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Thursday, July 06, 2006

No wonder there are uproars about textbooks!

A friend writes to say that, according to the Texas Education Code, §28.002, Chapter 112, Subchapter C, §112.43, high school biology students are expected to "(C) evaluate the impact of research on scientific thought, society, and the environment," and "(F) research and describe the history of biology and contributions of scientists."

Fine and dandy. One of the books Texas was proposing to adopt in 2003 was Raver's Biology: Patterns and Processes of Life, which is said to have claimed on p. 99:
Until the 1500s, many Europeans believed Earth was flat and the sky was a large dome somehow suspended above it. Adventurous sailors like Columbus and Magellan, and the work of astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo, caused considerable controversy at the time....

My friend notes, citing material supplied by the Discovery Institute (but generally known):

It is not true that most Europeans in the 1500s believed in a flat Earth, or that Columbus caused controversy for believing that the Earth is round. Europeans inherited the ancient Greeks' knowledge not only of the Earth's shape, but also of its approximate circumference. Novelist Washington Irving's fictional 1828 account of how flat-earthers supposedly opposed Columbus was put forward as actual history by the late nineteenth-century anti-Christian authors John W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who used the flat Earth myth as a way of discrediting Christians who challenged Darwinian evolution. See the book on this subject by University of California historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth (New York: Praeger, 1997). See also James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

In any event, as I replied to him, Dante was one of the most popular authors of the mediaeval period (the Middle Ages), and the cosmology of his books (which was generally accepted at the time) makes no sense unless you assume that the Earth is a sphere.

In other words, a mediaeval person who thought the Earth was flat would be unfamiliar not only with the science of the day but with the popular literature based on it (in other words, completely culturally ignorant).

Note the weaselly way Raver refers to "many Europeans" who may have believed that the Earth was flat. Well, who were they then? Wild men in the hills of Ireland? Pagan Lithuanians? Unreached circumpolar peoples? I am sure you could find people in those days, deep in the Black Forest perhaps, who did not know what educated opinion held regarding the Earth. But mediaeval Europe was not a democracy, let alone a post-modern environment, and the opinions of the merely ignorant were considered irrelevant.

Taxpayers should not have to pay for these misrepresentations, nor should students have to endure them.

This is another one for the "Why there is an intelligent design controversy" files.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Darwinism vs. ID: Why the Social Sciences Council refused to fund the controversy in Canada

Back in April, I reported on the fact that Brian Alters, director of of McGill University’s Evolution Education Research Centre, was refused $40 000 in Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funds for the purpose of - essentially - stirring up trouble in Canada by pushing Darwinism down everyone's throats.
The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made.
In that post, I provided a detailed list of reasons why Canadian culture is, on the whole, a less likely venue for an acrimonious controversy between Darwinism and ID than American culture.

Anyway, Yves Gingras, a former member of the Council, has pointed out in a letter in Nature,
... , an excerpt from the rejection letter, lifted from its context, has been used to suggest that the committee felt there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent-design theory, was correct". But this excerpt can be interpreted in a less dramatic manner: the committee simply thought the study was not impartial enough in its approach. After all, social-science research should study phenomena and not promote a particular view; many scholars legitimately demand a symmetric approach.

Yes, well, exactly. Alters had made very, very clear that his was entirely a partisan endeavor, aimed at cementing Darwinism beyond the reach of criticism such as that of agnostic philosopher David Stove, never mind that of ID advocates like Michael Behe - making Darwinism a publicly funded religion of science in the school system.

I remember Alters's jeering presentation on creationist museums in the United States, at a reception at the 4th World Science Journalists Conference in Montreal (October 2005). I think creationist museums are ridiculous too, but I also thought that, in the context, Alters's presentation was off topic. If there are any creationist museums in Canada, they are not an important feature of our cultural landscape. If Alters thinks that the attitude he demonstrated that evening should convince anyone of his suitability for social science research funds, he is just plain wrong.

It is an axiom of social sciences that research and advocacy are separate quests. A genuine social scientist asks, regarding a creationist museum, "What needs does it address? For whom? What social factors underlie this need?" There are few certainties in life, but here's one: We will not get this approach from Alters.

But, as a Darwinist, Alters would not recognize his advocacy as a problem for his research. Darwinism is a monistic system that attempts to explain all of human nature on Darwinist and materialist principles. And Darwinists know that Darwinism is true. So no distance from one's subject is needed after all! Thus, any refusal to grant money on the grounds of a lack of separation between research and advocacy is unscientific and explains why Darwinism needs to take over the social sciences.

Darwinism needs to take over the social sciences? Uh, yes. Darwinists have nothing but contempt for the "standard social sciences model" espoused by the Council - a model that they propose to replace with the bogus discipline of evolutionary psychology - so I won't be at all surprised if the social workers are bullied into giving Alters the money anyway. They'd be wise to resist.

Personally, I think a young social or political scientist should consider an MA or PhD thesis on the differences between Canadian and American culture (including political and social structure) that result in less uproar over ID in Canada - apart from any hell raised by Alters or perhaps by visiting teams of American six-day/young earth creationists. But the latter are much less of a problem, because they speak in privately funded church basements, not in publicly funded school systems.

One point to keep in mind: A much larger proportion of the Canadian than the American population (about a half vs. about a third) is of Catholic cultural background. The Catholic Church accepts evolution, but rejects Darwinism, the brand Alters is apparently promoting.

Alters received a whack of cash from Lucent Technologies in 1999 to found at centre at McGill University, to advocate his view in Canada.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Visual of the day: Behe's irreducible complexity, as applied to car manufacture

Of course, Hondas arise by natural selection acting on random mutation, just as living cells do. Right?

No? So, let's see ... the engineers are randomly assembled. The cars they design are not.

No wonder there is an intelligent design controversy.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

Are you looking for
A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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