Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (IV)

This is an ongoing series of posts. The first three were linked to in the most recent, Dover (PA) vs. Darwin update III

The trial has wrapped up over the issue of 'Intelligent Design' should be taught in the public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania. Federal Judge John E. Jones III said he hopes to issue a ruling in January.

Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the Dover Area School Board, argued that the concept was intended to call attention to "a new, fledgling science movement."

The policy requires students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution.

The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook for more information.

In fact, the same argument could and has been made by people who advocate for extraterrestrial origins for life, numerology, ESP and the notion that the whole Apollo program was shot in a Hollywood studio.

UFOlogists always claim that theirs is a 'new, fledgling science movement,' and that their pseudo-science is not published in scientific journals because of academic discrimination.

In fact, it is because they have yet to put forward a paper that tests their hypotheses by designing and conducting a rigorous scientific experiment.

The same is true of Intelligent Design advocates, but with a twist-- unlike advocates of UFO's, ESP, or that the world will end on Tuesday, they have the political power to try and legislate science even when the science itself they are trying to legislate is faulty. This is no different than what happened in the year 1910, when the Indiana Legislature tried to legislate the value of pi (you know, that little number that is about 3.14159...) as being 3.2; They came within one vote but lost when someone pointed out how this would certainly cause bridges to collapse all over the state. The fact that they came within one vote is frightening in itself.

And the fact is, that those who are pushing this legislation are not scientists, nor are those who they are convincing to pass the legislation (in this case a school board directive).

Now, I understand that they believe Intelligent Design to be true. In fact, so do I. But neither my nor their belief constitutes science. In following the scientific method, anyone is free to propose a hypothesis based on whatever evidence they can find, but to prove it requires carefully designed experiments or predictions based on the hypothesis that are verified, and in a manner that can be replicated.

And if Evolution is not taught in schools, who suffers for it? Not the school board members. Probably not the teachers (although I would have a problem personally, as a math instructor, if I was directed by a bunch of politicians what to teach in class and how to word it, and particularly so if I knew it was contrary to the established methods of mathematics). Those who suffer will the the students of Dover, Pennsylvania. This year there is a case (now a lawsuit against the University of California in which private schools that had taught creationism were suddenly confronted with the reality that their curriculum was not considered adequate for admission to the University because of deficiencies in the science curriculum, so their students were categorically not being accepted to any of the campuses of U.C. From what I have read about the case, U.C. has all of the needed documentation (including test data) to very likely win this case, and as such the students in these schools, undoubtedly some of them very bright, will suffer. And it is unlikely that any academically rigorous university in Pennsylvania (such as Penn) won't similarly consider a student who has studied in the Dover school system to be deficient in science. Perhaps this is unfair, but the fact is that universities are looking for the best prepared students they can find to master a tough curriculum that builds on what a student should already know when leaving high school. Watering down the standards to accomodate creationism just isn't part of the agenda (but I guess the good news for these students is that they can still go to Bob Jones University).


Girl on the Blog said...

As a society, shouldn't we like to see the current evolution only situation changed in schools? Or shouldn't we? A portion of our society is fond of trying to remove God from creation – in the way that Intelligent Design can do… is this right? Science has been the study of both theory and concepts, not really the study of just hard facts. For too long evolution has been taught as fact not theory…

Eli Blake said...

The problem, Girl-on-the-blog, is that science is a well defined method. You make observations and form a hypothesis. That is essentially what Intelligent Design is. Then you use that hypothesis to make predictions and design an experiment to test that hypothesis. If your predictions are correct, then, and ONLY THEN you can elevate it to a theory. Of course, you should still test theories.

It is true that evolution is a theory. So is gravity (which we still don't completely understand, over three hundred years after Newton). And both have undergone continual scrutiny since they were first proposed. If you know of anyone who has found any evidence at all to refute evolution (such as Copernicus and Galileo refuting the earth-centered universe theory) then point them out to me. However, evidence in its favor is growing daily, between the examination of fossil record, DNA analysis, actual experimentation with breeding of test animals, and observation of adaptations made to changes in the environment.

The problem with putting Intelligent Design in a science class is that it is not science. Not unless you find a way to test it. It is fine to put it in a theology class, a philosophy class, or a civics class. But science is defined by the formal scientific method (the development of which, allowed science to move forward after several hundred years of the dark ages).

As for the role of God (and I do believe in Him), by definition it is a matter of faith. Science does deal with concepts, but they have to be concepts backed by evidence and experimentation, not simply by faith. Intelligent Design, along with any other theory of life's origins (or even that we were all dropped off by a race of super space aliens) can be debated in any number of classes, so why is it so important that it be in a science class, when it isn't science?

And here is the final point to be made: Right now, because of our putting ideology ahead of actual science, not only here, but also in things like stem cell research and global warming, most of the key scientific discoveries being made are no longer being made in the U.S. So it is not only a matter of debating about esoteric matters, our insistence on relegating actual science to a place of convenience has already harmed our country materially. Not that our young people are getting dumber, but they are getting filled full of useless information for the technological age while our competition in places like Korea and Europe have no such illusions.

dorsano said...

It looks like Dover has a new school board.

Voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a statement on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum.

dorsano said...

And reporting in on the DFA blog from nearby Lancaster ..

Some interesting local results here in Lancaster, PA, a heavily Republican area that has not elected a Democrat to a county-wide office since before the Civil War when it sent future President Buchanan to Congress. County voter registration is more than 2 to 1 Republican while the Democrats hold a slight edge in the city of Lancaster.

Our incumbent 2-term Republican mayor in the city of Lancaster has gone down to a crushing defeat with Democratic Challenger Richard Gray taking 58% of the vote. Democrats also swept the City Counsel, previously 100% Republican.

The GOP best figure out why Bloomberg won.