We may add the NCSE-endorsed declaration of the North Carolina Math and Science Education Network to the list of declarations that “evolution” is to be taught as “fact.” (I freely say, endorsed, as NCSE hosts the declaration, and does so without disclaimer.)
Let us excerpt:
The primary goal of science teaching is to produce a scientifically competent citizenry, one which knows how to distinguish between theories substantiated with sound evidence and theories which cannot be substantiated through evidence. Evolution is identified as being the central unifying role in the biological sciences. If we teach our students that the theory of evolution is not accepted fact, we also put into question scientific advancement in chemistry, physics, astronomy, and all other related fields, as all of these disciplines are built according to similar intellectual stratagems.
School curricula should therefore be determined, not by the political mood of the moment, but by scholarly and academic consensus. North Carolina students deserve an engaging, enriching science curriculum based on the process of the scientific method. Any action opposing the tenets which honor the methodologies of scientific investigation should be viewed as a disservice to North Carolina students and science educators.
As was noted already, an explanation of observed facts may or may not be true, but it is not itself a fact of observation. And, scientific theories (at their best) are just that: inferences to best current explanation that are supported — but not proved beyond dispute or doubt or possibility of revision on new evidence — by facts of observation.
But such a theory is not to be confused with the facts that it seeks to explain. Or else, we run the risk of entrenching and dogmatising what becomes an ideological position, rather than an exercise in what science should be at its best. Namely:
an unfettered (but ethically and intellectually responsible) progressive pursuit of the truth about our world, based on observation, experiment, measurement, logical-mathematical analysis, modelling and discussion among the informed.
This should lead to accurate descriptions and measurements of the facts of observation, provisional but empirically reliable explanations, and the power to predict successfully, and so also to influence or control the forces, phenomena, objects, materials and processes of our world.
Such results are extraordinarily useful, as can be seen from arguably the most useful single scientific theory: Newtonian Dynamics. A factually well-supported theory, it is the foundation stone of much of engineering and practical technology. Yet, we also know — ever since 1880 – 1930 — that when it comes to the worlds of the very fast and/or the very small, it loses that accuracy. That is, we know from this case that an empirically validated model of limited applicability is all we need to make advantageous use of a theory in the real world.
And, from the exposure of gaps in Newtonian physics and the related rise of Relativity and Quantum physics, we know that at no time does the scientific process guarantee that our observations, theories or models will be true beyond reasonable dispute or possibility of revision or even replacement. So, we ask: would it not be wiser to view scientific theories as useful explanatory models rather than as guide-stars of ultimate and undeniable truth about our world?
Ironically, in the very same statements we have been highlighting in this series [cf. here and here], we often find some lip-service to that inherent provisionality of scientific results.
But, when the macro-level theory of evolution comes into contention, we also often find the sort of declaration that his theory is “fact” that we have been exposing and correcting. In this case, the NCSE has unwisely chosen to endorse the claim that “If we teach our students that the theory of evolution is not accepted fact, we also put into question scientific advancement in chemistry, physics, astronomy, and all other related fields.”
That is plainly an over-wrought ideological declaration, not a declaration of sound scientific or education principle.
Worse, it is a capital example of projecting a turnabout propagandistic accusation unto one’s critics: in the cause of imposing an over-wrought ideological declaration that evolution is “fact,” in the hope of embedding it in science education, NCSE endorses the implicit accusation that those who would challenge the supremacy of evolutionary materialism in science, education and policy are politically — and by inference, illegitimately — motivated. (The dogmatic circularity of assuming the factual status of “evolution” to infer that critics could not be motivated by principled concerns that something has gone terribly wrong with current origins science through imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism should be obvious, as should the unconscious irony.)
Its root is obvious, the same underlying Lewontinian a priori evolutionary materialism that now so plainly dominates origins science and science education on origins-related topics:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. Emphasis added.]
So, let us ask: why should we allow ourselves to be fettered by such an a priori, which is demonstrably distorting not only science but also education?
And: if we do so, what is it likely to lead to for us, for science, and for our civilisation?