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“Science” Teaching Shouldn’t Impose Orthodoxy

Wesley J. Smith

I marvel at how the supposed defenders of SCIENCE so often conflate the method with ethical and policy controversies. Case in point: A Yale law professor named Adam Cohen, writing at the Time website, is upset that Tennessee is allowing teachers to (voluntarily) teach their students the scientific criticisms of Darwinism — what my colleagues at Discovery Institute call, “teaching the controversy.”
Me? I am fine with teaching the controversy. In fact, I think that is a proper scientific approach. But I wonder about allowing teachers to do it ad hoc (as it were). There should be uniform standards. But that question is beyond our scope here.
I bring up Cohen’s column because after yelling about the Darwin issue, he conflates policy and ethical controversies with science. From “Is U.S. Sliding Backward on Teaching Evolution?”:

School boards and education administrators [in Tennessee] are now required to give support to teachers who want to “present the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of various “scientific theories,” including “biological evolution” and “the chemical origins of life.” The new law also supports teachers who want to question accepted scientific thinking on two other hobgoblins of the far right: global warming and human cloning.

Excuse me? There remains a growing dispute about the extent, causes, and proper policy “solutions” to the “problem” of global warming — with the holy grail “consensus” increasingly cracking. And not just from the “right.” Or, should only the consensus be taught, thereby presenting students with a false picture?
Even more to the point, what exactly is the proper “scientific thinking” about human cloning? Cohen clearly isn’t discussing how cloning might be done technologically. There is no dispute there. Rather, he is raising the issue that teachers shouldn’t question whether it should be done. That isn’t a science question. It is an ethical question. Besides, many on the left oppose human cloning including the Center for Genetics and Society and the radical environmentalist Bill McGibben. Or does Cohen think that ethics has no place in the discussion of science issues. Now that would be a radical notion.
Besides, shouldn’t science teachers inform students that science isn’t supposed to have an “orthodoxy,” and indeed, that heterodox theories and hypotheses are essential to the scientific method? The disputes over Darwin and warming, in particular, are examples of that process in real time. I mean, good grief: Had science only been about protecting orthodox consensuses, we still wouldn’t know about continental drift and indeed, natural selection itself.
Cross-posted at Secondhand Smoke.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.