Friday, January 14, 2005

Rusty Nails, 1/14/05...

John Mark Reynolds writes an interesting piece on ID inpsired by the recent court decision in Georgia to prevent a public school from placing "anti-evolution" stickers on its textbooks. The sticker, which stated,
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
has caused quite a stir in the "anti-anti-evolution" arena. Read it again to get a better understanding of why places like The Panda's Thumb were so vociferously opposed to it. Perhaps a revised sticker should be placed on the books saying,
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a fact, not a theory, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with a closed mind, studied carelessly and accepted on blind faith.
Reynolds conlcudes his post with,
I have views that many would find wrong-headed. I state those views in this forum and try to argue for them more carefully in my class and in my professional work. However, these views may be wrong. The wonder of America is that you get to read them. Don't trust anyone who wants to take ideas away from adults or censor them in schools without very, very powerful reasons. (I would not expose young children to the evil rantings of Hitler, for example. But such censorship should only be done with care. Surely, the notion that evolution may not be true is not this dangerous? Surely even the notion that God may have acted in space and time in ways that we can detect is not like this?) Freedom of thought is one of the greatest gifts God has given man. We must not let judges take it from us.
Per Robert George's, The Clash of Orthodoxies, p. 284, "the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life." - Ted Kennedy, prior to Roe v. Wade. Get the scoop on the recent meeting of evangelicals with Mormons from Greg Koukl's Stand to Reason radio show with his interview of Dr. Craig Hazen (free registration required).


Paul said...

I don't think the sticker is a problem at all. Evolution is a theory, rather than a fact, though that difference is not what the sticker implies it to be. And it should be examined critically. The only problem is that virtually every science book, and all economics, social studies, Eng lit, and liberal arts text books should have a similar sticker attached to them, as should many of the pages in most history and geography books. So many of the books that would be used in a decent school should have the sticker applied that it would be much more efficient to warn every student at the start of each school year that they will be taught both facts and theories (scientific or otherwise), and that they should approach all of them with a critical mind. In fact I consider any school that doesn't do this right now to be failing its students.

Rusty said...

Hi Paul,

I suppose, then, that the science courses in this Georgia school district will be examining the shortcomings of evolutionary theory as well as alternative explanations? As Reynolds post discusses, dissent among those within the scientific arena could very well be a career-stopping move.

Of further interest is the absurd notion that the use of the sticker somehow violates the establishment clause.

Thanks for stopping by... I'm planning on posting a couple of B&W pics this weekend.

Paul said...

I think it should examine shortcomings in evolution, yes, though sadly it may not do so because they are relatively unimportant; the basics of the theory are sound, the shortcomings come in some of the outlying applications, which the students may never come to. I'm not aware of any scientific alternatives, but if there are any they should be highlighted, certainly.

As to teh establishment clause - why are evolution textbooks the only ones being targeted? It can't be because they are the only ones with theories in them. Clearly, unless you can suggest another reason, it's because some religious groups oppose their content. And given that the schools are public institutions operated by the governemtn, which is subject to the the constitution, such religious advocacy is prohibited.

Looking forward to the pics!

Thor said...

A more defensible sticker would read:

This textbook contains scientific theories that are, by definition, provisional and subject to future revision or rejection. Theories that consistently align with evidence are sometimes called "facts," but this does not make them less subject to alteration upon future evidence. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

The inherent problem with the original sticker is that it artificially isolates evolution from the rest of science. Yes, there are methodological differences between historical sciences and experimental sciences but almost everything we learn in science *is* theory, subject to revision. True, science education does a very bad job at underscoring just how tenuous much of scientific knowledge is. The best you can say for any given scientific theory is that it predicts phenomena. Newton's "laws" (originally considered universal) were of no use for predicting phenomena at the quantum level, so his theories were abandoned there.

Evolutionary theory continues to "work" scientifically. It is the only scientific framework that ties together every level of biological evidence (paleontology, molecular, structural, etc.). To attack evolution as a faith, is to attack science as a faith.

Nonetheless, scientists and educators are wrong to suggest that evolution is in a different category than other scientific frameworks, that its tenets can't be questioned. They should be pointing out how alive the field of evolutionary biology is, how full of spirited debate. Rather than damaging the foundations of evolutionary theory, debate and revision make it stronger.

Educators shouldn't be afraid of admitting this.

DarkSyde said...

That sticker was carefully worded to lump the fact of common descent and thereotical evolutionary mechanisms by which speciation/diversification occurs in the light of the colloquial defintiion of the word theory, meaning a haphazard guess. Rather than than enhance scientific understanding, the idea was to cloud it, and confuse the student. US District Judge Cooper saw through it like polished glass, all the way to the religious motivations, and sturck it down. That's a victory for science, and for relgiious integrity which often gets hijacked by everyone from 'psychic healers' to televangelists to creationists predators, looking to cash in on the gullible and uninformed.

Bonnie said...

OK, how complex are we going to get on a small sticker to be put in large numbers of textbooks? I'll give that lumping "evolution" and "origins of life" may be problematic, but I don't think this in any way changes the chief intent of the sticker. As far as the sticker being carefully, i.e., craftily worded, DarkSyde, I think you give whoever wrote it a bit too much credit. The sticker should be carefully worded, to communicate an honest intent.

