Monday, August 18, 2008

The Truth

I've just watched the last part of The Genius of Charles Darwin, on Channel 4.

At one point in the programme Richard Dawkins interviewed one Nick Cowan, who is apparently a chemistry teacher at a well respected grammar school. Mr Cowan admitted to Dawkins that he believes that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. I'm sorry, but this man should not be teaching science to our children. You may as well have an English teacher who believes Shakespeare's works don't exist, or a mathematics teacher who does not believe in multiplication.

Even more scary was when Dawkins interviewed a group of science teachers at a London school. They were all running scared from telling their children that evolution is the truth, for fear of upsetting religious sensibilities in our multicultural society. As Dawkins pointed out, this is not a matter of allowing children to choose between different truths - there is only one truth, supported by massive evidence. It's not that we should not allow debate, it's that there is no debate: would any reasonable person debate, for example, that the Earth is not round? Evolution is proven to the same extent that it is proven that the Earth is round. So, let's cast this relativistic nonsense to one side, and tell our children how it is - then they can decide whether or not to believe the truth.

11 comments:

  1. May I suggest that your blog's representations of Nick Cowan are extremely unfair.

    Nick Cowan is responsible for thousands (an approximation, but definitely more than 500!) of people entering engineering, science and medical disciplines, and is well remembered by all of his former students.

    Considering the editorial slant of the program (you talk about the Viewer being asked, in a pantomime fashion, "would want someone like Mr Cowan teaching their children?" - hardly a unbiased question).

    Cowan has been a teacher at Blue Coat School for well over twenty years and is easily the best and most scientific teacher there.

    I would like Nick Cowan to teach Scientific Method to my children as I think in all fairness Nick admits when there is a "Leap of Faith" in his worldview, I'm not sure Dawkins would admit to his leaps of faith.

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  2. my bad, missed a point:
    "Considering the editorial slant of the program" you should not just use that solely to form opinions on Nick Cowan.

    Do proper research: something Nick would approve of, don't just "Google, Cut, Paste" like so many student dissertations.

    Talk to Nick.

    -AS

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  3. Thanks for the advice, but I did not just "Google, Cut, Paste". The success or otherwise of Mr Cowan as a teacher is not the issue. The issue is that you simply cannot reconcile his 'worldview' with the teaching of science. 'Leaps of faith' are, of course, just some logical gymnastics designed to reconcile the irreconcilable.

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  4. On the subject of earth's shape and evolution, surely to be on a par with each other the Russians would have to have a cosmonaut orbit a group of primates as they change into gorillas, monkeys and northerners.

    ;p

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  5. John, the 'google, cut, paste' comment was not meant literally. I just ask you to know what you are talking about before you say nick should not teach science.

    Science is about fact.

    Nick is such a damn good teacher that I believe I'd pass A-Level chemistry today despite not studying beyond alevel or even reading anything chemistry related for the last fifteen years. He's that good that the knowledge and scientific method he's taught sticks with you a long time. I am still in a techincal field and use scientific methodolgy frequently in my current job.

    As to your last comment of "success or otherwise of mr. Cowan as a teacher is not the issue..." got no idea what planet you are on now.

    You call for the man to be deprived of his vocation on the ground that he doesn't subscribe to the latest theories on a different branch of science despite myself and others saying he is the BEST SCIENCE TEACHER EVER?????

    Let's stay with that thought. If a Biology teacher uses newtonian theory to solve an arguement about escape velocity, should they be fired for not using relativity?

    If a physics teacher states in a pub "there are two allotropes of pure carbon", they should be given their notice in the morning?

    Heaven forbid someone teaching chemistry doesn't know everything about super string theory.

    Science is subdivded into different domains because you can't be expert in all of them. If you are good at one, it really doesn't matter what you believe in another.

    Maybe if you stopped and listened to what Nick has previously said you would be a better person for it.

    There are two types of science: ones with provable, repeatable results that do not vary when repeated anywhere in the world (or galaxy, etc.). Testable hypothesis.

    There are also explanatory sciences, where you can only ever say "this is what we believe happened" but alas do not have repeatable results as the experiment would be too big, too destructive or impossible to duplicate.


    Personally I prefer purer sciences, not ones that will pass off "This is what we believe happened" as "this is what definately happened."

    Dawkins will probably never admit it, but he can never be 100% sure evolution happened, as he wasn't there, and it's not a hard and fast rule, such as PV=mrT or V= IR.

