Wednesday, December 28, 2005

ID and Ego

The claim that equity demands balanced treatment of evolutionary theory and special creation in science classrooms reflects a misunderstanding of what science is and how it is conducted. Scientific investigators seek to understand natural phenomena by observation and experimentation. Scientific interpretations of facts and the explanations that account for them therefore must be testable by observation and experimentation.
-Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition, p. 26

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
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.

Katzmiller, et al, v. Dover Area School District, et al pp136-137

Last Wednesday, the ever-thoughful Polanco blogged about the decision handed down in Pennsylvania regarding Intelligent Design. The very first comment made was from a woman who wrote: "It's amazing how many evolutionists are scared of alternative theories. "

Hoo boy.

That comment pisses me off no end. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why it pisses me off. And I discovered that it was because it sums up a whole plethora of misconceptions many have about the whole kerfuffle. Let me count the ways:

First off: The use of the term evolutionist. Webster's defines an evolutionist as "a student of or adherent to a theory of evolution." That's fine, but I'm getting the feeling that this term is being bandied about by those who would like to see Intelligent Design incorporated into high-school science classes in much the same way as others are using terms like 'abortionist' and 'liberal'--in other words, with scorn and disdain. As an exercise, I typed 'evolutionist' in the 'search blogs' window at the top of the screen, and sure enough, the majority of bloggers on the top of the list (first three pages) were supporters of ID. This doesn't suggest that the majority of blogger out there support ID. It does, however, suggest that the majority of bloggers who use the term 'evolutionist' aren't supporters of evolution.

I keep telling myself this isn't a valid scientific process, but then I remind myself that the proponents of ID don't seem to be too keen on valid science, so fuck it.

Then, I went to google and searched 'evolutionist theory,' and found a whole bunch of 'talking point' websites, and almost as many sites 'debating' (as polite a word as I can come up with) the issue.

What I didn't find was a whole bunch of actual evolutionists who had anything to say about the issue. Again, I'm not saying they are silent on the subject; just that I couldn't find any using popular web searches.

My conclusion: Evolutionists really aren't debating this topic.

And why should they? They left this topic years ago. Perhaps a century ago.

This goes to the second part of the sentence--that evolutionists are scared of alternative theories.

As far as I can tell, true evolutionists--scientists who have made the study of evolution their life's work--are no more scared of the 'alternative theory' of Intelligent Design than geologists are scared of the the alternative theories of the Flat Earth Society.

In other words: evolutionists aren't really in this debate at all. Shouldn't that tell us something?

They aren't in this debate because, in my opinion--and in the opinion of the Republican, Bush-appointed judge who handed down this ruling--this debate really isn't about evolution, or Intelligent Design, or anything at all scientific.

So what's it about? It's about free thinking.

Look at it this way: The odds of any one of those ninth-graders in the Dover School District growing up to be an elite research scientist in any field is probably comparable to the odds of any of those kids growing up to be a Major League Baseball player. This isn't a slam on their intelligence any more than it's a slam on their physical prowess. Statistically, there's not a lot of either types in the general population. In fact, twenty-five years from now, those kids will probably know more about baseball than evolutionary theory.

That's because, on the whole, the evolution/ID debate doesn't really matter. It will honestly matter less in their lives than the wins and losses of the Phillies.

What matters--what really is to me the heart and soul of this debate--is that, for those ninth graders, many of them for the first time in their lives, will be asked to think. To conjecture. To come up with conclusions that they will have to factually support.

That's the true importance of high-school science for the overwhelming majority of us. It teaches us to weigh facts. It gives us a structure to reach rational conclusions. It give us a tool to use when deciding what to do. That is the great gift of science. The ability to be dispassionate about something.

By introducing ID into the fray at this point, in the venue of science the message becomes muddied. One of my Dad's favorite cartoons showed two researchers in front of a huge blackboard. The left side of the blackboard was filled with this huge mathematical equation, as was the right side. In the middle, were four words: 'Then a miracle occurs.' And one researcher says to the other: 'I think you might have a problem with step number two.'

Intelligent Design wants you to belive there is no problem with step number two.

