Teach the controversy

Teach the controversy, David Adesnik of Oxblog argues.

Step back for a minute from the raging debate about Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Instead of asking yourself which of these theories provides a better explanation for life on earth, ask yourself how we should conduct this debate in order to prevent the rise of even more antagonism between secular and religious culture in the United States of America.

In a Darwinian struggle of the fittest, evolution will defeat pseudo-science.

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Comments

  1. I’m SO with him on this one.

    The culture wars are way too overheated at this point (at least from where I sit) and I frankly don’t care if fundamentalist Christians object to their kids being taught evolution–just so long as my kids can be taught evolution.

    I say excuse them from the class, or ‘teach both sides,’ or ‘teach the debate’ (why do I have the feeling ‘teaching the debate’ is not gonna satisfy people who don’t believe in evolution?) or do whatever.

    I just don’t want to fight about this.

    Half the people I know have some wonky belief or other; I know people with Ph.D’s who believe in reincarnation & the ability to communicate with the dead.

    I could care less if X percent of Christians don’t believe in evolution, and don’t want their kids to believe in it, either. They’re entitled to their opinion, as the saying goes.

  2. There are (at least) two problems with Adesnik’s argument–

    1) There is no controversy. On one side you have tens of thousands of biologists and on the other ~70.

    2) Adesnik is kidding himself if he thinks the folks who are pushing for ID in the g-school science classes will offer up a quid-pro-quo.

  3. There are (at least) two problems with Adesnik’s argument–

    1) There is no controversy. On one side you have tens of thousands of biologists and on the other ~70.

    2) Adesnik is kidding himself if he thinks the folks who are pushing for ID in the g-school science classes will offer up a quid-pro-quo.

  4. The CONTROVERSY itself is a cultural issue, and belongs in a social studies forum.

  5. I think much of the controversy stems from the fact that evolution is taught as an ironclad fact. I’ve read quite a bit on evolution, and find it to be most plausable. However, there is so many gaps in the theory that we’d be foolish to think we have it all figured. In addition, it doesn’t explain the “why” of it all.

    At any rate, the whole controversy could be avoided if “evolutionist” teachers would just briefly mention other viewpoints. After all, what exactly is there to teach about ID? I think a mention that “some people don’t buy into the theory of evolution, and instead think that we were created by a higher being…” What more do you have to say than that?

    Ok, I’m kidding myself. There probably would still be a controversy, but at least much less of one.

    Personally, I don’t necessarily see the conflict between the two. Perhaps we were created by a higher being that planned for evolution. I really don’t know.

    What I do know is that I’m tired of both sides using the schools as their playing field. Teaching wouldn’t be so controversial if extremists from both sides (although mostly the leftists) would stop trying to indoctrinate our kids.

  6. Katherine C says:

    I don’t get why people always think that just because both ID and evolution are about the origin of life, that they should both be addressed in science class. To me it’s like stopping in the middle of talking about how the human ear works to perceive sound and having a discussion about the old philosophical question “if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it. . .” It’s a legitimate question, but not in science class!

  7. Richard Nieporent says:

    I think much of the controversy stems from the fact that evolution is taught as an ironclad fact. I’ve read quite a bit on evolution, and find it to be most plausable. However, there is so many gaps in the theory that we’d be foolish to think we have it all figured. In addition, it doesn’t explain the “why” of it all.

    Steve, with respect to science there is no controversy. Evolution is science and ID is religion/philosophy. Evolution is a scientific theory that can be tested. As with any scientific theory, it will change over time as new information is discovered. The fact that it must be modified over time doesn’t invalidate evolution any more than Relativity invalidated Newton’s theory of gravity. At low velocities, Newton’s theory of gravity provides correct results. ID states that it is impossible for random processes to have produced the level of complexity we see in nature. That is not a theory because it does not provide a mechanism for how these complex systems came about that can be tested. At best, it is can be used to argue that evolution as currently understood is incomplete. Finally, science is only supposed to explain the how. We leave it to religion to explain the why.

  8. Robert Wright says:

    One think I like about the debate is that serves as a good IQ test. And I’m pleased to report that of all the posts so far, only one person fails.

    What else I like about the debate:

    It shows how stubbornly important the origin myth is in religion.

