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Established science as a standard

250mL volumetric flaskIn my previous message about embracing our mission, I proposed some guidelines for staying true to the primary mission of providing practical help to Christian homeschool science teachers. I acknowledged that the only sure way to win people’s trust about our attitude and approach is to produce some actual content that they can peruse (reviews, essays, lessons, etc.). As they say, “Proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Our own ASA volunteers are in the same predicament as the general public in waiting for that proof.

Indeed, one volunteer has commented:

This project seems promising so far, although I also have a concern that the burden of “promoting” or normalization to so-called established or consensus science not run roughshod over these very important conversations among Christians. The establishment or consensus of anything in the sciences is in some sense provisional and has much to do with the relevant community of discourse in addition to the very profound dynamics of faith and reason. Consensus is very often a matter of who participates in the discussion.

Apparently, the meaning of established (consensus) science and its use as a standard are sources of some uneasiness. Let me try to explain my meaning in more detail and, hopefully, allay some fears you may have about this topic.

Established science deserves our respect.

The ASA is an affiliation of working scientists. We consider science to be a legitimate “way of knowing” about the physical world. We also recognize that science is a human process of discovery that is never complete (more on that below). Thus, taken as a whole, we regard the claims (theories) of established science to be our current best and most accurate description of the properties and behavior of creation.

For educational purposes, then, established science deserves to be esteemed as the standard. It is right for us to promote it as comprising the primary content of a good science curriculum. Indeed, before students can even possibly fairly entertain alternative hypotheses, they need to fully comprehend the evidence for established scientific theories.

Don’t mistake my meaning. “Established science” refers to proper scientific claims, not to widely accepted scientistic worldviews (scientism). One of the key ministries of ASA (to the church and to the scientific community at large) is to call attention to the proper boundary between these often-times commingled notions. We are an important voice for doing science as science. Also, remember that the ASA mission is to discuss the relationship of science to Christian belief. Thus, although we esteem the general scientific process (and the knowledge that comes from that, i.e., established science), we don’t pretend to have one precise answer for how that knowledge should be understood in relation to Christian belief. This means that we generally support established science (as science) but encourage critical evaluation of the worldviews espoused by its proponents and entertain a wide range of opinion about its implications for Christian theology.

Here’s one example: In my personal opinion, typical intelligent design (ID) hypotheses do not yet qualify as established scientific theories. As such, they do not merit being presented to students as if they are viable alternatives to well established mechanisms of biological evolution. To do so would be to short-circuit the scientific process by giving special attention to new, untested scientific claims. On the other hand, certain philosophical issues raised by ID hypotheses (including how science is done and how God interacts with creation) are appropriate topics for discussion. It would be appropriate for our reviewers to describe how particular textbooks represent ID with regard to these distinctions.

A precise definition is not necessary.

You’ll notice that I emphasized the word “personal” at the beginning of the ID example above. Almost certainly some of you do not share my particular views on that subject. Perhaps you recognize that we cannot agree on exactly what qualifies as “established science”, or maybe you do not accept particular established scientific theories even if you do recognize them as being the current consensus view.

Fortunately, I think these are not causes for concern with regard to our purposes in this HSR project. It is sufficient that we recognize generally what “established science” means. It should not bother us that we cannot define it precisely. And it is not really necessary that each of us affirms every claim of established science. All that matters is that we have a generally high level of confidence in the scientific process overall. That is what I mean by “esteeming” established science and “holding it in high regard”.

In the ID example, it is adequate for our purposes if our reviewers and commentators can provide some measure of objective description about the distinctions I noted (ID as scientific hypothesis vs. ID as a philosophical notion). Our aim is not to join sides in a cultural or scientific battle; our site will cease to be a source of practical help if it becomes anything like an open forum for debate. In a sense, our role is to be one step removed from the battle itself. Our reviews and resources will provide sufficient information to help parents to understand the “consequences” of curriculum choices they make and, if they desire, to supplement their teaching with materials of one kind or another. We are not choosing curriculum for them; they choose a commercial curriculum and they choose which supplements to incorporate. Our job is to provide accurate descriptions of existing curricula and of available supplementary materials so that parents are not surprised by the content of products they receive.

Another example is global warming. I would contend that CO2-mediated global warming and anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming (AGW) are on the verge of becoming established scientific claims. Whether or not you agree with my assessment, I think you would agree with the following general recommendation: Students should learn about the evidence for global warming and why many scientists rightly regard it with great concern; the fact that this has not reached complete consensus (especially with regard to proposed solutions) should be acknowledged. Our reviews should support that general educational goal. Beyond that, our reviews would be right to critique and describe how particular curricula are excessively strident on one side or the other of this issue. Armed with that sort of information, parents will be able to make informed decisions.

