Monday, June 15, 2015

Debunking misinformation

This is an excellent summary of how to correct scientific misinformation [Busting myths: a practical guide to countering science denial].

It's particularly important to note that just presenting correct scientific facts isn't enough to correct myths and misinformation. You need to discuss the misinformation and show why it is wrong. This method is supported by numerous studies.

What it means is that if you want to correct misinformation about evolution, you have to address the false beliefs of your audience. You can't correct the beliefs of evolution deniers without bringing up the various forms of creationism and showing why they are wrong. In other words, teach the controversy.

Some of my American friends tell me that this is legally impossible in American schools. If they are right, then creationism wins. Ironically, by using the courts to keep all mention of creationism out of the public schools, these friends are playing right into the hands of the anti-evolution crowd and making it impossible to debunk their myths and misconceptions.



16 comments :

  1. I'm no lawyer, but I don't see how discussing creationism in the manner you suggest would violate any US laws. Is there any case law to support that claim?

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  2. I whole-heartedly agree with the "take the fight to the enemy" approach. However there may be legal problems. The "Lemon test" requires a law to have 1) clear secular purpose, 2) must neither promote nor inhibit religion, in particular it must not priviledge some religious beliefs over others and 3) must not cause "excessive entangling" of government in religious matters. Failing any one of these 3 tests invalidates the laws.

    In this case the secular purpose would have to be better science education. Whether attacking creationist beliefs counts as inhibiting religion, is debatable. Excessive entanglement, again, I don't know. On the other hand the courts have held that
    "the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.” So maybe it would be ok.


    Creationists got "equal time" for "creation science" laws passed, but they were shot down in court. The "creation science model" had 6 elements:
    (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.
    Basically all of Genesis except Adam, Eve, and the talking snake.

    When defending those laws, creationists argued that describing the "creation science model" was not religious proselytizing if the students were not told to believe it. The courts didn't buy it, they held that "creation science" was far too flagrantly religious to pass. Creationists would argue that if their beliefs were too religious to talk about in class, then attacks on their beliefs, would also be too religious. I don't agree with the creationists, but I don't know about the courts.

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    1. Ted says: "Creationists would argue that if their beliefs were too religious to talk about in class, then attacks on their beliefs, would also be too religious."

      This argument was explicitly invoked by Casey Luskin of the DI when he threw a fit over a professor at Ball State who criticized Intelligent Design, while another prof at the same university was told not to teach ID as science. Luskin's argument was that profs at public universities cannot criticize ID because its critics say it is religious.

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  3. How to do this without teaching the very error you want to correct? I'd suggest teaching evolution in such a way that you can later go back and prick the creationist bubbles. For example, first point sy that dogs are descended form wolves, but today's wolves are also evolved from the wolves of 30,000 years ago, so dogs and modern wolves are cousins. Later, you can mention the "why are there still monkeys?" question, and draw the analogy with wolves. Or you can explicitly teach the fossil sequence from australopithecus to homo, and then later mention the "missing link" argument, which had some substance before the discovery of the Taung child skull but not since. Reality first; error only when the error will be transparent.

    If you are saying, after undermining as I suggest, that some people present this or that argument, then what you are saying is true, relevant, and neutral on matters of religion.

    Will that meet the case?

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  4. Some of my American friends tell me that this is legally impossible in American schools. If they are right, then creationism wins. Ironically, by using the courts to keep all mention of creationism out of the public schools, these friends are playing right into the hands of the anti-evolution crowd

    It's by no means clear that teaching the weaknesses of creationism is in fact illegal under US law, as Larry has been told. US law is complex as Ted has tried to emphasize.

    If US teachers don't teach the weaknesses of anti-evolution, it is mostly because

    1. Very few have the specific anti-anti-evolution training and background that we Sandinistas take for granted, and which *cannot* be obtained from any textbook on evolutionary biology or from any textbook used in teachers' colleges, since anti-creationism is not synonymous with a proper understanding of evolutionary theory; and

    2. It would be unpopular: a significant minority of parents would claim that the public school teacher was attacking their religion, and some would sue.

