Saturday, December 22, 2007

Don McLeroy's Letter to the Dallas Morning News

Apparently all the chatter about Intelligent Design, evolution, and his questionable comments on the subject caught the attention of Texas State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy, prompting him to send the following letter to the Dallas Morning News. It is downright embarrassing in its obvious creationist doubletalk, and its demonstrably poor grasp of the basics of communication, coming from someone in a position of authority in our education system. Running through it is a misunderstanding of the difference between science as a working investigative enterprise, and science as a classroom subject. I will now dissect this propaganda with great vigor:

"Science education has to have an open mind"

No sir, it does not. Working scientists must have an open mind, in the sense of being ready to alter their theories based on new discoveries. Students in high school classrooms are not working scientists. They are there to learn how science works, not to be scientists themselves. Before one can hope to make great discoveries in exciting fields, one must first learn what others have discovered. This is what Sir Isaac Newton was referring to when he said "If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants".

"What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith."

An encouraging generality, to which Mr. McLeroy clearly pays lip service, as his following comments attest.

"Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people."

It also accurately represents that you support the promoters of intelligent design, and the basic goals of the rest of the creationists, to water down science education by attacking evolution with scientifically discredited arguments based on your literalist views of the Bible. You don't get to claim you are all about religion in your church and all about science when called on it.

"Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence."

Bullshit. Your own words sir, "...we are all Biblical literalists, we all believe the Bible to be inerrant", make it quite clear what your focus is. It is also given away by your poor choice of language. Science is not about post-hoc interpretation. That is what religion does. Science is about a priori predictions, and the evidence of the falsifiable experiments done in testing them. As head of an educational organization, you should be more versed in the basics.

"In science class, there is no place for dogma and 'sacred cows;' no subject should be 'untouchable' as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student."

Nonsense. Again, Mr. McLeroy is confusing science with science class. In science there is no place for dogma. But in education, science and otherwise, there is every place for it. In math class, there are often theorems presented to the students whose proofs are beyond the scope of the course, and the texts will say so unapologetically. Likewise, in science class, practically everything presented to the students will, at some level, have explanations the students are not equipped to grasp. That is what they are in science class for in the first place!

A student who does not want to accept Einstein's theories of relativistic motion should not be allowed to bog down the entire class debating what is established science. He should be told it is so, and to research the subject on his own time if he wishes. Likewise, a student disputing evolution should not be allowed to bog down the class in similar fashion. Students are in school to learn from those with greater understanding than themselves, not to debate issues and decide amongst themselves what is true.

"What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception."

How in the world did we get a head of an education department with so poor a grasp of the English language? Would Mr. McLeroy have us believe that having refuted preconceptions helps science progress? In his infamous 2005 speech he proudly proclaimed himself to be "united against the fact that that’s a true statement". A man who doesn't understand the difference between a fact and an assertion, or an irrefutable preconception and an unfalsifiable one, isn't qualified to judge science, and certainly isn't qualified to lead an education department.

"Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper.

Gee Don, a limit stops something? Say it ain't so! So might we assume then that you oppose the position of the IDers that we cannot inquire as to the nature of the designer? Or might it only be those sciences that conflict with your literalist Biblical view of the world, and your agenda to get it accepted as science, that receive your scrutiny?

"In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science."

Yes, and in science class the students should be taught what the scientific consensus is on the subjects, how that consensus is reached based on evidence, with the understanding that it is always subject to change as new evidence comes to light. They should be taught how the peer-review process in science works to separate the wheat from the chaffe, and how successful it has been. They should also be taught to be skeptical of anyone claiming to support science who eschews these processes in favor of writing popular books and pursuing political agendas, or supports those that do, like Don McLeroy.

No comments: