Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Arguments XXVIII - Is Evolution Humanism?

A few of the frequent posters over on Topix tend to pick up arguments from each other and repeat them, as if saying the same thing over and over again adds to it's validity. One of the constant themes is trying to call Evolution a religion, more specifically part of the Humanism religion.

Rather than get into the whole 'is Humanism a religion?' debate, I'll set my thinking here and you can argue with me if you wish. Humanism is a philosophy, certainly, but since it rejects all form of supernatural, is not dependent on faith, or 'holy' texts for guidance, I am not sure how anyone can call it a religion. Let me be clearer, Humanism is a philosophy, as are all religions. Yet all philosophies are not religions.

Well in any event, is Evolution part of the Humanist philosophy?

In a word, No! While the study of science focuses on the natural world, it shares a venue with Humanism, but that is pretty much as far as it goes. Science, by its nature is Descriptive, philosophies are Prescriptive. The difference might be subtle, but look at it this way. Science describes what is occurring, philosophies state how things should be. Get the difference?

Science involves an examination of the evidence and determining explanations for the evidence. It can deliver both good and bad news, because to science it is just news. It doesn't matter whether you believe in it, or even understand it, the explanations remain the same. If you wish to overturn an explanation, just do the leg work and develop an explanation that is better supported by the evidence.

A philosophy, be it humanistic or religious, is a life choice. You choose to accept and support a set of prescriptions, or in the case of many religions - proscriptions, in defining your life and your actions. The rules are laid out in front of you and the other members of your philosophical group judge how well you live up to those prescriptions.

Now where things get muddled is when someone starts examining the 'philosophy of science' and tries to draw Humanistic relationships. One thing you will learn in any basic philosophy course is that all philosophies share many common characteristics. The includes the philosophies that drive many academic subjects. And while the philosophy of science deals with the metaphysical, epistemic and semantic aspects of science. This philosophy supports the basic methodology that drives scientific investigation. It does not drive the science itself! The philosophy of science, or mathematics, or even law and history (yes, every academic subject has philosophies) drives the approach and helps determine how the subject is investigated, documented, supported. It doesn't pre-determine the results. In fact is it a violation of the philosophy of science to twist your results to fit a predetermined answer.

So there are parallels, but Science is not a religion. Whether you believe in a scientific theory or not doesn't affect its outcome. You car doesn't start because you BELIEVE it will start. It starts because all the conditions (oil, gasoline, air, spark) are present in the right concentration to work as science predicted and engineering created. There in lies the difference. Evolution happened and is happening today regardless of any belief system. You can reject the philosophy of science, but that doesn't mean you can successfully reject the science. It works regardless of your belief and acceptance. Step off a ledge while loudly proclaiming you reject the philosophy of Gravity and test the results for yourself. I would start off with a curb before jumping off that cliff.

Now let's take this back on track, something I am guilty of not doing often enough. Should science class include the teaching of alternate philosophies? No! I think the only philosophy that belongs in science class is the philosophy of science. Teach the students what that philosophy is, how it drives scientific achievement, how and why it works! Introducing an alternative philosophy, such as a religious or even humanistic one, would simply confuse the issue before students actually understand it. This is why teaching Intelligent Design as science is a bad idea. It does not follow the philosophy that defines scientific methodology. The work has not been done, yet supporters want to be treated as if it had. It does not belong there, especially not a HS science class while students are still learning the basics of science!

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