    It shows how the emotion of religious feelings can make otherwise intelligent people seem mentally impaired.

    The good news is that learning about evolution is not a terribly important part of a child’s education and becoming misinformed about it will not do serious, irreversible harm.

    Now, if Kansas want to ban teaching about Galileo and Copernicus, then things will be out of hand.

    Katherine, you put it so well.

    “Do you believe in science or religion?” That’s the classic either/or fallacy.

  9. For a long time I was misinformed about ID. I thought that it reflected the idea that it was possible an Intelligent Designer was behind evolutionary forces. I believed ID merely said to well-educated believers, “you don’t have to be a Genesis Creation story believer; you can accept scientific evidence and retain your faith.”

    So recently as to be embarrassing, I realized that ID tries to prove that God MUST have had a hand in things: not that it’s possible to be a believer and accept evolution, but that one could prove scientifically that God had a hand in things. To teach ID, one would actually have to teach about the specific and, theoretically, scientific actions of a divine being.

    I realize that my ignorance seems ridiculous to many of you, but I expose it to explain that I think open debate about what teaching ID would mean would erode support for its teaching in most places. I suspect that my old, simplistic understanding of ID is common, and that many members of the public have a “what would that hurt?” attitude about teaching ID. If they knew that ID meant direct religious instruction in public schools, they would react strongly against it.

  10. OK – here we go…

    I believe in ID…I believe that God created the heavens and the earth. I also teach in the public schools and have three children in the public schools. Do I have a problem with them being taught evolution? No. Do I have a problem with evolution being taught as ironclad fact? Yes, because it is not.

    Science, like math, is a subject that many people do not want controversy brought into. “Save that for social studies class,” they say. Why? Why not discuss it in science class? Why not bring up the fact that there are other theories about the way the earth was formed? If you are a hard and fast evolutionist, you shouldn’t have a problem with the teacher mentioning that other people believe that the earth was formed differently, and that it is up to the student to decide what they believe. Why suppress it? Are you afraid that someone might actually question your way of thinking? After all, it is called the “theory of evolution,” not the “fact of evolution.” All theory should be open for debate.

    As a math teacher, I deal in algebraic theorems quite a bit, and the students will stop me and ask my why a certain theorem is true. I will then prove to them mathematically why the algebra theorem works, and usually they are then satisfied with the theorem. If the theorem is yet to be proved, I will tell the students so, and tell them that is considered to be true until proven otherwise. To me, the theory of evolution has been proven otherwise. No, it is not a scientific proof; but I know in my head and my heart that evolution is not the whole story.

    For a little more to chew on, read the following…http://www.lileks.com/screedblog/

  11. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Unfortunately there are a fair number of educators who view evolution not as science but as their own weapon in the culture wars. My kids were subjected to Inherit the Wind in science class on at least three occasions. And as one of the Volokh contributors pointed out recently, the Scopes trial itself was a trumped up skirmish in the culture wars of a previous generation.

    I find it interesting that biology seems to stir up passions that astrophysics does not. Both have speculative theories about the pre-historic development of our reality. However, I’ve never heard proposals for teaching an ID version of the BigBang theory. I also have found astrophysicists to be a bit more humble about what they know and don’t know; biologists seem to have a chip on their shoulder, which may date back to the controversy Darwin himself had to endure.

  12. Robert Wright says:

    Jill, you need to learn that the word theory has more than one meaning. You are applying the wrong meaning.

    In science, theory doesn’t mean less than fact.

    Evolution is indeed fact.

    That’s fine if you want children to be taught different views about how the Earth was formed. If you want to give the Flat Earth Society equal time, I don’t see that doing any harm.

  13. Well, you could have a lot of fun teaching why ID isn’t science (the lack of falsifiability, etc) and how not having a complete picture doesn’t invalidate the field (using examples from *every* other field). You could teach the parallels between justification for ID and justification for ESP (both use a “if you can’t explain it, then it must be magic” tenet).

    You could even move to a “what kind of supreme being would consiously be trying to deceive his subjects? discussion.

    It would be sort of amusing until you got fired.

    Not being too familiar with ID, could you use ID to claim that evolution is controlled aliens? Or have the ID folks proved that evolution is controlled by the Christian God?

