Saturday, August 11, 2007

Teaching creationism in schools?

Curtis left the following comment on a recent post of mine:

Currently students are taught the theory of evolution as if it is a fact not a theory. What is wrong with teaching the competing theories with all the evidence on both sides of the arguements and then letting the students make their own better educated decisions?

At face value this does seem like a noble idea: teach both creationism and evolution in schools, and let the kids decide. However, in my view, the problem lies in the fact that the primary aim of school is not to necessarily teach children what to believe, but to teach them what they need to know.

For example, every student who plans to enter the medical field needs to know the germ theory of disease in order to be a successful doctor or nurse. Likewise, in order to become a successful biologist, botanist, microbiologist – or any other occupation that falls within the life sciences – you need to know and understand the theory of evolution, simply because evolutionary theory describes how nature works.

A microbiologist, for example, who needs to understand how the Tuberculosis bacterium evolves to become immune to treatment, needs to know the elements of natural selection. She can use her knowledge of evolution in this case to solve the practical problem of developing a more effective drug against the disease. What value does the ‘theory’ of creationism add this endeavour? How can it be useful as a tool?


What I'm arguing is that creationism shouldn't be taught on equal footing with evolution simply because it won't add value to the future work of school kids who might become biologists, anymore than alchemy will add value to a chemical engineer’s ability to do the job well. For a biologist to be successful she needs to know evolution, but she doesn’t need any knowledge of creationism at all. So why waste time teaching it in science class where it isn't needed?

I’m not saying that we should throw out creationism entirely. Maybe it can be mentioned in an historical review of humankind’s changing beliefs about origins, or taught alongside other creation stories in a class on philosophy or religion. But it should not be taught as an alternative to evolution, simply because, as an alternative, it doesn't contribute any value to the practical field of biology.

Your thoughts?

15 comments:

Trevor said...

However, in my view, the problem lies in the fact that the primary aim of school is not to necessarily teach children what to believe, but to teach them what they need to know.

Everyone needs to know about Jesus, and then believe in Him to have eternal life.

Therefore, the problem that you pose does not exist in the Christian mind. And in the Christian's opinion, what the Christian wants to make known is far more important than what the biologist, botanist or microbiologist needs to know.

CyberKitten said...

trevor said: Everyone needs to know about Jesus, and then believe in Him to have eternal life. And in the Christian's opinion, what the Christian wants to make known is far more important than what the biologist, botanist or microbiologist needs to know.

So we don't need to know anything about Science? So we wouldn't be having this 'debate' because there wouldn't be any Internet to have it on.... Or any computers... or any electricity for that matter.

Or any anti-biotics.... or anaesthetics.... Wouldn't *that* be a wonderful world? I'm guessing though that you *really* wouldn't like the 14th Century very much. Life was nasty, brutish and rather short.... You can't be serious... can you?

Nick said...

I think Trevor was playing Devil's Advocate.


The two big problems I have with Curtis's comment are that he confuses the meaning of scientific theoryand that he supposes creationism (or "Intelligent Design") have any manner of evidential backing whatsoever. That backing is a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in a science classroom.

Curtis said...

Does not the second law of thermodynamics contradict the possibility that things become more complex over time? it states that things will become equal. A hot object will allow its heat to flow to colder objects. How then does the world become more complex through the process of evolution without some outside force?

Things like this I have not heard adequate explainations for from evolution theorists. It seems to me, I admit my personal belief may cloud my judgement but I try for fairness, that in my expereince people who believe the theory of evolution are willing to give it a much lower burden of proof than they require of creation theory.

I know that some of you will reverse the arguement based on your experience so I acknowledge the fact that many people who believe many things hand on to those beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Kevin Parry said...

Curtis wrote:
How then does the world become more complex through the process of evolution without some outside force?

What if you kept on supplying heat to that hot object from an outside source? This is the simple answer to your question: the earth is not a closed system. The sun supplies the external energy needed for plants to grow, for weather patterns to form, and for evolution to occur.

Curtis said...

You are right that the planet earth is not a closed system but the sun is already part of that system it is not outside it. Yes the sun fuels our ecosystem but it is part of it. As such the 2nd law states that it does not contribute to increasing the complexity of the earth. Yes it does pass its heat to the earth as the earth is colder.

mike said...

Someone above said "Everyone needs to know about Jesus, and then believe in Him to have eternal life."

All anyone needs to know about Jesus is that he was a worthless religious nutjob. People who think the dead Jesus has any value are STUPID.

Lui said...

"Everyone needs to know about Jesus, and then believe in Him to have eternal life."

Just as everyone needs to know about Allah according to a Muslim.

"Therefore, the problem that you pose does not exist in the Christian mind. And in the Christian's opinion, what the Christian wants to make known is far more important than what the biologist, botanist or microbiologist needs to know."

Which of course has no bearing whatsoever on what counts as science, which is what we're talking about. It amazes me that you think that your faith makes you exempt from even having to consider this (this is assuming you’re being serious).

" Does not the second law of thermodynamics contradict the possibility that things become more complex over time? it"

No, it doesn't. You don't believe it does either, unless you believe that a fully developed person isn't any more complex than a zygote, or that computers can't get built, or that any process that involves an increase in complexity can be sustained.

