Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Judge rules in favor of the University of California's policy of denying course credit to some religious texts

A federal court has ruled that the University of California's policy of denying course credit to classes using religious texts with which UC disagrees. I'd love to see the comparative science scores of the private schools using the texts that UC rejects and the kids coming from public schools who use the texts they do accept.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

In that case we should allow mathematical credit for "Christian" courses which teach pi is 3, and literary credit for "Christian" courses who do not teach fiction because they believe it is deceptive. Oh, yes, and credit for fundamentalist Muslim geography classes which teach the world is flat.

Anonymous said...

The A-Beka biology text that Lexington Christian High School used a year or so back (and might still use) has a lovely illustration of Adam riding on the back of a lion in the Garden of Eden. Sort of sets the tone for the rest of the book. I feel sorry for the students who think they are taking a biology class when their teacher or homeschooling parent gives them dreck like this as a substitute for science instruction.

Martin Cothran said...

If a Christian school were to teach that pi is 3, it would be demonstrably wrong and would violate the explicit procedures laid out in mathematics. In fact, it would disable you from performing certain certain mathematical procedures altogether. Knowing what pi is is literally necessary to doing mathematics.

What your argument banks on is that the belief in evolution is as necessary to science as the correct view of pi is to mathematics. I disagree with young earth creationists too, but overstating the case against it can't do your argument much good.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Okay, so here's your argument:

The A Beka book has a picture of Adam riding on the back of a lion

Therefore, the A Beka book does not teach science well.

Care to elaborate on this a little bit?

Anonymous said...

Martin Cothran said:
"Care to elaborate on this a little bit?"

Not really. I'm glad the University of California is not giving credit for insanity masquerading as science. You are free to go ride a lion.

Martin Cothran said...

I don't blame you for not wanting to elaborate on your reasoning: it's not worth elaborating on.

The book you are talking about is widely used in schools across this country, and is one of a series of science books put out by A Beka.
Several years ago, our school hired a very well-regarded chemistry teacher who had worked in the Louisville magnet schools for over 25 years and who was semi-retired. He wanted to use a particular chemistry book, but he couldn't remember the name of it. His wife had brought it home and he remembered liking how it presented the material. It was A Beka's Chemistry book--a book you would have the same problem with as their Biology book.

The irony was he that was a Catholic who firmly supported evolution and had no use for creationism--and still thought it was an excellent science text.

Maybe you could give him a lecture on how to teach science.

Anonymous said...

Evolution is as necessary to modern biology as pi is to mathematics, actually more so. If you deny that, you can't have much experience with mainstream biology.

Lee said...

By the way, anonymous, that claim about the Bible teaching that pi = 3 is absurd. Somewhere on the web is an atheist math professor who made a big deal out of that.

It was, at first, difficult for me to believe someone with a Ph.D. in math would make that claim. Like he'd never heard of the concept of significant digits.

Here's the offending Bible verse:

> 2 Chronicles 4:2 (NIV): "He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it."

The good professor argued this meant that the Bible says pi = 3, because, since the circumference = pi * diameter, then 30 / 10 = 3. And as we all know, pi is closer to 3.14.

Before you consider what I might say, here's a discussion on the concept of significant digits, here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significant_figures

If you check that link, you will see we are not talking about higher math. I think I was first introduced to this concept in eighth-grade math. I think it is safe to say that the Ph.D. fellow knew about this concept.

Which made his insistence that the Bible was in error on this somewhat puzzling to me.

Now, to proceed: consider that the Book of Chronicles was written probably sometime around 400 B.C., before Arabic numerals were in use. (They were invented in India, perhaps, at around the same time, but were not yet in wide use.) So, how does "thirty" in Hebrew translate to an Arabic numeral? Or "ten"? What we *cannot* do is to presume a greater degree of precision than the expressions used. Therefore, it is safest to say:

"thirty" = 30
"ten" = 10

Now, here's the question: how many significant digits are contained in each of these numbers?

By following the rules of significant digits, the answer is 1 -- that is, 30 has 1 signficant digit, which is "3", and 10 has 1 significant digit, which is "1".

All this is to say that we don't know how precise these measurements were -- but as expressed, we do not know if the author was implying 30, 30.0000, or in fact 33 or 28, both of which round to 30. We cannot presume more precision than is specified.

So if we divide "thirty" by "ten", how many significant digits will the result have? From Wiki:

> "For multiplication and division, the result should have as many significant figures as the measured number with the smallest number of significant figures."

Another way of saying the same thing: in arithmetic, the result of a calculation cannot be any more precise than the least precise operand.

This means, if we divide, 30 / 10 without knowing the precision of the numbers, we cannot presume the quotient should containing any more significant digits than the operands -- which is 1 significant digit.

In other words, 30 / 10 = 3. Not 3.0. Not 3.2. Not 2.9. Just 3. 3 is not a precise answer, only a correct one.

And in this context, of course, pi is implied to be 3 -- but only because one or both operands has only one significant digit.

In other words, the Bible is correct.

Surely the professor knew this. I sent him a cordial email, asking him why he didn't point this out on his blog? I received no reply. It's not like an atheist, in my experience, to not respond to a Christian argument when they think they have a good comeback.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Strange how those students who use these texts do so well on the ACT science section and in their college science courses.

Anonymous said...

The ACT science section has nothing to do with biology, it has to do with different kinds of induction, classification of data, etc. Demonstrate that those who use creationist textbooks do well in college BIOLOGY courses, then we might have something to talk about.

But even if they do, the purpose of credit is not to predict how well one will do in college, but how well one has covered the material. If creationist kids were somehow naturally smarted than public school kids (or just better prepared for higher education), then they might do well in their collegiate biology classes. However, this does not mean that they have covered the relevant material in high school and have earned credit.

Anonymous said...

If Martin disagrees with young earth creationism, then how can he defend teaching the absolute dreck in chapters 13, 14 and 15 of the A-Beka text _Biology God's Living Creation_ 2nd edition?

Art said...

