Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why The Earth May Not Be Round!

We are not advocating teaching the Earth is Flat, we are advocating to expand science education by teaching the controversy over why the Earth may not be round.  Sound familiar?

The official (cough, cough) policy of the Discovery Institute (DI) of not advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) is pure BS.  If it were true then they would not be writing lesson plans, politicking politicians and student groups, nor supporting legislation designed to weaken real science education, among other tactics and strategies.  What they claim to be advocating is expanding science education by teaching the controversy over Evolution. They re-iterated this in a recent post addressed to Utah (Dear Utah: Teach About the Scientific Controversy Over Evolution, Not About Intelligent Design)

I have a question, does teaching this 'controversy' really expand science education?  It would be one thing if there really was a scientific controversy over Evolution, but since the only controversy is an artificial one, a culturally-contrived controversy over whether or not religious beliefs should be taught instead of actual science -- is this really an expansion?

What this does is weaken science education, and this was found to be true during the Dover Trial.  Imagine a science teacher who covers the scientific theory of evolution, and then is required to introduce religious arguments against it -- arguments without any factual support or evidence.  What would be the outcome?  The Dover Decision made that pretty clear -- confused students because of a weakened science education.  Teaching religion as if it was science is a bad idea because  . . . well for one reason, it doesn't work.

Buildings are not held up by prayer, cars do not run because of the wishes of a capricious deity, medicines do not work because of wishful thinking.  They work because of the science and applications of that science in architecture,  engineering, and medicine.

I have to argue about one statement they made:

"In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned."
Is Evolution really taught as dogma and not open to any scrutiny?  That's what this statement implies.  So my next question is whether or not it is taught dogmatically.  So what evidence would support that?
  • Textbooks covered it as dogma
  • No changes to Evolutionary Theory since it's inception
  • An increasing number of scientists/science group advocating a non-religious alternative
First up textbooks:
However, I have look at a number of textbooks, including my own, my daughters', and my granddaughter's and there doesn't seem to be any evidence of that.  In my last visit to a local college library (Wright State University), I looked up several biology texts and also found it taught as a scientific theory and not dogmatic at all.
There is one point that I do keep hearing from creationists or varying stripes as evidence for this dogmatic approach -- evolution being explained as a fact and not a theory, but that is more word play than anything else.  Gravity is a fact -- hold something out at arms length and drop it, it falls -- only please don't do this with an iPhone, they seem to be more disaster prone than others (as my granddaughter can attest).  The fall of an object is a fact, and we call that fact Gravity.  Gravity is also a theory, it is the explanation of why things fall as they do.

Do you see the difference?  We use the same term to describe both the fact and the explanation.  We do the same thing in many areas of science, Light is a fact, the Theory of Light is the explanation.  Germs are a fact, Germ Theory is the explanation.  Evolution is a fact, the Theory of Evolution is the explanation.  Calling Evolution a fact isn't dogmatic, but contextual use of the word.  When you look at the evidence for life changing over time, you see the fact of evolution.  When you see the genetic differences and similarities between organisms, you see the fact of Evolution.  What you want to understand how those facts occurred, you look at Evolutionary Theory.

OK, how about whether or not evolutionary theory is open to scrutiny:
Has the Theory of Evolution changed and is it still changing?  The answer is 'hell yes!'  Since Darwin's day there have been many changes.  There have literally been thousands of scientists questioning all or part of Evolutionary theory on a daily basis and coming up with more and better explanations.  That's how science works.
If scientists thought Evolution was not open to scrutiny, would any of this come to pass?  There would be very few, if any, scientists working on it.  There would be very few changes, again if any.  Major changes would be unheard up.  Things like Punctuated Equilibrium, Genetics, Genetic Drift, and many others wouldn't possibly exist if Evolution was some untouchable sacred cow.

The reason they do exist, and new ideas and theories that will come in the future, is because science treats little as untouchable.  We've learned the lessons of the past that when ideas are considered inviolate, we cannot ignore evidence that appears to violate them.  Ignoring evidence is not how science advances. We learn by asking questions and finding answers, and when those answers don't match current theories, we keep going and figure out why, then adjust the theories with the new knowledge.

The reason I think folks like the DI keep making this 'dogmatic' argument is mainly because their failure to formulate and actual scientific theory that includes their religious beliefs.  Several years ago even the daddy rabbit of ID, Philip Johnson, even admitted it:
"I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world." (Berkeley Science Review, Spring 2006, retrieved from Wikiquote)
That's why they make this argument, not because they really think it's being taught dogmatically, but because they have not made any headway in an actual opposing scientific theory.  Without their cries of 'dogmatisim', they would have little else to say.  So the real question is not whether or not Evolution is taught dogmatically, but why haven't you, DI, been able to formulate a scientific theory that can compete with Evolution?  The Dover Decision included this little gem on why they argue the controversy instead of focusing on actual science:
"ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard"
One last thing, are there non-religious alternatives to Evolutionary Theory?
If there are, no one seems to be talking about them, anywhere.  The only alternatives that people hear about are Creationism and it's little brother Intelligent Design.  I know the DI likes to claim ID is not religious, but no one seems to believe them.  Their own actions, strategy documents, even the audience for their marketing materials all prove that ID is nothing more than re-packaged Creationism.  One last quote, and it's from the Dover Decision:
"The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism."
And that is why Intelligent Design will remain in the same section of the bookstore where religion, physic powers, numerology, and tarot cards are sold.  You can get your 'Flat Earth' conspiracy books there as well.  It should also be the reason why states, including Utah, should pass real science standards which focus on science and not religious beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. ALL religions are based on myth. I don't know if you ever read anything by the late Joseph Campbell. He was a scholar of myths. He said, and I'll just keep this short, that when you use myth as fact, scientific, historic, or truth in any way, you destroy the myth. If you'd be OK I can give you the full quote that I have said for many years.