Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » September 2005 » Rotten to the Core…

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09/18/2005: Rotten to the Core…

…Is Intelligent Design.

In science, fact, not faith, measures ideas' validity by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne [Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University. Jerry Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago] from the Chicago Tribune:

“… So what's wrong, then, with teaching "both sides" of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or intelligent design?

The answer is simple.

This is not a scientific controversy at all.

But creationism, currently repackaged as intelligent design, is not an argument of the same character. 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 does in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class, astrology in a psychology class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In a class on 20th Century European history, nobody would want to grant denial of the Holocaust the status of one half of a "let's teach both sides of the controversy" treatment.

In all of these cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" is ludicrous. And this is how professional biologists feel about the apparently reasonable demand that they should give intelligent design the status of a scientific theory.

But there's a reason why we, like the vast majority of professional biologists, are so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of "both sides" treatment.

Where are the facts?

If intelligent design 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 intelligent design research. There simply isn't any intelligent design research to publish.

Its advocates bypass normal scientific channels by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and their elected government officials. Their argument is always the same. Never do they offer positive evidence in favor of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution--"gaps" in the fossil record or unsupported assertions of "irreducibly complex" organs that allegedly could not have evolved.

In all cases there is a hidden default assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B-- creationism/intelligent design in this case--is any better at explaining Phenomenon X.

Defying reason

Note how this imbalance gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides." One side is required to produce evidence every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but it is deemed to have won automatically the moment the first side encounters a difficulty--the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day and which researchers work to solve with relish.

Evolution welcomes scrutiny

Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colors.

But the important point is that the default logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

And it's no solution to raise the theological defense that God (or the intelligent designer) is immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation.

You cannot have it both ways. Either intelligent design belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis, or it does not, and we must send it back to the church, where it belongs.

Not `just a theory'

There is no scientific evidence in favor of intelligent design. In contrast, the positive evidence for evolution is truly enormous, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations from geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, behavior, biogeography, embryology, atomic physics and molecular genetics.

Opposition to evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Although often characterized as "just a theory," evolution is just as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

Why, finally, does it matter whether these issues are discussed in science classes?

Perhaps biologists shouldn't get so hot under the collar. It would, after all, take only about 10 minutes to exhaust the case for intelligent design. The problem is that the seductive "let's teach the controversy" language conveys the false and highly pernicious idea that there really are two sides.

Thus, without needing to make a single good point in any argument, creationism would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be considered an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of genuine science education in America.

Karen on 09.18.05 @ 08:38 AM CST

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