Monday, January 31, 2005

Comments for the Kansas School Board

The suite of changes being offered in the minority report are a systematic perversion of the definition of science. Curriculums built around their guidance will leave students unprepared to successfully compete for jobs in any scientific discipline, from medicine to astrophysics. Even worse, it will leave them ill-prepared to critically evaluate claims about the health effects of medicines, medical treatments, and nutrition. In addition to these practical consequences, the twisted understanding of science being proposed by the science committee's minority would leave them unable to understand, appreciate and participate in many of the great advances that will take place in their lifetimes.

The major objection raised throughout the revisions is to naturalism in science. The supernatural world is beyond the scope of science for many reasons, but I'll focus on two. The first problem is that it is impossible to experiment on the supernatural world. Intelligent design, like any explanation that includes supernatural elements, fails as science because it is impossible to identify the designer, let alone experiment on him. Science operates using the tools of the natural world, and those tools cannot, by definition, be turned on the supernatural. Science is not opposed to the supernatural, it is simply independent of it.

The other problem with supernatural explanations is that they do not produce useful explanations. The recent mission to land the Huygens probe on Saturn's moon, Titan, was launched 7 years ago. Its route was planned using Newton's Theory of Gravity and Einstein's modifications of that theory. Adding supernatural forces would make it impossible to be sure where that probe would wind up. The science that produced Newtonion physics is the same as the science that produced evolutionary biology.

If we could not apply lessons learned in the laboratory to the past and future, science would be useless. If we had to account for the whims of supernatural intelligence, we could never trust that planes would stay in the air, that medicines would work, that the sun would rise in the morning, or that properly fertilized seeds would germinate in our fields. We live our lives by applying the basic principle that the simplest, most natural explanation is best.

By misrepresenting basic knowledge of the practice of science, the revisions in the committee's minority report would undermine the cutting edge science the state committed itself to funding through its Biosciences Initiative. These changes would diminish Kansas students' abilities to effectively participate in those advances, and will make recruiting businesses to Kansas more difficult. In addition, students taught according to these standards would be less well qualified to understand the nature of scientific debate on matters like the safety of drugs, or to judge the biological basis for a new diet.

The meeting is from 7-8:30 on February 1, 2005 at Schlagle High School, 2214 N. 59th Street, KCK.

There will be another the following week, 7-8:30 at the Kansas State Department of Education, 120 S.E. 10th Street, Topeka. Then another at Derby Middle School Feb. 10. The final meeting will be in Hays High School.

Anyone speaking at a meeting should read the revisions approved by the science standards committee, the minority report's revised rules and the comments collected at the Kansas Citizens for Science.