It's hard to think when you're not used to it.
So I ask how dumb dead matter and dumb dead light arrived at the system called vision without the input of intelligence.[sic] My answer (and the answer of most people) is: They didn’t. Darwinian evolutionists do not like that answer. But they cannot disprove it …” [emphasis added]
Another recent letter claimed that:
First of all, the last time I checked, evolution was still listed as a theory. Certain people in the scientific community seem to think that it has been proven as a fact.
Quotes like these from well-meaning (and likely reasonably well educated) people highlight the importance of improving science education. In every expressed opinion in favor of intelligent design, the authors demonstrate a clear and fundamental misunderstanding of science and what the words “Theory” and “Fact” mean within a scientific context.
There have also been a number of recent “pro-science” letters and opinion pieces. While well-meaning, these too have missed the mark with respect to the key misconceptions about science that lay people clearly demonstrate in their “pro intelligent design” tirades. Recently, the most cogent discussion to appear locally concerning some of the problems with the intelligent design movement appear in Dr. Albert Gapud’s piece (Don’t be distracted by intelligent design, May 25). To his credit, Dr. Gapud recounted the famous Dover trial (Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District et al.), but I don’t think he went quite far enough.
In the Kitzmiller opinion, the court concluded that it was unconstitutional to require teaching intelligent design in the public schools, saying:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID [Intelligent Design] Policy violates the Establishment Clause [of the US Constitution]. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
While this court decision makes it equally difficult for fundamentalist Christians as well as radical Moslems to impose their religious ideals upon our children within public schools, citing it doesn’t do anything to educate the many ID supporters who mistakenly contend that scientists “believe” in evolution, or that ID stands as a viable scientific alternative to Evolution, or that science is or should be democratic. Let’s examine each of these misconceptions.
First, scientists don’t believe in evolution, certainly not the way that religious people have faith in God. This gets back to those words I mentioned earlier, “Fact” and “Theory”, and what they mean in a scientific context. To the lay person, facts are irrefutable truths that can be proven. The situation in science is similar, with the exception that in science, facts are simply data. They are the pieces of information that are collected through careful observation and measurement. For example, it is a fact the half-life of Carbon-14 isotope is 5,730 (plus or minus 40) years. It’s also a fact that many species that existed in earlier times are now extinct. Given enough facts (or data), scientists will attempt to organize them into a conceptual framework that describes them, and explains how they came about. These conceptual frameworks are known as theories.
Theories in science are as good as science gets. Interestingly, theories are also incapable of being “proven” in any way (google : falsifiability for the roots of this). What sets a scientific theory apart from a non-scientific explanation of things (like ID) is that real scientific theories (like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution) are capable of being proven wrong.
Since Evolution makes testable predictions, and is capable of being proven wrong, you would think this is something that should cause creationists and other “evolution deniers” to rejoice. Science provides this very elegant mechanism to get rid of bad scientific theories. Instead, however, we only hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, since creationists don’t use the only vehicle by which Evolution could be properly rejected: amass a body of independently verifiable facts that refute evolution and provide a compelling, falsifiable alternative theory. Rather than searching for a scientific alternative for Evolution fundamentalist Christians (as well as fundamentalist Muslims) use political and religious arguments and stunts that waste your taxes in their attempts to refute the Theory of Evolution.
This brings us to the second point, that ID is not a viable alternative to Evolution. There are several reasons for this, but I’ll mention just two. First, as we have seen, ID isn’t really a scientific theory since it makes no testable predictions and is therefore not capable of being proven wrong. The second main reason that ID can’t possibly replace Evolution is that it simply has no explanatory power. This is due to the fact that the central claim of ID is that we cannot know how the diversity of life came about, because the development of species on Earth was the result of an intelligent designer (but not God, someone else) that worked in some mysterious ways (but not God’s way) to bring it all about.
Theory construction in science requires that your alternative to an existing theory must account for all (or at least a large proportion of) the data that supports the theory it’s intended to replace. The classic example in Physics occurred when Quantum Mechanics replaced Classical Newtonian Mechanics. Quantum Mechanics explains everything that Isaac Newton did, but it also explains phenomena that Newton could never have considered, like what happens to matter at subatomic scales. ID doesn’t even come close to explaining anything that Evolution explains without the need to appeal to supernatural intervention. Indeed, where ID absolutely needs to provide an alternative to the mechanism of natural selection, it instead offers an empty box labelled “a miracle happened here.” It’s your prerogative to believe in miracles. Just don’t teach your special brand of miracles as science in biology classes on the Federal dime.
Finally, there’s this mistaken notion that we should teach ID because it offers a counterpoint to Evolution, as if these were two great political parties engaged in some sort democratic contest for truth. Central to this mistake is the idea that it’s somehow unfair to present only one side of a story. In this case, the side of scientists who provisionally accept Evolution is presented without any sort of rebuttal by the other side. There are a couple of problems with this way of thinking about science. First of all, it is common to present competing theories in the classroom, but with respect to Evolution, there simply isn’t any scientific competition, and there hasn’t been any for almost 150 years. There are some details that scientists argue over, but there aren’t any viable alternatives waiting in the wings. Also, this argument is also typically raised by Evolution deniers who have political rather than scientific motives, and who foist the false dichotomy of Evolution versus ID upon us in an attempt to get more fundamentalist Christianity in our public schools. Science progresses by replacing old theories that fail to account for the facts with newer ones that do. In this sense, science itself uses a sort of Natural Selection to weed out bad theories to make room for better ones.
Someday, a scientist or team of scientists may come up with an alternative to Evolution. That alternative, however, won’t be any form of ID, no matter what you call the God-Designer. It will instead be some other similarly naturalistic framework that will also cause much consternation among those who want to teach about Allah, or Yahweh, or Jesus in our public science classes. Until that alternative shows up, however, we should be teaching Evolution in publicly funded science classes, and leave religious instruction to our children’s parents and clergy.
I spend much of my time trying to understand people, and why some of us are such freaks. OK why you are the freaks.
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