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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Neither Evolution nor Intelligent Design

In Sunday's Pioneer Press, Todd Flanders, an adjunct scholar for the Acton Institute and headmaster of the metro area's Providence Academy, and Dr. Yvonne Boldt, chair of the science department at Providence, raise serious questions (FRR):

Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?
Serious questions that ought not be answered in any standard pre-college science curriculum. I have gone after the mischaracterization of intelligent design with respect to evolution several times, e.g., here, here, here, and here. Flanders and Boldt note that the strength of intelligent design is science, with which I agree to a point. Intelligent design is born of the normal science of neo-Darwinist evolution.

Many make a big deal out of the notion that intelligent design is not science because it does not provide a testable theory. This is nonsense. The ID process of categorizing "irreducible complexity" using "specification" is most certainly science because it is only the attempted accumulation of particularly troublesome anomalies that poses a serious problem for the existing disciplinary matrix of neo-Darwinism. In Kuhn's context, this is a precursor to a scientific crisis, for macro-evolution , or speciation, in this case, but does not represent a revolution in and of itself.

So should it be taught? Well, given its derivative nature, I have to say, "No." But given how little macro-evolution has to do with the practice of normal science, I must conclude the same thing for speciation. There are plenty of other scientific and mathematical topics (Newtonian mechanics, quantum physics, organic chemistry, Mendelian genetics, micro-evolution, calculus, linear algebra, geometry, etc.) to master before having a solid understanding of the most important dominant models and techniques for applying and expanding science.

(Note that proponents will tell you that ID applies to more than biology, with analogs in physics, chemistry, etc. Very well, but it is also only an extension of the normal science for thesediscipliness accordingly.)

Finally, Flanders and Boldt ask:

Why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can't use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.
This is the fundamental question of philosophy of science and as such, studying the evolution/ID controversy belongs in philosophy class. However, you cannot jump into this question in the middle without being grounded in the ideas of quality, validity, truth, evidence, criticism, etc., i.e., the basics of Aristotelian philosophy. To do otherwise is to risk planting seeds of relativism, anathema for an objective science.

Nevertheless, I will make this concession. After high school students have demonstrated competence in all these areas of science, math, and philosophy, then it may be appropriate to teach speciation and the evolution/ID controversy. Perhaps by senior year they will get there at Providence Academy, but in today's society, where there is genuine concern over graduating students who can read, write, and do basic math, it appears that the average public high school ought not to worry about either one any time soon.

Related:

PowerBlog notes that the Pioneer Press piece is relevant given recent discussions at Acton.

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