Teaching creationism

by Neil Rickert

In spite of the title, this post really isn’t about teaching creationism.  It is about the responsibilities of a teacher.  I use creationism only as an example.

Adam Laats raised the issue in a recent blog post “Firing Creationist Scientists“.  Laats mentions the case of Mark Armitage at CalState.  As to exactly why Armitage lost his job, I do not know.  Presumably that’s a personnel matter at CalState Northridge, and full details are not usually made public though they might come out at a later court hearing.  Laats surmises that Armitage probably lost his job because he was teaching creationism.

The responsibilities of a teacher

To me, this raises the question of what a responsible teacher should present to his/her students.  So let’s suppose, hypothetically, that a scientist comes up with his own theory X in his discipline, and strongly believes that his theory is true.  How should that affect what he teaches?

My view is that the students are there to learn the consensus science.  So the scientist has a responsibility to his students to teach them what is that consensus science, even if he disagrees with that consensus.

Here’s the problem with his teaching theory X instead of the consensus.  His students would complete the class, but be poorly prepared for the profession that they plan to enter.  Even if theory X is indeed true, the teacher has done his student’s a disservice by depriving them of what they should have been learning.

Responsibilities to the profession

Here’s where things change a little.  If the scientist does strongly believe that his theory X is correct, then he has a responsibility to attempt to present and explain that theory to other scientists in the same field.  It is there, among practicing scientists, that new science is introduced.  If he is successful at persuading practicing scientists, he will influence the consensus and that would change what can be taught.  But until he has persuaded practicing scientists, he must continue to teach the accepted consensus.

Science is about method

Science isn’t just a matter of true statements.  Method is what drives science.  The problem with creationism and ID is that they make truth claims, but have not demonstrated an effective methodology to accompany those claims.

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