Oh, my gosh. I’d thought, even hoped, that I’d put the evolution thing to rest, at least for a week or two.
But I got an email from Susannah Cornett, whose blog I’ve admired from afar for a while, and like many others, been meaning to provide a link to (he said, as he dangled a preposition).
She followed it up with an actual (I think identical) post, titled, just so we know from where she’s coming (avoiding yet another dangle…), MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING EVOLUTION IN SCHOOLS.
This was exactly what I was attempting (apparently in vain) to avoid.
But since it was apparently not possible, let me respond, point by point, with all the respect due her.
[Note this post is a follow up of a series of which the most previous one is here.
I’ve read with interest your commentary about evolution vs creationism (I prefer the term “intelligent design”). One of your major objections to the teaching or adherence to a theory of intelligent design is that it limits scientific exploration.
You also see it as a weakness of faith, a fairly harsh assessment.
Perhaps. Think of it as tough love.
While I do agree that blind adherence to a theory can limit a search for truth, and a weak faith breeds fear, I think you are showing your own bias in your discussion, as well as not fully addressing the moral implications of an unchallenged presentation of evolutionary theory.
I’m not claiming that evolution shouldn’t be challenged. I’m claiming that it shouldn’t be challenged as science, or that if it is, it should be challenged by a scientific alternative. Intelligent design is not science, for reasons already stated numerous times, in numerous ways, by both myself and Professor Volokh. Frankly, I’m frustrated that you and others don’t see or care to make the distinction.
As long as intelligent design is a valid theory – which I think Volokh argued eloquently is the case – then refusing to consider it as an option is biased and unscientific.
Let’s back up the horses right here. What does “valid” mean?
Many people take the word “valid” to having some connotation of truth, or certitude. Certainly, neither Eugene (or I) intended to imply that. If we call it a valid theory, it only means one that might be true. But valid theories are not necessarily scientific theories. Science only seeks “truth” within the boundaries of the scientific method. Theories that cannot be evaluated in that context do not belong in science classes. Without repeating all of the arguments of the previous posts, I will simply state that ID is excluded from that category. To understand why, go read those posts.
It’s a theory of origin, not a theory of escapism. While it is inappropriate for someone to say, “Well, it’s that way because God made it that way” and thus refuse to explore a question further, it is just as inappropriate to say, “Because eventually this explanation might lead to an irresolvable question, we’re going to refuse to accept that this could be the answer even though it fits the facts”.
The problem is not about what happens eventually. The problem is that, immediately, as soon as we say “God (or someone) did it,” we’ve left the realm of scientific inquiry, and there’s no way back except to say “Whoops, sorry, we didn’t mean that. God didn’t do it, or at least, we can’t know that he did.” It is simply an utterly useless theory (from a scientific standpoint), because it can’t be tested, falsified or disproved.
It is the fact that it [intelligent design] is not disprovable (i.e., falsifiable) that puts it outside the realm of science. It’s not simply an uninteresting theory–it is a useless copout (again, purely from a scientific perspective).
Yes, that’s exactly what I say.
Is general evolution in its full manifestation provable?
No. That’s where we seem to be talking past each other. No scientific theory is provable. What makes scientific theories interesting and useful is the fact that they’re disprovable. ID is not.
It’s not replicable, we don’t have historic accounts; it will never be more than an extrapolation from evidence. To assume it is to limit your explorations. Conversely, if someone developed a theory of how things should look if there was an intelligent designer, and set out to test it, would that be bad science?
No. The problem is, that there’s no way to test it. If someone wants to put ID forth as a theory, they have to also describe the experiments (thought or otherwise) that would, with appropriate outcomes, show that it was false. To date, no one has done that. Instead, they simply offer a deus ex machina to explain things that they lack imagination or knowledge to understand.
The originating event is not replicable, but its manifestations might be evident.
Well, here’s your challenge. What would they be? If you can’t tell us, then there’s no point in accepting it as a (scientific) theory. What tests would you perform, that would provide compelling insight as to whether or not we were evolved or designed?
If this scientist found, for example, that man appeared in his current form at one point in history, or other evidence that seem to point more to intelligent design than evolution, would you try to fit it into your own theory, or ignore it, because you don’t see intelligent design as a valid theory?
What would constitute evidence that would point more to intelligent design than evolution? Bear in mind as you answer this, that there is an abundance of evidence that we are of lousy design, in many ways, that is much more easily explained by a random process than an intelligent designer.
“If I were to teach evolution in a school, I would state it not as ‘this is what happened,’ but rather, ‘this is what scientists believe happened.’
Belief without proof is called “faith.”
Yes, I’ve already made that point myself, multiple times. Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
2) It obeys universal laws
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments
4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred
There are other tenets, but these are the main ones.
But my major objection to evolution being taught in the schools without any reference to intelligent design as an alternative is the social implications of the “religion” of evolution.
Evolution is not a religion. Science is a religion, by the broadest definition (with some of the fundamental tenets stated above), and evolution is an inevitable product of it. If you want to throw out evolution, you might as well throw out physics, chemistry, other aspects of biology, etc.
I believe that it’s important to teach science. More importantly, I believe that part of teaching science is teaching that science is not a compendium of facts to be memorized, but that it is a method, a means of learning about the world.
That doesn’t mean that we should teach that the only means of gaining knowlege is science (though as someone who believes in it, I definitionally believe that it is the best means of attaining knowledge).
If you want to teach intelligent design in schools, I have no objection. My only objection is that it not be taught as science, because it’s not and cannot be. It’s a refutation, a repudiation of science.