You need a ruler if you want to measure something.

Our overall goal is to assist parents in providing their students with a better science education. Our primary strategy is to inform, and that has two components: (1) to accurately describe curricula that already exist (so that parents can make comparisons), and (2) to develop and suggest practical resources for improving upon existing curricula by correcting errors, filling gaps or extending discussions in relation to Christian faith and practice.

This does not so much mean normalization in the sense of reducing everything to a single denominator. In a more important sense, it means “highlighting” differences by comparison to a single standard. Even to the extent that established science is the sort of standard we should strive for (vs. merely compare to), our goal should be to exceed the standard. In that sense, we should not be satisfied merely to uphold established science but to provide the resources necessary to understand the meaning of science; that includes education about the limits and tentative nature of science and the scientific process. Thus, to whatever extent we esteem established science, it would come with ample discussion about what it is, why it is, and how it ought to be understood. “Established science” is thus the starting point or launching pad for intelligent conversation.

Some bias is inevitable…and appropriate.

The same volunteer also wrote:

In pursuing a “broader view” or expanding the conversation for our intended audience, we must be careful not to simply establish a fort on the other side of the battle line some have already drawn. It would be tragic if over time the HSR project represents little more than the “standard scientific view” in contrast to the “standard Christian view.” Doing so would run the risk of driving away the very audience we hope to engage.

As I mentioned earlier, our desire is not to join sides in a battle…but neither is it our prime directive to be entirely neutral. We can’t possibly maintain a completely neutral position without expending all our energies on that alone, and it would be unrealistic to think that we could please everyone even if we attempted to do so. Remember that our target audience is not simply Christian homeschoolers but rather Christian homeschoolers who seek perspectives and aids that are not already generally available to them.

Communicating that we have a bias for established science (and Christian perspectives that attempt to reconcile to it) will endear greater trust from our readers than the dubious claim that we have none. It will also create much less confusion than letting all competing views have an equal voice. Indeed, our position provides a relatively objective foundation for effectively “challenging” (and therefore informing about) the quality and assumptions of nearly every resource that exists. Parents will learn where typical Christian textbooks balk at well-established scientific theories. And, because we support a Christian worldview and education about the limits and meaning of science, parents will learn where secular (and Christian) authors reach beyond established science because of philosophical (or religious) assumptions.

Thus, it is right for us to recommend materials that effectively teach the content of established scientific theories, and it is appropriate for us to give lower “ratings” to materials (at least the portions thereof) that disparage, balk, bypass or over-reach established scientific claims. We should endeavor to explain the evidence for established scientific claims so that learners can appreciate the weight of it, but we must not feel any compulsion to defend established science against all possible alternatives (regardless of their popularity in Christian circles). To do so would give undue attention to fringe scientific hypotheses (i.e., views which have not yet earned the approval of even a significant minority of qualified secular or Christian scientists).

This bias in favor of materials that seriously engage the claims of established science will manifest itself most in the “Curriculum Supplements” section of our website. There, we will devote most of our attention to developing and providing lessons, guides and helps that support this position. (There are numerous websites that represent competing perspectives, so we needn’t waste our energies in other directions). This does not mean that we will be dogmatic about any one Christian view. We can be honest about the difficulties inherent in reconciling science (especially certain claims such as evolution) with Christian worldviews. And we can allow a variety of Christian perspectives to be articulated as possible options for consideration.

Well, this post didn’t turn out to be as much about providing examples as I anticipated when I started writing it. Nevertheless, I hope that it has clarified the value of established science as a general standard, and that it has allayed some fears about what that might mean in practice. In the next posts, I’ll focus on the template or format of review pages. This should address some of the remaining questions on this topic.

15 comments to Established science as a standard

  • BA Poteat

    As the discussion rolls forward with the development of the blog and this website, I’m not certain how to leave comments when discussion threads are pulled together.

    In Gerry’s comments on a previous post, he mentioned something similar to my own experience. I think we all use linguistic labels in part according to our comfort. So modeling of reviews is important, even if limited in its ability to contribute to congruence in our respective uses of particular terms.

    The issue of creeds and confessions parallels the issue of establishment or censensus in science. In both arenas, people utilize formulations that point beyond the formulations themselves. In neither is the “standard” bias-free, and that bias is toward experience to a significant degree. When a creed or confession is relied upon to identify and preserve a community such as a congregation, denomination, or scientific working group, the personal dynamics are more complex than simply the use of a standard of measurement.

