Keeping God out of the Classroom - Creation Science and Constitution

Part 6 of a 7-part series with Dr. Eugenie C. Scott: Creation Science Brings Religion to the Classroom. Dr. Scott discusses attempts by the creationist movement to introduce religion into high school science curricula. She makes the point that because w

Eugenie Scott: It is not illegal to teach bad science in this country; a school can teach that the earth is flat and that the sun goes around it if it wants to, that’s not unconstitutional. What is unconstitutional is to advocate religion in the public schools; the schools have to be religiously neutral, so the argument that the defense, the creationist side, had to make was that there was a legitimate secular reason for teaching creation science, that yeah maybe there are some religious implications but that’s not so important, there is a good secular reason for teaching creation science and that is because it’s valid science and the students would benefit from this instruction. So the plaintiffs, the anti-creationists, had to discuss what is science and why creation science didn’t fit it, and that’s how you started out this question. You know interestingly enough since the 1980’s, the philosophers of science have debated strongly what they call the demarcation problem; setting science as a way of knowing aside from other ways of knowing, and in philosophy of science this isn’t considered such a big deal anymore, and part of this discussion was generated from the McLean vs. Arkansas case interestingly enough. But most of the ideas that you find in McLean are still considered valid by practicing scientists; that’s kind of the way we do it. Even if philosophers of science may split hairs about the validity of falsification for example as a criterion of demarcation, if there’s no way to prove it wrong most scientists would say “that’s not really a scientific question; I can’t test that statement” and that of course was one of the issues brought up in McLean, because creation science is fundamentally and ultimately and at hear is a religious explanation. Just like the intelligent design people said later, the creation science people were really saying “Evolution can’t do the job, evolution can’t explain this stuff (complexity or whatever) therefore God had to of specially created.” Well that’s not an idea that you can test scientifically; God is omnipotent, God is therefore unconstrained. If you can’t put God in a test tube so to speak, if you can’t hold constant some of God’s actions in order to test whether something occurs in your normal experimental kind of setup, then you’re not really asking a question that can be dealt with through science. That’s probably worth talking about a little bit you know, because the nature of science is to test explanations of the natural world, and the way we test explanations about the natural world is we hold constant certain variables. So I’ve got these two plots of corn and I want to know whether the fertilizer really does result in a bigger crop; in order to convince you that that fertilizer really was responsible for growing more corn on this plot, I have to convince you that I watered these two plots exactly the same, I gave them the same amount of sunlight, I cultivated both of them the same amount (kept the weeds out and kept the pests down and everything) and that the only difference between these two plots is that this one got fertilized. Otherwise you’d come back to me and say “Come on Genie, you can’t tell me that this fertilizer is the reason for it, because you didn’t water this other plot, you didn’t control for water, you didn’t hold constant the amount of water”; that’s what we mean by holding constant. We all kind of know this, we learned this in seventh grade about the experimental method. Well put God into this equation; “God, don’t make the corn grow greater if I fertilize it.” How do you constrain God, how do you hold constant God’s efforts? You can’t. So science doesn’t say there’s no God, science doesn’t say God doesn’t act, science just says we can’t test God so we just leave him out. A good friend of mine, a philosopher of science Rob Pennock, came up with a great phrase. He said, “To say nothing of God is not to say that God is nothing; we just leave God out of scientific explanations.” So getting back to good old McLean vs. Arkansas, when the definition of science was being debated the notion of being able to bring God into scientific explanation was something that the mainstream scientists strictly refused to accept as part of the definition; they restricted scientific explanations to natural explanations only, and that is still the key element for how science is done, at least as recognized by practicing scientists.

creationism, intelligent design, creation science, henry morris, darwinism, evolution, darwin, Genesis, eugenie, scott, dnalc, cshl

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