Wed 7/16 program in Austin on protecting science education

Here’s a press release for a public program on the UT campus in Austin, Texas this coming Wednesday titled ‘Science Education in Texas: Keeping It Religion-free’

From a curriculum standpoint, I think that’s a mistaken emphasis. The point should be to preserve the integrity and authenticity of science curriculum. The courts can act to stop unconstitutional presentation of religion in the public schools, but the primary curriculum reason for fighting against the interjection of things like “Intelligent Design,” etc., is not because those things are religion, but because they are not science.

Here is the press release:

Contact: Clare Wuellner
Phone: (512) 420-8667

CFI-Austin Presents ‘Science Education in Texas: Keeping It Religion-free’

Speakers to Highlight Dangers of Creationism Encroaching into the
Public Schools

Austin, Texas (July 10, 2008)- Science education in Texas is under
attack as never before, as evidenced by the recent ouster of State
Director of Science Education Christine Castillo Comer for the offense
of promoting science education. Now, as Comer pursues her lawsuit for
wrongful termination, the Center for Inquiry-Austin, Texas Citizens
for Science, and University of Texas Section of Integrative Biology
invite the public to a forum on the fight to keep evolution at the
forefront in science education.

Speakers and talks include:

· Steven Schafersman – “How Will Texas Oppose Aggressive, Organized
Creationism in Texas?”

Schafersman is a 22-year veteran college and university science
professor, and founder of the Texas Citizens for Science, where he has
been president since 1980. His talk will focus on how Texas science
supporters will oppose the continuing efforts of those who willfully
demean science education.

· Ed Brayton – “Yes Virginia, it really is all about religion.”

Brayton, founder and president of Michigan Citizens for Science, is
the voice behind the popular blogs Dispatches from the Culture Wars
and The Panda’s Thumb. He will show, despite claims to the contrary by
proponents, the solely religious nature of the Intelligent Design

· Josh Rosenau – “Nothing new under the sun: The evolution of creationism.”

Rosenau, a staffer at the National Center for Science Education,
describes the central irony of the creation-evolution controversy-how
rapidly and frequently creationism evolves. He will show how
creationist strategies have changed, what to expect in the future, and
how to protect accurate science education in the public schools.

A question and answer period will follow the talks.

The program will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, at UT
Campus, Burdine Hall, Room 108. Admission is free, and free parking is
available at C Lot after 5:45 p.m. and in the LBJ Lot anytime. For
more information, visit .

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational,
advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New
York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in
1980; the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded
in 1976; and the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health.
The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on
three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and
fringe-science claims; and medicine and health. The Center’s Web site
is .



  1. Kevin Currie
    Posted July 14, 2008 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Dr. Whitson,

    I see what you are saying and agree that the primary curricular purpose of this meeting should be the preservation of actual science.

    Actually, though, I am not sure I see the difference between showing that ID is primarily religious in motivation and showing that it is not science. I think that if you do the former, you very directly do the latter. By showing that the proponents of ID generally have alterior motives that are themselves extra-scientiic, and by showing that they are less concerned with experiment than ideology, I think you also give reason to see their ‘science’ as suspect.

    If I can show that adherents of a particular “scientific” viewpoint are really moved first and foremost by some extra-scientific ideology, then I at very least am giving a good reason to strongly suspect that the science is also not good.

    Of course, it could happen that the viewpoint I have shown to be ideological could HAPPEN to be good science in addition to ideologically-motivated, but exposing the ideology as an ideology would be a great way to suggest that it probably is not (and should be very carefully looked into).

    Heck – look how well that strategy is working for the ID crowd. They have suggested that science and evolution are ideologies and the mere ACCUSATION has caused science to be on the defensive. As it works for them, so can it work for defenders of evolutionary theory.

    So, yes, ID should be challenged as bad science, and the primary concern should be on showing that it is not science (and conversely, demonstrating that evolution is good science). But exposing the very unscientific belief system that ID was created upon may in fact be a great way to do just that.

  2. Posted July 14, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Kevin, I’m not trying to tell anybody else what the purpose of their meeting should be. Keeping religious teaching out of the public schools is a legitimate purpose in itself, and there’s nothing wrong with people giving priority to that purpose in their efforts.

    I’m just saying that I think the purpose of limiting the science curriculum to legitimate science should take priority from a curriculum standpoint. Creationists tell people that the science “establishment” is waging war against religion. But a commitment to include only good science will exclude pseudoscience, religiously motivated or not.

    Someone who is not opposed to religious teaching should support excluding ID on these grounds. These are grounds for excluding ID from science classes even in religious schools where everyone supports teaching religion. In my 12 years of Catholic schooling, including two years of high school biology, religious teachings were sometimes discussed in science classes, but those teachings never were presented as if they were part of the science itself.

    From a curriculum standpoint, I’m saying that the important point that’s been lost is that the curricular reason for not presenting ID in science is simply that it is not science. In science classes, students should at least learn to understand that difference. Opposition or antipathy to religion isn’t the point. I think it would be helpful if the public could see this.

    Your point about the motivation for ID providing grounds for suspicion is a valid one. As you know, however, the ID advocates argue explicitly that their religious motivations have no bearing on the validity of their “science.” In principle, that is correct, which makes it important to argue against inclusion of ID on scientific grounds. (I think you will be interested in reading Steve Fuller’s book on Science and Religion (or a title close to that).)

  3. Kevin Currie
    Posted July 14, 2008 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    From a curriculum standpoint, I’m saying that the important point that’s been lost is that the curricular reason for not presenting ID in science is simply that it is not science. In science classes, students should at least learn to understand that difference. Opposition or antipathy to religion isn’t the point. I think it would be helpful if the public could see this.

    I see what you are saying here, and I do think that opposing ID solely because it is not good science should be a top priority. I still think, though, that when one can expose a belief proposed as a scientific claim as relying for its foundation on extra-scientific (rather than scientific) tenets, that one has shown that it would almost CERTAINLY be bad science.

    Yes, I know that the ID folks claim that their religious motivations play no part in it. But if it can be shown – it has and can – that this is untrue and that their religous beliefs are often invoked (in friendly company) as part-and-parcel to their “scientific” claims, then I think that strategy is a highly effective one which has the effect, also, of calling their claims to be a science into question.

    And we should not forget that just like they claim that their religious beliefs have nothing to do with it, so do they claim that the science as taught in the schools is a restrictive definition of WHAT SCIENCE SHOULD BE. Johnson and others repeatedly acknowledge that, under the standing “definition” of science, theirs may not fit, but argue that this is the fault of too restrictive a definition.

    Thus, my fear is that if we rely first and foremost on arguing that theirs is bad science, they will always retort that we are working with too narrow a definition of science. Should that happen – it would – we will be left in an akward and highly philosophical debate about who controls what the definition of science is for curricular purposes (as there really is no DEFAULT definition of sceince).

    So, I definitely see your points about the primary curricular concern of keeping bad science out of the science classroom. I just don’t see how exposing the core of ID to be religous as anything but a big part of doing just that. (All you must do from there is explain – over and over and over – that as religion deals with the supernatural, it would take us far afield of science’s domain.

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