"Strange how those students who use these texts do so well on the ACT science section and in their college science courses."

Data, please.

FYI, I've had direct experience with the college that is propped up by A Beka Books, and I know for a fact that the school is woefully inadequate when it comes to science. Hence my skepticism, and suspicion that this is another case of Martin pulling some "facts" out of thin air. I'd be glad to be shown to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I found a copy of “Biology God’s Living Creation” and a couple of other A Beka Books “science” texts at Half-Price books in Hamburg. I wasn’t surprised by some of the religious content and moralizing. However, the sections on evolution, paleontology and geology were nothing more than outlandish lies. Chapter 14 “Evolution: A retreat from Science” is worse than something Ken Ham would put together. I showed this to several biologist/geologist friends who were amused/appalled at the content.

Almost every sentence on horse evolution (page 374) is either an outright falsehood or displays fundamental misunderstandings of the subject. If you have your copy handy compare the A Beka text p. 374 to the information here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses/ . The rest of the chapter is just about as bad and is even more dishonest in a few other places such as the sections on human evolution/paleoanthropology and the outright lies on the geological time scale starting on page 369. The authors also reprint a 1925 WJ Bryan speech on p. 364 - 365; interesting content for a science textbook.

The falsehoods aside, I was even more taken back by the sneering anti-intellectual attitude towards "evolutionists" and "darwinists" present on almost every page of this section.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

I was referring to my own anecdotal experience with students at schools who use these programs, all of which score high on standardized tests, college entrance exams, and do well in college science courses.

I don't know that a study has been done on how students who specifically used the A Beka Biology book, but I'm sure there are studies showing the performance of students on standardized tests who use A Beka books and other books like them--home schoolers for example.

Care to look at those?

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

So you're saying that any classes using science books that contain errors should not have their courses accepted by colleges?

Martin Cothran said...

The ACT science section has nothing to do with biology, it has to do with different kinds of induction, classification of data, etc. Demonstrate that those who use creationist textbooks do well in college BIOLOGY courses, then we might have something to talk about.

But even if they do, the purpose of credit is not to predict how well one will do in college, but how well one has covered the material. If creationist kids were somehow naturally smarted than public school kids (or just better prepared for higher education), then they might do well in their collegiate biology classes. However, this does not mean that they have covered the relevant material in high school and have earned credit.


Well now, given the way you've set this up, it appears that your view on the matter isn't even falsifiable.

That's ironic.

Lee said...

> anonymous: "The falsehoods aside, I was even more taken back by the sneering anti-intellectual attitude towards "evolutionists" and "darwinists" present on almost every page of this section."

Out of curiosity, do you object to sneering in principle, or only sneering which is directed in what you consider to be the wrong direction?

I am a veteran of many debates with evolutionists, in many venues, and my impression is that I could take sneering lessons from a lot of them, especially the ones who are militantly atheistic.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

Your claim (or what your claim should be, that homeschooled kids do well in biology classes at college) still does not mean that they should get credit for courses. That's not what credit means. While your claim is falsifiable, it's irrelevant to the issue of credit.

Lee said...

So, then, there is a standard for how well a high-school-level course trains someone in a discipline which is unrelated to how well prepared the students are to advance in the discipline?

How would you articulate such a standard?

Would that standard involve not, say, just mastering enough of evolutionary theory to pass an established objective, but rather, say, avowing belief in it?

Because, if that's the measure, I would just preempt that response by pointing out you don't have to believe in something to understand it. There are plenty of seminary students who don't believe in the Bible, but can probably explain with a reasonable degree of fairness the theology of a Calvinist or an Arminian, for whom the Bible is an authority. I don't think you can fail a student at seminary for not believing in the material he has mastered, but you can fail someone for believing what he's supposed to, but not mastering the material.

Anonymous said...

Lee,

The point is not whether one believes the material he is taught, but whether he is taught in a comprehensive way. For modern biology this means being taught in the evolutionary framework. That's just how the discipline is, and if kids are not taught that way, they haven't covered the material in a way that gets credit for a biology course. And with these textbooks, they mention evolution fairly briefly, usually only to say its wrong. Even if ones deal with it more in depth, it's highly unlikely that any exist which deals with it as the framework of biology rests on. That takes at least a textbook in itself.

It's a bit like a student getting credit for a "biblical theology" course where the course doesn't cover the Bible, or covers it just enough to say that its all bogus.

Lee said...

> For modern biology this means being taught in the evolutionary framework.

Tell me something about evolution that is known to be a fact. After all, the theory has been around for 150 years. Surely, there is something we know about evolution, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that's unquestionably true.

Whatever it is that you can come up with, which happens to be truly verifiable, is what should be taught to grade-school kids.

Leave the tendentious theorizing for college.

Art said...

"Art,

I was referring to my own anecdotal experience with students at schools who use these programs, all of which score high on standardized tests, college entrance exams, and do well in college science courses."

My "anecdotal experience" tells me that students trained the "A Beka way" need lots of remedial work and TLC to get up to speed when it comes to biology.

"I don't know that a study has been done on how students who specifically used the A Beka Biology book, but I'm sure there are studies showing the performance of students on standardized tests who use A Beka books and other books like them--home schoolers for example.

Care to look at those?"

Sure, bring 'em on.

Anonymous said...

Martin Cothran said:
"So you're saying that any classes using science books that contain errors should not have their courses accepted by colleges?"

Actually the content of the A Beka biology book in question goes far beyond mere "errors". Entire sections grossly misrepresent (lie about) biology, geology, and paleontology. The errors don't appear as accidents or temporary lapses on the part of the authors, but instead look like they were "intelligently designed" to mislead the student and misrepresnt the science.

Anonymous said...

Lee said: "I am a veteran of many debates with evolutionists, in many venues, and my impression is that I could take sneering lessons from a lot of them, especially the ones who are militantly atheistic."

So are you talking about evolution/creation "debates" at churches or have you presented papers at scientific meeting and in journals (where scientific debate actually occurs)?

