The Dangers Of
April 12, 2001
In an April 8th article in the New York Times, a theory known
as intelligent design is discussed as a new threat to the
long-standing Darwinian theory of evolution. While evolution
maintains that all biological structures are the result of
billions of years of change through the process of natural
selection, intelligent design supposes that the complexity
of life could have only occurred with the help of an intelligent
designer.This theory, unlike the common evolutionary threat
of Creationism, has some basis in actual science and is being
adopted by the same people who have long supported Creationism.
The focus of this debate revolves around whether intelligent design should
be taught alongside evolution in classrooms across America. This is a
dangerous notion for several reasons. First, the debate is not being argued
by scientists in universities, but by politicians in state assemblies.
I doubt I'm alone when I say that I would prefer our children learn what
is correct according to scientists rather than politicians. Politicians
have agendas and are responsive to their electorate. They have no allegiance
to science or the pursuit of the truth.
Second, those favoring intelligent design also have specific agendas.
The few scientists who are proponents of this new theory are fundamentalist
Christians. Their work is funded by right-wing religious groups. The goal
of science is to turn an objective eye on the world and determine reality.
When scientists begin their inquiry with such overt biases, they are not
acting in the best interests of science.
Third, science is about formulating hypotheses and then testing those
hypotheses through experimentation. Creationism and intelligent design
are not science according to this broad definition. There is no way to
test the idea that an intelligent creator is responsible for life. One
might as well conjecture that life originated in the center of the Earth.
There's no way to disprove it!
The fact is that hypotheses that cannot be tested have no place in science.
It may be fun to think up possible explanations for the existence of life,
but if those explanations cannot be tested, they have no place in the
realm of science. Even if intelligent design becomes a highly respected
scientific theory, there is no reason to rush to print new textbooks proclaiming
it the equal of evolution. Millions of experiments have been conducted
for over a century and a half confirming different tenants of the theory
of evolution by natural selection. In fact, the current theory of evolution
is vastly different than when it was originally discussed by Darwin in
On the Origin of Species.
Every time a scientist comes along with a new theory, the scientific
community cannot immediately adopt it as the new standard. It would have
to be tested over and over again by scientist after scientist. The overt
bias of the religious right becomes obvious with their rush to change
a theory which has survived the test of time and is accepted unwaveringly
by almost the entire scientific community on the basis of a handful of
scientists with little experimental evidence and a competing theory which
cannot be tested.
Finally, as mentioned in the article, 45% of Americans believe in Creationism.
Forty-five percent! If that isn't reason enough to teach evolution even
more strongly then I don't know what is! But there is something even more
important with this fact. Notice that it says 45% of Americans believe
in Creationism. It's not that they think Creationism is correct but instead
that they have faith in the theory. When was the last time you have heard
someone say "I believe in gravity" or "I believe in chemistry?"
Science is not about faith. It's not about beliefs. It's about thinking
and examining and experimenting. Dangers erupt when faith is confused
for science. Even Einstein himself fell prey to this when he refused to
accept some of the basic tenets of quantum physics, a new science at the
time when he helped discover it, claiming that "God does not play dice."
Another prominent physicist, Niels Bohr, responded cleverly by saying
"Quit telling God what to do!"
I think we can assume the same attitude today by separating faith and
science as the two distinct disciplines that they are. Instead, let us
steer clear of our personal biases and allow science to flourish by leaving
it to the scientists and not the politicians.
For further reading on this subject:
Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism by Philip Kitcher
Science on Trial: The Case For Evolution by Douglas Futuyma
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