Here come the new Dark Ages!

No, not really, but if you listen to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we’re all doomed! Doomed!

AAAS is deeply concerned about the changes that have been made in the Kansas Science Education Standards in order to discredit the theory of evolution. The most troubling aspect of these changes is the redefinition of science. The “Nature of Science” section in the most recently proposed version of the standards says that science is a process that produces “explanations of natural phenomena.” This implies that science is just one of many explanations of natural phenomena, including supernatural causes, and removes a defining principle of science which was present in the previous version of the standards-that science is restricted to natural explanations of the natural world. This restriction, which has been one of the cornerstones of scientific practice for more than three centuries, is one of the primary reasons that science has been fruitful in producing useful knowledge.

I should go grab a large quantity of brown bags to pass around the AAAS office, since they’ve obviously hyperventilated so much that their brains aren’t getting enough oxygen. Here is what the Kansas School Board actually wrote, at least in their materials for the November board meeting (I had to type this by hand since the PDF is locked, so any typos are my own):

Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science does so while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism. Scientific explanations are built on observations, hypotheses, and theories. A hypothesis is a testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferenes and explanations. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate observations, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. Scientific explanations are consistent with experimental and/or observational data and testable by scientists through additional experimentation and/or observation. Scientific explanation must meet criteria that govern the repeatability of observations and experiments. The effect of these criteria is to insure that scientific explanations about the world are open to criticism and that they will be modified or abandoned in favor of new explanations if empirical evidence so warrants. Because all scientific explanations depend on observational and experimental confirmation, all scientific knowlegde is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available. The core theories of science have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and have a high degree of reliability within the limits to which they have been tested. In areas where data or understanding is incomplete, new data may lead to changes in current theories or resolve current conflicts. In situations where information is still fragmentary, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest. Science has flourished in different regions during different time periods, and in history, diverse cultures have contributed scientific knowledge and technological inventions. Changes in scientific knowledge usually occur as gradual modifications, but the scientific enterprise also experiences periods of rapid advancement. The daily work of science and technology results in incremental advances in understanding the world.

I don’t see the issue here. The Kansas standards are, frankly, one of the better explanations of exactly what science is and is not that I’ve read. The qualifications of how scientific investigation is carried out restrict it to the natural world by definition. There is no need to add the additional words that the AAAS is bemoaning. But, the broader definition that Kansas has written leaves open the minute, essentially nonexistent, possibility that a non-natural explanation may be empirically testable. If it were to be so, then it would be able to be scientifically investigated. But, to the best of my knowledge, we’re limited to testing natural things. Seems to me that the AAAS is just looking for something to criticize because of the reasons Bekah so eloquently describes below.

Now, the Kansas Board does make some rather controversial statements about Intelligent Design theory. As is well-attested by my writings on this blog, I am not a fan of ID as currently expounded by the Discovery Institute and like-minded folks. However, if it is our job to teach kids how to think, then why in the world would it be a bad thing to expose them to the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory (yes, there are weaknesses–big ones) and Intelligent Design? If the curriculum were designed so as to not leave out data to bias the children toward one explanation or another, then it’s a step in the right direction. We do not want to indoctrinate our kids to think as we would want them to think; we should want them to think for themselves. If free will were not a good thing, then Adam and Eve would not have been able to eat the forbidden fruit. Effectively, what the AAAS and other “science educators” are saying is they want to create a legion of kids ready to spout off materialist doctrine without critically examining it. That, we cannot accept.

I, of course, still maintain that the real issue here is philosophical in nature, not scientific…

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