    What one calls a consensus reflects an opinion of stability and scope of viewpoint. This is the reason for my concerns overall in both arenas noted above. The fact that the HSR endeavor is “about” more than measurement and choosing sides may actually be a profound reason that more consideration needs to go into the nature and meaning of participation on anyone’s part and what kinds of conversation need to take place.

    To avoid debate in certain negative senses of the term is different from requiring and embracing homogeneity in methodology or in perspective. So far–without having seen any models, of course–the suggestion seems to be that the conversation re: the integration of faith and science is to take place after reviews written with provisional acceptance of a imprecisely defined established or consensus science. However, I as a prospective volunteer reviewer am already actively engaged in the meditations that seek that integration, some of which leave me in a position of having rejected some aspects of established or consensus science that are as much methodology-with-embedded-philosophy as any alternate science. I can’t “un-conclude” what I’ve concluded, however tentatively I have drawn those conclusions, yet I know that I have much to contribute to discussion without derailing the HSR project with negative debate. In other words, I’m still not convinced that we can responsibly rely upon consensus science in any senses other than the broadest acknowledgment of each other’s willingness to converse re: the natural world and as the basis of comparison for our discussions and reviews. As I think about these issues more, I’m sensing that this discussion has still not approached the complex distinctions we’re driving toward with ideas like using a standard, consensus, establishment, science, reviewing, and a host of other terms. I include even reviewing in that list because that practice is a kind of viewing, which is always perspectival.

    I actually trimmed down my original comments for this blog when I first raised concerns about the HSR project. Originally, I had included the concern that this project would represent a less-than-human perspective on any issues it addresses, especially if there were not much more activity and conversation taking place in a manner invisible to the website itself. I still have that concern because we’re discussing the HSR project as the ASA and the suitability of our individual perspectives to the ASA’s project. In other words, it’s possible that what we’re really discussing is the extent to which the ASA represents an aggregate of its individual members vs. each member’s perspective. That’s the reason I originally referred to the ASA member survey, in which there seems to be a relatively coherent minority perspective among ASA members’ individual views re: science. How important is that minority to the ASA? To the HSR? To the HSR’s intended dialogue partners? Can we as participants in the HSR project comprise the ASA’s voice in this area in a manner that accounts for that small but seemingly “established” or “consensus” reticence to affirm certain more common views?

  • Douglas Hayworth

    BA Poteat:

    Thanks for taking these issues seriously. Before I reply, I’d like to leave some time for others to comment.

    –Doug

  • Ted Davis

    BA Poteat’s comments are interesting and provocative–in the positive sense of that adjective. He’s right about the problems inherent to speaking about a “consensus,” when it comes to the state of opinion in a scientific discipline. One can almost always find some reasonable people within a discipline who think that the “consensus” view on a particular question is wrong. This is especially true for new, or relatively new, areas of research, but it can also be true for some older, generally well established ideas. Poteat is right to point out that a “consensus” is easier to obtain when certain individuals are excluded from the conversation to reach that consensus.

    This is (of course) itself a contested view, which Poteat has expressed and I have (at least partly) agreed with. It reflects debates within history & philosophy of science that have also been taken up by scientists, and if there is a “consensus” view on the degree to which “political” factors influence the formation of “consensus” on a scientific topic, I am not able to tell you what that “consensus” view is.

    Let me offer my own view, relative to the topic of science, homeschooling, and this project–a project that is, IMO, long overdue and fully appropriate for the ASA to carry out. I have not been involved with homeschooling myself, but I speak with some familiarity with the movement and the goals of many families involved with it. My friend and colleague at Messiah College, Milton Gaither, has written what is considered the definitive history of homeschooling in America (this seems to be the “consensus” view). Several of my colleagues are involved with homeschooling. I was myself a teacher at a Christian high school in the 1970s, and I still teach at a Christian institution (simply at a different academic level and in a different field). I’ve also written several articles on aspects of the history of science and religion in modern America–including creationism, which does motivate a good number of homeschoolers to seek an alternative to public education.

    In my opinion, the materials available for homeschoolers to use in science education tend to be identical or very similar to the materials used by the most conservative Christian schools. That is, they not only challenge the “consensus” scientific views at every opportunity (and they find opportunities when talking about the big bang, historical geology, paleontology, evolution generally and human evolution especially, and even the nature of science), but they offer alternative views that are either entirely or almost entirely lacking in evidential support. Even more, such materials typically reject entirely the legitimacy of the so-called “historical” sciences, offering instead the pre-scientific perspective of early Genesis as the only reliable guide to understanding the history of the earth and the universe. Indeed, for many homeschoolers and other Christian educators, the YEC view (which is what I have described here) is the “consensus” view for their purposes.

