Religion no excuse for promoting scientific ignorance – Lawrence Kraus

Lawrence M. Krauss, a director of the Arizona State University Origins Project, and also a professor in its School of Earth and Space Exploration, and physics department, has written an article in New Scientist, that I highly recommend. Its not about a new scientific discovery, but is instead making a very important point regarding science education …

The US constitution allows people to believe what they want. However, it does not require universities to promote ignorance

LAST month, the University of Kentucky in Lexington paid $125,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by astrophysicist Martin Gaskell. Gaskell claimed the university did not appoint him director of their student observatory because of his Christian faith, despite him being the best candidate.

The settlement – which is not an admission of wrongdoing – means the suit will not come to court. While I think the university had a case, this may be the best outcome. A court case could have set a dangerous precedent. Instead, we can now move on.

Whether or not Gaskell’s views were inspired by his belief is irrelevant. The important question is whether, as a potential science educator, he has a firm grasp of the science and an ability to communicate it accurately. Given the evidence at hand there is reason to believe not.

In the notes for a lecture he gave at the university in 1997, Gaskell claimed, in clear disagreement with scientific facts, that evolution has “significant scientific problems” and includes “unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations”. This suggests a lack of understanding of the nature of scientific theory in general, and evolution in particular.

Now, this next bit is important, so wake up and pay attention …

Incorrect interpretations of empirical data to fit in with religious beliefs should not be legally protected.

Teachers of science need to understand and convey concepts that are in accord with our understanding of nature, and the University of Kentucky had a responsibility to ensure this was the case. The US Constitution rightly allows people to believe what they want, even if others think they are wrong. However, it does not require universities to promote ignorance.

The New Scientist article is here.

So why have I drawn this to your attention? Well, what truly frightens me is the rising numbers of “faith” schools here in the UK that include creationism in their curriculum. Apparently some have failed to grasp a very basic principle …  education is about teaching facts, not promoting a specific religious agenda where we toss out the bits of reality that conflict with our beliefs and instead substitute a mythology.

Perhaps I’m not being reasonable, some Creationists don’t advocate the banning of teaching evolution, they instead suggest, “Teach the Controversy, teach both”. Oh, interesting idea, lets try that … lets see now, when teaching about human reproduction, we can talk about the biological facts, oh and to give it the same balance as an Evolution vs Creation class, we should also teach the Stork theory … ah yes, that works so well … er perhaps not. This is how silly this Creationist plea is. So please, in an education context, lets stick information that is backed up by empirical data.

If they want something different, they first need to go do the science, conduct tests, and have actual empirical data to back it all up. Then they should write it all up in peer-reviewed journals. If the hypothesis stands up under proper scrutiny, they are on to something and so then they get the right to go to class and teach – but they have never done that.

Yes there are Creationist claims they have done peer-review.. but its a legal fact that these claims are not true. During the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial (you can read all about that here …

As a primary witness for the defense, Michael Behe (yes, ‘that’ Me Behe”) was asked to support the idea that intelligent design was legitimate science. He conceded that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred” and that the definition of ‘theory’ as he applied it to intelligent design was so loose that astrology would qualify as a theory by definition as well.

So there you have it – no evidence … period. Do the science first and provide evidence, then they get to come to school and teach, but until then, lets boot these loons out of the science classes.

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