May 09, 2005

Evolution 'debates'

Le sigh to le max. Here we go again.

Starting this week in Kansas, the State Board of Education is holding hearings to help deciding how science should be taught.

Both sides of this week's evolution hearings are represented by lawyers.

Some of you might remember that I wrote something about Intelligent Design a few years ago. You would be remembering right. My point there is exactly the same Amanda is saying (along with Katha Pollitt) here: intelligent design is, at best, terrible terrible science. Essentially, when considering some biological structure whose evolutionary development is not immediately obvious, ID scientists just assume some mysterious supernatural intervention. But this assumption cuts off any further scientific investigation: if your theory is that God fashioned eyes out of whole cloth, then you don't develop the models of eye evolution that actually tell us interesting things about the way our eyes work. The supernatural black-box creator of intelligent design is simply antithetical to the way modern science works. While it is a proposal which could be discussed reasonably in, say, the philosophy of science classes I took my senior year of college, it does not belong in already overtaxed high school biology.

We might suppose, however, a milder form of intelligent design: God didn't spontaneously design certain organisms and biological constructs, but guided the course evolution took to get some desired outcomes. Call this 'evolutionary design'. Or, equivalently, 'guided evolution'. It doesn't really matter, because this form of creationism is so mild as to be methodologically indistinguishable from standard evolutionary theory. The only difference, really, is that instead of truly random mutations, God has loaded the dice in favour of certain beneficial features. Indeed, such a hypothesis essentially goes beyond science: natural selection doesn't presume to dictate that eyes will always evolve in any population of animals, it merely gives an explanation of how such an evolution occurred, given that the population does, in fact, have eyes.

Which makes me wonder why so many conservative Christians get all upset about evolution. Yes, it runs against a literal reading of the first two chapters of Genesis or so, but a basic understanding of climatology and geology makes the Flood of Noah story laughable, and you don't see Christians up in arms about the vile secular influence of general science courses for high school freshmen. Likewise with all the other sketchy science in the Bible. What makes contra-biblical biology so appalling?

No comments: