Sunday, April 14, 2013

Teaching Evolution and Climate Change

by Gary Berg-Cross

It is good to note, as the New York Times did, that educators unveiled new guidelines (called the Next Generation Science Standards) recently and called for:

" sweeping changes in the way science is taught in the United States  including, for the first time, a recommendation that climate change be taught as early as middle school. "

This notable with 26 states and several national scientific organizations (including National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science) cooperating, even if as has been noted the climate change recommendation is a bit buried in the report:

"Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming),”

And  as the New York Times story points out, some conservative and religious groups are challenging that inclusion, along with the teaching of evolution, which they will also be required to learn about. Lack of adequate coverage is a problem in the US curriculum. As noted by Mother Nature News in the link above "A perceived conflict between science and religion has led Americans to rank nearly last among industrialized countries in understanding evolution, educators told a major science conference this weekend."

The new guidelines comes also in response to the growing controversy over public education driven by  the influence of religious conservatives sitting on State and local Ed boards in part. Empirical evidence make evolution is a validated & predictive scientific theory for the web of life we see. It is foundational for understanding biological science, yet some conservatives insist that it is just a hypothesis and other hypotheses like intelligent design also be taught in public schools ( perhaps with other theistic ideas about creation). 

We'll see what the backlash and blockage to the new science standard will be. I can imagine it will be a bit like the reactionary efforts in some swing states as I noted in my blog on the state's as bizarre engines of reactionary policies.
A group called Citizens for Objective Public Education stated that the new curriculum would “take away the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.” Its that rights vs. what Science-tells-us-is-true-and-I-don't-want-to-hear head-in-the-sand argument.

It's already getting noted in some states like (What's the matter with?) Kansas which in 1999 made the national news when the state board adopted a science standard that deleted references to evolution from the state guidelines.  Sort of a State's rights thing that descended to the individual school district level where  the decision to teach evolution would be made.  Makes you wonder is districts will now succeed from States to protect their religious "rights". Since 99, the Kansas state board has revised the standards at least three times based on the swing in liberal vs. conservative balance of power among the 10-member State board.

As  Robert A Heinlein said:

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creeds into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.




Explicit Atheist said...

I completely disgree with Kenneth Miller and the Mother Jones article 'that the stereotype that "rational science is at war with irrational faith" is wrong.' The fact is that a good education always has been, and always will be, in conflict with outdated and false religious beliefs. Furthermore, that education undermines parental efforts to perpetuate the unproductive and counterproductive failed epistemology and false ontology that characterize religious beliefs is a very positive and good impact of education. And furthermore, not only do you know that what I am saying is true, religious people know that the conflict is real and no mount of denials by Miller, Mother Jones magazine, or anyone else is going to convince religious people that evolution is consistent with their religious beliefs when it simply is not.

Explicit Atheist said...

Kenneth Miller's own religious beliefs conflict with the laws of physics. When he goes around telling people who, following what the bible says, believe that Adam and Eve were literal people, that their religious beliefs don't conflict with biology, who is he fooling? And it is not only biblical literalists whose religious beliefs conflict with evolution. There are conflicts like these:

Evolution overturns scriptural views of human origins and our supposed “specialness” in God’s scheme.

Evolution takes the idea of purpose and meaning out of God’s hands and forces people to confect their own reasons for living.

Evolution sees morality as an evolved and/or cultural phenomenon rather than as a package of commands approved by God.

So the conflict Is with liberal religious beliefs also. There are only a few ways to deny this conflict. One is to compromise the science, two is to abandon the religious beliefs, and three is to deny the relity of te conflict by rationalizing it away. That many people select options one or three is not good news for the quality of their education. The problem here is not with evolution, or with atheists, the problem is entirely with the religious beliefs.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Yes, there is certainly numerous instances where "revealed" ideas we find in sacred texts are at odds with what science informs us. People like Miller seem to be trying to smooth the way for scientific acceptance of certainly inconvenient truths with some hand waving about philosophical differences. It is perhaps to sugar coat some medicine.