This morning’s invited session at the American Astrophysical Society meeting in San Diego was by Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, entitled “Intelligent Design and the Creation/Evolution Controversy”.
I have been following some of the Intelligent Design (ID) proponents’ efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in our schools on Phayrngula’s weblog. This means that much of the talk was more of a review of the subject than completely new material.
For those of you unfamiliar with ID, it is the creationist’s sadly veiled attempt at cloaking “creation” into a science. The problem, of course, is that scientific theories, by definition, must be testable. ID is basically a process of elimination — we can’t currently explain some complex biological system, therefore there must be some designer of some sort that designed it that way. One thing that Scott brought up was one major problem with ID as a “scientific theory” is that it does not distinguish between the unknown and the unknowable. Just because we don’t understand the workings of a complex biological system doesn’t mean that we will never be able to understand that system. However, just because we start understanding that one system, we will not undermine or discorage the ID propoenents — there will always be something else that we don’t understand yet.
One telling illustration she made was how the science community deals with a new theory versus how the ID community would have us do it (I do not include ID in the scientific community — it’s not science). It looked something like this (though more spiffy in PowerPoint):
Great Idea –> Research –> Peer Review –> [Feedback loop between Research and Peer Review until…] –> Scientific Consensus –> Classroom and Textbook coverage of Great Idea
Great Idea –> Classroom and Textbook coverage of Great Idea
The ID community wants the scientific community to acknowledge the work of ID even though there has been no peer reviewed papers on ID in any respected scientific journal (the Stephan Meyer “peer reviewed” paper notwhithstanding). In fact, the ID community wants science classes across the US to include their “science” in the curriculum…without any credible research or peer review. Yeah. Right.
The fundamental problem, however, with ID and with scientists fighting ID is that the ID doctrine has turned the “belief” in evolution into the non-belief in God. People react strongly against being told that their God doesn’t exist, of course. However, the “belief” in evolution (there’s nothing to believe or disbelieve here, it’s a well-established scientific theory), does not have to be a disbelief in God…they just want everyone to think that.
Her suggestions for what we, the scientific community, could do:
- Explicity teach the nature of science
- Explicitly teach evolution (evolution of the stars, galaxies, as well as biological system)
- Keep up with local school board happenings
- Join the AIBS/NCSE list -serve for news on local ID/creationist/evolution news
Unfortunately, because ID proponents have turned this into an emotional and religious issue, these items will not ultimately work. ID proponents do not listen to logic; instead they spout the party line and ignore scientist’s refutations of their claims. Their main tactic is to shout louder. Sadly, I don’t know what can be done to prevent the ID attacks on our science education; right now we can only fight them as they come.