    That's true science.

    Dawkins makes a leap of faith in deciding "Evolution is Fact". I'm fine with that, so long as he admits it.

    In my opinion, Charles Darwin was not a genius, If anyone of the Darwin line was, it was Erasmus Darwin.

    I've never seen a practical application of the Theory of Evolution. To this end, until the Theory of Evolution produces something of practical value instead of Dawkins inferring "There is no need for god therefore god does not exist" (paraphrased) The Theory of Evolution cannot be "the greatest idea ever".

    That's my issue.

    That and you deriding and calling for dismissal of someone who has inspired more people to study science and technical disciplines than the majority of science teacher out there.

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  6. Dawkins is hardly the only scientist who has said that evolution is fact - how much evidence do you want to prove a theory? The point is that it is such an important fact that denying it would cloud every aspect of science teaching.

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  7. I think we're seperating from my original objection to you calling for a man you've never met (to the best of my knowledge) to be sacked.

    That would be one hell of an unfair dismissal trial wouldn't it? "Oh, he's a christian, so we had to sack him because he taught chemistry, which has nothing to do with evolution, but we don't want that do we? people of faith understanding science? it's a crime against Dawkins I tell you!".

    Please remember having enough people say something is fact is not the same as proof.

    Shall we look into the "Fact" of Defermat's Last Theorem?

    Decades of using the worlds largest computers failed to bring one instance of x^n +y^n = z^n with integer x, y and z when n>2.

    This theorem remained "Unproven" as there was holes in it.

    Evolution is the same. It has holes in it and has not been proven to be absolute fact (as Wiles did for deFermat in the 90's).

    Do we now just accept, Dawkins says that, the guy from the car advert says that, so it must now be true?

    To quote Orwell, Man to Pig, Pig to Man.

    So what aspect of your science education prompted you to take on a career in law?

    There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. No one has watched an ape turn into a human.

    Other branches of science have repeatable, provable results, those that don't (e.g. Astronomy, Cosmology, Elements of Geology) can test theories in other ways.

    Is this really the "greatest idea ever to have occured to man"?

    Why is it so great. If it's true, we were once monkeys. If it's not, then we weren't. Why is that relevent to me?

    Nuclear Physics. That's relevent to me. General Reletivity. That's relevent to me.

    Both of these are much better science than the theory of evolution.

    Discuss.....

    (ps. you're shying away from certain points, would you prefer to discuss further on email?)

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  8. Calm down.

    I would respectfully suggest that the age of the Earth and chemistry are relevant to one another: Chemical processes in the formation of the Earth? Carbon dating? Even if they weren't, would you take seriously someone who professed to be a man of science, yet also believed that the Earth was less than 10,000 years old? I wouldn't, and I wouldn't want him to be teaching my children.

    As to your views upon the value of evolution, you are quite entitled to believe that other ideas are more important.

    If you want an argument, I suggest you go on the forums at RichardDawkins.net.

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  9. Dearest John,

    I am calm, I wrote a post suggesting that you, as a logical man, would see the flaws in your initial arguement that the man should be sacked because of his beliefs - a view based solely on your viewing a very biasedly edited program with less than five minutes on his views.

    This was laid out in a logical manner, and countered with your so elloquantely put "The success or otherwise of him as a teacher is not the issue." -i.e. someone should be sacked regardless of their excellent performance.

    Which is also illogical.

    The purpose of this set of comments was to show you how wrong you were in calling for sackings due to beliefs on unrelated matters to the subject taught.

    As to the arguement direct with richarddawkins.net I'm still waiting for authentication, I'm not going to hold my breath.

    Meanwhile, good luck with whatever you're up to now. I'm off! (thank god, I hear you say!)

    -Andy.

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  10. Thank god is the one thing I wouldn't say! ;-)

    Good luck to you too.

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  11. The Theory of Evolution is just that, a theory and contrary to your post there is not overwhelming evidence to support it.
    There is no doubt that natural selection within the species is at play, however there is very little evidence to support the extrapolation of this evidence that leads to a new species.
    It is sad that fear of religious sensibilities is inhibiting our teachers, but The Theory of Evolution is a generational scientific argument and no conclusions can be honestly drawn for many generations yet.

    Mr Dawkins is brilliant but he has undermined a lot of his work by his media science and his challenge of the non overlapping majesteria dressed up as the God Delusion.

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