May 18, 2013
Public School Science Standards: Political or Pure?
By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.
(Dr. Beisner delivered this lecture at the 24th Annual Educational Policy Conference of the Constitutional Coalition in St. Louis, Missouri, January 25, 2013.)
For generations America’s public schools have indoctrinated our children with the dogma of Darwinism: life arose and developed by chance, no Creator involved.
Now they’re poised to indoctrinate them with another dogma: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW)—and with it a whole catalog of other exaggerated and sometimes completely fictitious environmental concerns, all of them used as rationales for strangling restrictions on personal liberty, property, and the free market, and for instituting socialist, redistributionist policies domestically and internationally.
Never mind that in both cases thousands of scientists reject the dogma.
Never mind that in both cases the theories fail to account for large numbers of empirical facts.
Never mind that in both cases there is strong Biblical ground to question or reject the dogmas.
Never mind that the economic policies pursued in their name would trap billions in poverty, impoverish millions more, and undermine God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.
The educational bureaucracies that dominate our public schools are in advanced stages of developing the “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS), which, though not legally mandated, will be awfully hard for states to buck—and indeed many states already have taken steps to implement them.
The standards explicitly endorse a naturalistic worldview. NGSS’s flagship product, A Framework for K–12 Science Education, published by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, states it not as one worldview option among many but as simple fact that (not God but) “Evolution … explains both the similarities of genetic material across all species and the multitude of species existing in diverse conditions on Earth.” These are related to the National Science Education Standards, all produced by the National Academies of Science, 93 percent of whose members are atheists or sympathetic to an atheist, Secular Humanist religious worldview.
But despite the standards’ insisting that humans are simply part of nature, their general perspective sets people off against the rest of nature. A section discussing “Human Impacts on Earth Systems” says, “Human activities now cause land erosion and soil movement … [and] [a]ir and water pollution … with damaging effects on other species and on human health.”
A later section, on biodiversity and humans, asserts, “Human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, and climate change.” The assumption that what people do is bad is clear in a draft of performance expectations, which requires students to “Provide evidence that humans’ uses of natural resources can affect the world around them, and share solutions that reduce human impact”—as if human impact should always be smaller, not greater.
In short, the NGSS reflect the environmentalist assumption that humans can’t improve on the natural state—exactly contrary to the assumption of Genesis 1:28’s revelation of the mission of man: to fill and rule the Earth, not abusively but, reflecting God’s own actions, in a godly way that enhances its fruitfulness, beauty, and safety, to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors.
The underlying naturalistic worldview and the politically charged positions on Darwinism and climate change in the NGSS show that this will be one more step in capturing the minds of America’s children—including those Christian children who attend public schools. The threat comes not only from the NGSS but also from growing state environmental education requirements around the country, e.g., with Maryland in 2011 becoming the first state to require “environmental literacy” for high school graduation, and other states (California, Florida, New York, Wisconsin, and many more) taking similar steps. (It would be nice if they required basic literacy—but I suppose that would equip citizens to read a lot and think for themselves!) And one thread running through almost all environmental studies curriculum is that business and industry are largely to blame for the world’s ecological crises, and consequently that we must embrace a “small is better,” “limits to growth,” “simple lifestyle” mentality at the personal level and an anti-business, anti-free market, anti-growth mentality at the societal and governmental level.
It would be bad enough if the public schools were the only front on which people face these deceptive influences, and if youth were the only ones targeted, but of course they’re not. Today’s entertainment media, mainstream news media, and Green advocacy groups are filled with environmental propaganda. But today I must ignore all those. The Constitutional Coalition’s Donna Hearn has asked me to speak to you about America’s science education standards, and I’m grateful that she did, because they seriously endanger our young people and our country’s future spiritually, materially, and politically.
A newly formed organization with nationwide participation, Citizens for Objective Public Education, has done extensive analysis of the NGSS and the Framework for K–12 Science Education and submitted formal comments on them. COPE’s excellent work informs my thought on three problems in the science standards.
First, they are religiously non-neutral. Judicial decisions have set forth three ways the state can meet its First Amendment obligations: It can exclude religion entirely from public school curriculum, include it if it treats it objectively and neutrally with respect to students’, parents’, and taxpayers’ Constitutional rights, or objectively consider the strengths and weaknesses of explanations that support various religious viewpoints.
The science standards, however, address religious questions, but they fail to do so objectively. Many people wouldn’t recognize this, because they think of secularism as non-religious. But the Supreme Court in McGowan v Maryland (1961) defined religion as any “activity that profoundly relates the life of man to the world in which he lives”—and that is an explicit goal of the science standards.
