Creationists never say die. Part 1.
This post could also be titled "Against Intelligent Design." If you are at all like me you will have heard of these ugly school board battles over the teaching of evolution in our public schools. You too will have heard the catch-phrases of the Creastionists, things like "equal time," "Intelligent Design Theory," and a term they have recently co-opted, "academic freedom." This debate has flared up, off again, on again, for at least a century. The terms that creationists use have changed between the years of the first high profile evolution/education case, and the ones currently raging, but the arguments themselves haven't. Whether the oponents of evolution call it creationism, "creation science," or "intelligent design theory (the new vogue)," it is all the same. Sincere, faithful men and women, trying to press the Judeo-Christian creation story into the science classrooms-specifically biology classrooms-across the country.
Several high profile dust-ups over evolution have already occured this year, the latest Kansas battle being only the most visible. In Kansas, the fight is over whether or not to give something called "intelligent design theory (hearafter IDT)" equal time with the theory of evolution. Specifically, the IDT folks want their ideas given equal time in biology class where and when it discusses the origin of life's diversity. Any such allowance would be a complete travesty, as nothing in IDT, Creation "Science," or old fashion biblical fundementalism qualifies as
The argument for equal time, as it is most often made in the public square, rests not on its logical, or emperical merits. Rather it makes its case with tricks of language and emotional appeals to a largely religious public. There is no science behind the religious request. This alone would allow us to reject the plea for equal time. There is no IDT research, no publication in reputable journals, no labs at major universities. There is no research period, unless reading Genesis is considered a scientific endeavor (It goes without saying that alot of fundementalist folks hold that very position). This leaves the advocates of IDT or "Creation Science" with nothing but the tools the polemist and the sophist. And these tools they use with some aplomb. To some, such rhetorical tactics may or may not be persuasive, but that doesn't make it science.
The campaign, which has gone on unabated since Darwin and Wallace fired their twin shots at divine creation way back in 1856, isn't taken to the lab, or the field, but rather ID theorists and the "Creation Scientist" brothers are trying to win in the tempermental, and not at all trustworthy court of public opinion. In this court they have only two tools. The first is the misleading phrase, "Its [evolutionary theory] is only a theory." When they say it, the emphasis is heavy on the word theory, and it comes out like a sneer and its meaning is clear. Clearly they are trying to encourage the lay public to use the colloquial definition of the word theory. The implication is clear: taking anything with the word theory in it seriously is a sketchy business. I term this the confusion of theory in the common usage. Scientist use the word theory in a way quite different from its everyday usage (More on this below). The other tool, just decietful and disengenous, is to overinflate the current debates and questions in evolutionary biology.
Evolutionary Theory. Intelligent Design Theory. The two terms sound comparable. They are not. The first is a theory in the robust, explanitory, predictive and bound to empirical evidence sense. It is a scientific theory. The second is a theory only in the common usage sense of the word. We could call them hypotheses albeit not terribly good ones. We could also call them hypotheses that have been nullified long, long ago. In science the word theory embodies a concept greater than just some vague idea about some particular phenomena. In science theory is a robust set of ideas and principles that explain phenomena as well as predict future behavior of related phenomena. Theory is built by the testing of its predicted hypotheses against the real world and the controlled idealized world of the lab. It is built over time by such run-ins with reality.
Theory abounds in science. The great physist Richard Feynman noted this descrepancy in the public usage of theory and the scientific usage, and he attempted to assuage the confusion by discussing electrons. The electron is a concept that more than most concepts in science approximates truth. It is, as Feynman wryly noted, "just a theory." No one has ever seen one. It is however so predictive and reliable a theory that we can think of it a truth. Certainly the work of physists and chemists would be a wash with out the theory of the electron. Evolution is as sound theory as that of the electron or relativity. As a tool for understanding phenomena, creating questions and predicting a wide array of of behavior it is every bit the equal of any of in science. The theory of evolution is a tool for understanding biology based on evidence found the world.