Tuesday, December 14, 2004

No Duh!

NPR is reporting that Boston College has released its third in a series of studies, one every four years, ranking children in the United States against other nations in math and science. Once again, for the third time, US children lag behind many other countries, notably many east Asian countries.

Well, let's see... we live in a country where teachers are chronically underpaid for the education level required for the job, for the hours they must work, and for the level of pressure they are under to produce results. So-called "reform" efforts seem to center mostly on making teachers more and more accountable while continuing to let the schools they teach in and the materials they have to teach with degrade. And, despite the problems with the education system, we are dumping our tax dollars into rebuilding Iraq, which we wouldn't have needed to do if the Bush regime hadn't lied to get America to go to war.

For all these reasons, it's no big surprise to me that the US lags behind in education in general.

But I'm especially unsurprised that a country that is spending so much time and energy trying to put crap like Intelligent Design into school curriculums as "science," as in this case, is falling behind. Aside from the fact that Intelligent Design is just code for "Jesus did it," and teaching any form of Intelligent Design therefore is a violation of the First Amendment, Intelligent Design is not science nor is it a scientific theory!

That's not an opinion. It is a fact. By definition, all scientific theories must be, at least in theory, falsifiable. It must be possible to prove the theory wrong. This is one of the problems with string "theory" and why it is so hotly debated: No one has been able to think of a way to test it. Until there is a way to test it, string "theory" cannot be considered a valid scientific theory. And neither can Intelligent Design.

In addition, scientific theories are explanations for observable data. Intelligent Design supporters claim that Intelligent Design is also an explanation for observable data, but it isn't. Intelligent Design is simply a variation on the God of the Gaps fallacy, in which anything not explainable by current scientific knowledge must have been done by God. That is why Intelligent Design advocates don't spend much time explaining why Intelligent Design must be true, but rather spend all their time trying to tear down evolution. They falsely believe that, if evolution isn't true, Intelligent Design must be. But science doesn't say, "If you can prove the current theory wrong you are free to assert whatever you want." It says, "You can advance another theory that fits the observable facts better." Intelligent Design doesn't advance any rational evidence that it fits the observable facts. Intelligent Design is supported by false analogies, tautological argument, and fallacies. Tearing down evolution would simply mean science needs a new theory. Since Intelligent Design, by its very nature, relies on the unobservable (God) to work, it cannot be science, since science only deals with observable phenomena.

So, you've got a nation that spends its time and effort trying to teach religion and superstition as science, and that nation is falling behind others in math and science. Hmm. Conservatives are very vexed by this. They can't understand how this is happening.

How could you not know that teaching "theories" that aren't scientific theories and, indeed, don't fit the scientific definition of "theory" at all, in science classes would harm children's grasp of science? Science depends on reason. Teaching kids that an irrational assertion is equivalent to or an alternate explanation for a rational theory with boatloads of evidence behind it is naturally going to teach them that science isn't rational. Which is pretty much the death of science. It also takes time away from teaching actual science.

If the US wants to lead the world in math and science education, there are a lot of things we need to do, but first on that list is to stop teaching things that aren't science as science. As much as evangelicals really, really want Intelligent Design to be science, it just isn't. As long as adult Americans continue to push superstition as science on our children, the US will just keep lagging behind.


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