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  • Popplestone, Ann
    August 15, 2006 Essay How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS Voters in Kansas ensured this month that noncreationist
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15 6:28 AM
      August 15, 2006


      How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate


      Voters in Kansas ensured this month that noncreationist moderates will
      once again have a majority (6 to 4) on the state school board, keeping
      new standards inspired by intelligent design from taking effect.

      This is a victory for public education and sends a message nationwide
      about the public's ability to see through efforts by groups like the
      Discovery Institute to misrepresent science in the schools. But for
      those of us who are interested in improving science education, any
      celebration should be muted.

      This is not the first turnaround in recent Kansas history. In 2000,
      after a creationist board had removed evolution from the state science
      curriculum, a public outcry led to wholesale removal of creationist
      board members up for re-election and a reinstatement of evolution in the

      In a later election, creationists once again won enough seats to get a
      6-to-4 majority. With their changing political tactics, creationists are
      an excellent example of evolution at work. Creation science evolved into
      intelligent design, which morphed into "teaching the controversy," and
      after its recent court loss in Dover, Pa., and political defeats in Ohio
      and Kansas, it will no doubt change again. The most recent campaign
      slogan I have heard is "creative evolution."

      But perhaps more worrisome than a political movement against science is
      plain old ignorance. The people determining the curriculum of our
      children in many states remain scientifically illiterate. And Kansas is
      a good case in point.

      The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is
      not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes
      that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in
      The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith "doesn't
      have anything to do with science."

      "I can separate them," he continued, adding, "My personal views of
      Scripture have no room in the science 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.

      Dr. Abrams has no choice but to separate his views from what is taught
      in science classes, because what he says he believes is inconsistent
      with the most fundamental facts the Kansas schools teach children.

      Another member of the board, who unfortunately survived a primary
      challenge, is John Bacon. In spite of his name, Mr. Bacon is no friend
      of science. In a 1999 debate about the removal of evolution and the Big
      Bang from science standards, Mr. Bacon said he was baffled about the
      objections of scientists. "I can't understand what they're squealing
      about," he is quoted as saying. "I wasn't here, and neither were they."

      This again represents a remarkable misunderstanding of the nature of the
      scientific method. Many fields - including evolutionary biology,
      astronomy and physics - use evidence from the past in formulating
      hypotheses. But they do not stop there. Science is not storytelling.

      These disciplines take hypotheses and subject them to further tests and
      experiments. This is how we distinguish theories that work, like
      evolution or gravitation.

      As we continue to work to improve the abysmal state of science education
      in our schools, we will continue to battle those who feel that knowledge
      is a threat to faith.

      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.

      Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor of physics and astronomy at Case
      Western Reserve University.

      Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA

      CCC Metro TLC



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