Anonymous said...

Lee, it doesn't matter whether evolution is a fact or not. The fact of the matter is that modern biology is taught within the framework of evolutionary theory. Students going on to the collegiate level, even if they wish to be the scientist who one day overturns evolutionary theory, have to not only be exposed to it, but exposed to how it is in current modern biology.

As to the merits of evolutionary theory, biology does not require proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. But neither does history, and I don't see you questioning the existence of Alexander the Great. I would go on about the standard of proof biology does require, and cite the convergence of evidence in a number of fields (that the late pope explicitly acknowledged), point out that the whole discipline of genetics not only proved many aspects of evolutionary theory, but made visible the process of natural selection. But from what I've seen, you've already determined that kind of evidence won't convince you. My guess is that if you do study biology in depth, it's to prove your position, not to actually engage in biology as an objective science. But feel free to prove me wrong! Sign up for classes on biology, take classes on genetics and paleontology with an open mind and we'll go from there.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

I actually agree with you that, whatever your view on evolution, you ought to at least present it so that the student can understand what the theory says and why it says it, although I'm not as certain that it absolutely has to be done at the high school level.

But even if a text doesn't do this, I find it hard to believe that a student absolutely cannot understand the structure and function of plants, human anatomy and physiology, how scientific reasoning operations, the classification of plants and animals, the basic structure of cells, and how DNA works without being committed to natural selection or evolution on the macro level.

Maybe you could explain that.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Actually the content of the A Beka biology book in question goes far beyond mere "errors". Entire sections grossly misrepresent (lie about) biology, geology, and paleontology. The errors don't appear as accidents or temporary lapses on the part of the authors, but instead look like they were "intelligently designed" to mislead the student and misrepresnt the science.

Well, let's just assume, based on your vague claims, that the errors about evolution you say are there are really there. How does this affect basic knowledge about plants, animals, humans, and cells?

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

So if it can be documented that home school students (who commonly use these kinds of programs) do better on science tests on the average than public school students who don't, then you're going to recant?

Art said...

Hi Martin,

The question is the performance of home-schooled students who were taught the "A Beka way". That's the data we are all interested in. You'll have to find surveys that segregated these students from, say, those taught by parents who used superior course materials.

Or you'll need to acknowledge that you haven't any data to back up your claim.

Lee said...

>> Lee: "...my impression is that I could take sneering lessons from a lot of [evolutionists], especially the ones who are militantly atheistic."

> anonymous: "So are you talking about evolution/creation "debates" at churches or have you presented papers at scientific meeting and in journals (where scientific debate actually occurs)?"

Exhibit A.

Look up "argumentum ad verecundiam" and then explain why it does not apply to your remark.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

I'll see if there is data specifically on A Beka to see if it supports my anecdotal experience. Meanwhile, you said this:

My "anecdotal experience" tells me that students trained the "A Beka way" need lots of remedial work and TLC to get up to speed when it comes to biology.

To quote your earlier post, "data, please".

Lee said...

> anonymous: "Lee, it doesn't matter whether evolution is a fact or not. The fact of the matter is that modern biology is taught within the framework of evolutionary theory."

And the framework should never be questioned? If the facts don't matter, aren't we talking about a religion? The public schools rejected a prior framework -- "God created the heavens and earth" -- based on the absence of facts. Why should the new framework get a free ride?

> anonymous: "Students going on to the collegiate level, even if they wish to be the scientist who one day overturns evolutionary theory, have to not only be exposed to it, but exposed to how it is in current modern biology."

But that is what I was saying in the earlier post: the material must be mastered, whether you're a true believer in evolution or not. Those who reject evolution, in whole or in part, do themselves a disservice when they do not master the essence of evolution's case. Know thine enemy. But I would question whether it needs to be force-fed to kids at the grade school level. You can gain an impressive understanding of biology just by sticking to the facts. Emphasize facts, logic, rhetoric, math, and linguistic skills at the grade-school level, and you will give students the tools to do their own thinking later on.

The very least that would accomplish would be to demonstrate the bare minimum of respect for fundamentalist/evangelical Christian taxpayers, who do not necessarily enjoy subsidizing the state's efforts to undermine the religious beliefs they work so hard to instill in their kids. If we can't teach my religion in the schools, why must we teach yours?

As an aside, I have often wondered if much of the scorn directed at Christians from many evolutionists is not due to a love of science, but a hatred, or perhaps a distaste, of Christianity. We may find out sooner than we'd like. There are already signs in Europe that, when the teachings of science and history contradict Islam, the cowed education establishment alters their teachings so as not to offend the Muslims.

> anonymous: "As to the merits of evolutionary theory, biology does not require proof beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Thank you! Can we all agree, then, to quit complaining when Intelligent Design theorists present a circumstantial case for the presence of design in biology? Or do you take the position that ID needs to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt before it can be considered a science, but evolution doesn't?

> anonymous: "But neither does history, and I don't see you questioning the existence of Alexander the Great."

I quite concur. The case for Alexander is basically circumstantial. No mere human being alive today remembers him directly. We have to build a circumstantial case, so to speak, based on historical writings, of which plenty exist. They're all lying through their teeth, or Alexander existed.

But the case for evolution is not based on historical document analysis. Essentially, it's based on a combination of things, including: a form of biological and/or archaeological trend analysis; inferences drawn about the trends; a hypothesis concerning the mechanism that purportedly caused the trends; and an assumption that none of this could have resulted from a supernatural cause.

What's missing from all this? A couple of things. Direct evidence, for one. Much of what constitutes research into evolution happens to be research into what *could* *have* *been* a path from species A to species B, or from biochemical process A to process B -- since, as you point out, we can't rewind history and re-play the tape.

And the acknowledgment that we're working from a set of assumptions, for another. The evolutionist complaint about ID is that you cannot prove the supernatural. Whether that is the case or not, it's a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. Since we have no scientific evidence about the supernatural, the very least we can do is refrain from making assumptions about it in science classes. That includes a major tenet of Darwinism, which is that natural selection is a *sufficient* explanation for the diversity of the species -- sufficient to explain the evolution of all life from one cell.

