Thursday, 29 March 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 3

Having dealt in my last few posts, with the DVDs and letter sent out to all UK Schools and colleges by the creationist group "Truth In Science" in September 2006, I can now turn my attention to the Teachers Manual which accompanied them.

This manual is called "Where does the evidence lead?". I shall aim to show you that the teachers' manual makes no effort to answer this question and that it's use in schools would in fact steer teachers and students in the opposite direction.

The booklet has an introduction which I will not cover simply because it repeats the various lies and distortions I have already discussed in parts 1 and 2 of the Toying with the Truth in Science posts.

The rest of the book is then split into 6 parts which are headed up as "learning outcomes". TiS themselves have tried to tell us that this material is relevant to the KS4 curriculum so lets compare the learning point they make with that.

To help me do this I have pinched my sons GCSE revision guide which is bang up to date and includes a section headed " What are you expected to know?"

Lets look at part 1 of the "teachers manual" titled "Life:The Big Questions";

Understand Darwin's theory of natural selection, and its historical background in the voyage of the Beagle and the publication of The Origin of Species

Well the problem with this is very subtle and in fact the actual sentence itself is fine. The problem is that nowhere in the films or the booklets does TiS actually explain what the theory of natural selection actually is. They only mentions bits and pieces, and never a complete whole. Never do we see the elements of the theory laid out piece by piece so as to be easy to understand and digest. Never presented in a way to help students learn, which is supposed to be what all this is about. Anyone would think TiS wanted the Theory of Evolution to look incomplete and badly thought out! Perish the thought.

Anyone who did not already know and understand the theory would see the gaps immediately, but remember the target audience here is our kids, who don't know the theory yet. So perhaps this DVD and manual has been carefully judged to give just enough information to make students think it has been explained, but nevertheless, to leave them so lacking in understanding that they are unable to defend the ideas it concerns against the simplest and most empty of counter arguments.

Turning to my son's text book we can see the following points; organisms compete for resources and mates, adaptations can help with these struggles, genetic information, variation, ToE is widely accepted (but not by all), ToE states that natural selection acts upon variation, evidence for evolution include fossils.

This is pretty brief and to the point as you might expect. Let's see how much of this is actually in the TiS material.

Understand that variation in beak shape and size of Galapagos finches provides evidence for evolution.

Yes it is, but the students will be left wondering why. The film does not explain why this is so. In my opinion this is deliberately done to further weaken the case for the Theory of Evolution in the minds of the students.

Know that domestic breeding is similar to natural selection.

Again, OK, but we still do not know what natural selection is? That is actually point number one in my son's text book.

Understand that Darwin provided the first plausible theory to explain the appearance of design in the natural world without an intelligent designer.

Well my son's book talks about Lamarck's theory which was the best guess before Darwin came along. In fact the bit of the curriculum which specifically talks about scientific controversies is actually referring to Lamarck's theory. Not, as the letter, teacher's guide and the home page of TiS would all lead you to believe, i.e. Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design has actually been specifically ruled out as unsuitable for coverage in science lessons. My previous posts in this series contain the full details of this.

OK this next one is a real killer.

Recognise that Darwinism is assumed to be true by most scientists.

To assume something means "suppose to be the case, without proof" or "adopt falsely".

This learning outcome is rather well designed to be slipped in under the radar of the unsuspecting. We however, are suspecting TiS quite a bit by now, and we are in a position to ask further questions that the students may not be able to come up with.

If students did think of these questions the teachers' manual leave the teacher in the dark as to what the answers actually are. I will ask;

What evidence is there that most scientists suppose the theory of evolution is true, without proof?

The final learning outcome listed in part 1 is;

Recognise that a growing number of scientists question the true extent of the creative power of natural selection.

I covered the slowly growing list of scientists who have signed a very tepid statement doubting if evolution can account for everything we see alone, which is a sensible scientific position to take, versus a very strong statement signed by PhDs called Steve. This demonstrates just how tiny a minority the "growing number" is in the real world.

So to summarise;

Don't explain evolution properly, make it good and ropey
Ignore the curriculum advice regarding previous theories and controversy and pretend they actually mean your own pet faith
Slip in straight forward lies about the views of most scientists and
Cap it all off with a misleading summary of the scientific controversy, or lack of one.

Look out for an analysis of "Learning Outcomes Part 2 - What Darwin Didn't Know" in my next post.

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