The specific religion promoted by the science standards is Secular Humanism. The Humanist Manifestoes define “Religious Humanism” as “an organized set of atheistic beliefs that (1) deny the supernatural, (2) claim that life arises via unguided evolutionary processes rather than as a creation made for a purpose, and (3) claim that life should be guided by naturalistic/materialistic science and reason rather than traditional theistic religious beliefs.” The science standards affirm each of these positions—not surprisingly, granted their authors, most of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whom, according to a survey, deny or question the existence of God.
Key to every aspect of the science standards is their insistence that all scientific questions must be addressed and resolved solely in terms of Methodological Naturalism, “the idea that science is not permitted to explain the cause of events within the natural world with anything other than a materialistic explanation through the use of ‘material’ or ‘natural’ causes (that is a cause resulting from the unguided interactions of matter, energy and the forces).” Such a methodological principle excludes appeal to God or any other intelligence as the explanation for anything found in nature. Yet the standards assert it as if it were religiously neutral, exploiting children’s lack of mental preparation to recognize and question such bias.
As COPE puts it, “The assumption of materialism (MN) is incompatible with science education that must respect the religious rights of children, parents and taxpayers.”
Second, the standards fail to distinguish historical from experimental science. While Methodological Naturalism might be appropriate for experimental science, the assumption of no intelligent agency as a cause of historical events is unwarranted, and many of the world’s finest scientists, past and present, reject it. Nonetheless, the standards present unguided macroevolution as the sole explanation of all past cosmic, geologic, and biological events, never offering students an alternative, thus again foisting an atheistic religious worldview on them.
While they require presenting to students, through the 12 years of science curriculum, many purported evidences for naturalistic macroevolution, the standards—in contravention of the Constitutional requirement of objectivity in handling alternative religious views—fail to mention any of the evidences of purposive design in the universe, such as:
… and more.
- that the discrete values of the material and energetic forces of the universe appear to be “fine tuned” to permit life—even slight alterations to many of them entailing the impossibility of life;
- the information content of the genetic code;
- the incapacity of natural causes to explain the sequencing of the four bases in DNA, which provides the intangible information content without which life would be impossible. This recognition caused renowned scientist Jacques Monod to describe this as “the ultimate mystery of life.”
- the absence of materialistic explanations for the origin of life;
- the incapacity of materialistic processes to explain “major increases in biocomplexity,” which “require numerous additions to the information content of DNA before selectable function can arise, thereby casting doubt on the plausibility of stochastic [non-deterministic] processes to explain all of those increases.”
Third, the standards also fail to distinguish for students the various definitions of evolution, leading them to assume that the word always denotes the same thing. Yet the most basic definition of evolution as “change over time” is uncontroversial, while there is great controversy over macroevolution in distinction from microevolution. The standards allow students to be deceived into thinking that if microevolution occurs, macroevolution must as well—indeed, that macroevolution is nothing more than prolonged and sequential microevolution, when instead the two are not only quantitatively but qualitatively different.
Although the standards speak of respecting “equity and diversity” along other lines, they never consider respecting “equity and diversity” along religious lines—thus prejudicially excluding religion from the requirement of objective, impartial treatment. This is unsurprising, since the standards were written largely by members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whose members, as already mentioned, reject (72%) or doubt (21%) the existence of God. “Indeed, one of the major contributors to the Framework, Eugenie Scott, who is the CEO of the National Center for Science Education, is a signatory to [Humanist] Manifesto III and has been listed among the top 50 Atheists in the country.”
While coherence and progression are often valid curricular strengths, when put in the service of a particular religious worldview, as in the science standards, they become “tools of indoctrination and [proselytization].” The science standards provide that students be fed one piece of the atheistic worldview at a time, step by step through all grades, until by the time they graduate from high school they have imbibed it all. COPE recommends at least that “subjects that deal with religious issues be taken out of the coherence and progressions and treated separately in upper grade classes (if covered at all) where the curriculum has been carefully designed to present the subject matter objectively to a mature and knowledgeable audience so that the effect of the curriculum is religiously neutral.”
There are other evils in the science standards, but I will conclude with one that ought to be condemned by every scientist no matter his religious persuasion. The standards frequently present science as “an enterprise promoted by consensus.” On the contrary, consensus is not a scientific but a political value, as should be clear to anyone familiar with the history of science, which chronicles scores or even hundreds of great reversals of once reigning paradigms—as documented, e.g., in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Science does not seek to attain truth by popular—or expert—vote, but by logical reasoning from premises provided by observations of the surrounding world.
I consider this one of the most serious errors in the standards both because it undermines true science and because it plays into the hands of those who intentionally politicize science—the proponents and practitioners of post-normal science.
