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IDnet-NM Teachers Workshop


by Dave Thomas : (Help fight SPAM!  Please replace the AT with an @ )

On May 1, three members of IDnet-NM (Joe Renick, David Keller, and Michael Kent) hosted a "Workshop on the teaching of biological origins in public education." Just over a dozen were in attendance, including several scientists and skeptics. The workshop, held at the Best Western Inn Suites on Yale near Gibson, began with an overview of the new science standards, and emphasized Steve Sánchez's statement "In no way do these standards diminish student's opportunity to examine other ideas nor exclude them from exploring data, observations, and other views that contribute to valid scientific inquiry. In addition, these standards do not present scientific theory as absolute, but rather engage students in a process to question and analyze existing data. This is inquiry - the essence of science."

David Keller discussed "Intelligent Design." It's not "Creationism," he said, and has no age of the earth or flood issues. It is, he said, a philosophical case against naturalism-only ways of thinking; a new, broader scientific paradigm for the historical sciences; an effort to protect the integrity of science from being co-opted by worldviews and ideology; and an effort to keep "religion" (broadly defined) out of the classroom. He described the main ID arguments and players. There was a lot of talk about the difference between "experimental" and "historical" sciences, with the constant implication that only when an experiment can be repeated in a lab is it "scientific." [I pointed out to the attendees that the so-called "historical" sciences were based on hypothesis testing, just like all sciences, and that observations on hypothesized effects constitute "repeat experiments." For example, if a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, then Cretaceous-Tertiary outcrops should show evidence of high levels of exotic materials like iridium.]

William Dembski's work was discussed, including his No Free Lunch Theorem(s): "Averaged over all possible fitness landscapes, genetic optimization algorithms (Darwinian processes) are no better than random chance. (The search algorithm must be chosen ahead of time to fit the problem to be solved, or it may be worse than random chance.)" [I was surprised to see such a concise statement of Demski's Boo-Boo in the workshop handbook; he's trying to explain away the powerful genetic algorithms used increasingly in industry. Genetic algorithms have been used to help design many things, including better aircraft engines; a large number of candidate designs are tested, and those that perform better for a complex set of requirements (improved air flow, increased efficiency, superior heat-sinking, etc.) get a chance to try again in another "generation." Occasional mutations and "sex" (combining features of different designs) are thrown into the mix, and after many generations, truly astounding designs emerge from the process. What Dembski is saying is that if you average these algorithms over ALL fitness functions - including those where air flow is horrible, efficiency is zero, and the heat sink fails - then they do no better than chance. But that's not surprising - set a stupid requirement, and you'll get a stupid result! Dembski claims to have toppled genetic algorithms, but he ignores the fact that when you use reasonable fitness functions - say, to make a better engine - then the results are indeed remarkable.]

We were told that science must explain by natural law, but that natural selection is not a law, and that historical sciences often explain by events, not laws. They said that science must not invoke unobservables such as hypothetical common ancestors, dark energy, or wave functions. A great deal was made about distinguishing science from natural philosophy, and how science is trapped by "Philosophical naturalism - a dogmatic belief that nothing exists beyond nature (what we can detect with our senses), and presupposes the nature of reality." [Of course, they are confusing philosophical materialism, the religious belief that nature is all there is, with methodological naturalism, the basing of science on things that can actually be measured and tested.] The discussion moved on to microevolution versus macroevolution, irreducible complexity, how the fossil record is different from Darwin's expectation, the Cambrian explosion, and the complicated inner workings of a cell. A very well-done movie of the dynamics of cellular structures was shown, and we all oohed and aahed appropriately. Finally, we got to the punch line - evolution is a creation story, and plays the role of a religion for many people. The new Ohio science lesson plan was discussed, and the entire plan was included in the workbook. This ID-friendly plans invokes the "usual suspects" touted by ID authors: peppered moths, the Cambrian explosion, Homology, and so forth.

The teachers present were encouraged to go out there and "teach students the difference between the historical and experimental sciences" and "teach students about the impact that philosophical commitments can have on the scientific process." In true doublespeak fashion, the presenters emphasized their concern for the integrity of science. It was a very odd morning.!

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