Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Holy Trinity Of Science

(Editors Note - Reinhart Faust writes columns for the Finger Lakes Community website. His most recent column can be found here.)

By: Reinhart Faust

Throughout history humanity has created many powerful tools used to increase the sum of its knowledge. The compass, the telescope, the microscope and the x-ray have all given our civilization a greater understanding of ourselves and our universe than that possessed by any generation before us. But there are three tools without which all of these things are mere toys. Logic, reason and observation are the three most powerful tools ever used to enlighten the human mind. The scientific method has been used to destroy countless myths and falsehoods over the millennia. It’s why we no longer believe the earth to be flat and why we no longer use leeches to cure fevers. But there are those in society and, worse yet, those in power who don’t understand the power and value of logic, reason and observation, this Holy Trinity of science. There is no controversy in which this problem is more apparent than the current movement to inject ‘Intelligent Design’ into the science classrooms of American public schools.

Intelligent Design (ID) is a relatively new school of thought that has gained widespread approval amongst fundamentalist religious groups. It states that the variety and complexity of life on earth indicates that it could not have formed by natural means, but must have been guided by an intelligent force. Even though the word ‘God’ is scrupulously avoided, the implications are obvious. ID advocates almost always favor a religious explanation of the origins of life and of the universe. These arguments, however, have no corroborating evidence whatsoever, and basically consist of a selective criticism of evolution. That is why not one study in support of ID can be found in a reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journal. While it is true that there are certain subtle nuances of evolution that remain unexplained, and the precise mechanisms of evolution are still open to debate, the evidence in favor of evolution is so overwhelming that to deny it without a different theory supported by an equally impressive body of evidence, is purely irrational. What it all comes down to is that far too may people lack a fundamental understanding of science. Isaac Asimov said it best when he said; “Creationists make it sound as though a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night”. But in truth, a theory in scientific circles is an idea that has been tested so rigorously, proven to such a degree, that it can be taken as fact. Gravity is a theory. Newton’s laws of physics are a theory. Yet anyone who would deny these theories would be laughed out of town.

So maybe it’s time that scientists should have a say in what is taught in science classrooms. If a person wishes to honor more traditional beliefs, that is fine. But let those beliefs be taught by clergymen and parents, not science teachers. If we allow posturing politicians and ambitious clergymen to use the science classroom as a platform, if we teach our children anything other than sound, proven science, then we are doing our children and our nation a grave disservice. At this point some advocates of ID would say that to refuse to allow ID to be taught in schools would unfairly stifle scientific debate, which is a necessary step in the discovery process. But try to suggest to a clergyman that a chapter on evolution be inserted into Genesis. See what he has to say.


glenstonecottage said...

While it is true that there are certain subtle nuances of evolution that remain unexplained, and the precise mechanisms of evolution are still open to debate...There are gaps in knowledge in every scientific field.

Scientists attempt to fill these gaps with "science".

ID proponents attempt to fill them with "bullshit".

peterfredson said...

Religionists have a standard ploy: they want "fair and balanced" views of both evolution and creationist-ID nonsense. But do you imagine that they would do the same in their Sunday Schools? Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of the Sunday monologue by a preacher,they would devote equal time by some non-Christian scientist on biological and cultural evolution? Wouldn't it be nice if, in Christian schools, they would devote equal time to a discussion of biological and cultural evolution, the history of the Inquisition and Crusades, and to all the intolerance shown by Christians to their own kind? Wouldn't it be nice if all the fictional aspects of religion were openly discussed in Christian schools?
Sure, when Jerry Falwell and pigs fly!