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'Truth in Science' deserves our appreciation!

Outrage and alarm was the media greeting for the launch of the ‘Truth in Science’ initiative on 20 September 2006.  Schools up and down the country were sent two DVDs with a study guide helping teachers to utilise these materials in biology lessons.  Instead of welcoming a constructive and stimulating input to the educational process, the denunciations were almost universal.  The BBC said it was an attack on science.  politics.co.uk described it as “lies lies lies”.  Ekklesia (described as a UK Christian think tank) and the British Humanist Association wrote a joint letter to the Governmnt's Education Secretary to request a high level response to keep this material away from students.

Yet, the declared aim of ‘Truth in Science’ is to “promote good science education in the UK.”  “We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be given fair and accurate presentations of alternative views. … Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.”  To most normal people, this is hardly an attack on science!

Their educational goals are explained on the website and related to the educational policies and guidelines of the UK.  Teachers are provided with lesson plans which link sections of the DVDs to specific elements of the National Curriculum.  Also included is an overview of educational material relevant to the key ‘icons of evolution’: including the development of biological resistance, the peppered moth, horse evolution, Darwin's finches, the Miller-Urey experiment, and homology in vertebrate limbs.

"Pupils should be taught… how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence (for example, Darwin's theory of evolution)"
The National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 Science (Sc1: Scientific enquiry)

In a Press Release on 28 September, Truth in Science reported that 16 out of 25 responses from schools were positive.  Here is some of this feedback:
"...it is a great resource and I would like to thank you for sending it to us. I opened the pack during an A level chemistry lesson about amino acids and used it within 30 minutes of the lesson!"
"Thanks for sending the two DVDs to the science department. I watched one today and will be using it in critical thinking lessons to illustrate flaws in arguments."
"The resources have been implemented into our KS4 schemes of work and all staff are able to now access these. They are now written into our lesson plans as part of the AQA science scheme of work in topic B1b. The comments from the department so far are that they are a useful resource for teaching a sensitive and potentially difficult topic to students from all ethnic minority backgrounds. We have found the resources of high quality and engaging for the students to watch as part of a lesson. These are more useful than older resources that are dated and are not designed to make the students ask questions."

Onlookers might wonder what the fuss is all about.  Are not teachers perfectly capable of evaluating this material and deciding for themselves its relevance to their teaching?  Does it really need a Government body to tell them what resources can and cannot be used?  What are teachers to make of the following:
“… the Government should take care to ensure that their stated policy is known by teachers on the ground, by informing them that the resources they are being offered by this organisation are totally unsuitable.” (British Humanist Association)
“Reputable scientists and reputable theologians are clear that the anti-evolutionary ideas propagated by groups like this are in no way comparable to scientific theories of origins. The government and its inspectorate should have no truck with superstition in the modern science classroom.” (Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow).

Contrast these calls for government intervention with the response of ‘Truth in Science’ (30 September 2006) :
“TiS simply points out that there are topics in both the National Curriculum and Examination Specifications where teachers may choose to enhance their student’s education by allowing critical appraisal of the evidence for evolution and alternative theories. These opportunities are extensively documented on the Truth in Science website.”
This issue is about developing a critical mind.  It is about recognising that evidence for evolution has no special or protected status and that it also needs to be appraised and evaluated.  This is the significance of the site’s analysis of the ‘icons of evolution’ (mentioned above).  There is another side to the story of Darwinism, and students rarely get the opportunity to examine the evidence with an open mind.  If there is a hint that they are not persuaded by the data supplied in the textbook, they are accused of being fundamentalists, of closing their minds, and of abandoning science for superstition!

The DVDs sent to schools were produced by advocates of Intelligent Design (ID).  This scholarly movement has blossomed in the US and elsewhere, and there are a growing number of scientists who affirm the following: “Intelligent design is the scientific investigation of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence”.  They are convinced that the concept has real intellectual merit and deserves to be discussed fairly, openly, and vigorously at all levels of the society and culture. The DVDs seek to stimulate others to ask similar questions and to explore the merits of design explanations.

One of these DVDs has recently been reviewed in the BCS journal: Origins (and may be accessed here).  The review was written by a PhD biochemist who has found the ideas useful in teaching the National Curriculum. 

BCS has, for many years, noted that the lack of critical thinking about evolutionary theory is a serious educational problem.  If you have not previously read the late Professor Kerkut’s account of the uncritical attitude of his students 40 years ago, please go here.  If you would like some input on why ID can and should be considered within science, go here.

Earlier this year, I presented a short paper at the Northern Conference of Christians in Science.  (URL)  This argued that design thinking has repeatedly surfaced in the thinking of physicists and cosmologists, and this has been a major factor in the adoption of the Multiverse concept (for more on this, go here).  If design thinking is OK for physicists and cosmologists, why is it excluded from “science”?  Why is it inappropriate for biologists to even consider the “design” option?  If Darwin could do it (and reject it), why cannot others do it and make a case for the reality of design? 

Why is it that many vocal leaders of the science community think that their science should sweep away the superstition that there is a Creator God and that he has any continuing influence in this world?  Why has a professor of the Public Understanding of Science written a book with the title “The God Delusion”?  Why does he appear to use every media opportunity to oppose those who affirm Theism?

The conclusion that ID advocates have come to is this.  Materialist philosophy/ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialist worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.  This is feeding back into education, but it has to be sustained by enforcing an uncritical receptiveness of the key ideas.  Those who do not succumb are exposed to the fiercest of propaganda about believing “rubbish” or “deliberately embracing scientific ignorance”. 

It is this grotesque behaviour that all true educators will want to resist firmly.  Our interests are in evidences and theories, arguments and counter-arguments.  There is a legitimate case to be made against Darwinism and there is evidence supporting the design inference.  The educational process is not served well by an ideological line that excludes such considerations from science.  We want to see engagement with the arguments, not flag-waving about what is and is not science.

If the Government has any sense, it will not do anything to reinforce the grip that materialistic dogma has over many minds within the science community.  We do not want to see any moves towards instituting 'thought police' to protect Darwinism from critical scrutiny, because that is self-evidently anti-science.

David J. Tyler
October 4 2006.

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For further reading about the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE):
The 'BCSE' Revealed