    As far as the ASA is concerned, the YEC view (at least as it is usually presented) does not represent “a commitment to integrity in the practice of science,” to quote from our identity and mission statement. While a member could hold or be sympathetic with certain YEC views, it is difficult to see how a member could support the manner in which those views are usually presented. Generally speaking, ASA members who favored the approach taken by the late Henry Morris exited the ASA in the 1960s in order to form and/or join the Creation Research Society. Although we still have a few “creationist” members, they tend to be regarded as mavericks by other “creationists,” since they are often critical of the ways in which high profile creationists define and market their product.

    In short, within the ASA itself there almost certainly is a “consensus” that “creationism” is a very bad idea. Thus, if we can help some homeschoolers find more thoughtful materials, we should do so. On this particular topic, at least, there is for practical purposes a “consensus” within the ASA that can be reflected by this project. Poteat made no references to “creationist” views, and I have no reason to think that he had them in mind, but I do think that “creationism” is highly relevant to homeschooling, and I am not at all sympathetic with the efforts of “creationists” to place their views on the same level as the “consensus” views on natural history. An ASA blog, in my opinion, should not hesitate to promote alternative materials.

  • Randy Isaac

    The question of consensus in science is an extremely important one and which is not always easy to articulate. It is often not even clear whether a consensus exists on a particular topic. Every topic seems to have a naysayer. I just received a book last week on the knockdown of the heliocentric theory where most of us would think there was consensus. Hence, a few observations are in order.
    Firstly, consensus science does not mean unanimity, just a majority.
    Secondly, consensus science does not mean truth, just a majority opinion.
    Thirdly, consensus science does not quell dissent, just holds the bar high.

    Consensus science has and will change over time, though usually the more established and older, foundational views solidify over time. The unique character of science is the error-correcting process to refine consensus. It is crucial that our students be taught the prevailing view of the experts, namely the consensus science, not as immutable truth but as the current understanding. Other ideas can and should be taught (though not all other ideas qualify!) as long as they are properly positioned with respect to consensus science.

    So what is the role of the ASA? To first order, the integration of science and Christian faith deals with the relationship between consensus science and the core elements of Christian faith. When either consensus science or the core tenets of Christianity must be modified to achieve integration, a great big yellow flag must go up. Such modification may be correct, but there are some major hurdles to overcome. Corrections in science need to be vetted by the expert scientific community.

    For the purposes of this home school project, I do not see ASA as making a judgment about the truth or completeness of consensus science. It is simply that science curricula need to be judged relative to the consensus science. Perhaps it reflects it, perhaps it is outdated, perhaps it advocates an alternative. The ASA reviews should not be judgmental as much as accurate in reporting what the curriculum presents as science. Is it consensus science or something else? If it is something else, what is the underlying rationale?

    What other criteria might one use? I don’t know of another standard that would be useful here. If we do not use consensus science as the standard, what would we use? Would we not then be endorsing an alternative? Using consensus science does not mean we endorse it as the truth but we acknowledge it as the current state of science. Every ASA reviewer ought to be able to do this fairly and objectively whether or not their own personal opinion is counter to the consensus science. Surely each one of us has some area where we disagree with consensus science but we must be fair to acknowledge such a difference when it arises.

    Thanks for raising the concerns. These are important issues to discuss.

    Randy

  • If there were some scientific topic on which 99% of Christians had a view that was seriously different from 99% of the scientific community as a whole — I can think of no example of such a topic — such a topic, and the mainstream scientific view, should be presented. Not advocated, but presented as fairly as possible. Otherwise we would not really be preparing the students we aim to educate, and, indeed, we wouldn’t really be educating them.

  • BA Poteat

    Thank you for your comments, Dr. Davis. I’m glad to hear/read your perspective. We seem to have substantially similar views.

    I interpret your historical description of the representation of “creationists” within the ASA to suggest that current “creationist”-leaning ASA members find fault with the larger “creationist” community in part because of deficiencies in the latter’s methodology or orientation toward scientific observations and their meaning. IMO, there are significant differences between the “consensus creationist” and majority/aggregate ASA views re: the general mode of inquiry that is science, and these differences are not restricted to the natural sciences. Therefore, the ASA “commitment to integrity in the practice of science” suggests also a commitment to analogues of that integrity in other domains/sciences. So the HSR seems to be long overdue because of the need for that more thoroughgoing integrity.

