Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Achievable Goal

I have shared in several posts my firm belief that naturalism is a flawed worldview, and that to the extent that naturalism has commandeered modern science, science itself is artificially limited in its ability to arrive at truth. With that understanding in mind, I long for the day that science is freed from such artificial restraint, where theists are allowed to openly share their research and the conclusions to which that research logically leads. This would, of course, entail the ability to critique evolutionary theory (in particular) without fear of tenure denial or other recriminations.

Often, when I (and others) have thought about such a paradigm shift, it has involved the notion that evolutionary teaching would be replaced by the teaching of, say, intelligent design. Or, as seems to be the goal of some school boards members and concerned parents, we would 'teach the controversy,' we would be allowed to put competing explanations before students and weigh their respective merits.

But while these issues are being argued within the university (where the folks qualified to dispute them are primarily not scientists themselves but philosophers and historians of science), I have come to believe that a more modest goal is achievable right now--overnight, if you will. The goal I have in mind is in perfect keeping with any and all understandings of the "separation of church and state." It would liberate the high school biology teacher, the naturalist at the nature center, and the curator of the natural history museum, to educate in the most objective way possible. It would emphasize a cardinal aspect of science--objectivity--and focus on 'just the facts,' the observable data from which the various (contrary) explanations arise. It would do away with the need for parental watchdog groups, "freedom-from-religion" suits, and thought police within the academy.

What I envision--in high school classrooms, nature centers, and natural history museums and documentaries--is presenting the panorama of living things in metaphysically neutral terms. Both the theist and the atheist agree that living things exhibit complexity, adaptation, and ecological interaction that can only be described by words like 'marvelous' and 'wonderful.' How easy it would be to simply present the factual aspects of this panorama without committing to any of the controversial explanations for how it came to be this way.

I'm not suggesting that scientists themselves avoid the controversy. What I am suggesting is that--until the academicians sort the explanations out in a much more open and satisfactory way than they have to date--popularizers of biology (the study of living things) would do well to stick to the observational evidence (abundant, varied, and awe-inspiring as it is) and avoid unneccessarily taking sides in what is a very legitimate metaphysical debate.

In very practical terms, this is as simple as describing an animal, a symbiotic relationship, or other aspect of living systems with a word like 'adapted' rather than the metaphysically-charged words 'created' or 'evolved.'

I suspect, by the way, that this is exactly what goes on in many high school biology classrooms, where the teacher is expected to teach evolution but skips over it for pragmatic reasons. These latter include the recognition that (macro)evolution is generally irrelevant to understanding the rest of the course content and because it is an unnecessarily volatile element to add to an already demanding task.

I'm just thinking out loud here (er, rather, typing my thoughts as they come). Anyway, feel free to interact with what I'm suggesting (that is, if it made any sense at all).

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