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September 24, 2005 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Live next week in a Harrisburg, PA federal courtroom: the ACLU and a coterie of concerned parents fight the ongoing defenestration of empiricism.
posted by killdevil (40 comments total)

 
This is effectively the first time a school board's insinuation of Intelligent Design into a science curriculum will be tested in court.
posted by killdevil at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2005


It should be noted that this is a great test case for those who oppose the insinuation of intelligent design into science curricula, since the Dover school district was sloppy as hell and ignored just about all of the Discovery Institute's guidelines for intelligent design insinuation. It should be easy for the plantiffs to prove that intellegent design was introduced in Dover as a direct response to the banning of creationism from public schools. This hard-and-fast link to old-school religious creationism is going to be hard for the intelligent design advocates to overcome.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2005


The major problem, as has been hashed out on this site previously, is teaching ID as a scientific theory. It belongs in a philosophy class, if anywhere.

What's interesting is the point that this raises regarding our society's epistemic regard for science. Why do the proponents of ID want it taught in a science classroom? Because anything taught in the science classroom is taken as true, no critical thought required. While I'm against viewing ID as scientific, I'm also against uncritical assimilation of scientific thought. (Though this is all something of a derail from the main topic.)
posted by voltairemodern at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2005


I'm also against uncritical assimilation of scientific thought

Scientific thought is by its nature critical. That's what scientific method is all about.
posted by biscotti at 5:18 PM on September 24, 2005


Why did they name Intelligent Design something it isn't?
posted by wakko at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2005


Summoning ...
posted by ericb at 6:21 PM on September 24, 2005


personally I would have had something design me a bit sturdier, perhaps with night vision, or laser eyes, or wolverine claws....
posted by stilgar at 6:34 PM on September 24, 2005


Scientific thought is by its nature critical. That's what scientific method is all about.

When you are engaging in original scientific thought, definitely. When you are a high school student memorizing the kinematics equations, not necessarily.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:36 PM on September 24, 2005


Scientific thought is by its nature critical. That's what scientific method is all about.

i'd go one further and say any form of critical thought is in fact, science. i did for a while think lawyers were fellow practitioners of CT but this rather well-known embarassment of the UK judicial establishment swiftly changed all that.



proof that intelligent design is indeed, bollocks
posted by rodney stewart at 6:43 PM on September 24, 2005


When you are a high school student memorizing the kinematics equations, not necessarily [scientific thought is critical].

Good point, except that science that is currently taught in classrooms today is dogmatic, much like Sunday school or the military.

And, of course, while I suspect that the Chinese and Indians don't teach their science to students in a vastly superior way, their students are far superior to ours in terms of raw scientific ability, primarily due to our (the US system) complete lack of emphasis.

Depending upon the direction of this thread, I might come back and give you a more detailed to response for why I'm about to say this, but: I think it might be in our students' best interest to learn first-hand that intelligent design is not, in fact, a science at all. And the only way for our students to distinguish between science and faith is a genuinely honest discourse that dissects the many views regarding our existence.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2005


and since when did rote memorization have anything to do with science or scientific method?
posted by rodney stewart at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2005


It only has to do with meeting the minimum scores on the Federally-mandated standardized "proficiency tests" which determine whether the school actually gets its funding or not.
posted by zoogleplex at 7:22 PM on September 24, 2005


SeizeTheDay : "And, of course, while I suspect that the Chinese and Indians don't teach their science to students in a vastly superior way, their students are far superior to ours in terms of raw scientific ability, primarily due to our (the US system) complete lack of emphasis"

*snicker*

Can't speak about the Chinese, but you're offbase about Indians. Where do I start? I remember how bored I used to get with & in science classes. Pages upon pages of dry descriptions of the apparatus and time-course of experiments, which one was expected to reproduce by rote in exams. "Problems" which were almost perfect analogues of textbook examples. There certainly wasn't a logical buildup of the conceptual framework. Granted, I haven't seen what American high school science curricula and material looks like, but the typical Indian school science education is nothing to write home about. I think there are other reasons for your perception. First, India is a very overpopulated country, and hence the survival instinct fosters a high sense of competition. Achievement in academics is the most commonly available instrument for progress, so being a bookworm is not treated with quite the same disdain. Second, atleast in Bombay, till 10th grade, everyone receives a common education. Then, students choose between science, commerce (accounting, mgmt..) or arts (social sciences..). Most students opt for commerce. Most people who make it to US grad school, represent the top 5% of science students in India. That'll skew the representative value of the sample.
posted by Gyan at 7:47 PM on September 24, 2005


The National Center for Science Education has a great resource page up for the trial. I'm actually glad that the judge denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as we will undoubtably see more entertaining smackdowns such as this (from the transcript of the hearing re the FTE's motion to intervene) :

----------------

Q Actually in this version of the book it describes who creationists are, doesn’t it, if you look at pages 22 and 23 and 24. It says there’s different types of creationist’s literature. There are older [old earth] creationists, younger [young earth] creationists, agnostic creationists, right?