    That being said, I wonder whether or not more consideration is needed re: how the ASA “consensus” should be understood and applied in the form of the HSR project. Could the “practical purposes” Dr. Davis mentioned be limited to fostering “integrity in the practice of science” without attempting to normalize the discussion to an “established consensus” that can’t be defined in a manner that doesn’t imply a homogeneity that doesn’t exist within the ASA? The idea of consensus in the sciences is commonly understood in recent times by reference to statistical tendencies with variation or some other population-oriented language. I share the ASA’s commitment to integrity, but I consider the promotion of an oversimplified “established consensus” to be potentially destructive. My concerns are to avoid that while contributing to the integrity.

    It may be clear by now why I made no reference to “creationist” views earlier, even though it seems highly relevant to homeschooling and to conservative paradigms of Christian education in general. In the sense that they form parts of a communal narrative of the world, “creationist” views are actually on the same level as “consensus” views of natural history, and the ways in which they differ reflect much about the voices participating. This is not to say that the HSR should should seek an “equal time” or “balanced” approach, but I think we should be careful about what is “promoted.”

    To call attention again to the ASA member survey re: origins, that minority of “none of the aboves” is real. They may be far from the central tendencies of the ASA taken as an aggregate. However, just as the ASA statements of belief allow for that variation by calling forth agreement with some rather general statements, so the HSR as a project of the aggregate ASA would benefit greatly from a similar level of broad homogeneity with variation. Obviously, the participants in the HSR represent only a minority of the ASA membership, and that might be expected to limit the range of perspectives included, but I’m not certain that justifies the “promotion” of a “consensus” that is actually in dispute to the neglect of a “consensus” to which all ASA members have already agreed.

    Do you (anyone) think this project can be organized in such a way that any ASA member can participate responsibly without being called upon to implicitly affirm or deny anything he has not already by virtue of being a member? If so, what would that “look like”? I have some ideas, but I’d really like to know what others think (because maybe I’m writing too much). Thanks for discussing this with me. It’s relevant to me well beyond the ASA itself.

    -Brad

  • Kimberly Dawes

    Who is our audience?
    Homeschool teachers (and private school teachers, perhaps)
    Not scientists.

    What are most homeschool teachers interested in?
    •Where is there a list of science books on the market for homeschoolers and small schools?
    •Which are the quality and reasonably up-to-date ones?
    •Are there things claimed in the books that should concern me, what are they, and where are they?

    What type of homeschoolers want to know this?
    ALL kinds. Even non-Christian homeschoolers. Even creationists. Get as many people on the website as possible.

    Treat the teachers like adults who are rightly concerned about what their kids are learning. Remember that not every parent gets to choose which book a co-op or small school uses. Point out dubious or debunked claims. Give brief examples of world views. On controversies such as young earth, local vs. world-wide flood, new age ideas, etc., provide page numbers so the teacher or parent can check it out. Let the other parts of the rich ASA website become the resource for a family debate by providing links within the review. Ted and BA- do you think the ASA website and its links reflect the variety and proportions of opinions within the ASA membership? If each science book review becomes a dissertation on the nuances of each and every debatable idea, I think you will lose most of your audience as well as the services of reviewers who do not care to reinvent the wheel.

    Regarding the phrase “consensus”, well, to me it is a bit like waiving a red flag in front of a bull. In my field of nutrition, consensus gets upended every few years, largely because of sloppy journalism but sometimes because of sloppy science or overenthusiastic scientists, thus the public is rightly suspicious of “consensus.” Unfortunately, this suspicion gets generalized to other areas of science. This is not a uniquely “Christian” problem. Am trying to come up with a better adjective.

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Brad,

    You asked “Do you (anyone) think this project can be organized in such a way that any ASA member can participate responsibly without being called upon to implicitly affirm or deny anything he has not already by virtue of being a member?”

    My answer is “Yes” in two respects:
    1) The project is, I believe, currently organized in the very manner you desire. All stripes of homeschoolers will benefit from the information we provide precisely because it will accurately describe where curricula “stand” on various issues pertaining to the content of science and approaches to the scientific process. The only way to do that is to measure against the general majority view (what I have called “established science”). Anything else, such as the current discussion in which we seem to be quibbling over the exact meaning and implication of every word we use, will fail to inform. If, for example, a parent is intent on finding a textbook that accepts an old earth but denies any form of evolution by natural selection, the HSR website will very quickly allow them to find it.
    2) As Randy points out in his comment (I realize that you wrote your comment before seeing his), “Every ASA reviewer ought to be able to do this fairly and objectively whether or not their own personal opinion is counter to the consensus science. Surely each one of us has some area where we disagree with consensus science but we must be fair to acknowledge such a difference when it arises.” By making established science the explicitly stated benchmark for the HSR project, we implicitly absolve individual reviewers from personal liability with regard to their own views. We can, if individual ASA reviewers desire, state that their reviews reflect the benchmarks set forth by our project guidelines and do not necessarily represent their personal endorsements of all that comprises “established science”.

