Teaching the controversy in the UK

Some guy has managed to get onto BBC News with the standard evangelical gambit of ‘teach the controversy‘:

He says the GCSE syllabus requires children to appreciate how science works and understand the nature of scientific controversy.

“The government wants children to be exposed to scientific debate at the age of 14 or 15.

“All the Truth in Science stuff does is put forward stuff that says here’s a controversy. This is exactly the kind of thing that young people should be exposed to,” Mr Cowan added.

You can’t just make up scientific controversy. If I flooded schools with leaflets saying the Earth was flat, and as evidence quoted misunderstandings of round-earth-theory, this wouldn’t constitute a scientific controversy. What would? Hard to say, but if scientific literature was full of discussion of the topic that’d be a start. But, it’s not. Global warming is a good example of scientific controversy, but Intelligent Design is as scientifically controversial as Bigfoot. The article sums it up with:

Advocates of intelligent design say there are things that cannot be explained by evolution and so argue for the existence of a supernatural intelligence behind the creation of the universe.

Which is accurate, but not very informative. Intelligent Design does do this, but doesn’t actually provide any reason to go from one to the other. The approach is “evolution is wrong, therefore god”, which doesn’t follow logically. And, of course, the arguments against evolution don’t hold water.

He told the BBC: “Darwin has for many people become a sacred cow.

“There’s a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.

“We might has well have said Einstein shouldn’t have said what he did because it criticised Newton.”

Talk about missing the point. Einstein didn’t criticise Newton, he put forward a theory that refined Newton’s work and, crucially, made predictions that could be used to test the veracity of the claims. The predictions were tested, and found to be true. Intelligent Design makes no predictions and provides no evidence for an alternative to evolution. It’s completely useless.

Mr Cowan is identified in the article as an ex chemistry teacher. There’s no mention of his being a young-earth creationist who thinks the reason there’s no evidence of dinosaurs and humans living simultaneously is that “they didn’t live near each other”.

Happily, it looks like the government isn’t paying any attention to this kind of nonsense, at least for the general curriculum. It’s possible they’re turning a blind eye elsewhere, as evidenced by Tony Blair’s odd recent comments (via TLH).