I have written extensively on evolution here on polyscience, and yesterday began what seems to be a redux of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania requires that teachers instruct their students that evolution is “merely” one unproven theory. The teachers are required to state that intelligent design is a possible alternative. Furthermore, the teachers are required to refer students to an intelligent design textbook for more information.
The parents taking the school board to court have asserted that this violates the separation of church and state. And they’re absolutely right. I’ve stated in the past that ID is okay to teach (even in public schools) so long as it’s not taught in the science classroom. ID lacks the most basic tenets of what constitutes “science” — testability and falsifiability.
The first witness on behalf of the parents was Kenneth Miller a professor at Brown University who lectured the courtroom on a variety of topics, but his basic theme was that there was no controversy in science about the validity of evolution; the only controversy over the topic comes from outside science, from the lay public.
Much of the confusion over evolution and intelligent design comes from the definition of “theory” itself. When used in the context of science, it implicitly has a different meaning than it does when applied to almost anything else. Therefore, dismissing evolution as “merely a theory” is an egregious misuse of the implied meaning. Not everything can become a scientific theory — it must first undergo scrutiny, testing, and revision. While the mechanisms and explanations behind evolution have changed since Darwin, his overarching themes of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” have withstood scientific scrutiny for well over 100 years. The school board of a public school system should not be so easily able to toss it aside like so much garbage, regardless of local public opinion.
According to a CBS poll one year ago, 65% of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution; 37% would want it to be taught instead of evolution.
Fifty-five per cent believe God created humans as we know them today.
Unfortunately for the public, public opinion is meaningless when it comes to what is correct and what is not. Should we teach probability as common sense dictates, simply because most people believe wrong information? Certainly not. And there is no reason that the origins of life should be taught to the whim of public opinion either. Because the public in this case is ignorant, and therefore, wrong.
Science is about understanding and explaining phenomena, not about what “feels good” and makes people happy. As I’ve said in the past, no matter how far back science pushes the boundaries of human understanding, intelligent design can add one more layer of abstraction, thereby rendering it effectively impossible to prove one way or the other. For this simple reason alone it belongs in a religion or philosophy class, not a science class.
“On the other hand,” Miller said, “intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community.”
During his cross-examination of Miller, Robert Muise, another attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin’s theory.
“Would you agree that Darwin’s theory is not the absolute truth?” Muise said.
“We don’t regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth,” Miller responded.
Miller is absolutely right, even though it would seem as though he’s avoiding the question to those that would choose to read it that way. Even a “simple” theory like the Theory of Gravity has undergone massive revision in the last 50 years, and it stands to reason that it will be further modified over the course of the next 50 years. Tossing it out as “incomplete” is ridiculous. If there’s anything that science has taught mankind it’s this: just when you think you’ve got almost a complete understanding of something, a new development or discovery will come along and turn your world upside-down. It happened to physics with the discovery of subatomic particles, and it will happen again. No matter how well-established and understood your theory may be, something new could come along and blow it out of the water. What matters is that the overarching themes remain consistent though the underlying explanation for the theme may be altered.
I’ll be following this case with great interest in the coming weeks. (And I will endeavor to avoid ranting.)