    (Sorry for being snippish, but I resent the ID folks holding my religion up to ridicule. As if God could be so tawdry as to descend to the snake-oil tactics of the pushers of ID.)

  14. Hunter McDanial wrote:

    I find it interesting that biology seems to stir up passions that astrophysics does not.

    Take a stroll down memory lane then. Galileo would probably disagree with your observation about the comparative degree of passion that’s stirred up although at base, the controversy’s based on the same fear: science displacing religion as a means of explaining the world and thus reducing the credibility of religion in total.

    Jill wrote:

    Do I have a problem with evolution being taught as ironclad fact? Yes, because it is not.

    Compared to ID it might as well be since all ID is is a series of rhetorical tricks designed to sow confusion and doubt without offering any alternative explanations for observed phenomena.

    If you were really interested in alternative explanations then Lysenkoism and spontaneous generation would also be on the list but neither of them will do much good when it’s religion, and the credibility of religion, that are at stake.

  15. Evolution doesn’t explain the “why” of it all because “why” is a PHILOSOPHICAL question, not a scientific one.

  16. Here’s why we shouldn’t “teach the controversy”:

    1. IDC isn’t science. It has no explanatory power, no predictive power, not a single observational success, and there is no fundamental reason, other than religious or semi-religious belief, that it must (or even should) be true. So it doesn’t belong in SCIENCE class, any more than “ethnomathematics” belongs in math class.

    2. There is no controversy. Sure, there is in public debate forums, but this has nothing to do with science. The latest data I know of (1995) indicates that “in the relevant fields of earth and life sciences, there are about 480,000 scientists, but only about 700 believe in “creation-science” or consider it a valid theory.” That’s less than 0.15 percent! And you could find a similar percentage who will disagree with ANYTHING. Give me evidence!

    3. Evolution is as much fact as most other scientific theories. There is overwhelming evidence for it, and no evidence against it as a whole (certainly, individual ideas within the framework are constantly refined, discarded, and overturned). The fact that there are gaps in knowledge doesn’t invalidate it. Name one theory that, fundamentally, has no gaps in knowledge. The “theory of gravity” does, but nobody “teaches the controversy” there. Why not?

    4. Nancy D’s point is one of the most important. Those behind IDC (not necessarily those who believe it) are inherently dishonest. This is because they know what they’re really talking about is religion, without scientifically acceptable evidence, but almost never come out and say it because they’ll lose support. So they attempt to fool intellectually honest non-experts like Nancy with seemingly reasonable statements, while hiding their agenda. Search for the “wedge” document and you’ll see what I mean.

    Every honest scientist knows that what science really says is “this is true, to the best of our knowledge”. If you want to overturn a commonly accepted theory, YOU must supply incontrovertible EVIDENCE, in the form of observation, or there is nothing to discuss. As a very wise man once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Beliefs don’t count.

    Lileks is a brilliant writer, but, frankly, he’s off base here. You want to discuss the philosophy of origins? Excellent. I think it should be discussed. In a philosophy class. Or religion. Or social studies, or politics. Even english, if you’re studying debate. It doesn’t belong in math, phys. ed., shop, nor science class, because it’s not related to those things. Bring evidence, and I’ll change my mind.

    Oh, and Jill: exactly what theorems are you presenting your (I assume high school) students that aren’t proven? And what mathematician accepts that theorems are true until proven otherwise? I smell a rat.

  17. Richard Nieporent says:

    Kevin, your commentary on ID is excellent. You have cogently summarized the flaws in this so-called theory and the misconceptions that people have about science. As you stated so well, ID has nothing to do with science. I have nothing to add to your analysis. It should be the last word on this subject.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    I want to second Richard’s commendation of Kevin’s post. That’s as good a brief summation of the real state of play as you’re going to find. I only want to add a plug for http://www.talkorigins.org, where the genuinely curious can find an enormous trove of reliable information.

  19. No mathematician would accept that a theorem is “true until proven otherwise”. It is true that in some cases mathematicians will present theorems of the form “If is true, then “, but this isn’t the same thing at all. Perhaps Jill’s failure to understand this basic idea reflects some confusion about basic principles of science as well.

