RE: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training inschools

From: wjp <>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 11:55:09 EDT


Regarding what you wrote below, a little more than a decade ago I was a member of the International History, Philosophy & Science Teachers Group (, whose journal is Science & Education. I have been talking to a friend of mine, who happens to be a professor of philosophy, about the possibility of creating an introductory science class that would incorporate science, the history of science, and the philosophy of science. When one studies the historical development of an idea (almost any idea), science comes alive with the struggle of making of what we call science. Philosophy is impossible to avoid.

With this in mind, I've been thinking about the rise of what we call today electromagnetic theory. We don't appear to recognize today the tremendous shift that has taken place in our thinking. Faraday, as I understand it, struggled with the idea of "physical" field lines. He could readily accept them as heuristic or as instrumental guides, but as being "physical" he had serious doubts. Why is this? He wanted them to be "physical" to avoid the dreaded action at a distance. He needed a "physical" connection between a changing electric current and an induced current in a distance wire. But in what sense are they "physical"? "Physical" was taken to be tangible, material.

This is simply a small part of the struggles encountered in Maxwell's field theory. Can fields have energy, if they have no mass? Yes, if they waves of the fields wave something, i.e., the ether. Apparently in the 1890's we accepted the notion of fields carrying energy (Poynting). This laid the foundation for a new notion of what is physical. When the ether disappeared did anyone notice that the notion of what is physical had suddenly been radically changed. Is it any wonder that some began to think of energy as spirit. Is it surprising that Einstein could speak of mass and energy being converted the one into the other?

Aside from the fact that I find this interesting, the perspective is lost on almost all practitioners of science, and suddenly of all general science education. I agree with George that amongst the "best" philosophers of science are those who were scientists themselves, although their perspectives often vary considerably (Polkinghorne, Cartwright).

I know that there have been such programs designed and taught, most of them not in this country. Ted, do you know of any? IHPST wrote a full size text on the pendulum.

Well, enough. So much to do, so little time.

bill powers
White, SD
> ***
> I add this:
> I am a former high school science teacher myself (physics and chemistry),
> and IMO we would do a better job of educating students in both high school
> and college, if we would cut some traditional scientific topics to make
> room for teaching a little more history & philosophy of science. (Given
> that I am in that field, no one should be surprised that I would say
> this.) IMO, in such a context it could be entirely appropriate to bring
> in some of the many objections to evolution that have been raised since
> the mid-19th century: they might at least be presented as serious
> objections that have been raised, often by scientists themselves--and, in
> some cases at least, have been fully answered by subsequent science (such
> as the problem of inheritance, acknowledged by Darwin in his book and not
> dealt with satisfactorily for another 70 years). It would also be
> appropriate in that context, IMO, to discuss contemporary objections to
> evolution, including aspects of "intelligent design." !
> Students are not being educated as well, IMO, when such things are ruled
> out of bounds for public school science classes simply b/c they may be
> religiously motivated. We wouldn't rule out teaching students about the
> controversy among scientists themselves, about the use of the atomic bomb
> against Japan in 1945, even though some of those objections were
> religiously motivated; we wouldn't rule out teaching students about the
> controversy among scientists themselves, about how to interpret QM
> (Copenhagen vs other possibilities), simply b/c some might hold a given
> view partly for religious reasons or express a view in theological terms
> ("God does not play dice"). Likewise, we should not bar discussion of the
> fact that some scientists do not find Darwinian evolution fully convincing,
> and why.
> I realize of course that many public school science teachers are woefully
> unprepared to have those larger conversations--and this is not their
> fault, given the courses they are required to take in order to be
> certified. But some teachers may be very well prepared for such
> conversations, and they IMO should not be barred from entering into them.
> The legal issue is, do they have a clear secular purpose (as vs a religious
> purpose) for doing so? Prior to and during the Kitzmiller trial, legal
> expert Edward Larson held the view that aspects of ID could be discussed
> in public school classes, if a teacher had a clear secular purpose for
> doing so. The judge's ruling in Kitzmiller might still allow for this,
> but it's not clear that it does. *Teaching ID as an alternative to
> evolution* is quite different IMO from *discussing aspects of it* for
> secular purposes. Probably, many teachers who would want to try that
> would be motivated by religion and not have a clear secular purpose,!
> but IMO that would not be true in all cases.
> Of course, the ACLU's position is that you just can't use the "ID" term in
> public school science classes. But they do not oppose teaching students
> about ID in other courses, such as religion or philosophy--both of which
> can be offered in public schools. So, if there is a clearly legal middle
> course, that would be it.
> Ted

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Received on Wed Mar 25 11:56:17 2009

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