A Yes. We were trying to give some articulation to the breadth of what that term means.

Q And then if you could turn back to page 22, you explain that “Creation is the theory that various forms of life began abruptly, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands.” That’s how you defined creation, correct?

A Yes.

Q All right. And I would like to take — you to take a look at an excerpt from Pandas and People. Turn to page 99 in the excerpt I gave you.

A All right.

Q Says, “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera.”

Do you see that?

A I see it.

Q So that’s pretty much the exact same sentence substituting creation for intelligent design, isn’t that right?

A The reason that you find the similarity in the two passages is because this obviously was at a time when we were developing the manuscript. We had not chosen the term “intelligent design” at that point. We were trying to — this was just a place holder term until we came to grips with which of the plausible two or three terms that are in scientific literature we would settle on. And that was the last thing we did before the book was revise — I mean was sent to the publisher.

Q It was creation, creation, creation until the end and then it was intelligent design.

--------------

I love the law sometimes. :)
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:19 PM on September 24, 2005


Gyan, I think you've seriously misread my post. First, I am Indian have an intimate knowledge of the Indian school system since all of my cousins, second cousins, etc. have been through the system. Further, I have a great deal of relatives in the IIT schools. Now, more on point, as I said earlier. I don't think that the Chinese or Indians have a better "system of teaching" per se, but their emphasis upon science in general puts our (US) students to shame. And because there are so many Chinese and Indians, the sheer volume of scientists churned out by these countries is staggering.

Please reread what I wrote. I basically agree with what you're saying; I'm not suggesting that the Indian system is superior. However, my point was that perhaps teaching ID in science classes in the US would perhaps reinvigorate and challenge a subset of this population that would otherwise ignore science (to their peril) as a dogmatic, dry, and boring field.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:27 PM on September 24, 2005


It occurred to me that if proponents end up winning their demands that ID be taught, it would be best to include it in the curriculum at the start of the year, right after the first chapter in the textbook which outlines “The Scientific Method”.

“Now students, take what we learned in chapter one and apply it to what’s in chapter two. I’d like you to write a page long report on how this theory holds up to the Scientific Method.”

That way, everyone wins. ID is in the textbooks, and the students get to exercise critical thinking skills early on.
posted by pathighgate at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2005


all critical remarks about lawyers now retracted. Eric Rothschild is da bomb. trial transcript is excellent reading. thanks for this
posted by rodney stewart at 8:41 PM on September 24, 2005


SeizeTheDay : "I have a great deal of relatives in the IIT schools."

Not at all representative. The IITs admit 2,500-3,000 students a year from all over India. Between 150,000 and 200,000 sit for the entrance exams.

SeizeTheDay : "but their emphasis upon science in general puts our (US) students to shame."

That's my point. They don't. Pick a typical 7th grade class from an average school in Bombay, and from an average school in, say, New York, and compare. You'll find that, on average, the Indian students are quicker with the formulas and facts, but in ingenious problem-solving, the differences are modest.
posted by Gyan at 8:47 PM on September 24, 2005


This is effectively the first time a school board's insinuation of Intelligent Design

It should be noted that this is a great test case for those who oppose the insinuation of intelligent


Why are you using this word here? What's wrong with 'including'

Scientific thought is by its nature critical. That's what scientific method is all about.

It's not usually taught that way. And it doesn't really need to be that way, as philosophy of science is really only helpful in debating IDers and creationists on the internet.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 PM on September 24, 2005


rodney stewart: I'm not sure why you think Cherie Blair accepting a Rajasthani shawl is evidence of a lack of critical thinking. Most of my Indian female colleagues wear chunnis and shawls to work, and yes, bowing with a graceful namaste is the proper (Indian) way of acknowledging a gift.

Gyan wrote:
I remember how bored I used to get with & in science classes. Pages upon pages of dry descriptions of the apparatus and time-course of experiments, which one was expected to reproduce by rote in exams. "Problems" which were almost perfect analogues of textbook examples. There certainly wasn't a logical buildup of the conceptual framework.
Naturally, it depends on what curriculum you've been to. There are 26 or so school syllabi out there in India, all of them with varying degrees of emphasis on the scientific method. I, for one, had a fair bit of a cultural shock when I moved from the (central, ie, federally-governed) ICSE system to a state-board system after my 10th class (O level equivalent for Brit-Commonwealth folks); as I recall, was quite a task to convince my physics lecturers, for example, that the reason I was interested in proofs for their formulae wasn't because I considered them test-worthy.

