Here's the Lexington Herald-Leader, reporting on this crisis:
A Western Kentucky school superintendent is arguing that a new test which Kentucky high school students will take for the first time next spring will treat evolution as fact, not theory, and will require schools to teach that way.The letter, written by Hart County School Superintendent Ricky D. Line, has sparked an animated demonstration among the chattering classes here in the state--and has caused a number of skeptic and atheist bloggers to leave off grooming themselves long enough to cast the usual aspersions in the general direction of anybody who strays away from the tribe.
The letter prompted a response by officials on the highest branch of the education tree: State Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and the Kentucky School Board. At first blush, the letter sounds pretty impressive. But after running it through our usual battery of observational procedures here at Vital Remnants, it becomes clear that a number of things don't add up.
The letter is signed by the Commissioner but, by his own admission, he relies on research provided by the Department of Education's "legal and curriculum staffs." Now I can't say too much bad about the lawyers at KDE: They, at least, got real actual academic degrees. But "curriculum staff"? Are these people with "education degrees"? As we have pointed out here before, you can get better academic credentials by mailing in a coupon from a cereal box.
The letter gives the superintendent a lecture on the use of the word "theory." Line had asserted that evolution was "just a theory." Holliday says that, in science, the word "theory" does not mean, as it does in common usage, "little more than a guess." Holliday takes him to task for using the term in its everyday use rather than its use among the higher species of hominids known as "scientists."
Apparently Holliday and the Board didn't notice that Line was not making a scientific statement, but speaking in common English, in which the common usage of the word was exactly as Line was using it. Line was not engaging in science when he wrote the letter: He was speaking in common everyday English to the State Commissioner of Education. But, of course, educrats have trouble with common English and strongly prefer jargon to plain speech.
"Theory" as Holliday defines it, is a scientific jargon word, with a different meaning inside the discipline, one which is surely quite useful there. But which, outside it, only offers education bureaucrats an opportunity to make pedantic points that have no real relevance to the discussion.
Lectures like this (which you hear every time you use the word "theory" in its vernacular sense in the presence of a Darwinist ideologue) are turned into an opportunity to enforce a dominance hierarchy in which those who dissent from the Approved opinions are kept in their proper place in the cultural pecking order by implying that those who disagree with the dominant paradigm are just not very smart. Either that or they just can't make a basic distinction between common vernacular speech and the technical vocabulary of an academic discipline, which, in itself is not very smart.
Secondly, in the process of giving this lecture, Holliday says:
In science, facts never become theories. Rather, theories explain facts. [emphasis in original]That is, at best, an oversimplification. All you've got to do is to and talk to a quantum physicist, who (if he adheres to the Copenhagen interpretation, the original and still standard interpretation of the theory) will tell you that science is not in the business of explanation, but of prediction. Quantum theory, the most successful predictive paradigm in science, has, for all practical purposes, handed explanation back to the philosophers. Niels Bohr. Check it out.
Then there's this gem:
Additionally, science is not a system of belief. To ask if a scientist ‘believes’ in the theory of evolution is an improper question because the term ‘belief’ implies a position or opinion based on faith. A biologist would properly say he/she understands and acknowledges the evidence supporting the theory of evolution. Belief is an act of faith and is not necessarily concerned with the availability of supporting evidence. For this reason, beliefs are not considered to be within the realm of science.Just go ask a real scientist if he "believes" in the theory of evolution. You know what will happen? In all likelihood, he'll say, "Yes." He won't give you some geekish lecture on the proper way to phrase the question in a scientific environment.
Fortunately the ignorance that prevails in the higher branches of the public education tree has not yet infected lexicography. Here are a few definitions of "belief" culled from standard dictionaries:
- American Heritage: "Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons"
- Merriam-Webster: " conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence."
- Webster's New World Dictionary: "A belief is an opinion or something that a person holds to be true."
And even if it were true that the term "belief" only referred to opinions based on faith, scientists don't talk like this. They commonly talk about "believing" that the theory of evolution (or replace this with any other scientific theory). So if scientists themselves talk this way, why are we giving pedantic lectures to school superintendents?
This is all nonsense. Under the most universal use of these terms science is belief based on reason and evidence and faith is belief based on divine revelation or authority. These terms are used this way all the time by people in and outside the discipline of science.
The irony here is that most people believe in evolution on the same basis they believe in religious faith positions: on the basis of authority. They don't have the least conception of what the scientific evidence for it is; they simply believe it on the grounds that the scientists they've heard about say it's true. The further irony is that many scientists, who claim to be all about reason and evidence, not only think there is nothing wrong with all the people who believe in Darwinism on the basis of scientific authority, but think it would be unscientific not to!
Besides, science proceeds as much by scientists' faith in their own hunches and intuitions as by reason and evidence, as anyone familiar with Einstein--or for that matter Galileo (whose heliocentrism was not supported by the evidence of the time, as the Church rightly pointed out)--would know.
Finally, Holliday tries his hand at the law, with the help, apparently, of his legal department:
Moreover, the federal courts have ruled that creation science, a religious concept or belief, is not science at all. [See Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F.Supp.2d 707, 764 (E.D.Pa. 2005); McLean v. Ark. Bd. of Educ., 529 F.Supp. 1255, 1259 (E.D.Ark.1982) (dismissing “creation science” as “simply not a science”).]It may be true or false that creation science is not science. But to appeal to a court decision--and a problematic one at that, is slightly strange. Courts may have the power to dictate what schools can and can't teach, but to appeal to them as the final arbiters of the definition of science is highly problematic to say the least. Philosophers of science can't even agree on where to draw the line between science and non-science. So how is a judge supposed to competently do it?
In fact, the reasoning in the Kitzmiller decision, at some points, inconsistent, and, at others, simply laughable. I wrote a response to the section on the ruling in which the scientific status of ID is discussed here.
Judge John Jones first simply assumes Karl Popper's demarcation criterion--that a necessary condition for something to be science is that it be potentially falsifiable. But Popper's demarcation criterion has long been considered problematic in the philosophy of science, since it excludes activities commonly acknowledge to be science. Anyone blindly applying it as Jones does has no business making authoritative pronouncements about what makes science different from non-science.
Jones argues that Intelligent Design does not meet this criterion because it is not falsifiable. He then turns right around and argues that it is false. If it's not false, then it is falsifiable, and if it is not falsifiable, then it cannot be false. But he just goes on hoping that no one will notice the blatant contradiction in his argument.
Such is the state of the Commissioner of Education's arguments. But remember: it's superintendent Line who doesn't know what he's talking about.