Part II of John Timmer's summary of the New York University Conference on teaching science is here. Timmer writes that:
The first talk in the morning session [of the second day] was from Gerald Skoog, who runs a science education center at Texas Tech.
Skoog noted that there are three pressures for teaching creationism (including ID) in public schools. The first is simply to provide a historic context for evolution, which can be appropriate or abused, depending on the teacher. The second is that some are convinced that there is positive scientific evidence for creationist views, which is where improving scientific education and outreach should come in. The final issue is probably the most challenging: teaching all sides of an issue as a matter of fairness. He suggested that science needs to come up with a compelling slogan in answer to the "teach the controversy" demand used by its opponents, but I did not hear one offered during the conference.
Actually, there is a slogan already in circulation. It says "There is no controversy." It's a form of denial, to be sure, but it's symptomatic of those about to suffer an unexpected defeat that they first resort to denying the imminent realities.
Skoog was followed by Jennifer Miller, a biology teacher in Dover...Miller's talk ... made clear that the school administration, which typically lacks scientific training, played a key role at many stages in Dover, and it was noted during the discussion that they also have ultimate control over the hiring of science faculty, and can thereby shape the teaching of science in their schools. As such, it seems that raising the scientific literacy at the administration levels of schools should also become a priority.
Fat chance of that happening. Most school administrators were not science teachers before they got their administrative certification, and many of them were scarcely even teachers in any discipline. To raise their science literacy to the point where they could be expected to make competent decisions about the content of science curricula, or make informed judgments concerning the nuances of the demarcation problem, would require many credits of science-oriented education. Not many administrators have either the time or the inclination to subject themselves to that.
Next up was Glenn Branch of the NCSE (National Council for Science Education), which, as he puts it, spends its time putting out brushfires of evolution controversy around the nation. His talk focused on the efforts of creationists to gain a footing in collegiate settings, with the ultimate goal of gaining credentialed supporters to advance their cause. He tracked how many formerly religious or creationist campus organizations have recently morphed into pro-ID "IDEA Clubs." Branch noted that the religious nature of the national IDEA organization was obvious in the fact that it has only recently dropped its requirement for members to be Christian. These clubs hope to foster debate on campus, but Branch suggested they were best avoided. Many creationists are far more skilled at arguments that appeal to a non-scientific audience than scientists are, and debates draw a crowd. In the absence of the legitimacy conferred by debate, the attendance at IDEA clubs is usually limited to a few committed activists.
So, these clubs are suspect because they contain Christians and because their members are skillful debaters. It's best not to engage these creationists in open debate, evidently, lest the rabble be misled to believe that the evolutionists don't have much of a case. This is odd advice to give to the materialist evolutionists. They're being instructed to avoid a public discussion of the issues, a course of inaction which could only serve to keep people in the dark as to what the controversy is all about. The irony of this is that this advice is given at a conference on how to improve science education and public scientific literacy.
One wonders, by the way, if Mr. Branch would be similarly dismissive of a club comprised mostly of atheists devoted to the promotion of evolution. In fact, come to think of it, that's pretty much what the NCSE is.
Branch's final topic was how to handle a situation where a biology department winds up with a creationist as a graduate student. This was both of general interest, as creationists tend to use their degrees as rhetorical weapons, and of personal interest, as I was part of the Berkeley class that produced the noted Discovery Institute fellow Jon Wells. Unfortunately, his conclusion was that there are no easy answers. He did, however, note that graduate departments exist to serve the scientific community by providing qualified individuals to perform research and teaching services. There is no ethical requirement for graduate faculty to be complicit in the training of someone who is ultimately going to actively harm the field.
Hmm. Now here's an interesting dilemma for the evolutionary inquisitors. They keep insisting that creationism is religion, and now they're saying, or at least Mr. Branch is saying, that students should be discriminated against if they're creationists. I.e. universities should actively discriminate against students on the basis of their religious beliefs. That doesn't sound to us like it would pass constitutional muster, but we could be wrong.
Does Mr. Branch also think that a grad student could be discriminated against because of his/her political views? What about students who have ethical objections to experimenting upon, or dissecting, animals? What about students who oppose stem cell research, or cloning, or who favor policies that would result in environmental degradation? Would Mr. Branch say that no graduate school need confer a degree on students who hold to politically unfashionable opinions in the science community? Or is it only a student's religious views which would justify denying him a degree?
[Ken] Miller and Branch were asked what they felt the next development will be now that the latest creationist effort, ID, has been rejected in court. Miller suggested the redefinition of science to include the supernatural, as has happened in Kansas, while Branch expected efforts to "teach the controversy" to predominate.
I think they're both right, although I would quibble with Miller's use of the word "supernatural." In the present climate it's not clear what that word denotes. As we've pointed out before, the word "supernatural" seems to refer to anything which transcends our universe, yet physicists and philosophers discuss the possibility of other universes without thinking that they're discussing anything supernatural.
It would be more precise, perhaps, to say that science might eventually be redefined to allow for extra-cosmic intelligence as a causal agent, and why not, if there's evidence which points that way?