16 November 2005

Stealing Fire from Prometheus

At A Photon in the Darkness, Prometheus has posted on legal, ethical, and practical issues arising from the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education to redefine “science” in a way that allows inclusion of supernatural influences (such as the hypothetical Intelligent Designer) in K-12 science classes. One section particularly caught my eye.

Another part of the ethical problem is the ethics of teachers lying to children. Even if the actual classroom teachers "believe" in "Intelligent Design", there are teachers or administrators somewhere in the system who know that it is a lie to tell children that "Intelligent Design" is in any way a scientific "theory", let alone one comparable in support or predictive power to evolution.

And lying to children isn't just an abstract issue of ethics. Once they find out that they've been lied to (and they will find out - ask any parent), children are not as forgiving as adults. Adults expect to be lied to; children still manage to be shocked and offended by it - that's one of the things that marks them as children. Once they find out that they've been lied to about "Intelligent Design", they will doubt everything else their teachers (and parents) have taught them. This is a process that currently occurs somewhere in the latter years of college (we hope) - do we really want to see this happening in secondary school?

I have made this argument myself, focusing on the fact that, when we teach concepts like evolution in such classes, we are implicitly saying that this is the explanation accepted by most scientists working in the field. Thus, “merely” teaching that there is a body of evidence that conflicts with standard evolutionary theory – as used to justify “teaching the controversy” – would be lying to the kids. Most (indeed, nearly all) scientists working in the field would not say that such a body of evidence exists.

This “mainstream” presumption is hardly unique to K-12 science. It holds in all courses – history, literature, etc. What is unique about the Kansas case, of course, is the decision to mandate that all science teachers must lie.


Post a Comment

<< Home