"How then does the world become more complex through the process of evolution without some outside force?"

The "outside force" is the sun, providing energy for photosynthesis in plants; or hydrothermal vents, providing energy for those organisms that don't rely on the sun. The Earth isn't a closed system; the local increases in order that we see on our planet are more than paid off by the conversion of hydrogen and helium into less "useful" forms in the sun. The mistake many creationists make is to look at one part of a system in isolation without considering how other parts might have an important influence.

"Things like this I have not heard adequate explainations for from evolution theorists."

You may not have (and I have to ask: have you actually asked for an explanation from an evolutionary theorist?), but it has actually been explained ad infinitum. The ONLY reason these myths are so prevalent is because creationist propagandists are busy spreading distortions and half-truths, portraying them as major problems for evolutionary theory when they are in fact nothing of the sort. The "evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics" is actually a rather old claim that has been debunked so many times that many creationists no longer use it. That only should tell you how obviously ridiculous it is.

"I know that some of you will reverse the arguement based on your experience so I acknowledge the fact that many people who believe many things hand on to those beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary."

I'm sorry, but your argument is completely devoid of evidence and betrays a deep ignorance of science in general.

"You are right that the planet earth is not a closed system but the sun is already part of that system it is not outside it.”

Exactly; it’s already “part of that system”, and the system (the Sun and the Earth in this case) AS A WHOLE is heading towards greater disorder as the sun burns through its fuel. There is no violation of the 2nd law to be found, because a local increase in order is more than paid for by an OVERALL greater decrease in order. As long as you’re getting enough energy from somewhere, a process can be sustained.

“Yes the sun fuels our ecosystem but it is part of it.”

If anything, it’s more accurate to say that the ecosystem is “part of” the sun. The sun doesn’t rely on the existence of the ecosystem, but the ecosystem (at least that portion of it that relies on solar energy) cannot exist without the sun.

“As such the 2nd law states that it does not contribute to increasing the complexity of the earth. Yes it does pass its heat to the earth as the earth is colder."

It says nothing of the sort, because what counts is that energy is being expended and the Earth intercepts some of that energy, which is in fact used by many processes. If that energy can be used by biological systems (and it is used by biological systems, every single day), where’s the problem?

Lui said...

I meant to say "or that any process that involves an increase in complexity can't be sustained."

Kevin Parry said...

"People who think the dead Jesus has any value are STUPID."

I don't know if this is your first post here, but just a friendly word of advice.

I normally let conversations in the comment section run their own course. Sometimes things get pretty heated (as debates usually go), but that is how we learn, and I’ve never felt the need to interfere in the process. I have admiration for those individuals on opposite sides of the fence who have posted here but who still treat each other with respect.

However, I don’t appreciate this kind of name calling on this blog. You are welcome to post your thoughts on topics posted here, and if you have an interesting argument to present, you can even take part in some of the debates if you like (and you can be as passionate you want!) However, if your primary aim is to insult a person or specific group of people, please do it elsewhere.

You are welcome to post again, and I would love it if you did as I’m sure you have many interesting thoughts and ideas about the discussions that take place here. But please keep it reasonably civil.

All the best
Kevin

Roger Green said...

Well, I think we need to start teaching that the sun and the planets go around the earth. That was, after all, what people believed for most of human existence.

Actually, I don't think evolution and creationism are necessarily that much at odds. As a Christian, I think God was The Great Instigator, with the Big Bang or whatever.

Dan Sanders said...

Agreeing with Roger; when I was a Christian, I realized that evolutionary theory was perfectly sound, I just thought it had "guidance." I always believed that God was demonstrating Creation Science. And if you paid attention, in about 4 billion years, it would be obvious to everyone...

Now that I am not a theist, my scientific views are the same - it's my faith views that aren't.

jdcastro said...

There is no room for creationism in science classes, because it has no scientific backing.

Anonymous said...

christian creationism should be taught in a social studies course or anthropology course, and should be taught alongside nordic mythology, sikkhism, native american religions, and others.

it's not natural science and doesn't belong in a natural science class.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

This is a great area for discussion; thanks for starting it. I agree that what is taught in science classrooms should be what everyone "needs to know" in order to be successful in their field, and that an excessive amount of attention to debunked scientific theories should not be part of science class. However, I believe creationism does not fit the criteria for a debunked theory, as it is still hotly debated within the professional scientific community. You intimated that biologists, botanists, and microbiologists must ascribe to the evolutionist viewpoint in order to be successful in their field, but there are many, many "successful" (who gets to define that term anyway?) professionals in all of these fields (I personally know several, and have admired the research of many others) who are full-fledged creationists, and conduct their work from a creationist perspective. There seems to be a widespread belief that such individuals are somehow not actually contributing to the "cutting edge" scientific community, but this is a false assumption. We all observe the same natural phenomena, but there is not a professional consensus regarding its interpretation in many cases. Public schools should not mislead students into believing that all rational, intelligent, and sucessful life-science researchers ascribe to the evolutionary principles of origin when that is not the case.

phil