high school in the western burbs of Milwaukee (class of 96). I received an exceptional science education, complete with the abiogenesis theory of origins. I don’t know when or if the state standards changed, but my former district seemed to be doing a great job regardless of state standards.

Comment #78450

Posted by Andrew McClure on February 8, 2006 11:59 PM (e)

Does Anybody see any 1st Amendment (Free Speech) problems with this legislation?

It applies only to school boards– which are government bodies– and only does anything to the extent it limits what may be included in one part of the school curriculum, a formal government document.

So… what exactly are you getting at…?

Comment #78461

Posted by Richard Wein on February 9, 2006 4:47 AM (e)

I think this bill is a bad idea, especially part (1). I’m not sure that legislators should be defining science at all, and the particular criteria given here are highly dubious, as I’ve argued before. I find it particularly worrying that the bill fails to define the vital words “testable” and “natural”, whose meaning is far from clear.

If legislation of this sort is considered desirable, I believe it would be far better to legislate that schools shall not teach material that is deemed unscientific by the scientific community, and leave that community to decide individual cases.

Comment #78470

Posted by KL on February 9, 2006 7:19 AM (e)

“To encourage a challenge to this bill if it should become law, Dembski has made a public offer of $1,000.00 to the first Wisconsin teacher who sues after being fired for teaching ID.”

Hmmm…$1000 would not help this teacher keep the affluent lifestyle to which I have become accustomed. Pretty puny reward, Bill, especially since ‘ID has been good to you’. I’m holding out for more.(and I’m in the wrong state)

Comment #78481

Posted by Engineer-Poet, FCD, ΔΠΓ on February 9, 2006 9:09 AM (e)

Unfortunately, introduction of this bill won’t force pols to take a position.  It can be bottled up in committee and never put up for a vote, if that’s what the leadership wants.

Comment #78482

Posted by Renier on February 9, 2006 9:15 AM (e)

Yes, they are offering 1000$ to the first teacher to get fired over breaking the law and then going to court. Sal Cordova seems to also realy want a court case, based on his remarks about the two questions he posed. I smell a rat. So what has changed?

DaveScott now accepts commen descent. He also trumpets being agnostic.
JAD (Davison) has biology credentials and are joining their camp. He also actually published papers on …uh… saltation I think. I think more than one.

Now all of a sudden they are looking at an excuse to get into court? They appear to be regrouping and are keen for another round in the courtroom.

Comment #78512

Posted by Glen Davidson on February 9, 2006 12:36 PM (e)

DaveScott now accepts commen descent. He also trumpets being agnostic.
JAD (Davison) has biology credentials and are joining their camp. He also actually published papers on …uh… saltation I think. I think more than one.

I’ve thought it odd that Behe and Dembski trumpet their credentials, which are far from impressive in the area of evolution, while virtually ignoring JAD, who does have the credentials which mean something in evolutionary biology (this only makes his worthless “theory” even less understandable, however he likely has the knowledge that should have warned him from pursuing it). It does look like they may finally try to use his crank ideas, but I don’t think it’s likely to do them much good.

Yes, JAD likes pretty much worthless old ideas, like those of Goldschmidt. Then he wants to use parthenogenesis to partly “explain evolution”, while it can do little to explain the evolution of sex chromosomes, most notably the Y chromosome. Even worse, he’s upfront about using religion and has castigated the IDists for even suggesting that intelligent design might be a question.

Anyone who has argued with JAD on this forum would know better than to suppose that he was an honest debater. He’s far from that, mostly attacking anyone who raises legitimate questions. However, in his agenda, “theorization” from the ‘God basis’, and in his writings, he is too honest to be of much use to the IDists. While I’m not suggesting that IDists are all deliberately dishonest to the world in their portrayals, clearly if they are personally honest they are then psychologically dishonest, lying to themselves. They cannot take up an honest, if heavily flawed, concept of evolution from JAD and keep their current PR program alive.

DaveScot already found out how unwelcome the admission of common descent is with the DI crowd, and it appears that JAD was instrumental in convincing him of evolution.