If we can't draw conclusions, or even make assumptions, about the supernatural, it applies to everyone: Christians, ID folks, Creationists, *and* Darwinists.

But if circumstantial cases are allowed, it is perfectly fair for evolutionists to show that the combination of random mutation and natural selection is possible to explain a lot of things, without divine intervention. (It doesn't mean the divine intervention wasn't there, however.) But these are propositions, and it is fair to challenge propositions. When we assume that natural selection is a sufficient explanation, it is put on a pedestal, safe from attack. But if it becomes a proposition, then it is fair game to challenge it.

It becomes not merely a question of biology, but also one of mathematical probability, which is precisely the foundation of the ID critique. It is legitimate to question the probabilities when a mechanism is claimed to have no need of anyone's god. If you go to a craps table, take the croupier's dice, and proceed to roll a hundred snake-eyes in a row, you don't need to scientifically prove the dice were loaded (i.e., *designed* to produce snake-eyes) to conclude that the odds point in that direction.

> anonymous: "...the late pope explicitly acknowledged..."

Please. If you can cite the Pope, can I cite James Dobson? Just kidding, but really, isn't that a red herring? I'm not a Catholic in any event, and the Pope's utterances are not (for me or other Protestants) authoritative.

> anonymous: "...the whole discipline of genetics not only proved many aspects of evolutionary theory, but made visible the process of natural selection."

It depends on what you mean by evolution. If you mean that species change, you're right. If you mean that natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the diversity of all life from a single cell, the discipline of genetics stands mute, and in fact raises the question: was genetics itself an invention?

> anonynous: "But from what I've seen, you've already determined that kind of evidence won't convince you."

Time now for the ad hominem? Well, that's certainly scientific, isn't it? As logic, it's discredited, but as evidence for Darwinism, somehow it's compelling?

> anonymous: "My guess is that if you do study biology in depth, it's to prove your position, not to actually engage in biology as an objective science."

I'm not a biologist at all. I just figure that if I'm required to believe something that a bunch of scientific authority figures tell me, I'm permitted to question it. Particularly when the cornerstone of the theory is not a fact, but a mere assumption that cannot be arrived at scientifically: that natural selection is a sufficient explanation for it all, and no supernatural power was involved.

After all, if I'm not really qualified to question evolution, then I'm not qualified to believe in it either, am I? Or are we just supposed to accept what our betters tell us, always, at face value? If they want compliance from skeptics, then they need to quit basing their case on presumptions about the supernatural, or stop chiding others for doing the same.

Anonymous said...

Lee said: "Tell me something about evolution that is known to be a fact. After all, the theory has been around for 150 years. Surely, there is something we know about evolution, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that's unquestionably true.

Whatever it is that you can come up with, which happens to be truly verifiable, is what should be taught to grade-school kids.

Leave the tendentious theorizing for college."

Let's see... true things about evolution. That would make an overlong list. I'll just give some of my favorites.

- Inheritance is particulate, not blending.

- Inheritance is not perfect. Changes can and do happen in heritable information.

- More organisms are produced than can be sustained under prevailing ecological conditions.

- Those heritable variations which correlate with differential survival of organisms tend to have higher proportional representation in the population.

- The distribution of traits in a population can be influenced by chance effects, such as population bottlenecks and sampling from a limited pool of variant.

- Fossils are the traces of organisms that were once alive.

- Fossil forms show that extinction of species happens. Certain fossils represent organisms common enough, large enough, and distributed in areas where if they were present through the present day could not have been overlooked.

- Fossils are distributed in a stratigraphic pattern indicating change in fossil assemblages over time.

- Fossil assemblages show that mass extinctions have happened at widely different times in the earth's history.

- The canonical genetic code is consistent with the theory of common descent.

- Patterns of differences in sequences of proteins and heritable information support the idea that these differences have accrued since the time of a last common ancestor.

- Evolutionary interrelationships have been used to advantage in medical research.

- Species have been observed to form, both in the laboratory and in the wild.

Well, that should get us started, anyway.

Anonymous said...

> And the framework should never be questioned?

Actually, it is, often. Prominent scientists are now putting forward the notion that natural selection may not be as influential in evolution as we thought, that random gene shifts for example may have a great effect.

> Those who reject evolution, in whole or in part, do themselves a disservice when they do not master the essence of evolution's case. Know thine enemy.

That much is true, and actually I wouldn't have that much of a problem with Christian textbooks if they taught evolution thoroughly, and then rejected it. I'm not aware of any textbook that does this.

> You can gain an impressive understanding of biology just by sticking to the facts.

Not modern biology. Biology is so heavily related to biology, which, in itself, refers back and demonstrates various evolutionary mechanisms that this is not really possible.

> If we can't teach my religion in the schools, why must we teach yours?

You're not going to make me pull out the list of prominent evangelical scientists are you?

>As an aside, I have often wondered if much of the scorn directed at Christians from many evolutionists is not due to a love of science, but a hatred, or perhaps a distaste, of Christianity.

Of the biologists I know, about half are Christian. Only a very few are anti-Christian in general (all are distasteful of creationists).

>Or do you take the position that ID needs to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt before it can be considered a science, but evolution doesn't?

ID needs to meet the basic criteria for science, one of which is that supernatural causes cannot be posited, and if an agent is to be "proven" the mechanism he uses must be proven as well. Natural mechanism.

>The case for Alexander is basically circumstantial. No mere human being alive today remembers him directly. We have to build a circumstantial case, so to speak, based on historical writings, of which plenty exist.

I'm not sure you understand what circumstantial means.

>Much of what constitutes research into evolution happens to be research into what *could* *have* *been* a path from species A to species B, or from biochemical process A to process B -- since, as you point out, we can't rewind history and re-play the tape.