    In general terms “science” is a religion. The idea that it is possible to systematically proceed to understand the real world is an article of faith (although it does seem to be working pretty well in a lot of ways). When I was in college I took an independent reading class with a VERY distinguished physicist, and in time we became friendly enough that we had non-technical discussions, too. I was rather surprised to find out that he was a devout Christian, and found no conflict between this faith and his belief in science, and I haven’t run across many others who hold these views, but there is no logical inconsistency.

    That said, the version of ID that I’ve seen isn’t science, and as such has no place in a science class. You could make up a scientific theory that had a role for intelligent design, just as you could make up a theory that had the X-Files playing a role, but we shouldn’t waste what little class time is available to teach technical information about biology discussing unsupported theories, much less things that aren’t even science. If you want to teach this sort of thing in school, it should be in a course on philosophy of science. You could read Mach and Poincare first, and then discuss the “controversy” intelligently.

  20. Let me first start by saying that http://www.talkorigins.org is a lame site–don’t waste your time going there. It basically says that “evolution is true because we say it is…”. It offers nothing more than that. This forum is much more useful.

    I don’t want to be put in the category of an ID defender just because I offered up some doubts about how evolution is taught. I also am tired of people like the above putting anyone who doesn’t completely agree with evolutionary theory into the low IQ category. Don’t marginalize your opponents–just let the debate speak for itself.

    I don’t think ID should be taught in the classroom, I just didn’t see the harm in a quick mention of it. In fact, I agree that it would be ridiculous to incorporate it wholly into a science class because there isn’t any science to it.

    However, I do have a bit of a problem on the way evolution is taught in the classroom. There isn’t space to begin a technical discussion on evolution, but we’re all aware of some of the problems with it. For example, how would an eye evolve? There isn’t any logic to thinking that a partial eye would evolve over millions of years. Why would an animal develop the non-functioning part in the first place? Also, there isn’t any fossilized proof for most of the theories. This doesn’t negate the theory by any means, but it does require a bit of “faith” to fill in the gaps. At any rate, I think much of the debate could be stemmed if we just discussed these gaps in the classroom. At the very least, it will spur good discussion among the students.

  21. Steve LaBonne says:

    I invite anyone interested in these issues to visit the talk.origins site and see just how false SiB’s decription of it is. There is an enormous amount of actual scientific information often including copious references to primary literature- which is where the action really is, as anyone at all acquainted with science should be aware. There are also extended debunkings of the claims of ID apologists and other speies of creationists- again giving in detail the reasons why these claims are specious, not ‘because we said so”. Check it out. If SiB had really done so, he’d be much better informed than he evidently is.

  22. The good news is that learning about evolution is not a terribly important part of a child’s education and becoming misinformed about it will not do serious, irreversible harm.

    This is not true. Informed voters need to understand the theory of evolution so that they can make good choices about public policy.

    One example is the debate about whether or not we should use antibiotics in animals raised for food. If you accept evolution, you accept the argument that the presence of antibiotic resistant organisms will rise if we use those drugs. There are cases where banning the use of a particular antibiotic in animals was followed by a drop in the number of antibiotic resistant organisms found in humans (both in Europe and the US). If you do not accept evolution, there is no reason to care about the use of antibiotics in this way – after all, these resistant organisms were made by God. Changing our practices will make no difference.

    There are numerous other examples like this, where a clear grasp of science allows for clearer, more logical thinking about policy and its scientific implications (Yes, your political orientation would influence your opinion on this as well…but to me, understanding the scientific arguments in this debate is an important first step. The political arguments come later.)

    The idea that it is possible to systematically proceed to understand the real world is an article of faith (although it does seem to be working pretty well in a lot of ways).

    The definition of a religion is:
    1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
    2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
    3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
    4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

    I suppose that science could fall under number 4 but the other three definitions do not seem to fit at all. When a system comes along that explains natural phenomena better than systematic study, I’ll be happy to adopt it…for now, I think hypothesis driven experimentation and careful observation are the way to go to find the answers to those pesky “how” questions we ask about the universe.

    I have never felt conflict between my faith and my career as a scientist because I look to science for the “how” and look to religion for the “who and why”. There are many scientists who feel this way.