    I won’t mislead you and and attempt to soften the implications of “established science as a standard” by suggesting that it is ONLY a benchmark. My post also gave reasons why I think that established science deserves to be highly regarded. Randy said the same. In fact, I believe that it is our FIRST duty to point to and make available practical resources (especially in the original content we create) that help to “level the playing field” and “bring balance to the force” of Christian attitudes toward science. The organizations and Christian universities that dominate the homeschool curriculum market are much better funded that we are and have all manner of resources to support their particular views. In a sense, it is the majority scientific view (secular and in the ASA) which is largely missing and unavailable in the form of practical resources for Christian homeschoolers. If we want to be fair, the majority view deserves its majority representation. Even if it were the the only view we provided via the HSR site, the overall Christian homeschool market will still be heavily tipped to minority views.

    If that overall position leaves you in doubt about whether you can participate with a clear conscience, then perhaps you should hold back for awhile. Wait for some pudding to eat.

    –Doug

  • BA Poteat

    I realize my last comments were written without the benefit some thoughtful comments of others, so they may seem like a disjointed addition to this discussion. There’s been no attempt on my part to “quibble.” Rather, I want to know what I’m agreeing to participate in.

    Your initial statements re: the place of established consensus science seemed to suggest that HSR website content would be required to promote the adoption of established consensus science without qualification. I interpreted them to lack a degree of tentativeness or revisability. I suspected that you didn’t lack those yourself. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been given the nod to proceed with this project. Statements agreed to without examination sometimes become very bad precedents. So my concerns were expressed to make known my “misgivings” and to probe whether or not your language itself had those qualities.

    I get the impression that some here may fear I’m advocating a sort of “fairness doctrine” re: the HSR project, by which I hope to force the ASA to promote my own views. Or perhaps that I’m trying to limit the ASA’s ability to contribute to homeschoolers and others in a manner consistent with the perspectives that make up the ASA. Neither is the case. Nor am I trying to police language. On the contrary, expressing my concerns has gotten others to clarify statements that on the surface seemed to present a conundrum positing my membership in the ASA against my ability to participate in a much-needed function of the ASA.

    Doug, what you’ve said most recently actually does seem to “soften the implications” of the idea of promoting established consensus science with respect to particulars. The reason I say that is that your initial statements re: “promotion” seemed to imply an official position to require reviewers to adopt particular conclusions and to participate in the ASA’s attempt to extend that position through this project. There were implied particular conclusions involved because there’s no science without particulars, even if that viewpoint was in principle. Recent comments seem to suggest that what we’re now talking about is established consensus science as a standard of reference, so that the idea of promotion was actually to expose a viewpoint as it relates to curricula rather than to homogenize the voice that exposes that viewpoint. I can certainly appreciate the latter because it’s worthy of an organization like the ASA, and it’s the kind of answer I was hoping for.

    The issue of consensus is still out there, I’m sure. It seems the minority are always the ones who express this, but whatever consensus means it is not the equivalent of the majority. The word denotes group solidarity or unanimity. Its use in reference to a majority is derivative of that basic meaning when applied in the context of patterns of authority or influence. This is the underlying logic of the labeling of minority groups within a society or of minors as those who have not reached the age of majority. This understanding is presumably the reason for the HSR project. The majority (numeric as well as influential) viewpoint among theologically conservative Christians seems to be what we’ve referred to previously as the “standard Christian view” or young-earth creationism. As a response to the power arrangement reflected in that fact, the ASA as a minority, exemplifying its own internal patterns of authority or influence, has responded in the form of this project with the “first duty” Doug referred to. I find myself in agreement with that first duty.

    However, my “first duty” is to express misgivings re: the possible application of “majority-ism” to the HSR project. In the same way that the homeschool curriculum market is dominated by a particular majority view, the ASA happens to be dominated by a majority view. We all realize that. Within the scope of the ASA, the majority view is much better “funded.” The departure of most “creationists” from the ASA several decades ago, as Ted described, was the kind of minority response the ASA has rightly avoided by establishing the HSR project with a view toward engagement and broader dialogue against long odds. Consistent with my enthusiasm for the ASA and my desire not to opt for the isolationist tactic, I expressed misgivings re: the language used to express the viewpoint of HSR content, which seemed to imply the very homogenizing modus operandi ostensibly rejected by the existence of the project.

