Monday, August 08, 2005

Darwinian theory stands on its own two feet.

Not back yet, but I have a few minutes and a network connection, so I feel the need to respond to a column by rightist columnist Kathleen Parker, who suggested in an editorial this weekend that teaching 'Intelligent Design' in science classes alongside evolution, as suggested by President Bush last week is OK, and that it should not be a threat to knock evolution off its pedestal.

I addressed the reason why it is not science and therefore should not be taught in science classes last week.

However, I would like to suggest that in fact, contrary to the view apparently held by Ms. Parker and others that there is some widespread conspiracy of scientists to defend Darwin at all costs, (she puts it as, 'there is no dogma like no dogma'), in fact scientists are always challenging orthodoxy and looking to refute what is presently believed. Sure, scientific 'dogma' has been proven wrong before. In the best known example, Copernicus overthrew the writings of Ptolemy (whose views of an earth centered universe had held for over a thousand years, although there were contemporaries and predecessors of Ptolemy, such as Hipparchus, who had guessed correctly that the earth revolved around the sun). In fact, Darwin himself overthrew much of the Aristotelian view of biology. Just look at it this way: there is no scientific achievement in becoming the fifty-first person to design an experiment that verifies what has already been verified fifty times. But design one that refutes the conclusion drawn from the last fifty times, and then put forth an alternative conclusion that is consistent with the results of both your experiment and the other fifty, now that is worth doing. Every scientist is well aware that what made Einstein a genius was that he did not simply accept that Newton's view of the universe was an absolute which could not be challenged. Then, he went to work and developed the theory and described how the evidence could be collected which would challenge it. We are now at the centennial of that transforming event.

However, proponents of I.D. are at best scientifically lazy, putting forth a conclusion without producing any new evidence to back it up. In fact, in the early days after the discovery of the structure of DNA, creationists actually were better scientists, raising valid questions about how strands of DNA could have assembled themselves into living organisms or evolved into different ones, under conditions similar to those on the primitive earth. Scientists actually had to show how that was possible, or it would indeed have undercut Darwinian theory. They did, and have since developed genetic engineering and patented dozens of artificially created organisms that do everything from produce drugs to clean up oil slicks, a benefit of the pure research that this question helped push forward.

At worst, the proponents of I.D. are trying to push a theory that is not science and was not arrived at by scientific experimentation or observation into the science classroom, diluting the time that students have to study science (ever notice how, unlike the 1960-1970's, when US scientific achievement was without rival, more and more significant discoveries are being made outside of our country, and we now only have parity with the Europeans, Japanese and lately the Koreans)?

The best parallel I can come up with for proponents of Intelligent Design (which I believe to be true, insofar as I believe that God directs evolution, but that is my belief and not a scientifically established fact) are UFO enthusiasts. In fact, most astronomers, biologists and other scientists believe that in the vastness of space, it is almost unimaginable to believe that the occurence of intelligent life is such a rare thing that we should be the only ones (a view reinforced by the discovery that planetary systems are faily commonplace). However, despite the deeply held convictions of many who are absolutely convinced that the earth has been and is being visited by intelligent extraterrestrials who have developed technology to travel beyond the stars, no scientist would suggest that we mandate including a discussion of flying saucers or abductions by space aliens in a science class. Sure, 'unidentified flying object' includes the word, 'unidentified,' but there are many far more logical explanations, be it flocks of birds, cloud or other atmospheric phenomena, conjunctions of planets, manmade satellites, classifed or experimental craft (many eyewitnesses in the 1960's near White Sands Missile range described a set of UFO's that looked like balls with knobs on them-- and then recognized them in 1969 when the lunar module landed on the moon), optical illusions, or perhaps more internal explanations, i.e. drugs, people telling lies, the list goes on. But all of these potential explanations are more logical than to suggest that it's a spaceship from another star system!

Would that be possible? Maybe. But without any scientific evidence, I put such theories about UFO's and the theory of Intelligent Design into the same bucket (along with astrology, psychic prophecy, bigfoot and ESP)-- conjectures that lack the necessary scientific evidence to mandate that they be part of the science curriculum that my children will learn in school.


Chuck said...

Hi Eli! I'm not quite sure that I grasp where your argument (if that's what it is) goes, but I believe there may be room for everything. I.D., as I see it being brought up currently, has been "thrown out" there to defeat evolution in particular and to stagnate scientific advances in general.

Einstein may have questioned Newtonian Physics and improved upon theory, but as you convey, he was still a proponent. Intelligent Design is a roadblock and a muscling attempt at a huge step backwards.

It's all bad enough when you step back and look at the big picture of our progress now. In 2005, we should have cured many diseases and afflictions that are still currently terminal. We should have colonized our moon by now. We should have (at least) sent manned missions to the outer planets by now. But of course we haven't. I'm destined to die in a Type 0 civilization and I have my doubts about whether we well ever reach Type 1 status.

As I mentioned in an essay of mine (and speaking in general to my readers, mind you), In the latter part of the 20th century it has been theorized that it is probable that ten dimensions exist and possibly as many as twenty six. So if you're like 97% of the people out there, living in your nine to five, paycheck to paycheck world, thinking that microwave, frequency and amplitude modulations are the only invisible waves around us; no offense- but, you're not aware of the big picture.

The bible, after all, was written by men wearing flowing robes and sandals, fearing a superior being & doing an inordinate amount of metaphorical speak.

My two cents & btw, love your blog! :)

Eli Blake said...

Hi, Chuck.

My argument is pretty much that science is a well defined process by which results are observed, a hypothesis is formed, and then put to a rigorous and replicable test. If the test supports the hypothesis, then, and only then, can it be considered to be a scientific theory. Most schools teach this as the "Scientific Method" beginning in the second grade.

I have no problem with someone wanting to hypothesize Intelligent Design, and based, as they say, by observation of the complexity and perfect interconnection of the physical world (although I would wonder why they are not environmentalists if they see that), but before it is upheld as science, it has to be tested. An experiment has to be designed, which is both replicatable and rigorous, which can test I.D. That is the standard to which Einstein and others have been held, and we cannot ask that I.D. should be held to a lower standard.

Chuck said...

Agreed! Your response is appreciated & understood.