My first encounter with post-normal science came in connection with my studies of arguments pro and con about global warming—or, to be more precise, catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming. That precise wording is necessary because proponents regularly accuse those who deny catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) of denying global warming per se. On the contrary, those who deny CAGW affirm that natural global warming occurs, cyclically with global cooling, and most also affirm that human activities may contribute somewhat to warming. They deny, however, that recent or foreseeable warming has been or will be catastrophic, that it is primarily anthropogenic, that efforts to mitigate it can succeed at all, and particularly that they can succeed with benefits outweighing harms.
Post-normal science is essentially postmodern deconstruction—a literary theory, developed in the humanities, that holds that language doesn’t convey meaning or truth but only projects power (which, by the way, is self-refuting, for if it’s meaningful and true, then it defines itself as meaningless and untrue and merely projecting power, which means there’s no reason to believe it)—Post-normal science is postmodern deconstruction applied to the sciences. For post-normal science, scientific procedures—observation, hypothesis, experimentation, testing, computer modeling, even peer review for publication—are undertaken not to discover truth about the world but to project power, to further an agenda. Consequently, post-normal scientists go through the motions of what we all think of as science, but only for show. Their conclusions are already determined. They’re doing what physicist Richard Feynman called “cargo cult science.”
How serious a problem is post-normal science? In the case of the global warming controversy, post-normal science plays an absolutely crucial role. And CAGW has become the chief rationale for gross restrictions on liberty and property, coerced limits on procreation, and the replacement of local, accountable government with global, unaccountable government.
One of the world’s foremost proponents of post-normal science is Dr. Mike Hulme, who has been a co-author of articles on post-normal science with Oxford philosopher of science Dr. Jerome Ravetz, who pioneered the concept in the early 1990s as a methodology to be used when “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.”
Hulme is not only a co-author on post-normal science with Ravetz. He is also
In short, though not frequently mentioned in the mainstream media, Mike Hulme is probably more important to the climate alarmist movement than such better-known people as
- Professor of Climate Change (note that title—not of Climate, but of Climate Change) at the University of East Anglia (home of Climategate’s Climatic Research Unit), in which capacity he has taught many of the world’s leading climate alarmist scientists;
- a main contributor to climate-change scenarios used by the British government, the European Commission, the U.N. Environment Program and Population Division, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the World Wildlife Fund; a lead author for the chapter “Climate scenario development” of the IPCC’s 2001 Assessment Report and contributing author on several chapters; and
- the influential author of the book Why We Disagree About Global Warming.
- Oh—and did I mention that he’s a Marxist?
Much as we might disagree with Hulme’s views on CAGW and reject his post-normal science, though, we should be thankful for his candor, for here are some things he wrote in that book:
- Al “I sold my cable channel to Al Qaeda supporter Al Jazeera for millions in oil money because I didn’t want it getting into the hands of Glenn Beck” Gore,
- James “put fossil-fuel company executives on trial for crimes against humanity and nature” Hansen, and
- Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann.
Disputes in post-normal science focus … on the process of science—who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy …. The [Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change] is a classic example of a post-normal scientific activity. …That, my friends, is post-normal science, and it is first and foremost the attempt to project power by claiming consensus among scientists.
Within a capitalist world order, climate change is actually a convenient phenomenon to come along. …
. . . ‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking … scientists—and politicians—must trade truth for influence. …
The function of climate change … really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change … to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come. …
The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identities and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but … what climate change can do for us …. Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.
… climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics—from global to local—is now framed…. Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations . . . ?”
The global warming juggernaut is post-normal science on the march, and our public schools are already indoctrinating children with the belief that consensus is a scientific value. I.e., they are ensuring that they won’t have the properly scientific mindset to challenge post-normal science.
- Never mind that consensus isn’t a scientific value.
- Never mind that such consensus as there is on CAGW is not spontaneous but was carefully manufactured by the IPCC.
- Never mind that a manufactured consensus is, as Georgia Tech Professor of Climatology Judith Curry—herself a past contributing author to the IPCC—the bane of real science. It minimizes uncertainty, enforces bias in selection of “experts” privileged to define it, and so in the long term ironically—and rightly—undermines credibility.
The Cornwall Alliance is a network of evangelical theologians, scientists, and economists dedicated to promoting Biblical Earth stewardship (in contrast to environmentalism), economic development for the poor, and the proclamation and defense of the gospel in a world permeated by a Green movement
Among other things, we labor to expose and oppose corruptions of science like those found in the emerging new national science education standards, and to answer their challenges
- whose worldview, theology, and ethics are overwhelmingly anti-Christian,
- whose science and economics are often badly flawed,
- whose policies therefore often are of no real benefit to natural ecosystems but are harmful to the poor,
- and whose doctrines of God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation are anti-Biblical.
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- and to limited government, the rule of law, and the free market.