    Merely teaching evolution has led to several lawsuits in which parents claimed their religious beliefs were being attacked. There is one ongoing case now, in Kansas, in which COPE, an organization led by the Discovery Institute's ally, lawyer John Calvert, claims that the Next Generation Science Standards establish atheism as the state religion because the NGSS includes evolution.

    The creationists always lost those cases. The COPE lawsuit was dismissed (they're appealing).

    The US courts are clear: evolution is not a religion and teaching evolution not an impermissible attack on religion.

    But what about teaching the weaknesses of creationism? There's little case law on that; the DI raised a stink over a prof. attacking creationism at Ball State, but it didn't go to the courts.

    Teachers would have to present anti-creationism in a way that made it appear non-hostile to any religion. If they did that, they'd still get sued, but they'd have a better chance of winning in US courts.

    We can guess that the creationists would probably lose if they sued over that, but because there's little case law, we can't be 100% sure. No US teachers want to take the chance-- and few are trained in anti-creationism anyway.

    But Larry should show us how a superior system works, by pointing to some Canadian public schools (elementary or high schools) where their superior teachers teach full-blown anti-creationism and don't get their asses sued.

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    1. Hi Diogenes

      There are a few teachers who simultaneously attack creationism in particular and religious faith in general, both in Canada and in the USA

      As an educator, you can check out the AP Biology teachers' forum yourself.

      These teachers openly mock faith by encouraging distractions such as Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Pink Unicorns in class and on their websites.

      They justify such distractions by misquoting a survey done of scientists who are members of the National Academy of Science, suggesting the results showed that 93% admitted to being atheists while the 3% holdouts are akin to global climate change deniers scientists who refute the evidence for global climate change.

      I always wondered where this 93% figure came from and I finally found out they were guilty of egregious misquotation:

      Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, only 7.0% expressed personal belief, while 72.2% expressed disbelief and another 20.8% were agnostic concerning the existence of a personal god who answers prayer.

      More details here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science#Studies_on_scientists.27_beliefs

      You and I already have rehashed this on more than one occasion, most recently when you accused me of lying.

      I repeat: If teachers are permitted to attack students' core beliefs, fewer students will in fact embrace the cogency of evolution which we both agree is a bad thing.

      ITMT - Teaching only the Nature Of Science also gets little better results, we already signed off on that.

      So what to do?

      already addressed and best answered IMHO by Barb:

      bwilson295Tuesday, May 26, 2015 11:15:00 AM

      I have to agree with Tom Mueller that it is useful to talk with students about the conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution theory. In my freshman-level college courses, I let the students bring up the conflicts -- in every course where I got student participation going well they always did.

      I told them that evolution and belief in God are not incompatible, though some ideas about God are incompatible with evolution. In some classes I went so far as to say that if their idea about God was in conflict with the reality of the world they believe God created, their idea of God was too small.

      Sometimes I had evidence that these things helped -- students who had repeated questions as they bounced between me and people at home who had different ideas.

      At the high school level, reminding relevant adults and students that evolution doesn't require atheism is probably even more important -- but it's harder to do it in the classroom.


      http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2015/05/the-courtiers-start-replying.html?showComment=1432653345969#c8318221134139901929

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    2. oops - I meant of course to say 7% hold-outs

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  5. Since creationism hasn't advanced since Paley, all that is required is to teach a bit of science history.

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    1. I think it's somewhat ahistoric to call Paley a cretionist, because he wasn't one in the modern sense. Paley presented an argument against pre-Darwinian conceptions of evolution and Darwin was aware of this argument and presented a theory that did not fall under this criticism. As such Paley actually made a contribution to evolutionary biology, by noting problems with some early evolutionary models which then got addressed by later theory. It's also worth noting that Paley wasn't debating the age of the earth AFAIK.