Possibly the worst thing about JAD’s ideas for the IDists is that they are falsifiable (except for the God notion), and thus have been falsified sufficiently for any reasonable mind to reject them. The DI and nearly all of the other IDists depend upon rejecting normal scientific criteria and practices to get around the well-known falsification of their own ideas, while JAD is too much of a crank even to recognize that his ideas have failed.

I don’t think they can do much with JAD, as apparently he even “corrupted” the ignorant DaveScot enough that Dave’s claims had to be censored from Uncommon Descent. Then again, I sure don’t mind if they try to use JAD, if only to hear an IDist being honest about himself (though not others) once again.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #78518

Posted by Henry J on February 9, 2006 12:50 PM (e)

Re “Anyone who has argued with JAD on this forum would know better than to suppose that he was an honest debater.”

Been there. Done that. [Sigh.]

Comment #78666

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on February 9, 2006 7:07 PM (e)

“To encourage a challenge to this bill if it should become law, Dembski has made a public offer of $1,000.00 to the first Wisconsin teacher who sues after being fired for teaching ID.”

Maybe he can offer a world class legal defense. For free.

BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment #78667

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on February 9, 2006 7:11 PM (e)

Yes, they are offering 1000$ to the first teacher to get fired over breaking the law and then going to court. Sal Cordova seems to also realy want a court case, based on his remarks about the two questions he posed. I smell a rat. So what has changed?

DaveScott now accepts commen descent. He also trumpets being agnostic.
JAD (Davison) has biology credentials and are joining their camp. He also actually published papers on …uh… saltation I think. I think more than one.

Now all of a sudden they are looking at an excuse to get into court? They appear to be regrouping and are keen for another round in the courtroom.

And I hope they get their chance.

I’d very very much like to see all of those guys on a witness stand. Very much.

With a witness list like THAT, the IDers don’t have a prayer.

Pardon the pun.

Comment #78730

Posted by Renier on February 10, 2006 2:20 AM (e)

I also don’t think having a witness, such as JAD, would be a good thing. Just imagine his reactions under crossfire…

As for this new bill, I think it is a very good thing. It is a step to protect science from the fundies. It is also a step to protect children from the whole ID lie. On another blog, someone noticed that this bill might prohibit the teaching of String Theory. Your thoughts on that?

Comment #78741

Posted by Andy H. on February 10, 2006 7:07 AM (e)

For one thing, this law would not stop unproven science and disproven science from being taught as good science.

Also, ironically, this law could be used to prevent evolution theory or parts of it from being taught as science. In regard to macroevolution, the “changes over time” part of evolution theory is testable only in regard to circumstantial evidence – the theory can be used only to make predictions of likely future finds of more circumstantial evidence of macroevolution. For example, the fossil record is used to make predictions of likely future finds of “missing link” fossils. On the other hand, the “Darwinist” part of evolution theory – i.e., the idea that evolution was driven solely by random mutation and natural selection – is not testable at all in regard to macroevolution. Thus, according to this law, the Darwinist explanation of macroevolution should not be taught as science.

Also, since this law specifies that the material be consistent with any NAS definition or description of science, then why does the law contain the additional conditions that the material be testable and describe only natural processes ? Is the law anticipating the possibility that the NAS may someday adopt a definition of science that does not include one or both of these two additional conditions ?

Comment #78743

Posted by Rilke's Granddaughter on February 10, 2006 8:02 AM (e)

Andy H (Larry) - why do you continue to be dishonest and deceitful by violating rule six and posting under multiple aliases?

Comment #78744

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on February 10, 2006 8:03 AM (e)

On another blog, someone noticed that this bill might prohibit the teaching of String Theory. Your thoughts on that?

Irrelevant details. We can change the wording of the bill as much as we want. All we need to specify is that it bans ID from a science classroom because ID is religion and isn’t science. Period.

Let the IDers spend all their money and time trying to argue otherwise.

Comment #78754

Posted by AD on February 10, 2006 9:44 AM (e)

More relevantly, what high school or middle school is actually teaching a viable class in String Theory?

That’s a collegiate level subject, at the very least, and usually something you only hit at post-grad levels.

