Neil Postman on Creationism and Evolution

In his book Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Neil Postman actually has the only good argument I've ever seen for teaching Creationism alongside Evolution in classrooms.

The story told by creationists is also a theory. That a theory
has its origins in a religious metaphor or belief is irrelevant.
Not only was Newton a religious mystic but his conception of
the universe as a kind of mechanical clock contructed and set
in motion by God is about as religious an idea as you can find.
What is relevant is the question, To what extent does a theory
meet scientific criteria of validity? The dispite between
evolutionists and creation scientists offers textbook writers
and teachers a wonderful opportunity to provide students with
insights into the philosophy and methods of science. After all,
what students really need to know is not whether this or that
theory is to believed, but how scientists judge the merit of a
theory. Suppose students were taught the criteria of scientific
theory evaluation and then were asked to apply these criteria to
the two theories in question. Wouldn't such a task qualify as
authentic science education?


I suspect that when these two theores are put side by side,
and students are given the freedom to judge their merit as
science, creation theory will fail ignominiously (although
natural selection is far from faultless). In any case, we must
take our chances. It is not only bad science to allow disputes
over theory to go unexamined, but also bad education.

Some argue that the schools have neither the time nor the
obligation to take notice of every discarded or disreputable
scientific theory. "If we carried your logic through," a
science professor once said to me, "we would be teaching
post-Copernican astronomy alongside Ptolemaic astronomy."
Exactly. And for two good reasons. The first was succinctly
expressed in an essay George Orwell wrote about George Bernard
Shaw's remark that we are more gullible and superstitious today
than people were in the Middle Ages. Shaw offered as an example
of modern credulity the widespread belief that the Earth is round.
The average man, Shaw said, cannot advance a single reason for
believing this (This, of course, was before we were able to take
pictures of the Earth from space.) Orwell took Shaw's remark to
heart and examined carefully his own reasons for believing the
world to be round. He concluded that Shaw was right: that most
of his scientific beliefs rested solely on the authority of
scientists. In other words, most students have no idea why
Copernicus is to be preferred over Ptolemy. If they know of
Ptolemy at all, they know that he was "wrong" and Copernicus
was "right," but only because their teacher or textbook says so.
This way of believing is what scientists regard as dogmatic and
authoritarian. It is the exact opposite of scientific belief.

A second reason to support this approach is that science, like
any other subject, is distorted if it is not taught from a
historical perspective. Ptolemaic astronomy may be a refuted
scientific theory but, for that very reason, it is useful in
helping students to see that knowledge is a quest, not a
commodity; that what we think we know comes out of what we
once thought we knew; and that we will know in the future may
make hash of what we now believe.


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