Yesterday, I was told that the controversial proposed reforms to the teaching of Darwinism in Kansas have mostly been accepted.
(Note: If this is not the story you are looking for, see the Blog service note below.)
Briefly, earlier this year, the state of Kansas attempted to hold hearings on their new science standards on the teaching of Darwinism. Proponents of the Darwin-only perspective boycotted the hearings. Opponents testified at them, and appear to have prevailedâ€”until the litigation starts, of course.
The heart of the Kansas controversy over what should be taught in schools is a conflict between a naturalistic definition of science and an evidence-based one.
Naturalism is a type of philosophy that argues that nature is all there is, has been, or ever will be. It is opposed not only to theism but to any assumption that nature incorporates design or purpose. (A Buddhist or agnostic, for example, may not believe in gods/God, but may accept that there is design or purpose in nature.) However, many prominent scientists are naturalists, and they have a tendency to think that science is the handmaid of naturalism.
The original standards read,
"Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."This sounds fine and innocuous, until you run into the following problem:
In practice today, "natural explanations" is a code phrase for "explanations that rule out design or purpose." The chief glory of Darwinism is that it purports to explain how life could come into existence, grow, and change without any design or purpose. No other theory of evolution will do that for you.
From the naturalist's point of view, that makes sense. If the purpose of science is to defend naturalism, no objections to Darwinism can be allowed. Objecting would be like going to Mass and telling the priest that you doubt the divinity of Christ. The key difference is that the Catholic Church is not a publicly funded institution to which one is legally obligated to send one's children. The public school, as it happens, is. Hence the intractable controversy.
So the minority report, which has just been accepted, has changed the standard to read
"Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."Note that the new formulation does not allow for theories that are held only on account of personal faith, claims of divine revelation, sacred scriptures, therapy needs, tribal tradition, or any other non-science-based method of knowing. But the new formulation also clearly does not assume that naturalism must be defended. Therefore it would permit evidence-based critiques of Darwinism. For example, if the Cambrian explosion of life forms over a short period of time around 525 mya presents a problem for a strict Darwinian account of life (and Darwin himself thought it did), it would be okay for a teacher to say so.
For the most part, media coverage of the Kansas science standards controversy has been disappointing, partly because so few journalists had (or took) the time to study the underlying issues. However, you can read a series of four differing opinions about the merits of the proposed changes. You have to sign up with the Kansas City Star , but the opinions are worth reading.
By the way, one outcome of the fact that Cardinal Schonborn recently made it clear that the Catholic Church accepts the possibility of common ancestry but does not support Darwinism (evolution is an unguided purposeless event), is that teachers will have a strong defense against persecution if they legitimately discuss objections to Darwinism in Catholic schools. Here in Canada, that may be significant because Catholic schools receive whole or partial public funding in most provinces. Some publicly funded Catholic school boards are large and influential. The Toronto Catholic School Board has 95 000 students in 201 schools. It would be nice if large boards took the lead in providing teacher resources that promote a productive discussion of the issues.
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