Wednesday, August 10, 2005

O'Reilly

Of course, Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly had to weigh in on this as well. Let's have a look at his Talking Points Memo, subtly titled “God vs. Science”, from last Wednesday. We will consider it in its entirety.


While speaking to some Texas reporters, President Bush opined that he believes public schools should expose students to both evolution and the so-called intelligent design belief concerning creation.

Intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution and that a higher power might be involved. Evolution, put forth by Charles Darwin (search), says that life organisms developed over time through random mutations and factors in nature.


Not bad! I would simply point out that ID asserts that a higher power must, to a scientific certainty, have been involved in the origin of species. That claim is totally ridiculous, which is why O'Reilly opted for the softer phrasing. And while I'm not sure what “life organisms” are, that's about as good a one sentence explanation of evolution that I've seen on television.


Whatever your belief, it should be respected. But the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science both reject intelligent design and don't want it mentioned in science classes. That, in my opinion, is fascism. There is no reason the students cannot be told that more than a few people, including some scientists, believe the creation of the world, no matter how it occurred, involved a higher power. What on earth is wrong with that?

It would be wrong to teach Genesis (search) in a science class. That's for a theology course. But it is equally wrong to ignore the fact that evolution is not a universal belief. Just state the facts, whether it be science or any other subject.


So, if you believe that a pack of religiously motivated lies should not be taught in science classes you're a fascist. Lovely. So much for all beliefs being respected.

Of course, O'Reilly is using an incredibly benign definition of ID. He is treating ID as if it were just the bald assertion that God did something in the course of natural history. The way he tells it, if you stand in front of a science class and say, “You know, some believe that God was directly involved in natural history,” then you have taught ID and can now move on.

I have no particular objection to a teacher saying such a thing in science class, as long as it was immediately balanced by the comparable statement that many people also believe that the relentless progress of science has essentially disproved the Christian conception of God. The reason for not doing so is simply that such statements are totally irrelevant to the material being presented. Okay, so we've acknowledged that people believe many different things on the subject of God. Can we get back to teaching science now?

Should history teachers, when discussing the American Revolution, be expected to say, &lduqo;Some believe that the American victory over the British was only possible because of divine intervention”? Or when teaching about the holocaust, shoud teachers say, “Many people believe that the fact that the holocaust was allowed to happen shows that there is no all-loving, all-powerful God”? Of course not. So why should science classes be forced to discuss the topic?


Now President Bush told the reporters that he favored an exposition of intelligent design so, “people can understand what the debate is about”. It seems logical to me. But a Knight-Ridder reporter named Ron Hutchinson spun it this way.

“Bush essentially endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to give intelligent design equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation's schools.”

Well, I didn't hear anything about equal standing for the president. Of course, the reporter spun the story that way to make it seem like Mr. Bush is a fanatic under the spell of religious zealots. That's what some in the press do all day long.


Incredible, don't you think? Just moments after referring to the people who disagree with his view of this as fascists, O'Reilly protests that a reporter gave a snide description of Bush. I'm pleased, though, by O'Reilly's implication that evolution and ID do not have equal standing.

Now we come to the grand finale:


This isn't a complicated matter. Public schools have an obligation to present all subjects in perspective. Again, “Talking Points” isn't advocating Adam and Eve in the science lab. But if you're going to discuss the biological procedure of abortion, for example, you have a responsibility to tell students that half the country feels it's morally wrong. Right? The same thing with evolution. Of course it's accepted science. It should be taught as such. But there's no downside to mentioning that many people of faith believe a creator was involved in the process.

Are the public schools in this country champions of free discourse or not? The president is right.


O'Reilly was so fond of that abortion example, he made a big production about it when he later discussed the issue with biologist Paul Gross. It's an insane example. Find me one public school that discusses abortion in its biology classes. Furthermore, abortion is not a scientific theory.

I agree that this is not complicated. Schools should teach the basic facts of the various scientific disciplines, the methods that were used to obtain those facts, and the conclusions scientists draw from those facts. If you want to include some respectful statement about all the different beliefs people hold about the existence or nonexistence of God, go right ahead. But by the time you craft something that really includes everyone, you'll find that you have little time left for teaching science. Why not just state the obvious: Science has nothing to do with God. People who say otherwise probably don't understand either one.

7 Comments:

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Pierce R. Butler said...

ABC's "Nightline" says it will cover the politics of the ID debate tonight, including (oh boy!) "a debate, conducted by Ted Koppel, between two columnists who often agree, but not tonight: George Will and Cal Thomas."

Whether any actual scientists will be consulted remains to be seen...

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger Neurode said...

Since Jason is a mathematician, one would expect him to have some regard for mathematical standards of proof. But once again, he emits a half-baked opinion masquerading as a deductive certainty, following it up with a blanket insult of all who fail to agree with him.

Jason: "Why not just state the obvious: Science has nothing to do with God. People who say otherwise probably don't understand either one."

In fact, Jason has exactly zero chance of showing that science is properly independent of theology. He wouldn't even know where to begin. He makes this painfully obvious when he says:

"Schools should teach the basic facts of the various scientific disciplines, the methods that were used to obtain those facts, and the conclusions scientists draw from those facts."

1. The only "basic facts" of any scientific discipline are data; in general, statements about data have theoretical components and are therefore theoretical rather than factual in nature.

2. In addition to the empirical methods by which particular data are acquired, and the theoretical principles by which data are conceptually organized and explained, science students require in-depth exposure to the philosophical subtleties of the scientific method and how they impact the meaning of "science".

3. Without understanding 1 and 2, science students can't possibly learn how to evaluate the validity of scientific conclusions.

One would expect a university instructor to understand these things. But if there's one thing we've all come to realize about Jason, it's his amazing readiness to defy even the most fundamental didactic principles without modesty, shame, or hesitation.

 
At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Schmitt. said...

Since Jason is a mathematician, one would expect him to have some regard for mathematical standards of proof.

It's rather helpful that our understanding of the real world can't have mathematical standards of proof either then.

1. The only "basic facts" of any scientific discipline are data; in general, statements about data have theoretical components

A 'fact' in the scientific sense is that which is shown to be true to the best degree of mankind's ability, not a mathematical proof or 'deductive certainty' (actually it's an empirical assertion but you know whatever.) What I find oddest about your post is that data is a usually trivial statement about facts, and so you rather kneecap your own rebuttal.

science students require in-depth exposure to the philosophical subtleties of the scientific method

And philosophy of science and straight up philosophy courses are the perfect places to do this.

To finish, different disciplines of science have different standards of evidence, and the broad strokes we're duelling with here will be enough for any student before they begin to specialise in college or university, at which point they should be learning how scientists evaluate evidence anyway.

-Schmitt.

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous catherine said...

I'm so pleased to be able to increase the knowledge of the people who read this blog. A "life organism" is a creature otherwise known as a redundancy. Mr. O'Falafel is such an organism, since there are already many forms of - ah, I can't do it. I can't lay his villainy on another species.

Thanks for your work. Keep it up.

 
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