Comment #78764

Posted by Engineer-Poet, FCD, ΔΠΓ on February 10, 2006 10:41 AM (e)

Before String Theory gets into high-school science classrooms, it will have to have made novel testable predictions and observations will have to have borne them out.

Same as it was with the debate of quarks vs. partons (bet you don’t remember that one, do you?).  Are there many high schools which teach high-energy physics?  That stuff is way beyond the intro level you usually get to before university.

Comment #78817

Posted by Henry J on February 10, 2006 3:32 PM (e)

Re “debate of quarks vs. partons (bet you don’t remember that one, do you?). “

Nope; I’m not familiar with partons (aside perhaps from Dolly), whatever they are (were? were thought to be?).

Henry

Comment #78827

Posted by Andy H. on February 10, 2006 7:49 PM (e)

Comment #78764
Posted by Engineer-Poet, FCD, ΔΠΓ on February 10, 2006 10:41 AM

Before String Theory gets into high-school science classrooms, it will have to have made novel testable predictions and observations will have to have borne them out.

Actually, very few scientific “theories” are taught at the high school level or even in beginning college-level science courses. There is just evolution theory, atomic theory (the Bohr model of the atom), some theories of geology (like tectonic-plate theory), and maybe the theory of relativity, and I think that is just about it. Most of the scientific principles taught at the high school and beginning college levels are laws rather than theories — a long list of scientific laws is given in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, and most of these laws are expressible as mathematical equations. So evolution theory, far from being “singled out” for criticism, is in a privileged position as one of very few scientific theories being taught at the high school and beginning college levels.

Also, who decides when a scientific idea has been sufficiently accepted in the scientific community that the idea qualifies to be taught as science in public-school science classes ?

Comment #78832

Posted by Rilke's Granddaughter on February 10, 2006 8:41 PM (e)

Andy H (Larry) - why do you continue to be dishonest and deceitful by violating rule six and posting under multiple aliases?

No one is fooled, and I note that folks have stopped responding to the content of your posts. Not that there actually IS content, mind you.

But why do you continue to be so rude and dishonest?

Comment #78939

Posted by Anton Mates on February 11, 2006 12:33 PM (e)

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

I think science is ahead right now, though perhaps just barely so. Despite numerous attempts, the Courts, over a wide range of cases and political opinions, have sided with the empirical principle that scientists as a community decide what science is. This particular piece of legislation happens to say the same thing, by referring to the National Academy (though of course its members were elected solely based on their practical accomplishments as scientists, which may not always and necessarily go along with philosophical, political or pedagogical thoughtfulness), but nothing would prevent the next from choosing as the appropriate reference, say, the Vatican Academy (which still would be OK, by the way), or the Raelian Academy (if there is one), or the Discovery Institute. The ultimate decision will just depend on political equilibria in State legislatures, and wrestling control back at that point would be impossible. Scary.

Thing is, certain school boards (like the Ohio one at present) basically are choosing the Discovery Institute or equivalent as their reference. They just don’t have to admit it because they don’t have to formally point to a standard. Under a law like this one, they would at least have to say “We want to alter the law to make [e.g.] the Church of Scientology the authority instead” and get public support for that, plus argue that it wasn’t a 1st Amendment violation. I think America’s still sufficiently non-theocratic that both would be difficult. Wouldn’t you love to have some state make the DI their reference, then have a court case examining their religious connections & motivations?

The “science is what scientists do” definition works well in the judicial system, because that system involves structured, publicly-reported debates where a clear picture can be provided of just how strong the scientific consensus is on a given issue. But I think it’s much less effective in the legislative branch, where the decision process can be completely hidden. If a school board wants to introduce pseudoscience or religion into its science classes, it just has to find somebody with vaguely scientific credentials who says, “Yep, I think this is great science,” and claim ignorance of all the scientists who think differently.

I think I’m in favor of the bill. The legislative branch needs a quick & dirty standard of reference, something you-the-uneducated-layman can point to and quickly decide whether a curriculum’s in violation or not. Let more nuanced definitions stay with the courts; they still have power to strike down a law anyway, so the new standard would always have to defer to the old.

