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They said it: NCSE endorses the teaching of evolution as “fact”

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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?

YLet them teach evolution is a fact. If its a fact that Genesis is wrong then they are teaching religion is wrong which contravenes church/state as they invoke it when needed. Let them teach its a fact. America doesn't think so and so their attempt to say Americans are wrong will teach the kids the absurdity of the statement. If evolution is a fact then why oppose criticism of the fact before the same audience? They do show they fear that saying evolution is other then a fact gives credibility to kids to listen to criticisms. They will listen. People are not submissive on such great matters. Robert Byers
Mrs O'Leary: I hear you. Perhaps it is time for open source, independent, open peer review networked accreditation education, then? Certainly, with the sort of low cost tablets and netbooks coming down the line on the lines of the OLPC initiative, we have a viable platform for doing EPUB textbooks and blog or Wiki technology based courses. (As a sample of what can be done with a modicum of corporate or foundation support, cf the Motion Mountain free for download College level Textbook here. Much better than most of the Wikiversity textbooks.) Such courses would work with local micro centres having high speed Internet and some multimedia tech; and with facilitators who have enough background to cover the content with kids and help with tutorial type sessions. Either as a supplement and corrective or if necessary an outright replacement for ideologised schools. (Notice my initial, rough draft for a critical -- and independent -- survey of origins science that begins here.) GEM of TKI kairosfocus
kairosfocus, Re "he said it" - it is the hack's key defense. As a textbook editor, I have seen amazing stuff in this and many other lines. But if people are willing to let their kids sit somewhere all day and be taught whatever by whomever, we are just lucky it is not all much worse. O'Leary
Mrs O'Leary: First, HT to you, for your "he said it" -- ipse dixit -- theme. I find it inspiring as a point of departure. Next, pardon a Q: when you used to edit textbooks, did you see the sort of blunders above in them? And, I think I have a suggestion if not an answer: divide and rule. If the public is sufficiently polarised and mutually suspicious, it gives disproportionate power to small factions that can grab the microphones and pretend to be the spokesmen for the great god, Science. If the public schools are indoctrinating not educating, and if they are teaching fads and failing to educate soundly, then it is time for parents to rise up and demand reform. If the bureaucracies and unions refuse to be corrected centrally, it is time to defund the central institutions and take back local, community-based control. Local control will be much more community-responsive, and because of variety, will not be able to so domineer. But, to get to that, the public will have to expose and break the pressure groups that are pushing the agit-prop talking points like we see above. In turn, that will demand breaking the media habit: if the public stops listening and watching those who spread propaganda, slanders and misleading talking points like we are exposing above, the advertisers will get the message. And if not, the power to manipulate will be gone in any case. But first, the agenda of talking points used to push the sort of Plato's Cave shadow shows that we are exposing here at UD, has to be identified and broken. That is why, pardon me but I thought I would take up a bit on a theme you have been pushing. (BTW, DV, next topic is the NCSE talking point game on the response to their agenda. If you think North Carolina is bad, wait till you see New Mexico!) Thanks. BD: You have a serious point. And in fact the psychology of projective turnabout accusation, is that by getting people -- and maybe yourself -- to see the other as "the" threat, your own actions seem to be justified as defensive. When in fact, if you were to look at them in the cold light of day, you would realise that that which you object to, you have become. There is no justification for pretending that a theoretical explanation of a deep, unobserved past, is a "fact." There is no justification for pretending that those who dare to object on cogent concerns, principles and points are trying to impose a nefarious agenda that justifies career busting or the like. But, when we are caught up in a whirl of high feelings and talking points, what cannot stand the cold light of day seems good. It is time for us to wake up. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
It seems to be a fact of human nature that a deeply held ideology often becomes tyranny when coupled with sufficient political power. Up until the last two or three centuries, Catholicism was (and still is to some degree in predominantly Catholic countries) such an ideology. Its hold was broken in part by the rise of a countering ideology in scientific thinking. It is one of the ironies of history that science, or at least biology, has now become the ideological tyrant. What is even more amazing is that the same ideologues who are ruthlessly suppressing dissent with respect to Darwinism often invoke the church's supposed suppression of science in their rhetoric without even seeing the contradiction. Pogo's comment, "We have met the enemy and he is us." is still apt. Bruce David
A theory is not a fact by definition, it is an interpretation of a presumed set of facts. Darwinism has more holes than a fishnet now, so far as I can see, hence the lobbies, court cases, and legislation. I have only one simple question, and I have asked it before: Why do taxpayers and parents front indoctrination into Darwinism in public schools, under compulsory education? Americans camp in my mailbox all the time with their complaints about arbitrary government and the vast seas of pretentious nonsense that keep it in power. And all I can say is, Who do voodoo? You do. You keep it in power. What are you getting out of it? Maybe we need a bigger Nonsense In Tank to benefit the populace, or ... * Faithful readers may happen to know that I am a Canadian who does not live, vote, or belong to a political party in the United States. I happily listen to complaints, but in the end ... O'Leary
Joseph: I understand your exasperation with NCSE, which does list as its thematic purpose:
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.
"Spewing evolution" is an apt summary on the right of fair comment, albeit one that is maybe a bit sharpish. Wikipedia provides more than enough definition, here. It is plain that the view NCSE adopts is the grand metaphysically loaded theme that all of life on earth is accounted for by chance variation and differential reproductive success leading to descent with modification sufficient to cover the range from pond scum to us. It is equally plain that it fails to address the strengths and weaknesses of said theory in an objective manner and instead implicitly adopts question-begging Lewontinian a priori evolutionary materialism through the back-door of so-called methodological naturalism. That dogmatism is the only reasonable explanation for the endorsement of an assertion that to deny the "evolution is a fact meme" is to fatally undermine science and its core methods. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
Well NCSE stands for the National Center for Spewing Evolution... And unfortunately thy never say what they mean by "evolution" Joseph

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