That said, I will share your scepticism, but from a different angle. Indeed, a more interesting, dare I say pertinent, comparison between American and Indian curricula would be the previous government's interest in "Vedic" sciences; if Americans are, indeed, worried that the creeping element of, shall we say, un-science in their schools, Indians should be outraged by the amount of nonsense that's getting into ours. I'm told that some of the NCERT science textbooks even carry quotes from the Rig Veda on molecular theory. Now, don't get me wrong, I'll be the first person to point out, say, verses in the Chamyogya Upanishad which talk of heliocentricism, but surely by any measure, even if the scientific elements in the Vedas are accurate, they aren't by any measure *scientific*; unlike later works by Bhaskaracharya, Panini and other luminaries in the ancient art of mImaMsa, there's very little reasoning mentioned there.

Which, in a sense, brings us to a rather interesting point: could it be, then, that the proponents of "Vedic science" aren't concerned about the scientific method precisely because schools have traditionally emphasised on rote learning, as you've said? The previous HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi, you'll note, was indeed a physics lecturer in a previous avatar.

Also, what voltaire modern said.
Most students opt for commerce.
Not for long. The number of science/engineering graduates at least in the South now is increasing at a fairly rapid pace. The four southern states churn out something close to 50,000 or so graduates each; a phenomenal number even by Indian standards, mostly for the fact that a mere four years ago, the figures were half that amount. I believe the model we're looking at is Ireland; apparently, the plan is to ensure that the majority of graduates graduating by the end of the decade would be technically-trained.

Again, whether those students have been trained in the scientific process is, sadly, still an open-ended question.
posted by the cydonian at 9:03 PM on September 24, 2005


if you hear someone say something about "lean and mean," or like, "hard nosed," or anything of that nature, you can just remember how much time and energy we're going to put into this great debate. At least it's for a good cause.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:06 PM on September 24, 2005


the cydonian : "I'm not sure why you think Cherie Blair accepting a Rajasthani shawl is evidence of a lack of critical thinking."

It isn't. He's drawing on claims in the new book out by a former 10 Downing spin doctor (Lance Price) that Mrs. Blair's into new-agey phenomena.

the cydonian : "I'm told that some of the NCERT science textbooks even carry quotes from the Rig Veda on molecular theory."

There's indeed a close parallel. The Hindutva brigade is simply playing the "advanced Hindu race" card.

BTW, that commerce statement referred to Bombay, specifically. Should have made that clear.
posted by Gyan at 9:38 PM on September 24, 2005


Delmoi, I certainly think ID partisans are insinuating the doctrine into science curricula... i.e., introducing it by subtle and artful means. On balance, these folks are nothing if not savvy, even those working at the grass-roots school board level. After all, look at all the progress they've made.
posted by killdevil at 9:41 PM on September 24, 2005


perhaps teaching ID in science classes in the US would perhaps reinvigorate and challenge a subset of this population that would otherwise ignore science (to their peril) as a dogmatic, dry, and boring field.

Agreed. Additionally, I propose that we incorporate holocaust denial into history programs, use Jew Watch in comparative religion classes and AIDS conspiracies as content in classes on modern government.

Science isn't dogmatic (do you even know what that word means?), dry or boring. Like pretty much every other class, it can be taught in ways that inspire creativity and interest, or in ways that induce truancy and sleep.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:07 PM on September 24, 2005


I Love Tacos : "Science isn't dogmatic"

It is. It just differs in the extent and nature of the dogma.
posted by Gyan at 10:20 PM on September 24, 2005


The real problem, it seems to me, is that critical thinking basically isn't taught at all in American public schools. I should know--I was a school teacher, now teaching university, and the biggest thing my students then and my students now all lack is any ability to think critically, to assert their rational minds.

Not just science, but ALL of the public school curriculum is geared toward just accepting what's taught uncritically. There really is no possibility for dissent in the way the system is designed.

Think about it...where in a typical, overcrowded US high school classroom (imagine a room built for 20-25 desks crammed with 35-40 students) can a student raise his or her hand and say, "um, excuse me, but I'd like to debate the merits of this presentation of the facts of Christopher Columbus' expedition. From the multitude of sources we've had the time to read and thoroughly discuss, it appears that the view presented in our primary text is obviously biased."

This explains most of the baffling behavior and discourse I see daily all over the place--TV, online, students, out in the world at large....People don't know how properly to use their brains, they are overwhelmed with FEELINGS and lack the proper rational acuity to balance that. I'd be very interested to hear any other teachers' points of view on this--do you often find an absence of any sort of critical faculties among your students too?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:29 PM on September 24, 2005


LooseFilter, indeed. Something like this CMU course: Causal Reasoning, should be mandatory.
posted by Gyan at 10:33 PM on September 24, 2005


Gyan yes, exactly.

