Sunday, August 14, 2005

Evolution II

With our host being on vaction the role of thought provoker will be filled by the editorial page of the local newspaper. This was in todays point-counterpoint section on evolution and intelligent design. The writers are the headmaster and science chair at a local Catholic high school, enjoy and comment away.

The origin of the biology debate Intelligent design movement says the science isn't settled on how life is shaped.
As Minnesota high school educators who are also, respectively, a theologian and a biologist, we sympathize with President Bush's remark that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolutionary theory, even in public schools.
Predictably, the media have cast the issue as a demand for equal classroom attention to science and religion. The Associated Press reported flatly, "Scientists have rejected (intelligent design) as an attempt to force religion into science education." Yet, while Bush is not a scientist, his remark actually reflects a greater scientific openness than one might first suppose — indeed, an openness greater than that of many evolutionary biologists. "Intelligent design" is not a term that denotes a religious, but rather a scientific, movement.
Bush was implying, too, that something educationally important here transcends the scientific question. Ideas about life, especially human life, have moral and philosophical consequences. Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?
The science is not settled. What we have in today's Darwinism is a dominant theory. Intelligent design theory is, by contrast, a young movement spawned by a recognition among many scientists that mounting evidence undermines some explanatory elements of the dominant theory. For example, the fossil record suggests many sudden appearances of fully formed species. Another example is that, while today's Darwinists have studied millions of instances of mutations in species, they have yet to show any one species has mutated into another. What is needed on the part of Darwinian theorists is humility in the face of incomplete and contradictory evidence.
The problems with Darwinism have been identified by scientists; they have not been trumped up by religious fanatics. A growing number of scientists are at work developing testable hypotheses that detect design in nature. Among the most compelling is mathematician William Dembski's "explanatory filter," which detects complexity at levels statistically consistent with design. Scientists at work in this field may be ill served by the moniker "intelligent design theorists," since they freely admit that the existence of a Designer (i.e. God) is beyond the scope of empirical science. Their scientific goal is to follow the evidence where it leads.
It is Darwinists who increasingly seem to be adhering dogmatically to a creed. Rather than confront troubling evidence, many of the dominant theorists seem satisfied to classify alternative lines of inquiry as "religious" precisely in order to discount that evidence.
This is not surprising. Forty years ago, Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" showed how scientific progress is often stalled by entrenched scientific (and personal) interests and convictions. Last year, a group of over 300 scientists issued a national "Scientific Dissent from Darwin" statement. "We are skeptical," they wrote, "of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.
Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." The time has come for Darwinists to stop hiding behind the claim that all their opponents are Scopes trial-style "creationists" and face the fact that there is a growing contingent of scientists who have found the evidence for Darwinian evolution wanting and who are ready and willing to debate Darwinists on scientific grounds.
Thus, why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can't use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.
The key educational value of including intelligent design theory in secondary education is scientific. But philosophic concerns about life and its meaning are by no means unimportant.
All schools convey philosophical perspectives. Most schools, including ours, try hard to teach young people such values as respect, tolerance, fairness and honesty. Fair-minded people are not out of line in questioning how a dogmatic presentation of the random and accidental character of human life supports any given moral code, let alone a school's. The kids, too, are smart enough to wonder.

4 comments:

A Wiser Man Than I said...

What's that, you mean evolution isn't a soundproof theory? Opponents of ID are showing their bias on this one. I thought a liberal education meant showing all the facts? I guess not, huh?

If evolution is so sound a theory, then ID is a scam and should fall apart when held next to mighty evolution. If it is not, we owe it to ourselves and our children to call a spade a spade.

Loyal Achates said...

Uh, who are you talking to?

No, evolution isn't 'soundproof' (whatever that means in context) but it's the only valid theory we have at the moment. If there was a competing theory, we ought to allow debate about it, but ID is in no substantial way different from religious creationism. And creationism is not science. There is no credible scientific evidence to back it up and it is impossible to disprove; thus breaking all the rules of scientific reasoning that have guided us for thousands of years. If there are problems with evolution, point them out, but I'm not yet ready to say that two and two might be five.

High and Dry said...

Scientific research reports that a common ancestor for all modern humans lived 170,000 years ago, concurrently with Neanderthals. The DNA of the two hominids reveals that they are separate species that would have had to diverge 500,000 years ago, when science also says that Neanderthals first came into existence.

Saying "evolution is the only valid theory we have" and thus is should be taught as correct is committing the same error as saying "ID is unfasifiable so it should be taught." Evolution may be the most scientific of the two, but that makes it no more correct. Not only is it incomplete, there are facts that are downright contrary to it. I, too, am not ready to say that two and two is five, and that is precisly why evolution has issues. Let's see, monkey + 1,000,000 years = neanderthal; neanderthal + ?????? + 0 years = me. I got it, 2 + 2 = 5?!? Hmm, somethings fishy.

Doyle said, "once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I meant sound, not soundproof. Regardless, unless we take a truly scientific attitude in regards to evolution--realinzing that Darwin may have been not quite right--we're not doing anyone a favor.

Teach evolution, but do so high-lighting the problems with it, and if necessary, teach the other theory of intelligent design.