You're talking about common descent as a historical matter. We observe evolution by natural selection (and other processes) directly through genetic analysis. History isn't done only through the study of historical documents, archaeology plays a large role as well (larger the more we go back). Similarly, for evolutionary evidence, we look to paleontology.

>Since we have no scientific evidence about the supernatural, the very least we can do is refrain from making assumptions about it in science classes.

Science can't talk about the supernatural, it rules it out at the outset. It also can't talk about literary theory. Just not what it's for.

>I'm not a biologist at all.

Couldn't have guessed.

>I just figure that if I'm required to believe something that a bunch of scientific authority figures tell me, I'm permitted to question it.

You can question it all you want, but if you want biologists to take you seriously, you should at least know the basics of the discipline. That means enrolling in classes, learning how genetics work, etc. You can't expect someone to write out a book on an Internet forum to explain everything from phylogeny to mitosis. And you can't expect people not to get irritated when you say things that demonstrate you don't even have a basic understanding of the field in which you are attacking one of the best established theories in science. I might as well go on a car forum and talk about why Chevies are faster than Fords even though I don't know a transmission from a carberator. You have to make an effort to get to know what you're criticizing, and in this case that means a serious time investment and a willingness to be a student.

Art said...

Hi Martin,

"Anecdotal experience" is just what it says. I never meant to imply that I am privy to scientific surveys or analyses. I have just heard that, for one particular class at one particular college that teaches the "A Beka" way, the success rate (meaning gainful employment in the discipline) for graduates in one particular scientific discipline in one particular year was zero percent.

I'll not be more specific, as this school is pretty vindictive.

Lee said...

>> Lee: "And the framework should never be questioned?"

> anonymous: "Actually, it is, often."

Really?

> anonymous: "Prominent scientists are now putting forward the notion that natural selection may not be as influential in evolution as we thought, that random gene shifts for example may have a great effect."

Sure. They'll consider anything except the possibility that there's an intelligence behind it. In any event, the distinction between random gene shift and natural selection appears unimportant. In natural selection as well as random gene shifts, the idea is that genes change. Whether the resulting change is "naturally selected for", or not, either way it is random in the sense that neither was intelligently designed. And in either paradigm, the change must at the very least not be detrimental to an organism's survival.

>> Lee: "Those who reject evolution, in whole or in part, do themselves a disservice when they do not master the essence of evolution's case. Know thine enemy."

anonymous: "That much is true, and actually I wouldn't have that much of a problem with Christian textbooks if they taught evolution thoroughly, and then rejected it. I'm not aware of any textbook that does this."

I'm not familiar with the Christian textbooks you have in mind, so I'm not able to dispute what you say. If I take your word for it that they don't do a good job of teaching evolution, then I would be forced to agree. If you're going to teach the concept, teach it effectively.

>> Lee: "You can gain an impressive understanding of biology just by sticking to the facts."

> anonymous: "Not modern biology. Biology is so heavily related to biology, which, in itself, refers back and demonstrates various evolutionary mechanisms that this is not really possible."

This remark doesn't strike you as tautological? Evolution is essential to modern biology because evolution is essential to modern biology? To me, that sounds more like a catechism than anything based on facts.

>> Lee: "If we can't teach my religion in the schools, why must we teach yours?"

> anonymous: "You're not going to make me pull out the list of prominent evangelical scientists are you?"

Pull out any list you like, but you're missing my point, I think. If we have to teach something regardless of whether it is factually based, that sounds like a religion to me. It especially sounds like a religion when people like Dawkins use it as a platform from which to espouse their own religion, namely atheism -- which is not scientifically verifiable. I guess it's okay to do that. Can't imagine why evangelical Christians get so upset, can you?

>> Lee: "As an aside, I have often wondered if much of the scorn directed at Christians from many evolutionists is not due to a love of science, but a hatred, or perhaps a distaste, of Christianity."

> anonymous: "Of the biologists I know, about half are Christian. Only a very few are anti-Christian in general (all are distasteful of creationists)."

How many of them publicly criticize Dawkins when he tries to make atheism sound scientific?

>> Lee: "Or do you take the position that ID needs to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt before it can be considered a science, but evolution doesn't?"

> anonymous: "ID needs to meet the basic criteria for science, one of which is that supernatural causes cannot be posited..."

Actually, they don't. They argue there is an intelligence behind life, not a supernatural intelligence. I often add the supernatural component in debate, but that's my personal belief.

> anonymous: "...and if an agent is to be 'proven' the mechanism he uses must be proven as well."

So my observation was correct: we don't need to prove evolution happened in order to teach it, but we *do* to prove ID happened in order to teach that. What makes evolution so special?

>> Lee: "The case for Alexander is basically circumstantial. No mere human being alive today remembers him directly. We have to build a circumstantial case, so to speak, based on historical writings, of which plenty exist."

> anonymous: "I'm not sure you understand what circumstantial means."

I'm comfortable with this definition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumstantial_evidence

>> Lee: "Much of what constitutes research into evolution happens to be research into what *could* *have* *been* a path from species A to species B, or from biochemical process A to process B -- since, as you point out, we can't rewind history and re-play the tape."

> anonymous: "You're talking about common descent as a historical matter. We observe evolution by natural selection (and other processes) directly through genetic analysis."

Since whether all life descended from a single cell is an historical question, then, yes, I am talking about history. I keep saying that my quarrel with Darwinism is that it purports to be a *sufficient* explanation for the diversity of the species. Note that this position does not require that species never change.

> anonymous: "History isn't done only through the study of historical documents, archaeology plays a large role as well (larger the more we go back). Similarly, for evolutionary evidence, we look to paleontology."

Fair enough. I don't think I excluded archaeology, but I'm happy to include it. A document is an artifact, too, just not pottery, or a shield, or a ruin.

>> Lee: "Since we have no scientific evidence about the supernatural, the very least we can do is refrain from making assumptions about it in science classes."

> anonymous: "Science can't talk about the supernatural, it rules it out at the outset."

