Friday, 27 April 2007

Learning the Lessons part 1

Truth In Science have a section of their web page reserved for lesson plans which are described as follows;

Activities are designed for GCSE Biology and are grouped according to subject.

Lets have a look and see how this compares with some non creationist/ID material on the same subject. We will simply list errors and confusions within the material offered.

The first lesson is on Irreducible Complexity itself.

* This topic is not covered in the curriculum and our children will not be tested on it. So I can't compare this with teaching materials on this specific subject because no-body else covers it. Sigh - oerhaps because it is not in the curriculum.
* A false dichotomy is created with the question "How did life get here - by design or by chance?" scientists don't think life happened totally randomly.
* The origin of life is not covered by the theory of evolution at all.
* The use of an interview from a newspaper means that the following concept is not explained properly; What a "theory" is in science, as opposed to everyday conversation. This is handy for TiS because ID is not a scientific theory but evolution is.
* All the problems associated with IC are covered in this earlier post of mine.
* A confusing and incomplete introduction of the bacterial flagellum which is no more than a flimsy attempt to put doubt in the students mind about how evolution explains this.

Now you could even ignore everything listed above apart from the first point. If this subject never has and never will be tested, why send out material on it to confuse our kids? Seems irrational to me.

Can anyone out there send me even one example of an exam question where the ID argument was even just a part of the answer? This is a genuine question. I don't think there has been such an exam question. Please tell me if I am wrong.


The Pixie said...

While I am anti-ID/creationism, I find your first point unconvincing. Should teachers be restricted to only teaching what will be in exams? I think not. I think that some degree of flexibility is a good thing, and teaching to the exam a bad thing.

Secondly, the obvious retort from the IDist will be that this should be on the exam papers, and that this is exactly what they are trying to achieve.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Pixie,

On the face of it, two fair points made I think. Although on further reflection, I don't agree with either;-)

With regard to the first I think that most teachers, including my wife, would tell you they have too little time to cover the full exam syllabus anyway, let alone enough time to stray into other areas. They also tend to have large classes and need to try to give all students the best chance of passing, inevitably, for the less than gifted amongst the students, this means spending as much time as possible on areas that count for the exam.

Also, it is worth remembering that both university places and to some extent jobs and careers seem to depend more on exam results than adventures into non curriculum areas.

Secondly, the fact is that at the moment ID isn't on the exams. I give my reasons why it shouldn't be in many places in the other posts.

Thanks for this feedback. Whilst I don't agree with your points, it is good to have examine my own position and see if it stands up to logical criticism.

If you have any more points please fire away. I am happy to accept corrections and suggestions where warranted.

Tony Jackson said...

Pixie: “Secondly, the obvious retort from the IDist will be that this should be on the exam papers, and that this is exactly what they are trying to achieve.”

Why should ‘irreducible complexity’ be taught at GCSE? Surely a science syllabus – especially at this elementary level – should reflect established (ie well-supported by the evidence) scientific theories and basic facts. Irreducible complexity fails in both of these criteria.

1)Many of the specific examples of ‘irreducible complexity’ that Michael Behe uses in his book are just plain wrong.

2)Even if there are examples in biology where some structure fits Behe’s definition, there are several well-known evolutionary mechanisms that can in principle account for their origin.

Behe wrote his book over ten years ago. That’s a very long time ago in today’s fast-paced science. It’s instructive to check up and see how the scientific community has reacted to the concept of ‘irreducible complexity’. To do this, there are a number of publicly accessible databases of the published scientific literature. Such literature searches are essential and routine tools that active scientists use all the time to follow what’s hot and to keep up with the latest discoveries. PubMed is one I use a lot. If you go there and type “irreducible complexity” you will get a grand total of papers that mention the phrase. But it’s worse than that because on closer inspection three of these papers are clearly irrelevant to Behe’s meaning and the remaining four papers are all critical of Behe.

Think about that. Even after more than ten years, it seems that there are simply no papers in the primary scientific literature that use the concept of ‘irreducible complexity’ to make predictions, to discover new insights into nature and to test hypotheses.

Contrast this state of affairs with a phenomenon called “RNA interference” (or RNAi), which was discovered at about the same time Behe wrote his book. Now on PubMed, I got 9371 hits for “RNA interference” and 8666 hits for “RNAi”.

That’s the difference between a genuine scientific discovery and an utterly bogus claim.

psiloiordinary said...

Thanks for this Tony,

I will add these points to the entry called Toying with TiS part 5 where IC first raises its head.

Tony Jackson said...

Incidentally, if you search on PubMed for other favourite ID buzz-words like “specified complexity” and “complex specified information” you get even fewer relevant hits - and all of those hits are critical articles pointing out the scientific vacuity of these concepts.

Best of luck with your blog!

CoralPoetry said...


You have a very interesting blog.

In my opinion, ID should not be viewed as a topic that may be suitable as an exam syllabus. It is a theory, a supposed theology steeped in codified questions. The only place this MIGHT succeed in a school would be by its inclusion in the Religious Education timetable, where young people would be free to discuss the merits and values of ID, Buddhism, Christianity, Shinto, Sikhism, Atheism and the rest. But the Truth in Science proponents seem to be averse to this idea. They want ID to be part of the SCIENCE curriculum. Why?

I equate ID with the theoretical part of the driving test. Many people have passed the theory, only to fail the practical part.


psiloiordinary said...

Hi Coral,

At the risk of sounding pedantic but in the interests of keeping things accurate from a "science terminology" point of view;

ID is at best a Hypothesis, these are generated in an attempt to explain some facts and when they have been tested and stood up to vigourous challenge finally become accepted by scientists as "theories" e.g. the theory of gravity.

This is very different to the everyday use of the word theory - something which is played upon by creationists whenever they get the chance.

ID doesn't explain anything and doesn't fit the facts which is why it is rejected by science.

So having been a pedant for a good reason (hopefully), thanks for your comment - I do know exactly what you meant and I do agree with you ;-)