This is where, it seems to me, this resurgence of (mainly religious) dogmatism comes from: people need their feelings comforted, and religions, read a certain way, provide the illusion of definite answers--answers that feel good.

The obvious logical flaw in ID is Occam's Razor: one should make no more assumptions than needed. Yes, it is rather perplexing that all of this perfectly balanced complexity exists...but there is no evidence for one to hypothesize a magical solution ("We can't figure out the mechanisms, therefore some hugely smart being greater than us must have designed it all.").

The absence of a complete explanation certainly does not warrant fanciful leaps. It just means we don't have a complete answer yet. People used to think that rain was god crying, too.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:41 PM on September 24, 2005


Hey, I live very near to the new School District building in Philly. Any suggestions for a letter to deliver in regards to this situation?
posted by Jon-o at 11:00 PM on September 24, 2005


LooseFilter : "The obvious logical flaw in ID is Occam's Razor"

Occam's Razor is just an aesthetic guideline, rather than a rule of logical inference, i.e. don't clutter the explanation with extras you can do without. But, in any case, Occam doesn't apply here. The recent incarnation of creationism, ID, relies on the tenet that irreducible complexity points to an 'intelligent design' contribution. Individual claims of ID can be falsified by illustrating the evolutionary lineage of the 'irreducible' end product. The general claim of 'irreducible complexity' will require a mathematical approach rather than an empirical one, which I don't know, if it's possible. Of course, ID ends up bowing to religious dogma, since if it's true, who designed this 'intelligent designer'?
posted by Gyan at 11:36 PM on September 24, 2005


There's a pool going on the outcome of the case.
posted by pruner at 2:26 AM on September 25, 2005


I am holding out for the Intelligent Redisign hopefully with Ruby on Rails, CSS and AJAX.
posted by srboisvert at 2:33 AM on September 25, 2005


I can't help thinking that China, India and parts of the EU are exctatic about USA deciding to abandon science and teach their children religious dogma instead.

Welcome to the new Dark Ages.
posted by spazzm at 7:04 AM on September 25, 2005


personally I would have had something design me a bit sturdier, perhaps with night vision, or laser eyes, or wolverine claws....
posted by stilgar at 9:34 PM EST on September 24 [!]

If I had been in charge of "the design" I would have given one sex the penetrating tool for sexual reproduction and the other sex the superior muscles to fight off penetration if desired. What a lot of misery that design could have avoided.

Oh, and a pouch to nurture the babies. Wouldn't it have been nice for both males and females to have pouches? Come to think of it, I like to bestow universal pouches on the poor hapless penguins as well.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:44 AM on September 25, 2005


"Intelligent Design", yeah right. It has been observed in the past that if the human body were designed it was designed by a moron. Carpal tunnels, what a fantastic idea! A tendancy for heart attacks, sure, toss it in! How about a fragile spine which causes extreme pain when the slightest thing goes wrong?

I think Unintelligent Design better describes life.
posted by sotonohito at 1:31 PM on September 25, 2005


LooseFilter "The obvious logical flaw in ID is Occam's Razor"

I thought that the obvious logical flaw is that if life is so complex that it requires an "intelligent designer", the "intelligent designer" would be even more complex, thus requiring a "super-intelligent designer", and so on and so forth.
posted by pruner at 4:15 PM on September 25, 2005


Since everyone else is griping about our inherent design flaws, here's my top two list:
1. Blind spot. Not very useful is it?
2. Teeth with nerves. I mean, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
posted by spazzm at 6:18 PM on September 25, 2005


2. Teeth with nerves. I mean, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
posted by spazzm at 9:18 PM EST on September 25 [!]


Good for motivating us to remove our infected teeth by any means necessary.
posted by Rothko at 6:35 PM on September 25, 2005


Please, not the "America lacks top-tier scientists and engineers" nonsense. What reduces American competitiveness with India and China isn't a lack of top-tier engineers and scientists, but a lack of $2/day semi-skilled labor and $25/day technical labor. If anything, the ability of China and India to generate raw (graduate student) and finished top-tier engineering, science and business management talent is an asset to America, because we import that talent at will, paying the home country nothing for the pleasure, and suffer minimal voluntary repatriation.
posted by MattD at 8:08 PM on September 25, 2005


Good for motivating us to remove our infected teeth by any means necessary.

See, an intelligent designer would just make rotten teeth taste bad, fall out by themself or make teeth that DON'T FUCKING ROT!

Unless the designer is not omnipotent, of course. But that's another barrel of fish.

I'm just bitter because I've got a root canal coming up this friday.
posted by spazzm at 3:34 AM on September 26, 2005


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