|Feature Article - July 2016|
|by Do-While Jones|
How should schools teach students to evaluate scientific evidence?
A biology professor is upset because the U.S. Department of Education is funding the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) effort to facilitate the transfer of credits between institutions of higher learning. This program, called the “Passport Initiative,” sets standards for subjects which can cross from one university to another, much like a passport allows people to cross from one country to another.
That, in itself, isn’t the problem. The problem, in this professor’s eyes, is that credits earned for teaching the creation/evolution controversy can be transferred.
In their document “Faculty handbook: Constructing your institution's Passport block,” WICHE suggests that to demonstrate scientific literacy, students should “watch the Ken Hamm [sic]–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the scientific evidence and arguments used by the participants”.
This suggestion validates creationism as science by stating explicitly that both participants have scientific evidence. 1
We wonder if that biology professor actually watched the debate. If he had, his last sentence would have been, “This suggestion discredits science by stating explicitly that evolutionist Bill Nye is a scientist.”
Nye made a complete fool of himself; but this debate wasn’t exactly a shining moment for creationist Ken Ham, either. Ham has done much better on other occasions. Both men performed so poorly in that debate that there simply wasn’t a winner. Nye was just the biggest loser, as we wrote in previous newsletters. 2 3
You may be surprised that we agree with the biology professor’s statement,
If the goal of the curriculum is to help students use scientific evidence to debunk myths, the suggested class activity should be rephrased to read, “Watch the Ken Ham–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the arguments used by the participants.” However, even with better wording, by including the debate in a science class, WICHE is promoting the use of the Ham-Nye debate as an example of a scientific controversy. There are hundreds of genuine biological debates, both current and historical, that good educators can make interesting. WICHE should choose real examples of scientific debates and avoid advocating for creationism in science classrooms. 4
The professor wants to rephrase “scientific evidence and arguments” to “arguments” because he doesn’t think Ham had any scientific evidence for creation. The truth is that Nye didn’t have any scientific evidence for evolution, so we agree that “arguments” is a better categorization of what went on.
We also agree that there certainly are better examples of good scientific debates about creation and evolution. There certainly are better examples of good scientific debates on other topics, too.
Despite that, there is value in analyzing a debate as bad as the Ham/Nye debate. It is not surprising that Nye knows so little about the Bible—but the debate made it clear that he knows just as little about science. It should be clear to anyone watching the debate that he could not defend the theory of evolution using valid scientific arguments, and that he had to resort to attacks upon religion to change the subject.
Students can learn valuable lessons by watching this terrible debate; but not about creation or evolution. Science students should certainly be able to see how foolish Nye’s arguments are, and how someone should have been able to refute them. That’s worth learning. Students should also see how Nye’s religious bigotry biases him so much that he believes his irrational arguments are rational.
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Michael Baltzley, Department of Biology, Western Oregon University, Science, 10 June 2016, “Institutionalizing creationism”, page 1285, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1285.2.full
2 Disclosure, February 2014, “Ham on Nye”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.info/v18i5n2.htm
3 Disclosure, March 2014, “Red Herrings”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.info/v18i6f.htm
4 Michael Baltzley, Department of Biology, Western Oregon University, Science, 10 June 2016, “Institutionalizing creationism”, page 1285, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1285.2.full