See the information in Steven Schafersman’s comment, below the body of this post.
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, will be in a mini-debate with Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) member Barbara Cargill at 8:20 a.m. tomorrow [Texas time; that’s 9:20 in New York and 6:20 in California] (Jan 21, 2009) on KTRU radio (Rice University) in Houston. You can get the live feed here. (Note: I’ve tested the links. The mp3 format is one that might not be playable, and won’t be automatically recognized, by the Windows Media Player. If you want that format, you can play it with iTunes. I recommend testing the live feed with your players before the debate starts.)
Dr. Schafersman has been doing this good work for decades, so he certainly doesn’t need suggestions from me about what arguments to make.
But that won’t stop me from saying what I would do.
The creationist SBOE members want the state science standards (TEKS) to require that students be taught to critically examine “Weaknesses” in the scientific theories that they’re learning about. They claim that this is not a religiously-motivated campaign, targeting evolution. Instead, they insist, their purpose is “academic freedom,” and the cultivation of “critical thinking” powers of students, by including “Strengths and Weaknesses” of all the theories that they learn about in science — not singling out evolution to be treated differently, which could raise flags in the courts.
Insertion of this requirement would serve as their basis for refusing to approve science textbooks that don’t tell students about “weaknesses.”
The problem with that is that it literally does not make any sense, scientifically speaking: Scientists recognize how established theories may be incomplete in some respects, and subject to modification in light of new observations. But, speaking scientifically, it does not make sense to talk about these characteristics as “weaknesses” of established theories. That’s not “the way science actually operates.”
The creationist SBOE members can’t come up with sensible examples of what should be included as “Weaknesses” in the textbooks. SBOE member Mercer has brought up the Piltdown hoax as an example, and has continued using it as an example even after it has been explained to him why it cannot be understood as a “weakness” of evolutionary theory. Where are the textbook publishers supposed to find examples of “weaknesses” to include in their textbooks?
If I had a chance with Cargill, I would ask:
Please let us know what you would want included as “weaknesses” of any of these theories:
- Atomic theory
- Kinetic theory of gases
- Plate tectonics / Continental Drift
- Theory of Gravity
- Theory of relativity
- Quantum field theory
- Cell theory (Biology)
Remember, Cargill is the SBOE member who claims credit as having been a high school science teacher, and who continues as director of a private “science” camp. If she can’t come up with examples of “weaknesses” of any of these theories, where will the textbook publishers find any?
The creationist SBOE members like to ask “Why is it OK to discuss the weaknesses of other scientific theories, but evolution is treated differently — so teachers and students are not allowed to discuss the weaknesses of evolution?”
When Cargill proves unable to name weaknesses in the other theories, that will show that she is really only interested in having “weaknesses” included in the teaching of evolution.
And where could the textbook publishers get information about “weaknesses” of evolution to include in their biology textbooks? Where else (in fact, nowhere else) but in the non-scientific baloney about “icons” and such (e.g., the Piltdown hoax) propounded by religiously-motivated polemicists like those at the Discovery Institute (where SBOE found 2 of their 3 anti-evolution “experts” to review the new TEKS science standards). As Schafersman explains:
It is no coincidence that when the Creationists actually have to produce examples of the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution, they have to make them up. These were quickly exposed by scientists in books and articles as ad hoc, false fabrications with no scientific value. They had to make up the “weaknesses” because there are no legitimate weaknesses in the scientific theory of evolution for them to use. The alleged “weaknesses” of evolution described in Creationist books such as Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells and Explore Evolution by Stephen Meyer, Ralph Seelke, and other Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs) are bogus. While superficially compelling to individuals whose scientific knowledge is weak, these “weaknesses” are contrivances created by anti-evolutionists to mislead and confuse readers, as over a dozen books and tens of essays written by legitimate scientists have demonstrated. As I am fond of saying, ID Creationism is one of the few scholarly pursuits that tries to fool the individuals it wants to persuade. Intelligent Design Creationism is so successful at this task because it really consists of a type of pseudoscholarship which has mastered specious arguments, rhetorical persuasion, and marketing techniques to sell its product without good evidence, and has made sophistry a virtue. Creationism rejects evolution as a natural process, while science has accepted the fact of evolution since the 1870s.