    More interesting to me is the weakness this debate exposes in the literal interpretation of the bible. Salvation is dependent on humans being a special creation of God in seven days as described in Genesis. Any alternate undermines people’s access to the afterlife. It’s a slender thread to hang by, especially in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. This accounts in no small part of the shrillness of the ID folks. Their souls are on the line.

    I only hope that those who believe in intelligent design can resolve this without damaging their faith and their credibility. It took the Catholic Church almost 400 years to get over Galileo and boy was that embarrassing. Have fun guys. And may the fittest survive.

  23. Steve–My intent wasn’t to offend you. I just don’t think that http://www.talkorigins.org is that interesting. Don’t take it personally.

  24. Ivory–You’re use of the antibiotic example is an excellent one. Not sure how an “ID” proponent would debate that one. I’d like to know, actually, not so we can flog the IDer, but because I really want to know.

  25. Steve LaBonne is absolutely correct about the talkorigins.org website. It is a treasure trove of information on this and related topics. Steve in Broomfield’s claim that it “basically says that “evolution is true because we say it is…”. It offers nothing more than that” is patently false. If you explore the site you will find not only information, but thousands of links and references to primary and secondary sources, both printed and on the internet, creationist AND evolutionist and everything in between. If you followed and read every link, you would spend literally weeks, maybe months, doing so. You’d probably also end up as one of the world’s foremost experts on the topic.

    The claim that there’s no logic to the forming of a partial eye is also false. Darwin himself (in 1872!) proposed a set of intermediate stages through which an eye could evolve (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/origin/chapter6.html for the original or http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html for the concise version). Is this the way it happened? I have no idea. But it certainly seems like a logical (and possible) progression of steps to me. This is supported by the fact that each of the steps he outlined exist in animals living today.

    Science is in no way a religion; at least not in the classical sense of the word. It is not an article of faith that we can learn about the world around us. The computer screen you’re looking at right now is just one example (out of millions) of physical evidence that we CAN and HAVE learned about the world around us. Unless, of course, if it’s just in each of our minds (or just yours, reading this!). Some people find such philosophical subjects interesting; personally, I’ll bow out of the discussion and just watch The Matrix again.

    It should be noted that some people take scientific principles and apply them to everyday life (I believe naturalism and humanism are partial examples of this). You might call that a religion, although since it makes no reference to the supernatural I’d call that a philosophy. In any case, whatever it is, it’s no longer science.

    Aside: can anyone direct me to the rules for tags on these boards (eg. italics, bold, underline, etc.)?

  26. I’m showing my scientific ignorance here, but to prove something scientifically, doesn’t the phenomenon have to be observable, repeatable, and predictable? Has anyone observed a dinosaur evolving into a bird? Why didn’t all birds evolve into dinosaurs? In what way is evolution predictable? How did inert, nonorganic matter become organic? If an evolutionist were walking along a deserted beach and found a sand castle, wouldn’t it follow that said evolutionist, in order to be consistent, might very well ascribe the existence of the sand castle to random events (?) occurring over a sufficient amount of time? Just asking.

  27. Biologists mostly support evolution. But how many people are biologists? Let’s loosely define the term as someone with at least a B.Sc. degree in biology.

    Consider:
    The number of teachers who are biologists.
    The number of politicians who are biologists.
    The number of lobbyists who are biologists.
    The number of people in the general public who are biologists, or have any sort of advanced training in any sort of science.

    Now you see why this is such a controversy. Science is based on objective reality. More believers, or more faith, or more money, or more guns and tanks, do not make a theory any truer.

  28. On a less controversial note, there is a great write-up on Darwin and how his “Theory” made it’s way to the mainstream in “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, a very-entertaining, and incredibly rich science book. (Sorry about the format error–I should underline the book title, but I’m not able to do so on this program.)

  29. b between brackets — > — is boldface and /b between brackets cancels it
    i for italics

    I don’t know how to underline.

  30. Thanks for the help, Joanne. I apologize for the length of this post. If you want me to stop taking up so much space on your blog, please let me know.

    BadaBing, these are the short (!) answers to your questions:

    to prove something scientifically, doesn’t the phenomenon have to be observable, repeatable, and predictable?

    Yes. Evolution satisfies these criteria, although not every situation can be observed. Some are easier to do than others. This is not different from other scientific theories.