I’ve taught both introductory psychology and sociology on the college level, and in every case the texts explained both individual and social behaviors in an evolutionary context, with many attendant moral extrapolations. An example is the “fight or flight” response. I’m not saying humans don’t have that response, but the evolutionary explanation given for it is an extrapolation that isn’t supported.
Isn’t supported by what?
The development of that response cannot be scientifically tracked or established, given that it happened prior to recorded history and is not still developing, so whence the conclusions as to why it developed? It is assumed that the extrapolation is true, which actually limits exploration rather than encouraging it – we know why it’s there, so why look more deeply into its manifestations? Setting it as a trait that developed as an evolutionarily-preferred behavior gives its manifestations, in the eyes of some, an almost moral rightness.
Oh, here’s your problem. No, it should never, ever be taught as a moral rightness. We cannot derive morality purely from our genetic heritage, or from science classes. That way lies disaster.
It is natural, and an evolutionarily-advantageous behavior for males to rape females. That doesn’t mean that we should approve of such behavior. I’ve posted numerous times in the past about the danger of equating “natural” with “good” or “moral.” Nature is not our friend. Or our enemy. It’s just how we got here.
Anthrax is natural. Botulism is natural. Death is natural. That doesn’t make them our friends.
We can’t derive morality from science, or at least not from the primevil urges of our hormones. That seems to the crux of the problem–people seem to think that our ancestors, or our origin, should define our current behavior.
We have to develop a morality based on what kind of society we want to have today–not one that we had in the savannah of Africa a few thousand years ago (to which, to first order, we remain physically adapted). I don’t claim to know what the source of this moral order should be, but it should emphatically not be the mindlessness of our genes.
You have to go outside science to find reason to stem it in some contexts, when it would not have that moral gravitas to begin with if some evolutionists didn’t present extrapolations as truth.
I have no control over what some evolutionists do or say. I don’t claim that evolution is truth, except within the framework of scientific inquiry.
If you’ve been following the recent discussions of teen sexuality on some of the blogs, there have been a number of references to “natural” behavior, to evolutionary imperative. That is a moral conclusion arising from evolution-as-religion. It’s also used as a reason behind why sexual photographs of teenagers are so desired online – we’re evolutionarily hardwired to seek out the best bets for self-perpetuation, thus, youth and attractiveness, so naturally people are drawn to sexual photos of youth. I’m not saying that all the arguments using evolution in their supportive statements would be endorsed by evolutionary scientists, but it is a major source of reasoning for those taking a variety of moral and behavioral stances. It is not a value-neutral, or morality-neutral, scientific theory. It is in our society treated as fact, and many people base their behavior on its extrapolated moral tenets. At the very least, schools should separate fact from those extrapolations.
Then that’s what we should fight–the notion that we should base our laws on our base animal urges–not science itself.
As for the weakness of faith that belief in intelligent design supposedly indicates, I would posit that a similar weakness of faith exists in a scientific community fearful of incorporating intelligent design in its assessment of information, at the very least as a valid theory of origin until proven otherwise. It is either a fear that intelligent design is true, or an adamant belief that general evolution is law, not theory, despite its lack of full support; in either case the scientific pursuit is polluted by bias. What avenues of exploration are closed because of a belief in evolution similar to the religious closed-mindedness you mention in association with a belief in intelligent design? Why is questioning evolution considered heresy?
Simply stated, because there’s no way to test it within the scientific method.
Let me say it one more time. I can’t say what truth is in any ultimate way. I can only say what is science. ID ain’t science, and it never can be, because there’s no way to disprove it.
My psychology and sociology students were always treated to a lecture on how what you believe about origins has an impact on what you believe about behaviors and morality today.
If that’s the case, then I beg your pardon, but you were misteaching them. Perhaps it does, but it most emphatically shouldn’t.
I made my own beliefs on it clear, and did not color my presentation of the class material with my own biases in the balance of the class except in asides offering an alternative extrapolation very obviously my own. I don’t see how such an approach would suddenly destroy the foundations of scientific endeavor in this society, nor how intelligent design reasonably presented as an option of origin, in all its advantages, flaws and implications, would do the same. It also is not “promoting religion”, if dissociated from the Bible and taught as a valid scientific option – which it is.
It is not.
Religion is about who the intelligent designer is, and different groups have different conclusions.
No, religion is about what the bedrock of our belief system is. For some (including me), an intelligent designer is not necessary.
I’m not suggesting we teach in public schools which conclusion is most likely. Just as you would say “I would state it not as ‘this is what happened,’ but rather, ‘this is what scientists believe happened.’
But that’s the point. Evolution is what scientists believe happened. If they instead falter, and simply invoke the deus ex machina, they are no longer being scientists. They may be right (there’s no way to know this side of eternity) but they’re no longer doing science.
And as a religious person, I’m not afraid of science in full flower, exploring every corner of the universe. I encourage it. I’m fascinated by it. Maybe there is intelligent life elsewhere, although I doubt it. I wouldn’t stop scientific exploration for fear it will prove my faith wrong, nor do I deny that many aspects of evolutionary theory offer an excellent structure for scientific study. But I also don’t believe evolution and faith are antithetical, or reasonably separated into “reality” vs “emotion”. It is that characterization in the face of the moral implications of belief in general evolution that give rise to my desire for intelligent design to be presented in schools as an optional theory of origin.
I don’t believe that they are antithetical either. Rather, they are orthogonal. ID can be presented as an optional theory of origin. Fine with me. Just don’t pretend it’s science. It is not, and cannot be.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…