Warning- for those new readers that are wondering why I’m ranting about topics unrelated to barefoot running… I do this sometimes. I tend to write about anything that happens to capture my interest, then usually somehow try to tie it in to running somehow. That’s what I’ll be doing here, so stick with me. After all, we are a fake university and we DO like to talk about science here.
The state of Tennessee is in the process of making a law that allows schools to teach “intelligent design” alongside evolution in science classes. The logic, according to this article, is based on the idea that it will promote skepticism among students. A supporter of the bill (and sadly an apparent scientist) said “Crititcal thinking, analysis fosters good science.”
I don’t like to argue the merits of the belief of intelligent design. A lot of people believe this is where we came from. That’s great. The institution of religion, though occasionally negative, serves a useful purpose in our society to both groups and individuals. That’s a good thing.
I DO like to argue the idea that intelligent design is science. Furthermore, it pisses me off that intelligent design is being presented as a valid scientific theory to compete with theories like evolution. It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how science works.
We see this all the time in the popular media. How many times do we see widespread calls to banish a particular food from our diets because of one tiny study? We even see it in the world of barefoot running. Anyone remember the ad that boldly proclaimed “Research proves barefoot is best!” after Lieberman’s latest study? Really?
So why shouldn’t intelligent design be taught as a scientific theory? Simple- it doesn’t meet any standards required of a theory (or hypothesis for that matter). My friend Jeff S. gave a good answer on Facebook:
- What predictions does intelligent design make?
- Have any of those predictions been tested?
- (and the big one) How can this theory be falsified?
- (my own) How can intelligent design be tested?
The “theory” of intelligent design can’t answer any of these. It is essentially based on the logical argument that the complexity of the universe cannot have come about by natural means; there had to be something (or someone) directing the show. By definition, this falls under the category of a belief, not science. No experiment can be devised to disprove the theory. Ergo it cannot be measured empirically by science. Ergo it cannot be considered a scientific theory.
Sooo… what do I think should be done? I think intelligent design is an interesting concept that should be taught in schools… in a theology or world religions class.
I also think too many science teachers do a piss-poor job of teaching the value of skepticism in science, and that needs to change. There’s far too much focus on “memorize facts” and not enough “this is how science is used to further our understanding of the world around us.” Luckily, the vast majority of my science teacher friends take the latter approach. Yes, it is possible.
I also think people get a little too enamored with evolution. Any good scientist has to remain skeptical toward every theory, even the “laws” like gravity. Evolution has flaws that can be tested, and should be tested. We need people to propose alternative testable hypotheses. THAT is the critical thinking we need in science. THAT analysis will foster good science.
Unfortunately this debate always devolves into a belief-based argument between the creationists that quote the Bible and the staunch evolutionists that treat evolution as if is fact. The “is this science” debate is lost in a sea of dogma. [sigh]