    Has anyone observed a dinosaur evolving into a bird?

    Depends on what you mean. If you mean “actually watched with their eyes”, not as far as I know. If you mean “do we have fossil evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds”, yes. “Observe” doesn’t necessarily mean “see with your eyes”.

    Why didn’t all birds evolve into dinosaurs?

    I assume you meant that the other way around. Members of the same species can evolve in different ways. An entire species doesn’t evolve at the same time. Environment and randomness will play a factor. This will result in the evolution of multiple species from one. Also note that not all species of dinosaurs are the same, so their evolutionary paths will be different as well.

    In what way is evolution predictable?

    First, we have to be careful about what “predictable” means. It does NOT mean “deterministic”. For example, if I throw a dart at a target, in a vacuum, with known initial velocity and gravity, I can predict where it will land. It will always land in the same place. This is deterministic. Now consider sending a photon through a double slit onto a screen. I cannot know which slit the photon will pass through before I send it. Also, if I don’t explicitly measure the photon as it passes through the double slit, I cannot know, based on the impact with the screen, which slit the photon went through! This is indeterministic. However, I can tell you the probability of a photon landing in a certain location. The path is not predictable, but the pattern is. So quantum theory has predictive power.

    Here’s an example of evolution that is predictable. Take a random sample of bacteria. Isolate it and expose it to an antibiotic. Evolution predicts the future population will evolve to be immune to the antibiotic (if it doesn’t completely die off). This has been demonstrated to occur (see Ivory’s post). What does not occur is the possibility not allowed: the population maintains its initial characteristics for all time; an identical proportion of bacteria die with each generation. It’s not sexy, but this IS evolution.

    How did inert, nonorganic matter become organic?

    I assume you’re talking about abiogenesis, loosely meaning the transition from “not alive” to “alive”. We don’t know. First, you’d have to define what the transition point would be. Elements will naturally form into more complex molecules, and these molecules will naturally form more complex compounds, like amino acids, which life as we know it requires. It has been demonstrated experimentally that this will occur. (Amino acids and other complex molecules have even been discovered in space!) How these compounds evolve into living organisms is currently being investigated.

    Just because we don’t yet know the solution doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. That’s what science attempts to do, discover the unknown. If this is unsatisfying to you, remember that ALL of our modern technology was created after people discovered a thing that was not previously known, and in many cases, not even dreamed of. Who knows how many educated, intelligent people said such a thing was not even possible?

    If an evolutionist were walking along a deserted beach and found a sand castle, wouldn’t it follow that said evolutionist, in order to be consistent, might very well ascribe the existence of the sand castle to random events (?) occurring over a sufficient amount of time?

    Not unless they were exceedingly dense. We have observable, repeatable evidence that sand castles are built by humans. Just because there are no humans around now doesn’t mean there weren’t any around before. That is the simplest explanation, and has a great deal of evidence to back it up. Is it possible the sand castle is a natural formation? Yes. But it’s not likely.

    It should be noted that there are geological formations that look like they were built by something intelligent (stairs, roads, columns, etc.) that are, in fact, simply naturally occurring.

    Hope this helps.

  31. Steve in Broomfield wrote:

    For example, how would an eye evolve? There isn’t any logic to thinking that a partial eye would evolve over millions of years.

    Au contraire: Evolution of the Eye

    Badabing wrote:

    I’m showing my scientific ignorance here….

    Actually, it’s more an effort to do the best you can with what you’ve got.

    Consider, an astronomer would have a tough time building himself a supermassive black hole to experiment with. So, he’ll do the next, best thing. He’ll gather all the information available, use that information to build better instruments to gather better information and, at some point, start making predictions about those supermassive black holes. If his theory is good, it’ll allow the astronomer to make predictions that subsequent observation will verify.

    Similarly, a paleontologist doesn’t have a time machine at his disposal to snatch living examples of the creatures he’s studying. So, he does the best he can with what he’s got.

    He’ll study the fossils but he’ll also learn about geology to better understand the context of the fossils. He’ll study animal physiology so he can make some educated guesses about how dead animals worked by finding comparable living animals and studying how they work. Finally, he’ll formulate a theory that, hopefully, explains the observed phenomenon and publish. His peers will either find the huge, laughable flaw in the theory that consigns our paleontologist to forever-after teaching undergrad classes or he’ll be hailed as the new, boy-wonder of the world of paleontology and get a lot of face-time on the Discovery Channel.