Comment #79301

Posted by Grier Daniels on February 13, 2006 12:07 AM (e)

The establishment clause of the constitution creates many difficulties for education and the law.

This Wisconsin law looks to be a fair attempt to deal with the issues. It defines what Science is in the context of preparing curricula and setting educational standards.

The government has to define standards for education as long as education is compulsory. The Jeffersonian concept of democracy requires an educated populace. If education is compulsory and someone opens a school purporting to be educating children there must be some standard used to determine if there is compliance.

Meanwhile, the Constitution’s seperation clause says that then government cannot mandate religous training as a part of compulsory education.

So far, so good on the surface. No Bible teaching, no Koran teaching etc. One may say that those topics are to be taught by the parents and their church’s if they choose.

It gets dicier when values need to be taught in school.
Topics such as history, literature and current events cannot be taught meaningfully in a values neutral way. Where does the public education system go to find the values being taught.

One place that seems appropriate is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. So there we find equality, democracy, freedom, tolerance, etc. We then use these as a basis for the necessary values.

Does the selection of these values constitute the “establishment of religion”? What is a religion?

For the purposes of this discussion I propose that we define religion as a worldview whose source of values is based on supernatural input. It seems then that the constitution says that all values imposed on the public must have a source found in nature.

Science, as defined in Wisconsin, requires that nothing be taught in a class labled in the curriculum as a “science class” have any souce outside of nature. Looks like a marriage made in heaven (oop’s sorry for the allusion to the supernatural there.) Further the state requires a certain number of science courses be included in the curriculum.

Now what has happened is that the state has required that the children of theist parents must sit and listen to hours of subject matter that discounts and ignores ideas that are central to their worldviews and values.

I agree to a certain point that because science is by definition a study of the natural world, and that it is not a suitable method for inquiry into the supernatural,(because if science were to investigate the possible supernatural cause of a phenomenon it would no longer be science.); non-natural explanations for the beginning (or lack thereof) should not be taught in a class labled “science”.

On the other hand, the value of tolerance in the constitution, seems to require that these students be assisted in dealing with this contradiction they are facing.

Where are these issues going to be dealt with? To a certain extent it is the responsibility of the parents and their religious institutions.

The government and their public schools owe it to the theist children to deal openly and honestly with these issues. If it is not dealt with in the class labled “science” where will it be addressed? The history and literature classes (lumped by the education establishment into the pot labled social studies) may be one place. But does the average history or literature teacher have the science background to address the issues effectively? I don’t think so.

What do we do?

Well, lets go back to the values found in the Constitution. Where did they come from? There were many religious people involved in writing the Constitution and Declaration, but lets give them the benefit of the doubt that when they wrote the establishment clause they included non-establishment of their own religion. The answer as I see it is the discipline of philosophy. Not all philosophy results in religion, but all philosophy results in worldview.

The worldview of the constitution requires that all law be based on materialist principals. Hence all ethics taught in public schools must be based on materialistic principals. Values based on non-materialistic principals may not be taught by the teachers. The students, via free speech, are allowed to express these principals, however these not yet educated children are not equipped to adequately state the worldviews of theists.

It could be said that teachers can teach that these theistic worldviews exist and explain to a certain extent what they are. But this begs the question, because when it comes down to brass tacks, the teacher has to teach from the standpoint of some wordview. And the only allowable worldview is materialist.

The teachers may not teach theistic values and the children are inadequate to express it. Wow, that looks like intolerance and religious discrimination. But I thought the Constitution did not allow that.

It looks like Catch 22 has won game, set and match.

Is there an answer?

Yes —- Live with it.

Is there a more helpful answer? Well a good idea is to start by offering philosophy of science classes, or at least a 2-4 week section of the class labled “science” be jointly taught by the science thacher and a liberal arts teacher trained in philosophy. During this time the foundational presumptions of science should be covered. Also the limits of the competancy of scientific inquiry should be taught. Until the basis of the philosophy of science be explicitly taught (and taught well) alongside the actual science itself we will never get out of this particular science theist/materialist pickle.

On the bigger issue of the materialist bias of public education and the law all I can see happening is the US just trying to muddle through. It won’t get solved. We’ll all just have to live with it the best we can.