      The roots of modern creationism are found within the rise of christian fundamentalism, which started in the early 20th century with Dixon and Torreys (Eds.) "The Fundamentals" and in particular volume 7 with Beach and Hague arguing for what still remains the key to YECs, primarily Hagues insistence that Genesis is to be taken as authoritative history. This is not the view expoused by Paley.

      In ID we find an argument that is deceptively similar to Payles, in that both try to infer design. However on closer inspection the two arguments are not identical. Paleys argument is based on a choice problem. A deterministic system given an initial state will always act in the same way. A mechanism that for some initial state does not have a unique solution presents a problem, because there are now several possible routes, but nothing in the system can choose between them. Now a stochastic system can of course circumvent this problem, but Paley dismisses this option, because he notes that all sciences find deterministic laws. Darwins solution if of course to simply go with a stochastic theory anyway (and this in turn leads Boltzmann to propose stochastic laws in physics, which actually recover some of the known principles of thermodynamics. And from Boltzmann you get Wiens treatment of black body radiation, which doesn't fit the observations and this is resolved by Planck, who notes that Wien has a variable h that is taken at the limit h->0 and finds that if h merely goes to a small constant it works out. That's how few steps it took from Darwin to quantum mechanics!).
      Paleys view is that there are a lot of unrealized but viable organisms and his argument is that something has to choose which ones actually appear.
      Let's contrast that with the IDiots. Here the view is dramatically different from Paley, with common argument made about the inviability of evolutionary pathways, or even the one true sequence fallacy. This is the opposite of Paley. Paley argues that there are too few constraints on organisms for deterministic explanations to work, while the Dembski argument is that there are too many constraints for stochastic explanantions to find the viable parts of organismal space.

      In conclusion: Paley is not so much a source for modern creationism as he is for modern evolutionary theory. Paley gave a solid argument against some types of evolutionary models, which did lead Darwin and Wallace to propose a model that did not run into these problems.

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  6. You can't correct the beliefs of evolution deniers without bringing up the various forms of creationism and showing why they are wrong. In other words, teach the controversy.

    Some of my American friends tell me that this is legally impossible in American schools. If they are right, then creationism wins. Ironically, by using the courts to keep all mention of creationism out of the public schools, these friends are playing right into the hands of the anti-evolution crowd and making it impossible to debunk their myths and misconceptions.

    I think the position that debunking creationism would be illegal in US schools is flat wrong.

    I also think by far the greater problem is what US law is designed to guard against, establishment of religion. Teachers debunking creationism have far more to fear from angry students and particularly their parents (as well as school administrations that either don't stand up for teachers or actively collude with religious students and parents) than they do from any court.

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    1. You can certainly debunk "creation science", as it pretends to rely on science, not scripture. And we all know ID isn't religious in any way. But I doubt it would be possible in U.S. public schools for a couple of reasons: first, the shortage of teachers trained or interested in it; second, the political costs of doing it.

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  7. Creationism is not illegal except by dumb bad judges.Censorship is needed to maintain wrong ideas. Teaching creationism would lose double digit percentages right away.
    The thought control police are usually right. they would lose because they are wrong.

    Evolution is more of a conclusion then some facts .Its rejected on its main point. Its not about minor points that some creationists might get wrong in criticizing it.
    Evolution is not true to ID science and yEC thinkers. We are not persuaded. Why would kids be?

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    1. We are not persuaded.

      Is it a royal "we", or are you a spokesman for a group of intellectuals? Who would they be? "ID science" and "YEC thinkers" sound like a couple of oxymorons to me.

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    2. IDCs and YECs are not persuaded by the evidence because to be persuaded by it would be an admission that they have misplaced their Faith - can't have that. Best I can tell, that is the sum total of the rationale for their rejection of evolution.

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  8. "Evolution is not true to ID science and yEC thinkers. We are not persuaded. Why would kids be?"

    Because most kids are smarter than you and the ID zealots. This is the one thing in which I have "faith".

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