Thursday, July 24, 2008

Intelligent Design and Evolution: Following Up

I've had more blog traffic in the past day than I have in the past year. Apparently this is a topic that stirs the passions.

In the comments to the post below, some points came up that I wanted to respond to, as a way of better situating myself among the various options on the table.

For one thing, I must strenuously disagree with Kirby Olson (Lutheran Surrealism) who writes that

The fact that evolutionists believe that theirs is the only theory that can or should be taught is itself a kind of religious faith that asks to be established.

This remark indicates, I think, a confusion of the distinction between a good theory (or the best theory among various alternatives) and a religious or quasi-religious faith. Evolutionists ask that their theory be the only one taught for a reason: because it's the best theory we presently have. The question I want to raise is this: is that a good enough reason to silence all challenges to it?

In all the discussions I've observed and participated in over this issue, one thing has struck me again and again: that people who disagree with mainstream biology feel oppressed and marginalized. The very rhetoric of "teach the controversy" works because it appeals to a deeply American sense of fair play and championing of the under-dog.

You see, what I want to do is quite difficult: I want to articulate a position that acknowledges the sense of resentment at unfair treatment that is associated with criticisms of evolutionary science, but without granting any scientific validity to those criticisms.

I have no qualms with the view that evolutionary theory, in some sense, is the best theory we presently have. And I certainly don't think that intelligent design theory or creationism have any chops as scientific theories -- at least in the versions that have seen the light of day up till now -- and this is not because they involve claims about supernatural beings, but because they claims they do make are not testable.

My suggestion, rather, is that even if that is the case, they still have a place in science education. At stake here in what I'm saying isn't so much about theology or epistemology -- I can't bring myself to care about theology at all, and I have little patience for all the details of epistemology. Rather I'm slowly working my way towards expressing a sentiment I have about what education is, about why education is important, and about the point of having an educational system in a pluralistic society.


Kirby Olson said...

I actually believe that evolution is almost certainly right, but I don't know if that knocks out the Bible.

I have a kind of double-faith, and can't always coordinate them.

But I think science is a belief in the God of reason, and that to my mind this is quite ridiculous. Just because something seems to be reasonable doesn't mean that it's true.

Love is almost never reasonable, and doesn't have anything to do with reason, but even most scientists want it in their lives.

Carl Sachs said...

Perhaps this shows that there's a difference between something's being justified, and something's being desirable or valuable.

But no one has (to my knowledge) denied that distinction!

Are you doing more than insisting on such a distinction, Kirby?

Whether warranted assertability is the same as, or entails, truth is a difficult issue that I can't even broach without opening many cans of worms!

bobxxxx said...

Intelligent design creationism and all other versions of creationism could be taught in a class called "The History of Human Stupidity".

Biological evolution has massive powerful evidence. It's fair to call evolution the strongest fact of science. Biology doesn't make sense without evolution. Evolution should be part of every single biology lesson, instead of just one unit that lasts for only a week or two weeks. Biology equals evolution. These two subjects can't be separated.

In a public school teaching any version of god-did-it, including intelligent design magic, would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Of course it makes no sense to waste valuable class time talking about medieval creation myths like god-did-it-intelligent-design, except maybe to point out how idiotic and non-scientific supernatural magic is.

"teach the controversy" is just code words for "teach magic in a science class" or "lie to students about science". It's also called "academic freedom" which means "freedom for bad science teachers to be incompetent".

There are, unfortunately, many incompetent science teachers in America's high schools. These bad teachers are usually creationists who know nothing about biology. They should be fired immediately. It's not fair to students to get stuck with a wacko creationist teacher who doesn't even know what science is.

Olorin said...

Carl says, “I want to articulate a position that acknowledges the sense of resentment at unfair treatment that is associated with criticisms of evolutionary science, but without granting any scientific validity to those criticisms.”

“Fair treatment” may apply in areas such as politics and religion. Science,, however, is a potluck where you have to bring at least some evidence to the table before you can have a seat. Intelligent Design, having lost its right to its seat in court, now wishes to crash the party in the name of fair play. To do this, it has manufactured a controversy that does not exist in science. It’s like the story of the man who killed his parents, then begged for mercy because he was an orphan. Any “resentment” that ID proponents may nurse is wholly without merit.[1]

[1] My own gorge doth rise against ID for a related reason. Its professional proponents promote it with such underhanded and dishonest tactics that it is known among scientists as “Lying for Jesus,” and its principal organization as “The Dishonesty Institute.” This is really the source of the contumely heaped upon the so-called “academic freedom” bills. The DI regularly denies scientific findings, continues to cite results that have long been discredited, and attempts to manipulate politicians for religious reasons. (One example: in the Kansas educational standards hearings of 2005, the DI placed a half dozen of its “experts” against Barbara Forrest, the lone science representative, and scheduled Forrest for a 2:00 am slot. One more example: a 2004 paper by Behe & Snoke argued that a certain beneficial mutation would take place among bacteria no more often than once in 20,000 years. Bene shortly thereafter admitted in the same journal that his sample size was a billion times too small to show any effect. But he did not retract the paper, and it is still loudly touted by the DI for its now totally discredited findings. Evolution is routinely presented as a”random” process, although natural selection is anything but random.) Advocating an incorrect theory is one thing, but promoting it dishonestly is an entirely different matter.