29 Jan Science in Classrooms Under Threat from Intelligent Design
States are still flirting with the idea of teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution. It’s easy to see why people might not see anything wrong with this. I mean, doesn’t democracy mean allowing all points of view? Shouldn’t students be presented with both sides of a story or theory or argument?
In this case, the answer is no. For a few simple reasons. First of all, the alternative being presented by religious groups is creationism or its resurrection as Intelligent Design. The concept here is that only an intelligent designer (God. ID proponents say that’s not necessarily the case but it’s hard to see where they’re thinking of anything different) could have created all the complex things in the world such as eyes. The point here is that the alternative that’s being proposed for evolution is a religious alternative based solely on the Bible.
Things to know
That in itself isn’t necessarily enough to dismiss it’s being taught. Where things run into trouble is how ID proponents back up their ideas and how they attack evolution. The problem has to do with evidence, and it’s on this that the idea of teaching this alternative fails. ID proponents really have no evidence whereas evidence for evolution is deep. The ID crowd really doesn’t like evolution because it isn’t compatible with their beliefs, and that’s not good enough. What they call evidence against evolution is mostly extracting out of context sentences from the writings of scientists that seem to question evolution or finding what appear to be flaws that have no basis in fact. Scientists themselves believe whole-heartedly in evolution but always want to dig deeper. Evolution is never going to be proven to the point where we can say that is exactly the way it happens. Few if any science ideas are considered the absolute truth whereas Intelligent Design feels there’s only one answer to life on Earth. No more checking needed.
The evidence is really the key element here. ID proponents dismiss anything that doesn’t fit a belief system. That’s the antithesis of science. To them, God created every kind of creature and those creatures never came from anything different from themselves. They may change over time, but only as they are. Elephants may have had longer or shorter noses, but they were always elephants. The main ID argument is that we don’t see any transitional animals to show animals evolved from something different. And here they are simply throwing out falsehoods either from ignorance of the fossil record, to sway people by telling a lie over and over, or both. There are fossil transitions, plenty of them. ID people refuse to see the immense amount of time since life first formed on Earth, plenty of time for organisms to changes from one species to another.
On the most basic level, if we were to treat all other scientific ideas and sciences this way we’d need to teach such things as magic alongside gravity and astrology alongside astronomy. Both gravity and astronomy don’t have completely proven facts, so does that mean we need to go off the deep end to satisfy ignorant people?
In science classes, we need to be teaching science. Intelligent Design isn’t science. No science methods are used in ID. There’s no attempt at falsification or any other scientific principles. Science has a methodology that defines what it is. ID is the polar opposite. Science deals with the natural world. ID deals with the supernatural. Neither can explain the other. If you want ID in schools then teach it in a course in religion or alternative thinking about the world.
ID explains nothing and builds nothing. Evolution explains much about the natural world and helps us in areas such as medicine. Seeing the age of the Earth for what it really allows us to ascertain where oil may be. I’m sure there are many more areas where understanding evolution has made our lives better.
Teaching alternatives to evolution in science classrooms is simply wrong. I’m not sure real science teachers would bring themselves to do it. How could someone steeped in science start spouting an idea they know they can’t defend? And those who would teach it, well, I’d be leery of their credentials. Also can’t you just hear the brouhaha when science teachers start debunking biblical stories and I.D. ideas (which would be very easy to do if you’re going to use evidence as every science class would)?
There are plenty of books on evolution but I found one that does a very good job of looking at the fossil record. It’s called “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters” by Donald R. Prothero. Published in 2007, it has up-to-date information on the latest fossil finds. At times all the technical names of organisms can tend to blur into an alphabet soup of letters, but the writing is clear and the point the author (a scientist) makes is unmistakable – evolution is a fact of life.