As to the judge "seeing through it," c'mon. The judge saw what he wanted to see. Read his judgment: "the sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders."

A victory for religious integrity? A victory for science? A victory for honest inquiry? I don't think so.

A victory for political correctness? Absolutely.

386sx said...

Paul said: Clearly, unless you can suggest another reason, it's because some religious groups oppose their content.

Yep, that's right. It's motivated by religious mythology and so forth (just read the famous "wedge document" if you don't believe me). What it all pretty much boils down to is something like this:

Let "X" represent scientific knowledge which has been stolen from the real scientists. Let "Y" represent scientific knowledge which is unique to the ID scientific "research" department.

XXXXXXXX [Irreducible stuff here, we need not look further, let's take a nap...] XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX [Gap here, good candidate for getting some beddy bye time...] XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX...


386sx said...

I'll give that lumping "evolution" and "origins of life" may be problematic,

If it's problematic, then perhaps it's a good idea that they should scrap it. One would think that, at the very least, perhaps they shouldn't misrepresent stuff.

Paul said...

Bonnie - what would you see the chief intent of the sticker to be? It can't be to encourage students to think critically, otherwise it would be attached to almost all textbooks. And it can't be to help them differentiate between fact and theory, because, um, it doesn't.

386sx said...

If it's problematic, then perhaps it's a good idea that they should scrap it.

However, I do give them credit for taking the logical implication of their world view to its conclusion (e.g., they get to pretend whatever they want in order to make things come out the way they want them to be), so don't get me wrong.

Rusty said...

As Reynolds writes about, one method for committing career-suicide is to publically question the tenets of evolutionary theory. While one would expect ideas critical of evolutionary theory to at least be put through the scientific wringer, this is rarely ever the case. Behe's recent paper is a case in point. Just look at the amount of criticism it received for just being put in a peer reviewed journal - or - how the peer reviewed journal itself was ridiculed. Why not simply address the claims of the paper itself (as, which I must admit, some have done)? The reason why the other attacks are made is because the scientific establishment knows full well that they can't allow anything that hints of a Divine Foot (in the door).

Tolerated critics of the current paradigms are far and few between. Robert Shapiro is put up with at origin of life conferences only because of his reputable standing in his field of knowledge. The scholars at Reasons to Believe will tell you of instances at those same conferences in which lesser-known scientists will come up to them requesting private meetings because they can't be seen with anyone related to the ID movement. If anyone scoffs at such claims I would recommend they simply read through the posts and comments at The Panda's Thumb.

I would submit that the reason the same type of sticker isn't proposed for other disciplines is because we don't see the same type of dogmatic fundamentalism within the ranks of those disciplines as we do within those of the evolutionary paradigm.

Paul said...

I believe the reason why the scientific community doesn't just answer the arguments is that they have, repeatedly, convincingly, publicly and privately. Yet the people who put those flawed arguments forward ignore those responses, and claim that people haven't answered their questions, and that 'Darwinists' are just running scared.

There are times when my four year old will try to reason with me (which I encourage) without actually having any reason, simply by ignoring anything I say that doesn't match what she wants. I'll try to explain things to her, but eventually to get anything done I have to ignore her. The same principle applies here.

Rusty said...


I would agree with you that the scientific community has repeatedly, publicly, and privately provided answers to the arguments against evolution, but I would disagree that they have convincingly done so.

What's more, I would argue that they have yet to provide convincing evidence that the proposed mechanism of evolution can actually do what is claimed (e.g., evolve a wolf-like creature into a whale in the time required).

Paul said...

That seems a pretty common response. What would convincing evidence look like? The overwhelming majority of scientists are convinced (and by overwhelming I mean by margins of thousands to one), but it is entirely possible to not be convinced. I'm not 'convinced' by the theory of relativity - I have no doubt that it is true (or rather, as true as it can be), but I lack the depth and breadth of knowledge to say that I'm convinced.

Rusty said...


I would submit that if a survey were taken in which scientists were asked how convinced they were to the merits of random chance evolution (i.e., neo-Darwinism), the results would vary dramatically depending on whether or not the respondents choices were made public or not.

If the majority of scientists think the evidence is convincing then all I've really learned is that the majority of scientists think the evidence is convincing. That, in and of itself, does not tell me if the evidence truly is convincing. Scientists are people (despite some evidence to the contrary) and they are subject to bias and herd mentality just as much as the next person.

One wonders, if the evidence is so overwhelming (to the tune of thousands to one), what they're so afraid of by having critical analysis allowed? Surely such a strong edifice can withstand such a miniscule attack?

Paul said...

If the fact that it convinces people knowledgeable in a subject doesn't mean anything, then what exactly does 'convincing' mean? Should I assume that anything that is difficult to explain isn't really true, because the average person can't understand the argument enough to be convinced? Should I have the opinion that Fourier transforms are meaningless, because I could certainly never get my head round them at college?

Science welcomes critical analysis (though it's very possible that some scientists do not - as you point out, they are only human) And when critical analysis is presented it is considered and either incorporated or rejected as appropriate. The issue is that ID doesn't provide *critical* analysis, it just picks at a few holes and says "well this doesn't make sense". If it could pick at one of those holes and say "here's a deficiency, here's exactly why it doesn't make sense, and here's something that does a better job of explaining the gap" then it should be considered.