By "ruling it out", do you mean:

1. Proceeds as if the supernatural may or may not be a factor, we just don't know? Or

2. Proceeds as if the supernatural does not exist or is irrelevant to what actually happened.

If science were content to go with the first, I would have no complaint. To me, that is a perfectly reasonable and scientific stance.

But it doesn't. The concept that all life evolved from a single cell without a guiding hand is quite simply taking sides -- a stance that simply, by science's own standards, cannot be supported by empirical evidence. As Dawkins says, the beauty of evolution is that it makes atheism intellectually respectable. All I'm doing is asking, does it really?

>> Lee: "I'm not a biologist at all."

> anonymous: "Couldn't have guessed."

This qualifies as sneering, I think. Exhibit B. Still waiting for an explanation why it is that people who claim to be champions of science, reason, and logic feel their case requires them to stoop so low.

And by the way, since you insist, let's reverse the parameters... why should I assume that someone trained in biology has a sufficient understanding of logic and evidence to know what he is talking about? Though I'm sure that there are many who do, it doesn't necessarily follow from being trained in that discipline. Can you specify which part of the biology training that an otherwise well-educated layperson would be incapable of understanding? Or which part of that training uniquely qualifies him as an expert in epistemology or statistics or probability theory?

>> Lee: "I just figure that if I'm required to believe something that a bunch of scientific authority figures tell me, I'm permitted to question it."

> anonymous: "You can question it all you want, but if you want biologists to take you seriously, you should at least know the basics of the discipline."

How do you know I don't? You can tell, just because I disagree with you? Aren't you begging the question? How scientific is that?

Michael Behe has mastered the basics of the discipline, as a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Have you taken him any more seriously because of that?

> anonymous: "And you can't expect people not to get irritated when you say things that demonstrate you don't even have a basic understanding of the field in which you are attacking one of the best established theories in science."

Perhaps you overestimate the persuasiveness of your case, thus far. And if I need to take courses in biology, maybe you should be taking remedial courses in logic and philosophy -- it might save you from an overreliance on the aforementioned rhetorical fallacies to make your point.

But at least we've answered the question I posed earlier, whether sneering was wrong in principle, or only wrong when applied towards evolution. When evolution critics get snarky, it's sneering; when its proponents get snarky, it's justifiable irritation. All so very scientific. Of course, I would have known this years ago if only I had taken that course in genetics.

Lee said...

> Lee: "Tell me something about evolution that is known to be a fact. After all, the theory has been around for 150 years. Surely, there is something we know about evolution, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that's unquestionably true. Whatever it is that you can come up with, which happens to be truly verifiable, is what should be taught to grade-school kids. Leave the tendentious theorizing for college."


> anonymous: "Let's see... true things about evolution. That would make an overlong list. I'll just give some of my favorites."

> "Inheritance is particulate, not blending."

Is that a true thing about evolution, or a true thing about genetics?

> "Inheritance is not perfect. Changes can and do happen in heritable information."

Same question.

> "More organisms are produced than can be sustained under prevailing ecological conditions."

Is this a true thing about evolution, or a true thing about the ecology?

> anonymous: "Those heritable variations which correlate with differential survival of organisms tend to have higher proportional representation in the population."

Which is, as I have pointed out on another thread, a tautology. Those who have traits that promote survival tend to survive. Why anyone thinks this is a profound insight... well, maybe I just need to take those biology courses, and then I would just see.

> "The distribution of traits in a population can be influenced by chance effects, such as population bottlenecks and sampling from a limited pool of variant."

Is this a fact about evolution, or a fact about genetics?

> "Fossils are the traces of organisms that were once alive."

Is this a fact about evolution, or a fact about paleontology?

> "Fossil forms show that extinction of species happens."

Is this a fact about evolution, or a fact about paleontology?

> "Certain fossils represent organisms common enough, large enough, and distributed in areas where if they were present through the present day could not have been overlooked."

What does not being overlooked have to do with anything?

> "Fossils are distributed in a stratigraphic pattern indicating change in fossil assemblages over time."

And this necessarily points to evolution? Why couldn't they just point to a series of extinct creatures? How would be able to prove from the fossil record that species A begat species B?

Remember, I asked for *facts* that we *know* to be true about evolution. So far, what's been offered are either 1) tautological, i.e., facts only because of the way the propositions are constructed; 2) facts about other things; or 3) evidence applied toward evolutionary theory.

> "Fossil assemblages show that mass extinctions have happened at widely different times in the earth's history."

Not necessarily a fact about evolution, but perhaps a fact about natural history.

> "The canonical genetic code is consistent with the theory of common descent."

Another way of stating this proposition: we don't know enough about genetics to be able to use it to disprove the notion of common descent. Well, that's a modest fact, it seems to me, but it's a start.

> "Patterns of differences in sequences of proteins and heritable information support the idea that these differences have accrued since the time of a last common ancestor."

But did they accrue by evolution? And don't we have to build any notion of a common ancestor on educated guesses? I.e., inferences? Those wouldn't be facts, that would be theory.

> "Evolutionary interrelationships have been used to advantage in medical research."

Specify, please.

> "Species have been observed to form, both in the laboratory and in the wild."

Specify, please.

Anonymous said...

>How many of them publicly criticize Dawkins when he tries to make atheism sound scientific?

Many, actually. Most of the biology professors I had. If you're looking for more famous examples, Ken Miller, Micheal Ruse, H. Allen Orr, and Stephan Jay Gould. Many prominent evolutionists criticize Dawkins and his kind, including the more famous biologists.

>>> anonymous: "Not modern biology. Biology is so heavily related to biology, which, in itself, refers back and demonstrates various evolutionary mechanisms that this is not really possible."

Here I meant biology is heavily related to genetics.

>It especially sounds like a religion when people like Dawkins use it as a platform from which to espouse their own religion, namely atheism -- which is not scientifically verifiable.

In my time in acadamia I have never heard of a teacher making atheism necessary in their classrooms. Perhaps it happens, but it isn't very common

> They argue there is an intelligence behind life, not a supernatural intelligence.

