Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Teaching science

I'm not usually one to post "me too" items, but this one simply has to be posted, and I can't say it better than did Dr Lawrence Krauss, a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University. In an essay in Science Times in yesterday's New York Times, Professor Krauss worries about schools keeping children scientifically illiterate. We all know the drill by now, where some people want to teach Biblical creation in science class, but Dr Krauss is looking beyond that, at those who run the system.

Dr Krauss specifically considers Dr Steve Abrams, the chairman of the Kansas school board, and a "strict creationist" who nevertheless acknowledges that his religious views have no place in the classroom.

A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams's religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.

It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain a belief in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology and geology. It is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic, rather than by empirically testable laws.

Professor Krauss finishes with this summary:

But when we win minor skirmishes, as we did in Kansas, we must remember that the issue is far deeper than this. We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world. The battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.

I just have to say "What he said!" And I'll go a little farther and say that this is a perfect example of something that shouldn't be assigned at a local level. This isn't an issue of what the appropriate speed limit is on this road or that, whether an area should be zoned for business use, or at what age we consider someone mature enough to decide to marry. Science is the same throughout the country (and beyond, but we can only put control where we have it[1]), and how to teach it in science class shouldn't be a question for local custom.

Teach your children as you please, at home. Teach them about your values and your beliefs. And send them to school to learn what they need to know to be solid, productive, educated members of a technological society. The children of Kansas, as those anywhere, are ill served by being left unprepared for science in a scientific world.

[1] And it's interesting that of all the countries that are at the forefront in science and technology, none but the US is having this argument. Countries that identify themselves as 90%, 95%, even 98% Christian are happily teaching science to their children, and would not consider doing otherwise. We are alone here. We should be ashamed of that.

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