    Doug said: “If we want to be fair, the majority view deserves its majority representation. Even if it were the [sic] only view we provided via the HSR site, the overall Christian homeschool market will still be heavily tipped to [majority] views.” I agree, but the second sentence indicates my initial misgivings. In large part, the majority Christian view is characterized by rejection of established science on specifics as well as in principle. HSR reviewers themselves are going to have to move toward specifics at some point. Is the ASA’s majority view on any specific scientific topic (rather than the probably unanimous view that established consensus science is to be highly esteemed generally) the only one to be provided? If so, how will it even be determined? If not, let’s consider how minority views can be expressed without detracting from the first duty of the project. My comments are to further the project, not hold it up. I’m still interested in reading any model(s) you may provide to guide our presentation.

  • BA Poteat

    Kimberly, I appreciate your call back to the audience. Regarding the website, do you mean the ASA website or the HSR website? I’m not sure any given link structure reflects the variety and proportions of opinions in the ASA, except as far as the categories go. I’m assuming there isn’t much variety among interested ASA members re: the interest in providing certain basic kinds of content. Actually, my concerns have seemed to me prior to any concern for navigation structure because the latter is likely derived from the former. I’ll try to join that discussion under that post ASAP.

    Kimberly said: “If each science book review becomes a dissertation on the nuances of each and every debatable idea, I think you will lose most of your audience as well as the services of reviewers who do not care to reinvent the wheel.” I agree. I’m not suggesting that each review reacapitulate the reviewer’s thought processes. I wasn’t going to specifically suggest anything if others weren’t interested in discussing the issues I’m trying to highlight because the suggestions would be meaningless in that event.

    Pending a chance to look into the structure discussion, I can say that I think it would most reflect the array of opinions in the ASA to adopt a structure that allows multiple reviews and ratings from a variety of ASA members with a moderator or “metareviewer” to maintain coherence. In that way, the majority view, whatever it happens to be, would most likely be represented by a majority of reviews, and minority opinions would still be represented and available to site users. In addition, it may be worthwhile to offer brief biographic sketches of reviewers. The combination of these and maybe other elements would go a long way to solving the problems presented by the relationships of creeds and confessions as well as interpretations of scientific observation to the integration of faith and science. It’s possible that a less dynamic, more tightly controlled structure might limit the subtleties of the ASA’s membership and prevent some insights from contributing to the first duty we all seem to agree on for the HSR project.

    I apologize to everyone if this response should go with the post re: website navigation. Doug, feel free to move it there, if needed.

  • Kimberly Dawes

    BA- I did mean links to ASA’s website. Some will want to visit the HSR section for practical reasons- “What on earth am I going to use for Science this year????”; others will want to dig deeper into science resources in ASA’s site which, seem to me, includes a lot more than creation and the flood. Links will allow digging without chasing away those who want a little less information. If the links aren’t useful, perhaps that is something else to work on. One point: HSR is within ASA’s site!

    All- Creeds can be very useful if described as a *touchstone* by which the common beliefs of ASA reviewers are concisely described. If we can be clearer ON THE GATEWAY PAGE (Home page) that ASA affirms the Trinity and affirms that God creates and gave life, then perhaps we can maybe, just maybe, reassure some wary homeschoolers. The way some Christian textbook sites read, one gets the message that to believe in other than six day creation is to be a suspect Christian and definitely unscriptural. The pressure on homeschoolers who are Christians is huge. Our Christian identity has to be front and center on the first page and not hidden by a vague reference to “creeds”. Frankly, a lot of sola scriptura or non-liturgical Christians have no memory of what the creeds say. It might be more helpful to just quote: – “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible….And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds…by whom all things were made;…And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life… (e.g. “science” sections from the Nicene creed). BA- do you think that would be reassuring or off-putting?

    My concern is:
    •getting good content on the HSR section to help people in selecting up-to-date science curricula.
    :reinforcing the idea that Christians can be scientists.
    :reflecting the wonder of science and nature that leads to thanks to God, our creator.
    •providing links that can lead to resources so they can grapple with issues of concern with their children. Let us never scorn these concerns. The reality is that the disconnect between young earth beliefs and science “facts” lead to some to abandon Christianity. And the parents grieve.

    BA- I would alternatively suggest perhaps adding a comment section to the review and five star ratings that Doug proposed. I am not opposed to “multiple reviews”, per se, but I am compiling a rather huge list of books that need review; I would hate to have three or four scientists reviewing the same book. A comment section would decrease pressure on the initial reviewers. It is easy to miss something when skimming a book. It also taps into the total expertise of our membership as well as allowing divergent opinions. I will however, note, that most curricula contain a huge amount of information that is NOT controversial, and if our reviews and comments are so heavily weighted toward the controversies that there is little room for assessing the scientific merits of the text, we have let the tail wag the dog. The tail IS important, but it is not the whole thing. For that reason, I am a little reluctant to open the comment process (if agreed upon) to the public; too many blogs get really vile or irrelevant. Thoughts?