    If you’ve followed that, it should be obvious why Intelligent Design is dismissed by most scientists. It’s self-evidently not the pursuit of truth. There’s no effort to create a coherent explanation based on observed phenomenon. It’s an effort to confuse, and by confusing, provide an opportunity to put religious belief at the same level of credibility as science.

  32. Thanks to Kevin and Allen for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve copied your answers and will go over them again. I’ve got a hundred more, but this isn’t the time or place. Well, just one more. Is it conceivable to you that one day science, perhaps through some incredible discovery or through some extremely cogent alternative and more plausible explanation of life, is it conceivable to you personally that evolution could go the way of the Ptolemaic theory of the Solar System?

  33. I’m certainly impressed by the posts here. Too bad they weren’t this intelligent when the U.S. violated Iraq’s sovereignty.

    Just a couple more things to add.

    Though Evolution is a scientific fact, the majority of Americans favor Creationism. There are several reasons why this is so, but one hasn’t yet been mentioned. So I’ll mention it now. The theory of evolution is not simple. It’s downright challenging to understand.

    Copernicus could state his view that the Earth revolves around the sun in one sentence but to explain the theory of evolution requires volumes.

    Second thing. It’s too bad about that word “theory” having more than one meaning. It certainly hasn’t helped matters.

    The radio I recently bought came with a pamphlet titled, “Theory of Operation.” My first thought was, this radio sure as heck better work. Why did they manufacture it if they only think it might work?

  34. Is it conceivable to you that one day science, perhaps through some incredible discovery or through some extremely cogent alternative and more plausible explanation of life, is it conceivable to you personally that evolution could go the way of the Ptolemaic theory of the Solar System?

    Yes. It is also possible that the speed of light may not be an absolute limit, that our knowledge of history may change significantly because of completely new data, etc. (the Founding Fathers were members of the Illuminati!). *However*, in each case, it is highly unlikely enough that we should feel to content to teach it as absolute fact, otherwise we teach *nothing*.

  35. BadaBing:

    …is it conceivable to you personally that evolution could go the way of the Ptolemaic theory of the Solar System?

    No. I mean, anything’s possible, but I feel that the probability of this happening is so small as to be effectively zero.

    I believe this because, contrary to what some might claim, there really is an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the basic hypothesis of evolutionary theory. I feel comfortable saying “overwhelming” because I’m not only talking about volume, I’m talking about breadth: confirmation in many different areas of study, including biology, geology, paleontology, and, if we want to get even more technical, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and cosmology as well (although the last two have less to do with life, specifically). For evolution to be wrong in the way that Ptolemy was wrong would require errors that are too massive in scope and too broad-reaching to be reasonable. Plus, there is the matter of successful predictions; not only the bacteria/antibiotics example, but others I left out so as not to commandeer Joanne’s blog.

    This is not to say that evolutionary theory won’t look different in the future. It absolutely will. Modern evolutionary theory is deeply indebted to Darwin, but it is not just Darwin. After all, Darwin was only one man, and could only make one man’s observations (brilliant though they were). Evolution provides an overarching framework. Within the context of evolutionary theory there have been and are now many individual theories and propositions, some of which have been proven true, some of which have been proven false (and thus discarded), and some for which the evidence is not yet conclusive. As we add to our knowledge, evolutionary theory will change. But it will retain the same fundamental principle. If someone does eventually come up with an alternative theory that supercedes evolution, has evidence to back it up, and can conclusively demonstrate that evolution as a whole is false, that will be an exciting day. But I expect it will never come. Darwin will go down as Copernicus, not Ptolemy.

    I’ll suggest again that you check out the talkorigins.org website. This

  36. Richard Nieporent says:

    I’m certainly impressed by the posts here. Too bad they weren’t this intelligent when the U.S. violated Iraq’s sovereignty.

    Thanks Robert for the gratuitous comment. I’m sure that Saddam feels the same way. However, your comment is rude and totally out of place in this discussion.

