Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's be fair...



Erroll Treslan sent me this...

16 comments:

EvilPoet said...

I've seen that poster before: http://atheism.about.com/od/religiousright/ig/Christian-Propaganda-Posters/Teach-Evolution-Controversy.htm

Martin said...

Great! Let's get stuck into the "Earth's Shape" controversy.

anticant said...

The Roman Catholic Church only abandoned its doctrine that slavery was a morally legitimate Christian institution in 1965 - one hundred years after the American Civil War ended!

Kyle said...

When I was at school we actually had a debate in a history lesson about slavery. One side to asked to take on the role of abolitionists, the other slave owners. I think this was a rather helpful exercise.

I also had a teacher who explained the evidence for the earth being round, this was very interesting too.

There are far too many past and present debates to teach them all in school, but teaching some seems to be a very good idea. I would think the evolution/ID debate would be a very good one as it is likely to be a live issue for many children, and it is definitely something they will come across.

Martin said...

Having done a bit of poking around on the internet, I'd say that the artist who drew the poster was clearly sincere in his intentions. However I wonder what he meant by "both sides". My own list of topics for further research would go as follows:

Evolution: did singing precede speech in humans?

The Holocaust: should Turkey own up to the Armenian massacre?

Earth's Shape: was the "Flat Earth" view ever widely held?

Astrology: is it as valid as analytical psychology?

Civil War: what was the cause of the English Civil War?

American Slavery: is it inevitable?

Stephen Law said...

I was assuming it was a spoof poster.

The thing about teaching ID is:

(i) it is politically a live issue but scientifically dead as a dodo. It should not be presented as a genuinely live scientific issue, because that would mislead kids.

(ii) the science is beyond the ability of most school kids to weigh up. Certainly after just a couple of hours of teaching re either side.

Martin said...

Stephen, I agree with you entirely on (i). But a couple of points about (ii).

If (i) is true, there simply isn't a couple of hours of science to be got out of ID. Further, this letter from the BHA shows that many leading scientists want the theory of evolution introduced to primary school children (5-11 years) in the UK. The scientific consensus seems to be that the science of evolution, at least, is not beyond the reach of kids.

I'm sticking to my view that ID is something which is brought out round about Halloween time to scare those of a nervous disposition, and those who lack faith in the scientific method.

Kosh3 said...

"If (i) is true, there simply isn't a couple of hours of science to be got out of ID. Further, this letter from the BHA shows that many leading scientists want the theory of evolution introduced to primary school children (5-11 years) in the UK. The scientific consensus seems to be that the science of evolution, at least, is not beyond the reach of kids."

Its one thing to be able to understand the basics of evolution by natural selection; quite another to be in a position to form a rational judgment about the evidence for and against, and to assess evolution against rival theories.

Example: children can understand well enough what it means for the sun to be at the centre of the solar system. However, it is probably rather more difficult for them to understand all the reasons why we believe this is so.

wombat said...

Kosh3 -

I am really surprised that 5-11 y/o's do not already get a healthy dose of evolution. I remember doing stuff about dinosaurs, trilobites and the different geological ages at about 8. It even led to one of the class getting a strange nickname (see "Eryops")

OK it may not be at the level of DNA analysis but its useful background to see fossils embedded in rock in layers, to get the idea that over geological time what is now your home was under a sea and crawling with weird critters.

Kosh3 said...

Hmm I don't recall any exposure to evolution when I was a kid at school. Mind you, I don't recall much of anything I learned.

Sure, I don't have a problem with examinations of the fossil record. If it involves hands-on examination of actual fossils, or replicas of them, young children may get much out of that.

The idea though that a young child is in a good position to assess the strengths and weaknesses of complex physical theories seems a bit strained to me though.

wombat said...

Kosh3 -

To be fair the same teacher that had us learning that trilobites preceded dinosaurs by a few hundred million years also conducted our evening prayer and rehearsal for the end of year nativity play.


To a certain extent the argument (either way) is pitched at the 8 y/o level. These are not at that level very complex theories. - Look how long it takes to grind up a rock into sand. Look how many layers of stuff there are.

They are subtle theories true but essentially simple and all the more convincing for it. Take the earth/sun example you mentioned earlier. Just give the 8y/o a little light thing and a big heavy thing liked by a rope and ask which rotates about the other. Its not going to get to Kepler's laws of orbital motion but it makes sense to them.

Andrew Louis said...

Joke or not,
do you suppose that if you really did present both sides in a fair manner and let kids decide the chips would fall in the same manner? i.e. Some kids would naturally tend towards science and reason, and some would tend towards religion and/or poetic/metaphorical interpretations.

