Breeched Wales Bloviating in the Hot Sun

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why "Intelligent Design" should be discredited in the classroom

Here's my reply to this blog post at Dean's world titled "Further Thoughts On Intelligent Design". He totally mischaracterizes Willard's article by saying of Willard, "In it, he vigorously opposes any dissent from evolutionary theory being allowed into science classes." He linked to the article but I'm having a hard time getting that out of my reading of the article. I am sure that Willard would be more than happy to discuss "dissent" in it's proper context as pseudoscience but I didn't see Willard address this in his article.

Dean goes further:

In reading Huntington's entire piece from top to bottom, two things struck me most powerfully:
1) He does not name one negative consequence of allowing such examination a place in the classroom, and
2) All of his arguments against it seem based on fear. Indeed, his entire thrust (if I make it out correctly) is that this is a "worrisome step" in the "wrong direction."
Worrisome to whom? And what exactly is the worry? That a 6th grader, upon hearing "some people question whether natural selection can fully explain all we see of life on Earth" will suddenly plunge a wooden stake into his agnostic classmate's heart? That soon we'll see scientists subjected to mass auto-de-fe in America?

Look at any decent text on logical fallacies (this one at
the atheistic ""
will do) and you'll find that Slippery Slope is among the most common logical fallacies that anyone — scientist or layman — can fall prey to. So I ask: what precisely is it that Dr. Willard and his intellectual compatriots fear?

This is not how I interpreted the article. He wasn't making a slippery slope argument. It's obvious that Willard's article was written to a specific audience, and it was not one that included neither Creationists nor people who are scientific illiterates. Thus, he does not have to cover in detail the areas that concern Dean so much. Why are the stickers dangerous, it should be obvious, they are false and therefore will lead to error.

This from Willard (bold italics are my emphasis):

Imagine the shock, then, in learning that in Cobb County, Ga., the School District has put stickers on biology textbooks declaring, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact."

This is not just a shot across the bow of modern scientific
thought; it's a body blow right smack in the middle of our double helix.

While there's plenty of room for adults to disagree on matters of religion or science, this debate pits a small minority of believers in the literal word of the creation against 150 years of scientifically generated data.

His concern here is with the truth and what exactly science is. The stickers state "Evolution is a theory, not a fact." Well that is just not true. Evolution is a fact. Willard states this in his article.

Evolutionary change, too, is a fact ...
What is scientific theory on this subject of evolution is Darwin's "Descent with Modifications" or "Theory of Natural Selection."

Furthermore, the sticker depends on an equivocation between the meaning of "theory" in common language and in scientific use. It is more appropriate to contrast "false hypothesis" with "fact" than theory. In science, well-tested theories are as close as one gets to facts when it comes to scientific models.

It would be more appropriate to have a sticker

Warning: Evolution is a fact, Natural Selection, a hypothesis of Darwin's, is an explanation of how that evolution occurred. Despite one hundred and fifty years no evidence has been found that discredits Natural Selection and many of it's predictions have proven true. Thus Natural Selection has been elevated to the status of Theory.
Later Willard refers to the stickers and states:

Are we prepared to imagine a science curriculum that dilutes or eliminates the unifying principle of biology in the service of non-scientific ideology? Those stickers are a worrisome step in that direction.
You can see that this is not a slippery slope argument. The stickers are
worrisome because they are a false, politically injected, product
of a group whose agenda is explicitly to stop teaching evolution in
the public school system. You don't see this happening where
there is no creationist influence and Willard points this out.

Willard also points out why teaching this falsehood is a danger:

Evolution lies at the heart of biology, and is seamlessly and continuously linked to health research to better understand such conditions as AIDS or bird flu or Parkinson's or cancer or heart disease. Every biomedical experiment, every tiny advance, every major breakthrough ultimately connects to the principles first postulated by Darwin.
Dean's complaint "1) He does not name one negative consequence of allowing such examination a place in the classroom" is shown false by the text above.

Willard states explicitly that we are not doing a good enough job teaching evolution in the classroom.

I have a simple suggestion. In addition to the current biology curriculum we devote three years of high to the study of the fact of evolution and the Theory of Natural Selection. Then we can go into great detail on all the pseudoscientific bunk coming out of the creationists and their ilk. For instance, we could show exactly why Behe is a laughing stock in with evolutionary scientists. We could explain why ID is more a political than a scientific issue.

I think this article here could occupy at least one week of the time spent on ID, "Irreducible Complexity Demystified". Of course, ID would not be taught as an actual theory or even hypothesis. We wouldn't do that anymore than we would teach the criticism, "The earth's shape can't be round because spheres are impossible shapes in 3D space" as a hypothesis. It isn't. The earth is flat is a hypothesis, a possible explanation of how things are. It's wrong but it is a hypothesis and not a mere criticism of some other hypothesis. Instead ID would be properly approached as a mistaken and discredited criticism. A false criticism because it didn't even get past the first reviews of Behe's initial proposal before fatal flaws were pointed out.

At the same time we should expand comparative religion courses to educate our children about non-believers. The amount of ignorance in this area is unbelievable. This would require several years of training also. We'd have to cover all the standard attempts at proofs of the existence of a god or gods and their refutations. That's right they have all failed to prove the existence of god and it is important for our children to understand why, lest they decide to fly passenger jets into buildings in a lame attempt to get at 72 virgins.

Might I suggest a sticker to be placed in all bibles distributed in these classes?

Warning: The existence of god is an unfounded hypothesis that has not been proven. Despite thousands of years of effort no credible evidence for his existence has be discovered. Any actions you take on the assumption of his existence could be in error.
"What!" you say, "We don't have enough time in grade school to teach all that." Well, then perhaps that is a good reason not to waste time on a hypothesis, "Intelligent Design", created by a chemist, Behe, about a field in which he is ignorant. ID is a hypothesis that addresses no problem evolutionary scientists have even encountered. There is no problem of irreducible complexity (read the article at talkorigins) in evolution.

ID is merely an invalid criticism with no solution of it's own. It doesn't even address it's own imaginary problem. The only problem ID addresses is the ignorance and lack of imagination on the part of Behe and a bunch of Creationists.

I spell Creationist with a capital 'C' because it is a religion.