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Hi Kimberly,

    A couple of brief comments:
    1. I definitely think that less is more with regard to the Creeds; it is also true with regard to established science as a standard. As you pointed out before, the more one tries to define something, the worse it gets. Besides, we will never be able to satisfy everyone. (We can’t even do that amongst ourselves!). People will eventually use the site if it provides helpful information, regardless of their initial misgivings about having too much or too little of the correct doctrine. It may be a slow build, but good content will win respect in time.
    2. I also don’t want to overwhelm people with excessive information. For that reason, I don’t want to simply link to the parent ASA site’s content as a first order of business. You practically need to be a PhD or retired with lots of time to weed through the vase amounts of information there. Instead, we need to bring selected and recrafted content to the homeschool site. Also, I agree with you about limiting open blog discussion; the blog is not the priority. We’ll never get anywhere in terms of creating the needed content if we’re spending all of our time discussing science education in general and moderating the comments of others.

    –Doug

  • Ed Karlow

    As a retired physicist and university professor, I’m primarily interested in the technical content of the home school materials we review. I’ve had a little experience reviewing and editing copy for science textbooks for 5th/6th grade, and 7th/8th grade levels which were intended for use in regular classroom settings. These books were written and edited by Christian teachers for the Seventh-day Adventist school system in North America, and included frequent mention of God as creator and source of the laws of Nature being studied. Thus I was able to focus on the physics, and not have to deal with any mis-guided attempts to offer alternative explanations for physical phenomena.

    I expect to have the same same experience reveiewing matereials for the HSR project. In those cases where the physics is muddy I’ll feel free to say so; where attempts to link physical phenomena to divine agency are promoted, I’ll feel free to flag these as outside “concensus science.” For example, the motto on the back cover of every issue of PSCF “Upholding the Univerise by His Word of Power” (Heb 1:3) could be used to describe (inappropriately I believe) the mechanism whereby the planets are made to circle Sun, in an attempt to supercede the (humanly devised) theory of gravity. This particular example may seem far-fetched, but in their zeal to defend God, well-meaning Christian teachers/writers can and do put together just such applications of Scripture.

    Where the matters of “consensus science” and “Christian perspective” typically meet will be in the arena of origins of life, development of species, geology and Earth history, cosmology and stellar evolution, to name the most obvious ones. In dealing with these topics I’ll be inclined to consult with my other colleagues on this panel of reviewers, rather than risking the posibility that my unilateral review be interpreted as “promoting my own agenda.” I think that if we see ourselves as Christian colleagues in service to other Christian parents and teachers who want the best and most appropriate materials for their children and students, we can help each other navigate our personal biases.

    But I suspect the major problems will be how the texts we review handle the “huge amount” of non-controversial science, as Kimberly Dawes’s July 16 post puts it. When I read in a 5th/6th grade science book that “molecules bouncing off one another make the gas get hotter…” I just cringe!!

    –Ed Karlow

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Ed,

    Thanks so much for your comments. The approach you describe is precisely the sort of “position” and attitude that I have been trying to articulate with regard to guidelines and standards. Thank you for providing a simple, personal example!

    –Doug

  • BA Poteat

    Kimberly and Doug, my comments weren’t intended to recommend that the discussion be open to the public in the way that many blogs are. In fact, blogging was the farthest thing from my mind when I left my comments. I only meant to suggest that a pool of contributors could discuss/review freely, while the public “listens in,” without loss of fidelity to the ASA statements of faith. This would maximize the nuances of the ASA’s voice in a broader dialogue without distorting that voice.

    I appreciate Ed’s comments and perspective. He clearly adopts a sort of assumption of academic freedom in all of this. However, reviewers should be careful not to equate “muddy” science with deviation from “consensus” science. There are fields of “consensus” science that are quite “muddy,” even in the estimation of those forming the majority opinion in those fields.

    The old debate over the appropriateness of methodological naturalism for Christians in science is relevant here. Much of the rationale behind rejecting certain things that are “muddy” science has to do with rejecting those things that fail to trace all kinds of causes, including proximate causes generally referred to as physical mechanisms.

    This is the reason for some of my concern. At least some homeschooling families will sense an artificial narrowing of dialogue if the ASA voice in the discussion is normalized uncautiously to what some who rely on “established” science have considered “muddy.” As I said before, that risks turning away some of the potential audience. The idea that those who are truly interested in a broader dialogue will still use the site may in that case turn out to be equivalent to site use by those whose use is most compatible with the handicap of the narrowed dialogue. I say this to try to stimulate someone to address my concern, which does not seem to have been done yet.