Thursday, March 4, 2010

On the disadvantages of a scientific theory

Of course, the first question to ask is: how is a scientific theory supposed to be disadvantageous? Does having a working, tested, reliable explanation for a phenomenon somehow put a person at a disadvantage over someone who shrugs his shoulders and says "Dunno"?

The reader might find this a strange topic, and frankly, so do I. However, it has been brought to my attention, via this post on Vital Remnants, that a least one legislator in Kentucky thinks there can be a disadvantage inherent to having a scientific theory, as stated in Kentucky House Bill 397. Text of the bill and commentary are below the fold.

Here is the entire bill:
AN ACT relating to science education and intellectual freedom.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

(1) Teachers, principals, and other school administrators are encouraged to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories being studied.
(2) After a teacher has taught the content related to scientific theories contained in textbooks and instructional materials included on the approved lists required under KRS 156.433 and 156.435, a teacher may use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
(3) This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
(4) This section may be cited as the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act.

Thank goodness there is not one, but two separate religious disclaimers located in the text. Otherwise, given the specific mention of evolution, abiogenesis, global climate change, and cloning, people might think that the inclusion of the specific scientific topics that have mountains of religiously-motivated denialist materials published might stem from a religious motivation. Actually, I think I have come to that conclusion despite the disclaimer. Maybe the next time some legislator with more faith than brain offers a bill that's designed to undercut science, they could refer to the so-called controversies in physical science (Is the earth really flat?), physics (Can something move faster than light?), or geology (Is the earth 6000 years old?). That should fool everyone, right?

Still, it's pretty amusing to see how desperate the IDers have become. After packing their beliefs as 'equal time' and critical analysis' and watching them both get smacked down in court, after 'strengths and weaknesses' has become a non-starter, they keep trying to peddle the same book in a new cover, and today's cover is 'advantages and disadvantages'.

On another note, I have never heard an elementary/secondary teacher complain that they ran out of material to teach in science class, and need to introduce entirely new conversations regarding the material. Much more common is to hear that there is so much to teach and so little time. So, who does this legislator talk think has all this time in class anyhow? Perhaps those who are personally opposed to teaching the scientific consensus?

Also, it shows a very basic misunderstanding of science to talk about promoting critical thinking skills and logical analysis applied to scientific theories. Scientific theories are the results of applying critical thinking skills and logical analysis to evidence. This is like saying how buttered toast would be tastier if you put some butter on it, of that you could improve the game of basketball if you used a ball. Of course, there would be a lot to be gained from showing how critical thinking skills and logical analysis of the evidence has led to the theories, but that's not in the text of the bill, nor is that the purpose of the bill.

So, going back to the original question: what are the disadvantages of scientific theories? In some ways, I think that was answered in the previous paragraph: they come from using critical thinking and logical analysis of the evidence. If there is one thing the religious groups do not want to see, it is critical thinking skills and logical analysis applied to their beliefs and the evidence they present for those beliefs.


J said...

the local school board

The usual fundamentalist Authority. Instead of say consulting with scientists, academics, teachers, any questions must be referred to...The School Board, which usually consists of yokel sunday schoolers (even out here in Calif.), most of whom barely remember their HS algebra classes.

They usually recall their favorite sections of the Bible (usually the Book of Revelation--or Leviticus), however, and their preacher-supervisors telling them...evolution and modern science...are the product of eeevil heathens, etc.

Science often becomes political, OB. The locals control school boards, and thus curriculum, via majority vote, from Savannah to Santa Monica..... And it's not only the xtians who object to evolution--some muslims (at least in LA, where they are fairly numerous), and a few orthodox jews do as well.

Anonymous said...

I am putting the following out into the universe for scrutiny:

"Science is concerned with what is known; Belief is concerned with what is unknown (or unproven)."