If an "intelligence" can be posited scientifically, this is nothing more than a hypothesis until it can be scientifically demonstrated the agent of that intelligence. And the only kind of agent (or intelligence for that matter) which is scientifically demonstrable is a natural, corporal creature.

>I'm comfortable with this definition:

>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumstantial_evidence

... you didn't read that very carefully, did you? If you scroll down the page it gives examples of circumstantial evidence in the field of history. Alexander clearly has much more historical proof than circumstantial evidence.

>By "ruling it out", do you mean:

By ruling it out I mean it is not the kind of question science is able to ask. Science limits itself very strictly, which is the cause of its success, but it also is only able to deal with certain kinds of issues. Anything supernatural must be excluded from the outset as taking part in a scientific inquiry, even if by implication. That doesn't mean that evolution has absolutely nothing to do with theology (though certainly nothing important). Theology, being wider in scope, can discuss the conclusions of biology. But it can't pretend to be capable of doing biological research.

>This qualifies as sneering, I think.

Not sneering. It wasn't directed so much at a lack of knowledge about biology as an attitude which seems to assume you can know a good deal about biology without having studied it in depth.

>why should I assume that someone trained in biology has a sufficient understanding of logic and evidence to know what he is talking about?

What constitutes evidence for biology is a question that remains, if not within the realm of biology, at least within the realm of science. There has been much written about what constitutes scientific evidence. Furthermore, there are different standards of evidence for things like mathematics than there are for things like biology or history. It's not worth me writing a couple of pages about that, you'll have to study that in scientific literature for yourself.

>Can you specify which part of the biology training that an otherwise well-educated layperson would be incapable of understanding?

The only thing which makes an otherwise well-educated layperson incapable of understanding biology is prideful stubborness (there are plenty of laypersons who don't regard the issue as interesting or important to them which is perfectly fine, but I'm assuming your talking about those who are interested in biology and have the time to study it). If a layperson can't assume the role of the student, if he can't realize that he is going to have to learn from someone more knowledgeable than himself, he isn't going to learn anything at all. This isn't just true in biology, it applies to all disciplines. A master must first be a student, and that doesn't just mean going to class.

>Michael Behe has mastered the basics of the discipline, as a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Have you taken him any more seriously because of that?

I'm not talking to Michael Behe, or I would be able to make arguments that assume much more knowledge of biology. But you aren't Behe, and so those arguments would be pointless.

>Perhaps you overestimate the persuasiveness of your case, thus far.

You don't understand my case. That's the whole point.

>And if I need to take courses in biology, maybe you should be taking remedial courses in logic and philosophy -- it might save you from an overreliance on the aforementioned rhetorical fallacies to make your point.

I'm not sure that I should be the one that should be taking courses in logic and philosophy, given that I have solid academic credentials in both. To demonstrate I know a little about such matters, I'm going to point out that rhetoric, strictly speaking, doesn't have fallacies (which you should know, if you're an expert in these fields). Rheteric is persuasive speech, and while logic can be persuasive, logic doesn't comprise the totality of rhetoric. Much more is licit in rhetoric than in logic, and the person one is debating with can even be brought into question, which is fine if one isn't making a purely logical argument. If we want to talk about philosophy, I guess I should cite Plato's Meno, in which Socrates refuses to provide an answer to the impetuous Meno because he is not willing to be a student of Socrates, and wants answers on his own terms.

My question to you is this: are you willing to truly be a student in the field of biology? To apply yourself, to take classes and study material both in class and on your own? To not be determined in what kind of answers your studies will get, and follow the evidence where it leads?

Lee said...

> anonymous: "If an 'intelligence' can be posited scientifically, this is nothing more than a hypothesis until it can be scientifically demonstrated the agent of that intelligence."

I think the issue is, exactly what constitutes a scientific demonstration of the presence of intelligence? I suppose the science is in its infancy, but the idea I find rather startling is that DNA and the message contained in it are separate things -- same as the ink and pages of a book are separate from Shakespeare. If patterns start to meet specifications and communicate something, at some point, you reach the point where it is unlikely that information just wrote itself.

We certainly scour the heavens for SETI, signs of alien intelligence. Why would we bother to do so, if we weren't convinced we could recognize the difference between electromagnetic signals, and electromagnetic signals that carry an intelligent message?

Even here on earth, we often look for elements of "design" when we cannot reconstruct the actual events through observation or experimentation. Proving in a court of law that Mrs. Smith killed her husband when there were no witnesses is a matter of looking at the facts (dead body, cause of death, circumstances in which the body was found) and try to find a pattern behind the circumstances that provide signs of intelligence. That is, we must prove the man did not die by accident or by necessity, but by design. Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt? No. Admittedly, it's a different standard of proof than proving through direct observation that an object falls (on the earth) at an acceleration of 32 feet per second squared. But it's a standard of proof many sciences are comfortable with -- not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt. Even evolution cannot point proudly to a wealth of direct proofs of common ancestry; they must use inference, not deduction.

> anonymous: "... you didn't read that very carefully, did you? If you scroll down the page it gives examples of circumstantial evidence in the field of history. Alexander clearly has much more historical proof than circumstantial evidence."

Fine, you don't like my definition. So tell me, what direct evidence can you show that Alexander lived?

> anon: "By ruling it out I mean it is not the kind of question science is able to ask. Science limits itself very strictly, which is the cause of its success, but it also is only able to deal with certain kinds of issues. Anything supernatural must be excluded from the outset as taking part in a scientific inquiry, even if by implication."

But what's scientific about ruling something out based on no evidence. No evidence is no evidence. In computers, we would be using a BIT or BOOLEAN data type. Creationists say, "God is relevant" equals TRUE; natural selection says, "God is relevant" equals FALSE. I say, if you're going to be scientific, "God is relevant" IS NULL. That is, it cannot be said one way or another, from a scientific perspective. Therefore, it makes no more sense to rule it out of the equation as it does to rule it in.

More later.

Lee said...

>> Here I meant biology is heavily related to genetics.

