Thursday, September 01, 2005

There are valid debates regarding evolution: creationism is not one of them

The Guardian features a good article about the debate over whether creationism or "intelligence design" should be taught in tandem with evolution in biology classes. In sum, creationism and evolution are not equal arguments, or as a maxim quoted in the article states "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong." The article is a thoughtful and comprehensive look at evolutionary theory written by scientists, something creationists have yet to offer in advocating that their beliefs be taught as science.

Anyway, here' s more from "One Side Can Be Wrong":

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class.

...Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.
If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

...Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

...If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.


Chris said...

I think the whole "debate" is ridiculous. Even for those who are religious, it is possible to reconcile the two sides. But it's beyond the intellectual capacity of most fundamentalists to realize this. I'm Catholic myself (and rather orthodox) and Intelligent Design actually goes against the theology. One would have to get into the complicated origins of Christianity in this country in order to explain why some have embraced this "theory" and others recognize it for what it is, rubbish.

Elaine said...

Yeah, I think it's good that religions or religious people who disagree with ID speak up about it because otherwise we allow ourselves to be painted into a corner by the fundamentalists. ID, in holding that nature and especially humans are products of an "intelligent" designer seems to stem from a self-contradictary worldliness--a claim to have deigned God's will--on the part of people who otherwise would claim to be humble servants of God. I can see where one might challenge evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but Intelligent Design isn't even addressing this.
Anyhow, I would be interested to hear the Catholic perspective on ID, or maybe I should try to look it up and spare you a potentially time-consuming explanation.

Chris said...

The best explanation I've found is here:

On the surface ID, seems attractive but it's not even thought out very well. On the other side, however, the reason why ID is gaining adherents is because there are holes in evolutionary theory. These things that are unexplained are described as "random" by atheists and as "God's plan" by theists. The fact remains that through our own powers of observation we don't know. There's nothing wrong with saying in a class that we don't yet know these things.

For more on this from a Catholic Priest:

I think I've avoided the lengthy explanation. But very quickly, one reason this isn't a problem with the Catholic Church is that it's not democratic and theology has to be approved, whereas charismatic Christianity has no ruling authority, so any pastor can spout off (emotionally) whatever he wants without much consequence.