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.