Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SCIENCE- Darwin's Birthday

Happy Darwin Day

I didn't even know it was a holiday. Do I get paid for it? I do for Christmas and Easter.

Like many people, I have grown so sick of the “debate” over evolution that I want to barf.

There are few things more silly than reading the arguments for an against evolution online- all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Ben Stein is releasing a movie about the prohibition on serious scientific inquiry regarding Intelligent Design. I’m anxious to see it. If there is such a conspiracy in the scientific community then it needs to be exposed because such a thing would be deadly to the very nature of science. It has certainly happened before. Virtually no new scientific theory is accepted without some intransigence from the establishment but the defining virtue of science is that it continues to change to accommodate new information and new ways of thinking. But reading the comments online is so frustrating to any one who actually has an inquiring mind that it’s a waste of time. ID may not be appropriate to teach in a science class but I wish to hell they would start teaching logic and debate. I wish I would never again read:

“Science is just another religion.” No. This is simply wrong. If you think this, please don’t post it and advertise your ignorance. Science and religion have almost nothing in common except some of the answers each provide might contradict the other’s views. Saying that people “believe” in science is worthless. Under this definition of religion EVERYTHING is religion. And, indeed, this seems to be the idea at the heart of this argument. People may believe in science, but it is not dependent on belief to work. Q.E.D.

“Darwin (or fill in the blank with whomever you wish to discredit) said…” followed by something that offends our modern sensibilities or is patently wrong. Infallibility is the claim of religious leaders, not scientists. Everybody says things that are wrong, it doesn’t prevent them from being right about other things. This has come to be known as quote mining, which is a term I differ with unless the quote is taken out of context or distorted in some other way to change the intent. In any case, it is irrelevant. Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist in history, yet he spent years looking for a way to turn lead into gold. Doesn’t mean he was wrong about calculus.

“Many great scientists were (are) religious.” Again, this is irrelevant. People choose belief systems for a great number of reasons but few apply scientific scrutiny to them. Gregor Medel laid the groundwork for modern genetics. And he was a monk! Remember, science doesn’t require belief to work.

“Evolution is just a theory.” I do not think that word means what you think it means. The term “scientific theory” has a specific meaning and it isn’t “something I just pulled out of my ass” or “something I believe might be right”. In science a theory is a framework in which observations can be understood in relation to one another. It has to include all available facts and also accommodate any new facts that are discovered. Theories are not dogmatic. If they are contradicted by new information they must be modified or discarded. See my first series on science for several examples of this in action.

“There are all sorts of holes in the theory of Evolution.” While there may be things that are not completely understood, evolution is a framework that has held up to attempts to discredit it for 150 years. Modern genetics is nothing but the study of the mechanism by which these changes are passed from one generation to another. And even if there are discrepancies, it has to be supplanted by a theory that includes all available information and answers those challenges. Newton’s Theory of Gravity was in conflict with the observed orbit of Mercury for a long time but until Einstein formulated a better theory of gravity it stood. Perhaps someday Evolution will be supplanted by a better theory, but just saying that it doesn’t explain everything is a starting point for that new theory, not an end in itself.

“Where are the transitional forms?” This shows a basic misunderstanding of the whole question. All fossils are transitional forms. You might as well disavow film because it doesn’t show you what happens between frames. The only way to satisfy this argument would be to find a fossil bed where every creature lied down on the grave of their parent for a million years. Again, using this argument simply betrays your ignorance of the subject.

“I believe in microevolution but not macroevolution.” This is a straw grasped at by people who aren’t willing to admit they are wrong but realize that we’ve actually observed the evolution of microorganisms. My question is always, “Where do you draw the line?” If you’ve ever seen a dog, then you have a hard time denying macroevolution.

“I don’t believe in evolution but I do believe that creatures change to accommodate their environments.” Dude, you believe in evolution.

“It’s a freedom of speech issue.” No, it’s not. But this argument strikes at the heart of the ID agenda. They aren’t looking for scientific vindication. The history of science is replete with examples of a new theory replacing an older theory. The political argument is a tacit admission that ID cannot stand on it’s own and has to use politics to be accepted as science. No one is saying that you can’t believe, promote, study, or research ID. They are just saying that it can’t be taught in public schools until it’s accepted as science. You know, by scientists. The same bogus argument is used for prayer in schools. No one is saying that you can’t pray in school, they are just saying you can’t use the public school system as a platform for advancing your personal religious beliefs. And if it was some other religion doing it you’ve figure out pretty fast why it’s a good idea to keep that from happening.

One more thing about that. ID shouldn’t be taught as science because it isn’t. Science looks at phenomena and tries to explain them. ID starts with a conclusion about what is happening and works backward to try to support it. In fact, ID is the opposite of science. Its conclusion is that God created the universe and everything in it. This means that there is no reason to look for understanding. You already have it. This is tantamount to an end of scientific enquiry. If this was the method of science then any scientific question could be answered by saying “because God made it that way”. I think that part of the resistance of the scientific community to ID is based on an understanding of this fact. ID doesn’t seek to validate itself as a scientific theory, it seeks to dismantle the very basis of science. If your curiosity leads you to conclusions that might invalidate my faith, you must be wrong. I’ll figure out why later.

That ain’t science.

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