From an article on how John McCain may be positioning himself for a presidential run in The Arizona Star:
McCain told the Star that, like Bush, he believes “all points of view” should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.
“Available” is a wonderfully vague word.
Senator, Senator, a follow-up question please? Just a clarification? Do you mean that teachers just drop some pamphlets by the door that explain how we were designed by aliens? Or should that be on the final exam?
I’ll close the week with an open letter to President Bush just released by the American Astronomical Society’s president, Prof. Robert Kirschner, to express disappointment with his comments on bringing intelligent design into the classroom. Astronomers may not deal with natural selection or fossils, but as a general principle, they don’t like seeing non-science and science getting confused.
Washington, DC. The American Astronomical Society is releasing the text of a letter concerning “intelligent design” and education that was sent earlier today to President George W. Bush by the President of the Society, Dr. Robert P. Kirshner.
August 5, 2005
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As President of the American Astronomical Society, I was very disappointed by the comments attributed to you in an article in the August 2nd, 2005 Washington Post regarding intelligent design. While we agree that “part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought”, intelligent design has neither scientific evidence to support it nor an educational basis for teaching it as science. Your science adviser, John H Marburger III correctly commented that “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”
Scientific theories are coherent, are based on careful experiments and observations of nature that are repeatedly tested and verified. They aren’t just opinions or guesses. Gravity, relativity, plate tectonics and evolution are all theories that explain the physical universe in which we live. What makes scientific theories so powerful is that they account for the facts we know and make new predictions that we can test. The most exciting thing for a scientist is to find new evidence that shows old ideas are wrong. That’s how science progresses. It is the opposite of a dogma that can’t be shown wrong. “Intelligent design” is not so bold as to make predictions or subject itself to a test. There’s no way to find out if it is right or wrong. It isn’t part of science.
We agree with you that “scientific critiques of any theory should be a normal part of the science curriculum,” but intelligent design has no place in science classes because it is not a “scientific critique.” It is a philosophical statement that some things about the physical world are beyond scientific understanding. Most scientists are quite optimistic that our understanding will grow, and things that seem mysterious today will still be wonderful when they are within our understanding tomorrow. Scientists see gaps in our present knowledge as opportunities for research, not as a cause to give up searching for an answer by invoking the intervention of a God-like intelligent designer.
The schools of our nation have a tough job—and there is no part of their task that is more important than science education. It doesn’t help to mix in religious ideas like “intelligent design” with the job of understanding what the world is and how it works. It’s hard enough to keep straight how Newton’s Laws work in the Solar System or to understand the mechanisms of human heredity without adding in this confusing and non-scientific agenda. It would be a lot more helpful if you would advocate good science teaching and the importance of scientific understanding for a strong and thriving America. “Intelligent design” isn’t even part of science – it is a religious idea that doesn’t have a place in the science curriculum.
Robert P. Kirshner
President, American Astronomical Society
Harvard College Professor and Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the world’s largest organization of science educators, is stunned and disappointed that President Bush is endorsing the teaching of intelligent design – effectively opening the door for nonscientific ideas to be taught in the nation’s K-12 science classrooms.
“We stand with the nation’s leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president’s top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design has no place in the science classroom,” said Gerry Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director.
Monday, Knight Ridder news service reported that the President favors the teaching of intelligent design so “so people can understand what the debate is about.”
“It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom,” said NSTA President Mike Padilla. “Nonscientific viewpoints have little value in increasing students’ knowledge of the natural world.”
NSTA strongly supports the premise that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 education frameworks and curricula. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and many other scientific and educational organizations.
The American Geophysical Union just issued a press release in response to Bush’s comments about intelligent design. It’s not online at their web site yet, so I’ve posted it here. (Update: It’s on line now.) This is not the first time that the 43,000 members of the AGU have spoken out against creationism. They protested the sale of a creationist account of the Grand Canyon in National Park Service stores, and condemned the airing of a creationist movie about cosmology at the Smithsonian Institution. But this is the first time they’ve taken on the President.
American Geophysical Union 2 August 2005 AGU Release No. 05-28 For Immediate Release
AGU: President Confuses Science and Belief, Puts Schoolchildren at Risk
WASHINGTON – “President Bush, in advocating that the concept of ?intelligent design’ be taught alongside the theory of evolution, puts America’s schoolchildren at risk,” says Fred Spilhaus, Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union. “Americans will need basic understanding of science in order to participate effectively in the 21st century world. It is essential that students on every level learn what science is and how scientific knowledge progresses.”
In comments to journalists on August 1, the President said that “both sides ought to be properly taught.” “If he meant that intelligent design should be given equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation’s science classrooms, then he is undermining efforts to increase the understanding of science,” Spilhaus said in a statement. “?Intelligent design’ is not a scientific theory.” Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory.”
“Scientific theories, like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics, are based on hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification,” Spilhaus says. “The President has unfortunately confused the difference between science and belief. It is essential that students understand that a scientific theory is not a belief, hunch, or untested hypothesis.”
“Ideas that are based on faith, including ?intelligent design,’ operate in a different sphere and should not be confused with science. Outside the sphere of their laboratories and science classrooms, scientists and students alike may believe what they choose about the origins of life, but inside that sphere, they are bound by the scientific method,” Spilhaus said.
AGU is a scientific society, comprising 43,000 Earth and space scientists. It publishes a dozen peer reviewed journal series and holds meetings at which current research is presented to the scientific community and the public.
After a day-long road trip from Ohio, I finally had the chance to read the news that President Bush thinks that schools should discuss Intelligent Design alongside evolution, so that students can “understand what the debate is about.”
As Bush himself said, this is pretty much the same attitude he had towards creationism when he was a governor. His statements back in Texas didn’t actually lead to any changes in Texas schools, and I doubt that these new remarks will have much direct effect, either. But, like Chris Mooney, I’m a journalist, and like him I would have loved to have been in the crowd of reporters when Bush made these remarks.
Mooney would have asked Bush how he squares his comments with those of his own science advisor, John Marburger, who dismisses Intelligent Design out of hand. I would follow up on his question by expanding it to a much bigger scale.
Mr. President, I would ask, how do you reconcile your statement that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution with the fact that your administration, like both Republican and Democratic administrations before it, has supported research in evolution by our country’s leading scientists, while failing to support a single study that is explicitly based on Intelligent Design? The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and even the Department of Energy have all decided that evolution is a cornerstone to advances in our understanding of diseases, the environment, and even biotechnology. They have found no such value in Intelligent Design. Are they wrong? Can you tell us why?
For plenty of other comments, you can follow the links at Pharyngula
Update 8/2 7:45 pm: I might also ask the President to respond to 43,000 scientists who think he’s putting schoolchildren at risk.
Update 8/3 5:30 pm: Or 55,000 science teachers who are shocked and disappointed by his remarks.
Update 8/6 9:30 am: Or the nation’s astronomers, who think his remarks are bad for all science.