Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kansas Science Standards

Well, this is the day that the new board members on the Kansas Board of Education will, in all likelihood, vote out the standards that were approved last year which had allowed for the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution to be considered. The definition of science was also under attack by "scientific community".

It's unfortunate that we live under such a dogmatic scientific regime at the moment, but I've no doubt that will change in the near future as more and more people become aware of what is at the root of this debate.

I was visiting a pro-Darwin forum this morning and found an excellent post written by a supporter of the current Kansas science standards. I'm going provide "opaobie's" post below:

I am concerned that the new State Board is about to take a step in the wrong direction. I realize that virtually everyone who posts in this forum is a staunch supporter of neo-Darwinian evolution, and that is fine. I am not. It has nothing to do with other theories, it has everything to do with the evolutionary hypothesis itself.

The definition of "Science" in the current Science Standards is as follows:

"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."

In spite of claims that this definition is "out of step" with the scientific community or that it is something crafted by "Intelligent Design kooks" or Creationists, this is nearly identical to the definition of science adopted by 40 states across the country, and it is consistent with the definition accepted universally at the time I received my undergraduate degree in Physics in 1969 (nine states do not define science at all). The only other state in the U.S. that explicitly limits science to naturalistic explanations is Massachusetts. In the Massachusetts science standards, however, this limitation comes at the end of a detailed description of the scientific enterprise that begins by defining science more generally as "attempts to give good accounts of the patterns in nature" and does not restrict conclusions to only those reached from a "naturalistic" worldview.

Under the proposed changes to the Science standards, the following redefinition of "science" replaces the commonly accepted traditional definition with, not a definition of "science" at all, but a philosophical mandate to reach conclusions that adhere to the naturalistic worldview. It prohibits examining evidence using any other worldview and prohibits the student from reaching any conclusions that conflict with the naturalistic worldview even if they are perfectly consistent with the actual definition of science. It gives the appearance of censorship of ideas, not establishing a standard for science education that conforms to the Mission Statement and the Vision Statement published in the report.

"Science is a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us. Throughout history people from many cultures have used the methods of science to contribute to scientific knowledge and technological innovations, making science a worldwide enterprise. Scientists test explanations against the natural world, logically integrating observations and tested hypotheses with accepted explanations to gradually build more reliable and accurate understandings of nature. Scientific explanations must be testable and repeatable, and findings must be confirmed through additional observation and experimentation. As it is practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century, science is restricted to explaining only the natural world, using only natural cause. This is because science currently has no tools to test explanations using non-natural (such as supernatural)causes."

Can you imagine telling Albert Einstein he could not pursue his "Theory of Relativity" because it could not be explained by the accepted "natural science" of the day and therefore might be considered "supernatural"? Can you also imagine telling Madame Curie to stop experimenting with radiation because it gave the appearance of something "supernatural"? Are those scientists involved in the search for estraterrestrial life to be excluded from the field of science because there are no known "Martians" in our current body of knowledge of science and also because they may use ESP or paranormal methods such as "remote viewing" which could be considered "supernatural"? How many other great discoveries would have been lost if this draconian restriction had been imposed on the scientific methods of their day?

The appearance of a "supernatural" aspect of an observed phenomenon leading to the need to amend existing theories or even to invent new ones should not automatically prohibit scientific investigation into its causes, but the proposed definition of science would do exactly that. Would it not be fair to say that if our early ancestors were shown some of the modern technology we enjoy today, they would consider it "magic" and "supernatural"? Does the State Board intend to revise our Science standards downward to be more in keeping with those of the "Dark Ages", or will they allow them to continue to move forward into the 21st Century? Is there such a fear that the flaws in "naturalistic Darwinism" will be exposed that ALL criticism of it is being prohibited? If that is the case, you had better remove all of the writings of a growing number of scientists in every field of endeavor. Most are certainly no advocates of intelligent design, but at least they are willing to allow debate and criticism of Darwinian evolution, and admit its shortcomings, which is more than can be said of the proposed science standards.

A second paradox created by this definition is that "Scientific explanations must be testable and repeatable, and findings must be confirmed through additional observation and experimentation." This is a restatement of the definition of "the scientific method". In order to meet that definition, the hypothesis must be testable, observable, and repeatable. That would rule out any study of the origins of the universe or scores of similar topics since it is not possible to repeat phenomena such as "The Big Bang" that took place during that time, and they are certainly not observable now, this many years later. It would reduce such studies to philosophical debates, not scientific investigation.

For these reasons, I have written to the members of the board to voice my opposition to the proposed changes in the Science Education standards, and I have asked that they present a public statement of need as to why these standards are under review for change out of sequence. Instead of correcting a perceived error in the standards, adoption of the proposed changes would create one, and that is not in the best interest of maintaining the quality of education we have become accustomed to for our children. We should confine our political debates to the realm of politics and leave science and education to the scientists and educators. Changing educational standards for political reasons is neither good politics nor sound educational policy. The standards should be politically neutral, and allowing criticism of ALL theories should be that standard.
Simply outstanding, though I believe this well thought out statement will fall on deaf ears. It seems that everyone has an opinion about these issues and those opinions never change.

Sigh...nothing short of a miracle will keep those standards in place today.