When Science Becomes Heresy
As a biology major and an aspiring biology teacher, the recent debate over evolution and the attempt at introducing intelligent design (ID)—the idea that life is so complex that it could not have happened without some sort of conscious master designer of life—into public school science curriculum is not only a shame but a flat out insult to the scientific community and a sign of the continuation of the dumbing down of America's school system. As a scientist, I condemn the sloppy, weak rationale of ID as "science and" call for the scientific community to continue to state that ID does not have any place alongside proven scientific fact in our public schools.
The greatest flaw in teaching intelligent design as science is that it is simply not a field of science and is itself un-scientific by definition: there is no way to develop and test a hypothesis nor is there any evidence for ID. It simply does not stand up to the form of scientific thought. Further, ID has become a sort of stealth vehicle for teaching Creationism, and specifically the Judeo-Christian idea of Creationism (i.e, Genesis). Saying "God made it so" is not science, and it is sloppy thinking that is not scientific thinking. Faith-based and other non-scientific thoughts on explaining the diversity of life simply do not belong in a science classroom; if it must be taught at all in a public school, then it belongs in a sociology/theology class. But absolutely under no circumstances should a non-scientific or, worse, theological explanation be guised as true science and presented as such to students.
When proponents of intelligent design point out that evolution is only a theory, they reveal their ignorance of even basic scientific understanding and lexicon; used in the field of science, a theory is defined as "the general or abstract principles of a body of fact." By the way, another mere "theory" that, oddly, is never challenged by IDers is the theory of gravity- we know gravity exists, we can measure its effect on objects and predict the magnitude of gravity given the mass of said object(s), yet we do not know what gravity exactly is. Is it a new particle? A derivative of dark matter? Or something completely different? Despite not knowing what gravity "is", the fact remains that gravity itself exists; this is a fundamental fact much like evolution is. That fact is that populations of organisms change over time. This is witnessed in our lifetimes and even in the lab of simple bacteria like E.coli that even undergraduates work with. With enough time, those small changes result in massive changes and new species.
Evolution, however, says nothing about the origin of life, and this is a major misconception that must be addressed by the scientific and teaching communities. Evolution is not origin specific. In fact, any belief of a deity is perfectly compatible with evolution. Even the Vatican has stated so, saying that evolution, essentially, is a part of God's plan.
One neglected aspect of this debate is the effect of downplaying evolution in a scientific setting in school is that the next generation of scientists will be severely weakened by a curriculum that downplays science; already the United States ranks near, or at, the bottom against our other peers when it comes to math and science test scores. With the need for scientists to search for the cure for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, you simply cannot ignore the fact that evolution plays into all of those diseases: genetics is required to understand and, perhaps, ultimately find a cure to those diseases. Genetics is built on a backbone of evolution. Ultimately, the US will be left behind in the scientific frontier, an awful shame.
The end result of portraying ID as a scientifically accepted explanation to the diversity of life is that it discourages critical thinking because ID is a lazy way of looking at the world. Life is rare and complex, and it is even more beautiful to me because of that. Science is built on observation, evidence, and processing a creative, critical mind, not on easy or quick answers.
Front Page (September 14, 2005)
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