Perhaps there isn't. But the debate over that should not ever be in ninth-grade science.



Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

The comment in question also annoyed me.

Great post, as always, on a yet another topic that makes the US look weird.

8:01 AM, December 28, 2005  
Blogger Jessica said...

ID isn't an alternative theory; it's a different subject. As Stephen Jay Gould put it, "Science and religion are not in conflict for their teachings occupy distinctly different domains."

Robbing ninth-graders of an education in rational free thinking and the process of scientific experimentation--that's unethical.

9:20 AM, December 28, 2005  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I'm totally with you on this one. I think the Christians are the ones scared by alternative theories. As far as I'm concerned, bring on all the theories you can. What I want are the answers, if they can be found. I don't need to be held up by some religious nut who thinks he knows what's best for my kid.

We pretend to be progressive, but we're not. We're far behind most European nations, including the UK.

I am constantly fighting to teach thr truth in my history and literature classes. It is a constant struggle, and I always endup in some sort of trouble. It's REALLY strange that the most progressive school I have taught in is a MILITARY school. Of course, once they graduate, they're expected to forget what they've learned and be lemmings for the GOP. Some do, most don't, but it's an incredible process to watch.

8:10 AM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

I know of a history professor who, when he walks into the room at the beginning of the semester for his American History class, would write one word in large, bold letters on the blackboard, and would leave it up for the entire semester.

Then he would turn to the class and say something like: As we explore the history of our country, you will notice that many, if not all, of the actions that were taken will make no sense at all, unless you take into account this word.

The word was MONEY.


8:50 AM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger mal said...

maybe there is something to ID, maybe not. Maybe there is a connection between probablilities, complexities and iterations that implies purpose to the end result, and maybe not.

But until you can show me the proof, DO NOT DARE TEACH IT AS FACT TO THE KIDS!

We owe them the right to be free thinkers and the ability for critical thinking. Not to become parrots of our own opinions

Sorry, you hit a real sore subject with me

1:02 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Right on Mallory!

1:57 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Jessica said...

Ok, but ...
Mallory, I want to agree with you. On the other hand, I was taught the "Bohr plum pudding model" in Chemistry. It came with the disclaimer: "None of this is true, but it's a useful model to consider." Then I was taught about quantum mechanics, which haven't been disproven (despite years of experimentation). Yet no one can offer any explanation as to what the hell is going on.

Proof in science is hard to come by. Especially when you water down courses into two week lesson plans for eighth graders. Still, we (humble, ambitious teachers) try.

Maybe we should write the word POLITICS in really big letters on the blackboard....

2:08 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

Mallory said:

We owe them the right to be free thinkers and the ability for critical thinking. Not to become parrots of our own opinions."

Great observation, Mallory. That's exactly how I try to raise my kids. But I get the feeling not everyone on the right shares that viewpoint. In fact, one could make the argument that the whole ID issue is a smokescreen to do the exact OPPOSITE of that.

In fact, I did make that argument, didn't I?


2:23 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Peter the Parrot Worrier said...

You people are all a bunch of heathens.

4:21 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger peter the patriot warrior said...


no better form of flattery my friend, thanx!

also, you have to take that thing about line ups at heathrow off your post or cranky will think you or me is english.

and i certainly don't need the added stigma.

4:53 PM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger United We Lay said...

Money is the root of all evil. I agree, everything in the world is done for power and wealth. We are no better than a pack of dogs.

I'm in agreement with you on the NOT IN OUR SCHOOLS issue.

Peter the Warrior,
I have noticed that you don't answer any of my comments. You are often mistaken and when confronted, you pracitce avoidence with the best of the GOP. You must be the kind of person everyone eants to know. I also noticed that your blog is not inexcessible. Why is that?

8:51 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Cranky Yankee said...


7:32 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Steamboat Lion said...

Teaching ninth graders to think? What sort of pervent wants that. They might grow up to be adults who think and then where will our corrupt self-serving political class be?

Here's my test. Would you fly in plane designed by a graduate of the intelligent design school of engineering? If not, shut the f up about putting ID in the science curriculum!

3:05 PM, January 09, 2006  

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