    By the way, are you impressed with this discussion because you can’t believe that a bunch of “right-wing extremists” could actually be capable of rational thought? After all, “Though Evolution is a scientific fact, the majority of Americans favor Creationism.” And of course by the majority of Americans you mean those ignorant right-fundamentalists as opposed to all those intelligent people on the Left of the political spectrum.

    Every time I see the phrase scientific fact when one is talking about a scientific theory I cringe. At the end of the 19th century it was thought that we had a complete understanding of the basic laws of physics with our knowledge of Newtonian mechanics and electricity and magnetism as expressed in Maxwell’s equations. Clearly those thoughts were incorrect. With the development of relativity and quantum mechanics our understanding of the physical laws of nature underwent a fundamental change. Is relativity the final word in our understanding of gravity? Since relativity does not incorporate quantum mechanics, the answer is no. The current research in string theory is attempting to formulate a theory of quantum gravity. Thus, the point I am trying to make is that science progresses as we make new discoveries. No test of a theory can show it is correct. It merely shows that it is not incorrect. If a subsequent test shows a discrepancy between theory and the experimental results it will require us to modify our theory. A scientific fact says that we have reached a point at which our understanding of that subject will never change. However, we can have well established theories. Certainly relativity falls in that realm. And while the theory of evolution is not at the same level of confirmation as relativity it is certainly a well established theory (It will not be replaced by Creationism or ID which have nothing to do with science). Thus, the theory of evolution will not be replaced but it will certainly be modified as new information is discovered. Will we ever reach a point at which we have a complete understanding of nature? The answer is unknown, but given what has occurred in the last 100 years, I wouldn’t bet on it. Certainly it will not occur in the near future.

  37. Richard, I’m sorry if you thought my comment was rude.

    I’m noting that just because a person’s thinking might be distorted by nationalism doesn’t mean necessarily that it will be distorted by religion.

    I’m also noting that I feel intellectually inferior to all but two of the people who have posted here.

    I get tired of feeling superior all the time.

  38. Badabing wrote:

    is it conceivable to you personally that evolution could go the way of the Ptolemaic theory of the Solar System?

    Short answer: no.

    Long answer: yes, but.

    Newtonian physics was superceded by Einsteinien physics so Newton was wrong. Newton’s ideas failed to explain certain phenomena that Einstein’s ideas did explain. But Newton was wrong because he was right about the universe he could see, a smaller, more limited universe then was available to Einstein.

    The same thing is happening to Darwin.

    The process of evolution has been observed and even produced experimentally. No one who’s bothered to examine the evidence doubts that organisms respond to environmental survival pressures through selection.

    So, the four-word description of evolution, “survival of the fittest”, works just fine.

    Things start to get sticky when you try to define “fittest” and “survival” and you start asking about the precise circumstances that cause the fittest to survive by turning into something new.

    Consider the peacock. One would suppose that putting all that food energy into a huge, flashy tail only to discard it and regrow it the next season would not be a very good example of survival of the fittest but it just points up how the subtleties of the term can lead to unexpected results.

    Fitness, in this case, means impressing the ladies and fathering the next generation of peacocks and peahens, not of being fleeter of foot and sharper of tooth (well, beak). Not what Darwin had in mind but, as it turns out, fitness is defined by survival, not Darwin.

  39. “Survival of the fittest” does not sum up the whole of Darwin.

    You must survive and pass your genes on to offspring. There was an experiment done with black birds in Africa with long tails on the males only. It turned out that the males with the longest tails were the most successful in mating – artificially lengthening the tail of a male would get it more mates. But the longer tails made them more susceptible to being caught by predators. There was a titration at work – males that were strong enough to get away from predators survived but they needed the long tail to pass on their genes. This forced the males to become faster and cannier because they also needed long tails to be sexy enough to breed. So the disadvantage of the long tail became an advantage because of the increased ability to breed.

    This becomes more complex in animal species that have cultures – when abilities can be taught, they do not have to be passed on genetically and the unit of inheritance changes from the gene to some sociological construct. That’s the place humans are at – we no longer change genetically to deal with our environment – we invent vaccines and tools and survive and reproduce all out of proportion to our innate genetic traits. We also cannot survive without our society because we each individually would not be able to survive alone.