The benefit of this may be, we're naturally allowing children to become who they are.

Timmo said...

Martin,

The scientific consensus seems to be that the science of evolution, at least, is not beyond the reach of kids.

It depends on what you mean by the 'science.' It is one thing to show your results and other to detail the evidence. The results are intelligible and, in this case, should be part of everyone's background education. However, the body of evidence is beyond the competence of school kids, as it is most lay persons outside of science.

Here's an example. Tomorrow afternoon I will be explaining to my students (undergraduate students not in the physical sciences) the how semiconductors work, how doping them changes their electrical behavior, and how transistors and photovoltaic cells work. I am mostly going to give them the results of investigations and the relevant concepts. But, detailing the quantum mechanics of Bloch electrons, which lies behind all of this, is a topic for advanced undergraduates or graduate students.

Stephen has got it exactly right. The scientific issue has been settled, and it is just beyond the scope of students to make a competent judgement here.

Martin said...

Timmo, just to clarify, I make no claims about what science should be taught, except what is covered by the BHA letter.

The social, political or philosophical implications of the ID movement probably shouldn't be tackled until the students are a bit older (I'm neither a scientist nor an educator so you will have to forgive my lack of precision here).

I remember hearing the an ID type argument being put to my class during a Form teacher session when I was about 13/14. The example given was a half burnt guitar. Since I already knew I was an atheist it cut no ice with me, but I wouldn't really have been competent to have argued against it until a few years later.

I'm beginning to think that the real problem with ID is on the philosophical level. It's to do with what is natural and what is designed. All man-made objects are a combination of both, and we find it mostly easy to identify the difference. My wooden window frames have the square edges of a manufactured object and the grain of a natural one. This judgement is made by a combination of knowledge of the natural world and of manufacturing processes. It turns out it is a highly complex decision making process. There doesn't seem to be a way of making the judgement in an objective way.

The members of a species have a lot in common with manufactured objects. In most species there seems to be just enough diversity to suggest the "manufacture" is natural. Cloned examples of plants or animals however resemble very much items produced on a production line.

How could we objectively test for "design" or "naturalness"? Without this test ID's case is very weak. Suppose the proponents of ID did develop such a test (step 1. to becoming scientific) and then did show that some features we had always assumed were natural were in fact designed (step 2. a real scientific controversy).

I have no idea whether people in the ID community are working on step 1, but I just wanted to set out a philosophical case why their argument is so weak.

wombat said...

'How could we objectively test for "design" or "naturalness"?'

This is a bit that the IDers usually seem to miss out. Partly I suspect because it is a hard problem and partly because attempting an answer would in may cases work against the goal they have in mind. e.g if we allow that malaria was designed what of an omni-benevolent God. If we look at some obviously poor or inefficient designs what of omnipotence?

HannahNichol said...

This is off topic a bit, but interesting on the theme of "teaching both sides". My friend is a very strong Christian (I'm an atheist), and I have been going lately to this once-a-week event at her Church, where we discuss different issues and things. It is actually very interesting. Last week's talk and discussion was on creation. It was actually appalling, some of the things that they TEACH as being legitimate arguments.

For example, the first thing they did was to grossly offend me, as a secularist, by saying that all secularists believe in evolution. Does nobody actually understand the real meaning of the word?

Then, they enlightened me on this appalling idea - "macro" and "micro" evolution, which in my mind is basically just drawing lines in grey areas. They seem to somehow see a difference between evolution overall, changing species, and in shorter periods of time, within species. Ok, it's NUTS! I guess it's just a scape goat for the fact they CANNOT deny "micro" evolution, from all that overwhelming evidence from microbes or whatever.

And then.... fallacy counting!
LOTTERY FALLACY. Everywhere. Ooooh it wasn't good. What more can i say?
They also assumed that us "secularists" would automatically make the genetic fallacy and think that just because there were other explanations, doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. Which obviously is true... But we are permitted to follow the best supported evidence!

And at last... The most terrible crime of all. We watched a video, with this speaker talking about how he had met a molecular biologist. Apparently, this guy had told him that he had to go research a particular protein, as it offered overwhelming evidence for his religious stance. They showed a picture of the protein, and were all in raptures (excuse the pun). I was like "ok, so where is this leading?" expecting that at the nub of it all there was an interesting point about intelligent design - ie, this protein could only occur as a result of God!

But alas, I was mistaken. Yes, it turned out that the amazing thing was that this protein was in the shape of a crucifix.

Anyway, just thought I'd come on here and have a rant. A lot can be said for hearing both sides, but I would've darned well thought that they'd have had a spot more intellectual integrity than that. :/