Makes more sense, thanks for clarifying. But the original question was, why do grade schoolers need to be taught evolution? I don't think anybody has denied that there is something to genetics.

> anon: "In my time in acadamia I have never heard of a teacher making atheism necessary in their classrooms. Perhaps it happens, but it isn't very common."

Well, Dawkins is overt about it. Darwinism itself is much more subtle. It challenges the Biblical notion that God has a hand in all things. It argues that we do not need God to explain the diversity of life; see, you start with a single cell, shake, stir, and let it rise for four billion years, and voila! All quite natural, nothing supernatural here to see, move along now.

And all based on an assumption: that the supernatural, as you put it, must be ruled out from the start. "Ruled out at the outset", I think, is the very essence of an assumption.

> anon: "By ruling it out I mean it is not the kind of question science is able to ask."

I think that's a debatable proposition. Regarding evidence, we can at least agree that the preponderance of evidence that all life has common descent is of an *indirect* type, can't we? If we allow indirect evidence to scientifically suggest common descent, why must we disallow it for other things that cannot be directly observed and tested?

Dawkins himself says that life gives the appearance of design. We cannot directly observe the supernatural, but surely we can try to quantify what it is here in the natural world that give the appearance of design, can't we? Or are you proposing that, if the universe was created by God, there could not possibly be any scientific evidence within His creation to indicate His hand in things? There is no signature He could have possibly left us?

I'm fine with leaving these questions out of the science we teach grade-schoolers. But if we leave these out, I think it is only fair to leave out the notions of naturalistic evolution and common descent. Don't presume the supernatural. Don't rule it out, either. We don't know means we don't know. If God was behind evolution every step of the way, making unrandom selections to His heart's content, science can't measure that, by your own admission. It doesn't mean it didn't happen.

I'm fine, in other words, if ID folks have to play by that set of rules. But I think it's only fair that evolutionists do so as well.

> anon: "Not sneering. It wasn't directed so much at a lack of knowledge about biology as an attitude which seems to assume you can know a good deal about biology without having studied it in depth."

Let's stipulate that we are all ignorant, but on different subjects. Let's also stipulate that there is more to this issue than just biology. Quite a bit more. Most of what we have been arguing about is philosophical, and I would hazard an educated guess that a biologist is no better trained in that than someone with a degree in math, like me. I'm sure a trained philosopher would have plenty to criticize in my inexpert epistemological case, but that doesn't mean I raise no valid points. Same goes for anyone trained as a biologist.

> anon: "What constitutes evidence for biology is a question that remains, if not within the realm of biology, at least within the realm of science."

I think the philosophy department might have a thing or two to contribute.

> anon: "It's not worth me writing a couple of pages about that, you'll have to study that in scientific literature for yourself."

I have no reason, at this point, to think you are better versed on the rules of evidence than I am.

>Lee: "Can you specify which part of the biology training that an otherwise well-educated layperson would be incapable of understanding?"

> anon: "The only thing which makes an otherwise well-educated layperson incapable of understanding biology is prideful stubborness (there are plenty of laypersons who don't regard the issue as interesting or important to them which is perfectly fine, but I'm assuming your talking about those who are interested in biology and have the time to study it)."

Then you should have no problem with these issues being discussed by someone who is not a trained biologist. And you should not dismiss anyone who comes away with a different take on issues that are not of a purely biological nature as someone who is too pridefully stubborn to agree with you.

> anon: "I'm not talking to Michael Behe, or I would be able to make arguments that assume much more knowledge of biology. But you aren't Behe, and so those arguments would be pointless."

Let's be clear about this: my argument is *mostly* if not *entirely* based on philosophical concerns. I have no reason to believe I am less well-equipped to deal with those issues than you are. I will submit your continued reliance on argumentum ad verecundiam as exhibit A. You would of course not be able to use verecundiam against Behe, and would be forced to try another avenue.

>> Lee: "Perhaps you overestimate the persuasiveness of your case, thus far."

> anon: "You don't understand my case. That's the whole point."

You have said nothing so far in this discussion that requires anyone to stop in his tracks, run out and grab a Ph.D. in biology, and then come back to enter his rejoinder.

> anon: "I'm not sure that I should be the one that should be taking courses in logic and philosophy, given that I have solid academic credentials in both."

So you just employ argumentum ad verecundiam for fun, then?

Lee said...

> anon: "Furthermore, there are different standards of evidence for things like mathematics than there are for things like biology or history."

Fair enough. But even sciences where proof is less rigorously constructed are that way because their "truths" are less verifiable as fact, by the simple nature of the the science itself. "Water is a chemical compound comprising hydrogen and oxygen" is more or less a fact, directly observable by hydrolysis. "Inflation is caused by the expansion of m1 (money) without an equal or greater expansion in goods and services available" is not verifiable in the same way, and is even somewhat controversial in the world of economics, where arguments result over the measure of money involved or other complicating factors.

But I believe we have mostly been talking about science, give or take a red herring or two about Alexander.

> anon: "To demonstrate I know a little about such matters, I'm going to point out that rhetoric, strictly speaking, doesn't have fallacies (which you should know, if you're an expert in these fields)."

Did I claim to be an expert in logic or logical fallacies? I have pointed out what I think has been your over-reliance on argumentum ad verecundiam, and if I haven't mentioned ad hominem, I should have. But if someone points out an error in someone else's arithmetic, is he claiming to be an expert in mathematics?

And by the way, I'm not the only person who uses the phrase "rhetorical fallacy" to describe an informal fallacy. Google it yourself. Rhetoric "doesn't have fallacies", but is the culprit in *creating* fallacies in most if not all of the informal fallacies.

And you know, bottom line, I'm not really a stickler about those sorts of things. A little ad hominem can spice up a debate, so long as no one confuses it for an actual argument. All I need to do is point out when you're using it. And likewise, I'm also fair game. It doesn't mean you're a rotten thinker or a poor debater. Actually, I think, for what it's worth, you're very good. Just perhaps a bit sanctimonious about credentials.